Movie Review: Inglourious Basterds

Inglourious Basterds. If you didn't like it, well, sucks to be you.

Inglourious Basterds. If you didn't like it, well, go watch Transformers or something.

So I saw Inglourious Basterds over the weekend. The quick review: it was awesome.

Seriously, don’t listen to the haters who slam on Quentin Tarantino just because it’s the cool thing to do. Don’t listen to the butt-hurt sci-fi nerds who think District 9 is the greatest movie ever made, and since Basterds dethroned it as box office champion, it must be inherently flawed (on a related note, I thought District 9 was decent, but flawed, especially in the way it abruptly ditched the documentary style two-thirds of the way through the film in favour of generic sci-fi nonsense).

Indeed, despite the mixed review from the professional critics, Basterds is the real deal, and definitely up there with Tarantino’s best. Of course, what exactly constitutes Tarantino’s best is a gargantuan topic all  by itself …  with the exception of Death Proof (which I’ve only seen once when it first came out), I like all of his films for a variety of different reasons — Jackie Brown has great performances, Kill Bill is just fun plain fun to watch, etc. To pick just one and declare it head and shoulders above the rest is no easy task.

But enough about Tarantino’s previous exploits — this review is all about his latest work, Inglourious Basterds. Well, it’s not really a review so much as it is a random series of thoughts pertaining to Basterds. No in-depth analysis here, kids — after all, I’ve only seen the movie once while in a packed theatre — just a few simple observations from the film.

(WARNING: HERE THERE BE SPOILERS!)

  • Brad Pitt was awesome. Sure, it wasn’t the greatest “acting”, per se — in fact, it was campy and hammy as all hell — but every time he was on screen you were sure to be entertained (especially the scene in the theatre where he absolutely butchers the Italian language).
Rumour has it that he wants his scalps.

Rumour has it that he wants his scalps.

  • For the people complaining that it was “all talk and no action”, well, it’s a Tarantino flick — what the hell were you expecting? Okay, so the final act of Kill Bill Vol. 1 is an exception to the rule, but for the most part, Basterds follows the Tarantino model to perfection.

    Is there a lot of dialogue in Basterds? Sure, but if anything its dialogue serves a much greater narrative purpose than those of Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction. While those films featured bloated pop culture references that ultimately humanized the thugs and thieves — hey, Jules and Vincent are chatting about burgers, they seem like likable dudes — the conversations in Basterds creates palpable tension and a sense of dread that has you fearing for the characters’ safety, as the dialogue is usually just a cover for the subtext of hiding / uncovering true identities in life-or-death, make-or-break situations (Col. Landa in the farmhouse, the Gestapo officer in the pub’s basement, etc.).

  • Hitler finally gets what’s coming to him. Yes, I can understand why some people might be upset about Tarantino’s “alternate ending” to World War II, especially those who say it disrespects the actual soldiers that sacrificed so much marching into Berlin to end the war. But hey, this was never advertised as an historical re-enactment — it’s a work of fiction that just happens to be set in Nazi-occupied France and uses some “stock characters” from that time period (Hitler, Goebbels, etc.). It’s an alternate reality, an alluring “What If?” scenario — nothing more, nothing less.
    You gonna die.

    You gonna die.

    And besides, since when is killing Hitler a bad thing? In real life, he never really got his comeuppance. Sure, the Nazis lost the war, but nobody actually got the chance to shoot Hitler down, riddle his corpse with bullets, then blow up the corpse in a fiery inferno. The history books say that it didn’t go down in that manner, but we all wish it did. Although they do say that the winner writes the history books … so why not have a Jewish hit squad take down the Fuhrer? Hitler deserved to die, anyway, if only for that wheezy, inhaling laugh of his. What an annoying jerk!

  • Nice to see that Mike Myers still exists and that he didn’t hang himself after the failure of The Love Guru. Sure, he was basically playing an elderly Austin Powers, but still, maybe some of that Tarantino magic will rub off on him and he’ll get his career back on track.
  • Even if they despised the movie, all of the critics agreed that the acting of Christoph Waltz as Col. Hans Landa absolutely stole the show. And I definitely concur, Landa was a superb villain. Of course, the question remains — when he served Shoshanna that glass of milk in the restaurant, did he know who she was? The logical answer is that he couldn’t possibly know, having never even seen her face before, and that it was all a coincidence carefully constructed to make the audience worry for Shoshanna’s safety. But you know … Landa did have the same menacing look in his eyes as when he was interrogating the French farmer and revealed that he knew all along that Shoshanna’s family was hiding under the floorboards …
Col. Hans Landa was a deliciously evil villain.

Col. Hans Landa was a deliciously evil villain.

