Sunday, 16 August 2009

Of Inglourious Basterds

You know that feeling you get when you come out of a really good film? I got that with Inglourious Basterds. It wasn't perfect by any means. But damn if it wasn't fun. It might not be quite as good as my current film of the year, The Wrestler, but heck not much could be. However I get the feeling that if I make a big deal out of this film then it'll come back and bite me on the ass, mostly due to length. I know people who didn't enjoy Benjamin Button and The Dark Knight due to their length, but all I have to say is that I watched all three films in perfect conditions and therefore came out enjoying. If you didn't enjoy them then it probably comes down to viewing conditions.

This is Quentin Tarantino's latest film. If you didn't realise he directed the near perfect Pulp Fiction, the heist film set after film Reservoir Dogs, kung-fu epic Kill Bill and the second half of Grindhouse, Death Proof. Whilst Death Proof wasn't nearly as good as his early work, Inglourious Basterds is. It isn't as good as Pulp Fiction (but not much is) but I would say it is about as good as Reservoir Dogs. I would definitely say it's best film in ages and features all his trademarks. His impeccable ear for film music, trademarks such as what can only be described as a glorious use of fonts when it comes to credits and chapter titles and the trademark Tarantino dialogue. Tarantino is a word-smith, much like Shakespeare he has a glorious way with words and knows just how to write a conversation without it seeming boring. Death Proof is still a good film and the majority of it is people talking in a bar, not many directors can say that. He's a director I just love to have let his actors talk, much like Kevin Smith and Joss Whedon. However Tarantino is probably a better all round director than them, but all three have done amazing work. Basterds also includes a lot of his normal flourishes. Switching viewpoints, different directing styles. But honestly can you ever get enough of just how visual a director he is?

So onto the Basterds. Surprisingly, midway through this film I realised that I have seen all three of Brad Pitt's latest films in a cinema (and massively enjoyed his four latest movies). Now it might almost become a running joke that I think Brad Pitt is massively talented as an actor, and honestly he is. Watch 12 Monkeys, Fight Club, Benjamin Button or Jesse James and try and disagree with me. The guy is hugely talented and I think gets too much bad press because of how sexy he is perceived to be by members of the fairer sex and his relationships with both Jennifer Anniston and Angelina Jolie. Whilst Inglourious Basterds isn't his best film, the role is a bit more like his role in Burn After Reading in terms of how funny it is. Surprisingly for all the adverts this film is an ensemble piece and Brad isn't the main attraction, but we'll get to that later. He isn't on screen as much as you'd think but when he is he shines albeit not as strongly as some previous endeavors.

Well I hear you ask what is the main attraction of the movie? Christoph Waltz as Hans Landa. Honestly this guy stole every scene he was in. Whilst I'm fairly sure I heard a couple of dips in accent (he's an Austrian who lives in London) the guy brings an energy that is welcomed. He's equal parts funny and scary. He plays a German nicknamed the Jew Hunter and is the one character who connects all the different threads of the story. Honestly if you nothing else about this movie excites you, then realise that this just might be an Oscar-worthy performance. He plays a villain...kind of. By the end of the film it really turns things on their head in respects to this guy, although what happens to him in the end is equal parts gruesome and funny. If the fact it's a Tarantino movie or that it has Brad Pitt isn't enough to grab your attention, go just to see this performance. Just like Heath Ledger last year and Javier Bardem in 2007, this villainous performance I can really get behind. All three have brought astounding nuanced villains to the screen perfectly. Oscar worthy surely (I wasn't wrong with the last two).

Of course this being an ensemble I couldn't forget many of the other great performances in the film. Eli Roth (director of Hostel) as the Bear Jew prompts one of the more shocking scenes of the movie (it involves a baseball bat), it's just a shame the intrigue of the character is ruined when he talks like a typical American. Til Schweiger gets the greatest introduction ever in film history which I will not ruin but will say it features an awesome montage and I was greatly upset that he did receive more screen time because prompted many laughs just with facial expressions (especially the bar scene). Michael Fassbender is great as Archie Hicox, a role originally meant for Simon Pegg, whilst I'm sure Pegg would have been great I can't help but feel that Fassbender took the role and ran with it. Finally both Melanie Laurent and Diane Kruger are great as the female leads, particularly Laurent*.

The story of this movie is quite definitely set in an alternate World War 2 for reasons which will become abundantly clear towards the films climax. Honestly the film is kind of a war film but very much a Tarantino war film in the fact that most of it is dialogue. When action breaks out it is very well done but only really occurs at two moments in the film. However the final action is amazing and very well done. The majority of the movie is just building up the tension and letting the characters talk. Tarantino isn't quite as adept as building up tension as other directors such as the Coen Brothers but particularly in the first Chapter of the movie he does it wonderfully when he in his own words he's "pulled the elastic band so tight it's about to break". Really the movie is all about building up to moments of violence and luckily when they do happen they're suitably graphic (it's an 18 after all). The moments are definitely cringe worthy and elicited groans from the audience in the cinema when we saw them and ranged from scalping, bullet holes, baseball bats to the head and the final shots of the film which was honestly a nigh on perfect way to end the film.

Overall this is another superb film from Tarantino. Whilst many will dislike it because of it's length, I honestly didn't feel it. It's equal parts funny and gripping and mixes the two perfectly. It features everything that makes a Tarantino film so great, in particular his dialogue and use of music and just add to some of the reasons why he's one of the best and most visionary directors in the business. He manages to get an amazing performance out of the real star of this movie in the form of Christoph Waltz who is easily worth the price of admission. Whilst the movie isn't perfect, you can't help but feel this isn't the true version of the film with some scenes quite definitely being cut and some things being extremely vaguely hinted at (the final outcome of four of the Basterds). Whilst I would love to see a director's cut, what stands at the moment is a more than worthy movie.

I want to reiterate the movie is looong. Almost three hours long to be exact. Make sure you're in the mood to see and not just seeing because it's apparently a good film. Go see it because you want to, so we don't have to endure your bitching about how you didn't enjoy what is a great film. This movie isn't for everyone but Tarantino never is. If you don't like the man's style avoid it. If you do, you'll probably love it, I went with three friends and we all loved it. Honestly there are people who don't like his style, but I really don't think I'd want to get to know you if you don't appreciate how talented he is and how great this film really is.

Tarantino provides his own unique take on war film that is an entirely new beast that is hugely reverent to the cinema of the past (particularly films like the Dirty Dozen). It combines so many elements and all Tarantino's flourishes and it makes it hugely enjoyable. It's funny, it's tense and it's action packed. If you love good movies then do yourself a favour and see this movie, definitely one of the summers best.


*Then there's BJ Novak (Ryan in The Office), I thought he'd been taken away for what could have been essentially a cameo, but luckily his role expands towards the end along with another Basterd named Omar who gets quite possible the best five seconds of the entire movie with one slow motion running sequence.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Of Supernatural Seasons 2, 3 and 4

The above video is entirely footage from Supernatural Season 1, it's set to 'Carry On My Wayward Song' which has become a kind of theme tune for the show, not only because it is about two sons but also because it's the song that plays before every finale with a kick-ass montage of the preceding episodes. This is the montage before the Season 1 finale (I've already reviewed Season 1) so I'm trying to keep spoilers to a minimum because this is a show I whole heatedly recommend for people who not only like genre shows but also fun shows, good acting and is quite often equally dramatic and hilarious.

For those who recall I reviewed Season 1 late last year and gave it a 7.5/10 saying that Season 2 had promise. All I'm going to say is that Season 2 more than delivered on that promise. Season 2 is a massive improvement over Season 1. The actors got the characters, the writers knew where the stories were going to go, the monsters weren't as uninspired (racist car? seriously?) and the show took us down many quirky avenues along the way. Whilst Season 3 is definitely weakened by having 6 episodes cut out because of the strike, it still delivers in many respects especially when it comes to the main plot of the season that was started at the end of Season 2. However Season 4 is where the show really kicks into high gear. What was a hell of lot of fun in both action, comedy and drama elevated itself to a show that asked big questions and is now set in Season 5 to have their own version of the Apocalypse with characters like God and The Devil coming along for the ride. That's a big development for a show that started out as two brothers battling unconnected monsters in the first season.

