New Debate Series (And Top 5 Favorite Films)

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We will be bringing you a new series where we debate all sorts of things eventually. For now, we are focusing on films. Adrian Jonklaas at http://adrianjonklaas.com will be debating me on on movies. We will let you, based on the comments below the debates, decide who won. We will try to keep this going until it goes 15 rounds or one of us gets knocked out.

A little about me. I consider myself knowledgeable about movies. At one point in my life, I wanted to go to film school and direct movies like many other teenagers, except reality set in and I chose a more stable path. As a hobby, I devoured film. Foreign films. Documentaries. All of the acclaimed movies and the cult classics of the past. My top 5 favorite films are:

1. Pulp Fiction (1994) Quentin Tarantinodcd5c1e6-4198-4f65-8259-6c5837ee7906.jpg

“Now that’s a tasty burger.”

This is the movie that made Quentin Tarantino a household name and made him a target of controversy for language, tone, and subject matter. When I first watched this movie in my early teens, I didn’t quite understand what I was watching. Over the years, it grew to become my favorite film. It was the movie that resurrected John Travolta’s career. It put Samuel L. Jackson on the map. It was the first movie that made me consider wandering the earth for a living.

2. The Empire Strikes Back (1980) Irvin Kershner

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“I know.”

This is science fiction space operate at its finest. The heroes of Star Wars get chased across the galaxy and end up at Bespin. Luke receives training from Yoda. Han seeks help from his old friend and original owner of the Millennium Falcon. The tale is dark and personal and makes the hero make the most difficult choice of his life. Many people felt empty leaving the theater with a cliffhanger in 1980, but the story grows in stature each year as nothing has come close to beating this as the best Sci-Fi film of all time.

3. Drive (2011) Nicholas Winding Refn

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“You blinked.”

He is the drive with no name. I almost didn’t want to see it when the previews came out, but when I finally saw it on DVD while in a foreign country, it blew me away. I watched it back-to-back, then watched it every night for a week. I broke down each scene cut of the movie. It was masterful. The shooting script was only 81 pages and the crew worked to cut it even more to allow as much acting and scope and breath in the film and the result is a beautiful film. It was the best movie I had seen in a decade.

4. Fight Club (1999) David Fincher

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“The first rule about fight club is …”

This is another poorly marketed film in the late 90s. When I eventually saw it I was blown away. When I see an epically constructed film, I don’t usually attribute it to the actor. I look at the DVD cover and look for the director. “David Fincher … who is that?” I looked him up and he was the same guy that did Se7en. “Oooh, that is why it looked so dark. What else did he do? The Game? Holy cow! This guy is amazing.” Sixteen years later David Fincher remains my favorite director today.

5. Die Hard (1988) John Mctiernan

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“Get the detonators.”

Die hard is the greatest action film of all time. It is also the greatest Christmas movie of all time. It made Bruce Willias an action star. It proved yet again John Mctiernan is one of the best in the action genre (until his little fiasco). The poster pretty much captures it all. This was the movie that started the trope off. Everything after was “Die Hard on _______.” What the movie got right was having Alan Rickman (in his first role) play the villain almost from his point of view. He is just an entrepreneur who wants to collect his interest on the beach.

ADRIAN JONKLAAS

Though I despise having to pick favorites or rank things, I realize “Top 5 / Top 10” type lists work well with blog posts. As such, I’m taking a stab at a “Top 5 Favourite Movies” posts.

A couple of comments:

  • I have tried to pick from a diverse range of movies spanning genres, times, foreign films, etc.
  • If you ask me what my Top 5 movies are in a month’s time, the list may have changed. What will not have changed is that the movies I list below are memorable movies that I will always love because they resonated with me. If you haven’t watched them, I encourage you to do so.

Without further adieu, the list of “My Top 5 Favourite Movies”:

1. Pi (1998) by Darren Aronofsky

“The Torah is just a long string of numbers. Some say that it’s a code sent to us from God.”

This is an intense psychological thriller. The protagonist is a brilliant mathematician who is pursuing the secret of “Pi”; not as in “apple”, rather, the “3.1415” kind. His computer spits out a mysterious 216-digit number as he conducts his research. What is this number? A shady group of business people think it is the secret to forecasting the stock market. A sect of Jews thinks it is the secret name of God and a door to esoteric knowledge and power. His mentor had a stroke researching the secret of the number and the protagonist himself is on the verge of a total breakdown.

One of Darren’s Aronofsky’s best movies (along with Requiem for a Dream) before fame got to him and he produced such tripe as “Noah”.

2. Princess Bride (1987) by Rob Reinerthe-princess-bride.jpg

“Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

The best fairy-tale ever, full of charm and wit. This movie is sprinkled with delightful characters throughout – save perhaps for the Princess Buttercup – who make the movie utterly engaging. Some of the scenes, driven by dialogue more than action, e.g. the battle of intellect between Westley and Vizzini, will stay with you for ever. Though the happy ending is expected, the plot has several interesting twists and turns along the way.

3. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980) by Irvin Kershnerempire-movie-poster-star-wars-empire-strikes-back-20604952-1369-2125.jpg

“Try not. Do… or do not. There is no try.”

I watched this movies as a 5 year old when it was released in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Needless to say, it gave me nightmares. This movie is all about arguably the greatest movie villain created, Darth Vader. My little heart leapt out of my chest when Lando opens the door to the dining room in Cloud City and Han, Leia, and Chewbacca see Darth Vader siting at the table – what a way to be introduced to the concept of betrayal. Perhaps the movie will always be known for the mind blowing plot twist at the end of the fight between Luke and Vader. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, pull your head out of the sand and watch this movie!

4. Underground (1995) by Emir KusturicaUnderground_film_poster.jpg

A thought provoking, satirical, tragicomic film about the modern history of Yugoslavia through World War 2, the Cold War, and the Yugoslav Wars. Explanation for the title: One of the characters, Marko, leads a group of friends and relatives into an underground cellar where he cons them that World War 2 is still continuing for 20 years. The people in the cellar manufacture weapons that Marko sells and profits from enormously. The scenes from when the chimp, Soni, blows a hole in the wall with a tank and the inhabitants of the cellar head out for the first time in two decades are poignant and heart wrenching. World War 2 may be over but war still blights their land.

 

5. Ex Machina (2015) by Alex GarlandEx-machina-uk-poster.jpg

“And for the record, Ava’s not pretending to like you. And her flirting isn’t an algorithm to fake you out. You’re the first man she’s met that isn’t me. And I’m like her dad, right? Can you blame her for getting a crush on you?”

A brilliant slow boiler of a thriller. Caleb believes he is conducting a Turing Test on an android, Ava, that his billionaire boss Nathan has built. Ava is a captive in a glass cage and is clearly intelligent. His interactions with Ava make Caleb begin to wonder what the real purpose of the “test” is ? Is he the android? Is Nathan playing him? Or is Ava?

Now on to our first debate (ROUND 1)

Movie Reviews: The Hateful Eight

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The Hateful Eight by Quentin Tarantino

I was going to watch the film no matter what as a huge fan of Tarantino, especially in his earlier days. I didn’t see this movie in the theaters. I think it was playing around the same time The Force Awakens, and I saw that movie twice. The film finally came out on Blu-Ray and I watched it pretty much in the dark.

Yes, I said it.

The same secret script that was leaked and resulted in a lawsuit.I had no idea what was coming.

This was probably the most I heard about the production of a movie since The Phantom Menace. Besides a bunch of hateful people, I didn’t really know anything of the plot outside of Jennifer Jason Leigh being the the prisoner. I watched the movie and my first pass review is this is a 7/10 after watching it once. The movie is almost exclusive character acting, sometimes almost making the setup seem more like a play on stage rather than a movie.

Samuel L. Jackson as the “Bounty Hunter” is really good. I would say this is his best part since his character performance in Django. I think Quentin and him have a special relationship and they both know his best performances come when they work together. (The Negotiator was good too). It doesn’t top Pulp Fiction though.

Kurt Russell as “The Hangman” was mixed for me. He didn’t seem as rugged and angry as I know he can be. He brought hell with him in Tombstone, but didn’t quite do it here. I also found it unbelievable he let two people on the stagecoach, but that might be more to blame not he plot than anything else. Props on him for growing those chops.

Jennifer Jason Leigh as “The Prisoner” was the heart of the film. She had a lot of responsibility in playing off every actor and she does it well. The movie doesn’t work without her performance. She has blood on her face most of the film, sings and plays guitar, and then shifts her tone at the end. I think in 20 years, she will be remembered as “The Prisoner.”

Walton Goggins as “The Sherif” started out as weak for me. He seemed to be more a comedian, but when I came to think of it later, his part was more of a central mystery. The audience doesn’t know his motivations. At the end of the film, I think it ties all together and his part makes sense. These are flawed people who can change views on a whim. Everyone acts in their own self interest.

Demian Richie as “The Mexican” seemed to be an over-the-top caricature and stereotype for me. I thought there would be a twist of some point other than a plot point, but there wasn’t much there. To me, this is one of the weaker parts of the film. He plays it fine, but I would have liked to have seen more to him.

Tim Roth as “The Little Man” was the most enjoyable actor to watch for me. Part of me feels that the part could have been played by Christoph Waltz. Tim Roth has been in other Tarantino films, and doesn’t seem as over-the-top since 4 Rooms. I enjoyed it. He should do it more.

Michael Madsen as “The Cow Puncher” has limited range in the movie. He plays the same character we always see him as, so for me, there was little he added. Outside of being part of the Tarantino bull pen, I’m not sure if it added much to the story.

Bruce Dern as “The Confederate” brought absolutely zero to the film. The man sat in a chair and acted like a man who was acting … which he was. Hmm. Maybe it was genius and I just didn’t realize it on the first viewing. I would have found it more believable if he was the father of Jennifer Jason Leigh and that he wasn’t so helpless. It would have provided a twist to the story instead of the deus ex machina when you-know-who shows up. Maybe an earlier version of the script had this in.

Subsequent viewings might raise the rating for me, but to me, it felt more like a horror film than a western. I would have believed this more if this was his grindhouse film. The cinematography is nice two watch, and in typical Tarantino fashion, I appreciate he lets scenes breath and characters act. The experimentation with his voiceover was a different touch as well. He made a good choice with the Act-swap.

GUEST REVIEWER: BETSY THE BRIDE (A very serious girl at COMICON)

Don’t you go talking to my Quentin like that. I don’t care if they lock me up in San Quentin, I’m gonna get ya. Oh, I swear to god I’m gonna get ya good. I don’t care if the law man comes to your protection, I got me a slick team ready to inflict Betsy’s justice on you. Just when you think you’re safe going to your favorite watering hole, I’ll be there. I’ll be the one that looks all innocent and sweet and just as you get that false sense of security, WHAM! This movie was a masterpiece of cinematic kind, one with a fantastic bloody ending that gave me flashbacks to my own wedding. It will be remembered for eternity. Do you hear that Matt? For eternity. 

MOVIE RATING: 7/10 Dead Hateful People

NEXT: REVIEW OF KILL BILL, A TARANTINO MASTERPIECE

https://mmleonard.com/2016/03/21/movie-reviews-kill-bill-volume-1/

Movie Reviews: Kill Bill Volume 1

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Once a year a film comes out that is a masterpiece. In 2003, Kill Bill Volume 1 was that film. We all know the story. Uma Thurman is the Bride and she is out for revenge for killing her wedding party and putting her in a coma. I watched this in the movie complex being relatively new the town I was living in at the time. You know the feeling. I really wanted to see the movie but had zero friends in this new city in the midwest.

I was so eager to see it I walked up to the window and bought my ticket for one. The girl gave me a look. You’ve seen it before. Ticket for one at the movies is like going to a restaurant alone.  It is socially accepted to do so, but people look at you a little weird. Like “too bad” look at him.

I didn’t care. This was Quentin Tarantino and I wasn’t missing opening night.

To make it more awkward, I thought perhaps people would want arrive early to score seats. Nope. I walked into a theatre with a pack of four girls, each dressed as if they were bigger superfans of Tarantino than me. I sat five rows behind them and didn’t realize we were at two different spectrums of dedicated fandom.

They were not waiting for the movie to start. They had just seen the movie and just finished watching the credits. They talked loudly (before the era of smartphones to soak up time). I’ve heard of people sneaking into movies, but sneaking into a movie without moving an inch is a level of dedication I didn’t know existed. So I watched them curiously. One girl had an invisible sword she wielded on her friends. I am not sure what the body count was by the time the crowd flowed in, but she was more pumped up than me by the time the previews started.

I watched the Bride do her thing. The movie was awesome. Hearing RZA’s score pump through the theater when O-Ren Ishii and the yakuza enter a Tokyo restaurant was awesome. It shows the mastery of Tarantino and what he can do.

At the end, I finally understood the girl with the invisible sword. She imagined she had a Hattori Hanzo sword and did what anyone does with it.

She put it to work.

Movie Rating 11/10 (off the damn charts)

NEXT: THE PULP FICTION MOVIE REVIEW (IS IT HIS BEST FILM?)

Movie Reviews: Pulp Fiction

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“Now that was a tasty burger.” -Jules Winnfield

Anyone that knows me knows my admiration for Pulp Fiction, one of my top 10 films of all time. Over the last twenty years, the film has ranked anywhere from the top of my list to as low as three. I’m not gonna lie, sometimes my list changes based on who is asking me. You see, some people don’t really understand the graphic nature of the story told out of order. Many people like linear story telling where the hero wins at the end. Pulp Fiction aimed to tell a different kind of story, one that broke the mode (and winning the Palme d’Or in 1994). I know, if the French liked it, maybe it’s a red flag, but I’m here to say if you are one of eight people on Earth who have not seen it, go ahead. Be warned, it is filled with tasty burgers, foot rubbing conversation, a drug overdose, Travolta dancing, a gimp, a samurai sword, shooting someone in the face, a speech about a watch stuck up multiple asses, a restaurant stand-off, and the Wolfe.

The beauty in the story is the simplicity of it. If this doesn’t make much sense to you, it will after watching a couple dozen times. Elmore Leonard once wrote the key to writing is to “cut all the boring stuff out,” which was probably taken from  I don’t know … William “Bloodbath” Shakespeare. In every scene of the movie, there is a problem and a goal. You know what the characters want. Even Christopher Walken’s watch speech has a point. Pulp Fiction is all about cramming as much problem in a story as it can and watching the characters react to it. It doesn’t spend thirty minutes getting to know the character and having them “Save a Cat” and some shit like that. There isn’t some alternate POV showing us what the villain is doing. There is no stupid voiceover. The dialogue is at times long speeches, which doesn’t dub well to overseas markets. The whole damn story isn’t even told in order.

This is the genius of it.

Tarantino would go on to be one of the best filmmakers of his generation. I don’t think many dispute that. He writes what he want stop write and films what he wants to film, casts who he wants to cast, and we are lucky enough studios bankroll his vision.

What is my favorite scene in the movie? Damn. There are so many to choose from. I think it would have to be Jules speech at the beginning of the film as enters the apartment building. It has to be one of the best speeches of all time. Surely “Jules Speech” is better than anything in “The King’s Speech.”  I think the French would even agree.

Movie Review: 11/10 (off the damn charts)

NEXT: REVIEW OF KILL BILL (OR, THE STORY OF THE MYSTERIOUS GIRL)

OR CHECK OUT THE WEIRDEST SPRING BREAK MOVIE EVER