The House


Quentin Tarantino

[Editor's Note: The Conversations is a monthly feature in which Jason Bellamy and Ed Howard discuss a wide range of cinematic subjects: critical analyses of films, filmmaker overviews, and more. Readers should expect to encounter spoilers. This conversation is the first half of a two-part discussion of Quentin Tarantino. This part discusses his career up to Death Proof, while Part 2 is an in-depth discussion of his latest feature, Inglourious Basterds.]

JASON BELLAMY: Ed, I am daunted. Let's get that out of the way. This is the last subject I ever expected us to cover—Quentin Tarantino. What a thoroughly thankless assignment! It's not that there isn't anything to say about the oeuvre of this 46-year-old filmmaker. Hardly. Since 1992, when his Reservoir Dogs became an indie sensation, Tarantino has inspired as much chatter as one encounters in his tongue-powered films. Diehard film fans from both sides of the aisle have dissected his influence and influences. They've celebrated his distinctive style or ridiculed it. They've called him the greatest filmmaker of his generation or a plagiarist, and sometimes both at the same time. They have suggested he is a heroic preservationist of film history, a filmmaking Indiana Jones, or they have suggested he is film history's archenemy, a Nazi-esque figure using others' masterpieces as kindling for his bonfires. I could go on. Tarantino's films may be original, brilliant, witty, exhilarating, hilarious, childish, nauseating, offensive, brazen, pathetically derivative, or some combination of the above, but they are always something. Everyone, it seems, is somehow affected by Tarantino. Everyone, it seems, has a take on Tarantino.

Against this wall of noise, what are two more opinions worth? Ed, we've never gone into one of these discussions with the attitude of creating the preeminent analysis of the subject in question (neither of us is that arrogant), but in this case I'm not sure we can even hope to produce the most illuminating two-person debate of Tarantino to appear at this blog. As longtime readers of The House Next Door already know, Matt Zoller Seitz and Keith Uhlich set the bar extremely high with the transcription of their live QT debate in April 2007 that they called My Tarantino Problem, and Yours. It was that piece, incidentally, that made me leap at the chance to bring our conversations series here to the House. I've read it start to finish at least a half-dozen times, and it never ceases to engage me. And thus it's that piece that made me think that Tarantino wasn't a topic worth our time. Save for bringing to the table QT's seventh—depending on how you count—major directorial effort, Inglorious Basterds, which as of beginning this discussion we haven't seen, what more is there to say?

Yet, at the urging of our editor, here we are. I'm excited as usual, but, yes, I am daunted. I'd like to think that our conversation can tread lightly on some of those oh-so-familiar Tarantino battlegrounds in an attempt to find some mostly unexplored terrain, but, as simple as that sounds, I am doubtful. I am reminded that at the heart of every Tarantino discussion is a debate over Tarantino's depth, or lack thereof. And so I wonder: What if in trying to look beyond the surface of Tarantino's controversial reputation we find that there's nothing more there? Could it be that the most compelling element of Tarantino's filmmaking has become our inability to collectively define it?

More >>

  • print
  • email

TAGS: death proof, grindhouse, inglorious basterds, jackie brown, kill bill, kill bill vol. 2, pulp fiction, quentin tarantino, reservoir dogs, the conversations


Passing Strange

One of America's best living filmmakers, Spike Lee, is also one of its most versatile, equally comfortable making fiction films, documentaries, shorts, and TV movies. Every now and then, he even puts his talent and production team to work in the service of someone else's vision, creating a film that's more document than documentary.

He did that in Freak, a film of John Leguizamo's one-man show of the same name. And he's done it again with Passing Strange. "Don't fuck it up—that was really the motto," Lee says in an IFC interview about his latest movie, which records a rock musical that closed this year. "My nightmare was they'd say, 'I saw it at the Public, I saw it on Broadway, but that shit Spike did was fucked up!'"

Passing Strange was conceived and written by Stew (a musician whose full name is Mark Stewart) and his musical partner Heidi Rodewald, both of whom also appear in the play and the movie. Loosely based on Stew's adolescence, it is the story of a middle-class black kid (the excellent Daniel Breaker), who leaves Los Angeles for Europe to search for "the real." A big part of that search involves breaking free of the stereotypes and expectations he chafed under back home—although, in one funny sequence, he winds up acting "ghetto" to win acceptance from the vaguely anarchic young artists he takes up with in Berlin.

