Tag 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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David Gilmour’s, The Film Club

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I read David Gilmour’s, “The Film Club,” this weekend on a little mini get away with Holly and couldn’t put it down. I am a sucker for memoir, especially father and son stories and Gilmour delivers. The hook is that Gilmour’s teenage son starts to do terribly in high school, so he lets the kid drop out, if he promises to watch 3 films a week that Gilmour picks.

You hear that and think, “What? Are you out of your mind!”

Gilmour is the first to admit that it may turn out poorly. He agonizes over whether he is fucking the kid up or saving him, which to me seems like a pretty accurate description of parenting, although most parents won’t ever have to go to the lengths Gilmour did with his child.

The book rises mostly on Gilmour’s willingness to discuss his own inadequacies and fears about the situation. The love he has for his kid is just palpable. You can easily relate to the position he finds himself in, especially if you have a strong willed child of your own. Interestingly he doesn’t try to do anything didactic with the movies he picks. He loosely organizes them into “units,” but these groups of film sometimes seem pretty arbitrary–“The Quiet Ones,” a collection of first time actors who steal the show–to pretty obvious collections (Horror, Guilty Pleasures, etc). He mostly provides mentoring and companionship for his son who goes through a period where he is board with school and trying to figure out his place in the world.

If the book has a flaw, it’s that you occasionally want to reach through the pages and swat the kid, just to see if the heavy hand of discipline might not work a little faster. Fortunately for Gilmour, he knows how to tell a story. And he has a seemingly endless supply of cool insider stories that he can trot out. He is a thoughtful writer who easily relates the movies he’s watching to what is happening in his life and his son’s. And it doesn’t hurt that he comes off like a real man’s man.

It just really works. If you get the chance, read it!

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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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