Monthly Archives: January 2013

Open letter to Quentin Tarantino

Dear Mr. Tarantino,

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I really dislike you. More specifically, I should say that I don’t enjoy your movies, since I haven’t met you. For all I know you could be an extremely nice guy, although to be honest I kind of doubt that. In the spring of 1994, I went with my boyfriend at the time to a drive-in (remember those?) to see the new movie everyone was raving about: Pulp Fiction. I squirmed when Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta shot all those guys. I dug the dance scene at the restaurant, but cringed when Uma Thurman got that gigantic needle slammed into her sternum. And then, you lost me.

You know that scene where somebody (Travolta?) accidentally shoots the guy in the back of the car? And then thinks it’s funny? Right there is where I signed off. It’s not that I made a declaration to never see one of your movies again, per se, but that’s pretty much how it’s ended up. I’ve seen a few movies you were in; some were fun (Desperado) and some were really, really stupid (From Dusk ‘Til Dawn). But I haven’t really watched anything else that you’ve directed. It wasn’t that it was gross. I’m willing to admit that overall, the movie is very well put together. Everything about that scene, though, just turned me off. A shoot-em-up film is one thing, but it was the “accidental” nature of that particular example that gets to me. A human being’s life was ended, and because the characters involved (much like our society) were so desensitized to death and violence, they thought it was funny, and were merely concerned with getting the blood stains out of their car.

Please understand: I don’t have a huge problem with violence in movies. If it is realistic or necessary to the narrative, I am fine with it. If it’s campy throughout (back to Desperado, which is hilarious), it can indeed be entertaining. My issue is with your particular brand of violence. When utilized as a part of a whole, I can agree that blood and death can be humorous, but not simply on their own merit. Violence for the sake of violence is not funny. The shock value associated with, say, cutting someone’s ear off is something that should, in my opinion, be used sparingly. Death should be treated with at least a modicum of respect; I mean, it’s DEATH. Again, I think it’s the suggestion of a desensitized audience that bugs me. Oh, just some guy with his brains blown out, nothing to see here. But instead of having something to say about the horror or sadness or justice of the situation, you just seem to revel in the blood, Mr. Tarantino. I might go so far as to say you get off on it. I have definitely been known to have a sick and/or inappropriate sense of humor, but something about your sense of humor and mine, well, they just don’t jive.

In the past few years, as I come to a “study” of seeing more movies and generally trying to delve into the medium, my feelings about you have become a bit more complicated. You are seen by many as an “auteur,” and I don’t disagree that you have had an impact on movie-making. As I try to broaden my movie-viewing horizons, I quite often bump up against cult classics like Reservoir Dogs, or films starring people I greatly enjoy, like Inglorious Basterds, or Best Picture nominees like Django Unchained. But I’m just not interested. Perhaps you, as a student of film, would think that my interest is shallow, or that I lack in true taste. Maybe I do. But ultimately, we watch movies because we want to be entertained, and that’s the crux of the matter, here, sir. You don’t entertain me. I think that, if you were at all inclined to do something different, I might be more interested. Most directors aren’t notable for their range in terms of genre, and I respect that. Movie-making is serious and all-encompassing work, so it makes sense that one wouldn’t go bouncing around. But, since you only seem to do things more or less one way, I’m going to have to pass. There will just be one school of cinema that I will remain ignorant of.

I don’t agree at all with the people who think that the seemingly random acts of violence that occur in our society today have been influenced by media or entertainment. Plenty of people have watched a movie where someone gets shot without taking it into their heads to go out and shoot people themselves. But I do think that movies like yours are at least symptomatic of the problem. Again, most of us (yes, myself included) are highly desensitized to violence these days. So perhaps it takes more outre (or just more) violence to get through to us. At the risk of getting way too philosophical, though, I think that we lose a little bit of our humanity when we “enjoy” violence, or when we don’t respond to it with discomfort or sorrow. I believe that art, of any kind, is part of what elevates us beyond mere “animal” status, but when our art appeals to our baser nature, what do we accomplish? Are we moving forward, or back?

