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Uma Thurman (#110 of 7)

Berlinale 2014 Nymphomaniac: Volume I

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Berlinale 2014: Nymphomaniac: Volume I
Berlinale 2014: Nymphomaniac: Volume I

The first half of Lars von Trier’s probable masterpiece, Nymphomaniac, arrives on eddies of a “playful” publicity campaign that threatened to flatten the licentiousness (and even the straight-up sexiness) of the subject matter into a string of dopey gags. A series of posters featuring ASCII-rendered genitalia and photos capturing its international cast mid-coitus, were mischievous in a way consistent with von Trier’s own smirking, ludic impishness—the pranksterish postures that ignite even his worst and most boring work.

At the risk of whittling one of the most thorny, interesting, and exasperating of living filmmakers down to a single problem, the central concern (for me, at least) with von Trier and his films is that this playfulness rather easily teeters into boring didacticism. His button-pushing provocations—both in terms of his films’ frequently controversial material (rape, depression, mental retardation, racism, more rape) and the ideas (or discernible whiffs of ideas) that drive them—become needling and banal.

It’s like we’re constantly asked to take for granted that von Trier is playing his own devil’s advocate, putting across visions of nihilistic reckoning, sneering at the feeble human soul’s instinctual gravitation toward corruptibility and self-pollution, while simultaneously being asked to believe that he somehow believes the opposite. He angers and riles us and ignites the passion and intellect, while not really meaning any of it, off in the corner with that shit-eating grin on his face offered up as some mawkish mea culpa. He’s like Gabbo on The Simpsons, bashfully offering little else in his own defense beyond, basically, “I’m a bad widdle boy.” It’s infuriating. And much more so because it’s meant to be exactly that.

Poster Lab: Savages

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Poster Lab: <em>Savages</em>
Poster Lab: <em>Savages</em>

It’s probably not a good sign that the poster for Oliver Stone’s Savages makes a perfect column subject for Easter Sunday. By most evidence, this isn’t a movie that wants to be associated with jelly beans and Marshmallow Peeps; however, the egg-dye color palette of one-sheet number one would beg to differ. Cut this image along the lines that divvy it into seven slices, and you’ve got instant sleeves for the hard-boiled beauties you dunked in vinegar last night. This isn’t the first time a poster for an Oliver Stone film used vibrant hues to herald something largely dark (the ads for The Doors and Natural Born Killers went that route at one stage or another), but it is the first time the poster seems wildly out of step with what it’s selling. Yes, Blake Lively’s hippie-ish character, O, is prone to snorting coke, but that’s not exactly the sort of candy this glossy collage appears to promise.

Based on Don Winslow’s lauded 2010 novel of the same name, Savages is a crime-filled, drug-loaded drama unfolding across sun-soaked California and Mexico. Its cast? A bevy of ’90s megastars who dabbled on the pulpy fringes (John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Salma Hayek, Benicio del Toro), and a smattering of camera-ready, pore-free, in-demand hotties (Lively, Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson, Emile Hirsch). On second thought, perhaps that color scheme isn’t so off the mark after all.

15 Famous Fights to the Death

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15 Famous Fights to the Death
15 Famous Fights to the Death

Nearly two dozen teens bite the big one in The Hunger Games, sure to be cinema’s most popular source of adolescent bloodshed. There’s no darker vicarious thrill than watching someone perish on screen, as many an action junkie will certainly tell you. In light of Jennifer Lawrence’s blockbuster standoff against her oppressed peers, we’ve got 15 Famous Fights to the Death, which, together, should sate even the bloodthirstiest film fans.

Inglourious Basterds: Quentin Tarantino’s Masterpiece and the End of the WWII Movie

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<em>Inglourious Basterds</em>: Quentin Tarantino’s Masterpiece and the End of the WWII Movie
<em>Inglourious Basterds</em>: Quentin Tarantino’s Masterpiece and the End of the WWII Movie

Quentin Tarantino is one of those directors that thoroughly divides people: You either love to hate him, or hate to love him. As an artist, this might be the best place to find yourself because no matter what you create you are guaranteed a high level of critical attention. The problem for artists lucky enough to find themselves in this predicament is that when they do create something truly wonderful, when their genius comes into full flower, the critical community lacks the vocabulary to adequately celebrate the work. Everyone resorts to talking about the work in the ways they are most comfortable. Inglourious Basterds is Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece and my job here will be to introduce a glossary of sorts with which to discuss the director’s most important work.

I know the usual criticisms. His work is too violent. He steals from his predecessors. His films are morally suspect. Easily the most enduring and perceptive criticism of Tarantino’s work is that he makes the films that he wants to see. Lucky for us, as Tarantino edges closer to 50, his taste has matured along with his crow’s feet.

My Tarantino Problem, and Yours

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My Tarantino Problem, and Yours
My Tarantino Problem, and Yours

1. The Air of Unreality

Keith Uhlich: Here. Read this. It’s from Jorge Luis Borges’ Selected Nonfictions.

Matt Zoller Seitz: All right. (Reading aloud from text:)

“Objections of a more general nature can also be leveled against City Lights. Its lack of reality is comparable only to its equally exasperating lack of unreality. Some movies are true to life: For the Defense, Street of Chance, The Crowd, even The Broadway Melody, and some are willfully unrealistic, such as the highly individualistic films of Frank Borzage, Buster Keaton, Harry Langdon and Eisenstein. Chaplin’s early escapades belong to the second type, undeniably based as they are on depthless photography and accelerated action, as well as on the actors’ fake mustaches, absurd false beards, fright wigs and ominous overcoats. Not attaining such unreality, City Lights remains unconvincing. Except for the luminous blind girl, extraordinary in her beauty, and for Charlie himself, always a rake, always disguised, all the film’s characters are recklessly normal. Its ramshackle plot relies on the disjointed techniques of continuity from 20 years ago. Archaism and anachronism are literary modes too, I know, but to handle them intentionally is different from perpetrating them ineptly. I relinquish my hope, so often unfulfilled, of being wrong.”

Okay!