Movie Review: "The Hateful Eight" is the Best and Worst of Tarantino

Let no one accuse Quentin Tarantino of a lack of ambition. His new film, The Hateful Eight arrives, in its "road show" edition, in glorious 70 mm, with a more than three-hour running time, as well as a score from legendary composer Ennio Morricone, returning to Westerns for the first time since the 1970s.

The film, a period Western during a winter storm sometime after the Civil War, features an assembly of actors, all assembled in an enclosed space called Minnie's Haberdashery, although not everyone is who they say they are or has the agenda they claim to have.

There's Samuel L. Jackson as a cavalry veteran, Kurt Russell as a bounty hunter, Jennifer Jason Leigh as a prisoner, Walton Goggins as a confederate soldier-turned-sheriff, Tim Roth as a hangman, Bruce Dern as a Southern general, and Demian Bichir, Michael Madsen, James Parks and Channing Tatum as other hangers-on.

There's a bit of a Reservoir Dogs vibe- albeit much more expensive, political and historically loaded- in the sense that there's a lot of opportunity for great actors to have one-on-one scenes with one another. And while Goggins all but walks away with the picture, the best part of all is a face-off between Jackson and Dern that recalls the famous, Tarantino-written Christopher Walken/Dennis Hopper scene in "True Romance."

"The Hateful Eight" showcases most of the good and bad of later-period Tarantino: The good are superlative filmmaking, a crew of first-rate actors spouting fantastic dialogue, and an ever-present sense of daring and audacity. There's also the joy of seeing bygone movie stars who have barely been in anything recently (In this case, Russell, Leigh, and QT veteran Michael Madsen- what was Madsen's last movie role of consequence? Kill Bill 2?)

Then again, there's also the bad: It indulges in the worst thing about both Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained: There are long, long, LONG scenes in which characters talk to each other, very slowly, for far longer than they probably should There are numerous homages to obscure movies that most people seeing the movie will have never heard of.

There's liberal use of the n-word, and a level of gruesome violence that makes the ear stuff in Reservoir Dogs look like nothing.

The way the Leigh character is treated gave me pause. She's essentially a punching bag for the first two hours, but it isn't a Kill Bill situation when it's building to eventual revenge- essentially, it's the exact opposite. This is one of those movies in which there isn't a single female character who isn't beaten, murdered or both- then again, that's also true of every male character.

I liked the film more than I didn't, mostly because of four of five truly great moments, because it looks great, and because one has to admire the audacity of the whole enterprise. But a part of me would love to see Tarantino get back to basics- maybe with another crime film set in Los Angeles?

Top Ten Films of 2015:

Honorable mention: Inside Out, The Big Short, The Martian , Ricki and the Flash , Carol, 45 Years, Star Wars: The Force Awakens , Ex Machina, Results, The Walk