The Best Tarantino Movie I’ve Ever Seen

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Inglorious Basterds Review

I’ve seen almost ever Tarantino movie, Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, Death Proof, True Romance and just a little bit of Kill Bill. From that amount of Tarantino, Inglorious Basterds is the best, and it’s not by a small margin.

Now important to keep in mind here is personal preference, obviously. Tarantino’s long scenes of dialogue about things like Royale with Cheese don’t do anything for me, and I thought that Pulp Fiction‘s structure was not particularly revolutionary (to be fair though I only saw it years after its release).

What I really like about Inglorious Basterds is it takes the things I have previously not liked about Tarantino, such as the aforementioned long-winded dialogue, and uses them in a different way than say Pulp Fiction or Death Proof.

The story is almost like a dialogue writer’s version of an action movie. Yes there are some shootouts, but basically it’s a number of dialogue set pieces. Long conversations fraught with underlying tension and danger, where one wrong word will expose the “good guy” (usually in some fashion or another operation undercover in Nazi territory).

Propping up the majority of this dialogue is Christopher Waltz, whose Hans Landa is such an effective villain he transcends simply being a good or bad guy and is just fun to watch. You almost don’t want to see him go down, because it would mean Waltz’s performance would end.

Random note: I speak English and French, and found Waltz’s French as flawless as any other Frenchmen I’ve known.

The guy has got major skills, and his performance is the biggest draw of Basterds.

That being said Tarantino has plenty of other goodies up his sleeve, the strongest being the consistently humorous tone of the film. It’s very close to being a comedy with bits of drama and action and thriller thrown in.

Brad Pitt has a lot of fun overacting a smidge with his southerner accent and jutting chin in what is ultimately a supporting role despite the marketing suggesting otherwise.

Tarantino’s kindred spirit Eli Roth is perfectly fine in a bit role as Donnie Donowitz, exuding the appropriate intensity and light comic touch when called for.

The occasional departures in form are also welcome, such as the use of contemporary music and an extended interlude explaining the origin of a german soldier turned Basterd.

Even Mike Myers, whose role in the film has been criticized in some quarters, is sort of fun in a goofy British scene that probably feels a bit too close to Austin Powers to perfectly fit but is enjoyable nonetheless.

At two and a half hours, with an ensemble storyline, for this film to fly by as quickly as it does is a big credit to Tarantino and Co.

This is a really fun movie, and a great way to end the summer on a high note.

District Awesome

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District 9 Review

This movie made me giddy. which hasn’t happened this summer probably since Up. It’s about aliens living in a ghetto in Johannesburg, and a spineless bureaucrat who ends up way more intimately involved with them than he ever wanted.

District 9 is what movies should be, filled with ideas but not comprised as far as entertainment value by an overabundance of them, instead it’s the ideas that give the action oomph.

It also gives us a fairly unlikeable lead who only grows more unlikeable really for most of the movie, making where the film finally takes us all the more satisfying.

From what I’ve read the lead, Sharlto Copley, was a high school friend of writer-director Neil Blomkamp and had never done feature work before. Well he’s fantastic. So take that, anyone who thought it was crazy to cast him.

Also take that to whoever scuttled Halo, which Blomkamp worked on for 5 months only to see the project fall apart. Perhaps it fell apart because the higher ups were worried Blomkamp couldn’t handle their giant movie. Perhaps now they feel really dumb. Blomkamp has said he wouldn’t want to do Halo now, and that’s a damn shame because his Halo would have been incredible.

District 9 totally invests the viewer into it’s world, and endears us so much to these mistreated aliens, who stand in for pretty much every oppressed minority ever.

It’s also got stunning action scenes and cringe-inducing grossout FX as the lead changes gradually into an alien.

Bottom line, it’s fantastic please go see it right now.

Hurt Locker/Perfect Getaway Double Pack Reviews

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The Hurt Locker Review

Hollywood loves classical three act structure. The Hurt Locker could give a damn, is my guess, and that’s great.

For around 90 minutes The Hurt Locker hurtles along, keeping the tension super-high and the narrative episodic. Usually an episodic narrative in a feature format might drag, but not for the first 90 minutes of this film.

Trouble is The Hurt Locker is longer than 90 minutes.

It starts to drag, no matter how incredibly dangerous the situation the crew of US soldier/bomb defusers is in, after awhile it starts to get a little monotonous. What separates one day on the job from the next? Is this building towards something?

