The Hateful Eight: The Thing Meets the West (Review)

Samuel L Jackson in The Hateful Eight

Quentin Tarantino and his publicity heavy film “The Hateful Eight” (It should have been billed as the movie that was almost never made) is entertaining in a “The Thing” meets the west sort of way.  Tarantino has said that he was massively influenced by John Carpenter’s film, which also had Kurt Russell in it, as well as TV westerns like “Bonanza.”  Although it still feels like this film owes more to Sergio Leone than “High Chaparral.”

Ennio Morricone, who provided the music to Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns and Carpenter’s “The Thing” scored this latest Tarantino offering and the film also uses, apparently, music never heard but intended for Carpenter’s 1982 film.

A group of strangers shelter from a blizzard in Minnie’s Haberdashery. One man, John Ruth (Kurt Russell) has a prisoner for hanging in Red Rock; Daisie Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Along the way he acquires Samuel L. Jackson, in the guise of Major Warren and Walter Goggins, who plays the new sheriff of Red Rock; Chris Mannix.

Ruth and his three traveling companions, along with O.B. the stagecoach driver, arrive at Minnie’s to find four men waiting out the storm. Minnie and Sweet Dave  are missing and they appear to have left Bob (Demián Bichir) in charge.  Amid racial tensions, post  Civil War hostilities and a sense of mutual mistrust, the two bounty hunters, Ruth and Warren, band together to ensure Domergue hangs. 

As this is a Tarantino film it is overly long and at nearly three hours it makes for a long time in one spot. However, despite the length, “The Hateful Eight” does not drag. The leisurely pace adds to the mystery of who is really up to what and allows for a claustrophobic feel to the proceedings.

There are numerous nods to “The Thing“, for example,  the scenes where the line is run to the outhouse, and later when O.B. prepares to head to the structure and later as he starts to head back are very reminiscent in terms of  framing and lighting to the original Carpenter feature.

“The Hateful Eight” has a few  other nods and winks to films that are not by John Carpenter. The poisoning scene, where Ruth (Russell) and O.B. (James Parks) forcibly vomit copious amounts of blood is highly reminiscent of Takashi Miike (in particular the poisoned coffee scene in “Fudoh: The New Generation“). It also smacks of the reaction to poisoned soup in the “light house” scene in Battle Royale (directed by Kinji Fukasaku) an event that leads to a climatic shootout between Japanese schoolgirls. 

Leaving aside the notions of homages and “nods” to other films or directors (something Tarantino is well known for) it is interesting to note that Daisy Domergue, as played by Leigh, is an oddly sexless/genderless character throughout most of the film.

Apart from the information given that Daisy is a female that will  hang for murder, the character comes across as more young pre-teen male juvenile delinquent than femme fatale.  Impish, mischievous and recalcitrant Domergue does nothing feminine. She exudes no sexuality at all.

It is interesting to note that her relationship with Ruth, when it is not dealing with obstinacy from ether side or pushing boundaries, comes over almost like a father and his naughty child. (Granted Ruth is a bit violent in his recriminations of Daisy’s offenses, but it has more of a familial feel than anything else.)

Bizarrely, Daisy only becomes feminine in death. Hair down and her shoes visible from below makes her shed the facade of genderless hooligan.

The cast list is impressive for Quentin’s eighth film.  Tim Roth, Jackson, Leigh,  Russell, Bruce Dern,  Bichir, Channing Tatum, Zoë Bell (who is becoming a regular), Walton GogginsMichael Madsen and Tarantino who gives a sort of cameo performance as the “not really needed” narrator that was, nonetheless, a nice touch. 

In terms of cameos Lee Horsley turns up as part of the stage driving team with Perry and Gene Jones (Dementia, No Country for Old Men) does a turn as “Sweet Dave.”

Sadly, watching the film via Amazon, the 70MM print does nothing for the streaming experience and while it may well have looked spectacular on today’s version of a big screen, it seems an unnecessary “gimmick.”  There are a few continuity errors here and there (mainly to do with Ms. Leigh’s teeth) but these do not detract from the film.

Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight” does what he intended; it entertains. There are some splendid comic moments;  some intense, yet short, shoot-outs and he attempts to bring a bit of authenticity to the time period.

Kudos to Leigh for her performance as Daisy and a huge nod to Demián Bichir who proves he has lost none of his comedic timing with his portrayal of “Bob.”

This film is a full 5 star spectacle, even when viewed via Amazon, or whatever streaming site one uses.  A brilliant follow-on to Django: Unchanged and it leads one to wish fervently that Tarantino will make another western soon.  He has a definite knack for it.

 

The Book of Life: Zoe Saldana and Ron Perlman Have Something For Everyone

The Book of Life: Zoe Saldana and Ron Perlman Have Something For Everyone

Reel FX teams up with Twentieth Century Fox to bring the animated feature The Book of Life to screen and the film has something for everyone, including Ron Perlman and Zoe Saldana who make a great double act for all ages. Produced by Guillermo del Toro, co-written and directed by Jorge R. Gutierrez the movie starts in modern times with five students who are, as a hapless museum tour guide puts it, the detention kids.

Django Unchained (2012): Long Spaghetti Western Love Letter

Poster of Django Unchained

I had to wait a long time to see this film, I was going to rent it on blu-ray and then I happened to see a non-blu-ray version for sale for a tenner and I grabbed it.

From the first frame of the film, it looked like a 1960’s opening for Sergio Leone-ish type spaghetti western, the colours were spot on and the rocks in the foreground could have been transplanted from those locations in Spain and Italy where the original features were made. The consistency of the film even looked the same, hard to describe, but it looked right.

Of course this wasn’t maintained throughout the film and there was no need. Once the music started up for the first scene after the “freeing” of Django, Tarantino told us with his initial score piece what was going to go on.

The first bit of music was a re-mix of the Two Mules for Sister Sara main theme. For those who haven’t seen the 1970 film, in a nutshell, it was an Italian spaghetti western film that wasn’t. The music was done by the master of off-beat magical themes and scores himself, Ennio Morricone. The film was directed by Don Siegel and Clint Eastwood, the original man with no name ,played Hogan. The film itself was a sort of homage to the genre that gave Eastwood the huge boost he needed to start his career in the right direction, away from television.

poster

The very second I heard the “jackass” toot-tweet of the music and listened to the subtle changes to the original music, I knew that Tarantino was making his intentions clear about the film. The choice and the remix was telling us, “This is a spaghetti western that isn’t. It isn’t even really going to follow the formula too much as I am going to mix up Siegel and Leone and Django.”

And that is what he did.

I even detected bits from Blazing Saddles (and Quentin, if I’m wrong buddy, I’m obviously giving you too damned much credit) in the amusing scene about the eye holes and the head bags. There were a few other nods and winks but I’ll get off this particular train right now.

Anyone who has ever watched the amount of these pasta opuses that were so popular at the Drive-in’s of the time, can remember the sounds of the guns in the films. The other obvious clue that the director gave us was the complete and total lack of the spaghetti western gunshot.

Quentin’s Django Unchained gun fire merely sounded loud. Gone was the ever present whine of the shot bullet and the almost flat, but very loud, crack of the guns. But the important part of the Italian western was that whine. He was telling us again, that yes this is a long love letter to the genre, but I’m not going to copy it 100%.

The casting of the film was phenomenal and I’m not going to go into the discussion too much. (Well not at all actually) Enough reviews and writers and critics have gotten there before me and I’m not in a hurry to join the din. Just as I’m not going to address the use of the “N” word. (Allcaps because of the amount of fury and un-political correctness that has been mention too damned often by too damned many.)

I will say this, though. The same people who would rather “rewrite” real history, who want to believe that in those halcyon days of yesteryear that people would not have referred to folks of a different hue using this highly offensive word at all, let alone as much as they did in the film, are the ones who want to rewrite nursery rhymes so that they do not offend.

The reality of the times, sad and disgusting, but oh so real.
The reality of the times, sad and disgusting, but oh so real.

Why? because they don’t believe in showing the truth, what is worse, is that they don’t really want to think that we were that uncouth, uncivilised, and downright nasty, truth be told.

But that sentiment is not true gentle people, not true at all. The same people in our American shores who referred to other human beings as; who called our brothers and sisters of the human race that name and other equally foul and disturbing names did do just that.

Because that was the culture back then.

These are the same people who cheerfully murdered Native Americans (and yes, that took place before the Civil War as well) and stoutly declared that the only good indian was a dead indian.

