Quick Takes – 04.16.12

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.

Metropolitan (1990)

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.

Drive (2011)

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.

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  • Jose

    The Lord of the Rings
    (?) Viewing

    I was bored this weekend, so I decided to watch the trilogy in one weekend. A well spent Saturday.

    A

    The Prince of Egypt

    Haven’t seen this movie in years, so it felt great to feel like a kid again. The animation and the score still wows me.

    B+

    The Last Seduction
    2nd Viewing

    Linda Florentino was great in it, and I love it when the bad guy wins. It makes me feel like I saw something naughty.

    B+

    Bound
    1st viewing

    An incredibly well shot movie with great performances all round. Had me at the edge of my seat throughout.

    A

    Adaption
    1st Viewing.

    Hilarious, yet it felt odd to remember how Nicolas Cage used to be taken seriously. Really great though.

    A

    The Deep End
    1st Viewing

    Despite a great plot and cast, it came off as underwhelming.

    B-

    • Jose, you should read “The Men Who Would be King” for some interesting insight on ‘The Prince of Egypt.’ It talks about how producer Jeffrey Katzenberg left Disney and made ‘Egypt’ his passion project under the new Dreamworks studios. In the story, Moses represents Katzenberg, the Egyptians were Disney, and God was Steven Spielberg.

      • Jose

        Will do.

        Also, I can’t be the only one who misses 2D animation.

    • Glad to hear you enjoyed “Bound”. I think it’s a step behind a few of the other great neo-noirs, but it’s still awfully good. I was less impressed with “The Last Seduction”, which I didn’t find particularly believable or engaging. Linda Fiorentino is terrific, though.

      Didn’t see anything new myself. Been so busy, both with TV and with other stuff. Hopefully I’ll be able to rectify that very soon.

  • Eric M

    It’s been a busy couple of weeks, which results in very little time in front of the screen. To recover from a physically-draining night on Friday, I spent Saturday afternoon reading the script for Django Unchained, which leaked onto the internet last year. I’m a little worried that the movie climaxes too early before diving into classic Tarantino-fun, but it also seems like his most mature work yet. Best way to summarize it would be Inglourious Basterds meets Kill Bill Vol 2.

    A Seperation: A
    Pulp Fiction: A+ (One of my three favorite movies)

  • I am busy and watch mostly TV shows but still…..

    1) Vertigo – A

    (1st watch)

    Not my most favorite Hitchcock movie and i think i should give it a another try to see why is it like in top 10 of AFI list. Not saying the movie was bad, i gave it a A but it wasn’t better than Psycho. Loved the suspense and slowly building twisting characters stuff which was intriguing and indulging but the climax just wasn’t as brilliant as Psycho which literally sends chills to my spine every time i see those scenes. Sorry for the comparisons but i can’t help it.

    2) Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (India) – A+

    (1st Watch)

    I have stopped watching Indian movies for 2 years now but i still check out some of their most well received works like i did with this one. One of the most intelligent, brilliant and meaningful Indian movie in years. Its not your usual friends get together travel around the world and have fun but each of these characters have their stories and problems that gives them their particular reasons to go and enjoy this journey. Quiet poetic and philosophical too, lovely music and superb cinematography. Brilliantly written acted and directed. Amazing.

    Also some interrupted repeat viewings:

    A.I: Artificial Intelligence
    Tangled
    Home Alone
    In the Mood for Love

  • Finally a smart blogger…I adore how you happen to be considering and writing!

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