Inglourious Basterds (2009)


Spell check hates that title. It’s kind of funny, for quite a while I was never a huge Quentin Tarantino fan. His movies were alright (alright, alright, alright). But I just wasn’t in love with them. But one day, seemingly overnight, that all changed. I was IN LOVE with them. I think the moment that changed it all was probably the first time I saw Inglourious Basterds. Or maybe it was some random interview with Quentin (he is so fun to listen to). Or some combination of the two. Anyways, after that I have come to re-watch nearly all of his films and come away worshiping the ground he walks on. Ok, not quite. But still, Tarantino is definitely one of the most interesting directors of our time.
Quentin has many good films, but personally I think Inglourious Basterds is his masterpiece (he seems to agree if the end of the film is anything to go by).

Quentin is a master of dialogue (come on, that Reservoir Dogs scene is the shit! ).
Quentin does it again in Basterds with the opening scene between Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) and the French dairy farmer. Quentin doesn’t lose his touch for dialogue even when the majority of it is IN ANOTHER LANGUAGE. That’s what I enjoy the most about the film, listening to the different languages in conversations that are energetic. I’ve always loved listening to other languages and that combined with the great actors makes this movie so enjoyable. There is great chemistry between everyone and even though the movie is a little long, the quick witted conversations make it seem a lot shorter.

One of my favorite scenes (among many).
One of my favorite scenes (among many).

While Quentin focuses a lot on dialogue he doesn’t neglect the visuals. He keeps the camera moving during long dialogue scenes or places it at varying angles to keep the audiences eye engaged. Just watch that opening conversation and how the camera glides behind the characters, is placed slightly below them or how to slowly zooms in on their eyes as critical information is revealed. Quentin is a slave to the details and it works so well! It also helps that Christoph Waltz is amazing as Hans Landa. He captures the charm and menace of the character and captivates the audience all the while. No wonder he won the Oscar.

Melanie Laurent as Shoshanna.
Melanie Laurent as Shoshanna.

The other outstanding actor here (amongst many of them) is Melanie Laurent as Shoshanna. She is another great, strong female character who definitely belongs alongside Tarantino’s other great creations (the Bride, Jackie Brown, Mia Wallace, etc). She takes down Hitler! It doesn’t get more bad ass than that. I also love Michael Fassbender (this was the first film I noticed him in = Fassinator for life!), Daniel Bruhl, Eli Roth, Diane Kruger, etc. Brad Pitt is good but his accent annoys me (other than “bongiorno”) as does Mike Meyers (seriously, why is he there?!)

If you are a fan of Tarantino you will love Inglourious Basterds. And if you’re not, you will probably hate it. You will also hate it if you are a history snob or if you have your head up your ass. But if you like witty, funny movies that take a few risks than you should love this. Is the plot totally logical and realistic? No, but it’s a heck of a lot of fun. 8.5/10

This is an extremely interesting video essay that has really impacted the way I watch Tarantino films from now on (I bet you never thought of food like this before):

Seven (1995)


It’s hard to believe that this film is nearly twenty years old and I only saw it for the first time last year. Granted, I’m only 22 years old. But still. It’s such a good film, I don’t know how I managed so long without seeing it or hardly even hearing about it. I guess it was actually a bit of a blessing though as I managed to go into the film without having any knowledge of what happens in the end. Since last year I’ve watched Seven (or is it Se7en?) 5 times because it is so brilliant and the best David Fincher film I’ve ever seen.

Soul shattering heart break.
Soul shattering heart break.

This is the film that really launched Brad’s dramatic career. This film shows that Brad is more than a pretty face. The boy can act. More than that he can keep up with Morgan Freeman and Kevin Spacey, two of the all-time greats. Detective Mills (Brad) is likeable in a young, innocent, naïve way. Brad is great sauntering around, cocky and asking too many questions. His evolution over the course of the film is believable and organic. You can really see Mills becoming more and more like Somerset (Morgan Freeman) especially by the end of the film. As great as Brad is, you can tell that this is one of his first major roles. He doesn’t have too much practical experience, much like Mills. He isn’t an amazing actor, I think he just happens to have a lot of similarities with Mills. He fits the role, he’s just being more like himself most of the time than acting. At least that’s the impression I got. So Brad is good, but one of the weaker points of the film.

Somerset (Morgan Freeman) and Mills (Brad Pitt).
Somerset (Morgan Freeman) and Mills (Brad Pitt).

Morgan Freeman as Detective Somerset is the emotional anchor of the film. He is the real protagonist although he doesn’t have as dramatic an arc as Mills. This is my favorite Morgan Freeman role. Sometimes Morgan just walks into a film and says “I’m God,” takes his cheque, and leaves. He doesn’t have to do much because duh, he’s Morgan Freeman. His voice simply makes things dramatic. But in Seven he really has fully realized this character and seems to have fun playing the part. His acting is a huge part of what makes the final scene so intense. Just the way he looks at that box… I especially love how he says “I’ll be around” at the very end. You can hear the emotion in his voice as he resigns himself to continuing to work in such a cruel world.

Acting doesn't get any better than Kevin Spacey as John Doe.
Acting doesn’t get any better than Kevin Spacey as John Doe.

It’s the combination of Morgan Freeman and Kevin Spacey that make this film truly amazing. Sometimes the first half or so of the movie kind of drags for me. They don’t know who the killer is and they just keep investigating one killing after another. But once Kevin walks into the police building calling “Detective” suddenly things get incredibly exciting. When you see how well Kevin inhabits the role of John Doe it’s hard to believe he was hired just days before shooting began. I couldn’t imagine anyone else in the role. Even the way John dunks his tea bag is riveting! 1995 was truly his year as The Usual Suspects also came out. He is one of the greats, just remarkable in everything that he does. And he brings a kind of dark humor to John Doe as well. But he is just so horrifying, especially as he so casually tells Mills what he did to his wife. John Doe is so calm, it’s eerily magnetic. Kevin as John Doe has had a huge impact on movies that can still be seen today. Part of the Joker as depicted in The Dark Knight is a total rip off of him (as great as Heath Ledger is).

Tracy (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Mills (Brad Pitt).
Tracy (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Mills (Brad Pitt).

Gwyneth Paltrow is also surprisingly good and pleasant. I’m not a huge fan of hers, I think her off-screen persona has become very alienating. It’s hard to distinguish her from her characters these days, she’s lost some of her believability. But in Seven she is fresh and young and perfect as Mills’s wife, Tracy. She is the true innocent in the film, guilty of no sin that I can see. Her scenes with Mills and Somerset over dinner and again with Somerset in the diner are crucial to the success of the film. Anyone less attractive or kind would have diminished the film and the impact of the final act. But you truly feel sorry for her and her depression and she is also funny. Her loss seems to hurt the audience and Somerset almost as much as it hurts Mills. The ending would mean nothing if the audience did not care for her so much. Gwyn’s performance is powerful in a quiet way.
David Fincher has done truly incredible work with this film. I don’t know if he can ever top it. Everything just comes together to create the perfect image and story. The set design is dark and gritty. You can really understand why Tracy hates living there so much. It’s depressing. The opening credits are also incredible. Creepy. Disturbing. They seem like something John Doe himself put together. I really appreciate the attention to detail, which David is quite famous for. Sometime it can make all the difference and that is definitely true of Seven.
What struck me the most this viewing was the amazing cinematography and directing. I don’t know why I never paid closer attention before. Maybe it’s because I just watched this fascinating video a little while ago:
The shots that David chose and the way things are framed… it elevates the story telling so much. You can see that this is a true master at work. If you had asked me before this viewing what I thought of hand held cameras I would have said “Ugh, I hate them. They’re distracting and sloppy.” But when I watched Seven this time I realized that when used at the right time, a hand held camera can generate a lot of excitement. The audience feels they too are participating in the chase. Part of the John Doe chase utilizes this as well as when Somerset runs to Mills after the box discovery. And speaking of the box. The way it is treated and framed in the shot. It lends it so much weight that it feels like its own character before the audience has any idea what’s inside of it. I also really enjoyed the framing used when John Doe and Mills are talking in the car. It could have been shot quite plainly with just shots of John’s face. But instead we see John reflected in the rear view mirror (Somerset’s view) or through the cage screen (Mills’s view). It makes a simple conversation incredibly interesting and literally puts the audience in the places of Mills and Somerset.
Seven is exceptional film making. I have minor problems with the pacing and Brad’s acting. But as I said, that is minor. David Fincher has delivered the ultimate crime thriller. It has emotion, action, horror, surprises, basically everything a viewer could ask for. I can’t stress enough the emotional impact of Seven. It will haunt you. I still get a thrill out of it after multiple viewings. Seven is a true work of art. 9/10

Fight Club (1999)


I felt like re-watching some of David Fincher’s older films because I am extremely excited to see his new film, Gone Girl, when it arrives next week. I absolutely loved the book and I love most of Fincher’s work so it’s a win-win for me. Anyways it’s hard to believe Fight Club is now 15 years old. As I was watching the film last night I found it hard to review because it is so ingrained in pop culture now it would be almost sacrilegious to say something bad about it. Fight Club is based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk. It is about a nameless narrator (for simplicity’s sake I’m just going to refer to him as Jack) played by Edward Norton. Jack lives a boring life where he works at a job he doesn’t like and buys Ikea furniture he doesn’t need. That is until he meets Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter) and Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt).

My favorite part of the film, what makes it so enjoyable to watch are the actors. Edward, Helena, Brad, and even Meatloaf are all excellent. The first half of the film is brilliant because they all bounce off each other so well. Edward’s narration is particularly funny as he discusses how miserable his life is and how much he wants that yin and yang coffee table. Brad is also quite excellent. He exudes so much charisma and machismo he easily draws in the viewer as well as Jack. And I absolutely love his extravagant wardrobe. But my favorite of all the actors by far is Helena, I think she steals the show in any scene she is in. I may be a little biased because I love her in everything she does and also because she is the only woman in the film and really the only character I can relate to. Her timing is perfect and the way she delivers her lines is just hilarious and shocking. One of the most memorable lines (and there are many in the film) is when she tells Tyler “I haven’t been fucked like that since grade school.” I loved every minute she was on screen.

I really love the humor in this film. There is so much of it and it is quite shocking at times. The highlight of the humor for me is pretty much anything to do with Robert Paulsen (Meat Loaf). I guess I just find his big “bitch tits” hilarious, especially when Jack is crying into them. The first half of the film is the more humorous what with the narration and the support groups, so that’s why I prefer it and why I think the film starts to suffer in the second half (basically once Project Mayhem starts).

Edward Norton becomes acquainted with Bob.
Edward Norton becomes acquainted with Bob.

I love how right away the opening credits establish that we are in Jack’s head and the narrative is totally his. My issues with the film mostly have to do with the plot. For the first half of the film there is almost no plot. And it’s awesome. Jack is just going through the motions and meets Marla and Tyler and starts the Club. So things are fun for a while. But right around when Project Mayhem starts suddenly there is a plot and a problem that has to be solved. I found my attention wandering. I don’t care that Tyler is trying to undermine capitalism, I just want to see some fights and laugh at Bob’s tits. I think it might be in part the pacing of the film changes. It’s really fast paced then things start to feel sluggish. Maybe it’s because Tyler disappears for a while and Marla isn’t around much either. The first time I saw Fight Club I did not see the twist of Tyler and Jack being the same person coming. I remember being surprised, but also very confused. I didn’t really understand how it worked then. On the second viewing it is easy to see a million clues pointing to this from the very beginning. Director David Fincher is very clever in how he orchestrates the film by giving you all these hints. He’s very good at walking that tight rope of not giving away too much. The twist is definitely one of the highlights of the film and why it is so memorable. It doesn’t feel cheap to me as some of these things normally do.

I like the commentary on modern society that the film explores. But it is so obvious that it kind of spoils it for me. It just hits you like a rock over the head over and over and over again. I get that society is emasculating men and so Tyler and Jack start the Fight Club as a way to rebel. But I don’t need five different speeches from Tyler telling me this repeatedly. Focusing on the testicular cancer group at the beginning is funny and kind of clever, but not very subtle. The commentary against consumerism is also interesting, but not particularly original. One reading of the film that I found extremely interesting is that the whole film is about Jack’s desire and struggle to commit to a relationship with Marla. I find that rings quite true and you can read more about that theory here:

Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt)
Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt)

I will say that overall I think David Fincher has done a wonderful job. He is able to set up this dark, grungy, violent world and somehow make it seem appealing and glamorous in its own way. The characters are so funny and eccentric the viewer wants to join the Club. I enjoy the themes and overall message of the film, even if at times I find it to be a little heavy handed. I prefer to think for myself a little bit and to be able to draw my own conclusions instead of being force fed them by Tyler Durden. Although maybe that’s the point. We are in Jack’s head after all. 8.5/10

Funny enough Cinema Sins just posted this video: