the daily column

Movie Trailer Interlude 2

  • Extract is a new comedy from the creator of Office Space, starring Jason Bateman (Arrested Development, Juno) and Ben Affleck (almost unrecognisable). Could be a little feel-good, but seems like anything with Jason Bateman is gotta be worth a few laughs.
  • The Men Who Stare at Goats is… well, hard to define. Syriana on a drug trip, maybe. Looks blissfully un-self-conscious about putting George Clooney as a man who thinks he is a Jedi in with Ewan McGregor as a journalist trying to investigate “psychic troops”. Ostensibly a true story – and the only reason I can believe that is that it would be just the kind of thing Bush ordered at some point.
  • The Blind Side is actually based on a true story, that of “Big Mike” Oher, a black kid who really was about as abandoned as you can be, only to be taken in by a school and a family, and given the opportunity to shine. And shine he does, in a way that you’d only credit in America, through his abilities playing American Football. I originally read this story on Kottke, and found it a piercing then – I think if you set aside cynicism about the feel-good salvation-through-dedication stories all too common in fiction and movies especially, this one looks particularly good. At least Sandra Bullock isn’t doing one of her standard-issue rom-com performances.
  • The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard. Two words: Jeremy Piven. If you’re at all familiar with Entourage, you should know why that cannot be anything but made of awesome.
  • Tron Legacy looks simply stunning. I haven’t seen the original Tron, but now I’m wondering where I can get my hands on a copy.
  • Sherlock Holmes takes the Iron Man theory of letting Robert Downey Jr. do whatever he wants and applies it to Victorian Britain. Or something. Look, it’s Downey Jr, Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong (Rocknrolla, Body of Lies) all directed by Guy Ritchie in a period setting based on the classic stories of Sherlock Holmes, released on Christmas. How will you avoid seeing this film?
  • Whip It is all about me indulging my Ellen Page crush. (also Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut.)
  • Late addition: Youth in Revolt is Fight Club: The High School Years. Michael Cera is Jack.

Heads up: Using phone-based GPS illegal in Australia

Gizmodo reports that, looking at the laws governing use of hand held device in a car, using a phone based GPS system is illegal in Australia:

According to Traffic Services Commander of the NSW Police, Assistant Commissioner John Hartley:

Under Rule 300 of the Australian Road Rules, which prohibits the use of a hand held device while driving, if the unit is a mobile phone then any function connected to the phone would be classified as use and this includes GPS.

Rule 299, of the Australian Road Rules permits a GPS but not one connected to a mobile phone. A smart phone is still a mobile phone regardless of what else it may be capable of.

That means that even if you buy TomTom’s iPhone bracket and stick your iPhone in it to use the device as a satnav, because the iPhone’s still a phone, using it is against the law. The same rule goes for any Nokia device offering turn-by-turn navigation, any Telstra phone with WhereIs. If your satnav has a SIM card or mobile phone capability, then you run the risk of being fined.

[I]n NSW you’re looking at a $253 fine and three demerit points. The penalty in other states might be different, but the law is the same across the country.

Urrk. Watch out for that before you drop a hundie on the TomTom app for the iPhone.


The Decoupling of Reality on the Right

Between the birthers, deathers and the general right-wing lunacy on show in the US, I think David M. Green picks up a few important threads that we’ve seen:

Can we really live in a country populated by so many fools, people who can so readily, proudly and belligerently be made into tools of their own destruction? Can the greatest political, economic, cultural and military power on the world’s stage possibly be so incredibly backward at its core?

This is what I don’t get: where have all these … nutjobs come from? What makes these people, who ostensibly have some education, behave in such an irrational manner, especially over a topic as apparently uncontroversial as health care?

[W]hat seems to me new about this moment is the political road rage, the thuggishness of masses of Americans who not only are venting about insane nonsense, not only are undermining their own interests acting as marionettes of laughing corporate predators, and not only are taking down democracy around themselves in order to do so, but are in fact also destroying the entire Enlightenment project of rationality-based management of public affairs as well. The single most frightening characteristic of this movement, to my mind, is that fact that no amount of evidence or logic could persuade these folks to abandon the lies they’ve attached themselves to[.]

It’s certainly astonishing to me that these people are arguing against a government service. Virtually everywhere else in the world, government services are considered good, exemplary even. You pay taxes, and in return the government provides services. Sure, commercial entities might be able to do the same deal, but at least you know with the government they’re not looking to make a buck out of it.

But I think the point being made above is that some time in the last 40 years, logic disappeared from the public sphere. It’s as though the last generation to witness truly involved war refused to educate their children about some basic things about respect for others and their views; that or some were taught too well and ended up on the left side of the nominal fence, while those who didn’t pay attention to lessons about humility and the importance of reason ended up on the right side. That or these people truly are pawns of a vaster conspiracy.

Anywho, go read the whole article before I repeat it word for word.


Movie Review: Inglourious Basterds

It’s perhaps worth noting here that, as far as I can tell, this is the second Tarantino-directed movie where Quentin himself doesn’t get in front of the camera at some point, as he’s wont to do in most of his other movies, Kill Bill being the other notable one. But where Kill Bill was brilliant for its action sequences, its all too overt nods to kung fu and samurai movies, Inglourious Basterds ignores World War II movie convention as brazenly as the spelling in the title, making it recognisable and yet giving you reason for a double-take.

Inglourious Basterds starts out with an old-school opening credits, refusing to layer names on action as has become the norm, and the first chapter of five is introduced as “Once upon a time… in Nazi occupied France, 1941” as though to declare up front this is a fairy-tale which references and adapts real events into the story to follow. If you were expecting something like The Dirty Dozen, or even Saving Private Ryan done Tarantino style, be prepared for something entirely different – although if you’re watching a Tarantino movie with any prior expectations, it would be that this isn’t going to be more of the usual.

The opening scene could be a short film all by itself, nearly standing alone from the rest of the movie and with all the trappings of a full narrative arc. In the idyllic French countryside, at the dairy farm of Perrier LaPadite, we are introduced to the deliciously intellectual Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), “the Jew hunter” of the SS in France, who speaks German, French, English and (later) Italian with apparently equal fluency. He is perhaps the primary antagonist of the movie and plays a far more pivotal role than the eponymous Basterds, who we are introduced to in the second, brief, chapter. We also see Shosanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent, playing a true femme fatale), a Jewish girl, and are left wondering as to her fate, though not for long.

Meanwhile, somewhere in Italy, Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) is inspecting  his crack team of eight Jewish soldiers, planning to drop behind German lines to kill soldiers as a guerrilla style force years before the term guerrilla became common. Raine is of partially Native American blood, and in that tradition demands his men bring him 100 Nazi scalps. If you’ve not heard of scalping before, you’re about to get a very graphic demonstration.

The majority of the action takes place around in 1944. The Basterds have instilled terror in the German foot soldiers, and even to the point where Hitler is trying to counter rumours himself. In Paris, Shosanna is disguised as Emmanuelle Mimieux, and owns and runs a glorious art deco theatre in a quiet street of the city. When a German soldier with an interest in movies approaches her, she first repels his advances, and then, after being corralled into hosting a premiere for the Nazi top brass, finds the attention useful as a cover for plotting vengeance on the prosecutors of her people. Meanwhile, the British and a double-agent are plotting an operation to blow up the same cinema, and call in the Basterds to help pull it off.

What follows is a series of scenes where the tension is ratcheted bit by bit, until at last the climax unleashes the violence we fully expect of a war movie, albeit with the director of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction‘s own frantic interpretation. While Tarantino does not commit the hubristic sin of referencing his own movies, his style is painted over this movie with a brush a mile wide. The reams of dialogue in three languages (and then some) making this a movie where you have to concentrate on the words, a refreshing change to the usual blockbuster trash where you can watch without paying attention to words, the plot adequately revealed by explosions.

I think I agree most with Time’s review, especially in that it is very much a European-style, foreign language film – I’d be hard put to say whether there’s more time when the dialogue is in English or some other language, an authenticity that you’d never get with all characters speaking English, as accessible as that might make it. I love also that in some scenes, we’re clearly guided to a particular character’s viewpoint by not being given subtitles for languages they don’t know. Brilliantly played out, almost novel-like – and would certainly be all the more rewarding for those who can speak German, French and English, as I’m sure a number of Europeans would.

You’ll pardon me if my descriptions of the plot and characters seem a bit torturous – this is genuinely a movie you don’t want to spoil, and I’m thankful that the trailer is a bit of a hodge-podge that doesn’t reveal nearly enough. In a few key scenes, the tension is palpable, and I’d watch it over and over again to discover new aspects of the movie.

For all that dialogue and plot gets the attention here in this text-based medium, the visuals are not to be forgotten. Tarantino lingers in some of his shots, especially on the two lead females, a habit he seems to have developed somewhere between Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill. The style looks timeless, and it’s definitely worth watching in the cinemas. A note for the queasy though – there’s a few confronting scenes of blood, violence and gore, and if you’re the type that can’t stand the sight of blood even on screen, there will be more than a few moments where you’re peeking through fingers at this. Excessive maybe, but very much in Tarantino’s way of doing things.

At this point, I think I’m sounding very much like this a flawless movie, but I hesitate to say it’s not a perfect 5-star experience. The plot feels a bit like a two-for-one deal – two distinct stories, standing alone but for the antagonist and the catalyst of the Nazi brass all in one public place. The Basterds of the title are neglected, I felt, in favour of telling Shosanna’s story, but then from all reports key scenes from that story, such as those with Maggie Cheung, were cut in an effort to “squeeze” it into two and a half hours (though in its defence, those hours go by very much unnoticed). If anything, I’d have been happy for Tarantino to make a pair of movies, perhaps along the lines of the two Kill Bill volumes, perhaps as two versions of the same ending where you could pick touch points later.

In the end though, what’s made is made and what’s cut is probably waiting on the DVD release in a few months time, at which point it’d be possible to go over this movie again with a fine toothed comb, pausing at all the moments where I felt like pulling out a reference book for movie and period references. Tarantino continues to make films that are different, unique and creative without sacrificing entertainment and scope, and it’s for that reason I hope that this movie, or indeed earlier Tarantino movies, inspires some studios to take more chances with their film-making

“Out now in cinemas everywhere,” I believe, is the usual finish to a movie you can heartily recommend. ★★★★☆


Beer Conference

Tom Toles - 31/07/2009
Tom Toles - 31/07/2009