Archive for the ‘Michael Madsen’ Category

MOVIE: Inglourious Basterds (2009)

September 9, 2009

ingbasterdsOne of the things I love about Quentin Tarantino movies is that there’s absolutely no mistaking them for anything else.  If I hadn’t known Inglourious Basterds was a QT film going in, I would’ve called it immediately the moment the film opened with a classic WWII scene paired with an oddball combination of Debussy’s Claire de Lune and the whistles and clangs of spaghetti Western music.  Throw into that mix an homage to just about every film ever made coupled with a story that is both completely unique and brilliantly literary, and what you have is quintessential Tarantino.

This movie opens with two separate stories that, in typical QT style, collide together in the final act like hydrogen nuclei in a fusion bomb.  The first story is about a young Jewish woman, Shoshanna, whose entire family is killed right in front by infamous the infamous “Jew Hunter,”  Nazi Col. Hans Landa (played brilliantly by Christoph Waltz).  For reasons that didn’t make a lot of sense — I’m guessing it’s as simple, and as complicated, as the fact he’s a  sick, crazy bastard — Landa lets Shoshanna escape.  We catch up to her a few years later, where she’s living in Paris under an assumed name, running a movie theater.  A young Nazi soldier, a war hero and the star of the latest Goebbels smash hit, Stolz der Nation (A Nation’s Pride), tries to befriend her.  But when he manages to get the big movie premiere switched to her theater, Shoshanna makes plans for more than just a simple screening.  Revenge, she decides, is a dish best served piping-frakkin’ hot.

The second story in the film is about the Inglourious Basterds themselves.  The Basterds are a group of undercover American soldiers, mostly Jews, who are dropped into France with the sole purpose of “killin’ Nat-zis.”    Think “The Dirty Dozen,” except completely sociopathic.  Led by Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt, rocking a thoroughly embedded Southern accent), each of the Basterds has been assigned the task of taking 100 Nazi scalps apiece.  After taking out dozens and dozens of German soldiers, and not with mercy (to put it mildly), the group has become infamous amongst the German Army.  Everyone fears the Basterds, and the stories of them, and specifically of their cruelest member, “The Bear Jew” (the wild-eyebrowed Eli Roth), quickly begin to rival folklore about the bogeyman.

The stories converge at the end, when each set of characters initiates a separate, complicated plan to destroy the movie theater and, in so doing, kill Hitler and end the war.  Whether or not either plan succeeds is something I’ll leave for you to discover.

Instead, allow me to say a few things about a some of the actors in this film.  First things first, if Christoph Waltz doesn’t win every Best Actor award from the Oscars to the Razzies, he was completely robbed.  His character, Nazi Col. Hans Landa, is, hands-down, the most thoroughly disturbing Tarantino villain since Mr. Blonde in Reservoir Dogs, and for the exact same reasons.  The most bad-ass of any character in a  Tarantino film is always the one the exudes the most calm, and Landa is about as calm as they get.  Had he, at any point, put on the radio and started dancing around a chair singing oldies songs, or begun quoting from Ezekiel 25:17, it would’ve merely been the icing on the holy-mary-mother-of-god terror cake.

And then there’s Brad Pitt, the leader of the Basterds, who continues to surprise me every time I see him of late and, with this film, has finally  established himself in my brain as a goddamn genius as well as a pretty face.   I keep thinking Legends of the Fall, and he keeps sweeping the leg, so to speak.  When we walked out of the movie theater after seeing this film, it occurred to me I couldn’t think of a popular actor in Hollywood right now who was more versatile and talented than Brad Pitt.  And in thinking about it some more since, I’ve still got nuthin’.  Man, I hate it when geniuses are also ridiculously gorgeous.  It’s like a boot to the shins.

Melanie Laurant, who played Shoshanna, was a new one for me, and I also found her a complete revelation.   I thought her acting was brilliant, and loved even more the way Tarantino shot her, with close-ups on her eyes, her lips, her legs making her look like a 70’s psychological thriller siren, when the reality went so incredibly much deeper.  More, more, more play on genre, which is Tarantino’s specialty and one of the primary reasons I think his films get better with repeated viewings than worse.

