Ever since the age of 12 when I tricked my grandmother into taking me to the theater to see Pulp Fiction, I have
been a fan of Quentin Tarantino; however plagued I have been with doubts about his actual talent level ever
since its follow-up, Jackie Brown. While that film has only appreciated with age, when I first saw it I
wondered if he would ever be able to attain the greatness of Pulp Fiction ever again. The Kill Bill films and
Death Proof were dumb fun, and never aspired to any higher goal than that, but to me they lacked what I
would call The Tarantino Charm (Kill Bill 2 had its moments for me, though). This is why I am beyond thrilled to
report that his latest film, a revisionist World War II shoot-em-up called Inglourious Basterds, is indeed a
glorious return to form for the greatest director to emerge in the last 15 years.
I don't know what it is about his style, but Tarantino's movies always make me feel like I am watching
something that was made 30 years ago, and in a good way. I think it has to do with the lighting that he uses,
as well as tricks such as the accidentally-on-purpose film blemishes that were found throughout Grindhouse.
The trademark dialogue is back too; the characters don't necessarily talk like real people, however they do talk
like characters in movies should. He even finds a way to show off his genius by shoehorning in a few
references to 1940's pop-culture, reminiscent of the table full of gangsters sitting around ruminating on
Madonna in Reservoir Dogs. As a matter of fact, if Inglorious Basterds recalls any of Tarantino's earlier work,
it would be that film.
Basterds opens with a French peasant farmer chopping wood in an idyllic farmland while his daughter dries
clothes on a nearby clothesline. She is alerted by the sound of an approaching Nazi Caravan, and from then
forward the film achieves a level of tension that does not relent until the beginning of the next chapter, of
which there are five. This tension often returns though, and is rampant throughout Basterds. It is most thick in
scenes that have the involved characters sitting at tables and speaking quietly; voices, for the most part, are
raised only in the films few moments of celebration.
Tarantino continues the fascination with blondes he's seemingly had since Jackie Brown, centering the film
around the sublimely beautiful Melanie Laurent. Laurent plays Shoshana Dreyfus, an escaped Jew living under
an assumed name in Nazi-occupied France, and whose movie theater the Nazis want to use for the climatic
premiere of their latest propaganda film Nation's Pride. In another subplot that converges with all of the others
that the film offers up, Shoshana is relentlessly courted by the film's star, Fredrick Zoller, who happens to also
be a Nazi war hero himself.
The character of Shoshana is more central to the plot even than the eponymous Nazi-hunting Basterds (led by
an hilariously scene-chewing Brad Pitt as Aldo "The Apache" Raine), who get sort of get shuffled off the side
and are barely tangential to the plot. This works however because it turns Inglorious Basterds into a very
different movie than you expect going in, and the results are a pleasant surprise to say the least.
Consequently, when the Basterds are on screen, they quite literally steal the show.
Christolph Waltz portrays the film's most repulsively alluring character, Nazi detective Col. Hans Landa, with a
terrifying smugness. His presence on screen will cause many to shift in their seats; no matter how pleasant
his demeanor or how much he smiles, he has an underlying menace that simply cannot be concealed.
QT even sneaks in some effective stunt casting: see if you can identify who is behind the two disembodied
voices heard in the film. Also amusing is the cameo by Mike Myers, playing a British Officer (imagine a rejected
Austin Powers character) who briefs Michael's Fassbender's film critic-turned-spy while Winston Churchill
sits in a corner and looks on silently. It is a very effective scene that, like many in Inglorious Basterds (and
Tarantino films in general), stop the story completely without slowing the film down. All in the name of
providing exposition to give the following scenes more meaning.
And Basterds is Quentin Tarantino's most meaningful and sophisticated film yet. Nation's Pride is a film-within-
a-film that seems to consist of nothing but a Nazi sniper in a tower taking head-shot after head-shot at
defenseless American Soldiers. The fictional audience simply laps up the display of gratuitous violence, not
unlike the audience that I sat in the theater with did during the film's ultra violent feel-good climax. It's at this
moment that Inglourious Basterds poses a question about violence-as-entertainment that seems like it's barely
meant to register; don't blame yourself for having too much fun to think about it.
I had a bit of a sci-fientific weekend, which I was not a expecting. I had planned for the last week to see District 9, a semi-dystopic/apocalyptic what-if about humans on earth learning to co-exist with stranded aliens who want nothing more than to return to their home planet. While the concept held a lot of promise, the execution proved to be less than stellar; especially in comparison to the other movie that I saw this weekend, Moon.