The Hurt Locker ultimately is most succesful as a string of terrific bomb defusing scenes linked by glimpses at the personalities making up a bomb defusing crew working in Iraq. The actors all acquit themselves well, in particular Jeremy Renner in the featured “wild man” role, whose going places in his career, no question. He’s got the mega-wattage star power of a young Tom Cruise.

The film is not too political, though when it is it’s more so about simple logic than red/blue state politics.

Is this the film to break the Iraq movie curse? Well, my guess is Summit and Co. have their expectations set to reasonable with a no-name cast, but the stellar reviews certainly won’t hurt. He’s another one, The Hurt Locker is one of the better movies of the summer. It might not be perfect, but there’s enough to recommend.

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A Perfect Getaway

Twists are tough. Just knowing that there is a twist is often enough to help you guess the twist, as was the case for me with A Perfect Getaway.

Might I not have guessed it had I not read some of the reviews beforehand? Perhaps. But a story shouldn’t be made or unmade by the level of surprise generated by a crucial twist. Rather the impact of that twist is the more important part.

This twist was a bit blaah to me.

Also problematic was the insistence on meta-fiction, characters referring to movies and acting and even a random passerby saying “lots of twists and turns ahead”. This movie is first of all not good enough to telegraph it’s twists and turns, you get the feeling the movie thinks it’s a lot more entertaining and original than it is.

Second of all this insider movie stuff usually comes off smug and pointless, and that’s sorta the case here. I’m sure it was fun to write, but onscreen it comes off as totally superfluous and distracting.

It’s great to see Steve Zahn and Timothy Olyphant getting work, especially in roles uniquely suited to their particular talents. Also it was cool to see Milla Jovovich playing something other than badass killer of zombie chick, and she has a few nice moments of true acting.

But this movie doesn’t have nearly enough going on to get to the finish line intact, and the self-references only worsen matters.

Better luck next time.

-Dan Benamor

Busy Doing Nothing – Episode 1 Up!

Hello All,

Those of you who know me know I’ve been working on a web series for some time. The pilot is now up!  It’s a comedy in the vein of “Arrested Development” and “Knocked Up” about life after graduating college, two friends try to retire on their graduation gifts but encounter major difficulties.

You can view it at http://busydoingnothing.tv/ or in HD on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1JhSkt6Rcgg or by searching “Busy Doing Nothing Episode 1”.

It took a really surprising huge amount of work to put this together, and we hope everyone enjoys it. The next episode will be up fairly soon, and a third one not long after that.

Thanks
Dan Benamor

Judd Apatow’s Best and Worst Movie

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Funny People Review

A fairly drastic departure for Judd Apatow, Funny People is overlong, rambling, unfocused and also sometimes moving, thought-provoking and maybe even just a smidge deep.

Adam Sandler is actually quietly a very strong dramatic actor, a fact known to viewers of Punch-Drunk Love and Reign Over Me. Compared to those two movies this is sort of a walk in the park dramatic role.

Basically Sandler plays a variation on himself, a rich comic whose made it big doing silly blockbusters. His name is George Simmons and he’s dying.

For whatever reason, this spurs him to go back to standup comedy, and recruit a young comic named Ira (Seth Rogen) to write him jokes and basically be his friend.

From there the movie goes a lot of different places, all sort of musing on a life past by, and if we can ever really go back and fix mistakes we’ve made.

It’s probably at it’s strongest commenting on comics. I found particularly believable the scene where one character shares a story about his dead grandfather and is openly mocked by another. Because they’re both comics, I bought it. Anyone who hangs out with standup comedians a lot know they almost can’t stop joking, it’s like a permanent part of their thought process.

There are other neat little moments like that, but in a lot of ways you get the feeling this movie bit off more than it could chew. In the sprawling (like over 2 hours) quest to say a lot, the movie ends up not saying much about any one particular thing.

This lack of focus has been criticized mostly when the film spends a basically hour long third act shifting to Sandler trying to reunite with a lost flame (Leslie Mann). It’s  a fair critique, the movie does lose a lot of steam with the transition, and really feels like it’s starting over because of it.

It’s also not particularly funny, more so because it’s actually a drama with bits of comedy and not the other way around. Little moments of the drama really work, but the film remains too rooted in Apatow’s previous casual jokey style to connect as a total drama.

Bottom line, it’s okay. Big step down though, for Apatow.

