Bob and Justin's Mad Movie Blog

My name is Bob. My friend Justin and I are aspiring filmmakers and we have pretty similar tastes in movies. This will include our take on what's going on in film and television today as well as updating you on the status of our own work.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

"The Hurt Locker," "Inglourious Basterds," and "District 9"

So I've seen a few movies in the past week and between having a job and working on a future classic sitcom with Brandon I've gotten a little bit behind. So here is a look at the three movies I've seen in theaters over the past week.

The Hurt Locker - It's not often that a film makes me feel on edge, where I truly feel a sense of danger or even fear throughout virtually the entire movie. From its opening moments, Kathryn Bigelow's "The Hurt Locker" is that sort of film.
Set in the early days of the Iraq War, a bomb tech (Guy Pearce) is coolly going to work to defuse some particularly nasty explosives, fully aware that he is always one wrong move or one sniper shot away from death. This opening scene is strangely peaceful with men in uniform joking with each other, talking about burgers. It's so peaceful in fact that with each passing moment we find ourselves tensing up, slowly realizing there's no possible way this can end well. By the time we meet the film's central character, Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner, "The Assassination of Jesse James"), there is a pervasive feeling that at any given moment something can, and will, go wrong.
James is another bomb tech, one who by his count, has defused 873 bombs. When asked by a superior officer (David Morse) the best way to defuse a bomb, James simply says, "The way you don't die, sir." Covering James' back as he steps into danger are Sergeant Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Eldridge (Brian Geraghty, "Jarhead"), neither of whom care for James' "wild man" streak. Eldridge especially is convinced that James is going to get him killed and when we see how James operates, it's hard to blame him.
Written by first time screenwriter Mark Boal, "The Hurt Locker" is not a film terribly interested in examining the politics of war, but really about the varying mindsets of the warriors involved. As James, Renner gives a terrific understated performance, which manages to play well with the intense fear created by Boal and Bigelow ("Point Break"). It takes someone with the character's cool mindset to be willing to do what James does. And not only is James willing, it is the only time he feels in his element. He may not be relatable, but we realize that there are people just like him that put themselves on the line every day and the world is a better place for it.
"The Hurt Locker" is an intense movie going experience and worth catching while it's still in theaters. 9/10.

Inglourious Basterds - A new film from Quentin Tarantino is always an event. It's an even bigger event when he's doing something he has never done before: a war movie.
If you saw the trailer then you saw what looked to be what would happen if "The Dirty Dozen" and "Kill Bill: Volume 1" had a baby. But instead of the extremely violent action spectacular we were expecting, we get arguably Tarantino's talkiest film to date.
Opening with the words, "Once upon a Nazi-occupied France," "Inglourious Basterds" is a movie that wants to settle in and take its time before giving us the quickest glimpses of war. This also describes German Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), known as "the Jew Hunter," whose politeness and joviality makes him all the more frightening. When we first meet Landa he is engaging in conversation with a French farmer (and suspected harborer of a Jewish family), complementing him on his delicious milk. This opening scene seems to go on for an eternity. Like a number of scenes in "Inglourious Basterds" I went from being completely drawn in, to feeling (dare I say it?) a bit bored, to getting completely drawn in again. This may have been what Tarantino was hoping to accomplish, but more likely he's just a little too much in love with his own dialogue. It's hard to blame him though when so much of it is so wonderful. It doesn't take long to know exactly how this scene will end, though Landa gleefully allows one member of the family to escape, the teenage Shosanna (Melanie Laurent).
The film picks up three years later, mere days prior to D-Day. But the "Basterds" aren't going to land on the beaches of Normandy. They have "one job only. Killin' Nazis." The leader of this otherwise all-Jewish unit is Lt. Aldo Raine (a hilariously southern fried Brad Pitt), a dyed in the wool hater of all things Nazi. The purpose of the "Basterds" is to not only kill Nazis, but to kill them in the most brutal ways possible, and to always leave one to tell the tale so their legend will grow amongst the Germans. The swastikas Aldo carves into the survivors' foreheads serve to confirm the worst fears of the Germans. All of the "Basterds" are known to not only the German soldiers, but to the high ranking members of the Third Reich. Amongst them are the merciless Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz (Til Schweiger) and Donny "the Bear Jew" Donowitz (Eli Roth), who incorporates his love of baseball into his work.
Meanwhile Shosanna has successfully changed her identity in Paris, where she owns and operates a cinema. Both she and her movie house capture the eye of German war hero Fredrick Zoller (Daniel Bruhl, "Joyeux Noel"). Zoller is starring in the latest Nazi propaganda film from the mind of Joseph Goebbels (Sylvester Groth) himself, "Nation's Pride." Zoller plays himself (a sort of counter-point to Audie Murphy) in the story of how he single-handedly killed over 200 enemy soldiers in three days with nothing but his sniper rifle. It is decided that the premiere will be held at Shosanna's theater, with Goebbels, Goering, and even the Fuhrer (Martin Wuttke) in attendance. With revenge on her mind, Shosanna hatches a plan to kill them all.
Shosanna's plan is independent from Operation Kino, the joint effort of the U.S. and British armies to achieve the same end. It is a plan tailor made for the "Basterds" and for British Leftenant Archie Hicox (Michael Fassbender), as explained by British General Ed Fenech (Mike Myers in a brilliant cameo). Helping to coordinate this is German film star and allied sympathizer, Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger).
If this sounds like a lot of plot, that's because it is. What Tarantino delivers is a lot of plot, a few moments of extreme brutal violence, but surprisingly little character development, particularly of the "Basterds" themselves. This one disappointing factor aside, "Inglourious Basterds" is a very good film with some truly great moments that proudly wears its disinterest in historical fact on its sleeve. It also features one of the finest performances of the year. As Colonel Landa, Christoph Waltz chews scenery in the best possible way. He absolutely steals the movie, grinning all the way.
It's not Tarantino's finest, but "Inglourious Basterds" is an undeniably unique take on the Second World War that no one else could have concocted. Absolutely worth seeing. 8/10.

