Tag: Review

Inglourious Basterds

Inglourious Basterds [2009]

Director: Quentin Tarantino
Actor: Brad PittMélanie LaurentChristoph WaltzEli RothMichael FassbenderDiane KrugerDaniel BrühlTil SchweigerDenis Menochet
Writer: Quentin Tarantino

Having witness the steady decline in Quentin Tarantino’s work since Pulp Fiction, I was a little hesitant about watching this film. Jackie Brown was, in my opinion only a success because it’s an Elmore Leonard story that any half decent director can foster into a success. Out of Sight is a good example, Soderbergh did a great job and made JLo look interesting. Get Shorty is another success, done by Barry “Who?”
Sonnenfeld. The counter argument here would be Be Cool, Get Shorty’s sequel, which F. Gary Gary managed to turn into a turd, albeit an entertaining one. — thank you, Vince.

So with Tarantino’s unpredictable performance as a writer/director, compounded by the fact that Inglourious Basterds (IB) was an alternate take on the second world war, something I have found to be really sensitive to, I just didn’t give IB much chance to amaze me. I was fairly certain it would entertain me, but I just wasn’t sure it would amaze me. And then there was the opening scene and I had to readjust my expectations.


The beautiful countryside of southern France. Perrier LaPadite (Menochet), a dairy (?) farmer with a small farm and three stunningly beautiful daughters, finds being visited by Col. Hans Landa (Waltz) an officer for the SS charged with finding and capturing any fugitive Jews in France. The scene starts calm, between an overly polite and cheerful Landa and the calm and strong LaPadite. You get the feeling that Landa is not cut out for the brutal work he’s doing with the air of a bureaucrat, and you feel that LaPadite is a man as solid and as strong as the rock that makes up the jagged French coastline. You watch him cooly, calmly answer each of the sociopathically cheerful Nazi’s questions and you think; “this man will never bend, will never break or give in” and you actually start worrying about the fate of his beautiful daughters as the underlying tension between the two rises, as you feel there is no other outcome to this meeting than a violent one.

The rest of the film isn’t nearly as consistently great as the opening scene, but there are some beautiful, moving, funny and brutal scenes that make this film absolutely worth watching. Is Tarantino back? I can’t say for sure, but this is definitely a step in the right direction on the road to recovery of his once surprisingly fresh style of writing and directing. I dunno, perhaps it’s just that tribute thing he’s been doing that irked me.

The story is a rather simple one — well, actually, there are two stories that merge into one right near the end. A group of Jews are assembled to wreak havoc and go on a terror spree behind enemy lines, killing as many Nazis as possible in the most brutal way, each disfigured corpse they leave behind adding to the growing legend of “the basterds.” (Why Tarantino purposefully misspelled the title of the film he will not reveal.) When they find out that all the top National Socialist officials, including Adolf Hitler himself, will attend a premiere of a new Nazi propaganda film in Paris, France, the allied command sees it as a great opportunity to sever the head of the Nazi beast once and for all.

Brad Pitt in the role of the ultra-manly, not too subtle military man and Nazi hater Aldo Raine was disappointing since they completely under-utilized the potential performance Pitt can bring to the table.
I got the feeling that much of Aldo “The Apache” Raine’s backstory got lost on the editing room floor to make sure they could shoe-horn the film into the 150 or so minutes it ended up lasting. Where did he get that massive scar on his neck, for instance?

I was impressed with what I saw of Stiglitz (Schweiger), German officer turned Nazi killer, one of the few non-Jews in the Basterds.
Til Schweiger has such an iconic, bad-ass face that he fits his sociopathic role rather well. I’ve been a fan of his ever since he played one of the replacement killers in Replacement Killers.

The cold hearted Shoshanna (Laurent) who lives in Nazi occupied Paris as an undercover Jew who operates a cinema and finds an opportunity to get revenge for her family’s death is a good guy you can root for, while Sgt. Donnie “The Bearjew” Donnowitz (Roth) is a brutal specimen of Jewish retribution as he prefers to club Nazis to death with his battleworn Louisville slugger that people might have a harder time rooting for. Another honorable mention should go to Diane Kruger as the German actress Bridget Von Hammersmark, who’s cool for the name alone and plays a double agent helping the basterds perform their mission. She’s charismatic incarnate, which is really how actors in that age must’ve been.

And then there is the villain of the film, Col. Hans Landa, portrayed masterfully by German actor Christoph Waltz, who, in my opinion, absolutely steals the show with his razorsharp acting and rather eccentric character. This character keeps intriguing and entertaining from the opening scene of the film, which I described above to the finale. He is so outside of the normal portrayal of an SS officer that you are almost suckered into thinking that he’s the main attraction, the hero of the story. Somehow, some way, Waltz and Tarantino make you care for and like this unlikeable Nazi.

With all the Jewish retribution portrayed in the film, and not in the most heroic of ways either, I wonder what the Jewish liga thought of this film, considering how it could be argued that the Jews are portrayed as the aggressors which makes them look worse than they did in the Passion of the Christ. I guess Tarantino might avoid their wrath because he finally lifted their victimhood a little bit, if only for two-and-a-half hours. I’ve not made up my mind about how I feel.

Anyway, go and see the film, if only to see the Jews kick ass for a change, or do it for Waltz’ outstanding performance.

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009)

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 [2009]

Director: Tony Scott
Actor: Denzel WashingtonJohn TravoltaJohn TurturroJames GandolfiniLuis Guzmán

Tony Scott, famed director Ridley Scott’s younger brother, has developed a style of direction and editing that’s never going to appeal to the masses. Considering how the early 80s are often harkened back to as an example of when directors took time to set the mood of a film and the general pace of the film was a lot slower than most of what is produced today. As fate would have it Ridley was the master of this as shown by such iconic examples as Alien and Blade Runner. Perhaps it is Ridley’s prowess in this field that made the younger Tony choose the polar opposite style, laced with a high pace and an epileptic editing that reminds me of all that is wrong with this MTV generation. But that’s not to say that it doesn’t work very well for certain films.

The most recent example of this style of directing and editing is showcased in The Taking of Pelham 123 (or simply, Pelham), the remake of the 1974 classic starring Walter Matthau. This time it pitts Denzel Washington as Walter Garber (as opposed to 1974’s Zachary Garber played by Walter Matthau) against John Travolta as Ryder (as opposed to Robert Shaw who played Mr. Blue whose real name was Ryder. Incidentally, the 1974 Pelham is also the inspiration for the colour-coded nicknames in Tarantino’s Resevoir Dogs.) Ryder has hijacked a subway cart full of people in a strategic tunnel somewhere underneath Midtown Manhattan and demands 10 million dollars for their safe release. He has 19 hostages and will kill one each minute they exceed the one hour deadline. That starts a long dialogue between Ryder and Garber as Ryder seems to trust him more than the NYPD hostage negotiator (Torturro). That dialogue is surprisingly more intensive and involved than in the 1974 version and in the era of fast cuts, short attention spans and Michael Bay films that’s pretty unique for a remake.

Denzel is solid, as is Gusman and Torturro. Travolta plays a great unstable, strong sociopath, but he had a hard time convincing me of Ryder’s backstory as a powerful, shrewd and shady stockbroker. He did some parts nicely, but that was probably more a clever screenplay than the spin he gave to it, like doin the math of ten million dollars divided by 19 hostages, which he does correctly to the cent. It happened before his revelation as a talented broker so it gave you some early insight into his intellect. He’s wilder than the awesome, coiled spring of tightly packed violence he played (well) in Broken Arrow, but it’s similar. The person that actually pleasantly suprised me was James Gandolfini as the mayor of NYC who has to come up with the money while closing in on his retirement from public office and coming under heavy assault in the media for cheating on his wife and the resulting, rather public divorce. It was good to see him back on the big screen, given his talent, and also shrug off the Soprano type-cast a little bit.

