Reviews of District 9 and Inglourious Basterds, both in wide release


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District 9 (New Zealand)
Director: Neill Blomkamp
With: Sharlto Copley, etc.

One of the joys of reviewing movies is the pleasant surprise.  Sometimes I wonder if I have become jaded, and that my tastes are too refined for the average movie patron.  Then, a little gem like this comes along.
A science-fiction action film with an underlying political message, District 9 tells us that a damaged spacecraft has come to earth and hovers above Johannesburg, South Africa.  The aliens, who resemble something like an insect or a crustacean, are derisively called “prawns” by us earthlings.  They have been herded into squalid camps and subjected to a kind of apartheid.  They are at the mercy of a soulless government agency, and it has become convenient to move the camp to an even worse location.  Resistance ensues.
Now, this could have been done in a heavy-handed and obvious manner, and it has been, but District 9 is better than that.  A no-star cast, a first-time director and the guiding hand of Peter Jackson as producer have resulted in a subtle, walk-a-mile-in-his-exoskeleton parable.  Plenty of action and emotional impact for anyone to enjoy, but something to think about when you leave the theater.  And Copley, playing a callous bureaucrat and de-glamorized for the lead role, has the potential to be a next big thing.
Go see it.

Inglourious Basterds
Director: Quentin Tarantino
With: Brad Pitt, Melanie Laurent, Christoph Waltz, Daniel Bruhl, Diane Kruger, Til Schweiger, etc.

Revenge fantasies have become a film genre unto themselves, maybe beginning with the “you shot my brother” plots of the silent westerns.  The greatest one on recent years is Hard Candy (2005), wherein a young girl inflicts hideous vigilante justice on a pedophile.  One of the characteristics of these films is a certain implausibility.  The 14-year-old in Hard Candy concocts and executes a plan of such baroque sadism that the KGB would weep with envy. 
Inglourious Basterds (sic) is such a fantasy.  A secret group of tough Jewish soldiers, led by an amiable good ole boy (Pitt) wanders through the countryside of France to brutalize and murder Nazi soldiers.  The object is to demoralize the German troops.
They are pursued by a ruthless and cunning SS Col. Landa (Waltz), who is easily their match in deviousness.  This SS man is in three scenes where he subtly interrogates terrified people, and the suspense in each is harrowing, because we know that at any time, like the Inglourious Basterds he seeks, he can wreak horrible violence.  This performance transcends the movie and creates its own story.
Another plot line involves a Jewish woman living as French (Laurent) who runs a movie theater in Paris.  Landa has killed her whole family, and through a fluke, she gets a chance to take revenge.
At first, since none of this actually happened, I was a bit put off by the ending, which is a revenge fantasy of mythic scope.  Finally, I decided to shrug and enjoy it.  If I am going to fantasize about tough Jews killing Nazis, it might as well be a doozy.
And Inglourious Basterds is now my favorite Tarantino movie.  But, you must understand that I think that he is a one-trick hack and that Pulp Fiction is one of the most over-rated films of all time.
So, despite my initial reservations, go and enjoy this wet dream as much as I did.  Of course, being a Tarantino project, it is violent and profane and features an off-kilter soundtrack.