Category Archives: Quentin Tarantino

Ten Years and Counting: How Kill Bill Changed My Life

It all started with a shelf at Barnes & Noble. I had just turned twelve and had gift card money to spend. And when I had a Barnes & Noble gift card, I was a man on a mission.

I was browsing around the DVD section. I wasn’t normally one to take risks in life and buy something before I had seen it, but something told me I needed something new. Also, “Return of the King” wasn’t out yet. I stumbled upon a copy of “Kill Bill: Volume 1.” I heard it was good, the commercials were really cool, and Uma Thurman looked irresistibly sexy in her yellow jumpsuit. So I decided why not. That night, I popped it into the DVD player (remember those things?), and was never the same again.

“Kill Bill” was the start of my insatiable film journey. Every film lover has that one film that just clicks with them. Even after I found out that “Kill Bill” was paying homage (a.k.a. stealing) from so many other movies, it didn’t destroy my love for it. All it did was lead me down a path to find as many of the movies as possible connected to the Quentin Tarantino universe. From there, I found Scorsese, Kubrick, Leone, Ford, Kurosawa, “Kung Fu,” and of course “Shogun Assassin.”

I wanna know about those other four death lists.

This week marks the ten year anniversary of the release of “Kill: Volume 1.” This is the only anniversary I’m allowed to acknowledge of course, because it has a zero at the end of it. As these years have passed, I have had many more chances to view both parts, whether it be on DVD, HBO, or TNT*, and I’ve come to see that I love “Kill Bill” not just for what it inspired me to do, but for the film itself.

“Kill Bill” was meant to be one film, but it was split in half for running time and probably profitability, too.** However, I acknowledge both of them as two very separate films. I’ll mostly talk about Volume 1 here, as that’s the one celebrating the anniversary, but some discussion of Volume 2 will be absolutely necessary.

When I first watched “Kill Bill,” I had simply never seen anything like it. Forget about the fact that I was only 12 and “Kill Bill” earned its hard R. “Kill Bill” gave me a lot of mixed emotions. Before this, I figured that violence was something needed to be handled delicately. That was before I watched O-Ren Ishii chop off a man’s head followed by a gigantic geiser of blood. It was shocking, but I couldn’t stop laughing. At first, I thought there was something wrong with me. Then, I found out that sometimes its okay to make violence funny. After all, it wasn’t like Tarantino was advocating mass beheading of any sort. No, this was just a different universe where dismemberment leads to insane amounts of blood. This was also the first time I realized that a film can be a fantasy even if it didn’t involve dragons.

“Kill Bill” was also the first revenge fantasy I ever watched, and for some reason the morality of revenge tales really stuck with me. It even lead to the script of my first student film which I am absolutely ashamed of and you can absolutely find it on my Facebook, watch it, and then point and laugh at me.

More importantly, “Kill Bill” skewed my idea of what a hero was. Before I ever laid eyes on Volume 1, I was obsessed with “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Not the books, of course, because that’s what ADD does to you. I was used to the “Once upon a time/and they lived happily ever after” form of storytelling. Then came along “Kill Bill,” where the villains were humanely despicable*** and the closest thing to a hero was a woman who could pluck somebody’s eye out. As wildly unrealistic as “Kill Bill” is, this feel’s a little bit closer to real life: sometimes, good people do bad things and bad people have motivations behind their actions. Have you looked at TV lately and maybe heard of a show called “Breaking Bad”?

Tarantino doesn’t make personal or biographical films, but everything he makes feels directly like a portal into his brain. “Kill Bill” was also one of the first times I ever realized the beauty of great dialogue, and that it could be used for other purposes besides exposition. Throughout both volumes, there are a tremendous amount of classic monologues and bits of dialogue that are among the best that Quentin has ever written. The best monologue of the two volumes is Bill’s speech about Superman. It is so deep and thoughtful and informs the film while incorporating popular culture so well, that it makes me think that Tarantino also would have been a very successful film critic. Additionally, Tarantino’s heroes might all be evil, but they are also all obsessed with movies and TV. Finally, the film fanatic gets a chance to be the hero.

Sure, there were other films before this that had all of the qualities that made “Kill Bill” so great. But this was my introduction to all of it, so it will always remain the best to me. I am not quite sure what I’d be doing today if not for “Kill Bill.” I’d be a completely different person. And cinema would be different, too. How often do we get characters as memorable as the Bud, Bill, Elle Driver, or The Bride anymore?  Not to mention, Volume 1 still has my favorite cliffhanger twist ending of all time. Take that, Shymalan.

Additional Notes

  • I will never forget how confused I was the first time we found out Beatrix Kiddo’s name and cut to that flashback where she’s in school but still a grown up. Quentin is weird, man.
  • Favorite line of dialogue: Bitch, you can stop right there. Just because I have no wish to murder you in front of your daughter doesn’t mean that parading her around in front of me will inspire sympathy. You and I have unfinished business. And not a goddamned thing you’ve done in the subsequent four years including getting knocked up is going to change that.
  • Which one of Tarantino’s muses is better: Uma Thurman or Christoph Waltz?
  • “Silly rabbit” “Trix are…” “For kids”
  • Greatest little touch: the little wooden water fountain bobbing up and down as O-Ren and Beatrix fight in the snow.
  • I’m pretty sure the House of Blue Leaves scene switched to black and white so it wouldn’t get an NC-17 rating. However, it also worked as an amazing artistic decision. Sometimes, censorship can do great things for art.
  • The fact that neither “Kill Bill” got nominated in major categories makes sense I guess (old farts), but how could they pass up Uma Thurman and David Carradine? 
  • Other acting MVPs: Everyone in the cast. Everyone. 
  • Need to make a serious note on Michael Parks. In an interview, Tarantino once said he thought that Parks was as good as Dustin Hoffman. I don’t think he’s being hyperbolic. It is too bad that Parks never rose above B-movie star. He plays two different characters here, the first is Sheriff Earl McGraw (“son number one…this tall drink of cocksucker ain’t dead”). Then in part two, he plays Esteban Vihaio in a performance that’s strange, funny, and ultimately too brief. 
  • Another note on Parks: Tarantino is known for giving a lot of former stars their big comeback roles. I would gladly trade every role that Travolta has had after “Pulp Fiction” for more movies starring Michael Parks. 

*TNT is the king of showing the most rewatchable movies of all time. They’re also the king of inexplicably awful censorship decisions.
**Don’t feel so groundbreaking now do you, “Twilight”?
***Yes, Bill’s a psycho. But he also had his heart broken. Even a man who loves to “travel around the world and kill people for vast sums of money” can fall in love.

Movie Review: Django Unchained

For any of you who think I have a severe Quentin Tarantino bias, let me just say that I disliked “Death Proof.”

Now that that’s out of the way, “Django Unchained” may have just stolen the top ten list of the year in one fell swoop. It may lack the audacious perfection of “Inglourious Basterds,” however this messy masterpiece is bold and brilliant in its own right.

“Django Unchained” rightfully opens with the theme music from 1966′s “Django,” a film that is similar with this Django only in name. This is the first time that Quentin has made a Western that actually takes place in the appropriate era and locale. This is not modern-day Los Angeles, Tokyo, or Nazi-Occupied France. This is Texas in the years just before the Civil War.

Django (Jamie Foxx), a quiet slave with a sharp tongue and a deadly grin, is freed by Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). Foxx is fantastically deadpan and unpredictable as Django. Unsurprisingly, Waltz displays his incredible way with words as the verbose dentist-turned-bounty hunter. There is a giant tooth on top of his carriage. I don’t why any of that is important, but it sure is funny.

Like Quentin’s other films, “Django Unchained” is less a story and more a series of cause and effect vignettes. Schultz at first frees Django because he is the one man who can help him identify and track down the ruthless Brittle Brothers, whom he is hired to kill. The mission allows Django to prove himself to be a great shot, as Quentin opens the doors of a slave revenge fantasy of the highest sort.

As his career progresses, Quentin’s films have gotten bigger and more ambitious. During a stretch of the film that is surprisingly quiet on a Tarantino standard, “Django Unchained” takes a beautiful detour into the American frontier as Django and Schultz cross the country.

“Django Unchained” is also Quentin’s funniest film. A scene involving an attempted lynching by a proto-KKK group (which includes Don Johnson and Jonah Hill) quickly dissolves into pure farce. Even with all of the gruesome violence, what shocked me most about “Django Unchained” was all of the moments I found myself laughing and feeling giddy when I probably shouldn’t have. The film is full of comic moments framed around serious moments. Laughing at these demons helps remove their power.

More than any other of his past films, Quentin has challenged himself here, by making a film that takes place before movies. Without the cushion of his typical pop culture references, he goes to some new and interesting places. Surfer movies and Elvis are traded for The Three Musketeers and German fairytales as “Django Unchained” is a mashup of western, southern, and European legends. When Django asks Schultz to help him rescue his wife, Schultz remarks that the name of his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), is the name of a character from Germany’s most famous folktale.

Just when the film couldn’t get any more exciting, Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), the Mississippi slave master who currently owns Broomhilda is introduced. Candie reminds me of the villain that Waltz played in “Basterds” but on a whole different level of delusion. DiCaprio, so good at conveying southern hospitality, making Candie seem like a kind and reasonable man even when he clearly isn’t. It is this charm that makes him even more terrifying. He hosts slave fights and doesn’t blink an eye when he orders the violent execution of a rebellious slave. There were many times I forgot that it was even DiCaprio in the role. In a perfect world, the Academy would just hand an Oscar over to him already.

Without the cushion of film, Quentin delves deeper into overanalyzing historical issues with excessive dialogue. Several scenes are so good, yet so dense, that I have to watch them again. His dialogue can explain simple things in such eloquent ways.  Without pop culture, you can see Tarantino’s dialogue for what it really is: a cross between indulgence and intellectualization.

