All posts by Helen Highly

I am Helen Kaplow, writing as Helen Highly: I'm a little bit high. ...highly suspect ...highly sensitive ...highly enthusiastic ...highly educated ...highly intoxicated? ...highly likely. When not writing about movies here, I am being a culture vulture in my adopted home of New York City and posting on my blog HelenHighly.com

Carrie Fisher and the Star Wars Review I Couldn’t Write

Helen Highly Recommends Carrie Fisher Quit Twitter
or
Change Your Galaxy!

Carrie Fisher has aged.
Carrie Fisher has aged.

Q: Is it true that HelenHighly, a self-professed socially-and-politically-conscious woman, walked out of the movie “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” and immediately made a comment about Carrie Fisher’s body?
A: Yes. (Should I feel guilty? Not sure yet.)

Q: Was it rude and inappropriate for journalist Kyle Smith to publicly suggest to Carrie Fisher that she give up acting if she didn’t like continually having her body scrutinized and criticized by everyone and anyone due to the way she aged?
A: Yes. (I think we can all agree that disrespect is always the wrong approach for a professional when speaking about one’s subject, and certainly the wrong way to speak about a beloved Princess.)

Q: Did Carrie Fisher show us all up by replying with simultaneous wit, candor, and bada-bing punch, thus reminding those who criticized and/or gossiped that she is better than them (us), and that she still has it – “it” being bright, lively talent?
A: Yes indeed. Go Carrie!

Carrie Fisher Is Defiant
Carrie Fisher Is Defiant

But the harder question remains: That nasty reporter guy judged Carrie Fisher’s body, and HelenHighly also judged Carrie Fisher’s body. Am I that guy?!*

Here’s the story:

I am no “Star Wars” fan. However, I got an assignment to write about the new movie “Star Wars:….mumble.. whatever.” The assignment was for The Film Box, this mostly action-movie site, where I occasionally post commentary. (I provide balance.) To counter the geek perspective, Cameron had asked me to write from a non-fan woman’s point of view. But until now, I have written nothing about “Star Wars,” because I couldn’t think of anything interesting to say.

“Do I feel guilty? Hell no; Lucas made $4 billion.”

Correction: In an effort to deliver something, I did write a news blurb that unfairly attacked George Lucas, creator of “Star Wars,” for jokingly using the term “white slavers” in regard to the Disney Co., to whom he sold the franchise for $4 billion in 2012 and now is criticizing for their handling of his “kids.” And then I wrote another news story announcing that he had apologized, but I doubted his sincerity. So, I got two articles out of Lucas, both based on over-blown nonsense. Do I feel guilty? Hell no; Lucas made $4 billion selling overblown nonsense (named “Star Wars”). He’s filthy rich; his feelings don’t matter. (Although, it might bear mentioning that during this attack on what Lucas said, no one commented on what he looked like.) But back to this story:

I did want to see the movie just because it got so crazy-much attention in the media that I felt I was obligated to see it, as a U.S. citizen and occupant of our galaxy. I admit that the film itself did nothing for me, but I did enjoy watching the audience respond enthusiastically each time one of their old favorites (and old, favorites – with comma) – be it actor or spaceship – made an appearance.

The Beloved "Star Wars" Trilogy
The Beloved “Star Wars” Trilogy

These old favorites, brought back from the cult trilogy (1977 – 1983), include male leads, Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill. And also there is the female lead, Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia) – the adventure-heroine and super-hot It-Girl of the original “Star Wars,” and an idolized icon because of it. I am told that a generation of teenage boys grew up with posters on their bedroom walls of Carrie Fisher in a gold bikini– the same metal bikini she wore as a costume in the second film. That poster is from a photo-shoot Fisher did with “Rolling Stone,” back in 1983, when she was a 27-year-old starlet. (Pretty hip to be on the cover of “Rolling Stone” – twice, actually.)

Carrie Fisher Rocks with "Rolling Stone"
Carrie Fisher Rocks with “Rolling Stone”

Fisher has gone on to have a successful career in the industry – as an actress, producer, and screenwriter, including writing the semi-autobiographical film “Postcards from the Edge,” (based on one of her own hit books) in which the Carrie-ish character is portrayed by none other than Meryl Streep (the best actress ever). Carrie Fisher is Somebody.

Carrie Fisher: Once She Was Beautiful
Carrie Fisher: Once She Was Beautiful

But to the people in the movie theater with me, watching the latest “Star Wars” film-phenomenon, Carrie Fisher is and always will be Princess Leia, the great and legendary… (I don’t know; this is where they lose me). And those people literally cheered for Carrie Fisher – not only with excitement when they first saw her in this new film, but also after each scene in which she appeared.

So, Carrie: People love you. They love seeing you on screen. Don’t doubt that fact.

And I will say that, for me (and I believe for most others as well), Carrie Fisher brought an authentic warmth and humanity to a movie that is…  mostly metal. Okay, I probably stand alone with my “mostly metal” comment, but I challenge anyone to say they did not both enjoy and respect Fisher’s performance in this film.

“For Carrie to escape the unfair cruelties of this world, she would have to get on a spaceship and find another galaxy, far, far away.”

Well, I never wrote the film review because I decided that I am not Star-Wars-knowledgeable enough to say anything intelligent about the movie. And I was going to walk away and start writing my next commentary – slated to be a combo-review of two different documentaries about great women– Peggy Guggenheim and Janis Joplin (who seem to me to be surprisingly similar). But then, I couldn’t escape the buzzing news about the great “Star Wars” woman. Here’s what:

Carrie Fisher, Then and Now
Carrie Fisher, Then and Now

On Tuesday, January 29th, Fisher, age 59, sent a message to her 850,000 Twitter followers, asking them to stop scrutinizing and criticizing how she has aged over the past 30 years. Apparently there had been a relentless stream of unkind and insulting comments. To those haters she shockingly said that they could “blow us”. (!!!)
(“Us” means Fisher, her body, and her character Leia)

“Please stop debating about whether or not I have aged well. Unfortunately it hurts all 3 of my feelings. My body hasn’t aged as well as I have. Blow us.”
[Twitter text abbreviations and jargon have been translated, but that was her message.]

Oh. My. God.
Oh. My. God.

Then Fisher re-tweeted statements from supporters who claimed that her co-stars, Harrison Ford – age 73 and Mark Hamill – age 64, do not face the same level of scrutiny. In another tweet, Fisher shared her sentiments that “youth and beauty are not accomplishments, they’re the temporary happy.”

Okay, my first thought was: That’s a Twitter Win for Carrie. Good for her.

But, my second thought was: Eegads. I remembered (and here I confess) that the first words out of my mouth when I left the theater were about Carrie Fisher’s body. (Am I a hater, like those others?!*) I commented that the film almost never showed her full body. As I recall (and I could be wrong, because honestly, the movie did not hold my close attention), it seemed to me that she was always in close-up – just her head. And at one point they (awkwardly, I thought) cut to a close-up of her hand. The few times that we did see her body were in distant wide-shots. So, I concluded, they must have used a body double for Fisher – someone thinner, and then only used her for head-shots, and hand-shots.

Carrie Fisher Before She Lost Some Weight
Carrie Fisher Before She Lost Some Weight

I noticed this because I had recently seen Fisher do the talk-show circuit and had observed that she had become a large woman (which is perfectly understandable; she is no spring chicken anymore). I hear tell that Fisher lost weight for the film and then unfortunately gained it back before her publicity tour. Hmm…even if true…Obviously, her starlet days are behind her (it’s been 38 years!). I was just wondering about why they chose not to show her true body in the movie – why they made her look thinner than she really is, or was. Are “Star Wars” royalty not allowed to gain weight?

I did also make the somewhat snarky comment that Carrie obviously “had a lot of work done” and it doesn’t look real. She’s so smart; I thought she would be wiser than to go that route. And so I judged that Carrie Fisher is vain and definitely looks worse for wear. And Disney is shallow (duh) and doesn’t want fat heroines. The company probably only cares about profit (as Lucas later accused). That was my brilliant sidewalk analysis.

“In the contest of brains and beauty, I always go with brains.”

I could think of nothing to say about the movie itself because… it’s not my thing. However, I personally have repeatedly gained and lost (and lost and gained) weight throughout my many years, and now I am almost as old as Carrie Fisher, and I have indeed considered the possibility of plastic surgery. I have nothing against it in principle. I just worry that it usually doesn’t look good and ends up making the person look older. My point is that: The Empire and/or The Alliance mean nothing to me. And the thing I could most relate to in the film was how Carrie Fisher (and I) have aged. (Am I her in this story?*)

Carrie Fisher Has Had "Work Done"
Carrie Fisher Has Had “Work Done”

A few days later, Kyle Smith, some nasty troll from the “New York Post,” rudely responded to what he called Fisher’s “Twittantrum” (Twitter-tantrum) with a message to Carrie that she should “quit acting” if she isn’t prepared to put up with her looks being judged. And he wrote:

“Fisher is a public figure. If she didn’t want the public to talk about her, she could have spent the last 40 years teaching kindergarten. As for whether it’s ‘messed up’ for Hollywood to prefer pretty people to appear in its films, Fisher made millions off being pretty. Far from being bitter about this, she and other actresses who profited nicely from their looks should be grateful they had a turn at the top.”