All in all a very enjoyable movie if you don’t expect a remake that’s very loyal to the atmosphere of the original. Oh, and don’t think that the timeline is going to be very acurrate either. Seriously, getting from midtown to Coney in seven minutes?

Public Enemies

Public Enemies [2009]

Director: Michael Mann
Actor: Johnny DeppChristian BaleMarion CotillardJason ClarkeStephen DorffGiovanni RibisiStephen LangDon FryeBilly CrudupStephen Graham

I really wanted to like this film but I couldn’t. With a pretty stellar cast and one of my favourite directors, I was waiting for weeks and weeks for the spark to kindle the flame within me, but it never happened. Not that this film didn’t have its moments, and I will try to remain fair as I collect my thoughts about it.

.: Disappointing
The story is that of John Dillinger (Depp), the notorious bankrobber who gained notoriety as the most wanted man of the United States and J. Edgar Hoover (Crudup), the founder and director of the FBI, his personal nemesis and thorn in his side. He was well-connected and charismatic enough to have the public on his side, and while people were starving due to the great depression he was seen as a Robin Hood character who did what others only dreamt of. The film follows his downfall, only showing a small part of his rise to riches and infamy, which is, to me one of the fundamental problems of the film. More traditional films that tell the story of a bad guy — especially one as charismatic as Dillenger — is that usuually the audience gets the chance to get to know the character and to share in their success before the fall sets in. You become invested and you feel like part of the team, or in this case, the gang. Not here. The film starts when Dillinger is already successful and quite well known, even though later you find that only a short time has passed since he came off a nine year stretch for knocking over a grocery store for a fifty dollar haul. Not exactly the mark of a professional bank robber. Anyway. So the film feels like one big decline.

On the other side of the story is FBI special agent Melvin Purvis (Bale), who quickly rises through the Feds ranks as a promising soldier in the war on crime that Hoover just declared. He starts heading the Chicago office and is charges with the apprehension of Dillinger. He is provided the next generation in law men, more CSI that The Shield, relying more on brain than brawn. I was glad the approach failed and the got some back up from some Texan hardballers with some spit in their eye and grit in their gut, otherwise it would have been very, very dull. (I was very happy to see my man Don Frye as one of the hardcases — an MMA pioneer!) and so the rather one-sided cat and mouse game starts.

The acting was, unfortunately rather bland and stereotyped with hard men talk either like cowboys or with an unnatural amount of gravel in the back of their throats. Ribisi, who I was glad to see make an short appearance in two scenes as a train robber looking to enlist Dillinger and his gang for a job, was probably the worst of them, but even Depp overdid it a little bit, which is fine when he’s doing Jack Sparrow, but here it seemed out of place. Apart from that Depp did a great nob playing the shwashbuckling bankrobber, charming as ever but withou many means to showcase his talents. There is exactly one scene with some gravitas and that’s pretty short. It had occurred to me that men from that era hardly showed their emotions to begin with, so perhaps the lack of it wasn’t an oversight but was by design. Somehow I find that hard to believe since they tried to tie in a love story. (Oh, I didn’t mention that yet? Must’ve made an impression on me.)

Bale gets absolutely no opportunity to shine, and the scenes that he shares with Depp he is overshadowed. His whole character is meant to be that of the stiff law man, which is why at the start of the film, in his first scene, he’s out-acted by Channing Tatum for chrissakes! Purvis shoots Pretty Boy Floyd (Tatum) in the back as he tries to flee. Standing over him, Purvis tries to get the wounded Floyd to betray his friends without appealing to…well, anything sensible. So Floyd spits on him in dramatic fashion and dies. Throughout the entire exchange Purvis hardly changes expression. To borrow a phrase from U.S. congressman Barney Frank; “It was like having a discussion with a dining table.” Anyway, not the most memorable performance from the man who brought you The Machinist and American Psycho. I guess even great actors can have a bad day.

