Monday, February 28, 2011

2011 Academy Awards In Memoriam

Here's a list of the people featured in last night's Academy Awards In Memoriam segment. I made some predictions about it last week. Let's see how I did.

(Names listed with a * are people I predicted)

*John Barry - Composer - James Bond theme; Out of Africa; Chaplin
*Grant McCune - Visual Effects - Star Wars; Star Trek - The Motion Picture; Speed; Ghostbusters II
*Tony Curtis - Actor - expected his visage to close the segment - The Defiant Ones; Spartacus; Some Like It Hot

Sunday, February 27, 2011

2011 Academy Awards Live Blog

1:55am - It's pretty late for me in Spain. Luckily tomorrow is a holiday in Andalucia and I don't have to work. On the other hand, I have got a 4 month old baby. My wife will be taking care of him in the morning which means if he wakes up hungry during the show, I'll have to tend to him first. Last night he slept through the whole night without eating for the first time, so here's hoping.

1:57am - I think every year I get it wrong and think the ceremony will actually start, but then there's some kind of half hour pre-show. I'll find out in about 2 minutes what's going to happen. If the show actually starts in a half hour I'm going to go back to watching Another Year, nominated for Mike Leigh's original screenplay.

2:01am - Yeah, still a half hour to go. Every year I get this wrong!

2:19am - Noah wakes up for a bottle. Perfect timing.

2:21am - For a recap of my predictions, click here.

"If You Had a Pot Belly, I Would Punch You in It": Pulp Fiction Analysis Part XIII

Go to Part XII: "I want to know what it feels like to kill a man."

This shot is held with the camera slowly pushing in. The viewer is allowed to be a voyeur in the intimate scene between Butch and Fabienne.

Back in the motel room, we are treated to a very intimate scene between Butch and his girlfriend, Fabienne (Maria de Madeiros). This scene has very few cuts, creating a feeling of intimacy. This has the effect of making us feel like we’re witnessing something we shouldn’t. We become voyeurs to a sexually and emotionally intimate moment between lovers.

Fabienne understands the danger that faces them. She asks Butch, “If they [the gangsters] find us they’ll kill us, won’t they?” She doesn’t come across as frightened because Butch is making her feel completely at ease. She has her big, strong man to protect her. As he leaves the frame to give her “oral pleasure,” Fabienne says, in French, “Butch, my love, our adventure begins.” She has no idea what kind of adventure is about to begin for Butch.

The camera fades out, and then fades in after a brief passage of time as Fabienne and Butch finish showering in the bathroom. Again, the camera acts as a voyeur, remaining outside the bathroom, as if we are looking in and witnessing a private moment.

Butch heads to the bed. Fabienne tries to tell Butch something she has just remembered, but he is already asleep. What was she going to say? Possibly, her memory jogged by Butch’s mention of ‘time,’ she was going to tell him she forgot his watch. But no one knows for sure.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

"I Want to Know What It Feels Like to Kill a Man.": Pulp Fiction Analysis Part XII

Go to Part XI: "And now, little man, I give the watch to you."

"I want to know what it feels like to kill a man," Esmerelda asks.

In the getaway cab, Butch takes his boxing gloves off. In the background Tarantino uses a process shot again. It is probably not something you would notice right away, but the footage he uses for the rear-screen projection is in black-and-white. Why would he use black-and-white projection for a color film? He is recalling old film noir movies again because Butch’s story is a typical noir narrative. The use of the old-fashioned cab plays into this, as well.

In this two shot, the black and white processing is clear in the background.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Exit Through the Gift Shop Movie Review: How Do You Define Art?

All the speculation over whether or not Exit Through the Gift Shop is some sort of elaborate hoax is not likely to be resolved. If Banksy, the elusive and anonymous street artist who directed the documentary, weren’t such an enigmatic character, even in his own film, we might still never know. The reason for this is that the subject of this bizarre and simultaneously enthralling documentary, whether he was a legitimate artist before the film or not, will almost certainly become on in his own right now that he’s receiving such recognition.

"And Now, Little Man, I Give the Watch to You": Pulp Fiction Analysis Part XI

Go to Part X: "That was fuckin' trippy."

