"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

© all material on this website is written by Michael McCaffrey, is copyrighted, and may not be republished without consent

Quentin Tarantino Films Ranked Worst to First

MV5BMTgyMjI3ODA3Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzY2MDYxOQ@@._V1_.jpg


Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes 01 seconds

Quentin Tarantino is the most important filmmaker of his generation. That isn’t to say he is the best…just the most important. Tarantino’s distinctive aesthetic, a dialogue and violence driven stew of pop culture, spaghetti westerns, kung fu movies, film noir, pulp fiction, and satirical comedy, revolutionized movies.

Tarantino’s first film, Reservoir Dogs, hit theatres in 1992 at the height of the grunge rock revolution. Popular music was being turned upside down by the gritty, yet stylized, realism of grunge which was eviscerating the manufactured, corporate rock preening of the previous decade. Tarantino’s uber-confident brand of filmmaking was to Hollywood what Nirvana’s music was to the music industry, an artistic nuclear bomb obliterating business as usual.

Reservoir Dogs, like grunge, created a stylized, gritty realism that was fictional but seemed more true, and honest, than the fairy tale bullshit Hollywood and the music industry had been selling Generation X for the entirety of their lives.

If Reservoir Dogs was akin to Nirvana’s cult hit album Bleach, then Tarantino’s second feature, Pulp Fiction, was Nevermind. Pulp Fiction was the ultimate game changer as it was both populist entertainment, yet also an unorthodox arthouse movie, and it became an instant classic, a box office smash and a critical darling. With Pulp Fiction, Tarantino managed to resurrect not only John Travolta’s moribund career, but also give artistic credibility to Bruce Willis of all people, and catapulted both Samuel L. Jackson and Uma Thurman onto the A list.

Like Nirvana, Tarantino spawned a myriad of copycats who watered down his stylistic brand over the years that followed his breakthrough success. Like grunge, Tarantino went into a deep lull after his initial glorious burst of creativity as his follow up to Pulp Fiction, 1997’s Jackie Brown, fizzled both critically and commercially.

A new wave of independent minded auteurs hit the theatres in the mid to late 90’s, directors like Paul Thomas Anderson and Wes Anderson, and they were quickly putting Tarantino in the critical rear view mirror as the millennium closed. It would be six long years after Jackie Brown before another Tarantino film would hit the theatres, and during this time it certainly had felt like the Tarantino moment had passed.

During post-production there was a steady stream of bad press leaking out about Kill Bill, Tarantino’s Kung Fu movie. When word came out that Tarantino was going to split the film into two features to be released in back to back years (2003-2004), I thought that was a very, very bad sign. If the rumors were to be believed it seemed as though Tarantino’s ego was quickly becoming inversely proportionate to his directing ability. Then Kill Bill Vol. 1 came out…and not only was Tarantino not becoming irrelevant and obsolete…he was proving himself as the master of edgy populist arthouse American cinema. Kill Bill solidified his status of king of cool cinema who ruled over Hollywood, indie-land and the arthouse.

Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2 saved Tarantino and Tarantino-ism, which long outlived its musical counterpart, grunge. For the next 15 years Tarantino has churned out big movies…they weren’t always great…but they were always cinematic events. No one makes movies like Quentin Tarantino, and as the years have passed people have even stopped making the type of movies Tarantino can make…big populist Hollywood movies that aren’t part of a franchise or comic book universe.

Tarantino’s career has not only survived but thrived despite his multitude of naysayers, and nowadays the naysayers include the cultural revolutionaries and revisionist historians of the woke brigade. If you read or listen to pc establishment film critics nowadays you hear them describe Tarantino the man, and his films, as “problematic”. He is accused of all sorts of things…like using too much violence and racially charged language in his films…and of filling his films with violence against women and “sex”. Even though I disagree with these criticisms, I will admit that some of these charges, such as the violence and racial language, can at least be made in good faith, but claims of violence against women and too much sex are absolutely absurd and reveal either a staggering ignorance of Tarantino’s work or a dubious and dishonest assessment of his intentions.

The point of all this is to say that, like him or not, Tarantino has cemented his place in our popular culture and in the history of cinema. To ignore this fact would be to ignore reality. With this in mind, and since Tarantino’s new film Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, opens this weekend, I thought it would be wise to try and put together my rankings of Tarantino films.

Ranking Tarantino films is no easy task as my list is almost always in a state of flux. My top four Tarantino films are always the same, but their order can flip by the second. So this list is just capturing my thinking…and feeling…at this very moment. With that in mind…sit back…be like Fonzie and stay motherfuckin cool…and enjoy the list.

8. DEATH PROOF (2007) - Death Proof is a 2007 “exploitation horror film” starring Kurt Russell that pays homage to 1970’s slasher and muscle car movies. Death Proof is undeniable proof that paying homage to a shitty genre will result in a shitty movie. I have seen this exactly once and have zero interest in seeing it ever again. Death Proof is a bad idea made manifest which not surprisingly is a badly made, bad movie. Death Proof is what happens when you become a super successful director and no one has the balls to tell you no.

7. JACKIE BROWN (1997) - Something funny has happened in recent years where aging hipster douchebags (there is an important distinction to be made at this point…while I am aging, am a hipster, and am widely regarded as a douchebag, I am most definitely not the specific breed of monster known as an “aging hipster douchebag”) have decided that Jackie Brown, Tarantino’s homage to blaxploitation movies, is a great movie. In fact, some have gone so far as to claim that Jackie Brown is Tarantino’s greatest film. Let me be as clear as I can about this…Jackie Brown is an actively awful movie. The script is dreadful, the directing abysmal, the pacing lethargic and the acting comatose.

Unknown-7.jpeg

Jackie Brown was a Tarantino flex where he thought he could pull his Lazarus routine on some more actors just like he did with Travolta on Pulp Fiction. But this was where Tarantino’s ego got kicked in the nuts by cold hard reality. There is a reason Pam Grier and Robert Forster were, at the height of their careers, D-level movie actors…it is because they are not good actors. Building a film around such minimal talents ended with…not surprisingly…a really shitty and entirely forgettable movie. This movie was so highly anticipated and so fucking terrible it almost ended Tarantino’s career.

And if you are an aging, hipster douchebag who thinks this is Tarantino’s greatest film, I’m going to Tony Rocky Horror you’re ass and throw you out a four story window and then I’m gonna get medieval on your ass. Got it?

6. THE HATEFUL EIGHT (2015) - The Hateful Eight is a pseudo-western thriller that attempts to make grand statements on race in America all while trying to suss out a second rate Agatha Christie type of whodunnit. There are some good things in The Hateful Eight…like Robert Richardson’s stellar cinematography, particularly his glorious opening sequence. But overall…this is a terribly flawed film that suffocates under the weight of its unwieldy and impotent script.

Tarantino succumbs to his lesser instincts and ego in The Hateful Eight when he fatally undermines the archetypal, mythic and narrative structure of the film by making his “hero”, played by Sam Jackson, a male rapist. The film lacks cohesion and tension and devolves into a rather vacuous bloodbath that bores more than it repulses or titillates.

This film is a frustrating cinematic venture, sort of like being marched at gunpoint naked through a blizzard.

5. INGLORIOUS BASTERDS (2009) - This is where things start to get interesting on the list as Inglorious Basterds is at once a brilliant and yet also a troublesome film. This movie boasts the single greatest scene of any of Tarantino’s films and among the greatest in film history…the opening sequence where SS Officer Hans Landa question a French farmer, Monsieur LaPadite, in his farmhouse. The film also boasts the masterfully tense and taut “basement bar” scene which is a thing of cinematic beauty. In contrast it also has some awful scenes, like the Mike Myers scene and the climactic orgy of ridiculous Hitler slaughtering violence in the movie theatre.

On the bright side the movie boasts tremendous performances from Christoph Waltz (as the aforementioned Landa), Michael Fassbender and Brad Pitt but on the dark side it is saddled with the single worst performance ever in a Tarantino film…the utterly abysmal Eli Roth as The Bear Jew is excruciatingly awful and set the art and craft of acting back centuries.

Unknown-9.jpeg

The thing I disliked the most about Inglorious Basterds though was that it came out during a time when the torture of “enemy combatants” in the war on terror was being debated and it very surreptitiously acted as a piece of vociferous pro-torture propaganda. Anyone who couldn’t see the Manichean philosophical underpinnings of beating captured German soldiers to death with a baseball bat being equivalent to torturing Muslims in Guantanamo Bay or Bagram or Abu Ghraib is being willfully obtuse. And it should be noted here that the German soldiers in the Wermacht getting their skulls bashed in and being scalped by "The Basterds’ were not Nazis party members. Some may see this as a distinction without a difference, and Wermacht complicity and guilt is a contentious historical debate, but considering the context of the torture discussion when the film was released, I find this distinction of note.

