Directed by: Quentin Tarantino. It’s getting harder and harder to give these movies a fair shake, not to dismiss them off the cuff as the barely-coherent, all-style-no-substance gore-fests of a director whose main cinematic influences are B-movie shlock of yesteryear and his own movies. What keeps me coming back, and what grounds me in my criticism, is the fact that I want to like these movies, I like the feeling of going to a Quentin Tarantino movie and being bulldozed by postmodern winking, irreverence, and clockwork plotting, with fast pacing, fun acting, and great actors playing memorable characters delivering sharp, memorable dialogue. After the relatively restrained and sober and mature Jackie Brown (his one and only adaptation from a pre-existing literary source), I was a bit dismayed and worried that he had abandoned that entire vibe to dive head-first into more cartoonish, exaggerated “Quentin Tarantino” territory. Kill Bill was a standard, cartoonish revenge flick, a mash-up of two genres plucked from their context and rearranged at will, stretched out into two feature-length movies. It’s a pretty self-indulgent project, but damned if it wasn’t really fun and enjoyable, so I was still on board. I can’t deny Kill Bill, no way. The less said about his Grindhouse feature Death Proof, the better. To me, that one didn’t even count, but if he’s counting it as part of his hallowed, self-imposed canonical “perfect 10 films”, then my esteem of that filmography is pretty low by its inclusion. When Inglourious Basterds came around, again, I noticed the self-importance of everything, the drawn-out dialogue, lots of fat that could be trimmed, but we’re supposed to relish in every perfect syllable of his scripts—which I’m afraid was a glass of kool-aid I never quite drank—and we’re supposed to relish in every visual reference to cinematic history as though that visual call-back/inside reference were self-evidently important and impressive, as if just quoting movie history is substance enough in this house of cards built from allusions and the act of representation itself. (All of that is pretty interesting sometimes, but it seems to be the only way that Tarantino knows how to make movies, and there are indeed filmmakers out there who are making movies about things, not just movies about how cool it is to make and watch movies.) And again with the spaghetti Westerns—instead of spaghetti Western mixed with martial arts movies like Kill Bill, it’s spaghetti Westerns mixed with WWII adventure, again, all in aid of what is essentially an exaggerated, cartoon revenge story. But, damned if Inglourious Basterds wasn’t also really fun and enjoyable, full of great performances from memorable characters, hilarious bits with Brad Pitt, and good old mindless violence against Nazis. I even thought this one, because of my interest in the period and the filmic depictions thereof, actually offered some potential food for thought about society’s attitudes towards violence, some kind of self-awareness about the reductionist good guy-bad guy binary in Hollywood. I was aware that I was being pretty charitable in my assessment, that for the most part, the movie was just another excuse for Tarantino to embark on a revenge flick gore-fest celebrating excessive violence, and again, a spaghetti Western set in WWII. In other words, it was the same old Tarantino shit, but it was still fun, and I still got everything out of it that I was hoping to get, like going to McDonald’s and getting that good old, reliable Quarter Pounder with Cheese™. And, as I said in my review at the time, I watched Django Unchained on an airplane, but nothing in that movie made me think I owe that film a fairer second viewing—not even the promise of Don Johnson dressed like Colonel Sanders getting into a stupid bickering fight with Jonah Hill in KKK hoods. The whole thing, top to bottom, felt really self-indulgent and unnecessary. It’s Quentin Tarantino’s hot take on American slavery, told through—you guessed it—a blood-and-guts revenge story filtered through spaghetti Western aesthetic. I’m a white guy from Canada, so I have a lot to learn, but I’m afraid I give less than a shit about what this millionaire white guy from California’s approach to dealing with the question of race and slavery in America is—especially because the guy’s movies have more white people saying the n-word than probably any single filmmaker in American history (and if someone has the numbers, I’d be really interested to see them). In other words, the trusty McDonald’s hamburger had started to get stale and inconsistent.
This brings us to this movie. After the downward trend just explained above, I didn’t leap to the front of my seat at the first mention of a new Tarantino movie. I thought…uh-huh. That’s cool. I guess I’ll see it eventually. When I saw the trailer, the title, more cowboy hats and horses, I thought...oh great, more spaghetti Westerns. Amazing. But when I read an interview with him somewhere that this movie was basically a closed-door Agatha Christie murder mystery set in the Old West, I got very excited! Who else would have the guts to do something that weird and un-sexy in modern Hollywood? Good old rule-breaking Tarantino, that’s who! He’s not just doing spaghetti Western revenge stories anymore! Hooray! On paper, this has potential to be a really cool little movie. The execution, though…god dammit, Tarantino, what is your problem? This was a long-winded, verbose, fatty, pointless gore-fest where every character is awful and there’s not much in the way of humour except for giving Tim Roth a stupid, fake-sounding name and getting him to chew the fucking scenery for about 10 minutes of screen time. This was a waste of Samuel Jackson’s time and talent, and for that matter all of their time and talent, and it was definitely a waste of that antique acoustic guitar that was accidentally destroyed for a fucking stupid throwaway gag (probably meant as a callback to Animal House) in a fucking stupid throwaway movie. I’m sure there’s some kind of North-South/black-white healing that’s supposed to be a theme amid all the Jennifer Jason Leigh punching, blood spurting, repetitive unfunny broken-door jokes and “edgy” non-linear storytelling, suddenly interrupted by a narrator with no precedent (and voiced by fucking Tarantino himself). But this movie is too incoherent, too gratuitous, too lazily made to convey much of anything. Here I am, a self-described Tarantino “fan”, and I have no choice but to dismiss this fucking thing as a barely-coherent, all-style-no-substance gore-fest from a director whose main cinematic influences are B-movie shlock of yesteryear and his own movies. The world fucking weeps that there will only be 2 more Tarantino “gifts”, but frankly, if he cut his losses right now, it would be 2 movies too late for this viewer.