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"Brothers"

June 22, 2010 Leave a comment

So I must admit I was pretty psyched to see Brothers. Released in 2009, Brothers is the story of two, you guessed it, brothers, portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal and Tobey Spiderman McGuire. I generally like both of the leads, and a supporting cast that includes the delightful Natalie Portman, the ever-solid Sam Shephard, Mare Winningham and the underrated Ethan Suplee is pretty stellar on paper. Sadly, none of them are enough to save a bore of a script.

For those that don’t know, McGuire plays Cpt. Sam Cahill, the high-school-jock-turned-Marine serving in Afghanistan. Gyllenhaal plays Tommy, the stereotypically underachieving brother, fresh out of jail (*yawn*) and trying to make good. While in Afghanistan, Sam is allegedly killed when his helicopter crashes. Tommy swoops in to play the role of surrogate father to Sam’s two kids and man-o’-the-house to Sam’s wife, Grace (portrayed in full ‘going through the motions’ mode by Portman) as a means of trying to display that his life is really getting back on track.

Just in reading those few sentences, you can probably see pretty clearly what is going to happen, no? First, Tommy and Grace grow close and share a smooch. Second, you guessed it….Sam isn’t dead!! And even more shocking…he’s coming home!! I know what you’re thinking…”I bet he comes home a changed man because war is hard.” Right? Bingo!! Sam isn’t the same as he was when he left…is he still the man Grace loved? Is he still the great daddy he was when he left? Does he think he’ll be able to return to “normal” life as a civilian? Isn’t he going to want to go back to Afghanistan, because war is all he knows?

Honestly…who cares?? The script, I’m pretty sure, was salvaged from the cutting room floor of a Junior High School drama class…and the acting performances weren’t much better. Shephard was fine as the ex-Marine father. Portman was a robot, Maguire was essentially just skinny (see…war is hard!), and Gyllenhaal showed all the emotion of a bag of potatoes. The best performance was probably Bailee Madison (Bridge To Terabithia) as the older daughter…but that was nowhere near enough to save the movie. I found myself actively not caring about any of the characters…not caring who was good or who was bad or who had to make tough decisions or who had changed and who hadn’t or who loved whom. Total and complete disappointment. Do yourself a favor…take the hour and forty-one minutes and read a book…or wash the car…or stare at the wall. Any of the above are more compelling.

2/5 stars…barely.

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Inglourious Basterds

June 12, 2010 Leave a comment

I should probably start with a fact that almost embarrasses me to admit. Prior to this week, I had never seen a Quentin Tarantino movie (with the exception of Sin City, which wasn’t mostly his). I’ve owned Reservoir Dogs for years and just never got around to watching it. I dislike Uma Thurman enough that I won’t bother watching the “Kill Bill” movies (I’m very closed-minded, I know. I won’t watch anything featuring Kevin Costner, John Travolta or Jamie Foxx either. It could be the best movie in the history of film and I still wouldn’t…well, no…if it starred any of them, it couldn’t be anywhere near the best movie in the history of film -but I digress.), and I haven’t had the opportunity to watch Grindhouse yet. I guess that reveals me as “not-a-real-film-guy,” and may or may not make my opinion of any movie irrelevant.

That being said, I friggin’ loved Inglourious Basterds. I’m not entirely sure where to begin, honestly. A little background for those that are not familiar, I suppose. “IB” is a 153-minute work of historical fiction set primarily in France during World War II that outlines dual plots to assassinate as much of the leadership of the Third Reich (including Hitler and Goebbels) as possible. One plot deals with a small group of Jewish-American commandos nicknamed “The Basterds,” headed by Brad Pitt’s Aldo Raine. I typically find Pitt hit- (Burn After Reading, Fight Club, Se7en) or-miss (Troy, Joe Black), but he was dynamite in this role, and I think brought out the best in his co-stars (especially The Office‘s BJ Novak and Eli “The Bear Jew” Roth, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Jason Schwartzman in this role). The other deals with Shoshanna Dreyfus, a theater owner in Paris whose witnessed her entire family getting gunned down by Nazi troopers and their leader, Colonel Hans Landa, portrayed flawlessly by Christoph Waltz.

Enough about the plot, because any more will give the movie away. Bearing in mind that it is historical fiction, Tarantino took immense liberties with the real events of WWII (woulda been nice if the real story went the way Tarantino’s brain envisioned it!). There are scores of brilliant performances throughout [Pitt, Melanie Laurent (Dreyfus), Alexander Fehling’s ‘Master Sgt Wilhelm’], but none is better than Waltz. In all honesty, I can’t really think of a better acting performance in any movie that I’ve seen in a long, long time. The Austrian-born Waltz not only nails the dialogue in English, French, German and Italian, but his portrayal of an SS Standartenfuhrer was incredibly smart and chilling in many different ways. The mark of any good villain portrayal is that you find yourself almost getting lost in the performance and disliking the actor as a person. Waltz’s Landa so perfectly relished his “Jew Hunter” title that it may be hard to watch him in any other role. To me, that is high praise.

If I have anything negative to say about the film, I think a little of the violence in the climax may have been overdone, though it is Tarantino so I guess that comes with the territory (or so I hear). Also, add Eli Roth to the list of former Bostonians who so completely butcher the “Boston accent” that he should have his Dunkin Donuts card revoked. I generally liked his “Bear Jew” character, but the accent is inexcuseable. He’s up there with Affleck in Good Will Hunting, Damon in The Depahted and the otherwise brilliant Julianne Moore in “30 Rock.” Okay, so I know she isn’t from Boston, per se, but she graduated from BU – she should know better.

But those negatives hardly detract from the movie in any meaningful way. The movie is beautifully shot, smartly written and the emotionally perfect. 2.5 hours flew by. Can’t wait to see it again…but maybe I’ll finally unwrap Reservoir Dogs first!

4.5/5 stars

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