Kurt Russell and Samuel L. Jackson in THE HATEFUL EIGHT.

The Hateful Eight (2015) – This is not so much a Western as a tribute to those all-star 1970s Agatha Christie adaptations like Murder on the Orient Express or Death on the Nile, complete with crimes re-enacted in flashback and the detective building his case out loud, to a room of captive suspects. (The steady elimination of characters – all guilty in some way – also suggests Christie’s And Then There Were None.) It’s a bummer, unfortunately: the paper-thin characters that are a feature of this genre are supposed to represent different forces in Reconstruction society, and they can’t take the weight. Quentin Tarantino’s dialogue is too often flat exposition, without his usual currents of tension or flashes of wit; the characters’ interactions are monotonously hostile. The longest flashback – a whole, redundant chapter, showing us what we already know – seems an admission of failure, as if Tarantino knew his main story was uninvolving, the main point of interest the precise manner of each death, and decided to punish us with the brutal deaths of people we’re actually sorry to see die. The movie looks great – even the frames in the haberdashery are full of detail, people moving in and out of the background – but this is Tarantino’s weakest film. **

Heartbeats (2010) – That great poet of adolescence Xavier Dolan was, crucially, still an adolescent when he made this film: like Dolan’s debut, this represents teenage experience with exactness but not with hindsight. His movies have a special immediacy for that reason: in I Killed My Mother, the claustrophobic relationship between mother and son, and here, young people’s dawning sense of their sexual power, and their attempts to construct personae. The two friends at the film’s centre, played by Dolan and Monia Chokri, have a creepy, almost familial resemblance, like vampires, or Jean Cocteau’s self-infatuated siblings; the love triangle they’re drawn into recalls Jules and Jim. Dolan includes these influences straightforwardly, proudly, like posters on a bedroom wall; he shows us the way the characters see themselves, fixes in slow motion that way a particular dress or jacket makes them feel. He exerts almost unbelievable control as an actor, writer, editor and director: when he is purple, he is, like Taylor Swift, purple to a purpose. His films have a powerful sweetness, only heightened by their frequent stabs of anxiety. ***½

The Host (2006) – This remains, along with District 9 and The Babadook, the best monster movie made this century. One reason why is the way director Bong Joon-ho never loses sight of the individual in the midst of action – the monster’s initial rampage on the banks of the Han River (a classic sequence) is a built from brief incidents of panic, death, miraculous escape. Even when they’re only glimpsed for a moment, the people register as people. Another is his weird, complicated sense of humour: his characters – the movie centres on a family who run a food stand by the river – can seem exaggerated, gross, but in this movie buffoonery and heroism are not mutually exclusive, just as the family’s public outpouring of grief when the monster claims one of their own is both ridiculous and felt. This unstable tone, where clowning shades abruptly into suffering and vice-versa, is typical of Bong, and it leaves you off-balance, constantly re-thinking your relationship to the story. The constant is the family’s feeling for each other: none of them gifted in the slaying of monsters, all of them to some degree losers, they never flag in seeking reunion. ***½

She’s Gotta Have It (1986) – The black and white photography and the depiction of New York bohemia recalls John Cassavetes (as does the occasional stiffness of the acting); the way that director Spike Lee casts himself as a fast-talking small fry is in the tradition of Woody Allen’s unflattering self-portraits (the movie’s structure – a series of interviews with the characters giving their conflicting accounts directly to camera – may have been an influence on Allen’s Husbands and Wives); like Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Martin Scorsese’s ‘woman’s picture’, it includes a reference to The Wizard of Oz. Lee makes something fresh out of all these influences. The structure is agreeably slapdash: the movie’s a collage like the one in the heroine Nola’s (Tracy Camilla Johns) apartment, with the freedom collage offers to paste in whatever grabs the artist’s eye. The best thing about it is its sense of humour, about men particularly (one highlight is a montage of “dogs” trying out pick up lines). Nola’s three suitors are types – the charming man-child, the self-infatuated yuppie, and the romantic whose grand gestures mask an angry sense of entitlement. The movie shows us what Nola sees in these men and why none of them is satisfying on their own. Her insistence on keeping her options open retains its liberating force. ***½

Walkabout (1971) – Nicolas Roeg’s movie makes no sense as geography: the children arrive in the desert in their school uniforms, as if it were a short afternoon drive from Sydney, and the desert itself is shot more as a series of striking locations than a coherent landscape. Roeg wants the children in uniforms to underline how strange and ill-prepared they are in this setting: this is typical of the director, sacrificing plausibility for the points he wants to make. Much of the film has not aged well, from the prurient way Roeg points his camera up Jenny Agutter’s skirt to the lack of curiosity about the David Gulpilil character’s language and culture. (The young white boy communicates much more fully with Gulpilil than his sister, but Roeg pays scant attention to this: he wants to keep Gulpilil the mysterious native.) It’s memorable nonetheless, with its own Hansel and Gretel atmosphere, chiefly because of Roeg’s gift for making familiar things strange: something as simple as Agutter stepping onto a tarred road seems momentous, a person crossing from one world to another. **½