Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is out this month, and it seems like a culmination of sorts for the film fanatic writer-director. Each of his movies toes the line between self-awareness and immersive cinema, continually winking at the camera and yet lost in a world of its own, packed to the brim with pop culture references but still stylish enough to become a pop culture reference. Tarantino, who worked at a video store as a kid and has been devouring several movies a day ever since, has few rivals when it comes to an encyclopedic knowledge of the art form. To see Once Upon a Time in Hollywood framed around film and television sets in 1950s L.A. is quite the prospect, because that encyclopedic knowledge serves as more than a wink or a reference.
That explicit love of movies, to be fair, is a place that several Tarantino films have ventured before, though never carrying such importance as it must likely carry in Hollywood. The primary one is Inglourious Basterds, which uses the state of German cinema as both a unique backdrop for a World War II adventure and, eventually, as a major climactic catharsis that achieves nothing less than the rewriting of history. Christoph Waltz and Brad Pitt steal top billing (and, in Waltz’s case, the Oscar) as The Bad Guy and The Good Guy. But Basterds becomes a truly great film for the inclusion of Shosanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent), theater owner and Lady Vengeance Incarnate, and Frederick Zoller (Daniel Bruhl), young Nazi-turned-propaganda-film-star. These characters are opposed in every way except their love of film, which both brings them together and kills them in the end. Theirs may technically be the subplot, but Tarantino’s passion for cinema sings loudest when his characters share in that passion.
You’d certainly be forgiven for thinking Alita: Battle Angel to be a new movie by James Cameron. It gives off his scent in more ways than one, but primarily in the union of completely gangbusters special effects and a completely lackluster script. Cameron’s credited as a producer, though, not that the title of “producer” can actually ever have one single definition. Based on the manga series Battle Angel Alita, the film adaptation is in actuality directed by Mexico Trilogy and Sin City helmer Robert Rodriguez, the guy who once claimed his approach as “Mariachi-style” — in which “creativity, not money, is used to solve problems.” There’s an immediate discordance between that approach and the mere notion of James “Titanic” Cameron, and Alita very clearly exhibits the latter’s big-budget sensibility at the expense of an underdog’s incumbent creativity.
Which is a shame, because that’s ostensibly what Alita is about. The title character (played by Rosa Salazar) is a spunky cyborg with a mysterious past, brought back to life by kindhearted scientist Ido (Christoph Waltz) in a war-torn world all but discarded by the elite who reside on a giant floating city in the sky. “Lower” and “upper” class are literalized, and promise of ascension to that higher world is enough leverage to get anyone to do anything. The setup is nearly verbatim to that of Elysium, with an impending reckoning between the rough-and-tumble Earth-dwellers and those nasty domineers above. But the reckoning never happens, despite a colossal amount of exposition pointing in that direction, and apart from a useless cameo (more on that in a second) we never even glimpse one of those nasty domineers.
Hey — it’s Christmas! Let’s go to the movies. Slug some hot chocolate, throw on your wool hat, follow the colored lights strung from tree to tree on the citywide commons to the movie theater or the cinema or the multiplex or whatever you call it in your neck of the woods. I’ll get the tickets, you get the popcorn. What do you want to see? It’s Christmas, remember, so we need something that will encourage our merriment and warm up our capacity for joy. That disqualifies The Revenant. What about Star Wars for the fifth time? What do you mean you saw it again this morning? Why didn’t you invite me? Whatever, just go get the popcorn.
Here we go: a new Tarantino movie. One would think that a brand spankin’ new flick from Tarantino would, if nothing else, be entertaining. It’s Tarantino. This is the diabolical purveyor of histrionic, action-packed jaunts that bleed style and ooze cool, of movies that have banging soundtracks and automatically generate an Academy Award for Christoph Waltz. This is the director that champions violence in film as fun, responding to the masses that claim violence in film is a potentially toxic influence on viewers with a beautifully composed shot of red blood spewing out of a newly-severed neck. Take that! The violence-is-bad point always reminds me of part of the testimony of famed censorship bogeyman William Gaines during the 1954 hearings on the validity of the violent comic books he produced: “Do we think our children are so evil, so simpleminded, that it takes a story of murder to set them to murder, a story of robbery to set them to robbery?” I picture Tarantino saying that, only with a lot more gesticulation and overeagerness and a lot of “alright, you know, okay?” and a lot of averted glances.
The Prometheus sequel is moving forward as Ridley Scott’s next film under the official title Alien: Paradise Lost. Hard to pass judgement on title alone, but for the moment we’re cautiously pessimistic.
Speaking of Alien, Sigourney Weaver has confirmed a cameo in the upcoming Ghostbusters reboot, which you probably know as “the all-female Ghostbusters reboot” to such a degree that the title could be The All-Female Ghostbusters Reboot.
Spectre‘s theme song “Writing’s on the Wall” has been released, featuring the crooning vocals of Sam Smith, and can be heard in full over on Spotify. I haven’t actually listened to it, and won’t until I’m firmly in my seat in the theater for Spectre, but apparently it’s divisive so far without any of the visual/story context. On another note, isn’t it weird that so few photos of Christoph Waltz’s villain have leaked?
Some beautiful new stills from The Revenant hit the interwebs yesterday, teasing the exclusive use of natural light throughout Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman follow-up. For those of you who have been pining for a shot of Leonardo DiCaprio standing before a mountain of buffalo skulls, today is your lucky day.
For such a successful franchise of movies, there is no denying that of the 23 James Bond installments, a handful of the movies are nothing special on their own. That is to say, strip away the Bond allure and you’re left with a lot of movies that probably resemble a 2014 Kevin Costner film (3 Days to Kill, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit… you get the picture). But the most recent entry Skyfall certainly does not fit into this category of Bond movies. In many ways, Sam Mendes’ first Bond movie is not a typical Bond film; making it not just a great James Bond movie, but a great movie in general.
Mendes gives the viewer this sense early when Q says to Bond — but really to the audience as a sort of aside — “what did you expect, an exploding pen?” It’s Mendes way of saying, “what did you expect, a typical Bond movie?” In the case of Q, what he gives Bond — a fingerprint encoded gun — is even better. And in the case of Mendes, what he gives the viewer is also far better.
Hugh Jackman has confirmed that he’ll only be playing Wolverine one more time, and that means he won’t be appearing in X-Men: Apocalypse. What happened to “playing Logan until you die”, Hugh? Can’t you just defy Hollywood studio machinations and somehow cameo in Avengers: Infinity War? Can’t you just come back and do an Old Man Logan movie? No Country for Old Man Logan? Please?
Speaking of Marvel movies, Adam McKay is now rumored to occupy the director’s chair for an upcoming MCU film. Money’s on Inhumans, and money’s also on this still not being anywhere near as enticing as Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man. Sigh.
The Walking Dead spinoff is now officially titled Fear the Walking Dead, and a brief tease premiered during last night’s WD finale. As our friends at Collider so eloquently put it, at least it ain’t as bad as The Walking Dead Into Darkness.
Big Eyes is about a fringe artist whose Gothic work about depressed, child-like characters becomes wildly popular, copied, and commercialized until it’s rendered a caricature of itself. And no, it’s not Tim Burton’s autobiography. It’s the bizarre true story of Margaret and Walter Keane and the fortune they made in the 1960s on paintings of children with, you guessed it, big eyes. Still, it’s not hard to analyze Burton’s attraction to this story. Each new movie “from the mind of Tim Burton” seems to parody his own aesthetic, turning it into a brand more than an auteur’s style. It would be far too easy to say that Walter represents the big, money-hungry studios and Margaret is Tim, just victims of their own popularity. But this is a movie that deserves to stand alone–and after Dark Shadows, I’m sure Burton wants it that way.
The audience might already be familiar with the weird 1970 court case in which Margaret sued Walter for slander while he stubbornly insisted that he was the original artist. But Big Eyes sheds light on the couple’s even weirder marriage. Margaret originated her iconic wide-eyed waifs when she was just a modest painter selling portraits on the street. But it was Walter who took credit for her work and turned them into a massively lucrative venture by selling cheap posters to the general uncultured public. The art world turned up their noses and scoffed, of course, but, as Walter passionately declares, the world is built on the lowest common denominator. Continue reading Big Eyes (2014)→
Nothing says “happy holidays” like an incredibly violent, utterly vulgar, yet strangely comedic look at slavery and racism in the Antebellum South. Quentin Tarantino’s latest effort has garnered exceptional critical support, seeming to morph together styles and tones from three of his previous cinematic achievements: Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill, and Inglourious Basterds. The scope of the film is quite epic, occurring over months in various Southern states, yet it in no way takes itself too seriously. Instead, Django is extremely humorous and several of its minute details, when given closer examination, actually seem rather bizarre, almost finding itself belonging to the Wes Anderson genre of film. While dealing with a very serious topic and maintaining an ethically appropriate opinion of said topic, Djano truly reels in its audience with its Oscar-winning dialogue and impeccable acting. The film may seem controversial to some, but anyone really paying attention will easily be able to understand the stance the film is taking.
The film has a subtle but significant Reservoir vibe to it. The plot is intricate and well thought-out; dramatic irony (when one or more characters are aware of something that others are not privy to) is abundant; and there is even a particular scene in Django that is a directorial parallel to a different scene in Dogs. Let’s discuss the similarity in complexity of the plot. These movies are no rivals to Inception when it comes to complex storytelling, nor are they trying to be, but they do certainly contain these types of elements. Dogs places a police officer undercover in the mafia, thus tricking the mafiosos into believing that he is one of them. Django places an African American in the fourth largest slave plantation in Mississippi, posing as an expert in the well-regarded field of Mandingo fighting; in front of Leonardo DiCaprio, no less. This similarity simultaneously explains both the intricacy of the plot and the abundance of dramatic irony. And then there are the scenes using the slow-motion walk. If you do not recall what I am talking about, you now have an excuse to go rewatch these fantastic films.