By Jake Howell jake.howell@utoronto.ca

From Cannes, 90 Seconds Of HATEFUL 8

In 2012, when there was a Django Unchained banner resting high above the Croisette, it felt like a poorly-kept secret that The Weinstein Company would be showing extended footage of Tarantino’s 7th film (this is after a few weeks of speculation that the film would be ready for Cannes, until it wasn’t).

And sneak us some Django they did. Three years ago, that event was more intimate—and more pertinently, the event was smaller. That year TWC showed only three films: The Master, Silver Linings Playbook, and then a number of memorable scenes from Django, and by the time it was over, everyone was pretty ramped up. And recall that all three films of those films were strong.

Weinstein’s panel this year showed sneak peek teasers of ten titles: Adam Jones, Southpaw, Carol, No Escape, The Little Prince, Macbeth, Tulip Fever, Hands of Stone, Lion, and The Hateful Eight.

By the end of it, with each one of them more or less informing us of the respective Academy Award winning/nominated talent (I mean, it’s Weinstein, c’mon), the films and trailer beats began to merge together as a shrug-worthy reel of “yup, those are movies alright,” and realistically very little stood out, including The Hateful Eight, which I’m up front about being in the tank for when it eventually hits my eyeballs.

Impressions: they’re hard and probably reductive, especially when we’re only given 90 seconds. I realize now that I wrote none for Tarantino’s film, because I was glued to the screen for as much information as possible. Still, nothing much to glean. The teaser opened with Samuel L. Jackson saying to a mysterious carriage, “Got room for one more?” which spoke to me as a line coming from QT himself, somehow; as if he’s trying to make sure he hasn’t overstayed his welcome with Django being universally understood as too long.

Yeah, man, we got room for one more. Don’t start writing novels just yet.

But realistically: this Hateful Eight footage was almost 100% dialogue. Basically zero violence. And in terms of lines, I didn’t hear anything that was really humming or notable—is that a bad sign? Hard to say. Previous trailers don’t have that issue. But Tarantino staples, like a pointed gun under a wooden table, were certainly back (though I’ll say that particular image felt like a retreading), and the tagline “Eight strangers / one deadly connection implies that the film is going to have more of a Reservoir Dogs feel in that stand-off scenario (or competing interests) way. I haven’t read the script, which has surely changed loads since its leak, but that’s the way it felt.

Other highlights from this demo, surprisingly, were from Adam Jones, a film where Bradley Cooper plays a high-end executive chef. I can’t say much distinctively about this—it’s a Bradley Cooper comedy/drama!—but it definitely had a stronger sense of artistic variation. Shots of food; a distinct element of pacing, like the film is going to be a three-course meal. It also featured “Trainwreck” by DFA1979, which is a sign of confidence to me. The screening led with this and closed with Tarantino, which felt deliberate, and perhaps another hint to overall quality to their 2015 slate.

Southpaw, featuring a totally busted-up and tattooed Jake Gyllenhaal, looks like it might actually be pretty interesting. It’s certainly looking stronger than the seemingly-mediocre Hands of Stone, a Robert De Niro boxing film that managed to show us its entire rote plot in 90 seconds.

No Escape – Owen Wilson is not a dramatic actor. He should not be in dramatic movies, especially some that look like they’re easily recut with the addition of Yakety Sax as a braindead romp. “How far will you go,” the film asks, “to protect the ones you love?” If it involves walking to a cineplex to see this unlikely motion picture event, that might be a difficult question.

Finally—and I know these thoughts are fairly disjointed—Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina) and Rooney Mara are sure to have a big year, given their two films apiece for Harvey. At the event Gyllenhaal was also trumpeted by Weinstein himself as having deserved a nomination for Nightcrawler, which he hopes to “get revenge” for with Southpaw. Maybe? Who knows. But the rest of the crop seemed a little too gimmicky, or perhaps a worthwhile attempt at awards. The Little Prince, mind you, did have some intriguing combinations of animation style, which was cool to see (think Pixar CG in one scene, stop-motion the second). Carol looked very strong, yet impossible to gauge—it’s not that kind of movie. But then again, we’re seeing Carol this week in the Competition, so stay tuned.

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin