Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Grade: A | 2nd Viewing
The more time I spend ruminating on the films of Quentin Tarantino, the more I realize how much of a flat-out genius the man is. Not only is he brilliant with dialogue, but his films are so thematically rich that there is more to discover with each successive viewing. Tarantino has taken criticism for being so interested in homage that he ultimately fails to find meaning in his films. I think that criticism falls apart under investigation. Take for instance the fact that Brad Pitt’s character scars his victims with a Swastika so nobody forgets what they have done. This same character, with Appalachian accent, bears a scar across his own neck indicating that he was potentially a part of lynch mobs that committed terrible acts.
Tarantino also explores the consequences of violence better than just about any contemporary filmmaker (with the exception of maybe Michael Haneke). He criticizes the celebration of war heroes through the Fredrick Zoller character and shows the consequences that violence can have through the character of Shosanna. I also thoroughly enjoyed Michael Fassbender’s performance as a film critic turned soldier and the burning of celluloid to symbolize the end of shooting on film. I’m not sure if Brad Pitt’s closing statement “this might be my masterpiece” is correct when applied to the oeuvre of Tarantino, but it’s certainly close.
Grade: A | 2nd Viewing
There are likely many who are unfamiliar with filmmaker Whit Stillman, but not necessarily unfamiliar with the influence he has had on modern films. His “upper class characters sitting around” storylines are reminiscent of films by Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach. What Stillman did so masterfully was present raw versions of his characters without celebrating or criticizing their behavior. No character is more fleshed out than any other and the film does not seem to take any definitive sides on issues of manners, politics, social ideologies, etc.
Not only is the film a humorous foray into high society, but it is a particularly appropriate film to watch now as a precursor to Stillman’s Damsels in Distress that is expanding this week. It’s also good to watch before The Great Gatsby comes out later this year as Metropolitan and Fitzgerald’s stories have clear parallels.
The Last Days of Disco (1999)
Grade: A- | 1st Viewing
Speaking of Whit Stillman’s influence, is there any doubt that the final dance scene in Slumdog Millionaire was inspired by the closing credits scene in The Last Days of Disco? Stillman likes to focus on dying breeds in his films with the “urban haute bourgeoisie” pontificating about their demise throughout the runtime of Metropolitan. In The Last Days of Disco, Stillman covers a time in American history that many would sooner forget (a fact that the film is certainly aware of) and the individuals who kept the disco movement alive.
Several of the characters from Stillman’s previous films re-appear in cameo roles as grown-up successful people. This, combined with the uplifting subway dance montage that closes out the film shows Stillman’s optimism in filmmaking and is part of what makes his films so enjoyable.
Casa de mi Padre (2012)
Grade: C | 1st Viewing
If there is one example of a film not living up to its concept this year, it has to be Matt Piedmont’s Casa de mi Padre. The Spanish-language film starring some talented Latino actors and Will Ferrell started off cleverly, but became tiresome very quickly. Part of the issue is that the film never really nails down a specific tone. The film opens with Ferrell reaching to pick up a cow, which turns into a lamb after a cut, indicating the film would be all-out absurd. Then we have a long sequence where the characters are sort of realistic, but super quirky a la the films of Jared Hess. Then later it turns into full Ferrell slapstick where he is absurd, but the characters around him are relatively normal. None of these shifts are smoothly executed and none of the tones ever stick.
There are a few moments early on where I at least cracked a smile thanks to Ferrell’s earnestness while he delivers lines that are surely pronounced incorrectly. However, the film overall was tiresome and a waste of the brilliantly talented Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna, and Nick Offerman.
Broadway Danny Rose (1984)
Grade: B+ | 1st Viewing
One of my goals of 2012 is to seek out the few Woody Allen titles that I have never seen. It was surprising that I had not seen Broadway Danny Rose, considering it is genuinely well-regarded and it comes from one of Allen’s more successful time periods. While I did thoroughly enjoy it, I have to say I enjoy Allen’s other Broadway film, namely Bullets Over, better. Danny Rose has some of Allen’s better jokes in his career, but it never quite finds the balance between absurd and sentimental like it needed to. The scenes with old comedians telling tales around a diner table were magnificent, but when contrasted with Danny’s clients, like a busty woman who plays the crystal glasses, it felt off.
Nevertheless, the banter between Woody Allen and Mia Farrow is hilarious as she makes one of his best on-screen counter parts. She carelessly puts him in harm’s way while he hyperventilates at the thought of being murdered by gangsters. There is certainly some homage to classic films, especially noticeable because of the black and white photography, and the film has a strong payoff that mostly makes up for any tonal inconsistencies.
Grade: A | 2nd Viewing
Remember when that woman tried to sue Lionsgate for false advertising because she was unprepared for the content of Drive? Well, I think that we should sue every other action film for NOT being Drive. While other films portray characters with the maturity children playing with guns, Drive director Nicholas Winding Refn makes sure his characters truly understand the consequences of violence. We see that through Ryan Gosling who recoils in horror from the first act of violence, but eventually becomes so numb to it that he follows Ron Perlman into the sea just to drown him with his own hands.
The second viewing of this excellent film also allowed me to catch a few of the cinematic flourishes that I’d missed before (or had forgotten). The camera pans across screen revealing the movie star looking in the mirror as it transitions to Gosling about to put his mask on. The scene blocking alternates between putting Gosling and Albert Brooks in a higher vertical plane, so as to not reveal who is in a greater position of power. It’s excellent work that I look forward to revisiting in years to come.