Aug 31, 2009

Movie Reviews @ The Temple

Inglorious Basterds – Woohoo!  It’s been a while since a movie I really liked!  This was great.  I have a mixed history with Tarantino movies.  I liked Reservoir Dogs when I finally saw it, I was too young to care about Pulp Fiction [edit: see below!], I hated Kill Bill, I loved From Dusk Till Dawn, and I didn’t like Death Proof.  So not everything he touches turns to gold for me, but this was everything I love about his movies.  Firstly, it’s just a whole lot of fun.  It’s very snarky sarcastic and darkly humorous.  The characters are near caricatures, especially the historical ones (hitler, goebels, etc).  Brad Pitt is fucking awesome and fucking hilarious, though.  Everyone else does a good job, every single person.  The villain is amazing.  Tarantino’s style is all over it.  It’s over the top, irreverent, with a bit of the gangster movie on-screen-text thing, it’s a spaghetti western, it’s a war movie.  It’s cathartically violent, it has no relation to history besides the setting so it’s free to make what we wish happened happen.  It is very violent, in its moments.  Though it’s not at all what you get from the trailer.  I assumed (not having seen the original) that it’s wall to wall gnat-zee killing, and it’s not.  It does at times, and plenty of gnat-zees get deaded, and those deaths are very violent.  But a lot of the movie is a parallel story that meets the Basterds in the end with a grand and satisfying conclusion.  It is at times actually very tense and suspenseful, I thought it had so much more artistic mastery than Kill Bill or something.  It’s a really great movie.  Hands down my favorite of the summer (although District 9 is tomorrow, and 9 is in a couple weeks).  Star Trek was good too, but it was fluff, a pretty shell with nothing inside.  This was fantastic.

District 9 – Wow, two really great movies in a row.  By far the best of the summer together.  Which is better? I haven’t figured that out yet.  (PS this will be a little spoilerific, there’s no big surprises in the movie, I’m not ruining the shock, but I am ruining little tidbits of the experience if you’d rather see them for yourself without my opinion in your head).  This movie comes with some meta-ness to it.  We (being nerds) are generally aware that this guy was going to do the Halo movie under the tutelage of Peter Jackson, but that got shitcanned and Jackson put him up to do this instead.  It is very much a video game inspired movie (I could have done with out the FPS and the reverse FPS shots, bee tee dubs), though it is much more Half Life than it is Halo. The main character is even set up like a Gordon Freeman rather than a Master Chief. The movie is also riding a wave of admiration for its astonishingly small budget of $30 million.  This is just unbelievable when you see the level of the effects in the movie.  For christ’s sake, fully half of the characters are 100% believable CG.  The only time I raised an eyebrow for the entire movie was the first introduction of a big mech thing, it looked too shiny, out of place.  But the whole rest of the movie is beautiful.  I told those I watched it with that The Hangover cost twice as much to make as this, I was wrong.  Funny People cost twice ($70M) as this, The Hangover was a totally reasonable $35M.  Anyway, what they do with what they got is amazing.  The story, as everyone knows, is sort of an apartheid allegory. A bit on the nose that the aliens just happen to be in South Africa, but oh well.  I think that’s the main criticism of the movie, though, that it is too heavy handed.  At first I was torn, but after reflection I am completely against this opinion.  I think it was perfectly done.  How does one tell this story without showing this story? Do you not show one sentient being mistreating a whole race of other sentient being?  Do you not show the way in which they do so?  Do you not show the evil intentions, personalities, means, and ends of such a sweeping treatment?  If they had done any different, it would have been pussified, a pale imitator of what they were really trying to show, and I would have disliked it.  The allegory is fantastic, the only overt moment is the direct mention of concentration camps, I didn’t need that.  The treatment of the dynamic between humans and aliens is certainly overt as well, but again i would say it has to be.  Some people have complained that the portrayal of aliens is racist, in that they represent black people.  I complain that these people don’t know what the fuck they are talking about and missed the boat.  They even SAY in the movie (from the human perspective, which is subtle) that the aliens do things that to them are normal but to us are socially unacceptable.  The aliens are made to be very effing alien, they skitter around, they dig through trash and make a mess and act “savage”  But maybe that’s just what they do all the time in their society and that’s ok, that doesn’t mean we think black people are monkeys.  Or maybe conditions such as these reduce sophisticated beings to savagery and that is what they are saying about treating people that way.  Either way could be the whole damn point and it’s great.  The acting is all well done, the “hero” is not one, and that is wonderful.  As I said he’s Gordon Freeman, a normal not-ass-kicking-guy thrown into this, except he doesn’t even have the internal qualities of a hero.  He’s basically Murray from Flight of the Concords, which I was not into at the 25 minute mark, but was at the end.  The mockumentary thing I was fine with.  I don’t have a problem with the style in general, it’s rarely done in a committed fashion.  A story told entirely like this (Cloverfield) can be a great thing.  In this case it’s just one of a couple story telling styles, not a distinct choice.  They use it in the beginning to set up the background, to foreshadow some events, but then it becomes a normal scifi movie.  Back to the broad view - the movie is epic, it’s about more than just a few people.  The feeling you are left with at the end concerning humans and concerning aliens, more than anything, tells me how effectively the movie conveys its message.  I hope there is never a sequel, but the sequel would be very satisfying in the way that Inglorious Basterds was.  Back to that point, which is better?  I think perhaps by how much I’ve written, I’ve got to give it to District 9.  IB was amazing, it was so much fun, masterfully made, so awesome to watch, a great party movie, to watch over and over.  But this movie was better, it meant more, it was grander, it said more, and will have more said about it.