  • If there was on area that Basterds fell short, it was with the soundtrack — it just wasn’t as memorable or catchy as the music found in Pulp Fiction or Kill Bill. Perhaps a better appreciation of the soundtrack would come with multiple viewings, but at first glance nothing really stood out like Miserlou or Battle Without Honor or Humanity.

All in all, Inglourious Basterds is undoubtedly one of my favourite movies of the year and  I definitely recommend checking it out. Due to its 1940s setting there is a distinct lack of pretentious pop culture references, which should make the movie more palatable to even the harshest of Tarantino’s critics.

RATING: SUPER FANTASTIC COOL

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Movie Review: Hunger

Hunger. Great art, terrible movie.

Hunger. Great art, terrible movie.

I saw the movie Hunger the other day. A darling of the film festival circuit and recipient of rave reviews, I went in with high expectations.

Unfortunately, what I witnessed was nothing but pretentious art-house bullshit.

Now, I’m not saying it was entirely bad with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Far from it. For all intents and purposes, it was very well crafted. The cinematography / framing / mise-en-scene was outstanding, the acting was excellent, and delivered powerful, raw, gut-wrenching imagery and messages about the treatment of the IRA prisoners and the effect the hunger strike had not only on them, but the prison officials as well.

But it simply wasn’t my cup of tea.

While I’m not saying that every film should be a formulaic summer blockbuster piece of tripe, I do appreciate it when movies have certain essential elements — you know, things such as plot, characters I want to care about, dramatic conflict? Yeah, Hunger really could have used some of that stuff.

Regarding the issues of plot and character, I know it’s based off the real life of Bobby Sands, but in my opinion, the goals of Sands and the rest of the prisoners were rather ill-defined. Sure, they wanted to be recognized as political prisoners / prisoners of war, and in the bigger picture, for the IRA to win and the British to leave Ireland, but that’s a big pie-in-the-sky type of goal that the characters in the film can never actually physically achieve. I would have liked to have known about their hopes and dreams on a more personal level, the day-to-day goals of the prisoners, how they interacted with the “criminal” prisoners, whether all of the IRA prisoners were on board with the hunger strike … in other words, the type of stuff that can make us actually care about these characters and, as an added bonus, form some semblance of a flowing, cohesive storyline.

On a related note, it doesn’t help that the main character isn’t introduced until halfway through the movie. We first see Sands get beat down by the guards, and then the next time we see him it’s for a 15-minute conversation with the priest about his decision to start the hunger strike. It’s a wonderful scene which is amazing done in one continuous take, but why should I give a damn about him or his cause when we’ve never really been introduced to the character?

If the movie is supposed to be about Bobby Sands and his death then make the movie about friggin’ Bobby Sands — don’t waste half the picture on some prison warden and a couple of random prisoners. Even when the movie switches to the Bobby Sands story, we never really know all that much about him. From a quick Google search, it appears he wrote a diary during the first few weeks of his hunger strike. The filmmaker could have used this material, but why flesh out his character when we can see some more bed sores?

Sorry, but I don't know anything about you guys, so I don't really care what happens to you.

Sorry, but I don't know anything about you guys or what makes you tick, so I don't really care what happens to you.

At times it felt like I was watching a live-action art gallery exhibit, in that it was nothing more than a series of images about a common theme or topic. Case in point — the scene where the prison official is mopping up the piss in the hallway. Normally, a scene in a film is designed to advance the plot or alter the level of dramatic conflict between characters. Not this scene, however, which is simply a guy mopping up piss in a hallway. For five whole minutes.

While watching that scene, I couldn’t help but think of Family Guy — in specific, the scene where Peter scrapes his knee and spends a minute wheezing in pain, or the scene where Peter randomly cuts to a Conway Twitty song and the show proceeds to play the entire song from start to finish. I thought to myself, they’re not really gonna show him mopping the entire goddamn hallway, are they? Really? Seriously? Come on, get to the point already!

In conclusion, Hunger is a gritty, yet appallingly beautiful, piece of art that showcases what life was like for the IRA prisoners and how the human body can be used as a form of protest. In addition, by not really taking sides, it allows the viewer to form his own impressions and draw his own conclusions as to who’s right and who’s wrong. However, as a function of cinema, it fails terribly, as it was structurally weak and overall quite aimless and meandering, not really sure where it was going or why it was going there.

In the end, this movie can only be recommended for pretentious art-house types. You know who you are.

