A Review of Quentin Tarantino's "The Hateful Eight"

I remember watching “Pulp Fiction” on the day it was released. I was in the middle of a road trip out to California and I stopped in a little town somewhere in North Dakota and decided to spend the night just so I could see Tarantino’s latest film. I’d spent my last year of high school forcing all my friends to watch “Reservoir Dogs,” a film I’d discovered on DVD and I was the first in line to see “True Romance” as well. Tarantino was the shit, and I couldn’t figure out why more people hadn’t figured that out yet.

“Pulp Fiction,” unlike “Force Awakens” for example, had me leaving the theater with a spring in my step. That was greatness...perhaps even better due to the fact that nobody else seemed to recognize how great it was. Of course, “Pulp Fiction” would go on to become a phenomenon. The point of all this is that I’ve been a fan of Tarantino for a long time.

So what do I make of “The Hateful Eight?”

Well, I don’t know if I’m getting older, or if the schtick is just worn out, but I kind of wish Tarantino would revisit the tone he used in “Jackie Brown” rather than give us this. My feelings for “Eight” aren’t disappointment exactly, but I’m probably not going to watch this movie again (as was the case with “Django”...I don’t feel drawn to these stories).


Well, they’re kind of nasty. There’s a moment in “Eight” where the always tremendous Samuel L. Jackson baits a confederate general into a gunfight with a story that involves the rape of the general’s son. Yes, I realize this is the type of thing that went on in this historical period...but that doesn’t mean I want to see it dramatized. Add in the fact that this scene isn’t an outlier, but easily fits in with the overall tone of the film and you see what I’m talking about.

How is this different from “Inglorious Basterds?” To crank it back a notch, I think that might be (as Lieutenant Aldo Raine says) Tarantino’s “finest work.” Yes, “Basterds” was brutal, but it was cathartic. Honest to God, I felt a whole lot better about WWII after seeing that because, damn it, that’s the end that Hitler deserved! The whole concept of the film was a risk, but I think the world needed that film to exist. It’s a contribution to our collective mental health as a species.

“Hateful Eight” is just as violent, but there’s no release. The same can be said about “Django.” Slavery, misogyny and race relations seem to be Tarantino’s latest thematic interest, but he’s not “solving” the wrongs of these human travesties as much as he is reveling in them. I, for one, don’t walk away as happy.

All that being said, this is a film that deserves a viewing. There is some really top notch writing, although Tarantino’s quirkiness would have been served by getting reeled in from time to time. Perhaps the guy has gotten too big for his breeches, but if there’s one thing the Prequels taught us it’s that no artist ever outgrows the need for an editor.

It’s great to see Kurt Russell in another Tarantino flick, I hope he continues to get leads before QT finishes up his “10 movies” (put me in the camp that says QT is not going to quit after 10). Samuel L. Jackson is magnificent. He deserved an Academy Award for “Jackie Brown”...probably for “Django” too. But it’s Jennifer Jason Leigh who really steals the show, particularly in the last 15 minutes.

I think Tarantino’s importance has peaked and his movies are trending to the “also ran” status. He might soon find himself once again in the category of directors who produce works of unrecognized quality...which might not be a bad thing. From the get go, Tarantino has always been a filmmaker who takes chances at the risk of looking like a total jerk. You always have to admire that fearlessness. “Hateful Eight” achieves what it aspires to, my complaint is that I’d like to see Tarantino aspire to something better.

JJ Abrams Turned Han, Luke and Leia into Losers

Ahhh, Luke, Han and Leia, our childhood heroes. When we last saw them, they were in a moment of great triumph. Against all odds, they’d just destroyed the galactic empire. In one fell swoop, they proved their innermost personal philosophy to be right and true. At the same time, their victory justified us, because we had cast our lot with them. From that moment forward, we’d use the lessons they'd taught us to guide our own development. It’s for this reason, that many of us were so excited to see Episode VII. What was next for our great heroes? What further accolades had they won in the intervening time? Surely the championship trophies they’d accrued in the last thirty years were sufficient to require several industrial sized buildings to display them all!

Er....well, not according to JJ Abrams. According to him, our heroes are and always have been MAJOR LOSERS!

So what happened after all the heavy lifting got done in “Return of the Jedi”? The Emperor was dead and our heroes had the universe presented to them on a silver platter, ready to be molded into a new and better society. Did they succeed?

Nope, they totally blew it.

Turns out, Han Solo is such a terrible father that his kid becomes basically the worst person in the whole galaxy. He’s running around slaughtering villagers with a poorly constructed lightsaber (our venerable triumvirate couldn’t even teach the kid to make a lightsaber).

