Sunday, August 23, 2009

Aliens vs. Nazis

It has been a good August for movies. After a largely sucky summer. Each of the past two Fridays I've been able to catch an opening without reading reviews or getting seduced by the success or failure of a given product at the box office. Because no matter what, these short-duration experiences are marketed as products. I'm happy to report that I've seen a few things you might also enjoy if you try them on for size.

"District 9" had the viral buzz before it hit the theatres, the originality buzz once it got there and the action buzz if you're lucky enough to be watching it. The effects are stylish and the story is being given plenty of credit for a broader metaphor about apartheid that is mostly deserved. But compared to the sort of mess that I simply won't see ("Transformers 2"), "District 9" at its heart just looks cool while being a true adventure. And at a tenth of the price. My rating - a true A-minus. Maybe not as entertaining as "500 Days of Summer" and not as unnoticed as "Moon", but the best movie of the summer that I've seen.

"Inglourious Basterds" is more of a melange than a movie. I'll outright admit it - I'll see anything Quentin Tarantino throws together. In it's defense, this "Basterds" isn't a mess. It's just trying to play it too many ways as sometimes happens with Tarantino's work. Here more than in his other films you've got hyper-realism mixed with alternative-reality. Abrupt surprises mixed with languid set-ups that go on forever. Which makes what should be yin and yang just feel like too much time being surrounded by a bunch of boot licking fans and pals. As usual, Tarantino casts the movie masterfully with one glaring example of misplaced loyalty. His pal, Eli Roth, makes torture horror (like "Hostel") and if you're into that sort of thing, he's a big deal. He and Tarantino obviously have a huge hard-on for each other's work. That's all well and good and their sovereign right as Americans. But Eli Roth in "Basterds" is worse than bad. He ruins any scene he's a part of and is so badly miscast that I expected initially he was meant to be an inside joke. Take him out of the movie and it would be so much better. Especially since you could then focus on scenes like the opening sequence shot against the stunning French countryside. Or the basement bar rendezvous that unfolds terribly as only Tarantino can master. My rating - a conflicted straight-B. Everyone's raving about Christoph Waltz as Col. Hans Landa, too. His is the best performance on film in years. So on balance I suggest that you see this movie, even if you are luke warm on the issue. It will become a classic. But right now, I can't get past memories of Eli Roth so it's somewhat tarnished.

Hope your own August drags on for at least another week. Rock on.

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