For the past several weeks, I’ve made my way through every film Quentin Tarantino has written and directed, highlighting my favorite aspects of each film in the process. In the days leading up to QT’s next film, The Hateful Eight, we land on the 2012 Oscar-winning western, Django Unchained. I hope you dig the post (my other Tarantino posts can be found in the list at the bottom of this page), and feel free to share your thoughts as well!
Sunday, December 20, 2015
Friday, December 11, 2015
Inglourious Basterds marks Quentin Tarantino’s evolution into what he refers to as lyrical filmmaking. In QT’s words, Basterds, Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight, make a trilogy of long, poetic, lyrical films. (He’s also said that, having completed the trilogy, he’s interested in getting back to more visceral filmmaking, like Kill Bill. Which good, potentially, mean the possibility of Kill Bill: Vol. 3. But since we’re talking about Basterds, I consider it one of QT’s most mature films, ranked right next to Jackie Brown in that regard. It’s classical and reserved, until, of course, it’s not. Enjoy!
Friday, December 4, 2015
Many dug it and many loathed it; such is the lasting fate of Quentin Tarantino’s most experimental film, Death Proof. The film, packaged with Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror, was a double-feature throwback to the exploitation films both filmmakers were raised on. Seeing both films (under the sole title, Grindhouse), in the theater remains one of the most memorable movie-going experiences I’ve ever had. That was just it, Grindhouse was an experience. And sure, while Death Proof may not carry as much weight as Tarantino’s other films, I still love it all the same.
Wednesday, December 2, 2015
Few actors are as equally menacing as they are hilarious. And ever fewer make you want to revisit their work again and again (and again, and again) in films from completely different genres. But that’s Joe Pesci. The man who starred in (and won an Oscar for) arguably the greatest, most rewatchable mob movie of all time, and starred in one of the greatest, most rewatchable holiday films of all time... in the same year. Another thing I love about Pesci is that acting has never consumed his life. He’s been a forklift driver, lounge singer, bartender, restaurant owner, hell, he’s even responsible for helping create The Four Seasons. But despite having other interests (he’s been semi-retired since 1998), Pesci routinely delivered stellar work. He’s one of the best we’ve had, no question, period.
Friday, November 27, 2015
To watch the second volume of a film is to compare it to the first. Rarely are The Godfather and The Godfather Part II mentioned in the same breath without mentioning which one the speaker likes better. Same for Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill saga. Rather famously, Tarantino shot the film at one time, as a whole, and decided in editing to cut the films in two. The results continue to split audiences. When I saw Vol. 2 in the theater, I expected the balls-to-the-wall action extravaganza of Vol. 1 to still be in play. Instead, Vol. 2 revealed itself to be a patient, more restrained follow-up. Vol. 2 is a straight drama with a few thrilling action sequences, as opposed to Vol. 1, a straight action film with a few dramatic scenes. As it turns out, I like both volumes equally, but feel free to share your thoughts on the whole saga!
Friday, November 20, 2015
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 is best known, at least by Quentin Tarantino himself, as Tarantino’s first Movie Movie Universe film. To explain. Tarantino has said he makes two types of films: ones belonging in The Realer than Real World Universe, and others in The Movie Movie Universe. The Realer than Real World Universe is for films that are based in a slightly heightened version of reality. This is where Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown belong. The Movie Movie Universe is an alternate, fantastical reality. To put it simpler: characters from The Realer than Real World Universe would likely go see a film from The Movie Movie Universe. Which makes sense. I mean, can’t you imagine Ordell Robbie loving the shit out of Kill Bill?
So, in short, Kill Bill: Vol. 1 was a real departure from the QT films that came before. It literally opened the filmmaker up to a whole new world.
Friday, November 13, 2015
My countdown to Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight continues with a dissection of Jackie Brown. Jackie Brown could very well be Tarantino’s most underrated film. Hell, its Top Critics score on Rotten Tomatoes is currently 61%, the lowest of any Tarantino film. Which means that many major critics didn’t really dig the film when it was released, but I think you’d have a hard time finding one who didn’t like the film today. Be sure to check out my previous posts on Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, and come back next Friday for my take on Kill Bill: Vol. 1.
Wednesday, November 11, 2015
Gaspar Noé is the most polarizing film director currently in the game. He makes uncommonly challenging and profane works. For more than a decade, I have passionately defended Noé’s films not only as art, but great art at that. I understand Noé’s intention, and, while extreme, I find value in it. His first feature, I Stand Alone, climaxes with a massive title card warning the audience that they have 30 seconds to leave the theater. When the title disappears, Noé spends the remainder of his film justifying that warning. Bad things happen in I Stand Alone. Horrible, brutal things. But look closer. Did they happen the way the main character perceived them?
Friday, November 6, 2015
The Hateful Eight countdown continues as I dive into my second favorite film of all time, Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. I absolutely adore this film, so I did have a lot to say about it, which I hope you dig. Come back next Friday as I dissect Jackie Brown!
Wednesday, November 4, 2015
Victoria is a very, very good film about people who make very, very poor decisions. And that’s okay. Really, it’s okay to watch a movie about people who spend 138 minutes of their lives making bad choices. Faulty character choices isn’t necessarily faulty filmmaking. In the best hands, such choices are realistic depictions of people with particular flaws. The titular character in Victoria, played harrowingly by Laia Costa, makes a lot of choices throughout the film that you may not agree with. In fact, I let out an “Ohh, nooo” early in the movie, partly because I thought Victoria was acting stupidly, but mostly because I really cared about her and didn’t want her to get hurt. And that’s the difference. That’s the character balance good films know how to achieve. They make you care about someone, as opposed to making them knife bait to setup the next kill.
Saturday, October 31, 2015
Friday, October 23, 2015
Sunday, October 18, 2015
Thursday, October 8, 2015
Rob Reiner’s A Few Good Men is one of those movies I can watch anytime, anywhere. Which is fitting, given that it’s one of the most popular TNT Movies (Cinema Romantico™) around. It also contains one of Aaron Sorkin’s finest scripts to date. So with the Sorkin-penned Steve Jobs hitting theaters tomorrow, here’s a look back at some things I love about A Few Good Men that are rarely discussed.
Sunday, October 4, 2015
In addition, Denis Villeneuve is one of the few modern directors who always include strong parts for women. His films often show what desperate people do in desperate situations. Sometimes they respond with harsh violence, other times with frank sexuality. Many lie, some kill, most make poor decisions. But all of them face dilemmas in the context of a great story, executed masterfully by the filmmaker in question.
Thursday, October 1, 2015
You ever have something really bad happen to you but it takes you a long time to realize how bad it actually was?
I have friends (more than I care to admit, though I suppose any number greater than zero is one too many) who have been sexually assaulted. Some of them continued to hang out with their assailants in the hours, days or even weeks after their attack. Had coffee, grabbed dinner, went to a movie. This is for two reasons. One, they knew their assailants personally and, up until the assault, always assumed they could trust them. Two, my friends didn’t have the emotional context to understand how horrific their attack was. It took weeks to fully settle in.
Friday, September 25, 2015
Yesterday marked the eighth anniversary of And So it Begins. Eight years. Holy hell, where does the time go? Exactly three years ago, I posted my Top 10 Films of All Time, and it’s about time I follow that up with the next 10. Keep in mind, this list only serves as a reflection of my own personal tastes. For better or best, this is how I see them. A huge thank you to all the readers of this blog, and the friends I’ve made because of it.
Monday, September 21, 2015
It’s easy to say that Wes Craven’s name is synonymous with horror. The man created Freddy Krueger, The Hills Have Eyes, Ghostface. Hell, even the name “Craven” sounds scary. That name and the horror genre will be forever linked, but labeling Craven as just a master horror filmmaker isn’t entirely fair. The man was a master filmmaker, period.
When Craven died of brain cancer last month, generations of movie fans mourned his loss. My mother was 16 years old when she saw Craven’s first film, The Last House on the Left. She said she sat in the theater in a horrific daze, mesmerized and terrified by what she was watching. Nearly 25 years later, I was roughly the same age when I watched Scream with the same exact emotions running through me. That was the power of Wes Craven at his best. His best films cut through and became iconic, scaring millions along the way.
Wednesday, September 16, 2015
Has a cooler American movie been made since Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive? Every frame of the movie oozes style, every note of sound is polished, everything about the movie is just… cool. By pure coincidence, I’m posting this list on the exact same day as the film’s American release four years ago. That’s four years of watching Ryan Gosling’s The Driver cruise around L.A., getting a feel for the streets, kicking ass and taking names and falling in love. Here are some things I love about one of America’s coolest films, that rarely get discussed.
Monday, September 14, 2015
Friday, September 11, 2015
And that’s just the Mamet side of Mantegna’s career. In full, Joe Mantegna has had a long, impressive career on stage and screen, playing everything from notable mobsters to caring fathers, ruthless killers to charming thugs of Springfield. Simply put, he’s one of the best, most notable character actors we have.
Thursday, September 3, 2015
Watching Digging for Fire, it’s clear almost immediately that this is the film Joe Swanberg has been leading up to. The movie has a maturity to it that is undeniable. The camera is often dead still, absent of visual flourishes. The frame is captured with smooth control on gorgeous 35mm by Ben Richardson, who did photographical wonders as the DP of Beasts of the Southern Wild. The score, by Dan Romer, who also worked on Beasts of the Southern Wild, is a synth-infused marvel, giving depth to scenes that may otherwise have little. And then there’s the cast, of which there isn’t a false note to be found. The opening credits read like a call sheet of the finest talents currently in the game.
Saturday, August 29, 2015
Leonard Maltin once described the late, great Bruno Kirby as “the quintessential New Yorker.” A fitting title, given that many of Kirby’s most iconic roles were men who effortlessly inhabited that city. Much of Kirby’s career saw him juggling a balance in his characters. Men who were scary and funny, threatening and charming, all at the same time. Kirby didn’t play one-note. He gave his characters depth and notoriety. Yet, for some reason, Kirby’s acclaim still isn’t what it deserves to be. This man should be remembered with the greats, period.
Monday, August 24, 2015
Cinematographer Matthew Libatique knows how to make a movie move. The films he shoots are energetic, vibrant, alive – they move. Whether opting for a modern and handheld approach, or traditional and elegant compositions, Libatique’s films have a vigor that is undeniable. Perhaps best known for his frequent collaborations with Darren Aronofsky (all of which are listed below), Libatique is a stylish cinematographer with a great command of his craft. Certainly one of the finest American DPs in the game.
Tuesday, August 18, 2015
|Unfriended, a new movie in real time|
Last night I watched two movies that, unbeknownst to me going in, were films that took place in real time. The first film was Cop Car, a thriller about two young boys who find an abandoned cop car in the middle of the woods, and do what most young boys would do in such a situation. The second movie was Unfriended, a digital thriller about a group of millennials who are harassed online, possibly by the ghost of a girl they bullied to death a year ago.
Friday, August 14, 2015
Thursday, August 6, 2015
Some songs are used so well in certain movies, that filmmakers should write those tracks off, as they will never be able to use it better. With this list, I’m not highlighting tracks that are obnoxiously overplayed in films and TV shows, but rather, songs that were used to perfection in one movie, and should thereby be banned from every other film. I also chose songs that, despite being used flawlessly once, they are still used often today.
Example: after “Tiny Dancer” appeared in Almost Famous, it’s almost as if the song was retired from movies. It’s popped up on a few TV shows, but I can’t recall hearing it in a movie since 2000 (yeah, except you, Ted 2). Same with “Then He Kissed Me.” Adventures in Babysitting and Goodfellas had their way with it, and for the most part, the track has been left alone.
I hope you enjoy the list, and do feel free to share the tracks you think should be retired from films.
Saturday, August 1, 2015
Thursday, July 23, 2015
I felt like an asshole watching Amy. The new documentary about doomed singer Amy Winehouse left me feeling disheartened, and sad, and cold. “It left me feeling cold.” That’s a line I see a lot in film criticism today. People often say it as if it’s a bad thing – “It left me feeling cold.” The problem with that line is that further explanation is rarely granted by the people who use it. After all, what’s wrong with feeling cold? Many of my favorite films leave me feeling cold. There’s nothing inherently “warm” to gain from Cries and Whispers. Or Shame. Or Deliverance. A documentary about someone as troubled as Amy Winehouse is not going to leave you feeling warm and fuzzy. Cold is to be expected here. But my time with Amy goes beyond cold. Watching the film, I felt like a participant in Winehouse’s death. I felt like I was watching someone die in slow motion, and that I was helping it happen.
Thursday, July 16, 2015
David Mamet’s films are a drug. I watch one and the synapses in my brain start firing, demanding only one thing: more, more, more. Genuinely, I can’t remember ever watching just one Mamet film and letting that be that. I watch one, and a week later, I’ve rewatched them all.
Upon binging Mamet’s films for the past week, I took particular notice of one of Mamet’s staple actors, the great Rebecca Pidgeon. Pidgeon and Mamet have been married since 1991 and their fruitful collaboration has produced some truly excellent work. So, for the first time in In Character (125 posts and counting!), every role I’ll be discussing was directed and/or created by the same filmmaker, which is really a testament to the work Pidgeon and Mamet have made together.
Thursday, July 9, 2015
Roger Ebert said it best, Kathryn Bigelow is a master of stories about men and women who choose to be in physical danger. Choose is the operative word. The characters in Bigelow’s films always seek out trouble. Sometimes it’s their job to do so; cops, soldiers and secret agents are paid to place themselves in dangerous situations. Other times, Bigelow’s characters start trouble just for the hell of it. The through line of these characters is that they all become obsessed with danger. The thrill of the chase, the determination of discovery.
Of course, Kathryn Bigelow is the only female who has won a Best Director Oscar, but that’s not what makes her work so iconic. In her three decades plus career, she’s made films in all different genres. Her movies are all different, but, in some ways, all the same. That’s what makes a great director, a great director.
Monday, July 6, 2015
So the thing is, I love Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike. The movie is a lot smarter than it has ever been given credit for, and in the wake of the release of its worthy follow-up, Magic Mike XXL (my review here), I thought it be fun to take a look back at the wildly misunderstood source film. For the most part, I’m going to focus on the technical aspects of the film – cinematography, editing, sound design – which are sadly rarely discussed.
Thursday, July 2, 2015
The original Magic Mike was a phenomenon. Made independently with $7 million dollars of director Steven Soderbergh and star Channing Tatum’s money, the film grossed more than $160 million worldwide, but not without angering a great many people. From the beginning, Magic Mike was pitched as an all-male romp, based on Tatum’s experience as a teenage stripper in Florida. The film was marketed ingeniously, relying on the abs and asses of guys with names like Tatum, McConaughey, Pettyfer, and Bomer. The marketing objective was simple: get women in the seats opening weekend. And it worked, like wildfire. Theaters sold out, millions were made, and many were pissed.
Tuesday, June 30, 2015
Ann Dowd is having a moment. In the past two years alone she’s been featured in critically revered indies as well as some of the most popular shows on television. But diving into her filmography, it’s clear that Dowd has been killing it for quite some time (yeah, that’s her as Ton Hanks’ supportive sis in Philadelphia), she only just broke through recently. Here I take a look back at her career, from humble and humorous beginnings, to current career-best work.
Wednesday, June 24, 2015
Warning: Critical plot details are revealed in this post.
My first experience with Begin Again was under some of the worst viewing circumstances possible. It was on my birthday last year. I was flying back to L.A. after 30 consecutive hours of delayed planes, mile-long lines for flight exchanges, layovers that never ended, and airport workers “trying their best.” I was tired and pissed off and figured that Begin Again looked as good a film as any to help pass the time. I thought the film would be easy, silly, dumb – not worth the $15 to catch it theaters, but fine for free on a plane.
Friday, June 19, 2015
Editing is where the magic happens. It’s where you shape, explore, experiment – it’s literally where you find and make your film. But it’s also a damn tedious process. Because there are so many choices in editing, filmmakers often hire professional editors to help them craft their films. On rare occasions, directors will assume sole responsibility as the chief editor, thereby fully seeing their film to the bitter end. Below are 10 directors who took on the laborious task of editing their own films themselves. Ranking them seemed fruitless, so they’re presented here alphabetically.
Wednesday, June 17, 2015
Thursday, June 11, 2015
One of my favorite things about writing these In Character posts is that I occasionally discover a new reason why I love an actor I already admired. I’ve loved Benicio Del Toro’s work since he strutted away from the police in his opening scene in The Usual Suspects, but in writing this post, I realized what I like most about him are his silences. While widely regarded for the inspired voices he often gives his characters, Del Toro’s real skill is his stare. Here’s an actor I’ve always appreciated, but like even more now, just from stacking all of his best work together.
Tuesday, June 9, 2015
I know the popular thing to do right now is shit all over the new Entourage movie, but I was always a fan of the original HBO show. Excessive, juvenile, silly – it was consistently all of those things, but I enjoyed much of the bubblegum L.A. fantasy it maintained. One thing the show was always rich with was celebrity cameos, and in the wake of the film sequel, here are my favorite celeb cameos featured in the show’s eight-season run. (Note: I only included cameos in which the celebrity played themselves.)
Tuesday, June 2, 2015
Sometimes it feels like a song finds you. Like it was made specifically for you and it reached out when you needed it most. Hearing Andrew Shapiro’s “Mint Green” for the first time was one such rare and beautiful occasion. I came across the track by chance on Pandora and immediately stopped what I was doing and devoted my full attention to it. I was so touched by the song’s collection of layered pianos, delivering notes of love and hope and melancholy. When the track finished, I sat inspired and deeply moved.
Tuesday, May 26, 2015
This is the one. The post I’ve been leading to. When I started my “the Directors” column in 2009, I knew that covering the great Alfred Hitchcock was a necessity, no matter how long it took. I’ve been chipping away at Hitch’s filmography for a good long while, and below is what I (finally) have to report. I do hope you enjoy my thoughts on every film by the Master of Suspense, and feel free to share your favorite Hitch films as well!
Tuesday, May 19, 2015
The girl is missing. Three-year-old Brittney Little was last seen in a furniture store as her young mother, Maveen (Sarah Sokolovic), and Maveen’s boyfriend (Common), playfully argued about which type of couch to buy. Two detectives are called to investigate, and they soon begin to unravel a complex plot that could help explain Brittney’s disappearance.
But that’s not where Every Secret Thing begins.
Last week, I was invited to participate in a podcast discussion about Harmony Korine’s masterful film, Spring Breakers. The Vern, Jay Cluitt, JD Duran, Nikhat Zahra and I spent 90 minutes talking about all aspects of the film – from the neon cinematography to the hyper editing, dangerous perceptions to surprising (but very welcome) feminism. It’s always a pleasure to be a part of the LAMBcast, especially when I’m such a huge admirer of the film in discussion. Click here to give the podcast a listen!
Wednesday, May 13, 2015
A few months ago, I called Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers one of my favorite films released so far this decade. It’s a neon-infused mind fuck freak show that I can’t get enough of. I was recently invited to participate in a LAMBcast discussion of the film (which will be posted on or around this Friday), and in preparation for that podcast, I decided to rewatch the movie. But this time, I paid close attention to the things I love most about Spring Breakers that are rarely discussed. Here’s what I found.
Wednesday, May 6, 2015
Vincent D’Onofrio is a character actor’s character actor. Frequently altering his voice, appearance and general mannerisms from role to role, D’Onofrio has been one of acting’s best chameleons for decades. Make-up can help with physical change, sure. As can elaborate costumes. But when they’re at their best, D’Onofrio’s transformations cut to the bone. He’s a notoriously dedicated Method actor who never shies from going all in. I hope you enjoy this trip into D’Onofrio’s dark world.
Friday, May 1, 2015
Noah Baumbach’s films are about people of a certain age, and how they respond to the time they’ve had, and the time they have left. These ages vary – from the confused collection of college grads in Kicking and Screaming, to the fortysomethings with twentysomething hearts in While We’re Young. Isolation is another theme of his work; how one deals with the confusion of the hyper world around them.
In discussing Baumbach’s career, I’m going to be talking a lot about time. The time expressed in the films themselves, but also how time in real life has allowed me to appreciate his work more. Rarely have I had a reversal on so many films by the same director. Proof that, as we get older, sometimes films really do get better.
Tuesday, April 28, 2015
Thursday, April 23, 2015
A few days ago, I highlighted several things I love about Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line that I feel are rarely (if ever) discussed. Here’s the second part of the post, which will, to be clear, spoil all major plot points of the movie. So please see the movie first before reading this post. This is too good a film to have ruined in print.
Catch up by checking out Part 1 of this post here.
Monday, April 20, 2015
Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line is the best war film I’ve ever seen. I’ve always considered it one of my favorite films of all time, and in watching it for this post, I couldn’t contain my praise. So, for the first time, I’m splitting one of my “That No One Talks About” lists into two parts. Part 1 today, Part 2 later this week. I hope you enjoy my thoughts on this film. And fair warning: I’m discussing The Thin Red Line in full here. If you haven’t seen it, I suggest doing so immediately, then, if you want, coming back and checking out these posts. Enjoy!