Until last week, I had a secret. Despite my love for film, high regard for Django Unchained, and admiring account of Quentin Tarantino at the Santa Barbara Film Festival, I hadn't seen Pulp Fiction. The problem? Universal acclaim scares me. There's little upside to writing about a classic movie everyone likes. Praise it, and your review lacks originality. Trash it, and you become the cynical curmudgeon groping for attention. [Editor's note: we tried to convince Ben that watching a classic film might have other benefits, like informing his understanding of movie history, or broadening his overall perspective on American cinema. His response: "Just spellcheck the post please."] So instead of a Roger Ebert-style review, here are five things I learned about Quentin Tarantino while watching Pulp Fiction. *moderate spoilers follow*
There's disappointment, there's crushing disappointment, and then there's M. Night Shyamalan. Blessed with uniquely off-kilter vision and rare minimalist sensibilities, the writer-director somehow squandered his gifts and became the biggest cinematic letdown of the last decade. Only Cuba Gooding Jr. (last film: One in the Chamber) rivals the steepness of his descent.
It's easy to forget, but actors must deliver two performances with each major film or television release. The first performance—the role itself—receives high-profile criticism, as The New York Times, film blogs, podcasters, and latte-sipping Hollywood elites announce their opinions to other similarly pretentious moviegoers. Words like "palpable" and "transporting" lace their conversations, while "seductive" and "spectacle" pepper their reviews. Yet these critics tend to ignore the all-important second performance: off-the-set interviews and late-night television appearances.* A bad film can be excused by an otherwise strong body of cinematic work. Public personas, however, are quickly set in Hollywood stone.
My favorite March Madness column every year is Pat Forde's Best / Worst-Case Scenarios for all 64 Tournament Teams. In that spirit, here are the Wildest Dream and Nightmare scenarios for eight big summer movies.
TheCroakingFrog's staff has been working overtime to prepare for the summer's cinematic onslaught. (Read: there's still nothing worthwhile to watch…we've been trying to think of one miserable article to write, and this is the best we could come up with. And no, Iron Man 3 does not count as "worthwhile." Robert Downey Jr. is simultaneously the best and most annoying part of the series, which should tell you everything you need to know about the films.)
There's a lousy time of year for everything. In the world of sports, it's summer. For weddings? January. For relationships in general? Thanksgiving and Valentine's Day. And as TheCroakingFrog knows only too well, spring is rotten for movies. Critics agree: Spring Breakers is the best wide-release film now in theaters. God help us all.
So what's a film critic to do in times of cinematic famine? The only thing he or she can: create a click-friendly "Top 10" post about something Pixar-related. Everybody wins!
Following Skyfall's release, Ben heard or read perspectives matching all 12 of the following reviews. His favorite part? Regardless of argument, everyone cited the same evidence. In that spirit, 12 reviews of the latest Bond... (plus stay tuned for Ben's actual opinion, mentioned at the end).
1. Skyfall Succeeds on Daniel Craig's Back
The first twenty minutes were awkward. Back stiff, hands clasped (then draped over the arms of the chair, then folded), Jennifer Lawrence couldn’t seem to get comfortable. We’d just seen a flowing, polished montage of the young actress’s theatrical accomplishments—a dark, nuanced role (Winter’s Bone), a bow-and-arrow blockbuster (The Hunger Games), a revelatory portrayal of healing and redemption (Silver Linings Playbook). Yet here she was, nervously adjusting her armchair pillows like a high schooler on a bad pizza-and-a-movie date night. Even Santa Barbara Film Festival director Roger Durling (star-struck, overeager, bumbling), could barely assemble a coherent question.
Hair disheveled, hands twitching, eyes darting, Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained, Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction) graced the Arlington Theatre on Wednesday evening, as part of the 28th Annual Santa Barbara Film Festival. The famed director was receiving the blandly-named American Riviera Award, established to g̶i̶v̶e̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶F̶e̶s̶t̶i̶v̶a̶l̶ ̶o̶r̶g̶a̶n̶i̶z̶e̶r̶s̶ ̶a̶n̶ ̶e̶x̶c̶u̶s̶e̶ ̶t̶o̶ ̶i̶n̶t̶e̶r̶v̶i̶e̶w̶ ̶f̶a̶m̶o̶u̶s̶ ̶p̶e̶o̶p̶l̶e̶ “recognize an artist who has a strong influence on American cinema.” Throughout his chat with the LA Times’ John Horn, Tarantino clutched a giant golden goblet, complete with a lime-wedge and straw. Though he spoke casually, his gestures exposed a certain paranoia, as though he suspected Horn to reach over mid-question and snatch his drink away.
One day, I’ll stop caring about the Academy Awards. I’ll still watch, just with the sort of detached amusement one feels when observing a baby building a block tower. [Editor’s note: Ben admits this comparison is unfair to the baby.] As it stands, however, I’m invested in the results, and that’s a problem.