Distict 9 - Also falling into the category of "Not the Film You Were Expecting," is Neill Blomkamp's science fiction thriller, "District 9." More than just "Transformers" with a brain and South African accents, Blomkamp's film has real ideas and something to say. At its heart though, it's a character study of possibly the most unlikely action hero you'll ever see.
"District 9" presupposes a world in which an alien spacecraft arrived over Johannesburg in 1982. They did not come to attack. In fact nearly thirty years later it is still unclear just why they came or where exactly they came from. Unable to return home, the starving aliens are placed in District 9, a slum in which they survive day to day as outcasts, distrusted and hated by the people of South Africa. Over the years, several incidents created a mutual distrust and hatred that have led to the creation of District 10, which is in essence an internment camp for the aliens to keep them from having any interaction with humans. Leading this effort is a man who believes fully in what he's doing, even if he never took the time to understand why, Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley).
Wikus' job is to get the aliens to sign their eviction notices so that they may be "legally" forced into District 10. It is while conducting this operation that Wikus meets an alien by the name of Christopher Johnson and his son. This is also where Wikus is exposed to a chemical that will decidedly change his life and ultimately the course of the future.
"District 9" does a few things exceptionally well. Aside from delivering a well told story featuring some terrific action sequences, Blomkamp's film is memorable for the sense of extreme discomfort created during the scenes in which Wikus is experimented upon. It is often an incredibly difficult film to watch, but this also serves to make it incredibly effective. What also sets this movie apart is that Wikus goes from being a weak-willed beaurucrat to a full blown action hero. The transformation makes sense too because he doesn't just suddenly turn into a badass. He becomes a man of action out of desperation, fear, and necessity, and he takes his physical and emotional lumps along the way.
This is yet another unique film in a summer that has pleasantly been full of them. "District 9" is smart science fiction that has already deservedly become a hit. 8/10.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

