Saturday, August 22, 2009

Inglorious Basterds

All of Tarantino’s movies are really about the movies. His career seems to be a story of experimentation from genre to genre. In each he turns a genre on its head, adds some panache and at the same time pays homage to the film-makers that came before him. Like a great musician he steals from those that came before him and does his best to go a little bit farther and push the door wide open for what comes next. Once he touches a genre it seems that the film-makers that come after him do the same by stealing from him and/or paying homage. Most will deny this, but it’s definitely a fact as I see him being imitated time and again. Guy Ritchie does a great job at this, yet he sticks to one genre.

Here Tarantino pays his respects to the characters of 1967 flick Dirty Dozen. Although darker in nature, this special ops troop streamrolls ahead to carry through a seemingly impossible task with refreshing naivety and bravado. This makes everything they discuss, threaten to do and positively follow though on, both hilarious and disturbing at the same time. I cannot be easily disturbed, but I am certain that some viewers will hate this aspect of the movie, while disturbed individuals like me will revel in the originality.

Like a classic song there are other aspects, subplots or movements to this movie. For one, we have the German detective, played by Christoph Waltz, who lays down the quintessential Christopher Walken dialogue with haunting ease. The last time I was this captivated with what a Nazi soldier was saying, I was absorbing the haunting justifications of Ralph Fiennes in Schindlers List. In a similar way, Waltz almost steals the show, and he would have if it were not for Brad Pitt’s portrayal of Lt. Aldo Raine the cruel but just leader of the Basterds. These were the two characters that filled the screen and will long be remembered. The others held their own but were truly supporting staff. Their crossover scene was small and memorable, however it was the build up of each of the character’s story to the climax that drives this tale.

I want to get back to Christoph Waltz’s stunning portrayal of Col. Hans Landa, Where did Quentin dig this guy up? Again Tarantino might make another actor into a superstar with the quality of the role and casting. This should get a supporting actor nod. If not, it will the greatest injustice the world has ever seen, since Ralph Fiennes lost his Oscar to Tommy Lee Jones 1993. Each word he uttered keeps you pinned to your seat and demanded absolute silence in the theatre. This is all the more impressive as moments earlier the audience was reeling over live scalping. We all know that Pitt is a genius and one of the industry’s bravest actors. He accepts different and challenging roles that always seem to be out of his range, yet he always stands out and delivers in a way that has us talking about it at our water coolers. He does the same here by adapting a seemingly out of place southern American tough guy that leads his life and team set in the creed of mercenary duty. Although we shouldn’t be pulling for this oft-kilter hero his dedication to the destruction of Nazi tyranny seems to trump all moral and logical thinking.

The strength and quality of the dialogue available in this script could be just as captivating if delivered by two local theatre actors in a coffee shop. Its not that its overly highbrow or sophisticated, but it’s just so real, visceral and memorable. Add Tarantino’s directorial cues, Pitt and Waltz then it becomes magic.

As evident in the Kill Bill series, Tarantino is fond of the strong willed heroine character to drive the basis of the plot to which all the interesting characters converge. Melanie Laurent pulls of the other story line of a young girl who matures through the power of vengeance after being wronged by the story’s villain.

Here’s a plug for the minimal exposure of The Office’s B.J. Novak who was fun to see on the big screen.

I will warn you that a good part of this film is spoken in German with English subtitles. For me this wasa a minor distraction and actually gives the film an authentic feel. For a moment in an early scene it appeared as though we were going to see a clever way out of the subtitles, but I think this was just a tease.

To sum it up this is a movie of memorable and quotable scenes, and intricately crafted characters that are paced into both palpable and at times drawn out moments. Together we have a strong 8 out of 10, that cements this director into one of the all-time distinctive greats and proves that none of his earlier accomplishments were flukes.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

500 Days of Summer

Gentlemen, if you have too see one movie this summer with your significant other, this is the one to see.
The plot gives us two leads Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel. Their relationship is less than normal and miles apart from those of traditional film roles (key word 'film'). Here we have the emotional and sensitive man demanding commitment while the woman wants to keep it casual. Although this happens all the time in the real world we seldomly see this at the movies. Forgetting Sarah Marshall had a slightly different plot but is another good example of role reversal. To keep this spolier free, I don't want to get into specifics but the film provides a steady diet of interesting takes of peaks and valleys within this relationship, and that of Gordon-Levitt and his two best male friends that provide the intermittant comic relief.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a star. This picture, 2005's Brick and 2007's The Lookout have people taking notice. Granted few have seen these films, but the acclaim from critics and independent film fans will certainly catch the attention of big studio directors and thus more visable roles. I'm not sure though that Gordon-Levitt will embrace this exposure as I am under the impression that his acting style of loosely knit intensity might be more suited to independent film roles. I know I am reading a lot into an actor with such a young career, however I get the feeling he is more suited to a Sean Penn type career path with challenging choices or high quality rather than high profile roles.

Zooey on the other hand is as exotic and quirly in her mannerisms and acting style that her name flower-child name suggests. She is solid and perfectly casted as this willful yet carefree experimenting single.

Overall, I hope for big things from this movie and it certainly appears to be gathering momentum. It certainly can't be described as formulaic, but it should benefit from the heavy trailer promotion it has been getting. Here's crossing my fingers. Given the genre this film is in I out of 10.

Public Enemy

Sorry about the hiatus.
I have a few pictures to run by you, luckily they are still in cinemas.
They picture won't knock you off your feet, or keep you riveted to the edge of your seat, however it will entertain those that respect historical character studies that offer solid writing and great performances.
If you are alive and well in this universe you don't need me to tell you, that Johnny Depp can act, and deserves all the respect he gets for pursuing challenging interesting roles that keep him as far as possible away from being typecast. In Public Enemy he delivers again. The performance is a bit subdued and although I admit I wasn't around in the 1930's I am guessing the portrayal is probably pretty accurate. I think the director Michael Mann chose Depp for his ability to pull off Dellinger in this not so larger than life way. After all this is a criminal that was always in hiding and elusive, so playing him big and boisterous probably isn't too realistic. Johnny knows exactly how to do this while keeping viewers in an unbiased state in their opinion of Dellinger by not glorifying the criminal's not so admirable qualities. Like in Tim Robbins' 1995's Dead Man Walking, he had Sean Penn play the death row inmate's character in such a way that we did not get carried away in character admiration or sympathize with the criminal. He accomplished this by having Penn play the role in a subdued non-remorseful way, while at the same time constantly reminding viewers that this guy wasn't a great guy with gruesome flashbacks of the crime. I love when directors allow us to make up our own opinion of a character instead of cramming sentimentalities or propaganda down our throats. Mann accomplished this with the Dellinger character and for me that was the best part of the movie.
The supporting cast was strong, most notably the ever underrated and intense Christian Bale. Bale was the intense ying to the reserved yang of Depp's Dellinger.
I also want to mention that Mann delivered us another classic gun fight, reminiscent of his 1995 flick Heat. Catch it also in video, as it accomplishes cinematic history by casting DeNiro and Pacino on the screen at the same time. Riveting.
Overall I give this movie a 7 out of 10 and can't recommend it to everyone so please consider my review and see it if what I describes interests you.