Movie Review: Watchmen

So I saw Watchmen the other night. Here are my thoughts on the movie:

Back in July 2008, when the first trailer for Watchmen made its debut before The Dark Knight, I didn’t really care. You see, I never was a huge comic book geek. Although I was a big fan of the Spider-Man and X-Men cartoons and video games and whatnot, I never really got into the comics themselves. As such, I had never read the original graphic novel by Alan Moore. Sure, I had heard from numerous sources that it was some wondrous tale that stands head and shoulders above all others, but I never went out of my way to read it.

Luckily, one of my roommates ended up acquiring the book in the Fall of 2008, so ended up reading it then. And upon reading it, I could only come to one conclusion:

The movie would suck a huge pile of monkey balls.

I thought there would be no way that they could cram everything that made the graphic novel what it is into a movie. Too many sublots, too many stories, too many narrative elements that just wouldn’t work well in the filmic medium.

And in that sense, I was right.

Get out of my movie, jerk!

Get out of my movie, jerk!

To their credit, director Dan Snyder and screenwriters David Hayter and Alex Tse somehow managed to boil down the essence of Watchmen and create a streamlined story that fits into a somewhat reasonable length of time — mostly by cutting or ignoring all of the extra sublots that don’t have much (or anything) to do with the main storyline and the central characters (such as the newstand guy and the Black Freighter comics, the psychologist and his wife, Rorschach’s landlord, the cops, etc.).

While the fanboys weren’t pleased, this was the right  decision, in the end.

In doing so, however, I wonder if the people that had never read the original comic actually understood everything that happened, and if they really had a full appreciation for the characters they were supposed to be supporting.

For example, the Keene Act is a pretty significant element of the Watchmen mythology, yet it is glossed over pretty quickly in the film. The Comedian mentions some bill being pushed through by Congress, and the word “police strike” is uttered once, but beyond that … nothing. Without the “extraneous” backstory and elaborate details that could be afforded in the printed form, it is certainly possible that “Watchmen Noobs” might be under the impression that Nite Owl and the rest quit being superheroes simply because they wanted to (and utterly confused as to what the hell “the Kleenex” has to do with anything).

The comic also did an exceptional job in fleshing out the superhero fraternity through the “Under the Hood” book excerpts. You really got to know what made the two generations of heroes tick. Without this information, though, the characters in the movie — and the world they inhabit — lose a lot of the life and personality that truly make the comic book what it is.

I do give big props to whoever decided to change the name of the superhero group from “Crimebusters” to “Watchmen”. I cringed every time I read the word “Crimebusters” in the book. So very, very, lame.

Face it, fanboys ... the squid sucked.

Face it, fanboys ... the squid sucked.

Speaking of changes, this wouldn’t be a Watchmen review without some sort of mention about the revised ending. A lot of hardcore fanboys are up in arms over the changes that were made, but if anything, this was the best thing about the entire movie.

The ending of the comic left a really bad taste in my mouth. Alan Moore spent page after page building up his cast of “realistic” superheroes and the psychology that goes into being a masked vigilante (Dr. Manhattan notwithstanding, of course), and then he wraps things up with an alien squid monster destroying New York? No sir, I don’t like it.

Yes, I understand the rationale behind the squid uniting the planet, but in my opinion, the new ending works just as well. By having every major city in the world brutally attacked, including New York and Moscow, it just makes sense to have the USA and USSR declare peace and pledge to de-escalate their arms race.

Look at it this way. Their major cities are already destroyed, and millions upon millions have been killed. Thanks to Ozymandias’ plan, the world leaders have seen what the outcome of a nuclear strike would be, and not surprisingly, they don’t have the desire to pull the trigger anymore. Plus, the fear that Dr. Manhattan could still be watching them and ready to make them pay (even if he really isn’t) is an impressive nuclear deterrent.

A half-materialized dead alien squid monster, on the other hand? Not so much. With that scenario, there’d probably be an explosion of scientific curiosity, which would most likely spark a new space race between the USA and USSR as the two countries try to reach the alien race first on behalf of their respective ideologies. The new space race would then lead to a new arms race, which would bring the whole thing back to where it all started.

Either that, or seeing that New York had been decimated by the squid, the Soviets would use this moment of weakness to swoop in and finish the job while America is still distracted by the devastation wrought upon them by the intergalactic calamari. No matter which scenario you choose, the movie ending still makes a lot more sense than the book ending.

In conclusion, the movie adaptation of Watchmen greatly exceeded my expectations. I was expecting a pile of suck, but walked way entertained and amused. Sure, Ozymandias’ character could have been fleshed out a bit more (considering the major role he plays in the end), but overall, I felt that Snyder and the crew did a pretty bang-up job in making the “unfilmable” comic book come to life on the big screen.

It didn’t hurt that Rorschach was such as awesome badass, either. Who wants to bet that Rorschach will be this year’s Joker when it comes to Halloween costumes?

Hurm.

Hurm.