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Archive for August, 2009

My thoughts on Kill Bill are this:  it should have been one movie.   One very long movie, but one movie nonetheless and that Volume 1 makes Volume 2 pale in comparison.

I don’t know if Tarantino can ever top that House of Blue Leaves scene.  It has so much good in it and so much going on that everything after it looks not as good as it is.   (Poor Volume 2, although I will say that the Bill monologue at the end is some fantastic stuff.)

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I’ve only taken screencaps from Volume 1 (you don’t want to see how the caps from Volume 2 turned out; it was bad, bad, bad) but Tarantino took an age-old theme of vengeance upon those who have wronged a person.   He twisted it into something original with heavy doses of nostalgia and the usual tips of the hat to his favorite flicks.

Kill Bill is really Tarantino’s love letter of sorts to kung fu and samurai cinema with a dash of spaghetti westerns thrown in.

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I would say that Kill Bill is actually my favorite of all Tarantino flicks, something I know that borders on heresy in some quarters, but it’s the perfect blend of homage and originality.     The Bride might be up there with Ellen Ripley in terms of my favorite female action characters ever.

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It’s a colorful and stylized two volume set that runs at a smooth pace.   Oddly enough, it is the House of Blue Leaves scene that ends Volume 1 that, as I said before, does Volume 2 some heavy injustice.   The Bride’s final interaction and showdown with Bill, muted and as somewhat anticlimactic as it is, is pitch perfect.

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The usual Tarantino fare is there, from the close ups to the crazy foot fetishism, but he upped his game with Kill Bill.   Everything is bigger, brighter and bloodier.   The soundtrack, a medium in which Tarantino had demonstrated remarkable adeptness at picking out catchy forgotten gems to paste into his movies, was even better than his previous three film efforts.   If you saw Volume 1, you can at least pick out the strains of Twisted Nerve (the song Elle Driver whistles in the hospital) and place it in reference to the movie.

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Unlike, perhaps, Inglourious Basterds, Kill Bill offers no apologies or questions for the long trail of severed limbs and hacked up bodies left in the Bride’s wake; it’s a mission justified for which the reward is offered up in the last scene of Volume 2.

There is nothing to question about it; it is the story of one woman who sets out to punish those who wronged her in an uber-violent fashion.    And when she’s done … she’s done.   But along the way, Tarantino makes everything interesting and captivating even at its most brutal.

Given everything that’s effectively smashed into the movie, all the pop culture references, nods to various styles of cinema, musical cues and plain Tarantino oddities, it’s funny that Kill Bill works as well as it does, but it works very well.

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Penned by Tarantino, shot and edited by Rodriguez.   (Rodriguez does so much stuff on his own films that I’m shocked he’s not responsible for craft services in addition to the ninety million things he does.)

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Seth and Richie Gekko have some serious problems.   Richie busted Seth out of prison and on their way to safe haven in Mexico, they’ve killed more than a handful of civilians and cops.    Seth is the professional, pragmatic brother while Richie’s little more than a nutjob and a rapist, leaving big brother Seth to mop up the mess.   The Fuller family is traveling around the States in a RV, mourning the loss of the wife and mother of the group, when they inadvertently cross paths with the Gekko brothers.   Never one to pass up an opportunity, Seth uses the family as cover to get into Mexico and forces the family to stay overnight with him in a biker bar located in the middle of nowhere.    It is there that the real scary stuff begins, seeing as how the bar staff has the tiny little problem of vampirism.

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From Dusk ‘Till Dawn wasn’t the first script Tarantino wrote that had been directed by someone else; the script for Natural Born Killers fell to Oliver Stone, who made his version of Natural Born Killers, something Tarantino disowns.   From Dusk ‘Till Dawn was in the hands of Robert Rodriguez, a close friend and Tarantino was on set playing Richie Gekko.   The funny thing is that certain aspects of From Dusk ‘Till Dawn, such as the newscaster grinning as she counts up the bodies lining the Gekko Brothers’ path to freedom, still smack of Natural Born Killers.

Seth Gekko is in no easy situation.   In a bar full of violent truckers, bikers and insane strippers, he has to corral his psycho younger brother who has his eye on young Kate and keep a lid on the nervous family who wants nothing more than to get away from the two brothers.   Richie is the first victim of the vampires; he’s killed by a stripper named Satanico Pandemonium.   Fun times.   The rest of the bar almost nearly follows suit; it’s two bikers named Sex Machine (played by none other than Tom Savini) and Frost who survive the carnage along with Seth and the Fuller family.

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To celebrate the release of the long awaited Inglourious Basterds on Friday,  I had planned to do a whole week of Tarantino flicks (and still do), only to have some sort of nasty shoulder problem flare up Sunday and continue through Tuesday.   So we’re picking up today and I’ll be picking up the rest of the slack through the week, provided I can find all my copies of Tarantino flicks.

I’m starting out with Pulp Fiction, not Reservoir Dogs, which chronologically makes no sense.   Pulp Fiction, though, was the first Tarantino film I ever saw.   I was eight and my parents rented it.   We made it through about fifteen seconds of the Royale with Cheese scene before my parents shut it off.   They were horrified and returned it shortly thereafter, never to be brought up again.   (The subject of Quentin Tarantino to my parents is one massive eyeroll, I think).   Another eight years later or so, I would finally watch the whole thing.

To an eight year old, I think those first five or six minutes of Pulp Fiction were about the coolest thing you could see.

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Watching Pulp Fiction for me still brings back strange thrills of being young and feeling like maybe you were watching something you weren’t supposed to watch, even though I know better since I’m a grown woman now.   Instead of dissecting and analyzing Pulp Fiction since thousands of others have done so more thoroughly and better than I could ever do, I’m just going to reminisce a bit.

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It’s hard to believe that we are in the fifteenth anniversary of  Pulp Fiction’s release.  It can’t have been fifteen years, can it?   Nothing seems quite right about it.

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Then again, nothing about Tarantino’s second movie feels quite right.   It’s like the movie itself exists in a reality connected to ours with a few threads clipped away.   The choppy timeline only serves up more disorientation.   Traditional product placement is replaced with now easily recognizable Tarantino staples like Red Apple cigarettes and Jack Rabbit Slim’s (which is on its own like a retro diner ground through a bad acid trip, if you ask me).

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*Note: Best wishes to Roger Ebert, who I sincerely hope gets a good voice as discussed here, not for the film and general community’s benefit but so that such an articulate, witty man can communicate without frustrations to his loved ones and friends.   Bless him.
Also, I know that I am preaching to the choir here, but bear with me.
A few days ago, Roger Ebert posted a journal entry titled “The gathering Dark Age”, inspired by a blog entry from Patrick Goldstein.  Goldstein’s piece describes how The Hurt Locker, a critically acclaimed film from Kathryn Bigelow, is not doing that well amongst folks in my age range (18-30, I’ll say, for argument’s sake) even with stellar word of mouth.   (Word of mouth has long been touted, according to Ebert, as something that will help drive box office totals up and up.)   Ebert laments this fact and then goes on to state that my generation exhibits a decline in education and intelligent thought.   I am reluctant to disagree.
Ebert also points out that studio marketing and publicists have leashed the real thoughts of actors and actresses; the studio hype machine has lead to boring and predictable marketing that is a dog-and-pony show.
You can read Ebert’s entry here.   Something about it stuck in my grey matter for days and I kept coming back to his thoughts over and over again.   I thought I would write about it here, if only to see the discussion that may surface over it.  I am certainly no peer of Roger Ebert’s, but what I felt and thought about this subject spanned far more than a simple comment left on Ebert’s journal.
Some may have heard about “The Hurt Locker,” but simply lack the nerve to suggest a movie choice that involves a departure from groupthink.
With regard to Ebert’s critique of my generation’s failure to come out for The Hurt Locker, I don’t know if that’s the best movie to use as an example.  Iraq war movies have not done stellar box office in the past, so I find myself surprised that The Hurt Locker has done as well as it has.    Secondly, I do think you have to take into account that a chunk of that 18 – 30 demographic has loved ones fighting in that war.   Watching something like The Hurt Locker may be too uncomfortable and too close to home for some folks.   The nostalgia of certain properties like G.I. Joe and Transformers is small but not discounted, I don’t think, since the subject of Transformers killing at the box office is brought up.   With a major recession in play, I also believe that people are going to trend towards more lighthearted, ‘simpler’ fare.
That being said, none of that is a great explanation for why The Hurt Locker is failing to draw in some of my peers.   I don’t like swallowing any of those explanations, though they’re valid for some folks.   By my own logic, (500) Days of Summer should be trampling over the competition at the box office … and it isn’t.
Ebert’s warning that my generation is headed into dire straits is not unfounded.   We are a generation that is, in my opinion, less educated and less knowledgeable than the generations that came before us.   Those of us in our twenties cannot abdicate personal responsibilities because our education system taught us only to take exit tests; we may have to – as a generation – spend less time watching the exploits of those two nitwits Heidi and Spencer Pratt and read some books or go to a museum.   Those of you reading this are probably one of those ‘educated’ types, so I’m going to say that it’s difficult to change another person unless they want to change.  At the moment, most people my age see nothing wrong with not at least attempting to be an educated, articulate person.
Do I hold out any hope for this?  Not really.
It is not just the teenagers and the twentysomethings.  My advice to anyone who wants to see a cultural decline in general and in film – go work a few weeks in a suburban video rental store.  Watch what the forty to sixty-ish age people are renting.  There is a reason your local Blockbuster gets three hundred copies of The DaVinci Code in; if people aren’t clutching their pearls at that scandalous movie’s subject matter, that’s what they want to watch.   It’s not the teenagers renting that crap (they’re renting seasons of The Hills or whatever reality show’s on MTV these days).  Ignorance is something that I see being taught, not randomly accepted by my generation.
We, as a society, have become lazy.   I will hold myself accountable for my own personal laziness, as I am no saint incapable of such a thing.    My generation is particularly visible in this regard.   As a culture, we export American movies to the rest of the world but refuse to watch their cinematic endeavors because reading subtitles is hard. God forbid we learn another language.
This, I think, is why the remake is popular.  It’s a win for the studios and a win for the public.  The studios churn them out probably faster than they can original properties, viewers get a sense of nostalgia (or are ignorant enough of the original, like The Taking of Pelham 123, that it feels new) and everyone’s happy.   Lazy.
We watch big budget blockbusters because they are comforting and because change is scary and unfamiliar.   We only want to watch what’s advertised on TV or what film’s got the prettiest poster.
It is going to take effort to revive interest in good movies.  It will require effort on everyone’s part which is why it will take a good, long time for the pendulum to swing back to the less lazy side, because this requires work and thought.   Good movies require some involvement on the viewer’s part, some sort of emotional investment, thought process or question that the viewer is left pondering.    Movies like Transformers do not.   That is part of their appeal.
I myself am guilty of a bad movie fetish.   I am willing to admit my own hypocrisy here because there’s not really a leg to stand on with that issue when you love Predator as much as I do.   But I acknowledge that there’s a different feeling I get, a different level of brain activity I experience when I watch something like The 400 Blows versus Predator.   They are two different levels of liking, two different planes of my brain.  Movies are like food; you don’t want to eat one meal for the rest of your life, and so it goes with movies.   Predator is fast food.  The 400 Blows is some gourmet, four star, high end stuff.   Every movie has a time and a place, but the awareness in our culture that the two are not similar just because they are both movies, that perhaps you may involve your brain in a different way for the two seems to get lost in the shuffle.  More and more we are losing the cultural connotations of movies so that when Transformers beats out The Hurt Locker in dollars and cents, when we see more advertisements on TV and more fawning pull quotes on the DVD box, this somehow adds up to not necessarily a depiction of the movie’s quality but we have given so much space in our brains to the more talked-about film that we gravitate toward that.   This is only allowing ourselves to cede some small measure of thought to hype and advertising instead of working a bit to discover which is the better movie.
As long as we are willing to be told instead of willing to do some small part of investigation on our parts as a whole – and not just as teenagers and thirty year olds and retirees or whatnot, but as people – then we will continue to get the kind of cinematic “experiences” that studios know will produce a bigger bottom line.
There will always be a market for the bad movie, the drive-in flick that we seem to have evolved into the “popcorn flick”, but quite a few people have forgotten that sometimes it’s not the destination, but the getting there that’s the most fun… the process of learning, of educating oneself, the broadening of horizons and the opening of the mind… that can be so much fun.
Are we forgetting that?

*Note: Best wishes to Roger Ebert, who I sincerely hope gets a good voice as discussed here, not for the film and general community’s benefit but so that such an articulate, witty man can communicate without frustrations to his loved ones and friends.   Bless him.

