Friday, February 19, 2016

Worth Mentioning - A White Hell, Inglorious DCP

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Cody sees Tarantino's latest, but not in the ideal format.


The adventures of bounty hunter Django Freeman, the protagonist in Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained, were recently continued in the seven issue Dynamite comic book Django / Zorro, which does indeed find Tarantino's Django crossing paths with the famed pulp hero Zorro, who was created by Johnston McCulley in 1919. Comic books weren't the only medium Tarantino intended for Django to return in. Not long ago, he was writing a paperback novel entitled Django in a White Hell, before switching gears in the midst of it after making a couple of realizations: One, that the story would work better without an obvious hero in it, and that meant Django would have to be written out, and two, that he wanted to bring the story idea to life as a movie instead of a book. That's how Tarantino, a filmmaker whose stories had been set in the modern world up until the World War II movie Inglourious Basterds, came to make two Westerns back-to-back.

Django in a White Hell became The Hateful Eight.

But The Hateful Eight almost didn't happen. Tarantino scripts are in high demand and tend to leak onto the internet well in advance of the release of the film, but when the script for this one leaked online just days after the movie had been officially announced in January of 2014, when the script was only in the hands of a select few people, Tarantino felt so upset and betrayed that he said he was cancelling the project and would rework the script into a novel... But the desire to make the film was clearly not that dampened. He put on a live reading of the script, with many of the actors who would end up starring in the movie as well (since the roles were written for most of them), in April of 2014, and soon after the project, with a slightly revised screenplay, was back on track for the big screen.

Before cameras got rolling, producer Harvey Weinstein did ask Tarantino if he had considered just doing The Hateful Eight as a play rather than a movie, since it's a dialogue-heavy chamber piece that would be right at home on the stage. Tarantino realized it leant itself to being a play, but he had an idea to bring this small story to the big screen in the largest format possible.

And while I did have the thought that "This feels like a play shot on film" while watching The Hateful Eight, I'm glad the decision was made to stick with turning it into a movie. If it were a play, I would be disappointed that I would likely never get to see it, and would want to see a filmed performance anyway, so I'd much rather have the movie to watch. If Tarantino had abandoned the movie and turned the script into a novel, I'd always be wondering what it would have been like to see it brought to life on the screen.

Tarantino's screen-worthy idea was to make an event out of the presentation; shot on 65mm in the super-wide aspect ratio of 2.71:1 and screened, in theatres where it was possible, on massive screens in 70mm. The Weinstein Company even paid for some theatres to add 70mm projectors to make these special "roadshow" screenings happen in more venues.

Tarantino is a huge proponent of keeping film alive in the making and exhibition of movies, so I was glad that I was able to catch Django Unchained on 35mm at the dollar theatre back in 2012. But the dollar theatre is closed now. The theatres around me don't do film anymore, and the nearest 70mm roadshow screening of The Hateful Eight was a distance away that I wasn't able to travel, so I was stuck seeing a DCP of this movie that he wanted to make a film event.

Audience members who were able to see the 70mm version were treated to an overture, extended scenes and alternate takes, and an intermission. I got to see the movie in lowly digital projection. Perhaps that's my punishment for having read the script two years ago.

The Hateful Eight is, like several of Tarantino's films, divided into book-like chapters, and here the first two chapters are used to introduce a quintet of characters as they make their way through the snowy Wyoming countryside, a blizzard right on their tail. They're headed for the location where the rest of the chapters will play out, a mountainside haberdashery where they intend to seek shelter from the blizzard before moving on to a town called Red Rock. Where one of them is intended to be hanged.

The never-not-amazing Kurt Russell plays John "The Hangman" Ruth, a bounty hunter who always makes sure to capture criminals who are wanted dead or alive alive so he can escort them to their hanging. Ruth is handcuffed to his latest score, Jennifer Jason Leigh as the nasty Daisy Domergue. Ruth has gotten a private stagecoach driven by a fellow named O.B. (James Parks) to take them to Daisy's date with destiny in Red Rock, but they lose their privacy along the way when they come across first Samuel L. Jackson as Civil War veteran Major Marquis Warren, a bounty hunter himself, and then Walton Goggins as Chris Mannix, a proud former Rebel who claims to be Red Rock's new sheriff, although Ruth has his doubts about that. Both men have been stranded by horse troubles, and although Ruth agrees to give them both a ride, they don't take too kindly to each other.

The group arrives at Minnie's Haberdashery to find it in an odd state - owner Minnie and the regulars are nowhere to be found. There's only Demián Bichir as Bob, who says Minnie has asked him to watch over the place while she's away visiting her mother, and a trio of men who arrived on a different stagecoach: Tim Roth as Oswaldo Mobray, the man who will be hanging Daisy in Red Rock; Michael Madsen as cowboy Joe Gage; and Bruce Dern as former Confederate General Sandy Smithers.

So we have these characters from different walks of life, with some huge opposing differences, stuck in one room together for who knows how long. One of them is desperate criminal, and at least one other person in here is, as Ruth quickly realizes, "not who he says he is".

Yes, there is a plot to free Daisy at play here, but when all is said and done, whoever's behind the plot comes off as being very hapless and dumb.

If you were counting you'll notice that there are nine characters in this movie titled The Hateful Eight. O.B. gets left out of the count because he's actually a pretty good guy, he just pays a price for having to hang out with the rest of this bunch. The other eight, they are either openly hateful and unpleasant people, or suspected of being such.

Minnie's Haberdashery isn't the loveliest location, but cinematographer Robert Richardson and the designers and decorations did a wonderful job of bringing it to the screen. There are some interesting touches here and there, like blasts of bright light shining on tables, and chains hanging from the ceiling in one corner.

Speaking of the ceiling, there is one shot from the ceiling that follows a character as they walk below that felt straight out of The Evil Dead. A very nice touch, and not the only bit of horror to this film.

Kurt Russell, an isolated setting, snow exteriors. This combination instantly brings to mind John Carpenter's The Thing, and Tarantino has said that The Hateful Eight was inspired by The Thing, mixed with his own Reservoir Dogs. He drops his nine characters into this snowbound place and lets us watch the paranoia and tension build. It doesn't match the level of Carpenter's film, but the situation here turns bad enough in its own way.

There is another connection to The Thing. As he put The Hateful Eight together, Tarantino began to feel like it needed an original score. The first time he has ever felt that way about one of his films. He approached legendary composer Ennio Morricone, and while Morricone did end up composing quite a bit of music for the film, he was too busy to do it all. So Tarantino filled out the score with a few older Morricone tracks - one from Exorcist II: The Heretic, and three tracks that Morricone had composed for The Thing, but which Carpenter hadn't used. My favorite of these is "Eternity", which plays over imagery of characters shoving a line of poles into the snow so they'll have a guideline to walk by if/when they have to go outside in the blizzard. It is perhaps the most The Thing moment in the film.

Tarantino also makes some great anachronistic needle drop choices over the course of the film, my favorite being when David Hess's "Now You're All Alone" from The Last House on the Left starts playing. The use of this song here doesn't match its use in that 1972 Wes Craven film, but it was great to hear it. Also included are "Apple Blossom" by The White Stripes and "There Won't Be Many Coming Home" by Roy Orbison, from 1967's The Fastest Guitar Alive. I had that song stuck in my head for days after watching The Hateful Eight.

Some may question the pairing of the 70mm format with a story largely set in one interior, but the very wide aspect ratio does allow for some interesting shots in there, and when Tarantino and Richardson got the chance to shoot the "white winter wonderland landscape" in "glorious 70mm", they milked it for all its worth. And got a little too indulgent with it for my taste. I didn't particularly feel the need to sit through such lengthy shots of the landscape, especially in a moment where violence breaks out and then we cut away to a sequence of a stagecoach making its way through the snow that lasts more than two minutes.

Violence breaks out a few times in The Hateful Eight, and things become a total bloodbath. The structure was a bit different in the draft of the script I read, though, and I actually preferred the way it went on the page. There everything built up to a moment very reminiscent of something from Reservoir Dogs. Here that moment happens much earlier.

I had some issues with the pace and structure of The Hateful Eight, more than I usually do with a Tarantino film, but overall I found it to be an entertaining, slightly overlong (168 minutes) time spent with some disagreeable characters portrayed by some incredible actors.

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