Screening Room: ‘Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood’

That’s Leonard DiCaprio playing a has-been 1950s Western actor in Quentin Tarantino’s latest, broadest, and potentially strangest genre mash-up.

Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood is playing pretty much everywhere now. My review is at PopMatters:

You might have thought Quentin Tarantino would be the last filmmaker to indulge in the lamentable trend of digitally inserting actors into scenes they were not there for…. Nevertheless, here Tarantino is in his ninth movie, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, slipping Leonardo DiCaprio into a scene from John Sturges’s 1963 film, The Great Escape. Once that line has been crossed for Tarantino, who had previously restricted himself to homage, what’s next? Uma Thurman slotted into Enter the Dragon? Maybe Bradley Cooper into Where Eagles Dare?…

Here’s the trailer (sure you’ve already seen it 10 times, check it out again, that Mamas and the Papas song is fantastic):

Screening Room: ‘The Hateful Eight’

hateful8posterIt’s the holiday season, which must mean one thing: Time for another Quentin Tarantino throwback genre bloodbath. This year, it’s a snowy Western—one that Tarantino almost decided not to make after the script got leaked.

The Hateful Eight opens on Christmas Day. Some theaters are showing it in glorious 70mm UltraPanavision. My review is at PopMatters:

A locked-room mystery masquerading as a Western, Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight at first looks a lot like his precious Christmas release, 2012’s Django Unchained. Fans of that exploitation abattoir might be forgiven for wondering, as they hit the intermission in the close to three-hour new movie, just when the fireworks are going to start…

Here’s the trailer:

In Movies: National Film Registry

'Decasia'; now, and for eternity
‘Decasia’; now, and for eternity

Every year, the Library of Congress selects another 25 films “deemed to be culturally, aesthetically or historically important” for adding to the National Film Registry, in order to preserve them for future generations. The 2013 list is nice and eclectic, ranging from Tarantino (Pulp Fiction) to musicals (Mary Poppins), short documentaries, and experimental one-offs (Decasia, a found-footage compilation showing the decay of film stock over time).

Here’s the new list:

  • “Bless Their Little Hearts” (1984) – Billy Woodberry’s UCLA thesis film about a working-class African American family.
  • “Brandy in the Wilderness” (1969) – Stanton Kaye’s experimental semi-autobiography.
  • “Cicero March” (1966) – Short film recording a civil right march in an all-white Chicago suburb.
  • “Daughter of Dawn” (1920) – Recently rediscovered drama with hundreds of Native American cast members, the first shot in Oklahoma.
  • “Decasia” (2002) – Found-footage compendium using decomposing images from old nitrate film stock.
  • “Ella Cinders” (1926) – Silent comedy about a girl trying to become a star.
  • “Forbidden Planet” (1956) – Classic sci-fi adventure semi-based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
  • “Gilda” (1946) – Brilliant film noir with Rita Hayworth
  • “The Hole” (1962) – John and Faith Hubley’s Oscar-winning animated short about the Cuban Missile Crisis.
  • Judgment-at-Nuremberg-Poster“Judgment at Nuremberg” (1961) – Star-studded Stanley Kramer drama about the Nazi war crime trials.
  • “King of Jazz” (1930) – Early Technicolor music revue with Bing Crosby.
  • “The Lunch Date” (1989) – Award-winning student film about a chance meeting between a woman and a homeless man in a train station.
  • “The Magnificent Seven” (1960) – John Sturges’ western remake of “The Seven Samurai” will never grow old.
  • Martha Graham Early Dance film (1931-44) – Four films documenting the choreography of these influential dancers.
  • “Mary Poppins” (1964) – That movie which Saving Mr. Banks is about.
  • “Men & Dust” (1940) – Documentary about Midwestern miners.
  •  “Midnight” (1939) – Comedy with Claudette Colbert, Don Ameche and John Barrymore.
  • Notes on the Port of St. Francis” (1951) – Vincent Price-narrated short about San Francisco.
  • “Pulp Fiction” (1994) – Quentin Tarantino’s epic blend of crime and comedy that supposedly changed everything in Hollywood.
  • “The Quiet Man” (1952) – A big wet kiss to Ireland from John Ford, starring John Wayne.
  • “The Right Stuff” (1983) – Philip Kaufman’s rousing adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s account of the early space program.
  • “Roger & Me” (1989) – Michael Moore tries to get answers from the head of GM.
  • “A Virtuous Vamp” (1919) – Silent romantic comedy.
  • “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” (1966) – Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton go to war in Mike Nichols’ film of the Edward Albee play about marital discord, and other things.
  • “Wild Boys of the Road” (1933) – Social drama about teens on the road during the Great Depression.

New on DVD: ‘Django Unchained’

Django Unchained
Schultz (Christoph Waltz) and Django (Jamie Foxx) get ready to dispense justice and bon mots aplenty

djangounchained-dvdQuentin Tarantino’s Christmas 2012 genre mashup bloodbath Django Unchained gets released on DVD and Blu-ray today. It’s no classic by any measure (that writing Oscar wasn’t exactly earned), but at least half of it is better than just about anything else out there right now.

My original review ran at Film Journal International:

Tarantino works fast in these early sections, delivering several loose riffs on typical western showdowns and balancing them out with a couple of comic scenes that land in a pleasing middle somewhere between Blazing Saddles and (particularly in a “Who’s on first?”-type routine with a masked lynch mob hunting Django and Schultz) O Brother, Where Art Thou? A high point of bafflingly hilarious absurdity comes when Don Johnson appears as a plantation owner given to Colonel Sanders suits and prolix verbosity. The humor plays well throughout (Django even gets a catch-phrase: “The ‘D’ is silent”) but at the disadvantage of dulling the edge of the script’s visceral portrayal of the savagery of slavery—a problem that gets more pronounced by the film’s gory climax…

Here’s the trailer:

Books That Never Were: Quentin Tarantino Classics

Even though we’re arguably living in a time of unprecedented leaps in graphic design, that boundary-breaking often fails to trickle down to the book world. Like any other creative industry, book covers tend to group together by trends—now minimal, then not; and always the unspoken rule that genre fiction covers show people and more literary fiction does not.

In any case, freelance designer Sharm Murugiah had an awesome idea: Why not take the aesthetic of classic Penguin paperback covers from the 1950s and ’60s, with their standardized type treatments and focus on one or two iconic but abstract images, and see what would happen if he designed book covers for Quentin Tarantino films? This is what:

tarantino-covers

They all pretty much make sense, though it takes a minute to get some of the references (anybody remember the significance of Pop Tarts in a toaster for Pulp Fiction?).

(hat-tip to GalleyCat, once again)

New in Theaters: ‘Django Unchained’

django-unchained-poster1

Opening Christmas Day (because, well, why not?) is the newest tongue-in-cheek Tarantino genre-stew:

With his bloodily entertaining but tonally sloppy Django Unchained, the always fastidious Quentin Tarantino may finally be loosening up. This development could help broaden his appeal in the short run, his newest film being the kind of straightforward blend of humor and self-aware ultra-violence that plays pretty well to many different audiences these days. (In other words, expect few of the tricky narrative gambits that have defined his work in the past; this one’s more about doing maximum damage with six-shooters.) Unfortunately, a less formally inhibited Tarantino may turn out to be a less entertaining filmmaker…

My full review is at Film Journal International.

You can see the trailer here:

 

Bonus holiday fun—check out the trailer for the 1966 original Django, which Tarantino lifted the theme music from (but, sadly, not the Gatling gun in the coffin):

Film Flashback: ‘True Romance’

One of the late Tony Scott’s films that broke free of his glossy Top Gun / Beverly Hills Cop 2 template was 1993’s True Romance. Scripted by Quentin Tarantino and his old running buddy Roger Avary, it featured Clarence (Christian Slater), an Elvis-worshipping Tarantino-esque comic-book geek who goes on the run with the proverbial golden-hearted hooker Alabama (Patricia Arquette) after killing her pimp (Gary Oldman). Everything ends up in a feather-strewn and John Woo-esque shootout with mobsters, movie producers, and the FBI. With its glossy cinematography and crowded cast of stars who wanted in on the next big thing, this was a turning point for Scott and Tarantino in specific, and Hollywood in general…

My article “What ‘True Romance’ Did for Tony Scott and Hollywood” is up at PopMatters.

The original trailer is here: