"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 time...in 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.