Sunday, 17 January 2016

The Hateful Eight review

Quentin Tarantino's latest film has run into a ton of shit recently..... didn't stop me from seeing it! Hit the jump to find out my thoughts.

Let's be honest, the Hateful Eight hasn't had the best production record of history, and it's just clocked in a nasty box office/ distribution record. To celebrate the release, let's go over that a bit. Well, first, waaaayyy waaayyy back in the recesses of 2014 (I know, this movie's had a quick turnaround!), Tarantino had a meeting with some of his favorite actors. These included Michael Madsen, Tim Roth, and Bruce Dern among others. He gave them the script, as the start of a film-project. We don't fully know what happened next, but the best approximation is that an agent of one of the stars handed it to someone outside of the chain. Naturally, it caused havoc. Tarantino refused to make the film, and launched a lawsuit against gawker. Things calmed down a bit, and he softened on his stance. Seeing as, after all, Tarantino had put some serious work into the script, he needed to do something with it... So he staged a live reading - a one off - that may thought would be the only public usage of The Hateful Eight. He considered releasing the script in book form, but in the end, didn't.

During some Q and A session after this, in front of a crowd of people who paid $200 for an exclusive showing of the script, Tarantino finally let slip that he WAS going ahead with it after all... phew. And that was just the start of the problems. Tarantino decided he wanted to shoot in Ultra Panavision 70 - a fucking beautiful format - the widest ever created; but one that hadn't been used for decades. He had to hunt through the Panavision warehouse to find lenses that actually hadn't be used since 1966; and then test them from retrofitted cameras, as well as requiring work on them. After all, 49 years is a very long time indeed to not see light. But this was all Tarantino, a man in love with his craft, his team, and a dedicated Panavision. These were the committed. It's another matter entirely selling it to the theaters. These cinemas would have to create an extreme overhaul of their layouts. Assuming they had projection booths, these would need to be cleared out, and 70mm projectors (which weigh a ton and cost a fortune) would need to be installed. And then they would need to pay for that expensive exclusive 70mm print, and somehow sell enough tickets to make the money back.

Well shit. 

Eventually, the film was finished. And, if you were a theatre looking to screen this version, you would receive an almighty box containing a whopping 181.437 kg (400lbs) of reel and film. That's a whole lot of weight if you hadn't noticed. Well, theaters began to realize that they were going to need to hire more people. The 70mm format required two full-time experienced projectionists to be manning the booth at all times: as if they weren't struggling enough already. However, theaters did have one direct advantage: they would have exclusive rights to the film for the first three weeks. And then the Weinstein Company had made an absolutely awful decision regarding the placing of the film's release. They had put it on January 8th (January 15th here in the UK), which is the date of release for the Revenant if you didn't already know. The Revenant, starring Leonardo Dicaprio and Tom Hardy, is a bad film to open against if you're film matches it. And the Hateful Eight really matches the Revenant. They're both snowy westerns; and they're both filled with brutal violence. They are both competing in awards season, and both have cast/director/cinematographer combos to die for.

One of them had to give way at some point. And it kinda had to be the Hateful Eight. If you're a Tarantino fan, then you may have built up a large amount of hype for the movie, and it may be impossible to imagine that the Revenant would be more integral for audiences this January. But the Hateful Eight is a Tarantino movie. The only award it's ever gonna win is original screenplay (cinematography is going to go to Lubezki almost 100%), so it never needed to open in the January Awards season slot. In any case, the Revenant has Leonardo DiCaprio. It has a Mad Max fresh Tom Hardy, and it has last year's best picture winner at the helm. The hypetrain and prospective profits are through the roof compared to the Hateful Eight. So it gave way, and moved a week earlier. Bad decision. Firstly, all the theaters who ha been promised an exclusive 3 week run now only had 2 weeks: some dropped out because of this, and none were happy. Next, this put the Hateful Eight in the path of Star Wars, which TWC just had to hope had died down by then.

