Book Review: Shoot Like Tarantino

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Publisher: Michael Wiese Productions

Release Date: Aug 01, 2015

Christopher Kenworthy’s Shoot Like Tarantino: The Visual Secrets of Dangerous Storytelling is a strange animal. It is a book written and arranged for burgeoning filmmakers in an effort to help them learn from Tarantino’s camera techniques. Kenworthy does an admirable job at explaining his intentions in the book’s introduction, and they bear repeating here:

“…This book shows you why the best moments in [Tarantino’s] films work so well, and how you can take that knowledge to make your own films work more effectively.

You don’t want to copy Tarantino. Hundreds of people copy Tarantino without understanding what it is that makes him brilliant and the result is usually a lot of swearing and pointless violence. When people copy Tarantino badly, it makes for an embarrassing mess.

You want to be an exciting and original filmmaker, but when you learn the shots, shortcuts, and creative setups that Tarantino has mastered, you will become a better filmmaker. An understanding of how he works should give you more opportunities to be creative with the camera… The films explored in this book show that no matter how good your actors or your script, you need to explore the magic of the camera to make your story work on the big screen.

The scenes chosen for this book range from unforgettable masterpieces to more functional moments, to show that a good storyteller must make the most of the shot, whether it’s the best scene or one of the minor plot points…

…By the time you have reached the end of the book you should have a good grasp of how Tarantino sees a scene, how carefully he sets it up, and how he films creatively. You’ll be able to shoot your own scenes with a better understanding of the visual techniques that make a scene come to life.” -Christopher Kenworthy (Introduction, Shoot Like Tarantino, 2015)

It is good that Kenworthy makes it a point to discourage the reader from merely using the information in the book in an effort to copy the director’s methodology. The book is meant to illuminate the visual language of the cinema and how Quentin Tarantino is able to filter this language through his own voice. It is the language that the reader is intended to learn. The voice that this language is filtered through should absolutely be their own. It is a similar concept to how great painters once learned their craft by painting the works of the great masters that proceeded them. Only after learning their craft could they filter this through their own unique subjective voice to create art. Luckily, for anyone with innate talent, their material will automatically be filtered through their own unique perspective without any pretentious effort on their part—but they will need to learn and understand the language, and this book is an extremely fun way to do this (even if it doesn’t cover the entirety of this language).

For those learning film direction, this book is best used as a supplement to more in-depth texts. This point should absolutely be stressed, but there is another audience for this book. Fans of Quentin Tarantino may very well find that the book is a great resource when it comes to gaining an understanding into this unusual director’s working methods. The book was originally released in August 2015—a few months before Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight was released into theaters, so this film isn’t covered at all in the book’s pages. Death Proof is also noticeably absent—although, this is likely due to the fact that the film is considered to be his weakest effort. What’s more, none of the films discussed are covered in their entirety as such an approach would require several volumes!

Kenworthy merely takes a few scenes from Tarantino’s canon in order to illustrate various intentions or tasks (each of which is given its own chapter and covers a single scene or sequence): “Raising Tension” (Inglorious Basterds), “Subtle Conflict” (Jackie Brown), “Anticipation” (Inglorious Basterds), “Unbearable Tension” (Inglorious Basterds), “Minimal Cuts” (Django Unchained), “Impending Violence” (Django Unchained), “Deliberate Anti-climax” (Kill Bill, Vol. 1), “Breaking Normality (Pulp Fiction), “Controlling Space” (Pulp Fiction), “Group Conversation” (Kill Bill, Vol. 2), and “Losing Control” (Reservoir Dogs). Those who have read his three volume Master Shots series will have a general idea of the basic structure and presentation of the book.

Obviously, certain readers might disagree with some of Kenworthy’s comments as to the intentions and effects of Tarantino’s shooting choices, but this doesn’t ultimately matter. The important thing is that it forces the reader consider these shots and how they are used in Tarantino’s work. Shoot Like Tarantino: The Visual Secrets of Dangerous Storytelling is well worth reading for both Tarantino fans and anyone attempting to learn the craft of filmmaking.

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Book Review: The Making of Dunkirk

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Publisher: Insight Editions

Release Date: July 18, 2017

The Making of Dunkirk” tells the incredible story of how Christopher Nolan (Memento, The Dark Knight Trilogy) brought a historical moment in World War II to life on the screen using innovative film-making techniques that give the film a gritty, exhilarating realism rarely seen in modern cinema. Those who haven’t seen the film itself should correct their oversight soon. It tells the story of the evacuation of British troops from Dunkirk, France, in a daring endeavor that saved them from certain defeat at the hands of enemy forces. Featuring a stunning ensemble cast that includes newcomers Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, and Harry Styles, as well as acclaimed actors Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, and Tom Hardy, Dunkirk offers a breathtaking glimpse at a turning point in the conflict determined by not only the ingenuity of the British forces but also the bravery of British civilians who sailed into war-torn waters to save them. The film has already received an incredible amount of box office and critical success—earning 3 Golden Globe Nominations (Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Score) and 8 Academy Awards Nominations (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing, and Best Sound Mixing).

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James Mottram’s coffee table account of the creation of Dunkirk gives a surprisingly comprehensive account of production. Interviews with the director and key department heads give the text a more authentic resonance and offers the reader first-hand accounts of the film’s creation. Of course, the information is richly illustrated with never-before-seen imagery from the shoot, concept art, storyboards, and other documentation. The accumulative effect is both enjoyable and informative, and the book is essential reading for fans of the film or for anyone who admires the director.

