Where Are My Ratings, Netflix??

Netflix Canada screws up royally

Netflix Canada screws up royally

I, like many Canadians, enjoy Netflix. Sure, it’s lacking titles that the superior American version has, but it’s a cheap (how could you go wrong for $8 a month?) convenient way to watch movies. I also enjoy the Netflix ratings system. It’s one of the best ratings systems I’ve come across, and it’s suggestions for me are usually spot on. In short: Netflix, and it’s rating system, is pretty great. Sadly, most companies, including Netflix, don’t buy into the old adage: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

The other day I logged into my Netflix and was shocked to find that the star rating system was gone. I thought maybe it was a browser issue at first, so I tried numerous browsers, deleted my cookies, etc. Nothing worked. My ratings were still missing. Something definitely wasn’t right here, so I live chatted with a Netflix tech expert. He found it odd that my ratings were gone as well and told me to sit tight while he looked into it. Five minutes later he came back with the news: Netflix was phasing out it’s star ratings in favour of Facebook ‘likes’. Seriously?

I had heard nothing of this. No emails sent out to customers, no announcements made, nothing. Netflix seems to be sneaking this change in. Why? I’m not quite sure. Is this only for Netflix Canada? No idea. There seems to be hardly any info out there about this change, and that’s kind of disturbing.

Now, let’s just set aside the fact that Facebook is forcefully asserting itself more and more in our online lives – and the uncomfortable (spying!) facts that come along with that. Let’s just focus on rating films in general.

Films are an art form, and as such they aren’t merely ‘liked’ or ‘not liked’: there are degrees to which one enjoys a movie. I can say I ‘liked’ Chronicle, an underrated teen sci-fi action film, but do I like it on the same level as, say, Fargo? The answer is a resounding ‘no’. Netflix, however, would seem to say that yes, they are on the same level – you either like or don’t like them. This is just ridiculous, and it makes me question Netflix as a company that cares about cinema. Movie criticism isn’t black and white, it’s nuanced. You might argue that the general public aren’t film critics, but that’s not true. Everyone who sees a film is a critic. When you’re talking to your friends about a movie you just saw, do you only say that you ‘liked’ it? Or do you say you “liked it, but…” or “I loved it!”? Sure their points might not be as well informed as professional film critics, but they still have points – and thoughts.

This ‘like or don’t like’ system that Netflix is rolling out is overly simplistic and, frankly, a little insulting. You don’t think people can like things to differing degrees? That the general public are capable of nuanced thought? Maybe this never crossed the staff at Netflix’s mind. Maybe this is just merely a way for them to generate more money through sharing personal information via Facebook. The later is probably true, which makes it all the more sad: Netflix didn’t even consider its customers.


Academy Awards 2013 – My Money’s On…


Well, the nominees for this year’s Academy Awards have been announced. There were actually a few surprises this year. The directing category in particular is quite interesting. Both Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow were overlooked in favour of first time director Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild) and veteran Austrian director Michael Haneke (Amour). Affleck and Bigelow must be shocked. They were considered virtual locks in the category only a few days ago. The snubs are both good and bad in my opinion. They are good because the Academy is breaking with tradition. Instead of being all predictable mainstream veterans, the Academy went with a mixed bag. Thrown in with the typical veterans are a first time indie director and a veteran director who rarely works in the English language. This is exciting for anyone who is constantly let down by the Academy’s typical safe nominations. However, the bad thing about this is that Spielberg is pretty much a lock to win. Only Affleck or Bigelow really had a shot at beating Spielberg. Now he’s virtually unchallenged. Ang Lee has an outside shot, but it’s doubtful.

Other pleasant surprises include a writing nomination for Moonrise Kingdom (which should’ve been up for far more awards in my opinion), and an acting nomination for young Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild). She now becomes the youngest ever best acting nominee, and Emmanuelle Riva (Amour) becomes the oldest best acting nominee. Everything else is rather predictable.

Now, for your reading pleasure, I will lay out who I think will win in each of the major categories. Keep in mind that I have not seen every one of these movies, however, based on buzz, I am pretty confident in my picks.

Best Picture:

Lincoln: Lincoln looks like the film to beat this year. It’s a stuffy period piece about a famous historical figure starring one of the best actors out there and helmed by a legendary director. The Academy loves this type of movie. There’s an outside chance that they could give the award to Argo despite the lack of a directing nomination, but my money is on Lincoln.

Best Director:

Steven Spielberg: As I stated previously, this is Spielberg’s contest to lose now that Affleck and Bigelow are out of the race.

Best Actor in a Leading Role:

Daniel Day-Lewis: Again, a lock. The Academy loves performances based on real life figures, and they also love DDL. There’s a small outside chance that Joaquin Phoenix could grab the award for The Master, but it’s unlikely given the mixed reactions to the film.

