Spike Lee manages a jazz band composed of trumpeter Denzel Washington, Wesley Snipes on sax, Radio Raheem on bass, Sweet Dick Willie on drums and Giancarlo Esposito on keys, and I’m fine, I’m very happy with all this, don’t need any kind of storyline. But we get one anyway, with Spike’s gambling debts and poor management, Snipes wishing to lead his own group, and Denzel juggling two girls: Joie Lee and Cynda Williams (later of the Arkansas-set One False Move). Movie is heavyhanded with its ideas, everyone telling Denzel that he doesn’t know what he wants in life. He gets what he gets – busted in the face by Sam Jackson while trying to defend Spike, ending up with a family with Joie and no music career, overall a halfway decent script, but with ten of my favorite actors and some of the greatest scene staging of the decade, an excellent movie. In Rosenbaum’s heavy jazz-analysis review he reports the movie was to be titled A Love Supreme “until Coltrane’s widow denied him permission, reportedly because of the film’s use of profanity.”

Since I already watched one movie this week where Anya Taylor-Joy costars with a guy with multiple-personality delusions. Security supplies dude Bruce is joined by his son Joseph (Spencer Clark, same actor as in Unbreakable when he was 12! Now with black Hellraiser eyes). Bruce catches up with Horde who has kidnapped some cheerleaders, and the cops take them both to the same facility where Mr. Glass is being held.

Sarah Paulson (Fassbender’s slaveowner wife in 12 Years a Slave) is a phony-sounding psych specializing in delusions of grandeur, and will spend the rest of the movie trying to talk these men out of the idea that they’re heroes or villains, saying Bruce just has a brain cloud. This is the Glen or Glenda of superhero movies, overexplaining all its ideas – I flipped off the TV more often than I usually do. The movie ends with its own clip reel getting released as a viral video, thanks to some hacker code quickly written (complete with comments, lol) by Glass. It’s the super-serious parts of X-Men movies without the fun parts. At least I appreciate that M. Night ends the story on a note of needless police brutality.

Oh, spoilers.

The Avengers and the Guardians and all the new guys like Strange and Panther collide, as a space monster with a firm belief in genocide as the cure for the universe’s problems kills a few people (Loki, rainbow bridgekeeper Idris Elba, green Guardian Gamora, Vision) en route to collecting the Infinity Stones vaguely mentioned in previous movies. The heroes put up strong resistance, but the movie’s all about personal sacrifices – brothers Thor/Loki, lovers Scarlet Witch/Vision, lovers Starlord/Gamora, foster family Thanos/Gamora/Nebula, barely-just-met-allies Strange/Iron Man. Some are prepared to sacrifice, others aren’t so sure, and their hesitation gives Thanos the edge, so he gets the stones, literally snaps his fingers and kills half of everyone everywhere, including: Black Panther, Scarlet Witch, Bucky, Don Cheadle, all the Guardians except Rocket, and Samuel L. Jackson. We are assuming that either (1) Benedict Wong uses space-time powers or (2) Ant-Man uses subatomic multidimensional powers to somehow undo the carnage, or (3) everyone who wanted out of their contracts got turned to dust and we just carry on with whoever’s left, throwing in some X-Men and Captain Marvel and Young Han Solo or whoever to take their places.

I was worried that with my poor memory of the previous movies, we’d be lost as to the location and importance of each infinity stone, but the movie does a good job explaining stuff without getting bogged down Matrix-style – all you need to remember are the characters. Mostly it’s ‘splosions and wisecracks, as usual, and those are on point. We dug Peter Dinklage as a giant dwarf weapons forger, can’t make myself care about Young Spider-man or Iron Man’s wedding to Gwyneth Paltrow, didn’t miss Hawkeye. Was warming up to Strange, surprised to see him and Panther turned to dust already. It’s disappointing that these movies are doing the same things as the X-Men series but in a different order… I suppose next we’ll get Avengers: Days of Future Past.

I didn’t know who James Baldwin (writer/activist) was, nor one of the friends/subjects of his unfinished manuscript, Medgar Evers (killed for working for the NAACP to integrate schools). So I watched this half as history lesson and half as experience, taking in Baldwin’s great language and experiences, the director’s intercutting of film history (Baldwin commented regularly on the movies), and Sam Jackson’s narration in a low, very un-Sam-Jackson voice.

M. Sicinski:

Baldwin’s prose focuses on his memories and observations of these three pivotal men, but also veers into other related questions: his sense of duty to leave his expat life in Paris behind and return to America at the height of the Civil Rights movement; the historical legacy of slavery and the culture of the South; the psychopathology of the white man; and his becoming reconciled with his position as a “witness,” a man of letters in the midst of a historical epoch too often cemented by bloodshed.

Sicinski comments positively on Peck’s filmmaking – M. D’Angelo counters:

The conceit of structuring this film around Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript requires Peck to find images to accompany the words … and he does a thuddingly literal job … Most of this just isn’t a movie — it’s a visual audiobook.

Second of the oscar-nominated documentaries we’ve seen at the Ross this month. We’re almost through the O.J. doc, about to watch Life Animated, and we’ll see if we can get to 13th before True/False.

May 2020 EDIT: Still haven’t seen 13th, but we rewatched this during a heavy month in America.

The most awesome/unevenly ambitious Spike Lee movie since She Hate Me. I knew in advance that Teyonah Parris (Coco in Dear White People) has a plan to deny her man (Nick Cannon) sex until he stops fighting with a rival gang led by Wesley Snipes, but didn’t know she gathers a legion of women who commandeer an army base. The social issues within a heightened, unrealistic comedic production (rhyming dialogue, dance scenes, narrator Sam Jackson) make for a great combo.

Cowriter Kevin Willmott was here last week but I didn’t go see him since my parents were in town.

Did anyone else count nine? Maybe Kurt Russell isn’t considered hateful since he always appears to be telling the truth? But he does punch Daisy in the face a lot of times (to the great amusement of the Alamo crowd). So if we count him, there’s the seven star actors mentioned in the trailer, plus the definitely hateful Mexican Bob (Demián Bichir, Castro in Che), and certainly-hateful not-surprise (since there are opening credits, though when he showed up three hours later I’d just about forgotten) guest star Tater Channing. So I suppose the title is meant to throw you off, as is most of the script.

I got to see the little-known 35mm roadshow version, though now having seen it, I wouldn’t cry to lose ten minutes of footage and the intermission. Alamo’s a cool place, though they ran out of half the stuff we ordered and came crawling down the floor to let us know, which all seemed awkward. Mostly it was fabulous to sit front row watching a great-looking 35mm widescreen film from a perfect print.

Let’s keep this short: bounty-hunter Kurt Russell transporting criminal Jennifer Jason Leigh picks up fellow bounty-hunter Sam Jackson and would-be-sheriff Walt Goggins on the way to a rest stop to wait out a blizzard. Waiting there are, as we find out in the second half, an ambush of J.J. Leigh’s compatriots pretending to be random travelers, including hangman Tim Roth, quiet cowboy Michael Madsen and the aforementioned Bob… and confederate general Bruce Dern, a genuinely random traveler searching for his son. Also, Leigh’s outlaw brother Tater is hiding in the basement. Everyone gets shot except Kurt Russell gets poisoned and Leigh gets hanged by ragged, barely-survivors Goggins and Jackson, who reluctantly team up as the plot unfolds. Partly an homage to The Thing (Kurt Russell trapped in snow, nobody being who they say they are). Oh also Zoë Bell of Death Proof appears with others in a flashback massacre. And haha, QT cast a guy named Stark to play a naked man in the flashback leading to Dern’s death just before intermission.

The actors are all perfect for their roles. I’ve barely seen JJ Leigh since the great eXistenZ, though she was one of a hundred confusing people and things in Synecdoche, New York. So the film is well-shot, though confined to the damned cabin for most of its runtime, and the new Ennio Morricone music is lovely, though sparsely used, and the actors are super, though their characters are truly hateful. So I’m not sure what to make of this, or why it’s the movie Tarantino felt he had to make right now. There’s a lot to talk about, and Glenn Kenny takes a great shot at covering it.

Sam Adams, in an article amazingly titled “Fear of a Black Dingus” (just beating Cinema Scope’s headline “You’ve Gotta Be Fucking Kidding Me”): “Tarantino has never worked so strenuously to get a rise out of his audience … Watching The Hateful Eight is a little like being [Bruce Dern], knowing that Tarantino wants you to jump, and feeling like a sucker when you do.”

J. Reichert in Reverse Shot:

So, after his biggest box-office success, one of our most obnoxious filmmakers made a movie whose worldview lines up with the Republican presidential debates or a Donald Trump rally … It functions as the opposite of Reverse Shot’s best film of the year, In Jackson Heights, which shows Americans our best selves. The Hateful Eight may not be the Quentin Tarantino film anyone wanted, but it may be the Quentin Tarantino film we deserved.

A. Nayman in Cinema Scope:

One possible way to approach the pachydermous beast that is The Hateful Eight is as a hybrid tribute to/remake of Carpenter’s The Thing … And one possible way to look at Tarantino at this point is as the artistic equivalent of Carpenter’s parasite: an unscrupulous shape-shifter who will throw on any disguise that suits his purposes before moving on, leaving the host party hollowed out as he proceeds on his relentless mission of conquest … This is Tarantino’s most audience-alienating film to date. A line from The Thing springs to mind: “I don’t know what the hell’s in there… but it’s weird and pissed off, whatever it is.”

