Thursday, August 27, 2009

Welcome back, you orthopedical bastard!

You probably know at least one of THOSE GUYS. A guy who's really smart and talented, but just lazy as hell. Instead of going out there, looking for a job or scoring with loads and loads of babes he's just watching movies at home, smoking weed and playing World of Warcraft. You just shake your head and try to meet him at places that are not his house. Because he really is a funny and cool guy when he wants to be!

Now imagine that one day that fellow knocks at your door. You open to find him the slickest fucking Armani suit you've ever seen, and you're pretty sure you're seeing a Ferrari filled to the brim with fine bitches over his shoulder. Before you can ask him "what's all this, Quentin? Didn't you have a raid on Kharazan tonight?" he tells you to SHUSH because he applied for a telemarketing job and is now president of the world and here's a wad of cash and you're now his minister of Getting Blowjobs From Angelina Jolie.

This a vague approximation of what watching INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (why is spellcheck not picking up on "basterds"?) feels like, especially coming on the heels of Death Proof. Like many of Tarantino's films, Basterds is actually a film about film. FELM. But instead of a super hot babe talking our ear off about a movie Quentin likes, an effort is made to incorporate film in a somewhat organic manner. And lo and behold! It works!

Basterds is an ode to film. Italian exploitation as always, but this time there's Hitchcock as well, the art of propaganda is examined and much more shit goes down I am not big enough a cinephile for to understand. In the Basterds universe, everybody sees film as this big and important thing to be respected. Shosanna Dreyfus, one of the protagonists, at one point tells a would-be suitor that "here in France, we respect directors." It's hard not to see Tarantino's own experiences in Cannes reflected in that line. When Brad Pitt's Lt. Aldo Raines says he's happy a German POW chose being beaten to death rather than giving away his countrymen's positions because "it's the closest thing we get to goin' to the movies" in years, that's remarkable. I mean, you'd think he'd say it's the closest thing they'd had to a baseball game in a while. You could say it's probably just a joke by the Raines character, but in a movie so informed by cinema in general, it's likely to be a contribution to the whole "film is kind of a big deal!" theme. As someone who really enjoys movies, it warms the cockles of my heart to see that one of the few things we find out about these characters is that they miss going to the theater. I don't know why there's cockles in/on/around my heart I am not a whale they shouldn't be there what is happening

If you've read up on Basterds, one thing will probably keep coming back: Christopher Waltz' portrayal of SS Colonel Hans Landa. It is, no doubt, the best performance in a movie filled with good ones. The Jew Hunter, as Landa is called, considers himself a detective. Shit, he's even got a Sherlock Holmes gimmick pipe. Unlike Holmes or, say, Batman, Landa spends his time catching enemies of the state rather than criminals. The state being nazi Germany, it's debatable how dangerous the people Landa was sent to hunt down actually were. Whether or not it's up to Waltz' performance or Tarantino's script, it doesn't really look like Landa cares. He just enjoys fucking with people, regardless of the regime he's currently living under. He doesn't so much verbally bury people as allow them to dig their own grave, stand on the edge and ask them what they would like as an epitaph. In this interview with AICN's Jeremy Smith, Waltz professes to believe Landa is not a sociopath, merely a highly intelligent social chameleon. One course of action he takes near the end of the film makes me doubt that particular statement, but that would head into spoiler territory. You'll know it when you see it.

Which brings me to my final point: fist-pumpery (not that kind). I've discussed in an earlier post the joys of simple black-and-white morality in films. Cheering the good guys on as they vanquish the bad guys, living vicariously through cinematic victory. Inglourious Basterds kind of fucks with those expectations. Every nazi save one very minor character is shown to be kind of irredeemably evil. The Basterds are also, in fact, bastards. They kill, torture, maim, scalp and head-butt. This also applies to defenseless prisoners, which definitely paints them more as a bunch of Frank Castles than Steve Rogerses. But the movie is not about KILLIN NATZEES. It's about film. And through the Basterds' (and Shosanna's) cruelty does Quentin reveal his message. The nazis are simply cinematic shorthand for the vilest of the vile. Obstacles.

During the (frankly fantastic) climax, which I shall attempt to discuss without actually spoiling, cinema changes the world. Shosanna's projection quite obviously symbolizes film. A smaller, more subtle, piece of symbolism in the scene is Eli Roth's character Sgt. Donnie Donowitz. His actions in the scene will have audiences talking and laughing and whoooa-ing on the way to the car, to be sure. But were they necessary? Shosanna and Marcel would have gotten everyone in the room regardless. Where Shosanna's projection symbolizes cinema, the eternal and inescapable force, Donnie symbolizes exploitation cinema. It's there along with "real" movies, and it's definitely doing something as well. That something may be gaudy and over the top and shallow and pointless and ludicrous, but sometimes that's just the thing you remember. Even though there may not have been much of a point to it in the first place.

Sometimes film can change the world. But sometimes film can just make you go "hahaha hooooly shittt". Both types are valid.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Internet I do not get you

In the desolate wastes of the most remote corners of Internetia lie small pockets of near-civilization, where forgotten, empty shells of humanoids dwell who remember fondly an animated series of the 80s called GI Joe. Paying no heed to the fact that very cartoon was designed solely to sell them toys, these husks of men will tell you the Joeniverse (I made that up, maybe there's another term, I don't care) has a rich mythology made up of complex, multi-layered characters.

A fan favorite is Snake Eyes. Snake Eyes is a silent ninja who never reveals his face or, indeed, speaks. He is one of those ultimate blank slate characters geeks can project all their insecurities upon. Other examples of such awful non-characters are Master Chief and Boba Fett. Fett is probably the worst example of nerddom latching on to someone who "looks cool", since his greatest achievement is calling the cops on Han Solo. At least (movie) Snake Eyes and Master Chief kill a million dudes.

Which brings me to G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Stephen Sommers' new opus. My morbid curiosity lay not only in the fact that G.I. Joe was inherently an extremely silly concept, but also the fact that Sommers was involved. Here was a guy who, a few years ago, took the premise of Van Helsing battling Dracula, the Wolf Man and made a movie that no doubt still resides securely within the bottom 10 of all theatrical movies I have ever seen. In the immortal words of William Hurt in A History of Violence: "How do you fuck that up?"

So how epically was Sommers gonna fuck up a concept this easy to fuck up? Well, as it turns out, he made it kinda awesome. Not awesome in a good way, mind. The film is very much the cinematic equivalent of playing with your action figures in the back yard. The funny thing is, Sommers really captures that chaotic vibe of "not having them all" and also using He-Man figures or maybe Jurassic Park dinosaurs and shit we broke a vase don't tell mom we're on a mission here.

The plot is a very perfunctory affair, obviously just designed to get you from set piece to set piece. Heck, we even start out in 17th century France, probably because Jimmy had a knights playset he really wanted us to use. Well, okay, sure!

What really makes the film fun are the retarded character backstories we're given in little snippets throughout the film. The main character Duke and his relationship with the evil Baroness is pretty tied to the main plot, but for some reason Sommers thought it necessary to also give us a glimpse into the past of Snake Eyes and his nemesis Storm Shadow (a much snappier dresser, internet).

Their relationship adds literally nothing to the plot, nor does it give you any insight into a character that actually matters. It does probably provide most of the films laughs, as we learn that Storm Shadow was a vindictive and evil child, stabbing fat, benevolent ninja masters in the back during their lunch break with huge katanas. I was wondering when I first saw the fat man who was supposedly both superninjas' master how that gentleman could be a Master Ninja. Getting stabbed in the back by a kid carrying a huge fucking sword, the fellow confirmed my worst suspicions. This man wasn't a very good ninja at all. Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes must have had awesome ninja textbooks. Well, if the girl from Crouching Tiger got that good from a textbook...

Other amazing moments:

*Scarlett, GI Joe's cute redhead, does not believe in emotions. She literally does not believe they exist. Also graduated college at age 12.

*Sgt. Stone is a happy retarded man they keep around the base for some reason. He is played by Brendan Fraser in a montage where his only contribution seems to have been yelling stuff like "OOOHHHH DATS GOTTA HURT! YEAH GOT YA THERE! DAT'S JOE STYLE!" I like to imagine Brendan Fraser also hangs around movie studios like this and occasionally gets cast in things.

*People are called Dr. Mindbender.

*Destro is a French word meaning Destroyer of Nations.

*Ninjas are trained to run like fags.

In the end, it's kind of amazing how much the final status quo of the movie is similar to the one at the end of the first X-Men: the big villains are incarcerated but still very confident (THIS IS MEEEEERELY THE BEGINNING DUKE!) and one shape-shifting henchman has taken the mantle of a figure of authority. I can't lie, the movie kept me very entertained. This was mostly due to the extreme melodrama everything was handled with and some fine actors who knew exactly how to play the material (Miller, Gordon-Levitt, Eccleston, Lee).

I'm actually very glad Sommers decided to spend so much time servicing fans and devoting a small portion of the movie on Snake Eyes' idiotic background. This is one case where a literal translation to screen was the right decision. Not because it was good in any way, or even made much sense, but because it was so amazingly entertaining. I'd see it if you have a sense of humor about these things. I have included a small litmus test below:

Destro and Baroness GET MONEY Song