In the Loop

While researching for his political satire "In the Loop," writer-director Armando Iannucci printed a picture of himself off of Google, created a makeshift press pass, and gained access to the U.S. State Department by showing the ID to a security guard and stating, "BBC. I'm here for the 12:30." Iannucci roamed freely to take pictures for his production designer. This suggests that what we see in "In the Loop" may not veer too far from reality.
From its opening frames, this is a film on the go, just like its characters. Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) is a man who should not be going anywhere. Certainly not in front of the press, but go he does. As a very important figure in the British government Simon declares the United States entering a war with an unnamed Middle Eastern country to be "unforeseeable." Simon's well-publicized blunder awakens the considerable wrath of the Prime Minister's director of communications, Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi). Malcolm is a profane force of nature, who makes it his mission in life to keep Simon's mouth shut. Within moments he's on the phone with the press declaring, "He did not say that war was unforeseeable. You may have heard him say it, but he did not, and that is a fact."
Simon's inability to keep his mouth shut does not make life easy for his young handler, Toby (Chris Addison), who cannot prevent Simon from telling the press that sometimes in order to have peace you must be willing to, "climb the mountain of conflict." A mortified Malcolm tells Simon, "You sounded like a Nazi Julie Andrews."
In an attempt to undo the damage and to show that war is neither "inevitable nor...evitable," Simon and Toby go to Washington, but of course no good can come of this.
"In the Loop" is a film that packs an enormous amount of content, well developed characters, and sharp political satire into 105 minutes. There is a lot going on and Iannucci seems to care more that we are able to keep up with the film's energy and pace than to understand all the ins and outs of the plot. That's what second viewings are for. Scripted with three other writers, Iannucci's characters and dialogue are absolutely fantastic. David Rasche (cult TV classic "Sledge Hammer") is outstanding as the disturbingly unqualified head of seemingly every committee in Washington and James Gandolfini shines as the most intelligent and rational character in the entire film. The fact that this character is a U.S. Army general is a nice surprise and a far cry from 90 percent of films featuring American generals.
Hollander, Addison, and Paul Higgins (as "the crossest man in Scotland") are all memorable and provide their characters great depth.
When you watch "In the Loop" however, it is clear that this film belongs to one man. As Malcom Tucker, Peter Capaldi is nothing short of comic dynamite. He's like Mozart or Picasso, but with swear words. It's not profanity for the sake of it. Malcolm Tucker is a living, fire-breathing f-bomb and you'd best stay out of his way. This is an incredible performance. He played it previously in the television series, "The Thick of It," which I want to devour as soon as possible.
"In the Loop" is a very smart and very funny movie that will probably only get better with future viewings. If you enjoy a good satire (and if you don't, what's your deal?) then this is an absolute must. The film is currently in limited release. In Seattle it is playing at the Harvard Exit. 9/10.

Here is a little taste for you. Be warned. This clip is rated Malcolm Tucker.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Funny People

Though his name is now a brand and he's had a hand in producing seemingly every comedy hit of the last five years, Judd Apatow has only directed two films prior to now. 2005's "The 40-Year Old Virgin," an entertaining though overlong showcase for Steve Carell, and 2007's "Knocked Up," which is rightfully considered one of the funniest movies of this decade. Apatow's third is "Funny People," clearly the most personal offering yet. But this is not the kind of raucous comedy with heart that we've come to expect, this is a film about comedians coming to grips with mortality.
George Simmons (Adam Sandler) was an excited young stand-up comedian twenty years ago. The sort of guy who enjoyed making prank phone calls to make his friends laugh or got excited the second time he was ever recognized for being on MTV. Now he's a hugely successful comic star, each of his movies a license to print money, but he's unhappy, alone, and he's just been told he has a rare form of Leukemia that has a very small survival right. Rather than telling "Entertainment Tonight," George decides to keep the news to himself and channel his energies into his first love, returning to the stand-up stage. In an attempt to have a connection to another human being George hires young comic Ira Wright (Seth Rogen) to write him jokes and to be his personal assistant.
Ira grew up worshiping George, as did his roommates Leo (Jonah Hill) and Mark (Jason Schwartzman). Of the three, Ira is having the least amount of success. Leo's stand-up career is really clicking with audiences and Mark is the star of the NBC sitcom, "Yo Teach." Being at George's side could be a huge boost for Ira's budding career or it could scare him away from becoming like the bitter George. Meanwhile, George sees his only chance at happiness being a reconciliation with the one that got away, Laura (Leslie Mann).
At just a shade under two and a half hours, "Funny People" never seems to click or really find a rhythm. There a some moments of true hilarity (namely any time Schwartzman is on screen) but Apatow, who balanced comedy and drama so well on "Freaks and Geeks," doesn't have much success with either the comedic or emotional aspects of the film and the integration of them mostly feels flat. This isn't to say that anything about "Funny People" is bad but it never comes near greatness.
The performances are generally good and it's nice to see Sandler and Rogen stepping out of their comfort zones. Sandler's shown he can do that with great success in the past ("Punch-Drunk Love") and he's fine here but this is nowhere close to that. Rogen meanwhile does a nice job as the most levelheaded character in the film, something he hasn't really played before. There are a few moments when his acting chops leave something to be desired, but overall a pretty good performance from Rogen. Mann and Eric Bana (as Laura's Australian husband) are terrific and seeing Bana do comedy (something he's known for in Australia) is one of the film's highlights.
In the end, "Funny People" is too long and meandering and spends too much time on the sub plots of minor characters, much the same mistake Apatow made with "Virgin." That worked in "Knocked Up" because those sub plots so effectively integrated into the main storyline, but they don't really come together here.
"Funny People" had a world of potential but its unnecessary length, wandering ways, and inability to find a groove hold it back. Certainly not a total failure but not really a success either. 6/10.