<p>'I call that bold talk for a one-eyed fat man.' Ooooh, snap, John Wayne!&nbsp;Needless to say, folks start dying right around this point in 'True Grit'</p>

'I call that bold talk for a one-eyed fat man.' Ooooh, snap, John Wayne! Needless to say, folks start dying right around this point in 'True Grit'

Credit: Paramount Home Video

QuickFix: A look back (and forward) at 'True Grit'

As the Coen Bros. prep their new version, we look back at the original

I grew up in a John Wayne household.

For one thing, I share a birthday with The Duke, something I think pleased my dad enormously when I was growing up.  He was the western fan in general, and a Wayne fan specifically.  I still remember when he took me to see "Red River" in the theater at a revival screening, and the way he talked to me ahead of time to set up for who Wayne was and how much he meant to my dad as an icon.  I think of that conversation when I talk to Toshi these days, knowing how heavy my dad's words weighed on me.

Over the years, I've seen pretty much everything Wayne ever made, and my feelings about him are mixed.  I think offscreen he was a reactionary jerk, one of those guys who put the idea of "Amurica" above what's right and decent and humane, and I think the movies where he let his politics lead his creative impulses are nigh-unwatchable for me.  I'm tempted to pick up "The Green Berets" this week just for the jaw-dropping holy crap factor of watching a film that takes an aggressive pro-Vietnam stance while shot entirely on American soil at the height of the actual conflict.

But what got me thinking about Wayne this weekend is the impending film version of "True Grit" that the Coen Brothers are preparing to make with Jeff Bridges playing Rooster Cogburn, the role that won Wayne his Oscar.  Having read the novel by Charles Portis, I understand why they think a new film version is possible.  What I was curious about, since it's been at least twenty years since I'd seen it, is just how closely the film followed the book the first time around.

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<p>Shantel Vansanten and Haley Webb get a little meta during the big finish of 'The Final Destination,' now available on BluRay and DVD</p>

Shantel Vansanten and Haley Webb get a little meta during the big finish of 'The Final Destination,' now available on BluRay and DVD

Credit: Warner Home Video

QuickFix: 'The Final Destination: 3D' on BluRay

Can the director of the best film in the franchise make one more trip to the well go down easy?

As we finished this movie last night, my wife turned to me and flung her red-and-blue 3D glasses at me, visibly irritated.

"I want my time back!"

This from someone who has genuinely loved all the other films in the "Final Destination" franchise so far, something I can't claim about myself.  I liked one of them, the second one, and I liked it precisely because it took the premise of the first film and turned it up to "total wackadoo."  Just the opening car wreck scene was such a delirious orgy of gratuitous gore and brutal stuntwork that it changed the entire direction of the series. The first film at least tried to be a character-oriented film a bit, but from the second film on, these movies have been all about the elaborate over-the-top kill sequences, and nothing but.  The result is one of the flat-out weirdest horror franchises ever, a series of films in which Rube Goldberg's angry ghost tries to kill teenagers and stock characters from beyond the grave.

Okay, okay, I know they're not actually ghosts.  It's actually much stranger than that, a series of films in which fate is the bad guy, in which death is almost-but-not-quite an onscreen presence.  In each movie, someone has a vision of a horrible accident, and they do something that removes themselves and several other people from the scenario before it happens.  Then, having avoided death, they are each hunted down in the order they would have died and killed in bizarre and complicated ways.

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<p>Melanie Laurent does her best not to crawl out of her skin and run screaming from a restaurant in a key moment from Quentin Tarantino's 'Inglourious Basterds'</p>

Melanie Laurent does her best not to crawl out of her skin and run screaming from a restaurant in a key moment from Quentin Tarantino's 'Inglourious Basterds'

Credit: The Weinstein Company

Nerd Moment: Shosannah, the cream, and Colonel Landa

In a new feature, we break down one scene from a current movie worth further discussion

I'm such a baby sometimes.

All film nerds are at some point when discussing and debating the things they love or the things that drive them crazy, which are pretty much the only things that seem worth discussion and debate to film nerds.  That's sort of what makes them film nerds.  You may also be a cineaste or a movie lover or whatever particular strain or subculture of film nerddom you feel defines you, but at heart, if you're reading about movies more than once a day, you are a film nerd.  J'accuse.

I think there are scenes that emerge from the conversation about films that are worth further debate and discussion here on the blog, and maybe we should institute this as an occasion feature, when the circumstance presents itself.  Here's a perfect example.