Time Bandits – Um…. what?  I had never seen this, it’s supposed to be such a cult classic, but it never appealed to me.  Aaaand, I was right.  It’s just a weird over the top fantasy time travelling midget-infused mess.  I guess if you are young and you see it, maybe it’s like Labyrinth or Never Ending Story where it’s this fantastic weirdo journey.  But for me, it’s just weirdness with no reason.  Meh.

Towelhead – Yikes, what an uncomfortable movie to watch.  It’s about a 13 year old half lebanese girl doing what she does.  I assumed based on the title it was mostly about racism and such (it is set during the first iraq war), and it does have that component.  But the real point of the movie is this girl’s sexual awakening.  Voluntary, involuntary, accidental, experimental, she goes through a lot in this, I don’t know, 3 month period?  The first instinct watching this movie is a bit of horror watching this 13 year old (the actress was an adult, I found out after) do all these sexual things.  It was kind of creepy, just uncomfortable.  Assuming the movie is legit, I have to take the weirdness as an adult, so how is the movie?  It’s reasonably well done, the actors are good, the young girl is pretty good.  The story is kind of jam packed with all these sexual adventures, and it doesn’t feel genuine.  Too much happens in too short a time.  If this was a true story it would have more legitimacy, but it’s just some crazy shit some lady came up with.  With that in mind and with the excess of activity, it feels almost exploitive.  If a man made this movie it would be extremely suspect, virtually an enacted fantasy.  It could still be that with a woman as well.  It’s a weird outside way to view this movie.  If you give it credence, it seems a fairly well done movie.  But there is something off, and I don’t quite trust it.

Valkerie – Huh, this wasn’t bad.  I just assumed it would be horrible.  It looked so horrible, it had tom cruise post-crazy.  I guess I was just hearing what I wanted to hear when I heard a couple people say he was horrendous in it.  It was actually decent.  Everyone knows the story, there’s a plot to overthrow hitler, by the “good” germans.  I never knew the details, so it’s cool to see.  It’s cool to see it dramatized and you really hope it’s going to work out even though it’s obviously not going to.  But it’s still pretty astounding what they tried and how close they were.  Everyone does a pretty good job, including good ole couch jumper.  Color me impressed, I guess.

Revolutionary Road – I’ve been pretty unexcited about this movie for some time.  A story about the suburban plight? uuuuugh.  Only because it got oscar attention did I even bother to see it.  It’s a fine movie, I suppose.  Dicaprio and Winslett certain serve up passioned performances.  Though I tend to think a screamy roll is a lot easier than a quiet roll, they are pretty convincingly screamy.  The existential drama of a suburbanite doesn’t do much for me.  Blah blah, you are so bored with you white picket fence, okay okay.  I don’t know that a movie is really informing me on that kind of life.  The tumultuous relationship is interesting.  With some experience with that kind of relationship (though not quite that much!) that had its own striking chord for me.  But if you are going to ask me to bring something personal to the movie, you have to also deal with me thinking that that relationship was stupid and these people should break up too, end of movie.  So it’s a movie that I say is technically good, but not actually that great for me.

