INSECTS TRAPPED IN AMBER: A Guillermo del Toro Directorial Retrospective.

INSECTS TRAPPED IN AMBER: A Guillermo del Toro Directorial Retrospective.

October 31, 2015  |  2015, Bold Cinema, Directors, Feature  |  No Comments

Rummaging through Guillermo del Toro‘s filmography is like opening Christmas presents from your favorite uncle. The one whose affinity for the absurd and welcoming of the weird makes him the coolest uncle ever. Except it’s not Christmas with del Toro, is it? It’s most definitely Halloween, a time when the love of the spooky and the monstrous becomes a contagion, and – more religiously – the past is remembered through the dead and the hallowed. Gross, funny, action-packed, heartfelt and scary in varying spurts, del Toro’s directorial oeuvre (to say nothing of his 30-odd produced films) is consistent in one obvious way: visual depth. With little interest in layered profundities and intricate camera-work, del Toro’s stories pave the way for the production design, cinematography, and special effects to take centre stage (his background is, after all, in special effects). But through these visuals lies a bottomless love affair with outcasts of all types, Mother Nature’s little creatures, and big monsters with big purposes, making his storytelling relentlessly compelling through theme as much as image. The key word in that last sentence isn’t “monsters” or “creatures,” by the way; it’s “love.”

Blade II, New Line Cinema

“Blade II,” New Line Cinema

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April Fool’s Edition: 11 Timeless & Entertaining Movie Fools.

April 1, 2015  |  2015, Feature  |  No Comments

Seven Samurai

It’s April Fool’s Day! The day when all anyone wants to do is find a way to dupe and delude their loved ones. Well, you won’t find any of that here, but I figured it would be neat to salute a harmless & fun tradition by quickly listing some of the most entertaining fools I’ve had the pleasure of re-watching endlessly. The landscape of cinema can evolve a dozen times over, and, like cockroaches after a nuclear disaster, these fools will live on. But first, a bit of catch-up.

The Film Grapevine has been a little M.I.A. recently, due to my busy times with some festival coverage and features on The Playlist and Way Too Indie. You’ll pardon the plug I’m sure, but those interested to stay up to date with my latest coverage, the latest stuff includes and isn’t limited to: great dog films, Kornel Mundruczo, original horror scores, fantastic new films from up-and-comers, and my latest analysis of the latest & greatest family drama on the small screen.

Today’s a good a day as any to resuscitate the blog with some harmless fun and list 11 (because round numbers are too square, amirite) timelessly entertaining fools who are immune to being mundane. Read on, and don’t trust anything anyone tells you today! (Except this article. Trust me, these fools are hella entertaining).

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Making Sense of the Controversy Surrounding Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper”

January 22, 2015  |  2014, Feature, Outcast Opinions  |  1 Comment


Joseph L. Mankiewicz once said, “The difference between life and the movies is that a script has to make sense, and life doesn’t.” When I think about Clint Eastwood‘s “American Sniper,” which crushed the box-office last weekend with over $100 million in four days and garnered more Academy Award nominations than anyone expected, Mankiewicz’ words resonate all the clearer. The controversy this film ignited due to its success makes less sense than its incredible box-office numbers. Buckets of acid are being flung at the film’s supposed pro-American propagandist attitude, heroic celebration of its protagonist, and its rewriting of the Iraq war. The purported negative stigma of “American Sniper” can be summed up in this Storify page from independent journalist Rania Khalek, using reactions from certain audience members as fuel for her fiery accusations.

This fervent reaction is troubling because, within this whirlpool of flying dung, a lot of people seem to be forgetting a crucial factor: the movie itself. “American Sniper” is not a piece of pro-American propaganda, it doesn’t rewrite the Iraq occupation, it doesn’t celebrate Chris Kyle as a hero, it doesn’t downplay PTSD, and it doesn’t glorify war. The worst, legitimate, politicized accusation one can throw at the film is that its Iraqi characters are one-dimensional, pointing out one especially brutal scene featuring a drill and a terrorist nicknamed The Butcher that feels like a “24” episode guest-directed by Quentin Tarantino (even though, apparently, The Butcher is based on a real Shia warlord). Since the film’s primary focus isn’t an “us vs. them” mentality, but more a “man vs. war” one, the concern of depicting the villains as one-dimensional couldn’t have been a big one for Eastwood. It would have reportedly been for Steven Spielberg, the original director attached to the project. But once he stepped off, and Eastwood took over, a different kind of film was born. Since I’d take subtlety over sentimentality any day of the week, I’m pretty happy with how that went down.