Another thing that bothered me about the film was that it was, at its core, nothing but a Jewish revenge fantasy. of course, there is nothing wrong with a Jewish revenge fantasy, in particular a Jewish revenge fantasy against Hitler, who certainly deserves whatever horrors we can imagine for him, but what felt uncomfortable to me was that in Tarantino’s case his revenge fantasy felt manipulative and pandering. Context is important here, as Tarantino is not Jewish, but even though you are not allowed to say it, the majority of Academy members and studio heads are and it felt like Tarantino was trying to make a movie to shamelessly pander to them in order to win an elusive Best Picture and/or best Director Oscar.

Bottomline is this…as great as Inglorious Basterds can be, its failures make it an uneven cinematic experience. Of all my conflicting feelings over this movie, the most overwhelming one is my impulse to bash Eli Roth’s head in with a baseball bat after taunting him with a dreadful Boston accent.

4. DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012) - Some would argue that Django is, like Inglorious Basterds, just a revenge fantasy, except this time for African Americans against slavery. I think this point is terribly off the mark. Yes, there is a certain level of revenge fueling Django Unchained, but the archetype driving the film is not revenge but love, as Django Unchained is a mythic love story. Django is not fighting for any grandiose principles or objectives like freeing the slaves or to punish slave owners, he is just trying to get back to his wife and save her. In contrast, Inglorious Basterds is NOTHING BUT a revenge fantasy where love is nowhere to be found.

Django Unchained is, like the other films in the top four, a masterpiece in its own right. This movie is a thrilling and exhilarating ride that only suffers from one minor (although it felt major at the time) lull, and that is when Tarantino himself is on-screen as an Australian slave trader. As great a movie as this is, and it is great, Tarantino’s sloppy and narcissistic cameo nearly scuttles the entire enterprise.

Unknown-12.jpeg

That said, the film highlights exquisite and sterling performances from Jamie Foxx (easily the best work of his career), Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington and Samuel L. Jackson. The film was pilloried for its use of violence and exploiting slavery for entertainment, but these criticism hold no water. The violence in the film is cartoonish…except when it involves slaves…then it is handled with brutal realism and gravity. Tarantino’s dance between the polar opposites of his entertaining, over-the-top violence and acknowledgement of the horrors of slavery is actually very well-done and shows a deft directing touch.

if you ask me on another day I may say that Django Unchained is Tarantino’s best film…but today I put it at #4. Even though I have it at #4, make no mistake, it is a first ballot hall of fame movie.

3. RESERVOIR DOGS (1992) - There are times where I have Reservoir Dogs as the top film in this list…and even more times when I have it ranked ahead of Pulp Fiction….but today isn’t one of those days. Like Django Unchained, Reservoir Dogs is a first ballot hall of famer.

Unknown-13.jpeg

This movie hit theatres like a hand grenade and launched Tarantino as a serious auteur. This staggeringly confident film is like a neo-noir stage play set in this well-defined but not overly explained universe where thugs, hitmen, cons and shady people all live and work. This world is not real but is so thoroughly put together it feels hyper-real.

The low budget for the film adds to its mystique and highlights Tarantino’s real talent as a writer and director. The rawness of the movie is part of its great appeal.

Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Steve Buscemi and Michael Madsen all give stellar performances and Tarantino’s script is explosively good. His use of music, camera movement, pop culture dialogue and violence make for a combustible and compelling feature film debut for Tarantino.

A truly great movie and an instant classic that launched Tarantino’s journey to the top of Hollywood’s Mount Olympus.

2. PULP FICTION (1994) - Pulp Fiction garnered Tarantino a Best Original Screenplay Oscar, and rightfully so. This script crackles with life and is a master class in world and character building. The terrific script is elevated even more by sublime performances from Uma Thurman, Samuel L. Jackson, Harvery Keitel, John Travolta, Christopher Walken and even that dullard Bruce Willis.

Unknown-14.jpeg

Tarantino’s ability to mess with narrative structure, to masterfully use music and pop culture as reference points and his exquisite ability to place multi-dimensional characters into a palpably real but entirely manufactured world, is what makes Pulp Fiction the iconic film that it is.

