Hatefully yours, Quentin


(c) FilmColony / The Weinstein Company


You may be one of those people who regard filmmaker Quentin Tarantino as a let-down.  You thought his early movies like 1992’s Reservoir Dogs and 1994’s Pulp Fiction showed tremendous potential and nodded approvingly at 1997’s Jackie Brown, which was calmer, less flashy and more reflective in tone and suggested an increasing maturity on Tarantino’s part.  But then you rolled your eyes at his 21st-century output: the Kill Bill movies in 2003 and 2004, Death Proof in 2007, Inglourious Basterds in 2009 and Django Unchained in 2012.


All that adolescent, cheesy stuff that you thought Tarantino had shaken off with Jackie Brown was suddenly back – squared, perhaps even cubed.  Copious references and homages to trashy old B and Z-grade genre movies.  Sequences of such violence and bloodiness that you wondered if he filmed them with windscreen-wipers fitted on his camera lenses.  Barrages of unsavoury racial epithets, particularly the n-word, usually fired off by or fired off at Samuel L. Jackson.  And scenes that went on and on and on because the characters in them never shut up, Tarantino being infatuated with the sound of his own voice (or his own dialogue), with the result that his films were hours longer than they needed to be.


Quentin, you’ve commonly thought over the past decade, I’m not angry with you.   I’m just disappointed.


Well, if you’re one of those people, I have good news.  You’re going to detest his latest, The Hateful Eight – ‘The eighth film by Quentin Tarantino’ as it’s grandly described on the credits – because in it he happily commits the above sins against mature filmmaking all over again.


That’s bad news for you, actually.  But it’s good news for me because I like the schlock-movie references, bloodshed and relentless talking in Tarantino’s movies.  (Admittedly, I get a bit fed up hearing the n-word all the time, but I suppose I can forgive him one over-indulgence.)  So I went home from seeing The Hateful Eight well-satisfied.


(c) FilmColony / The Weinstein Company


The movie is Tarantino’s second western and it takes place sometime after the American Civil War.  We meet half of the titular eight in the film’s first two ‘chapters’.  They are bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his unladylike lady prisoner Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh); another bounty hunter Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson); and a former Confederate militiaman called Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) who claims to be travelling to a town where, improbably, he’s just been appointed sheriff.  Warren and Mannix appear at different times to hitch a ride in Ruth’s private stagecoach, which makes him suspect they’re in cahoots to steal his prisoner and lift the bounty-money for her.  However, the animosity that develops between Warren and Mannix because of their war records – Warren served as a Yankee officer and was responsible for a lot of Confederate deaths – suggests that a secret alliance is unlikely.  That or they’re very good actors.


Chapter three sees the stagecoach arrive, just before a blizzard makes further travel impossible, at a store-cum-refuge in the middle of nowhere called Minnie’s Haberdashery.  And here the rest of the eight are introduced: Bob (Demian Bichir), a cheery Mexican who says he’s running the haberdashery for Minnie while she’s off visiting her mother; Mobray (Tim Roth), an aristocratic and garrulous Englishman who professes to be a hangman; Gage (Michael Madsen), a surly and solitary cowboy who spends his time scribbling his memoirs into a notebook; and Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern), a sour old man whom Mannix and Warren recognise as a Confederate general of considerable repute or notoriety, depending on which side of the war they fought on.


Ruth is soon seething with paranoia because he sees these four strangers as additional possible threats to his prisoner and bounty.  But plenty of other questions emerge.  What’s really happened to Minnie and her staff at the haberdashery?  What became of the son whom Smithers is now in the territory searching for – and did Warren play a role in his death?  Is the letter that Warren keeps producing from his pocket and flashing around truly proof of a friendship he once had with Abraham Lincoln?  And is anyone in the snowbound haberdashery actually telling the truth about who they are and what they’re up to?


Chapter three ends with violence and the film’s first fatality.  By chapter four the blood is flowing freely and during chapters five and six…  Well, this is a Tarantino movie.  You know what to expect.


Several critics have pointed to Agatha Christie as a major inspiration for The Hateful Eight and dubbed it Ten Little Indians-out-west.  But the main template for the film’s plot, wherein a group stuck in a confined space try to identify one or more hostile imposters hiding among them, is surely Tarantino’s own Reservoir Dogs.  This is underscored by the fact that two of the original ‘Dogs’, Tim Roth and Michael Madsen, reappear here.


I should say that the film’s also reminiscent of John Carpenter’s 1982 remake of The Thing, partly because of the hidden-imposters plot, partly because of the bleak snowy setting and partly because of Kurt Russell being in it.  Russell, of course, played McCready, the embattled hero of The Thing.  Indeed there’s a scene in The Hateful Eight where one character forces the others at gunpoint to line up against a wall while he tries to figure out who the enemy is; which evokes the famous scene in The Thing where Russell ties up his remaining colleagues prior to doing a blood-test that’ll determine who’s human and who’s secretly got tentacles.


(c) FilmColony / The Weinstein Company


The way the common criticisms of him are framed, Tarantino just can’t win.  On one hand, it’s fashionable to deride him as a shallow, sensationalist gobshite whose work is a monument to his trashy taste in movies.  Yet his modus operandi is in many ways quite highbrow.  As an artist he’s as literary as he is cinematic, writing film-scripts like playwrights write plays.  He defines his characters as much by what they say as by what they do and how they look.  He takes genuine pleasure in the ebb and flow, and the cut and thrust, of dialogue.  And he gives his scenes a theatrical length that allows his actors and actresses space to properly act.  Incidentally, he also insists on dividing his films into ‘chapters’, which is a rather literary habit.


Of course, in doing this, he lays himself open to the other line of attack, i.e. that his films are uneconomical, excessively talky and never know when to stop.  (For the record, The Hateful Eight has an imposing running time of three hours and seven minutes.)


But if, like me, you appreciate a movie where words – as opposed to, say, CGI – are the thing that matters, you’ll find much to cherish in The Hateful Eight.  It helps that the words here come out of the mouths of a first-rate cast.  Jackson is his usual inimitable self as Marquis Warren (a character named after the writer, director and producer Charles Marquis Warren who specialised in westerns, both movies like 1951’s Only the Valiant, 1968’s Day of the Evil Gun and 1969’s Charro! and TV shows like Rawhide and Gunsmoke).  Russell and Bruce Dern are good value too and I suspect Tarantino cast them because of their past western credentials.  Russell played Wyatt Earp in Tombstone (1993) and Dern made several westerns in his youth, including 1972’s The Cowboys, at the end of which he shot John Wayne in the back – the scumbag.


But the most memorable performances are those by Walton Goggins as the gormless and unreliable Mannix, a man who needs to keep his limited number of wits about him if he’s to survive events in Minnie’s Haberdashery; by Jennifer Jason Leigh as Ruth’s prisoner Domergue, a sly, cackling and occasionally rabid creature whom you really wouldn’t want to be handcuffed to; and by Tim Roth as the delightfully pompous Mobray, who seems to channel Richard Harris’s English Bob character in Clint Eastwood’s classic 1992 western The Unforgiven.  Demian Bichir and Michael Madsen make less of an impression, though, never quite managing to elbow their way past the other, larger-than-life characters to claim part of the limelight for themselves.


I didn’t feel breathless after seeing The Hateful Eight in the way that I did after seeing Pulp Fiction 22 years ago; but I’d still rate it as Tarantino’s best movie since the 1990s.  It’s more substantial than the schlock-obsessed Kill Bill movies and Death Proof.  And it makes more sense than Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained, both of which seemed to abandon the laws of logic whenever it suited Tarantino’s storytelling.  That said, I did detect one lapse of logic in it – when the tensions that’ve simmered between the Yankee Warren and the Confederate Mannix and Smithers boil over halfway through the film, you expect repercussions afterwards; but there aren’t repercussions and this sub-plot abruptly disappears.  Otherwise, and especially compared to its two predecessors, The Hateful Eight’s plot is fairly cogent.


The Hateful Eight won’t win Tarantino new fans or win back the respect of those who went off him post-Jackie Brown.  But if, after nearly a quarter-century, you still have a fondness for le cinéma Quentin-ique, this should keep you satisfied till the ninth film by Quentin Tarantino – which will hopefully be due sometime around 2020.


By the way, I like this picture of him with Miss Piggy.


From muppet.wikia.com


Bairns on a plane


(c) New Line Cinema


“I’ve had it with these motherf***ing snakes on this motherf***ing plane!”


So bellowed a disgruntled Samuel L. Jackson towards the end of the 2006 action movie, Snakes on a Plane, which, surprisingly, was about a cache of poisonous snakes breaking loose in the hold of a passenger plane and wreaking deadly havoc during a flight.  Lately, I’ve done a lot of flying.  And I have to say that on several occasions I’ve been close to doing a good impersonation of Samuel L. Jackson in that particular movie.  As the noise of screeching, caterwauling babies and infants has struck up from one, two, three, half-a-dozen, a dozen airplane-seats around me, I’ve wanted to paraphrase the distinguished star of Pulp Fiction (1994), Jackie Brown (1997) and Django Unchained (2012) and bellow:


“I’m had it with these motherf***ing bairns on this motherf***ing plane!”


In our modern, hyper-connected world, it’s now become as normal and commonplace to bundle the entire family onto an airplane for a ten-hour flight as it once was to bundle the entire family into the car for a Sunday-afternoon drive.  And as an increasing number of airplane seats are taken up by families, so the proportion of young family members – very young family members – flying has grown too.  Which would be fine by me if it meant that other passengers weren’t subjected to a relentless sonic assault from these seemingly-inexhaustible wee noise-machines.


 From thepointsguy.com


Yes, I know, all airlines these days (except perhaps for the North Korean one, Air Koryo) have inflight entertainment systems and headsets, so that theoretically you’re able to block out the aural barrage coming from wailing bairns.  But unfortunately, (a) the selection on those entertainment systems is usually so dreadful that you have to make a choice between subjecting yourself to The Essential Mariah Carey and subjecting yourself to Michael Bublé Meets Madison Square Garden, both of which in my opinion are actually worse than listening to the equivalent of a whole nursery school shrieking their little heads off; and (b) your headsets are usually collected again as the airplane begins its descent, leaving you with no protection at all against the eardrum-lacerating squeals and hollers coming from passengers who are under three years old.


Talking of eardrums, I accept that taking off and coming in to land are particularly traumatic for little kids – thanks to the sudden changes in altitude, the air pressure inside their ears is out of synch with the air pressure outside them and the painful popping that occurs must convince them that their heads are going to explode.  But really, in my book, that’s no excuse.  These young bairns just have to man up.  And shut up.


There are possible solutions to this problem, however.  One solution would be for airplanes to have a special crèche area where the younglings could play, or scream, to their hearts’ content well away from adult passengers.  Ideally, the crèche would be contained inside a special external module that bobbed along, say, several hundred yards behind the plane itself, separate, but still connected to it by some reinforced cables (or bits of string).


I realise this might prove unacceptable to the parents of the young children, though.  So alternatively the crèche could be located somewhere on board, such as down in the luggage hold.  Actually, having the crèche there would be extra useful, as it could also double up as an early-warning system.  If the noise-levels from the hold got abnormally high, it would alert the crew to the fact that another cache of poisonous motherf***ing snakes had broken loose.


Another solution would be to have a brand new airline dedicated to carrying nobody but babies and infants – leaving adults to travel peacefully on the established airlines.  This new airline for young-kids-only could be called Bairnair, for example, or Screechyjet.  And it’d have definite commercial possibilities.  In fact, I’m surprised that someone like Michael O’Leary, the mischievous, profit-hungry chief executive officer of Ryanair, hasn’t already realised the financial advantages of the idea and started up his own bairns-only airline.  For one thing, you could carry a hell of a lot more paying passengers on a plane if they were all infants.  I read somewhere that Ryanair’s Boeing fleet can currently hold 189 passengers per plane but I’m sure that with some creative – and compact – new seating arrangements, Michael could get at least 800 bairns onto one of them.  Why, he could probably manage over a thousand if he fitted the fuselage from end-to-end, floor-to-ceiling hutches.


From www.theda.co.uk