Luke Skywalker is such a bad Jedi teacher that he scurried off like a coward to live in hiding for 30 years. His one student? Yeah...the same kid who is slaughtering villagers. But you know, that’s a good lesson Luke, if you make one mistake don’t try to fix it, just run off and live on an island for 30 years and cry into a corner while another empire takes over. Wow...what a grand hero.

Also, Leia and Han can’t get along and they’re both too stubborn to make it work. So much for the power of love folks, divorce is a totally acceptable alternative, even if it means your kid turns into a homicidal maniac who slaughters innocent villagers with a lightsaber that he didn’t put together correctly. As long as YOU have free time to hot rod around the galaxy or be a general in a terrorist group, who gives a crap about the emotional problems of your kid? If I wanted to see all this, I would have just stayed at home.

Look, I realize that it’s not “marketable” to have 60 year old actors as the leads in major films. I also realize that some of those actors have been pushing to have their characters killed off for decades. But how about having a little respect for the source material? I mean, when did the greatest freedom fighters in the universe turn into a bunch of incompetent, selfish wimps? Did it happen just about the time JJ Abrams took over? Ahhh...I see.

The way I remember it, Han Solo was THE MAN. It’s kind of pathetic to see him hot rodding around in his old age. Look, he can still be THE MAN and have EVOLVED.


In real life, Jack Nicholson was a bad ass at 30 and he was a bad ass at 60, but he wasn’t the SAME kind of bad ass! That’s where the creativity comes in. You can’t use 60 year old Harrison Ford to play 30 year old Han Solo. In the first meeting somebody should have said, “so is Han Solo still a cocky rogue?” Everybody goes, “YEAH!” Then they think about it for two seconds and say...but wait, wouldn’t it be even MORE bad ass if he was in charge of like six planets and spent all his time talking about all his great exploits like a TOTAL BOSS? That guy should walk into a room and people should pee their pants because they all know this motherfu#$er shoots first!

And you know what, why not have him still be with Leia? That would have been the daring choice, yeah, those two are still together. They’re still the people they were in the trilogy, but they’ve grown, they’ve become BETTER! That’s good writing, that’s good storytelling. Why not do that?

Also, I don’t understand why you spend 5 billion to buy the rights to certain characters and then kill them. That’s just knee-jerk cheap lazy storytelling designed for temporary impact instead of longevity.

Way to go JJ Abrams. You should have just had Luke, Han and Leia wake up after the 2nd death star blew up only to find out it was all a dream and that they were just three drunk losers sitting around on a bar on Tatooine, every now and then Luke and Han get into a fist fight over Leia as Chewbacca buys her shots and slips her out the back. Then they wait for their next support check from the empire so they can feast on Domino’s pizza. That’d make a great merchandising tie-in by the way.

Ya blew it...people are going to start figuring that out when they get over the special effects (which are pretty cool I have to admit...too bad the story needs to be trash compacted, and where the hell is Lando?).

Force Awakens Is Mediocre (Spoiler Free Review)

On the way to the release of "Force Awakens" a friend of mine said he'd heard talk that this was the best Star Wars ever. I couldn't help but pump the breaks. If there's one thing that life has taught me, it's that it's best to temper expectations. That way you're protected if the film is garbage, and pleasantly surprised if it isn't. "The Force Awakens" is not garbage, not by a long way, but it is also most definitively not the "best Star Wars movie ever."

It's a little bit difficult to give Star Wars films a fair shake immediately after seeing them. After all, "A New Hope" came out in 1977, which is basically as long as I've been alive. When I watch that, I can't help but remember playing with the plastic figurines in my back yard; going to see the film on various occasions with friends; having some idiot ruin the twist of "Empire" and make me hate spoilers to this day. For many of us, there is a lifetime of nostalgia associated with Star Wars, a new film feels kind of like celebrating Christmas with dad and his new wife.

That being said, my first thought after watching "Force Awakes" was that the prequels didn't seem so bad anymore. I realize there have been a lot of "click bait" articles defending the prequels lately (I've dismissed those), the feeling I got at the end of VII was curiosity as to what Lucas would have done with the source material. I never thought I'd be wondering that.

Don't get me wrong, there's a lot that VII does right. Daisy Ridley is as perfect as can be for this film, as is Oscar Isaac and John Boyega. The casting for the new characters was spot on...which is a relief. 

The actual interactions of characters is a lot more natural than what we saw in the prequels. The dialogue is better, although I think they swing into "joke mode" a little too frequently. The prequels missed comic relief completely, this one gives us maybe 20% too much.

