World War 2 gets stripped and dressed up, QT style

This review was written in 2009 for the TOI article, but was rejected because it wasn’t a kid’s movie.
I saw Inglourious Basterds twice. But each time was different. The first time I went in, I didn’t know what to expect. To me, the war genre was never in the ballpark of Tarantino-esque. I sat down in the theater, and then the slow classical music played and I knew I was in for a Tarantino film, and Inglourious Basterds is amazing.

Inglourious Basterds is the latest offering from cinema legend Quentin Tarantino, best known for his non-linear way of handling a story. Tarantino won the Oscar for Best Screenplay in 1994 for his best film till date: “Pulp Fiction”, which also was the Palme D’Or (The Golden Palm) at Cannes Film Festival that year. Inglourious Basterds is a magnum opus in all aspects, and it is a glourious return by Tarantino, who previously directed the revenge saga Kill Bill 5 years ago.

“Basterds” is a tale of two stories intertwined in true Tarantino style: The first is about a Jewish woman, Shosanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent), who wants to avenge her family’s death by killing their murderer, Col. Hans Landa a.k.a The Jew Hunter (brilliantly played by Christoph Waltz, a sure winner for the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor this year). The second story is about a guerilla unit of Jewish American soldiers, The Basterds, led by Lt. Aldo Raine a.k.a Aldo the Apache (Brad Pitt as a smooth talking Southern redneck), who are out for Nazi blood and scalps. The movie shows us what happens when these stories collide.

Tarantino has divided the movie into five chapters like a novel. The screenplay is alive in every minute of the movie (150 odd minutes). His monologues are there, and they are ever so entertaining. There’s one about the relationship between Jews and rats (probably borrowed from Maus, Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer winning graphic novel), and another about the Indian way of striking fear in the hearts of Nazis. Sub-textual dialog is also another factor in Tarantino screenplays i.e. King Kong and American slavery. The plot itself is fairly straightforward, but it’s written in such a way that it unfolds, bit by bit, in a series of long, drawn out scenes that develop gradually but reveal a lot. Tarantino employs a fast-paced directorial style from Chapter Two, which involves quick explanations that are humorous, an uber-cool use of the moving camera and depth of sight, a foot tapping soundtrack and a great production design. He doesn’t lag in any part of the movie, although fans of his past works may get a bit weary of the slow pace in Chapter Four (I think the whole slowness paid off at the end of the scene). The soundtrack is also very pleasing, and accompanies Tarantino’s visuals perfectly.

The movie has a large cast, but only one A-list star. Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Michael Fassbender, Eli Roth, Diane Kruger and Melanie Laurent form the main cast, but there are also many other supporting characters. The best performance in the movie goes hands down to Christoph Waltz, and this is his debut in Hollywood. He is a devil disguised as a gentleman, and he is sure to win the Best Actor Oscar. He acts with little gestures, flourishes, and tiny expressions and his fluency in French, German and English is impeccable. Brad Pitt has a different kind of role here, one apart from his various big budget roles. He plays Aldo Raine humorously and it is enjoyable to watch him dish out Tarantino’s dialog. All the Basterds provide the majority of humor in the movie, with their dialog and action. Diane Kruger and Melanie Laurent play femme fatales, and they are deadly.

All in all, see how entertainment and cinema go hand in hand, in the new fiml from Quentin Tarantino.

The clouds are his bed and sky is his land….

Jason Reitman has had a dream run so far in the moviemaking industry. 3 amazing movies – Thank You For Smoking, Juno, and recently, Up In The Air. Movies that entertain and debate at the same time. This is the kind of stuff I wanna go to theaters to watch as a very very refreshing break from Big Budget Bullshit (B cubed). His direction has this crispness to it, this refreshing feel to it. And none of his movies bore you at any time. This man is an artist in cinema, and the youngest to join the club. Up In The Air is one of the best movies of 2009. A crackerjack screenplay with an A list cast – George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Jason Bateman, Danny McBride and Melanie Lynskey among others.

Up In The Air is about Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), a man who’s not weighed down by life: he’s the guy who comanies hire to fire their employees when they don’t have the stomach to do it. Bingham is good at what he does, and he doesn’t worry about it. He has his philosophy that moving is living and settling is slow death. He has family, but they don’t exist to him. He is a man with a goal: 10 million frequent flyer miles and why? We don’t know. In his travels, he meets Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga), a road warrior such as himself and they click over their experiences and preferences in the air. He also teaches Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) the ropes of the firing business. Natalie has developed a video conferencing system of firing employees, but Ryan thinks she doesn’t know the business to understand how to do it. And so the story goes.

