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The Exception (2016)
An intimate, simple movie with a message
What movie mogul said that if you want to send a message, contact Western Union? Regardless, this small-scale movie--while chafing at the bit of plausibility-manages to work owing to the fine cast, laconic dialogue, and beautiful, understated art direction. But back to the "message." Without it, this would be a mediocre film, but with it, it is something of a parable. What's the message? I'll let you figure it out. Christopher Plummer is wonderful, and the casting in general is superb--it's evident the director worked on finding complementary and contradictory characters whose roles and personalities are extended by their appearance, stature, and clothing--making it quite apparent that a theater director created this film.
Sneaky Pete (2015)
Good acting, very clever structure. Often tedious
Some film buffs seem to think this series is extraordinary. I'd agree if the criteria of quality was good acting and clever structure. The series expertly develops the obstacle/solution flow-through style necessary for those movies that follow the Holy Grail of Hollywood writing. It also does an excellent job of pacing and interweaving various subplots. However, I thought some episodes got bogged down in cleverness for cleverness sake, and did little to maintain interest. Although the major trope of the movie was the art of the con, I thought some characters acted way to naive considering their level of sophistication and their professions. Was this series riveting because it was interesting or because audience members wanted to find out what happened next so they could just finish watching so they could move onto something else? That would be a good question to ask yourself whether you've already seen the series or plan to see it.
Poorly developed, cartoonish, derivative junk - Billy Bob made it watchable
I doubt if this review contains spoilers, but just in case you don't know the Bible, I put up the warning.Of course, I can't prove that Goliath was a very poorly developed 'series,' just as you can't prove that Hemingway is a better writer than Jacqueline Suzanne. But I doubt many people would question the latter. If you study the elements of drama, character, development,conflict, story and subplot seriously, I don't know how you can reach any other conclusion except that this series was mediocre.
What is the purpose for the William Hurt character to use a clicker, or have visible burns on his body or sit in a darkened room in the penthouse of a high rise? This is character development by recipe.
Even Billy Bob's character is poorly developed. One gets a sense of who he is, but not why he is? There are vague references to the back story, which seem to have been Jerry-rigged together since there is no there there. The other characters with less screen time are also undeveloped, their behaviors and personalities practically glued on the way a make-up artist might glue on a false mustache and beard. They are terribly clichéd, and present themselves as types not individuals. This would be fine if the show were a parable, but the 'realistic' verisimilitude works against any mythic representation. Instead we have the big bad corporation against the disenchanted little guy. The story was so bad that there were quick cuts in the action that attempted to cover up the gaps in logic and development. If you know the story of David and Goliath, it's rather impossible to provide a spoiler. It would be like providing a spoiler to the movie Titanic that gives away the fact that the ship sinks. Besides Billy Bob, the only other actor that somehow is brought o credibility is Nina Arianda's character. Another irksome thing about this show is that in an age where TV series are coming up with really excellent openings, the one for this show--depicting Billy Bob smoking and walking through a haze of quasi-surrealistic sets and an inappropriate musical score, and with a borrowing of Steve Buscemi's walking on water from Boardwalk Empire. The 'take away': big corporations are evil; their directors are evil; the 'little people' are held in contempt by 'power attorneys' and defense contractors are sleazy and shady. Like the man (or woman) says, 'tell me something I don't know.' The problem with Goliath is that not only does not tell anyone something new, the way it tells it is utterly amateurish.
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Even after Django, people don't seem to understand how to watch this film.
This review does NOT contain spoilers in terms of plot development or outcome, but it does discuss a few intermittent scenes.
I will give a 'reading' of this film as briefly as I can. I can't believe I'll spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen it, but maybe at least some who have seen it will re-consider their assessment. I would think that after the release of Django, viewers would figure out that Tarantino creates 'homages' and some people have pointed out the 'homage' aspect of 'Inglourious Basterds.' But the 'homage' of this film is a bit different from others. The major difference, I believe, is that it is an intentionally BAD film to make a statement on film convention. To sum up, I found Inglourious Basterds to be one long cinematic joke--an ironic joke.
