MQGTTM! Inglourious Basterds (2009)

New feature on My Queue, My Queue Goes to the Movies (MQGTTM). These will be peppered throughout the dvd reviews as reviews of current releases, be they good or bad. In this case, mediocre…

Inglourious_Basterds_poster

Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Starring Brad Pitt, Mélanie Laurent, Christoph Waltz, Michael Fassbender, Eli Roth, Diane Kruger, Daniel Brühl, Til Schweiger

Saw Basterds last night,the story follows a motley crew of Nazi killers, all Jews aside from the part Apache 1st Lt Aldo Raine and crazed ex-Kraut, Sgt Stiglitz. It also follows a French Jewish woman who escaped the Nazi killing squads led by Col. Hans Landa to Paris where she opens a cinema soon to be the focus of the film’s final set-piece…it also follows a British film critic turned Army Captain’s secret mission to contact a German film star who wants to turn state secrets.

Basterds feels like a hodge-podge of ideas that never coalesced into a singular theme. I’m not sure why it was called Inglorious Basterds for the amount of time you spend with them, getting to know their characters, it could have been called, “The French Cinema Propreiter,” or “Random British Film Critic Commando.” Most of the crew end up as unexplored silhouettes, used only as stand-ins for action scenes. Definitely no Dirty Dozen. Strong performances by Cristpoh Waltz and Malanie Laurant, but Pitt’s protean Brando impression was distracting. Tarantino’s exploitational cutaways, whimsical fonts, and anachronistic music choices draw you out of what could have been immersive dialogue scenes, but ultimately most of those could have been edited back as well. Some moments of interspersed brilliance, like the final set-piece, but other action scenes were brief and overcut.  Somewhere between Grindhouse and Reservoir Dogs, but too confused and self-indulgent to be either.

Other films by this Director: Pulp Fiction (1994), Resevoir Dogs (1992)

A clip…

In Bruges (2008)

Directed by Martin McDonagh

Starring Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes

I have to lead the review with the stated prejudice I went into this film with, a general dislike for Colin Farrell’s previous body of work. Nothing against the actor, it seems that the majority of his roles revolved around playing some egotistical, over-confident, one-dimensional tough guy with a chip on his shoulder. I find it hard to relate to that kind of character or harbor any shared empathy. Which is probably why I liked this departure from form on his part.

In Bruges is the story of two hitmen hiding out in Belgium after the younger inexperienced Farrell accidentally kills an innocent child. Immature and unsure how to deal the guilt he’s feeling, Farrell attempts to quiet his conscious with women, drugs, and drink but his sins eventually overcome. Coincidental encounters set against the backdrop of a film set with a Boschian theme adds to internal torment the protagonist is undergoing. Strong supporting character performances from Gleeson and Fiennes add a whimsical morality that make the final act come together in a very satisfying way.

This film is beautiful, shot in a storybook town in Belgium, with lots of subtext and allegorical meaning. It’s funny, tense, heart-warming, and sometimes sad. The only gripe I have with it would be the odd insert of the American dwarf actor who’s comedic scenes seem to detract from the momentum of the script and never really add much to the plot except for the payoff.

Midnight Run (1988)

Directed by Martin Brest

Starring Robert De Niro, Charles Grodin

In honor of a recent madcap midnight run I just had through the city the other night, I thought it apropo to review one of my favorite road movies. Part action, part comedy, this film is 100% entertaining from start to finish with strong comedic performances by De Niro and Grodin. The on-screen anti-chemistry between the two places them among the top comedy duos in cinematic history alongside Martin and Lewis, Lemmon and Mathau, and dare I say Shatner and Nimoy (STVI: Voyage Home)? Yes I dare.

The story follows tough-as-nails ex-cop Jack Walsh (De Niro) who is tasked with bringing in mob accountant John Mardukas, aka the Duke (Grodin). What seems like a simple job at first explodes into twisted imbroglio of double-crosses, betrayal, and mishap as Walsh is beset on all sides from completing his mission. There’s the mob boss that wants the Duke’s head and Walsh dead, the FBI and cops who want the Duke for themselves, and the rival bounty hunters that want the payday for bringing in the fugitive.

What makes this film click is the constant nagging banter from Grodin’s character and De Niro’s dry sarcastic one-liners. The interaction between Agent Mosley and Jack is also hilarious, Walsh constantly stealing Mosley’s cigarettes and sunglasses. The action is great, the dialogue funny, and the plot plays out with a satisfying conclusion that ties all the warring factions together…and they say “fuck” 132 times. Just…try to ignore the fact that Brest went on to make Gigli 15 years later.

Other Notable Films by this Director:WarGames (1983), Beverly Hills Cop (1984), Scent of a Woman (1992)

The Defiant Ones (1958)

Directed by Stanley Kramer

Starring Tony Curtis, Sidney Poitier

Awards: Academy Awards for Best Cinematography, Black-and-White and Best Writing, Story and Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen

In the same genre of movies like Cold Hand Luke and Midnight Run, The Defiant Ones, is the ultimate prisoner-on-the-run movie. The classic pairing of Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier as racist Joker and Noah respectively creates a building tension that satisfyingly culminates in one of the great on-screen friendships. Interesting shot choices from a cinematic viewpoint also lend to this film’s artistic merit.