Best Actress in a Leading Role:

Jennifer Lawrence: She’s been the favourite all season, and it looks like she’s still favoured to win. There’s an outside chance for Emmanuelle Riva, but it’s not likely. The Academy probably won’t give David O. Russell a directing award nor give Silver Linings Playbook the best picture award either, so expect them to reward the movie in the acting categories.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role:

Philip Seymour Hoffman: This is probably the toughest category as every nominee has won before. I give Hoffman the edge because The Master will probably be shut out of everything else. However, Robert DeNiro also has a shot for Silver Linings Playbook.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role:

Anne Hathaway: The Academy loves musicals. Despite Les Misérables mixed reviews, they will likely give Hathaway the acting award because she sings in the film and the movie is unlikely to get many other awards.

Best Original Screenplay:

Zero Dark Thirty – Mark Boal: Zero Dark Thirty will likely pick up an award here. I’d like to see Wes Anderson win for Moonrise Kingdom, and there’s a small chance he could, but it’s likely the Academy will throw Zero Dark Thirty a bone and give Mark Boal the award.

Best Screenplay based on Previous Material:

Silver Linings Playbook – David O. Russell: David O. Russell has the best shot here at winning. Silver Linings Playbook is dialogue heavy and a real actor’s movie. Therefore, the Academy will most likely reward it. There’s an outside chance for Chris Terrio (Argo) as well.

Best Animated Feature:

Frankenweenie: I’m going to go out on a limb with this one. This could be the year that Pixar (Brave) does not win. It could end up splitting votes with Wreck-It Ralph and giving the edge to Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie.

Best Foreign Film:

Amour: Odds are that Amour will win the best foreign film award given that it’s up for Best Picture as well as Best Director. However, there is the outside chance that its many nominations could hurt it in this category, but it’s doubtful.

Best Documentary:

Searching for Sugar Man: I’ll go with Searching for Sugarman here based on what I’ve heard – which is nothing but glowing praise.

Best Cinematography:

Life of Pi – Claudio Miranda: I have not seen Life of Pi, but by all accounts it’s visually spectacular and contains some of the best usage of 3D ever seen. Although, I’d love to see Roger Deakins win for Skyfall, it’s unlikely they’d give a Bond film such a prestigious award. There’s also an outside chance that the Academy will go very traditional and give the award to Janusz Kaminski for Lincoln.

Best Editing:

Zero Dark Thirty – William Goldenberg, Dylan Tichenor: Zero Dark Thirty will likely win for editing based solely on the tension filled third act. Argo has an outside shot here as well.

Big Smart Messes: When Directors go for Broke


It’s rare these days that directors are able to retain complete control over a film with a massive budget. Sure, Chris Nolan had quite a lot of power over the recent Batman trilogy and Inception, but they were still studio friendly movies. Gone are the days when a 2001 or a Apocalypse Now would be given major funding – well, not quite gone. Every once and a while (and it’s getting rarer and rarer), a director will be given a lot of money to make a film where they exercise complete control over every detail – often times to its detriment. The results are often big, bloated, interesting, but ultimately flawed films. That’s not to say that these films shouldn’t be made. They absolutely should be made. In fact, more of them should be made.

These opuses often provoke discussion, bring up interesting ideas or concepts, and almost always contain bravura filmmaking. They are showcases for directors flexing every filmmaking muscle they have. They try and throw everything but the kitchen sink at the screen, and the results can be mixed, but they are almost always fascinating. Sometimes they turn out to be genius, other times they are kind of weak, but what they aren’t are cynical, cash-grabbing movies that are typical of big budget films. And that is why more of them should be made. But, given the box office returns on these type of films, it’s likely they’ll continue to become increasingly rare.

For your consideration, here are a few modern examples of these big, beautiful, smart messes.

Magnolia (1999) – P.T. Anderson’s second major effort, with an emphasis on the major. Running at a daunting 188 minutes, Magnolia is a massive sprawling film that deals with multiple story lines. The film is more of an opera than a movie. Parts of it are truly exhilarating and some of the best stuff Anderson’s ever put on screen. Other parts, however, can be frustrating. The singing scene is particularly egregious to me. But you can’t deny Anderson’s sheer audacity (raining frogs?!). Definitely not PTA’s best film, but a must see for any film fan.

The Fountain (2006) – Six years after he broke through with Requiem For a Dream, Darren Aronofsky returned with The Fountain, a gorgeous mess of a movie. The film jumps between three timelines, with Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz playing different but similar characters in each. The film is cryptic and not easy to follow, but it’s still fascinating. The special effects Aronofsky uses for the space sequences are worth the watch alone. Even if the story doesn’t quite make sense, the film is simply marvelous to look at.

The Tree of Life (2011) – Terrance Malick’s beautiful and poetic film has been equally praised and dismissed. Yes, it is indulgent and pretentious, but the sheer scope of the film (starting from the beginning of time) is breathtaking. The scenes involving Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, and their family are beautifully evocative, and some of the best stuff Malick has ever put on screen. Sean Penn looks a little lost, and the dinosaurs are a little unnecessary, but you’d be hard pressed to find anything this audacious in scope since Kubrick’s 2001. 

These films might not be perfect, but they are important. They are important because they attempt things outside the norm. They swing for the fences. Sometimes they swing and miss, but they’re swinging nonetheless. That’s a lot more than can be said of most filmmakers these days. And they deserve our support for it.