OUCH!!!
OUCH!!!

Eegads. That’s hard-core. (But doesn’t the part about “if you get rich off your work, you are fair game for unfairness” sound a bit like what I thought about George Lucas? Is this unfairness exclusively allocated to women?)

Carrie did not back down. She then tweeted:
Continue reading Carrie Fisher and the Star Wars Review I Couldn’t Write

Pirate Apology: HIVE-CM8 Leak “Hateful Eight” Then Apologize

Pirates Apologize to Tarantino for Spoiler Leak of Hateful Eight — Sort Of

Quentin Tarantino‘s film, The Hateful Eight was leaked by some online pirates just days before its much-anticipated release in cinemas. That unapproved and unlawful pre-release became a large scandal. Now the group that leaked the movie has made an unprecedented (and unusual)  apology / justification.

After first going into hiding, Hive-CM8 has taken responsibility for the leak and now says “We feel sorry for the trouble we caused by releasing that great movie before [offical screening] had even begun. We never intended to hurt anyone by doing that. We didn’t know it would get that popular that quickly.”

However, Hive goes on to claim that the leak has resulted in free “media hype” and that news of the leak created publicity that actually helped ticket sales of the movie in theaters and also will help the movie long-term. Adding addition question to their sincerity is the fact that the apology accompanied Hive’s pirated release of the Christian Bale movie The Big Short, (which had already opened on December 23rd).

It is not uncommon to see movies getting leaked on torrent sites before actually reaching the theaters. But this is the first time a pirate group has chosen to make an apology to a director.

Hive and other sites like them, regularly release copies of awards “screeners” to the public. Screeners are advance DVDs sent to critics, awards voters, and other film industry professionals, including producers and distributors. It is not difficult for one of those many DVDs to find its way into the wrong hands.

Hive attempted to dispel rumors that the leaked screener copies had been sourced by illegal computer hacking. “We got the copies sold from a guy on the street, no decryption was needed. We were definitely not the only ones [to have obtained copies]. A couple of other movies had been on the net days before, not done by us,” they say.

While the group has certainly released content in the past for notoriety, this time Hive says it wants to help those too poor to get the movie through legitimate channels. “So we wanted to share movies with the people who are not rich enough or not able to watch all nominated movies in the cinema. Of course [these files] are not representing the movies how they can be enjoyed in the cinema.”

After thanking Quentin Tarantino for a “wonderful movie,” Hive wrote that The Hateful Eight should be a top awards candidate and will “win by a mile” over its rivals. And, significantly, Hive did announce that the Tarantino scandal prompted a change in their policy: “…its pre-release will mark the last time that Hive leaks content before it appears in cinemas. We won’t do another movie before its [theatrical release].” Here’s hoping that the word of a pirate can be trusted. 

Click here to read The Film Box’s review of The Hateful Eight.

***
When she is not writing about film and art on her blog, HelenHighly.com, Helen Kaplow is busy being a culture vulture in her adopted home of New York City. 

UPDATE: George Lucas Disney Apology for “White Slavers” Comment

George Lucas Backpeddles Big-Time: Sorry for “White Slavers” Comment re Star Wars

George Lucas apologized for the “very inappropriate analogy” he used in comparing Disney to “white slavers,”  a statement he made during a lengthy interview with CBS newsman Charlie Rose, when discussing the new Star Wars film, The Force Awakens.

Click to see the original report from The Film Box.

In his lengthy interview with Charlie Rose, the Star Wars creator had expressed rather dramatic disapproval  of Disney’s handling of his space epic, despite the $4 billion cash and stock payoff he got in the 2012 sale to Disney. He not only suggested control of the franchise had gone to “white slavers” but added that he did not agree with the “retro” approach the entertainment conglomerate had taken with the film.

Click to see our article, with a link to the actual interview, including the “white slavers” comment.

“I have been working with Disney for 40 years and chose them as the custodians of Star Wars because of my great respect for the company and Bob Iger’s leadership,” Lucas said in his statement, issued Thursday afternoon by Disney. “Disney is doing an incredible job of taking care of and expanding the franchise. I rarely go out with statements to clarify my feelings but I feel it is important to make it clear that I am thrilled that Disney has the franchise and is moving it in such exciting directions in film, television and the parks.”

Ha. That’s a very different statement than he made on Charlie Rose — a complete 180 turn. It’s one thing to apologize for using the wrong word, and another to change your entire story. Lucas: Get a better PR company.
***
When she is not writing about film and art on her blog, HelenHighly.com, Helen Kaplow is busy being a culture vulture in her adopted home of New York City. 