Update Double Pack- 500 Days + Orphan

I’ve been slacking on updating lately, busy with shooting my web series and otherwise writing/doing coverage. So to make up for lost time here’s a double pack of reviews.

Orphan, AKA Deliciously Evil

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Orphan Review

Say what you will about Orphan and there’s plenty you could say, such as:

-It’s got one late game quease inducing scene in an exploitive way it’s pretty surprising was released mainstream

-It’s not helping out adoption agencies

-It’s got some plot holes

-It’s SILLY

-It’s ridiculous

Now to fully explain the first criticism you have to know the film’s ending, which is a pretty delicious twist I found ingenious and fun. Yes, it’s definitely queasy the scene that leads up to the reveal and we could debate the morality of it, but the actual twist is fun, in my book.

There are other moments where Esther is so evil (killing a nun! threatening adorable deaf sister into silence! pretending to be innocent and manipulating the family against each other!) that you are actually almost rooting for Vera Farmiga (playing her adopted mom) to slap her. It’s that kind of movie, you are meant to suspend your actual logical feelings and thoughts and just have fun. If you approach it that way, as an intelligent adult knowing you’re seeing an absurd movie, you’ll enjoy yourself.

Also odd career choice for Vera, who recently starred in an indie-r evil kid movie called Joshua, which actually was legitimately good.

And waste of Peter Sarsgaard, a great actor given a somewhat dull role as the too-trusting dad/husband.

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500 Days of Summer

This is a great movie that is NOT a chick flick at all. Anyone can enjoy it. It’s not sappy and annoying and formulaic and manipulative AKA every other romantic comedy released mainstream.

There’s a random musical number, the chronology is shuffled, the ending is surprising (and in a lot of ways more romantic than the typical romantic comedy ending). This movie feels ALIVE, free to change and to be different but still totally relatable and even a little traditional at times.

And the shuffled chronology feels like a truer way to depict a romance, almost the way memories of a relationship would work.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is an incredible actor, and he’s totally charming as the hopeless romantic (a male one!). Zooey Deschanel continues to play the alternative chick to end all alternative chicks, and as the emotionally distant one (a female one!) she frustrates and endears in equal measure, exactly as she should, really.

This movie is worth seeking out at your local indie theater.

-Dan Benamor

Bruno Will Be Less Succesful Than Borat, Here’s Why

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Bruno Review

Watching Bruno I felt the strange sensation of failure wafting off of it, at least in how it affected me personally.

And if anything I am a pretty strong target audience. I’m not easily shocked by homosexual imagery and I love Borat, so Baron Cohen’s humor certainly doesn’t really offend me.

But for some reason Bruno just could not keep me laughing. Here’s my analysis on a critical level of why.

Structure

In Borat Cohen played a racist Kazakhi journalist, and was so over-the-top overtly racist he made other seemingly normal people let their guards down and expose themselves as racist too.

Today, in a modern America we don’t expect people to overtly express racist sentiments. If I go to a gun shop and ask “What’s the best gun to kill a Jew?” I don’t expect the salesman to casually respond with a gun type.

But in Borat that’s exactly what happened.

In Bruno the titular character tries to draw laughs often by just being almost confrontationally homosexual, visiting another man’s tent naked at 3 in the morning or walking through an anti-gay rally tied to another nude man, for example.

Now we all know what’s going to happen when he does that. So what’s funny about that?

Reasonable Responses

You get the feeling the film expects you to look at Ron Paul, who reacts to Bruno stripping in front of him by saying he’s queer and leaving, and think oh isn’t he a homophobe.

But is it really that homophobic to say, he’s queer (obviously truthful to Ron Paul in that situation) and that he’s leaving? He didn’t use the 3 letter derogatory term, though I don’t know what people in the homosexual community feel about being called queer.

The point is, if you ambush someone like that it’s not that unreasonable for them to respond that way. He didn’t expose some shocking homophobia in Ron Paul. Ditto for the scene out hunting where Bruno repeatedly approaches another hunter’s tent in the night, what exactly did he think was going to happen?

Does it make someone a homophobe if they get upset for being woken up at 2 and 3 am to have sexual advances made on them?

Later on in the story Bruno tries to go straight and some of the same eliciting homophobia structure (like in Borat except with racism) shows up, and it is funny (how do I defend myself from a homosexual? he asks this of a martial arts expert). But this is the exception.

