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|August 27- September 2, 2009
by Nick Reed
by Dave Taylor
by Nick Reed
I wish I was that good,” says a teary-eyed Ronald Reagan after watching one of his 1984 television campaign advertisements. Of course, he wasn’t, and therein lies the beauty: saying the right thing the right way to manipulate an audience into believing that they need a product (or in this case, a presidential candidate). Through TV, the Internet, and other various sources, the average American sees more than an hour of ads in a single day. Art & Copy explores the creative and personal aspects of this industry, illustrating the important role it plays in our society.
Throughout the years, ads have been annoying, influencing and probing our culture with an agenda to sell us stuff that we most often don’t need. While foolish or redundant, there is no denying their dramatic effect on our perceptions. They can save entire industries with only two words (Got Milk?), originate household catch-phrases (Where’s the Beef?), or turn the last words of a man in front of a firing squad into an inspirational slogan (Just Do It).
Director Doug Pray (Scratch, Hype!), a Colorado native, has matured in skill and subject matter over the years as a documentary filmmaker. As someone who understands and appreciates atypical art forms, he explores the talent of commercial production in an Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) style, minus the re-enactments. His beautiful cinematography captures the theme with excitement and precision, giving substance to a field that generally appears soulless.
Time spent on the financial importance of advertising is appropriately brief; statistics that demonstrate the potency of the industry are featured in only a few scenes, while a space shuttle prepares for launch in the background. Interview footage taken with some of the more prominent and successful designers is the primary interest. As their creative process is revealed, we learn how some of the more famous ads we’ve seen were fashioned. Pray doesn’t censor the outspoken and sometimes explicit views of each artist, no matter how blunt and eccentric they are.
Although well put together with plenty of valid arguments on the flair and aptitude these artists contribute to the industry, there is no escape from the fact that the business is downright vile. Their trade in manipulation spawns from corruption and caters to the lowest common denominator. The public are cattle and aren’t given much, if any, intellectual credit. As most of the engineers and writers are self-aware about this, the accomplishments almost seem more tainted.
But Pray acknowledges this reality and lets the artists make their case. One designer points out that old advertisement posters and billboards are now highly regarded pieces. Some face the reality that their art is serving capitalism and accept this idea. We are treated to every aspect of this medium, giving each argument its fair view in the spotlight.
There is much to be said and debated on whether the business is a respectable one, but this well thought-out and presented film leaves on a high note, which has sold me.
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Tarantino’s basterd movie
by Dave Taylor
The release of Inglourious Basterds clearly marks the maturation of Quentin Tarantino as a filmmaker. His earlier works are typified by Kill Bill and Pulp Fiction, interesting stories that are so extraordinarily violent that the graphic violence appears in lieu of story or character development. Inglorious Basterds is the first Tarantino film I’ve really enjoyed.
You’ve probably already been exposed to trailers and previews from the film that features Brad Pitt as the tough Tennessee-born redneck Lt. Aldo Raine. What you can’t tell from the previews is that the film is a revisionist history of World War II American resistance to the Germans.
Lt. Raine is the leader of a group of Jewish soldiers drafted to go deep behind enemy lines and wreak havoc, not just killing Nazis but torturing and scalping them, creating fear and great anxiety in the German high command. Raine describes the “inglourious basterds” of his unit as a bushwhacking guerilla army and assures recruits that each “owes me 100 Nazi scalps.”
The film opens with the evil and cunning SS Colonel Hans Landa (a stand-out role for Christoph Waltz) toying with French dairy farmer Perrier LaPadite (Denis Menochet) who is harboring a family of hunted Jewish farmers, including daughter Shosanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent). Within a few minutes, it’s clear who are the good guys and who are the bad guys, a necessary element in good war films, though there is definitely some moral ambiguity as the basterds prove a rowdy, violent bunch.
Tarantino is an unabashed fan of cinema, from the sublime classics to goofy stuff like Chinese martial arts films and even the hilarious marionette movie Team America: World Police. As a result, most of his movies overtly play homage to a genre, and appreciation of that genre helps you understand many of the narrative devices he employs.
Inglourious Basterds pays homage to the classic Italian “spaghetti” westerns and war films, and the movie is even more of a delight if you understand the language of those films. Your first clue? The production company is called Visiona Romantica, though there’s very little romantic about the film. It’s a deliberately ironic name, but, along with the slow, twangy guitar, that just adds to the fun of the film.
The movie unfolds in chapters titled “Once Upon a Time...,” “Inglourious Basterds,” “German Night in Paris” and “Operation Kino,” each almost acting as its own movie within the movie. However, the feel of the film — the sets, cinematography, wardrobe and color — contributes to a slightly self-mocking War Film (in capital letters, of course).
There are also some great lines in the film, too — notably when we’re introduced to Sgt. Donny Donowitz (Eli Roth), who relishes beating Nazi’s with a baseball bat while dreaming of playing in Yankee Stadium. Lt. Raine explains to the Nazi that they’re going to let live post-ambush: “Watching Donny beat Nazis is the closest we get to going to the movies.”
The overarching theme is revenge, which takes place with the basterds learning that the film Nation’s Pride is going to premiere in France to an audience of German VIPs, including the film’s star Fredrick Zoller (Daniel Brühl), Joseph Goebbels (Sylvester Groth) and a variety of senior Gestapo officers. They hatch a plot to blow up the theater during the screening, in a self-referential comment on the revisionist screening of Inglourious Basterds that we, the audience, watch.
As you might expect, there are complications and things don’t unfold as planned, but unlike the recent dramatic WWII movie Valkyrie, where any half-clued viewer already knew the ultimate outcome, in Inglourious Basterds the unraveling plot surprises at
more than one turn and the ending proves quite satisfying, even if verisimilitude gets left behind.
And as always with a Tarantino film, keep an eye open for other films and how they appear, too. For example, the reference to King Kong was brilliant. See if you can figure out where Hitchcock’s terrific Sabotage shows up, and pay attention to the film critic in the movie and his eventual demise.
The more I think about what Quentin Tarantino has accomplished with this most mature film work to date, the more I am impressed. If you’re a student of film and can handle just a few minutes of shocking, graphic violence (and surprisingly little at that), then I strongly recommend Inglourious Basterds.
Dave Taylor has been watching movies for as long as he can remember and sees at least 500 films a year. You can find his longer, more detailed reviews at www.DaveOnFilm.com or follow his movie updates on Twitter as @FilmBuzz.
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