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Remembering Sally Menke, Tarantino’s Editor

September 29, 2010 1 comment

Yesterday, film editor Sally Menke was found dead in Griffith Park. She was reported missing by friends when she didn’t return home from a hike. News reports speculate that the extreme 113 degree heat that hit Los Angeles on Monday was likely the cause of her death. She was 56 years old. She is survived by her husband, and two children.

This is sad news for not only her family and friends, but for everybody who loves film. Menke cut all of Quentin Tarantino’s films, beginning with 1992’s Reservoir Dogs and ending with 2009’s Inglourious Basterds. She was nominated for two Academy Awards for editing, once for Pulp Fiction and the other for cutting Inglourious Basterds. Tarantino and Menke’s relationship closely echoed the other great male director, female editor duo of Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoomaker. Menke’s influential collaborations with Tarantino crafting some of cinema’s most iconic imagery, puts her right up there with the pantheon of great female editors, including Schoonmaker, Dede Allen and Verna Fields.

At times, those people who don’t appear above the line in the film industry, like editors for example, may not get the attention they deserve. I know I’m guilty of being an auteur theory snob, probably giving too much credit to the director. We have to remember that film is truly a collaborative medium. I remember watching Pulp Fiction for the first time when I was 17 years old and absolutely falling in love with the film. It’s quite possible that I wouldn’t have felt that way without the help of Menke giving shape to Tarantino’s unique, shifting narrative. I think we all owe her a thanks for helping assemble not just that film, but for cutting all of Tarantino’s films. Her work will live on as long as film exists as an art form.

During filming, Tarantino would have the cast talk into the camera and send a message to Menke. These were called “Hi Sallys.” Here are a collection of “Hi Sallys” from Death Proof and Inglourious Basterds. Also included in the first clip is Tarantino talking about how crucial Menke was during the editing process.


It was hard to single out one moment from the Tarantino-Menke canon to show the brilliance of the two. I decided on The Battle at the House of Blue Leaves from Kill Bill Volume 1 because it is one of the great action sequences in movie history. This is was the first Tarantino film I ever saw in the theatre, so it holds a special place in my heart. Watching the film filled me with exhilaration, tension, and absolute cinematic joy. I can’t begin to imagine how difficult it was to edit this scene together, but Menke succeeded admirably.

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True Grit Trailer

September 28, 2010 1 comment

In my post about the most anticipated movies of Fall 2010, I listed Joen and Ethan Coen’s True Grit as the 3rd film I was most looking forward to seeing this fall. There wasn’t a trailer available when I put up that post, but on Monday, the trailer for True Grit was released. Simply put, the trailer looks terrific. We are finally going to see the Coen’s tackle the Western genre head on. The imagery, by the Coen’s cinematographer, Roger Deakins, look beautiful and definitely captures the Western feel. Personally, I’m going to blow off the family on Christmas Day, and head to a theatre to catch True Grit.

Crime is the Norm in The Town

September 23, 2010 Leave a comment

Ben Affleck has had quite the career comeback. Now when you think of Ben Affleck, you think of him as a respected director. I can remember years ago Affleck starring in many, big budget, crappy films. Pearl Harbor, Daredevil, and the notorious Gigli, all made his name the butt of jokes. But ever since his 2007 directional debut, “Gone Baby Gone,” Affleck has been in the middle of a career comeback.

Based on the novel by Prince of Theives, by Chuck Hogan, Affleck’s sophomore directorial effort centers around a group of close-knit bank robbers from Charlestown, Massachusetts. Chief among this group of bank robbers is Doug MacRay, played by Ben Affleck and his best friend, James “Jem” Coughlin, played by Jeremy Renner. On one bank job, the group briefly takes a bank employee, played by Rebecca Hall, hostage. Things only go down hill after this robbery. The FBI, lead by Jon Hamm, are close on their trail and Affleck’s relationship with their former hostage, Hall, could bring him and his friends down.

Affleck has formed a pretty impressive cast of talented actors, all who succeed in varying degrees of doing a Boston accent. Renner is a standout in the film as hard-edged career criminal and Affleck’s best friend. He brings a level of authenticity to the role. Authenticity also applies to the relationship between Affleck and Renner. At the end of the picture, you really believe the friendship between the two.

Rebecca Hall is also very nice in her role as the love interest and Pete Postlewaite has a nice role, but not a very good Boston accent, as the crime boss who Affleck and Renner work for. Speaking of bad Boston accents, Chris Cooper has a small cameo as Affleck’s jailed father. He’s fine, but it seems like he isn’t even trying for the Boston accent. Blake Lively, known from the TV show, Gossip Girl, is authentic as Renner’s junkie sister and estranged ex-girlfriend of Affleck.

Who did disappoint me in the ensemble cast was Jon Hamm, as the FBI Agent. I found the FBI story line the least interesting aspect of the film’s story. Hamm is never as bad ass as he tries to make this character out to be at times. I probably blame this on the script, written by Affleck, Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard. Hamm’s a good actor, but he’s not given much to do make this character more than the generic lawman we’ve seen in other crimes films. I didn’t buy that the FBI would be so clueless as to not know about what Affleck and Renner’s crew were up to leading up to the last robbery. It reeks of unbelievability.

There are three robbery sequences in the film and Affleck does a great job of making each one different and unique to watch. A car chase in the middle of the film is exceptionally well done, and the final stand-off between the robbers and the FBI was exhilarating to watch.

Overall, the film never reaches the emotional catharsis at the end, that I think the director is aiming for. But this is still a solid, crime film. I enjoyed this film better than Affleck’s debut, “Gone Baby Gone,” and with this film, Affleck proves that he is not just a one hit wonder.

3 stars

The Most Anticipated Films of Fall 2010

September 19, 2010 1 comment

We are just in the start of the fall 2010 movie season. This is the time of year when we start to see the mainstream, award bait films. There are a lot of interesting films coming out over the next four months that could help make up for the lackluster 2010 film year we’ve experienced so far. Here are 5 films that I am most looking forward to this fall.

1. The Social Network  (Oct. 1)

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched the trailer to this film. It gives a great sense of the mood and the style of the story, all without giving away major plot points. The film’s trailer is better than some feature-length films I’ve seen this year. No joke. The founding of Facebook doesn’t seem like it would make for an interesting film, but throw in an Aaron Sorkin screenplay and David Fincher directing, and you get my most anticipated film of fall 2010.

2. Somewhere (Dec. 22)

Sofia Coppola’s 2003 film, Lost In Translation, is one of my favorite films of all time. So of course any film by her is going to make this list. She has a perfect way of using the image to create a sense of mood and place. The trailer for her new film, “Somewhere,” continues that same trend. The film recently premiered at the Venice Film Festival, and the buzz is that if you’re a fan of her past work, you won’t be disappointed.

3. True Grit (Dec. 25)


Sadly, there is no trailer yet for the new Coen Brothers film coming out this December. So your appetite will have to be thirsted by the incredible talent of the directors, and the very impressive cast the Coen’s have assembled for this picture. Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, and newcomer Hailee Stanfield, round out the cast of this updated version of the 1969 True Grit, the film that won John Wayne an Oscar. The Coen’s have stated that the film isn’t a remake of the 1969 film, but a more closer telling of the book, which both versions are based on. The Coen Brothers are master storytellers and any film they make is one you should be on the look out for.

4. Black Swan (Dec. 1)

This film has already played at numerous film festivals this month, and the buzz around it has been great. From director Darren Aronofsky, Natalie Portman plays a ballet dancer who starts to lose it mentally, when she competes with a rival dancer for the part in Black Sawn. Word is that Portman gives a great performance that should totally wipe away the bad taste she left in the Star Wars prequels. The trailer promises some crazy, psychological terror and I trust Aronofsky to deliver just that.

5. 127 Hours (Nov. 5)

Danny Boyle’s new film chronicles the true life story of Aron Ralson, a mountain climber whose arm gets trapped and resorts to cutting off his own arm. The film has been well received at this year’s Toronto Film Festival and I’m anticipating how Boyle will hold our attention on-screen. I’m also excited to get a look at James Franco’s performance as Ralson. He’s one of the most interesting, young actors we have working today. Franco has come along way since starring in crappy, sub-par films, in which, there are too many to name.

Honorable Mentions (In Order of Release Date):

Never Let Me Go (Sep. 15), Let Me In (Oct. 1), Inside Job (Oct), Hereafter (Oct. 22), Due Date (Nov. 5), The King’s Speech (Nov. 26), The Fighter (Dec. 10), The Tourist (Dec. 10), Blue Valentine (Dec. 31)

Best Male Performances on the Year…So Far

September 13, 2010 Leave a comment

1. Leonardo DiCaprio as Teddy Daniels in Shutter Island

If any of you are a regular reader of this blog, and I know there are at least two of you, you know that I am a big fan of this film. You can check out my review of the film and my recap of the best films of the year so far to confirm my love for this picture. This film had a powerful emotional impact on me and part of the reason was DiCaprio’s performance as a United States marshal haunted by his traumatic past. DiCaprio has really grown as an actor through his collaborations with Martin Scorsese. I applaud him for not caving in to starring in crappy romantic comedies after the massive success of “Titanic: in 1997. He could have played it easy, but he chose to challenge himself and his works with Scorsese are really pushing him to the limits as an actor. DiCaprio’s character in the film is a World War Two veteran who is plagued by the horrors he saw in the war. You get the sense that he is hiding something, that maybe his own character isn’t even aware of. And at the end, when he’s confronted with what he’s hiding, it’s truly tragic.