Buzz-Based Oscar Predictions 2013

It’s early November, which means we’re right in the middle of awards season. This is the time of the year that studios trot out their ‘prestige’ pictures and little indies that could in hopes that the all-powerful Academy notices, and bestows them with a nomination or two. Whether or not the Oscars are artistically valid is debatable, but no one can deny that they are still the most important awards in the film industry.

The Academy tends to nominate, and award, similar films every year – with a few exceptions. Here I will do my best to predict, solely based on trailers and buzz, which films have the best chance to grab a nomination and win. Keep in mind that there is a minimum of five best picture nominations, and at max ten. Later in the year, I’ll update the list and get a little more specific (hopefully having seen most of the films by that point).

Five Locks:

Argo– This seems like the film to beat this year. Ben Affleck looks like he’s transforming into quite the talented director. Reviews have been almost universally positive, and this is the perfect type of film for the Academy. They love historical dramas. Expect a best picture nomination (and probably a win). Also expect Ben Affleck to be up for best director and actor. It’ll also probably nab a best adapted screenplay nod, as well as a few nominations for supporting actors (Goodman and Arkin are good bets). There also could be a few technical nominations as well (editing, cinematography).

Lincoln– This is pure Oscar bait. Legendary director? Check. Legendary Actor? Check. Legendary historical figure? Check. Reviews aren’t overwhelmingly positive, but that didn’t stop them from nominating War Horse last year. This will definitely be in the best picture category, and Spielberg will most likely get a directing nomination. Daniel Day-Lewis will also be a lock for a lead actor nomination, but don’t expect him to win. Also expect a lot of technical nominations.

Silver Linings Playbook – David O. Russell’s new film is about mentally unstable people falling in love. This will definitely be nominated for best picture and director. Also expect Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence to get lead acting nominations (Lawrence might win). Robert DeNiro also has a shot at a supporting actor nomination. If he does get nominated, the Academy might give him the award for sentimental reasons. This movie also has a good shot at winning the best adapted screenplay award – especially if Argo cleans up all the other major awards.

Les Misérables – Tom Hooper won big two years ago for The King’s Speech. He’s back here with an adaptation of the classic Les Misérables. The Academy loves musicals, and with Hooper directing and Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe starring, this is a lock for a best picture nomination as well as songs and costume nominations.

Life of Pi– This is also pretty good Oscar bait. The Academy loves Ang Lee, and it loves epics based on popular books. This will for sure get a best picture nomination and perhaps a best directing nod. However, don’t expect it to win much beyond technical awards. There’s a good chance this will win for cinematography.


The Master – P.T. Anderson’s epic tale of cults and wayward souls might have been a little too out there for mainstream audiences, which means the Academy may ignore it as well. If there are more than five best picture nominations, expect this to be nominated. There’s also an outside chance of Anderson grabbing a directing nomination – but probably not a win. This film is just too difficult for the Academy to award it with best picture or director, and that’s a shame. The best chances it has are in the acting categories. Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman give amazing performances worthy of recognition.

Zero Dark Thirty– Kathryn Bigelow returns with this thriller about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. The subject matter is weighty enough, and it’s got pedigree in the form of Bigelow and Jessica Chastain, but it still has an outside chance in terms of nominations.

Flight– Robert Zemeckis looks to be swinging for the fences with this one, but he could be trying a bit too hard. Denzel Washington might grab a nomination, but the film might be a tad too melodramatic and hokey to get anything else (or maybe not).

Django Unchained– Tarantino’s latest is sure to be a crowd pleaser, but don’t expect it to win much. It might sneak into the best picture category. And Leonardo DiCaprio looks to be giving the sort of cartoon-ish, unconventional performance, that the Academy might recognize – but, again, don’t expect a win.

Hitchcock– This is the perfect type of navel gazing, biopic that the Academy loves. However, there’s not a whole lot of buzz surrounding it, so that might not be a good sign. Anthony Hopkins will probably get an acting nomination, though – the Academy loves impersonations of old movie icons.

Amour – Michael Haneke’s new film about an elderly couple’s relationship won the Palm D’Or at Cannes this year. The reviews have been very strong as well. It would be nice to see this squeak into the best film category, but it wouldn’t win. This does have a good shot at winning best foreign film, though.

Cloud Atlas – Like Life of Pi, this has the appearance of a classic Oscar bait epic. However, reviews have been very mixed, which doesn’t bode well for it’s chances. Expect it to pick up some technical awards.

Beasts of the Southern Wild– This indie film was showered in praise at Sundance earlier this year, which could translate into nominations. It would be great to see it sneak into the best picture category (again, it won’t win). The Academy would be going out on a bit of limb to nominate this, however. Newcomer Quvenzhané Wallis may get a best actress nomination, though.

Moonrise Kingdom– Wes Anderson’s latest may have been released too early in the year for the Academy to notice (which is a shame). However, there is a possible chance of it nabbing a screenwriting nomination, and a very outside chance of squeaking into the best picture category.

