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‘Kong: Skull Island’ Reawakens the Sleeping Giant

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Despite a noble lineage, the greatness of a ruler is not necessarily passed to his offspring. 1933’s awe-inspiring King Kong has seen a string of disappointing heirs, snot-nosed wannabe-ascendants who misunderstand the allure of that classic and attempt derive the throne either by cheapening the idea of a colossal ape with campy foolishness or wallowing for three-plus hours in narcissistic awe of their own fun-deprived artistic vision. So much for living up to the family name; if it’s good to be king, one certainly wouldn’t have known it from those dull homages. However, while there may never be another (good) serious, beloved masterpiece in the lineage, no true heir to metaphorical monsterdom, at the least the latest franchise prince knows how to party. Kong: Skull Island thankfully doesn’t try to follow in the oversized footsteps of its royal ancestors, instead striking out on its own and forsaking both self-importance and a lack of self-respect for something more populist and more popcorn: dazzling B-movie entertainment.

For reasons that surely must have involved the filmmakers wanting to make some sort of Apocalypse Kong just for the hell of it, Skull Island is set during the closing days of the Vietnam War. After having discovered an uncharted island bizarrely shrouded by never-ending storm clouds, a team of researchers is escorted by a ragtag group of helicopter soldiers led by a Lieutenant Colonel not happy with leaving business unfinished, especially when it involves fighting. The expedition sets out to do whatever sorts of tests scientists do for these kinds of discoveries, accompanied by a stoic former British Special Air Service Captain who is supposed to serve as a tracker, and an “anti” war photographer who really serves no purpose at all. They start dropping seismology bombs, things go downhill from there. None of this really matters, as the scraps of story are simply a vehicle to navigate between whatever cool or weird, stylish sequence comes next, and how much one likes this approach depends on expectations from a movie about a giant beast who protects an island from two-legged lizards living beneath the earth.

Bucking the blockbuster trend of mistaking dark and gritty for some kind of superior storytelling, Skull Island goes the other way, reveling in the Syfy Channel-esque ridiculousness of its titular character’s very concept and applying that to nearly every other facet. So many elements here are amplified just to the point of popping, from colors that leap off the screen as if from a comic book to bigger-than-life characters spouting oddball lines, and a cheeky narrative (such that exists) that doesn’t shy away from the implausibility of it all. Bigger isn’t always better, but for this cinematic world, it only adds to the fun. An over-the-top Kong (almost double the size of his past incarnations) fights huge dinosaur things in front of comically-large sunsets, with plenty of towering napalm explosions and some pretty sweet samurai sword moves (for no apparent reason) periodically thrown in for good measure. This isn’t about subtlety in the slightest.

Often these types of self-aware romps are dragged down by their own wink-wink nature, victims of hammy performances and obvious ironic dialogue, but interestingly enough, Kong: Skull Island takes a different approach, and it works. With the exceptions of the cartoonishly villainous Lt. Col. (played with soap opera-level intensity by Samuel L. Jackson) and a Ben Gunn-like WWII pilot who is missing a few screws after being marooned these many years (a chuckle-worthy John C. Reilly), the actors pretty much play it straight. Tom Hiddleston tries to look and speak as much like a tough mercenary as he can, while Brie Larson is as convincingly annoying as a pacifist photographer would be in a situation such as this. Even John Goodman tones down what could have been an opportunity to go full-on crackpot, instead keeping his Carl Denham substitute fairly subtle. The writing in general (again, with the exception of two characters) stays fairly on the nose, avoiding the sense that Skull Island is mocking its own genre.

Where then, does the giddy playfulness come from that turns Kong: Skull Island into a delight for monster movie fans? Quirky compositions, jittery editing, and madcap action choreography that can only be described as sarcastic filmmaking packs a pleasing punch, lovingly embracing the escapist delights of such a tall tale, while gently poking some good-natured fun at it as well. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts rarely fails to keep things lively and off-kilter, even during traditional exposition beats. He finds the visual humor in nearly every situation, from two enemy pilots crashing on a sandy beach, to a mundane slide show during a preparatory meeting, and all throughout scores the insanity to the sounds of the radio-friendly seventies. Impish cuts will keep viewers on their toes, quickly transitioning from downtime to action spectacular in a flash, while also occasionally inserting witty juxtapositions, such as a well-placed shot of a guy eating a sandwich, that only add to the lighthearted vibe. It’s cinematic cotton candy, but sometimes that’s exactly what you’re looking for on a sunny day.

Though the end gives in a bit by going down a more traditional route, it’s a momentary lapse in judgment, and certainly doesn’t cast a giant ape shadow on the zaniness that came before. Nothing in Kong: Skull Island is the stuff of accolades, and everything from the paper-thin plot to absurd character behavior is open wide for targeting (even the setting seems completely wasted, as if only used for its music and association to a certain Francis Ford Coppola film), but none of this will matter for those who get their kicks more from late-night schlock than droll attempts at emotional creature drama. What this journey to a Syfy channel-esque place where behemoths can battle other behemoths without mangy monkey suits or ludicrous love stories lacks in meaty depth, however, it more than makes up for by settling for the happiness that a rip-roaring good time can bring to the masses.

