The Usual Suspects

MGM Home Entertainment

There’s something about screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie‘s writing that brings out the best in director Bryan Singer as evidenced by the inarguable fact that The Usual Suspects and Valkryie are easily his finest films. They have a real efficiency to them, both on the page and on the screen. The cleaner the story, the more proficient Singer is behind the camera. (McQuarrie and Singer also collaborated on Jack the Giant Slayer, but let’s just forget about that misstep.) In the next month they both have films coming out, neither of which they collaborated on. Singer returns to the comic book genre with X-Men: Days of Future Past, while McQuarrie worked on the script for Edge of Tomorrow, which, of course, you should all be excited for. It’s been nearly 20 years since The Usual Suspects, and the film holds up incredibly well. What makes the film stand the test of time isn’t its famous twist, but its appealing group of skillful misfits. This is a great ensemble of characters: they’re all distinct, have their own moments to shine and are exceptionally good at their jobs. McQuarrie is a real pro when it comes to writing characters who operate at the top of their game.

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Tye Sheridan in

Ever find yourself itching with the desire to plant your ass on the couch all day, but facing the dilemma that you can’t find anything in the endlessly scrolling Netflix menu worth watching? We’ve all been there. They don’t make it easy on us, do they? There’s no need to worry though, because there are actually always plenty of movies on Netflix well worth watching, and here we have a list of 18 of them that have either been added or re-added to the service (these things do tend to come and go, don’t they?) in recent months. Click on the titles to be taken to the films’ Netflix pages, where they can be easily added to your queue. You’ll thank yourself next time the concept of leaving your house and interacting with other humans seems unthinkable.

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Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds

Near the end of The Incredibles, Syndrome — who’s been hyperaware of the ruinous trope — is caught monologuing. It’s not his downfall, but he’s also not one of the smartest movie villains. He simply knows the usual hamartia. You might call it pride, you may laugh at it, but the monologue is an important part of understanding where a villain is coming from and revealing all the gory details of a complex plan. At the least, it’s almost a narrative necessity for a movie that focuses solely on the hero. The thing is, intelligence is not a pre-requisite for being a movie villain. It actually doesn’t even seem to be that important when you dig through all the  mustache-twirlers out there. Even menacing baddies like Voldemort aren’t particularly smart, just evil and nose-less. Is also isn’t all about getting away with it. That’s definitely a nice touch, but the key to an intelligent villain is creating a deeply involved plan that works (or would work) despite an impressive counter-force. Simply put, a smart villain demands a smart hero.

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Shaun of the Dead

We all know what it feels like when a film touches on events yet to come. Usually it’s the best when it’s something that you could only pick up on after already watching the film once before – it’s like a little inside joke you get to have with the filmmakers, a reward for sitting through the movie more than once. At times it’s not even the fact that it foreshadows event in the films, but rather that it’s so subtle that it takes a few goes to even pick up on. Other times are less subtle, but just as fun. This is probably going to have spoilers in it. Just to be clear.

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Culture Warrior

Warning: This article contains spoilers for Cabin in the Woods Carol J. Clover‘s 1992 book Men, Women, and Chainsaws was one of the rare academic books to become a hit amongst a larger, dedicated movie-going public. The book introduced the term “final girl” (the virginal “good” female who often becomes the final victim or lone survivor at during the final act of a horror film) into the zeitgeist, and it’s an idea that seems so obvious, and is so pervasive throughout the genre, that the fact that a similar term had never been popularized before was simply confounding. It’s also the central organizing conceit to Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon’s Cabin in the Woods, the most overt act of genre deconstruction to enter multiplexes in quite some time. The final girl does not emerge in Cabin as it does in its normal generic form (as a narrative inevitability, a cliché), but rather Clover’s coined conceptualization of “the final girl” encompassingly structures the film – it is the critique of generic conceit, rather than the routine employment of a generic norm, that acts as Cabin’s narrative impetus.

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While you’ll see that I’m giving myself a lot of leeway in the following list (one of the ten isn’t even technically a film), the general idea is that the list that follows singles out films that go beyond simple narration, but rather identify themselves as stories being told either in the universe or even at times outside of the universe. Narration to a film is like a frame to a painting, and while all frames hold their painting in place, there are some that do it with a little more style than others. These are some of my favorites.

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When Zoolander came out on September 28, 2001, the production had digitally removed The World Trade Center’s Twin Towers from the New York City skyline in an effort to avoid displaying a devastating image in the middle of a comedy about the world of fashion. If they’d have left it in, it wouldn’t have been the first time the buildings had been featured on film or television. Since they didn’t, it marks the first time the buildings were ever erased. With the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on 9/11 coming this Sunday, it’s impossible not to be consumed a bit by the gravity of an action that killed so many and lowered a different world view onto all of us. Landon and I talked on Reject Radio regarding the effect that the day had on movies and movie-watchers, but that mostly dealt with the last decade – the world that came after that morning. As a counterpart, here’s a simply-edited montage of the past. Dan Meth has built a view to the movies where the Twin Towers either stood proudly in the background, made prominent appearances in the front of the action, or acted as the set. It’s stirring in its matter-of-factness, and it’s more than a little moving, but it’s ultimately a celebration of a symbol that no longer (physically) exists. Check it out for yourself:

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This Week in Blu-ray

After a few weeks of hellish uncertainty, This Week in Blu-ray is back to being on time. That is, if you count being available at some point on Tuesday as being “on time.” Which I do, for the record. Moving on, the most important thing to remember is that we’re back with some advice in one of the most diverse weeks of Blu-ray releasing so far in 2011. We’ve got a new one from Criterion, a few classics, action films for people who wish they were Jason Statham, horror films, an animated superhero epic, and a movie starring Kat Dennings. There’s something for everyone this week. Pale Flower (Criterion) I must differ to Roger Ebert for a moment, as he says it far better than I ever could: Pale Flower is “one of the most haunting noirs I’ve seen, and something more; in 1964 it was an important work in an emerging Japanese New Wave of independent filmmakers, an exercise in existential cool. It involves a plot, but it is all about attitude.” What Masahiro Shinoda created in 1964 is an enduring and indelible excursion into Japan’s underworld. It’s also a relentlessly cool film for its time. Criterion, to their credit, has gone to great lengths to preserve it and restore it for HD Blu-ray. They’ve included an uncompressed monaural audio track, brand new video interviews with the director and a new (and allegedly improved) English translation. As this is my first experience with Pale Flower, I can’t say how […]

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Pete Postlethwaite was a legend in the world of character actors. He was the essential “That Guy” that your friends maybe didn’t know by name (which you couldn’t believe) but knew immediately upon seeing his big sad eyes and round mountain of a nose. Postlethwaite played more iconic characters than almost anyone else in the business. He was Kobayashi in The Usual Suspects, the Old Man in James and the Giant Peach, and Father Laurence in Romeo + Juliet. He also kept busy by appearing in Clash of the Titans, Inception, and The Town (and playing characters that would cut your rose bud right off its stem in each). Pete Postlethwaite died after battling cancer at the age of 64. He’s gone, but he’s left a legacy of ridiculously wonderful films behind, and will see the screen again in Killing Bono – the last film of his long and illustrious career.

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The twist ending is a difficult thing to perfect. Attempting such an ending runs many risks. For one, if the twist occurs with the natural trajectory of the story, the impact of the twist can be lessened for the spectator if they accurately guess it along the way. Perhaps more commonly, twist endings simply don’t work most of the time – more often than not, they come across as cheap, insincere attempts at making the spectator think they have experienced a more intelligent film than they actually have…

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