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‘From Dusk Till Dawn’ – Horror and the Tarantinoverse

From Dusk Till Dawn is a crime-ridden nightmarescape that never fails to excite.

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Quentin Tarantino Spotlight

There is a strong possibility that Quentin Tarantino has forgotten more about movies than most film buffs will ever know. In addition to sporting an encyclopedic knowledge of all things cinema, he is one of the most talented and respected filmmakers of his generation. What’s more amazing is that the auteur director has left an indelible mark on Hollywood while staying true to his artistic vision. Think about this: Tarantino continues to rack up critical acclaim — Oscars, Golden Globes and BAFTA awards and nominations — for making genre pictures. If Tarantino retired today, pulpy crime thrillers, dusty westerns, and blood stained revenge fantasies would define his legacy.

In the context of Tarantino’s career, it makes perfect sense that The Hateful Eight, his most polarizing film, would follow Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained, his two highest grossing films. While superstar directors often work with a high degree of autonomy, back-to-back films grossing a combined $700 million and universal critical praise translated to Tarantino receiving creative carte blanche. With enough clout, career accolades, and financial flexibility to do as he pleased, Tarantino decided not to chase commercial success. Instead, he opted to create a small-scale, intentionally divisive social commentary. His choice is not without precedent. 20 years ago this month, while still a director on the rise, Tarantino made a similar decision.

Released on January 19, 1996, From Dusk Till Dawn is a cinematic tag-team between Tarantino and his frequent collaborator, director Robert Rodriguez. The film features a script by Tarantino, who at the time of production was still riding high on Pulp Fiction‘s colossal wave of success. Critics and audiences crowned Pulp Fiction an instant classic; the film injected 90’s cinema with a shot of adrenaline akin to the big-ass needle Vincent slams into Mia’s heart during Pulp‘s infamous overdose scene. While Hollywood expected the young director to get right to work on his next masterpiece, he and Rodriguez had other intentions. Instead, the duo created a trashy, low-budget genre flick featuring Tarantino’s trademark snappy dialogue, over-the-top violence….and vampires.

We can define Tarantino’s career by his numerous crusades to preserve and pay homage to the cinema of his youth. Grindhouse cinema is one of Tarantino’s central creative influences, and From Dusk Till Dawn is his attempt to share his love of the genre with a new generation of cinephiles. When From Dusk Till Dawn made its debut in the mid-nineties, multiplexes, cable TV, and video-store franchises had virtually wiped grindhouse cinema off the map. At the time, the public viewed arcades and grindhouse theatres as seedy places inhabited by burnouts and criminals. Facing the wrath of churches, politicians, and freaked-out soccer moms, small indie-cinemas had to shut down. Sure, the hardcore cinephile could find ways to get their low-budget exploit movies fix, but even they lost out on the communal experience derived from sitting in a dark room with 200 enthusiastic, like-minded movie fans.

From Dusk Till Dawn took the best elements of sordid, exploitative grindhouse films, and packaged them for an audience starved for a genre movie fix — as well as a younger audience that didn’t know what they were missing. From Dusk Till Dawn‘s budget could have produced several dozen of the films it was channeling, and the production put every penny of it to use. Tarantino and Rodriguez made sure that their film hit all the beats grindhouse cinema fans could want (there’s a scene where a teenager begs to die while pubic-hair toting vampire-beasts eat him alive). Despite the gore, violence, and naked fiends, the feature didn’t dive so far down the grindhouse cinema rabbit hole that it wasn’t accessible to mainstream audiences.

