Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Hateful Eight: Simply Great

"Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot." — Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

After getting shutout of a sold-out performance Saturday, Katie-Bar-The-Door and I drove back down to the AFI-Silver on Sunday to see the eighth film of Quentin Tarantino's illustrious career, aptly titled The Hateful Eight. Tarantino resurrected the long-abandoned Panasonic Ultra 70 film format, the same ultra-widescreen process used on the 1959 classic Ben-Hur (indeed, the film was shot with the same lens used to shoot the chariot race), and for one week only has released it in 98 theaters as an old-school roadshow engagement, complete with overture, intermission and commemorative program.

Just the way they used to make 'em in my childhood.

The story is essentially a three-hour retelling of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None in a Wild West setting. A motley crew of bounty hunters, war veterans, cow punchers, an Englishman with a fascination for the niceties of public executions and a gallows-bound Jennifer Jason Leigh wind up riding out a blizzard in a strangely-deserted general store deep in the trackless nowhere of a very empty Wyoming. They sit by the fire, drink coffee and talk, talk, talk.

And then when the talking is through, the blood and the bullets start flying.

Stripped of the filigree, this is the plot of every Quentin Tarantino movie ever made.

If you know and love Tarantino the way we do, you know you're in for a banquet of ornate oratory, digressions and shaggy dog stories that for someone eager to get to the point I suppose must be maddening. But I'll tell you right out, I like listening to a man who likes to talk and The Hateful Eight stars some of the great talkers of screen history.

Kurt Russell is the bounty hunter determined to see Jennifer Jason Leigh swing, Samuel L. Jackson is another bounty hunter lugging three dead bodies and a letter from Abraham Lincoln through waist-deep snow, Walton Goggins as a would-be sheriff finally gets a big screen role worthy of his silver-tongued talents, Tim Roth as the hangman channels Eric Blore in Top Hat, Bruce Dern is a broken-down Civil War general, and Michael Madsen is a passing cowboy who says he's just headed home to visit his dear old ma.

For such an out-of-the-way place, this deserted cabin starts to seem a bit like Grand Central Terminal. With the emphasis on "terminal."

This is Tarantino, and you know at some point you're going to get a bloodbath worthy of a 1970s horror movie, violence so over-the-top it has an innocence about it, like something a demented preschooler might doodle in his hymn book during a long, boring church sermon. As I put it in an e-mail to my good pal Mister Muleboy, "it's a 3-hour gabfest ... directed by a drunk Sam Peckinpah right after he'd seen John Carpenter's The Thing."

High praise, indeed.

What rating do I give it? Why, an 8 of course.

(8 stars out of 10).

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Sinatra At 100

Today is Frank Sinatra's 100th birthday. I'll skip the usual eight thousand word essay and instead simply suggest some stocking stuffers for that special someone in your life who might be ready to discover Ol' Blue Eyes but has no idea where to start:

The Capitol Years Box Set
(A terrific 3 cd collection from Sinatra's peak years, 1953-1961. 75 classic songs. A must for anyone with ears.)

Songs For Swingin' Lovers! (Unwilling to spring for more than one cd? This is best of the finger-snappin' Sinatra records, including such standards as "You Make Me Feel So Young" "Too Marvelous For Words" and what I consider the single best recording of his career, "I've Got You Under My Skin.")

Frank Sinatra Sings For Only The Lonely (Prefer your Sinatra sitting alone in a bar at 3 in the morning? This is the one to get, my favorite Sinatra album, featuring the classic suicide song "One For My Baby.")

Sinatra: Best Of The Best (Okay, so you really, really, really only want all the good stuff and you don't want to spend a lot for it. This has everything from "I've Got The World On A String" to "New York New York" and all the other hits in between. It's like $10. Go for it and feel good, you cheap bastard!)

From Here To Eternity (Sinatra was also an Oscar-winning actor. The best picture of 1953, From Here To Eternity is the story of love in the surf in the final days before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.)

The Manchurian Candidate (My favorite Sinatra picture, here he unravels the mystery of a brainwashed American hero doing the bidding of evil Commies.)

On The Town (And one more makes lucky seven, this is a movie from Sinatra's early teen heartthrob period.)