Thursday, January 28, 2016

Top 10 of 2015, Mustang, and Oscars controversy

               Top 10, Hard-Hit 5, Tarnished (?) 2015 Oscars

                               Comments and Review by Ken Burke
As far as I'm concerned, Joy can return to Mudville,
where  Casey still stands uselessly at the bat
 In that I’ve seen only 1 new-release-film to mull over with you this time I’ll also bite the cinema bullet and offer my choices for the best 10 films released during 2015 (with the ongoing caveat that there may well 
be other worthy possibilities among options that I haven’t seen yet—especially in the areas of Foreign Language and Feature Documentary but screening availability and cost-considerations will always be factors in my movie attendance, no matter what year it is).  The only potential-contender (coming to my San Francisco East Bay-area anytime soon, as I’ve already passed on the "joy" of seeing Joy [David O. Russell, 2015] despite Jennifer Lawrence’s nomination for a Best Actress Oscar) for further consideration that I haven’t gotten to yet (just opening here in a couple of days) is 45 Years (Andrew Haigh, 2015), for which Charlotte Rampling’s also been nominated for Oscar’s Best Actress so I’ll reserve the right to modify my list after seeing that one but otherwise it stands as presented, with #1 being my choice for best of the bunch, etc.
Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ insightful reviews.  Therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when you’re ready to be transported to … wherever we end up.  Please protect your eyes from the dazzling brilliance.
Top 10 of 2015   (With the understanding, dear readers, that there were some films not on my list that other critics thought highly of but that I didn’t see, especially in the documentary area.)
1. Spotlight (Tom McCarthy; review in our November 19, 2015 posting)—This excellent film is a scathing but restrained factual account of Boston Globe reporters uncovering the scandal of child molestation by Catholic priests plus the church’s attempt to cover up those crimes. Other possible choices for my highest honor of 2015 (1 of the few to which I’ve ever given 4 ½ stars of my possible 5) are a lot more spectacular in film production areas but none felt as consistently-impactful in concept, script, and acting, as well as insightful relevance to our contemporary life.

2. Carol (Todd Haynes; review in our January 11, 2016 posting)—In the early 1950s a middle-aged-married-woman shows her attraction for a younger-shop-girl with the attention reciprocated despite objections from the husband and society at large.

3. Bridge of Spies (Steven Spielberg; review in our October 15, 2015 posting)—A late 1950s-early ‘60s political-thriller, based firmly in fact, where a NY lawyer not sure he's up to the task must oversee delicate negotiations between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. for an exchange of captured spies. 

4. Room (Lenny Abramson; review in our November 5, 2015 posting)—A perverted criminal keeps a young woman captive for years in a cramped backyard shed where she lives with her son as the result of being raped by this monster, with their escape and its difficult aftermath the tense focus.

5. Ex Machina (Alex Garland; review in our April 30, 2015 posting)—Cerebral sci-fi where a robotics genius invites a brilliant coder to his isolated home to help verify that his latest creation passes the test of sentience, which the “female” robot already knows but what else does she have in "mind"?.

6. The Danish Girl (Tom Hooper; review in our January 11, 2016 posting)—In 1920s Copenhagen (again, a narrative based in historical fact) a young male artist confounds himself and his likewise-artist-wife by realizing that his true-inner-identity is female so he goes about a drastic change.

7. Love and Mercy (Bill Pohlad; review in our June 10, 2015 posting)—A biography of Beach Boys’ creative genius Brian Wilson whose obsessions with pop perfection take their toll on his sanity even as the top hits keep coming; told in 2 phases of his life with 2 different actors portraying him.

8. Steve Jobs (Danny Boyle; review in our October 30, 2015 posting)—Yet another biographical film but this one's much more fictionalized than any of these other “true stories” on my list, exploring the famed Apple co-founder’s creative visions with the settings of 3 major product launches.

9. Pawn Sacrifice (Edward Zwick; review in our October 3, 2015 posting)—We're drawing from the history-well once more, back in 1972 where American chess-prodigy Bobby Fisher makes news defeating Russian world-champ Boris Spassky but with terrible mental strain in the process. 

11. Sicario (Denis Villeneuve; review in our October 15, 2015 posting)—Brutal exploration of the drug trade into the U.S. from Mexico and the determined (if not strictly—or even barelylegal) methods used by lawmen (and one woman) from each country to stem the lucrative flow.

March 3, 2016After having now seen Son of Saul (László Nemes)—winner of the current Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film—I have to amend my above list to put this story of an Auschwitz prisoner’s desperate attempt to get a proper Jewish burial for a dead boy in as #10 of my 2015 top choices (review in our March 3, 2016 posting).  I realize that my critical colleagues rarely make changes once something’s published but many of them have wider access than I do to the likely-contenders when they formulate such lists, plus I consistently take advantage of the Internet medium to correct mistakes or better express myself, which I’m doing here (just like the NBA officially changed Steven Curry’s monumental-3-point-basket-distance from 32 to 37 feet, the winning shot in overtime [with .6 seconds left] for my Golden State Warriors over the Oklahoma City Thunder on February 27, 2016; when the facts demand an update you just have to go with it).

 Yes, I realize there’s no mention here of Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015; review in our May 20, 2015 posting), The Martian (Ridley Scott, 2015; review in our October 8, 2015 posting), Brooklyn (John Crowley, 2015; review in our December 2, 2015 posting), The Big Short (Adam McKay, 2015; review in our January 7, 2016 posting), or The Revenant (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2015; review in our January 14, 2016 posting)–all frequent mentions on other lists—but I’ll talk more about those omissions in about a month when I post my annual collection of Oscar nominees, predicted winners, and personal favorites (among the nominees and otherwise, which will get some mention of my-currently-neglected-films back in play later on).  But, now that these difficult-to-decide-rating-decisions are finally out of the way, let’s move on to our only review for this posting.
                  Mustang (Deniz Gamze Ergüven, 2015)
In contemporary Turkey 5 young orphaned sisters live with their traditionalist relatives with lifestyle conflicts leading Uncle Erol to essentially lock them into their countryside home until each girl can be married off to local young men; problems of various kinds arise as a result, with the youngest sibling determined to find an escape plan from this madness.
What Happens: In present-day-Turkey (although aspects of this story could just as easily be happening in the Middle Ages—or Dark Ages, as our protagonists might say) we’re quickly introduced to 5 very attractive sisters, with the youngest, Lale (Güneş Şensoy)—who at various times narrates the events of this film—maybe not quite teenage but her siblings are; they’re orphans (not much is said about their late parents who died—as best I caught it—in a car crash), now living with their grandmother (Nihal Koldaş) and stern Uncle Erol (Aybeck Pekcan) in a seaside village about 100 km from Istanbul, but as their lives change one summer they might as well be on the moon as far as contemporary civilization goes.  As the school year ends the 5 girls head to the nearby beach with about a dozen of their classmates to frolic innocently in the ocean (all still fully dressed in their school uniforms), but a neighbor sees them and reports their “indiscretions” of touching the boys to the relatives, leading to angry denials from the sisters that they’ve done anything wrong but an equally-angry-response from Erol who locks up their corrupting influences (telephones, computer, makeup, etc.) in an attempt to save them from temptation (as well as having them medically-checked for virginity, verifying that temptation hasn’t already entered their lives—or bodies).  Once “imprisoned,” they hang around together, laying all over each other like a litter of puppies, but eventually they start taking cooking lessons from the older women around them in preparation for their only-intended-fate as wives of the local young men. The eldest, Sonay (İlayda Akdoğan), remains the boldest of the group, slipping from her upper-story-window down a drain pipe to meet up with her boyfriend, whom she has anal sex with—calm down, not on camera—in order to preserve her virginity, a crucial requirement in the arranged marriages that go on among families of this region, where the about-to-be-married-women have little say in their futures except for rebellious Sonay who insists that her fiancée be her current lover or she’ll make big trouble.  

 Soon Sonay is married to her husband-of-choice so at least she’s happy with the new arrangement while next-oldest Selma (Tuğba Sunguroğlu) grudgingly consents to her betrothal to Osman (Erol Afşin) although she finds no joy in her union, following the lavish double-ceremony with her sister.  Selma even fails to provide the required bloody-bedsheet-evidence of virginity-lost on the morning after the wedding, but potential scandal is averted after her new in-laws race her off to a doctor who verifies that it’s just a freakish anatomical occurrence because even though she did have sex last night with her new mate her hymen’s still fully intact (he assures her it’ll pop at some point).

 Next up for these assembly-line-weddings is middle-sister-Ece (Elit İşcan), yet even though she’s promoted as “one of a kind”—just like all of her siblings were—she’s already “damaged goods’” (by the rigid expectations of her culture) through no fault of her own because she’s been a rape victim of her hypocrite uncle; how he was going to explain her actual lack of virginity wasn’t revealed—unless he’d claim that the other sisters were like Selma, although they wouldn’t have intact hymens for collaboration—but it didn’t matter anyway because one day at lunch, after generating laughter from her remaining sisters by making sly jokes about the quick casual sex she enjoyed with a local boy during a trip into town with her uncle and siblings, she’s sent off to her room where she suddenly kills herself (off-screen), using Erol’s pistol (which he shot some rounds from at the older girls’ weddings as a ghastly form of celebration, with all of the intended phallic overtones intended, especially as we watch his grim visage likely sour from jealousy that it’s the grooms who’ll be sexually-active that night instead of him—unless that’s one of the occasions when he took out his desires on Ece, as we never witness any of his criminal acts but just vaguely understand them through brief implications).  Even though the second-youngest, Nur (Doğa Doğuşlu), is awfully young to be on the marriage-block there’s already action to find her a husband too, the final straw for Lale who’s witnessed enough perversion (again, through quick inferences we understand that Erol’s been raping Nur, explaining why the grandmother’s anxious to get her away from him) and cruelty in this house so she plots an escape for herself and Nur.  In past scenes that I skipped over, all 5 girls managed to slip out when the fortifications weren’t so extreme so they could go to an important football (or, as we Yanks call it, soccer) match; they missed their bus but a helpful young truck driver, Yasin (Burak Yigit), got them to the next stop so they made it to the stadium where only women were allowed as spectators because of previous male hooliganism; they’re shown on the TV coverage which Aunt Emine (Aynur Komecoglu) noticed while the uncles were distracted, so she cut the power line that feeds electricity to the entire area in order to save the girls’ reputation.

 Later, Lale snuck out on her own, again encountered Yasin who taught her to drive.  This skill becomes her salvation on the night of Nur’s wedding as the girls lock their relatives out of the house as the rest of the wedding party arrives, slip out a back entrance, steal their uncle’s car which gets them to the nearby woods where Yasin rescues them as the result of Lale phoning him for help just before all hell really broke out at the family compound.  Lale and Nur board a bus for Istanbul where they’d have little chance of surviving on their own; however, Lale has the address of Ms. Dilek (Bahar Kerimoglu), a beloved young female teacher from their school who moved to the big city back at the start of this tale (although that was also the end of the girls' schooling by their uncle’s decree, along with them all having to wear long, formless dresses on the rare occasions when they were escorted into their local village), so Lale and Nur go to her home where they’re welcomed in.

So What? It’s clear that even though all of these sisters at least wanted to understand themselves as free, independent operators the one who remained most rebellious to the external pressures put upon them was Lale (you could argue that Ece took more drastic action but her choice removed her from the hell-hole she was being forced to endure; Lale, however, waited out her dilemma for a longer time—we get the sense that the plot evolves over a period of months from late spring into autumn, or, not being that familiar with Turkey’s climate, that’s how I interpreted it—which allowed her to not only find a means of her own escape but also to help Nur out as well, something that none of her older siblings had been able to accomplish), whom we should understand as the wild, titular “mustang,” bucking her uncle’s mandates rather than buckling under to his misogynistic worldview (I thank my fellow-screening-attendee, long-time-friend, and Mills College-colleague, Jim Graham, for this insight as he voiced it more quickly than I did).  Lale is determined to be ‘the master of her domain” (so to speak, in TV's Seinfeld-ian terms) in body, mind, and soul, taking a cue from her eldest sister on now to stand firm against the cruel dictates of her guardian relatives (even as you can see the frustration on the youngster’s face the 1st time Sonay slips down the drain pipe—in broad daylight no less—to dash off into the woods with her lover), further fueled by watching the unhappy/tragic results for her next-eldest-sisters, firmly determined that she’ll escape the traumas of 2 of her siblings but generous enough to plan an exit-strategy that will include soon-to-wed Nur also.  None of these girls want to bend to the will of relatives and traditions that dehumanize them but each makes choices that blend best with their own innate personalities, as Sonay’s already taken charge of her blossoming-adult-life, Ece’s faced the devil and determined there’s no point in continuing their staring contest, while Lale’s laser-focused on not letting the abuse of her immediate-family-members continue any longer than it takes her to find a solution.  It’s an inspiring film, despite the horrors that this traditionalist culture feels are necessary to maintain in order to preserve a sense of long-rooted-identity in this rapidly-changing-world.

Bottom Line Final Comments: Given the director’s French background and co-financing from France (along with many other sources), this film’s been accepted as the French entry—now finalist nominee—for Oscar’s Best Foreign Language Film (where it’s a worthy contender but likely not strong enough to take the prize, if the buzz [and Golden Globe win] for the Holocaust-themed-Son of Saul [László Nemes, 2015] is to be believed); no matter the Oscar race, though, Mustang's already been well-recognized, including with the Europa Cinemas Label Award at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival and many others worldwide either won or pending.  I was certainly impressed by it as well, not only because of the challenges to the horrendous theme of women still being treated as property, whether by family or society, well into the 21st century (plus the eons of time prior to how our history’s measured [by most global societies] according to Christian tradition, itself often responsible for stultifying sexism) but also because all of the performers, from Şensoy as Lale on up to the elder women so concerned about how these girls will be perceived by their community (where Islam seems the given choice for religious practices but its theological precepts are not nearly as impactful on these girls’ situations as is the fundamental sense of young women as nothing more than lush, sensual temptations whose outward appearance is allowed to maintain some aura of attraction only as a bargaining chip for a potential-husband’s approval), are so honest, impactful, worthy of respect for sincere investment in their beliefs, even those I can't condone.  In many ways, this is a miserable story to watch, yet you can’t help but be impressed by the alluring personalities of the sisters (for their physical appearances, sure, but mostly for their lively spirits), all determined to be something more than pawns in their family’s age-old-game of social-maintenancefrom merely-annoying to totally-disgusting expectationswhich each one attempts to transcend in her own way, although Ece’s decision is the most tragic while Selma’s is the least effective for her personal needs.

 Given how difficult it is for foreign-language-films to get wide distribution in the U.S. (this one’s in Turkish but does provide English subtitles for the many monolinguists—me included—in our U.S. society), I can’t assume that you’ll have easy access to Mustang but if you can find it in a theater, or more likely in some mode of video, I highly recommend it for the sobering reflections it offers about the enforced-fates of so many women worldwide, even in our supposedly-enlightened-times, along with the growing resistance to these “hallowed”-restrictions, from genital-mutilation in African countries to prohibitions against political participation in Saudi Arabia to continued fierce opposition to abortion rights in the U.S. to these customs of female “house arrest” with release only through arranged marriage all over the world.  Change is coming, slowly (and violently at times, due to vicious male resistance to social evolution) but surely, encouraged by stories such as we see in Mustang.  As for a Musical Metaphor to reflect upon this film, I’ve decided to offer 2 in that I’m reviewing only 1 cinematic-sample this week so I wanted to enhance your musical considerations, especially because my first choice, Wilson Pickett’s “Mustang Sally” (written and 1st recorded by Mack Rice in 1965, made famous by Pickett in 1966 with his hit single and inclusion on his The Wicked Pickett album that year) at, a live performance in Spain (specific city and date unknown to me, chosen because it’s the longest version I could find of a song that deserves to be heard at length, plus it adds a little extra “scat” guitar riff at the end), doesn’t address the full context of Ergüven’s message to global societies

 While this “slow down” message is clearly in keeping with Uncle Erol’s confining attitude toward his nieces it doesn’t speak to their need to break free of such personal prisons so I’ve also included a song about individual choices taking precedence over the imposed-desires of others, The Beatles’ “I’ll Follow the Sun” (from the 1964 albums Beatles for Sale [U.K.] and Beatles ’65 [U.S.]) at https://, a live BBC performance sometime from the mid-1960s (but to keep the music flowing as long as possible, here’s a stereo remix of the song [with odd, funky guitar quality at the start], from 2011, along with the early, original version from 1960 back in the days when Pete Best was the drummer rather than Ringo Starr, Stuart Sutcliffe was still alive and bassist for the band, the rhythm and lyrics for "... Sun" are a bit different, while the recording quality’s not so hot because it’s just a rehearsal tape made at Paul McCartney’s Liverpool home).
Oscar Controversy (and the beat goes on)
Spike Lee with Journalism and Mass Communication
 Peabody Award for his documentary, If God Is Willing
and Da Creek Don't Rise
, about New Orleans'
recovery after Hurricane Katrina, 2011
 One other area to note this time around is the ongoing heated controversy about the upcoming Oscars—supposedly begun by Spike Lee although he says his intentions for not attending the Academy Awards ceremony this year were misunderstood (which I noted in my last posting within the lengthy review of The Hateful Eight [Quentin Tarantino, 2015])because we’re continuing to see a regression back to a White-dominated list of Oscar nominations with no people of color in the current acting races nor any minority-focused-thematics in the Best Picture competition (although, as a minor compensation, Mexican González Iñárritu is a nominated Best Director, for The Revenant); adding fuel to this entertainment-business-grown-into-fully-fired cultural-awareness is the fact that this situation’s happened 2 years in a row in Oscar’s acting categories but at least the Civil Rights-era-Selma (Ava DuVernay, 2014; review in our January 15, 2015 posting) was nominated for Best Picture last year (losing to González Iñárritu’s Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance, 2014); however, there was considerable flack about Selma over no Best Director nod for DuVernay nor Best Actor inclusion of David Oyelowo (in that I wasn’t all that enthralled with Foxcatcher [Bennett Miller, 2014; review in our November 19, 2014 posting] I could easily have replaced its nominations for Miller and Steve Carell with these “slighted” ones for Selma even though Academy voters disagreed) just as there are complaints this year that neither Creed (Ryan Coogler, 2015; review in our December 2, 2015 posting) nor Straight Outta Compton 
(F. Gary Gray, 2015; review in our August 20, 2015 posting) made the Best Picture cut (although the former has a Best Supporting Actor nod for Sylvester Stallone and the latter’s on the Best Original Screenplay list)—which I honestly can’t argue with, as I wouldn’t have included them either for Best Picture, as shown in my Top !0 list at the head of this posting—although others have noted that lack of diversity in the nominees isn’t just based on race but also on sexual orientation, with highly-regarded-but-lesbian-themed-Carol also not up for Best Picture despite rave reviews and 2 Acting noms (this one, as you know, would have been added to my 10 nominees for Oscar’s Best Picture).

 So, with the above as useful (I sincerely hope) background info, here’s a cluster of links to this ongoing story, but I probably will just let this be enough on the issue unless I find something really interesting for you that may not have already been reported that much in the mainstream press (with the understanding that what I’m giving you here may be old news anyway by the time I get this posted, but that’s a drawback of even trying to be somewhat topical while not putting out a daily [hourly in some cases] update of my interests as many bloggers do).  Anyway, here’s what I’ve come across lately: Mark Ruffalo (himself nominated for Best Supporting Actor in Spotlight) says it’s not just the Oscars but that “The entire American system is rife with white privilege racism.  It goes into our justice system.”; Brits Michael Caine (not nominated for Best Actor as many, including me, thought he would be for Youth [Paolo Sorrentino, 2015; review in our January 14, 2016 posting]—although he’s won a couple of Oscar's Supporting Actor trophies previously) and Charlotte Rampling take exception to the quasi-boycott (Lee along with Jada Pinkett Smith and hubby Will Smith [some feel he could have been a Best Actor candidate for Concussion {Peter Landessman, 2015; review in our January 7, 2016 posting} but I must admit that he wouldn’t have made my final 5] now say they’re simply not attending the Oscar ceremony) of this year’s Oscars, with Caine saying “black actors should be ‘patient’ for Oscar nominations and he wouldn’t vote for an actor based on their race” (I wouldn’t either, but none that have been noted as passed by for substantial performances this year strike me as inadequate choices even if I would have chosen somebody else, so the question’s actually about recognizing accomplishment not manufacturing quotas; in fact I’d have definitely included Idris Elba as a Best Supporting Actor contender [Beasts of No Nation {Cary Fukunaga, 2015; review in our November 5, 2015 posting}]) while Rampling’s originally reported as saying this Oscar diversity outcry is “racist against whites,” although now she says those comments were misinterpreted; regarding an Oscar boycott, non-nominated-for-anything-to-do-with-Straight Outta Compton-Ice Cube says in regard to this annual ceremony: “’I never used to go anyway’ … [and] being upset about the situation was like ‘crying about not having enough icing on your cake’ … ‘We do movies for the fans … We got so much praise for this movie.’”

 In response to the above comments (and many more just like them), the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Board of Governors suddenly made some structural changes to start diversifying its mostly White-male-membership as well as restrict voting by those who haven’t been active in the industry for quite awhile, with these changes drawing negative responses from the types of members most likely to be impacted 
(I acknowledge proper recognition, though, that another reason for their concern is that it was a rapid-executive-decision—albeit one that many Academy members feel was long overdue—with no chance for input from the roughly 6,000 members at large; of course, the complaints about the Academy caving in to political correctness are already rabid on social media so you’ve got plenty of options for angry denunciations of the Governors’ decisions if you prefer), countered by positive comments from others such as González Iñárritu ([he] also asserted that diversity in the U.S. is a key reason why the nation is powerful and vibrant and that movies should reflect that. … ‘Cinema is a mirror by which we often see ourselves,’ he added. ‘That’s the role we play as filmmakers. If that power is not transmitted on the screens, there’s something wrong.’”)Paris Barclay, president of the Directors Guild of America (DGA), and David White, executive director of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), along with Ken Howard, president of that group (who did include Elba in their Best Supporting Actor nominees), with all of these guild honchos further agreeing that the real transformation must come from film industry executives in terms of more diversity in the workforce and its ensuing product (White: “We do not have enough people of color in the pipeline of decision making.”).  Despite whatever understanding there may be about a boycott of the Oscars, though, Chris Rock will still be the host, although he’s not likely to be too good-natured about this controversy even as he uses humor as a weapon to support the cause of greater inclusion and diversity in terms of who’s making movies, who’s in them, and, ultimately, what they’re all about.

 Finally, on a considerably lighter note, I’ll remind you that in a previous posting I said you could visit the extensive Blue Cat scriptwriting site where you're welcome to read all 5 current Oscar nominations for Original Screenplay (Bridge of Spies [Steven Spielberg, 2015; review in our October 15, 2015 posting], Ex Machina, Inside Out [Pete Doctor and Ronnie Del Carmen, 2015, review in our July 2, 2015 posting], Spotlight, Straight Outta Compton); that same site’s now offering 4 of the 5 Oscar nominees for Adapted Screenplay (The Big Short, Brooklyn, Carol, Room; The Martian’s not available at this time) so if you’d rather explore something quite different from all of the rancor noted above about the Best Picture and the various Acting finalists you can see what written words the Academy's scriptwriter members feel best represent them in terms of the concepts and dialogue used to lay the creative foundations for what the production teams and performers bring to engaging-virtual-life on the screen.  The folks at Blue Cat also have the script for Steve Jobs, not an Oscar nominee but winner of the Golden Globe award for Best Screenplay overall, original or adapted (Globe voters also nominated—even though they didn’t choose—Carol for Motion Picture, Drama and Idris Elba for Best Supporting Actor, so maybe the Academy voters should go have a talk [over drinks, of course] with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for advice).  Happy reading to you, whether you prefer controversy, history, or art for its own sake.
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
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AND … at least until the Oscars for 2015’s releases have been awarded on Sunday, February 28, 2016 we’re also going to include reminders in each posting of very informative links where you can get updated tallies of which 2015 films made various individual critic’s  Top 10 lists and which ones have been nominated for and/or received various awards.  You may find the diversity among the various critics and the various awards competitions hard to reconcile at times—not to mention the often-significant-gap between critics’ choices and competition-award-winners (which usually pales in comparison to the even-more-noticeable-gap between box-office-success that you might want to monitor here, and the actual award-winners)—but as that less-than-enthusiastic-patron-of-the-arts, Plato, noted in The Symposium (385-380 BC)—roughly translated, depending on how accurate you wish the actual quote to be—“Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder,” so your choices are as valid as any of these others, especially if you can offer some rationale for your decisions (unlike many of the awards voters who simply fill out ballots, sometimes for films they’ve never seen).

To save you a little scrolling through the “various awards” list above, here are the Golden Globe winners for films and TV from 2015 and the Oscar nominees for 2015 film releases.

Here’s more information about Mustang: (2:18 featurette on the film prepared for its showing at the Directors Fortnight at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival; director Deniz Gamze Ergüven briefly explains her intentions with this story) 

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If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at  Thanks.

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile.    Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Anomalisa and The Hateful Eight

                     No Love Lost When There’s Little To Begin With    
                                Reviews by Ken Burke
 For this posting I’m exploring the latest (both R-rated) from 2 of Hollywood’s most-singular-filmmakers with the 1st being puppet-animation of serious states of adulthood (short of porno but with semi-graphic-sex), the 2nd being the dark side of the western genre without the nuances of Unforgiven (Clint Eastwood, 1992).  Both feature excellent performances by Jennifer Jason Leigh, both use unique production methods, both have received Oscar nominations, but otherwise there’s not much to connect them, so I’ll make no attempt at that.  I’ll also make no attempt at keeping this overall posting to my often-dreamed-of-shorter-length (“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here” [Dante Alighieri, Inferno from The Divine Comedy, 1306-1321]) because The Hateful Eight inspired me to do a review of epic proportions to match that movie’s length and production processes.

Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ insightful reviews.  Therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when you’re ready to be transported to … wherever we end up.  Please protect your eyes from the dazzling brilliance.
            Anomalisa (Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson)
A tale of misery presented in stop-motion-animation with the focus on Michael, a celebrated self-help-guru of the customer-service-industry who’s suffering a mental breakdown that causes him to perceive everyone else as being the same person; he’s shaken out of this paranoia by meeting Lisa at an event he’s the star of, allowing him a new perspective on love.
What Happens: (This film is produced in an amazing experience of stop-motion-puppet-animation, displayed in stunning widescreen images that rival those of The Hateful Eight; as with the pictures used in the next review, though, I've had to crop most that I've chosen in order to accommodate layout purposes here.)  In 2005, Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis) flies to Cincinnati to deliver a motivational-speech in support of his book, How May I Help You Help Them?, for his many fans in the customer-service-industry.  Sadly, he’s extremely depressed (a phone call home to wife Donna and young son Henry results in little connection except for the phone line itself) and paranoid (everyone around him seems to look and sound like a minor variation of the same person—with all of them, including his wife, voiced with subtle nuances by Tom Noonan, giving us the first clear clue here that either simply Michael’s in a gay marriage or that something strange is going on in this film, with the 2nd option being the most likely given that this story’s from the fertile—if somewhat warped—imagination of screenwriter Kaufman), not helped any by the fact that he walked out on a relationship with ex-girlfriend-Bella 10 years ago, he’s still got her angry letter about his abrupt departure (hearing the letter read in a male voice could have been another clue to
the almost-everyone-voicework of Noonan except that we might have been listening to  Michael re-read the letter to himself rather than hearing Bella speak it, but when she appears as a ghostly apparition in his Fregoli [the word refers to the belief that distinct individuals are actually the same person] Hotel bedroom still berating him for his past actions, still speaking in a male voice we know that Kaufman’s pulling some more of his certified-strangeness on us again), and she lives in Cincinnati so he can’t help but call to convince her to share a drink with him in the hotel bar.  We also get early clues as to why this animated film’s R-rated as we see Charlie take a pee (from the rear but the urine stream’s clearly visible between his legs), then later emerge from the shower in a full-frontal-nudity-shot (the characters have simplified human anatomy but his genitals are all in place), although more direct reasons for the rating are still to come (so to speak, although we get an early taste of that also when Michael looks out his window to see an office worker jerking off at his computer, an unexpected sight in any film let alone one done through puppet-animation).  

 Bella shows up, their conversation is still strained, then he suggests going up to his room (just to continue talking, he emphasizes) which she interprets as a sex implication so she leaves angrily.  He takes a distracted walk, accidently wandering into a sex toy store thinking there’s something to buy there for his kid, then becomes mesmerized by a partial-body-limited-movement-Japanese-robot-woman whose mouth is likely for more than just voicing her pleasant pre-recorded-song.

 Later that night after showering (marvelous imagery in the steam on the door, as you can see above in the photo at the beginning of this review) he seems to hear a female voice (Bella, I assume he assumes), so he races around the hall barely dressed, knocking on doors until he comes upon 2 women, Lisa Hesselman and her friend Emily, in town to attend his lecture, both of them highly enamored of him, soon joining him back in the bar for more drinks which then leads to an invitation for Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh, in much more pleasant tones than she utters in The Hateful Eight) to join him in his room which she shyly accepts, not understanding why he doesn’t prefer the more attractive, vivacious (randy, really) Emily instead of her (she’s also ashamed of a facial scar but you rarely see it, hidden by her hairstyle).  He’s suddenly enamored with her (Lisa's breakthrough into his closed world explains why she has a voice unlike everyone else), enough so that they’re soon in his bed, first with him doing oral sex on her, followed by full missionary-position-action, all with movements that are naturally-fluid as you’re constantly questioning how these are puppets are coming to life one film-frame at a time.  Michael then has a nightmare that the basement-dwelling-hotel manager and his roomful of secretaries are pleading with Michael to abandon Lisa for any of them; upon awakening for an in-room-breakfast with her, though, he starts criticizing everything about her even as she’s already promised to run off with him so he begins to hear Noonan’s voice overlap Leigh’s.  Later at the lecture he suffers an almost complete meltdown, spouting all sorts of unwelcome utterances as well as frequently admitting his loneliness even while trying feverishly to return to his script.  

 Suddenly, Lisa seems forgotten about (except in a final scene; she’s still in Ohio, writing a letter to him about how he’s given her new-found confidence, hoping they might meet again someday), Michael’s back home where he’s withdrawn at his own surprise party, still distant from Donna, and his son’s confused by the Japanese doll as a present especially when it starts oozing semen.

 So What? To make sure that we feel almost as uncomfortable as Michael while watching this film, all of the people presented to us appear somewhat as self-sufficient-robots (a clear comment on the non-human-sense of creepy, enforced existence that’s come to overwhelm our protagonist) the puppets all show seams on their faces so we see them as constructed entities (during his nightmare Michael’s running through the hotel hallway when the bottom part of what seems to be his mask falls off, revealing what appears to be the mechanical being underneath), although these puppets aren’t nearly as haphazardly-constructed as those distracting faces imply as you can appreciate from this short film on how they were created by sculptor Carol Koch.  In fact, their movements and other aspects of this film (justifiably nominated for Oscar’s Best Animated Feature, where it’s competing with Pixar’s Inside Out [Pete Doctor and Renaldo Del Carmen, 2015; review in our July 2, 2015 posting]), such as the clouds whisking by Michael’s airplane as he heads warily to his Ohio destination, are just fabulous to watch, although their unique visualization is what gives substance to this story because if you were just seeing all of these mundane conversations and actions (even the sex, while enjoyed by the participants, is much more functional than erotic although it’s likely the best that Michael or Lisa has experienced in quite some time) performed by live actors in an actual environment you’d be bored silly—which is clearly part of the intention in exploring the dreary life of this most unhappy man and his inferiority-complex-ridden-sudden-new-love, but it would still get tiresome to watch just to make a narrative statement (likewise, Andy Warhol’s early experimental films were just repeated visions of mundane actions—Mylar balloons bouncing around, someone getting a haircut, light moving over the Empire State Building through the course of a day—which made their point as part of his explorations of turning the ordinary into art but they get tedious to watch after the concept’s been established).   

