Archive for August, 2009

Tarantino creates a masterpiece in the form of some "Basterds"

Posted in Reviews on August 27, 2009 by Steve Mesa

Two years after his last film was released as part of the double feature film Grindhouse, director Quentin Tarantino returns in fine form with the World War II flick, Inglourious Basterds.
Once upon a time in Nazi-occupied France, Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) hires several Jewish soldiers as an elite destructive force known only as The Basterds. Their mission is to spread fear among the Third Reich by eliminating every German soldier that they run into using deceptive and gory methods of dispatching the enemy. Meanwhile, a young French-Jewish woman (Melanie Laurent) puts into motion a revenge plot of her own that will put several prominent members of the Nazi party in one area.
Aside from the alternate change of the title, Inglourious Basterds is not related to the 1979 Italian B-movie. This movie is in a league of its own when it comes to World War II films by turning that genre on its head. The story is interesting as it is placed in an alternate timeline in World History where Tarantino’s characters do not know they are not part of history. The story also manages to have humorous and tragic moments exist hand-in-hand in several scenes in the movie. He also has the power to establish a great character in a movie and then suddenly take that character out of the picture ruthlessly (like John Travolta’s hit man in Pulp Fiction). Inglourious Basterds is not an exception as a handful of established characters drop like flies throughout the film, leaving the audience that not knowing what is going to happen next.
Tarantino assemble himself a fine and interesting ensemble for Inglourious Basterds, in which everyone in the cast manages to get their time to shine.
Tarantino manage to cast fellow filmmakers Till Schwieger and Eli Roth as two prominent members of the Basterds. Schweiger is introduced as Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz in a bloody flashback featuring him using ruthless and creative methods in killing his fellow German soldiers and narration from Samuel L. Jackson. Roth plays Sgt. Donny Donowitz, a Boston resident who is known as “The Bear Jew” to the Nazi party because he uses a baseball bat (signed from fellow Jewish Bostonians with names someone they are worried about in Europe) to bludgeon his enemies to death.
Following in the footsteps of Pam Grier’s Jackie Brown and Uma Thurman’s The Bride, two actresses play two femme fatales, in which both of them would like nothing more than to see the Third Reich go down in flames. Diane Kruger, who has been known as the woman-in-peril in movies such as Troy and the National Treasures movies, manages to hang with the guys as German actress-turned-double agent Bridget von Hammersmark by using her celebrity status and quick thinking to fool anybody it needs to take to complete her mission. Melanie Laurent’s role as Shosanna Dreyfus is incredibly unforgettable as she transitions from a scared young woman to a woman with revenge in mind by using a movie theater she owns in Paris as a deathtrap for the Nazi regime.
The most famous face in Inglourious Basterds would have to be Brad Pitt as he plays a former bootlegger from Tennessee with an unexplained scar across his neck, Lt. Aldo Raine. His first line in the movie is a monologue, which performs up to par with Samuel L. Jackson’s famous monologue in the apartment scene in Pulp Fiction. As the mouthpiece of the Basterds, he uses a good-ol’ boy accent for humorous or menacing scenes. For example, the way Pitt uses his accent and put the emphasis on “Oblige Him” that sets in motion something dastardly. One of the funniest scenes in the film is where he is posing as an Italian film director and manages to mangle the Italian language thanks to his accent with such words as “Arrivederci”.
The standout performance in the film is Christoph Waltz as Nazi SS agent Col. Hans Landa. He manages to be charismatic and diabolical at the same time. He manages to put himself among the ranks of recent memorable villains with the likes of Anton Chigurgh (Javier Bardem) from No Country for Old Men and the Joker (Heath Ledger) from The Dark Knight. Look out around award season, as Waltz’s portrayal unforgettable evil to receive accolades and a possible Oscar in his future for Best Supporting Actor.
The soundtrack is very interesting as it basically composed of several scores from legendary composer Ennio Morricone that were used in such 1960 films as The Return of Ringo, The Battle of Algiers, Death Rides A Horse and The Big Gundown. Tarantino also pays tribute to several men-on-a-mission films with scores featured prominently in the film from movies like The Dirty Dozen and Slaughter. He also manage to use the 1982 David Bowie song Cat People (Putting Out Fire) in a scene set in 1944 Paris and make it work as it set the tone for the rest of the film.
Inglourious Basterds is on the top of my list as best movie of the year with Quentin Tarantino returning to what he does best by creating unforgettable characters, writing an incredible screenplay and assembling a tremendous international cast.


The director and star of ‘Distrcit 9’ prepare to embrace the future

Posted in Features on August 20, 2009 by Steve Mesa

In District 9, aliens live in slum-like conditions for nearly three decades in an area called District 9. There is a private weapons manufacturer called MNU (Multi-National Unit), who are set to relocate the 2.5 million aliens to another area that is similar to a concentration camp. MNU promote a geeky and naïve office worker (Sharlto Copley) for coordinate the task. Unfortunately, he comes into contact with some alien DNA that makes an outlaw. Director Neill Blomkemp and star Sharlto Copley were on hand for interviews in Miami to promote District 9.
Before Blomkemp directed this film, he was being groomed by producer and Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) to direct the big-screen adaptation of the bestselling video game Halo. Thanks to his short film that Blomkemp shot with some friends about aliens in Johannesburg, South Africa called Alive in Joberg, he was in New Zealand working on pre-production for Halo.
After spending five months working on the film, Halo failed to launch thanks to several disagreements between studios Universal Pictures and 20th Century Fox.
“When Halo fell over and because Peter Jackson had all of my work, he said ‘You do not have to stop working because we can get you another film to direct and green light something else’,” Blomkemp says.
Jackson’s frequent collaborator Fran Walsh suggested that Alive in Joburg could expand into a full-length motion picture, even though Blomkemp never thought about doing that.
“I don’t know why, but it was never meant to be a full-length film,” Blomkamp says. “For some reason, I thought of the short film as a small thing”.
When Blomkemp came up with the concept for District 9, he relied on science fiction influences he grew up with and his home country.
“When I left Johannesburg in 1997, I was just becoming interested in the city’s political and racial history,” Blomkemp says. “One day, I asked ’What if I could put science fiction in that setting and I just felt like it could be something I would be happy to work and succeed”.
For the concept and creation of the extraterrestrials in the movie, Blomkemp had 900 illustrations with the first 400 a different creature than the one in the film.
“The way they were written in the story was basically insect-like hive and that they are worker drones who have lost their queen,” Blomkamp says. “When I realized that, I threw out all the illustrations and started doing something based a hard surface crustaceous-like insect.”
As the designs started to go in that direction, Blomkemp said that he knew that had to be a derogatory name for the insect-like aliens.
“I was just trying to take in as much inspiration from South Africa as possible,” Blomkemp says. “This film is inspired by South Africa and I used elements in South Africa to turn into science fiction. Once they looked like insects, I thought it would be funny if South Africans could not get it right.
Blomkemp said that even though they are not insects, the aliens are given the name “Prawn”, which is a real shrimp-like creature and the name just stuck.
For the role of the MNU office worker with some funky alien DNA, Blomkemp casted fellow filmmaker and childhood friend who helped with Alive in Joburg, Sharlto Copley. 15 years ago, Copley hired a then-14 year-old Blomkemp as an intern in a South African television production studio.
“I was more like I abused him because I could not hire him and I got him to some work for nothing,” Copley says. “It is even worse for me now because he has changed my whole life.”
When it came to working with his best friend, Copley said that he was comfortable with Blomkemp and the work he was creating because they did made three short films together.
“There is an enormous amount of trust between,” Coplay says. “I trusted him in the film he was making and I kept throwing stuff at him. Normally, he would be glad with two to three takes and I would be glad to give hi, 20 to 30 takes if that is what it takes.”
With District 9 becoming Copley’s first big lead role in a film, he said he was comfortable and drew on many life experiences in order to bring his character to life.
“I really lived stuff and had interesting life experiences from South Africa from holding a gun on people and being in a shootout in a building to having my heart broken,” Copley says.
As for difficulties during production of the movie, Copley said that there were many difficult things on different ways. Some physically demanding scenes included a scene where Copley was wrestling with two big guys and being put in a body bag. As soon as they put him in the bag and zipped it all the way up, he took two breaths and realized there was no air.
“From an acting point-of-view, it would be the dramatic scenes because I never did anything remotely like that,” Copley said. “I am always doing voices and messing around with my friends growing up. I need to spend five minutes before I went into an emotional scene to kind of zone out from everybody and get my head into it.”
Copley said he would love to make another chapter in the District 9 universe if someone finds a way to put the setting back in the slums again.
“Whether it a sequel or a prequel, I will absolutely do it,” Copley says.
As for any interest in trying to re-launch the making of Halo, Blomkemp would turn it down because the Halo world has already been designed and does exist.
“What I learned from District 9 and Halo is that the best thing to do is to work from the ground up,” Blomkemp says.

‘District 9’ is more then another sci-fi movie.

Posted in Reviews on August 13, 2009 by Steve Mesa

Produced by Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) and directed by South African-born filmmaker Neill Blomkamp, District 9 is an action-filled and gratuitously bloody film that explores the inhumane ways aliens are treated if they were refugees on Earth.
Several years ago, a mysterious spaceship appeared out of nowhere over Johannesburg, South Africa. After the getting the nerve to board the spaceship, government officials discover a tremendous amount of malnourished and dying aliens. Not knowing what to do with the aliens, the government relocates the aliens to District 9, where the aliens live in poorly made shelters and slum-like conditions. A private company known as the Multi-National Unit (MNU) hires an officer worker named Wilkus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley) to become a field operative in where they are responsible with evicting the extraterrestrials from District 9. During this operation, Wilkus contracts an alien virus that begins to change his DNA and finds himself an outlaw to the world and hunted by the company he once worked for.
District 9 is one of the most original science fiction films ever made in a variety of ways. The CGI in the movie is tremendous, but does not stick out like eye candy compared to a certain Michael Bay film with robots. The aliens in the movie are give the names “Prawns” and the design of the creatures are made to look scary and have the build of a warrior. While they make look scary, the Prawns are like humans and they do get upset and emotional, especially when it comes to one of their kind being gunned down in District 9.
Aside from the CGI, the make-up effects used to slowly transform Wilkus over a period of 72 hours upon his contraction of an alien virus is outstanding. The metamorphosis of Wilkus is almost reminiscent of Jeff Goldblum’s character in The Fly, as Wilkus’ teeth are involuntarily falling out of his mouth and his fingernails are deteriorating from his fingers. District 9 also shows evidence of Jackson’s fingerprints on the film when it comes to the gore, violence, mayhem and the various ways that humans are dispatched that has not been seen since Jackson’s 1994 film, Braindead.
As Wilkus Van De Merwe, Sharlto Copley does not only go through a physical transformation, but he also goes through an emotional metamorphosis. As the film starts, Copley plays Wilkus as kind of sweet, but naïve nerd who is given a big responsibility. Copley plays the ‘everyman’ in the District 9, an ordinary man who life as change under extraordinary circumstances as he understands what kind of discrimination that the Sprawns face every day.
The story of District 9 is unlike any sci-fi film, by mirroring many problems that South Africa has faced over the years and placing it an alternate history where real aliens are real. It also reflects the real emotions of the citizens of Johannesburg with their contemptuousness toward the arrival of illegal aliens from neighboring countries. The movie also mirrors what happen with segregation in the United States as stores and restaurants can refuse service toward a Sprawn.
Director Neill Blomkemp and his cinematographer/long time friend Trent Opaloch has certainly found an interesting to tell his story by breaking the rules in its style of shooting and using three different point-of-views to tell the story. While the movie tells their story through traditional filmmaking, it is also told through mockumentary footage with a unit following Wilkus doing his job at District 9. Another different component that the story is told through is real and existing footage from the South African Broadcasting Corporation and other news agencies that is used as exposition for the audience.
District 9 is one of the most original sci-fi films of all time since “The Matrix” that mirrors existing problems in South Africa, tells their story through different cinematography components and uses great CGI to make their aliens come to life.
DISTRICT 9: 5/5 stars