Starring Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Christoph Waltz, Melanie Laurent, B.J Novak, Diane Kruger, Michael Myers, Eli Roth
Unfolded in a lengthy episodic style, a renegade (or clandestine) group of Jewish soldiers led by Aldo “The Apache” Raine wreak havoc and vengeance on the Nazis during World War II time. Meanwhile, pure evil masquerades as a mischievous rogue in the form of Colonel Hans Landa (played brilliantly by Waltz in a star making turn). He’s coined the Jew hunter, and makes it his mission to track the Basterds down. With only a handful of scenes, the film’s 2 and half hour running time blows by. Each scene is a tour de force of verbal suspense, and the finest example of Tarantino’s unique gift. A fantastic cast fills out even the bit parts making every character memorable; Til Schweiger as Hugo Stiglitz for example. At the end, when Pitt’s character says, “I think this might just be my masterpiece,” I feel that it applies to Tarantino and this incredible film he wrote and directed.
Starring Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, John Savage, Meryl Streep
The lives of working class buddies in a small Pennsylvania town are interrupted when three from the group head to Vietnam with the Army. There, Mike (the most serious of the group), Nick, and Steven are forced into a game of Russian Roulette that scars them well after they manage to escape. Mike might be De Niro’s best performance and most compelling character (and yes, I have seen Raging Bull). Walken and Streep with the two key supporting roles also stand out. My problems with the film have been noted by others, and mainly concern its lack of complexity. It wears its emotions on its sleeve. The other side, the Northern Vietnamese, are foreign and brutal. Rather than condemn this aspect as racist, I simply saw it as an extension of the film’s simple-mindedness. This being said, the three hour long epic was engaging and moving. The crap-shoot chance involved in the Russian roulette sequences plus the acting make for two memorably brutal and sad scenes. I also admired the odd three distinct act structure that makes the film feel epic and not drag. The scenes between De Niro and Streep are some of the best in the movie.
Starring Sean Connery, Candice Bergen, Brian Keith, John Huston
An American widow and her two children are kidnapped and held for ransom by a brigand named Raisuli (Connery) in early 20th century Morocco. President Teddy Roosevelt (Keith) gets involved in saving the widow, just as she begins to form some respect for her captor. Okay, so Sean Connery is playing a Muslim leader. Right away, that’s pretty ridiculous. The crazy thing is that, though he makes no discernible effort to be convincing as a Berber, he’s still pretty compelling in this role. My main problem with the film is that at 2 hours (so not a short film), it still felt like it wanted to be much longer. Splitting time between President Roosevelt and Raisuli with the American family didn’t allow enough time with either. I did love the old-fashioned spirit of the movie; soaring score, epic battle scenes, romanticized characters. Overall, it’s a good film.
Starring Oreste Kirkop, Kathryn Grayson, Rita Moreno, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Leslie Nielson, Walter Hampden, Vincent Price
Inferior to If I Were King (1938) in depicting Francois Villon’s unlikely rise from street poet to King’s confidante during the Burgundian invasion in 15th century France, the folk hero of sorts is played, here, by unknown opera singer Oreste, who’s a fantastic singer but limited dramatically. The supporting cast is strong, most notably, Walter Hampden as King Louis XI, and the operatic music is good, but the films suffers from no sense of dramatic tension. It’s a respectable diversion devoid of any real spectacle.
Starring Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal, Jing Tian, Andy Lau, Willem Dafoe
Mercenaries, William (Damon) and Pero (Pascal), on a quest for black powder in China during the 11th century are captured by a group of elite Chinese warriors. While imprisoned, they get wrapped up in their captors’ fight against a race of mythical creatures. One of China’s most expensive productions, I was surprised and disappointed to find the CGI especially bad. Of course, the plot is silly, the characters are thin, and the dialogue stilted, but I thought they could have at least stepped up on the visuals. It’s actually very bad all around, and I might even be going to easy on it, since, for some reason, it was still rather entertaining. However, with the level of talent involved in this picture (Zhang Yimou, Edward Zwick, Matt Damon for example), I can’t understand why it falls so flat. Yimou made a much better film about the Great Wall in 2002’s Hero.
Starring Paula Beer, Pierre Niney, Ernst Stötzner, Marie Gruber
In the aftermath of World War I, a young German girl, Anna, mourns the loss of her fiancée, Frantz, when, one day, she notices a mysterious Frenchman visiting her beloved’s grave. “Who is he?” Anna wonders, as he begins spending time with her and Frantz’ family, and as she slowly begins to fall for him. At its core, the film is a fairly simple story, but it’s strengthened by themes of forgiveness, xenophobia, truth versus lies, and illicit romance. Plus, Ozon’s direction gives the film the suspense and tension of a classic Hitchcock. Switching between black/white and color, I believe to signify times of mourning versus times of moving past the war (a sense of closure), Frantz is an excellent foreign drama, though I can’t shake my disappointment with the resolution, despite it probably being the right ending for the film.
Starring Frank Sinatra, Angela Lansbury, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh, Henry Silva
Political thriller about a group of soldiers returning to the States after a harrowing campaign in the Korea War. But Captain Marco (Sinatra) starts to doubt his own memories and understanding of what took place overseas, and all signs point to brainwashing. Soon Captain Marco finds a major Government conspiracy that involves turning soldiers into helpless killing machines, and Staff Seargeant Raymond Shaw (Harvey), son of Svengali-like Senator’s wife Eleanor Islin (Lansbury), is at the heart of it. Communist paranoia at its finest, as well as razor-sharp satire of the McCarthy era, this is such a fine film. Gripping, odd, suspenseful, layered. Masterpiece of its genre.