But I am not playing any “ethnic” minority game here, setting up my ancestors against yours my friend. I only point out the obvious, our American ancestors did a lot of things back then that was called, “good.” Tarantino opted to show it how it was versus the new modern trend of “gilding the lily.” Not, as claimed by most if not all the denigrators, to shock.

(Again, Quentin, if I’m giving you too much credit, I’m sorry.)

My last word on the subject, I promise, if it bothers you that much, don’t watch it.

There, all done, I told you.

Back to the film.

I loved it. I didn’t care for the soundtrack all that much, but like I said at the start, Tarantino picked music to fit “his” homage not anyone else’s. The clue was in that first piece of music, the faux Ennio Morricone that plays us into the opening of Django’s first day of freedom in a town.

I’d have to give this a full 5 out of 5 stars for the effort that went into this and for the long love letter that Quentin wrote using the film. I’d also like to give it another half star for the presence of Franco Nero who, in keeping with the 1960’s touch of the time, had that obvious moment where the “old” Django met the “new” Django.

A new classic.

Scene from Django Unchained

Westworld (1973) The Original Terminator

Cover of "Westworld"
Cover of Westworld

Written and directed by Michael Crichton and starring Yul Brynner, Richard Benjamin, James Brolin, Dick Van Patten and Majel Barrett in a cameo as the Brothel owning Miss Carrie, Westworld  was a breath of fresh air in the Science Fiction genre.

Released in 1973 the film has admittedly not aged as well as it could have. Despite having the distinction of being the first feature length film to use digital image processing, a lot of the special effects, especially those dealing with the computerized hardware on the robots, are very dated. The transistors and ‘chips’ and wiring are ludicrously huge compared to today’s computer technology.

This doesn’t hurt the film though. A good story with excellent acting can overcome a lot. I remember watching this film in a drive-in as a youngster and ‘the gunslinger’ scared the crap out of me.

He still does.

Westworld is set on another planet and it is just one of three adult ‘theme’ parks. There is also a Medieval world and a Roman world. Guests pay a thousand dollars a day to experience these worlds. Each one is as realistic as possible and is populated by incredibly life-like android robots. The only part of the android that is a complete give away are the hands. “They haven’t perfected the hands yet,” James Brolin’s character wryly points out.

Richard Benjamin is lawyer Peter Martin, freshly divorced from his wife and she’s taken him to the cleaners. James Brolin is John Blane, Peter’s best friend and a ‘regular’ to the adult theme park. A shuttle takes the new guests to the park’s reception area. While on the shuttle guests are given a coloured badge to signify which world they will be staying at. Blue equals Westworld.

The two men get settled in and John teaches Peter  how Westworld actually works. He finds out that the guns won’t work on real people after he has a gunfight with Yul Brenner’s gunslinger. While the film is focussing on the two main guests, John and Peter, we are able to see ‘behind the scenes’ and witness how the park is maintained.

We also learn that the park is experiencing problems with the androids and other robots in the various worlds. The Chief Supervisor (Alan Oppenheimer) is concerned ,as it appears that the robots are ‘transferring’ the problems, “like a disease.”

The main focus of the film are of Peter and John and the gunslinger. Played chillingly by Yul Brynner, the gunslinger is malevolent, un-stoppable, and damned scary. He is the first terminator. While watching this film for the first time, my daughter stopped it about halfway through. She looked at me and said, “Without this film there would have no terminator.”

I agree. Brynner’s mechanical treading towards his victim is undeniably scary. Combined with the overlaying soundtrack making a noise like a ruler being thrummed on something (a description my daughter came up with to equate the sound to) he sounds mechanical and menacing.

In fact the music of the film helps to set up each world, but the music for Westword, so evocative of say Ennio Morricone or Dominic Frontier intermixed with the computerized and mechanical music sells the action perfectly.

I have read that Warner Bros are still talking about doing a remake of Westworld and I hope it never happens.

Where on earth are they going to find an actor of Yul Brynner’s calibre. Brynner was paying a homage to his role as Chris in The Magnificent Seven, that brilliant remake of Seven Samurai and one of the best westerns ever made.

Are there any actors out there at the minute who can fill Yul’s boots?

I don’t think so.

Walk of fame at the Orpheum Theater in Memphis...
Walk of fame at the Orpheum Theater in Memphis, Tennessee. Yul Brynner (Photo credit: Wikipedia)