As for Eli Roth, whose work as a horror director I have long admired, his acting was a bit over-eager and clumsy from where I was sitting, though others I’ve talked to about this movie didn’t notice anything awry.  That might be because I knew who he was, and so I was paying more attention to him than they were.  But in any case,  it hardly mattered, and besides, I’ll forgive him for all of it if his next project is turning his fake Tarantino Grindhouse trailer (Thanksgiving) into an actual film.

And now, to do something Tarantino himself likes to do in his films, I want to end this review by coming full circle back to the way I started it, and that’s with some talk about the Tarantino style.  This movie does a lot of things Tarantino frequently does — it interrupts the story with asides, it pauses the film to slap on a bold character title to let us know who’s who, it throws music together from almost every genre without care for anachronism, it plays with camerawork —  in fact, it plays with just about everything.  Its characters are ridiculously larger-than-life, its women ridiculously more beautiful than life, and its violence so graphic it frequently crosses the border into camp (note to the squeamish, you may want to avert thine eyes during any and all scalping scenes).  I love all those things in Tarantino films.  I love that Tarantino films are completely unmistakable.

THAT SAID, while it always seems to work out brilliantly, including here, I will say I think there’s a point at which Tarantino is going to cross the line from brilliance to overdone predictability, and while I know a gazillion people (or, possibly, EVERYONE) is going to disagree with me on this, I think he’s reached that point.  If his next movie features the same bag of tricks, regardless of the quality of the story, I’m going to sigh with a little impatience even while I lap it all up hungrily.  Go ahead, argue with me.  I’ll listen.  But I’m still right.   Just you wait, ‘enry ‘iggins.  Just you wait.

And the rest of you, go see this movie, because it’s completely insane and absolutely brilliant.  FIN.

[Prequeue me at Netflix | View trailer]

Genre:  Defies classification, really, but let’s go with War.  WAR.
Cast:  Brad Pitt, Melanie Laurent, Christoph Waltz, Diane Kruger, Til Schweiger, Eli Roth, Michael Fassbender, Mike Myers (no, really!)

MOVIE: Tooth and Nail (2007)

May 12, 2008

This movie is one of the annual “8 Films to Die For” series put together by After Dark Horrorfest.  The films are typically released into theaters for a very brief period of time (a weekend, I think), and then head straight to DVD.  I couldn’t swear to it, but I think this is the first time I’ve ever actually watched one of the movies from this series. I’ve seen them around, but to be honest, they always looked so awful I was kind of afraid to give them a try (oh stop — I know YOU think I have no standards, but the reality is I have very specific and exacting standards, they just happen to be much, much lower than yours!).

A couple of weeks ago, however, Dish Network was offering two of the movies from the latest incarnation of this series on Pay-Per-View for one low, low price.  I couldn’t resist a deal like that, so I recorded them both and only just got around to watching the first one this weekend.  And to be honest, though my expectations were extremely low, I have to say this movie was surprisingly not-that-bad!  I mean, it’s pretty bad, of course, but it was also fairly entertaining and had a few truly clever little moments scattered around here and there.  Color me astonished!

The story is set a few years in the future, after humans have depleted all stores and fixins for gasoline on the planet. Without gas, the world has completely fallen apart, and many people have either starved to death or died in violent attacks brought on by other people who are starving to death. So much for Thomas Hobbes being all glass-half-empty when it came to the human race, eh? 

A small group of survivors has holed up together in an abandoned hospital, where they’ve found a ton of food and supplies. One day, a couple of them are out scrounging when they come across a young woman who’s been injured. They take her back to the hospital and are horrified when she describes being attacked by a gang of people she calls “Rovers” — murderous human beings clad mostly in fur (that’s how we know they’re evil, naturally!) and wielding all kinds of Dungeons & Dragons-style weaponry, who kill anybody they encounter and then roast and eat their corpses.  Nom nom nom!  Yumsville!

Somewhat ridiculously, the good guys are all named after cars (Nova, Ford, Durango) and the bad guys are all named after carnivores (Lobo, Jackal, Dingo). Try not to hold this fact against the movie, though — it’s hard, I know, because that’s reallllllly stupid (and also the total opposite of my instincts when it comes to delineating good vs. evil in the modern world, I might add — I’m much more likely to want to root for the carnivorous wildlife than the SUVs, in other words).  But if you can get past the little moments of ridiculousness like these, the rest of the movie isn’t really as bad as it might sound.

Anyway, the Rovers, alas, have followed the young woman to the hospital, and that night, they begin their attack on the little group of survivors. Luckily, they only seem to attack at night, which leaves plenty of daytime for hand-wringing, panicked in-fighting, and scouting around for good hiding places.

The other good news is that it turns out the Rovers are also REALLY stupid. This is always helpful.

Unfortunately, the Cars quickly discover smarts are really no match for the swords when fighting with limited resources in a confined space (“Never fight a land war in Asia!”), and it’s not long before it becomes clear there’s no way they can really compete with the Carnivores.  By the final act of the film, only two Cars are left, though, luckily, they also just so happen to be the smartest characters in the whole movie and, coincidentally, the only two I was rooting for myself.  Oh, frabjous day!

The denouement of this movie was surprisingly clever, if you ask me, and while there were still some elements of it that made me roll my eyes, overall I was impressed with the method used to put the last of the Carnivores out of all of our miseries.  Not sure it would really work, but it was a cool concept that made it a lot easier to forgive some of the extremely silly lines in this movie, such as, “I don’t want to get chopped up by some two-bit ass clowns!” or, “Survival of the fittest: say hello to the winning team, bitch!” 

Actually, that last one’s not too bad, come to think of it. . .

And did I mention that Michael Madsen is in this? Michael Madsen, the Boyfriend whose write-up I still cite as one of my all-time favorites? THAT Michael Madsen!  Is in this movie! I wasn’t sure if I should be glad or disheartened by that fact at first, to be honest (dude, where did your career go, my man?).  Instead, I mostly just ended up being disappointed because clearly the filmmakers didn’t have enough money to pay his salary for more than an afternoon and seriously, they should’ve at least tried putting on a bake sale to keep him in the flick longer.  I would’ve gladly dropped a twenty on some cupcakes for an extra five minutes of Madsen onscreen, myself, and I’m SURE I’m not alone on that score.  Mike is one of the scariest mutha-fathas I have ever seen, and all he has to do to make me pee my pants with fear is simply glare sternly in my direction — frankly, I gots chills already.  Just think of how useful that could be in a film of this nature!  But instead he’s insanely underutilized here and eventually just kind of vanishes without a trace (I never did figure out what happened to him — maybe he got killed and I somehow missed it?).  Missed a bet on that one, fellas.

That said, the other actors do a decent job here themselves, and many of them were also recognizable faces as well (Rachel Miner is from Californication, Rider Strong is from Boy Meets World and Eli Roth’s movie Cabin Fever, Michael Kelly was on the Sopranos, etc.).

All in all, this was a pretty entertaining little movie.  Yes, most of it is kind of stupid.  I recognize that, I truly do.  But if you watch a lot of bad horror movies like I do, you start to appreciate the ones that have a few unique ideas sprinkled into their mixes.  This one had just enough elements that were original to make the parts that were supremely silly mostly forgivable.  For what it is, it’s surprisingly decent.  That’s hardly glowing praise, I realize, but fans of bad horror flicks might find this one worth the price of a rental.  You could do a lot worse.  And if you’re me, you probably already have!

[Netflix me | Buy me]

Genre: Horror
Cast:  Rider Strong, Rachel Miner, Michael Kelly, Robert Carradine, Michael Madsen