Tag Archives: Quentin Tarantino

David Letterman is happy this morning

I didn’t watch all of last night’s Oscar broadcast, but I did watch enough of it to conclude that if Seth MacFarlane did nothing else, he made David Letterman very happy. I’m sure Letterman slept like a baby last night, content in the knowledge that he is no longer the worst Oscar host on record.

I had the same feeling watching MacFarlane’s performance that I got watching his cartoon, Family Guy. I duly noted the fact that my outrage button was being pushed — hammered, actually — but nothing registered because there was nothing resembling wit behind the mechanically delivered outrage. The early skit with Captain Kirk telling MacFarlane his jokes were tasteless and crass may have been intended as inoculation — Look, I’m so edgy I even criticize myself going in! — but it ended up being more of a prophecy. I’ll credit MacFarlane with looking cool and poised throughout a long, demanding broadcast. The flop sweat was all in his material.

For the record, I’m perfectly happy that Argo got the biggie, Daniel Day-Lewis got another gold guy. (Christy Brown, Daniel Plainview, Abraham Lincoln — what a roster!) and Jennifer Lawrence got her crown. I haven’t seen Life of Pi, but Ang Lee is a real talent. It was cool seeing Shirley Bassey belt out the Goldfinger theme song, then Adele doing the same for Skyfall, its only peer in the Bond canon.       

To show their appreciation, I suggest the Academy voters commission a special Oscar for Seth MacFarlane: a statuette with the hands clenched a little below waist level, to commemorate what Edgy Guy got to spend the night doing in front of millions of viewers.

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Piety pimps

This morning, the twinkies on the Today show leavened their standard mix of blather — vapid analysis of the “fiscal cliff,” weight-loss advice, celebrity gossip — with a rundown of the movies opening today. Naming Texas Chainsaw 3D, one twinkie said “some are questioning its release so soon after the Newtown shootings.” I don’t know what’s worse: the weasel-word evasiveness of “some are questioning,” or the hypocrisy of someone tut-tutting the fictional violence in a horror movie from his perch at a TV network that spent weeks sucking every last tear off the face of anyone in the vicinity of Sandy Hook Elementary School. 

I get the same sense of exasperation while while listening to Terry Gross’ interview with Quentin Tarantino, in which the filmmaker gets audibly testy when Gross clumsily links the violence in his films to the real-life carnage in Newtown and too many other places where psychos did their bloody work. And while I’m no great fan of Tarantino’s work — Death Proof was dull as dirt, and Inglourious Basterds struck me as juvenile gamesmanship with history — I’m with him when he chides Gross for the offensiveness of her comparison, and describes the differences in the ways violence can be depicted on page and screen. The fact that he’s entirely correct won’t make a bit of difference in this discussion, but I salute him for the effort.

We are a species that searches for patterns and connections everywhere, and this leads to a propensity for magic thinking. In this case, it’s the notion that writing about bad things (or showing them on a screen) will make bad things happen. Piety pimps like Joe Lieberman (now gone from the Senate, praises be, but certain to return as a talking head on the cable shows) build whole careers on this kind of witch doctor talk. Taking away Quentin Tarantino’s fake blood squibs won’t keep real blood from being shed, any more than inflicting parental advisory labels on musicians keeps teenagers from learning cuss words, but it does create a semblance of action for people who are unable or unwilling to deal with the real sources of what’s ailing society. I would venture to say that’s part of what makes Tarantino so testy, and I know exactly how he feels. 

   

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Friday finds

Northbynorthwest

Thanks to Mystery Man on Film, I learned about these mosaics depicting scenes from Alfred Hitchcock movies that line the entrance corridors of the Leytonstone tube station in the east of London. Hitchcock was born in Leytonstone, and the mosaics were begun just before the turn of the century to mark the 100th anniversary of Alfie’s birth.

Here’s what happens when POD book covers go drastically wrong.

Face to face with the Nihilistic Kid, recommended to those wonder what Haikasoru is all about.

It’s time to leave Monk Eadwine alone!

Here’s a collection of scholarly essays to put at the top of your J.R.R. Tolkien reading stack. And here’s probably your only chance to see Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast compared with The Silmarillion.

I remember sitting down and thinking that I was about 30 percent too famous. I needed to be able to walk down the street.”

How are writers coping with the recession? Well, there’s the dog-walking poet, the poet who ruthlessly schedules himself to balance poetry and day-work, and the novelist who became a professional sports blogger.

