Saturday, September 12, 2009

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Lessons of Darkness

In 1992 Werner Herzog took a small crew to Kuwait after the first Iraq war was over and after Iraq evacuated, leaving a wake of destruction in their path. Herzog is famous for his garrulous narration in his documentaries, but the reality he discovered upon arrival was so visually compelling the vast majority of this doc contains no narration at all. In fact, all he does is play pieces by composers like Mahler and feeds the viewer a steady diet of desolate landscape after desolate landscape, with almost no dialogue or text. What this means is the flick is interesting and at times quite moving, but overall it’s not something that’s going to keep you gripped to your seat. Then, out of nowhere, it ends. I watched it with friends and half the room said, in unison, “It’s over?!” The movie comes in at about 45 minutes too. Very odd. Herzog seems to have endless amounts to say about the true nature of subjects that seem, on the surface, to be fairly transparent. I thought, going in, that he could fill this flick, about such a rich subject as the Iraq situation, with hours upon hours of commentary and engaging subtext, but in reality the movie is little more than a montage of interesting, albeit occasionally repetitive, imagery. It’s worth a watch, in that you’ll see aspects of the war that are rarely shown and images you’ve likely not seen before, and since it’s not very long at all, it’s not like it’s hard to make it through. That said, it’s hardly at the top of Herzog’s library of films, so if you’re aiming to see most of what he’s done, it’s worth it, but if you’re new to his work and wanting only a good taste, see Grizzly Man, Little Dieter Needs to Fly or My Best Fiend and skip this one.

Saturday Afternoon

Monday, September 7, 2009

Inglourious Basterds

This 2009 flick and latest addition from writer/director Quentin Tarantino offers a very unique take on the WWII movie genre. Hell, all I really have to tell you is that it's a historical war drama by Tarantino for you to know that. He started out years ago wanting to do a remake of the 1978 flick by Enzo Castellari, but, he says, one day he learned that one of his favorite directors of all time (and mine I must say), Sergio Leone, was working on a WWII movie when he died. Leone's movies are tense, violent and full of bad dudes kicking a fistful of ass. Tarantino says that this sparked an idea in his head like a lightning bolt. What if he made a Leone style, western inspired, WWII movie where the jews clean house the way Clint Eastwood's characters so often did in any given Leone pic? Well, that's just what he's done. Like any good Tarantino movie, this flick is about way more than that. There are subplots and side stories galore and each one feels full and rich and perfectly necessary for the story and the overall tone. He teams up again with production designer David Wasco and cinematographer Robert Richardson, which means every last detail of every single last shot is crisp and telling and totally fantastic. The scenes and the pacing are Tarantino at his best. This movie is simply fantastic. The Leone pic he said he drew the most inspiration from was Once Upon a Time in the West, which just so happens to be my favorite. He even starts the movie with the words Once Upon a Time in Nazi Occupied France. What this means is that Tarantino takes his time and the movie feels like a slow, deliberate boil. But, trust me, when it boils, it boils. The best thing about it all are the performances. Tarantino, as usual, casts based on how they are for the part and not whether or not they're respected actors, or even actors for that matter, there are members of the primary cast who are models, directors, even musicians, but every last person from the projectionist to the lead roles are emotionally gripping, authentic and really great. In fact, there are people in this movie who don't even have speaking roles that I can't get out of my head a day later. There are those who are in one brief scene and yet are memorable and evocative. From this sea of great performances rises three that are remarkable. First, there is the villainous and bizarre Col Hans Landa, played to perfection by Austrian TV actor Christoph Waltz. Every last detail of his presence on screen is captivating and terrifying. I was glued. Then there's his counterpart, Brad Pitt's heroic and cruel Lt Aldo Raine. Raine is an utterly unique character straight out the smoky mountains who, in the first moment you see him, says he's here to do one thing and nothing else, kill Nazi's. They call him Aldo the Apache because he doesn't just kill them, he desecrates their bodied and works real hard to make Germany absolutely terrified of him. And he's doing a damn fine job. Everything Pitt does or says is enjoyable. It all feels natural and I could have watched his performance for days more. Like any good Leone protagonist, he's a country boy everyman who has a fine knack for ass kicking. I mean, the guy has a scar across his neck that can only be the product of being previously hung or cut. But doing some crap like that to Aldo the Apache is only going to get you in more trouble. Long story short, he's a badass. There are two things you need to know before going into this flick. One, it's violent. Very violent. Or, I should say, when it is violent, it comes at you with a stark, disturbing, heavy hand. A second thing you should know is that Tarantino takes alot of liberties. This is not meant to be historically accurate, not even close, and if you know that going in and just accept this this is fantasy, you will surely enjoy it.


Sunday, September 6, 2009

Pan's Labyrinth

2006 Mexican film by Guillermo del Toro that tells the story of a little girl, Ofelia, who is moving to her new home in the mansion/compound of the monstrous Captain Vidal. Ofelia's mother was a worker at the Captain's factory when he fell for her and, after the death of Ofelia's father, they got together. From the first moment she walks onto the property, odd things start to happen and soon she realizes that there is a magical world all around the compound that seems to have been waiting on her for centuries. The magical beings, namely a faun, claim she is the princess of their kingdom and that their kingdom is in disrepair because she's been missing. Set in Franco's Spain, this movie has a side story going on, concerning the Captain and his mission to rid the area of rebels. Then there's the side story of the rebels themself. Then there's the side story of the cook at the compound who is aiding the rebels. And the one about the doctor who's doing the same. And the Captain's backstory and...well, you get the picture. This movie is visually stunning. Just totally amazing. The performances are pretty strong too and I love love love a good fantasy flick. The problem is the story is too scattered. There are too many characters getting too much focus. In the end, many juicy bits of story get neglected, while other superfluous bits get fleshed out. What results is a lack of much engaging or memorable story development. I left the movie feeling that it was neat, but not caring much at all about the characters or the story. No emotional resonance, in other words. I also feel like the fantasy aspect of the movie was too lean altogether. When she heads off into the magical world with it's mythic creatures and daring missions, I was loving the movie. I also thought it was the most effective aspect of del Toro's storytelling. In the fantasy bits, the viewer comes to understand more clearly that Ofelia is trying to escape the wretched Captain and his world, that she's trying to do what's right to restore her kingdom, namely her family, before it goes from mere disrepair to ruins. In other words, it's good stuff, but instead time is wasted on things like dinner parties and interrogations of rebels. Snooze. Interesting movie, with amazing visuals and a great lead performance by the very young Ivana Baquero, but in the end it was spread too thin to win me over.


Friday, September 4, 2009