I haven’t seen Django Unchained yet (though I want to, and I loved Inglorious Basterds), but I found this insight into Tarantino’s process very interesting. From a New York Times interview with the director:
I have a writer’s journey going on and a filmmaker’s journey going on, and obviously they’re symbiotic, but they also are separate. When I write my scripts it’s not really about the movie per se, it is about the page. It’s supposed to be literature. I write stuff that’s never going to make it in the movie and stuff that I know wouldn’t even be right for the movie, but I’ll put it in the screenplay. We’ll decide later do we shoot it, do we not shoot it, whatever, but it’s important for the written work.
I think about this at Percolate sometimes and always err on the side of over-documentation. I like the idea of building a narrative around something that extends far beyond what’s necessary, as the additional context creates an important background for decisions. In Tarantino’s case, I have to imagine part of the reason he gets such good performances out of the actors in his films is that they’re given such a rich text to work with.
Before I left for my trip to Asia I went to see Zero Dark Thirty, the movie about the hunt for, and ultimately killing of, Osama Bin Laden. Before, and after, seeing it I had read quite a bit about the raid, the movie and the controversy around both. I thought maybe it would be worth collecting all this stuff into a post, so that’s what I’m doing.
First, on the movie itself. A lot of people really like it (the most interesting point Denby makes in this podcast is the idea that this and Lincoln spell the end of auteur theory as they show the power of the writer/director combo). I thought it was pretty okay. In reading around, I think Roger Ebert sums up my opinions best in his review of the film:
My guess is that much of the fascination with this film is inspired by the unveiling of facts, unclearly seen. There isn’t a whole lot of plot — basically, just that Maya thinks she is right, and she is. The back story is that Bigelow has become a modern-day directorial heroine, which may be why this film is winning even more praise than her masterful Oscar-winner “The Hurt Locker.” That was a film firmly founded on plot, character and actors whose personalities and motivations became well-known to the audience. Its performances are razor-sharp and detailed, the acting restrained, the timing perfect.
In comparison, “Zero Dark Thirty” is a slam-bang action picture, depending on Maya’s inspiration. One problem may be that Maya turns out to be correct, with a long, steady build-up depriving the climax of much of its impact and providing mostly irony. Do we want to know more about Osama bin Laden and al Qaida and the history and political grievances behind them? Yes, but that’s not how things turned out. Sorry, but there you have it.
One thing that I found particularly interesting in the film was the very short sequence on the doctor who had gone around Abbottabad under the cover of vaccination who was actually collecting DNA. I remembered reading about him in the original New Yorker account of the raid and thought that had made clear he had been successful in collected DNA evidence (it turns out the article says he wasn’t, the same way it’s presented in the film). January’s GQ has a longer account of what happened to the doctor who helped the CIA and tries to get at whether he was successful in his mission. (The answers: He was tortured/imprisioned by the Pakistani government for assisting the Americans and, as to whether he got evidence, it’s still unclear.)
If you’re interested in more reading on the subject, No Easy Day, an account by a Navy Seal on the mission is a fast and interesting read. And although I haven’t read it, my friend Colin Nagy highly recommends The Triple Agent, which covers what happened at Khost, where a Jordanian triple agent beat CIA intelligence and security to bomb a military base and kill a sizable group of CIA operatives (there’s a scene in Zero Dark Thirty about it, though the film offers no real depth on what happened).
More fun Christmasy stuff, this time it’s from The Week and comes in the form of a doctor examining the true extent of the injuries to the burglars in Home Alone. I’m partial to his explanation of the effect of the burning-hot doorknob:
If this doorknob is glowing visibly red in the dark, it has been heated to about 751 degrees Fahrenheit, and Harry gives it a nice, strong, one- to two-second grip. By comparison, one second of contact with 155 degree water is enough to cause third degree burns. The temperature of that doorknob is not quite hot enough to cause Harry’s hand to burst into flames, but it is not that far off… Assuming Harry doesn’t lose the hand completely, he will almost certainly have other serious complications, including a high risk for infection and ‘contracture’ in which resulting scar tissue seriously limits the flexibility and movement of the hand, rendering it less than 100 percent useful. Kevin has moved from ‘defending his house’ into sheer malice, in my opinion.
Back in April we got into a conversation around the office about the possibility of a Hungry Hungry Hippos movie. This, of course, was a joke …
Until it wasn’t:
The L.A. Times has reported that Hasbro, the toy company that specializes in spawning movies based on its products, has partnered with an independent production company called Emmett/Furla to turn three of its diversions into films: Hungry Hungry Hippos, Monopoly and Action Man. Monopoly has been in the works for a while, and Action Man sort of sounds like a movie, or at least no more ridiculous than “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.” But Hungry Hungry Hippos? What could the plot possibly be, and how will it not dovetail with the parody trailers for a Hungry Hungry Hippos movie that already exist on YouTube?
I love asking people who are really passionate about something to talk about the person or thing they hold up as best. Ask a guitarist, for instance, who the best guitarist of all time was and you’ll get a thoughtful (and probably surprising) explanation and insight into what one artist looks for in another.
Anyway, it was a pleasure to read Roger Ebert explain his 10 greatest films of all time. This is someone who has spent his whole life thinking about a topic and his reasoning behind each choice is deep (outside his odd pick of Tree of Life at the end). I like his explanation of Raging Bull over Taxi Driver for Scorsese:
“Citizen Kane” speaks for itself. “2001: A Space Odyssey” is likewise a stand-along monument, a great visionary leap, unsurpassed in its vision of man and the universe. It was a statement that came at a time which now looks something like the peak of humanity’s technological optimism. Many would choose “Taxi Driver” as Scorsese’s greatest film, but I believe “Raging Bull” is his best and most personal, a film he says in some ways saved his life. It is the greatest cinematic expression of the torture of jealousy–his “Othello.”
The New Yorker breaks down the Seven Fundamentals of Great Muppet Cinema and I couldn’t agree more (though I haven’t seen the new movie yet). My favorite: “Unlike most other kiddy entertainment, the Muppets were never didactic. They’re flawed, eccentric, anarchic personalities. Miss Piggy, let’s face it, is a borderline narcissist. Gonzo is in love with a chicken. Kermit has a quiet dignity, but he’s easily aggravated. In the Muppet world, character trumps discipline—but when it comes time for morals, they’re kept simple and classy. Leave the “I love you, you love me” garbage to the singing dinosaur.”