The Cool Few

I have a cool/meh relationship with QT. It’s not a love/hate thing, those emotions are too passionate, which is kind of amusing, since Tarantino is very much a passionate kind of filmmaker. I used to think he was pretty bloody awesome. But that was six features ago, after he made the dripping-with-cool Pulp Fiction, and it became the first ever movie I saw twice in one day.

Many Tarantino fans rate Jackie Brown as one of his best, but that was ultimately a meh movie for me. That was the third feature. The fourth was Kill Bill (a visually arresting, but uneven and very self-conscious four hour opus split into two halves), then the very meh Death Proof, followed by the reasonably cool Inglourious Basterds, the meh Django Unchained, which brings us to the slightly less meh eighth feature, The Hateful Eight. 

For me, Tarantino started at the top and has been working his way down. Much the same way Orson Welles described his career. Reservoir Dogs, although ripped off from Ringo Lam’s City on Fire, is a lean, mean fighting machine full of anger and attitude, but without the histrionics that soon plague the director’s work. Sure, it’s talky and cocky, but that’s Tarantino’s schtick, and back in 1992 that schtick worked a treat.

But QT’s been hammering the same schtick for the past twenty-plus years. It’s become really boring. The Hateful Eight is in many ways the culmination of years of referencing favourite directors and cult classic movies, all of which have been burned into the retina of Tarantino from his obsessive years behind the counter at Video Archives rental store.

There’s no denying the man knows his movies. He’s a goddam walking encyclopedia on gangster, Western, Martial Arts, horror, exploitation, and other cult genres. Speaking of which, it’s about bloody time he made a horror movie. Ever since I read about his love of Fulci and Argento movies, I’ve been waiting for him to wield his schtick and whip some bloody ass. Apparently he feels he has a couple more features left in his oeuvre. He reckons to be recognized as a Western director he has to make three Westerns, and QT would very much like to be remembered as a director of Westerns. So, that means one of the next two movies will be another Western.

Which brings me back to The Hateful Eight, the main point of contention in this spit. A movie Tarantino went out of his way to film and release in the same majestic fashion as the Westerns of yesteryear. He dusted off a fuck-off huge Panavision Panaflex System 65 (projected in 70mm) and delivered a three-hour post-Civil War talkfest, complete with Overture and Intermission.

The usual suspects have been rounded up: Samuel Jackson, Kurt Russell, Tim Roth, and Michael Madsen. Through in Bruce Dern, Jennifer Jason-Leigh, Walter Goggins, James Parks, and Channing Tatum, and you’ve got a real thick brew of coffee stewing away on the stovetop of Minnie’s Haberdashery in Red Rock, Wyoming. It’s gonna be a cold couple of days and nights, best rug up.

The curious thing about QT’s movies is that I feel beguiled by them as I’m watching, curious to where they’re going, what explosion of violence might ensue, what verbose piece of vocab will spill from a character’s mug, what piece of music or song will be used to contrast against the scene. It’s afterwards when I find myself reacting to the movie in an intense way, feeling the hollow pang of a movie that has been so very meh.

Very little actually happens in the three hours of The Hateful Eight (of which there are more than eight, which makes the title meaningless). It’s essentially an Agatha Christie style mystery playhouse masquerading as a Western. And, I found the use of the 70mm format almost entirely wasted (and it didn’t help that the cinema I was in had a focus soft spot in the middle of the right hand side of the screen!) Why didn’t Tarantino use more Leone-style ECUs; get into the pores of the characters, use more split–screen focus, have more of the movie set out in the stunning snow-laden landscape?

Ennio Morricone’s score (including two outtakes from Carpenter’s The Thing) is very good. The posters are great. The performances are a mixed bag. I enjoyed Walter Goggins the most, but Zoe Bell - who couldn’t act her way out of a paper bag if she tried - is quite possibly the WORST casting decision ever – and the costuming and production design are satisfyingly authentic, but Jennifer Jason Leigh’s black eye was a travesty of special effects makeup, and the two major gore gags were so quick, if you blinked you missed them!

What should’ve been a “Wham! Bam! Thank you, Ma’am!” piece of widescreen Wild Bunch mayhem turned out to be a laborious boxed-in soapbox rant on racism. I’m so over Tarantino’s I’m-a-nigger-trapped-in-a-honky’s-body lament. Leave the socio-politics alone QT, especially in this neo-conservative age, and just make a balls-to-the-wall scary-as-fuck horror movie, like I know you have buried inside your cluttered, homage-ridden mind.