Hello everyone, and welcome to 111 Archer Avenue. What started as a film review blog has become my online judgment forum. I will review the occasional movie or DVD, post an interesting trailer, critique a newly-read book, talk about sports, and share my thoughts and opinions on random issues. You can also follow me on Twitter (@OlieCoen) or check out my work on DVDTalk.com. Thank you and enjoy!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Movie Review - Hard Eight

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: John C. Reilly, Philip Baker Hall, Gwyneth Paltrow
Samuel L. Jackson, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Year: 1996

Paul Thomas Anderson gets the #2 spot on my list of favorite directors.  #1 goes to Wes Anderson, director of my favorite film and the inspiration for the name of my blog, The Royal Tenenbaums.  Rounding out the Top 5 would have to be the Coen Brothers, Christopher Guest, and Woody Allen.  But I digress, back to PTA.  Here is a list of his films so far: Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood, and The Master.  All excellent movies in my book, with five stars going to 3 out of the 6, four stars going to the others.  He's also got one coming out later this year called Inherent Vice that sounds promising and has an interesting cast: Jena Malone, Joaquin Phoenix, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Maya Rudolph, and Martin Short.  Anyway, I love his films, they're always unique & strong, with this one being no exception.

The story opens with a meeting between two men.  John is down & out, sitting by the door of a diner with no money, no plan, and no hope.  Sydney is a stranger who wants to do John a favor; buy him a cup of coffee and maybe get him started in the right direction.  The two become an unlikely duo, forming a partnership based on gambling and bordering on father/son, with Sydney as the mentor and John the eager pupil.  All is well for a while until two more people enter their lives, threatening to disrupt the good thing the pair have going.  Clementine is a beautiful waitress who John falls for right away, and Jimmy is a no good troublemaker who John innocently trusts as a friend.  This new quartet of quirky characters find themselves in deep water very quickly, and will have to learn which of them is dependable and which should be cut loose.

What is it with the three names in this film?  PTA, JCR, PBH, SLJ, PSH, and then there's Gwyneth Paltrow, who apparently didn't get the memo.  Anyway, assassin names aside, Hard Eight was just another awesome movie to add to the list of strong Anderson projects.  It was his first full length feature and so perhaps it wasn't as perfect as Boogie Nights or There Will Be Blood, but it was still better than 80% of films in existence, probably better than 95% of crime thrillers.  It was successful from the opening sequence on, starting out really nicely and ending strong. It was like a combination of Jackie Brown & The Cooler; it had a cool Vegas feel, a screwed up plot, and some nice subtle humor.  It wasn't as violent as a Tarantino film, although not many are, but it still had a good crime vibe supported by great characters.  I just love John C. Reilly, once more playing a guy named John.  Philip Baker Hall was excellent, Gwyneth Paltrow has never been better, Samuel L. Jackson was slimy, and the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman almost stole the show with a three-minute scene.  If you love Anderson's work than you'll really enjoy this one.  And if you're not that familiar with it, this might be a good place to start.  Hard Eight is a slightly less oppressive film than some of his others, making it more available to audiences perhaps, but keeping it from the very top of my list.

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰

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