Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Hateful Eight

(2015, d.Quentin Tarantino) - in 70mm

I'd been watching little else than Star Wars movies and TV shows in the 6 days prior, so I needed an adjustment to my brain, and figured a 3-hour, closed room, experimental western would do it quite rapidly.  It's definitely a shock to the system, but then, regardless of the situation, a Tarantino film always is.

Tarantino single-handedly made me a cinephile with one movie.  Pulp Fiction exploded my brain out of an adolescence of consuming little other cinema than '80's science fiction, comedies and kidflicks.  With one film I was introduced not just to one new language on screen, but hundreds.  I owe the man a great deal of thanks.

In recent years I've sort of receded into my comfort zone once again, my cinematic consumption little else than modern blockbusters and sci-fi and kid-related pictures (to tell the truth, this golden age of television we're in has taken most of my movie-watching time away), and I was kind of hoping a new Tarantino picture would once again explode my brain and kickstart a desire to love the languages of film again.

So, yes, I give Tarantino a lot of latitude when making a film, but I also have expectations, not necessarily in what it will be, but in how it will impact me...how I will feel after.

The Hateful Eight is an experience picture by design.  It was shot in now obsolete Cinemascope 70mm, and for the die hards, screened as such.  If a city didn't have a 70mm theatre capable of projecting it, well the Weinsteins have put on a road show (of course the film is competing for 70mm screens with The Force Awakens right now).  Living in Toronto, a filmgoers mecca at this point, we assuredly have at least a few 70mm screens, but only one of them is showing the film.

The structure of the presentation borrows from epics past, with an introductory overture, (allowing Ennio Morricone's Oscar-worthy score it's solo moment to shine) and an intermission between acts.  This really demands and old school single-screen cinemahouse setting, somewhere where the score kicking back in will signal the audience to return to their seats (I have to admit that the break period was definitely welcome ... it's the demands of big cineplexes in the recent past to cram as many showings in a day that has forced lengthy movies to be bladder endurance tests...but with all the home video/VOD alternatives, perhaps the intermission will make a comeback as a unique aspect in cinema).

We suffered our coldest day in Toronto this day in which I saw the film (a suddenly blistering -24 degrees Celsius in the wind) which made for a fairly immersive viewing experience of a film in which many travelers of questionable origins are trapped together in a drafty and remote Wyoming haberdashery, a raging blizzard outside.  The audience (quite sizable for a Monday matinee, post-holidays) largely kept some of their protective outdoor gear on...a hat, a scarf, a coat over the legs.  If the gusts of cool circulating air in the theatre were intentional as part of the screening, it's both cruel and brilliant (though I doubt it).

The film, as noted, largely takes place indoors, but its use of exteriors really hit home the glory of 70mm... unfortunately the format tends to get lost, or even prove itself excessive and extraneous with the majority of indoor sequences.  It's hard to really pick out what it actually contributes to most shots.  It seems like a joke, to shoot a film in ultra widescreen just to do so in one singular, very confined setting, but I bet from a creative standpoint the director enjoyed the challenges thereof... though that creative enthusiasm does not necessarily translate into something much meaningful for the audience.  Some of Tarantino's other enthusiasms, like his love for Morricone and letting his stars show off a little (like Jennifer Jason Leigh strumming a morose tune on a guitar) translate a lot more effectively.

Tarantino is most widely known for his dialogue, and while the conversation here is quite endless, the dialogue at times feels weak (or, rather, plain).  At other times, it's quite the opposite, hitting too extensive heights of floridness, providing too much casual profanity and racial epithets.  Being sensitive to such things in a Tarantino movie seems like a "well, what did you expect?" situation,  but I honestly felt certain exchanges bandying about the n-word ad nauseum were done so just as a middle finger from Tarantino to the people who keep telling him he shouldn't use it (or isn't allowed to use it).  I honestly find his use in many instances character or scene-accurate (not just here but in many of his films) but also I see many uses of it as weirdly self-indulgent and he hits all sorts of uneasy lows here.

As for the story at large, it's decent, a slow burn introduction to a cast of unsavory characters, no real idiots among them, all with a potential stake in the Maguffin... that Maguffin being Leigh, whom Kurt Russell's impressively mustachioed bounty hunter is in the process of dragging in for a $10,000 reward, of which he does not want to share.  Everyone he views as either a co-conspirator with Leigh or against him for the bounty.  As each cast member comes in, the stakes are raised a little more, but who is who, and what's their motivation?

Through 90-plus minutes leading into the intermission it gets tense, right up until the intermission when that tension snaps.  After the intermission things go off the rails... not quite to the same extent as From Dusk 'Til Dawn, but that's a fairly apt comparison for how two distinctive acts of a Tarantino-infused movie can go.  I don't object to the violence, it's kind of expected...but perhaps that's just it...it's Tarantino formula to go there, in that way.  I wonder why gore, not syrupy red spaghetti western blood spatter?

There are elements here that feel like a first draft put to screen, clever aspects like second-act narration (from the director) that feel like they belonged in more spots, or even certain stretches of dialog which just don't sound polished to Tarantino's usual standards.  Even the length feels excessive.  This is really a 2.5 hour movie (less overture and intermission) that could've been pared back at least another 20 minutes, but Tarantino had something he was going for, a feeling, an experience, which I agree he accomplished, but not to its utmost effect.

If I sound disappointed it's because this is a Tarantino film that delivers little more than a Tarantino film.  One always expects gratuitous and shocking violence, provocative dialogue, top notch acting, and snappy banter out of his efforts, but usually there's something more, the truly unexpected.  It is a solidly enjoyable motion picture but beyond Morricone's tremendous score, there's little here truly unexpected.