September 10, 2009

Getafilm Gallimaufry: Lorna, Basterds, Slumdog, and Sellouts

[Note: This series is comprised of scattered thoughts on various movie-related topics. I was simply looking for a word that started with the letter "g" that means collection or assortment. Lest you think I'm some elitist wordsmith, I'd never heard of "gallimaufry" and I don't even know how to say it, but it was the only other option the thesaurus provided aside from "goulash" (too foody) and "garbage" (no).]

I suppose I should explain my reasoning for this since it's the first time around. I'm basically imagining these to be mini-reviews and commentaries on all kinds of movie bits that don't really deserve their own post. Sometimes I have an opinion about a recent movie but I don't feel like writing a proper review. Other times I have a random thought or remembrance about a movie, or I read an article or blog post that stirs an idea in my mind. I figure if I record them here I'm less likely to forget them. Here goes...

Lorna's Silence (A-)

Local film critic Colin Covert recently used the term "ethical thriller" to describe the film genre that includes movies like Lorna's Silence. I love that categorization, and if this is what the Dardenne brothers are masters of then I need to see more of their films, probably starting with the much buzzed about L'enfant from a few years ago.

There's something about this kind of puzzle-piece filmmaking that gets me every time: no setup, no introduction to the characters, no sense about anything at all. We're just blindly dropped in the middle of the story, with only our critical thinking ability, patience, and focused attention to lead us out. If you like to be spoon fed plot details, this is obviously not the kind of movie for you.

Two other great nuggets about this movie are its exploration of illegal immigration (Albanians in Belgium, a refreshing break from the norm) and the revelatory performance by Arta Dobroshi as Lorna, who looks so much different in the photo gallery on her IMDb profile that I wouldn't have thought it was the same person. Even more unbelievable is the fact that this is only her third acting role. It earned her a Best Actress nomination at the European Film Awards but she lost, somewhat deservedly, to Kristin Scott Thomas in I've Loved You So Long.


Tarantino and a Terrific Trio

I didn't think a movie could be dissected to death more than The Dark Knight was last year, but here Inglourious Basterds is, another movie that draws a primarily male fanbase like kittens to fresh milk. Or Nazis to fresh milk, as it were.

I'm not a Tarantino fanboy, having passively watched the Kill Bills and skipping Grindhouse/Death Proof entirely (something I'm sure I'll have to remedy since the feature length version of Machete is due out in the next year). But I love his movies from the 90's, and to the extent that Inglourious Basterds is like those movies, well I love it, too. So that's about half the movie, and the rest I could do without. Even though the majority of dialogue in Tarantino movies is eye-rollingly witty banter between killer and victim, it still makes for an entertaining show (repetitive and increasingly stale with each movie, but entertaining nonetheless).

Though I can't deny the talent this guy has behind the camera, I also can't help but think he would be absolute repulsive in casual conversation. Part of it has to do with what seems like a real fetish with violence, and part of it has to do with quotes like this: (on Landa) "I knew Landa was one of the best characters I’ve ever written...I literally had to consider I might have written an unplayable part."; (on the misspelling of the film's title) "Here's the thing. I'm never going to explain that. You do an artistic flourish like that, and to explain it would just take the piss out of it and invalidate the whole stroke in the first place."

Could he be any more smug?

Variations on my facial expression if I were in a conversation with Quentin Tarantino...

At least we can be thankful the guy doesn't act in his own movies. On the contrary, he casts the perfect actors to play his "unplayable" characters. Christophe Waltz (left) is an absolute revelation, a force to be reckoned with both in the film and in the Oscar race. It's at least the best performance in the last two years, and arguably better than DD-L's Daniel Plainview.

Daniel Brühl (middle) was driving me crazy throughout Inglourious Basterds. I knew I had seen him in another movie, I knew I had greatly enjoyed him in another movie, and I had no idea what it was. 2 Days in Paris? Hmm, yes but no. The Bourne Ultimatum? No...ah, of course! The Edukators, an UMOTM if there ever was one.

And then there is Michael Fassbender who has, with Hunger and Inglourious Basterds, quite possibly risen to the top of my "must-watch" list, perhaps bumping Christian Bale out of the spot he's held for the last few years. This guy is absolutely terrific in some really challenging roles. I'm not crazy about his upcoming movies, but I'll deal.

As superb as these three actors are in Basterds, their combined excellence is almost negatively outweighed by Eli Roth's cartoonish, buffoonish, look-I'm-in-the-same-movie-as-Brad-Pitt smirkiness. It's unbearable.

For my thoughts on Inglourious Basterds as a whole, I'll direct you to the excellent review written by Manohla Dargis.


Revisiting the Slumdog Soundtrack

Some songs from the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack came up on my MP3 player the other day. I hadn't heard them for a few months but found that I enjoyed them just as much as when my giddiness about the movie was at its peak. I also realized that said giddiness about the movie was partly due to the music of A.R. Rahman. If you didn't like the music in this movie, it must have been hard to connect with it in an emotional or otherwise meaningful way. In other words, all of the people who hated this movie (and boy, they were a vocal group, weren't they?) probably hated, or at least disliked, the music as well.

Sold Out, Shut Out

A couple of weeks ago was a free screening of Into Temptation, a locally-filmed drama starring Jeremy Sisto and Kristin Chenoweth. The trailer shows some great shots of Minneapolis, which piqued my interest much more than the story of a suicidal prostitute and the priest that tries to save her. Of course I only watched the trailer after the fact, so I guess I'm not sure why I went in the first place if the story didn't grab me.

Turns out it grabbed a lot of other people's interest, though, because the Edina was packed to the gills. I found out the hard way, showing up a few minutes before showtime to find that a waiting list had formed for no shows and empty seats. A seat opened here, a couple seats opened there. The name above me on the list got in; I didn't. Since I was the last one on the list, that means that I was literally the only person who showed up for this movie and didn't get to see it.

It was my own fault of course (my excuse this time: I was getting my bike fixed and running late), and it's definitely not the first time this has happened. My refusal to watch trailers, even inside the theater, means that I usually time my arrival to my seat for 10-12 minutes after the posted showtime, or 15-20 minutes for summer blockbusters that have up to 47 trailers before the movie. For screenings like Into Temptation, I usually show up "right on time", meaning right at the stated showtime, not 10 minutes early like a normal person.

So it's always a guessing game as to where I'll be able to sit in the theater, if I'll truly miss the last preview or, in some cases, if I'll even get into the theater at all. I rarely go to the movies on the busiest nights (Fri/Sat), so when I'm shut out because of a sellout on a weeknight I'm usually pretty frustrated. Makes no sense, I know. How can I complain about something that's my own fault?


  1. Daniel - I enjoyed your comments about Inglourious Basterds. I'm not a big fan of Tarantino - I'm more a fan of him as a movie lover - but I love this movie (more than you, it seems). Here's where ignorance of filmography is bliss - as you intimated in a previous post - that is, I had no idea who Eli Roth is! I saw Saw, but I had no clue he was the director. Yeah, Roth is not a great actor, but he didn't aggravate me because I had no clue who he was. Thus, he did not mar my enjoyment of this film.

  2. Daniel, you always bring forth a much-needed balance and wit to your analysis. I liked your needling of Tarantino even though I fell for Inglourious Basterds, and I utterly appreciate your comprehensive take on the film, which I think is entirely defensible.

    I agree with you, in essence, that it's his best and most mature outing since Jackie Brown and it was good to see him stretching himself once again.

    He is a smug man. Some of his quotes sound a lot like early Bob Dylan; you're not sure if he's a genius or an idiot, or just an arrogant SOB, but he's a character himself, and I enjoy that aspect of him even as I sometimes grimace from it.

    Great work as always.

  3. Hokahey, to the extent that your ignorance prevented you from recognizing Eli Roth, my ignorance probably prevented me from appreciating a lot of the references Tarantino was making here.

    And good for you and Alexander for both successfully separating QT the filmmaker from QT the person. I have a really hard time doing so; I feel like his own personality comes through in his films much more so than almost any director. I admit that he's a character, and thus an entertainer, but still somebody who I don't think I'd enjoy hanging around all that much. Funny comparison to Dylan, too, hehe.

    I see you've written a veritable tome about IB in your return - I'll grab my dictionary and check it out soon. ;-P

  4. Finally, finally, finally!

    Dan Getahun has returned sanity to the cinematic landscape. True a few others whom we both know have dismissed it, but only today has a firm position been asserted with that reference to Manohla Dargis's superb NEW YORK TIMES pan. I've seen this film twice, and the second view did nothing to reverse my earlier issues. But of course, while I do agree with you lock, stock and barrel Dan, there are others including Alexander Coleman (who penned a Hall of Fame 5,300 word review) who have defended the film to the hilt. Like you Dan, I have never been a Tarantino fanboy, and I've had problems with his sadistic strek since the sickening ear amputation in RESERVOIR DOGS. The Louisville Slugger bashings in IG gives that gruesome set piece a run for its money though. But the film is a major bore otherwise.

    Fair enough recap there on LORNA'S SILENCE. I liked it for sure, but a bit less than other Dardennes.

    Count me as a huge fan of the SLUMDOG score!

  5. My thoughts on Basterds as well, Daniel. I liked about 2/3 of the film. I thought it overlong and downright boring in parts, like a print author who's gotten too big to edit. And Roth was horrible.

    On the other hand, Tarantino does have boucoup talent. Some of the set pieces were terrific. And Christophe Waltz and Bruhle were terrific as well.

  6. Haha, Sam, I'm happy enough be to your comrade in arms in this battle about the movie, if not the war about Tarantino. Really, I'm imagining it was all QT could do to not include himself in those scalping scenes. Can't you just see him giggling with glee as he tortures or mutilates someone, all the while reciting winking, witty dialogue?

    I really didn't expect this movie to be the most divisive of the year (nothing is even close so far), but it's done wonders for IB's box-office gross, making it the most commercially successful film of Qt's career so far, no doubt thanks to many repeated theater viewings.

    Rick, I'd say I liked about 5/8 of it, with the lesser half being Roth, Krugman's accent (particularly when she's speaking in English, exaggerating her native German accent that she mostly erased in the National Treasure movies), and QT's obvious pleasure at the pain and death so omnipresent in his story.

    Aside from the incredible acting performances, though, I should throw a bone to the cinematographer and production designers, too, because this movie looked amazing from start to finish.

  7. Quentin Tarantino films have two reviews: the one you post immediately after you see the movie and the one you amend later on down the road. My experience has been that Tarantino's films change as you do and I have run into more than a few movie lovers whose feelings about Reservoir Dogs or Jackie Brown or Kill Bill have changed over time, usually for the better.

    I don't know if that will be your experience, Daniel, but if I had my way, bloggers would be looking at Death Proof right now and save their report on Inglorious Basterds until time has passed. That said, I can't fault unadulterated passion and Tarantino definitely knows how to elicit this from the film fanatic in us all.

  8. Funny you should mention that, Joe, because my thoughts on IB here would have been much harsher had I written them immediately after seeing it. But there was a good 2+ weeks from when I saw it to when I wrote this, and you're exactly right that it already started to grow somewhat in esteem. On the other hand, I was pretty much in on Jackie Brown from the first viewing in the theater, much like many people were for IB. So it varies from film to film, but I think you're right.

    However...I've heard more than one person talk about how Pulp Fiction has actually diminished a bit on repeated viewings. I'm not sure if that's happened yet for me (and I can't even remember the last time I watched it all the way through), but there's a good chance my disdain for QT's attitude at this point will color every viewing of his movies.

    Thanks for the thoughts.


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