Glorious Inglourious Basterds

Immediately following the roll of the credits, I declared Inglourious Basterds to be my favorite film of the year thus far. Granted, the 2009 slate has been less than stellar and the usual Oscar-caliber suspects have yet to reveal themselves. That being said, my votes for the first batch of Academy Award nominations would be as follows:

Best Picture: Inglourious Basterds
Best Director: Quentin Tarantino
Best Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino
Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz
Best Supporting Actress: Melanie Laurent

Tarantino has arguably the most unique eye and taste in contemporary cinema. To me, Inglourious Basterds is his finest film to date, in terms of story and cinematography. It is as if Tarantino dons a loaded orchestra wand, stands on a dais (eyes and grin equally wide and wild), and conducts the violent scenes before him with precision and maniacal joy. To be honest, I am not bothered or distracted by the violence in Tarantino films, because I interpret it more as artistic choreography than gratuitous bloodshed. Basterds is no exception. 

Some directors seem to apply the overused slow motion (bullet time, time-lapse, etc.) technique to their films in order to accentuate the action. Tarantino, on the other hand, appears to specifically decelerate scenes to emphasize the emotion; he wants us to know exactly how his characters feel as they each administer their preferred method of vengeance or justice. That has never been more evident than it is in Basterds, and credit is due to the very talented ensemble as well as the man behind the lens.  

The Basterds cast was actually a pleasant surprise. Frankly, this is Brad Pitt at his best. I was quite bored throughout The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and thrilled to see Pitt finally reveal his truly dark humor roots in Basterds (versus his campy performance in Burn After Reading). 

But I’ve rarely seen an actor steal an entire movie more deftly than Christoph Waltz, as Colonel Hans Landa. A seasoned actor from Austria and relative unknown in the U.S., Waltz is a knockout in Basterds, and a shoe-in for Supporting Actor when the 2009 Oscar nods are announced. Waltz plays Landa brilliantly, a disarmingly jolly menace with a similar disposition to The Joker (Heath Ledger, last year’s posthumous recipient in this category).

The two female leads in Basterds, Diane Kruger and Melanie Laurent, both imbue and arm their characters with the strength to more than hold their own among the overwhelmingly male cast. I was extremely impressed by and drawn to Laurent, an alluring French actress who is also worthy of acting accolades for this film when awards season arrives. 

The soundtrack to Basterds features an eclectic mix of tracks that accompany and elevate certain scenes in the film beautifully. Tarantino rarely disappoints when it comes to the music that he meticulously chooses for his projects. 

I’ve heard many refer to Inglourious Basterds as a Jewish revenge movie. I am Jewish, but that fact remains irrelevant with regard to my appreciation for this film on all levels. To me, a (historical or fictional) bad guy is a bad guy, whether in life or on screen. Obviously I am able to differentiate between reality and fantasy, and this movie was far easier for me to experience personally than the painfully authentic Schindler’s List. I admire both films for their direction and cinematography, and would argue that Basterds‘ remarkably unconventional perspective is as important in the educational entertainment landscape as one with a more historically accurate portrayal of that era, locale and war. 

Basterds truly is a stunning piece of work; from script, structure and pace to the performances and overall aesthetic. While not for the faint at heart, it is a movie that I would recommend to those who appreciate the craft and art of filmmaking. You need not be a Tarantino loyalist to enjoy Basterds; you will be absolutely riveted from the incredibly tense and boldly diffuse first scene through the very rewarding conclusion. 

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Own House’s Cane, Attend Family Guy Table Read & More: Bid Now! Emmy Auction Benefits Education

House fans, now is your chance to snag a custom cane, autographed by Hugh Laurie. Family Guy enthusiasts, you can bid on the very unique opportunity to attend a cast Table Read. These are just two of the many television-related items and experiences up for grabs in the Emmy Auction currently taking place on eBay through September 3:

  • Autographed memorabilia from cast members of Breaking Bad, The Cleaner, Damages, Grey’s Anatomy, The Mentalist, The Office, Rescue Me, Saving Grace and more
  • Emmy dresses designed by Christian Siriano and Lauren Conrad
  • Front Row Seats to the Emmy’s Red Carpet, and Red Carpet Bleacher seats to the Screen Actors Guild Awards
  • Set Visits to The Bold & The Beautiful, Medium, Melrose Place, Monk and Young & the Restless
  • Tickets to Emmy Awards + HBO After-Party
  • Tickets to the So You Think You Can Dance Finale
  • VIP Tickets to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Jay Leno Show, Jimmy Kimmel Live and The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien
  • VIP Tickets to the Tournament of Roses Parade

One hundred percent of the proceeds from this auction benefit the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation, which develops and sponsors educational and archival programs. As both a professional archivist and huge fan of the television industry, I am very happy to support this non-profit organization.

Bid early and often; the auction ends next week! The 61st Primetime Emmy Awards air on Sunday, September 20.

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Fall 2009 TV Calendar: Download Your Copy Now!

As the fall season approaches every year, I prepare a television spreadsheet for myself to keep track of both new and returning shows; I find this to be a useful tool for programming my TiVO and figuring out my writing schedule. Due to the amount of interest that my friends, co-workers and family have expressed in obtaining such a document, I decided to share it with those of you who might also be interested.  

Click here to download your copy of the official JOpinionated 2009 Fall TV Calendar! 

There are far fancier versions of Fall TV calendars and schedules on other sites, but mine is bare-bones basic and straightforward. It is organized by day of the week, and includes premiere dates, as well as my personal recommendations for new shows. In addition, there is a second page which lists all shows that are either returning or debuting in early 2010. 

