The Typewriter, the Rifle and the Movie Camera (1996)

typewriterriflemoviecamera_1Starring Samuel Fuller, Tim Robbins, Jim Jarmusch, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino

Directed by Adam Simon

Expectations: High.

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The Typewriter, the Rifle and the Movie Camera tells the story of Sam Fuller through the three tools that defined his character. The typewriter represents his youth spent as a journalist, first as a copy boy and later as a 17-year-old homicide reporter. The rifle represents his time in the army, fighting in World War II from North Africa all the way to the liberation of a concentration camp in what is now the Czech Republic. The movie camera is obvious, and references his time as a director. These experiences combined to deliver a kind of hard-hitting, no-bullshit cinema that no one before or since has quite captured.

This documentary is made all the more vibrant by the participation of three “current-gen” directors (Tim Robbins, Jim Jarmusch and Quentin Tarantino), one ’70s-era filmmaker (Martin Scorsese), and the man himself, Samuel Fuller. Scorsese offers the wise opinions of an older man who has been deeply affected by the works of Fuller since the age of six when his father took him to see Fuller’s debut film, I Shot Jesse James. Tarantino and Robbins hang out in The Shack, Fuller’s home office in Los Angeles where he kept all his scripts, mementos and artifacts from movies long past. Robbins also serves as interviewer, directly asking Fuller questions. Jarmusch serves a more traditional documentary role: the filmed interview. And Fuller, of course, relates stories from his incredible life and career with the vibrant flare that only he can. He seems visibly excited to be conversing with the youth of Hollywood, and I’m sure it was quite flattering for the aging director to be so well-respected by these young men towards the start of their careers.

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Django Unchained (2012)

django-unchained-movie-poster-teaserStarring Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Walton Goggins, Dennis Christopher, Don Johnson, Laura Cayouette

Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Expectations: Very high. Tarantino is a big western fan, so there’s no way this can’t be great, right?

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In a single word, Django Unchained is excessive. Excessive in every possible way. Some movies that trade in excess get by because the excess is fun, or in some way in service of the story, but in Django it’s neither (not that an unflinching slavery movie should be fun). Instead it feels more like Tarantino is simply throwing everything he has at the audience when he should be carefully crafting a tale worth telling. I’ve always had something of a love/hate relationship with Tarantino and his films, but coming off of the expertly crafted Inglourious Basterds I thought for sure he would deliver something truly memorable. And Django is memorable… for all the wrong reasons. Where the script for Basterds was honed over something like 10 years, Django Unchained was written in a few months and thrown into production soon after. This may be a three-hour “epic,” but it definitely feels a lot closer to Death Proof than I would have liked, at least in terms of the quality of the writing.

As the film opens, a couple of slave traders transport a small group of slaves across the rocky hills and the frozen fields “somewhere in Texas.” They are stopped by a jovial man named Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), who is specifically looking for a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) in hopes that he can help him find a trio of wanted men. Thus begins the tale of Django, a freed slave on his way to becoming a fearsome bounty hunter. Or really, that should read: Thus begins the tale of King Schultz and how he frees Django, but not really.

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Discussion: Most Anticipated December Releases

December is always a big month for the movies. The studios in their last-ditch efforts to win Oscars are pumping out some of their best offerings of the year. While there are a whole host of likely candidates for good films, there are only three that I really care much about. The first of these is probably the most obvious to those that know me well: Peter Jackson’s return to Middle Earth filmmaking, The Hobbit. I’m unsure that The Hobbit contains enough story or is worthy of an entire trilogy all to itself, but I have faith in Peter Jackson to deliver something compelling and wholly engrossing. I’m quite interested in checking this one out in 3D too, as it will be the first major film to be released in 48 frames per second, and according to Jackson, this will change the game for filmmaking quite a bit. 24 frames per second has suited everyone just fine for over a hundred years, though, so perhaps this is just Jackson at his most Lucas-like. We’ll see, but I’m very excited regardless.

The second film is Tarantino’s latest: Django Unchained. This one I know far less about than The Hobbit, but as soon as it was announced I was on-board. While Tarantino doesn’t hold the same place in my heart that he did when I was 16 or so, I can’t deny that I still greatly enjoy his work. Inglourious Basterds was my favorite film of 2009, and I think it’s easily Tarantino’s best film as well. So that, coupled with the fact that this looks to be another great tale of revenge, leads me to be pretty sure that Django Unchained will be fucking awesome. And honestly, Tarantino had me with the title. As soon as I heard it, I knew he was making a “character name only” Django clone, just as countless Italian filmmakers had done in the wake of Corbucci’s original film, and regardless of how the actual film is, I love that he is actually did that.

But neither of these films can hold a candle to the epic excitement I have for the third film on my agenda. Part of my fervor might be because while it releases at the end of this year overseas, I have no idea when I’ll be able to see it in the US. I fully plan to pick up a Hong Kong DVD or Blu-ray of it the moment it’s available, barring some legitimate US release before that. I am of course talking about the latest Jackie Chan film: Chinese Zodiac. Billed as the long-awaited third entry in his Armour of God series, Chinese Zodiac looks to be everything Chan has promised it will be. A return to the high-stakes, stunt-filled action, Chinese Zodiac is a globetrotting movie made as one last hurrah for Jackie Chan fans. He’s directing, writing, starring and choreographing it all, just like many of his greatest films from the ’80s, and I cannot fucking wait. Bring it on, Jackie! That all being said, there are some worrisome elements, such as the presence of Oliver Platt and Kenny G in the cast, but there’s also Ken Lo so I guess we can still hope for one last battle between Jackie and a super-kicker!

So those are my picks for December releases!
What are yours?

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