imagesNote: This is a review of the longer, “Roadshow” version of The Hateful Eight.

Quentin Tarantino has finally done it. He’s made a movie that’s too long for its own good. You know there’s a problem when the dialogue of a Tarantino movie gets tiresome and the violence becomes nothing more than decadent and mean-spirited.  Broken into two sections with a 12-minute intermission, The Hateful Eight, fails to engage in its meandering and overlong first half, which ends up impacting its second half in the worst way possible: it diminishes the film’s consequences and punishes the audience with nothing more than repellent, nihilistic cruelty.

OK, so you should know what you are in for with a title like The Hateful Eight. It refers to the film’s eight shady anti-heroes of the “Wild West,” who find themselves trapped in an outpost during a blizzard. All of them harbor essential secrets whose gradual reveal leads to an eventual bloodbath. Like the issues with Martin Scorsese’s infamous Wolf of Wall Street (Wolf of Wall Street’ is one nasty, vulgar film about nasty, vulgar people– for 3 hours!), characters lacking sympathy in such an over-long movie makes for problematic storytelling. The chief problem lies in the editing department, making Sally Menke once again sorely missed. As it was in Tarantino’s previous movie, Django Unchained (Film review: ‘Django Unchained’ celebrates myth and history with humor and horror), his first without Menke, there are problems in tone and pacing and an excess that feels so redundant it becomes dull and condescending.

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The first part of The Hateful Eight is filled with the twisted threat of violence by a group of characters trying to suss each other out while stuck in a snowstorm at Minnie’s Haberdashery, the isolated mountain roadhouse where much of the drama unfolds. John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), two bounty hunters, bring in Ruth’s captive, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to hunker through the storm, finding a group of strangers they don’t trust and no sign of Minnie, who Marquis knows personally. Thus the suspicions begin.

It sounds like a good concept worth its slow burn. However, Tarantino, who also wrote the script, has drawn it out so long, that the dialogue creaks out with what has become a familiar formula of his plays on racism and bigotry that ends up overshadowing the fleshing out of identity. Then there are the tiresome jokes that out wear their novelty, like characters having to constantly nail boards to shut hateful_eight_twc_2.0the haberdashery’s door against the snow. Plot twists aside, there’s little more story than this and little sense that anything crucial is at stake. It’s as if the film were an exercise in bringing eight shifty characters together to see how they would do each other in if they were stuck in close quarters, like a gladiator match with words and guns. It’s almost a cold exercise in story development instead of an actual story. It feels as if Tarantino has taken the extended scene of the basement bar of Inglourious Basterds and stretched it into a feature-length movie with twists that fail to reach the heights of his 2009 film without on of its context.

Before the intermission, almost two hours into the film, the first shot is fired and stakes are finally increased, and by then, you can’t wait for these people to start killing each other in cruel, spectacular ways disguised as humor. Unfortunately, that means you have more than an hour to go, and there’s no more pay off other than the film’s nasty tone, which also features a flashback to some “nice” people drawn out as if they were made of sentimental straw. The second half is all brutality and blood with some good lines here and there, but it all feels so meaningless and malicious, and it is a fundamentally problematic issue with the film.

Because of all the hype about The Hateful Eight being shot on 70mm, it is also worth noting how disappointing the cinemascope widescreen is. It’s nowhere near as grand as expected. The West is castrated by the KurtRussellSamuelLJacksonHatefulEightsnow, and sure, Robert Richardson gets nice wide shots of giant horse-drawn carriages and the expressive faces of some of the actors, but, more often than not, the mise-en-scene is so overwhelming that never honestly engages the audience. Russel, Demian Bichir and James Parks are among those lost in the excess of facial hair symbolic of the obstruction that has blinded Tarantino’s ego to dial it back. The only cinematic quality worth its while is Ennio Morricone’s score, but you’re better of buying the vinyl soundtrack.

In the end, The Hateful Eight’s weakness is its script. Fine, it’s in the title, but not a single one of these characters have redeeming qualities that make up for their bad sides. Pick your scale of bad guy and root for him (or her). Some are racist, throwing around the N-word with aplomb, while others carry a twisted righteousness that permits them to beat a woman at any chance. All are liars to some degree, some more interesting than others. But despite a seeming complexity, there’s something inhuman and mechanical about it all. They boil down to primal caricatures unworthy of audience sympathy. It’s as if Tarantino expects the audience to be interested in hokey representations of people standing in as jokes. What happens when you sacrifice fleshing out a person for the sake of a joke? Well, this film is our prime example, unengaging, mind-numbing and plain tiresome.

Hans Morgenstern

The Hateful Eight is available to watch in two different formats, in two different running times. There’s a 168 minute version in digital at most theaters and 187 minute roadshow version on 70mm. It is rated R. It opens everywhere on Dec. 25. All images are courtesy of The Weinstein Company, who also invited me to a preview screening of the Road Show Version with the overture, intermission and added footage. This review is based on that cut, but it was shown in digital projection.