Butch, as a child, sits watching television. His mother enters and introduces him to Captain Koons (Christopher Walken), who was in the Vietnamese POW camp with Butch’s father. Koons tells Butch about a wristwatch bought in Knoxville that belonged to private Doughboy Erine Coolidge (Butch’s great granddad). He wore it all during his time in The Great War. When his son, Dane, went off to WWII he took the watch with him. Before dying in battle he made sure the watch would be delivered safely home to his infant son (Butch’s dad). He then took the watch with him to Vietnam, but didn’t survive the prison camp. Koons promised to take the watch to deliver it to Butch.

2011 Academy Awards Predictions

Here are my final (probably) predictions for the Academy Awards happening next Sunday night. I say probably because I may make a last minute change down to the wire, which I will denote with an asterisk.

I stand to win as much as $100,000 if I get all 24 correct.

If I can manage to maintain a live stream feed of the show like I did last, I will be live-blogging the ceremony, like I did last year.

As I'm calling it I've got The King's Speech coming out with 5 awards, Inception and The Social Network with 3 each, True Grit with 2, and 1 each for Black Swan, Alice in Wonderland, The Fighter, Toy Story 3, The Wolfman, and Country Strong.

Monday, February 21, 2011

"That Was Fuckin' Trippy": Pulp Fiction Analysis Part X

Go to Part IX: "Is that what you'd call an uncomfortable silence?"

As Vincent speeds along the streets, taking Mia to Lance’s house, notice Tarantino no longer uses a process shot for the moving vehicle. He maintains realism throughout the overdose sequence. After Lance hangs up the phone and just as Vincent drives up onto the lawn, Tarantino switches to a hand-held camera for most of the scene. This gives an immediacy and sense of disorder to what’s going on.
Here, the lack of a process shot adds to the realism of the scene.

Handicapping the Oscar Death Montage

In addition to regular Academy Awards predictions (which I will post this week), I thought it might be fun to predict who will turn up in the montage of dead film makers, or In Memoriam.

Most people only ever know the actors in the montage, maybe a director occasionally, but I'm going to handicap everyone.

I'll start with the actors who have died in the last year:

Corey Haim - might make the Oscars as he was an important child star in the 80s, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him left out.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Due Date Movie Review: Missing the Mark

The road movie as a sub-genre is one of my favorites. The possibilities are great, with endless opportunities to mine the situation for both great comedy and high drama by putting two (or sometimes more) different personalities together on a journey can feel contrived when done poorly or expertly precise in the hands of a skilled writer and director. Todd Phillips, whose first movie was Road Trip, has returned to the road with two of the hottest ticket actors of the moment – Robert Downey, Jr. and Zach Galifianakis – for Due Date, a road movie modeled on John Hughes’ Plane, Trains and Automobiles with a man (Downey) trying to get home to his family while continually being tied to and hamstrung by an oafish buffoon (Galifianakis).

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Restrepo Movie Review: 15 Months in the Life of a U.S. Army Platoon in Afghanistan

Captain Kearney sits front and center with some of the men in his unit.
O.P. Restrepo in the Korengal Valley
In recent years, the nature of documentary film making has taken on a new face, changing from standard films consisting of stock footage or video records with often stodgy narration and interviews to the modern style ushered in by documentarians like Errol Morris and Michael Moore, who often blur the line between documentary and narrative. As documentaries have relied more on narrative elements to tell a story, they have gained popularity and occasionally some box office success.

However, Restrepo is a return to old-fashioned straight-forward documentary technique. The film makers, Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger, spent 15 months on the front lines of Afghanistan, embedded with an army platoon and documenting with their cameras everything that they witnessed, which was everything from juvenile antics in the outpost to deadly firefights in the mountains. Then they conducted interviews with several surviving members of the platoon after they’d returned home and then cut it all together into a cohesive portrait of life in the Korengal Valley, at the time dubbed the most dangerous place on earth.

"Is That What You'd Call an Uncomfortable Silence?": Pulp Fiction Analysis Part IX

 Vincent and Mia share an uncomfortable silence.

Vincent and Mia enter the house happy, smiling and dancing a tango. Then they have a real uncomfortable silence after they embrace for a moment. The tension is broken by Mia:

MIA: Drinks, music.
VINCENT: I’m gonna take a piss.

Mia dances around the living room, singing along to Urge Overkill’s cover of Neil Diamond’s “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon.” Meanwhile, Vincent stands in the bathroom, self-reflecting in front of the mirror. It is now clear he is attracted to Mia, but recognizes the danger he faces if he sticks around too long.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Who Would Win in a Showdown: Gandhi or a Nazi?

I'm feeling political tonight.

This post at Goldblog reminded me of arguments I had with people back at the start of the Iraq War.

With the ongoing revolution in Egypt, some people are piping up with the claim that if we'd just stayed out of Iraq, the people there might have eventually risen up and overthrown Saddam without foreign intervention.

People were making that claim 8 years ago, citing the remarkable and virtually unique example of Gandhi vs. British colonials. I remember regularly making the argument then that Gandhi was lucky he was up against Britain and not, say, the Nazis. How long do you think it would have taken an SS officer to put a bullet in Gandhi's head the minute he started his passive resistance movement? Britain had a vested interest in not engaging in the wholesale slaughter of thousands of Indians. They had allies and status and trade to maintain.

Saddam hardly had any reason to worry about the International Community's image of him if he had to slaughter thousands of young protesters looking for his ouster. So the comparison is not apt.

Revolution from within would likely never have come. I'm not looking to debate once again the merits, or lack thereof, of the invasion of Iraq. But I think it's important not to live in some fantasy world in which thuggish dictators are not really as bad as our government would have us think, and patience and the will of their people will eventually drive them out.

What's happened in Egypt is incredible. And as much as Mubarak was a dictator, his was one of the least oppressive regimes in the Middle East. That doesn't make the revolution any less significant for the people of Egypt, but let's not pretend that Libya or Iran are next.

Really Bill? No explanation for the sun and the moon? Really?

This gem from Bill O'Reilly (via Andrew Sullivan) speaking about the complexity of the universe and the human body as if he's the first guy to EVER ask these questions in relation to the existence of a god or controlling entity or first cause or creator or whatever is just mind-boggling.

Okay, I understand people of faith really earnestly believe in creation. They're the ones who look at William Paley's argument from design and say, "Exactly! How do you explain the complexity?"

There's little reason to get into forming a cogent rebuttal of O'Reilly's self-satisfied rant. First of all, it was pretty well taken care of by this guy.

What bugs me is the way O'Reilly frames his argument as if no one has ever thought to ask his questions before: "Okay, the moon controls the tides, but how'd the moon get there? How'd the sun get there?" And as if no philosopher or scientist has ever successfully responded to these questions.

He's also dead wrong about the meaning of faith. He claims it takes more faith to believe that it was just luck that put us here than it does to believe in a deity. Wrong, Bill. There is absolutely no leap of faith whatsoever in believing in only what is observable and demonstrable. Faith is believing in something that no one has ever seen or proven to exist, but that they feel.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

"This is Jack Rabbit Slim's.": Pulp Fiction Analysis Part VIII

Go to Part VII: "I'll be down in two shakes of a lamb's tail"

Vincent and Mia pull up to camera in Vincent’s Malibu. Mia refers to Vincent as an “Elvis man.” This is in reference to a deleted scene in which Mia uses a camcorder to conduct a little interview with Vincent. She asks him several questions to learn about his likes and dislikes. She says there are two kinds of people in the world: Elvis people and Beatles people. Vincent is definitely an Elvis person.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Creation of a Cinephile

I used to wonder how anyone could stand to be a parent. Don't you just worry yourself sick every time they walk out the door? You can do everything in your power to make sure they will always be safe, but at the end of the day there's no accounting for the negligent actions of other people. Your child could be an impeccable driver, always safe, always wearing a seat belt. That will be small consolation if a drunk driver or just some jackass runs a red light. And then there are the teenage years to contend with and all the cliches: teens have little sense of their own mortality; they think they're invincible; they're children in the bodies of adults.