George Lucas Says Disney Co. “White Slavers” to Charlie Rose

Star Wars: The Force Awakens George Lucas From His Satisfied Slumber

In an interview with Charlie Rose, broadcast on December 25th and released online this week, George Lucas criticized the latest installment of Star Wars, the series he created, saying he was unhappy with the direction the franchise has taken since he sold the rights to it, along with Lucasfilm, his company, to Disney for $4 billion.  He criticized the film industry in general for focusing on profit over storytelling.

But speaking about his creation in particular, he said “These are my kids, all the Star Wars films… I love them, I created them, I’m very intimately involved in them.” And he add (with a laugh), “And I sold them to the white slavers…”
Was he just kidding? Maybe, maybe not. 

Click here to watch Lucas the interview. 

The film that Disney made, Star Wars, The Force Awakens, has grossed more than $1 billion worldwide since its release on December 18th.  Fans delighted in seeing their old favorites — from characters to spaceships — make a comeback appearance. But Lucas explained that he worked very hard to make each of his Star Wars films different, and the new movie was “retro” and re-used old concepts and designs, and he thinks that’s a disservice to the integrity of the series and betrays his commitment to true storytelling.

UPDATE: Lucas back-peddled and apologized for his “white slavers” comment, and more. It’s a startling and hard-to-believe turn-around. Click here to read about it.

***
When she is not writing about film and art on her blog, HelenHighly.com, Helen Kaplow is busy being a culture vulture in her adopted home of New York City. 

Hateful Tweets About Hateful Eight 70-mm Roadshow Projection Problems

Hateful Tweets About Hateful Eight 70-mm Roadshow Projection Problems

It seems there were more than eight people being hateful at the opening weekend showings of Quentin Tarantino’s Hateful Eight film and its much-advertised 70-mm roadshow experience. Despite a strong opening in terms of attendance, projection problems plagued several screenings over Christmas weekend. Some projections were out of focus, while others had no sound or experienced soundtrack synching issues, according to reactions on Twitter. Even screenings that were largely watchable still had minor noticeable glitches in the corners of the screen.

Erik Lomis, distribution chief for The Weinstein Company, asserted that the problems occurred at fewer than 1% of the weekend showings. However, the reaction on Twitter made it sound like a widespread issue, or as one user called it, an “epidemic.”

Although it’s understandable why audiences would be frustrated and disappointed, it should be noted that the projection issues were faults of exhibition (such as inexperienced projectionists) and not production problems. There was nothing wrong with the actual celluloid print of the film. Considering the positive reaction to the revival of the 70-mm format that audiences expressed in general, let the following reactions be a call for more capable projectionists and not proof that shooting on 70-mm is no longer a viable option.

Quotes from recent tweets:

“Intermission at a 70mm screening in San Jose. So far, three instances of frame going out of alignment. One full-out film break.”

“I’m officially apologizing to (removed) for thinking he was too “sky is falling” re: 70mm H8 screenings. It’s an epidemic at this point.”

“Best part of the broken 70MM projector/Hateful 8 print at King of Prussia? The snide theater manager “This is why we don’t do film.”

“Saw it in Toronto. it was out of focus for at least 20 minutes before they could fix it.”

“Not so bad that it ruined the movie, but bad enough to be an annoyance the entire runtime.”

“Saw it today, image was blurry and fuzzy the entire time. Seemed like they gave up trying to fix it after the intermission.”

“Heard about issues in Vancouver, BC too. Switched to digital without telling the customers until the end of the movie.”

For those of you not lucky enough (or unlucky, as the case may be) to see one of the limited-release “roadshow” screenings, you’ll be able to lay eyes on the movie one day sooner than expected.  Due to popular demand, the wide-release of Hateful Eight at more than 2000 theaters around the country, has been moved up. It will open digitally on December 30th,  a day in advance of its planned New Years Eve release.

Hateful Eight by Quentin Tarantino Opens With $1.9 Million on Christmas

Hateful Eight by Tarantino Opens Big in Two Ways

"The Hateful Eight" is a splashy thriller.
“The Hateful Eight” is a splashy thriller.

Quentin Tarantino made his new movie, The Hateful Eight as big and wide as possible, using his much-touted, vintage, 70mm camera lenses, which were famously used  for outdoor, epic movies. Hateful Eight’s opening shots are classically wide and sweeping. And so were the film’s opening numbers in theaters.

Christmas Day moviegoers showed Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight” plenty of epic affection, as the limited-release 70mm roadshow launched with $1.9 million at 100 venues in 44 U.S. theaters.

