The Historian: Twenty Years After Pulp Fiction

movie-poster-pulpfictionBy Spencer. Today, Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece, Pulp Fiction, turns 20. And it’s not hyperbole to suggest that no more influential film has been made in the two decades since. Seriously, name one. You can’t. Pulp Fiction may have borrowed much from Martin Scorsese, Jean-Luc Godard, 70s blaxploitation, 40s film noir, Saturday morning cartoons, MTV music videos, Jerry Seinfeld, and even M.C. Escher—but the fact that I can seriously describe one movie incorporating all those influences is signal enough of its place in history. Quentin Tarantino reinvented the techniques of moviemaking on a level we hadn’t seen since Orson Welles, and haven’t seen again since. The non-linear chronology. The omnipresent pop culture references. The hand-selected, retro soundtrack. The use of nostalgia as a stylistic device. The extremely naturalistic, conversational execution of completely absurdist dialogue. Tarantino may not have invented any of these techniques, but he’s probably the person most singularly responsible for bringing them into commonplace use among filmmakers. And a film that had every reason to feel dated by now is, twenty years later, even more rewarding than it was in its youth. Continue reading

The Projects: Silent Movies That Don’t Suck

silent-movieBy Spencer. If you’re anything like my friends, you saw 2011’s The Artist—the first silent movie to win the Best Picture Oscar since 1927—and were unimpressed. Obviously, a huge part of its win was the novelty and bravery of making a silent movie in modern times. But while critics raved, audiences yawned (if they went at all).

Even some classic film buffs have a hard time getting enthusiastic about the silent era. Yes, the pacing is much slower than we’re accustomed; the lack of dialogue requires overacting that comes off as unrealistic at best and shamelessly hokey at worst; and dammit, does there have to be so much reading? But if you’re willing to approach them with the right attitude, there are a handful of movies from the silent era that can actually be—gasp!—fun. You can’t just view these as movies; they’re pieces of living history. And best of all, since most of them are in the public domain by now, you can usually watch them for free in their entirety online! So if you’re feeling open-minded and you’re looking for a place to start, here’s your guide to silent movies that don’t suck. Continue reading

The Editor: August Update

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Just a little note to let you know we’re not going anywhere. Sadly, many of us at S&N actually have day jobs, and that’s getting in the way of writing much lately. However, you can look forward to reviews of the new Ryan Adams album (as well as his upcoming record release party at the 9:30 Club); a retrospective look back at the catalog of Glen Hansard (of The Frames, The Swell Season, and the movie Once); a few new Conversationalists on the greatest actors working in film today and the most important albums of the 90s; new Historian pieces on the pre-Code Hollywood era and the best in silent movies (no, seriously); new editions of the Mixologist; and the usual previews and rundowns of current and upcoming movies and albums. So hang tight, and be on the lookout for more to come in the next few weeks and months!

The Historian: 25 Years After Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing

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By Spencer. Brooklyn, New York and Ferguson, Missouri are 950 miles apart — but it’s a trip that takes 25 years. In the quarter century since Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing premiered in theaters, it feels like we’ve come such a great distance. Today, in Brooklyn, you don’t find race riots or policy brutality; you find hipsters and organic markets. Hip-hop is as common in suburbia as it is in the streets. Public Enemy, whose “Fight The Power” gave the the movie its soundtrack and its soul, is in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Even our choice of president, a man of both black and white heritage, seems to suggest that whatever the racial animosities Spike Lee exposed back in 1989, we’ve long since learned how to get along.

Yet the events in Ferguson last week can’t help but deflate that kind of confidence. Continue reading

The Conversationalist: Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy & The Future Of Comic Book Movies

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By Sumeet & Spencer. This edition of the Conversationalist follows up on Marvel’s surprise hit, Guardians Of The Galaxy, and what it means for the state of Marvel’s on-screen universe and the wider superhero genre.

Sumeet: The Marvel Universe took a big leap this past weekend, adding a new intergalactic set of characters to their more well-known Avengers mix. As many film folks have noted, it was an interesting risk for the Marvel/Disney machine to take on Guardians Of The Galaxy. For those even less in the know than me (I know almost nothing about the comic book characters), the Guardians are a relatively obscure and off-beat superhero team. They appeared sporadically throughout various Marvel comics but only became featured in their own comic series relatively recently. In other words, I’m not the only one that didn’t know much about them before this weekend. Continue reading

The Critic: Scarlett Johansson in Lucy

lucy-scarlett-johansson-posterBy Spencer. Most movies only use ten percent of their brain. Lucy is one of them.

It’s a dumb person’s idea of what a smart movie should be. I’m setting aside the fact that its most basic premise — we only use 10% of our brain — is a complete myth, because if I started worrying about stuff like that, I’d never be able to go to movies anymore. No, the stupidity of Lucy isn’t just in the science (though there’s plenty of that too) but in the nonsensical plot, the amateurish editing, and the way it interjects shallow armchair philosophy at every turn, like a college freshman on pot trying to impress everyone with how much he learned in his “Intro to Nietzsche” course. That such a moronically executed script happens to be a story about higher intelligence is the final irony, and if director Luc Besson (The Fifth Element, The Professional) were trying to make this film as some kind of a piece of satire on that point, it might have at least been worth the trouble. Sadly, he’s dead serious.  Continue reading

The Critic: Richard Linklater’s Boyhood

boyhoodBy Spencer. When you write movie reviews, there’s nothing more boring than finding new ways to heap praise upon a picture. So I’m sorry to say that Boyhood isn’t just the frontrunner for the Oscar this year; it’s one of the finest films ever made. The premise is simple: Richard Linklater (Dazed And Confused, Before Sunrise) filmed the life of a child (Ellar Coltrane in a star-making role) a little each year over the course of 12 years, capturing for the first time in movie history a truly realistic coming-of-age story. That’s the gimmick. But Boyhood is so much more than that. Continue reading

The Futurist: Upcoming Movies For August & September 2014

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By Spencer. Today, we’re kicking off another new feature on S&N: The Futurist — a look at upcoming releases we’re excited about (or, in some cases, ones we’re dreading). August and September are typically a studio dumping ground wedged between the more exciting summer blockbusters and the Oscar fare of autumn. That said, there are a few noteworthy releases for those who might be desperate for a weekend diversion. Continue reading

The Projects: The World Cup Of Cinema – The Final Rounds

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By Spencer. After four grueling weeks of group play face-offs, it’s finally time to crown our S&N World Cup Of Cinema champion! For those who need a refresher on the rules, you can find them here. For a broader introduction to the films we’ll be looking at, check out Group A, B, C, & D. Today, our four top pictures will face off in semifinals matches, and then we’ll select our champion! Continue reading

The Conversationalist: Which 21st Century Films Are The Classics Of Tomorrow?

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By Spencer & Sumeet. In this week’s Conversationalist, Spencer and Sumeet get into a little modern film history with a discussion about which films of our generation will be the ones that really matter.

Spencer: Distance offers perspective. So the closer in time you are to a piece of art, the harder it may be to judge its lasting worth. Sometimes you need years or even decades to appreciate a film, whether that’s because it was a work that was ahead of its time, or whether its just that the longer it resides in your memory, the more it stands out in comparison with what came next. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the list of Best Picture winners over the past few decades. How many movies on this list are utterly forgettable with the benefit of hindsight? The King’s Speech. Crash. The English Patient. The Last Emperor. Oliver. How Green Was My Valley.

Meanwhile, here’s some films that lost the Best Picture Oscar (or weren’t even nominated): Saving Private Ryan. Pulp Fiction. Goodfellas. 2001: A Space Odyssey. Vertigo. Chinatown. The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre. F—in’ Citizen Kane!

So I recognize that in 20 or 30 years the movies we discuss here might seem laughable. But we’re far enough into the 21st century that I think we can at least start to ask the question: what are the films from 2000 onwards that, when we look back, will be the most historically important? The ones that are the most memorable, the most influential, the ones that will live on while others are forgotten — the “best” films, for all the ambiguity that term contains? Continue reading

The Projects: The Amateur Comic, Vol. 1 – The Dark Knight Returns

Dark_knight_returnsBy Jeremy. Full Disclosure: I am a nerd and am completely comfortable owning that label. Everyone should be a bit nerdy; it’s a necessary component for being a well-rounded person. There has always existed a stigma around being a nerd, but recently (meaning the last 3-4 years) it has become quite cool to be nerdy.

Television shows like Game Of Thrones and The Walking Dead have broken down the wall and now are fixtures in mainstream media. Historically, the genres of these shows, fantasy and zombies, have been regarded as nerdy. Now the masses have adopted them. The trend is even more prevalent in theatrical films; the popularity of The Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit trilogies prove that fantasy stories have become cool. And there is a larger steam engine that is driving this movement — comic book movies. Comic books are dominating the box office and this trend is not going to stop any time soon. Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, The Avengers, and X-Men: Days Of Future Past have completely redefined what is popular at the box office. With Disney’s acquisition of Marvel Entertainment, it is expected that comic book movies will continue to dominate.

“The book was better than the movie.” This statement is common whenever a film attempts to recreate the same experience as the book. I remember reading comic books as a kid, but I only had the ability to read issues sporadically. My first exposure to comic book films was Tim Burton’s Batman and I had no frame of reference. I walked away from the film ignorant of the accuracy of the story. Does one really need to understand the original material in order to be entertained? With those questions still in mind, I’ve decided to conduct an experiment: I am submersing myself into reading nothing but comic books for the summer. Continue reading

The Projects: The World Cup Of Cinema, Group B

world-cup-trophy3By SpencerWelcome back to the S&N World Cup Of Cinema! For those who need a refresher on the “rules,” we covered all that last week.

To recap our Group A action, Mexico’s Y Tu Mama Tambien and Ireland’s Once fell early in close but unsuccessful upset bids against two powerhouses, the United States and Russia. In the Quarterfinal match, the United States’ Citizen Kane laid down a thorough 4-1 beating on Russia’s Battleship Potemkin. The United States will now go on to meet the final winner of today’s Group B contests.

Now that you’re all caught up, here are your Group B qualifiers: Continue reading

The Projects: The World Cup Of Cinema, Group A

fifa-world-cup-trophy_1401332557By Spencer. The beautiful thing about soccer’s World Cup is that it brings together so many diverse peoples over their common love of a single form of entertainment. And we get to see how styles of play can differ so distinctly between countries — Italy flops, Brazil finesses, Germany kills you with precision, and the United States just tries to belong. Well, what’s true of soccer is true of movies. And so over the next few weeks, S&N will be conducting a World Cup of its own: a World Cup of Cinema, looking at the best films each country has to offer and pitting them against each other in a competition that, much like a FIFA match, will be decided mostly by poor officiating and maybe even a little corruption.

Here are the ground rules. A single film will be picked for each country, with that film representing arguably the “best” movie ever to come out of that country — with all of the arbitrary nature that such a selection implies. (Needless to say, if you’re dissatisfied with any of our rulings, feel free to tell us how stupid we are in the comments section — that’s part of the fun of all this!). National eligibility is determined not by filming location or language but by where the film was produced. So, for example, The Lord Of The Rings movies, while filmed in New Zealand, are still American films. Sorry, Kiwis.

Continue reading