Yoinked from the comments at AUFS, because why not.
I saw The Hateful Eight as self-critique of Tarantino’s previous pair of movies, which were both alternative history by way of violent fantasies, the twinned Hitler-killings (and accompanying brutalization of Nazis) of Inglourious Basterds and the plantation carnage of Django Unchained.
The establishment of civilization requires that a man be hanged by the law instead of lynched by the mob. This is axiomatic to the Western (not to mention the Orestia). It’s the first scene of Deadwood, and it’s posed by “Oswaldo Mowbray” at Minnie’s.
Meeting after the Civil War on “neutral” ground, the characters are animated by fantasies and experiences that mirror the what-ifs of IB and DU. Marquis’s swath of fiery vengeance and $30,000 “head” makes him a close cousin of Django. And Tarantino doesn’t need to indulge in relativistic both-sides-do-it to show that Mannix sees his daddy’s raids as motivated by violent redemption for history’s losers as well.
The most critical violent fantasy, though, is the one that concludes the first half (coming before intermission in the Roadshow presentation). Marquis traps General Smithers in an inescapable, sexualized, racialized revenge fantasy. He stays on the right side of the law, or at least of custom, by getting the old man to raise his weapon first. But it’s a paper-thin justice.
This is mirrored in the “justice” of Marquis’s and Mannix’s final act — hanging Domergue under color of law rather than shooting her in the heat of revenge. For Domergue, there’s very little difference, and her hanging leaves the floor only slightly less wet with brains, but under the terms set out by John Ruth and explained by Mowbray, it makes all the difference. It’s achieved in the most bald of metaphors for postbellum peace: freedman and raider united to execute justice that, if not blind, is at least not motivated by any of the passions that drove the Civil War.
In the most simultaneously cynical and earnest gesture (up there with Liberty Valance‘s “Print the legend”), Tarantino lets his coalition expire while reading, admiring, and truly basking in Marquis’s fake Lincoln letter. It’s another kind of fantasy altogether: benevolent, paternal, intimate, and audaciously, inspiringly false.
I surprised myself, a few weeks ago, to realize that I was nothing but excited to see Moonrise Kingdom. After The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, which I liked less and less the more I sat with it, I became suspicious of Anderson, suspicious enough to skip out on The Darjeeling Express. Continue reading
My writer’s group recommended that I look at Men in Black as a spur to rewriting the feature that I’m working on to submit for the Academy Awards’ Nicholl Fellowship. It was moderately helpful — I’ve been struggling for a nice punch at the end, and the sight of Will Smith stomping on cockroaches to infuriate the savage “bug” that had been previously hiding in Vincent D’Onofrio’s skin made me ask myself what would infuriate my own villain? (He’s a PUA who’s been possessed by a vengeful alien intelligence. The short answer is “a strong woman”.)
It was also clear that that final battle, like the movie itself, didn’t have quite enough, although there are some satisfying moments. It lacks a critical character moment for Will Smith–he’s smart and brave, but we already know that about him. He doesn’t surprise himself–or us. Entertaining movie, but somehow I was hoping for a little more.
It also was surprising to see how lightly the movie played the relationship between Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. The bromance may have recently taken over action movies, but that’s a recent mode a long-latent (and often explicit) tendency, viz. Butch and Sundance, Lethal Weapon. J. and K. have a mentor/partner relationship, but it only has two small moments of emotional connection, one of which is centered on K. pining for a long-lost love and the second of which is good-bye. It will be interesting to see whether this summer’s entry in the franchise affects more fashionably labile expressions of friendship.
The movie does offer adequate testament to the immigration politics of the Clinton years. The aliens are quasi-legal-immigrants, regulated by a vast bureaucracy that imitates large public institutions but is completely secret. Although Tommy Lee Jones first announces himself as a representative of the INS, that’s a cover story that he subsequently changes. The bureaucracy exists to both allow refugee aliens safe harbor while conceal their existence from the public. In our world, this is not a governmental function, but a political one, a liberal-but-not-left Democratic position, trying to express compassion to one constituency while hoping not to have to talk about the issue with another. (Certainly not calling for amnesty, let alone open borders.)
I was reminded of a panel on immigration at the two-day AFL-CIO-sponsored Columbia Labor Symposium in 1996, a kind of labor-left revival for students and academics, in whose plenary session historian David Montgomery shouted “and this time, we’re going to grab on like Gila monsters and never let go!” We were in a breakout session about immigration, and some labor lawyer was nattering on about how whatever had befallen illegal immigrants (Prop 187, federal waffling) the Clinton administration had at least increased the number of legal immigrants, and perhaps that was the best we could hope for. He hadn’t quite gauged the exciting effect of the Prop 187 campaign on us. Somehow we were hoping for much more.
What did you see? Was it enough?
Thank you, Jesus, America, and Adam, for the honor of bringing you movies on Monday. Please know that I am and will always be adorned by my tiara as I discharge my duties.
Winter’s Bone, discussed previously at The Weblog here and here, tells you up front what’s going on. Watch this short scene, which comes only seven minutes in, after a series of scenes that dramatize that seventeen-year-old Ree is the head of her very poor household. (I wanted to embed it, but youtube sniffed copyright.)
A stark dilemma is invaluable to a screenwriter. Ree has two unpleasant choices: she can find her father and turn him over to the law, or she can lose her house and her family. The former seems impossible (she’s not lying to the sheriff when she says she doesn’t know where he is) and the latter is disastrous. Action is as perilous as inaction, infusing every scene with urgency.
I expected a paint-by-numbers Hero’s Journey, and there are elements of that. John Hawkes (as Harry Dean Stanton, verdad) is Ree’s initially reluctant, dangerous ally. The climax is reached through a quiet boat ride into death’s kingdom. But what surprised me was that Ree has no character arc, so beloved by Hollywood. She’s more of an Indiana Jones figure — she has everything she needs at the beginning of the story, and her journey will test all of her resources, but it never requires her to change, just to persevere.
The way her journey unfolds surprised me in the exact way it disappointed stras. I expected a detective story, a personal transformation, and a concluding bloodbath. None was on offer. Ree’s engine is not the hermeneutic code of detection but her unflinching determination. The last line of the dilemma scene, “Never ask for what ought to be offered,” is precisely Ree’s mission; her kin, all of who to have at least one more clue than she about her father’s whereabouts, ought to offer her help, but instead they put up roadblocks. All she has to wear them down is persistence and what is known in some quarters as grit.
Rango is a funny, clever trifle. There’s a great Hunter S. Thompson reference (executed with a sweet Ralph Steadman quote), extended tributes to Chinatown and Apocalypse Now and all the Sergio Leone/Ennio Morricone nods you could ask for. There’s a shot in the saloon where we view the action from the ceiling, broken up by the blades of a slowly spinning fan — does anyone know what that’s from originally? Neither the conspiracy plot nor the self-referential elements ever quite land perfectly, and the story doesn’t really sing like a Pixar flick, but it’s worth watching, and has some pretty high body count for an animated feature.
- Netflix queue, DVD: 66, 9 saved, 3 television. In hand: Paprika
- Netflix queue, On Demand: 117, 14 saved, 11 television
Please forgive the late posting hour — I’d hoped to have a timed post at the top of the chute, but a work assignment up against a mini-vacation have forced me to complete this entry poolside in a meticulously-Moroccan themed Palm Desert desert oasis. So much themed that Casablanca is playing on a loop in the sitting room, occasionally replaced, I am told, by Hope and Crosby’s Road to Morocco. What movies would you add to the loop — and what did you see, and what did you think?
Of late, I’ve been thinking about the possibility of anachronistic remakes, ones that would either improve the film in question or else shed new light on a familiar actor. I’d like to lead with two, and I hope you get the idea enough to participate in the game while you’re getting a break from family:
- Dirty Harry starring (the young) Jack Nicholson: Clint Eastwood seems to me like he’s trying to do a Jack Nicholson impression, except without the in-the-bones nihilism that would make it convincing. Every single scene, Jack Nicholson would’ve done qualitatively better — especially the part where the killer is making him run from phone booth to phone booth. Jack Nicholson’s “I sincerely don’t give a fuck but I’m going to do it anyway” would’ve been much preferable to … whatever it was Clint Eastwood was doing. By the way: what an absolutely shitty movie. This is what passes for an iconic classic?
- Raging Bull starring Jimmy Stewart: What sums up Jimmy Stewart better than impotent rage?
My expectations could not have been lower when I walked into this movie — the premise seemed ridiculous, and the preview is frankly terrible and obnoxious. Yet by the end, I was convinced that it was among Tarantino’s very best, perhaps even his best since Pulp Fiction. Certainly it’s one of his funniest, and it also didn’t fall prey to the pacing issues that made me keep checking how much time was left in Jackie Brown and Death Proof. It’s two and a half hours, but it didn’t feel unusually long at all. I recommend it highly.
Via IMDB, I stumbled across the following fun fact: Shane Jones’s Light Boxes, published by Publishing Genius, recently had its movie rights purchased by Spike Jonze. This is a huge deal for Publishing Genius, which my friend Adam Robinson founded a few years ago, and will hopefully give PG and small presses more generally closer to the amount of credibility they deserve.
A few nights ago, I watched Last Year at Marienbad. I enjoyed it, but I became morbidly fascinated by the game that keeps coming up. It consists of taking objects such as cards and laying them out in four rows, with 1, 3, 5, and 7 objects, respectively. Players alternate picking up objects; they can take as many as they want, as long as they take them all from the same row. Whoever picks up the last one loses.
What makes it so interesting to me is that the character who introduces the game never loses. He says it’s possible for him to lose, but he just never does. When people start to suspect that whoever goes first automatically wins, he lets the other person go first and still wins. I suspect that he wins every time because his opponents are always distracted by extrinsic things, like the suspicion that he must be running some kind of scam, and don’t really think about the strategy. That’s a major advantage, but he still must have some particular strategy, right? What am I missing (other than the point of the movie)?
UPDATE: Minimal research indicates that they’re playing a version of Nim.
If you had to name your five favorite movies as of right now, what would they be? Let’s say you don’t have to put them in a particular order unless you want to.
Mine, unordered, would be as follows:
- Scenes from a Marriage (Bergman)
- Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson)
- 8 1/2 (Fellini)
- Magnolia (PT Anderson)
- Synecdoche, NY (Charlie Kaufman)
(Tomorrow, maybe they’ll be different.)