Rapid Movie Review: ‘CONCUSSION’ and ‘THE HATEFUL EIGHT’


IMG_1798Preston Barta // Editor

How can we get excited for this week’s releases after coming off the thrilling high that is STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS?

Whether you want it or not, Christmas is here and we still have some rather big movies hitting theaters before we say goodbye to 2015.

CONCUSSION | 123 min | PG-13
Director: Peter Landesman
Cast: Will Smith, Alec Baldwin, Albert Brooks, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and David Morse

As it turns out, hard-hitting sports such as football, where players take repeated blows to the head, can lead to brain damage. Who knew?

The NFL surely did when neuropathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu (played by Will Smith) discovered and documented a degenerative brain disease he dubbed CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). However, the truth is, the NFL probably knew much earlier.

This is the idea director Peter Landesman (KILL THE MESSENGER), a former investigative journalist, touches on.

When it comes to criticizing the NFL, Landesman pulls no punches. Through Smith’s Omalu, he explores the ugly side of fame and the repercussions of going head-to-head in football. It’s a worthwhile discussion of an issue that is crippling the beloved sport. Concussions are still top-of-mind in the NFL and could ultimately lead to its undoing.

“God did not intend for us to play football,” says Omalu. The facts and science behind the film raise important questions that should concern anyone whose child runs the gridiron. It’s a fascinating subject that made for a great Frontline documentary two years ago. However, as a narrative film, CONCUSSION makes the mistake of putting too much focus on Omalu’s personal story rather than capitalizing on the bigger question at hand.

While Smith turns in one of his best performances and the story occasionally dances in the endzone, Landesman fumbles from an over-the-head, cliched script that detracts from CONCUSSION’s ultimate implications.

CONCUSSION opens today.

Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Walton Goggins, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Demian Bichir, Bruce Dern and Channing Tatum

When it comes to raising hell at the multiplex, no one can do it better than Quentin Tarantino. He’s a master of his craft, writing profane poetry that’s hot to the touch. From characters vomiting blood to strange sexual implications, Tarantino never lets his audience out easy. But he can sure take the most uninteresting of ideas and turn them into a fully layered and complex thrill rides.

Tarantino always swings for the fences, and even when he doesn’t hit it out of the park, he always puts the ball in play. This is the case with THE HATEFUL EIGHT .

This Western whodunit tale takes Tarantino back to his roots of minimal yet effective filmmaking. Set during a Wyoming blizzard at a frontier way station, a group of bounty hunters, ex-soldiers and mysteriosos shack up for a cold night of deception and betrayal. Bullets are fired, coffee is poisoned and blood is spilt— who will be the last one standing?

The story is deftly handled by Tarantino and becomes, like many of his films, a genre mash-up (in this case, a mixture of Western, comedy and mystery). At more than 2 ½ hours, it’s aptly paced with an undeniable flow across the narrative.

If you can suspend disbelief and roll with the punches, THE HATEFUL EIGHT is a patient firecracker. It may not sizzle like INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS or DJANGO UNCHAINED, but it’ll have you eager in seats, lost in dialogue and amazed by its ensemble cast.

It’s deliciously infectious.

THE HATEFUL EIGHT opens in select theaters showcasing the “Roadshow 70mm” today, and opens wide on December 31.

Other Christmas selection:

THE BIG SHORT (starring Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling) – our review
CAROL (starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara – our review
DADDY’S HOME (starring Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell) – our review
JOY (starring Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro) – our review
SISTERS (starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler) – our review
STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (starring Daisey Ridley and Harrison Ford) – our review
YOUTH (starring Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel) – our review

Previously published on DentonRC.com

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.