Script Review: Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained

The rumor mill is churning with buzz around Quentin Tarantino’s latest script, and it sounds as if the film is set to roll in December. I can’t dish the dirt on Will Smith vs. Jamie Foxx. I have no clue who is tracking to play the leading female role in the film.

But I’ve read Django Unchained. That has to count for something.

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The Movies Died, There Was a Second Shooter

The Day The Movies Died

Calling It With Top Gun

If you haven’t read Mark Harris’ excellent GQ op-ed titled “The Day the Movies Died” yet, you really should. In it, Harris selects the Summer of ’87 release of Top Gun as the titular moment in history, and for good reason. Many will instinctually question the choice, citing releases like Star Wars and Jaws instead, but the article is much more than mere film-nerd “What if…” play — it’s aimed at a real trend in the industry that has shaped the new modern day studio system. Enough pretense. If you haven’t given it a read, go do so now.

Other Contributing Factors — The Death of Film Appreciation

Harris’ analysis of marketed film is right on the money, but there is a deeper corrosion at play. Roger Ebert has discussed the death of film criticism in wake of the rising “CelebCult” before, but I intend to carry this a step further. First, Ebert was speaking specifically about criticism in print. Second, Ebert’s thesis centers around the demand for printed gossip, which doesn’t necessarily align with Harris’ assertion that the age of “A-list celebrity as product” has come and gone in Hollywood, replaced instead by “proven product” — sequels, remakes, etc.

So what do I mean by death of film criticism? In film school, my circle of cineastes looked forward to each and every release. The late-90s — early-aughts were an extremely exciting times for American cinema. I’m not going to be so bold as to declare it a movement, it wasn’t. Not every film released was golden, but one can hardly deny that there was an incredible balance of high-concept films released, above and beyond the sequel / spandex genre. Films like Mulholland Dr., Boogie Nights, Requiem for a Dream, Fight Club, The Big Lebowski, The Thin Red Line, Rushmore, He Got Game, Happiness, Memento, American Psycho, Almost Famous, TrafficBringing Out The Dead, The Matrix, The Sixth Sense, American Beauty, and many more.

I mention these films for very specific reasons — many of them represent original screenplays, adapted works from lesser-known sources, early films from budding directors, anticipated vehicles from established auteurs, or perhaps most importantly many are, to some degree, polarizing efforts. It was a great time to be studying film theory. But it was ultimately killed, not just by a push to marketing as Harris illustrates, but also by cynicism, in fighting, and the inability to appreciate what we had. What happened?

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Edgar Wright Sent Me a DM

.@edgarwright sent me a DM

We went to see Scott Pilgrim vs. The World again today, and before the film began I tweeted about it, cc’ing Edgar Wright (the director) alongside a mention that the theater was nearly full.

Upon emerging from the theater I found this DM notification on my phone.

Yes, I’m geeking out a little bit…I mean, c’mon?! The director of Spaced, Shaun of the Dead, and Hot Fuzz messaged me!

The whole day sort of came together on a whim. Over a bowl of pho at lunch I mentioned to Dee that I’ve been wanting to watch Scott Pilgrim vs. The World a second time — in part because I really loved the film, but also as a show of support for something I wish would’ve gotten a fairer shake at the box office.

So we decided to do it.

While waiting for the film to start, I thought it would be fun to let Edgar know that I was watching the film again. Sort of a geeky attempt at showing solidarity via Twitter. I never expected a response, but it sure was cool to see that my tweet registered with him. If you haven’t watched the film yet, or even if you have, why not check it out (again)?

And speaking of films to check out, you may have noticed H.P. Mendoza‘s Twitter handle and a mention of Fruit Fly in that exchange of tweets. If you haven’t checked out Fruit Fly or Colma, do yourself a favor. And Edgar Wright, if you happen to be reading this make sure to add Fruit Fly to your DVD/Blu-Ray queue when it comes out…I’d love to hear what you think of it.

OK, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

On transparency: Let them see the lines

OK Go’s latest video, the second they’ve produced for their song “This Too Shall Pass” sparked this post. My wife was catching up on the goings on around the web this morning at breakfast, and despite having been sent the video 100 times I’d yet to actually watch it. Mind you, I’ve followed the backstory and was totally aware of the motivations behind the move by the band. I’d just neglected to actually sit down and watch the damn thing. It’s good, and I’ve embedded below for those who, like me, were somehow living under a rock all week.

The driving force behind this post was to discuss the band’s deft use of transparency to create viral videos, promote their work, and singlehandedly become a household name through the use of social media and the Interwebs. I’ll get to all of that, because it’s fun. But first, a primer.