The back-story of District 9, which is told in a sort of documentary style, goes like this: a mysterious alien ship arrives within the stratosphere of Johannesburg, where it hovers for three years with no indication of its purpose or intent. The African Government finally intervenes and busts open the ship, revealing an entire race of starving aliens who are taken off the ship and placed in slums to reside temporarily where they come to be referred to by unhappy locals as the pejorative "prawns." The aliens inexplicable love of cat food is exploited by merchants who sell them vittles in exchange for lots of cash and weapons from the ship. For some reason, they are also able to pimp out human prostitutes to the aliens as well. Whatever. I was willing to overlook silly details such as this given the premise of the film. At first.
District 9 is centered on Wikus, a field operative of a fictional agency called the MNU (Multi-National United), which aims to confiscate as many alien weapons and technology as possible for military use, which it turns out, only the aliens have the ability to use. Wikus is sent into the alien ghetto to round up as many “prawns” as he can for shipment off to concentration camps, and here the film arbitrarily switches between documentary and narrative storytelling.
At first a sympathetic character, Wikus before long succumbs to the xenophobia and hatred of the alien race shared by his fellow South Africans. While raiding one house, occupied by an alien named Christopher Johnson and his son, Wikus finds a cylinder filled with a curious black liquid that sprays all over him. This liquid happens to be an energy source that Chris planned on using to power the ship back up so that he can get his alien brethren home. This liquid turns out to be the deux ex machina (see Quantum Flux) of the film which catalyzes a major plot point in District 9. You see, not only is the liquid some sort of the fuel for the ship, but it also has the ability to fuse human DNA with Alien DNA. This is one of many eye-rolling contrivances in District 9 that is hard to swallow.
Once he begins to transform from man to prawn, Wikus is forcibly withheld by the MNU for testing with the already confiscated weapons. When they find out that Wikus has the ability to operate the alien guns, they plan to keep him indefinitely before he finds an opportunity to escape. He becomes a fugitive being tracked by the MNU, and one big bad mercenary in particular. His infamy is widened by news reports that he is part alien because he had sex with an alien, complete with photographic evidence. Because that makes sense.
Wikus is also wanted by the local African warlords, portrayed as barbaric cannibals, who believe if they eat the aliens, they will inhabit the alien DNA which will in turn give them the ability to use alien weapons. Sigh.
Wikus, now realizing the folly of his prejudiced behavior, eventually teams up with Chris Johnson, and together they break into the MNU labs and steal the precious liquid, which will not only get Chris and his son home, but will also somehow transform Wikus back into a human so that he can return to his wife and children.
And it continues to get sillier from there. I’m all for suspending disbelief, but I haven’t been challenged so aggressively to take a film seriously like this since I watched Haute Tension. Especially for a movie that attempts to be allegorical about race relations on earth, namely Apartheid, it is especially audacious.
At the halfway point, D9 sadly turns into a sort of low-budget version Transformers, albeit with half a brain. Shame on Peter Jackson for putting his name anywhere near this; District 9 makes Lord of the Rings look like a historical tome. Please wait for the DVD.
We had some free time, so afterward we snuck into Moon, which I had heard of, but was not aware of the exact plot. Being a fan of the lead, Sam Rockwell (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind), was the only motivation I needed. The movie centers around an astronaut, also named Sam, on a three year solo-mission to harvest an energy source called Helium 3 from the moon. The movie begins as Sam is reaching the last two weeks of his mission, and his understandably anxious to return to his family. He is kept company only by a robot named GERTY, who I expected to turn evil and try to kill Sam a la HAL 9000; however this is not the case.
The real plot kicks in as Sam goes on a reconnaissance mission to retrieve more Helium 3. A hallucination causes an accident which knocks him unconscious, and he wakes up an unspecified amount of time later with little memory of what happened. He tricks GERTY, who is put under instructions from home base not to let Sam outside, into letting him leave the spacecraft. Sam takes the rover back out on the surface of the moon to try to investigate the site of his accident and makes a startling discovery. To go any further would ruin the experience, and this is a film that I do not want to spoil.
While District 9 sets its sights on making a statement about the connectedness (or lack thereof) of humans, Moon explores what happens when that connection is broken, and questions whether or not that connection even actually exists; it also manages to take a few jabs towards the end at the lengths of corporate greed. Although a little slow in parts, I really enjoyed watching Sam’s story unfold, as he himself became increasingly unraveled. Catch it while you can.
When Xbox Live was created, it widened the accessibility of multiplayer game to audiences of people all over the world. You longer had to be 'hardcore' to pwn nubs that lived in another city, state, or country; thus, players had more people to compete and cooperate with. Of course, most of those people turned out to be assholes, but that is another post unto itself and one that has been written many times already. All in all, the multiplayer aspect of multiplayer gaming is arguably more rewarding than the single-player experience, because it always feels better to defeat actual human beings than a CPU controlled enemy.
