Saturday, August 22, 2009

My Thoughts on District 9 and Inglourious Basterds

A lot of people whose opinions I admire are going on and on about how great these two films are, so it has been hard for me to come to terms with exactly what I felt about these two movies, because in my opinion, neither of them are great films.

District 9 is a very, very good film, but it is also very flawed and I would be lying if I said I thought that it was great.  In comparison to any other movie this summer with giant fighting robots (Transformers 2 and Terminator: Salvation) then District 9 is great, but compared to truly great movies, District 9 is not a great film.

That isn't to say that I didn't enjoy District 9, because I very much did.  The action sequences towards the end of the film were spectacularly handled and really made the movie worth watching for me.  Director Neill Blomkamp has a very bright future ahead of him, and truth be told, if the Terminator franchise were handed to him, I would feel very relieved.

The problem with the film, in my mind, was the fact that it is very much two different movies, a drama with great social undertones being told in a documentary fashion, and a shoot-em-up action movie (that also has some important social undertones, just not as blatantly in your face) told as a standard action movie.  The way the film transitions from one story and one genre into another story in another genre didn't work particularly well for me.  The beginning of the film, leading up to the action, was poorly plotted and paced as if the film knew it was headed somewhere exciting, but felt that it had to get the "important stuff" out of the way first.

Overall, the movie (once it hits its stride) doesn't disappoint, and you won't feel as if you wasted your time, but the film itself wastes some time getting to that point.  This being the first feature length film from the director, problems such as poor pacing, poor setup, and the overall lack of cohesion can certainly be forgiven, and like I said, this is still one of my favorite movies this year.  My only thing is that the film could have been better, and I think it is only proper to recognize that.

One critic called this movie, "The best science-fiction film of the 21st century", which is utterly absurd.  Sure it's a good film, but it probably isn't even in the top ten of sci-fi films of the 21st century.  It is certainly no where near the genius of such films as Children of Men, The Fountain, or Sunshine.  It's not even the best sci-fi film of this year.  Moon wins that title thus far hands down.  And while I greatly enjoyed District 9, to be honest, it isn't as good a film as Star Trek.

I've struggled with writing this, because I knew that I was going to come off negative on the film, and I don't want to be, because it is a good movie, but it isn't deserving of the hype that it is receiving and if people going in expecting to see "the best science-fiction film of the 21st century" they are going to come out disappointed.

As for the other film getting rave reviews currently, I can't understand the hype at all, but I have to be honest and let you know that I am not a huge Quentin Tarantino fan.  I loved Pulp Fiction, but most of his other films really don't do it for me.  Part of that is because I really don't like glorified, stylized violence unless it really helps punctuate a deeper theme of the film (as is the case in Gangs of New York or Watchmen, and to be honest, the violence in Gangs of New York really isn't glorified).

I thought that I might enjoy this film, because the previews did make it look like it would be a lot of fun, and it looked like Brad Pitt was going to be fantastic.

Let me tell you, for the twelve or so minutes that he's in this film, he is fantastic.

Honestly, I don't know why this movie was called Inglourious Basterds, because the group that the movie is named after seems at best a sub plot in the film.  You only really get any information on three of the Basterds and the info on one of them (the only non-American of the bunch) is told in news reel style which seemed really out of place.  Actually, throughout the film, there were strange segues and stylistic shifts that bothered me, the film didn't flow very well for me, and I couldn't tell exactly what it was trying to be.

I guess, by and large, it is a war movie, telling a very fictitious story set in World War II, but don't assume that that means you know how this WWII ends.

What it isn't is a comedy, despite what the previews lead you to believe.  Other then some of Brad Pitt's scenes, there is very little in the movie that will make you laugh (and even some of Brad Pitt's scenes will leave a bad feeling in your gut).  With only a couple of exceptions, all of the even slightly humorous parts are in the trailer.

There are very few characters that are likable or can even remotely be considered heroes, and if this movie were fashioned to be about those characters, perhaps I would have liked it more.  Because even though, truthfully, the story should belong to them (Shosanna Dreyfus and Bridget von Hammersmark in particular) as they drive the films primary plot and are the only fully drawn sympathetic characters, the movie is far more interested in celebrating the violence (of the Nazis and the Allies alike) and the absurdness that the movie revels in towards the end.

Although the film is called Inglourious Basterds, Brad Pitt is the only one of the Basterds that really gets good attention from the film.  Hugo Stiglitz, the one non-American of the group, and Donny Donowitz are the only other two who get some back story along with some screen time.  Pretty much every other member of the Basterds are ignored, which is ridiculous when two of them are B.J. Novak (Ryan on The Office) and Samm Levine (from Freaks and Geeks and an arc on Undeclared).  I don't feel like it is too much of a stretch to want to get to know the Basterds a little bit when the movie is named after them, but honestly you learn much more about the main villain of the film, Col. Hans Landa, probably the most interesting character in the movie, not that Tarantino takes as much advantage as he can from such an interesting and well drawn character, instead you feel almost cheated by his treatment.