Media companies typically wrestle with issues of transparency, and to say that they “don’t get it” is an understatement. There are exceptions to every rule, but most of these exceptions extend from businesses and brands whose core business is closely linked to their consumers and customer support. Before we dive into this, let’s take a look at some of the brands that have successfully jumped onto the transparency wagon in positive and impacting ways.

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Best and Worst Comic Book Films of the Decade

It’s been an interesting decade for comic book films, with plenty of ups and downs. Here’s a look at the best and worst comic book films of the decade:

Top 10 Comic Book Films of the Decade

1. The Dark Knight

While Batman Begins rebooted the franchise, it was Nolan’s The Dark Knight that reinvented the franchise, elevating it to cinematic excellence. Gotham, for once, feels like a living city. Absent are the Burton-esque fronts, and frames packed with gothic throwbacks. There is Ledger’s brilliant turn as the Joker, his take on the character being both unique and defining. To know that we will never get to revisit this level of performance is quite discouraging. The rest of the film is packed full of excellent supporting performances. The Harvey Dent/Two Face arc is rendered with perfection, although admittedly it would be nice to see Two Face return in the future. In all, this is the definitive Batman film. Period.

2. The Incredibles

I neglected to include this film in my Top 25 Films of the Decade list, and I assure you it was an oversight. Brad Bird’s animated take on superheroes is a cornerstone for this generation’s comic geeks. It’s the cinematic counterpart to the gateway comics of my youth. While a simple yarn about a super powered family could have been sufficient for most, Bird and Pixar are never complacent with settling for the simple or the obvious. Instead, we are given a reflection on family, fatherhood, and the sacrifices inherent in parenthood. It goes without saying that Pixar makes great family friendly movies, but it should be overstated that they also make great cinema that also happens to be family friendly as well.

3. Spider-Man 2

Raimi’s second foray into the Spider-Man franchise was, quite simply, the best superhero film of the decade. That is until Nolan swept in with a sequel of his own that completely bumped Raimi’s effort down a few pegs. But, despite this bump Spider-Man 2 still remains one of the decade’s best. We finally get the conflict necessary to make the Peter Parker / Mary Jane Watson story arc take shape, and we’re given more allusions to the pending confrontation with The Lizard. Tops amongst all of this is the delicate balance of the Green Goblin story arc in support of a brilliant performance from Alfred Molina as Doc Ock. Hands down, his was an excellent portrayal of the villain, and had Heath Ledger not turned in his brilliant Joker performance, Molina would have easily won the title of Best Adapted Super Villain of the Decade. It’s still damned good nonetheless.

4. Sin City

They said it couldn’t be filmed. Then Robert Rodriguez went ahead and fought for it anyway. He even managed to woo Frank Miller,  who had ultimately sworn off of working with the Hollywood machine, into joining the project. That said, Miller is best in doses (especially cinematically, see The Spirit below), and partnering with Rodriguez seemed to provide the right mix. Who could’ve predicted that Rodriguez would be the one “reigning things in” in this collaborative effort. He’s usually the one going off the rails at every turn, wading in the balls out deep end with glee (see Grindhouse). Anyway, for fans of the graphic novel, this is about as good as it gets. You can feel the pulp, you can smell the pages. This is a comic book movie for comic book lovers, and it’s drenched in excellent performances.

5. Iron Man

I seriously underestimated this film when it was released. Not only is it a good turn in terms of comic book adaptations (for the most part, the characters come to life in a world that is for the most part believable), but it is also a harbinger of what could be. Imagine if Marvel were to put this level of care and craft (and vision) behind other “Avenger films.” They could accomplish the ultimate coup — a comic book crossover film. Let’s face it, the ultimate undiscovered country in the world of comic book cinema is the team up, or the crossover. Comics can hardly span an issue without a cameo or a crossover these days, and many of the better books out there are the result of years of comic book crossovers (Avengers, Justice League). So, while the future may look a little grim (please let Iron Man 2 rock), for now we have Favreau’s excellent experiment with Tony Stark, and aside from a rather flat role for Pepper, it’s a pretty good ride.

Continue reading Best and Worst Comic Book Films of the Decade

The Best Films of the Decade

Recently a friend of mine passed around Mick LaSalle’s “Best Films of the Decade” list, and the email thread inspired me to cobble together my own list. So follow the link to view my full top 25, with a few considerations. My list is based on the films I’ve screened, so it is by no means intended to be a complete cinematic analysis of the decade. I’ve pared films down by the ones that have stuck with me since the initial screening.

