Monday, January 18, 2016

Making Money Off Villainy

A belated Happy New Year to you all! With the holidays and then the flurry of activity to get a new semester ready to launch at my college, I've fallen a bit behind, so let me catch up here.

The day after Christmas, my partner-in-crime and I drove an hour to see the "roadshow" version of Tarantino's The Hateful Eight. Like other Tarantino films, this one is both breathtakingly violent and coarsely profane. And yet . . .

I'd never seen a "roadshow version" of a film. These used to be done for big studio productions back in the glory days of Technicolor. Usually released slightly before the "regular" release, roadshows featured extra footage, an overture, an intermission, and often a souvenir program. Tarantino brought all that to the table, along with actual film prints. In fact, it took my eyes a minute of two to adjust to the slight flicker before my brain registered, "Oh, right. Film."

About this film, let me just say - it's not going to be everyone's blood-soaked cup of tea. However, for all of Tarantino's bluster and flaws, he knows how to compose a beautiful shot. The score for Hateful is by the justifiably legendary composer Ennio Morricone, who made a name for himself scoring Westerns, including a number of Clint Eastwood's spaghetti Westerns such as A Fistful of Dollars. Morricone also composed the score for John Carpenter's 1982 examination of aliens, Antarctica, and paranoia, The Thing. Tarantino included a bit from The Thing's score, which is appropriate, given that Hateful can easily be read as an homage to The Thing and not just because both films star Kurt Russell. Both films involve wide open, hostile spaces and a group of people trapped together in a small space with killers among them. But who? Everyone has a story and few of them are nice ones. At the heart of Hateful is the idea that there are no good guys and no one is what they appear to be. While the film isn't doing gangbusters at the theater, I think it's well worth finding. I've heard it described as "slow paced" in the beginning, but I disagree. Tarantino knows what he's doing here and the slow burn is a deliberate, and wise, choice. On one level, Hateful is all about getting the bounty for bringing in criminals of one sort or another. The film plays with many myths of the American West, including the notion that violence can regenerate a society and that man can re-invent himself out yonder. Find this film and settle in for a spectacular ride.

Adam McKay's The Big Short is a different sort of villainous tale. In this one, there are still no "good guys," although there are people who are horrified at the prospect of the collapse of the American housing market. Not horrified enough to not make boodles of money off of it, but horrified nevertheless. If you ever thought that the 2007 meltdown just came out of nowhere - go see The Big Short. There were signs all over the place that the market had been built on sand, but no one cared. The economy contracted to the point of teetering on collapse, millions lost their homes because they didn't understand the terms of their loans or (worse) their landlord didn't, and not a single one of the big fish who ruined pension funds, retirement accounts, and individuals went to jail for their actions in perpetuating a massive fraud on the American public. If that doesn't make you mad, see it again.