Between watching Hateful Eight and getting this post online we also saw Inglorious Basterds at the Alamo, since they’re having a Tarantino fest to celebrate Hateful’s release. Fassbender made more of an impression this time, since now I know who he is. I’d forgotten Waltz’s defecting to the allies at the end, and personally planting one of the basterds’ bombs under Hitler’s chair. Katy was surprised to like the movie, despite all its graphic violence.

Nick Pinkerton, quoted by Nathan Silver last week:

Re-watching [A Nos Amours] gives the frustrating awareness of how comparatively petty many of the experiences I have — and have had — with movies are, how a diet of mediocrity accustoms me to betraying a natural expectation that art can expand its frame into the world I’m living in; the sad truth is that most films evaporate the moment we emerge from the theater, vanquished by the more engaging muddle of life.

Movies vanquished by the muddle of life this month include Love, The Wolfpack, Actress, and Avengers 2: Age of Ultron.

Haven’t seen this in 18 years, so I’d forgotten most of it, and didn’t realize it contains The Definitive Samuel L. Jackson Performance.

Sam Goody:

Shot by Tarantino buddy Robert Rodriguez’s cinematographer Guillermo Navarro – close-ups galore and terrific acting. Part of a mid-90’s cinematic Elmore Leonard craze, between Get Shorty and Out of Sight. Grier, Forster and Jackson got various awards and nominations. Only Forster made it to the oscars, though… jeez, it was an all-white year at the oscars except for a 4 Little Girls documentary nomination.

Keaton, the year after Multiplicity. De Niro shortly before he turned to self-mocking comedy in Analyze This and never looked back. Bridget Fonda apparently retired after 2002. Jackson would continue the 1970’s references with his Shaft remakquel. Chris Tucker’s Fifth Element costar Tiny Lister appears as Forster’s employee at the bail-bond place.

Unfortunately Pam Grier’s follow-ups don’t look so good: Chris Elliott comedy Snow Day, Fortress 2, Snoop Dogg’s Bones, Ghosts of Mars, and finally the career-killing Adventures of Pluto Nash. I assumed Jackie Brown was a comeback for her, but it looks like the movies she made the year before were better than any that came after: Mars Attacks, Escape From L.A. and Larry Cohen’s Original Gangstas.

Sure sure, I can slightly, vaguely, ever-so-minimally agree with some specific charges of political incorrectness and racial insensitivity I’ve read from online critics who would apparently prefer that Richard Gere make more movies instead of Tarantino. But Django Unchained was so awesome that even Katy loved it. Seems looser and less purposeful at times than his other movies, but that’s hard to say without having seen most of them in a long time.

Bounty Hunter Christoph Waltz (giving just as delicious a performance as in Inglorious Basterds, but this time as a good guy), the only non-racist in the slavery-era American south, frees Jamie “Django” Foxx from slave traders so Foxx can help identify and kill the Brittle Brothers. I figured from the trailer that they’d be more important, but they’re killed off a few scenes later with barely an introduction. Django stays on with Waltz, learning new strategies for killing villainous white men, until they come up with a plan to rescue D’s wife Kerry Washington from the estate of Leonardo DiCaprio. Many monologues follow, and when Leo gets wise to the scam, Waltz kills him (“I couldn’t resist”), leaving turncoat house-slave Samuel L. Jackson (the movie’s most hilarious performance) for Django to finish off. QT cameos as a doomed Australian.

A couple of quotes contradicting anything negative I said in the first paragraph:

Slant:

[Samuel L. Jackson] reveals himself as the film’s true enemy, a totally indoctrinated subordinate whose slave-subject mentality is so deeply inscribed that he acts out his master’s cruelty and viciousness even in his absence. He hints at the more complicated idea that the kind of violence Django trots out with decadent aplomb in the film’s finale is learned from white folks, a notion implied with more subtlety in the relationship between Django and Schultz. In visiting the film’s most protracted, and ultimately fulfilling, scenes of vengeance against a black man, Tarantino stumbled into his most intriguing social-historical corrective: a full-on reconsideration of classically defined algebra of Civil War antagonism, a counterintuitive take on the well-worn rivalry that pitted “brother against brother.”

A. Nayman:

Once again, in this deceptively baggy, ultimately precisely structured movie, the surface effect belies what’s going on underneath. The sight of two black men locked in a battle to the death at the behest of a white overseer is a tip-off to script’s true conflict. The expression of hatred on Jackson’s face as Django rides up to the inevitably named Candieland transcends the jokey Spaghetti Western posturing — it’s genuinely unnerving.