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Tarantino began introducing links between his movies in the mid-nineties, and From Dusk Till Dawn played a large role in establishing the connective tissue that binds the Tarantinoverse. In From Dusk Till Dawn, Michael Parks plays Texas Ranger Earl McGraw, an ill-fated lawman who meets his demise at the hands of the Gecko brothers — Earl and his son Edgar would eventually pop up in Grindhouse and Kill Bill. Later on in the film, Seth (George Clooney) steps away to grab some lunch and returns with Big Kahuna Burgers, the burger franchise made famous by Pulp Fiction‘s Jules when he munches down and declares, “This is a tasty burger.” Almost 20 years after showing up on the dashboard of the Gecko brother’s car, Red Apple cigarettes receive a shameless plug in The Hateful Eight. Sex Machine’s (Tom Savini) penis pistol and Chango beer even make the leap from Tarantino’s From Dusk Till Dawn script to Rodriguez’s Desperado. While these crossovers aren’t integral to the story, they add a narrative heft that makes the world seem lived in and the characters feel more fleshed out.

One of the main reasons From Dusk Till Dawn works so well is its spot on casting. The film features a combination of solid character actors (Michael Parks, Harvey Keitel), beloved genre icons (Tom Savini, Fred Williamson, Cheech Marin, Danny Trejo), and future stars (Salma Hayek, George Clooney). From Dusk Till Dawn’s deep cast also delivers a number of memorable performances; Michael Parks carries the opening scene with all the swagger of the movie’s hero, only to get blown away five-minutes later; Cheech pops up three times playing three different characters; and who can forget Salma Hayek’s seductive entrance as Santanico Pandemonion?— one of film’s sexiest introductions ever. In addition to a solid cast of role-players, From Dusk Till Dawn is notable for serving as the launching pad for George Clooney’s movie career. The film rocketed the then TV star into the Hollywood A-lister stratosphere, where he has remained for the past two decades. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the film helped Tarantino satiate his desire to act. While he still regularly pops up onscreen, Tarantino has come to terms with focusing his creative energy on his work behind the camera.

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A true love letter to cinema’s bygone era, From Dusk Till Dawn is what happens when two visionary directors join forces to pay homage to the movies that inspired them; a cinematic throwback that’s also ahead of its time. From Dusk Till Dawn was far ahead of the curve, foreshadowing modern film’s over-reliance on recycling fondly remembered movies, TV shows, and games of yesteryear. While From Dusk Till Dawn isn’t a literal reboot, it captured the spirit of a past genre and repackaged it for new audiences. The movie is also notable for featuring numerous Easter Eggs linking Tarantino’s filmography. Finally, From Dusk Till Dawn stands out for its solid cast, particularly the film’s lead, George Clooney, an actor that never dove back into the murky waters of pulpy, grindhouse style filmmaking. From Dusk Till Dawn is the rare genre mash-up that is equally effective on multiple levels, a film that unravels in a crime-ridden nightmarescape that never fails to excite.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on March 12, 2017. 

Victor Stiff is a Toronto-based pop culture writer and film critic who enjoys covering the city's biggest (and nerdiest) events. Victor has covered TIFF, Hot Docs, Toronto After Dark, Toronto ComiCon, and Fan Expo Canada for publications all over the internet. You can find his latest posts on Twitter and Instagram.

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70 Best Movie Posters of 2019

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Best Movie Posters of 2019

Deciding the best movie posters is no easy task…

I remember when I was younger, I used to head to the video store and rent movies I’d never heard of based solely on the movie poster art. This was, of course, a different time— sure, the internet was a thing, but we didn’t have countless websites, not to mention social media platforms, promoting new movies online with news stories, movie stills, featurettes, teasers, trailers and so on. Not to say that sort of marketing didn’t exist in the past, because it did, but it wasn’t always in your face. For better or for worse, the internet changed the way studios market movies, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the use of a poster to help build excitement and anticipation for an upcoming film. Most posters continue to be an important marketing tool for filmmakers worldwide and so once again, we’ve decided to collect images of our favourite movie posters revealed over the past twelve months. If you checked out our list of the best movie posters of 2018, you’ll remember it included posters for indie gems, thrillers, horror movies, foreign language films, Hollywood blockbusters and everything in between. This year is no different, although it should be said that some marketing campaigns were so good, we’ve decided to include more than one poster for a few select films. Also worth noting, we didn’t include any fan-made poster art below. That out of the way, here are the best movie posters of 2019.

