06 January, 2016

Alright Ramblers, Let's Get Rambling

By James Kislingbury

I've put a lot of calories into telling people why most of Tarantino's movies are garbage. Kill Bill 1 is fun, but too long and too closely resembles a feature length music video. Kill Bill 2 is too long and no fun. Death Proof watches like a practical joke. And Inglorious Misspellings* watches like the deleted scenes of a film that never got made. While his first three films are classics for varying reasons, after ten years of watching an artist wander in the wilderness, I realized that I couldn't follow him any more. I was going to go watch movies that had stories.

Then Django Unchained came out. It felt like a maturing of Tarantino's fixations. While all of the quirks that he usually overindulged were still there, he managed to wrap them all up in a film that was full of characters and had a compelling story. It had a drive and a direction that, after the box office failure of Jackie Brown, he seemed to resent. Yet, as much as I loved that movie, I also realized that this was something he could easily backslide from. He followed up Jackie Brown with Kill Bill. The same might be true of moving from Django Unchained to The Hateful Eight.

It is with no little energy (and no little relief) that enjoyed The Hateful Eight quite a bit.

Well, maybe “enjoyed” is the wrong word. I enjoyed Mistress America. The Hateful Eight, I endured. It's a movie that almost demands that you loath it. It indulges in all of QT's worst fixation (short of women's feet), yet, in the end, it's a film that comes together as a satisfactory whole. It is not a movie without faults and it is certainly one that I wouldn't begrudge anybody for loathing, but, damnit, I liked it. I really, really liked it.

That makes me a bad person, doesn't it?

First and foremost, as with all of Tarantino's post-Jackie Brown movies, it is too damn long**. Like Bruce Dern's old timer, it's even satisfied to go nowhere. The first 90 minutes of the film are jam packed with long stretches of nothing. Here's a scene of expostion. Here's a long take of people hammering spikes into the ice that will not come back at all. Here's another scene of folks jawing on about a whole lot of nothing (that will also not come back in any way, shape, or form). Beneath the grizzled visage of The Hateful Eight, is the sharp face of a Agatha Christie chamber piece, yet it insists on indulging in its

The worst example of this is how we have to watch a board get nailed into a door frame at least five different times. We watch it. Every. Single. Time. We get it, QT, it's kind of funny. The first time. Now you're just fucking with us. Go back to filming women's feet if this is how you're going to be. This movies doesn't so much need an editor as it needs a pathfinder. A large, ugly man with a machete. Possibly Machete. QT can probably get him for a song.

The other problem with the structure of the film is that its story is bound together with the same gossamer threads as a good Three's Company episode. It's premise makes little sense and as the film carries on, its plot thickens, and its stakes get raised, it make less and less sense. The story requires that Daisy (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the bounty which the entire film revolves around stay alive, but. . . Why? The Hangman (Kurt Russell) isn't a particularly upright man. So why is she still alive? This is stretched even thinner when we realized that almost everyone has a vested interest in her dropping dead. Yet, she doesn't.

Why? Because the sitcom requires it. This conceit is a cause for monologues and ultraviolence. The worst of the film seems to act upon this urge. Don't think about the logic, don't pay attention to the man behind the curtain, look over here. We've got the guy from Justified doing a caricature of Barney Fife and that's pretty cool, right? RIGHT?

Unlike his worst films, though, it never tips over. It knows where it's going, even if it takes the long way around. Through some switchbacks. And then backtracks. Then takes a nap. Then decides it would just be easier to go the easy way after all. No, not that easy way. Come here, I'll show you. It's not like you didn't clear your schedule for the next three hours.

I mean, how many goddamn times do I have to see somebody put a hammer to a nail? They don't even hit their thumb! Not once!

The Hateful Eight is also loathsome in that it makes me find common cause with Spike Lee. I don't feel like that's ever a good sign. This time, though, I get it, Spike. You were right. Tarantino loves using the word “nigger***” too goddamn much. Motherfucker is in love with it. Straight up. The dude gets off on it. Dude wants to fill a hot tub full of it and lather himself up good with it. He loves making other people say it, too. He loves making other people say it to his friends. He has to. Otherwise, he's an idiot and he isn't that. Of all of the things our dear director might be, he's not dumb. That might make it work.

Me twenty minutes into the film.
Which makes me wonder: Does he actually know what this word means? Not that I get it. I'm a dumb white dude. But, man, I feel like Spike Lee has got to have a handle on this, right? Spoil sport, though he may be? Does Tarantino think he's making a point? Or does he want to shock us with it? You know, prove a point, man. Frankly, I could give a fuck. It's exhausting. What is more is that it is boring. It's your dumb punk rock friend in high school pushing another safety pin into his ear. Except that he's a grown man. And the safety pin is a racial slur. Real cool, Darryl. Now shut the fuck up and see if your brother can buy us beer.