The opening day lead into an impressive $5 million for the weekend — or around $50,000 per screen — for what is the largest 70mm release in the last 20 years.

The Weinstein Co. announced on Dec. 14 that it moved up The Hateful Eight’s wide release in the U.S. to New Year’s Day — a week earlier than previously planned — with the aim of taking advantage of strong buzz among fans and the industry. The Western carries a 76% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The Hateful Eight stars Samuel Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demián Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen and Bruce Dern.

Read The Film Box’s review of The Hateful Eight, by Helen Highly and see why she Highly Recommends the movie.

The Hateful Eight by Quentin Tarantino

The Hateful Eight: Horror in the Wild West

"The Hateful Eight" with Cowboy Font
“The Hateful Eight” with Cowboy Font

I will follow Quentin Tarantino’s lead, and like this movie, “The Hateful Eight,” I will allow this review to be indulgently long. And like Tarantino, I will break it into “chapters,” using titled headers.

Prelude: It’s dreadful and wonderful

 “Damn. Tarantino never fails to amaze,” I wrote in my book, breathless (having just gasped my heart into my lungs). It was only intermission, and I was already getting high off the crazy-violent depravity-fumes that Tarantino was releasing into the theater. I was glad for the break, to get some fresh air. But hey, he went more than an hour and a half (the running time of most other films) before a shot was even fired. He (and Samuel Jackson) made us wait. And it was hot-blooded, high-tension waiting – like the most highly-charged sexual foreplay that brings you right up to the edge of the cliff, and then, still not giving what you crave, hangs you perilously over the side, where you are clutching for your life and consummation. It’s dreadful and wonderful.

Part One: The Eighth Movie by Quentin Tarantino

First there is an orchestral overture. This movie is being presented as an old-fashioned 70-mm cinematic roadshow, complete with overture and intermission – in limited release. (Only about 40 venues will get this added razzle-dazzle, which adds up to 3+ hours. Most theaters will show the 35mm version, without the intermission, and slightly shorter.) The grand-opening music is by , the legendary Sergio Leone collaborator and the iconic master of scores for the most famous old Westerns (including “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” and “Fistful of Dollars”). The much-discussed twist of the movie is its underlying mystery plot, but the biggest mystery might be how Tarantino got this musical giant, who is now pushing 90 years old, to create a score for one of Tarantino’s unabashedly bad-taste, gore-fest films. For this alone, Tarantino is amazing.  

The film opens big – a sprawling view of snow-covered mountains as wide and vivid as you’ve ever seen. And a six-horse stage coach is racing across the white, barren landscape, trying to outrun the howling blizzard that pursues it. Tarantino got at least this one epic shot from his much-touted, Ultra-Panavision 70-mm format camera. (“These are not the same kind of lenses used to shoot “Ben-Hur“; they are the same lenses,” Tarantino has boasted.)

Click: More about the 70-mm format, from Tarantino, including, “Man, that is going to the movies, and that is worth saving, and we need to see more of that.” – interview with Mike Fleming Jr. at “Deadline Hollywood” (paragraph 2)

Click: What Is 70mm Film, and Why Is It Worth Seeing on the Big Screen? by Sarah Gorr

When the opening credits are plastered up on the screen – static, not scrolling, they are bold red and black, vintage, cowboy-movie lettering against a bright white background, like an old-style movie poster. “The Hateful Eight” (nod to Leone), along with an intro line: “The 8th Movie by Quentin Tarantino.” Wow. This guy is proud of himself, and in addition: This guy loves movies! He is putting himself all-in and relishing every classic going-to-the-movies moment. And it works; I start off excited, like I am going on a cinematic adventure, led by someone who definitely knows the way.

"The Hateful Eight" with Tarantino
“The Hateful Eight” with Tarantino

So: The dazzling, white-snow wide-shot is held for a long time – plenty of time to take it all in, and then he cuts to a tight close-up of an old, rotting skeleton hanging from a wooden cross (in 70mm vibrant enormity). Snow blows across the skull as Tarantino pulls the camera out very, very slowly, finally showing the cross standing isolated against the immense, empty landscape. “Think about it,” I can almost hear him saying. “It’s a skeleton, and a cross, and snow – primal.” (Tarantino does actually take to narrating his own film in the second half, which is surprising and quirky.)

"The Hateful Eight," wide-shot
“The Hateful Eight,” wide-shot

Part Two: The Door is Nailed Shut

What follows the grandiose and traditional opening is a crazed mash-up of Wild-West cowboy-hats-and-shotguns (“The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”) and an Agatha Christie whodunit-mystery (“And Then There Were None”), an over-the-top blood-spattered horror flick (“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”), plus another blood-soaked film for good measure (the revenge-horror classic, “Carrie”), lines of dialogue as witty and well-crafted as Shakespeare (let’s go with “Titus Andronicus,” his bloodiest tragedy), and Jean-Paul Sartre’s existential play “No Exit.”