Pulp Fiction reinvented the Hollywood film, and for good or for ill, forever changed the movie industry. It is the type of film that if you stumble across it on cable, you will sit and watch it from any point in the story through to the end.

1. KILL BILL VOL. 1 & 2 (2003-2004) - I realize I am in the minority on this but I think Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2 combined is the greatest Tarantino film….it is certainly my favorite.

images-8.jpeg

Some have accused these films of exploiting and encouraging violence against women, this strikes me as a short cut to thinking. Uma Thurman is the lead in the movie, she is an action hero, she is beaten, shot, stabbed, you name it. Just because violence happens to a women doesn’t make it misogynist…and in this case the exact opposite is true. The weak kneed, mealy mouthed woke clowns who claim this film is misogynist should ask themselves…are the Lethal Weapon movies anti-male because Mel Gibson gets the crap kicked out him in every movie? No, of course not. Tarantino empowers his female lead, an astounding Uma Thurman as The Bride/Black Mamba, to be an action hero not despite of her gender…but because of it…and that is not misogyny.

Like Django, Kill Bill is on its surface a revenge story but in its soul is a love story. The love is that of a mother for her daughter. Thurman’s Black Mamba character is unconsciously tracking down her daughter while consciously slaying all who are impediments to her maternal bond.

The brilliance of Kill Bill is in the world and character building. Tarantino’s kung fu world is populated by ninja and samurai assassins with distinct and specific histories and motivations. A rich, textured, vivid and vibrant creation that is Tarantino at his very best.

In conclusion, while there are some misfires, like Death Proof , Jackie Brown and The Hateful Eight, Tarantino has over the span of his career been a must-see filmmaker who has heightened the craft of moviemaking while celebrating the art of cinema.

The bottom line in regards to Tarantino’s best movies is this…you simply can’t go wrong with Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs and Django Unchained in any order, as they are among the very best films of the last thirty years and are monuments to Tarantino’s unique vision and singular genius.

The question now becomes…where does Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood rank in Tarantino’s canon? My verdict will be in shortly, but in the mean time why not go re-watch Django unchained, Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill or even Inglorious Basterds, as a primer before you see Tarantino’s newest offering. It will get you into the Tarantino spirit and you will not be disappointed.

©2019

Kong : Skull Island - A Review

kong-banner-2.jpg

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!!THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!!****

Estimated Reading Time : 5 minutes 02 seconds

My Rating : 1 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation : Avoid it at all costs.

Kong : Skull Island, written by Dan Gilroy (among others) and directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, is a story set in 1973 at the end of the Vietnam war, where a group of scientists and a U.S. Army helicopter squadron fresh off their tour of Vietnam, head to the mysterious Skull Island to do geological research. The film stars Brie Larson, Tom Hiddleston, John Goodman, Samuel L. Jackson and Corey Hawkins.

I enjoy monster movies, I readily admit that. Hell, I am such a nerd that I even waited in line to see Toho's Shin Godzilla last year. But holy monkey balls, I did not enjoy Kong: Skull Island, not even a little bit. Good gracious is this thing a disaster area. Going to the zoo and watching monkeys throw poop at one another, and at me, would be considerably more entertaining than this garbage.

I get what director Vogt-Roberts was trying to do, I really do, but he fails miserably. Roberts is sort of paying homage to Apocalypse Now and trying to make a political statement about monsters in our world and the unintended consequences of our actions (one of the earliest lines in the film is "Washington will never be as screwed up as it is now -1973" wink-wink)…but all of that stuff gets pulled under by the tsunami of sewage that is Kong: Skull Island.

The story is relentlessly idiotic, the acting atrocious and the monsters…Kong being the exception, are laughable. This movie is so poorly written, directed and acted it is miraculous. It is difficult to articulate how much I loathed this film. In comparison to other Kong movies, Kong: Skull Island makes King Kong (1976) with Jessica Lange and Jeff Bridges look like Gone with the Wind, and it makes Peter Jackson's 2005 King Kong look like Chinatown

Brie Larson stars as Mason Weaver, a photo-journalist who tags along for the expedition, and I know that she has exactly one more Best Actress Oscar than I do and everything but,  except for her award winning performance in Room, she has been mind numbingly awful in everything she does (oh wait…I take that back...she was good in Short Term 12). I know that acting in terrible movies is an extremely difficult thing to do…but still, the question begs to be asked…is Brie Larson a shitty actress? If you watch her work in Kong and in Trainwreck, the answer is an uncomfortable yes. All Larson seems to do is recite her lines in as wooden and robotic a way as possible and then occasionally flash her million dollar smile. Brie Larson is very good at being charming and beautiful, but it is dawning on me that she isn't very good at acting. 