And that is the problem with this film.  This movie should have been about Col. Landa.  Or it should have been about Shosanna.  Or it should have been about the German actress Bridget Von Hammersmark.  But it was about all of them, and a little bit about the Inglourious Basterds, and so in the end it wasn't about any of them, at least not enough so that you're satisfied.  Instead, the film is a mess.  It is entirely unsure about what it wants to be, and so it fails in being anything.

It wants to be an over the top comedy set in an alternate World War II.  It wants to be a dramatic film about how a Jewish girl who witnessed her family die horrifically tries to take it on herself to end the Nazi war effort and in the process get some revenge.  It wants to be a film about how a horrible but brilliant Nazi officer struggles with what he has been forced to do and perhaps find a way to change the legacy that he is currently known for and that he despises despite once embracing it.  Tarantino claimed it was going to be a glorious men on a mission war film in the vein of The Dirty Dozen or The Great Escape, but it never really comes close to being that (like I said, the titular Basterds are very rarely on screen, this is not their movie).  So ultimately it fails at all of them.

Like I said, I'm not a huge Tarantino fan, but I wager that even some of his biggest fans will be disappointed with this movie.

Until Next Time, the summer movie season is finally at an end, and I for one found it very disappointing.  Here's hoping that the fall and winter will be better, I have to say, the trailer for Cameron's Avatar looked pretty damn interesting.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Wow, Just Wow

So I saw Moon tonight, the low budget sci-fi film starring Sam Rockwell directed by Duncan Jones.

It is a fantastic film that if you have the opportunity to see in the theater I highly suggest you take it.

It is a sci-fi film, but ultimately it is a character driven film.  It is a movie that lives on the strength of Sam Rockwell who pretty much has the screen to himself.  That doesn't distract you from the movie going experience at all, as Rockwell gives an unbelievable performance as the main character (also named Sam).

His only companion in his station on the moon is a robot named GERTY that is voiced by Kevin Spacey and is fantastically handled by the film, its emotions displayed by changing smiley face type icons, giving it a relatable quality that a robot like this might not otherwise have, even one voiced by Kevin Spacey.

The film is sci-fi, but it isn't an action extravaganza, it is a film that harkens back to the smart sci-fi of the seventies.  GERTY is (albeit a much nicer) bit of a shout out to HAL from 2001, and there are traces of Blade Runner and the first half of Alien (from, you know, before the Alien arrived).  It succeeds as an homage to these (and I'm sure some other) films, but it also succeeds as an outstanding, smart, sci-fi film on its own.

The music is fantastic, without question the best score of any film I've seen so far this year, and I wasn't surprised to see that it was scored and conducted by the outstanding Clint Mansell who wrote the best soundtrack of all time, Requiem For A Dream.

Overall, this film is simply beautiful, an amazing experience and the best film I've seen to date this year (sorry Funny People, that spot didn't belong to you for very long).  It will be a tragedy if this film doesn't receive a nomination for Best Picture, and I would honestly be surprised if any film surpasses it on my list this year.  And I feel confident saying that even though there are still five months left in the year.  I feel that strongly about this film.

I also feel very confident in saying that Sam Rockwell deserves an Oscar for this performance.  Like I said, this movie lives on his performance and he nails it perfectly.  If he hadn't been so fantastic, this film would have failed, he was that important to this movie, considering that the whole film is primarily only him, but he was perfect and because of that, so is the film.

Until Next Time, trust me, if you can go see this movie, do it!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

5th Annual Josh's Choice For Best New Show of the Season

It's that time again (okay, okay, past time, but still)... Josh's Choice for the Best New Show of the Season!

Before we get started here are the winners since I've been giving this award...

2007-2008- Journeyman

2006-2007- Friday Night Lights

2005-2006- Invasion

2004-2005- LOST

As always we have five finalists and we will be counting down to our winner, however, there are a couple of shows that didn't make the final five that I would like to highlight quickly regardless...


A remake of one of my favorite shows (that alas like this one didn't make it past it's first season) and it recaptured the magic of the original perfectly.  In the original, Jeremy Piven was the real reason I watched it, I had became a fan of his from his work on Ellen when he stole every scene that he was in.  It didn't take me too long to become a huge fan of Paula Marshall either who went on to have a great arc on Sports Night and on Veronica Mars.  This time I came back for the premise, which was just as exciting and original as it had been ten years earlier.  Hopefully ten years from now Cupid will get its third chance and we will finally discover the mystery behind Trevor Hale.  Every episode had the potential to get lost in the sentimentality and every episode hit every note just right.  I wish more people had watched this show, this season or ten years ago.


This show totally would have made the final five if it didn't slow down tremendously in the final few episodes.  The first six were beyond tremendous.  I'd never seen a cop show where (and in the pilot episode no less) they didn't solve the crime correctly, but thought that they did.  The mystery that followed from that case over the first six episodes made me believe that this was a show with terrific staying power.  Unfortunately after that case was finally solved, the show didn't have a mystery as interesting ready to take its place.  And far too often, the case of the week was far too predictable, especially in the last few episodes, I had the episode figured out by the first commercial break twice, not good.  The show started strong, but couldn't maintain, so I'm not as disappointed that it got canceled.  Regardless of its problems, however, the cast and characters were fantastic and I hope that some of these people find their way to new shows quickly.

Okay, time to get to the real stuff, are you ready?


Primarily because of Nathan Fillion, but, come on, isn't that enough?  He literally carried this show into the final five by himself.  Like Unusuals, the mysteries were at times a little too predictable, but Nathan Fillion was charming and funny enough for me not to care as much.  The weeks when it was a good mystery, I saw how good this show could be, but the weeks where it wasn't, Fillion more then made up for it.  Stana Katic is good as well as Castle's muse, but Molly Quinn blows me away as Castle's daughter and the chemistry that they had together was the best father daughter stuff from a family not named Taylor (that's a Friday Night Lights reference for those of you sadly not in the know about that tremendous show) since My So Called Life.  Definitely looking forward to seeing how the show progresses in its second season.


A show where the cases actually had me guessing most weeks, and a show with a tremendous supporting cast that backed up a fantastic job by Tim Roth.  Plus, every week I felt a little educated.  I loved the cases, the science that the show employed, the acting jobs by all of the regulars and all of the guests, and I especially loved the use of video of famous people to drive home the point about whatever facial or body language trick they had just talked about.  The only downside was that in the use of guest stars, sometimes it was obvious by the actor or actress who the bad guy would be.  David Anders isn't playing an innocent guy.  I mean, come on, he was Sark on Alias!


A show that jumped into the Final Five based on the strength of its final episodes.  It was interesting in the beginning, and I wasn't going to quit on it, but it didn't get fantastic until the alternate dimension mythology started to come forth.  Its unbelievable season finale put it into contention for the award pretty much single handedly.  Hopefully the second season will pick up where it left off and turn this into the show it is capable of becoming and less of the X-Files wannabe that it was towards the beginning of the season.


Very nearly won Josh's Choice For Best New Show Of The Season.  Life on Mars was fantastic from its beginning moments until its stunning series finale that didn't feel at all like a cheat to me, it felt natural and perfect and I didn't see it coming at all.  I don't want to spoil it for anyone who didn't see it as the DVDs come out next month and I highly recommend getting lost with Sam Tyler back in the 70s.  The show put a fantastic new spin on the tired cop drama (although, the original series from the BBC did it first, and I'm glad that they are finally about to be available here, my Netflix is ready to show them to me) by placing a cop with modern sensibilities in a time when such niceties weren't always recognized.  It allowed for fun cases and good social commentary and the overall mystery was brilliant.  I'm glad that ABC allowed the show to have a satisfying conclusion, but I really wish that the show had been allowed to take years to get there.


This show was seriously second until I saw the unaired episode Epitaph One on the BluRay.  I thought for sure that Life On Mars was going to win, but I couldn't do anything but put this show first after seeing Epitaph One.  It is a game changer of a finale that payed off all of the potential that this show possessed.  It really isn't surprising considering that the show got better each and every week and the potential for so much deep stuff was there but in the beginning was barely touched upon.  The unaired finale promised that given the time this show will not only touch on it all, but will blow your frakking minds with it!  I'm so excited that this show is getting a second season and can only hope that it begins to find the audience that it deserves.  Do yourself a favor and go out and buy or rent or netflix season one of this show and watch it all (including Epitaph One) and get ready for Joss Whedon to reward you like never before with season two!  Wow, that sounded kind of like an advertisement, but seriously, this man has never let us down before (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Serenity, Dr. Horrible) and if given the chance, Dollhouse could actually become his greatest work.

So, Dollhouse is your winner, congratulations.  It marks the third time that a show has won the award and gotten a second season (to two times where it has not, oddly it has been every other year, bad news for next years winner and for us as fans of good tv).  It marks the first win by FOX (the first two were by ABC, the last two by NBC, boding well for FOX next year, then maybe CBS will join the fun?).  And it marks the fourth time (out of five) that a Science Fiction show has won (well, I know what I like, what do you want from me?).

Until Next Time, what was your favorite new show of the last season and what shows are you looking forward to next year?