Very few films have been made about American slavery. “Gone with the Wind” and “Roots” are the only ones that have truly stuck, and even those feel a little outdated. Even if it carries some extreme historical inaccuracies, “Django Unchained” is the most interesting and complex portrayal of slavery ever put out by Hollywood. Even when Tarantino intentionally overlooks historical truths, he does wonders with the details. Every costume and set is given so much loving and painstaking detail that I I felt myself becoming deeply immersed in the era. Tarantino shows the slave owners as white trash in fancy outfits, and their accompanying women are exaggerated southern belles.

And then there is Samuel L. Jackson as Stephen, an old slave who is also racist. This character totally topples the terrible archetypes in American fiction of the “Magic Negro” and the “wise, old black man.” Stephen has been Candie’s slave for so long and is so close to the man that one might argue that he believes that he is white. However, I think it is deeper than that, and it greatly shows why Tarantino’s history benders are so marvelous and so filled with depth. It is as if slavery rewarded those with loyalty by creating an immense fear of the outside world, and immense comfort on the plantation. Stephen is more than just an excuse for Samuel L. Jackson to curse and say the n-word a lot. Though, watching him do both of those thing is predictably entertaining.

“Django Unchained” does to slavery what “Inglourious Basterds” did to Nazis and The Holocaust.  It is also the most perplexing and entertaining film of 2012. Nobody combines high and low brow as well as Quentin Tarantino. Only in one of his films could a Mexican standoff segue into a conversation about racism and French culture. After 20 years as a filmmaker, Quentin still knows how to pull the rug out from under the audience. “Django Unchained” constantly change our opinions of who the bad guys are. It may not totally rewrite history or change the way movies are made, but it does go way past the point in which it should have ended, and then gives great reason as to why it does just that.

How I Rank Quentin Tarantino’s Films:
1. Pulp Fiction- Still Tarantino’s best film, “Pulp Fiction” is still as brazen and funny as it was when it first came out. This pop culture tribute has become an indelible part of pop culture.
2. Inglourious Basterds- Jews kill Nazis. Christoph Waltz is introduced to the world. History is rewritten. What’s not to love.
3. Kill Bill 1 & 2- Part one is a breathtaking action spectacle. Part two is the most emotional film Tarantino has ever made. Altogether it’s the film that kicked off my movie obsession.
4. Reservoir Dogs- The place where it all began. Still one of the best directorial debuts ever.
5. Django Unchained
6. Jackie Brown- This was not loved when it first came out, but it’s hard to follow “Pulp Fiction.” “Jackie Brown” holds up well on repeat viewings.
7. Death Proof- This is where Tarantino went a little off the rails. It’s the weaker half of “Grindhouse.” This ode to trashy cinema forgot to be fun.

Top 5: Most Anticipated Holiday Movies

December is an exciting time. Not only because everyone is decorating their trees, lighting their Menorahs, or doing whatever people who celebrate Kwanza do. This is the time when studios release the very best films they have to offer. Often, the closer we get to the Oscars, the better the quality of movies get, until the dumping ground season of January begins. Here now is my list of films that will make December 2012 memorable, even if the world doesn’t end:

5. Les Miserables

I’ve never been a big fan of musicals, but the history buff in me really wants to see a big, epic musical about the French Revolution. I never saw “Les Miserables” on Broadway, but seeing that the French Revolution was not a very happy time in world history, this definitely won’t be a musical where people sing and dance and suddenly all of their problems disappear. A song certainly can’t stop a guillotine. “Les Miserables” is directed by Tom Hooper. I still think it’s unfair that his “The King’s Speech” beat out both “Black Swan” and “The Social Network” for Best Picture, but that guy truly has a gift for bringing the past to life.

Coming to Theaters: December 28

4. Not Fade Away

“Not Fade Away” is David Chase’s directorial debut in film. If you don’t know who David Chase is, you really should: he created “The Sopranos.” “Not Fade Away” brings him back to New Jersey, and even reunites Chase with the state of New Jersey Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) himself. But those expecting a profanity-laden tale of gangsters might be disappointed, as this is instead a coming-of-age story about a rock and roll band. I saw another coming-of-age story about a band earlier this year  called “Fat Kid Rules the World.” I was thoroughly disappointed by it, but I have a feeling that “Not Fade Away” will be infinitely better. It has “Almost Famous” potential. Plus, with a title inspired by a Rolling Stones song, it seems that “Not Fade Away” has its head in the right place.

Coming to Theaters: December 21

View the top 3 after the jump:

3. This Is 40

Judd Apatow is still the reigning king of comedy. I admire the ambition of his last feature, “Funny People,” even if it could have used another visit to the editing room. Luckily, “This Is 40″ is a spinoff of Apatow’s superior “Knocked Up.” It follows married couple Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie) a few years down the road. This seems to be Apatow’s most personal film yet, and it even stars his two daughters. This may be more mature than Apatow’s other works, but the fact that the poster has Paul Rudd on a toilet gives me faith that he hasn’t totally abandoned his sense of dirty hilarity. Over the past two decades, Apatow has altered comedy in both film and television. Could the Oscars be the next step for him?

Coming to Theaters: December 21

2. Zero Dark Thirty

“Zero Dark Thirty” is Kathryn Bigelow’s first feature since she made history and won an Oscar for “The Hurt Locker.” Back during the 2010 Oscar season, I dissed “The Hurt Locker” so much that people might have the impression that I didn’t like it. I did very much, I just thought that every award it won belonged to “Inglourious Basterds.” But I digress. Bigelow has a talent for realism, which makes her the perfect candidate to capture the mission to kill Osama Bin Laden on film. I was worried that this film seemed a little rushed to be released, but the trailer gives me chills every time I watch the soldiers stand outside Bin Laden’s compound. I am not expecting to have fun watching “Zero Dark Thirty,” but I am expecting a seriously dark thriller that pulls absolutely no punches.*

Coming to Theaters: December 21

1. Django Unchained

I’ve expressed my love of Quentin Tarantino films way too much on this blog, so I won’t bore you with that. But I will say that “Django Unchained” looks about as spectacular as I expected it to be. I nearly stood up and cheered when the trailer started blasting the theme from the original “Django.”** I think it’s about time that Quentin teamed up with Leonardo DiCaprio. Maybe he can finally get DiCaprio his first Oscar. Only Quentin can turn a dark time in our nation’s history into something exploitative, entertaining, and hilarious. This is also the first time that Quentin is working in a time period before movies existed. What will his characters banter about? If Quentin can pull off a full film without his signature pop culture talk, then he can officially be cemented as a master. Not that he wasn’t one already.

Coming to Theaters: December 28

*Can’t wait to see who shouts “AMERICA!” in the theater after Bin Laden is brought down.
**”Django Unchained” is not a remake. Qunetin Tarantino just loves to steal. He is an artistic kleptomaniac.

Movie Review: Seven Psychopaths

This is one of my favorite movie stills of all time.

“Seven Psychopaths” is one of those film in which its title is also the title of the screenplay a character is writing in the film. However, it’s not one of those films that just ends with the final scene being typed out, so we can take comfort in knowing that everything that just happened was only in some writer’s head.

“Seven Psychopaths” is an insane deconstruction of action movies that I loved every minute of. Perhaps Hollywood has reached a tipping point when it comes to telling crime tales, and “Seven Psychopaths” is exactly what it needed to put it back in line. Meta films walk a very tight rope, and “Seven Psychopaths” manages to consistently stay in line.

I have never understood why films about screenwriters have gotten such a bad reputation. Thanks to the weird minds of screenwriters created by the weird minds of screenwriters, we’ve gotten “Sunset Boulevard,” “Barton Fink,” and “Being John Malkovich.” I have a feeling that “Seven Psychopaths” was written when Martin McDonagh was going through writer’s block. Marty Faranan (Colin Farrell) hasn’t gotten past the title for his latest script, “Seven Psychopaths.” Marty is a drunk, which is in his heritage, as others tend to frequently remind him. He is also in a bad relationship with a controlling girlfriend (Abbie Cornish). He wants his script to be about seven different psychopaths. However, he’s having trouble finding his psychos.

“Seven Psychopaths” was made for both film buffs and crime news fanatics. Marty’s best friend happens to be a dognapper named Billy (Sam Rockwell). He wants to help Marty write his script, so he puts out an ad seeking out every psychopath in Los Angeles with a great story. Billy is always eating junk food and he may be completely insane. I always knew Rockwell was a great actor, but I never realized he could be this funny. His performance is filled with twitchiness and manic energy that makes it impossible to know what he could do next. If for some reason another film about Hunter S. Thompson were to be made (I’m hoping for a version of “Rum Diary” that’s actually good), I would cast Rockwell above all others to play Thompson.

Christopher Walken, in his best role in years, plays Hans, the eccentric boss of the dognapping empire. While he can kill it in small roles (“Pulp Fiction,” “Annie Hall”) he is capable of emotional range that goes much further than “creepy guy with a raspy voice.” His character is that archetypal old criminal who seems too nice to ever shoot. He’s also raising money for the same reason many other film criminals have: his wife has cancer. Why he thinks dognapping is the best way to pay for his wife’s treatment is beyond me, but I don’t think the reasons are all that important.

“Seven Psychopaths” commits so many felonies against good screenwriting. Yet, it breaks all of the rules with such confidence and self-awareness that it just can’t be held against McDonagh. Now, I’m not saying that self-awareness is an excuse for bad writing. However, they come across much better when they are done intentionally. “Seven Psychopaths” knows that the kind of story it wants to tell has been done so many times before, so it might as well try to present it in a new way.

“Seven Psychopaths” introduces characters and subplots, and then gets rid of them whenever it damn well pleases. Breaking screenwriting rules is actually beneficial here: it adds a dangerous, unstable element to the whole story. It’s a screenwriter projecting his own mind through the eyes of another screenwriter, and neither have any idea where their own stories can take them. And that is a beautiful thing about writing a film: when you have absolutely no idea where the story you are inventing is going to end.