Blindness – Well, I’m not sure what I think about this movie.  The idea is some disease starts spreading where everyone goes blind.  The movie is really about human nature, though, as people get trapped in a quarantine and then shit goes down.  It’s a pretty bleak, if not inaccurate, idea of what we’d resort to.  Sort of a lord of the flies in a hospital situation.  The movie is well done, people act pretty well, it’s all put together well.  But I can’t help but feel annoyed at the movie, as it is very emotionally manipulative.  You watch and you think you’d do this or that and you get mad when the people do stupid things.  I’m not sure why I feel that way, I don’t get to control anyone in any other movie.  But somehow this one presents you with an awful situation and you can’t do anything but watch it be awful, and I don’t like it.  It’s like it’s all too contrived and it’s feels almost unfair.  I’m not sure I can officially say that’s a bad thing, but for me it was.  Julianne Moore’s character especially is a moron (does she always play morons??) and you want to scream at her to do different.  Things don’t have to happen the way they do, but they happen that way so you as a viewer feel despairing, I don’t like it.  But then i think the movie is made well, so I don’t know.

Taxi Driver – Yikes, that’s quite a character.  So this movie has a certain meta-ness to it, though I got that part mixed up.  I was thinking the movie was about the guy who tried to kill reagan, but it’s actually that the guy saw this movie and then decided to be crazy.  Anyway, the movie.  Robert DeNiro is a frightening crazy guy, that’s for damn sure.  It’s a weird insight into this mind, the ritual and the code of ethics and the intensity of it all.  And then the ending is a gigantic whatthefuck.  You kind of figure he’ll go out in a blaze of glory, and kind of he does, but then it’s completely turned around, I assume everyone besides me has seen this before, but I’ll avoid the details anyway.  It’s just such a crazy end.  The movie has some faults, it draws on in a weird way, but maybe that’s just to make you feel uncomfortable with him.  It’s also stuck in its era, the smooth jazz sax soundtrack is pretty god awful.  But, on the weight of deniro’s embodiment of this psycho, it’s pretty great.

Coraline – This movie is pretty cute.  I love the animation style.  I love stop motion, as is well-documented on this blog, and they did this stop motion style animation.  It’s all animated, but there is a stuttery quality to the motion, especially the motion of inanimate objects that had me questioning if it was animated at all.  So I was enchanted for a good 30 minutes purely by the style.  Unfortunately the rest of the movie isn’t quite as enchanting.  It’s a fine movie, there are cool parts, some humor.  The story is very generic in broad strokes, with pretty unique particulars.  But its the broad strokes that make it feel a little forgettable.  It’s not objectionable at all, and it’s worth seeing for the animation style, but a year from now I’m not going to be talking about the really cool plot.

Chalk – Er, this was not very good.  It’s a mockumentary about high school teachers.  Basically the office plus high school.  Isn’t it awesome that I can describe every third tv show or movie as “the office plus ______” nowadays?  Awesome.  So the movie is dumb, it’s forced, it’s not very funny.  It’s very very hard to do both ridiculous characters and a touching story.  Even the office fails as often as it succeeds at this (I’m looking at you dwight always and sometimes michael).  This movie fails entirely to succeed at appealing to a wider audience.  I think perhaps it has a special place for teachers just like office space had a place for office workers.  I watched it with a soon-to-be-teacher and after I commented on how ridiculously stereotypical the cast of teachers was, she said yeah but each of those stereotypes is in my department.  She thought it was much better than I did, presumably because of that kind of connection.  So, teacher: watch, everyone else: don’t.

Journey to the Center of the Earth (2009) – Completely harmless family movie.  Nothing great, average acting, average story, pretty dismal CG (making the whole screen purple doesn’t hide your crappy dinosaur or that that actor is clearly on a spectacularly empty sound stage.  But it’s not bad, it’s not offensive.  If I had an 8 year old and if I had cable and if it was saturday night at 10 and if I was bored, I’d watch it.  maybe.  Well not if I had something on dvr or a good dvd near by.  or a book.  or a game.  okay if I had an 8 year old and i was on a plane and it was on I’d watch it.  unless I had an mp3 player.  or a laptop.  or that book I just mentioned.  okay, listen, you get my point, if I was in a doctor’s office with my non existent 8 year old and it was on the tv I’d watch it.  you know, unless they had some magazines.

No comments: