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Essential Viewing for Fans of ‘The Hunger Games’

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Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games series has often been compared to Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight novels, primarily because both center on a young female protagonist and has become a phenomenon for their shared young-adult demo. But the sense of familiarity of The Hunger Games goes much further back, recalling everything from William Golding to Phillip K. Dick to even Stephen King. Although it has been a while now since the last installment of the Hunger Games was released, I decided it wouldn’t hurt to draft up this list for those of you who may miss the movies. Here are 12 films that come highly recommended, and should be essential viewing for any fan of the franchise.

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1. Battle Royale
Written and directed by Kinji Fukasaku
Japan, 2000

The concept of The Hunger Games owes much to Koushun Takami’s cult novel Battle Royale, adapted for the cinema in 2000 by Kinji Fukasaku. The film is set in a dystopian alternate universe, in Japan, with the nation utterly collapsed, leaving 15 percent unemployed and 800,000 students boycotting school. The government passes something called the Millennium Educational Reform Act, which apparently provides for a class of ninth-graders to be chosen each year and pitted against one another on a remote island for 3 days. Each student is given a bag with a randomly selected weapon and a few rations of food and water and sent off to kill each other in a no-holds-barred fight to the death. With 48 contestants, only one will go home alive. Yes, this has been often cited as the original Hunger Games; whether or not Suzanne Collins borrowed heavily from Fukasaku’s near-masterpiece or the novel is ultimately unknown. In the end, it doesn’t matter since art has always imitated art. The fact is, both films share the same premise, but stand at opposite ends in tone, style, genre, and narrative shape.

Battle Royale is part exploitation, part teen angst drama, part black comedy, and part survival thriller. This is about as bleak and cruel as they come, but it remains endlessly entertaining. Fukasaku’s direction is far from subtle, but like all great films, Battle Royale has something to say. This is a harsh critique and a darkly funny satire of a wide array of elements of modern Japanese society. Think of it as a cross between reality TV with Lord of the Flies. The targets of satire vary: there is the unsettling social commentary on our tolerance for violence and thoughtless self-preservation, Japan’s obsession with authority and obedience, how adults place far too much pressure on their children’s educational achievements and the obsession with violent video games and anime. But put aside the social commentary: Battle Royale is downright cartoonish, hilarious, and exciting. Even during the deliberately provocative violent teen-hunts, Fukasaku maintains the right tone, never slipping into seriousness or preachiness.

Battle Royale aroused international controversy and was either banned or excluded from distribution in many countries, yet it became a domestic blockbuster and is one of the 10-highest grossing films in Japan. It received near-universal acclaim and gained further notoriety when Quentin Tarantino was quoted as saying he wished he had directed the movie himself.

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2. Lord of the Flies
Directed by Peter Brook
Written by Peter Brook and William Golding
UK, 1963

Peter Brooks’s big-screen adaptation of the Nobel Prize-winning author William Golding’s classic Lord of the Flies adheres so closely to the spirit of the source material that at every turn, Brook captures the cruelty and fascination of Golding’s symbols and metaphors perfectly.

Following a plane crash, 30 British school-age boys find themselves deserted on an island and try to govern themselves, with disastrous results. As with Golding’s book, human nature and individual welfare versus the common good are themes explored within the film. Even when innocent children (much like in The Hunger Games) are placed in isolation, fear, hate, and violence are inherent.

The film was shot in black-and-white and on a shoestring budget, with an entirely non-professional cast, and neither cinematographers Gerald Feil nor Tom Hollyman had never been behind a movie camera before. The casting of amateur actors required intensive overnight rehearsals and improvised dialogue, and the extensive editing took nearly 2 years to complete – the majority of which was spent fixing the sound due to the continual crashing of the ocean waves. All of this would in most cases be unfavorable for a motion picture, but here, it somehow lends to the natural aspect of the film, heightening its raw intensity. Its a miracle that Brooks not only got the job done but directed such an unsettling film, that brings out Darwin’s theory of “the survival of the fittest” to its darkest light. If Piggy doesn’t win your heart, you have none.

Note. The story was adapted with less success in 1990, and so this version is recommended instead.


3. The 10th Victim (La Decima Vittima) (The Tenth Victim)
Directed by Elio Petri
Written by Tonino Guerra, Giorgio Salvioni, Ennio Flaiano, and Elio Petri
Italy,1965

The 10th Victim was the first film to offer up the concept of a TV show wherein people hunt and kill one another for sport. It also expanded the idea into a satire on game shows. In the 21st century, the government and the private sector have joined forces to create a solution to crime by giving it a profitable outlet titled “The Big Hunt,” a popular worldwide game show in which contestants are chosen at random to chase one another around the world in a kill or be killed scenario. The winner of the first round moves on to the next. After ten wins, a player is retired from the game and gets a cash prize of one million dollars, but very few make it that far. As in The Hunger Games, there are sponsors who give contestants bonuses for quoting their slogans on camera, making product placement the ultimate form of media violence here.

Directed by Elio Petri, this campy futuristic satire of commercialism, violence, and dehumanization has earned a cult following among film buffs and with good reason. It stars Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress at the height of their stardom, and they share remarkable onscreen chemistry, running about in one of the most bizarre curiosity pieces of ’60s Italian cinema. Groovy and ridiculously satirical, the film clearly lent much inspiration to many films to follow, most notably, the Austin Powers franchise. The Italian pop and jazz score; the outrageous sixties chic fashions; the ultra-modern sets (that recall films like Danger: Diabolik); the less than subtle anti-media agenda – all help make The 10th Victim a truly one of a kind experience. Petri directs with tongue firmly in cheek, and although it doesn’t quite hold together in the final reels, it is something you will never forget. This interesting pop artifact features a number of easily spoiled memorable scenes. You want to seek this one out.

Note. The film was based on The Seventh Victim, a 1953 short story published in Galaxy magazine by prolific sci-fi writer Robert Shakley.

4. The Running Man
Directed by Paul Michael Glaser
Written by Steven E. de Souza
USA, 1987

Directed by former Starsky and Hutch star Paul Michael Glaser, this post-apocalyptic science fiction yarn starring Arnold Schwarzenegger is without a doubt the most mainstream film to appear on this list. Much like The Hunger Games, The Running Man satirizes American entertainment, deriding everything from professional wrestling to reality TV and game shows. The film, which is loosely based on a novel by Richard Bachman (a pen name for Stephen King), is set in the totalitarian America of 2019, wherein convicted criminals are forced to take part as bait in a hideous TV manhunt called, yes, The Running Man. Schwarzenegger stars as Ben Richards, a cop framed for massacring rioting civilians during a protest and later picked as a contestant for the show, where he must survive a gang of skillful assassins like Subzero (Prof. Toru Tanaka) and Captain Freedom (Jesse Ventura), each armed with unique weapons. Think American Gladiators mixed with WWE, Let’s Make a Deal, Max Headroom, and The Most Dangerous Game.

Admittedly, the commentary on America’s preoccupation with violence as well as game shows is heavy-handed, but what is most obvious is a set of double standards present. On one hand, it has a plot that harshly criticizes a society that keeps the masses at peace with televised ultra-violence (like The Hunger Games); on the other, the filmmakers revel in the violence, showing little interest in exploring any intellectual commentary. Yes, The Running Man is brainless and somewhat dated, but it is still a must-see if only for the onscreen combo of Jim Brown and Schwarzenegger kicking ass. Also on display is Paula Abdul’s dance choreography, long before her days on American Idol.

The Most Dangerous Game5. The Most Dangerous Game
Directed by Irving Pichel and Ernest B. Schoedsack
Written by James Creelman
USA, 1932

The Most Dangerous Game was made in 1932, in the era known as “Pre-Code Hollywood,” a time when filmmakers were able to get away with sexual innuendo, illegal drug use, adultery, abortion, intense violence, homosexuality, and much more. It was during this time that a film like The Most Dangerous Game was allowed to be made and shown to the general public without fear of censorship.

