Category Archives: movies

Inglourious Basterds

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The early buzz on Quentin Tarantino’s latest picture, Inglourious Basterds, was about its excessive gore. So I worried. And then I saw the trailer with Brad Pitt jutting out his jaw and I grew even more concerned.

But I saw it recently and it’s fabulous.

No more gory then Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction and certainly less bloody then all of Kill Bill. Brad Pitt won me over as Lt. Aldo Raine, the leader of the Basterds, a handpicked team of Jewish-American soldiers who sneak behind enemy lines in occupied France to wreak havoc for the Nazis. Pitt is fine, but Christoph Waltz steals the show as Hans Landa, a delightful SS officer that you love to hate. He’s really terrible, one of the most delightful monsters since Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

The ending is surprising, but then when you leave the theater you find yourself wondering why no other WW2 film has done something similar. Lots of fun.

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Julie & Julia

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What a great job Stanley Tucci and Meryl Streep did in this.

I knew of Julia Child, but wasn’t a big fan, or even very knowledgeable about her cook book or television show. Nevertheless, her story really grabbed me, I think because of the chemistry between Tucci and Streep, and Streep’s spooky ability to portray Child, a huge stork of a woman, who doesn’t fit in, but always carries herself with purpose and poise.

The story is a contrast between the lives of an unknown blogger (Amy Adams as the titular Julie) and Child, as each tries to find her niche in life. The Child parts of the story are much more powerful than the anonymous blogger parts, but as my wife pointed out: the movie might not have worked with just Child’s story. It needed some sort of counterpoint and the social and economic contrast between Child (upper middle class, 50s era) and Julie (struggling middle class, 21st century) was understated but clearly important. I am undecided whether to lay blame at Adams feet or lazy screen writing, but Julie’s life just didn’t resonate with me. When Child finally gets her book deal, I want to cheer, weep, or a little of both. When Julie gets hers, I think: shit, I could have done that.

Still, really worth a look.

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District 9

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I almost split in the first 20 minutes or so because the main character was just so incredibly annoying. I am glad I stayed.

Wikus (Sharlto Copley) is a petty, brutal bureaucrat, who is in over his head. The movie uses a fake documentary style to let us know that something has happened to him, but we don’t know what. It could be anything, considering the state of the world: For 20 years, aliens have been stranded on earth and forced to live like savages in a hastily constructed camp outside of Johannesburg.

You can’t see a ghetto outside Johannesburg or shots of signage restricting alien access to retail establishments without making some uncomfortable political associations, but the movie is surprisingly light handed here. No cheap moralizing or preaching.

Instead of allegory, this movie offers a character study. And what a character: Wikus is so unlikeable, it’s almost a pleasure to watch him squirm as the story unfolds. I felt my allegiance toward him change as he refuses to give up, despite how hopeless his situation becomes. The second half of the movie is a full on action flick, but it pleases me to no end that Wikus never really learns how to fight effectively. He fires his ray gun over his shoulder with his eyes screwed shut. At the end, he falls to his knees at the feet of a merciless warrior who has been a thorn in Wikus’ side from the start. He is the consummate weakling everyman, blundering forward hoping for a bit of good luck.

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Taken

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Taken is a revenge flick about an ex-CIA spook who has to rescue his daughter from the clutches of an Albanian prostitution ring. Critics have compared it to an episode of 24, which is an apt description: there are plenty of innocents mowed down in the interest of expedient justice and there is a time limit (96 hours) driving the plot.

The problem with this type movie is that it’s hard to justify a Jack Bauer type character this far from 9/11 and this close to Abu Ghraib. Maybe it’s just the first time I’ve noticed this sort of thing, but this movie seems to go further than any other I’ve seen to put the viewer at ease with its politics. It’s like how in first person shooter video games the bad guys are always the types of characters it’s okay to kill: zombies, Nazis, or aliens. In Taken, we have Albanian mafia guys and innocent French nationals. Our hero just shot an innocent woman in the arm, but it’s okay because she’s French and (as Liam Neeson says, defending himself to the husband of the woman he just shot), “It’s just a flesh wound!” I can kind of understand Albanian mafia, but it’s harder to wrap my head around innocent French nationals, unless it’s more fallout from the French resistance to US invasion of Iraq (freedom fries, anyone?).

They play up the angle of the father trying atone for a lifetime of absenteeism. Toward the end of the picture, Liam has been coming on like a steamroller, and the bad guy asks, “Who is this guy?” For an answer, the boss hears, “It’s the girl’s father,” which is true enough, but considering what the “girl’s father” has just done to the lair, it’s like the understatement of the century.

Hard for me not to like this movie, but it was definitely a guilty pleasure.

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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince runs a little long, but I love the franchise and think this is a fine addition to the series (although my favorite is still Prisoner of Azkaban).

I’m not going to belabor a synopsis of the plot, except to say that if you haven’t seen any of the other films, you’ll be totally confused by this one. There is very little backstory and everything about the ending points to the final episode.

I loved it.

I can’t remember another franchise that spans the childhood of so many of its main actors. I noticed how much more accomplished Rupert Gint (above) was in this one. His comedy relief has often left me cold, but he really nailed the love potion scene. I couldn’t stop giggling as he pined for the moon. Oddly I haven’t felt the same way about Dan Radcliffe and Emma Watson. It’s not so much this movie, but more how their appearance has changed over the last few years. They both looked exactly as I imagined their characters would in 2001, but now they look a little too perfect: Dan and his rugged jaw, Emma’s lovely hair. At one, point Dumbldore even says something to Harry like “hard to imagine you’re the same little boy from under the stairs.” Indeed. I loved the gravity of Emma’s precocious ten-year-old Hermionie, but now her seriousness seems really forced. There was a single scene where they seemed to act their age (she swats Harry for trying to take advantage of his reputation to get a date) instead of all the grim looks and gassy expressions. But these are all quibbles. I’m mostly pleased the characters have been played by the same team over the years. Watching them grow into and change with their roles has the potential to add something to the film experience not available in the books. There is one scene in Half-Blood Prince where Harry and Ron stand in the hall at school, towering over all their peers, with such looks of utter contentment and pride. There is nothing like that in the books.

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Napoleon Dynamite

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Aaron watched this and loved it.

He insisted our entire family watch it together and so we did. I laughed when I first saw this in theaters. This time, though, I felt really touched, especially Napoleon’s last desperate, ultimately triumphant, act. How sweet. How kooky. I’m not sure why I was so touched. Maybe I’m nervous about the kids going into middle school.

Favorite scene: Napoleon grudgingly feeding ham to Tina, his grandmother’s pet lama. Now when we go to feed the chickens instead of saying “here chick, chick, chick,” we say “Tina, come get some ham!” In fact, we’re using this line a lot around the house lately. I hear it at breakfast. I hear it at bedtime. I hear it if Holly is trying to motivate the kids to do something and they want to wage a low-level rebellion. Yesterday I threatened to yell it at their swim meet, instead of my usual “Go, go, go!” cheer. I would have done it, too, but I didn’t want Aaron to laugh in the middle of his heat.

Aaron does a really compelling imitation of Napoleon Dynamite saying, “Gosh!” If you see him, you must ask him to do it for you. If he doesn’t want to, he may say, “Tina, come get your ham.”

Which is just as good.

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Terminator: Salvation

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Terrible, terrible.

I hate movie sequels that require you know in agonizing detail the entire plot of the earlier movies, even if those movies first aired over 20 years ago. All I remember from the Terminator series is that Arnold was a big bad ass robot who said, “I’ll be back!”

That ought to be enough.

I am sorry I am not up on the latest terminator lore. I am pretty sure I saw Terminator 1 and 2. Moreover, I have been inebriated and said “I’ll be back” in a pseudo Austrian accent more times than I care to admit.

For the first 20 minutes or so, I thought Christian Bale and Sam Worthington were supposed to be the same person from two different timelines. To my credit, I did remember Terminator featured time travel plots. As it turns out, Sam is from the past, but he is a totally different person from Christian, and Sam’s big reveal at the end is totally… unsurprising (and all but given away in the trailer). Despite this, there is a 2-3 minute backstory scene (with spinning newspapers ala 1940s era NEWSFLASH exposition). I would have liked a little more background on the original premise. For the entire movie I could not remember who Kyle Reese was, and why he was younger than John Connor. I had to come home and read the Wiki page before it all came back to me. (Reese was Conner’s father, but was also sent back in time by Conner to protect his mother). When I first heard that at the end of the original, it elicited a satisfying, “Huh, weird.” It’s an inspired little twist, coming at the end like it does. You can mull it over if you like. Or you can forget it, get drunk, and announce, “I’ll be back,” on every trip to the head.

But here is what you shouldn’t do.

You should never use that same little twist as the premise for an entire sequel. If you do, you risk creating a stupendously lame movie, where the entire plot revolves around saving Kyle Reese’s life, despite the fact he has already done his part, since John Conner is already born.

This must be one of the galactic shattering paradoxes that Spock alluded to in Star Trek. If you want to see a much better time travel plot, go see Star Trek.

Watching Star Trek with Holly, I was so happy I literally wept with joy. Wept.

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Star Trek

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I loved the original Star Trek. The spin offs in the 90s and more recently have been great to okay, but nothing comes close to the nostalgia I feel for the original.

Although the new movie is very faithful to the spirit of the original, there’s a nice tension and complexity between Kirk and Spock that wasn’t in the TV series. I love the new depth breathed into the old characters. I enjoyed some of the visual salutes, especially Captain Pike and his wheelchair at the end. It was just a great movie night all around.

All the old incantations were spoken: 

  • I’m a doctor, not a…
  • She can’t take it…
  • Fascinating…
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Watchmen

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Watchmen has fascinating characters, an interesting alternate time-line, and stunning visuals. It’s also got a kooky plot, gratuitous gore, and it goes on for well over two hours. But for me, the good far outweighed the bad: I saw it last night and really enjoyed myself.

I was not familiar with the comic book series, but I am planning on picking up a bound copy to see if it’s something Aaron and I might enjoy reading together.

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Top Ten Movies for 2008

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I didn’t get to see Milk, Doubt, Wrestler and Frost/Nixon, as well as many others I didn’t know about until I read all the other Top Ten Movies for 2008 posts. My Netflix cue overfloweth.

Here are my picks:

10. Tropic Thunder:I didn’t realize it was Tom Cruise in a fat pad and bald wig at first. But then he makes some gesture and I was like, I know him… I don’t really care for Ben Stiler movies, but this one made me laugh and I thoroughly enjoyed Tom Cruise.

“You? You! Hit that director in the face, really fucking hard!”

9. Kung Fu Panda: By the numbers parody of karate movies, but with a message for the kids about enjoying your own talents. I enjoyed Jack Black more here than I did in Tropic Thunder.

“I just ate so my Kung Fu might not be that good.”

8. Man On Wire: This movie is billed as a documentary shot like a heist picture, but watching him pull off this unlikely coup, felt more like watching the fate story from Slumdog Millionaire unfold.

“The fact that I could not speak French, and didn’t know what the sound was or what had happened with the wire… was probably just as well.”

7. Incredible Hulk: I wasn’t a big fan of the Bill Bixby TV series, but I loved the way the movie riffed off that series, using nostalgia to play with my expectations. Hulk has been done to death, but this one seemed better than the rest. Norton makes a tortured Bruce Banner.

“Don’t make me hungry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m hungry”

6. Get Smart: Steve Carell did a great job. Nostalgia for the old TV show really drove my expectations here, and I wasn’t let down. Carell channeled enough of Don Adams to satisfy me, but also seemed to bring a little something to Smart that surprised me. Particularly great was his tango with the obese woman.

“Sorry about that Chief”

5. Iron Man: Robert Downey was a great pick for Tony Stark. This comes in a little higher than Hulk because I am not as familiar with the Iron Man story and was pleasantly surprised Downey’s playboy turned politically aware crime fighter.

“Give me a scotch. I’m starving.”

4. Burn After Reading: The whole picture seemed like a big setup for the last scene in the CIA director’s office, but it was more than worth it.

“God no. Burn the body. Get rid of it.”

3. Slumdog Millionaire: Juxtaposing his touching boyhood story with the tawdry game show is just a brilliant idea. It really works for me

“Are you nervous?”

2. Appaloosa: I love how damaged and needy the three leads are. You could take all three and dump them in an urban setting with drugs to make some sort of action romance hybrid movie. But if you did it would be a shame. Appaloosa is at its best when it’s toying with your expectations about Westerns.

“Everybody could shoot.”

1. Rachel Getting Married: Shows a real family struggling with the burden of a daughter addicted to drugs. Really illustrates the nuance and complexity involved in family dynamics when it comes to addiction.

“That is so unfair!”

Honorable mention to Valkyrie for keeping me on the edge of my seat, despite my being familiar with the history. Also an honorable nod to The Tale of Despereaux for being a subversive little story about being different. I am too familiar with caped crusader and somehow that contributed to my dislike for Dark Knight (although Ledger did a great job, I couldn’t get past the Batman voice, the stupid “eye in the sky” technology, or the undecipherable action sequences). A victim of nostalgia, my most disappointing movie — by far — was the new Indiana Jones.

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