It's admirable, Quentin Tarantino's continued advocacy of film. The actual stuff. As opposed to the digital format which the film industry has pretty well crammed down the throats of moviegoers and any theater hoping to get by. It's slightly less admirable, the amount of celluloid that Tarantino is expending these days, his stories that are being pressed into that precious film stock. The director's laudable resuscitation of careers given up for dead by Hollywood also continues to his credit. Such is the case, to varying degrees, with Kurt Russell, Michael Madsen (the old charisma nearly extinguished) and Jennifer Jason Leigh in the writer/director's latest, Hateful Eight. Alas, most of Hateful Eight transpires with Ms. Jason Leigh getting more punches (or bowls of stew) to the face than sentences to utter, made to lay about black-eyed and bloodied while the boys in the cast trade the auteur's curiously lifeless dialog, a lot of gas that only rarely finds a spark to ignite it. And really, it's an extraordinary accomplishment, the director's eighth feature, all 187 minutes (the "Roadshow" version) of it, complete with overture and score by Ennio Morricone and an intermission. It's not everyone that could stake out such a vast range of filmic territory and so successfully protect it from most any incursion of style, wit, insight, or originality. That achievement brought about with a staggering display of cheap provocation, pretension, self-parody and phosphorescent self-indulgence. Tarantino's brilliant device of placing an African American man front and center, a badass character who enjoys the somewhat limited satisfaction of being among the last to die (having been earlier castrated by shotgun) so he can provoke the n-word about 100 times in Hateful Eight, will no doubt do for the status of African Americans and cause of race relations in this country what Inglourious Basterds heroically accomplished in decreasing the scourge of anti-Semitism and saving lives that would have otherwise been lost in the Holocaust. The cynical among us might suggest you do something more worthwhile with those 187 minutes...like watching two whole films that aren't the product of a mind clearly operating in a state of arrested adolescence...perhaps watching six episodes of your favorite sitcom, taking a walk, reading a book, etc. The most hopeless of these cynics might suggest your time would be better spent indulging in a long, satisfying wank. But savvy moviegoers know that such things are better left to professionals. It's not everyone that can pleasure himself for three hours, elicit $10, $12, even $18 per person (the cost of the Roadshow version at Chicago's Music Box Theater) to watch the performance and then be applauded in the end. Genius. Fucking genius.
A postscript. Having seen S. Crag Zahler's Bone Tomahawk on DVD (it enjoyed almost no distribution in theaters; the Music Box Theater in Chicago, on the other hand, built a special expanded screen to better flog the 70mm "Roadshow" version of Hateful Eight), I can recommend another alternative for those in the mood for a well-crafted, stylized and even violent western. Zahler's Bone Tomahawk is all of those things and also something of a horror movie to boot. And it just happens to feature, like Hateful Eight, Kurt Russell as its star. Russell is one of our most underrated actors, but frankly, he's not very good in Hateful Eight. That, apparently, what happens when you take a professional actor and give him a one-dimensional role and crap direction. Russell actually gets to do some acting in Bone Tomahawk, as does the always-excellent Richard Jenkins. Perhaps most impressively, almost miraculously, Zahler has drawn from Matthew Fox a performance which is actually more than glib. Fox is quite good as a gunslinger and former killer of Indians who meets his appropriate fate (and is downright moving doing so). By all means, seek out Bone Tomahawk.