Luckily, there are some nice surprises in the film as well. The relatively unknown (to me) Jason Clarke, who plays Red Hamilton, one of Dillinger’s side-kicks. He doesn’t get a lot of scenes, but the ones he does get made me take notice. Also, Stephen Graham, the guy who played Tommy in Snatch, plays the deranged and sociopathic Baby Face Nelson, and does so very, verywell. Although he didn’t really show his stuff, like Ribisi, I was glad to see Stephen Dorff again, as the slick, con-man Homer, and then there was Domenick Lombardozzi, Branka Katic, John Ortiz and especially Stephen Lang as the hard-nosed Texan law man Winstead, who was amazing. Sadly, none of these people had roles big enough to lift the film from its depression.

.: A Matter of Direction
It’s interesting to look over all these names since I recognise a lot of them from Miami Vice, which Mann also directed. People who know me know that I dig Michael Mann and his direction, Miami Vice (TV), Miami Vice the movie, Heat,Collateral, The Insider, Crime Story (TV), Thief…hell, I even watched L.A. Takedown, the precursor to Heat. I loved all of it. After watching this film it comes as no surprise that I never saw his other big hit, The Last of the Mohicans, because I always felt that this guy should stick to what he really excels at, which is crime stories. Over the years, and throughout his career, no director has shown himself to have such an understanding of modern day crime and be able to put it in such a cinematic light. When you think of crime films, you quickly end up at the likes of John Woo, who does a mean crime film, but it’s always a bit absurd and romanticized, like he’s directing an epic tragedy — which I suppose he is. He never gets the nitty and the gritty, or the technical details down on film properly, which is what Mann can do like no other. It doesn’t look good, it’s not sexy and he makes it look slightly mundane and routine, like a job, only illegal.

And so he attempted to do the same with this film, and you could say that he’s the guy for the job, and in places he did manage. Especially with the relation between Dillinger and several other crews, like Ribisi’s trainrobber’s crew, and the mafia, is all really well done. Sadly, Mann really “grew up” on the crime in the seventies and got into his own during the crime-waves of the eighties and nineties. He shouldn’t try to apply the same rules to other eras. I think it’d be easier for him to move forward along the timeline instead of moving backwards. The new millennium will probably have elements of crime that he’s not too familiar with — though he did do an awfully good job on Miami Vice, and incorporated technology and new tracking mechanisms pretty well, so perhaps I’m talking out of my ass. He didn’t, however, manage with Public Enemies…unfortunately. I really wanted to like this film but I couldn’t.

Terminator: Salvation

Terminator Salvation [2009]

Director: McG
Actor: Christian BaleSam WorthingtonHelena Bonham CarterAnton YelchinMichael IronsideBryce Dallas HowardCommon

Ever since the first Terminator was released in which snippets of the future were visible through Kyle Reese’s flashbacks to his time in the future (!?), I have been curious to see more about the future, about the resistance and their struggle in the war against Skynet. As a result I got very excited when this film was announced, and it didn’t disappoint, though I did have some criticism.

All of the acting is pretty decent, the visuals are good, the concepts are nice…everything is pretty good. Well, except the logic behind the story, but whatever, for a fourth instalment in a franchise, it was pretty fucking sweet. My main gripe with the film is that it doesn’t take its time. It’s the same problem I have with many McG/Michael Bay films (I swear, they’re the same person!), they drag you into the rollercoaster and it doesn’t stop until the credits roll. They take so little time to delve into the why and how of things. They throw fluff information at you while simultaneously assaulting your senses with explosions and shoot-outs. That’s cool when you’re there for the popcorn, but it sucks when you’re really taken by the franchise. When McG said that he wanted to make it more like Aliens, I was really hoping that he would have the same timing as Aliens did. Here and there they took the time to let the mood and the atmosphere of a moment sink in. Not so much in Terminator Salvation, unfortunately.