Patrick Murphy grew up in the hearty Midwest, where he spent many winter hours watching movies and playing video games while waiting for baseball season to start again. When not thinking of his next Nintendo post or writing screenplays to satisfy his film school training, he’s getting his cinema fix as the Editor of Sordid Cinema, Goomba Stomp's Film and TV section.

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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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Film

‘Where’d You Go, Bernadette’ Celebrates the Ambitious

‘Where’d You Go, Bernadette’ explores what happens when the creative can’t create, and delivers an incredible performance from Cate Blanchett.

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Where'd You Go, Bernadette

From The Before Trilogy to Boyhood to Dazed and Confused, Richard Linklater is about as prolific of a filmmaker as they come. In one year he could release an experimental indie film, and the next he’s doing School of Rock. Then there are those films in between that feel like personal stories that Linklater just needs to put his mark on. Where’d You Go, Bernadette is just that type of movie, and falls somewhere between his more Hollywood comedies and something like 2017’s Last Flag Flying. Much in that same vein, Linklater tells a story of creative people driven from their passions for one reason or another, and in the process of doing so brings to life another fantastic performance from Cate Blanchett as a character both lost and unaware that she is lost.

Bernadette Fox (Blanchett) spends her days hiding away from people in her big, always-under-construction house, with her only form of contact being between her, her family, the occasional wealthy parent, and her digital assistant that orders things for her from Amazon at a rapid rate. One might look at her life and see things in shambles, as she always seems anxious, stressed, or simply at the end of her wits. Her husband, Elgie (Billy Crudup), works at Microsoft, and spends more time at work than he does with his family. Meanwhile, their daughter, Bee (Emma Nelson), is preparing to go off to boarding school of her own volition, but wants to go on a trip to Antarctica with her family while they have some time together. No one objects, including Bernadette — a shock to her husband and daughter alike.

What ultimately follows is a deeper exploration of Bernadette’s character, as she tries to wrestle with her anxieties and worries about going on a trip of this magnitude, while also making sure that she doesn’t let her daughter down. Where’d You Go, Bernadette has one large hurdle that audiences will likely have to get over, and that is its affluent main characters. Elgie is a tech wiz, Bernadette is a retired architect, and Bee is going to private school, and somehow the entire family can justify going on a trip to Antarctica with only five weeks notice; they’re the kind of rich that’s absurd, and if this movie was about anything other than creativity and creative types, it would buckle under the knowledge that most problems could be solved by money. In fact, even when a disaster occurs that damages someone’s property, Bernadette throws money at it as a solution. Where’d You Go, Bernadette is a movie about rich people that are surrounded by rich people who have normalized being rich people.

Where'd You Go Bernadette

Yet once again, even with its characters being who they are, Linklater still mines Maria Semple’s book-of-the-same-name for themes and ideas that can hit hard to the right type of person. As the title (and marketing) suggest, there is a mystery component to Where’d You Go, Bernadette that has other characters exploring Bernadette’s life and why she just up-and-disappears. Surprisingly, however, the movie’s title does not just emphasize a physical disappearance, but also a mental one. Where is the Bernadette that would move the world to create something she so passionately wanted? That question is where Linklater finds something personal to latch on to, and why other creative people will want to explore the quirks of the titular character to find out why she has stopped creating.

Though saccharine to a high degree, the cast and Linklater’s knack for writing engaging conversations and beautiful moments tends to help audiences take in all the sweetness without gagging. It’s a very cute, whimsical film that really leans into it by the time it ends. That tone is mostly what gives the movie its momentum, however, along with some of the neat directorial decisions that help paint a fuller portrait of Bernadette’s family without slowing things to a crawl and sacrificing that momentum. Blanchett provides the right blend of motherly love and manic obsessiveness to carry the entire film on her shoulders, but fortunately Crudup and Nelson give plenty of support, as do some of the briefer appearances from the likes of Judy Greer, Kristen Wiig, and Laurence Fishburne. Moments that are kind of silly sometimes clash with attempts of being more serious in the scene, but it feels like that’s kind of the point to a certain extent. If Crudup feels like he’s playing the scene more seriously, it’s because his character is attempting to be the serious one in an outlandish scenario.

Those scenes that take the absurdity to new heights or suddenly fall into melodramatic territory are also the most memorable moments, because they often have their tone dictated by the perspective. If the perspective is Bernadette’s, it might lean more on the anxious, tense side of things, where it’s unknown how the scene will end or what a character will do. With Bee it’s often a sweet, loving moment. Almost anything involving Elgie tends to involve a sense of urgency, and takes things far more seriously than the others. Where’d You Go, Bernadette holds a lot of power in the way it presents a side of a story, and walks a very fine line on who is right and who is wrong in any given scenario. 

As with any Linklater movie that isn’t experimental in its narrative, there will be those who can’t get behind the sweet, caring portrait of a character often at odds with the rest of the world. He’s proven he can do those characters with films like School of Rock and Bernie, but he’s perhaps best known for capturing a feeling or a time and place. Where’d You Go, Bernadette is fairly straightforward, and won’t surprise many going in (it’s unapologetically heartwarming) but provides an illustration of someone who has a lot to offer the world, and the ways we may inadvertently — and unknown to them — stifle their ambitions.

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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.

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