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.

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