Click on any one of the images to enlarge the posters.

The Best Movie Posters of 2019

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The Piercing ‘Marriage Story’ Is Noah Baumbach’s Best Film to Date

TIFF 2019

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Marriage Story

In 2010, director Noah Baumbach began divorce proceedings with his now ex-wife, Jennifer Jason Leigh. The divorce was finalized three years later, and since then Baumbach has been in a relationship with actor and director (and occasional collaborator) Greta Gerwig. It’s impossible to view his newest film, Marriage Story, without taking into account his own dissolved marriage; this is a searching, seething work of recriminations and longing that pits two all–too–human parents against each other, and invites the audience to not only imagine which bits of psychic trauma are his own, but also to consider our own relationships, successful or not.

Marriage Story stars Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver as Nicole and Charlie, a married couple living in New York City with their young son Henry. The film opens with a montage as Nicole recites the things she most loves about her husband, from the way he can cook and doesn’t mind waking up with their son, to his skill as a theater director. In turn, Charlie narrates his favorite aspects of Nicole, his regular lead actor. There are plenty of opportunities for tears here, but the unguarded emotions of these confessions might get them started right from the beginning. But just as they finish reciting these traits, we’re brought back to reality; these confessions were things that they had written down to read to each other as a kind of peace offering at the start of their mediation following a separation that has led up to their divorce. But Nicole doesn’t like what she has written — or at least doesn’t want Charlie to hear it. And if she won’t go, then it’s not really fair for him to read his. So neither tells each other what they most admire in the other, and instead stop seeing the mediator.

It’s the first strike in Nicole and Charlie’s mutually assured destruction agreement. Though they initially plan on avoiding using lawyers, Nicole gets tipped off to a well-regarded attorney (a funny and ice-cold Laura Dern) who advises her to take a maximalist position in order to ensure she gets half of everything she wants — at the very least. Once she has a lawyer, Charlie tries out a variety of legal counsels (a soothing Alan Alda and a fiery Ray Liotta), but the real conflict comes down to location; Nicole has taken Henry to Los Angeles while she films a pilot, and wants to stay even after it’s finished. Charlie, however, thought they would move back to New York. Each escalation in the feud necessitates an opposing reaction, and the two are driven further and further apart, even as they try to stay close for the sake of their son.

Marriage Story

Baumbach has admitted that some details of the film are based on his own divorce, but he’s also said he interviewed many of his friends who divorced around the same time, as well as lawyers and judges involved in divorce cases. In some ways, Marriage Story isn’t just a portrait of a couple separating, but a primer on divorce court that far surpasses something like Kramer vs. Kramer, which was out of date even in 1979. The film is also an opportunity to observe two of the best living actors at the top of their game. Johansson and Driver have a knack for finding the sweet spot between un-actorly naturalism and the stylistic ticks that we recognize as compelling acting. It gives us a sense that these people were actually a family, and really cared for each other. Baumbach’s script helps; it’s maybe his best writing ever, filled with so many painfully open moments, yet leavened with just the right amount of humor. He’s also as fair as he could be, and neither parent comes off as too saintly or self-centered.

Marriage Story ends in a circle of sorts with the discovery of Nicole’s notes about Charlie’s best qualities. Their marriage was effectively over before the film even started, but I kept thinking back to that lovely introductory scene. How might their journey to divorce progressed if they had the courage to speak openly to each other in that one moment? Perhaps something might have been better. Marriage Story doesn’t harbor any of those romantic illusions, however; once it’s over, it’s over.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on September 12, 2019, as part of our coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival.

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Don’t Be Sad ‘A Rainy Day in New York’ Never Made it to Manhattan

Spend this rainy day playing a board game or something

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Rainy Day in New York

You do not come to late-era Woody Allen for anything resembling true originality. He is the drunken piano man, riffing off the same old hits in the same old bar, hoping that nostalgia will hit a chord with somebody. As in Midnight in Paris, Blue Jasmine, or even Irrational Man, his output over the last decade can still bring up moments of true inspiration and fresh-feeling angles on the same old tales, even if the plot-lines feel somewhat familiar. In the best humanist cinema, like that of Rohmer or Ozu, this repetition can make you see the same thing in a slightly different way. The same cannot be said of A Rainy Day in New York, a film so derivative it feels like it came out of an auto-generator, making me feel nothing but contempt for the waste of so much talent. If you are an American Woody Allen fan sad that this movie never made it to Manhattan, there’s honestly no need to be.

Timotheé Chalamet stars and narrates in a performance so poor that he must be happy this film hasn’t released back in the States. He plays Gatsby Wells, a student at upstate Yardley College, a place he detests yet tolerates because his beloved girlfriend Ashleigh (Elle Fanning) — heiress to a rich banking empire in Tucson — also studies there. As a writer for the University paper, she gets the chance to interview famous director Roland Pollard (Liev Schreiber), giving them the possibility to explore New York together. Yet when they arrive there, a series of misunderstandings, mishaps, and fear of missed opportunities keeps them perpetually apart, handing them the chance to explore romance with others — including old flames, movie stars and, of course, high-priced escorts. 

Although his first name is Gatsby, Wells better resembles the other great male of 20th century American literature: Holden Caulfield. Like the protagonist of The Catcher in the Rye, he is born of massive privilege, shunning his supposedly phoney origins while still visiting the fanciest hotels and drinking in the fanciest bars. There is perhaps some kind of interesting modern portrait of New York privilege in here, but Woody Allen is simply not the right director for the material. It’s like asking a jazz pianist to bash out a techno tune. 

And just as Allen’s blinkered view of New York blinds him to the real world and its contemporary concerns, Chalamet’s nostalgia act cannot find a way to escape Woody’s wooden writing. The sensitive, pretentious, sensual young man who turned in such a deeply felt performance in Call Me By Your Name could be a natural fit for a Woody Allen character, if only he actually leaned into what makes him a great actor instead of trying his best Woody Allen imitation. While some actors can do Woody Allen well (Kenneth Branagh is uncanny in Celebrity, while Larry David is great in Whatever Works), Timotheé Chalamet has neither the studied talent to impersonate well, nor the arrogance to put his own distinctive stamp on it. Elle Fanning is similarly dire; playing both an intrepid, impetuous journalist and a thick floozy, she carries neither the charm nor the wit to make her a compelling co-lead.  

A Rainy Day in New York

I don’t blame either actor; they’re young, and there’s a feeling that they weren’t given much direction. In fact, almost every aspect of A Rainy Day in New York feels underdeveloped, underwritten, and under-thought. This is a film so lazy that it even recycles the ending of Midnight in Paris, perhaps hoping that the audience developed amnesia since 2011. Even Allen’s trademark eye for Manhattan is missing. Filming here properly for the first time since 2009, the city no longer seems like much of a character by itself, and instead comes off as it would in a generic TV Christmas Movie. 

While Allen’s early 00s work — easily his worst period — is characterised by its TV-movie lighting, his collaborations over the past ten years with cinematographers such as Darius Khondji (Midnight in Paris, To Rome With Love), Javier Aguirresarobe (Blue Jasmine), and Vittorio Stororo (Cafe Society, Wonder Wheel) elevated his films’ look considerably, even when the writing may have been lacking. Sadly here, the legendary cinematographer behind Apocalypse Now and The Conformist — despite what seems like his best efforts to light generic hotel rooms with warmth and vibrancy — cannot save A Rainy Day in New York at all, which feels even more rushed and cut-to-pieces than usual. This is really only for die-hard Woody Allen completists; casual minds need not bother.

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