Despite the unpredictability, McDonagh seemed to have a good plan for where to end this film in the same way that “In Bruges” tied everything together so perfectly in the end. “Seven Psychopaths” is a huge ensemble, and it makes a mobster played by Woody Harrelson, a serial killer who kills mobsters, and an adorable Shih Tzu all come together. I am not trying to start a fight here, but I will take that Shih Tzu over Uggie any day of the week.

I see “Seven Psychopaths” as being about the purpose of violence in movies. Sometimes, it has to exist just punish people who had it coming. At one point, Billy suggests they all just go out into the desert and forget about everything that happened. That doesn’t work for long, and not only because Billy is an idiot. Perhaps the reason that heist films end in a shootout is because that’s the only natural course for a criminal to go on. No matter how hard you try, cliches can never be completely avoided. But if you present them in the right way, they can show why movies are such an exhilarating experience.

A friend of mine made a very accurate remark about Martin McDonagh, in that he is the only auteur bred during a generation of Tarantino ripoffs that can ripoff Tarantino correctly. That may be partly because McDonagh got his training in theater, so he knows how to write the long scenes of dialogue that mark a Tarantino film. Not only that, but he also gives the characters funny and insightful things to say. We don’t mind if the story is delayed for a bit, because what the characters are saying is so good to listen to. If a film has good dialogue, that means it can be listened to without the accompanying images and still be just as good.

As someone who is currently writing a script, “Seven Psychopaths” spoke to me on a very high level by nailing a writer’s journey. Whenever it looks like we’re just sitting there doing nothing, there is actually about a thousand ideas forming in our heads, looking for ways to become a whole. “Seven Psychopaths” is filled with little mini stories that are just as good as the main story. Some of the mini stories are made up and told within a story that is also made up. “Seven Psychopaths” is a movie about how life doesn’t turn out like it does in the movie. Try not to let your head explode before you can actually go see it for yourself.

Yes, that is Tom Waits and a bunny rabbit.

It’s Here! The Premiere of the Django Unchained Trailer

I definitely didn’t need a trailer to get me excited for “Django Unchained,” but I’m not complaining about the fact that the first trailer has finally been released.

While the trailer for Quentin Tarantino’s last film, “Inglourious Basterds,” misled viewers to believe that it was nothing but a Brad Pitt fest, the “Django Unchained” trailer seems to be showing exactly the kind of film everyone expected it to be. And no, that is not a bad thing at all. “Django” looks to have a perfect mix of serious and awesome action and hilariously inspired exploitation. It also opens with a Johnny Cash song and includes Christoph Waltz channeling Hans Landa and Leonardo DiCaprio saying “rambunctious” in the most sinister way possible.

But it’s time for me to shut up now, and time for you to watch this trailer*:

Note: This trailer comes via The Film Stage, a site dedicated to movie reviews and news. I began contributing to it today. Check out the site here:

My Most Anticipated Movies of 2012

A fan poster for “Django Unchained”.

Will 2012 be a better year for movies than 2011. So far, the amount of trailers for 3D re-releases is not promising. However, we live in a world where content is king, and a few amazing filmmakers, and some great actors, as well as some who are on the rise, will make 2012 a noteworthy year. Assuming the world doesn’t end (I still doubt you, Mayans), here are the 2012 movie releases that I am most looking forward to:

1. Django Unchained- It’s Quentin Tarantino’s next movie, what else would you expect me to put as number one? It is not for that mere fact alone, however, as a lot of good directors can make bad movies (Tarantino’s own “Death Proof” was far from a masterpiece). However, what also looks promising is the film’s amazing cast, which includes Samuel L. Jackson, Christoph Waltz, and The RZA. It is Tarantino’s next attempt to relocate the Western. It started in Los Angeles, traveled to East Asia, and ended up in Nazi-Occupied France. “Django Unchained” will put the Spaghetti-Western into the slavery era South. Expect scenes that go on longer than they should, but you wish could continue, and some amazing dialogue on Civil War politics and slave culture.
Coming to Theaters December 25

2. The Dark Knight Rises- When Christopher Nolan first made “Batman Begins,” he not only revived a franchise, but also an entire genre. When he made “The Dark Knight” in 2008, he had created the best comic book movie ever. Not only that, but one of the greatest action movies of our time. Can “The Dark Knight Rises” not only equal, but surpass, its predecessor. From the looks of the previews, it can. It is unfortunate that we don’t have The Joker, but Tom Hardy will put on quite a show as Bane, and be more true to the character from the original comics than “Batman & Robin” was.  Nolan has just gotten better and better as a director, and “The Dark Knight Rises” looks like one hell of a way to end this amazing story.
Coming to Theaters July 20

3. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey- I have a soft spot for “The Lord of the Rings” movies: they helped to fuel my very hyperactive mind around the age of 10. Given the 3D and digital technology Peter Jackson is using, this chapter of Tolkien’s books will look better than ever. While this probably won’t top “Return of the King” in scope, it will stand in its own right as a superior example of how to make a blockbuster movie, and will complete the full arc of one of the greatest fantasies ever told.
Coming to Theaters December 14

4. Chronicle- I have never been a fan of the incorporation of shaky cam movies. It makes action movies more nauseating, and is a poor excuse for creating supposed “horror” (I’m looking at you, “Blair Witch Project”). But it should work for “Chronicle,” a homegrown superhero fable that made a splash on the internet with its intriguing trailer. The fact that “Chronicle is not based on a comic book gives it more creative freedom, and based on the plot I’ve seen from the trailer (kids causing chaos) with their own powers, this will probably be one of the most realistic superhero movies we’ll get.    
Coming to Theaters February 3

5. Lincoln- Here’s the movie with the second best cast of 2012. It is something of a shocker that there hasn’t been a decent Lincoln movie to date, but it’s no surprise that the first one will be directed by Steven Spielberg and star Daniel Day-Lewis as Honest Abe. I am always curious to see what Mr. Day-Lewis will add to a performance, and how Spielberg will tell a story. I expect nothing but the best.
Release Date Currently Unknown

6. The Amazing Spider-Man- America might be all Spider-Maned out, thanks to the poorly received third movie and the even more poorly received play that involved the world’s most overrated musician. It might be too soon to do a “Spider-Man” reboot (“Spider-Man 3″ is only four years old), but “The Amazing Spider-Man” shows great promise. It is directed by Marc Webb (“500 Days of Summer”) and it stars Andrew Garfield (“The Social Network”) as Peter Parker. Some young energy could do good for the franchise. Plus, this will go back to the roots of the original “Spider-Man” comics, when Parker had to construct his own web blasters. In the original “Spider-Man” movies, Parker could launch webs from his arms. This change brings Spider-Man back to what he always was: a nerd, and a genius.
Coming to Theaters July 3

7. This is 40- I am still on the fence about Judd Apatow’s last movie, “Funny People” (it had brilliant moments, but it would’ve benefitted from being 45 minutes shorter). However, “This is 40″ brings back Apatow’s greatest couple, Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debby (Leslie Mann) from “Knocked Up.” Jason Segel will be reprising his role as Jason, and Melissa McCarthy (“Bridesmaids”) will join the ensemble. I’m already laughing.
Coming to Theaters December 21

8. Gravity- I know very little about “Gravity” besides the fact that it was directed by Alfonso Cuaron, and that it is a science fiction movie. The last movie Cuaron directed, “Children of Men,” was a sci-fi masterpiece and one of the greatest movies I’ve ever seen. Each time I watch it is always as exhilarating as the first. I expect some amazingly long takes of outer space.
Coming to Theaters November 21

9. Casa de mi Padre- This is one of the more peculiar projects of the coming year. It is a comedy about a Hispanic drug dealer starring Will Ferrell that is entirely in Spanish. It also stars two of Latin America’s best (and usually, most serious) actors: Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna. Once Ferrell turned Luna into a running joke during his George Bush one man show, it was kismet that they would make a movie together.
Coming to Theaters March 16

10. Jeff Who Lives At Home- The Duplass brothers make some of the quietest, strangest dark comedies of the day. Just look at 2010′s “Cyrus” for proof. Jason Segel steps into the slacker role this time, as Jeff, a man who is finally forced to leave his mother’s basement in order to help his brother (Ed Helms) catch his possibly adulterous wife. Awkward laughs and awkward silences to ensue. The fact that it comes out in March will help make the early part of the year a better time for movies than it usually is.
Coming to Theaters March 2

Eight Nights of Hanukkah, Eight Nights of Movies: Night #2

Eight Nights of Hanukkah, Eight Nights of Movies is a new series in which for each night of Hanukkah I will recommend a new movie to watch. Each movie might have been made by a prominent Jewish filmmaker, or embodies a prominent part of Jewish culture. Because I missed the first night, as I was embarking on a great Florida migration, I will recommend two for the second night.

Inglourious Basterds 

Here is a movie that needs no introduction, as I can barely go a day (or a blog post) without talking about it. With “Inglourious Basterds,” Quentin Tarantino earned the title of Honorary Jew for fulfilling any little Jewish boy’s childhood fantasy of getting vengeance on the Nazis. But it is not just a violent, one-dimensional revenge fantasy but rather a morality tale that dares us to ask whether or not our enemies can actually be human. This might be the only movie of its kind that will actually make you feel like a more enlightened human being. The movie also includes moments of gripping suspense and utterly insane hilarity. Despite the newfound enlightenment you may have found, it will not stop you from standing up and cheering after the movie’s history-bending twist (most people probably know what it is at this point but if not, I will spare the spoiler). No movie will make you feel prouder to light the menorah tonight.

