Thursday, May 31, 2012

Quick Takes: "Raging Bull", "Barry Lyndon", "Australia", "Inglourious Basterds"

"Raging Bull" (****)
Directed by Martin Scorsese

A rather important dot to be crossed off my gargantuan in scope list of films I have yet to see, "Raging Bull" is one of the films that Martin Scorsese is most famed for, and for rather good reason. The film is so meticulously, at times grotesquely, debasing of the title character's fame and ego. There are rather few non-essential factors in the mix of this film, the makeup being transformative, though still disconcerting, since there's the subtle feeling that Robert De Niro isn't supposed to look like that. The editing is so utterly veracious and aggressive, as with the best of sports-oriented cinema. De Niro's performance, so repudiating of redemption in favor of honesty to the point of destruction. Scorsese, only dialing up the flash and flair when it is truly and ultimately necessary, which is something he tends to forget nowadays. Damn near immaculate in its construction.

"Barry Lyndon" (****)
Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Quite easily the most overlooked and under-appreciated film in Stanley Kubrick's rather short pantheon of work, the small details and slow effectiveness of "Barry Lyndon" only really starts sinking in upon further viewings. Ryan O'Neal does seem to break the tradition of Kubrick-esq performances, but he more represents a Channing Tatum of his own time. His dramatic tendencies serve best in tight comedic terms, but not to the point of them being utterly superfluous. The extended sufferings of this character with no home, family, or true identity, is as entertaining as it is non-consoling towards its title character. The pace moves smoothly across with masterful deliberation on Kubrick's part. Never have such precise and finicky movements been shown with so much passion. Buckle under the emotional weight of a final scene dictating a character signing her name on a piece of paper.

"Australia" (***1/2)
Directed by Baz Luhrmann

Life is far too wasted if you live without love, happiness, or just giddy, stupid joy in your life. Baz Luhrmann knows this better than most, to the very end being devoted to telling stories of romance, doomed or otherwise. In this case, it is quite the other, and I admit that ending is something of a problem point of the film. The simple fact that they changed it after audience reactions is enough to be distracted, and it truly shows. Everything else is a fully-passioned, silly, ridiculous romp of childish adventure and romanticism, with forgiveness to real world tragedies of the period. In focusing on a real conflict, Baz's work takes on a greater meaning in that sense. This land is precious to him, and he's making a film about what it means to own this precious land. In that respect, as well as one of guilty self-indulgence, it is a soaring success.

"Inglourious Basterds" (****)
Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Upon further dissection and review, Tarantino's most recent feature turns out to be far more masterful than one might be willing to conclude on first glance. Indeed, Tarantino's films do seem to exist merely at the surface, but there's so much more below the surface that's just waiting for the audience to be willing to prune it. We barely ever get the backstories of characters in his films, which is intentionally done to have us try to figure out who these people are. He gives us the outlines, and asks us to do the rest. In that way, "Inglourious Basterds" is quite an unsung work, especially given the motivations of each and every one of it's characters. For more, feel free to check out my at length dissection of the film's cinematography. The shots say quite a bit about those characters.

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