Sunday, December 27, 2015

"THE HATEFUL EIGHT", Tarantino's verbose near-masterpiece


I just viewed Quentin Taratino's latest, "The Hateful Eight" and, for all the excesses and repetitions of favorite gimmicks that seemed, to me, half-hearted and coasting with his last two films ("Inglorious Basterds", "Django Unchained"), his new western is something of a return to form. Not that he's knocked off any of those tricks that made him famous--unnaturally formal dialogue cast in different accents and idioms, a surfeit of action-stopping siloquies, title cards and the "Pulp Fiction" trick of letting the narrative unexpectedly backtrack to reveal elements that were at first withheld. "Hateful Eight", though, sees these elements deployed with a conviction and a sure hand that lures you closer to the prolonged doings of these trapped miscreants even as your wishing the pace would pick up.

Not to give too much away, but the plot concerns a bounty hunter , played by Kurt Russell, transporting a condemned prisoner, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, to Red Rock, Wyoming for hanging and to collect a reward. Due to a horrible winter blizzard blasting over the mountain , the private stage coach the Russell character had hired for the transported unexpectedly takes on more passengers stranded along the pass and the coach is forced to stop at a way station until the storm passes, a station already filled with a collection of characters no one would not want to witness in the same room. Tarantino is generous with this loquacious dialogue and the exceptional cast each have their turn introducing who their characters, revealing a back story and a chance to reveal an articulate, if demented, world view and how it came to be formed. This does, of course, slow the film to a pace that is painfully slow, and this verbosity could easily have been pared back a good fifty minutes without sacrificing Tarantino's uncanny knack for giving the various kinds of evil a voice and a rationale, an ethos.

At times the movie becomes work to stay seated for. Still,there is so much that is being done right here, from the camera work and editing,the way scenes are framed, the absolute sizzle of the dialogue when the verbal build up between one character to another builds to secrets that are revealed, and yes, the violence. Tarantino's tales are revenge plays in large part, a genre that he's exploited brilliantly and less well, but he exceeds his best work by the deceptive complexity. There is a multiplicity of duplicitous motives; this is a pit of angry rats justifying their inevitable urge to kill everyone in the room with a the kind of deliciousely gratuitous locution that is foremost among Tarantino's script writing hall marks. Smartly, Tarantino's tone for each of the way station inhabitants, none of the speeches go so far in their waves of expressive finery to suggest sympathy or provide a clue who the film's eventual hero maybe; the impressive accomplishment of the film is that what we have here is a story populated mostly by personas that would normally be treated as villians; as with Shakespeare or canniest of the Revenge Play tragedians, a prime Tarantino makes the guilty among the roster of characters sufficiently complex without romanticizing the life as means for transcendence. He doesn't let you forget that each of these folks are heading for a bad end.

The camera is an untrustworthy narrator, recording what is revealed with regards to motivations, the insanity of well argued dualistic , black and white points of view coming to a head. Agendas are exposed, but they only give clues to secret agendas , undisclosed machinations that themselves camouflage other plots . There are no heroes, everyone has committed sins against everything we consider righteous and just, and everyone shows that are more than they at first seem, unpredictable, capable of anything. And rest assured , there is plenty of the famous Tarantino violence, gruesome, ironic, unsparing. If nothing else, QT's film world is a universe of verbal characters who , despite their ingenuous habits of expression, are not able to talk their way out of the dour fates they've made for themselves. Theirs is a case of talking a great game to justifiy their horrific acts, but the universe seems not hear not a word of the self-serving eloquence . The universe, rather, greets human action with consequences that cannot be negoiated with.This film, not quite a masterpiece, is still a definitive piece in this film maker's oeuvre.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

U2 are duller than you are

I was trying to watch a U2 concert on Showtime, motivated by the delusion that Iwould be able to remember exactly why I was briefly obsessed with thisband in the Mid-80s.Ten minutes in to the performance, the Edge's echoing chord work and Bono's humorless, crucified bellow did me in, the choiciest of the choice songs.Even a band as monumentally pretentious as the Doors (at their worst) were reliabe for crafting tight rock-pop hits that were all the things a radio friendly tune requires, qualties that achieved a singular state that is, in itself, a combination of real work and the visitation of varying degrees of dumb, blind luck: listenability. The songs got you, it kept you, and the next you know the experience is over and your on the other side of it all whistling the chorus, mumbling lyrics you    only half understood.  It's an old aggravation and many bands have displayed it and kept in my decades as a music writer , but it still applies to U2 especially. It's a pose, hewed with honest emotion and genuine conviction, but it is a pose all the same, a stylized sheen that is set to make them attractive in theory . This, for me, makes them agreeable intellectually, but it doesn't mitigate the monotony that makes their music a music a self-regarding drag. Missing, perhaps, is the old "hit song" aesthetic, where there was an emphasis on tunes that were differentiated stylistically, given managable time contraints, given hooks , beginnings, middles, ends, and concerning things that are not the result of a crisis of concious or the search for a nebulous spirituality that no one seems able to find. I have to say that after 3 chords, U2 becomes a loud tedium. They don't have songs, they have a "sound". Some find it stirring, rocking, bracing. I find it bracingly the same from tune to to. It's not that they haven't written a solid rocker and a cogent ballad in that massivley reverbed catalogue of theirs, it's just that unlike mining the albums of the Stones or REM (among so many others), there are not that many good-to-great tunes to amuse yourself with until you come upo

Friday, December 11, 2015

Gimme Shelter


 




The Rolling Stones have many great songs in their catalogue, but 'Gimme Shelter" is one that qualifies as a masterpiece. The stunning, foreboding weave of simple guitar lines at the outset, slow, cautious, stealthy, suggest two kinds of apprehension about the world outside the walls one lives in, both that of the stalker creeping up on a prey, and the stalked, shivering, rained on, seeking something to provide at least a moment's respite from the unpredictable , the nasty, the brutish possibilities of being alone. The thunder guitar lines, swooping bass and the short, simple, shank edge harmonica riff are then all around you, a house collapsing, a cliff falling into the sea, rockets bombing your home town, an earth quake. It is that crushing , smashing, lacerated feeling tht the truth gas denied is about to enter and take  center stage and proceed to uproot everything fastened down and not. Think of he feeling when you haven't enough money to pay the rent, when there is no more dope and the sickness is tearing you apart from the inside out, when a loved one dies, when you're confronted with someone with a bat with a nail through it, or a gun , or a knife. No solace, no quarter. The Stones dealt obessively with life on the edge in teir songs, inspired by a lifestyle they could afford in their off time , and anyone with a more than an glancing familiarty of the aftermath of having gone on an extended drug run, whether heroin, speed, cocaine, there is the phenomenon tht the world has ceased to be anything else than a mere rumor of something that was attractive or worth fighting horrible wars to preserve order in. Not all of this was aproached from the stance of panic or fear that is the spirit of "Gimme Shelter". "Moonlight Mile", a fragile, beautiful evocation of coming down from a needle-point, catches the half concious figure in mid nod, addressing the drift he finds himself on as though it were a wonderully calm and forseen ascent to the the next life, a transcendence of a sort . 

There are other roles that are played out in this theme of decadence, decline and degradation, with the Stones, and Jagger especially, plaing along with the age-old cliche of the romantic artist , the poet, the seer, pushing their senses to the limit ot attain experience and to gain something of that fleeting, elusive knowledge that senses reveal only when they are placed drugged out duress. Most, though, wind up a wallow, a boast, a casual nod to the audience that it was either a put  on or they survived the worse the drugs had to offer and walked  out of the other side of the experience, ragged, battered, damaged, but alive to write more poems. "Gimme Shelter" differs, though,  because it really is one of the few songs where the voice doesn't sound like a well constructed pose maintained with a professional distance from the subject.

 The ennui sounds not just real, but nearly fatal, Jagger plays the perfect role here, abandoning the poses, the personas, the macho -libertine man of destiny and expresses the naked fear that nothing quite suddenly and brutally makes the sense it used to; everything falls apart. There is the remarkable effect of the singer admitting that there is only the unknown forces of a world that has slid off the rails. Jagger's vocal and the lyrics sound like man who is coming to the uncontested eventuality of his demise. Merry Clayton offers the defiant cry, a brilliant, rail-splitting wail that says that the worse of everything we can imagine is about to happen. She is the hard truth overshadowing Jagger's fatalistic admission. Mood , atmosphere, texture, a hook that comes in at the right time like a badly constructed car hitting every pot hole on a troubled , abandoned road, this song remains foreboding, menacing, a song that continues to resonate and will always do so, I think, as long as we contain the imagination to devise our specialized means of insanity.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

My new knee and the rise of soft core optimism

Aches, pain killers, a stiff knee, a new scar, relearning the fundamentals of walking all over again. As reported , shared , revealed (or whatever term you prefer for the phenomenon of someone in the throes of compulsively giving you too much information), the total knee replacement surgery has happened, and the surgeon and members of his team were pleased to report that the procedure went well. That was November 16th, some four weeks ago, and let it be said that the quality of the recovery is fairly much as they laid it out to me in various classes and pre-operation consultations . No surprises , nothing unexpected , no  complications, all of which is great news and something that I kept in mind as I hobbled through the early  sessions of physical therapy and pain.

A great stiffness overcame me, my left leg was one purple, swollen mass of tissue and retreaded nerve ganglia, my pain was , for a time, out of this world. It chafes my pride a bit to admit that I had lost interest, for a period, in the doings of the world outside my sphere of pain; it was the only thing I could focus on. But, as I said, the team involved in aiding back to the world of the ambulant were good and attentive and knew how to manage a patent's pain. Select pain medications, of course, were called for in this endeavor, both to give me respite from the searing agony of intense discomfort and, most importantly, to allow me to commit to the exercise required to acquaint myself with my new substitute  knee apparatus . The mission now, with the physical therapists, is to build up strength, to build up the muscle that has diminished , to learn the right methods of crossing the streets in a city that at the moment seem to be little more than broad avenues that exist only to form busy intersections full of cars   trucks, motor cycles,skate boards and punk motor  bikes on patrol to keep those with canes , walkers and wheel chairs on their side of the street. 

Yes, that's not how I truly see the streets of hometown San Diego; it's just an idea that forms as you begin to miss the mobility you had as pedestrian. That said, it's a view I can get over, as my career of being myself seems to involve a continual process of getting over myself, which is, mostly, conquering fears, or at least stepping ahead of them after making a decision --the worst thing in this existence is suffering the consequences for refusing to change with the currents or ignore the protests of the body that only get louder and sharper with time. What I looked forward too is writing more, a lot more, much more writing, playing more music, much more music, involving myself more in the occasionally inspired photography I've done in the past few  years, and , of course, a longer life of walking , of being a professional pedestrian, touring my far flung neighborhoods without pain. There is a new adventure on the horizon. I pray, simply and too a higher power that knows no political allegiance that I continue to roll with the punches and keep the willingness to change when the change is underway. As always, keep a smile your face and your wits sharp. The conversation, I suspect, is about to start anew.