The first n-bomb drops about ten minutes into the film and never lets up. Ultraviolence, “bitch,” and some really good sexual assault occurs between the opening and closing credits, yet the n-word is there. Always. Ever present. Every scene. Oh, and the next one? It's got even more of them. And it's needless. It's there to prove a point that we already understand. It's there as a replacement for actual dialogue about America or about the cultural landscape in the post-Civil War climate. It's just the n-word. Again and again and again. It's not clever or cute or funny. It's a racial slur. It should mean something. Otherwise, it's an aesthetic adornment that comes at the cost of actual meaning. That's probably not something an artist should aim for. I don't know that being the Goodfellas of the n-word is a goal an artist should aspire to, either.

A friend of mine went to the reading of The Hateful Eight and when the first use of nigger occurred, Tarantino interrupted and pointed out that this was the first time it would occur in the story and that there would be 200-something more. The audience laughed at this. My friend looked around at this parliament of honkeys, their mouths agape in laughter, and had visions of the climax of Inglorious Bastards. At that exact moment, they'd be right to blow us up, he said.

It never lands on the ear the way it's supposed to and my annoyance of it only abated because, I think, I was numb to hearing it after the first two hours. Then again, maybe that's the point. Actually, like the drawn out nothingness that makes up the first half of the film, I'm fairly certain it's supposed to be alienating. Then again, maybe like a lot of QT's more clever points, maybe I don't give a fuck.

Flaws aside, The Hateful Eight's strengths do more than outweigh or outshine its manifold problems. The films problems are things the rest of the film treads upon and moves past. It says something about the quality of the rest of the film that I can ignore something as distastful as the needless use of racial epithets. Then again, maybe the joke is on me.

Somebody give this motherfucker a sequel.
No, not you, Eli. Never you.
I guess this is also helped along by the fact that Samuel L. Jackson is in prime form in this movie. His role as the bounty hunting Major Marquis Warren almost feels like an apology for making him the villain in Django Unchained. Warren is, to borrow a phrase, a bad motherfucker. He's cool. He's collected. He's got the best outfit. And, unlike everyone else in the movie, he actually seems interested in doing his job (which, when another character remembers that they also have a job to perform marks the point where I became fully invested in the film).

The best monologue in the film also belongs to Jackson. I won't spoilt the surprise, yet, as horrific as the story is, I can't help but laugh at it. I'm still laughing. I'm laughing because Samuel L. Jackson is laughing and who am I to disagree with him? He's a really good actor, as it turns out.

As it is with the best of Tarantino's movies, The Hateful Eight is a film about characters. It is about people in a premise, not a premise that requires people. The conceit of the film, thin though it may be, never overcomes the basic human drama that exists between these characters that Tarantino and his actors have crafted. As the film goes on, the story becomes less about being a mystery or a western or an exploitation movie and more about the dynamics of these characters. Their loyalties shift. Their needs shift. Their desires conflict. And then a lot of people die poorly. It's a hell of a lot of fun. Or, well, you know, "fun."

Tarantino's best movies, Jackie Brown, Pulp Fiction, Django Unchained, aren't about showing off (necessarily), but about people, characters, and place. His worst films and his most absurd overreaches have always been about being as loud and flamboyant as the Weinstein brothers will allow him to be. Some artists need a tether. I don't know that Tarantino has ever had one. Maybe that's the appeal. Who else is going to make a movie like this? Who else can piss off this many people and make this much money with a movie? That's fun. That's exciting. I just kind of wish I didn't have to imagine QT writing his screenplays with one hand because he was jerking off with the other.

Oh, also, Ennio Morricone does the score for this film. ENNIO FUCKING MORRICONE! He finally got him! Tarantino finally completed the loop!

There's a better, leaner, less needlessly dispicable film beneath the surface of The Hateful Eight. That movie would not be a Tarantino movie, though. For better or for worse, this is what we have. As obnoxious as the man may be either on screen or off (or in this case, in a voice over), he's making the films that he wants to make. Like George Lucas, plenty have tried making movies like him, but none have succeeded. It's nice for me to be on the side of the argument that actually had fun with the damn thing.

The Hateful Eight is a better movie than it has any right to be. It's a better movie than most movies have a right to be.

It's a fine movie to round out 2015's Oscar season-- That is if you really want to spend nine hours watching cowboys be the absolute worst to each other. If that sounds like your kind of thing, then The Hateful Eight is the movie for you.

James Kislingbury is a writer. Ostensibly. He also podcasts about movies. You can support his podcast here. But you won't. Also, buy his dad's book about old time saloons from here. Writing on his own blog means he can have whatever byline he wants. 

*There is no way I am looking up how to spell that film's title “correctly.”

**Yes, Death Proof included. Also, did you know that he went back and added scenes to the movie? If I recall correctly it was so it could be a contender at Canne. Ugh. As if QT couldn't be any more pretentious, the additional scenes were also black and white. Looking back on it, I think this was the exact moment that I realized that this director was just a man and, also, fuck this man.

***Sorry, but we're all adults and I'm not going to talk about it without saying it. I don't have a problem with hearing it and I don't have a problem with it in movies. Again, I'm a big boy. I take issue with how this film handles it. Me. The middle-class white dude in his 20's. You know. The arbiter of what is offensive or not. I mean, I did go to college. . .