Oy, it got all pretentious there for a minute. Sorry about that. I guess I’ll just wrap up by saying that just because I don’t like your vision doesn’t mean that I don’t get that lots of other people like it. Obviously you’ve done quite well for yourself, and I’m sure that my opinion, posted here, will not lose you 5 seconds of sleep tonight. You might say that because I am still mulling over that scene in Pulp Fiction, nearly 20 years after the fact, you’ve accomplished something. Maybe so. If I must, I will thank you for giving me something to think about. I’d thank you more if you’d consider toning it down a little, though. No? Well, can’t say I didn’t try.



Happy birthday, Cary Grant: Top Six Movies

As the quote goes, everyone wants to be Cary Grant. The talented actor was the picture of suave urbanity for more than three decades, and is still well-regarded today. I’m a latecomer to the charms of the erstwhile Archibald Leach, but I’ve become a huge fan in a few short years. But what I love about him isn’t his charm or his way with women: Cary Grant is HILARIOUS. He got his start in vaudeville and acrobatics (!), and while he eventually traded in the physical humor, his earlier films are what make him one of my favorite actors. Since today is the anniversary of his birth, I decided to share with you my picks for his six best films. Pay close attention to some of them: if I ever do a similar post for Katharine Hepburn, you’ll see them again. A very happy birthday, Mr. Grant.

Bringing Up Baby (1938)

Bringing Up Baby is a madcap adventure involving a dinosaur bone, a zany and free-spirited socialite (Hepburn, of course), and a leopard. Directed by Howard Hawks, the dialogue is so fast and witty that you’ll need to see the movie more than once. I do recommend doing so: it just gets funnier every time. Also, keep an ear out for the best Cary Grant line ever. I promise you’ll know it when you hear it.

Holiday (1938)

How did Grant and Hepburn manage to make two supremely funny movies in the same year? I don’t know, but Holiday is every bit as hilarious as Bringing Up Baby. This time Grant is all set to marry into a wealthy family, but you’ll figure out quickly that he’s marrying the wrong sister. He gets to show off some of his acrobatic abilities, and Hepburn turns on the charm. Meanwhile, Lew Ayres, Edward Everett Horton, and Jean Dixon all nearly manage to steal the show from its stars. Sadly, I couldn’t find a trailer, so you’ll just have to take my word for it: this is a really good movie.

The Philadelphia Story (1940)

The most famous of the Grant/Hepburn pairings; you knew I couldn’t leave it out. This time we throw in James Stewart just to make it even more awesome. Grant shows up to try and win his ex-wife (Hepburn) back before she marries another man, but a visiting reporter (Stewart) might throw a wrench in the works. Once again, this is fast-paced, brilliantly executed dialogue. Basically, if it’s directed by George Cukor (Holiday was, too), it’s hard to go wrong.

Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

In this adaptation (directed by Frank Capra) of a successful stage play, Grant stars as Mortimer Brewster, a drama critic. On his wedding day, he not only learns that insanity runs in his family, but that his two maiden aunts are serial killers. Despite how it sounds, this is a delightfully funny and heartwarming movie, and Grant’s impeccable comedic timing is on full display.

North by Northwest (1959)

Alfred Hitchcock’s tale of an ordinary man mistaken for a government agent is arguably his best film, and Grant’s, too. This is the suave Cary Grant, even as he is thrown into one extraordinary situation after another. Eva Marie Saint is an absolutely scorching femme fatale, and James Mason and Martin Landau are excellent villains. Simply an outstanding film.

Charade (1963)

Ah, that other Hepburn. Audrey, in this case, stars as a young woman whose late husband’s thievery has made her a target for some very bad men. She meets up with Cary Grant (who may or may not be a good guy) and the two must dash around Paris (how awful for them) trying to solve the mystery, outsmart the villains, and perhaps get in a little romance while they’re at it. Walter Matthau and James Coburn co-stars in this smart and stylish thriller, which, thanks to Grant’s wry wit, is also more than a little funny. This is later in his career, but he remains a joy to watch, particularly as he tries to rebuff Audrey Hepburn’s advances. Also, the score is excellent.