Anna Karenina -This looks pretty Oscar bait-y. The Academy certainly loves period pictures and classic literature. However, it does has the potential to flop. Don’t expect it to win anything (beyond, perhaps, costume design).

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey– This will surely be a smash hit at the box office. Expect the Academy to nominate it (maybe in best picture) just to get more people to watch the awards ceremony. It will definitely be up for, and win, a bunch of technical awards.

Modern Auteurs: David Lynch

David Lynch isn’t exactly modern. He’s been making films since the late 70s. However, he’s one of my favourites, and he’s modern enough. Lynch started out as a painter, but began experimenting with film in the late 60s. He was given a grant, and with it he created his first feature length film, Eraserhead in 1977. Eraserhead quickly became a cult classic, catching the attention of Mel Brooks (yes that Mel Brooks). It was Brooks who gave Lynch his big break with the film The Elephant Man (1980). That film earned Lynch two Academy Award nominations: for directing and adapted screenplay. From there, Lynch went on to become one of the most distinctive filmmakers of his generation. So distinct, in fact, that the term “Lynchian” was coined to describe his style.

Lynch’s films tend to be dark, surreal, and frightening, but with dashes of bizarre humour. It can be off-putting to some, but riveting to others (see this infamous debate over Blue Velvet). Lynch often likes to explore the underbelly of the American dream. Small towns (or big cities) are cheerfully shown, then layers are stripped back to reveal disturbing elements. Many of his films can be difficult to get through as they don’t usually follow conventional movie rules. There can be scenes that pop up that don’t appear to fit with the film. There can be random extreme close ups of objects. A lot of seemingly random things happen in Lynch films. However random they may seem, though, they work. They work with a sort of dream logic that Lynch is famous for. Lynch has stated that he often doesn’t think of the meaning behind his work, preferring to operate on feeling. It’s a dangerous system to be working with, but Lynch is able to pull it off.

His combination of craft and concept is probably the main reason he is so successful. His concepts provoke, while his craft is undeniable. Being a painter, it comes as no surprise that Lynch shoots his films immaculately, and puts a lot of thought into what goes on in front of the camera. He also pays a lot of attention to the sound design of his films – not just the score, but the sound. There are very few other directors that put so much effort into the way their films sound. And Lynch’s films sound great.

Lynch also posses a very distinct personality. This personality, coupled with his film work, has made him into a sort of icon in the filmmaking community. Much like Werner Herzog, Lynch has a larger than life persona that makes him all the more fascinating (his story of meeting George Lucas is incredibly entertaining). His charmingly unique personality has made it easy for him to transition into other mediums with success. Most famously, his television show, Twin Peaks, was a phenomenon in the early 90s and is still one of the most important television shows ever made (X-Files certainly wouldn’t exist without it). More recently, Lynch as found some success in the music industry. He also continues to paint and sculpt, while also dabbling in still photography. So, you could say David Lynch is a bit of a Renaissance man.

So, where should one start in Lynch’s oeuvre? Here’s my rundown:

Where to Start:

Blue Velvet (1986) – Lynch’s first major film that is all him. He was given complete control, and it shows. This is a must for any film fan. It still remains controversial to this day.

Mulholland Dr. (2001) – A fascinating puzzle of a movie. One of, if not the best, Lynch film. Lynch again explores the underbelly of the American dream, but this time in Hollywood.

Where Not to Start:

Inland Empire (2006) – Three and a half hours of David Lynch experimenting with story and with digital filmmaking. Definitely a must for any Lynch fan, but a very bad place to start without seeing any of his previous films.

Dune (1984) – Lynch’s first and only attempt at a big budget blockbuster. Studio interference and other problems ultimately sunk the film (Lynch refuses to discuss it), but it still remains a fascinating entry in Lynch’s filmography, and a fascinating sci-fi film in general. I’m a fan, but it’s not the best representation of Lynch’s work.

Deep Cuts:

Wild at Heart (1990) – Lynch’s bizarre, delirious riff on road movies and The Wizard of Oz. Incredibly strange and filled with memorable characters (Willem Dafoe’s Bobby Peru being perhaps the best).

Eraserhead (1977) – Bizarre, dark, and creepy. Lynch’s first film is still unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

The Horror…The Horrible State of Horror

Well, it’s October, so it’s time for the obligatory article about horror films. Now, I’ll admit I’m not the biggest horror fan, and I’m sure hardcore horror fans will disagree with my assertion that current horror films are terrible, but, in my mind, they are. Granted, I’m not overly familiar with all the foreign horror coming out now, but in terms of North America, the genre has become, in my mind, nothing more than torture porn or found footage films (or a combination of both). And that’s just sad.

