Sunday, December 27, 2015

The trouble with THE HATEFUL EIGHT (2015) -a rambling look at the new Quentin Tarantino film

Quentin Tarantino needs an editor.

No, he needs his enormous ego punctured and he needs to get smacked in the head.

Someone really needs to tell him that while he may know how to weave fragments from a variety of sources together he doesn't know everything and his fucking around with the studios to make them jump through hoops to release his over long films in utterly pointless roadshow versions has to be stopped.

Can't anyone tell him no?

Why is Harvey Weinstein, who is so good at cutting up the films from people around the world, unable to take a pair of scissors to any of Tarantino's over long cinematic digressions?

Could some please tell me?

Yes I saw the HATEFUL EIGHT.

Yes I paid money to see it in the roadshow version.

Sadly the film broke and the framing went askew and it looked much worse than the Academy screener I saw some of. It was a screening that left me less certain the way forward is through film projection (though I do think its the way of preservation) -but that's another story for another time.

As for the film itself---the best thing I can say is belt yourself in and relax this is going to take a while. I should also warn you I may spill the beans about a few plot points.

Before going on I do like the film- but I have lots of problems with it. My best expression of  my feelings toward the film is that if it lost an hour it could be Taranatino's best film.

From here on I'm going to explain what I think went wrong and what is keeping the film from being the best it can be. However I must warn you that if you continue reading you're agreeing that you're okay with spoilers....

The plot of the film has John Ruth (Kurt Russell) taking Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) by stagecoach to Red Rock to be tried for murder. He wants nothing and no one to stop him. Along the they pick up bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L Jackson and Chris Mannix (Walter Goggins), the new sheriff of Red Rocks.  Time is of the essence since they are trying to outrun  a blizzard. The group stops at  Minnie's Haberdashery, an inn/tavern, where they find the owners gone and the people from an earlier stage waiting for the storm to pass. Things become tense as Ruth tries to figure out who is good and bad, he is certain that at least one of the people in the tavern is there to free Daisy.

Billed as an action packed western (just look at the commercials) this is in fact a three hour mystery that would work wonderfully on the stage but much too talky and bloated for the motion picture screen. Anything approaching action only comes in the final hour. Despite what the commercials say this is a not an action film even if lots of guns end up being fired.

The problem here is that the film runs very close to three hours, and if you see it, as I did, in the roadshow version it runs well over three hours and I'm really not sure why. To me there simply isn't enough material to support a three hour story here even with digressions and extended monologues.

To be fair, once the film gets going, and when it stays on point, the film really is some of the best filmmaking of Tarantino's career. I could argue that the bits that work are at the top of his cinematic output, the problem is he gets off into digressions and allows sequences that just go on and on with the result instead of having something that is a tight little thriller on the order of something like CUTTHROATS 9, we have something else.(By the reaction of many in the audience today most people are going to find this boring)

When does Tarantino go wrong?

Literally at the start.

Using grindhouse style titles and cheap Euro-thriller music the film feels much less than the epic roadshow film that he was aiming for. Tarantino says that he wanted something on the order of BEN HUR or KHARTOUM but instead we get music that says Dario Argento or gaillo. Tarrantino has talked about how happy he was to work with Ennio Morricone in a western setting, but those opening strains sound completely out of place. The score comes back into line one the story starts (though the songs used are way too out of place to work).

The film then gives us several long sequences of the stage driving through the snow. That's all well and good,but they just go on and on. We watch as the Major is picked up by the stage and this long extended sequence as he walks and talks to Kurt Russell who even reads the warrants for the dead men he is carrying. There is no reason for it to go rambling on other than to explain why he shot the film in 70mm.

There are several sequences where characters talk and talk for no good purpose. Tim Roth has a speech or two that could be cut. The monologue that closes the first half of the film serves no purpose other than to have it cause the shooting that closes the first part. While I have no problem with the shooting, I am baffled as to why it's has to be as it does. Yes its something akin to the great speeches in other Tarantino films, but here it serves no real purpose... especially since it's directed at a character who has no purpose in being in the film. Why is he there? Simply to give Bruce Dern a role. The pointlessness of his role is revealed via the flashback, he is ultimately just this guy who exists to get shot at the end of the first half of the film. If anyone had any sense he should never have been in the film to begin with.

I am at a loss about the need for this film to have an intermission. I have been to many many epic films and roadshow attractions, but this is the first time where the break feels artificial. It was as if Tarantino put it there because he wanted to make this roadshow film and it was the the only point where it could go. It was a kind of shock moment- but at the same time it's the wrong place because its the moment where the audience is hooked and instead of dragging us kicking and screaming to the end- we are given 20 minutes to talk about other things. (officially its 12 minutes but it ran closer to 20 for us)

And then Tarantino missteps further by giving us a long narrated sequence that shows us "Daisy's Secret" and what happened when we weren't looking. Its a narrative blunder  that keeps us outside the narrative for an extended period of time. Worse it proves that Tarantino's intermission was a bad idea since he has to explain to everyone what was going on a few minutes before. Not only does it explain what we've just seen it also shows us a whole bunch of stuff we should have seen ourselves and not been told about.

The plot problems continue with the flashback that reveals what happened four or five hours earlier. Its not that the sequence is bad, but it's done in such away that if you think about what you're seeing it sets up all sorts of questions that can not be logically answered. This ties into Tarantino's dialog which begins to reference more and more things that are outside of the scope of our knowing.  This wouldn't be as big an issue except that Tarantino has structured a good portion of the film not as a western but as a mystery of sorts. Mysteries have certain rules that you have to follow or they collapse. Tarantino doesn't build the ground work. Worse what we see has the feeling of Tarantino bending things because he wants it go a certain way.

(I won't get into the continuity goofs as flash back sequence alternates from blue skies to clouds and back again, how blood stains change or how snow levels seen to be much worse at the start of the film, are much heavier than they should be when we see the same location five hours earlier way before the blizzard comes not long after the stage arrives at Minnie's.)

Beyond the plot, and other mistakes and errors I am troubled by the films seeming misogyny. Why is it there?

I've had it defended as being part of the time and part of our times, which is fair enough, but why is it in the film itself? What purpose does it serve? To shock? The graphic violence and stories about degradation do that  on their own, but why is Daisy little more than a punching bag?

Seriously-explain it to me? I've seen hundreds of horror films, slasher films, which were viewed as anti-women. I've seen twisted porn images that made me wince, and on some level I could find a defense, however thin for them to be considered not misogynistic. Here I can't find a reason.  Even more damning is there may only be one time where she doesn't say or do something doesn't result in her getting hit, shot  or beaten.  Yes she is a "bad girl" but even so everything results in some form of violence against her. The one time where it isn't a blow to her its to the guitar she is playing as if Ruth is silencing her.

Why would anyone such as Jennifer Jason Leigh take the role when all she is is a target? It's come out that Jennifer Lawrence was in talks to talk the role, but to be honest having seen the film I completely understand what she walked away- and it has nothing to do with JOY.

If you want to take things further consider that when we see other women die notice how ugly their deaths are, shot once they lie on the ground in pain and gurgling and then are shot again in a manner that is kind of gratuitous more so since the men seem to enjoy the killing.  If you look at the shootings of male characters either they die right away or are allowed to carry on stoically.

What is Tarantino thinking?

Apparently he thinks he's an auteur who in 25 years will be hailed as a great film director.


He's a filmmaker who is capable of great things but allows his ego to get in his way. He raids older films and steals out right and while he can polish things up and make a film that stands on its own (JACKIE BROWN or parts of this) he would much rather use the work of other filmmakers and call it his own. He pontificates about films and genres that he only half understands and calls people out because he has the bully pulpit and other people don't.

Recently Spike Lee, who has been making films for five years longer than Tarantino, was on the radio in New York saying he doesn't need an Oscar because his films are in the National film registry and are being taught in colleges. Lee''s almost 30 year career has spawn genuine classics and has most importantly changed the world for the better (DO THE RIGHT THING). Almost twenty five years on Tarantino is looking a head to another 25 years down the road when he gets respect.Quentin if you are not getting it after 25 years you're sure as hell not going to get it after 50.

To be honest I respect him as an artist and a filmmaker- I just think his big ego gets in his way. He doesn't know all. Worse his desire to coast by largely cobbling together bloated epics based on sleek exploitation fare is ruining his chances of ever being taken truly seriously by the majority of the film community. Yes he writes witty dialog and yes he knows where to steal from, but he doesn't know where to stop. He doesn't know that hes gone from being a raconteur to being an asshole. I'm guessing that the reason he doesn't see it is his ego has started to sag over his eyes and he can't see anything.

The thing that pains me most about HATEFUL EIGHT is that if he cut an hour of it he's have a great film. Its painful to see that sitting in this pool of bloody vomit is what could have been and should have been one of the all time great westerns. I truly love sections of the film but there is so much garbage here that it brings the whole thing down.  I hate that this film is being roadshowed. I hate that it was needlessly shot in 70mm giving it an expanse to what should have been a claustrophobic film. (And who ever called the setting a western Tardis- you nailed it) He needs to realize that the films he is aping were 90 or 100 minutes for a reason, they don't work at twice the length.

Should you see it?

You don't need to see it in 70mm unless you want to get the roadshow book. Yes the few vistas are spectacular but digital projection will be fine. Additionally the film doesn't need an intermission and all the extra music cues.

Additionally be warned the film can be tedious. The people around me were largely bored by it. Yes some people liked it, but no one was raving in the 3/4 full theater, most just kind of got up and walked out- puzzled about the length. That's not scientific, just reporting of one screening on a Saturday morning.

Ultimately this has some of the best work Tarantino's done but's a mess.

(I know I should talk more about what works, but all I can talk about is what doesn't)

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