So, what’s your favorite Cary Grant? Did I miss it?

Review: Skyfall (2012)

2012 was James Bond’s cinematic golden anniversary. Dr. No, the first James Bond film, was released in 1962. For a film franchise to last 50 years seems no small feat: Bond has had to morph through various actors and through changing times to remain relevant in today’s entertainment sphere. Naturally, there have been successes and failures along the way, but audiences still seem fascinated with the British super-spy. With the twenty-third entry into the series, Skyfall, Bond once again finds himself struggling, not only against a shadowy enemy, but also against the passage of time. It’s not much a spoiler to say that, as usual, he comes out on top.

After losing an encrypted hard drive containing sensitive information, and being shot and “killed,” Bond returns to help out his superior, M (Judi Dench), who is under attack, both from the unknown terrorist who has stolen the drive and from her government, who believe her to be obsolete. Under the watchful eye of Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), a bureaucrat brought in to “transition” M out of office, M and Bond must work together to discover the identity of their enemy, who has destroyed MI6 headquarters and is using the information on the hard drive to out agents embedded in terrorist organizations. After a few adventures in exotic locations, Bond meets Severine (Bérénice Marlohe), an exotic beauty who naturally falls for Bond and leads him to his quarry: a former MI6 agent named Raul Silva (Javier Bardem). Silva has a personal vendetta against M, and has well-laid plans in place to provide him with a chance to take his revenge. Ultimately, Bond and M make a run for it and force a final showdown with Silva.

Skyfall, unlike its predecessor Quantum of Solace, feels like a natural continuation of Casino Royale both in style and substance. Directed by Sam Mendes, the film loses nothing in terms of action sequences and fancy camera-work to provide us with the stylish look we’ve come to expect from Bond in general, and from Daniel Craig’s tenure in particular. While the plot is straightforward Bond (we’ve seen turned agents before), the themes explored within the plot make Skyfall a thinking man’s action flick. Not only is there the reality of Silva’s gripe with his former boss, there is also the continued idea of MI6’s obsolescence in the twenty-first century. Bond is aging, and he doesn’t bounce back from his brush with death as well as he once did. M’s methods are questioned, and the very notion of what constitutes national security seems to be changing along with technology and society. That these themes make an appearance in an action film at all is unusual, and it’s a testament to the actors in the film that the finished product is a seamless and stylish entertainment.

Did you get a load of that cast? Daniel Craig continues to redefine Bond as a thug with a heart, and Skyfall provides us with more insight into what makes him tick. Judi Dench has been impeccable throughout her time as M (17 years!), but for her as well, Skyfall offers an opportunity to expand her range and show us what she’s really made of. Ralph Fiennes’ appearance classes up the place a little, and Naomie Harris and Berenice Marlohe (as the requisite Bond girls) actually show a bit more depth than many of their predecessors as well. I was skeptical of another new addition: Ben Whishaw as Q. The re-introduction of the Quartermaster as a baby-faced computer geek seemed a bit gimmicky to me, but it fit into the broader theme very well, and Whishaw’s interactions with Craig are some of the most entertaining of the film.

And then…there’s Silva. Javier Bardem is nothing short of a revelation. If anyone would like to argue his status as the best Bond villain ever, please apply within. Silva takes all of the components of effective villains past, and combines them all into one riveting, creepy package. He’s efficient (not one of those bumbling baddies), cold-blooded, brilliant, and more than a little insane. Ultimately, though, what makes him fascinating is that his motives are realistic. Instead of a bad guy who wants world domination, or just wants to destroy everything, Silva is actually sort of relatable. His experiences tie into the government’s issues with the operations of MI6, and shine a light on the complicated relationship between an agent and his superior. Bond himself could easily end up in a similar position, were he made of different stuff. Ultimately, Skyfall is about the connection between Bond and M, explored through the catalyst of Silva himself. It’s hard to say whether or not another actor could have accomplished all of that, but Bardem manages to create a fully-developed character who is, if not exactly sympathetic, at least somewhat understandable, and certainly more realistic than most Bond villains.

