Monday, January 16, 2017

The Hateful Eight

Year 9, Day 16 - 1/16/17 - Movie #2,516

BEFORE: I've managed to skate by so far this winter without doing any heavy shoveling.  We've had three small snowstorms so far, but each time it was followed by a day with either rain, or temperatures in the 40's, or both.  Why should I throw my back out shoveling, when it's all going to melt the next day?  I have a feeling that eventually this bill will come due, and NYC will get socked with 20 inches of snow all at once.   I learned a few rules about shoveling from my father: 1) lift with the legs, not the back 2) never scrape with the shovel, just get it down to the ice and then use some ice melt and 3) there's simply no point in shoveling until the snow STOPS coming down (my neighbors shovel mid-storm, which is ridiculous).

To these, I've added my own rules which are: 1) never shovel snow into the street, just pile it on your property (a source of much contention between me and the neighbors 2) if it's going to be over 40 degrees the next day, don't even bother, and 3) if you sleep in, and your friendly neighbor does you a favor by shoveling your walk, it's OK, just try and do the same for them on the next snowstorm.   

I had hopes this film would come in to my possession in time for last year's Samuel L. Jackson movie-thon, but it wasn't meant to be.  It's more seasonally appropriate here, anyway.  I've been meaning to add this one to the list for about a month, and I just haven't had the space.  Finally I recorded it last week, and added it to the list a few days ago.  I can't add it AS I watch it, because that doesn't count as progress.

The arrival of a new Tarantino to the film is always met with great anticipation here at the Movie Year, even if the films don't always live up to my expectations, like with "Death Proof".  I've got to give this guy's films a chance, but at some point his good will with me has got to stop being dependent on how great "Pulp Fiction" was. 

Walton Goggins carries over from "American Ultra", and I'll have to follow up on that other Jesse Eisenberg & Kristen Stewart film later.  This chain gets me to where I need to be at the start of February.  

THE PLOT: In the dead of a Wyoming winter, a bounty hunter and his prisoner find shelter in a cabin currently inhabited by a collection of nefarious characters.

AFTER: For this one, you've got to think back to a time when our country was politically and physically divided, violently coming to blows over economic and ideological differences - no, not the 2016 election, I'm talking about the Civil War (though I do see some comparisons...).  Most Westerns are set in the decades after the War of Southern Secession (or is it "Northern Agression"?) because that's just when U.S. citizens were making their way out west - and this shows that the very deep racial and political differences between the North and South were reflected out in the new territories, long after the war.  

This makes for a boatload of tension in Tarantino's "locked room" western film, the bulk of which is set in Minnie's Haberdashery, where various people have come for shelter from a blizzard, all on their way to the town of Red Rock, Wyoming.  Oh, there's some set-up on the way to the outpost, as bounty hunter John Ruth and his female fugitive are joined by two men in need of a ride - another bounty hunter, Major Marquis Warren, and Chris Mannix, who is Red Rock's new sheriff, or so he claims. When they arrive at Minnie's, there are four people there: a cowboy, an old general, an executioner, and a Mexican taking care of the store.  

As the blizzard rages, and the tensions run high, it starts to become clear that maybe not everyone is who they appear to be.  Of course, since John Ruth is bringing his bounty in alive (it seems that most other bounty hunters opt for the "dead" part of "dead or alive", which makes sense, it's just easier...) it's possible that someone has set a trap for him at Minnie's, or is he just being paranoid?  (NITPICK POINT: Did they even have the word "paranoid" back in the Old West?  It seems like something psychiatrists would have come up with in the 1930's.  Let me check - aha, 1921, I was close.  Same with the phrase "pen pal", it wasn't used until 1938.) 

The story is gripping, and there are many turnovers used as plot points, but here are my main complaints.  First off, the film is too violent.  I'm not a big fan of this Peckinpah-style ultra-violence, where you actually see the head explode, or someone ends up covered in gore, splattered from standing too close to someone else's misfortune.  This was my main problem with "Death Proof", which took such glee in presenting the car accidents that they had to be presented in slow-motion, and several times over so we would see EXACTLY how each girl got killed.  And that's something else that troubles me, the violence toward women.  I know, equal rights, some women are just as tough as men, but it's still hard for me to stomach.  Here Jennifer Jason Leigh's character is punched, elbowed, thrown out of a wagon, and has her teeth knocked out - and that's just in Act 1.  Things get worse from there.  There's too much violence overall toward men AND women here, but the stuff directed against women is particularly jarring.  I know, it was a different time, and stuff like this probably did happen, but that doesn't mean we have to celebrate it on film - Tarantino seems to revel in it at times.

Tied in with this is the over-use (my opinion) of the N-word.  I get that the word was more commonly used back then, but I similarly don't see the obsessive need to celebrate that fact.  Weren't there other epithets that could have taken its place, without all of the negative connotations?  It's very clever, Quentin (I can use the familiar name since I did once meet the man at Comic-Con...) to set the film back in the 1800's so you can justify using this word so much, but why is it so important to you?  It was used once in "Pulp Fiction", and then its use was even funny - so maybe less is more?  

Secondly, the film is too long.  With a running time just over three hours, I find it hard to believe that this couldn't have been trimmed down to 2 hr. 40 min., or even 2 hr. 30 min.  There are long stretches where nothing of note happens, and while this might be representative of a night in a cabin during a blizzard, it's not so great for telling a cinematic story.  Or cut a couple of characters, I can't say in which scene without spoilers, but there is definitely at least one that was well-populated. 

Which brings me, in sort of a round-about way, to the non-linear structure that the film engages at one point.  I rant and rail here time and time again against excessive use of flashbackery, because most directors just don't know how to do it right.  Turns out there's an exemption clause, but only if your name is Quentin Tarantino.  "Pulp Fiction" is a tesseract of 5 storylines that intersect and fold in upon themselves, which at one point caused a character we saw die come back to life.  If that compilation of tales had been told completely in a proper timeline, toggling between the 4 or 5 stories as needed, it wouldn't have been nearly as interesting - plus the audience would have narrative whiplash from starting up one story, then cutting to another, then back.  

So it's allowable, if the director knows what he's doing.  Let's say (and this does not happen during "The Hateful Eight") that a story requires that a bomb go off in a room.  Hitchcock showed us all that if the bomb just goes off, surprising everyone, it feels like a cheat, a "deus ex machina", and it's not the best way to tell a story (though it probably best reflects the surprise felt by the people in the room.)  And if you show the person planting the bomb, there's no mystery involved, plus people are going to be on the edge of their seat, wondering when the bomb will go off, and that's not the best way to tell a story either.  The best way he had to create suspense was to show the people in the room, going about their business, and then pan the camera down to the bomb hidden under the desk, or the bed, or whatever.  This also creates dramatic irony, which is when the audience has information that the characters don't have.  

The more modern way of doing this is to present the information when it's relevant, i.e., after the bomb goes off, and then we flashback to someone setting it.  Or this is used for explaining after the fact how someone escaped from a room, or got the thing done in time.  My problem seems to be when directors fall back on it as a crutch, in order to start the story at the most interesting part, which is an admission that the story is too boring when told in a completely linear fashion.

But Tarantino uses the technique well, and I believe that this film is still a masterpiece of storytelling, despite the vulgar parts. I'd love to give it an appropriate "8" but I'm taking a point off for making me hear the N-word so many times (and on MLK day, to boot!)

Also starring Kurt Russell (last seen in "Death Proof"), Samuel L. Jackson (last seen in "XXX: State of the Union"), Jennifer Jason Leigh (last seen in "The Big Picture"), Bruce Dern (last seen in "Hard Time: The Premonition"), Demian Bichir (last seen in "Savages"), Tim Roth (last seen in "Four Rooms"), Michael Madsen (last seen in "Wyatt Earp"), Channing Tatum (last seen in "Foxcatcher"), Zoë Bell (also last seen in "Death Proof"), James Parks (ditto), Dana Gourrier, Lee Horsley (last seen in "Django Unchained"), Keith Jefferson (ditto), Gene Jones (last seen in "A Merry Friggin' Christmas"), Craig Stark, Belinda Owino, with the voice of Quentin Tarantino (last seen in "Planet Terror")

RATING:  7 out of 10 peppermint sticks

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