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Denofcinema.com: Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

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Hullabaloo


Saturday, January 02, 2016

 
Saturday Night at the Movies


Bastard people: The Big Short **** & The Hateful Eight ***

By Dennis Hartley













In my 2010 review of the documentary Inside Job, I wrote:

I have good news and bad news about Charles Ferguson’s incisive parsing of what led to the crash of the global financial system in 2008. The good news is that I believe I finally grok what “derivatives” and “toxic loans” are. The bad news is…that doesn’t make me feel any better about how fucked we are.

Remember 2008? That financial crisis thingie? Well, it’s time to dust off the pitchfork. Good news first? Writer-director Adam McKay and co-scripter Charles Randolph have (somehow) adapted Michael Lewis’ 2010 non-fiction book The Big Short into an outstanding comedy-drama that doubles as an incisive parsing of what led to the crash of the global financial system. The bad news…it made me pissed off about it all over again.

Yes, it’s a bitter pill to swallow, this ever-maddening tale of how we (meaning your everyday, average hard-working American taxpayer) stood by, completely unsuspecting  and blissfully unaware, as unchecked colonies of greedy, lying Wall Street investment bankers were eventually able to morph into the parasitic gestalt monster journalist Matt Taibbi famously compared to a “…great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”

However, what differentiates McKay’s film from the aforementioned documentary is its surprisingly effervescent candy-coating, which helps the medicine go down. For example, he sprinkles his narrative with helpful, interstitial tutorials that annotate some of the financial vernacular that gets tossed about. And as far as helpful, interstitial tutorials go, one could do worse than watching lovely Australian actress Margot Robbie take a bubble bath as she delivers an authoritative dissertation as to how junk bonds are created.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. There are other elements that help the film work as beautifully as it does; for one the impressive number of A-list cast members (shocking, when you consider the subject matter wouldn’t likely strike your typical Hollywood green-lighter to be as bankable as, let’s say…a story that is set in a galaxy far, far, away).

The narrative has several threads, encircling a quirky, Oscar-baiting turn by Christian Bale as Dr. Michael Burry, a hedge fund manager (and possible Asperger’s sufferer) who appears to be a savant with numbers and financial trendspotting. He is one of the first to not only spot the needle heading for the “bubble”, but to figure out how investors, armed with such foreknowledge (and bereft of conscience) could become incredibly filthy rich.

Initially of course, everyone thinks he’s nuts. But as word gets around that the big banks (through oversight and pure greed) may have created an Achilles heel for themselves that could be exploited by a savvy few (at the expense of, oh I don’t know…the rest of us?) a few other players enter the story (played with equal aplomb by Steve Carrell, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt). What makes these four primary characters compelling is that while each has disparate motivations, they all share one trait: thinking outside of the box.

McKay cleverly employs a variation of the network narrative; all of the primary characters may not literally cross paths, yet once all is said and done, you come to understand how each of them represents (if I may extrapolate on Mr. Taibbi’s cephalopod theme) a mutually exclusive tentacle of that great vampire squid, jamming and sucking.  

Ew. I think that’s the most disgusting sentence I’ve ever written. Anyway…see this film!













*** OVERTURE***
(Hum your favorite Morricone song for 7 minutes…or check your email and come back)

Chapter One:
8 down, 2 to go.

Quentin Tarantino was the guest on a recent episode of AXS TV’s The Big Interview with Dan Rather. It was actually one of the more engaging and genuinely interesting interviews that I’ve seen to date with the iconoclastic writer-director (who is not shy about granting them and/or talking about himself ad nauseam-with minimal prompting).

One thing I learned was that Tarantino plans to make 10 films, and then he’s out. Apparently, this has been his plan all along; but it was news to me. Maybe he’s modeling himself after Kubrick? Then again, it’s likely that Mr. Kubrick didn’t plan to stop at 13 films; he had to stop there because he sort of…died. I’m sure it’s more along the lines of “going out on top”, which is understandable (especially if you’ve already made a bundle).

Q.T. also told Rather that once he is so sated, he wouldn’t necessarily retire from the creative arts altogether. More specifically, he expressed interest in writing for the stage. This would be a good move, I think, because he has a particular genius for penning great dialog; in fact I think it trumps his other filmmaking skills (formidable as they may be). He could handily become his generation’s David Mamet; he shares a similar gift for giddily profane pentameter (pair up Glengarry Glen Ross with Pulp Fiction sometime).

Chapter Two:
But for now…

Which brings us to The Hateful Eight, which is (as the director helpfully annotates in the opening titles) “The 8th Film by Quentin Tarantino” (just in case we nod off during the Overture and are suddenly awakened in startled confusion by the first of many gunshots).

The director remains encamped in 19th Century America, moving a decade or so past the antebellum South tableau he employed in Django Unchained. The setting is a wintry Wyoming. A horseless, snow-bound bounty hunter named Major Marquis Warren (Samuel Jackson) flags down a stagecoach, chartered by another bounty hunter, who goes by the charming nickname of “The Hangman” (Kurt Russell, affecting an unabashed John Wayne impression throughout). Russell is transporting alleged murderess and bank robber Daisy Domergue (a scenery-chewing Jennifer Jason Leigh) to Red Rock. Russell warily takes the stranded Jackson aboard (along with his baggage-three outlaw corpses).

After picking up an additional straggler (Walton Goggins) down the trail a piece, a man claiming to be heading to Red Rock to assume duties as the new sheriff, the expanded party pulls into Minnie’s Haberdashery (sort of an old west Motel 6) to wait out a blizzard. Here they find a Whitman’s Sampler of western movie archetypes (Demian Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen and Bruce Dern) who may or may not be there to simply round off the “8”. I can say no more except…the mystery is afoot (if it’s an inch).

***INTERMISSION***
(You can go pee now. What remains of this sophomoric review will be here, waiting.)

Chapter Three:
In conclusion…

As usual, Tarantino does a cinematic mash-up, evoking (to name a few) Stagecoach, Rio Bravo (again), Lifeboat, And Then There Were None, Green for Danger, The Petrified Forest, Ice Station Zebra and John Carpenter’s The Thing (if you see it, you’ll…see it).

You may have heard the film was shot in 70mm. Veteran DP Robert Richardson (in his 5th collaboration with Tarantino) does a yeoman job with the format; but this expansive scope is an odd choice considering that most of the action is in a finite space, using claustrophobic staging (and the bulk of the exterior shots are of a blinding snowstorm!).

There’s a terrific 90-minute chamber piece buried somewhere in here, screaming to get out of this epic-length film (175 minutes, if you see the “roadshow” 70mm version replete with Overture, Intermission and Exit Music). In fact, it’s that patented snappy Tarantino patter I mentioned earlier that saves the day here; otherwise the film has that “déjà vu all over again” vibe that has unfortunately taken root since Inglourious Basterds.

Q.T.-you’ve done revenge. Here’s hoping 9 and 10 are less hateful and more thoughtful.


***EXIT MUSIC***

More reviews at Den of Cinema


--Dennis Hartley