I had a conversation recently with a die-hard Bond fan, about who our favorites were, and such. After seeing Skyfall, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not really valid to compare Connery to Craig, especially with regard to the movies themselves. They’re so clearly the products of different eras: the early Bond films were often campy and unrealistic, while the later films, particularly Casino Royale and Skyfall, have been rooted in the more gritty and practical film-making of today. The action sequences still strain belief, they still take place in a world very different from our own in terms of glamour and intrigue, but for the most part, they take place in the “real world”. All of this is to say that for me, Skyfall may very well be the best (so far) of the Bond films, but I hesitate to call it a “Bond film.” It’s so far removed from the earlier aesthetic and feel of a Bond movie that it feels like something almost entirely different. It’s a superior movie that happens to be about James Bond, and as a fiftieth anniversary gift, I’d say it’s worth its weight in gold.

2013 Oscar Nominations

I’ve been debating all morning whether or not to talk about the Oscars, and since I was just asked whether or not I was going to, I guess I will. My caveat is that I have seen VERY few of the nominees this year, and my perspective, as such, comes from my overall thoughts about the performers in question, from a fair amount of industry reading, and from my understanding of how Oscar politics tend to function. Additionally, I feel in no way qualified (ha) to talk about anything beyond the “major” awards, so we’ll just be looking at the Big Five. Shall we?

Best Picture

  • Amour
  • Argo
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Django Unchained
  • Les Miserables
  • Life of Pi
  • Lincoln
  • Silver Linings Playbook
  • Zero Dark Thirty

If I have not done so before, please allow me to express some slight frustration at the still-new “up to 10” clause here. It’s like they choose 9 nominees every year just to validate themselves, or something. Anyway. Prior to the announcement, my money had been squarely on Zero Dark Thirty. However, given the state of the nominations as a whole, I’m changing my bet to Lincoln. Because really, who doesn’t love Spielberg? I expected a smaller field this year, so the fact that they expanded out to accommodate Django Unchained, Amour, and Beasts of the Southern Wild is interesting, although it seems like a way for the Academy to make themselves look braver than they really are. Life of Pi is getting a lot of industry love because it was previously considered “unfilmable,” but Lincoln is still the front-runner here. Again, everybody loves Spielberg.

Best Actor

  • Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
  • Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
  • Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables
  • Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
  • Denzel Washington, Flight

I’ll just repeat what every film writer is saying, and what I myself said a year or so ago, upon learning that he would play the role: Daniel Day-Lewis has this in the bag. Cooper and Jackman will likely have their day, and I saw somebody refer to Denzel Washington as “the Meryl Streep of actors,” meaning if he’s in a movie, they’ll nominate him. Joaquin Phoenix is the surprise here. The Master had some early buzz, but then Phoenix made snarky comments about stumping for awards, and so he’d largely been written off. This is the most stable category this year, although John Hawkes is a major snub for his role in The Sessions. Mostly, though, I’m just wondering whether or not DDL will actually show.

Best Actress

  • Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
  • Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
  • Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
  • Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Naomi Watts, The Impossible

Some big surprises here. Emmanuelle Riva and Quvenzhane Wallis were both outside chances, and both have pulled through, making Oscar history. Riva, at 85, is the oldest nominee ever, and Wallis, 6 at the time of filming, is the youngest. Still, this is Jessica Chastain‘s statue to lose. I don’t think that Lawrence or Watts will beat her out, and (again, not having seen any of the films in question) I don’t really think they should. She gave some major performances last year in the supporting category, and I think she’s getting her recognition now. Plus, it’s my understanding that she really carries Zero Dark Thirty.

Best Supporting Actor

  • Alan Arkin, Argo
  • Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
  • Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
  • Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained

I think Best Supporting Actor is my favorite category. It’s always such a great-looking list, and this year is no exception. A very strong field indeed: all of these men already have Oscars. I have heard the most buzz in Tommy Lee Jones’ direction, and given the strength of Lincoln in general, I’d say he’s a pretty safe bet. The fun thing, though, is that you clearly cannot count any of these men out, and you can expect to see them around again soon.

Best Supporting Actress

  • Amy Adams, The Master
  • Sally Field, Lincoln
  • Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
  • Helen Hunt, The Sessions
  • Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook

This is, for all intents and purposes, a two-way race. Sally Field has gotten good reviews for Lincoln, but let’s face it: Anne Hathaway‘s powerhouse performance of “I Dreamed a Dream” is what she’s up against, and I don’t think she’ll make it. Plus, she’s gotten plenty of accolades over the course of her career, and Hathaway has been putting in her dues for a while now. It really is her year.

Best Director

  • Michael Haneke, Amour
  • Ang Lee, Life of Pi
  • David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
  • Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
  • Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild

And now we come to the drama. One of the issues with allowing up to ten Best Picture nominees is that some of the directors of those films get left behind, and that is in serious evidence this year. Ben Affleck (Argo), Kathryn Bigelow (ZDT), Tom Hooper (Les Mis), and Quentin Tarantino (DU) are dealing with some mixed emotions today, for sure. The choices in this category have a direct correlation to those in the Best Picture race, and so we can fairly reasonably assume that none of their movies will win the top prize. My money is on Steven Spielberg and Lincoln to make a fairly clean sweep of the proceedings, although it can be argued that Ang Lee is seriously overdue.

The race this year has been pretty interesting, with no film staking a clear claim to Best Picture status. Adding in technical awards, Lincoln leads the field with 12 nods, and that sets up a strong challenge to all other comers. I think that voters were impressed with Life of Pi, but since it’s more a visual piece than a character-driven one, I don’t think it’ll come out on top. Silver Linings Playbook seems to be playing the “scrappy underdog” role, represented last year by The Artist, but the competition is very different this time around. Lincoln seemingly has it all: it’s a film with serious pedigree, from subject matter to supporting cast, and the truth of the matter is that the Academy almost always follows a more established route. I’m open to surprises, but this year, I don’t expect too many.

And now, your turn. What are your predictions for Oscar night?

2012 Wrap-Up

Happy 2013! I hope that your holidays were warm and bright, and that you are ready for the new year. As far as movies go, things are getting going in a big way, with Award Season practically on top of us already. Oscar nominations are announced this week, and the Golden Globes are next Sunday! Despite having seen very few new releases this year, I’m as excited as ever to follow all the action. There are quite a few highly regarded films all jockeying for position right now, so it’s anybody’s guess what will take home the biggest prize of all.

2012 was indeed a big year for movies, and in looking back at my posts, I was surprised to find that it was a pretty big year here, as well. While I didn’t see a lot in the theaters, we made some good headway on our AFI project, and I also participated in a really fun movie-reviewing competition that took me way out of my comfort zone, in some cases. Want to learn more? Read on!

Top Five (er, make that Eight) Movies Seen (not necessarily released in 2012)

Despite my love of keeping things tidy, I found it impossible to cut this list down to five. Since three of the movies were all featured in the same post, I feel somewhat justified.

Favorite News Items/Trailers

Favorite Posts

Breakout Performer of the Year

Last year, Banana Oil’s Breakout Performer, Michael Fassbender, was a current rising star who featured in a number of 2011 releases. This year, we’re changing things up a little bit. In 2012, I was blown away by Elizabeth Taylor. Yes, I know that she has long been a mega-star, but since I’m just now getting around to watching some of her films, she’s new to me, at least in regard to her amazing talent as an actress. You might have noticed that Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof are listed as two of the best movies I saw in 2012. Taylor gives incredible performances in both, and as such, deserves to be featured here. She admirably proves herself as more than just a pretty (the prettiest?) face, and I look forward to acquainting myself with her work more in the coming year.

2012 movies at the Top of Netflix Queue

  • Pitch Perfect
  • Moonrise Kingdom
  • Anna Karenina
  • Skyfall
  • Cloud Atlas

Once again, a Happy New Year to you, dear readers, and thank you so much (as always) for reading! In the coming year I hope to not only see more current movies, but continue to learn more about the classics. I also hope to feature fewer reviews and more creative posts: if anyone has any suggestions, please let me know! I do have a couple of reader questions still floating around that could certainly be addressed. All the best to you in 2013!