Familiarity

Cohen’s approach is also no longer novel to theatregoers, and it’s very noticeable the film follows a similar plot structure to Borat.

So that takes away some appeal as well.

Likeability

Borat was endearing. He was naive, which is a character trait people tend to like.

Bruno is self-absorbed and selfish. Not as endearing.

High Points

There are some genuinely funny bits in Bruno though.

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-The picture of the crucified baby with other little babies below is absolutely hilarious, I’m sure it’s insanely offensive to some people but it is extremely funny.

-The preceeding bit where Bruno interviews baby moms and asks if they are ok with their baby getting lipo, or appearing pushing another baby into an oven, is funny and disturbing.

-Also when he mixes up Hamas and Hummus is hysterical.

Respect

Sacha Baron Cohen literally sat across from a terrorist group leader and told him Osama looked like a dirty Santa (or a homeless Santa? I can’t recall the exact wording).

That is crazy. I can’t believe he was not shot, along with the entire camera crew.

The man knows no fear.

It must have been extremely difficult to do this entire movie and I give Cohen a lot of respect.

Finale

I have mixed feelings on the end of Bruno. It definitely works as satire, but again it’s so expected it loses some comedic value. No need to go into it in detail, if you’ve seen the film you know exactly what I mean. Let’s just say it involves a fight ring and something that is definitely not a fight.

Box Office

Bruno has already witnessed some sharp drops and it’s only been out since Friday.

I think the reason why is people aren’t finding it funny. I don’t think audiences are just dumb or homophobic, I genuinely think the film is not that funny, and the comparative lack of success I predict it will have down the road is the result of that.

-Dan Benamor

A Bit Boring, Bottom Line

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Public Enemies Review

Listen, Michael Mann made Heat and he can pretty much coast for the rest of his career and I would still think he’s a genius.

But really in many of Mann’s films there’s a sort of clinical closeness that’s distancing, he’s not the type of filmmaker that you’d expect to see a Forrest Gump type movie from ever. In The Insider, Ali and even yes, Heat there’s this intelligent no-fuss zero-sappy  approach that makes it a little tough to access the characters.

Now Heat worked because we really got to know the lead cop and criminal, we met their families, saw them with their girlfriends/wives, etc.

For whatever reason, be it the weight of putting a based-on-a-true-story tale onscreen or what, that is not the case with Public Enemies.

The story is of famed bank robber John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) and his pursuer, Agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale).

Now we get to spend plenty of time with Dillinger and yes we get a sense of him as a person but even though he seems nicer than the average crook it’s tough to root for him. He is still robbing banks, obviously the cops will try to arrest him.

As for Melvin Purvis, once again Christian Bale is locked into a role where he isn’t allowed to emote on a wide variation (the other instance being Terminator Salvation). His Purvis is like a guided missile, all focus with only the occasional hints of vulnerability and human emotion snuck in by Bale and the few genuinely moving moments in his story.

Basically the FBI is under pressure to perform and is embarassed by their inability to keep Dillinger in jail. So Purvis starts bending some rules to take down Dillinger, and seems a bit conflicted about it.

But without seeing more of Purvis the man, his home life, just generally knowing more about his value system we don’t really get the grand arc of a man losing himself in pursuit of a criminal. Maybe that wouldn’t be true to reality, I don’t know.

But as a work of entertainment this arc is not capitalized on. The best part of this movie is when Bale physically lifts Dillinger’s literally tortured girlfriend Billie (Marion Cotillard) and takes her to the bathroom, away from being mercilessly tortured. That’s a clear, strong character moment. There aren’t enough of those.

The decision to shoot in digital is most appreciated in the night scenes, which are stunning and feel really unique in the level of detail you can see. It’s not enough to make up for the uninvolving story though.

Still, a few fun sidenotes.

Tommy!

Stephen Graham, who played Tommy in Snatch, has a lot of fun overacting just a smidge as wild criminal Baby Face Nelson.

War on Crime

Billy Crudup is borderline cartoonish in his delivery as J. Edgar Hoover, but again it’s kind of fun, something this film is sorely lacking.

Otis Taylor, “10 Million Slaves”

That’s the great song from the trailer, which is also played a few times in the film. It’s just a wonderful, haunting song. It totally fits the film this movie wanted to be.

Rest of the score

The actual swooning score of the film in context feels overblown, like the movie is trying to convince you no, this is really a big deal, care. The story is not able to capture enough interest for the music to work.

-Dan Benamor