You expect a certain amount of self-indulgence from Quentin Tarantino. And after seven solid efforts and few instant classics, it's safe to say he isn't in it for the money. Tarantino makes movies for movies' sake. He admits he's always had a real hard-on for the art form and takes the creation of films very seriously.
But he also enjoys the satisfaction of hearing his favourite actors spouting the words he pulled from his own weird brain. He also has fun mining his encyclopedic love of old movies while spraying a bunch of blood around and pushing cultural buttons he knows he's not supposed to push.
This perfectly describes The Hateful Eight, opening this week at the Village 8. This one is two hours, 50 minutes long, filmed in 70mm despite being set mostly within a single room, and is chock-full of long diatribes, impassioned speeches, ever-lurking menace and that special kind of unpleasantness that can offend on two or more levels at once.
Which means I quite liked Quentin's latest tale of eight unlikeable souls sitting out a blizzard and a mystery together in a thoroughly utilized stagecoach way-stop/haberdashery.
As a film geek I can appreciate the Western genre conventions and the Golden Globe Award-winning Enrico Morricone score. As an exit-wound aficionado, I love seeing brains blown out, but what a surprise to get guts puked out as well. And, of course, as a Tarantino fan I'm always keen to see a Mexican standoff, especially one with an actual Mexican in it.
For the film studies students, there's also a fairly easy-to-argue commentary on the state of racism and misogyny in contemporary American society, if that is what you're looking for. But mostly it's just talking, wondering, pondering, and then a whole bunch of gunplay. It's a lot like a long, Western Reservoir Dogs made by a filmmaker with many more tricks but the same base love of the art. And that's good enough for me.
But it's not for everyone. The Hateful Eight is being called everything from a waste of time to boring to self-indulgent and masturbatory. One could argue that it takes a certain level of narcissism to create anything at all, but it's more interesting to see those same critics turn around and blow their wads over The Revenant, a two hour and 40 minute Western from visual maestro Alejandro González Iñárritu.
To me, the two films are not that different. Where one is panned, the other wins the Golden Globe, but both can be seen as being created from a place of talent and ambition: where Tarantino pours all his energy into character and extended bouts of snappy dialogue, Iñárritu puts all his eggs in the camera work and visuals.
Pulling off tricks like filming in all natural light or those epic one-shot battles simply to see if he can, and because he knows it will be cool and look incredible. The Revenant is a pulse-hammering experience to watch. It's baffling to consider the talent and energy that went into making it, but it's only a "pretty decent" movie as far as story, plot and character goes (the whole kidnapped daughter subplot is entirely tangential). The Revenant is certainly the best-looking film of 2015, but not the best overall.
A contender for that title however, or at least the award for it, is The Big Short, a Brad Pitt-produced drama about a handful of economy outsiders who saw the 2008 U.S. economy collapse coming, and bet against the big banks for billions of dollars. Essentially it's a movie about bankers, traders and opportunists leading into the darkest days of this new millennium, but through stellar acting (anchored by Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell and Christian Bale), a zinger script and a contemporary filmmaking style (I love it when characters address the camera), this one pays out.
Surprisingly, The Big Short is written and directed by Adam McKay, best known for hit comedies like Talladega Nights, Anchorman, or Step Brothers. Apparently comedy blends into drama more naturally than the inverse because with this film and his success as the writer of Ant-Man, McKay is proving there's after Will Ferrell (for him at least.) Much of The Big Short is pulled from true events (and they point out the spots that are totally true and the stuff that is fudged a bit) and while the overall message is depressing, the delivery is accessible, inspirational and entertaining.
It also features Margot Robbie explaining sub-par mortgages in a bubble bath. It won't be short for long. Viva Cinema.