The latest on Netflix and Blu-ray, including "Time Out of Mind," "Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation," "Knock Knock," and three Criterion releases.
Sheila writes: Those of you attending Ebertfest, a note from Chaz:We will have our annual Ebert Club Meet and Greet at the Roger Ebert Film Festival, Thursday, April 24, 2014 at 8 am - 10 am in the Illini Union, General Lounge. Also invited are the Far Flung Correspondents and writers from Rogerebert.com. I look forward to seeing you there!
"Blood Feast" is a terrible film, and a historically important one, too. On the fiftieth anniversary of its release, Simon Abrams revisits this gore-fest.
We all live in our own little subcultures. In mine -- loosely categorized as international film-festival cinephiliacs -- big-name contemporary filmmakers such as Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Abbas Kiarostami, Michael Haneke and the Dardennes brothers (yes, they've all won the Palme d'Or at Cannes) are huge, huge stars. In fact, some of us, whether we like them or not, feel they are overexposed, on the verge of becoming more than famous: ubiquitous. Like Kardashians or something. (I'll be honest: I don't know what a Kardashian is, but I keep hearing the term.) I mean, good god, the Dardennes have been all in your face throughout the 21st century, making movie after movie and picking up awards everywhere you look. And don't even get me started on Kiarostami. That guy became the international flavor-of-the-film-fest-cicruit in the 1980s, achieved his biggest commercial success in 2010, and has a new film in competition at Cannes right now.
I suppose it's true that, to most people outside our own little coterie, the Cannes Film Festival means just about nothing. Its impact on the American box office is negligible (although Kiarostami's Palme-winner "Taste of Cherry" grossed a pretty impressive $312 thousand in the US in 1998. That's about what "Marvel's The Avengers" took in while you were reading the last sentence). I guess fame -- or importance -- depends on your perspective.
A few things got me to thinking about this. One was Manohla Dargis's NY Times dispatch from Cannes. I love her observations:
My friend Richard T. Jameson sent an e-mail with the subject line: "Why am I depressed?" In it he quoted the first two sentences of an April L.A. Weekly story headlined "Movie Studios Are Forcing Hollywood to Abandon 35mm Film. But the Consequences of Going Digital Are Vast, and Troubling":
Shortly before Christmas, director Edgar Wright received an email inviting him to a private screening of the first six minutes of Christopher Nolan's new Batman movie, "The Dark Knight Rises." Walking into Universal CityWalk's IMAX theater, Wright recognized many of the most prominent filmmakers in America -- Michael Bay, Bryan Singer, Jon Favreau, Eli Roth, Duncan Jones, Stephen Daldry.
It was that second sentence, RTJ said, that tripped him up. (Later, in a Facebook post, he recommended the article itself, but followed that second sentence with the comment: "The parade's gone by, all right."
With the exception of "The Woman" (which is still in limited theatrical release), all of the films from "Bloody Disgusting Selects" are currently available on multiple platforms including Netflix (DVD only), Amazon.com and most VOD providers including Comcast, DirecTV, Amazon, iTunes, CinemaNow, VuDu and Verizon FiOS. Check your VoD provider listings, or go to www.bloodydisgustingselects.com for more information about the films and where to find them.
On DVD, all of the foreign-language films reviewed here include an optional English-dub dialogue track for viewers with an aversion to subtitles.
by Jeff Shannon
Historically and statistically, the most abundant, profitable, and creatively expressive movie genre has always been horror. It has consistently been the most viable proving ground for new talent and a focal point for the most obsessive movie fans on the planet. It's the most purely cinematic of genres, playing to the strengths of an artistic medium that has shock, surprise, dread, fear, and bloodletting built into every molecule of its DNA. It's a realm of expression that challenges masters and amateurs alike.
Of course, there's always a downside: The record-setting $50 million opening weekend of "Paranormal Activity 3" (which earned a one-star review from Roger Ebert) -- and Paramount's immediate strategy to keep that franchise booming -- provided a stark reminder that, more often than not, horror is where commerce almost always trumps art. It's the favorite plaything for copy-cats and money-grubbers. The genre's blood is frequently tainted by fast-buck pretenders and greedy opportunists who care more about profit than the genre's history, which is the worthy subject of some of the finest film scholarship that's ever been written.
Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" is about World War II in roughly the same way that, I suppose, Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" is about a haunted hotel. The war is indeed the setting, but that's not so much what the movie is about. I also don't see it as an act of Holocaust denial or an anti-vengeance fable in which we are supposed to first applaud the Face of Jewish Revenge, and then feel uncomfortable sympathy for the Nazis. The movie comes down firmly on the side of the Jews, and of revenge, of an early end to the war and the saving of thousands of lives, with barely a quibble.
But while "Inglourious Basterds" is indisputably a WW II revenge fantasy (and, of course, a typically Tarantinian "love letter to cinema"), a theme that is central to nearly every moment, every image, every line of dialog, is that of performance -- of existence as a form of acting, and human identity as both projection and perception. As you would expect from a film that is also an espionage picture and a detective movie, it's shot through with identity games, interrogations, role-playing and people or situations that are not what they appear to be...
I hope you're enjoying all the arguments swirling around "Inglourious Basterds" as much as I am -- not just here, but all over the place. Since I posted "Some ways to watch Inglourious Basterds [sic]," I've been reading other people's reviews and comments and interviews about the movie and, hell, even Quentin Tarantino doesn't always agree with Quentin Tarantino about what the movie's up to. (And why should he? Like all of us, he contains multitudes.) It's not about the Holocaust, but it is about the Holocaust; it's not real, but it's real; it's not fantasy, but it's fantasy; it's not history, but it's history; it's not amoral, but it's amoral; it's not moral, but it's moral...
What some people have difficulty with is exactly what others delight in: "Inglorious Basterds" is never situated in one reality or another reality. It's always juggling various combinations of reality and unreality -- history, alt-history, war movie (platoon movie, mission movie, spy movie, detective movie, propaganda movie, European art movie...), cartoon, folklore, satire, comic book, revenge fantasy, etc. -- and the combinations change from one moment to the next. And that, I think, is its subject. I don't think there's anything more to it than QT trying to create movie-moments. He does, and some of them are superb. I don't blame people who find its story and characters thin, or factual liberties preposterous, or generic conventions twisted, or (a-)morality ambiguous, or humor offensive, but he's got no reason to apologize for creating his alternative historical universe in a Hollywood movie -- a world in which all of the above are woven into its warp and woof.
Because "Inglourious Basterds" provides so much to talk about and to interpret, I thought I'd put together some fascinating observations (some of which I wish I'd made myself; some of which I think are off-base, but nevertheless revealing of something about the film) and set them bouncing off one another to get your own analytical juices flowing, starting with QT's (and others') takes on the nature of the world in which it unreels:
"I stop short of calling it a fantasy. I present it in this fairytale kind of thing as far as for the masses to take in, but that's not where I'm coming from. Where I'm coming from is my characters changed the course of the war. Now that didn't happen, because my characters didn't exist, but if they had existed, everything that happens in the movie is possible."-- QT, after a Museum of Jewish Heritage screening in Manhattan
Laird Jimenez, Thomas Swenson and staffers at Seattle's famous Scarecrow Video have put together a list of movie references and influences they have found in Quentin Tarantino's "Inglorious Basterds." In the introduction ("Before They Were Basterds, Jimenez opines that "IB" is perhaps Tarantino's "most deft handling of reference and homage yet.... Some of these films are directly referenced in the film, others are only evoked, while others still are films we simply felt should go on the list."
A few samples:
Action in Arabia Featured in Tarantino's list of top five WWII pictures, also stars George Sanders on whose film persona the Archie Hicox (Michael Fassbender) character seemed to be modeled.
Battleship Potemkin Eli Roth watched this for inspiration before making the "Nation's Pride" film within the film, and the famous gunshot to the eye image appears recreated in "Nation's Pride."
Le Corbeau Shows at Shosanna's theater, Le Gamaar. A classic anti-collaborationist satire from director Clouzot. This film got Clouzot in trouble with the resistance and the Reich.
"When I'm making a movie, the world goes away and I'm on Mt. Everest. Obama is President? Who cares? I'm making my movie." -- Quentin Tarantino, Village Voice interview (2009)
A wily WWII Looney Tunes propaganda movie that conjures up 1945's "Herr Meets Hare," (in which Bugs Bunny goes a-hunting with Hermann Goering in the Black Forest; full cartoon below) and the towering legends of Sergio Leone's widescreen Westerns -- and about a gazillion other movies and bits of movie history from Leni Riefenstahl to Anthony Mann to Brian De Palma -- Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" is a gorgeous and goofy revenge cartoon, a conceptual genre picture about the mythmaking power of cinema. Re-writing history? That's missing the point by several kilometers. This is pure celluloid fantasy -- an invigorating wallow in the vicarious pleasures of movie-watching by someone who would rather watch movies than do anything else in the world. Except maybe talk about them.
I spent the last week preparing for "Inglourious Basterds" by watching the two Tarantinos I'd missed: both volumes of "Kill Bill" and "Death Proof." (I came to think of it as the Foot-Fetish Film Festival.) So, with that in mind, I thought I'd begin by taking a general look at how I think Tarantino's movies work -- what they do, and what they don't do -- because, although I haven't read more than a few brief passages from other "Basterds" reviews yet, people seem to think there's been a lot of misrepresentation and/or misinterpretation going around (starting with Newsweek and The Atlantic). Some clearly wanted or expected the movie to be something else. A morality lesson, perhaps. But those other movies would not be ones Quentin Tarantino has ever shown any interest in making. "Inglourious Basterds," love it or hate it (and I think it puts most contemporary American filmmaking to shame), it is what it is because it's exactly the way Tarantino wants it to be. Let's consider...
It is fairly widely known, three months after the film's premiere at Cannes, that Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" has, shall we say, a surprise ending. How did Tarantino feel about rewriting history? He uses admirable logic in arguing that he did not: "At no time during the start, the middle or ever, did I have the intention of rewriting history. It was only when I was smack dab up against it, that I decided to go my own way. It just came to me as I was doing what I do, which is follow my characters as opposed to lead."
Psychologists say that depression is rage turned inward. Stand-up comedy, on the other hand, is rage turned back outward again. (I believe George Carlin had a routine about the use of violent metaphors directed at the audience in comedy: "Knock 'em dead!" "I killed!") In the documentary "Heckler" (now on Showtime and DVD) comedian Jamie Kennedy, as himself, plays both roles with ferocious intensity. The movie is his revenge fantasy against anyone who has ever heckled him on stage, or written a negative review... or, perhaps, slighted him in on the playground or at a party or over the phone or online.
"Heckler" (I accidentally called it "Harangue" just now) is an 80-minute howl of fury and anguish in which Kennedy and a host of other well-known and not-well-known showbiz people tell oft-told tales of triumphant comebacks and humiliating disasters, freely venting their spleens at those who have spoken unkindly of them. At first the bile is aimed at hecklers in club audiences (with some particularly nasty invective for loudmouthed drunken women), then it shifts to "critics" -- broadly defined as anybody who says something negative about a figure whose work appears before a paying public. Some of the critics are actually interested in analysis; some are just insult comics who are using the Internet as their open mic. It gets pretty ugly, but it's fascinating -- because the comics, the critics and the hecklers are so much alike that it's no wonder each finds the others so infuriating.
View image Sheriff Ed Tom Bell is no city slickster. Still, he thinks knowing how to use a camera might possibly be a good thing when it comes to making a movie.
Two sentences in the New York Times story announcing the line-up for the 2008 Sundance Film Festival jumped out at me as symptomatic of a fashionable but misguided attitude toward the art and craft of filmmaking today: And some of the more striking, original documentaries were quite unpolished, [Sundance festival director Geoffrey] Gilmore said. “You’d get a sense they’d never touched a camera before.”Now, I am all for striking, original films -- including unpolished ones. Among my favorite documentaries of recent years are Chris Wilcha's "The Target Shoots First" and Jonathan Caouette's "Tarnation" -- both films made with small consumer video cameras by people recording their own experiences over long periods of time. Neither man considered himself a "filmmaker" when he started shooting, but both discovered what they needed to express while making these films. I could not be more enthusiastic about the means of production finally being within the reach of the proletariat (people like me).
But, as I've been wondering for some time now: What is behind this popular and patently false critical suspicion that a "well-crafted" movie is automatically phony or inauthentic, while a film that is "unpolished" is considered genuine -- automatically real or truthful? This is especially troubling to me when the people expressing this attitude fail to convey a recognition of the distinctions between artistry and production values -- or between validity and lack of skill.
Likewise, I've never understood why a so-called "independent film" (a term that usually refers to the source[s] of the production financing, if that) should be appreciated or evaluated any differently than a studio-bankrolled film (which may well be a negative pick-up distributed by a major or one of its "dependent" arms). It's unbelievably hard to get a film made either way, and just because you have studio financing doesn't mean you won't be fighting for money or time or resources (and, probably, creative control as well). It definitely means that more of your budget will go to overhead costs. Studios also force you to deal with development execs who may consume a lot of your time and energy trying to put their unwelcome fingerprints on the movie (just to justify their salaries). But even if you get your movie made more or less the way you want to with your indie financiers, there's no guarantee that your indie distributor (if you get one) won't demand cuts or changes that don't necessarily make the film any better or more marketable.
I've seen plenty of big-budget Hollywood films made by professionals who evidently knew little or nothing about what they were doing. It's like they'd never touched a camera (or an editing table or a mixing board) or even encountered an actor before. And it's not pretty. It isn't any good, either, but there it is. I've also seen low-budget films, shot on video or 16 mm, that exhibit an affinity for cinema, for communicating through images and sound, that no budget or payroll could ever buy. And I've seen way, way too many indie movies that have no reason to exist except as somebody's lottery ticket for a Hollywood deal. They're as empty as any studio product, just more dishonest about their commercial ambitions.