If I am missing a cable or network series or you spot an error, please let me know and I will update the spreadsheet immediately. 

Thanks, and enjoy!

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Win a Trip to the Set of FRINGE!

Filming is now underway for the second season of Fringe. Visit Complete the Pattern and enter to win a visit to the set! Seriously, it’s a simple click away. I am a huge fan of the show and of Vancouver, so I didn’t hesitate to jump at this chance. 

The Grand Prize winner will receive a visit to the set in Vancouver, the first prize winner will receive a hi-def home entertainment system and five second prize winners will receive Season 1 on DVD. As an added bonus, when you enter – you will receive a sneak peek clip of Fringe

Fringe: The Complete First Season will be released on September 8 on both Blu-Ray and DVD. 

Stay tuned for my review next week of the entire DVD set, as I detail the very cool special features, including: unaired scenes, “Deciphering the Scene” sidebars on every episode, Roberto Orci’s production diary and, of course, the gag reel!

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DVD Review: The Write Environment – Comic Book Series Special Edition (G Johns, M Waid & M Wolfman)

I have to admit that it is a real treat to be given the opportunity to review this particular installment from The Write Environment, hosted by creator and writer Jeffrey Berman, given that I recently returned from my second year at Comic-Con. 

Here are a few highlights from the interviews with comic book legends Geoff Johns, Mark Waid and Marv Wolfman, who are featured on The Write Environment: Comic Book Series Special Edition DVD. 
Hands down, Johns may have the coolest work space of all of the interviewees in The Write Environment DVD series. He utilizes a hydraulic desk, choosing to write either standing up or sitting down. And there is an entire wall behind the desk filled with amazingly organized and labeled boxes full of comic books; every issue in his collection is carefully housed in an archive sleeve. I admire such thoughtful storage, and openly admit that I plan to improve upon the pop culture archives in my own home office using his method. 

Of the many enlightening facts that you will glean from his interview, I was surprised to learn that Johns’ introduction into the comic book world was less than traditional; he started out as an assistant to director Richard Donner (Conspiracy Theory, Lethal Weapon). 

Johns is a very disciplined writer, as he is able to write an entire comic in one week from start to finish. Die-hard comic book fans are familiar with Johns because he is responsible for the rejuvenation of the Green Lantern and Hal Jordan. This talented young writer has established himself with a very impressive body of work for both DC Comics (Blackest Night, The Flash, Infinite Crisis, JSA, Superman, Teen Titans) and Marvel (The Avengers, Ultimate X-Men, etc.). 
“I give good cliffhanger.” Waid delivers the best line from all three of Berman’s interviews. 

His work space actually feels more like an extra bedroom with memorabilia-lined shelves than a regular home office. Truly, one of my favorite aspects of this DVD series is that we are invited to peek into the personal spaces of these beloved writers. 

In addition to being a renowned writer in the industry, Waid is a both a teacher and a visual thinker; he believes that you have to be able to write a wide variety of voices and empathize with the characters. In his interview, Waid elaborates about the relationship between the artist and the writer, which is a very collaborative effort. 

Waid’s stellar career began with The Comet and he wrote The Flash for eight years. Many regard the apocalyptic graphic novel Kingdom Come as Waid’s Watchmen. He also penned issues and series’ of Captain America, Fantastic Four, Impulse, Justice League, L.E.G.I.O.N. and X-Men, among many others. The most current Mark Waid comic is Irredeemable.

Wolfman’s home office resembles your neighborhood comic book store; warm and jam packed with more back issues than you’d ever have time to page through. He is the first to admit that clutter drives him crazy…and yet his bathroom resembles an eBay stockpile of original comic book related toys!

Wolfman finds dialogue easier than story and structure, and works from a strong outline. He always starts with characters, loves writing comedy and horror because both appeal to emotion. 

Marv Wolfman co-created Teen Titans, and many feature films have been based upon his work (the Blade trilogy, Bullseye in Daredevil, the novelization of Superman Returns). A few of Wolfman’s characters have also been featured on the small screen (Lois & Clark, Smallville). While Wolfman also wrote issues of Batman, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man and Superman, his notable titles include Crisis on Infinite Earths, Nightwing (a character which he created) and The Tomb of Dracula
Listening to these three gentlemen discuss their characters and stories, it is obvious how much respect they all have for their predecessors and peers, as well as the craft. It is fascinating to discern the varying styles of each writer; for example, Mark Waid enjoys writing cliffhangers with no idea what the resolution is, whereas Geoff Johns prefers to have a 2 year plan in mind while creating his stories. 

Comic Con originated as a gathering to celebrate the art and enthusiasm for comic books. And while the current focus of the convention overwhelmingly leans toward the promotion of feature films and television shows, the artists and writers who continue to create comic books will never be overshadowed by the temporary landscape of these other mediums. The writers interviewed on this DVD and their vast contributions to the comic book community serve as an important reminder to embrace our tactile childhood memories; acquiring and holding first issues and playing with action figures are indelible experiences that Johns, Waid and Wolfman clearly understand and appreciate. 

I highly recommend that aspiring comic book, graphic novel and general entertainment writers order a copy of The Write Environment: Comic Book Series Special Edition from Amazon or The Write Store. This rare glimpse into the minds and worlds of these writers is well worth your $19.99.

If you’re interested, I also reviewed the first round of this fantastic DVD series, which featured television showrunners/writers: Doug Ellin (Entourage), Tim King (Heroes), Damon Lindelof (Lost), Phil Rosenthal (Everybody Loves Raymond), Sam Simon (The Simpsons) and Joss Whedon (Dollhouse). 

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