This was the first of many official and unofficial screen versions of Richard Connell’s short story of the same name. The film was put together by producer Willis O’Brien while in pre-production on King Kong and features several of the same cast and crew members, as well as props and sets from Kong. Despite these obvious cost-cutting measures, Dangerous Game never feels like a second-rate production and features impressive effects, moody cinematography, smart dialogue, and fine acting.

Running a lean 63 minutes, the film is constructed with hardly an ounce of fat, and the filmmakers waste no time, establishing the basic premise within the first 5 minutes. The plot concerns a big game hunter on an island who chooses to hunt humans for sport. The Most Dangerous Game might be a mindless action movie but remains a genuine classic. Many people have remade the story, some more successful than others, but none has matched the level of craft on display here.

6. Series 7: The Contenders
Written and directed by Daniel Minahan
USA, 2001

This film is imperfect, bu it deserves some mention simply because its timing was impeccable. The movie was filmed before the first airing of a Survivor episode and seemed more radical when first released. The film centers around The Contenders, Survivor-style show depicted within the film, in which six contestants are set loose in the same Connecticut community, with orders to kill each other. Series 7 marked the directorial debut for Daniel Minahan, who previously tackled pop culture and America’s obsession with violence in his script for I Shot Andy Warhol and later would go on to direct episodes of hit TV shows such as Game Of Thrones and True Blood.

7. The Truman Show
Directed by Peter Weir
Written by Andrew Niccol
USA, 1998

Apart from the obvious deathmatch featured in The Hunger Games, the film’s text is thematically provocative, its allegorical elements highlighting the way the “Games” amplify today’s obsession with reality television. Perhaps one of the greatest cinematic commentaries on all-pervasive media manipulation is in Peter Weir’s The Truman Show, starring Jim Carrey. For Carrey detractors, The Truman Show proves his talent reaches far beyond physical humour. Carrey remains in complete control throughout, commanding and exhibiting the charm and charisma needed for a role that calls for much sympathy and likeability.

Truman Burbank lives a happy life, but what he doesn’t know is that his life is completely manufactured within a giant domed television studio. He’s been the focus of a reality TV show ever since his birth; filmed, observed, scrutinized every second of his life. He’s the star, his hometown is a giant set piece, and even his family and friends are actors. Only he doesn’t know it. Not yet.

The paranoid ingeniousness of The Truman Show brings to mind 1984, as Carrey turns Truman into a postmodern Capra hero. While the film features no fight-to-the-death tournaments, it is the most dispiriting film featured on this list. We are desperate for Truman to break through Seahaven’s fourth wall and for the first time in his life actually come alive and become a true man. This funny, sweet, and thought-provoking parable about privacy and voyeurism is a must-see.

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8. Le Prix du danger (The Prize of Peril)
Written and directed by Yves Boisset
France, 1982

Le Prix du danger takes place in a futuristic society where contestants pit their survival skills against each other in a fight to the death for cash prizes on a popular TV program. Sound familiar? Based on a novel by Robert Sheckley, who wrote the source material for the 10thVictim, the short story is noted for its plot, which predates reality television by several decades. Much like The Running Man (which it clearly inspired), there is a charismatic game show host and an unarmed contestant who slowly wins the approval of the audience. Unlike The Running Man, the film does a better job at exploring the sociological repercussions of gladiatorial combat for the televised masses and is far more interested in debating the ethics of the sport. Not a huge hit on its release, Le Prix Du Danger boasts a refreshingly downbeat ending in contrast to many other films of its kind in which the hero rises above the odds and triumphs. Also, worth noting is the satirical commercials aired during the show, an idea that was borrowed by Paul Verhoeven later on. The film stars famous French actors Gérard Lanvin and Michel Piccoli.

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9. Louis 19, le roi des ondes (Louis the 19th, King of the Airwaves)
Directed by Michel Poulette
Written by Sylvie Bouchard and Émile Gaudreault
Canada, 1994

Louis always dreamed of being a TV star, so he enters and wins a contest in which a documentary film crew follow his daily life for three months. The only problem is that Louis lives a rather dull life, and so the TV execs decide to inject some much-needed excitement to boost their ratings. If the plot sounds all too familiar, it is because the film was later remade in America as EdTV.

The film isn’t anywhere near as brilliant as The Truman Show, but nowhere near as generic as EdTV either – and being a native of Montreal, I just couldn’t go without mentioning it. Quebecers may take pleasure in the various cultural references and countless cameos, but the rest of the world may find themselves lost or even somewhat bored. The film won the Claude Jutra Award for the best feature film by a first-time Canadian film director, and the Golden Reel Award for the year’s top-grossing film. It was also a nominee for Best Motion Picture, ultimately losing to Exotica.

They Shoot Horses Don't They?

10. They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
Directed by Sydney Pollack
Written by James Poe and Robert E. Thompson
USA, 1969

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? is a wildly acclaimed 1969 American drama directed by Sydney Pollack that went on to receive nine Academy Award nominations. Like most of the films to appear on this list, it is based on a novel, a 1935 tome by Horace McCoy. Penned by James Poe and Robert E. Thompson, the film is an allegorical drama set amongst the contestants in a marathon dance contest during the Great Depression.

So how does a movie revolving around a dance competition relate to The Hunger Games? Much like The Hunger Games, the participants (all teens) are broken down into couples in hopes of winning and taking home the prize money, cash that’s much needed during such hard economic times. There is even a sleazy opportunistic MC who urges them on to victory and corporations who will sponsor participants who catch their attention. They Shoot Horses does an excellent job exploring a wretched event that caters to the wealthy and uses the underprivileged to provide entertainment. “People are the ultimate spectacle,” as the tagline reads.

As the marathon winds into a staggering second month, suspicion, doubt, and insecurity rage among the competitors, bringing out the worst in everyone. The tension builds as the dancers self-destruct and begin to fight among themselves, eventually leading to a shocking crime.

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? is a tour de force of acting. Jane Fonda offers the first sign that she inherited her dad’s talent, proving herself as a serious dramatic actress. She went on to receive universal praise, as well as an Oscar nomination for Best Actress, and Gig Young won his Oscar for his superb performance as the slimy promoter. Pollack does some of his best work directing this fascinating film. From the start, the movie’s arc heads only downwards to an appropriately bleak ending. Take this as a warning – this movie goes out of its way to deny the audience any moments of pleasure.

11- Turkey Shoot (Escape 2000)
Directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith
Written by Jon George and Neill D. Hicks
Australia, 1982

Saving the craziest for last; here is Brian Trenchard-Smith’s Turkey Shoot, aka Blood Camp Thatcher, aka Escape 2000. Turkey Shoot is so cynical, cheap, tasteless, violent, exploitative, and ludicrously over-the-top that none of the original cast or crew members were willing to defend the pic for Mark Hartley’s documentary on Australian genre film, Not Quite Hollywood.

Once again inspired by The Most Dangerous Game, Turkey Shoot is set in an Orwellian future – a fascistic Australia, to be exact, in where a group of criminals and rebels are sent to the draconian Camp 47 and reprogrammed through a strict regimen of abuse, torture, and rape as a means of social rehabilitation. It may sound like a brutal, darkly nihilistic film, but it also helps that the movie never treats itself too seriously. The prison film/totalitarian future background is only an excuse for vast amounts of blood and gore, and in lieu of the reputation that precedes it, it’s impossible for any exploitation/horror aficionado to pass it up. The sum total of political commentary runs to naming the camp’s commander Thatcher – and that’s about it. This is purely a sadistic mélange of over-the-top action set-pieces and ultra-violent sensationalism. In other words, the perfect guilty pleasure for the midnight slot.

Note. Brian Trenchard-Smith went on to direct low-brow classics BMX Bandits, The Man From Hong Kong and Dead-End Drive In.

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12 – The Human Race
Directed by Paul Hough
Written by Paul Hough
2013, USA

Writer/director Paul Hough (son of Legend of Hell House director John Hough) burst into the scene with his unforgettable documentary The Backyard in 2002, followed by his award-winning short film The Angel. In 2012, he released the startling and violent The Human Race, a blood-soaked, sci-fi/action/horror with a solid focus on characterization and moral choice. The premise is simple; People are snatched from their everyday lives and forced to compete against one another in a competition that’s like a mixture between Battle Royale, The Hunger Games, and The Amazing Race. If contestants stray off course, they die. If they step on the grass, they die. And if they are lapped twice, they die. Every individual must fight to survive until only a single survivor remains alive. As for the contestants, anyone can be chosen to participate regardless of sex, ethnic backgrounds, religious beliefs, age, and physical capacities. It doesn’t matter if you’re missing a leg or pregnant; every character is put through the wringer and no one is spared. For starters, the charismatic lead is played by Eddie McGee, a real-life amputee who brawls and executes stunts on one leg. In addition, there are also two characters who are deaf and who communicate in prolonged intense dialogue sequences conveyed solely through subtitled sign language. There is also an elderly man who can barely run, and even a pregnant woman in her second trimester. When an uplifting storyline involving cancer survivor is cut short in cruel fashion; the tone of Hough’s film becomes crystal clear. Hough constantly introduces elements that would normally be used as manipulative devices in most films, but here he annihilates them without batting an eyelash. The Human Race mixes sci-fi and horror elements to examine the best and worst of human nature. But despite the above comparison to Battle Royal and Hunger Games, this thought-provoking feature is probably closest in mood to Sydney Pollack’s 1969 dance-marathon drama They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?. And that my friends are the highest compliment I can give.

Some people take my heart, others take my shoes, and some take me home. I write, I blog, I podcast, I edit, and I design websites. Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Goomba Stomp and the NXpress Nintendo Podcast. Former Editor-In-Chief of Sound On Sight, and host of several podcasts including the Game of Thrones and Walking Dead podcasts, as well as the Sound On Sight and Sordid Cinema shows. There is nothing I like more than basketball, travelling, and animals. You can find me online writing about anime, TV, movies, games and so much more.

Film

75 Years Later: ‘Double Indemnity’ Angles for Murder, But What’s the Bait?

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There are plenty of tough nuts to crack in the noir genre, but beneath those hardened exteriors usually lies some kind of rationale — some kind of motivation for why these people do the not-so-nice things that they do. Lust, greed, and even justice are common excuses that certainly explain much human behavior, but how does one determine what the hell everyone is thinking in 1944’s Double Indemnity, often considered the greatest example of this type of film? They’re all fishing, all fish, but though the typical incentives for murder in these sorts of stories are paid some cursory lip service, it doesn’t take too close an inspection to see that none of the film’s characters appear convincingly manipulated or totally hooked — at least not by the bait being tossed out by others. So if no one is biting — but what are they all angling for?

“How could I have known that murder can sometimes smell like honeysuckle?”

For those who have somehow deprived themselves of the twisting plot, gloriously inky images, and razor-sharp dialogue, Double Indemnity portrays the sordid affair of reasonably successful insurance salesman Walter Neff (with “two ‘F’s, like in Philadelphia”) and sultry housewife Phyllis Dietrichson as they attempt to get away with offing her husband and collecting on a big accident policy payout. On their trail is a greyhound-like claims manager who smells a rat and suspects foul play, but can’t pinpoint the killer (because the guy he’s looking for is “too close. Right across the desk from ya”). Along the way there are scenes of hilariously aggressive flirting and steamy Hays-Code-era passion, a pretty solid murder scheme involving a body double and a train ride, tense cat-and-mouse moments in a hallway and a grocery store, a cold-blooded implication involving the death of a character we never meet, plenty of duplicity and betrayal, and surprisingly, a somewhat tender relationship that you may not see coming.

It’s all fascinating stuff, but what makes it more so is the lack of urgency in the excuses for committing all the lies and murder. Walter claims in the opening scene that he “killed…for money, and a woman. And I didn’t get the money, and I didn’t get the woman.” That seems like clear motivation, but is any of it true? Upon their first meeting, he tells Mrs. Dietrichson that he does okay as an insurance salesman, and indeed he seems to be fairly well respected at his company. His boss and friend, Keyes, even recommends him a promotion to the Claims department. Sure, his apartment might not be a dame magnet, and he’s nowhere near affording “one of those California Spanish houses everyone was nuts about 10 or 15 years ago,” but he at no point makes any complaints about his earnings, and the chipper way in which he approaches his job suggests a certain contentment.

Double Indemnity love

Meanwhile, Phyllis initially claims that she hates her husband because he’s mean and won’t let her shop anymore (“every time I buy a dress or a pair of shoes, he yells his head off”), and also notes that the man’s life insurance all goes to his daughter. These are weak arguments for murder but they at least paint a hazily greedy character (perhaps sensing that thinness, she slyly bolsters her case, adding “I don’t want to kill him. I never did. Not even when he gets drunk and slaps my face”). But what does Phyllis want the money for? She never opines on the virtues of financial independence, nor confesses to any grand dream that only a big lump of dough could make true. In fact, once the deed is done, she rarely mentions the contested payout except when wanting to sue, and instead treats the double indemnity claim as if it were merely a prize she was entitled to for victory.

No, money doesn’t appear to be a pressing issue — certainly not so urgent that it’s worth killing for — but what about love? Divorce wasn’t easy to obtain back in the 1940s, so killing one’s spouse to hook up with someone else you’re hot for certainly seems like an option that might cross a person’s mind (Strangers on a Train, anyone?). But though Double Indemnity portrays a lot of ‘feelings’ being declared through clenched jaws and bedroom eyes, each “baby” or “I love you” really gives off an impression of someone going through the motions of human affection in order to not be exposed as a psychopathic manipulator. The lack of emotion is a major undercurrent here, giving even scenes of supposed romance a sinister vibe, with characters saying what they think the other one wants to hear — dangling bait.

Double Indemnity store

Sure, there’s no doubt about Walter’s lust — from the moment he catches sight of that shiny anklet, as well as the shapely leg attached to it, there’s a playful glint in his eye; it’s also obvious that Phyllis is aware of her allure, and enjoys the attention (“I wonder if you wonder.”). But after the murder, those longing looks and passionate embraces disappear almost as if they’ve never existed, replaced by cold shoulders, poker faces, and paranoid glances. The charge is gone from whatever this relationship was — but was it ever really there, or was that attraction merely a tool for Phyllis, and an excuse for Walter to convince himself that he had a reason to get involved? The lack of caring one iota about a future together suggests that those early flirtations are simply passing impulses — not enough to get anyone deeply hooked. Which perhaps explains why neither of them are.

Walter isn’t an idiot; from the beginning he’s onto her schemes, and is smart enough to get out of there, but quick: “Whaddya think I was anyway? A guy that walks into a good-looking dame’s front parlor and says, ‘Good afternoon. I sell accident insurance on husbands. Have you got one that’s been around too long?'” Yet, he ultimately decides to help for his own reasons, causing Phyllis to mistakenly believe that she’s landed a whopper. Conversely, she lets Walter think that he’s the man with the plan, a step ahead of Keyes and in control; of course, he isn’t. With each deluded into thinking that they understand the other’s motives, there’s no end to the duplicity they’ll spout to get what they want — and that almost seems to include lying to themselves.

So, it turns out that love is not the answer after all. Any chance all this murder was done for some kind of cosmic justice? Well, there is definitely an element of comeuppance in Double Indemnity, but due to Hayes code stipulations, it has to be against the principals. The pair ultimately succumb to each other’s bullets — a fitting, fated closure for two people bound by a blood crime (“They may think it’s twice as safe because there are two of them. But it isn’t twice as safe. It’s ten times twice as dangerous”). Nevertheless, morality is not front and center here; even Keyes dogged pursuit of truth comes off as less a crusade than a vigorous fox hunt, and certainly Mr. Dietrichson’s faults are never portrayed as convincingly evil enough to warrant such a fate.

So why?

Some people fish to eat, others for work, but one reason that many people cast their line into the water and spin the reel is simple: sport. It’s obvious fairly early on that both Walter and Phyllis are bored with their mundane lives; what better way to cure the doldrums than with a game? As Walter puts it, “In this business you can’t sleep for trying to figure out all the tricks they could pull on you. You’re like the guy behind the roulette wheel, watching the customers to make sure they don’t crook the house. And then one night, you get to thinking how you could crook the house yourself.” So perhaps Walter is proving something with this endeavor — engaging in competition. He is constantly told by Keyes that he’s smart, but also that it’s impossible to fool the claims manager’s instinct — his “little man.” Challenged accepted?

Meanwhile, the way Phyllis’ body language tells us everything we need to know about her state of interest with her situation in life. She lounges around her parlor, seemingly sapped of strength, but suddenly comes alive when outside opportunity appears in the form of a tall, dark, handsome salesman. It’s also implied that this isn’t the first time Mrs. Dietrichson has behaved badly. In fact, she may have stepped over the grave of a previous Mrs. Dietrichson in order to gain the title. Now, having reaped the rewards, she’s looking for the next thrill. And if she gets away with this one, there’s bound to be another. As Walter notes, “You got me to take care of your husband for ya. And then you get Zachetti to take care of Lola, maybe take care of me too. Then somebody else would have come along to take care of Zachetti for ya. That’s the way you operate, isn’t it, baby?”

Having watched Double Indemnity countless times over the years, I’m still not sure. But it’s likely that the mystery of why these people do what they do plays a significant role in the fascination with this crime story, as well as its lasting endurance (along with crackerjack filmmaking, of course). While the characters in so many other noirs commit dastardly deeds in the familiar and relatable pursuit of power, lust, or greed, the motivations of Walter and Phyllis remain largely ciphers — and they are endlessly watchable for it.

Double Indemnity opening

The most human moments of Double Indemnity come at the end, as Walter shares a tender moment with Keyes before presumably heading off to the electric chair, and Phyllis drops a bomb on the man she just put a bullet hole into: “No, I never loved you, Walter, not you or anybody else. I’m rotten to the heart. I used you just as you said. That’s all you ever meant to me. Until a minute ago, when I couldn’t fire that second shot. I never thought that could happen to me.” Whether or not that’s a sincerely heartfelt expression or more cynical angling, by the time audiences get to this culmination, they will likely already be hooked.

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Indemnity (def): 1.) security or protection against a loss or other financial burden. 2.) security against or exemption from legal liability for one’s actions. 3.) a sum of money paid as compensation, especially a sum exacted by a victor in war as one condition of peace.

*SIDE NOTE: ‘Double Indemnity’ contains the only known footage of Raymond Chandler.

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10 Years Later: ‘Inglourious Basterds’ Showed Us a Brand New Way to Root Against Nazis

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The tradition of Nazis being villains in movies — and those movies inviting audiences to cheer for those Nazis’ defeat — is one that goes back nearly as long as Nazis themselves. Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator (1940) mocked Adolf Hitler before the U.S. had even entered World War II, and Hollywood didn’t wait for the fighting to be over before it started making dozens of movies about the struggle against the Nazis. This included Casablanca — with its corrupt Nazi viceroy, Strasser — and Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be Or Not To Be, both released in 1942.

Movies about World War II continued to be produced in the ensuing decades, with mockery of Hitler a continued theme in the work of director Mel Brooks, who mockingly staged a pro-Hitler musical called Springtime For Hitler in 1972’s The Producers, made his own version of To Be Or Not To Be in 1983, and revisited The Producers with a musical play and second movie years after that. Serious World War II movies also had a brief resurgence in the late 1990s, with Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan arriving in 1998, but no film has had a take on the Nazis quite like Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, which was released in August 21, 2009.

Inglourious Basterds Hitler

Tarantino’s sixth film, Inglourious Basterds is set in Nazi-occupied France during World War II, and provides the sort of revisionist, fictionalized version of history that would become a trademark in the second half of the director’s career. It even includes something the director would later do again: the phrase “Once Upon a Time…” both as the title of the first chapter, and in the film’s marketing materials, and used as a way to fudge the actual facts of history.

For instance, Adolf Hitler himself does indeed appear in Inglourious Basterds (played by German actor Martin Wuttke), but it’s a small role, and one in which the Fuhrer is treated as a comedic foil, repeatedly screaming “nein! nein! nein!” and seen as the butt of jokes right up until his ultimate, ahistorical demise. Tarantino and Wuttke’s take on Hitler is definitely of a piece with that of Mel Brooks — or even of the series of Internet memes based on the 2004 movie Downfall — that became popular in the years prior to the release of Basterds.

The main Nazi villain in Inglourious Basterds is Hans Landa, the fictitious SS Colonel nicknamed “The Jew Hunter.” Played by Christoph Waltz in an Oscar-winning turn (and as an actor that was likely unfamiliar to most audiences at the time), Landa is a different kind of movie Nazi — one who’s as erudite as he is menacing. He’s also unusually self-aware, commenting on his “Jew hunter” nickname much the same way that a Nazi character in Lubitsch’s To Be Or Not To Be mused on his moniker, “Concentration Camp Ehrhardt.”

At the film’s end, we see Landa betray the Nazi cause, and then get betrayed himself, as the Basterds, rather than killing him, ruin his plans for a peaceful stateside retirement by carving a swastika into his skull. Between that, the death of Hitler, and the entire Nazi command burning in a Paris movie theater, it’s fair to say that Inglourious Basterds dispenses with its Nazi villains in an entirely different way than every other World War II film ever made (though Tarantino, for good measure, would include another scene of a roomful of Nazis getting torched in one of the movie-within-a-movie scenes from 2019’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood).

Inglourious Basterds has multiple plot strands concerning payback as well — with the key ones including Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent) seeking revenge against the Nazis who murdered her family, as well as a platoon of Jewish-American soldiers (the Basterds of the title) on the prowl to collect the scalps of Nazis at the behest of their commander (Brad Pitt) — that made it part of a mini-trend for films of its time period (following Steven Spielberg’s Munich and Edward Zwick’s Defiance), dealing with historical Jews taking up arms and getting revenge. (Though Tarantino, unlike the other two directors, resisted the urge to inexplicably cast Daniel Craig as a Jewish character.)

Inglourious Basterds scalping

However, that’s an aspect of Inglourious Basterds that’s worthy of re-examination: it doesn’t really interrogate itself in any way about the morality of what the Basterds are doing. Sure, it’s beyond satisfying to see Nazis defeated, especially during the war (and by extension, during the Holocaust), but we see the characters doing certain things — executing prisoners after their capture, carving swastikas into foreheads, scalping heads — that in real life would likely be classified as war crimes. Steven Spielberg’s Munich, which arrived four years earlier, was another story of Jewish revenge, but —  contrary to Seth Rogen’s famous monologue in Knocked UpMunich was almost entirely about the moral questions connected to that revenge, and the effect carrying it out had on the people doing it.

So, how does Inglourious Basterds fare on re-examination? It remains a notably uneven movie. Yes, Waltz’s turn as Lanza is one of the best performances in any Tarantino film, the writer-director’s central metaphor about Nazis living by and eventually dying at the movies is one that ultimately works, and the film’s exploration of the Nazi-era German film industry, one later explored in the 2018 documentary Hitler’s Hollywood, is compelling.

However, the film is at times also excruciatingly slow, with several scenes that seem to slog on forever. The tendency to let scenes drag towards the 20-minute mark was probably Tarantino’s biggest weakness as a filmmaker in the period of his career between Kill Bill Vol. 2 in 2004 and The Hateful Eight in 2015. Going for the slow burn is understandable, but if the dialogue isn’t popping like it did in Tarantino’s early films, the scenes can be a chore to sit through.

Yet, Quentin Tarantino is in love with film history like few other directors, and the more long-ago and obscure, the better. It’s virtually certain that he knows the entire history of World War II movies, and was aware every single trope that he’s extolling and subverting in Inglourious Basterds, as is likely certain with so many of his other films (he even paid subtle homage in Christopher Walken’s famous Pulp Fiction monologue to the 1943 film Air Force, with reference to that film’s main character, “a gunner named Winocki”). With Inglourious Basterds, he used that knowledge to create a film that fits in with the history of the genre, while going off into an entirely different direction.

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How ‘The Wizard’ failed Nintendo

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Wizard movie Review

Although e-sports have reportedly been a part of video game culture since the early ’70s, competitions saw a large surge in popularity in 1989 when Universal Pictures produced The Wizard, about a trio of kids who make their way to a national Nintendo video game championship (Video Armageddon) for a grand prize of $50,000. The charismatic and rising star of television’s Wonder Years, Fred Savage, stars as Corey, a boy who escorts his deeply traumatized younger half-brother Jimmy (Luke Edwards) away from a group home and sets off on a cross-country trek, chased by their father (Beau Bridges), their older brother (Christian Slater), and a child-finder, hired by their mother to bring him back home. Along the way, they meet Haley (Jenny Lewis) and discover that Jimmy is a real prodigy when it comes to video games. They make a stop off in Reno, hustle at some arcades, gamble at a casino and do whatever it takes to get to their destination on time. There’s a ridiculous comic subplot involving the child detective maliciously trying to stop Bridges from finding his sons and a secondary side-story about a competitive gamer named Lucas Barton, always getting in the way.

The Wizard Movie Review 1989

Nintendo didn’t really need a boost in advertising back in 1989. The Nintendo Entertainment System was the best-selling gaming console of its time and helped revitalize the US video game industry following the video game crash of 1983. With the NES, Nintendo introduced a now-standard business model of licensing third-party developers and authorizing them to produce and distribute titles for Nintendo’s platform. More importantly, they placed a priority on their exclusive titles making the likes of Zelda, Link, Mario and Luigi household names. Nintendo was everywhere. Kids had lunch boxes, watches, t-shirts; even magnets on their refrigerators. The next logical step was the big screen and Nintendo’s plan was to use The Wizard as a catalyst to publicize the release of Super Mario Brothers 3 and the Powerglove. Arguably the most famous scene in the entire movie involves the Power Glove controller, and the infamous line reading: “I love the Power Glove. It’s so bad”. What’s more, this section of the story culminates in a video game tournament that shows the first footage of Super Mario Brothers 3 before the actual release of the game.

The Wizard

The Wizard became one of the first movies to explore commercial advertising opportunities targeted at gamers within a film and ironically for a film that has an awful lot to do with interactive entertainment, director Todd Holland wasn’t a huge fan of the medium. Super Mario Bros. 3 went on to become one of the best selling games in history and there wasn’t a gamer who watched The Wizard that didn’t want the Powerglove. The movie, however, was a box office flop and was panned by critics nationwide who called it nothing but a giant promotional tool. But the truth is, Nintendo was refreshingly hands-off with the film-making process; it wasn’t even their idea to put the Powerglove into the film. Sure Nintendo sought to profit from the project, but if anyone is to blame for the poor quality of the picture, it isn’t them.

The Wizard 1989 Movie REview

 

The Wizard is not only poorly scripted, acted and directed, but a blatant knockoff of the Oscar-nominated Rain Man, released a year earlier, with an added touch of Tommy (minus the music). If the borrowed plot sounds like the most unforgivable thing about The Wizard, think again. From a critical standpoint, it’s one of the most shameless films ever made. It’s not so much a movie, as it is an infomercial – but an infomercial for what exactly?

Despite the premise and repeated scenes of characters playing video games, this isn’t a 100-minute video game commercial for the Japanese multinational consumer electronics company. Universal Pictures milked The Wizard for all they could be promoting a bevy of partner brands, including Hostess, Cosmopolitan, Vision Street Wear, the music of New Kids on the Block, and Universal Studios (The last part of this Universal film takes place at Universal Studios in California, and amounts to an extended advertisement for the studio tour). Nintendo isn’t responsible for how disappointing The Wizard is; Universal Pictures is.

The Wizard is hackneyed and shallow and whatever merits it has, clash against the gross commercialism.

The Wizard is also one of those strange 80’s family films that you just can’t make these days, featuring gambling, death, violence, and mental health issues. The runaways’ actions provide anything but responsible role models for the children who make up the film’s target audience and the trek to California is accomplished primarily by illegal activities and a series of violent encounters between the kids’ father and the bounty hunter. WarGames was a massive hit at the time, and Tron and The Last Starfighter enjoyed modest success, but Universal Pictures never truly had faith in their premise. They were given a chance to revolutionize the video-game movie, just as Nintendo revolutionized the home-console market – and instead, they completely failed.

Wizard movie Review

All that said; while the film is poor in many respects, it’s difficult to hate. There’s something wonderfully nostalgic about watching the kids play Double Dragon, Turtles in Time and Ninja Gaiden, both on the NES console and at the arcade. Sure The Wizard is full of 80s cheese, but for gamers, it’s also a perfect escape to a much simpler time when gamers grew up on old 8-bit Nintendo games that seemed impossible to beat without subscribing to Nintendo Power, as opposed to multi-platform deals whose secrets can easily be found while surfing the World Wide Web. Years before silver screen adaptations of Silent Hill, Resident Evil, Pokemon, and Super Mario Bros., it was extremely rare to see video games featured in the film, much less mentioned. The Wizard didn’t do much to change this fact, nor did it go down as a timeless, cinematic classic, but it did develop an understandable cult following as the years went on, and it’s easy to understand why.

– Ricky D

The Wizard 1989

Trivia:

There was a reunion with the cast and director in 2008 at the Alamo Draft House. There, Tom Holland revealed that an hour of footage was cut from the movie — which explains many of the plot holes.

Sadly, the film wasn’t the massive financial success that Universal had hoped for. It cost $6M to make, but only made $13M at the box office.

Many NES games appear in the arcade scenes. Contrary to popular belief, this was possible since Nintendo had an arcade cabinet called Play Choice Ten. These machines would let the gamer choose between a number of NES games and alternate freely between them until time ran out, at which time the gamer would have to insert another coin.

The sounds made by Lucas’ Power Glove as he punches its keys are the famous five tones from Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).

The version of Double Dragon (1987) that Jimmy is playing at the bus station is not in fact the arcade version of the game, but rather the Nintendo Entertainment System version of Double Dragon.

Participating theaters would distribute issues of “Pocket Power” a pocket-sized version of “Nintendo Power” magazine.

When Jimmy, Corey & Haley are hustling the teenagers at the restaurant, it shows the game Jimmy is playing as F-1 Dream but the actual game Jimmy is playing is Top Speed (1987).

Tobey Maguire makes a cameo as one of Lucas’s henchmen. It was his first acting role.