Noah and Joker are prisoners who loath each other and are chained together. Together they escape from a chain gang, and through numerous trials learn to respect and trust each other.At one point the duo is aided by a lonely woman and her son and their chains are broken. Following the woman’s directions, Noah runs off into the swamp to safety and Joker stays behind. Joker later finds out the woman lied and led Noah into a trap and despite having everything he wants, runs to the swamp to help his friend.

There are several remakes out there of this film, including a crap 90’s version with talented Laurence Fishborne and born-again hack Stephen Baldwin called Fled. Flee from it, see the original. Tense, entertaining, and topically controversial for its time.

Other Notable Films by this Director: It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)

Straw Dogs (1971)

Directed by Sam Peckinpah

Starring Dustin Hoffman, Susan George

“Heaven and Earth are ruthless, and treat the myriad of creatures as straw dogs: the sage is ruthless, and treat the myriad of creatures as straw dogs…Is not the space between Heaven and Earth like a bellows?”

In the mood for a little of the ol’ ultraviolence? Well look no further, this one’s got it in spades. Of Peckinpah’s numerous gruesome action films, Straw Dogs stands out as his most brutal and controversial. Next to the Wild Bunch, it might be his best.

Timid American mathematician David Sumner moves to his young wife’s home town to escape the madness of the city. Once there, the couple’s intimacy disentigrates as David pours himself into his work and neglected wife, Amy, begins to flirt with the local brutes, one of whom being her ex-boyfriend. Peceptions of snobbery and general ostracizsm leads to David becoming the butt of numerous pratical jokes that eventually escalate into violence. The centerpiece of the film is an extended gang rape scene that starts out ambiguous and then turns to pure horror. Backed into a corner, David snaps and with an uncharacteristic change of persona becomes a ruthless vigilante. A mob descends on the Sumner household and David goes on a wild killing spree murdering all the attackers.

Straw Dogs is not for the faint of heart, but it’s visceral and sometimes horrific displayals of violence reflect true feelings of fear, revulsion, and rage. Some claim it to be celebratory of fascist violence and chauvinism and while those themes could be exploited, it’s more a stark examination of the savagery of the human condition and a cautious example of our repressed potentials.

Other Notable Films by this Director: The Wild Bunch (1969), The Getaway (1972), Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974)

Le Dernier Combat (1983)

Directed by Luc Besson

Starring Pierre Jolivet, Jean Bouise, Fritz Wepper, Jean Reno

Besson’s first feature length film, the Last Combat has the unique disitinction of being the only silent, black and white, post-apocolyptic, action/comedy. Already, Besson’s style and genious presents itself in an engaging story that is poignant, thrilling, and funny.

Jolivet plays the unnamed hero, who uses his wits to first defeat a group of thugs and attain a battery for his homemade plane, then again to best a brute played by Jean Reno and save a captive woman. Despite there being no dialogue, Besson manages to establish notable characters and genuine relationships such as the partnership between the hero and the doctor who is protecting a hospital and the woman in it.

Also to note are the brilliantly captured slapsticky moments that come to identify Besson’s directing style such as the hero experiencing alcohol for the frist time and Reno’s character’s failed attempts to gain access to the hospital.

Other Notable Films by the Director: Nikita (1990), Leon (1994), The Fifth Element (1997)

This one’s a little obscure, you’ll have to go here for the trailer…

visit videodetective.com for more info

Insomnia (1997)

Director: Erik Skjoldbjærg

Starring: Stellan Skarsgard

Having an obsession with film noir out of college, I immediately gravitated toward Insomina, when I heard the director’s aim was to turn the genre on its head. It was this visual style, using pervasive light in a disorienting and ubitiquitous manner, combined with the powerful performance by Stellan Skarsgard that cemented this film in my subconcious.

Being a pilot when I saw this film, I was all too familiar with the phenomena of insomnia, traveling through multiple time zones every day, never being able to convince your body and mind when night and day were falling. My travels also frequently took me to the Scandanavian countries, so I could relate to the way the constant sunlight wreaked havoc on the senses of the lead character in the film. The director magically captured this experience and combined it with a tense thriller in a completely unique way.

Unlike the remake by Christopher Nolan, the original’s protagonist is far less likable and in turn more watchable. The less sleep he gets, the deeper a hole he sinks into. Accidentally killing his partner while investigating a serial killer in the Norweigian Artic, detective Jonas Engstrom, decides to cover up his mistake by blaming the murder on the killer. But his plan quickly unravels with his psyche, the less sleep he gets, and the more crimes he commits in an attempt to assuage his ever increasing guilt.

Skarsgard’s best performance to date in my opinion, this relentlessly bright film is at the same time, one of the darkest I’ve ever seen.

Other Notable Films by this Director: Prozac Nation (2001)

Don’t get this mixed up with the American version, they’re as different as night and day…see what I did there?