Capsule reviews of films playing the week of Sept. 2 | Film Clips | Creative Loafing Charlotte
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Capsule reviews of films playing the week of Sept. 2 

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THE HURT LOCKER Who knew that director Kathryn Bigelow was anything other than a Hollywood hack? Sure, sure, she's had her supporters, but practically all of her past projects have favored cold style over warm substance. The justly forgotten Blue Steel was one of the worst films of the 1990s, Point Break was merely daft masturbation fodder for fans of Patrick Swayze and/or Keanu Reeves, and the Harrison Ford dud K-19: The Widowmaker was so dull that just writing about it makes me... zzzzzz. Where was I? Oh, yes, getting ready to praise Bigelow for a tightly wound film whose few flaws can be found in Mark Boal's screenplay rather than in her own potent direction. Boal, who co-wrote the only other worthy Iraq War film to date (In the Valley of Elah), has elected this time to focus all his attention on the soldiers who are placed in the line of fire. The Hurt Locker follows the three members of a bomb squad plying their trade during the last six weeks of their tour of duty in 2004. Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner) is the leader of the outfit, a man as reckless as he is efficient when it comes to defusing bombs. Sergeant J.T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) is the most professional – that is to say, most stable – member of the team, anxious to get away from a job he despises. And Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) is the young pup of the outfit, a clean-cut kid terrified that his life will soon get snuffed out. The movie works best when its storytelling remains shaggy; it gets into real trouble when it introduces a forced subplot in which James sets out to avenge the death of a friend. But never does Bigelow falter in her direction, which, by adroitly alternating between muscular and sensitive, reapplies a recognizable face to a conflict that is already slipping from the American public conscious with all the wispiness of a bad dream. ***

INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS With its freewheeling exploits and liberties with historical veracity, Quentin Tarantino's World War II excursion is a celebration of film as its own entity, beholden to nothing but its own creative impulses. One would be correct in assuming that Inglourious Basterds is a remake of 1978's international production Inglorious Bastards, but except for the similar title, the films have nothing in common. The joke is that Tarantino's film isn't even primarily about the Basterds; rather, Tarantino pulls his story this way and that, to the point that marquee star Brad Pitt, as Basterds leader Aldo Raine, is MIA for long stretches at a time. In screen minutes, he probably places third under Melanie Laurent as Shosanna, the lone survivor of a massacre that left her family members dead, and Christoph Waltz as Hans Landa, the so-called "Jew hunter" responsible for the aforementioned slaughter. All three are fine, and it's easy to see why Waltz won a Best Actor award at this year's Cannes Film Festival. Like the best Tarantino flicks, this one is more talk than action, and the auteur also continues to be as big a film fan as he is a filmmaker, evidenced by how the movie is marinated in an unequivocal admiration for cinema. For all its attributes, the film does make a couple of miscalculations. The stunt casting – exploitation director Eli Roth as Raines' right-hand man, Mike Myers as a British officer – doesn't work at all. And after 2-1/2 hours of leisurely storytelling, the ending feels disappointingly rushed, the sort of abrupt conclusion sure to leave a bad taste in the mouths of countless moviegoers. Truth be told, another half-hour wouldn't have damaged Inglourious Basterds; it moves so quickly anyway that it's (to quote a famous line about another movie) "history written with lightning" – even if these particular chapters exist only in Quentin Tarantino's feverish imagination. ***

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