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Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s “Birdman,” Or The Unexpected Virtue of Contrivance.

January 8, 2015  |  2014, Bold Cinema, Feature  |  1 Comment


[Caution: this essay review contains spoilers in its last paragraph.]

After his “Death” trilogy (“Amores Perros,” “21 Grams,” “Babel“) Alejandro González Iñárritu took an even more depressing route. Instead of swallowing the proverbial chill pill by directing something lighter, looser, something with a sliver of optimistic verve in its veins, he went ahead and made the ultimate downer of his filmography: “Biutiful.” Nothing against the film itself (it personally moved me to no end, and I believe it contains the best performance Javier Bardem has ever delivered), but it’s bleak as all fuck. Despite his stupendous critical success with all four, the Mexican director clearly needed a mood swing. And he’s swung so successfully with “Birdman;” he must feel like he’s flying just as highly as his protagonist does. But, “Birdman” doesn’t mean a change in approach. If you’ve already fancied Iñárritu pretentious with his unsubtle direction, non-linear story lines, and imbalanced tones (I’m merely playing devil’s advocate here), “Birdman” could make you sick to your stomach with how unapologetically contrived it is. This contrivance, this forced artificiality, I argue, is the film’s greatest virtue.

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18 Unforgettable Single Frames From 2014

December 30, 2014  |  2014, Feature  |  No Comments


It’s almost the end of 2014, and by now people must be getting real sick of all the Year End articles, listing out the Best films, the Worst films, the Best Scenes, the Most Overrated, Underrated, etc. etc. It’s December, after all, when the entire film writing community seems to funnel out the same exact articles in various shades. But, as I’ve said in my own Top 20 feature, which you can now read on The Playlist, these lists are necessary for critics to get the word out about themselves and their peculiar tastes. Even ranking “Boyhood” as number 1 or number 8 tells you something different about that individual.

Anywho, some of the year’s greatest year-end articles for me are the ones that tend to delve into the art of film a little more through shots (examples include The Playlist’s Top 12 Shots of the Year, The Dissolve’s Shot of the Year, Kris Tapley’s 10 Shots of the Year – even though I begrudgingly add that last one since I’m not a fan of his self-stroking style). Considering this, I thought I’d churn out my final list before the year closes. It’s one that I’ve had great pleasure thinking about and compiling, because these frames (whether I liked the overall film or not) stuck with me, stunned me, and struck me with awe. Whether it’s because of their sheer aesthetic beauty, the weight of their emotional baggage, or all of the above, these single frames lingered on long after the final credits rolled and are truly, in every sense of the word, unforgettable.

Jump the cut to see why movies are paintings in disguise.

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Before “Inherent Vice:” 10 Perfect Paul Thomas Anderson Moments.

December 15, 2014  |  2014, Directors, Feature  |  No Comments

Anderson directing Day LewisPaul Thomas Anderson is the bee’s knees. If you were to have every working American director in a single room for an emergency meeting, PTA would be the spokesperson and everyone would shut the fuck up as soon as he took the mic. Same goes for David Fincher and Terrence Malick (though, the latter wouldn’t be getting up on any stage.) Anderson’s debuted in 1996 with “Hard Eight” (also known as “Sydney“), and it was already obvious how well he directs actors and how fantastically in tune he is with music and sound. While it also showed signs of things to come as far as the father-son motifs and smooth slicing of American values go, it wasn’t until “Boogie Nights,” the year after, that people started to realize this guy is good. This guy is really, really, fucking good.

Today, he’s one of the best, and he’s been the epicentre of a critical circle jerk for undeniably good reasons. His actors usually get some kind of award recognition (Julianne Moore, Tom Cruise, Bill Reynolds, Daniel Day-Lewis, Philip Seymour Hoffman, etc.) and even when his themes are too dark for cookie-cutter-loving voters, he might walk away with a nomination or two (as in the case of “There Will Be Blood“). He’s made 7 feature films by now, including his latest one “Inherent Vice,” which opened last Friday in limited fashion around NY and LA.

The dolly track used for Anderon's latest, "Inherent Vice"

The dolly track used for Anderon’s latest, “Inherent Vice”

As my own little personal way of celebrating this modern auteur, this bonafide cinematic brainiac who will one day have libraries of books written about him, I’ve decided to talk about 10 perfect moments from his films. All of these moments reveal a perfect symbiosis of performance, writing and direction, often juxtaposing black humour with dark undertones, or simply gripped in the shackles of what makes us human.

A couple of provisos: since I’ve limited myself to 10, there will be nothing from “Hard Eight,” as much as that film is dear to me. Also, back off PTA fanboys; I realize that there are more than just 10 perfect moments in his films, but there’s no way I’m going to sit here and talk about everything that makes his cinema so fascinating because that’s a book and ain’t nobody got time for that. Not yet, anyway.

Jump the cut to read.

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CASTING FOR COMIC BOOK MOVIES: 12 Actors And Their Perfect Comic Book Movie Roles.

December 9, 2014  |  2014, Comic Book Movie, Feature  |  3 Comments

Surprised McGregorI know, I know. Writing about 12 Philosophical Shots in Terrence Malick’s cinema, reviewing an Iranian black and white vampire film, and now talking about potential comic book roles. My “voice” echoes all over the place and I’m a total cinematic inbetweener. That’s me! I love my arthouse stuff as much as I love to think about all the potential, untapped, comic book material out there still waiting to be exploited by Hollywood. (Well, OK, I love my arthouse stuff more). This newest Grapevine article is all about the mainstream casting director freak in me, though, looking at potential actors who would fit perfectly into a comic book setting, but weirdly haven’t been cast in any comic book role as of yet.


So, we’ve all heard how Benedict Cumberbatch officially signed on for Marvel’s “Doctor Strange,” and how the cast of “Suicide Squad” is ballistic. Given the level of dominance the comic book movie has had ever since Bryan Singer‘s “X-Men,” it’s only natural that every actor considers – or is considered for – comic book roles. Come to think of it, these days it’s more surprising to hear that a popular actor hasn’t been in a comic book movie or TV show yet. Well, say hello to this article.

Whether they’ve never lost their popularity, or they’re trying to regain it, here’s a group of well-established actors who have the experience and the eccentricity, but not a single comic book character between them. For fans of the genre, here’s the good news; comic books and graphic novels (for the purposes of this article, the term comic book bundles both) have plenty of untapped material still left to be explored, and not just in the standard Marvel and DC superhero stories we’re all so familiar with.

In light of the Cumberbatch and “Suicide Squad”casting news, and in an effort to look ahead at future adaptations that can provide something more than just pretty special effects and superhero worship, this article is going to match up 12 actors with his or her perfect comic book character, yet to be seen in live-action form.

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Philosophical Visuals: 12 Shots That Describe Terrence Malick’s Cinema.

November 30, 2014  |  2014, Directors, Feature  |  No Comments

Thin Red Line

Terrence Malick is America’s greatest philosophical director. After the tumultuous beginning of “Badlands,” in 1973, when he drove half the film crew mad with his insistence on capturing moments according to the external elements, he made the even more laboriously-produced “Days of Heaven” 5 years later. Then he disappeared, moving to Paris and falling in love (large chunks of his life in this period remain private and undocumented). He reemerged in 1998 with “The Thin Red Line,” a WWII film boasting a gigantic all-star cast.

Terrence Malick

“The Thin Red Line” added to his notorious reputation of being difficult to work with due to his in-the-moment decision making. Nevertheless, the film was a critical and financial success, nabbing some Oscar nominations on the way. In 2005,”The New World” was the new Terrence Malick film, and a drastic shift towards the more abstract was felt. Not as well received, the film started to gain in stature only years later. Then, in 2011, Malick’s “The Tree of Life” took a leap forward in the director’s evolutionary cycle, towards the more personal, spiritual, and cinematic. It won the Palme D’Or, founds its way close to Sight & Sound‘s 2012 Greatest Films Poll, and angered many.

It took only a year for a new Malick film to hit festivals. “To The Wonder” encroached even further into realms of a transcendental nature. Nary a narrative or apparent character development to be seen, “To The Wonder” made many turn away from Malick, while those true to the man’s philosophical visual style held on, defended, and praised.

