Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Let’s give these insects a taste of human justice!

Meet the Applegates
(1990)

(SPOILERS) A good few Michael Lehmann movies are probably best forgotten, but his first three are not among them. The in-betweener, Meet the Applegates, passed virtually unnoticed, missing out on the acclaim that greeted Heathers and the (undeserved) infamy reserved for Hudson Hawk. It has remained in an off-the-radar state, bereft of even a DVD release, making it something of a highly prized cult movie. Applegates is a broad, rambunctious satire of the American way of life, picking at the corrupting influences lurking beneath the idealised surface. Lehmann’s energy and glee at the task in hand are irresistible, and so he delivers a fully-formed picture that might be mistaken for the absurdist progeny of Joe Dante and John Waters.


No one could accuse Meet the Applegates of subtlety, but that’s part of its colourful appeal. This is a one-joke set-up of a movie, making the well-sustained results all the more surprising; it only peters out when required to gather in its threads and cobble together a conclusion. Lehmann’s only screenplay credit (with Redbeard Simmons, who wrote his 1985 short, Beaver Gets a Boner), he may well have been inspired by the savage black comedy of Daniel Waters’ Heathers screenplay. If Applegates is unable to ascend to those rarefied heights, it takes similar satisfaction in disassembling readily accepted mores and values.


The eccentric plot follows a family of Brazilian Cocorada (praying mantises) dispatched to suburban Ohio on a mission to sabotage a nuclear power station after their habitat comes under threat; insects being the ones to survive a nuclear catastrophe, of course. Ostensibly Applegates bears an eco-theme, then, but Lehmann and Simmons are far too anarchic to burden themselves with po-faced moralising. The makeshift conclusion finds the threat (to humans) eliminated, with Ohio residents visiting the Applegates in the jungle; “a little radiation did seep through the cracks” we are told, as the trio remove their headgear to reveal copious hair loss. The conservation theme is a trigger, but becomes merely one of a handful of targets, swiping at the ugliness festering beneath the veneer of traditional values.


Usually reserved for role reversal morality plays involving the interrogation of prejudice or ignorance, the picture embraces comparative perspectives to humorous effect, as we see the mistreatment of insects through the Applegates’ eyes. This culminates in a lynch mob (“Let’s give these insects a taste of human justice!”) where the only defender is Roger Aaron Brown’s African American sheriff (“Bug lover!”) Most definitely not subtle, then, which also applies to next door neighbour Greg Samson (Glen Shadix, Father Ripper from Heathers and Otho in Beetlejuice), a bug exterminator who masks a vindictive edge beneath his welcoming smile (“We take Sunday off to honour God and the baby Jesus”; he accuses the Applegates of being Satanists, communists or just plain evil).


The Applegates, Richard P (Ed Begley, Jr) Jane (Stockard Channing), Sally (Camille Cooper) and Johnny (Robert Jayne), accompanied by Spot the dog/bug, have assumed their identities through studying Janet and John books, diligently ensuring they meet precise average statistics as verified by Family Bazaar magazine. They’re the model American family, and thus highly prone to moral debasement.


Richard goes to work in the power plant (“You come glowingly recommended”), where he receives initially unwanted attention from secretary Dottie (Savannah Smith Boucher); inevitably, the faithful husband embarks on an affair, leading to a particularly outrageous liaison accidentally broadcast across the power station floor (“Ride the baloney pony, baby! I’m going to splay you, like a Cornish game hen!”)


His infidelity is just part of a mounting testament to the general untrustworthiness of (human) men. In the most protracted, near-the-knuckle subplot, Sally is date-raped by Greg’s jock-cock son Vince (Adam Biesk), discovers she is pregnant, and becomes a lesbian (“I’ve learned a lot in the last few weeks. Like all men care about is pussy”; “Ain’t that the truth!”, concurs her mother). Following which, her new-born is stamped on by the horrified reps from Family Bazaar.


At every turn of confronting human depravity, cocooned bodies pile up in the Applegate house (in contrast to the humans – “Sally, keep away from that boy. His father’s a killer”, Dick instructs of Vince – the Applegates don’t actually kill anyone), either as a consequence of revealing their true form or due to financial pressures. Sally bugs-out during Greg’s assault (“Stop, or I’ll make you stop”), and, having taken in teen pregnancy, Lehmann and Redbeard naturally want to cover drug abuse too; Johnny quickly becomes a stoner (“Hand me that roach, man”) and transforms during a particularly heavy session. Before long, the model children have become rude, disrespectful, engaging in acts of larceny and estranged from their parents; they’re the most normal family in America.