2. Mark Ruffalo as Paul in The Kids Are All Right

This is without a doubt the best performance I have seen from Mark Ruffalo in some time. He first came to everyone’s attention in 2000’s “You Can Count on Me” and in this film he finally gets to shine.  In this picture he plays Paul, an older hippie type who donated sperm years ago. Years later he is shocked to discover when the children from his sperm have contacted him. Ruffalo plays Paul as a cool, yet kind of douchey guy. He wants to be kind of a father figure to his biological children, which upsets the children’s lesbian mothers. Ruffalo’s actions are never malicious, but naive. In another actors hands, this part could have been played as a real jerk. Ruffalo is able to shape Paul into a real character, flaws and all.

3. Michael Douglas as Ben Kalmen in Solitary Man

“Solitary Man” was one of the highlights I saw at this year’s Newport Beach Film Festival. The reason this film is such a success, is the performance of Michael Douglas. It is his certainly his best performance since 2000’s fantastic “Wonder Boys.” Douglas plays an aging womanizer whose out of control sexual appetite is slowly destroying his life. Douglas is clearly playing a version of his womanizing persona in real life. Douglas isn’t afraid to let everything hang out here, all his character’s flaws are all out there for us to see. That deserves some applause and Douglas makes this not very sympathetic figure, one we feel for, because of all his flaws.

4. John Hawkes as Teardrop in Winter’s Bone

The character of Teardrop is a mysterious, dangerous figure. He is perfectly realized by John Hawkes in the film “Winter’s Bone.” Hawkes plays the Uncle of Jennifer Lawrence’s Ree Dolly. As Lawrence searches for her missing father, Hawkes is both an obstacle and her protector in the Appalachian meth community in which they live in. Hawkes is terrific because you think you know what kind of character he is, but as the film advances, he is able to surprise you. His character is always on edge; you never know what he might to do. This is exciting to watch on-screen.

5. Jonah Hill as Cyrus in Cyrus

Jonah Hill has certainly come a long way since he burst on the screen in 2007’s “Superbad.” In that film he played an over the top, super foul-mouthed character. It would have been difficult back then to picture him playing almost the total opposite type of character in “Cyrus.” In the film, he plays the twenty-something child of Marisa Tomei’s character, who gets upset when her new boyfriend, John C. Reilly, upsets the balance in the household. The ads for this film play up the crazy antics that Hill attempts to drive Reilly away. While those antics are in the film, behind those acts is a real humanity and sadness to Hill’s character.

Best Female Performances of the Year…So Far

September 6, 2010 Leave a comment

1. Annette Bening as Nic in The Kids Are All Right

In the film, Annette Bening plays the uptight head of her family, consisting of her two kids, and her lesbian partner, played by Julianne Moore. Bening never plays this part as one might expect. Her character is stuck up, but there is also humor and warmth in her performance. Both Bening and Moore are convincing as a couple who have been together for twenty years. There is a scene where she uncovers a terrible secret and the simple look on her face conveys all the pain and hurt she is feeling.

2. Jennifer Lawrence as Ree Dolly in Winter’s Bone

This is a breakthrough performance that showcases that Jennifer Lawrence can carry an entire film. At age 20 she is able to hold our complete attention as she plays a young teenage girl who is in search for her father. Her father has gone missing and has put up the family’s trailer up for bond. In her search for her father she navigates her way through the dark underworld of the Appalachian community in which she lives in. She puts on a front of toughness, but deep down she is still a young lady scared for herself and her famiy.

3. Jacki Weaver as Janine Cody in Animal Kingdom

In my previous post about the best films of the year so far, I already praised Jacki Weaver’s performance as the matriarch of an Australian crime family. She may come across as a sweet motherly type, but she can be really frightening. She can put the fear in you all without raising her voice or lifting her hand in violence. I had never heard of Weaver before, she spent most of her career working in Australian film, television and theatre. But now she’s a an actress who is on my map. I’ll be rooting for this performance to get some serious attention when awards season arrives.

4. Chole Moretz as Hit-Girl in Kick-Ass

Chole Moretz steals the show from every other actor in Matthew Vaughn’s “Kick-Ass.” Moretz plays a young superhero who partners with her father, played by Nicholas Cage, to fight crime. Moretz quite literally does kick-ass in the film. Hit-Girl is tough, strong, vulgar and Moretz has the personality and charisma to bring some level of believability to a character who does unbelievable things. This is a young actress who everyone should be looking for in the future.

5. Carey Mulligan as Rose in The Greatest

“The Greatest is a mess of a film. Mulligan, however, shines as a young pregnant girl who is forced to turn to her dead boyfriend’s parents for support. Last year’s “An Education” proved that Mulligan is already a great actress on the rise. Though this film may suck, she is able to rise above it and give an emotionally powerful performance as a young girl looking for her place in the world. The emotion she displays when she first meets her dead boyfriend’s father, played by Pierce Brosnan, is genuine and heartbreaking.