Today is Terrence Malick’s 71st birthday. As he is one of my personal favorites, and in my opinion, the most important American filmmaker working today, I’ve decided to honor his birthday by selecting a few of my favorite images from his 6 finished feature length films, and associate them with a quote from some of Malick’s known points of reference. These include philosophers Martin Heidegger, Søren Kierkegaard, and Ludwig Wittgenstein (whom he studied before turning to journalism and film, Heidegger especially), Stanley Cavell (renowned film theorist, and Malick’s old professor) and the Book of Job (quoted in the beginning of “Tree of Life,” and surely a text Malick has studied as a devout Episcopalian Christian).

Click on. I hope you enjoy.

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Listen To This: 15 Fantastic 21st Century Scores From Composers Not Called Hans Zimmer.

November 25, 2014  |  2014, Feature  |  1 Comment

hans zimmer composingHans Zimmer‘s latest handiwork, the score for Christopher Nolan‘s “Interstellar,” was released last Tuesday. It is, in every crevice of the word’s definition, spectacular. And that’s based on a released soundtrack that doesn’t include the film’s most mind-squishing musical moment: the “Docking” song (also known as “The One That MELTED YOUR FACE”). But not to worry; there’s an Intergallactic Illuminated Starship Asteroid Einstein edition (or something) on the way. It will be available sometime in the near future and promises to have 35 minutes of never-before heard music from the film. As if we needed further proof that Hans Zimmer has, yet again, eviscerated his composer colleagues. Another year, another ownage.

Interstellar OST

Yes, Mr. Zimmer and his golden baton have been dominating the film score scene in the 21st century. Just, think about it. “Gladiator,” “Black Hawk Down,” “The Last Samurai,” “Sherlock Holmes,” “The Dark Knight Trilogy,” “Inception,” “Man of Steel,” “12 Years A Slave,” “Kung-Fu Panda 2,” and now, “Interstellar.” Many would agree that Zimmer is the Beethoven of film scores, and it is highly likely that many of his colleagues, when they hear his stuff, react in a very Jerry Seinfeld-y way, as they clench their teeth, curl their hands into a fist, and utter “Zimmer!” under their breaths. But, what of those colleagues? We’ve had 15 years in the century so far, and there have been plenty of fantastic scores, many of which people forget to consider thanks to Zimmer’s monopolization. Scores, which, at times, surpass even their respective films, but always, evoke a sense of passage leading back to the imagery and mood of its film. Like any brilliant score should do, they support and propel their own films towards deeper understanding and fuller feeling.

So, I’m taking a stand and giving a shout out to 15 fantastic 21st century film scores from composers not called Hans Zimmer. It’s in descending order, from least to most likely at beating “Interstellar” in an epic battle of the orchestral bands.

Hear we go,

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Seriously Funny: 10 Best Serious Roles From Comic Actors (And 10 Best Comedic Roles From Serious Actors)

November 17, 2014  |  2014, Feature  |  3 Comments

Seriously Funny Feature

You’re going to be hearing a lot about Steve Carell in the upcoming months. The comic actor has never been as serious as he is Bennet Miller‘s “Foxcatcher,” and ever since its premiere at Cannes, “Oscar” has been on the tip of a whole lot of tongues. You can read my unkind review of the film over at Way Too Indie, where I call it “barely compelling.” OK, so I admit that other opinions (Jessica’s review for The Playlist, and Ananda’s more recent review for WTI, among them) has me eager to watch the film again and see what nuance and subtleties I’ve missed. But, one thing no one can miss from the first time around is the dark place Carell went to in order to portray the slimy John Du Pont.

He’s not the first one, of course. The Playlist’s recent massive feature on 20 comic actors and their best dramatic roles will tell you as much. I’ve decided to play ball, as well. Comic actors going dark can turn up surprisingly effective results, but so too, can serious actors who go comedic. Rather than just talk about one transition, Steve Carell’s turn in “Foxcatcher” has inspired me to think and talk about both. Since there are loads of actors who play both sides of the coin, let’s get some ground rules straight. A “comic actor” is anyone, male or female, who started out or got their big break in comedy (whether on film or TV). By the same token, a “serious actor” is anyone, male or female, who started out or got their big break in a dramatic role and were later tapped for their comic potential. Right, then.

Here are my choices for Best 10 from both camps, and hopefully I’ll have some you haven’t seen or read about already (as I’m sure there are loads I haven’t seen, and will therefore not feature on my list, which you’re encouraged to mention in the comments).

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