About the latter: Characters are punished by being locked in a room together for eternity. The original title of this 1944 French play is actually the French equivalent of the legal term “in camera,” referring to a private discussion behind closed doors. English translations have also been performed under the titles “Behind Closed Doors,” “No Way Out,” “Vicious Circle,” and “Dead End,” all of which would have been appropriate titles for this movie.

“Hell is other people” – Sartre

The movie begins vast and spacious, as I have described, and then quickly goes indoors and claustrophobic. The travelers from the stage coach take shelter from the storm in a remote, one-room roadhouse, which already holds some questionable characters and is now filled with a motley assortment of killers (some outlaws, some lawful). The beloved owner of the roadhouse is suspiciously absent, and the only door is literally nailed shut. (The latch has recently been broken, so wood planks must be nailed across the door and the wall, to keep the blizzard winds from blowing in.) No one can enter or exit without breaking the boards away from the door. And it’s a full house. Sartre’s famous line, “Hell is other people” might as well have been painted on the cabin wall in blood – Charlie Manson-style.

And this is the brilliant and evil genius of the film. It starts as a customary, wide-screen Western (with what one would wrongly assume are stoic and laconic cowboys) and converts to a theatrical, dialogue-driven parlor drama (with a sadistic twist). And that spectacular 70-mm camera, made for the broad, epic outdoors, is used to create a small, interior, human-face epic, depicting a brutal, cabin-fever-dream that is sweating with saturated details.

Does this story offer an insightful socio-political look into the heart of America – then and now? Is it saying, as Matt Singer writes, at “Screen Crush,” that America is “a melting pot where everyone gets burned”? Or is it a giddy, gruesome mess full of miserable mayhem, that goes on for way too long? Yes. And Yes. And toss in a few more theories, and it’s those as well. It’s a gluttonous feast of rich genres and saucy conceits– just in time for the holidays, where gluttonous feasts are the way we roll.

Click: Tarantino talks about how TV Westerns were his inspiration, more than movies, especially in terms of the guys-trapped-in-a-room storyline. – interview with “Deadline” (paragraph 4)

Part Three: Abraham Lincoln is a BFF

Introduce Samuel Jackson and Jennifer Jason Leigh, and you need not even mention any of the other excellent cast members (although they all kick ass); these two steal the show. One highlight is when Samuel Jackson delivers a long, slow (+ slower, + longer) monologue that is increasingly horrifying and devastating and ultimately beyond-beyond shocking and unbearable. And it is magnificent. I don’t think I can reveal the big, shocking element without spoiling it. But I will say that it is a deadly monologue. Jackson literally destroys a man with these words. And you see that man – a one-time great Confederate Army General, melt down in front of Jackson, like the Wicked Witch melted and burned when Dorothy poured the lethal bucket of water on her. It’s one of the most astonishing speeches I can remember hearing – masterfully written and masterfully delivered.

Samuel Jackson in "The Hateful Eight"
Samuel Jackson in “The Hateful Eight”

I don’t think I will be spoiling anything by revealing that Jackson’s character, Major Marquis Warren, a Civil War ex-Union officer turned bounty hunter, is a brutal and pitiless man. We learn early on how he burned down an entire jailhouse where he was imprisoned, killing both his captors and his fellow soldiers, so that he himself could escape. And this Major Warren carries with him, throughout this Civil War interbellum (turmoil-continues) story, a letter written to him by Abraham Lincoln. That letter is reverently kept inside Warren’s breast pocket, close to his heart.

During the course of the film, the letter is admired, spit on, chased through the snow, and so on. And at some point in the film, after Warren has completed yet another bloody, ruthless act, the letter is read aloud. And as I watched Jackson’s face – silent and listening, I felt myself tear up. Minutes before, Jackson had wreaked ferocious havoc, and with a quick shift, I was deeply moved by and for him (and by Tarantino’s poetic writing). That’s the way this movie goes; it is savage and then touching and then hilarious. And Samuel Jackson plays a major role in all of those emotional leaps and pirouettes. It is a stunning performance.

“It’s a big, splashy thriller, and a wild ride.”

And then there is Jennifer Jason Leigh. If she doesn’t win an Academy Award for this role (and she won’t), there is simply no justice in the world (a truth that Tarantino woefully keeps telling). She plays Daisy Domergue, a spitting, snarling, murderous outlaw-turned-prisoner who begins the movie with a swollen eye that has been punched purple. Kept in chains, she continues to be arbitrarily and mercilessly beaten and abused throughout the movie; her teeth are knocked out, her nose is broken, and her jaw is fractured. Eventually, she is covered in blood – both her own and the blood of others, and even has some brains splattered on her, yet she remains magically (black-magically) defiant. She can take a punch and come back seething. She is terrifying, she is sympathetic, and she is funny.  And no, I don’t believe that because Tarantino makes the only female character the punching bag of the movie, he is a misogynist. Daisy is the smartest character in the movie. And the most fascinating. And Jennifer Jason Leigh plays the Hell out of her.

Just for fun: Compare Jennifer Jason Leigh in “Hateful Eight” to Sissy Spacek in “Carrie.” below:

Jennifer Jason Leigh in "Hateful Eight" and Sissy Spacek in "Carrie"
Jennifer Jason Leigh in “Hateful Eight” and Sissy Spacek in “Carrie”

Click: There is an actual thing called Quentin  Blood! Fake movie blood is a niche specialty. Ethan Sacks at “New York Daily News” explains the range of colors and viscosity that different directors want in different films and for different purposes.

Click: A Brief History of Fake Blood, including a pro’s movie-blood recipe, plus Tarantino asking for “Samurai blood” in “Kill Bill, Vol. 1.” – Forrest Wickman, “Slate”

Part Four: The Bull Doesn’t Really Die

The details of who kills whom and when and how and why… it’s Quentin Tarantino. Why say more? People will always argue about the issue of gratuitous violence in Tarantino’s movies, no matter what. Nonetheless, I want to add: It’s no spoiler alert to say that far more people die in the new “Star Wars” movie than in “Hateful Eight.” But no one will ever accuse “Star Wars” of being overly violent.

Yet, more-criticized, the violence in “Hateful Eight” is better, because it is cathartic. It’s stylized and perverse and comically outrageous, but still – you feel it, and deeply. (That’s why it’s so repulsive to so many people.) Spaceship battles in the sky may be entertaining, but they are not cathartic. In Tarantino’s film, blood gets on you. And that redeems it. It elevates the film (despite its apparent depravity).

"The Hateful Eight" have trails of blood.
“The Hateful Eight” have trails of blood.

Let’s review our Aristotle: Catharsis is an emotional purge through which one can achieve a state of moral or spiritual renewal or achieve a state of liberation from anxiety and stress. By watching an exhibition or imitation of fear and violence the audience is able to cleanse themselves of their own repressed fear and violence. Aristotle used the term to explain the impact of tragedy on audiences, saying that catharsis was the ultimate end of a tragic artistic work and marked its quality.

For me, Tarantino is like a watching a bullfight. Consider the bazaar, stylized reality of a prized bull being stabbed for mass entertainment, and bleeding and falling and dramatically dying. And yes, bullfights are controversial too, largely because there is never any doubt that the bull will die; it doesn’t have a chance. It’s the same. There is never any doubt that people will die in a Tarantino film; it’s only a matter of how and when. And it may indeed be unfair to the bull, and inappropriate for modern life, but I don’t think a solid argument can be made against the tragic catharsis that the audience experiences at a bullfight. It’s something that people have felt and acknowledged for centuries. However, the wonder of art is that you can imitate violence and get the same emotional cleansing. In a movie, the bull doesn’t really die.

“There is an actual thing called Quentin Blood!”

And no one understands this better than Quentin Tarantino, who is constantly reminding his audiences that they are watching a movie; what you are seeing is not real. It is a make-believe game that nonetheless has powerful effect. And Tarantino loves to play with that paradox – the tension between what you know is not real and what you really feel. And he takes that to the most extreme and extraordinary places he can go. He’s outrageous, but he’s mindfully so; he knows what he’s doing. And that’s what his fans love about him. He’s smart. His movies are smart, even when they are low and dirty and ugly. (And yes, even because they are low, etc.)

Plus, in modern American life, we have “evolved” to a point where we are numb to so much ordinary and expected violence. It has lost its potency. So we need something more frightening and more terrible to help us achieve that catharsis. And art can offer that, while still being safe.

"The Hateful Eight" is Violent
“The Hateful Eight” is Violent

So, when Tarantino stages a bullfight, you feel as if you are right there, watching the real thing, and then, just as the bull is about to die… suddenly the most unpredictable and terrifying and absurd thing – the thing you could never imagine… happens. And that’s when you get that crazy, horrifying-and-also-satisfying shock; that’s when you gasp your heart into your lungs. And I challenge anyone to watch “The Hateful Eight” and not gasp in full at least twice.

Conclusion: It’s Sexy

HelenHighly: I'm just saying.
HelenHighly: I’m just saying.

I’ll go one step further and say, not only is it cathartic…  it’s sexy. This is not late-breaking news: sex and death go very well together. And even though the movie has no actual sex in it whatsoever, I think it’s a turn-on. It’s hot. And, btw, there was nothing sexy about “Star Wars” – romantic maybe, but not visceral. I’m just saying.

Epilogue: Killer Coffee Pot?

HelenHighly is Highly interested in the things in movies. I love it when an object becomes a key part of a film plot, or when it makes such an indelible impression that it changes the way people think of or feel about that thing.

Click: See my commentary on “Holiday Shopping in the Movies: Where to get the goods to make your classic Christmas-movie memories come alive,” in which I write about iconic Christmas gifts that were defined by movies.

In “Hateful Eight,” there is an object that is central to the plot – the blue-speckled cowboy-style coffee pot, and investigation uncovers an amusing irony. I won’t say exactly how the pot enters into the film’s intrigue, but I will wonder aloud if the pot’s infamous history was an inspiration for that detail of the story (and I’ll give a small clue).

“People started to become suspicious of poisonous ingredients.”

Cowboy Coffee Pot: Enamelware
Cowboy Coffee Pot: Enamelware

The type of pot used in the movie, which was historically accurate, is called enamelware. It was invented in the mid-1800s, when people wanted a way of coating iron to stop metallic tastes or rust from getting into food – something acid-resistant and easy to clean without laborious scouring, and something more durable than the tin linings used inside copper. So, manufacturers of kitchenware started coating everything from cast iron to steel with enamel. When fired, the enamel glazed, creating a non-porous surface that was easier to clean than exposed metal. Plus, it had a smooth, glossy finish that looked appealing. Traditionally, enamelware was bright white because it looked most sanitary. Then, speckled blue became popular because it was more cheerful.

But: Were enamel-lined pots really as clean and safe as they seemed? After a while (actually, Helen is Highly amazed at how many years it took) people started to become suspicious of poisonous ingredients leaching into their food. Unfortunately, it turned out, enamel surfaces were prone to cracking, which would expose the metal beneath, causing it to rust. Ultimately, consumers were scared away from both the metal and the enamel, due to claims of lead, antimony, and arsenic turning up in their food and coffee.

Today, modern science has solved the poison problem, and enamelware is still used in country kitchens and vintage-chic homes. And because they can handle a direct flame and don’t require electricity, enameled coffee pots are still a staple at well-equipped camp sites. (Just don’t ever let Quentin Tarantino anywhere near your coffee pot.)

Finally

Yes, we have just crossed the three-hour mark. And I will stop writing. But Helen Highly encourages YOU to drink some strong coffee (maybe with a shot of booze in it) and high-tail it over to your local theater and see “The Hateful Eight.” It’s a big, splashy thriller, and a wild ride. 

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News: The Hateful Eight opens with $1.9 million on Christmas Day

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When she is not writing about film and art on her blog, HelenHighly.com, Helen Kaplow is busy being a culture vulture in her adopted home of New York City. 

Harrison Ford Was Paid 50x More Than Star Wars Co-Stars

Harrison Ford meant it when he said in the new Star Wars film that “the force” was real; his celebrity forced Disney and Lucasfilm to pay huge money.

With its global in-take now at a record $529 million, Star Wars‘ box office success is staggering. But how much money did The Force Awakens actors earn to join a galaxy far, far away?

Variety is reporting that Harrison Ford’s salary was in the eight-figure range ($10 million to $20 million) to reprise his role of Han Solo. According to a Disney insider, the 73-year-old notoriously grouchy actor earned a substantially larger cut than his co-stars — 50 times more than the fresh faces who shared the screen with him.

Word on the street says that Disney made a decision in 2014, prior to casting the new roles, to create a “legacy pay scale” intended for talent like Ford, Fisher and Hamill, who had previously been a part of the Star Wars franchise, and pay only “scale” for actors that would be appearing for the first time. In that universe, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher took home pay checks in the low-seven-figure range.

Adam Driver and Oscar Isaac negotiated deals in the mid- to high-six figures, due to their previous film and TV work. But newcomers John Boyega and Daisy Ridley were paid only in the low-six-figure range ($100k-$300k), due to their lack of experience in large-scale film. That’s barely a tiny flash of light in the gigantic financial universe that is Star Wars. Let’s hope that next time (and there will surely will be a next time), the force will be with them when they bargain for their salaries.

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When she is not writing about film and art on her blog, HelenHighly.com, Helen Kaplow is busy being a culture vulture in her adopted home of New York City.