Wednesday, December 16, 2015

LIZ SMITH: Quentin Tarantino's "The Hateful Eight"

It's On & Crackin' up in da Mtns of Colorado!! — So tweets Samuel L. Jackson.
 
by Liz Smith

Quentin Tarantino's "The Hateful Eight" — And He Ain't Kidding!!

"I WON'T eat anything that has intelligent life, but I'd gladly eat a network executive or a politician," said the great comic actor Marty Feldman.
FLASH! Quentin Tarantino's new film, "The Hateful Eight" is a brisk 90-minute crime thriller, with a totally comprehensible narrative, no gratuitous violence and no expletives other than an occasional "damn!"

Kidding!

I went to a marvelous party the other night at NYC's Rainbow Room, co-hosted by The Cinema Society. It was stuffed with celebrities (Debbie Harry, Kate Hudson, Adrien Brody, Ethan Hawke, Frances McDormand, Calvin Klein, Bill Paxton, Richard Kind, Goldie Hawn, etc). The noise level — and the music — was overpoweringly loud.
Quentin flanked by Debbie Harry and Kate Hudson.
But everybody talked and talked and ate and ate because they'd just come from the venerable Ziegfeld Theater where Quentin Tarantino's "The Hateful Eight" had its premiere. The film runs three hours with an overture and intermission. And it is shot in Ultra Panavision 70mm — this provides a wider and more detailed image. All very grand. And once it's over, you sure do need something — a drink, at least.
Before the movie began — surprisingly close to its scheduled time — producer Harvey Weinstein stood up front to say a few words about the director's genius and commitment. But his microphone wasn't loud enough for the bombastic Harvey to be heard properly. (I know — hard to believe.) Suddenly, Quentin appeared, spoke into the muffled mic and they could hear him in Brussels! And he was talking in an average conversational tone of voice. He said, "Can you believe it? For once, Harvey's too demure!"

Then Quentin quickly introduced his "Hateful Eight" cast: Kurt Russell, Bruce Dern, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tim Roth, Walton Goggins, Michael Madsen, Demian Bichir, Zoe Bell and Channing Tatum, whom Tarantino introduced as "the prettiest of the 'Hateful Eight.'" The star, Samuel L. Jackson, who has appeared in most of Tarantino's work, was not present.
Channing Tatum. Michael Madsen.
Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell.
Sam Rockwell. Alan Cumming.
Adrien Brody, Walton Goggins, and Christian Slater.
Jennifer Jason Leigh. Zoe Bell.
Tim Roth. Richard Kind.
Demian Bichir. Bill Paxton.
QUENTIN TARANTINO is considered by many to be the primary film auteur of his generation. Others don't. I do, sometimes. I thought "Pulp Fiction" was funny and original. I loved the "Kill Bill" movies — real art, and Uma Thurman deserved an Oscar nomination, at least. There was a lot to admire and to be revolted by in "Inglourious Basterds" and "Django Unchained." Tarantino is always yanking our chain — asking us hard, usually blood-soaked, profanity-laced, often profoundly funny questions about race and revenge and violence and justice and who's good or bad. And do "good" or "bad" exist as we imagine?
And we have to make up our own minds, too. Tarantino doesn't make it easy. He's not putting a gun or a knife or some other ghastly weapon of death or disfigurement to our heads to see his movies. His characters are not ambiguous, nor are their motivations hard to discern. He leaves it to his audience to ponder what they've just seen. Is it funny, shocking, revolting, racist, sexist, liberating, true or false, necessary or an overwrought blight? His work is all that, and all that his madly devoted audiences glean from those movies.
"THE Hateful Eight" is a somewhat mellower, subtler film than "Inglourious" or "Django." But please remember, I use those words in relation to a Tarantino movie. It's not quite as epic as those entries, but there's plenty of over-the-top violence, expletives and a shocking rape (the only point in the film where the audience became unusually still and quiet.)

Taking place some years after the Civil War, in wintery Wyoming, "The Hateful Eight" consists of a convicted murderess, several bounty hunters, a couple of white supremacists, and various others. They are all, indeed, hateful. (The few nice folks get killed off, natch.) Most of the movie finds all the hateful protagonists trapped in a cabin during a vicious blizzard.

Everybody has an agenda, a few have stories — slowly secrets are revealed. In a way, this is Tarantino's version of an old Agatha Christie tale — specifically, "And Then There Were None." Although nobody goes gently — with stiff British upper lips — into that good night.
Tarantino on set.
To tell more would do a disservice to all those who have yet to see the movie. Suffice to say it's pretty twisty — and twisted. And yes, there are laughs. Some of them come from our discomfort with the material, the words, the actions, the conflicted moralities, and the fact that there's just nobody to root for. At least I didn't. On the other hand, considering the time, place and mentalities involved, everybody actually has a point. The violence, most of it in the second half of the movie — after the intermission — is graphic to the point of cartoon-ish. But if you know your Tarantino — and who doesn't at this point — no surprise there.
I didn't find the dialogue as memorable as in past Tarantino efforts, although everybody gets off at least a few good lines or outrageous monologues. And it's not as vivid as other Quentin movies. Well, as I said, they are all trapped in a crappy cabin in the middle of nowhere in the midst of a storm. (The use of 70mm is stunning in the outdoor scenes of the spare, snow-covered land, carriages being drawn by beautiful horses. But once the hatefuls are inside — plotting, poisoning, pondering — I wonder at the efficacy of the expensive process.)
SAMUEL L. Jackson, as the bounty hunter who prefers 'em dead rather than alive, is simply great. As is Kurt Russell, almost unrecognizable behind a huge bushy beard and mustache. (He's the other bounty hunter. He prefers to deliver his prisoners alive — it's his "code.") It was terrific to see the veteran Bruce Dern, and all the others — Roth, Goggins, Bichir, Madsen put in colorful performances. (Channing Tatum is fine. But his role is brief and looks kind of stunty — a little box-office lure.)
But the center of the movie, in more ways than one, is Jennifer Jason Leigh. As Daisy Domergue, who is Kurt Russell's prisoner, she is punched, slapped and knocked around in a manner designed to make us extremely uncomfortable. She begins the movie sporting an outrageous black eye and a split lip, obviously from previous beatings given to her by Russell. It only gets worse. She's a hard number and nothing really gets her down for long. She conveys her character almost silently in most of the first half of the movie, and it is mighty effective. (She projects a lifetime of crime and debauchery in a grimace, grin or leer.)
But Daisy finds her voice in the second part of the movie and she is hateful woman, hear her roar! I have to admit, I was kind of rooting for her, despite her viciousness. I predict an Oscar nomination.

Once again, Quentin Tarantino has made a movie some people will praise as genius and others will dismiss as an exploitation of all our basest instincts. Why can't it be both? I think that is what Mr T. intends.
P.S. Harvey Weinstein will present "The Hateful Eight" like those old-fashioned road-show attractions from the 1950s and '60s. Many theaters will have to enlarge their screens for the 70mm prints. Also — cinema fans will rejoice that the movie's score has been composed by the legendary Ennio Morricone. When his name came up on screen the audience went wild!
 
Contact Liz Smith here.