Horror films were always trashy, and, to be frank, they are usually seen as a lower form of filmmaking (not always the case, but usually). However, there’s something particularly awful about today’s obsession with torture porn. My problem isn’t with gore – gore can be great – my problem is with how it’s used. Filmmakers lean on it as a crutch, thinking that the gore itself is frightening. They forget that what makes a horror film great are the scenes leading up to the killings/mutilations/etc. The key word here is “tension” (here’s a masterful description). To make a film truly scary, tension needs to built through atmosphere and (surprise!) caring about the characters. Mindlessly killing off self-centered teenagers can be entertaining for a little while, but it ultimately doesn’t lead to much. (This may seem blasphemous to some, but one of the films that started the mindless killing of teenagers, Friday the 13th, is a terrible film. The whole Friday the 13th series is grossly overrated, and just plain bad). Taking time with your characters and allowing tension to build creates much more satisfying scares, and a satisfying film overall. Thankfully, the Saw franchise seems to have stopped and Hostel is long over. So, maybe the whole torture porn thing is dying out. I can only hope so.

What seems to be gaining momentum, however, are the found footage horror films, the most obvious example being the Paranormal Activity franchise. The first film was kind of clever and had some decent scares – and it made a ton of money. And this is where it went wrong. Studios saw how much it made and how little it cost, and immediately jumped on the bandwagon. Now, Paranormal Activity 4 is being released. The studios are trying to squeeze every last penny about this very limited franchise. And limited is what it is. Like I said, the first one was all right, but you can only go so far with this type of film. After a while it just becomes boring. The shooting style gets annoying and the scares get repetitive. More importantly, studios now know they can invest very little into a horror film and get great returns. This doesn’t bode well for any filmmakers looking to make a horror film with much of a budget. I can only hope that audiences begin to lose interest in Paranormal Activity soon.

But surely there must be some good modern horror films? Indeed there are, but they’re a little harder to find. Like I said, I’m not the biggest horror fan, so I’ve only really come across a few (suggestions welcome). Given my little knowledge of the horror genre, the only (North American) filmmaker that I really enjoy working in the horror genre today is Ti West. With House of the Devil and, more recently, The Innkeepers, West is making some good old-school horror. I’ve heard people deride his films as boring, but I think those people (like too many unfortunately) suffer from a sort of A.D.D. West certainly takes his time, but it’s time well spent. He gives you plenty of scenes to get to know the characters, and he subtly ratchets up the tension throughout his films. The explosion of violence at the end of House of the Devil is almost cathartic from how tense he makes the audience up until that point. Sometimes having nothing happen is a lot more frightening than a huge body count.

Unfortunately, West is about the only modern horror filmmaker that I know of and like. I appreciate the fact that he’s trying to keep his films classy. Sadly, his films don’t get a ton of attention from mainstream audiences. And, sadly, that’s the case with a lot of great filmmakers in any genre. So, again, the root of this problem really lays at the feet of the audience. Studios cater to the wishes of the masses, and the masses don’t want great films. So what’s a cinephile to do? Support good films in any way you can and hope for the best.

Here are a few suggestions for some Halloween viewing (this is not a best of, just personal favs):

Halloween (1978) – John Carpenter

The original and the original only (sorry, but nice try Rob Zombie). This set the template for the slasher film, and, in my opinion, no slasher film has lived up to it. This film is iconic. A regular watch for my every Halloween.

Rosemary’s Baby (1968) – Roman Polanski

Another classic. Slow moving, atmospheric, and brilliant.

The Shining (1980) – Stanley Kubrick

In my opinion probably the best horror film ever made. Stanley Kubrick was at the top of his game here. From his revolutionary use of the steadicam to his bizarre, frightening imagery, and overwhelming atmosphere, Kubrick created one of the most re-watchable horror films ever.

Videodrome (1983) – David Cronenberg

Maybe not technically “pure” horror, but probably my favourite Cronenberg film, and definitely freaky. Long Live the New Flesh.

The Thing (1982) – John Carpenter

Another classic from Carpenter. Amazing film. The makeup effects alone are worth the watch. Plus, Kurt Russell’s just badass.

Alien (1979) – Ridley Scott

A great sci-fi horror film. Ridley Scott does an amazing job with atmosphere, and the cast is stellar.

Some others:

The Fly (1986) – Another Cronenberg masterpiece.

The Exorcist (1973) – Classic, obviously.

Psycho (1960) – The original slasher film.

Let the Right One In (2008) – The American remake is not bad, but the original is still best.

Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (1979) – Werner Herzog’s take on the classic Nosferatu.

Eraserhead (1977) – Maybe not technically a horror film, but freaky as all hell. Almost any David Lynch film could really be watched as a horror film.

28 Days Later (2002) – Danny Boyle’s great modern zombie film.

And, of course, the a fore mentioned Ti West films: House of the Devil (2009) and The Innkeepers (2011)

Modern Auteurs: Quentin Tarantino

What more can really be said about Tarantino? The guy’s already a legend. His first two films created an unbelievable amount of imitation. His fast paced, pop-culture filled dialogue and nods to exploitation films are still trying to be replicated by both professional and student filmmakers to this day (sometimes making me rue the day Tarantino first put words to paper). However, Tarantino’s style is simply inimitable. Try as they might to write witty banter and steal shots from Hong Kong action films, no one can touch Tarantino’s genius – and genius is what it is.