Now that I have crossed that threshold into parenthood, the concerns over the possible physical harm that may befall my son have given way to worries that his taste in movies may just be awful. Or would it be worse if he simply had no interest at all? With full awareness that I'm probably setting myself up for supreme disappointment because parents have very limited control over what their children take to with enthusiasm,, I wonder how I can fashion Noah's cinematic taste so he's not simply engaged by the bells and whistles of colorful action movies.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Modern Classic Movie Review: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

From about the mid-1990s to the first years of the twenty-first century, starting with the mainstream introduction of Jackie Chan in North America, Asian martial arts films achieved something beyond the cult status they once had. It was probably a question of time and perhaps somewhat inevitable that eventually one would go on to garner the kind of awards that indicate a certain level of popular acceptance. That it happened only five years after Jackie Chan’s first US hit, Rumble in the Bronx, is somewhat remarkable.

When Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was released it quickly became one of the most successful subtitle films of all time. It was nominated for 10 Oscars – a record for a foreign language film. There were reports of applause in movie theaters at the conclusion of the first fight and chase sequence along the rooftops. Although it continued a grand tradition of martial arts films involving mysticism, the warrior’s philosophy, and seemingly supernatural powers, this was the first time it was not only seen en masse, but with stunning production value.

"I'll Be Down in Two Shakes of a Lamb's Tail.": Pulp Fiction Analysis Part VII

Go to Part VII: "It's a sex thing. It helps fellatio."

Vincent slowly ambles to the door of Mia’s (Uma Thurman) house, finding a note for him to come inside and make himself a drink. In the fade from the close up of the note to the interior of the house there is a flash of the same orange glow we saw from the briefcase. If there is a motif to be gleaned from this it may be related to Vincent’s comment to Jules during the foot massage discussion: “You play with fire, you get burned.” He was referring to Marsellus’s throwing Antwan off a balcony after allegedly giving Mia a foot massage. The kids who betrayed Marsellus by taking the case also played with fire and got burned. As Vincent enters Mia’s home, he is crossing a threshold into which he will consider straying away from loyalty.

The cross-fade from the note to the interior of Mia's house brings back the mysterious orange glow.

Cue Dusty Springfield singing “Son of a Preacher Man.” This scene doesn’t do a whole lot except to show Vincent high on heroin, illustrate Mia’s cocaine habit and keep us in suspense as the camera keeps us from seeing Mia’s face until…

We don't get to see Mia's face until the next shot.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

"It's a Sex Thing. It Helps Fellatio": Pulp Fiction Analysis Part VI

Part V: "In the fifth your ass goes down."

Jodi with the 18 piercings.

Open on Jody (Rosanna Arquette) and Trudi discussing piercing while Vincent listens. He is then summoned inside by Lance (Eric Stoltz) to make a heroin deal. Because Lance is out of balloons he has to use a baggie to give Vincent his heroin. Usually heroin is sold in balloons while cocaine is in baggies. This will be important later.
Baggies of heroin.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

"In the Fifth Your Ass Goes Down": Pulp Fiction Analysis Part V

Go to Part IV: "Does he look like a bitch?"

The scene opens with a medium-close on Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis). Although we don’t know who it is yet, we hear the voice of Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) off screen giving Butch a speech about boxers who never made it getting on in age. Butch is about to be paid to throw a fight.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Salt Movie Review: That Old Cold War Feeling

The Cold War fed the subject matter of action films, thrillers, and their sub-genre of international intrigue for decades. The James Bond series, the Jack Ryan films, and countless others all have the standoff between the USA and the Soviet Union to thank for their storylines. When tensions eased between the Eastern Bloc and the West, Hollywood lost fodder for their go-to villains. In the wake of 9/11 and the global War on Terror we might have thought that Arabs would supplant the Communists as Global Enemy Number 1. In some sense they have, but with only a handful of examples, it seems an elevated sense of political correctness has prevented it.

"Does He Look Like a Bitch?": Pulp Fiction Analysis Part IV

Go to Part III: "Let's get into character."

The mysterious orange glow emanating from the briefcase.

While the number of edits in this scene is still far less than the average film, they come at an average of one cut every four seconds, far quicker than the average for this film. Only one other scene in the film has quicker editing. This has the effect of altering the tone in such a way that the audience feels uneasy. Granted, the subject matter makes us feel that way, too, but Tarantino and his editor, Sally Menke, use editing to their advantage. They don’t simply show reaction shots, there is none of the traditional two-shot followed by medium-close followed by close-up. This scene builds upon itself until the explosion of gunfire that ends it.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

"Let's Get Into Character": Pulp Fiction Analysis Part III

Go to Part II: "Royale with cheese."

A classic Quentin Tarantino shot.

Here Tarantino uses one of his signature shots – the camera-inside-the-trunk shot. Jules and Vincent ready their weapons for the hit and discuss the fact that they should have shotguns because of the number of guys that could be up there. They figure there could be up to five or six guys “counting our guy.” Their guy is Marvin, we learn later, their man on the inside. This scene starts the building of tension before the violence that is to come. We are left wondering what’s happening. We know there are two hit men on their way to a job where they could be dealing with as many as six guys, one of whom is “their guy.” We have no way at this point of interpreting what this means, so the anticipation is high.

Unstoppable Movie Review: Denzel Washington is, once again, the Everyman hero

I imagine director Tony Scott making a romantic comedy. There would be truncated establishing scenes with a tense thumping bass-heavy musical score by Harry Gregson-Williams, who has scored all of Scott’s films since Enemy of the State, and each new location would be accompanied by a type-written scrawl in the corner of the frame indicating the place and time: “Female love interest’s house – 8:30pm.” This is how virtually every one of his action films begins, with the typed titles continuing throughout the duration of the film. Why would I have expected anything different from Unstoppable, his latest exercise in loud, clanging, macho action?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

"Royale With Cheese": Pulp Fiction Analysis Part II

Go to Part I: "Everybody be cool, this is a robbery."

Vincent and Jules discuss trivial matters before going on a hit job.
The first scene in the next sequence is probably the most famous scene from the film, certainly the most parodied, and possibly (time will tell) to become one of the most famous scenes in film history. As Jules Winfield (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent Vega (John Travolta) drive along they discuss trivial matters regarding the “little differences” between Europe and America. We don’t know where they are headed at this point, but we will find out they are two hit men about to carry out a job. Tarantino puts this scene in because it’s something we’ve never really seen in a film about hit men. What do these guys do on the way to work? They talk about the same things regular people discuss. Revisiting the film for his Great Movies series, Roger Ebert notes that “it is Tarantino's strategy in all of his films to have the characters speak at right angles to the action, or depart on flights of fancy.”[i] Whereas many screenwriters use dialogue simply to further the plot, Tarantino uses it to add color to his characters and vitality to the story. For Jules and Vincent their job is just a job, even though to us it is an extraordinary profession.

[i] Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times, 10 June 2001.

Next chapter: "Let's get into character."

Everything is a Remix

This is a truly fascinating piece of work on Vimeo. Hat tip: The Daily Dish.

Everything is a Remix Part 2 from Kirby Ferguson on Vimeo.

Of course everything we do artistically borrows from everything that has come before it. Kirby Ferguson, the maker of the video, doesn't use this as criticism, but as an observation regarding art - or films in this video specifically.

The big focus is on Star Wars. Most people who know the film are well aware of George Lucas's sources of influence for that film. Without Akira Kurosawa, Fritz Lang and countless sci-fi films and serials of the 40s and 50s, there would be no Star Wars. And the brilliance of the film is in its culling together all those elements to create something original of its own. Even if nothing can truly be considered original.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The King's Speech Movie Review: Reluctant King Stammers, Finds Friend, Gets Cured

Time was when members of the royal family simply had to look regal and avoid falling off their horses, but radio turned them into actors. So explains King George V (Michael Gambon) to his son Albert (Colin Firth), or Bertie, as he is better known to his family early in The King’s Speech. Albert’s older brother Edward (Guy Pearce) is next in the line of succession so he doesn’t have to be as concerned as others. Especially considering that he suffers from a terrible stammer that makes his speech sound ridiculous. Students of British history will know, even if they know nothing of the film, that Albert went on to become King George VI, the monarch who reigned over Great Britain and its colonies through WWII.

"Everybody Be Cool This Is a Robbery": Pulp Fiction Analysis Part I

First we see a title card with two dictionary definitions of “pulp:” 1 – A soft, moist, shapeless mass of matter; 2 – the one we are concerned with – A magazine or book containing lurid subject matter and being characteristically printed on rough, unfinished paper. The film recalls old pulp novels and magazines of the 30s and 40s – stories that were cheap, easy reads with memorable characters[1]. You could read them quickly and then throw the book away, keep it in your back pocket to enjoy on your lunch break, etc. That is essentially what the movie Pulp Fiction is. Although it has since become iconic in the world of independent cinema, we should bear in mind that ultimately the story has no great aspirations. Tarantino did not seem to strive for anything epic or important, but rather to tell a good story with spicy dialogue and an ultra-cool sensibility.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Reordering Convention: Introduction to an Analysis of Pulp Fiction

Following is the introduction to a full shot-by-shot analysis of Pulp Fiction that I did several years ago. This is not meant to be an essay or thesis, but rather an examination of the way Tarantino uses shot setups and narrative devices to effectively tell his story. I will try to post one new section a day over the next few weeks.

Since its release in October 1994, I have seen Pulp Fiction about eighteen times from beginning to end, including six times during its initial theatrical run. No viewing has ever compared to the first time when I was sixteen years old and not yet aware of what the film medium could accomplish. I was not yet versed in film history and I hardly knew from where director Quentin Tarantino was deriving most of his inspiration. All I knew after that first time was that movies did not merely have to be plot-driven. To borrow from Gene Siskel, movies aren’t what they are about, but how they are about it. Movies can be inventive, witty and can change the way we look at motion pictures.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Modern Classic Movie Review: Pulp Fiction

As a special treat to celebrate my 100th movie review posted to this site (I've actually written more than 100, but they haven't all been posted here) I decided to write a full length review of the film that got me interested in film in the first place.

Additionally, over the next few weeks I will post, in pieces, the full analysis I did on the film several years ago. Keep your eyes open for that starting this week.

It’s amazing to me that after roughly twenty viewings from beginning to end plus an exhaustive shot-by-shot study of it, there are still moments in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction that make me smile, chuckle or even downright surprise me: The Wolf’s smile of appreciation for the delicious coffee served up by Jimmy; Mia Wallace’s tomato joke to break the tension after an intense scene. Incredibly, watching it again for this review, I even pulled out something new that I had never picked up on before. And it wasn’t even a minor detail, but one that ties into one of the major themes of the film.

25 Years Ago This Month: February 1986

January and February are typically where studios dump their garbage because people just don't go to the movies during those winter months. Maybe because there's only crap to see. Hmmm. Valentine's Day is an excuse nowadays for unleashing some insipid romance film, although 1986 seems not to have one.

The two biggest earners that opened that month were Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters which took in $40 million and John Hughes' Pretty in Pink (also $40 million). The latter was a favorite of mine when I was a teenager of course (as were all the Hughes brat pack films of the 80s). Hannah and Her Sisters is a favorite of mine in adulthood and it resides in my personal DVD collection.

In February 1986 Chuck Norris started the Delta Force franchise. If you care.

Anyone remember Wildcats where Goldie Hawn becomes a high school football coach? Well it went on to gross $26 million and features the film debuts of Woody Harrelson, Wesley Snipes, Mykelti Williamson and LL Cool J.

Incredibly, though 9 1/2 Weeks with Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger in the flesh is well known now, it grossed a mere $6.5 million at the time.

Pixar Animation Studios, now the most successful animation studio in Hollywood, responsible for such hits as the Toy Story franchise, Finding Nemo and Up, opened its doors for business. Their first short film, Luxo Jr., ended up providing them their logo.

On the 21st, Shigechiyo Izumi died in Japan. He was purported to be the oldest living person, dying a few months before his 121st birthday.

The Soviet Union launched the space station Mir on the 19th.