Jane becomes addicted to shopping (“Its been awful, Opal Withers made me wallow in decadent consumerism”), equipped with a credit card (“Another vile human custom”), the home shopping network and no willpower to stop (she proceeds to shift blame, not unlike Johnny’s excuse for becoming an addict; “It wasn’t my fault. They made me take drugs and I couldn’t stop”). Jane then resorts to robbing convenience stores and eventually has to stuff the sheriff in the basement when he catches her. Dick does the same thing with Dottie (behind the drinks cabinet) when she threatens blackmail over their affair; it’s only by taking off in an RV and getting back to nature that they re-connect with their true, unsullied insect-inside selves.


Lehmann and Simmons make great capital from a string of bug-human perspective gags, and again, it’s surprising how consistently they land. From dietary habits (“Johnny, eat some more sugar. You’re still growing”; desert is a particular treat as, “I happened to find a pile of rancid trash in a dumpster beside the 7-Eleven”), to pornography (Dick inspecting insect pictures in a copy of Scientific American), to activating a sonic bug repellent at a fete (Dick and Jane are the only ones who hear it, of course), to a series of one liners; “Blubbing like a day-old larva”; “You know, I used to think you had queen potential, you little piss-ant”; “Who knows what filthy human diseases you’ve picked up”; requesting, as Sally goes into labour, “Warm mud and a bag of fertiliser”.


Much of the picture’s success is down to the performances. Electric car proselytiser Begley Jr and former Greaser Channing are absolute perfection as the initially adoring couple, hatching out their characters’ less respectable sides with infectious relish, culminating in Jane smashing a bottle over Dick’s head (“What did I do, you crazy bitch?”) Jayne and Cooper (who appears to have retired from acting) are also very good; all involved exactly get the heightened tone Lehmann is aiming for. This is a world next door to Dante and Burton’s offbeat suburbias, just somewhat coarser. 


The bug designs are appealingly exaggerated too, from camera point-of-view shots with dangling feelers and arms, to full puppets (there’s even a Thing-esque transformation for Spot when Johnny forces him to inhale).


As noted, Lehmann and Simmons were evidently taking a leaf out of Heathers’ book in pointing out predilections for parochialism and bigotry. In particular, casting doubt on the jock’s masculinity is a direct steal (“Do you think there might have been any homosexual activity?”), while Shaddix is used to spout unsubtle and intemperate views in both. In both too, shows of support over traumatic local events are organised; the townsfolk decide to put on a musical in aid of the vanishing residents, People are Neat, all about “peace, love, brotherhood and the free market system”.


The movie’s trump card is casting Dabney Coleman as the antagonistic, military-minded leader of the mantises. This kind of character is preferably used in small doses, and Lehmann knows Coleman needs only to open his mouth to get a laugh. As Aunt Bea, the moustachioed queen of the Cocorada colony, Coleman gets many of the best lines, and the best frocks. Calling a builder who pinches her arse “You homo sapien scum”, then reflecting “Oh nothing, nothing. Just, er, some asshole just tried to rape me”, being ignored while hitchhiking (“You cocksucker!”) or, battered but not bowed, wheel chairing into the distance during the end credits (“Yeah, get a job pal”, she instructs an approaching beggar), Coleman is an instant win.


Admittedly, Meet the Applegates rather goes off the boil during the last 15 minutes or so, ironically when Aunt Bea shows up to take control, but it’s brief and pacy enough (at under 90 minutes) that it’s never in danger of outstaying its welcome (see for yourself; a poor quality version can currently be found on YouTube). Most likely its exuberantly scattershot approach would be tempered somewhat if it were made today, so missing out on its unrepentant appeal; amid the crudity and zest there’s a lacerating sharpness.


It makes you wonder just where it all went wrong for Lehmann. Maybe it’s merely that the satire game doesn’t serve its members well (Dante finds it hard to get a gig these days); Lehmann’s last few pictures have been forgettable, and his most recent was nearly a decade ago. Like many a director in the industry, he’s opted for steady TV work, some of it on quality shows (Californication, True Blood, Dexter), but it’s a shame his once-distinctive sensibility, one that pegged him out as a potential Dante or Burton, appears to have been doused.



Monday, 8 February 2016

I’m in my head now, and it’s where I should be.