 Yet, when Anomalisa’s flat events are portrayed in this exquisite-animation-format they become fascinating to watch because of the situations having such life through puppets even as those puppets seem to be falling apart from the inside out—little wonder with Michael who smokes and drinks enough to make anybody, or any body, mentally and physically decrepit—(just as their flesh-and-blood-counterparts would do in a similar-but-stronger-scenario by Ingmar Bergman, although that kind of emotional deconstruction wouldn’t come with a face part literally falling off an actor).

 Bottom Line Final Comments: As feature films go, Anomalisa’s rather brief (90  min.) so I’ve kept my comments somewhat in the same manner (given that I’ve run on practically into the next month with The Hateful Eight as you’ll soon see); however, that doesn’t mean that it’s ordinary or not worth your time.  (If anything, I’m trying to give you as much in a verbal mode as I can about … Eight so that you can rest content with my version if you don’t care to spend extra time and money on a 3-hour, 70mm-projection-version of the latest Tarantino bloodletting—or just don’t care to see that much life-fluid flung all over a cabin—Come on!  You’ve been warned about spoilers, just like you know what you’re always going to get from spatter-master-Quentin, whereas Anomalisa’s something that you can only approximate so closely with words but you really need to see to fully appreciate.)  Kaufman began this concept as a hybrid-radio-theatre-play in that it was performed on stage (written under the pen name of Francis Fregoli) with 3 actors, separated from each other considerably in the performance space, each reading their lines from a script, so that the distance between them (especially in the sex scene) becomes further commentary on the dead souls of Michael and Lisa (so, I have to assume, that even the enlivening that she briefly shares with Michael in the film is implied to be a hollow victory in the play version of this story).  At least for a little while in the film, Michael truly feels that he’s found something worthwhile in Lisa, an “anomaly” in his depressed life, leading to the compound-name he creates for her.  As his attention to her begins to unwrap her scared, protective sheath she becomes authentic in her a cappella rendition of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” (from the 1983 She’s So Unusual album, a likely candidate for this film’s Musical Metaphor but it speaks only to her brief flowering, not to Michael’s ongoing misery so I’ve got another idea for that regular Two Guys feature; still, if you want to give that song a listen here's Cyndi), but Michael’s fascination and transfer of interest from Bella to Donna (interesting juxtaposition of words; with Kaufman I can’t believe it’s coincidental) to Lisa is short-lived as he begins to attack his new love-interest, then becomes a shambles during his well-publicized, likely-well-paid-speech which is clearly a horrible experience for his stunned audience.

 Whatever Michael had that worked better for him in the past, certainly during the more functional times with Bella and however he got over that breakup to court and win his present wife, seems to have disappeared from his conscious-self-understanding now so that he’s constantly lost to himself, frequently miserable, and often desperate for some relief from an existence where his greatest accomplishment seems to have coming up with strategies to make other people feel better, all the while pining for some sense of self-satisfaction that will likely never emerge as long as he thinks that his boy would be fascinated with a derelict sex toy.  Michael’s life seems to be an unsuccessful (although fascinatingly-explored in the film's presentation) search for righting some long-ago-wrongs in hopes of someday finding himself back on a path of self-acceptance, the first step toward some needed experience of true happiness.  While he (hopelessly?) waits, I’ll suggest that he at least hum along with my actual Musical Metaphor for Anomalisa, the Beatles’ “Yesterday” (on the 1965 Help! album in the U.K., 1966 Yesterday and Today album in the U.S.) at https://www., from a concert in Germany sometime in the mid-1960s with Paul McCartney singing his most-successful-tune-of-all-time backed by his Liverpool mates (unfortunately these video images are stretched from standard 4 x 3 video format to a wider screen space here [to prevent those side video black bars noted in the So What? section of The Hateful Eight review below, visible in the Lauper video noted above] which has the advantage of filling the entire screen, the disadvantage of giving a distracting, distorted image); or, if you’d prefer a live version more like the record with just McCartney backed by recorded orchestral strings (I’ll assume his guitar playing and singing are live; the screams from the audience certainly are), here’s that version at (still black & white but correct format).

 Finally, though, I couldn’t help but include—I think Charlie Kaufman would really appreciate this—another video that now consists of just Beatles images with no soundtrack (yet oddly labeled as an “Official Video”?) because the song was removed in response to a copyright violation complaint so it’s certainly the most conceptually-goofy-YouTube posting I’ve ever seen in that the pictures only existed originally to illustrate the music so when you take away the song … I guess you just end up with an illustration of the sad meaninglessness of Michael Stone’s dead-end-existence.  Anomalisa’s a bleak film about an increasingly-unexamined-life, but one worth watching if not living.
                          The Hateful Eight (Quentin Tarantino)
Set in post-Civil War Wyoming, we meet 2 famous bounty hunters—one with a murderous captive on the way to her hanging—and a new sheriff all with the same destination, but a blizzard forces their stagecoach to take refuge at an isolated stopover where they encounter several others with odd stories, setting us up for this director’s standard violent results.
What Happens: Because Tarantino divides his plot into chapters announced by on-screen-graphics, I’ll follow his lead in this summary, beginning with Chapter One: Last Stage to Red Rock.  
We find ourselves in snow-bound-country sometime not that long after the Civil War where former Union Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) is now a bounty hunter carrying the dead bodies of 3 wanted men to Red Rock, Wyoming to collect his reward; however, his horse dies so he has to flag down a stagecoach occupied by another well-known bounty hunter, John Ruth (Kurt Russell)—“The Hangman,” known for bringing his charges to justice alive so that he can see them die in public— handcuffed to his prisoner, Daisy Domergue (Leigh), a nasty creature often with a bloody face from Ruth’s quick responses to her offensive (sometimes racist) comments but with a $10,000 price on her head that he wants to protect.  Warren and Ruth know of each other, with the latter impressed by a letter the former carries, written to him personally by now-deceased-President Abraham Lincoln (by the way, the Major’s corpses get lashed to the top of their vehicle for the ride into Red Rock)Chapter Two: Son of a Gun The Civil War is further evoked when the stagecoach is again stopped by another guy with a dead horse (winter’s no fun in these olden-days of the Great Northwest), Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), another blatant racist who also claims to be the new sheriff of Red Rock (he’ll get his star when they arrive), so he’ll be overseeing Daisy’s demise; Ruth’s distrustful of him as not really being a lawman because he’s the son of a Southern renegade whose marauders continued to bring chaos in the conquered territories after the end of the Civil War so he makes an alliance with Warren, but Mannix tells the other passengers how Warren once escaped a Southern prison by burning it down, killing 47 Rebel soldiers but also 37 other Northern prisoners, so we’re left with disturbed-feelings about both of these men (as well as Daisy; John Ruth’s the only semi-decent-one of the bunch despite his willingness to bloody a woman’s face).

 Chapter Three: Minnie’s Haberdashery The stagecoach can’t make it to Red Rock because a terrible blizzard is closing in fast so they stop at Minnie’s Haberdashery, a purposely-misnamed general store/bar, but none of Minnie’s normal crew is there because they’re off visiting Minnie’s mother says Señor Bob (Demián Bichir), a caretaker unknown to Ruth despite his many travels over this trail.  Here our previous passengers find others who came in on another stagecoach earlier that day: Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), the local hangman also on the way to Red Rock for Daisy’s “benefit”; Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), a cowboy back in a corner writing his memoirs; former Confederate General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern), sitting quietly by the fireplace.  Ruth’s suspicious of all of them due to his concerns about an accomplice trying to free Daisy so he disarms everyone except the Major, with driver O.B. Jackson (James Parks) required to make a miserable journey through the storm to the outhouse to dispose of the weapons.  Trouble soon arises within this stranded group as Mannix accuses Warren of passing off a forged Lincoln letter as authentic which the Major admits—to Ruth’s angry chagrin—as it helps him “disarm white folks” who still see him as inferior despite his outstanding war record in the cavalry (the mitigating factor that spared him punishment for his lost colleagues’ lives during that fiery escape).  Warren, though, turns his attention to the General as they were on opposing side during the Battle of Baton Rouge where Warren’s aware of how Smithers executed a group of captured former-slaves/Union soldiers rather than marching them to a proper prison; he then goads Smithers into trying to kill him with a pistol he provides by recounting how he found Smithers’ son out West, marched him naked through miles of snow, then forced him to perform oral sex on the Major before killing him.  Smithers goes for the gun but Warren kills him, bringing us to a most-welcome-Intermission.