Earlier tonight, I'm on Twitter, and Will Goss (damn youse, Goss, for starting this!) pops by:

@williambgoss:  I have never had a strudel before, I have never wanted one before seeing this movie, and I have never wanted one more after.

Doesn't even say what he's watching.  Doesn't have to.  That scene is one of my favorite moments from "Inglourious Basterds."  I love Melanie Laurent as Shosanna by that point in the film... the way she's doing her best to deflect the attentions of Daniel Bruhl as Pvt. Zoller, the way she's starting to piece together who he is and what a symbol he is, and then suddenly, she's swept into this meeting with the heads of the organization that destroyed her family.  Goebbels, for god's sake, sitting at a table with her.  And to her credit, she plays it cool.

But then Tarantino turns it up in the most obvious way possible, and he milks it for everything it's worth.

Pun fully intended.

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<p>Daniel Breaker (standing, foreground) plays a younger version of the Narrator, Stew (seated, background) in Spike Lee's film of the stage musical 'Passing Strange'</p>

Daniel Breaker (standing, foreground) plays a younger version of the Narrator, Stew (seated, background) in Spike Lee's film of the stage musical 'Passing Strange'

Credit: IFC Films

QuickFix: 'Passing Strange' on DVD

Does the acclaimed filmmaker do the right thing by the acclaimed musical?

As I'm gearing up for the 2010 Sundance Film Festival in a few weeks, I'm catching up on a few films I've missed at festivals over the last year, and one of those that I missed at both Sundance and SXSW was Spike Lee's"Passing Strange," thanks to scheduling issues both times.

My bad.

Lee filmed the final three performances of the musical during its run at the Belasco Theater in New York, and the result is an electrifying movie that's somewhere between a concert film and a theatrical presentation.  Stew is the man behind the piece, and that's his entire stage name.  Stew.  He wrote the book and the lyrics and co-wrote the music with Heidi Rodewald, and the two of them are onstage performing the music along with a very tight band made up of Christian Cassan, Christian Gibbs, and John Purney.  The entire piece is performed by a very small cast, many of them playing multiple roles, but Daniel Breaker stars as "Youth," a not-terribly fictionalized version of Stew, and the musical traces his life growing up in South Central Los Angeles, desperate to get out and go anywhere else, do anything else.  He's in search of "the real," authentic experience and emotion that he's sure is out there somewhere, and he's willing to devastate his mother and climb over every single person who ever offers him any authentic affection in order to chase it.  What's amazing about the piece is how completely unsympathetic Stew's portrayal of himself is.  He honestly believes in the power of art to transform the world, but he also seems to believe that he made a lot of mistakes in his pursuit of it over the years, and he doesn't let himself off the hook or try to make himself look good.

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<p>Has anyone checked a telescope today to make sure Jupiter doesn't look like this?&nbsp;</p>

Has anyone checked a telescope today to make sure Jupiter doesn't look like this? 

Credit: MGM Home Video

QuickFix: '2010' On BluRay and some New Year's Resolutions

In which we kick off the year we make contact... in style

Hey, guys... Happy New Year.

"My God... it's full of stars!"

Like many people, I look at the New Year as a chance to start things anew, to assess the way I've been doing things and look for ways to do things better.  In particular, I want to post more here on the blog.  A LOT MORE. And in order to do so, I can't approach each piece as a small novel, which has always been my habit.  Harry Knowles used to joke and refer to me as "one of THOSE comic book artists," which stings but which also seems fairly accurate.  I would imagine that if Greg Ellwood's hair begins to thin any time soon, part of it is because of all the times he's snatched it out waiting on me to finish something, hoping for more content.

One of the things I want to do this year is try to share thoughts on everything I watch.  I've been asked over and over how many movies I actually watch during a year, and when, and how I manage to fit them all in.  The truth is, I almost always have something playing.  There are days where that's not true, and days where it feels like it's one right after another after another.  Not everything deserves a full review.  Some films have been written about endlessly, by myself or by others, and it seems like there's nothing worth saying about them, and other films aren't easily digested and I don't have something immediate to say.  But that ends up being a cop-out sometimes because I never come back to them.

So this year, I'm instigating what we'll call the "QuickFix" here on the blog, where after I watch a movie... after I watch every single movie I watch... I'll offer up a short reaction or a take or a thought... just something that marks the passage.  And I figured there was no better way to kickstart both the series and the year than by watching the Peter Hyams film "2010: The Year We Make Contact."

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<p>Picking memorable moments from the best films of the last decade is easy, but only being able to include a handful is the hard part. &nbsp;Can you name them all?&nbsp;</p>

Picking memorable moments from the best films of the last decade is easy, but only being able to include a handful is the hard part.  Can you name them all? 