Especially when that person is family. I have a brother in his teen years, and he eventually acquired his very own Xbox. He had come over to my apartment on many a weekend to play mine, and decided that he needed to upgrade from the old ps2 that I had given him with an Xbox of his own. Neither of my parents had a high-speed internet connection in their homes though, so I would still see him every weekend as he would drop by to play online.
We would pass the controller back and forth, watching each other getting shot in the head in Call of Duty 4, or get ripped in half by chainsaw bayonets in Gears of War. We observed each other’s successes and failures while developing strategies for one another, cracking jokes, and telling stories. It was also my time to catch up with how his life was unfolding, and gave me the ability to stay involved.
One day, my father got High-speed internet at his house. Not long after that, my brother brought and kept his Xbox over there. I purchased a subscription to live for 3 months for him. Night after night, we would arrange to be on Xbox Live at the same time so that we could play together. It was all good for a while, and I especially liked the fact that we could be on a team together in Call of Duty 4 that consisted only of myself, my brother, and other Xbox owning friends that we both had.
After a while though, I started to realize that the only time that my brother and I spent together was online. Less and less would he and I share any actual physical space. The time we spent in an actual room together was usually due to circumstances beyond our control, and very short lived. We would split apart as soon as possible so that we could go to our respective couches and “spend time together” that way. And that was fine with us.
Soon I noticed that something was missing, however. Gone were the moments of true bonding, as most of our conversations only pertained to the task(s) at hand, and while we still joked around, we were never really able to get personal as we always had other people in our conversations. It was ironic to me that the very thing that was meant to bring us together began to separate us.
Eventually my brother’s live subscription ran out, and with him being a 7th grader, wasn’t able to re-subscribe on his own. He began coming over again and we were able to pick up where we left off. We also do other activities like going to movies and concerts. I am sure in the future, his subscription will be renewed and we will get to team up again when Call of Duty 6 or some other hot multiplayer title hits the streets. But I will be sure to work in real one-on-one quality time with my bro, because I want to be more to him than just another NPC.
You have heard about the full co-op. You've caught wind of customizable characters and the overwhelming amount of things to do in Saint's Row 2 already.
I am still somewhat skeptical of the projections of this game's success. Don't get it twised; Valve can do no wrong. But that is only because they haven't done any wrong yet. Here's hoping this game delivers, and is not immediately flooded with Team Killers. Oh, you know the team killers are going to come all over this game just like they do your momma!
Then I remembered that combos are absolutely vital. When you go through the game trying to make every attack an 8x, the face of the game becomes entirely different, and strategy becomes a factor. It is quite challenging at times to find 8 enemies on screen, especially with 3 or 4 missiles coming at you.
Pretty sure I am going to be home-bound most of this weekend because our local casino here in Minneapolis, Mistake Lake, took all my money away. Tonight, I thought I would host some Friday Night Fights. I wanna start off with CoD4 on Xbox 360. So for those of you unfamiliar with the drill, leave your gamertag down below in the comments and I will sweep through here later and add ya.
Anyway, RezHD is a fantastic game. I know I expressed some concern that perhaps I had just wasted some money directly after purchasing it, but soon afterward I found myself enjoying it quite a bit once the game started making sense. I blew through all of the 5 areas and got to work on some of the Beyond modes.
I have even wished my 12 year old sibling good luck on his SATs and choice of college and career. Not because I plan to still be immersed in GTA IV six years from now, but after to so much exposure to the antics of Niko and his Cousin Roman, the other citizens of Liberty City.. after all the crime and sex and murder, and FUN, that I am about to subject myself to.. I might not have the mental capacity to do such in the next 6 years. I expect to have more brain damage than Little Jacob and to be just as unintelligible. And most likely, I won’t have time to post anything here in the meantime. It’s time for me to STFUAJPG, and I believe that time has come for many of you as well.
TIME Magazine has given Grand Theft Auto IV their Game of the Year, awarding it the number one game for
2008. Here's the list:
1. Grand Theft Auto IV (PS3, 360, PC)
2. Braid (360)
3. LittleBigPlanet (PS3)
4. Rock Band 2 (360, PS3)
5. Gears of War 2 (360)
6. Dead Space (360, PS3, PC)
7. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (Wii, 360, PS3, DS, PSP)
8. Hunted Forever (free Flash)
9. Fieldrunners (iPhone)
10. Spore (PC)
Of course, this list is BULLSHIT because I'm not seeing Fallout 3 anywhere, but I do see Spore and Hunter