The screenplay by Reitman and Sheldon Turner is fast paced, jumping from one city to another, with lots of stuff happening. George Clooney has scored one of his best performances yet. He’s a great actor and more so in this one. Vera Farmiga seems to join the club with Marisa Tomei, sexier with age. Anna Kendrick also has a good performance as the college grad with standards. Other co-stars are Reitman regular J.K. Simmons, who has one scene, but probably one of the best scenes in the movie. Zach Galifiankis has a cameo as another fired employee, but doesn’t do much except look sad.

Reitman knows his material, and it shows on screen. His choice of music is also great, and the editing is very sharp. The reveal at the end was very shocking to me, and I guess it was meant to be that way. All in all, I can’t say much because this movie is too good.

Rating: 5/5

Truly original concept that, if rewritten, could have been more enjoyable and something of a classic. Right now, it is forgettable.

I like Ricky Gervais. I like him as David Brent, the average boss in The Office. His style is one of a person who thinks he’s funny and intelligent and cool, while to everyone else he’s a prick. That makes for good comedy, making fun of yourself without knowing it. I didn’t like him in Ghost Town which characterizes him as a whiny bastard. That didn’t work for me. I do like him in Extras. It’s like he’s David Brent, only in the acting world. And now in his directorial debut, Gervais creates something wholly original, something that is amazing. This is The Invention Of Lying.

The movie is set in an alternate reality, where everyone speaks what they think; they can only tell the truth, and they can’t feel guilty about it because they don’t know how to lie. In this world, Coke’s tagline is “Because it’s famous” and Pepsi’s tagline is “When there’s no Coke”. In this world, people believe other people simply because they don’t know the difference between the truth and lies. It is in this world that Mark Bellison (Gervais) lives. He’s a fat loser with no prospects and works for Lecture Films, and studio that can only use real events as movie stories. He gets fired from his job when The Black Plague doesn’t work out as a movie. He goes on a blind date with Anna McDoogles (Jennifer Garner, very likable as always), but she tells him when they meet that they have no chance together because of his genetics. Then there’s Brad Kessler (Rob Lowe), the man who thinks he’s better than Mark (which is true), and who’s the leading screenwriter at Lecture Films. Mark has kept his mother in “Sad Place Where Hopeless Old People Come To Die” or something like that, but loves her a lot. One day, he goes to the bank, and then the camera shows lightning bolts zoom on his brain, and he LIES about the amount of money in his bank account when the computer system is down. When the system comes back up, the teller thinks it’s faulty (because everyone tells the truth) and he gets his money. And so begins his amazing change in lifestyle. At the same time, he lies to his mother about what happens after death, that there will be a wonderful place with lots of mansions etc. People think he’s a prophet. He gets richer, and gets more followers…but at the end of the day he’s still unhappy. Why? Because he wants Anna.

The concept of the movie is great. It makes for a lot of comedy. But at the heart of the movie is the story of a man who is in love and wants to get his girl and at the same time about a man who wants to make his mother happy. It’s the simplicity that creates confusion. It does have it’s moments, including one of the most satirical scenes of the year where Mark explains to the people how there is a “MAN IN THE SKY” who controls everything and if you do three bad things, when you die you go to a “bad place”. Everyone believes him, and they don’t care where he got the information from. I mean, Gervais is an atheist, which is probably why he rewrites religion as we know it. It’s good satire, but not laugh out loud at the same time. What I found lacking in The Invention Of Lying is good humor. Most of the time, it was boring. The situations were good, but the actual dramatization of these situations weren’t as good as the situations themselves.

The performances by the three leads: Gervais, Garner, and Lowe are great. But most of the supporting performances and cameos are a let-down. Jonah Hill and Louis C.K. provide the best friend performances that aren’t wholly enjoyable. And the cameos from Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Edward Norton and Jason Bateman are plain boring. Stephen Merchant does have a good cameo though. Overall, the performances are flat near the end.

What Gervais has created is something that could have been a cult classic comedy with better performances and comedy, but he decides to focus on a romance that feels synthetic at times. But then if what you’re looking for is a PG-13 intelligent comedy that makes fun of God, here’s your movie.

Rating: 3/5

Memories of Korea’s finest

South Korea is all about understatement. The three movies I’ve seen: Oldboy, The Chaser, and the one I’m reviewing Memories of Murder are all so blunt. There’s no stylized violence, it’s just raw, drak (in humor at times), and visceral. I guess circumstances surrounding a country’s history reflect in its culture. For America, it must’ve been the war, and for SK, it might be the division. What I’m trying to say is that SK’s style of filmmaking is so refreshing from all the visual effects extravaganzas and studio crap. It’s refreshing compared to art-house films, or any film that comes out of Hollywood. These movies are like the interval in a never-ending movie.

Memories of Murder is a police procedural set in 1986 about South Korea’s first brutal serial murder case. The victims were around 10 women who were raped and killed. It focuses on the efforts of two detectives who try to crack it: Inspector Park (Song Kang-ho) and Inspector Suh (Kim Sang-kyung), and their desperation. This involves planting evidence, beating out confessions, catching the right people for the wrong reasons and the wrong people for seemingly strong evidence. It’s also nothing out of the ordinary for these cops: you do what has to be done to get the job done. The movie is also a look at SKorea’s fledgling crime department, and how poorly equipped they are i.e. no DNA tests, no cordoning off crime scenes etc.

Memories of Murder is extremely engaging, even though the usual cop environment is the genre. There are no stereotypes i.e. the new police chief. He’s no hard-ass cigar chomping ass kicking guy like in the Hollywood movies; he’s just a guy who wants the case solved, because shit has hit the fan, and he’s only picking up what’s left of it and finding out who threw it. Leads keep popping up, and there’s loads of dark humor for me to laugh at a lot of scenes. Bong Joon-ho is a serious filmmaker to contend with.

There’s not much I can say without spoiling the story, and because the whole story is culture-specific and set in a particular period, I can’t describe much. But I can say this: Memories of Murder is a great dark thriller with an awesome ending.

Whip us some more, Barrymore!!!

Drew Barrymore is a celebrity in the true sense of the word. A step apart from the rest, she dares to be different. The type of acting she’s done with that quirky charm translates on screen in her latest, her directorial debut, Whip It.

Whip It is a fresh whip on a time-tested formula, the kind that makes those two-bit Disney TV tween movies (like High School Musical…prime example). The formula in question is person with boring life (or popular), looking for something new, gets introduced to this new culture/sport, makes friends and has fun, but wait, reality brings said person crashing back to Earth and suddenly everything is in a shit hole. But then, your parents/friends come to know about your other life, senti stuff happens and then whoo-hoo you succeed in both ventures. You slap your head and say OH! That formula!!!

But then what Whip It does is introduce a whole new culture into the story: women’s roller derby. And it does just what The Wrestler did for wrestling; it gives an honest approach to the sport, not stylized bullshit like in all those inspiring american football games. The next cool thing it does is cast Ellen Page, the only person who can pull off a role like this. After her know-it-all role in Juno, Page gives some top notch acting in a girl struggling with adolescence and searching for the right scene. And then the last thing this movie brings is the fresh directing from Barrymore. She doesn’t do any fancy gimmicks; with the camera, she tells the story with passion, luring the audience with this world and it’s characters.

But before I get all techno with this movie, let me just say that this is a fun movie that pleases you after you see it, and not a lot of movies can satisfy you the way Whip It did for me.

Whip It is about Bliss Cavendar (Page), a 17 year old stuck in a small town in Texas called Bodine. Her mother, Brooke (played by Marcia Gay Harden, who plays a different mother than the one she played in Into The Wild) was an ex-pageant star and wants her daughter to follow in her footsteps. Her dad (Daniel Stern) doesn’t interfere in the situation along with her sister. Bliss has a best friend and leads a boring life when out of nowhere come these roller derby fans and she is introduced to the world of slips, tackles and women teams with awesome names. Some of them are really nice like Babe Ruthless (Page’s alter-ego) or Iron Maven or Smashley Simpson (Barrymore in a stoned out role). Bliss becomes a star over time and gets into a relationship and everything. But then her life falls apart with many issues pouring in. And then, I won’t go into details but yeah everything gets resolved.

So yeah, Whip It is a treat to watch for performances, editing and Barrymore’s inspired direction. Hurl Scouts…Kick ass!

Rating: 4/5.