More >>

  • print
  • email

TAGS: passing strange, spike lee, stew


Review: Still Walking

Still Walking

Hirokazu Kore-eda's Still Walking could have been made in 1949 by Yasujirô Ozu. I guess we hear that about a lot of films. Hou Hsiao-hsien's Café Lumiere was a direct homage that really took Ozu's restraint to a certain (yawn) extreme. Directors as diverse as Jim Jarmusch and Mike Leigh cite his influence. On the perverse deep end, Shinya Tsukamoto's Tokyo Fist inserted Ozu-style pillow shots into an urban fable that had more in common with Fight Club than with Tokyo Story. But Still Walking, more than any work I've come across, feels like something Ozu himself (dead forty-six years now) has directed. Kore-eda seems to replicate Ozu's post-war style and philosophy, tailoring it to a slightly more acidic, ironic temperament. The polite façade that Ozu loved to slowly, carefully dismantle gets the same delicately cruel treatment here.

More >>

  • print
  • email

TAGS: hirokazu kore-eda, Hiroshi Abe, Kirin Kiki, Shohei Tanaka, still walking, yoshio harada, Yui Natsukawa


The Archers

British movies are getting the shaft.

The budding movie snob often simply overlooks the output of that island nation, with a few notable exceptions. Everyone sees Lawrence of Arabia, yeah, but might it get more press simply for being (among other things) so damn epic?

More notable is the discrepancy between American and British "greatest-ever" lists. Although the British Film Institute places Carol Reed's The Third Man, a perennial favorite with American critics, at the top of its list of the best 100 British films ever made, "Total Film" bestows the honor upon 1971's Get Carter. Carter's not so feted in the states. It didn't make either of the American Film Institute's top 100 lists (which, perplexingly, include some British movies and not others), and it clocked in at a nothing-to-scoff-at 570 on "They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?" (a terrifically maintained site which offers a list of the, that's right, 1000 greatest films ever made). That Carter is so fawned upon by some and so ignored by others illustrates the ocean dividing British critics from just about everybody else.

Our neophyte snob may, then, miss out on some of the real gems that Britain has to offer until much later in his cinematic education. They don't top the lists, so they fail to pique the attention.

So why no love for the British?

More >>

  • print
  • email

TAGS: 49th parallel, emeric pressburger, michael powell


Mad Men

In its own way, Bye, Bye Birdie, both the Charles Strouse and Lee Adams stage musical and the George Sidney film of the material, is an uneasy attempt to bridge a divide that was already becoming apparent in the late '50s and early '60s. It's simultaneously an attempt to understand a coming eruption. Also, it's a goofy comedy musical that seems like it's trying to understand what the matter is with kids today but ultimately ends up siding with their parents. It's like someone made a musical of the comic strip Zits. There's nothing as mean-spirited about the work as I'm making it sound, since it's basically just a lighthearted, gentle look at the sorts of teen frenzies over rock stars that were becoming well-known in the late '50s, but there is at least an undercurrent of uncertainty to it. When Paul Lynde sings "What's the Matter with Kids Today?" in the movie version, it's a joke, yes, but there's also a vague sense of unease, a sense that things may never again be the same. Kennedy's in the White House, rock 'n' roll is here to stay, and there's a growing sense that youth is driving the conversation now instead of following it. Plus, you've got Ann Margaret, sensual and seductive but also somehow innocent (at least in this film). Maybe to our modern eyes, it's possible to see how corny it all is, but at the time of its release, she must have seemed intoxicating.

More >>

  • print
  • email

TAGS: aaron staton, Bryan Batt, carolyn humphris, christina hendricks, elisabeth moss, elizabeth rice, january jones, john slattery, jon hamm, lesli linka glatter, love among the ruins, mad men, matthew weiner, Michael Gladis, peyton list, recap, rich sommer, Talia Balsam, vincent kartheiser


Audrey HepburnIn the mid-nineties, you couldn't escape Audrey Hepburn; her image was everywhere. She was ceaselessly written about as a fashion icon, a major movie star, and also as an icon of benevolence. Before her death in 1993, when she journeyed into the devastation in Somalia for UNICEF, we took her seriously because of who she was and who she had been to us; we're more skeptical now of such celebrity activism and its underlying motives, but even those who overdosed on Audrey worship can't possibly doubt her sincerity and the strength of her outrage, for it had its roots in her own childhood deprivation under the Nazis during World War II. During the worst days of the war, she survived on grass, turnips and tulip bulbs. For a month, she had to hide in a cellar with her mother, in the dark. Just imagine that for a moment and what it must have been like, then remember how sensitive she was on screen, and consider her capacity for expressing and creating outsized joy. Garbo could do joy like that, but with her it was slightly mannered, more abstract. With Audrey Hepburn, in her best work, her feelings were as pure as cold, clean water.