The premieres started, and the reviews began to came in. But there was a problem: 70mm was a hard format to screen. Problems plagued all of the early showings; out of focus, fuzzy, out-of-sync, malfunctioning projections frequently ended the film, or caused it to be switched to digital technology in any case. So there wasn't much positive hype surrounding the roadshow. Star Wars was pretty big, and it still is at the time of writing: so it overshadowed the new January 8th release date into a tiny taking of $16.2 million (compared to, for instance, Inglorious Basterds' $38 million). As Harvey Weinstein said; if he was to write himself a memo, it'd to be not to open against, say, the biggest film franchise ever.... I mean, that's not the only problem Star Wars caused Tarantino. He wanted to open THE in the beloved Cinerama dome LA, but Disney threatened them with refusal to use Star Wars if they didn't give them the full release term; and thus, in the words of tarantino, Disney 'went out of their way to fuck' him. Only one cinema outside of the US got a 70mm print: the Odeon London Leicester Square. Cineworld was pissed that their 'Picturehouse Central' didn't get the print; as were Curzon. As a result, Curzon aren't screening the film, Cineworld aren't screening it in any of their Nationwide 'Picturehouse' iterations; and Cineworld itself, the largest cinema chain in the whole of the UK, is refusing to screen the film. Now that's a blow to the head. The largest cinema chain in Ireland has a financial dispute with the distributor, and so is also not screening the film.

But it's here. The Hateful Eight is here. Through all that controversy comes a coherent film, that landed in (some) cinemas last Friday.

If you go to the roadshow experience (which I have been unable to do just yet), the action starts in the foyer, with souvenir programs being given out to the audience. I have ordered one of these online (they're all over the place) and it's a really nice touch. Kinda like those programmes you can buy at the theater. It has the cast, and some notes on production, as well as a few beautiful stills from the film and some full length posters. It just adds a little bit to the experience of seeing a film - a lost art. The action continues with an overture. Much has been made about the overture, but to my mind, every good film should have one. Ever since I first watched 2001: A Space Odyssey, and realised how good an overture could be at capturing a tone of a movie, I was surprised that the tradition had died out. I really don't know why the overture isn't in the digital version as well.... but, in any case, it's perfect. If you've only watched the trailer before you see the film, you have no idea what the tone is like. This overture is menacing, thumping, and disquieting; it's almost like a horror theme tune (ironic, seeing as the score came from a score of The Thing). If Tarantino's aim was to set the mood, then he's done a stellar job already. EDIT: The Edinburgh Filmhouse on Lothian Road has just announced it will receive the roadshow print in mid-February. I'll let you know how that goes when it comes.

The first shot of the Hateful Eight is a wide, open, frozen vista. A stunning image that showcases just how wide the 70mm Ultra Panavision format actually is. And, although I'll come to that later, that is very wide indeed. We get a couple of nice shots like this; and then the credits start. They're in one of those WordArt style fonts of the 60s/70s westerns. A playful and fun kind of start; on a second viewing, these turn out to be a symbol of great dramatic irony. One wonders whether Tarantino expects his film to be a good ol' fashioned Western, or a dark fable: I don't know if he can have it both ways this time. But I like the font, and I like the spaghetti feel. Or is that the John Wayne feel? I don't really know to be honest. And here we have the only Revenant-style religious mediation. A snow covered wooden cross, in high-definition grain (the 70mm reveals itself again) pans across the screen, slowly, as the titles continue. It's as if the good forces of religion have frozen over: leaving only hell, or perhaps a limbo, for our characters to inhabit. A stagecoach that has been approaching for some time becomes louder and larger, as it passes the camera with a roaring thunder.

In the stagecoach is John, 'the Hangman' Ruth (played by Kurt Russel), and Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Lason Leigh). But we don't know that yet. What we do know, however, is that Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L Jackson) is asking to get in. After a short, and tense, introductory session, Warren is allowed into the stagecoach. It is here that a large portion of setup is achieved. For a good while, we are in the sole company of Ruth, Warren, and Domergue; and we learn their respective stories. Domergue becomes a bit of a punchbag at this point... culminating in a funny, yet disturbing, scene involving a letter from Abraham Lincoln. AHA! You say. I've already spotted the thematic drive in this movie. And yes, it isn't really a full on mental challenge, Tarantino is going to discuss aspects of race that you haven't maybe considered before. Before long, the stagecoach has stopped, and one Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) is boarding the coach. How? Some story about being a sheriff; which may or may not be true. But these law abiding citizens can't risk being wrong, or else they'll hang; so they have to let him on.

The first hour of the film mostly consists of the ride to Minnies Haberdashery (which is, I can tell you, NOT a haberdashery), and is titled 'Last Stage to Red Rock' in typical Tarantino chapter fashion. This kind of character building exercise is incredibly effective in driving forward the story; and positioning the audience to the characters which they should like. When in the haberdashery, we meet a host of other characters: Joe 'the cow puncher' Gage, Oswaldo Mobrey, Bob and General Sandy Smithers. Talk about racial tension.... Mannix has been revealed to be a confederate renegade during the civil war, along with Bruce Dern's confederate General Smthers. On the other side, the menacing Warren is revealed to have massacred scores of white people....for what seems to be... fun?

The discussion naturally starts. More character building is key here. Warren appears to be onto something; an early confrontation with Bob reveals that something is awry. A slow build up of tension; spread with dialogue, emerges. Deceit, lies, and confusion are revealed; before an inevitable first act climax. Samuel L Jackson genuinely gives one of the most powered, humorous, and disturbing speeches of his whole career - including Pulp Fiction. And then the first body hits the floor....

As violence emerges; Tarantino chooses to add the interval. in reality, the tension and violence of the Hateful Eight has just begun; and the interval signifies an exciting point of change for the film. It is the perfect time to step outside, take a piss, grab a snack, and discuss the film with a friend. In modern blockbusters, which eschew the concept of an interval, there is often a longing to discuss the film up until a point; during the film; and an interval allows you to do just this.

Dramatic irony enters the scene with an excellent piece of voice-over narration from Tarantino that reveals a dark secret indeed.... Watching the film at this point almost makes you squirm, with your hands over your eyes, the tension has reached it's breaking point. We know which characters will die, and which will survive (for at least a small while) And then the film does something weird. All the build up, the tension, and the expectations just kinda stop. Dead. There's the 'big reveal', and it just folds back over itself, or takes drugs, or something.... (I believe an allusion to a slow draw and a sharp injection of a needle has been made somewhere).

The Hateful Eight descends into the kind of gleeful madness you'd expect from a Tarantino flick. There's tension, flashbacks, and gallons upon gallons of fake blood. Sam Jackson says some cool shit (of course), and the characters die one by one. Oh, by the way, just because it's called the Hateful eight; doesn't mean to say the death count matches the title... no, it's far more. The violence is a strange departure, however, from the archetypal Tarantino flick. In Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, most of Kill Bill, and Death Proof; the kill count was low. There was a smaller amount of characters that actually contributed to the narrative, and were killed, lending their deaths significance. In Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained, mass indiscriminate killing was played for entertainment or catharsis. But in the Hateful Eight, Tarantino turns to splatterhouse: essentially amounting to torture-porn for sadistic 'pleasure'. I'm indifferent to this change in style, but some will react negatively to the level of nihilism and sadism displayed in the final 30 minutes of the film. Others will speculate a worrying trend in the sensationalism of his portrayal of violence, and pass comment to that effect.

But the overall picture that you're left with is one of optimism. No matter you're colour, or age, or gender; we can all work together. The conclusion is simultaneously nihilistic and optimistic.  This is a film that looks incredible; the cinematography is on top form (you should know that from the trailers). At multiple points, I marveled at the widest aspect ratios available in cinema; and for good reason - they turn the screen into a stage. At many points, all the cast are visible in varying locations, and you really get a sense of the scale of the operation. In other scenes, the power of Morricone's horror score (fit's well with this one, believe me) threatens to overwhelm your senses.

In the end, then, this is about as perfect as a western can get. It is tense, talkative, and brilliantly thrilling in the first instance; before becoming pure, cathartic, violent, and insane madness in the second. Containing some of the widest, most beautiful, and insane camerawork you've ever seen, the most prestige acting, and an incredible score: this is a masterpiece. On a final note, I saw this film on Christmas Eve, and I've lost the trail a bit so far as raw emotion. I'm seeing the roadshow mid-February and will amend it then.
The Hateful Eight gets 5 stars!

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