Games that are featured in The Wizard:

  • Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest
  • China Gate
  • Contra
  • Dr. Chaos
  • Double Dragon
  • F-1 Dream
  • Mega Man 2
  • Metroid
  • Ninja Gaiden
  • PlayChoice-10
  • R.C. Pro-Am
  • Rad Racer
  • Rampage
  • Super Mario Bros.
  • Super Mario Bros. 2
  • Super Mario Bros. 3
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
  • Full Throttle/Top Speed
  • Zelda II: The Adventure of Link

Wizard

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Ranking Quentin Tarantino’s Films

Tarantino has crafted an oeuvre ripe for debate…

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Quentin Tarantino is back with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, his most unabashedly emotional movie ever— but how does it compare to the rest of his filmography? We decided it might be fun to look back at Quentin Tarantino’s trajectory over the course of 20-plus years helming films and try to agree on what his best film is. It quickly became obvious, this was no easy task.

Before we get to the list we should mention that although Tarantino has contributed to other projects such as Four Rooms, Sin City, True Romance, ER, and CSI to name a few— we’re ranking just the theatrically released feature films he has directed. And yes, while Tarantino does consider Kill Bill one movie, it was unfortunately released both theatrically and on home video as two separate films, and so for the purpose of this list, we are splitting them up (not to mention, it’s still nearly impossible for most people to see them as a single entity).

With that out of the way, please accept our definitive ranking.

10) Deathproof

Tarantino’s homage to the road demon genre may be one-half of a double bill, but the film also works as two movies in one. You see, Death Proof offers two incarnations of the same story: two separate sets of beautiful women are stalked at different times by a psychotic stuntman who uses his muscle cars to execute his murderous plans. In other words, Death Proof is essentially two slasher films, since the second half (which takes place a year later) works as a sequel, with four new voluptuous victims for our murderous villain, Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell), to terrorize. The claustrophobic first half of Death Proof takes place on a dark, raining night amidst a dingy Texan bar, intact with neon lights and a soulful soundtrack of rare ’70s pop tunes. The second half takes place mostly on the open road, in bright daylight, and features sun-baked cinematography and a twangy score in place of the soundtrack. Much like the two sets of women, the two halves work as contrasting doubles. In tone, Death Proof begins as a dark thriller, but it quickly shifts gears and becomes a non-stop action film. In fact, everything about the two halves is completely different, from the pop culture references, photography, automobiles, visual effects, music, and clothing, to the hairstyles, props, etc.

Death Proof is also deliberately atmospheric and very patient taking its time getting to know each character and Death Proof gets the bragging rights of landing Kurt Russell, the iconic star of many beloved genre films. Tarantino’s gift for resurrecting the careers of iconic actors said to be past their prime is once again on display, as Russell turns in a tour-de-force performance as the smooth-talking tough guy who gets his kicks from vehicular homicide. With Russell and Tarantino working together, we see a movie star and a director in perfect harmony.

Some call it a masturbatory fantasy project, but Tarantino’s kinetic action sequences and his avid love for cinema in all its incarnations make Death Proof a work of art. More importantly, Death Proof doesn’t simply comment on its genre inspirations – it adds to their very legacy. The car crash that ends the first half is worth the price of admission alone. It’s a breathtaking slice of gory mayhem shown four times from various points of view, and ten times more frightening than anything you’ll see most horror movies. And while Tarantino may lack the budget of bigger action films, he does not lack the talent to skillfully direct a car chase and capture the horrifying aftermath of a car wreck. The extended car chase is a bona fide old-school tour de force, a sheer brutal and primal statement on the new power balance of the sexes. Jammed with astonishing stunt work (absent of CGI), the climax will have you gripping to your armrest. Obviously, Death Proof is shaped by such films as Vanishing Point, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, and Steven Spielberg’s Duel, but Death Proof is influenced by more than just vehicular horror; it’s a grim stalker picture, a slasher film, and a blaring anthem to female empowerment. It’s also a small masterpiece and the Frankenstein creation of a movie fanatic of exploitation cinema. Tarantino’s sadistic ode to muscle cars and real-life stunt work is sheer genius. (Ricky D)

9) The Hateful Eight

Less the epic spaghetti western it initially comes off as and more of a chatter-filled murder mystery, The Hateful Eight nevertheless feels grandiose, presenting a sprawling cast of unforgettable characters teeming with infamous reputations and potential lies. And that’s really the draw for Tarantino’s eighth film — just what exactly is the truth, and is anyone telling it?

Though it’s a satisfying enough whodunit revolving around an octet of grizzled manhunters, brutish outlaws, conniving desperados, and mysterious cowpokes snowed in at a remote mountain general store, The Hateful Eight is really a story about telling stories. Everyone’s got one, and they’re used for all manner of things; a sordid tale of a tortuous journey across icy peaks is clearly meant to provoke hurt and outrage, while a former Johnny Reb spins an unlikely tale of accepting a new position as Sheriff of the nearby town in order to gain trust enough to be invited for a stagecoach ride. Bloody Civil War battles are recalled for the sake of establishing camaraderie, and a detailed explanation is offered for the absence of the store’s proprietors in order to allay suspicions. But are any of these intricate narratives true, or just manipulative yarns?

Some may be turned off by the preponderance of lengthy monologues, but those with a love of language and violence will be riveted by this deadly, high-stakes poker game of bluffs and tells. These killers are the stuff of legend, poking and prodding at their opponents with words, before unleashing more gruesome attacks. And never mind that The Hateful Eight isn’t Tarantino’s most ‘cinematic’ film by a longshot (despite being handsomely photographed on 70mm film); he makes the most of the rustic interior setting with expertly staged action and brilliant performances, unraveling his story through careful speech and chronological shifts that keep things fresh — all the way to the rotten end. (Patrick Murphy)

8) Django Unchained

It’s hard to describe why Tarantino’s Django Unchained is such an odd and interesting entry into the director’s filmography. On one hand, it has all the hallmarks of a classic Weinstein production: excessive blood and violence, dark and irreverent humor, and a strange sadistic fascination with race and gender relations that overshadows the whole film. On the other hand, the film truly ups the ante and turns all of these narrative dials up to eleven, telling a disturbing story of slavery, interracial violence, and greed to illuminate the depravity of the human condition in the antebellum south in new and inventive ways. Somewhere wavering between these two elements lies the true spirit of Django Unchained: a movie that both screams characteristic Tarantino and yet still constantly surprises audiences with its unorthodox approach to the cowboy film category.

Part Spaghetti Western and part Blaxploitation narrative, Tarantino’s Django Unchained births a new genre with its unique portrayal of American life, dubbed by Tarantino as “the Southern.” While the film’s plot isn’t as complex as a majority of Tarantino’s work, Django Unchained relies heavily on the incredibly strong performances from its all-star cast of characters. Following up his Academy Award-winning performance in Inglourious Basterds, Christopher Waltz nails his role as the whimsical and enigmatic Dr. King Shultz, earning himself another piece of hardware for Best Supporting Actor for his talent. Jamie Foxx also does a spectacular job of selling the almost cartoonish superhuman character of Django, being both sternly humorous and deadly serious when the situation requires to bring life to one of the darkest of Tarantino’s creations. Even the interplay between the unlikely duo of Samuel L Jackson and Leonardo Di Caprio serves to elevate the film, and the pair make memorable villains that serve the narrative well.

Although it was relatively controversial with the media because of its subject matter, Django Unchained achieves its goal of making audiences incredibly uncomfortable by viscerally articulating the violence and depravity of Southern slavery in film. Through his portrayal of Django, Tarantino effectively counters this racial trauma with full force, creating a brutal and nuanced character that comes to epitomize the revenge that the audience craves for the wrongs of the past. Within this struggle lies the heart of the narrative, reminding viewers that the wrongs of the past are always present in the social fabric of today and that even fantasy retribution can’t fully cleanse the sins of the South’s forefathers. Watching from cozy California, the film feels like an odd history book fever dream, but from a theater in Mississippi, Django must feel like something else altogether. (Ty Davidson)

7) Kill Bill: Vol. 2

Although Quentin Tarantino intended Kill Bill: Vol. 1 and 2 to release as a single film, there are distinct differences between the two volumes. Where Vol. 1 was a very visceral, action-packed film, the second half of the Bride’s quest for revenge opts for a slower, more meditative approach. Kill Bill: Vol. 2 is a film that likes to linger on the tragedy of the story; instead of flashing back into an action-heavy backstory, the film dedicates nearly half an hour to Bud’s miserable life after the Vipers’ failed assassination attempt on the Bride.