 Chapter Four: Domergue’s Got a Secret As this part of the story begins we have an off-screen-narrator (Tarantino) who tells us that during the killing of Smithers someone slipped poison into the coffee pot; Ruth and O.B. drink it, then start spitting blood immediately (which causes Mannix to put down his untouched cup).  Furious Ruth, still handcuffed to Daisy, starts attacking her, even while spewing blood on the woman (Leigh gets a lot of dreadful makeup in this movie), only to die by her hand as she grabs his pistol (spraying a lot more blood on herself in the process).  Warren disarms her, leaves her chained to Ruth’s corpse, then demands confessions from the others (except Mannix, cleared because he almost drank the poison, and Bob, who was playing “Silent Night” on the piano during Warren’s exposition to Smithers about his son’s demise).  One confession he doesn’t need is Bob’s because Warren knows that Minnie would never hire a Mexican (even the minor players have some hate going here, despite Minnie being Black); therefore, he decides Bob must have killed Minnie (Dana Gourrier) and her husband, Sweet Dave (Gene Jones), which calls for returning the favor even against an unarmed man, as Warren finally blasts Bob’s head to smithereens.  Upon Warren’s threat to shoot Daisy Gage admits to the poisoning but just then a hidden man in the cellar shoots through the floor, badly wounding Warren in the groin while Mobray fires his hidden gun at Mannix who shoots back, wounding Oswaldo.  Chapter Five: The Four Passengers Here we see in flashback how Bob (actually Marco the Mexican), Mobray (English Pete Hicox), Gage (Grouch Douglass), and Daisy’s brother, Jody (Channing Tatum), came to Minnie’s earlier that day, killed everyone in the place except Smithers (whom they’ll spare if he plays along with their collective false stories), dumped their bodies down the well, hid some guns around the room, then Jody hid himself as the others awaited the arrive of Ruth and his famous prisoner.

 Last Chapter: Black Man, White Hell Warren and Mannix are badly wounded, the Major especially bleeding profusely, but they still have Daisy, Gage, and the dying Mobray under control so again they threaten to shoot Daisy, forcing Jody up from the cellar only to be instantly shot.  Daisy tries to bargain with Mannix, telling him that 15 other members of the fierce Domergue gang are waiting in Red Rock to free her and kill him or destroy the town if she’s harmed; however, if he’ll kill Warren she’ll let the sheriff-elect live to claim his job.  As he's refusing, Gage makes a play with a hidden gun but is killed by Warren and Mannix; the latter then collapses from blood loss just as the former runs out of bullets so Daisy crawls to a knife hanging on the wall, cuts herself free from Ruth, and is about to finish off her adversaries when Mannix revives to wound her.  Warren and Mannix then hang her from the rafters in Ruth’s honor, after which they lay dying (Mobray’s already gone by this point, providing a “clean sweep” of the surrounding characters) as Mannix reads Warren’s “Lincoln” letter, leaving us to wonder for sure which of the 10 main characters (not counting Minnie’s group nor the stagecoach driver who had the unlucky fate of transporting the “four passengers”) are actually the 8 “hateful” ones, although O.B. seems to be innocent of the lying, homicidal tendencies of the others which leaves me with the possible assumption that Ruth—despite his physical abuse of Daisy at various times throughout the story, along with a bit of mental abuse as he allows her to play a song on a guitar but afterward smashes it against a post—is not to be considered as “hateful” as the others because his intention is to bring outlaws to justice, then see them executed by legal means rather than take the safer route of killing them (as Major Warren does), in that his reward is the same whether they’re “dead or alive.”  

 That’s a judgment call, though (you might choose gang-leader-Jody as the other non-"hateful" one—as does the movie’s poster that I used with this review's 1st paragraph—because he’s not on screen much compared to the others but we still see enough to know there’s nothing benign about him so I don’t think the question’s settled yet), which I’ll leave to you as to who might be considered relatively “innocent” in this cluster of souls all unlikely to win any congeniality awards (again, except for O.B.—notice he's not named S.O.B.—who’s generally a decent guy when he’s not freezing cold or having to kick the cabin door in [it was damaged earlier, so any time anyone enters or exits they have to nail it shut with a couple of boards to overcome the awesome power of the howling wind]).

So What? The Hateful Eight is the 1st theatrically-released-motion picture to use the Ultra Panavision 70 process (where the negative is exposed through an anamorphic lens onto 65mm-wide-filmstock, then printed for projection on 70mm stock [to accommodate 6 tracks of stereo sound] allowing the final image to appear extremely-widescreen into a ratio of 2.76 wide to 1 high) since last done 50 years ago.  Ultra Panavision 70 dates back to a method called MGM Camera 65, first used for Raintree County (Edward Dmytryk, 1957); the last one of the few done this way—with the most famous movie using this process (still called by its MGM name at the time) being the 11-Oscar-winning Ben-Hur (William Wyler, 1959 [a feat matched only by Titanic {James Cameron, 1997} and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King {Peter Jackson, 2003—this last one unique in getting every award it was nominated for])—was Khartoum (Basil Dearden, 1966), which, like The Hateful Eight today (when shown in the 70mm format), was displayed with the single-projector Cinerama system (which replaced the original 3-camera, 3-projector Cinerama approach after its initial appearance in the early 1950s).  If you’d like to learn more about the complexities of image-projection-ratios this site is well-explained, with lots of images and clips about screen ratios from the earliest 1.33:1 for movies and TV to today’s 1.78:1 (some call it 1.77:1) standard wide-screen-TV, while this one follows up on that with practical considerations that show what happens when you mix contemporary TV ratios for what you see on screen—4:3 (1.33:1, the standard for years so that older reruns still come this way), 16:9 (1.78:1, the new standard, although most films since the 1960s tend to be a little or a lot wider so either they’re cropped to fit or have black video bands at the top and bottom to accommodate the original ratio of the cinema format), 21:9 (2.33:1, allows up to the usually-widest-cinema formats, except the extremes such as with Ultra Panavision 70 [which would also have to be letterboxed with black bands at top and bottom], but with normal contemporary cinema [1.85:1] or older movies/TV [1.33:1] you’d end up with black bands on the sides because the film/video images wouldn’t be as wide as this newer concept for home TV).  

 If you want to pursue this image-ratio-business in even more depth and detail, you can also see an easy comparison of the increasingly-wider formats of film from the oldest Academy ratio 
(1.33:1 or 1.37:1) up to Ultra Panavision 70 (2.76:1) as well as an image-by-image-comparison of these formats with an illustrative visual for each one, all of which might help you better appreciate The Hateful Eight’s dynamic use of extremely-wide-retro-imagery, just like back in the 1960s.

 Please note, though, that, unlike all of the others shown in that last link above, Abel Gance’s 1927 Polyvision and the original version of Cinerama, beginning in 1952, used 3 projectors; also, don’t be fooled by the relative size of these images that you see at the VashiVisuals site because the closer to a square they are—that is, 1.0 in width because all of the ratios used in this link just give the width number (assuming the standard 1.0 for height)—the bigger they’ll appear in those examples because what's presented in those illustrations doesn't conform to a standard 1 unit of height for each picture used, so when projected the wider screen ratios will appear much bigger to your eyes and brain—especially the closer you sit to the screen—as your peripheral vision becomes engulfed rather than just trailing off into the surrounding darkness.  As an illustration of this, note that the IMAX example in that last link above (ratio of 1.43:1) is close to the old Edison/Academy ratios of 1.33 or 1.37 to 1 so the image on this site looks about the same size as those earlier movie formats but it actually achieves its true presence in theaters by running 70mm film horizontally through a projector rather than the usual vertical direction so the projected image can be massive yet still retain detail while totally filling your entire field of view (as shown in the photo example with this paragraph).  A final note on this topic is a short video on the 70mm projection system used to show Tarantino’s movie, allowing us to see the huge physical presence of 70mm film on platters rather than the ubiquitous-contemporary-process of projection of movie images from a computer hard drive through a very-high-end-video projector.

Grand Lake Theatre, photo copyright Tom Palva 1991
 Another aspect of older, final-days-of-studio-dominated-cinema (despite the continued existence of most all of the famous-glory-days-companies, which serve now more as cinematic-distribution-giants rather than the old model of production empires with huge staffs of contract players and technical wizards—except for the special-effects-houses such as Industrial Light and Magic and Skywalker Sound, offshoots of George Lucas’ massive success with the Star Wars and Indiana Jones series) revived by Tarantino with The Hateful Eight is the concept of the roadshow or limited-release film, a concept that goes way back into the silent-film-days then up through mainly the 1960s with a good number of “prestige pictures” (the most famous of which is likely Gone with the Wind [Victor Fleming, 1939]) where you would normally get a musical overture (starting the experience immediately, with no previews, etc. so be on time for the announced start of The Hateful Eight if you'r going), an intermission (or “Entr’acte”), and exit music (all of which was intended to encourage a sense of a prestigious Broadway play, especially in the 1950s-‘60s era when movies were attempting to re-establish themselves as a unique entertainment experience in contrast to the sudden competition from TV)—these enhancements, along with printed programs and the absence of standard filler such as previews, newsreels, cartoons, etc., also helped justify the higher prices for such showings, with all of these practices continuing today in the venues where The Hateful Eight is being shown under such extravagant, throwback conditions (which I experienced in the marvelous Oakland, CA Grand Lake Theatre—a marvelous palace of cinematic yesteryear still providing a glorious filmgoing-experience [no payola here, just a respectful plug]).  

 The real question, though, about Tarantino’s latest offering is whether it holds up as a 3 hr. 12 min. experience (including 3 min. of intro music, 16 min. of intermission [seemingly much-appreciated by the crowd I saw it with, at least half of whom rushed out to the restrooms and/or concession stands], and the standard cluster of exit music but now linked in The Hateful Eight to all of the enormous lists of closing credits [from the Third Assistant Hairstylist to the Caterer’s Brother-in-Law—I joke, but you know these final acknowledgements have gotten this extreme in their unending-detail]) or whether, like Anomalisa, it needs its unconventionlal format to even justify its existence.

 One thing that can’t be questioned is the exquisite beauty of the 70mm projection, which helps celluloid-appreciative-audiences recapture what’s now marginally-available in 4K imagery either in home TV or the occasional theatrical release (with Visitors [Godfrey Reggio, 2014; review in our March 6, 2014 posting] still being the most stunning example I’ve seen of this latest technological-upgrade in a movie theater) as the larger space of the negative allows for a striking sense of sharpness even as the image is expanded across the entire width of its screen but also allows for a marvelous spectrum of tints and shades of its various hues, giving a vibrant sense of light and color to images that are often lost in other movies under the filtration of 3-D-glasses or just simply the inherent technology of now-standard-video-projection (frequent Comments [very far below, final element of each Two Guys posting] contributor Richard Parker noted to me that he’s seen The Hateful Eight in both 70mm and digital projection, with the former being far superior so we both encourage you to seek it out in that format wherever you can [here’s a list of theaters in the U.S. and Canada where you should be able to find these special Roadshow screenings but don’t hesitate in making your plans because who knows how long it may still be showing in each location]; also, look in the Comments section of Two Guys' January 14, 2016 posting to find a couple more 70mm-related-links from Richard to help round out your understanding of the unique experience that Tarantino has delivered for us here).  If you can get to one of these special venues, however, remember that you’ll likely be paying 3-D-level-prices (maybe more), with the further considerations that this guy’s movies don’t get R’s as a ratings-board-whimsy because there’s plenty of bloody violence (along with other likely-offensive-aspects including abundant use of the n_____ word) and that nagging question from the end of my previous paragraph: Is this a story that really engages you or is it just a lengthy waiting period to see who gets shot next, given interest mainly because of its revived-shooting/projection-format coupled to a unique-attendance-aura?

Bottom Line Final Comments: My answer to the above question is that—just like with Anomalisa—the story of The Hateful Eight as presented here definitely needs its enhanced-presentational-mode to maintain its interest level because without those additional-accouterments I’d find little reason to sit through 3-hours of something that seems like a twisted mashup of Stagecoach (John Ford, 1939—dangerous travel through the wilderness, confining isolation), Key Largo (John Huston, 1948—characters held hostage at gunpoint as weather conditions deteriorate), and Unforgiven (Clint Eastwood, 1992—vicious racist allusions, an ending that reinforces the concept of “Deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it”), flavored with touches of Greed (Eric von Stroheim, 1924—characters handcuffed together even though one’s dead) and Murder on the Orient Express (Sidney Lumet, 1974—as the … Eight’s title indicates, hardly anyone in this current cast is really an innocent party), especially once the hidden revelations have been made (through a Pulp Fiction [Tarantino, 1994]-time-dislocation-trope to let us in on the plot’s primary secret that completely changes how we must reconsider much of what we thought was occurring prior to Chapter Five).  It makes for an interesting mystery structure, given Ruth's suspicion from the very beginning of the story that someone’s in cahoots with Daisy to free her, a concern that becomes fact when a narrator suddenly appears in Chapter Four to reveal the coffee-poisoning but once that’s all cleared up in Chapter Five (thereby erasing any remaining mystery about why Gage was the poisoner or who’s in the basement to have shot Major Warren) it just becomes a waiting game to see who—if anyone—will survive to the end of this usual-Tarantino-bloodbath (but not nearly as gory as Django Unchained [2012; review in our December 30, 2012 posting], if you’re still trying to decide if you want to see all of this interpersonal-assault for yourself).

 As a delayed-follow-up to watching Trumbo (Jay Roach, 2015; review in our December 2, 2015 posting), Nina and I recently got the Netflix discs for Spartacus (Stanley Kubrick, 1960) and Exodus (Otto Preminger, 1960)—to see what this notorious screenwriter provided for those films—both of them also in this extended-length-presentation-mode (the former with the traditional roadshow overture and intermission; maybe our disc for the latter didn’t include these additions so I can’t say how it was shown back then), where you could also tell that many scenes are simply allowed to amble along to help create that running time, whereas all of these stories could have been cut down to a more concise couple of hours or so except for beefing them up to the longer structure in order to provide the cinematic-equivalent of a “night at the theatre,” making what might start out as a rather-ordinary-movie into an entertainment event of greater weight (For example, in … Eight, did we really need to watch O.B. and Chris build the railing-trail to Minnie's outhouse?  Couldn't we just know that it needed to be constructed so they could find this important destination during the snowstorm?); therefore if you’re simply getting Tarantino’s long film with regular projection (but hopefully still an intermission; although, unlike with a 3-hour story that truly commands your attention all the way through, such as The Godfather [Francis Ford Coppola, 1972], with … Eight I think you could determine your own break, as long as it’s not during Chapter Five) 
you might have good reason to wonder what’s so compelling here because you already know (to borrow a title from a much more intense, more involving option from a few years ago) “there will be blood” (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007). Tarantino’s a crafty screenwriter who comes up with very intriguing characters (including a good number of them here, although Joe and Jody don’t get to show off nearly as much as the other members of the primary cast), now put in the context of varying aspects of suspense played out in well-choreographed-long-take-scenes but so far response has been mixed (about $48.5 million gross after 4 weeks in release, falling fast in terms of income and venues; critical response is decent but not great—75% positive reviews at Rotten Tomatoes, 69% at Metacritic [more details in the links far below]), with Police Benevolent Association president Patrick J. Lynch claiming credit for the low grosses due to their nationwide-boycott in retaliation for Tarantino’s support of anti-police-protests (“… when I see murder, I cannot stand by.”) although this is countered by Forbes' Scott Mendelson who dismisses Lynch by noting the movie’s income is consistent with most of Tarantino’s output and the lack of a controversial theme in relation to Inglourious Basterds (2009) and Django … (as well as, in his opinion, no stars of the magnitude of, respectively, Brad Pitt and Leo DiCaprio from these more-controversial-Tarantino-offerings).

