25 still frames from Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown

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From Jackie Brown, 1997. Directed by Quentin Tarantino with cinematography by Guillermo Navarro. Via Film Grab. RIP Robert Forster.

Does anything good happen in The Hateful Eight?

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I don’t like films where nothing good happens, my wife told me years ago. I can’t remember the film that occasioned this remark, and I don’t find myself beholden to her rubric, but I still find myself applying it to films now and then. Especially after watching Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight.

Does anything good happen in The Hateful Eight?

(This is not the right question to ask about a film, but—).

This question isn’t the same as, say, Is any part of The Hateful Eight good?—because so many of the elements are good—excellent even—Ennio Morricone’s score, Robert Richardson’s cinematography, Yohei Taneda’s set design.

And the acting is great, or sorta great, or it’s hard to tell, maybe. Let’s say the performances are great. I mean, it’s Tarantino, so the acting is always at least one level removed from reality—even in Sam Jackson, the realest dude, the dude who carries the film as former Union officer, Major Marquis Warren. Sam Jackson is Tarantino’s main man, his star of hyperreality, and his performance is electric here.

But for hyperreality, it’s Jennifer Jason Leigh who stands out in The Hateful Eight. Her portrayal of prisoner Daisy Domergue is refined Looney Tunes slapstick. Cartoon soul. Watching Walton Goggins (vile racist ex-Confederate marauder Chris Mannix) or Kurt Russell (bounty hunter John Ruth)—both of whom get lots and lots of lines and screen time—one can’t help but realize one is seeing an actor acting—or, more Tarantinoesque—a character acting.

But Jennifer Jason Leigh, remanded to a punching bag for much of the film—or even stranger, a chained work-wife to Kurt Russell’s John Wayne parody (via Kurt Russell’s John Wayne parody as Jack Burton in Big Trouble in Little Trouble)—JJL imbues her Daisy Domergue with a wily pathos that surpasses both the script she’s made to read and her Seussian name.

Not that JJL’s Daisy Domergue’s isn’t vile, nasty, deeply racist, and hateful…but her hatefulness points towards something, I dunno, complex. Real. True. (I should mention now Laura Bogart’s essay “Hipster Misogyny: The Betrayal of The Hateful Eight,” which I think offers an intriguing read on the film. Bogart seems to argue that JJL’s DD is not complex enough, or not given enough complexity, which, hey, okay, fair enough—but I think also that Bogart was disturbed by the film’s conclusion—which I was too, disturbed). 

But: Does anything good happen in The Hateful Eight?

What do I mean here by good? Should I just admit I don’t know “good,” but rather feel “good”? Okay. I don’t know good through definition, but rather by example. Fuzzy precis. Good: Perhaps a moment of redemption, but like, say, an earned one, a real one, one not forced through a Hollywood formula. Good might be kernel of hope—a real moment of hope, not just an up established for a foreshadowed down. Or maybe by good I just mean something aesthetically true.

Tarantino’s best films—the Kill Bill films, Pulp FictionJackie Brown, and Reservoir Dogs—point to something good in their conclusions—and by conclusions I mean both literal endings and thesis statements. I’m not sure if I find this same “goodness” evident in the conclusion of The Hateful Eight, or, if it is there, it’s awfully ambiguous.

The conclusion of The Hateful Eight is the not-exact opposite of the end of my favorite Tarantino conclusion, the end of Kill Bill 2:

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And The Hateful Eight’s conclusion is the not-exact opposite of the ending of Jackie Brown’s bittersweet take on redemption, loss, and escape—American lives that earn second acts.

And The Hateful Eight’s conclusion is the not-exact opposite of the ending Pulp Fiction, a film that resurrects Vincent Vega and sees Sam Jackson’s Jules Winnfield suspend wrathful violence and judgment on Tim Roth’s Ringo (or Pumpkin. Or whatever his name was).

And what about those films that didn’t make my silly little list of “Best Tarantino” — Inglorious Basterds (which is one of my faves, actually, just to watch for like, pure entertainment), Django Unchained, and Death Proof (which actually belongs on that best-of list, maybe, or at least the final sequence)? Shoshanna Dreyfus using film as weapon to end the Nazis? Django’s righteous rampage against slavery? Or the ecstatic violence of “the girls” destroying serial killer Stuntman Mike?

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What most of QT’s conclusions share in common is that they somehow mediate the relationship between revenge and justice, and do so in a way that’s aesthetically convincing. The Hateful Eight also seeks to be a film about the relationship between revenge and justice. Its final moments attempt to aesthetically recapitulate much of American history into a morbid sequence of violence.

[Fair warning: There’s a discussion of the conclusion of The Hateful Eight coming up, including what some folks might call spoilers].

Continue reading “Does anything good happen in The Hateful Eight?”

Quentin Tarantino and Steve Buscemi Rehearsing Scenes for Reservoir Dogs (NSFW)

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Some Stories That Wes Anderson Should Adapt

Last month, I kinda sorta reviewed the trailer for Moonrise Kingdom, the new film from Wes Anderson. Moonrise Kingdom has all the hallmarks  of an Anderson joint: an idealistically romantic protagonist who strives to fit the world to his skewed view of it; an overtly hermetic setting (crammed like a Russian nesting doll with even more hermetic settings); a fetish for staginess; a fetish for once useful objects that are now obsolete; the usual cast of characters; etc.

Anyway, one commenter on that post suggested that Anderson adapt V.C. Andrews’s lurid gothic incest romance Flowers in the Attic—and I couldn’t agree more. Andrews’s story grotesquely enshrines the hermetic world of forbidden love that Anderson repeatedly engages in (see the incestuous, or at least Oedipally-displaced romances of The Royal Tennenbaums and Rushmore). The Flowers suggestion (and another comment suggesting a DeLillo adaptation) got me to thinking about other stories I’d love to see Anderson take on.

(Those who hate to see a silly, ridiculous, fanboyish, and entirely hypothetical post should exit anon).

(Oh, and let’s get this one out of the way too: Matt Bucher has already linked Tennenbaums to David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest).

While Anderson has authored most of his own scripts (with cowriters like Owen Wilson or Roman Coppola), he showed he could do fine work with people’s stories on Roald Dahl’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox. I’d love to see him do something with Shel Silverstein or Edward Gorey as well, perhaps as a series of animated shorts of some kind. Like Dahl, Silverstein and Gorey deftly explore the dark undercurrent of childhood in a way that’s simultaneously charming and meaningful.

I’d probably be happy with any Wes Anderson superhero movie, but I’d love to see him do a big screen live action version of The New Mutants, a title that ran in the 1980s that focused on teens who were basically X-Men junior. Anderson would be right at home in Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, and the types of missions these teenagers took on were not nearly as intense as the X-Men’s, allowing for a smaller, more emotional film, than, say, Bryan Singer’s bombastic nonsense. Bill Murray for Professor X?

While I’m on big-budget franchise type characters: James Bond. A Bond film would give Anderson plenty of opportunity to play with design and style, as well as humor; Anderson also showed a sense for old-fashioned adventure and action in The Life Aquatic. Owen Wilson as Bond? (As a side note, I should point out that in general I’d love to see the Bond franchise branch out to a series of stylized one-offs, featuring different actors playing Bond, and  helmed by different directors like Spike Lee and Quentin Tarantino).

How about Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (not Huck Finn, people)? Maybe as a mini-series on HBO?

Anderson has always been deeply entrenched in J.D. Salinger territory, and although he arguably already did so in Tennenbaums, a film that somehow organizes the lives of the Glass family would be pretty cool.

Harold Brodkey’s overlooked masterpiece First Love and Other Sorrows may be a collection of short stories, but they share a common theme that resonates with Anderson’s aesthetic. Brodkey’s decaying families (which all seem to share a misplaced sense of privilege) would be fertile ground for Anderson (and their midcentury settings would make for some snappy outfits).

Also: Heller’s Catch-22.

Maybe Anderson could highlight some of the humor in Bret Easton Ellis’s Less Than Zero. (Okay, maybe not, but I’d love to see what he’d do with that milieu. And speaking of that milieu—).

I’d love to see the failure that would be Anderson’s take on Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (suggestion: use Jim Henson-style puppets).

And: A Nabokov biopic, preferably one that focuses on his lepidoptery. Could Bill Murray play Nabokov? This question is rhetorical.

Anderson’s films have been repeatedly criticized for their racial insensitivity, but in spite of this (or, perhaps, because of this), I’d like to see his take on Kipling’s The Jungle Book

Speaking of imperialism: Another Tintin film. And while he’s at it: Lil’ Orphan Annie.

Faulkner’s a bit too gritty, too dirty (not to mention too Southern) for Anderson, but he would probably do a great feature length adaptation of “A Rose for Emily.” Decay, incest, the crumbling of an old value system.

And: It’s about time someone made that Night Court movie, right? Okay, maybe not.

Other suggestions?

First Things First — Max Dalton (Kill Bill Wedding Invitation)

Love this poster by Max Dalton. (More/via).

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Back To School

I think I did a similar post two years ago. I teach, I gotta go back to school, the fall, the kids, blah, blah, blah. Anyway. I’ll try to get one proper book review out per week. I’ve got seven or eight really choice looking promo copies and galleys stacked up here, including new trade paperback editions of Marilynne Robinson’s Home and Per Petterson’s To Siberia. Vintage also has a really cool original by Patrick Alexander coming out in September; it’s called Marcel Proust’s Search for Lost Time and its subtitle, A Reader’s Guide to The Remembrance of Things Past pretty much sums it up. I’ve read the first 100 pages and it’s really great, and let’s face it, unless some kinda windfall happens where I can just read books all day, I’m never gonna get around to Proust, so, yeah, this’ll have to do. Proper reviews forthcoming, blah, blah, blah. (Even though William Gaddis’s The Recognitions ain’t gettin’ no shorter).

Waltz Rulz
Waltz Rulz

While I’m doing lazy reviews, let me just say that Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, Inglourious Basterds is a glorious bastard of a mixed-up masterpiece. Christoph Waltz steals the show as SS Col. Hans Landa, but the real star, as usual, is Tarantino’s sense of cinema (whatever that means; c’mon, I was upfront, this is lazy reviewing). Plenty of folks have kinda sorta hated on (or outright hated on) this film, but I loved it. A revenge film about cinema posing as a Western faking as a WWII flick. Great stuff.

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The last time I did one of these hacky “Back To School” posts, I brought up William Gibson for some reason–which gives me a good transition to this excellent steampunk photoset. While Gibson’s novel The Difference Engine (with co-author Bruce Sterling) is often cited as a progenitor of steampunk, many of the images in the set correspond to ideas Gibson put forth in his “Bridge Trilogy” — he envisioned a future of “organic” computers that some of these folks have gone out and made. I’d like one. Jeez, this is really bad writing, but, hey, back to school right. Like that Deftone’s song (yeah, I know the Deftones aren’t cool or hip or whatever, and I’ve never heard one of their albums, but M2 used to play that video all the time when I was in college 10 years ago and I thought it was pretty great).Cheers.

Goodbye Blue Monday

A few things:

1. I am still exhausted after my sister-in-law’s wedding this weekend. I was the best man, which was more involved than I had originally believed. Special props to the photographers, the DJ, and the caterer, all friends and family who went above and beyond what was expected. Contact these guys for your next wedding, bar mitzvah, super sweet sixteen, or Guy Fawkes Day party.

2. Luckily, this week is Spring Break, and I have the next couple of days off of work and grad school. What does this mean to you? Well, hopefully I’ll get back on track with the Ontology 101 project, and actually start posting again about books that I’ve stolen (I know that’s what you come here for). You can also look forward to an interview with Eddie de Oliveira, author of Lucky and Johnny Hazzard, to be published later this week. Until then…

3. A few placeholders to quell some of that Monday boredom:

A. Go to Strange Maps. Another great WordPress blog that lives up to its name. Love it!

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B. Tarantino/Rodriguez’s Grindhouse comes out the first week of April. Looks like good old fashioned fun. Check out the full theatrical trailer–

C. Enjoy this Silver Surfer cover art gallery before the upcoming Fantastic Four sequel ruins the best Marvel Comics character ever.

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Cover art by French artist Moebius, who created a line of comic books with Alejandro Jodorowsky in the 1970s.