Two Short Film Reviews in late 2015
Robleh Wais 3/7/16
Well, I want to give this picture a mild approval rating, but sadly movie-goers I can't. Let's look at its best aspect first. I was impressed with an even-handed portrayal of the white American settler conflict with native peoples in the early 1800s. In the opening scene, indigenous people raid animal skin hunters. The violence is raw, shocking and a viewer could imagine this as an authentic picture of what might have happened during this period in American history. The film doesn't paint either side as merciful or heroic. Though, as the film unfolds the audience gradually recognizes the film does present the native people as the victims of virulent aggression on the part of whites. The indigenous peoples are divided and warring upon one another, while the whites are vicious and out to subject these peoples as they advance into their lands. This is historically correct. We learn through dialogue that the natives are avenging a cruel raid and kidnapping of a leader's daughter made by the invading settlers earlier. There is a native leader that appears to be at counterpoint to Glass the pelt hunter. Both will lose relatives close to them. The film also does have breathtaking cinematography. Viewers do get a sense of the landscape in this country more than a century ago. Some of these scenes are epic. Though, this does little to save the film from flopping as it does for me.
And then, there is Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio, hereafter known as Dicap) the father of a half-native son, he is leading the hunt for animal pelts. It seems he has previously saved the group from peril and has extensive knowledge of the area. There is a romantic tale having to do with his native wife and mother of his son, and the son accompanies the hunting party. It is told through flashbacks that Glass has repeatedly, with voice-overs in a native tongue spoken by his wife, himself and son. The son is barely tolerated amongst the racist expedition party. But again there is this miracle of a man Glass. Here is where my suspension of disbelief would be tested. Glass, the bad-ass, indefatigable, resurgent, unbeatable, DiCap! And the pundits called Bill Clinton the Come Back Kid, they should've met DiCap! He even surpasses Matt Damon in The Martian. More on this, shortly.
While the film is wrapped in a story of the frontier conflict between invading white men, and desperate native people for their existence, story descends into a point-of-view tale of revenge. The point-of-view is DiCap's. He has the misfortune to be mauled by a grizzly bear while foraging in the wilderness. He is soon left behind due the machinations of his antagonist. From that sequence on, we are shown the world from DiCap's perspective. His incredible run at surviving alone, in a hostile environment, in the deep of winter. And survive he does! Just about every mishap, fuck-up, storm, pursuit from native people, and one last eye-popping stunt a fall from a height that would have killed a gorilla, oh wait, I forgot, sliding down icy river rapids, untouched mind you, and just a few scenes ago, he was unable to walk. He cuts open his dead horse, after that unbelievable fall and sleeps inside it to survive a winter snowstorm. This sequence, we've seen in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. What is it with these movies in 2015, with bad-ass white guys that can defy nature or even space? Hasn't the narcissistic 30 something white men in this country gotten enough of that? Apparently not. This film tries to mix mysticism, symbolism and poetic verses from native peoples mythology to give this flick some philosophic content, but fails miserably. It's just a shallow he done me in and I'ma git his ass for that, kind of film. At least thematically that's what it is. That's it, no more consideration does it deserve.
The Hateful Eight
Tarantino gives us another blood and gore flick as we should expect. Like Django in 2014, it's heavy on bitter racial hatred between black and white people with an almost unbearable use of the word nigger, and after his previous period drama, we should expect that too. It was not offensive to me, though to one white patron when I attended it must've been since he left looking disgusted about half-way through the film. Tarantino would no doubt respond if asked about this use of that offensive epithet, that he's trying to be authentic to the time period. And of course, he would be right. Hell, he's still right TODAY. Racial hatred still festers in this country to the last minute, I wrote this sentence. This film is much more interesting for its plot structure and theme development than the racial hatred it contains.
Hateful Eight is a whodunit detective story with Samuel Jackson as the investigating sleuth. Jackson carries the flick, hands down. His persona dominates throughout, but the remaining actors are perfect counterparts to him, thus just as pivotal to the story. All of the living characters are scoundrels, devious, consumed with enmity for each other, and none are what they seem. Continuing this theme, Tarantino laid out the film with the same twisted time structure. We are given a story 2 days in the future and then we recede to the past to understand the future denouement. This technique is not unique as a film method, many films start in the present or even the future and revert to the past to depict a story. But this one is slightly different. It starts in the future and proceeds until a point, stops, returns to the past (1 day to be precise), and proceeds from the point in the future where it started before it stopped. This is unusual. So, unusual I will diagram it:
Commencement of The Hateful Eight
Restart 24 hours earlier Restart at pause go to end
This is pretty interesting, the film loops back on itself to explain what happens at the pause, and then jumps back to the paused segment to complete. I don't think I've seen this before. I won't give a full narrative description of this film, as I normally do. Better to leave it to viewers to discover the story. I can, however, depict the characters, the mood and development of plot without giving away too much of the total film.
Primarily, nobody is good in this film save the innocents that are slaughtered at Minnie's haberdashery. Even there, Minnie herself has racial enmity. All have a burning hatred for each other's races, ethnicity, and the like. It is this fomenting hatred that gives the film its name and character. But, odd things happen during the course of the film. Mutual haters become friends as Samuel Jack and the would-be sheriff do. There is a theatrical switch of fortunes, and then a switch again. A slow and growing detective story unfolds almost like an old fashion horror flick where the true villain must be found by a process of elimination, that Samuel Jack orchestrates. And as I pointed out above there is that back looping temporal twist.
The intrigue that films provide is this growing puzzle that has to be solved. Once this is revealed as the plotline, all the mutual racism of the players becomes minor, even unimportant to the viewer. At one point the racist viewpoint is almost comical as Samuel Jackson makes a deductive speech. I won't spoil it either by telling the content of that speech.
All in all, The Hateful Eight is a film that was worthiest of an Academy Award, but did not get even a nomination. It is a film the viewer will have a response to, albeit maybe not what they expected. And that's the genius of Tarantino's artistry as director; he doesn't give you what you expect at all.
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