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Weekend Reel Reads: New Looks at Entrenched Favorites

Photo of Steve Greene By Steve Greene | Criticwire January 6, 2013 at 12:35PM

Chances are, you probably know someone who loves "Good Will Hunting," "The Hobbit" or Tarantino films - perhaps all three. This week's edition of Reel Reads offers some different perspectives on some beloved (and not so beloved) recent films.
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"Good Will Hunting."
"Good Will Hunting."

Good Will Hunting: An Oral History

Matt Damon and Ben Affleck (perhaps you've heard of them?) are back in the late-year spotlight once again as two of Hollywood's most respectable filmmakers. It's been a decade and a half since their first splash on a major film release, 1997's "Good Will Hunting." While both actors have done a considerable amount to build on both their filmography and public visibility, that first glimpse of stardom will likely always be in the first few lines of any career retrospective. Boston Magazine, led by Janelle Nanos, spoke with the two central figures and a number of other cast/crew members about the film's origin, shooting, release and "The Rainmaker."

"Affleck: We came up with this idea of the brilliant kid and his townie friends, where he was special and the government wanted to get their mitts on him. And it had a very Beverly Hills Cop, Midnight Run sensibility, where the kids from Boston were giving the NSA the slip all the time. We would improvise and drink like six or twelve beers or whatever and record it with a tape recorder. At the time we imagined the professor and the shrink would be Morgan Freeman and De Niro, so we’d do our imitations of Freeman and De Niro. It was kind of hopelessly naive and probably really embarrassing in that respect."

Enchantment Dispelled

Much online space has been consumed by discussion of "The Hobbit," whether it be speculation, argument or dissection. At the LA Review of Books, Ilana Teitelbaum examines the latest film in adaptation terms. Looking at the thematic similarities and divergences between the first trilogy installment and the source material, Teitelbaum points out the shift away from Bilbo Baggins to what she asserts is more traditional, standard action film fare. As a result, the film loses some of its Tolkien roots and appeal.

"But that’s not exactly what Peter Jackson is attempting to do here — instead he is trying to inflate what was originally the story of the transformation of Bilbo Baggins into a sweeping battle-epic in which Bilbo only figures incidentally. Since there isn’t much basis for such an epic in the actual book, in the film it all boils down to a dramatic confrontation between Thorin and a cheesy white orc nemesis called the 'Defiler,' a ridiculous CGI creation that my husband spontaneously dubbed Whitey the Torturer. Richard Armitage as Thorin is very handsome and, for a dwarf, oddly tall, as befits the standard movie hero. That’s what this movie is about — not Bilbo, but rather the noble Thorin facing off against this pale and by the way very boring foe that he ought to have killed earlier while he was lopping off its arm."

How to Defend Quentin Tarantino

As the incomparable Vern outlines at the beginning of his recent Village Voice piece, the release of a new Tarantino flick brings with it a notable amount of writing pigeonholing the director as a cinematic borrower. The piece does make reference to the movie-related tributes that have peppered the director's efforts dating back to "Reservoir Dogs." But Vern's major argument is that what singles out those films from their counterparts is a set of elements that isn't found in films of the past.

"And let's not ignore Tarantino's many talents that constitute actual directing. I love his always-confident, never intrusive camerawork; his pacing, which allows scenes time to breathe without losing momentum; his uncanny ear for music. In recent years, he has revealed an aptitude for expertly staged and choreographed action sequences. And did you ever notice the 20-year trail of great performances he has coaxed from undervalued or forgotten actors?"

It's Amazing! It's Terrible! The Story of 2012

With sentiments that echo Matt's New Year's Resolution for 2013, Film School Rejects' Christopher Campbell noticed a similar trend in the way the big-budget offerings of 2012 were hyped and anticipated. When offerings are billed as automatically brilliant in advance of actually experiencing the piece of entertainment in its totality, we may be ensuring a certain level of disappointment. Even though the Internet affords us the opportunity for dissention, Campbell argues that web-based opinions may be crystallizing at an unsafe rate.

"Many of us will always need to see the big sequel or remake or check out the heavily promoted pop culture event or product, but we can do so without depending on being satisfied by them and know they’re terrible and look for other things to appreciate in them (such as the visuals alone or a single performance or its ambition) while ridding — or least limiting — the word 'disappointing' from our vocabulary."

Kill Bill: The Female Archetype vs. The Goddess

For those looking for Weekend Viewing, the indomitable Press Play continues to offer engaging, insightful video commentary with their Tarantino-related pieces. Whether you start from the beginning or work your way backwards, there are certainly worse ways to spend a Sunday. The latest installment looks at both volumes of the "Kill Bill" saga and how Tarantino uses genre and imagery to heighten the revenge tale. Andreas Stoehr and Nelson Carvajal's examinations of the element of surprise is a fascinating read/watch.

"Another device Tarantino uses to tease us while easing us into each new portion of Kill Bill is perhaps his most traditional: the title card. Both movies are punctuated by them, demarcating narrative borders with their suitably oblique chapter headings. 'The Blood-Splattered Bride,' for example, or my personal favorite, 'The Man from Okinawa.' So suggestive, so tantalizing, telling us just enough about Hattori Hanzo without telling us anything at all. It reminds me of Tarantino's own short 'The Man from Hollywood,' or one of his major inspirations, Leone's 'Man with No Name.' Or farther afield, the film Vivre sa vie by Tarantino's idol, Jean-Luc Godard, which employs similar intertitles but to more overtly Brechtian ends. The phrase 'The Man from Okinawa' is so taciturn that it sets a stage without spoiling any of Sonny Chiba's surprise, revealing that he isn't just a man—he's the man."

This article is related to: Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Campbell


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