One of the many, many qualities that I often love, and occasionally abhor, about my closest friends is their ability to call me out on things. No matter the circumstances, they are able to (and even seem to relish) point out my shortcomings, often accompanying it w/ a diffusing smile or a simple shrug and “Just saying…”
This time, as it prone to happen from time to time, it was not-so-subtly pointed out that I have again fallen woefully behind in updating this space. Never mind that in the month since I have written over five hundred pages, or that it was the holidays, or that I was traveling on the mainland in a place so oppressively cold I spent the lion’s share of my time curled up by the fire under five layers of closing. (not exaggerating….in the slightest). I was falling behind…they were all too happy to let me hear about it.
(Sometimes the people in my life really do epitomize the tough part of tough love…)
To that end, I am back to offer a few more reviews of recent films I was able to see in my travels, this time offering up the double feature of The Revenant and The Hateful Eight.
As anybody that has been reading this blog, or my books, for the last couple of years can attest, I am an unabashed watcher of western films. Any cross words on the matter can be directed to my Pop, who has been watching Gunsmoke reruns and Jeremiah Johnson (among many, many others) since I was born.
In our house, Starz Westerns got more play than just about anything not named ESPN.
(Which reminds me, at some point another list may be surfacing outlining my own favorite westerns of all-time, a ranking that would no doubt include The Duke, Jimmy Stewart, the man w/ no name, and a host of others. Alas…I am getting off track…)
The Revenant
All that being what it is, I was quite excited when not one but two new westerns were getting a major release this holiday season. So much so in fact that I even posted the first trailer for The Revanant in this space, knowing that anything the particular people involved put together was bound to be good.
I mean, at the top of the marquee is Leonardo Dicaprio, a man that has basically been on an Oscar hunt for years that makes whatever Anne Hathaway went through leading up to her win for Les Miserables look minor by comparison. For the better part of two decades he has been trying to put Titanic behind him, frequently working w/ Marty Scorsese and absolutely annihilating his mind and body in the process.
Batting second is Tom Hardy, someone that is fast becoming one of the better character actors on the planet (if only he had a better accent coach). Many times I have extolled my appreciation for his work, finding that he single-handedly carried Lawless and more than held his own against titans like Nolte and Theron in Warrior and Mad Max.
Helming the project? Innaritu, who just happened to be coming off a Best Director nod for Birdman.
Wow…that’s the ’27 Yankees of movie lineups right there.  All three did what they do best, the first two knocking their roles out of the park. Dicaprio took a part that has him speaking nominally, most of it in a Native American dialect, and absolutely owned it. His pain/agony/travails are brought out in such excruciating detail that more than once I found myself cringing on his behalf (and I generally NEVER do that). Hardy made for an excellent deplorable antagonist, his true nature slowly bleeding out over the course of the film, confirming the villain we suspect from the beginning might be lurking.
For his part, Innaritu played the different story lines off deftly, depicting the majesty of the mountains in winter against the bitter harshness they can also present.
The biggest problem? As much as the assorted talents of the people listed above, what this film needed more than anything was a deft editor.
Translation? This was a two hour and forty minute slog that could have – and arguably should have – been a full hour shorter. A few less lingering establishing shots, trimming out one/two of the myriad story lines, and this thing knocks it out of the park.
Final verdict: Worth watching. Once.
The Hateful Eight
The coming together of this film is something that has been well documented for quite some time now. (I believe) this script first showed up on the Black List a couple of years ago, the way most anything penned by Quentin Tarantino seems to….and deservedly should. The problem was it also soon showed up online, a victim of yet another online hacking. The move so incensed Tarantino that he vowed the project was dead, even hosting a one-time-only public reading of the script so that the world could get a taste of what almost was.
What he couldn’t have foreseen though was that support from fans entreating him to go forward anyway would be so strong that he ultimately decided to do just that.
In pure Tarantino fashion he called on many familiar standbys – Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen – and brought in a few familiar faces whose careers needed a nitrous boost. In Pulp Fiction that was John Travolta. This time it was Kurt Russell and Jennifer Jason Leigh.
And as tends to happen whenever he culls together such a crew, the old hands do their jobs well and the new hires step up and steal the show. (I mean, Kurt Russell deserves special praise for his ability to grow that flowing mane of a mustache if nothing else. That thing gives Yosemite Sam a run for his money any day) There were even a couple nice surprise cameos here – most notably by Channing Tatum – that could be a sign of things to come.
The gripe with this film? It also brought along all the other traditional Tarantino tropes, including excessive gore (largely for gore’s sake), a quirky non-linear narrative style, and scenes that are so dialogue heavy they end up being 5-7 minutes too long each.
Final verdict: If you like Tarantino, you’ll be dancing in the streets. If not, rent Jeremiah Johnson to get your western fix.
We watched these movies in consecutive nights while I was visiting my folks on the mainland. At the conclusion of the second one Pop asked what I thought, and the only way I could honestly respond was…
We had just sat through six hours of movie that could have easily been two. At most.
Take that for what you will.
 (And somebody for the love of all things holy give Dicaprio a statue already…)

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