Top 25 Films

Mulholland Dr.
25th Hour
There Will Be Blood
In The Mood For Love
The Royal Tenenbaums
The Lives of Others
No Country for Old Men
Synecdoche, New York
Punch-Drunk Love
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Divine Intervention
Before Sunset
Talk to Her
Eyes Wide Shut
Morvern Callar
Inland Empire
The New World
Kill Bill v.2
Beau Travail
Honorable Mentions:
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
House of the Devil
Death Proof
Swimming Pool
Spirited Away
Match Point
The White Diamond
Kill Bill v.1
The Wrestler
Shaun of the Dead
The Dark Knight
The Triplets of Belleville
The Proposition

1. Mulholland Dr.

2. 25th Hour

3. Amelie

4. There Will Be Blood

5. In The Mood For Love

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Why “The Beatles in mono” is not a “Kubrick aspect ratio” issue

oh artistic intent, where would we be without you? we’d certainly have fewer arguments discussions brewed amongst the fanboy cine/audio-phile crowds, that’s for sure. when it comes to long-standing debates in the film and music worlds, non-wages larger than The Beatles catalog in mono vs. stereo, and Kubrick’s final five films in 1.85:1 vs. 1.33:1 aspect ratios.

The Beatles are to Kubrick as sound fidelity is to image composition.

both are tough battles, but i’m here to go on the record about something that is, for once and for all, a clear cut case:

The Beatles in mono is clearly not debate-able in the same way that aspect ratio is in regards to Kubrick’s famous final five.

what the hell am i talking about?

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After Last Season: The speculation continues

For those of you just tuning in, back in March first-time director Mark Region dropped a puzzler on the world in the form of the trailer for his first feature film shot on 35mm titled After Last Season. What followed was months and months of speculation, second guessing, and utter confusion.

Everything about this film looks amateur — so much so, that it appears completely intentional. Some have even speculated that the film is some sort of viral marketing campaign. For what? Who knows. I’ve come across some claims that Spike Jonze is somehow behind this, and that it’s related to his upcoming film Where the Wild Things Are. I don’t see a connection, but i suppose anything is possible.

Who is Mark Region? The name seems preposterous, although some have actually spoken to the man. Other times actor Jason Kulas has stepped into the role of spokesperson. But why? Is it the inconsistencies that plague the film’s origins? Someone funded this, it cost $5 million (yes, THAT cost $5 mil), so what are the details here? Region claims this was his first opportunity to shoot on 35mm, but everything i’ve seen appears to look almost like video, not film.

Continue reading After Last Season: The speculation continues

Current gets a new flash player

i love the new flash video player Jonathan and Rod crafted. it’s pretty lightweight, sleak, and damn if it doesn’t function well. granted, i’m completely biased, but i think it’s one of the best players out there. i’m super stoked to see it live.

check it out yourself:

and here’s some widescreen action courtesy of The Rotten Tomatoes Show:

The Rotten Tomatoes Show on Current: Wanna make a movie where characters age shift? Gather your ethnic minority voodoo and take Brett Erlich’s advice

Review: Valkyrie, In english no less

Valkyrie Postermuch has been made of Bryan Singer’s decision to film Valkyrie in English. that’s right, a German historical drama…in English. wherever you fall on the fence of that argument, try to put it aside if you can. while troubled, Valkyrie has a lot going for it. first off, the cast is top-notch, and like Defiance, the tale centers on a historically significant figure which provides a distinct entry point into a rarely explored aspect of World War II. unlike Defiance, Valkyrie has the benefit of re-uniting Christopher McQuarrie and Bryan Singer, the duo behind The Usual Suspects and The Way of the Gun…well, OK Singer had nothing to do with the latter.

the point is, these two understand the fundamentals of a pot-boiler, and they play around with historical drama in a very interesting, and, more importantly, engaging way. The story of Claus von Stauffenberg and the attempt on Hitler’s life is the stuff of legend, and the film is paced in such a way to keep you hooked despite knowing the ultimate outcome. Cruise’s likeness to von Stauffenberg is uncanny, and he manages to hold things down (despite some of the claims coming from the von Stauffenberg estate).

unlike Defiance, Singer and McQuarrie rely on their own strengths to engage the viewer. the plot is thick and full of twists, and in true McQuarrie fashion, almost confusingly so. Singer brings a stylistic look to the film that is unlike any other World War II film of late. it’s not a great move, in fact it’s almost a bit too stylized, but ultimately it succeeds in providing distinction — something that is important in the already bloated WWII genre.

however, it’s important to note that i watched this in less than ideal circumstances, so i really should give it a second look. the good news is, i want to give it a second look, so that’s saying something. i’m giving this one a middle ground review until i can give it another spin and dig deeper.

3 stars