Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Inglorious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino has handed us an interesting philosophical question: Is gratuitous violence and bloodshed acceptable if the ones being killed are Nazis? Surely, as his argument goes, they’ve earned it. For the atrocities committed, the millions they slaughtered, we can let go of our pacifism temporarily. Look at it like a zombie movie: It’s not wrong to kill them if they’re already dead, right? It’s an interesting question. I for one have no real solid opinion on the issue. I’m reviewing a movie.

The first thing that caught me off guard with this film was the misleading nature of the previews. I was led to believe that Brad Pitt would be the bright shining star and all the action (of which I was expecting lots) would be glorious and bloody.

I was wrong.

Brad Pitt gets only about half of this film. And throughout his portion he’s sharing the screen with all of his Basterds. The rest of this film is largely the story of a young woman, a French Jew, named Shoshanna (Mélanie Laurent), sole survivor of a massacre on her family. The paths of these two characters never quite cross. Not on a personal level, anyway.

As I should have expected, the film isn’t a non-stop thrill ride with blood dripping off of every frame. It’s mostly dialogue. Groups of people, varying in size, sitting in a room talking. We all know (including the characters on screen) it’s going to end badly, but we’re just going to wait it out as long as we can. Tarantino’s attempts at building suspense aren’t a complete failure, but certainly not traditional. His usual snappy dialogue is somewhat lost in this film. Mostly because it’s about 75% in either German or French. And snappiness doesn’t translate into subtitles.

The language authenticity, however, does give the film a fair amount of credibility. I always cringe at movies like Valkyrie. Supposedly an all-German cast, played by either Tom Cruise or a bunch of British guys, and everyone’s speaking English. Kind of pathetic, if you ask me.

And while the film does deliver on blood and guts, it’s usually in short bursts. Also, seemingly, much more realistic. But the conclusion will either leave you cheering, or feeling a bit dirty on the inside. Probably both, like in my case.

My step-father once said, when asked if he would go see the movie Titanic, “Why? I already know how it ends.” Inglorious Basterds, however, does not feel the need to maintain such a close connection to the truth. World War II plays out in a completely different way in this film.

The last few seconds of the movie give us a shot of Brad Pitt’s face as he congratulates himself (for what I won’t say), commenting: “You know, I think this one is my masterpiece.” I couldn’t help but hear Tarantino saying these words through him. And he was wrong. Basterds is no Pulp Fiction. What ever will be? But it’s still a damn good movie.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

District 9

District 9 is not your average movie.

Of course, that statement comes from the perspective of a guy who pretty much never watches foreign films. No, not because I have anything against them. Mostly just because, the way I figure it, there’s so many movies out there, and they’re so expensive to see in the theater, that you’ve got to narrow it down. You know what I mean?

So I don’t see foreign films. Sue me.

But, again, District 9 is not your average movie. It seems to function on it’s own will and motivation, rather than playing up more traditional sci-fi plot lines.

First off, in the first twenty or so minutes of the movie, it can’t seem to decide if it’s a mockumentary or a traditional fiction story. It flip flops back and forth between people talking about the history of the alien arrival and this guy Wikus (pronounced Vikus) going around telling a bunch of aliens they’re being evicted from their shithole they call a home.

But it sounds like I’m knocking the movie. In fact, it was quite refreshing to see a different approach to the theme of First Contact. Rather than the more American approach of an all out invasion--bombs a-blazing, famous buildings destroyed, millions of people dead, etc. This film approaches it from the angle of the aliens having the disadvantage. But rather than being wiped from the face of the universe, they’re forced into a ghetto and expected to eat our trash.

There’s symbolism in there. Probably. I’m not very good at that kind of thing.

It is good to know that South African film (or at least this film) doesn’t skimp on action. There has to be a solid 20 minutes of non-stop action towards the end of the film. And the special effects are top notch. I loved the perpetual images of the huge spaceship just hanging there over Johannesburg, like it was just part of the skyline.

The best part of the film, however, is in the alien weaponry. Or, more importantly, the special effects delivered by the usage of these weapons. We’re talking human bodies popping like water balloons. You can’t help but chuckle at the effect of it. Maybe you can. But I couldn’t.

Then this guy Wikus, played by Sharlto Copley (I’ve never heard of him), is pretty much the only real (human) character in the movie. He does a pretty damn good job of a guy who’s been infected by some kind of alien tech, slowly turning into an alien, and being hunted by a multi-national corporation for the purpose of exploitation. That’s the plot, in a nutshell, by the way. And Sharlto plays it well.

So, overall impressions…

Definitely worth seeing. Not a perfect movie. But guaranteed to deliver more original content and ideas than anything else you’ll see this summer. Possibly all year.

Unless you watch a lot of foreign films. Maybe this kind of film making and content is pretty common in other countries. I wouldn’t know.