Nothing in this movie should be interpreted without considering that Tarantino wants you to understand you're watching a movie. The problem is that many people who watch movies don't think about the fact they're watching one, or forget they're watching one (suspension of disbelief, etc). Tarantino wants you to be aware of this--what better way than to create some very "bad" cinematic moments? Why? Because if the film were 'good' you'd focus on the things most films are meant for you to focus on": plot, story, dialog, acting, art direction, structure, mise en scene, etc. Bertolt Brecht used a similar method in his plays; he wanted the audiences to be aware that they were watching plays so that they would consider and contemplate the political message of the play rather than entering that 'fictive dream' that is a form of escapism.
One thing about this film is that it is difficult to 'escape' the fact that you're watching a film. Hence, it is an instructional film on filmmaking. A film like the Dirty Dozen, for example, has you rooting for the dozen and cheering when they firebomb the Nazi upper-crust because you get riveted to the story. There's nothing in Inglourious Basterds to get riveted to except thinking about how it pays homage to this or that movie, or how implausible it is as a story. IN other words, this movie is a satire of movie convention.
I think that is why there are a number of 'sitting around the table' scenes that are are very long and tedious. They are not meant to be believable as cinematic art because if they were they would be defeating the purpose of the film. They're artifice and the best way to demonstrate artifice is to point it out directly. Jean-Luc Goddard did this when he filmed light cables that threaded their way through a mise en scene right where the actors were performing to keep you aware that you were watching a movie. Tarantino does it here by creating both utter clichés and utterly 'bad' filmmaking. For example, in an opening scene, when a German officer speaks perfect French to a French farmer, then stops, says he has limited French-speaking abilities, and then speaks in English to the French farmer who also happens to speak English is pretty goofy,implausible and even boring. But It's meant to be. When a Nazi hunter doesn't order his men who are sitting around a jeep to run down and kill a Jewish girl while she is running through the countryside--and instead had a grin on his face is equally absurd--the suggestion is that they will meet again one day. How does he know this? Because it's a movie.
But that's OK, because we're not seeing an attempt to create a cinematic version or interpretation of historical events because all such movies are fabrications. All movies are fabrications, of course, and Tarantino is trying to remind the viewers of the fact. We are seeing an exercise in how a filmmaker controls what goes into the art. If Tarantino wants to create a bad scene, then he does so. It's as if he were saying, "I'm so in command of the grammar of cinema that I I'll make this scene too long, contrived, clichéd, dull, etc., just to show I know the good and bad aspects of cinema.
He even has one actor, Mike Myers, play a clichéd version of his own clichéd actor's persona. Myers is not portraying a British officer. He's portraying Mike Myers as an actor. Consider the range of jokes in the film. They go from the sublime to the ridiculous, the latter evident when Brad Pitt tries to fake an Italian accent at a gathering of SS officers. That is straight out of The Three Stooges or Mel Brooks. Additionally, the alteration of the Nazi sniper spy movie and the subsequent flames leaping around the movie screen have all the production values of an Ed Wood movie. You don't see "Plan 9 from Outer Space" because it's a good movie. You see it because it's a bad movie, although you might say it's so bad that it's good.
I'm not suggesting that I'm a Tarantino fan. I really don't care what movies he makes or why. I haven't seen "Kill Bill" which I believe he directed. This stuff isn't rocket science, so I wouldn't use such words as 'genuis' or 'brilliant.' But at least it's a change of pace from the usual Hollywood garbage.
You could take every scene and shot, and about every line of dialog from this film and find a meta-communicative aspect. That's why it would be way too tedious to truly critique the film. It would take a thousand pages or so. But you get the idea. Now go find a few 'bad jokes' of your own if you have the inclination. BTW, what better way to show the artifice of film titles and to draw attention to a film title, in particular, the way titles of films are used as a function of public relations, than to misspell one?