More >>

  • print
  • email

TAGS: audrey hepburn, bloodline, breakfast at tiffany's, charade, funny face, green mansions, love among thieves, roman holiday, secret people, the nun's story, the unforgiven, two for the road, wait until dark


Coming Up In This Column: Funny People, In the Loop, Julie & Julia, The Answer Man, Budd Schulberg and John Hughes: an appreciation, Middle Passage Summer Cable Season 2009, but first...

Funny People

Fan Mail: Great collection of comments on US#30, folks. I always appreciate them.

Daniel Iffland raised a very good question as to why all the discussions about writers on serialized TV dramas in the mainstream media have not led to more writing about screenwriting in film. Part of the reason is historical: the tradition in writing about directors extends back beyond the development of the auteur theory. There is also the disdain of the East Coast Intellectual Establishment for screenwriters, which I discussed in US#1 as one of the reasons I was doing this column. From the beginning of television, especially in the Golden Age of live dramas in the fifties, there was a greater critical awareness of the writer. Another reason is that films are generally seen as a one-off event, whereas a series is a collection of stories with connecting elements. Once the series is set up, the creative function of the producer/showrunner is to feed the maw: a 22-episode season of a one-hour drama requires a LOT of story material. That's why showrunners are usually writers: they know how to deliver scripts. You can read more about all of this in my book Storytellers to the Nation: A History of American Television Writing.

Welcome to new reader "AJ," who likes the writer's perspective the column gives. That's what I'm here for.

More >>

  • print
  • email

TAGS: Budd Schulberg, burn notice, drop dead diva, funny people, hung, in plain sight, in the loop, john hughes, julie & julia, saving grace, the answer man, the closer, understanding screenwriting


5 for the Day: James Mason

James MasonIn Sheridan Morley's biography of James Mason, practically all of his co-stars described him as a quietly unhappy man, restless, ill at ease, indecisive, a skittish pacifist, and a classic loner. He could be driven to physical violence if provoked, and this aggressive streak was mined in the trashy Gainsborough costume films that first made him a star in Britain in the forties, where he played brutes who gave raven-haired Margaret Lockwood "a good thrashing." To quote Shaw's Henry Higgins, Mason had thick lips to kiss you with and thick boots to kick you with, and he could have relaxed into easy stardom in this mode, but he was ambitious for more meaningful work than he could find in the impoverished British cinema. He went to Hollywood in the late forties; always too opinionated for his own good, Mason never quite established himself as a star player, but he managed to make a large and varied impact on some of the finest films of his time. He generally brought a kind of heightened immediacy and intensity to his scenes, letting off flares of irritation, bitchery, anguish and menace that worked best in short-ish takes, so that unlike many actors of his country and generation he was not a man of the theater but totally a man of the cinema.

More >>

  • print
  • email

TAGS: 5 for the day, a star is born, bigger than life, james mason, lolita, north by northwest, odd man out


Mad Men

On Mad Men, the drama proceeds directly from the characters. That there are so few external circumstances weighing on them takes some getting used to, especially if you're more used to shows where the plot twists and turns, zigs and zags. Mad Men does some of that, for sure, but it mostly moves forward, head down, faithful to its vision of these people and the times they live in. To that end, it can be hard to surmise just what the interest in the show should be until you realize that all of these people are headed directly for a big, brick wall.

More >>

  • print
  • email

TAGS: Bryan Batt, christina hendricks, elisabeth moss, january jones, jared harris, john slattery, jon hamm, mad men, out of town, recap, vincent kartheiser


For the past several weeks I've wanted to comment on the industry-organized lobbying efforts masquerading as grass-roots outrage about health care reform, but each time I tried to write something, my head nearly exploded at the futility and nonsensicality of it all. It would be, as Barney Frank generously put it at a town hall meeting in Massachusetts yesterday, like arguing with a dining room table:

  • print
  • email

TAGS: barney frank, health care







The HouseCategories



The HouseThe Attic

More »



Site by  Docent Solutions