The Plague Dogs
(1982)

(SPOILERS) While I’ve seen Watership Down many times over the years, this is my first visit to Martin Rosen’s follow-up to Richard Adams’ follow-up. I can see why it passed me by, since it misses out on almost everything that makes its predecessor a confirmed classic. Where Watership Down casually observes the destructiveness of man through the prism of the rabbits’ infrequent encounters, The Plague Dogs wears his essential cruelty on its sleeve. This might have worked if there was a story to tell, or a glimmer of hope, but the circular, doom-laden narrative, set amid a grimly unwelcoming Lake District, offers no respite, making for an over-extended, laborious picture.


As such, The Plague Dogs is part of the tide of despair informing British cinema during the 1980s, faced by the intertwining spectres of Thatcherism and Armageddon. It’s noticeably there in the decade’s animations (not that there were many UK animated features, but the ones that were, the same year’s Pink Floyd – The Wall, the wailing misery and gnashing of teeth (in a very restrained, conservative manner) of Raymond Briggs’ When the Wind Blows, were fortified with unremitting bleakness.


The Plague Dogs carries that brooding dread throughout, most starkly in its permanently overcast Lake District setting. The premise may suggest the kind of escape to freedom from laboratory testing seen in Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (The Plague Dogs came out the same year as the considerably lighter and more magically orientated adaptation The Secret of NIMH) but what it leads to is closer to the futility of Edge of Darkness. If parents wonder how Watership Down escaped with a U certificate, there can be no doubt why The Plague Dogs received a PG; with its swearing, bloody carnage (a man gets shot in the face at one point) and unalleviated despondency, it might even have warranted a 15.


The chief problem is not this gloom, but the complete lack of narrative propulsion once Snitter (a fox terrier voiced by John Hurt) and Rowf (a Labrador voiced by Christopher Benjamin, perhaps best known as Henry Gordon Jago in the 1977 Doctor Who story The Talons of Weng-Chiang) have fled to the wilds. They embark on an endurance exercise of sheep-killing, being chased, and chatting to a particularly unpleasantly-rendered fox (James Bolam relishing his Geordie Reynard). Mostly, though, the duo wander listlessly, oblivious to their inevitable demise.


Unlike Watership Down, where the animal perspective and singular understanding of the world created a uniquely cohesive vision, The Plague Dogs is punctuated by voice-overs of the human side of the equation, searching for the two dogs amid fears they may be carrying plague (they aren’t, but that’s to no avail when it comes to the “necessity” of dispatching them). It’s disruptive, a reminder that there’s no fuel in the main plot’s tanks, with the canines unmotivated aside from their next meal. The counter of the days clicking by is a further unwelcome reminder that the picture lacks focus.


Apart from its overriding theme, of course. The animal testing is presented quite clearly as an unnecessary cruelty (Martin Rosen may have said it wasn’t anti-vivisection, but it would be nigh-impossible to come away thinking that). At one point, a scientist comments of the experiment on Snitter that it is based on “confusing subjective with objective in the animal’s mind”, but he sounds unclear himself, other than seeing the loss of the animals, and with them precious results, as a waste. Rowf, meanwhile, is shown being drowned and resuscitated in the opening scenes, evidently a regular sufferance. Then there’s the monkey in the “pit of despair” cut to at various points with see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil poses.


The picture certainly doesn’t make things easy, offering no respite, and its verbalising of the contradictions within a dog's psyche is perhaps less successful than in it was in the land of lapins. A hound acting an idiot one moment (dutifully approaching humans who may wish to harm it), then articulating the dangers of the environment the next, creates something of a schism. There’s also a sense that the unrelieved fatalism of their lot is compounded by every incident; of course Snitter accidentally puts his paw on the kindly gentry’s shotgun trigger. As for their eating the corpse of the gunman, it’s presented as a pure horror punchline, with no attempt on Snitter’s part to admit they know it would be a very bad thing to do (but needs must).


Snitter, his brain augmented, is very much the Fiver-esque visionary of the tale. Fox The Tod ("Just a proposal, bonny lads") is the Keehar and Rowf effectively a Bigwig type; it’s surely no coincidence that a leader and guide to safety, a Moses-Hazel figure, is absent. Imagine if Keehar had been killed off in Watership Down? Imagine if there was no comfort of a hereafter embracing these creatures when they shuffle off?