The M/C Decade List: The 50 Best Films Of The 00's

Looking back, counting down, and picking the big winners

Okay... making a ten best list was fun, especially since I got to technically cram in 25 films.

That was all for one year, 2009, which was a darn fine year of film overall, if not one for the record books. That list, though, was just a warm-up for the big list, in which we break down the 50 best films of the past ten years.

Yes, calendar nerds.  I know.  In your reality, all decades refer to something starting a year that ends in a 1. But I am not talking about an astronomically-calculated decade.  I'm talking about the period of ten years that started on January 1, 2000, and which will end in about eight days.  That's the decade we're looking at, and that pretty much every sane person on the planet understands as a given in this conversation.

There's a top ten, and I'm surprised how quickly it shook itself out.  I feel pretty strongly about it, too.

The others on the list were grouped and regrouped and regrouped, and finally I feel like the list represents a real x-ray of the decade, and what kept me engaged over the last ten years.  Because let's face it... anyone who really loves movies could look at the last ten years of film on the surface and be stricken with a crippling despair.  The studios are, more than ever, churning out garbage that defies description.  The trend to remake the remakes of the remakes while also rebooting the sequel to the prequels to the reimagining of the homage is enough to make you wish celluloid had never been invented.

You have to look deeper than that into the last ten years, and you have to consider just how many really remarkable films have come out, and from how many different countries and cultures, and then maybe it's easier to get your head around just how many good things we've been gifted with in the last decade. 

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<p>Val Kilmer and Robert Downey Jr. both cranked up the charm in Shane Black's awesome buddy comedy mystery 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang'&nbsp;</p>

Val Kilmer and Robert Downey Jr. both cranked up the charm in Shane Black's awesome buddy comedy mystery 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang' 

Credit: Warner Bros.

The M/C Decade List #20 - #11: Broken hearts, hammer fights, and Robert Downey Jr.

Ambitious visions from Peter Weir, Quentin Tarantino, Stephen Chow and Baz Luhrmann crowd the list

For a full description of the purpose and the parameters of this list, read the introduction.

You can read #50 - #41 here.

 
 
#20 / "Zodiac"
 
It makes sense that David Fincher would be the guy to take a shot at telling the definitive story of the Zodiac Killer and the panic he inspired, since Fincher's brain is wired in the same obsessive, meticulous way that serial killers' brains are.  This is a movie that offers up an unbelievably dense tapestry of detail, and that slowly but surely makes the viewer feel as lost in the weight of those details as the investigators who tried to catch the Zodiac in the first place.  His use of digital cameras, his attention to period accuracy, his choice of music, his casting choices... all of it adds up to the movie that, so far, represents the single best distillation of Fincher's gifts.  The fact that it's a cracking good procedural on top of that is just a bonus. Ultimately, I love this film because it reaches past any intellectual part of my film critic brain and just plain works for me as a fetish piece, an incredible technical and thematic work that represents one of our most prickly film wizards at his peak.
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Paranormal Activity DVD cover

You could win a copy of Paranormal Activity on Blu-ray.

Credit: Paramount Pictures

CONTEST: Want to win a BluRay copy of 'Paranormal Activity'?

The contest is now over, but you can still win in Paramount's Tweet Your Scream contest

People have accused me of trying to promote the BluRay format to the point of practically forcing it on people.

Well, that's exactly what we're here to do tonight.  We're going to give away five copies of "Paranormal Activity" on BluRay to you guys to help celebrate another unconventional audience participation idea by Paramount, and I'll tell you how you can win one in just a moment.

More and more, studios are using the BD Live features to host some very cool events where you can interact directly with the filmmakers, and today, Monday, December 28, 2009, you can participate in the Red Carpet Home Screening of the film by tuning in to www.twitter.com/TweetYourScream for live updates from the event, where Oren Peli and special guests will be in attendance.  This screening is the prize from an earlier contest, and Jessica DiMeo of Rehoboth, Mass. is the lucky person hosting that screening in her own home.

And starting at 12:01 on the 29th, and running for the next 24 hours, if you tweet to @TweetYourScream with the hashtag #UpAllNight, you could win two tickets to an upcoming Paramount premiere.  Cool, eh?

Here's how we're going to give our five discs away.  First you need to answer this question:

"How many paranormal investigators came to the house during the film to help Katie and Micah?"

If you're one of the first five people with the right answer, you win.

It really is just that simple.  Just like the Up All Night contest.  Eeeeeasy.  The contest is open to all US residents aged 18 or older, and you can see all the official rules and restrictions right here if you have any questions.

[Editor's note: This contest is now over with five confirmed winners.  Thanks to everyone who participated.]

And remember... "Paranormal Activity" arrives on DVD, BluRay, and digital download on December 29th, so if you don't win, make sure you pick one up.

Good luck.

 

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<p>The Joker (Heath Ledger) basks in the smell of chaos and carnage in Christoper Nolan's sleek and sublime 'The Dark Knight'&nbsp;</p>

The Joker (Heath Ledger) basks in the smell of chaos and carnage in Christoper Nolan's sleek and sublime 'The Dark Knight' 

Credit: Warner Bros.

The M/C Decade List #30 - 21: Batman, Miyazaki, and a vampire in love

French horror, an animated film no one's seen, and... more French horror?

For a full description of the purpose and the parameters of this list, read the introduction.

You can read #50 - #41 here.

#30 / "The Dark Knight"

Christopher Nolan isn't slumming it when he works in the mainstream superhero genre.  He treats Batman as an archetype worth serious exploration, and by adding The Joker and Two-Face into the mix, two of the richest of the Batman villains in terms of subtextual worth, he gives himself almost too much to juggle in one movie.  Thankfully, though, Nolan and his brother, along with David Goyer, found a way to balance all their big ideas while also telling a brutal crime story in which an entire city is a chessboard between two psychopaths, with one man willing to ruin his reputation and his own happiness to confound them.  Just as filmcraft, "The Dark Knight" is a mainstream marvel, but when you consider the way it twists superhero tropes while still playing by the rules, it's sort of amazing.  Even so, the thing that cements this as one of the moments of the decade, one of the most electrifying moments of recent cinema, was watching Heath Ledger throw down.  More than anything else he'd done, it was an announcement that he was ready to be a complete original, a major lifeforce unleashed on film.  It is appropriate that he took the Joker away from Jack Nicholson, whose hammy, slow-motion victory lap of a performance twenty years earlier was the previous public favorite interpretation, because Ledger's work here reminds me of the great work by the great guys of the '70s.  He was unfettered.  He was given permission by the role to go as far out as he could, and he flew.  Nolan was there with a camera to catch it.  That's the accidental beauty of film in general, the way these moments happen, these collisions of talent and opportunity and material, the thing that makes all movie junkies keep going back, chasing, and only occasionally getting something as right as this.  

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<p>Adam Sandler does his finest work in the nearly-experimental Paul Thomas Anderson comedy 'Punch-Drunk Love'&nbsp;</p>

Adam Sandler does his finest work in the nearly-experimental Paul Thomas Anderson comedy 'Punch-Drunk Love' 

Credit: Revolution Studios

The M/C Decade List #40 - #31: Russell Crowe, forgotten children, and Spike Lee

As the list continues, Seth and Evan and a bunch of Basterds join some international titles

For a full description of the purpose and the parameters of this list, read the introduction.

You can read #50 - #41 here.

#40 / "Gladiator"

I was indeed entertained.  Ridley Scott has made better films than "Gladiator," but he's rarely made more entertaining ones.  This film is a confident, well-armored machine, cutting down each and every potential objection to it with sheer brute charisma and visual panache, and the script's big mechanics click into place with precision, paying off every set-up just right.  This is not a film with the same sort of expansive soul as "Lawrence of Arabia," and I wouldn't say it's a truly deep epic.  It's an action film with just enough angst to make it count, and it proves that if Scott had just decided to be a mainstream action movie guy, he would have been one of the all-time greats.  Rewatching this one, removed from all the inevitable backlash and cynicism, I'm suddenly reminded of why I should care that Ridley Scott's making "Robin Hood" with Russell Crowe this summer.

#39 / "Tsotsi"

Before Gavin Hood became the director of the entirely style-less and corporate "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," he was the director of this gut-churning South African film about a tough street kid who steals a car and finds a baby in the back seat.  How he cares for the child is pretty much the entire narrative arc of the film, but on that simple thread is hung some amazingly powerful material about the meaning of caring for someone else, the responsibility of caring for a child, and the very nature of love.  "Tsotsi" is one of those films I can't explain on an intellectual level, because its power is as one of the great emotional sledgehammers of the decade.  I think more than anything, that's what will get a film a place on this list... connecting with me in a real way, making me feel something.  So many films are just product, no matter how professional, and what I find I value as I get older is identifying something in a film that strikes me as genuine.  That feeling is the drug I chase from film to film now, and "Tsotsi" delivers it, pure and uncut. 

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