Let it be said that doing a legacy type film is always a challenge. The characters everybody loves present themselves and then turn over the baton to a younger group. This is one of the places where film is limited in a way novels are not. In the novels, a character can live for a thousand years and never age a day. In a film, actors show their years.

In terms of modern film making, JJ Abrams is much more on the cutting edge than Lucas is. However, there's a certain gravitas that Lucas managed to hit from time to time which elevated the franchise which seems beyond Abrams. Obviously things like Ewoks and Jar-Jar were misses, but Alec Guinness, for example, always spouted his lines with the dignity and poise of absolute belief. The more I think about it, the more I wonder if maybe Alec Guinness is almost single-handedly responsible for the success of the whole franchise. Much as Sean Connery showed us what James Bond acts like, Guinness showed us what a Jedi is, and all other actors aspire to his example. Even Max von Sydow's presence in VII can't evoke the grandeur of Guinness.

What does all this mean? Well, it means the dog fight scenes in VII are more spectacular, but you care less; the camera moves more frequently, but your imagination is limited; everything is bigger and better, yet smaller all at the same time. When it comes right down to it, there are some issues with the script...again. I think Abrams and company locked themselves in to some "end game" ideas early on, and they stuck with them even though they couldn't come up with reasonable motivations to get their characters where they wanted them to go. It's a shame too, because the film is beautiful.

I remember leaving "The Phantom Menace" completely shell shocked and semi-angry. I wasn't that angry for this one, but I wasn't thrilled or elevated either. There are a couple very solid high points in this movie though. I am curious to take my 5 year old daughter and see what she thinks. Honestly, I believe her impression will be a more accurate indicator of VII's quality than mine.

I think I'll revisit this in a month or so. It's entirely possible that my opinion will change. Again, I don't think it's a bad film, but there are impossibly high hopes floating about and it would greatly serve viewers to temper their expectations.

Review of "Hell Bound" by Andrew P. Weston

The Grim Reaper Has Got His Problems Too

What a fun idea for a protagonist! The Grim Reaper! Apart from Darth Vader, there’s probably not a more foreboding character in all of literature (and Darth Vader is really just the Grim Reaper with his face painted black). In “Hell Bound,” Satan has tasked Grim with hunting down Thomas Neill Cream known to infamy as the Lambeth Poisoner (there’s also speculation that he might have been Jack the Ripper). It turns out that Cream is just as much a problem in Hell as he was on Earth as this book finds him in league with Nikola Tesla to finagle an escape from eternal torment.

Never fear as Daemon Grim is on the case, tracking down Cream and his accomplices in a novel that is part detective story, part noir, and part tour of Hell. The Hell in question obeys the rules of Janet Morris’s “Hell” series (if you are unfamiliar with the series it’s a must read). For those of you unfamiliar, Morris’s Hell is a shared world built more or less on the framework of Dante’s Inferno featuring the famous names of history. If you think it sounds like a downer, you’re mistaken. The purpose of this series isn’t to give you a lecture on morality, but rather form the framework for a series of discussions on torment, the legacy of historical figures, and...really awesome medieval (dare I say “Biblical”?) battles. There’s even a fair bit of humor thrown in for good measure.

It’s fun spending some time with the Grim Reaper as we get a first person account of his life and daily routine. His memories extend back only to his existence as Satan’s reaper, but occasionally he does have some interesting flashbacks to a time before that when he was something else? Maybe an angel? Grim doesn’t know, and he doesn’t particularly care as he’s grown accustomed to his lot. He’s got a job to perform, and the outcome is as certain as taxes (among other things).

It occurred to me once or twice throughout the novel that perhaps Grim is a little too likeable considering what he is. I think those are glimpses of Andrew Paul Weston’s personality shining through. However, a focused meditation on death would be something of a downer and this book is all about entertainment. Grim comes across as a pretty regular guy, despite the fact that he’ll sometimes depart a whole room of innocent bystanders because they happened to overhear a phone conversation. This kind of thing happens in Hell, and you can assume that those suffering that treatment have it coming.

If you’re a fan of history, Biblical artifacts, and mythology, this is a book you’re going to have a lot of fun with. Educated people are going to delight in seeing lesser known figures, items, and places referenced front and center for a change. This is a good book to read with some research material at hand. More than once I paused my reading to look up a name only to delight in an hour or two of discovery. I met some folks that were new, and learned a little more about things I was always aware of. In the end, however, I returned to Grim as his story is magnetic. Also, this is the type of character that comes after you if you leave a task undone.