Some naysayers may dismiss Tarantino as a mere copycat, appropriating scenes and shots from other movies and repackaging them as his own, but filmmakers have always been doing that. You don’t hear too many people leveling that complaint against Woody Allen, who’s made a career of borrowing ideas from Bergman and Fellini. Tarantino just borrows from trashier films. And therein lies his genius. He elevates what would be considered b-movie material into art. That is a hard thing to do, no matter how you cut it.

This post may be a little useless as almost everyone has seen the majority of Tarantino’s films, but I’m going to lay out a few of his best and a few of his worst (yes he made some not-so good movies).

The Best:

Pulp Fiction (1994) – Probably Tarantino’s best. Not only did it contain a few of the most quotable lines and re-watchable scenes of all time, he also resurrected John Travolta’s career and launched Samuel L. Jackson as a legitimate star.

Jackie Brown (1997) – Sometimes overlooked and under appreciated, Jackie Brown is Tarantino’s most mature film to date. The relationship between Pam Grier and Robert Forster is handled so well, and realistically, it’s hard to believe it’s in a Tarantino movie. However, the nonlinear storytelling elements, the quotable dialogue, and the colourful criminal characters quickly remind you that this is, indeed, a Tarantino movie.

The Worst (though not awful):

Death Proof (2007) – Liked by some, panned by others, I fall somewhere in the middle. It’s enjoyable to be sure, but a weak offering from Tarantino.

Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003) – Again, enjoyable, and filled with some great scenes, but it relies a little too heavily on genre pastiche.

Sidebar: The last decade or so has seen a bit of a slip in quality from Tarantino. His films are still great, but they’re becoming more and more centered around genre throwbacks. Granted, genre throwbacks have been present in every Tarantino film, but lately he seems to be leaning on them as a crutch. Tarantino is more than capable of making a masterpiece of immense importance (see Pulp Fiction), but lately he just seems to be screwing around for his own enjoyment. Nothing wrong with that, but it would be nice to see him attempt something a little ambitious. I’m a little uneasy about Django Unchained, but will obviously still see it.

RANT: Is Star Wars Over Yet? Can it Be? Please?

I’m done with Star Wars. There I said it. I’m sick of it. I’m sick of the (well deserved) vitriol aimed at George Lucas. I’m sick of the petty geek squabbles over Han shooting first or Jabba being inserted into New Hope. I’m sick of seeing Yoda, Chewbacca, et al on geek-chic t-shirts and memorabilia. I’m sick of Star Wars some how being ‘cool’. And I’m sick to death of Star Wars references – both in pop culture and out on the streets.

Full disclosure: I am a Star Wars fan (or used to be, not sure where I lie now). However, it’s so ubiquitous now that it’s getting to be pretty annoying. Am I the only one is put off by the ‘coolness’ of Star Wars? Real fans should be fuming about this. Star Wars is being co-opted by the mainstream and being repackaged as “cute” and “vintage”. Shirts and handbags have Yoda or R2D2 on them. Running shoes now come in Storm Trooper editions. Yet most of these items are being worn by people who have barely seen the films, let alone have the slightest clue what a Rancor is. Star Wars is no longer about the films. It’s a kind of pop culture shorthand for showing that you’re hip to some of the more geekier things in life. And it’s a pretty lame shorthand if you ask me. It’s poseur geek, not authentic geek.

One of the reasons, I think, that Star Wars is still so prevalent in the popular conscience is due to constant references to it from other pop culture. Mel Brooks started it all off with Space Balls. TV shows such as The Simpsons then South Park sprinkled in references here and there. Family Guy then took it to the most obnoxiously obvious conclusion with a full on Family Guy version of Star Wars. All these things helped broaden the appeal of Star Wars, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The problem now is that everyone makes Star Wars references. Instead of being a cool nod to geekier viewers, it’s now clichéd and obvious (I don’t watch it, but I bet The Big Bang Theory gets a lot of mileage out of cute Star Wars jokes). Star Wars is, for lack of a better word, lame now.

Some of the blame for this can be leveled at George Lucas. It’s been seven years since Episode III, but Lucas keeps dragging the franchise back into the spotlight (probably because he has no other ideas) – from the long rumoured live-action TV show to the continuing Clone Wars cartoon series, and all the merchandise that goes along with it. However, a good amount of the blame lies at the feet of the fans. No matter how much fans bitch and moan about Lucas ruining Star Wars, they are the first ones in line to see anything Star Wars related. They then take to their blogs and immediately complain about Lucas being “all about the money” (when wasn’t Star Wars all about the money?) and sullying the good name of the Star Wars franchise. If you don’t like it, then don’t go see it! If Lucas stops making obscene amounts of cash from milking the franchise, maybe he’ll move on. The fans are enablers, and Lucas and them are engaged in a vicious cycle. Don’t you think it’s time to end it?

Modern Auteurs: The Wonderful World of Wes Anderson

This is the first in a series of articles about modern filmmakers (started in the ’80s or later) who could be considered auteurs.

Auteur: noun. A filmmaker, usually a director, who exercises creative control over his or her works and has a strong personal style.

The reigning king of hipster films. Wesley Wales Anderson, a Houston native, coolly sauntered into the film world (in slow motion, of course) with 1996’s Bottle Rocket. Since then, he has been making films that are both beloved and derided. To some, his films are brilliant, dryly comedic, and poignant. To others, they’re merely ironic, hipster quirk-fests, with little to offer beyond surface appeal. Whichever side of the fence you fall on, however, you can’t deny that the man has style. Anyone familiar with Wes Anderson can pick out one of his films within about 5 seconds. This makes him the very definition of an auteur.

Anderson is very, very detail oriented. Meticulous doesn’t begin to describe his visual style. Everything from his stage play-like camera framing down to the colour, font, and card stock of a notepad, are painstakingly fussed over by Anderson. The sheer amount of control he wields over his mise-en-scène is incredible, and it makes for a truly unique viewing experience. His very symmetrical shots are carefully blocked out and utilize deep focus. He contrasts these wide shots with personal, straight-on, closeups of characters faces. Thrown into the mix are zooms (rare these days) and the obligatory ramping shot (quick change from regular speed to slow-mo) of characters walking towards the camera. His colours are often primary or warmly autumn. And accompanying all these lovely visuals is usually a soundtrack heavy on ’60s music.

Most people can get on board with Anderson’s visuals, but when it comes to his stories, and the acting style he promotes, audiences become a bit more divided. His screenplays often involve dysfunctional, upper-class families – and there is almost always father figure issues. These stories always weave together a mixture of dry humour and understated drama, and are acted out in a muted style usually by a stable of actors that Anderson uses regularly. It’s this muted acting style and dry humour that can be off-putting to some, and, if you don’t get into it, you will be at a loss for as to why so many people love his films. I do love his films, and find them to be quite hilarious, but I can see why people don’t jive to his style.

If you haven’t seen a Wes Anderson film, there’s only one way to find out whether or not you’ll like them.

Where to Start:

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) – Starring Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Luke and Owen Wilson, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Bill Murray, Danny Glover, and narrated by Alec Baldwin. Probably the best place to start for someone to looking to get into Wes Anderson. This could be considered his most mature film. The screenplay, by Anderson and Owen Wilson, was nominated for an Oscar.

Rushmore (1998) – Starring Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, and Olivia Williams. Anderson’s sophomore effort about a rivalry between a precocious teenager and a middle aged businessman over a school teacher. One of the more purely comedic films by Anderson. Bill Murray’s deadpan performance is absolutely hilarious.

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) – Starring the voices of George Clooney, Meryl Streep, and Bill Murray. Anderson’s first, and only (so far), foray into “family films”. The quotations are there, because I’m not quite sure how kids will really take to this movie. However, it’s a pure gem for anyone interested in seeing a finely crafted, and amusing, film. The stop motion work alone is worth the watch.

Where Not to Start:

The Darjeeling Limited (2007) – Starring Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, and Jason Schwartzman as brothers on a spiritual quest across India in the wake of their father’s death. Maybe Anderson’s weakest effort, but still not without merit. Just don’t start here.

Deep Cut:

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) – Starring Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett, Anjelica Huston, and Willem Dafoe. A fan favourite, but not for anyone. Bill Murray’s aging oceanographer is absolutely hilarious, as is the rest of the cast. A personal favourite of mine.

“You Just Don’t Get it”: A Primer on Cult Comedies

Note: Most of this can apply to cult films in general, but sticking to comedies makes it a little easier in terms of scope. 

Cult comedies. Those weird, wacky, and often times darkly subversive films, that inspire both fervent devotees and confounded dismissal. Films such as: The Big Lebowski, Repo Man, Happiness (really any Todd Solondz film), and Office Space have HUGE fan followings, yet they never quite made it to mainstream success. These films often die at the box office, but are resurrected on video (DVD, Blu-Ray, whatever) by niche audiences. These fans quote the films endlessly, will often dress up, and even hold conventions devoted solely to a single film. However, most people find these types of films confusing, weird, and painfully unfunny – and find their hardcore fans somewhat scary. What is it about these films that inspire such diverse opinions?

I guess we should first start with what a cult comedy is and isn’t. What separates the cult comedy from a mainstream comedy? It’s not simply whether or not a film succeeded at the box office. Most Eddie Murphy films in the last ten to fifteen years would be considered mainstream, despite bombing in theatres. Conversely, Napoleon Dynamite found pretty good success at the box office (despite a slow roll out), yet it’s considered by many to be a cult comedy. Why? Well, because cult comedies are just different. Their characters are different. Their plots are different. Their humour is different. They challenge conventions and are often subversive. Whether it’s the outrageous, in-your-face style of John Waters or the sly and dry poking and prodding of Mike Judge, cult comedies often confront preconceived notions of society or normalcy, or even what makes a film a comedy. It’s because of this, I think, general audiences usually steer clear of these films, while others hold them in such high esteem. Does this mean that cult comedies are superior to mainstream comedies? Does the fact that they are challenging and different make them better?

The short answer is yes. They are superior. Mainstream comedies are often bland and uninteresting. Their characters are stock. Their plots are stock. And their humour is stock. Can anyone name a mainstream comedy in the last ten years, aside from maybe The Hangover (which can somewhat be considered mainstream), that is memorable? Cult comedies don’t always work, but at least they try for something different. However, just because you don’t like some cult comedies doesn’t necessarily mean you have bad taste. Comedy is subjective. Critics give negative reviews to cult comedies all the time. It is easy to see why people wouldn’t like Napoleon Dynamite, for instance (it does rely an awful lot on ‘quirk’). Just because you don’t like Holy Grail or The Big Lebowski doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve got poor taste in film. There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to taste (however, I would argue that if you don’t like any cult comedies, you’re probably boring).

The thing with cult movie fans is that they can make you feel like an outsider. If you’re not a fan ‘their’ film, you’ll be met with derision and, more often than not, that “you just don’t get it”. And maybe that’s true, you don’t get it. However, that’s your opinion to hold. You gave the film a chance and you didn’t enjoy it. Fair enough. You can get into a serious argument over a film, but it ultimately comes down to taste. What I think is worse is not having seen said cult movie that everyone is quoting. At least if you’ve seen it, you can agree or argue with them, but you won’t feel lost. Thankfully, I’m here to help.

There are a ton of cult comedies and it’s hard to know where to start or what to see. Here are some Cult Comedies that you Must See (if you don’t agree, remember that this is just, like, my opinion, man):


Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

Classic. That’s all that can really be said about Monty Python’s first feature film. Chances are that, even if you’ve never seen this, you’ve heard someone repeat a line or even a whole scene. And it really is endlessly quotable. If you’ve never seen this film, go out and see it NOW. This will also be a great starting point into Monty Python’s work in general.


The Big Lebowski (1998)

A modern classic. The Coen brothers’ bizarre, meandering film centering on Jeff Bridges’ iconic Dude. Also endlessly quotable, due to the Coens’ sheer love of vocabulary. The Dude makes use of terms he hears (often in an incorrect fashion) and the same odd words and phrases pop up from multiple different characters. The movie also contains weird dream sequences, German nihilists, kidnapping, and John Goodman’s immortal Walter Sobchak.


Office Space (1999)

Another modern classic. Mike Judge’s biting satire of dull office jobs – and really work in general. Classic lines, classic characters, everything you need for a cult comedy hit.


Caddyshack (1980)

Harold Ramis’ golf classic doesn’t have much of a plot to it, but damn is it funny. Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, and Rodney Dangerfield pretty much steal the show from Michael O’Keefe’s Danny, the protagonist of the film. Danny’s problems are really secondary to the hilarious, mostly improvised scenes with the a fore mentioned comedians.


Blazing Saddles (1974)

Any number of Mel Brooks’ comedies could be on here, but this is my personal favourite. Brooks deconstructs the western genre with glee. There’s plenty of slapstick, breaking the fourth wall, very un-PC comedy, and great performances.


Repo Man (1984)

This weird film from Alex Cox combines punk rock, repo men, and aliens all in one seriously funny film. Emilo Estevez stars as a directionless youth who’s recruited by Harry Dean Stanton to join his repossession team. This film is very strange, but awesome. “The life of a repo man is always intense.”


The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

This might not be purely a comedy, but it’s funny enough to classify as one in my books. This is the very definition of cult film: super weird, shocking, subversive, and absolutely loved by its fans. I’m sure most are familiar with the midnight screenings that happen all over the world, in which people dress up as characters and shout and throw things at the screen. All for a musical about transvestite aliens. This is about as cult as it gets.


Pink Flamingos (1972)

John Waters is the king of trash, and it doesn’t get much trashier than Pink Flamingos. Warning: this one is definitely not for everyone. Waters set out to offend everyone and everything with this movie, and he pretty much succeeds. It’s funny and horrifying all at once. More of an endurance test than a movie, Pink Flamingos will definitely stay with you after you’ve seen it.


Happiness (1998)

I’d be remiss to leave Todd Solondz off this list. He has created quite the cult following around his body of work, and Happiness is probably his best. This film is also not for everyone. It is incredibly dark, forcing the viewer to laugh at quite disturbing situations and to also look differently upon outcasts. It’s got a lot on it’s mind and it’s wickedly funny.


This is Spinal Tap (1984)

One of the first mockumentary films ever made. Rob Reiner’s classic story of an aging rock band is still hilarious today. Endlessly quotable and endlessly re-watchable.


Honorable Mentions:

Ghost World (2001) – Excellent slacker film with female protagonists (which is good for a change). Steve Buscemi gives one of his best performances.

Clerks (1994) – Kevin Smith’s first and best film.

Rushmore (1998) & Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) – Two of Wes Anderson’s funniest comedies. Bill Murray is awesome in both.

Up in Smoke (1978) – Classic Cheech and Chong.

Orgazmo (1997) – The first film from Trey Parker (of South Park) about a Mormon getting involved in the porn industry.

Half Baked (1998) – Classic stoner film written by and starring Dave Chappelle.

Dazed and Confused (1993) – Richard Linklater’s classic 70s hang out movie.


I’m probably forgetting a lot, but these will suffice for now. Suggestions? Let me hear them.