The main characters of the show are Sam and Dean Winchester. The main premise is that these two are hunters, not hunters of dear, but hunters of all manner of Supernatural creatures. Demons, Vampires, Werewolves, Ghosts and Shapeshifters. The show creates a series of lore for each creature and how you kill it and whilst many creatures are faced more than once, the show can still surprise in how fresh it feels when they take it down in what is more less the same way. There are so many Vengeful Spirit episodes and whilst not all are as great as each other the show can still make these episodes interesting and downright fun to watch.

The show is grounded wonderfully by the main actors Jensen Ackles as Dean Winchester and Jared Padalecki as Sam Winchester. Whilst in Season 1 in some episodes it was clear they were just getting used to the characters, in the all the subsequent seasons they OWN the characters. All I have to say is that I want more Jensen Ackles on television. Whilst Jared Padalecki is great in his own right and can more than hold his own, it's Jense Ackles I've really become attached to. The guy is a bit like the quintessential cocky badass but can still come off as being a nuanced character when it comes to the emotional beats. The chemistry between the two lead actors is literally staggering. They are just a force to be reckoned, no matter what sort of scene it is these two make it work. They can be naturally hilarious with just a look and yet a few scenes later can have a deeply dramatic speech that actually makes you feel for these characters.

There aren't many shows I'll say I laugh at each and every episode but Supernatural is one of them. There is always some joke or some line or even some reaction that is hilarious. In one episode the two find out their lives are in a series of books and they have fans which lets them go onto a real Supernatural fan board and react to all the complaints to the show and even the Dean/Sam slash fiction (aka gay incest). It's wonderfully done and what's even more staggering is that a just a few scenes later they're in a life or death situation and acting their asses off in a completely different.

The show just gets the balance between comedy and drama completely. They know that without humour a show dealing with the subject they are can become too depressing, so they throw us more than enough comedic moments, and not just that but seriously hilarious moments. Plus the show will occasionally take time out from the main storyline and give us an episode that is just really quirky and funny. Many of these come from a certified genius, Ben Edlund, ex-Firefly and Angel writer (he wrote the puppet episode) but not all of them of course because he can do the dramatic seriously well also. Stuff like a Trickster God playing pranks, suicidal teddybears, Dracula paying for pizza using coupons, an episode filmed in the same style as a reality show (complete with bleeped swearing) and a groundhog day episode. Whislt not all of these Ben Edlund episodes, I can't help but feel he had a massive hand in their writing.

There isn't another show on television that gets the mix of comedy, drama and action so right apart from Chuck. Whilst Supernatural is obviously more dramatic they're both similar in terms of how they work and are equally as fun to watch. Like Chuck they also get how to a mix of standalone and plot driven episodes. Season 1 hinted at some larger elements but again it took Season 2-4 to elevate it. Season 1 was mostly set-up for the later seasons (some revelations were still coming in Season 4) but once it was done the show began to knock down plot points and showed an impeccable eye for old pieces of mythology. Better than Lost even which whilst it had a set story they didn't know the time frame. Supernatural knows its time frame is 5 seasons and building up to that, which gives it a massive plus over Lost (which is admittedly still the better show). The main plot of each season is constantly in the background and whilst not always at the forefront it still feels present.

Now being a show called Supernatural means it takes a lot of elements from horror movies. The first two seasons are definitely more centric to this idea of monster of the week which evolves to almost every episode of Season 4 being related to the main plot in some way. It's a steady progression however Season 2 and Season 4 definitely benefit the most. Season 2 for letting the writers mess around a little and introduce important elements in seemingly stand alone episodes that would be important later on and Season 4 because all the blocks are there for them to knock over. It's a shame Season 3 suffers in some respects such as the introduction of two female characters who don't mesh right and the condensing of so much plot into 4 episodes at the end of the season. It isn't bad but it's yet another casualty of the strike (along with Pushing Daisies, it seems Lost is the only show to have benefited).

Now for the gore. Before this show I had some fairly naive ideas about television censorship. The most you could show on a network show were gunshots and possibly some hinted violence as well as punching. Dear Lord was I wrong. This show is gory as hell. As I previously said I was impressed that they could show a full on head shot in this show but that's just a tip of the ice berg. Decapitation by barbed wire, frequent slit throats with blood gushing out, slit wrists, objects frequently stabbed through necks (most memorably from the position where we could see it come through the other side), eyeballs being scooped out of eye sockets, drowning on land, biting through a mans shoulder and someone being ripped to shreds by hell hounds. It's a cornucopia of violence and gore that can only be met by proper horror movies. Hell it's gorier than shows like Dexter (although not True Blood that show has recently made me feel physically ill whilst watching). Even the swearing is edging it for network shows. It's not at Dexter or Deadwood levels but still how many times can you say dick in a show?