The Tod may not be as winning, but the casual sight of his corpse retrieved when the hunt is on for the dogs marks out starkly that there can be no happy ending here. Apparently the final scene, in which the two hounds swim through the misty sea towards “an island” (one does actually appear in the credits), suggesting they are fated to drown out there, is closer to the one first envisaged by Adams (in the book the dogs are taken in by Snittter’s original owner). Whether or not that island is an intentional glimmer of hope, the general tone of the picture tends to the negative, and it would be difficult to conclude they make it to shore.


Rosen imbues his picture with moments of tension (escaping the furnace, various pursuits and escapes) but the film as a whole is unfortunately weighed down by its heroes’ inertia. I commented that a two-and-a-half hour Watership Down could easily have been made from the source material. The same could not be said of The Plague Dogs, which is overlong at 100 minutes. The film undoubtedly reverberates in terms of atmosphere and tone, leaving the viewer with a sense of profound hopelessness and despair at the idle machinations of man, but it ought to have been compelling with it.


Saturday, 6 February 2016

Keeping you at a disadvantage is an advantage I intend to keep.

The Hateful Eight
(2015)

(SPOILERS) Just when you thought Quentin Tarantino couldn’t get any more self-indulgent, he only goes and outdoes himself. Maybe even Harvey Weinstein (not for nothing monickered Harvey Scissorhands) will think twice about leaving him be and meeting his every whim in future, given the box office disappointment of The Hateful Eight, its accompanying Ultra Panavision fanfare and bloated running time. As with most of his 21st century fare (barring the execrable Death Proof), there’s a great movie to be found in his latest, but it desperately needed someone to tell him “No”, both in terms of the over-extended screenplay and the stylistic and performance choices. The wundergeek is in no danger of coming close to Pulp Fiction’s abiding classic status any time soon.


Probably the best fit for the director’s cine-geekdom of late was Inglourious Basterds, in that it was a virtual compendium of cartoonishly goofy/ cool pose-striking in highly self-aware mode, right down to that “Let’s kill Hitler” ending. It’s pretentions at saying anything – as much as Tarantino every really “says” anything – came in a movie-conscious revenge wrapper. Generally, though, the more his adherents vouch for Tarantino as the engineer of depth beneath his pictures’ seductive surfaces, the less I’m inclined to buy into them.


The Hateful Eight at least comes with a historical literate background to its post-American Civil War milieu, versed in its motivations, divisions and repercussions. In part, what the movie’s “about” is right there in the title; hate, be that hate identified through political, racial or misogynistic inclinations. And, as you’d expect from the Oscar-winning screenwriter, Tarantino weaves a series of masterful little, and some not so little, vignettes and scenes to illustrate his point.


But he’s simultaneously become an enormous windbag, loving the sound of his voice so much (was there any doubt; he still loves to put himself in his movies, despite a million voices crying out in terror and not being suddenly silenced) that he has no discipline or economy of word and action. More cripplingly – and this is where I tend to disagree most with his advocates – he continues to indulge in flagrant shock tactics at the expense of a unified whole, be it the studious use of the n-word, a preposterous penchant for ultra-violence or just plain waving his dingus about. Proponents will say such devices are there to make you think, and questioning their use highlights your own preconceptions. I’d counter that the majority of them merely represent the same juvenilia he’s been preoccupied with from the start of his career but, as he becomes ever-more feted and respected, the dissonance between these ever-present cheap shots and his designs on commentary becomes more acute. 


The good, then. Samuel L Jackson is great, and it’s at least gratifying that Tarantino can remind you why there was such rapture about him initially (this is a particularly necessary enema, as I last witnessed him wilting the virtual sets in the Star Wars prequels). Kurt Russell is likewise a delight; such a master of delivery that, when he’s given material this delicious, you could watch and listen to him all day (making it a shame he exits at the point he does).


Walter Goggins is as weasily charming as usual, essaying a slippery character who appears to be whatever anybody wants him to be at any given moment, blowing in the wind. It’s a pleasure to see him used as well on the big screen as he has been on the small (the line "Are y'all having a bounty hunter's picnic?" is an instant classic). Bruce Dern is as fantastic as ever, and at 80 he’s still buzzing with that wiry eccentricity he always was. Demiàn Bichir, who I’m not so familiar with, is very funny, a marvellous addition to the Tarantino rep company. Jennifer Jason Leigh is likewise hilarious, while carrying a genuinely unnerving edge in her scenes; I was a huge fan of hers back in the early to mid ‘90s (her Dorothy Parker and Amy Archer in The Hudsucker Proxy are must-sees) but I seem to have missed much of her more recent work.


The original Ennio Morricone score is also a joy, what there is of it (he composed 25 minutes of original music, although some report it was 50), jumping right back into the western genre like a duck to water after more than 30 years’ absence. The opening chapters of the film are spellbinding, before the arrival at Minnie’s Haberdashery (even if the grandstanding Leone wannabe opening shot is exactly that, lacking the master’s instinctive facility for the operatic), as the snow-bound stagecoach carrying Russell’s John Ruth and Leigh’s Daisy Domergue picks up first Major Marquis Warren (Jackson) and then “Sheriff” Chris Mannix (Goggins), all en route for Red Rock.


And the scene setting in the Haberdashery is intriguing too, Tarantino enjoying positioning his players in place, right up to the expertly teased-out poisoned coffee set piece. But this is also where you start to feel the gears shifting, rather than enjoying the smooth ride. He’s put himself in a highly theatrical arena here, and the switches between conversation starters become too apparent, other characters sitting or standing around passively on the side-lines, waiting for their cues to re-enter the proceedings. He’s got so many toys to play with, he’s a bit overwhelmed, and can only juggle so much at once.


This means you question the actions of the Domingray gang, and their strategy, in retrospect, because it feels like, having the advantage, they pull their punches somewhat. Which is partly because Tarantino’s all about the instant impact; finessing a whodunit isn’t really his strong suit (which is why Warren playing Poirot isn’t nearly as intricate as it sounds).


A couple of sequences stand out in terms of the film’s intended themes. The revelation that the Lincoln Letter is a fake, one Ruth swallowed hook, line and sinker, undermining and humiliating him in front of an entire group and leading him to lash out with the same racial epithets he appeared to have progressed beyond, is one such. How much this is evidences Ruth’s innate racism and how much it’s simply his capacity for attacking anything that threatens his sense of order, control and self-regard is up for debate. Certainly, Ruth’s attitude to Daisy is not dissimilar. When she undermines him, he beats her, but at other times he shows unlikely consideration, pouring her drinks and wiping food from the side of her mouth (and, when she attempts to tame the beast through a sing-song, he smashes the guitar in fit of temper).


For Warren’s part, a consummate liar and devious provocateur despite being our nominal protagonist, his letter – which he explains is his passport in a racist land – is met with instant disbelief by Mannix, which rather raises the question of how many people would actually believe it was real (while Ruth is right to be paranoid about those in the haberdashery, he’s also clearly far from the smartest guy in the room). It’s a nice touch that, on reading the it, both Ruth and Mannix are taken by the mention of Mary Todd calling the President to bed; there’s a ticklish self-congratulatory quality of Tarantino taking pride in his own genius, both from someone who thinks his writing means something (Ruth) and someone who just admires the verbiage (Mannix).


The hanging of Daisy is also an interesting sequence, as Tarantino clearly doesn’t intend Mannix and Warren meting out “frontier justice” (as Roth’s English Pete calls it, objecting to the practice, in a florid discourse while posing as Red Rock’s hangman Mowbray) to be something for the audience to get behind (which isn’t to say he’s intending to legitimise state-sanctioned murder either, far from it). Aside from Ruth – and he was trying to kill her at the time – we don’t actually see Daisy’s much talked about Machiavellian skills, so she hasn’t altogether provoked a feeling that she deserves it, even leaving aside the off-putting glee taken by her two self-prescribed hangmen. The director’s point – a nihilistic one, and hardly meriting three hours to get there, but a point nonetheless – appears to be that even these two polarised men can set aside their racial differences to “hang the bitch”; there’s a greater enemy, hate spawns hate, with only that preeminent hatred bringing a divided people together (governments know this well of course, hence the continued popularity of war).


Like most of Tarantino’s thematic content or commentary, in The Hateful Eight these elements are either over-foregrounded or get lost amidst his fascination with making movie-movies. Much as I love Morricone, I found the over referencing of The Thing in this picture incredibly irksome, detracting from the overall experience. Tarantino clearly can’t see the line where an homage begins to invasively corrupt the viewing experience. Not only do we get repeated use of Morricone’s score from that movie, but we have its star, Kurt Russell, the isolated, snowed-in setting, guide ropes established to clamber through the blizzard, rampant paranoia, and even an end-of-the-world scene (in which the last men on earth are now despicable racists and cackling killers). A couple of nods would be fine, but it becomes overbearing – maybe not to the extent of Neill Marshall’s Doomsday and Mad Max 2, but this is definitely the guy who decided it would be a good idea to make a Grindhouse double bill.


This not knowing when to rein things in for the benefit of the overall narrative is evident elsewhere too. Tarantino’s always had a problem grandstanding, and it’s not going away any time soon. The cock-sucking scene (or dingus-gobbling) has attracted a lot of attention as a piece of classic Tarantino, but I found it tiresomely obvious. This is very much the same guy who hasn’t moved on from the “fuck machine” monologue in Reservoir Dogs (much celebrated, but probably my least favourite bit of the movie, although Quentin delivering it was probably part a big part of that). It’s evidence of a filmmaker incapable of maturing, playing to the crowd, ever-enamoured all things puerile. That scene could have really worked if Warren had cleverly roused the ire of General Smithers (Dern) rather than brandishing the first, most obvious, lowest common denominator, idea that came into the writer’s head (he even crows about his "inventiveness" in the narration "captivating the crowds with tales of black dicks in white mouths"; of course he does).


It’s the same with the exploding heads; this the perpetual 14-year-old Tarantino who thinks that kind of thing is really cool. It wouldn’t matter if this was a Robert Rodriguez movie, as he doesn’t know any better, but so many moments in The Hateful Eight are really good, it’s frustrating that he continually undercuts himself. I was rather lost prior to this, to be honest, at the copious vomiting of blood; Tarantino was apparently inspired by the pie-eating contest in Stand by Me, and succeeds in taking his audience out of the picture, having so completely caught them in his web. In so doing he highlights how inferior this is to its idol The Thing, where the perma-oppressiveness was never broken for a minute; of course, others would argue it’s the intention to take you out of it. Hence the Quentin voiceover.


Ah yes, the nigh-on superfluous flashback. “No, it was essential”, comes the rebuke. Sure, it shows an unlikely state of Old West multi-cultural bliss broken by the intrusion of the Domingray gang, but it illlustrates nothing that couldn’t be achieved in 90 seconds (just ask Edgar Wright). Disrupting the narrative in the way the sequence does, at a crucial point, would only work if what followed was just as engrossing, if we forgot all about the current altercation, but it isn’t; we know what happens and, aside from enabling Tarantino to lazily position a hidden gun (of which, I was sure the dumping in the dunny would lead to a reveal that someone had assembling a firearm from the shitty pieces residing within; that at least would have been impressive crudity), it tests the patience.


Earlier, as soon as his chatty, over-familiar summary of the story so far intrudes on us, despite our minding our own business and deserving to at least be rewarded with a non-show by the director flourishing his acting hat, there’s a sinking feeling. Of acting hats, perhaps he continues to cast Zoë Bell - a stuntwoman of note, no doubt - as a talisman to ward off claims he’s the worst performer in his movies; she unfortunately stinks out the haberdashery, inadvisably doing an excruciatingly perky Calamity Jane routine. As complaints go, I wasn’t overly impressed with Tarantino’s use of slow-motion preceding the flashback either, but Channing Tatum at least proved surprisingly decent as Jody Domingray.


Of the other actors, Roth and Madsen are back, celebrating nearly 25 years with their wunder-auteur, but neither are all that venerable. Madsen’s Joe Gage is a bit of non-role, with a memorable bit about visiting his mother but otherwise merely glowering the way Madsen is want to do. Roth, well English Pete is something of a nonsense of a character (how smart is he supposed to be with his erudite discourses, and why does he even affect the silly accent?) I’m not sure it really works to have Roth showing off this way, doing a turn of a character doing a turn doesn’t excuse it being a bit crap. Better just to have got Tim Curry in.


Yet for all that there’s much to find fault with here, there’s even more to enjoy. The Hateful Eight is often very funny (the repeated gag with the door, Daisy being punched out of the stagecoach and taking Ruth with her, James Parks’ frozen O.B. grabbing the biggest fur he can find and curling up in front of the fire). Even bloated and indulgent Tarantino is entertaining Tarantino and, aside from the flashback sequence, I was never tempted to look at my watch. If his transitions are sometimes patchy, pretty much each new verbal confrontation is captivating. That touch is natural to him, the source of all his power, so he doesn’t really need the kryptonite of nerd-referencing and attempting to impress the real alpha-males that he’s cool. It’s a bit late for that now, in your sixth decade. In the end, his latest is, like his last few, too splattery and trivial, too scattershot and invested in the coolness of itself, to resonate. It’s just another Tarantino movie, basically. The eighth one.