 A factor in favor, though, is support from the Oscar nominators who’ve included it for Best Supporting Actress (Leigh), Cinematography (Robert Richardson), and Original Score (from heavily-awarded Ennio Morricone of “spaghetti western” fame—working in those days with Sergio Leone—and many other notable soundtracks).  But, speaking of protests, I’m curious to see what Samuel L. Jackson has to say about the supposed-boycott of this year’s Oscars, attributed to Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith—even though Spike says he was misquoted and isn’t calling for such action; he's just not going to attend—not only about the total absence of Oscar-nominations for actors and directors of color (cases in point that some others have mentioned in print: Creed [2015; review in our December 2, 2015 posting], which reboots the Rocky franchise, scores a Supporting Actor opportunity for White Sylvester Stallone while director Ryan Coogler and main actor Michael B. Jordan, both Black, aren’t recognized in any nominated manner; neither do we find many movie thematics last year that are not focused on White people’s problems [both Sicario {Denis Villeneuve, 2015; review in our October 15, 2015 posting}—about the drug wars in Mexico, featuring a strong performance by Benicio Del Toro—and Beasts of No Nation {Cary Fukunaga, 2015; review in our November 5, 2015 posting}—about children conscripted to be soldiers in African civil wars, featuring a strong, frequently-nomination-predicted performance by Idris Elba {who did get Supporting Actor nods from the Screen Actors Guild and many critics’ groups}—came up empty, although I should note that Straight Outta Compton {F. Gary Gray, 2015; review in our August 20, 2015 posting}, about the rise and demise of the controversial rap group, NWA, did get nominated for Best Original Screenplay]) but also the much larger problem of non-White-themed stories and non-White-actors (and actresses, if you prefer the distinction) getting few chances to even be seen in notable roles on screen if the concept in question hasn’t been originated by Tyler Perry (last part of that last comment just from me, not Lee nor Pinkett Smith; there’ll be a lot written about this situation in coming weeks I’m sure, but to get you started here’s an opinion piece from San Francisco Chronicle film critic Mick LaSalle, agreeing [as do I] with the premises of why non-Whites in Hollywood and beyond might consider an anti-Oscar boycott: “You can’t give an Oscar to performances that have never happened and to movies that don’t exist.”).

 Now, as we get back (hypothetically, at least) to Jackson and his possible thoughts on this talk of an Oscar boycott—if such a decisive-action is actually happening—(along the lines of the proposed-protest, Sam himself is not nominated for … Eight, although co-star Leigh is; however, a stronger argument can be made for her announced-category-recognition than his as a possible Best Actor given his ongoing-interactive-situation within a large group of characters where there are many strong presences vs. hers being truly a supporting role with mainly one memorable scene [whereas someone like Rooney Mara {Carol (Todd Haynes, 2015; review in our January 11, 2016 posting)} has been promoted as a co-star so as to not cancel out the equally-powerful-presence {and possibly-more-likely-vote-getting-potential} of Kate Blanchett as Best Actress for that film], while a movie like Creed [from the notations above] had limited shots at Best Director and/or Best Actor anyway because of extremely strong competition this year, just as Will Smith was impactful in Concussion [Peter Landessman, 2015; review in our January 7, 2016 posting] but really couldn’t bump any of the final 5 chosen for Best Actor consideration), I’ll bet that he privately feels Spike, Jada, and others now expressing similar sentiments have a legitimate point but I doubt that we’ll hear too much support for this action from Sam Jackson, claimed to be the actor with the best-box-office-record of all time (those Star Wars prequels [George Lucas 1999, 2002, 2005] helped a lot), although most often in ensemble casts, as in The Hateful Eight, rather than as the principal star.

 So, after I’ve rambled on about Tarantino’s latest for about as long as it would take for you to watch it, what can I choose as a relevant Musical Metaphor?  He’s already beaten me to it with his own choice to accompany his end credits of Roy Orbison singing “There Won’t Be Many Coming Home” (from Roy’s only feature-film-acting-role—the star, no less—in The Fastest Guitar Alive [Michael D. Moore, 1967], as a Southern spy in the Civil War [with a bullet-shooting-guitar, of course] attempting to rob gold bullion from the San Francisco Mint to finance the Confederacy’s failing rebellion; Orbison also provided other original songs for that movie’s soundtrack album) at, an opportunity to hear the song, with lyrics provided in subtitles, but no accompanying video except an illustration from The Hateful Eight (with its story where there won’t be anybody coming home, although at least their bodies may be preserved due to the blizzard conditions until the next stagecoach happens upon Minnie’s Haberdashery).  However, in addition to the remembrances that might be had by some for the fallen among the 8 (in whatever manner you care to count them), I’ll bring in an extra Musical Metaphor here that not only has some relevance toward Tarantino’s characters but also serves as another mini-tribute (after the one for also-departed-David Bowie in my previous posting) to another
recently-deceased-great-musician (Roy’s gone too, but way back in 1988), Glenn Frey, co-founder, guitarist, vocalist, and active songwriter for The Eagles (one of my most-favorite-groups) so in remembrance of him 
(and the 3 concerts of his famed band that I was lucky enough to see) I’ll offer his co-written (with Don Henley) “Desperado” (from the 1973 album of the same name) at https: // watch?v=U-Ho55IVy G4 (from Houston in 1976, a concert I “desper"ately wanted to attend but missed; Henley does the lead vocal, but it’s appropriate for him to serenade bandmate Frey [sorry about the dark imagery, but maybe that’s appropriate too]) as it easily speaks to Tarantino’s "hateful" crowd (who apparently never “let somebody love” them “before it [was] too late”) but also a bit to Frey whose wild-child days of the 1970s may have eventually helped take the final toll on his body (an always-sobering-reality-reminder when anyone dies but especially someone a year younger than me), so, Glenn, even though “you ain’t gettin’ no younger” at least “there’s a rainbow above you” to help you celebrate “These things that are pleasin’ you” in some better existence, I hope.  Farewell!  (By the way, readers, in case you've never scrolled down to the very bottom of these postings I encourage you to do that in order to find my ever-present-link to The Eagles' "Hotel California" [lyrics by Frey and Henley, music by Don Felder], another memorable song connected to Glenn, probably the best the group ever recorded.)

 That’s all from me this time (yes, I accept your applause), although if you have some extra time on your hands until I come roaring back again you might be interesting in comparing the actual Oscar nominees (located in one of the links just below here) with the predictions of several film industry experts for each of the Academy’s standard 24 categories.  Once you’re done with that you can go here (at least I think you can; I signed up for this site quite some time ago but you may need to do likewise in order to access it) to read the 2015 Oscar-nominated-Best Original Screenplays:  Bridge of Spies, Ex Machina, Inside Out, Spotlight, and Straight Outta Compton.  (You might also be interested in the winners of the Critics' Choice Awards, from the national Broadcast Film Critics Association [BFCA], which I reported in our December 31, 2015 posting in the So What? section of the review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens [J.J. Abrams, 2015] are usually much better predictors of Oscar winners than are the Golden Globes so I’m still hopeful to see Spotlight [Tom McCarthy; review in our November 19, 2016] with that little gold guy when February 28, 2016 rolls around).
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:

We encourage you to visit the summary of Two Guys reviews for our past posts.  Other overall notations for this blog—including Internet formatting craziness beyond our control—may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepageIf you’d like to Like us on Facebook please visit our Facebook page. We appreciate your support whenever and however you can offer it!

AND … at least until the Oscars for 2015’s releases have been awarded on Sunday, February 28, 2016 we’re also going to include reminders in each posting of very informative links where you can get updated tallies of which 2015 films made various individual critic’s Top 10 lists and which ones have been nominated for and/or received various awards.  You may find the diversity among the various critics and the various awards competitions hard to reconcile at times—not to mention the often-significant-gap between critics’ choices and competition-award-winners (which usually pales in comparison to the even-more-noticeable-gap between box-office-success that you might want to monitor here, and the actual award-winners)—but as that less-than-enthusiastic-patron-of-the-arts, Plato, noted in The Symposium (385-380 BC)—roughly translated, depending on how accurate you wish the actual quote to be—“Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder,” so your choices are as valid as any of these others, especially if you can offer some rationale for your decisions (unlike many of the awards voters who simply fill out ballots, sometimes for films they’ve never seen).

To save you a little scrolling through the “various awards” list above, here are the Golden Globe winners for films and TV from 2015 and the Oscar nominees for 2015 film releases.

Here’s more information about Anomalisa: (33:42 interview with co-directors Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson; be aware that there are some inconsistent problems with the audio—it’s distracting but you still get most of the intended information)

Here’s more information about The Hateful Eight: (31:45 interview with director Quentin Tarantino)

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If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at  Thanks.

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile.    Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.