The final place the show has improved upon over Season 1 is the expansion of it's supporting cast. The show is essentially about two brothers and in Season 1 there were really only one or two characters who appeared in more than one episode. Luckily in later Seasons we get a far more robust cast meaning that old characters can come back in cool ways. Whilst because the nature of some characters on the show it doesn't necessarily mean that it's always the same actor playing the character. To avoid spoilers I'll just say that whilst not all the characters work (two female characters in Season 3 but pay off comes for one in Season 4) many of them are delight. Fellow hunter Bobby is a definite highlight and appears in all four seasons so it's a definite treat whenever he shows up. I'm not going to say any other recurring characters apart from they involve many Demons, other Winchester family members, FBI agents, fellow hunters, physics, chosen children and Season 4 plot element **g****.

Overall the show improved on many of the elements of Season 1, they got the writing down amazingly well, the cast has increased in size whilst still keeping the heart of the show which is the two brothers. It feels like a horror movie made for TV albeit less scary but still gory. Plus the story has become all encompassing rather than being brought up every couple of episodes. Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki, are simply amazing if only for their chemistry and comedic timing (seriously they're up there with actor chemistry like Terry O'Quinn and Michael Emerson in Lost and Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul in Breaking Bad). The show has increased it's scope and truly become epic as it has progressed and delivered on all the promise of it's first season.

Seriously, I've fallen in love with this show, even if Season 3 faltered a little it doesn't detract from the two seasons that are on either side and still fulfills its purpose albeit not as well as Seasons 2 or 4 It's a fun show that might not be as dramatically satisfying as The Wire or Mad Men but it's a hell (haha) of a lot of fun and is just superb. Think Chuck with demons and you're close to the feel of this show. But honestly to sum up the appeal of this show, let's just say it's about two brothers travelling across America in Chevy Impala loaded with plenty of weapons battling demons as they go and listening to classic rock music.


P.S. Season by Season rating:
Season 2 - 9/10
Season 3 - 8/10
Season 4 - 9/10

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

August 2009

So it's August. So much for increased blog count. However I have been very busy. What with work experience, trips to Cornwall and a week of filming which eventually became living at my friends house, drinking, dicking around and watching films. Was a lot of fun. However I have my final scene to film tomorrow and then the film will be more or less done apart from a couple of fight scenes (which may have already been done due to me being down in Wales over the past few days). So all in all filming went well despite problems with weather and people not being able to make it. We may not have done it four days but we had fun which is the main thing.

August is upon us and really it means three things. Mad Men Season 3, a trip to Malaysia and results. Two of which I'm looking forward to. No prize if you can guess which one because it's very obvious. Mad Men Season should be awesome so I'll be bigging that up a lot on this blog.

In terms of my television mass watching I've got done with Undeclared and Alias. At the moment I'm watching Supernatural and Battlestar Galactica which are the main two for the summer. This is along with True Blood (which is awesome currently) and watching Veronica Mars on E4 (seriously it's on everyday at 11 WATCH IT!!!) I haven't done as much as I wanted due to general busyness but really I didn't know I'd up spending a week in Bagshot filming. Or that my laptop wouldn't work properly in Cornwall so the next 10 days (shit that's not long) will be devoted to catching up. And History. And my novel (2 chapters and a prologue in). And reading. And driving lessons.

You might as well just ignore this blog however I will hopefully have two movie reviews up in the form of Moon (I hope to see it tomorrow) and potentially Inglorious Basterds if we can make it to an advanced screening. However since its the day before I go away I might not be able to get a review up. All depends.

Stuff Coming Soon
Moon Review
Inglorious Basterds Review

Currently Listening To: Red Hands - The Dear Hunter
Currently Watching (TV) - Supernatural/Battlestar Galactica/True Blood Season 2
Currently Watching (Movie) - Moon (I hope)
Currently Reading: Twilight/Dead Until Dark (competitive blog post to come early September aka the month of music)