Leaves of Grass

I didn’t really think “Leaves of Grass” was as brilliant as some believed (Ebert called it a “masterpiece”). It is flawed and its narrative probably made more sense in novel form, but it is certainly “whacky” and inventive enough for me to recommend to the more adventurous cinephile. Edward Norton is brilliant as always, this time giving two performances in one movie, one as a philosophy professor and the other as a drug dealer. Most shocking about “Leaves of Grass” is that it reveals that there is indeed a Jewish community in Tulsa, Oklahoma. That is, in case you were the kind of person who likes to track down Jews in random parts of America. It is partly based on writer-director Tim Blake Nelson’s life growing up in a Jewish family in Tulsa. “Leaves of Grass” is not just a crime-thriller-satire but an examination on Jewish identity. I can’t say I “get” the whole thing but if one of you does, please feel free to explain it to me.

The Plot of Quentin Tarantino’s Next Movie

Two posts in one night? I must be crazy. No, this only happens when something truly newsworthy comes along.

The plot for Quentin Tarantino’s next film, entitled “Django Unchained,” has been released today. All that was known before was that it was a slave revenge film. Here is what that actually entails:
Django is a slave who’s liberated by a German dentist-turned-bounty hunter and taught the tricks of the trade by his mentor. Django’s major goal in life is to recover his wife, and to do it he needs to get past the villainous ranch owner Calvin Candie (DiCaprio), who runs Candyland, a despicable club and plantation in Mississippi where female slaves are exploited as sex objects and males are pitted against each other in “mandingo”-style death matches. Candie is a slave’s worst nightmare, and that [sic] is where Django’s wife Broomhilda is an abused slave. [Deadline]

Yes, whenever Quentin says he is making an historical epic, it is not just some historical epic. Earlier this week it was announced that Jamie Foxx would play the lead role. While he did win an Oscar for “Ray,” he also starred in “Booty Call.” Then again, this is from the same director who turned John Travolta into a hitman after starring in “Look Who’s Talking.”

The rest of the cast is enticing. Of course, Samuel L. Jackson will be fantastic, as long as he is given a Bible or some dialogue that he can shout unnecessarily loud. While I have never seen DiCaprio play a flat out villain, his acting has improved with each film he does, so I have a feeling he can do this. As for Christoph Waltz, I have a feeling the German bounty hunter role was written directly for him. And yes, he can act his way out of a paper bag.

For now, it seems too hard to tell what direction this plot will take the film in. Is Tarantino aiming for a classic Grindhouse experience like “Death Proof,” or a classier revenge fantasy like “Inglourious Basterds”?

Something that I wonder even more about, however is what Tarantino will do filming in a time period before movies even existed. In “Basterds,” he was able to find conversation in the films of G.W. Pabst, but what will the 19th century characters of “Django Unchained” discuss? Maybe the characters can sit around a southern manor and discuss the significance of “Moby Dick.”

Whatever he decides to do, I will be there on opening weekend.

Minimalism: The New Way to Market a Movie

Today, I want to talk not about a movie, but about a poster. Well actually, many posters.

The art form known as Minimalism has become a phenomenon on the interweb. It’s not new; artists have been using it for years. However, it’s been given a new use: movie posters.
The idea behind Minimalism is to create a work of art that takes a concept and strips it down to its most basic form. When something is stripped down to its most basic element, there is something strangely deeper that can be found in it. It would basically be saying so much by showing so little.
Some of the posters make a lot of sense. A lot of them involve a great knowledge of the film involved to truly understand. Take for example, one poster for “Inception.” It simply shows an outline of four of the main characters’ faces and their totem placed inside each of them. It is simple and effective. It also shows how each totem is psychologically linked to each character, objects of how their brains work.
Others are confusing, yet portray something so important to the movie. One of my favorites is the one for “The Deer Hunter.” It shows six circles. Five are empty, and one is shaded red. Even people who love the movie will be confused at first. Think. Think very hard. Yes, it is portraying a gun with one bullet in it, loaded for Russian Roulette. With this image, such a deep and complex film is boiled down to its most basic, yet most important idea. Who needs an image of helicopters flying through Vietnam when you can just have a picture of the barrel of a gun?
There are others in the spirit of the “Inception” poster. The “Blade Runner” poster has no epic image of futuristic Los Angeles. All it has is that little origami unicorn. The poster for “Inglourious Basterds” shows two hands holding up three fingers in different ways. It’s the German three and the English three. It’s yet another small detail that made a very big difference in this movie.
Some posters are even more thought provoking and even more creative. The pattern on “The Shining” poster is the carpeting of The Overlook Hotel. The “Titanic” poster is not just a white triangle, it’s that deadly iceberg. Some add on to certain movies as well. “The Godfather” poster shows the rest of the horse’s body without the head. That is, if you really wanted to know what a headless horse looked like.
At the moment, Minimalist posters are fan art. They are made by and for people who truly appreciate movies. Yet, I feel like this new art form has a bigger potential. Why not actually use Minimalist posters to market movies? They’re better and more original than most of the generic crap passed off as posters nowadays. As a marketing tool, movie posters should draw people into a movie with a curiosity factor. If someone sees a “Kill Bill” poster with nothing but footsteps, they might wonder, where do those footsteps lead?
But posters shouldn’t just be for marketing. A movie poster should serve the same purpose as an album cover. They should converse with the art, and emphasize a central purpose behind it. A poster of the incredible futuristic Los Angeles from “Blade Runner” might draw more attention, but that unicorn is much more important to the story. You could compare that to the cover of “London Calling.” It could’ve just been an image of London being caught in the middle of the apocalypse. While the simple image of Joe Strummer smashing a guitar may seem out of place, it’s really there to show the raw, unbridled power of true rock and roll that the album is partially a metaphor for.
That simple image of a mythical creature, or the inside of a gun are not the first things you’d expect to see on a good movie poster. But like that album cover, they show the strange, mesmerizing magic of truly amazing cinema. The poster is meant to encapsulate an entire film in one image. In so simple an image, so much more can be said.
I couldn’t find the “Inception” poster I was referring to earlier, but here is another cool one.

The Oscars: Who Should Win

You’ll find out later in the week who I think will actually win the Awards. But for now, I’d like to share the directors, writers, and actors who would win if only I could hand out the trophies. A few you won’t surprised by, and a few you just might be.

Best Picture: Inglourious Basterds
It was the best movie of 2009 when it came out in August, and it’s still the best movie today. While this is a strong year for Best Picture nominees (for the most part), “Basterds” is more movie than any of these movies. It was almost even a magnum opus. It probably won’t pick up the Best Picture statue, but history certainly will be kind to these “Basterds.”
Best Director: Quentin Tarantino or Kathryn Bigelow
How could this be? Am I really rooting against Tarantino? While I’d love seeing him earn the first Best Director Oscar of his career, Bigelow did something special with “The Hurt Locker.” I don’t root for her solely because her win would make history, but because she directed the action so elegantly, and so ingeniously found suspense not in the moment the bomb blows up, but rather the moment before it could potentially blow our hero away.
Best Actor: Colin Firth (A Single Man)
Jeff Bridges gave a fine performance in “Crazy Heart.” I root for him in a way because, well, he’s the Dude, man. But the more I think about it, the more I find it impossible to neglect my admiration for Firth. Throughout the flawed “A Single Man,” he was so perfectly understated. His reaction to his lover’s death is one that has been engrained into my memory. Simply, he showed he showed he had amazing talent I didn’t even know existed.
Best Actress: Carey Mulligan (An Education)
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what about Mulligan’s performance was so Oscar worthy. Maybe it was just that simply through her emotions and expressions, she turned Jenny from a cardboard figure into a three dimensional human being. Her looks have often been compared to that of Audrey Hepburn. Her acting should be, as well.
Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds)
Am I a horrible Jew for saying I was charmed by a Nazi? Probably. I don’t care, because Waltz created possibly the most interesting and complex Nazi ever put on screen. At times, his performance is as terrifying and manipulative as it is breezy and funny. He created a character who single-handedly defines what it means to be “Tarantinoesque.” May you have a long and prosperous future of fine work ahead of you, Mr. Waltz.
Best Supporting Actress: Mo’Nique (Precious)
I still remember the day I walked out of “Precious” (then “Push”) at Sundance. Even though the whole film had made an impression on me, Mo’Nique’s performance stole the entire show. She gives the horrible Mary very few redeeming qualities, but she never neglects to make her feel human, whether that means good or bad. But then, there’s that final, heart-wrenching monologue, in which she inspires a sort of pathetic sympathy. In January 2009 I said, this performance deserves an Oscar. In March 2010, it will win one.
Best Original Screenplay: Inglourious Basterds
There’s not much more that can be said about “Basterds” that I haven’t said already, but I’ll give it a try. Tarantino’s writing deserves to win because it’s written so eloquently, and so flawlessly. Despite the fact that the time period limits Tarantino from much of his pop culture references, this script still shows his amazing ability to make long stretches of dialogue both utterly intense and extremely fascinating. We don’t get any conversations about “Like a Virgin” or cheeseburgers, but we do get an explanation for the war put in the terms of rodents. Also, we get some conversations about cinema that only a true cinephile would be able to give us.
Best Adapted Screenplay: Up in the Air
I debated giving this one to “In the Loop,” for its overly creative cursing. But the script of “Up in the Air” works both in completed film form, and on its own. In Jason Reitman’s script, he stayed loosely faithful to the book he was adapting and added his own story in. He also kept that fine balance between relevant tragedy and light-hearted yet smart humor. Simply, this script flows like water and never seems to hit a false note. There would be no great movie without this great script.
Best Animated Film: Fantastic Mr. Fox
It might be blasphemous to pass over a Pixar film. However, they’ve had their moment in the sun for countless years. The true best animated film of the year was from the mind of both Wes Anderson and Roald Dahl. It ignored CGI animation and instead stuck with traditional models. Strangely, in that sense, it seemed all the more real. It’s a witty labor of love that criminally did not receive all of the love it deserved.