Larson isn't alone on the shitty acting train…John Goodman, who is consistently a shitty actor, turns in an eye-rollingly bad performance as Bill Randa, the mastermind behind the expedition. Goodman can be relied upon to diminish whatever project he is working on, and the fact that he has had such a long career remains one of the great mysteries of our time.

Samuel L. Jackson is embarrassingly awful as Lt. Col. Packard, shamelessly mailing in his performance. You can almost see the dollar signs in his eyes as he hams it up in his confrontation with Kong. Jackson has become little more than a caricature of himself, which is a shame since he has the ability to do magnificent work on occasion…this wasn't one of those occasions.

Tom Hiddleston is painfully out of place as James Conrad (a clever nod to Heart of Darkness, the inspiration for Apocalypse Now), a former SAS hunter-tracker with a past. Hiddleston's starched Britishness apparently makes him incapable of sweating, or feeling any emotion at all. Hiddleston is a fine actor, but Kong: Skull Island is like a vortex where skill and craft get sucked into another dimension and no talent can survive.

Corey Hawkins gives a truly cringe-worthy performance as Houston Brooks, a bookish scientist who theorizes about a hollow earth. It is ironic that Hawkins, who got his big break playing Dr. Dre in the over rated Straight Outta Compton, would play someone espousing the hollow earth theory because he is an entirely hollow actor. He gives such an atrociously abysmal performance in Kong that I was genuinely embarrassed for him.

The only actor who does solid work in this entire shitshow is John C. Reilly, who is spectacularly good. Reilly's character is a tribute to Dennis Hopper's photo-journalist in Apocalypse Now. To Reilly's credit, he never winks at the camera or breaks, he stays committed, which is what separates him from the rest of the artistic freeloaders in the cast. Reilly shows what a great actor can do with a terrible script in a horrible movie. Larson, Goodman and Jackson would be wise to learn from him.

As for Kong, he is impressive, but not $12.50 impressive. He is a big ape…we've seen it all before. The film ignores the beauty and the beast appeal of previous Kong incarnations most of the time, but then, inexplicably tries to give Larson and Kong a love connection about 2/3rds of the way through. Not surprisingly, that is more ridiculous than effective. 

What is so frustrating about this movie is that there is a potentially very good movie lurking somewhere underneath all the nonsense. Using monsters, whether they be Godzilla or King Kong or the like, as storytelling vehicles to explore deeper political subjects like US colonialism or militarism (Vietnam) or environmental issues, or mythic and psychological issues, like man's animal nature or his even more primitive lizard brain, is a phenomenal way to tell an interesting and relevant story. For example, last year Shin Godzilla masterfully used the Godzilla myth to tell a wider story about the ineffectiveness of the Japanese bureaucracy and the dangers of nuclear power. Sadly, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts simply doesn't have the skill or talent to pull off a story with any deeper meaning other than to be a preview for the inevitable Kong ride at Universal studios.

Kong: Skull Island is an utterly abysmal film. It is the equivalent of watching flies gather on a steaming pile of gorilla shit left out in the heat and humidity of the south Pacific. It is not even good in a bad way…it is just bad in a bad way. Please, avoid it at all costs as the stench of this film is overpowering. 

©2017

The Hateful Eight : A Review

635875382141175313-1274774312_the_hateful_eight.jpg

****THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS. THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW****

MY RATING : SKIP IT IN THE THEATRE*, SEE IT ON CABLE/NETFLIX

*(unless you are an avid lover of lush cinematography, in that case go see it in anamorphic 70mm in the theatre)

The Hateful Eight is enigmatic writer and director Quentin Tarantino's eighth feature film. It is the story of eight seeming strangers seeking refuge from a blizzard in a stagecoach stopover in post-civil war Wyoming. The film boasts an all-star cast of Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Damien Bashir, Walter Goggins and Bruce Dern.