Also, I know that I am preaching to the choir here, but bear with me.

A few days ago, Roger Ebert posted a journal entry titled “The gathering Dark Age”, inspired by a blog entry from Patrick Goldstein.  Goldstein’s piece describes how The Hurt Locker, a critically acclaimed film from Kathryn Bigelow, is not doing that well amongst folks in my age range (18-30, I’ll say, for argument’s sake) even with stellar word of mouth.   (Word of mouth has long been touted, according to Ebert, as something that will help drive box office totals up and up.)   Ebert laments this fact and then goes on to state that my generation exhibits a decline in education and intelligent thought.   I am reluctant to disagree.

Ebert also points out that studio marketing and publicists have leashed the real thoughts of actors and actresses; the studio hype machine has lead to boring and predictable marketing that is a dog-and-pony show.

You can read Ebert’s entry here.   Something about it stuck in my grey matter for days and I kept coming back to his thoughts over and over again.   I thought I would write about it here, if only to see the discussion that may surface over it.  I am certainly no peer of Roger Ebert’s, but what I felt and thought about this subject spanned far more than a simple comment left on Ebert’s journal.

Some may have heard about “The Hurt Locker,” but simply lack the nerve to suggest a movie choice that involves a departure from groupthink.

With regard to Ebert’s critique of my generation’s failure to come out for The Hurt Locker, I don’t know if that’s the best movie to use as an example.  Iraq war movies have not done stellar box office in the past, so I find myself surprised that The Hurt Locker has done as well as it has.    Secondly, I do think you have to take into account that a chunk of that 18 – 30 demographic has loved ones fighting in that war.   Watching something like The Hurt Locker may be too uncomfortable and too close to home for some folks.   The nostalgia of certain properties like G.I. Joe and Transformers is small but not discounted, I don’t think, since the subject of Transformers killing at the box office is brought up.   With a major recession in play, I also believe that people are going to trend towards more lighthearted, ‘simpler’ fare.

That being said, none of that is a great explanation for why The Hurt Locker is failing to draw in some of my peers.   I don’t like swallowing any of those explanations, though they’re valid for some folks.   By my own logic, (500) Days of Summer should be trampling over the competition at the box office … and it isn’t.

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Computer Issues

There may be problems posting for the next few days because I’m having computer issues.   There may be a new computer (sadly) in my immediate future.  I hope not, but maybe.

Let’s all cross our fingers, huh?

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Rear WindowImage found here.

L.B. Jeffries, known as “Jeff” to his friends, is an in-demand photographer.   He’s traipsed through jungles and battlefields, but is sidelined in his small New York apartment after suffering a broken leg.   The only company he has is an insurance company nurse named Stella and his sophisticated girlfriend Lisa.   With nothing to do and nowhere to go, Jeff begins to stare out his window.   It is a sweltering hot summer and everyone has their windows open.   Jeff’s idle curiousity turns into a daily habit of watching his neighbors’ humdrum affairs.

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The neighbors are an odd mix that Jeff nicknames.   The Composer is a frustrated songwriter living across the way.   Miss Lonelyhearts is the sad lady who longs for affection, while Miss Torso, a pretty dancer, has no shortage of gentleman callers.   One couple sleeps on their fire escape and hauls their dog up in a basket at night, while a housewife tends to her child and cat.   The Thorwalds are an unhappily married couple and it is they who land Jeff in a mess of trouble.   Mrs. Thorwald is an invalid and she and her husband quarrel regularly.   Jeff wakes up one day to discover she has disappeared, ostensibly to visit family in the country, according to her husband.   Jeff is convinced that Mr. Thorwald has killed her.

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Here are your top 20:

  1. Bring It On
  2. Constantine
  3. 13 Going on 30
  4. Johnny Mnemonic
  5. Drumline
  6. Pee Wee’s Big Adventure
  7. Bram Stoker’s Dracula
  8. Down With Love
  9. Four Rooms
  10. Phantom of the Opera
  11. Hackers
  12. Hudson Hawk
  13. Cool Runnings
  14. Love at First Bite
  15. Big Trouble In Little China
  16. Love, Actually
  17. Empire Records
  18. Real Genius
  19. Face/Off
  20. Top Gun

We’ll start after Tarantino Week, which is August 17 – 21.   Thanks to everyone who submitted and voted!

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