One of the things that I thought really stood out in the film is how they managed to bring alive all the machines. Not just the terminators, but all of the machines in Skynet’s arsenal. They gave them personalities, but not to the point of it being anything more than their hardwiring. They also gave them speech – sort of. There were a few scenes where there was a strong, loud, metallic, grating sound that felt almost like it was used to intimidate the resistance, or perhaps an audible communication device. I love it!

All in all, I really liked the film, even though it’s obviously flawed and didn’t come to fulfil its potential.


Cthulhu [2007]

Director: Dan Gildark
Actor: Jason CottleScott Patrick GreenTori Spelling
Writer: Dan GildarkH.P. Lovecraft

This film is not going to be for everyone. Let me just throw it out there before I start this review. Considering that the film has a spell-check defiant name and will be, for most people who are unfamiliar with the works of H.P. Lovecraft, on which the story is based, even harder to pronounce than to spell, it got a cult-status even before the film had its premiere at the Seattle Film Festival in 2007. That cult status was cemented when about half the people who saw it came out the theatre scratching their heads in puzzlement. First time director Dan Gildark, who helped write the screenplay, did a very good job of transporting Lovecraft’s vision to the silver screen without alienating everyone. Just half the audience, it seems.

Russel Marsh (Cottle) is the chair of the history department of a university in Seattle. One morning he gets a call to inform him that his mother has passed away. Reluctantly he goes back to Rivermouth, Oregon, where he grew up. It’s a place he desperately tried to get away from due to his unaccepted homosexuality as well the discord between him and his bizarre, eccentric family. During his drive over to Rivermouth you can make out snippets of the news on the radio, which hints at a slowly degrading civilisation and environment, with reports of Eskimo terrorists trying to block the U.S.A. from opening up strategic, polar sea ports. It paints a rather bleak picture of the world, which gets even bleaker when Russel gets to Rivermouth, where, on the drive in, he is confronted with some local thugs in a souped up truck who harass him, obviously recognising him from years ago. Even stranger is that when they are done, speed up and disappear around the bend, Russel stumbles upon their crashed truck and helps out the injured. As a result he misses his mother’s funeral when he finally arrives. He is greeted by his sister, whom he seems to have a fairly normal bond with, and his eccentric father, a man in an odd, purple suit, and the head of a secretive doomsday cult called the Esoteric Order of Dagon, which has the locals terrified and are suspected to be involved in the disappearance of many Rivermouth residents. The followers are also reported to follow an strange creature known as Cthulhu.

While Russel is trying to keep his stay in the village as short as possible and tries to avoid his family as much as he can, he does get back in touch with Mike (Green), a boyhood friend with whom he always shared a special bond. He also gets in touch with a wino who makes claims about strange rituals being performed in the area. Not just that, but an odd young woman who works as a clerk at the night store begs him to find her missing young brother. Through his sister he meets Susan, an aggressively seductive babe who wants him to impregnate her. He also visits his aunt, who resides in an asylum and tells him his mother has hidden a gift for him in his grandmother’s house, which is up for auction as part of his mother’s estate. His aunt is obviously a loon, as she sometimes speaks in tongues and spends her days eating the crayons she uses to draw disturbing images. All the while, he is assailed by strange dreams, horrific encounters and he slowly starts to find out more about his family and their role in the Esoteric Order of Dagon.

All in all, it’s a way better film than it sounds when you sum it up like that. It’s scary, and creepy, and very well shot. The isolated village along the Oregon coastline is a beautiful setting for one of Lovecraft’s stories, even though it’s not set in the traditional New England setting of his stories, it works very well. The acting can be a little forced and wooden at times, but the overall quality of the film makes up for a lot. Have a look at the trailer below and check it out for yourself.