Thursday, August 27, 2009

Inglourious Basterds - Second Viewing review

There will be spoilers in this review, just a heads up.

A friend and I went to see Inglourious Basterds last night - he for the first time and myself for the second. I went to see it again for the same reason I saw Kill Bill Vol 1 twice in the theater - to make sure I actually had problems with the movie and not just Tarantino. I still had problems with both.

Chapter One:

The Tarantino Break-Up Metaphor

I feel that I must clarify my dislike of Tarantino and his projects. I came up with this metaphor: I had to break-up with Tarantino, my first auteur boyfriend. If you can imagine: a small town nerdy weirdo who grew up on 70s thrillers, crime flicks, heist movies, action movies, Saturday afternoon Z-Grade horror movies, WWII movies, Westerns and then one day a movie was reviewed by Vincent Canby in the New York Times. The movie reviewed sounded awesome and even had a cool title, Reservoir Dogs. I, me the small town nerdy weirdo, had to see this movie Canby described as, "Though small in physical scope, "Reservoir Dogs" is immensely complicated in its structure, which for the most part works with breathtaking effect." I saw Reservoir Dogs ASAP and from the first moment I was smitten. Then came True Romance -written by QT and steeped in film geekery - and then boom Pulp Fiction. If you knew me in 1995 then you'll know how much I loved that movie. I think I saw it more than a dozen times in the theater - and I'm not exaggerating.

Tarantino was one of my main jumping off points in my film geek maturation process (along with Mike who actually owned a lot of the early HK movies Tarantino was paying homage to). After I moved to Austin in 1999 I kicked into overdrive, watching pretty much anything I could get my hands on that was classic, grindhouse, Asian, underground, Yakuza movies, Yaphet Kotto movies, giallo, sexploitation, girls in jail, and more. I read, I watched, I picked up the soundtracks and scores I could find, and I educated myself.

The beginning of the end of my Tarantino love affair began August 17-26, 2001 at QT5 - the Tarantino MC'd filmfest at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin. For each night Tarantino hosted a bunch of like themed movies - i.e. "Martial Arts Epic Adventures", "Old-School Kung Fu films", etc. Some of the movies were top-notch but most were...disappointing. A week of listening to Tarantino rabbit on was exhausting. As my father used to say, "the bloom was off the rose". Two years later Kill Bill Vol 1 came out. I hated that movie and I still hate 3/4 of it. Saw it twice just to make sure.

I decided to break-up with Tarantino. I had outgrown him, his stories were repetative - what scraps of his stories were original, I was unhappy in the relationship, and frankly he annoyed me.

Death Proof was pretty fucking disappointing. That's all I have to say about that.

Now Inglourious Basterds. I give Tarantino another chance, maybe he's changed maybe I can give him yet another chance to be my auteur sweetheart. Hope against hope the magic can be rekindled. Instead, it's more of the same bullshit and I'm reminded why we had to break-up in the first place.

Hence, Tarantino Break-Up Metaphor.

Chapter Two:

"He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster.
And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.
- Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Aphorism 146

Isaac Davis: Has anybody read that Nazis are gonna march in New Jersey? Y'know, I read this in the newspaper. We should go down there, get some guys together, y'know, get some bricks and baseball bats and really explain things to them.
Party Guest: There is this devastating satirical piece on that on the Op Ed page of the Times, it is devastating.
Isaac Davis: Well, a satirical piece in the Times is one thing, but bricks and baseball bats really gets right to the point.
- Manhattan (1979) Dir. Woody Allen

Much has been made of Inglourious Basterds being a Jewish revenge fantasy. I have to admit that I am a touch confused by such a sentiment because people are acting like such a thing never existed before. A great majority of movies I've seen with Nazis have them being shot, set on fire, executed, put on trial for war crimes, melted by the wrath of God, machine gunned, blown up, gunned down when attempting to surrender, and pureed by airplanes. Yet people are acting like Tarantino and Roth have reinvented the matzoh ball.

Roth calling IB "kosher porn" is absurd and immature. In his interview with the Toronto Star, he has a vague explanation of the phrase, an enmity between him and Germans (more correctly Nazis):

This sentiment leaves a bad taste in my mouth and I'm still trying to figure out why. It makes me uncomfortable, like listening to a WWII vet explaining why he won't buy anything from Japan.

Another troubling issue is the execution of Sgt. Werner Rachtman (Richard Sammel) by Sgt. Donnie "The Bear Jew"Donowitz (Eli Roth). Jeffrey Wells's review at Hollywood Elsewhere really brought this issue to my mind, especially watching IB a second time. Sgt. Rachtman refuses to divulge information about other German patrols. Sgt. Donowitz gives him the business with a Louisville Slugger and afterwards rants, pretending to be a big league ball player who just won the big game. Now I'm all for moral ambiguity and twisting concepts of right and wrong in cinema but in this case Tarantino's Basterds come across as socio and psychopaths who have been given free rein to commit whatever atrocities they see fit. In a strange way it reminds me of the torture/execution scene in John Woo's Bullet in the Head.

Chapter Three:

Vainglourious Bastard


Autofellatio Tarantino Style

“I think this might just be my masterpiece.”
- Lt. Aldo Raine, final line of Inglourious Basterds

"Tarantino has become an embarrassment: his virtuosity as a maker of images has been overwhelmed by his inanity as an idiot de la cinémathèque."

"I am not an American film maker, I make movies for the planet Earth."
-Quentin Tarantino

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Inglourious Basterds - the Soundtrack (2009)

My main problem with Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds is the absolute bullshit soundtrack.

Perhaps I am missing vital information but I am curious as to why Tarantino cherry picks Ennio Morricone cuts when the master is still alive and composing original scores. The same can be said for Lalo Schifrin, Charles Bernstein, and Jacques Loussier - though the latter hasn't done a film score since the late 90s. Several of the Morricone cues can be found on the A Fistful of Film Music Anthology released in 1995! IB's soundtrack is amateur, repetitive and lazy. He reuses Charles Bernstein's title track from White Lightning for chrissakes (Side note: White Lightning is my favorite Burt Reynolds movie. Check it out ASAP). He used it in Kill Bill Vol 1 and IB. From Kill Bill Vol 2 he recycles Il Mercenario (ripresa) by Ennio Morricone.

The piece de resistance of this self-derivative mess is David Bowie and Giorgio Moroder's Cat People (Putting Out Fire). This title theme from 1982's Cat People is from my least favorite era of Bowie's work. My dislike of early 80s Bowie aside the sequence when this track plays is beautifully shot and could have been one of the best scenes of the movie if not for the ham-handed use of Cat People (Putting Out Fire). Some people left the theater during this part and didn't return.

Tarantino once managed to meld music and image with a deft touch that rivalled Scorsese. Now his soundtracks are as dull and repetitive as his movies.

The Soundtrack Listing for Inglourious Basterds

The Green Leaves Of Summer by Nick Perito
The Verdict (La Condanna) by Ennio Morricone
L'incontro Con La Figlia by Ennio Morricone
White Lightning (Main Title) by Charles Bernstein
Il Mercenario (ripresa) by Ennio Morricone
Slaughter by Billy Preston
Algiers November 1, 1954 (from Battle of Algiers) by Ennio Morricone & Gillo Pontecorvo
The Surrender (La Resa) by Ennio Morricone
One Silver Dollar (Un Dollaro Bucato) by Gianni Ferrio/The Film Studio Orchestra
Hound Chase (from 'White Lightning') by Charles Bernstein
Bath Attack (from 'The Entity') by Charles Bernstein
The Fight by Jacques Loussier
Davon Geht Die Welt Nicht Unter by Zarah Leander
The Man with the Big Sombrero by Samantha Shelton And Michael Andrew
Ich Wollt Ich Wär Ein Huhn by Lilian Harvey & Willy Fritsch
Main Theme from Dark of the Sun by Jacques Loussier
Cat People (Putting Out Fire) by David Bowie
Mystic And Severe by Ennio Morricone
The Devil's Rumble by Davie Allan & The Arrows
What'd I Say by Rare Earth
Zulus by Elmer Bernstein
Tiger Tank by Lalo Schifrin
Un Amico by Ennio Morricone
Eastern Condors by Sherman Chow Gam-Cheung
Rabbia e Tarantella by Ennio Morricone

p.s. The scores that Tarantino "pays homage" to are individually excellent as well are some of the movies they accompany. I whole-heartedly recommend tracking down both.

Inglourious Basterds (2009) Dir. Quentin Tarantino

BC3 and I went to go see a matinee of Inglourious Basterds opening day and it was surprising how full the theater was and what a cross section of demographics made up the audience. Pretty cool that Tarantino can get all sorts of folks to skip work on a Friday afternoon to go see a movie.

I honestly wasn't expecting much from IB seeing as how disappointed I was by both volumes of Kill Bill and Death Proof. In fact I can honestly say that I went into the theater with a chip on my shoulder. I enjoyed IB much more than Tarantino's last ventures. It is pure alternative history fantasy in the vein of Garth Ennis's Adventures in the Rifle Brigade. Robert Richardson's cinematography was excellent, reminding me more of his early work - i.e. Salvador - than Kill Bill. There's beaucoup violence and buckets of claret tossed around but that wasn't a bad thing in my opinion. Christoph Waltz plays Col. Hans Landa and is an absolute monster on screen. You thought Javier Bardem's Anton Chigurh from No Country For Old Men was an evil fucker? Col. Landa has him beat, hands down. I have a new favorite cinema villian.

My problems with IB are personal beefs; the soundtrack (I am writing a second post about the soundtrack, including a full track listing and why it pisses me off so much) and Mr. Tarantino himself. While, thankfully, he didn't show up in IB his self-congratulatory smarm is all over the movie. Primary example, the final line of the movie. Other scenes don't come across as provocative they feel forced and frankly, cheap. To be fair, there are some excellent sequences in IB - indeed, there are more great scenes than bad. However, each scene that jolted me out of the movie watching experience was a Tarantino trick or standby. I don't want to throw out any spoilers but you'll know the scenes when you see them. Ultimately these stumbles soured my opinion of IB.

When all is said and done, I think most of you folks would enjoy IB. The problems I have with the movie are pretty nit-picky ultimately. I'd definitely be interested in your input.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Viva Pinata (2006)

Viva Pinata is a really cute game but the fun got sucked out pretty quickly for me. I found the reward system to be fairly skewed and eventually I reached a plateau where I couldn't get new pinatas. Not much a review I know, more like my two cents.

Monday, August 10, 2009

A moment of self-reflection...

A few days ago the Mrs and I were dining at a local Chinese restaurant we frequent. One our regular waitresses there is pretty chatty and we have a friendly rapport. During this last visit I asked for some spicy mustard and some chili sauce (whatever was kicking around in the kitchen). I got my spicy mustard and the now ubiquitous Sriracha and happily nommed our appetizer dinner(1).

After feeding, our waitress came up and asked if I liked the sauces. I replied yes I did. Then followed a conversation about how I knew about Sriracha and had a bottle at home among my other hot sauces and she asked how and where I had acquired a knowledge and love of all things spicy (I'm parapharasing but this was the gist of the conversation). I had a bit of trouble articulating my replies simply because I hadn't ever really thought about the topic. I had assumed that - like drinking, smoking, and profanity - my love of spicy food was something I had right out of the womb.

I don't remember the first spicy dish I ever had. I'm assuming it was something from a Chinese restaurant back in the early day when my father and first step-mother - Laura -were dating. My dad never had a taste for spicy food - though considering his stomach problems and ulcers spicy food was the cure he needed (yes spicy food is good for those ailments - look it up). I don't remember Laura being a chile head or heat junkie but she was an adventerous eater. I do have a memory of loving the red sauce at the Vietnamese restaurant near Pittsfield, MA that I think was owned or funded by Arlo Guthrie. I hope it's still open. I don't recall hot sauce (of any sort)being a cupboard or dining room staple growing up...or jalapenos...or anything hotter than tangy.

Looking back, I think the late 90s was when I truly found my love of spice. Living in DC allowed me to try endless variations on Southeast Asian, African, South & Latin American cuisine, and classic Soul. Moving to Austin in 99 allowed me to stretch my legs further as I developed my ability to cook and my love for food. I recall a long running weekly cooking experiment where I would cook a London Broil cut of steak and share it with a downstairs neighbour. One time I was overzealous with the chiles and every bite was like walking on coals. It was awesome.

I guess as time has progressed so has my ability to moderate flavour with heat, balancing flavours against one another, and experimenting with different types of heat. My love of food, chiles, and other spices had and continues to influence my love of history - even well before i returned to college. The history behind not only of the spice trade that fuelled the Age of Exploration but also the dissemination of the chile pepper from the Americas across the globe is fascinating to me.

This spring and summer also mark my first attempt to grow chiles from seeds and my second attempt to successfully grow jalapenos - hence my new tattoo.

I suppose that the underlying point or reason for my love of heat and all things spicy is good old fashioned pleasure driven curiosity. Either that or I'm just plain nuts.

(1) Appetizer Dinner. A variation on dim sum I came up with back in DC where instead of a full dinner appetizers were ordered - i.e. steamed dumplings, hot & sour soup, and a spring roll. As I went to more restaurants I tried more appetizers. Eventually is was more fun just to eat appetizers instead of entrees.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Brief movie reviews on Lost Souls, Chocolate, Shuttle, and Walled In

Shuttle (2008) Ebert wrote, "There is no release for the audience, no 'entertainment,' not even much action excitement." I have to agree. Shuttle is just kind of a straight to video drag. Not terrible or particularly...much of anything. I was pleased that it didn't wrap up the way I thought it was going to and that it didn't turn into your standard serial killer/slasher fare. I wouldn't necessarily recommend Shuttle but for a low-budget release it wasn't shabby.

Lost Souls (2000) Rule of thumb, if Winona Ryder has long hair in a movie then it's not very good (and yes I include Edward Scissorhands). In this clunker it's Winona Ryder versus the Anti-Christ. I think I kept watching it simply because I wanted to see if anything interesting was going to happen. Lost Souls was the big budget version of a crappy Made-for-TV Dean Koontz movie.

Walled In (2008) Went in a different direction than I thought it was going to and that was not a bad thing. Walled In is not necessarily a horror movie but it is pretty creepy but mostly because you don't know what the hell is going on most of the time. I would rate this a good Saturday afternoon time killer when there's nothing on TV and you don't feel like really thinking about what you're putting in your eyes.

Chocolate (2008) Director Prachya Pinkaew of Ong Bak and The Protector made this awesome martial arts actioner. Personally I think it's the best out the three. The protagonist, played by JeeJa Yanin - a twenty five year old "newcomer" - is an autistic Thai-Japanese gangster love-child. Her savant skill is martial arts, she absorbs and mimics what she sees. This makes for some entertaining moments when she mimics Bruce Lee or Tony Jaa. JeeJa's martial arts skills are bad-ass. There are some moments she out Tony Jaas Tony Jaa - particularly in the insane flying elbow to the crown of the skull or leaping double knees to the sternum attacks. There are a few moments where she doesn't have a clean recovery or flawless landing but I wondered if that was part of the character and not JeeJa's lacking in martial arts. Some of her choreography is ferocious though, the strikes she lands actually look like they hurt.

Chocolate also is a better story/movie than Ong Bak or The Protector. Definitely worth watching.

Basic Instinct (1992) Dir. Paul Verhoeven

I couldn't believe that of all of Verhoeven's movies - including the European releases - I have seen I had not seen Basic Instinct. Neither had Amanda so we downloaded it last night.

I love Verhoeven movies -yes, even Show Girls - and while Basic Instinct is not my favorite it was pretty decent soft core Verhoeven sleaze. Nudity, check. Violence, check. Gore, check. More nudity, check. I think part of the reason I dig Verhoeven so much is because in some ways his movies are like European erotic comics come to life (not all but most of them).

I was reading some of the old reviews of the movie and reviewers were split between fans of sleaze/exploitation/psuedo "Grindhouse" qualities of Basic Instinct and the reviewers who thought it was garbage. A common gripe was that Verhoeven rendered "erotic" dull or unsexy. Personally, I like that Verhoeven kind of makes sex unappealling and unpleasant or rather, doesn't try to make some soft focus, "Take My Breath Away" bullshit. In Basic Instinct both Douglas and Stone aren't making sweet sweet Luther Vandross love, they are fucking for purely selfish reasons. Like Sharon Stone's character Catherine Trammel says, "I didn't say I loved him, I said I loved fucking him." Now there's a femme fatale.

An added bonus was a Jerry Goldsmith score. The theme is great but during action sequences Goldsmith brasses all the place and it's kind of a distraction.

Worth rewatching if you haven't seen it in awhile or if you're a Verhoeven fan.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Many, many, many thanks to BC3 for this!

Step Brothers (2009) Dir. Adam McKay

Please allow me to preface this review by stating - I do not enjoy Will Farrell movies nor his SNL characters. Not a single one. I can barely tolerate him, only a little more than Dane Cook or Carlos Mencia.

That being said...

Step Brothers was fucking funny. Rather, the first half is awesome and the second half has to dick around with a plot. The first half is so funny I nearly threw up. Amanda had to check on me several times.

Farrell and Riley act like psychotic man-boys and it makes me laugh. There are two sequences in particular that make me laugh just thinking about them - the sleep walking scene in particular.

I think the high point for me though is Mary Steenburgen swearing.

The Unborn (2009) Dir. David Goyer

Wow, the majority of critics on did not like The Unborn. Personally I liked it, hell I liked it more than most of the Hollywood horror releases lately.

I have to say that The Unborn actually startled me in several parts. Okay, startled is an understatement. In one part the chick in the movie screamed, the monster screamed, I screamed, this in turn startled Amanda as she was coming out of the bathroom so she screamed then the cats were freaked out.

Is The Unborn top notch horror? No. It's Rogue Pictures which is barely a notch above Dimension Films or Lions Gate. Is it good for a Wednesday night during the summer? Hell's yes.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Fallout 3 - Mothership Zeta (2009) XBOX 360 DLC

The Lone Wanderer in space! Fighting aliens!

That's the long and short of the new DLC for Fallout 3. I polished it off pretty neatly in a few hours. I used the Chinese Stealth Suit and ghosted through the ship, picking off the little grey bastards. If I had attempted to storm through the aliens would have presented a greater threat.

I think I preferred Point Lookout as far as Fallout 3 DLC goes. Zeta is kind of a one trick pony that doesn't really have any impact - as far as I can tell on Earth or your karma. Meh.

The new weapons are alien tech and would have been helpful at an earlier point in the game but at this juncture they won't replace my stand-by weapons. There isn't any armor - that I could find.

I can't 100% rec this download. It's only 800 MS points so the cost ain't bad but you might want to wait until Bethesda releases a single volume set and you begin a new character.

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