Trick Films I: Bad Times at the El Royale (2018) + The Hateful Eight (2015)

January 11, 2019 | By

Trick films, or movies that build slowly towards a twist finale, are tough to pull off because it requires a fine balance of storytelling, characters, performances, and pacing, with each element somehow crafted to make that twist or wrap-up rewarding, or worth applauding for sheer audacity.

I’ll never forget the moment myself and a buddy saw David Fincher’s The Game (1997) at the since-murdered Uptown Cinema, and when the big reveal happened, both of us leaned forward and uttered ‘You’ve got to be fucking kidding.’

Mike applauded, and I sat with an approving smile, even though the whole plot hinged on Michael Douglas’ sad business tycoon behaving as predicted to a T, but you’d accept those small issues by believing there were plan Bs, Cs, and Ws at hand.

Drew Goddard’s Bad Times at the El Royale (2018) has a few tricks but suffers from serious pacing issues, which is a shame given the fine cast and superb set design within this exquisite production, whereas The Hateful Eight (2015), Quentin Tarantino’s sort-of western, is really a slow-burning chamber mystery whose twist is not just who’s the mole, but who will survive as the nearly 3 hour Roadshow monster rolls to a close.

Does shooting the compact mystery in Ultra Panavision 70 add to the drama? Sort of. Connoisseurs of wide film formats no doubt relished the opportunity to see a new film shot in the widest format available and exhibited in 70mm. Detractors would accuse Tarantino as being egotistical in picking the biggest format for his latest film, but if you look back at any tally of movies shot in single lens widescreen and three camera widescreen (like Cinerama), if not 3D, you’d find a few oddities.

Hateful Eight isn’t an oddity but the product of a true blue film nerd living a very specific dream, and the fact the cameras, the lenses, the exhibition, and gambling on a Roadshow engagement worked proves filmmakers ought to be able to make a movie however they want, especially if it makes use of vintage gear deemed obsolete in a digital age.

70mm presents some serious cost issues in each of those phases, but they’re no worse – probably less severe – than blowing $200 million on a comic book movie with massive CGI, reshoots, and delivering the film as a DCI, in IMAX, 3D, and recombinant versions of those formats with higher premium ticket pricing.

Working with unique formats also presents challenges that force filmmakers to carefully think out their workflow in translating an idea into something that works in its final form.

I can’t help thinking of Lumiere and Company (1995), where selected filmmakers were given an original Lumieres brothers camera and told to shoot something in one take. Part tribute and experiment, some of the vignettes were quite amusing, a few weird, maybe strange, but collectively the filmmakers got a kick out of working out their little mini-narratives using a rare film camera minus any digital tricks.

Coming next: the 1973 drama Sunshine, made by ABC, directed by Joseph Sargent, and released on Blu via Redwind Productions.




Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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