The Hateful Eight has been distributed in two different versions, one version, the "general", runs 167 minutes and is shown in regular 35 mm. The other version is the "Roadshow" version, which has a running time of 187 minutes, and is shown in theaters specially equipped with anamorphic 70mm projectors, in order to show the film "as it was intended" by Tarantino, in 70mm, widescreen format. I saw the "Roadshow" version, which actually runs 210 minutes due to an overture to open the film and a twelve minute intermission. Like many of Tarantino's films, this story is told in chapters. There are six chapters, and the intermission came between chapters 3 and 4.

While I have loved some of his films, I am not one of those fan boys who worships Tarantino. I find his work to be at times brilliant and at other times appalling, sometimes within the same film. I loved Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction but thought Jackie Brown was one of the sloppiest and worst films I had seen in years. I was stunned by the audacious genius of the two masterful Kill Bill films. I was repulsed by the brazen pandering and artistic imbalance of Inglorious Basterds, even while being mesmerized by two scenes in it which were two of the best scenes I'd seen in recent memory. I thought Django Unchained was, minus a clumsy cameo by its director, a masterpiece. 

The Hateful Eight is a frustrating and sometimes infuriating film. The first half of the film, where we meet the eight characters, is well done and accentuates Tarantino's strength as a writer and a director. The first half wonderfully builds characters and a story that leave the viewer in a heightened state of anticipation as they walk out for intermission. Sadly, after the intermission, the film never lives up to its premise, promise and set-up. The second half of the film devolves into a tangled and uneven mess of Tarantino's worst, unfocused impulses.

Without getting into specifics or divulging any 'spoilers', the second half of the film feels lost and rushed, like Tarantino is attempting to cover the holes in his own storytelling. He uses a voice-over for the first time in the film right after the intermission to fill in the gaps of his narrative and it is jarring for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that Tarantino does the voice over himself. The voice-over signals we are transitioning to not only a different (and lesser) film, but also a different type of film. The confidence, subtlety, and deft touch on display in the first half of the film vanish and we are left with a writer/director struggling and failing to come up with something interesting to say and do. The film flails around trying to be daring and bold but it only stumbles over it's own self-satisfying and delusional narcissism.

What the film is really about is not the intrigue of eight people stuck in a cabin to ride out a blizzard wondering who among them are the good guys and who the bad, but rather it is about race in America. This is a noble and complicated theme for any film maker to tackle, but in the hands of Tarantino this time out, it is like a gun in the hands of a toddler. The examination of race is shallow and sophomoric at best and repugnant at worst. The racial theme, like everything else in the script, seems to be a rushed add on used to fill in space and add the illusion of depth rather than a genuine topic of examination and exploration.

The Hateful Eight also contains some very basic storytelling and myth making errors. There is one monologue in particular, by Sam Jackson's character Major Marquis Warren, that is so repulsive it ends up working at cross purposes with the films narrative structure, which requires the audience to attach themselves to Major Warren and to root for him. This monologue is well done by Jackson the actor, but poorly done by Tarantino the writer and director, who intersperses visuals throughout Jackson's speech which end up undermining it, much like the speech itself undermines the viewers empathy with Major Warren. The monologue, like much of the script, feels like a first draft that was written by a freshman film student at a second rate community college.

A large part of Tarantino's filmmaking style is to pay tribute to other films and filmmakers in his own films. It is bizarre, but in The Hateful Eight it seems Tarantino is paying homage to himself and his own work. If Reservoir Dogs, Django Unchained and Inglorious Basterds had a prematurely born, bastard-child which only inherited the very worst traits of its' parents, then that enfent terrible would be The Hateful Eight.  The most obvious form of this homage is in the casting and in the characters. For instance, Samuel L. Jackson seems to be reprising his iconic Pulp Fiction character Jules Winnfield, only this time in a Union civil war uniform as bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren. Put a Jheri curl afro wig on Major Warren and he is Jules. In a convoluted way, Tim Roth does the same thing by reprising his Reservoir Dogs character Mr. Orange, this time as a British hangman named Oswaldo Mobray. The matching details between Mr. Orange and Mr. Mobray are uncanny. The problem with this sort of masturbatorial, self-referential naval gazing is that it borders on directorial self parody.

In terms of the performances, all of the actors do as well as they can. These are quality, top-notch actors and they all do solid and captivating work with the flawed script given them. 

Jennifer Jason-Leigh is a fabulous and terribly overlooked and under-appreciated actress, and she does the best with what she is given here as the prisoner Daisy Domergue, but when the story goes off the rails in the second half, any interest in her character goes right with it.

Michael Madsen is one of my favorite actors, but he seems like an add-on here in order to make the cast round out to the number eight (a tribute to Tarantino himself and the fact that this is his eight feature film, which is made very clear in the opening credits). Much like Madsen's under written and under used Joe Gage, Bruce Dern's General Sanford Smithers seems thrown in only for monologue convenience purposes. 

Kurt Russell plays John Ruth, a.k.a. The Hangman. Tarantino has occasionally tried to reignite once successful actor's careers by casting them in his films. He gave John Travolta a career renaissance by putting him in Pulp Fiction, and attempted to do the same with Pam Grier and Robert Forster in Jackie Brown, David Carradine in Kill Bill, Don Johnson in Django Unchained and now he does the same with Kurt Russell. Russell does a very good job in the role, so much so that one can't help but wish he wasn't more the focus of the story. Russell creates a brutal character but one with an intriguing internal life to him that draws the viewer in deeper and deeper the more you see of him. I have never been much of a Kurt Russell fan but there is no doubt that this film needed more Kurt Russell and not less. The Hateful Eight would have been much better served if the John Ruth character had the opportunity to be more fully fleshed out.

As underwhelming as The Hateful Eight was, it is not without some greatness. Robert Richardson's cinematography is sublime. The opening shot of the film is both visually and narratively exquisite in every way. Richardson takes full advantage of the beautiful natural setting and expanse in the Rockies and of the sharp contrasts of the blizzard raging around the story. If you are someone who loves great cinematography, then definitely see the film in the theaters and see it in anamorphic 70mm. It is well worth the time just as a piece of visual art.

Famed composer Ennio Morricone's(The Good, The Bad and The Ugly) soundtrack is pretty fantastic as well. When they told us that their would be an overture, I rolled my eyes, wanting to just get to the film, but the overture was glorious. And having an overture and an intermission was actually pretty cool and made going to the theatre seem like a grandiose event and a 'special', worthwhile experience. It is all too easy to see films in the comfort of our own homes instead of the theatre nowadays, so having a throw back overture takes the viewer out of the routine of movie watching and puts an element of grandeur and mysticism back into the experience.

In the final analysis, I think Quentin Tarantino shot a much much too early draft of the script with The Hateful Eight. I believe with many more rewrites the script could have given greater depth to the characters and themes explored, and given more clarity and precision to the narrative. I consider The Hateful Eight to have been a lost opportunity for Quentin Tarantino as all of the pieces were there for this film to have been great. A superb cast of terrific actors, the glorious cinematography of Robert Richardson, a world-class soundtrack from Ennio Morricone, and the blueprint for an interesting and intriguing story…but due to a script that wasn't done marinating or cooking, and was shot prematurely, all of these elements never had a chance to come together and achieve the cinematic greatness that could have been within reach. 

If you are a big fan of Tarantino, you will enjoy the film as it is a very "Tarantino" film, meaning it has a lot of violence and innumerable uses of the word "nigger". But if you are simply a lover of great cinema, this is not the film for you. At the end of the day, The Hateful Eight is in the bottom half of Quentin Tarantino's impressive filmography, probably just above Jackie Brown and just below or tied with Inglorious Basterds.

With that said, if you love transcendent cinematography, I would implore you to go see the film in the theatre in anamorphic 70mm. Robert Richardson is a master craftsman of the highest order and his visual artistry is well worth the price of admission if you are into that sort of thing.

 

****WARNING: THIS SECTION CONTAINS SPOILERS!! PLEASE SKIP IT IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE FILM YET!!!***

 

Ok, just a brief little write up with a little more detail for those of you who have seen the film.

The Major Marquis/Sam Jackson monologue I wrote about above is the monologue that ends the first half of the film where he tells the story of how he mouth raped the confederate general's grown son. It is such an over the top speech that it breaks the spell that the film had so carefully cultivated in the lead up to it. Another point about it is that we are meant to root for Major Marquis, he is really the mythic hero of the film. While we can hear "bad" things about him from other characters, Sheriff Mannix telling the story of Marquis' burning of the prison for instance, it totally undermines the mythic and psychological power of the narrative if Major Marquis himself tells the story of mouth raping a desperate man for purely sadistic purposes. This is such an egregious act that Major Marquis can no longer be relied upon to carry the audience's positive projections. No one watching the film who sides with Major Marquis, namely people that consider themselves non-racist and would be against slavery and the confederacy (in other words, self-identifying "good" people), could ever imagine themselves wanting to rape another man just to make him suffer and degrade him.

Tarantino has used male on male rape and the threat of it before in his films, most notably in Pulp Fiction where Zed rapes Marsellus and tries to rape Butch. The difference there though is that Zed is, from the moment we meet him on screen, a loathsome character. He is a horrific obstacle to be overcome by Butch on his hero's journey. Zed represents the threat of Butch losing his manhood and masculinity. When Zed is finally overcome by Butch, Marsellus tells Butch to keep the knowledge of the rape to himself, as it is the most shameful thing that can happen to a man, and he also tells Butch that he is going to "get medieval" on Zed, administering divine justice and vengeance for this most heinous of acts.

So it is established in the world of Tarantino, and frankly, in the real world too, that a man raping another man, with all of the mythic and psychological power that goes along with it, is the most despicable thing a man can do to another man. And yet, we are supposed to empathize with Major Marquis after learning of this? We are supposed to root for him and project ourselves onto him? It is an impossibility for any viewer to do so. A rapist, whether they rape men or woman, is as deplorable and despicable a person as one can imagine. So it is absurd to expect audiences who have been set up by the first half of the story to empathize with Marquis, to not feel betrayed by the film and to tune out and turn away from the rest of the story. Simply put, an unrepentant, dare I say gloating rapist, can never be the hero in a story. And if they are the hero, no one will care whether they survive their journey or not. While Marquis gets "some" divine justice for his heinous act in the form of castration, he is never held to account for his deeds or made to repent, quite the opposite actually….he wins at the end.

The Major Marquis rape monologue is also mishandled by Tarantino when he keeps cutting away to show the viewer what Marquis is describing. Then Marquis asks the General "You're seeing pictures aren't you?" Why not have the confidence in the actor Sam Jackson to tell the story and carry the viewer through it. Jackson is as compelling an actor as you'll find, and his monologues are legendary. Cutting away from the monologue undermines it's power and its mystery…as we are left with no doubt that Marquis is telling the truth, since we've seen it ourselves. If we are left wondering if Marquis is lying just to get under the General's skin, then we can continue to root for him as the story goes forward. But we aren't, and we don't.

Another issue I have with the film is the finale is terribly bungled. Why not have the Sheriff turn on Marquis and take Domergue's offer? That is the more interesting choice. And then have him think he is home-free only to hear the rumble of horses coming up to the cabin, signifying that he made the wrong choice and that Domergue's gang will kill him. The ending is a shockingly weak one for a director who usually defies convention and the easy way out. Tarantino was trying to fit a nice ending into his racial exploration. It comes across as little more than wishful thinking. It is also a complete contradiction to the nature of the Sheriff's character to side with Marquis at the most important moment. Why side with a man who raped one of your compatriots? That is inconceivable. 

Also, we have no reason to feel that Daisy Domergue is a villain. We've not seen her do anything terrible. We've been told she is a criminal, but we're not shown it. We have only seen her be beaten and mistreated by John Ruth and Marquis. We actually like her much more than anyone else in the film. Yet the glee the men show at her hanging feels disproportionate to the evil we may or may not have seen her commit. This is just one more in a long line of storytelling mis-steps that emotionally and psychologically disconnect the viewer form the film. 

And finally, the idea that anyone had enough of a connection to the John Ruth character that they would make a huge, life and death decision, based on what John Ruth would have wanted, is ridiculous and unsupported by the entirety of the film. Doing something for John Ruth's sake is a very very cheap way to give an unrealistic motivation to the characters in order to find a way out of the story.

And in order to end on a more positive note…the opening shot where Richardson excruciatingly slowly pulls out and holds on the frozen crucifix, with it's painfully tortured and contorted snow-framed face, and then the stage coach comes into view in the distance, was a cinematically powerful way to not just open the film, but also start the story. That shot is so artistically impeccable and mythically precise that I could hardly contain myself. In hindsight, that transcendent shot set up an expectation that the rest of the film was unable to live up to…but that doesn't make it any less glorious.

That is all I have to say on the film for now. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section. 

©2016