Through Budd, Kill: Bill Vol. 2 eases into some much-needed emotional reality after the bombastic back-half of Vol. 1. Budd becomes endearing in a way that O-Ren wasn’t, something both Elle and Bill ultimately share. Vol. 1 may have had one great villain through O-Ren Ishii, but Vol. 2 features Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah, and Bill Caradine acting against Uma Thurman in one of her best roles.

The more introspective approach on storytelling doesn’t mean Vol. 2 isn’t devoid of action either. While nothing’s quite as exciting as the Bride’s final duel with O-Ren at the end of Vol. 1 — let alone her massacre of the Crazy 88 — the Bride squaring off against Elle is a magnificently claustrophobic battle, and flashback scenes detailing the Bride’s training help to keep the action a constant presence without needing to elevate the stakes as often as the first film.

When it comes down to it, however, it’s the finale that makes Kill Bill: Vol. 2 such an incredible conclusion to the Bride’s story. Where the first film ends in an epic sword fight, the second ends with a quiet conversation — the dissection of a relationship, of history, and the duality of man. It’s a philosophical note to end such an intense film on, but it’s to Kill Bill‘s credit, remembering that it’s characters who drive the action. (Renan Fontes)

6) Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

In 1994, Quentin Tarantino performed an act of cinematic resurrection by casting a thoroughly washed-up John Travolta in Pulp Fiction and revitalizing his career (if only for a time). It was confirmation that Travolta still had all his talent intact — he just needed the right filmmaker to unlock it. Prior to his latest film, Quentin Tarantino was, if not as down in the dumps as Travolta, at least in a serious and deepening slump. Inglourious Basterds was formally stunning and graced with wondrous lead performances, but the film was flippant in its portrayal of one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th Century. Its revenge narrative was as tasteless as it was thrilling. Django Unchained suffered from a similar lack of introspection, but this time the compelling characters he’d become known for never quite materialized. By the time he made his horror Western/chamber revenge film The Hateful Eight, Tarantino seemed to be relying on pure sadism to fuel his vision.

With the release of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, it becomes clear that latter-day Tarantino needed a better director all along — in this case, a better version of himself. It doesn’t hurt that he’s jettisoned the now-tired revenge plots, despite telling a story that could easily have been converted into a tale of vengeance. But Once Upon a Time also marks the first time since at least Kill Bill — and maybe Jackie Brown — that Tarantino makes his audience feel deeply connected to his characters, and moved by their hopes and failures.

The film reunites him with both Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, sharing leading roles as, respectively, a formerly successful TV actor whose career has floundered just as he tries to ascend to making films, and his trusty stunt double whose sense of devotion prevents him from becoming bitter at his subordinate status. Margot Robbie fills out the edges of the film as Sharon Tate, fresh off her star-making turn in Valley of the Dolls. Even further on the margins are the festering followers of Charles Manson, who is glimpsed only once.

Once Upon a Time impeccably blends the pleasures of a Tarantino hangout film with a mounting sense of dread, minus the tiring speechifying (which even Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown suffer from in hindsight). There’s also a measurable dose of loss pervading the movie — for a bygone glamorous Hollywood felt by the industry in 1969, for the seemingly limitless possibilities of that area by present-day Tarantino, and for Tate, who would be brutally murdered by Manson’s followers on August 9, 1969. All are gone now. It’ll be a terrible folly if Tarantino sticks to his plan to stop making movies after his tenth feature, but if he had decided to call it quits early and stop after Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, it wouldn’t have been a half-bad way to go. (Brian Marks)

5) Jackie Brown

There are few experiences greater for a cinephile than seeing a director they previously knew to be a master produce a follow-up that expands their already considerable talents in stunning new ways. Jackie Brown is just such a film, one that capitalizes on the promise of Pulp Fiction while proving that Quentin Tarantino wasn’t a one-trick pony.

Adapted from Elmore Leonard’s 1992 crime novel Rum Punch, Jackie Brown is a film at war with its own contemporary setting. The movie takes place in 1995, yet it’s filled with vintage cars, outfits, and mannerisms harkening back to the 1970s — Tarantino’s favorite decade for cinema. To a certain extent, it’s intentional and reflects the time-warp status of Los Angeles’ South Bay at the time, but someone watching an isolated scene who wasn’t already familiar with the movie might have trouble pinpointing exactly what decade it was trying to approximate.

As he had rescued John Travolta’s career, Tarantino gave two other ‘70s icons their biggest roles in decades. Pam Grier, of Blaxploitation classics Coffy and Foxy Brown, stars as the eponymous character. She’s a middle-aged single woman who barely makes ends meet as a flight attendant for a third-rate budget airline that flies from LA to Mexico. In order to pad her earnings, she smuggles cash for Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson), a drug runner branching out in gun sales. But when an errant bag of cocaine puts Jackie on the radar of the LAPD and the ATF, she enlists bail bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster) to double-cross all involved parties.

After the formal inventiveness of Pulp Fiction, Tarantino wisely chose to adopt a more conservative approach to this crime story. Had he continued in the vein of that previous film, with its short story–like chapters, shifting protagonists, and fantastical touches (the glowing briefcase, Uma Thurman’s air drawn–square), it might have signaled that he was incapable of telling a compelling story without the techniques — that they were crutches rather than garnishes. Aside from some deceptive editing in the bravura mall sequence, he mostly plays it safe. Of course, “safe” for Tarantino still includes complicated shots, expressionistic framing, compelling performances, and virtuosic (if overly verbose) dialog.

What makes Jackie Brown not just an excellent film but one of Tarantino’s best is the obvious compassion he displays toward Jackie. Her fears about having to start over might seem mundane compared to the problems of his other leading characters, but the everyday nature of those struggles makes her more real than any of Tarantino’s other leads.

His newest, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, seems closest in structure and tone to Jackie Brown, which, not coincidentally, is why it’s such an improvement over his other recent films. Whether or not Jackie Brown influenced him anew, here’s hoping he never forgets its lessons. (Brian Marks)

4) Reservoir Dogs

Featuring a tightly woven script, clever directorial style, cracking dialogue and a superb cast who populate his picture as morally ambiguous criminals, Reservoir Dogs is a testosterone meltdown that gleefully immerses itself in love of outlaws, profanity, violence and pop culture. It’s aggressive, intelligent, visceral and unforgettable. Decades years later, perhaps what stands out most is Tarantino’s camera work. There is not a single dull shot in the movie, from the opening scene continuously circulating the breakfast club, to the slow-motion Wild Bunch credit sequence, to the brilliant pan-away during the cutting of the ear, and thereafter when the camera follows Blonde outside the warehouse to his car, and back inside again. There’s a method to Tarantino’s style; every frame is calculated, and every line of dialogue serves to set the action in motion. The film never slows down, and Tarantino makes great use of dozens of long tracking shots. Even more impressive is that the film boasts a timeless quality since it is unclear as to what decade they’re in. From the pop tunes from the ’70s to the 60’s black and white suits and skinny ties, to the 80’s automobiles, Reservoir Dogs may as well take place in some strange parallel universe. A small, offbeat, extremely well-crafted crime caper with terrific surprises sprinkled over top.