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

With Greenberg, director Noah Baumbach sharpens his usual focus on the greedy tics of self-absorbed protagonists by pointing his camera on nothing less than a formerly institutionalized misanthrope, probably his most extremely dysfunctional character to date. But the title character is something much more than a self-centered egoist who hates people. He re-directs the hatred he has for himself into disdain for the behaviors of not only what he perceives are the common masses but the actions of those that love him. Baumbach and his wife, actress Jennifer Jason Leigh, craft a masterful script to form Greenberg, and Ben Stiller does an amazing, patient job at bringing this character to life.

Greenberg is a carpenter with an attitude fueled by a passion for letters of complaint to companies like Starbucks and American Airlines and wistful memories from the 80s of playing in a new wave/post-punk trio that nearly signed a major label deal. But the only real talent he has is finding something to complain about in every situation he stumbles into, especially with those he thinks he knows. His letters are nothing compared to the anger he throws on those closest to him.

After supposedly being released from a mental hospital, Greenberg, a New York transplant, finds himself house-sitting for his brother in Los Angeles. While Greenberg’s brother heads off to enjoy Vietnam with his wife and kids, Greenberg is left to tend to the family dog, who has grown weak with an autoimmune disorder (Greenberg at one point worries about catching the dog’s illness, but it’s as if the dog actually caught it from him). In the meantime, he takes advantage of his brother’s personal assistant, Florence (Greta Gerwig), an aspiring singer in her mid 20s with a weak self-esteem. Despite his crude manner of canceling a date with her at a bar to instead split her only bottle of beer at her place, she accepts his advances for a brief sexual encounter that ends as abruptly as it had begun, doing nothing for either one of them.

As their relationship turns on but mostly off, the care of the dog seems to provide the only glue that can hold them together. Greenberg also spends much of his time catching up with his former band mate and longtime friend Ivan (Rhys Ifans), a soft-spoken man whose 10-year marriage with the mother of his only son has begun to unravel. Greenberg is more happy about the marriage’s dissolution than he is about signs Ivan can work it out. During a dinner out with Ivan and Florence, Greenberg suddenly shuts down an attempt by Ivan to celebrate Greenberg’s 40th birthday by having the waiters bring over a cake and sing “Happy Birthday” with a tantrum. These two characters’ generous attempts to show Greenberg some affection coupled with their own sorry states provide the perfect foils for Greenberg, whose weak anger could find no more comfortable place (there are some brief moments when Greenberg tries to confront strangers to sad but funny ineffectiveness).

Stiller’s performance is nothing short of brave because you can bet lots of people will come to this movie expecting the buffoonery that helped get him the popularity he currently enjoys. But this movie is no Dodge Ball or Tropic Thunder. The last time Stiller did something this low-key was in Reality Bites, though the Greenberg character is probably as ugly as the one in Permanent Midnight, a hardcore tragic drama of a man’s rise and fall in the world of writing a sitcom for TV, based on the true story of the writer behind “ALF.” That film remains one of his least popular.

In Greenberg, Stiller captures his character’s complex as much with his pauses and silences as with his harsh opinions. At Greenberg’s low-key 40th birthday celebration, when Ivan says, “Youth is wasted on the young,” Greenberg responds by saying, “I’d go further,” while staring down at his menu. “I’d say life is wasted on … people.”

I was hoping this to be a laugh-a-minute, though self-deprecating film like the Squid and the Whale, but Baumbach has taken the self-deprecation to a whole new level, along the lines of Margot at the Wedding. Greenberg is a dark glimpse into a man who only seems misanthropic but is actually more in love with his sad, negative self than anyone else around him. Greenberg is a walking pile of hang-ups that he constantly projects on others. What he hates about people is what he hates about himself. Throughout the movie, Greenberg meets people who have moved on and grown up, while Greenberg seems to delight in his therapist’s analysis of his issues. Toward the end of the movie, he attempts to bond with Florence telling her, “My shrinks says, I have trouble living in the present, so I linger on the past because it felt like I didn’t ever really live it in the first place.” Again, his attempts to bond with others turns to himself.

The movie culminates with a drug-fueled party, where Greenberg finally gets a look in the mirror per se, as scores of young people surround him, and it’s literally an unrecognizable, lifeless creature floating in his brother’s pool with a single eye staring back at him. From here on, he can either choose to run further from himself and his life or dive in and start to finally live. In the Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus wrote, “This world has a higher meaning that transcends its worries, or nothing is true but those worries. One must live with time or die with it, or else elude the greater life.” Baumbach offers no clear answers as to whether this lump of wounded humanity has learned to take personal responsibility for maintaining a relationship. The audience can only hope that Greenberg’s choice at the end of the movie to not run away from his developing sense of self is but the start of something remotely caring of others.

In the end, Greenberg proves itself as one of those rare character studies that keeps you hooked with interest thanks to a strongly drawn out and naturally played unstable protagonist (reminiscent of Adam Sandler’s turn in Paul Thomas Anderson’s under-appreciated Punch Drunk Love). Stiller’s subtle acting is a refreshing change from his usual shrill, over-the-top clowns. Credit is also due to the supporting work by Gerwig and Ifans, who play people with more subtle hang-ups, yet know how to live in their skin with just enough comfort. Baumbach has turned one of the darker corners of his film career, but it shines an amazing spotlight on human behavior.

Greenberg is rated ‘R’ and opens in wide release on Friday, March 26.

(Copyright 2010 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)