How the collapse of a tax shelter proved a benefit to Leonard Cohen fans. And if you don’t know why that’s a big deal, this here site will get you up to speed.

Another professional slimeball writes a way-too-late confession in order to score a fat payday. There was never any doubt about the political intent of terror alerts, but I guess it’s nice to have it confirmed by one of the players.

Come get your free Melvin Van Peebles download.

Can books make you, or ruin you?

Monty Python’s Life of Brian done as a Handel oratorio? Is the world ready for such a thing?

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Dream projects: Quentin Tarantino

David Cronenberg (or David Lynch) and Junichiro Tanizaki. Spike Lee and Charles Mingus. Carroll Ballard and John Steinbeck. After three pairings like that, the next one should be obvious.

QUENTIN TARANTINO: Afterburn, by Colin Harrison.

Now that Quentin Tarantino’s done his men-on-a-wartime-mission-movie (Inglourious Basterds, out later this month) and his kung-fu-revenge-movie (Kill Bill) and his grindhouse-tribute-movie (Death Proof), maybe he’d like Afterburnto take a crack at another heist-gone-wrong movie (or maybe a Mafia movie), this one with an A-list critical pedigree and a much wider focus: Colin Harrison’s 2000 thriller, Afterburn.

I certainly wouldn’t want anybody else casting the role of Christina Welles, an Ivy League dropout and math whiz doing time for her part in a Mafia-run truck theft ring. Paroled suspiciously early, Christina is trying to keep clear of mob boss Tony Verducci (who suspects her of cheating him out of several million dollars) and ex-lover Ricky Bocca (who feels guilty for her arrest and incarceration) when she runs into Charlie Ravich, a multimillionaire and former Vietnam POW who wants to father a child in order to keep the family line going.

Her parole had been so far off that she hadn’t allowed herself to think about what it would be like to live in Manhattan again. But now, after only a few hours, all kinds of things crowded her mind. She’d need money, that was certain. She had just over three hundred dollars in her prison account, and if she could somehow live on that for a couple of weeks, she’d be okay. She’d get a job and rent a room downtown, near First or Second Avenue. Start all over. No flashy moves. Be careful what she said to people. You could live on almost nothing if you had to. You spent every dollar carefully, that’s all. She wanted to walk along the streets, look in the store windows. She’d buy a small radio and lie on her bed and listen to WCBS-FM, the oldies station. She’d read magazines in the bookstore. She missed all the magazines, even the trashy ones. She’d go to the movies, sink into one of those seats with a Coke and some popcorn. She wanted to see a Jack Nicholson movie. Anything he was in. Yes. She wold take a bath, her first in four years. Watch the water go down the drain and fill it up again, hot as she could stand it. She’d watch the beautiful little babies in the park and think, Where has the time gone? She would try to find the next version of herself.

Harrison, like Tarantino, is incapable of self-editing. Long stretches of Afterburn read like what we old newspaper hands used to call a notebook-dump: instead of using his impressive research to tell the story, choosing the most pertinent details, Harrison packs the narrative with every scrap of information he managed to find. The novel tops four hundred pages but could have worked better and faster at three hundred.

But despite the longueurs, Afterburn works like gangbusters, and Harrison Quentin Tarantinoblends guilt, regret, sex, and high-finance with some of the most outrageous violence I’ve ever read, the last delivered by Verducci’s “go-to guy,” Morris, a former paramedic who puts his knowledge of the human body to some appalling uses. Tarantino may even want to play him, if only for the climax, in which a man must conduct an international business transaction under local anesthetic while Morris surgically dismantles the steel cage holding his spine together.

If Tarantino isn’t answering his phone, have my people call Steven Soderbergh’s people. This movie needs to get made, like, yesterday.

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Dream projects: David Cronenberg

Since books and movies are my two most frequently blogged-about subjects, I’m going to spend the next several days combining the two in a semi-meme. More of a challenge than a meme. The point is to identify a work of literature that ought to be made into a film and point to the living director best suited for the job. I invite any and all lit-bloggers and film-bloggers to weigh in with their own choices and let me know so I can link to their posts. I’ve got books in mind for, among others, Spike Lee, Peter Jackson, Quentin Tarantino, and Carroll Ballard, but I’m going to get things rolling with a nightmarish dream project, an extreme choice for one of our best and most extreme filmmakers.

DAVID CRONENBERG: The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi, by Junichiro Tanizaki.

In a review of Dead Ringers, a New Yorker critic described David Cronenberg’s storytelling mode as “debonair cruelty.” That’s a pretty Tanizakigood description of Junichiro Tanizaki’s blackly comic 1935 novella about a sixteenth-century Japanese warlord whose feats of valor on the battlefield are rooted in a bizarre erotic obsession  formed when, as a boy, he watched women preparing the severed heads of enemy soldiers taken as trophies in battle. In particular, his fixation centered on a young woman’s enigmatic smile as she prepared a “woman-head” for presentation. In order to experience the rapture of this vision once again, the budding warlord becomes the catalyst for a revenge plot that changes the course of a small, extremely bloody piece of history during the period of Warring States.

Tanizaki’s novella couches this tale in a parody of tediously didactic Confucian history — sort of the Asian version of Parson Weems — that upends the idea of ignoring a hero’s faults and listing only his virtues for moral instruction, and the lecturing tone gets drier and funnier as the exploits get ever more outrageous. Since just about every Tanizaki story except The Makioka Sisters (his best known work outside Japan) hinges on some kind of outre sexual obsession, the author is offering his readers an exceptionally shrewd self-parody as well.

The mingling of beauty, grotesquerie, and cynical humor in The Secret CronenbergHistory of the Lord of Musashi would be right up Cronenberg’s alley. He may have replenished his bank account with A History of Violence and Eastern Promises, but we’ve already seen how commercial success only whets his appetite for extreme material. This is, after all, the man who followed relatively conventional genre films like The Dead Zone and The Fly with Dead Ringers and Naked Lunch, then detoured for a Broadway adaptation (M. Butterfly) before heading right back to the edge with Crash. Watch the bondage scene in Dead Ringers, then imagine how Cronenberg would handle a scene like this:

When Hoshimaru arrived at the attic on the third night, an extraordinary head lay before the girl. It was that of a young samurai of twenty-one or -two, but, strangely, the nose was missing. It was an attractive face. The complexion was wonderfully pale, the freshly shaven places glowed, and the glossy black hair was as splendid as that which draped luxuriously over the girl’s shoulders and down her back. No doubt the warrior had been an extremely handsome man. His eyes and mouth were of classic form and there was a certain delicacy in the firm, well proportioned, masculine features. Had there been a fine, straight nose in the middle, the face would have been the epitome of the young warrior, just as a master dollmaker might conceive it. But, for some reason, the nose was missing, as if it had been sliced off with a sharp blade, bone and all, from the brow to the upper lip. A pug nose might not have been so sorely missed; but one would expect to find a sculpturesque protuberance soaring from the middle of this splendid face. Instead, that vital feature had been cleanly removed, as if scooped off with a spatula, leaving a flat, crimson wound. s a result the face was uglier and more comical than those of ordinary ugly men. The girl carefully ran her comb through the noseless head’s lustrous black hair and retied the topknot; then, as she always did, she gazed at the center of the face, where the nose should have been, and smiled. As usual, the boy was enchanted by her expression, but the surge of emotion he experienced at that moment was far stronger than any he had felt before. Juxtaposed with the mutilated head, the girl’s face glowed with the pride and the joy of the living, the embodiment of flawless beauty. And her smile, precisely because it was so girlish and unaffected, now appeared to be brimming with the most cynical malice, and provided the boy with a wheel on which to spin endless fantasies. He thought he would never tire of gazing at her smiling face. The fantasies it inspired were inexhaustible and, before he was aware of it, had lured his soul away to a land of ambrosial dreams where he himself had become this noseless head and was living with the girl in a world inhabited only by the two of them. This fantasy was very much to his liking. It made him happier than he had ever been before.

I’m imagining Cronenberg’s eye for color and texture at work among the silk robes, polished floors and bloody carnage. I’m also imagining the blend of lushness and austerity Howard Shore could bring to the soundtrack music. Until he broke the bank with The Lord of the Rings, Shore’s best and most challenging work was done for Cronenberg, and he needs another challenge. And I’d like to see the actress who could play Lady Kikyo, the tormented noblewoman whose wish for vengeance allows the hero to realize his deepest wish, and provides a closing tableau that would give the definitive answer to anyone who wondered if Cronenberg could manage to come up with anything wilder than Crash.

ADDENDUM: If Cronenberg doesn’t want the job, second choice would be David Lynch. From Blue Velvet to silk kimonos would be a natural evolution for Lynch.

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