At once a tribute to traditional notions of trust, loyalty, honour, and professionalism, and a stylish, ironic pastiche inspired by the likes of Woo, Peckinpah, Melville, Ringo Lam, Kurosawa and many more, Reservoir Dogs may have not been original but it is raw and a one-of-a-kind, and has since been often imitated. (Ricky D)

3) Kill Bill: Vol. 1

Exploding onto the scene as the first part of Quentin Tarantino‘s 4th film, the hyper-stylized Kill Bill was his most ambitious and audacious film yet. The film follows Uma Thurman as The Bride, a betrayed ex-assassin on the hunt for the four comrades, and their leader, who tried to kill her on her wedding day. As The Bride herself later says, she roars, rampages, and gets bloody satisfaction (emphasis on the bloody).

Packed with the snappy dialog, memorable characters, and brutal violence that have come to trademark Tarantino’s films, Kill Bill: Vol. 1 is also home to some of the best fight scenes in the history of action filmmaking. Particularly impressive is the frenetic climax, which sees The Bride face off against 88 sword-wielding criminals in a Japanese bar.

Basically, QT’s love letter to some of his favorite samurai action films, Kill Bill: Vol. 1 nonetheless succeeds as its own beast, and is still fondly remembered as one of his best films. (Mike Worby)

2) Inglourious Basterds

Kicking off with a “Once upon a time…in Nazi-occupied France,” Inglorious Basterds lets viewers know right away that this isn’t really a World War II movie — it’s a Tarantino playland fantasy, where the good guys are cool, steely knights, and the bad guys are rotten, devious ogres to be beaten, shot, torched, and dynamited in spectacular fashion. Yes, it’s in many ways a movie about movies, but it’s also a work of gleeful imagination. Aldo Raine, Shosanna, Archie, the Bear Jew, Bridget von Hammersmark, Hans, and Frederick Zoller are wielded like toys by a director and script that on the surface wants little more than to show good utterly destroying evil in the most awesome and satisfying ways. Which it totally does.

Of course, part of getting to that sweet release is the masterful way in which Tarantino builds up and draws out suspense, often using lengthy conversation duels to withhold longer than seems possible, until finally unleashing his absurd violence in gushing massacres that more than satiate the audience’s need for closure. As usual, the stream of dialogue isn’t just there for pacing or self-indulgence, but creates rich, distinct characters that can then (probably) die in unforgettable ways — like in a tavern standoff involving incorrect hand signals, “speaking the King’s,” and a pistol to the groin.

No, Inglourious Basterds isn’t revisionist history. It’s not even historical fiction. It’s pure fairy tale, with darkness and light, feats of depravity and derring-do, and a cast of heroes and villains who all know their place in the story, and are only too happy to fulfill such with a wink and a smirk. It’s wonderfully fantastical entertainment, filled with the kind of vicarious thrills that kids used to get with G.I. Joes, and might just be the most fun you can have watching Hitler explode. (Patrick Murphy)

1) Pulp Fiction

A sensation that helped draw attention to and shape independent cinema in the 90s, Pulp Fiction might not always work as a sum of its parts, but boy have those parts been engrained into the moviegoing consciousness. Taratino’s L.A. crime opus is full of meandering conversations, gruesome encounters, and moments of supercool quirkiness that seem completely besides the point — until you realize that they are the point.

Mixing various intersecting stories via a jumbled-up chronology that serves the film’s dime-novel tone, Pulp Fiction takes a leisurely stroll across the seedier parts of town, never getting too anxious to stop and chat for a game of eeny, meeny, miney, moe in the prison-like basement of a perverted pawn shop, a discussion on bedroom furniture when needing to clean up brains and skull from the back seat of a car before Bonnie gets home, or praise for a tasty burger when mopping up a deal gone sour. There are very few awkward silences here; Pulp Fiction is often a symphony of gab. That constant flow sometimes overpowers a budding visual style that eschews the darkness of its subject matter for bright colors and sunny days, but those who pay attention to such things will notice some inventive staging and techniques.

Still, the stories of Vincent, Mia, Marsellus, Butch, and Jules are all about the spoken song. Full of memorable rhythms and shockingly violent punctuation, that symphony never gets old. Since then, Tarantino has certainly gone on to create bolder visions with a more confidant hand at the director’s helm, but despite that increased ambition and polish, few have managed to achieve the iconic status granted to this groundbreaking film. Pulp Fiction injected a shot of adrenaline into the heart of indie filmmaking, courted controversy and acclaim, and inspired a bevy of wannabes, all aiming to be as cool. Few have achieved such. (Patrick Murphy)

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Fantasia Film Festival

‘Ready or Not‘ Derives a Fair Amount of Mileage out of its Simple Premise

A rich family hunt the bride in a very bloody game of Hide And Seek

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Making its World Premiere at the Montreal genre festival, Ready or Not is a blood-spattered, tongue-in-cheek horror comedy that features plenty of gore and a sense of humour as dark as the terror on display.

Anyone who has seen the trailer is already familiar with the simple premise. What is best described as a cross between The Most Dangerous Game and Clue, Ready or Not stars Samara Weaving as Grace, a young bride who marries into the wealthy but strange Le Domas family that made their fortune in the board game industry. When it comes time to consummate the union, the bride is told that the marriage won’t be complete until she participates in an unusual family ritual: before the strike of midnight, the newlywed bride must draw a card from a mysterious box which will dictate which game they play into the night. Grace pulls the one-and-only cursed card that reads “Hide and Seek.” But this isn’t the traditional children’s game we are familiar with; in this deadly version, she is hunted by her soon-to-be-revealed psychotic in-laws wielding heavy weaponry like crossbows and shotguns.

A surreal cat-and-mouse chase ensues, with Alex ostensibly trying to help his bride survive while the rest of the La Domas clan remains dead-set on sacrificing her through the mysterious ritual. Their motive is simple: the La Domas believe that they must kill her before dawn as part of a satanic pact agreed upon years ago, otherwise they will have to repay their debt with their own lives. As to whether or not there actually is a satanic pact is unknown; as far as Grace is concerned, these rich folks are batshit crazy and out of their goddamned minds.

Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, who are collectively credited as Radio Silence (V/H/S, Southbound), Ready or Not has a lot to offer in wit, style, and entertainment. It feels tailor-made for a midnight audience, as the bloodthirsty relatives arm themselves to the teeth in a wedding night filled with crossbows, shotguns, decapitations, a car chase, and a level of gore I didn’t expect given the marketing. The climax is especially memorable — an all-out gore extravaganza that left the audience laughing hysterically.

There’s a lot to like here, from the score by composer Brian Tyler to the cinematography by Brett Jutkiewicz, but the reason this film works so well is because of the talented cast they’ve assembled, most notably Alex’s alcoholic brother, Daniel (Adam Brody), who serves as the family’s moral core. And of course there’s also Samara Weaving, (Mayhem, The Babysitter) who pretty much sacrifices her body in blood-soaked scenes of action and terror. The actress is fully dedicated in her role, turning into her own version of Ripley while tearing apart the upper-class society, their ridiculous traditions, and their silly superstitions.

I don’t want to oversell Ready or Not; it’s a great B-movie (albeit a big studio B-Movie, but a B-movie nonetheless). The quick pace, simple concept, and terrific performances are what carry it through the 95-minute run time. Ready or Not is simply put, a lot of fun — a horror-comedy that offers a ton of laughs, delivers the action, and cements the star power of Samara Weaving. The best compliment I can give is that I’m ready to see it again. It’s the perfect movie to watch with a group of friends on a stormy night, and a late-summer surprise for genre fans everywhere.

  • Ricky D

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on July 25, 2019, as part of our coverage of the  Fantasia Film Festival.

 

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Freelance Film Writers

Goomba Stomp is the joint effort of a team of like-minded writers from across the globe. We provide smart readers with sharp, entertaining writing on a wide range of topics in pop culture, offering an escape from the usual hype and gossip. We are currently looking for Film, TV, Anime and Comic writers.

Contact us: Editor@GoombaStomp.com

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