Three film review: Inglorious Basterds, Watchmen & Transformers 2
INGLORIOUS BASTERDS (4 stars out of 5)
Inglorious Basterds: You can never mistake a Quentin Tarantino film. Its a unique entity, hard to fit into any particular genre. 'Inglorious Basterds' is a film about war but like most of Tarantino's work, it defies characterization. This wicked and wild film gives us an alternate version of World War 2 filled with fun, over-the-top characters and implausible events.
The story begins with despicable Nazi officer Col. Hans Landa (played with wonderful villainy by Christopher Waltz), who is known as "the Jew Hunter", tracking down and killing the family of young Shoshanna. He allows her to live, enjoying watching her run scared into the hills. Years later, an adult and beautiful Shoshanna (Melanie Laurent) is living under an assumed name and running a movie theater, all the while harboring thoughts of revenge.
Meanwhile, a group of Jewish-American soldiers known as the 'Basterds' are becoming a thorn in the Nazi's sides. Their mission has no real objective except to spread terror among the enemy by savaging as many German officers as possible. Despite the unlikelihood of their survival behind enemy lines, the Basterds succeed gloriously (or inglouriously) in their task. The leader of the group is Lt. Aldo Rain, (Brad Pitt) an odd but efficient southerner who instructs his men that each must collect 100 Nazi scalps. He likes to brand Nazis by carving a swastika in their forehead. Pit plays Rain with a comically bad southern accent but his attempt at Italian is even more hilariously (and intentionally) ridiculous.
The Basterds are sent to meet with German movie star Bridget Von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger) who is a double agent for the Allies. Despite the job going horribly wrong, Bridget gives the Basterd's information that could end the war...A chance to assassinate half the German high command, including Hitler!
The main characters--Rain, Shoshanna, Hammersmark and Col. Landa--all collide at a movie premier dedicated to young war hero Frederick Zoller (Daniel Bruhl). Zoller lusts after Shoshanna and that leads to the movie premier being held at her humble theater. After years of planning, she has the elite of the Nazi party in her grasp, including the man she hates most, Col. Landa. Meanwhile, the Basterds are on their way, planning to accomplish a similar mission, with no knowledge that there's already such an attempt in the works.
Melanie Laurent is excellent as Shoshanna. She is sultry and calculating, yet also vulnerable and sympathetic. But the real scene stealer here is Waltz as Col. Landa, who creates a delightfully wicked portrayal of a man without conscience and yet oozes charm. Col. Landa is droll, personable and funny, always a step ahead of everyone around him. When his amiable facade disappears, we see the monster underneath the schemer. This is an academy award worthy performance.
The movie as a whole mocks standard conventions of film making, as do many of Tarantino's movies and his film-within-a film here probably breaks all the rules they teach at film school. "Inglourious Basterds' gives us an alternate ending to World War Two that history should have given us. Caricatures of Hitler,Goebbels and other Nazis are present and they only serve to show that Tarantino is deliberately trying to impress on us that this is not a serious look at the war or Hitler. Its just a surreal war/drama/action flick that defies description. And its a good one.
WATCHMAN (3 & a half stars out of 5)
WATCHMEN: Zack Snyder's big-budget adaptation of Alan Moore's Magnum Opus is an excellently realized piece of cinema and a long awaited dream for some fans. 'The Watchmen', written in 1985, is the most award winning Graphic novel in the history of multi-media, and was often thought to be unfilmable. Many directors including Terry Gilliam and Ron Howard had attempted to translate the much loved adventure story to celluloid but gave up. After a wait of over 20 years, fans of the book were thrilled when Snyder (Director of "the 300") successfully brought the cult classic to life.
The brilliance of "the Watchmen' book was that it turned the concept of the Super Hero genre on its head and did something with the idea that no one had tried before. The movie manages to capture the idea, albeit in an abridged form. The story deals with how the world would change--and not necessarily for the better--if super heroes were to actually exist among us.
'The Watchmen' deals with the fact that the public fears these costumed beings just as much as it worships them. There's a fine line between adulation and dread. Especially when the all-power Doctor Manhattan (Billie Crudup) makes his appearance. Doctor Manhattan is so powerful he could destroy the world if he ever had a mind to. And he seems to be drifting farther and farther away from normal humans. What happens if the ultimate weapon loses his humanity? The Soviet Union is so terrified of Doctor Manhattan that they're considering a pre-emptive nuclear strike against America before Doctor Manhattan comes after them. The public is so intimidated by Manhattan and the others that the government passes a law prohibiting costumed vigilantes, unless they agree to work directly for the President. (Nixon in his fourth term.) The heroes either comply or retire.
However, some of the retirees find that a life without purpose--which they found as members of the crime fighting team, the Watchmen--is a life unfulfilled. The only one who seems content with retirement is the super-brilliant and filthy rich Adrian Veidt, AKA Ozymandias. He is working relentlessly on the social problems of the world including creating new power sources to replace fossil fuels.
Then one day, ex-super hero Eddie Blake, AKA the Comedian,(Jeffery Dean Morgan) is killed. No one gives his death much thought, since Blake was a sociopathic bully and everyone chalks his murder up to revenge by one of his many old enemies. Everyone, that is, except Rorschach, (Jackie Earl Haley) the only super hero who refused to retire or work for the government. He's still an independent agent and thus sought by the police.
Rorschach has the mind of a film-noir detective and he decides to investigate. He finds some disquieting clues that lead him to believe that Blake's death was not random and that someone is tracking down and eliminating members of the Watchmen. His former best friend and fellow hero Dan Dreiberg, AKA the Nite-Owl (Patrick Wilson) is unconvinced, as is Ozymandais. As for Doctor Manhattan, he's too above-it-all to care. Doctor Manhattan's beautiful girlfriend Laurie Jupiter, AKA the Silk Spectre, (Malin Ackerman) is so upset by the way the Doc is changing that she reunites with Dan and an old flame is rekindled. But what will happen if the most powerful man in the world finds out? And when an attempt is made on Ozymandais, it seems that Rorschach's theory is correct. Is someone trying to kill the retired masked men? If so, who?
Alan Moore's book is so multi-layered that it would be impossible to get it all on screen, even in a 2 hour and 40 minute film like this. (The Director's cut, which is also on sale, is 3 hours.) But Snyder does a credible job of condensing the material. The performances are mostly excellent, particularly, Haley, Crudup and Morgan. (The weakest is by Ackerman who is more eye-candy than an actress.) All in all, a triumph, but probably not for everyone's taste.
TRANSFORMERS 2: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN**(One & a half stars out of 5)
TRANSFORMERS 2: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN;The titular robotic creatures known as 'Transformers' can change themselves from one thing to another. Its too bad the script of this film couldn't be transformed into something remotely artful or imaginative. Instead, Michael Bay delivers a plethora of fights, explosions and expensive special FX, but very little else.
The mega-success of the original Transformers automatically insured that this sequel would be made. Unfortunately, as with many sequels, the film gives us bigger instead of better. Michael Bay does Big-and-Loud very well and if that's what your looking for, Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen delivers with gusto. But if you're a fan of the original animated series or merely a film fan looking for something a tad smarter than Rock 'em-Sock 'em robots, you're out of luck.
The story revolves once again around young Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBouf) who is off to college, (probably just to get away from his annoying comedy relief parents), not realizing that he has something in his brain that is desperately sought by those evil alien robots the Decepticons. Their leader Megatron (Voice of Hugo Weaving) is back in action, reunited with his ancient mentor, 'the Fallen' (Voice of Tony Todd) who has an audacious plan to destroy the sun. But first they need whats inside Sam's head.
The ever noble Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) and his loyal Autobots have united with the US army to battle Decepticons all over the world (Strangely, the Autobots have not offered their services to any other government, thus requiring the US to send their elite team of alien hunters all over the world to assist Optimus.) But the American government isn't satisfied with the Autobot's offer of protection. A typically nasty Presidential Envoy wants the Autobots to leave Earth. (Now there's gratitude for you!)
When Optimus is destroyed while protecting Sam, its party time for the bad robots who know that only a Prime robot can stop them. Its left up to a typical college teenager to find a way to revive Optimus and save the world. He is assisted by former agent Simmons (John Tutoro) who is living with his mother now; and by Sam's completely idiotic, cowardly roommate Leo (Annoyingly portrayed by Ramon Rodriguez.) and, of course, by Sam's gorgeous girlfriend Mikaela. (Played once again by sexy screen siren Megan Fox.)
Mikaela is the perfect girlfriend. Not only is she a total knockout, but she also overlooks the fact that she catches Sam in a compromising position with another woman and his unwillingness to use the 'L' word. Not only that, she also doesn't mind that she is constantly dragged into life-and-death situations regarding alien robots. She also fixes cars and trains captured robots to be her obedient servant. (Obviously it must be a male robot.) Talk about a good catch!
Kevin Dunn and Julie White reprise their roles as Sam's ridiculously silly parents Ron and Judy Witwicky. The scene where mom Judy accidentally gets high and makes a fool of herself on campus is too long and completely pointless. Neither of them is as gratingly annoying as roomate Leo, however. He has several crude scenes. In fact, much of the humor in this movie is unnecessarily vulgar, considering that its based on a kids cartoon.
The Transformers themselves seem to be nothing more than plot devices here. (A McGuffin is the industry term for an object critical to the plot but which is given very little screen time) The plot and dialogue is carried almost entirely by Sam and the human characters. Megatron gets the most to say, spewing some human-hating villain lines. And an antiquated, reformed Decepticon with an English accent named Jet-Fire gets to do some necessary exposition.
Most of the Autobots, such as Ironhide (Voice of Jess Harnell) or Ratchet (Robert Foxworth) have two or three lines. Bumblebee still doesn't talk and uses convenient movie quotes which are strangely being broadcast over the radio to communicate. The only ones who do get a lot to say are, unfortunately the Twins, Skids (Tom Kenny) and Mudflap (Reno Wilson). The Twins have ape-like bodies and speak like rejects from the Def Comedy Jam. Why do these two get more dialogue than the other robots? Apparently Michael Bay thinks racist stereotypes are funny. A better question is why would Optimus bring these two idiots with him to fight a war?
The director and script writers seem to have no idea how to get characters from one place to another and use the lamest bits of writing to transport their characters around the world, such as being teleported through a magic circle or having the military throw a government liaison out of a plane so they can covertly slip off to fight the Decpticons. Or when Sam and the Auotbots (disguised as cars) get past border guards without any passports and mostly without any drivers behind the wheel. You'd think that would raise a few eyebrows.
There is plenty of action and mayhem for those looking for excitement. The special effects are very good. However, if you're looking for anything more than that, skip this unequal sequel and rent something else.