Book Review: The Coen Brothers – The Iconic Filmmakers and Their Work

Cover.jpgPublisher: Aurum Press

Release Date: November 09, 2017

Ian Nathan’s wonderful new book on the Coen Brothers and films can best be described as a career biography that blends “behind the scenes” information with scholarly analysis. It is an essential text for anyone with an affection for those with an affection for the Coen filmography. The in-depth and informative text re-examines their entire output with an emphasis on the films that they directed themselves. It covers their early lives to their indie debut with Blood Simple to their most recent release of Hail Caesar! Packed with stunning images from the Kobal archives, the book also mentions their upcoming mini-series, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.

What’s more, the presentation is really quite special as the hardback book is housed in an attractive slipcase that is extremely sturdy. Everything about the book earns our enthusiastic approval and recommendation.

Book Review: Tarantino – A Retrospective

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Publisher: Insight Editions

Release Date: October 03, 2017

Born in Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1963, Quentin Tarantino spent many Saturday evenings during his childhood accompanying his mother to the movies, nourishing a love of film that was, over the course of his life, to become all-consuming. It is just as well, because he would grow up to be one of American cinema’s most celebrated filmmakers. Known for his highly cinematic visual style, out-of-sequence storytelling, and grandiose violence, Tarantino’s films have provoked both praise and criticism over the course of his career. They’ve also won him a host of awards—including Oscars, Golden Globes, and BAFTA awards—usually for his original screenplays. His oeuvre includes the cult classic Pulp Fiction, bloody revenge saga Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, and historical epics Inglorious Basterds, Django Unchained, and The Hateful Eight. This stunning retrospective catalogs each of Quentin Tarantino’s movies in detail, from My Best Friend’s Birthday to The Hateful Eight. The book is a tribute to a unique directing and writing talent, celebrating an uncompromising, passionate director’s enthralling career at the heart of cult filmmaking.

Make no mistake about this, Tarantino: A Retrospective isn’t merely coffee-table fluff with a lot of great photographs and artwork (although, there are plenty of great photos to be found throughout the book). This is an informative examination of the director’s career! Tom Shone’s text is a seamless mixture of career biography, retrospective appreciation, and film criticism. Surprisingly, there aren’t many essential books available about the director. This makes Shone’s text all the more essential for fans of the director, but it almost seems a bit premature when one considers the fact that Tarantino has consistently insisted that he will only make ten films before he retires from making movies. With eight films under his belt, one wonders why Shone didn’t wait a few years to release the book so that it could include those two new projects. We can’t answer this question with any authority, but we can say with absolute certainty that fans will be very happy that they didn’t have to wait!

Book Review: Reconstructing Strangelove – Inside Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Nightmare Comedy’

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Publisher: Wallflower Press

Release Date: January 2017

Mick Broderick offers Kubrick scholars a rare glimpse into the creation of what may very well be the director’s most important film: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. The text makes use of Kubrick’s own production papers from the Stanley Kubrick Archives in order to dissect the film’s creative evolution as well as its legitimacy in terms of how accurate the film’s depiction of nuclear warfare policies actually were. Several popular myths about the film’s production are proven false even as others are confirmed. Broderick doesn’t try to document the film’s creation and the reader shouldn’t expect a comprehensive examination of the film’s creation. Instead, we are given a scholarly examination of how the film was shaped by the cold war environment, the scientists and world leaders who created that environment, and Kubrick’s creative collaborators. It earns an easy recommendation for fans of the director and for those who admire the film itself.

Review by: Devon Powell

Book Review: Partners in Suspense

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Publisher: Manchester University Press

Release Date: January 18, 2017

“This book brings together new work and new perspectives on the relationship between Hitchcock and Herrmann. Featuring chapters by leading scholars of Hitchcock’s work, the volume examines the working relationship between the two and the contribution that Herrmann’s work brings to Hitchcock’s idiom, as well as expanding our understanding of how music fits into that body of work. The goal of these analyses is to explore approaches to sound, music, collaborative authorship, and the distinctive contribution that Herrmann brought to Hitchcock’s films. Consequently, the book examines these key works, with particular focus on what Elisabeth Weis called ‘the extra-subjective films’—Vertigo (1958),Psycho (1960),The Birds (1963)—and explores Herrmann’s palpable role in shaping the sonic and musical landscape of Hitchcock’s work, which, the volume argues, has a considerable transformative effect on how we understand Hitchcock’s authorship.

The collection examines the significance…

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Book Review: Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters

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Inside His Films, Notebooks, and Collections

Publisher: Insight Editions

Release Date: August 30, 2016

“This exhibition presents a small fraction of the things that have moved me, inspired me, and consoled me as I transit through life. It’s a devotional sampling of the enormous love that is required to create, maintain, and love monsters in our lives.” Guillermo del Toro

An unusual new exhibit on the work of Guillermo del Toro recently opened at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) before moving on to the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) and the Minneapolis Museum of Art (MIA). Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters is the exhibit’s official catalogue, and claims to focus on del Toro’s creative process, including the well-defined themes that he obsessively returns to in all his films, the journals in which he logs his ideas, and the vast collection of art and pop culture ephemera that he has amassed at Bleak House (the director’s unusual “man cave”). The book is filled with imagery from the exhibition, including art selections curated by del Toro himself and pertinent pages from his own journals.

Essays by various curators and historians focus on the nature of collecting or give historical information about monsters and their importance. These essays are interesting enough, but those wishing for real insight into the director’s creative process might be disappointed. This information is confined to a short but interesting interview with del Toro. Unfortunately, the interview could hardly be considered an in-depth study of his creative process. Even the handful of pages from the director’s notebooks don’t really provide much in the way of actual information about the director’s work.

Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters will make a great souvenir for those who attend his expedition, but those who want concrete insights to the director’s work or creative process will feel short changed. This beautiful but somewhat anemic book is for the completest.

Review by: Devon Powell