#280. Brad Pitt

How does an actor become a household name? Most of the time, this occurs not because of their acting, but because of the things they do off-screen. This is a bit of a Catch-22 because, in order to be notable for their off-screen activities, they need to have some semblance of on-screen success. Perhaps it’s the schadenfreude in us all that attracts us to the personal lives of movie stars, because deep down we want them to fail. We want to see them come back down to our level. This would explain the almost constant attention that tabloids give to actors like Tom Cruise, Jennifer Aniston, Angelina Jolie, and Brad Pitt. That’s not to say they aren’t successful actors, it’s more that our society makes them household names because of the notoriety of their personal lives. An added benefit to this is increased attendance at their films. This week’s two films look at the work of a household name actor: Brad Pitt.

Se7enSe7en
Year: 1995
Rating: R
Length: 127 minutes / 2.12 hours

One of the draws that Brad Pitt utilized in his early career was that of his sex-appeal. The “pretty boy” used his looks in such films as Thelma & Louise (1991) and Interview with the Vampire (1994), both of which did not necessarily showcase his acting talent. Almost all at once, Pitt started to flex his acting muscle, showing the depth of his talent in such films as Se7en (1994) and 12 Monkeys (1995). While the latter of these two films earned him his first acting nomination (for Best Supporting Actor), the former was the first in a series of collaborations with director David Fincher. After Se7en, Pitt starred in Fight Club (1999), further proving his commitment to these grittier roles. By this point in his career, most people had heard of Brad Pitt, but he still had many more years to refine his craft from there.

Detective David Mills (Brad Pitt) has just moved to a new town with his wife, Tracy (Gwyneth Paltrow). As part of his transfer, he’s been assigned to work with aging detective William Somerset (Morgan Freeman). While the two detectives have drastically different methods for investigating cases, they’ve nevertheless been placed together to find a mysterious killer who is using the seven deadly sins as themes for his murders. Following this thread, they find a suspect in John Doe (Kevin Spacey), who runs away upon their first meeting. The two detectives arrive moments too late to stop two more murders, but now John has given himself up and offers to lead them to the final two murders. Along the way, Doe admits that he’s jealous of David’s wife, egging him on to become the penultimate “wrath” in his string of serial murders.

The Curious Case of Benjamin ButtonThe Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Year: 2008
Rating: PG-13
Length: 166 minutes / 2.77 hours

Action and comedy worked well for Brad Pitt in the years after Fight Club. From the Ocean’s Eleven (2001) trilogy to Troy (2004) and from Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005) to Inglorious Basterds (2009), Pitt proved that he could run the gamut in a variety of roles. Joining up with David Fincher again, he earned his first nomination for Best Actor with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008). This was followed by his second nomination in 2011 for Moneyball. By this point in his career, he had turned to producing films, earning him three Best Picture nominations for Moneyball (2011), 12 Years a Slave (2013), and The Big Short (2016), all three of which gave him small acting roles (but only 12 Years a Slave earning him his first Oscar). If people don’t know who Brad Pitt is by now, they haven’t been paying attention.

Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt) was born near the turn of the 20th century as an old man. As time passed normally for the rest of the world, Benjamin aged in reverse. Once he was young enough to walk again, Benjamin ran across a seven-year-old girl by the name of Daisy (Cate Blanchett). Becoming younger and stronger, Benjamin takes to sea and is involved in World War II on a tugboat that comes across a sunken military boat, as well as a German U-Boat. Returning home, Benjamin meets up with Daisy, who has a successful career as a dancer. After an accident ends Daisy’s career, she is frustrated with Benjamin’s decreasing age, as well as her own limitations. Years later, when they both arrive at close to the same age, they finally start a life together. Unfortunately, as Benjamin becomes younger, they end their relationship. Eventually, the elderly Daisy cares for Benjamin as he reaches the “start” of his life.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 of the best Brad Pitt roles

Bacon #: 1 (Sleepers / Kevin Bacon)

#007. Quentin Tarantino

Some directors illicit an extreme response from their audience. Most people will take one side or another after seeing one of the director’s representative works. Rarely will anyone sit in the middle-ground. Quentin Tarantino is certainly the epitome of these types of directors. The basis of Tarantino’s style lies in three points:
1. Graphic Violence – the visceral blood and guts is pretty much the one defining factor of a Tarantino film (Kill Bill).
2. Dialogue – while there is usually a lot of obscenity, if you can back away from the swearing, you can see that there are some really interesting and realistic conversations going on (Inglorious Basterds).
3. Pop Culture – what’s somewhat ironic is that through his love of pop culture (and its inclusion in his movies, mostly through their soundtracks), Tarantino’s films have since become pop culture themselves (Pulp Fiction).
Now, most people will be put off by the first two points of Tarantino’s style, but there are some who can look past these things and see a masterful storyteller. This week’s movies are two of Quentin Tarantino’s best.

Inglorious Basterds
Year: 2009
Rating: R
Length: 153 minutes / 2.55 hours

While I was familiar with many of Tarantino’s works (including Pulp Fiction, below) this was the first of his films that I had seen in theaters. What a first it was. Always the master of dialogue, and an artist of the visual aspect as well, Tarantino directed perhaps his best film to date (which is good, considering the travesty of Death Proof). And while Inglorious Basterds didn’t have quite as much of Tarantino’s trademark visceral violence or obscenity, it made up for it in sheer suspense. This film had probably one of the best antagonists I’ve seen in a long time (Christoph Waltz, who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor), and the suspense of his interrogations gripped me. I think that Tarantino saw what this film was and summed up his feelings about it during Brad Pitt’s final line, “I think this might just be my masterpiece.”

In my opinion, I agree with the “masterpiece” status. While Tarantino’s other films focus on the violence or the pop culture, Inglorious Basterds focuses on the dialogue. Even though it may look like a Nazi interrogating a French farmer, or a bunch of Americans trying to keep their cover, the back and forth of the conversation leads the audience on an escalating thrill ride, as the stakes get higher and any misspoken word could mean the difference between life and death. I saw this film in a completely empty theater, which gave it the feeling of a private screening (not bad for $1, either). When it was finished, I had become so immersed that I gave a one-person standing ovation.

Pulp Fiction
Year: 1994
Rating: R
Length: 154 minutes / 2.56 hours

Quite possibly Quentin Tarantino’s best film, Pulp Fiction takes multiple stories and intertwines them in a clever and interesting way. The multiple plots include two hitmen (Samuel L. Jackson & John Travolta) taking care of business, a boxer (Bruce Willis) running from a mob boss after he kills the man he was supposed to lose to, and a date between one of the hitmen (John Travolta) and his boss’ wife (Uma Thurman). Each of the storylines share similar characters, but are told in a non-linear fashion so that viewers will need to watch the movie again in order to put everything in order. Pulp Fiction won an Oscar for writing and sits comfortably at the bottom of AFI’s Top 100 list.

While Pulp Fiction does pull from Tarantino’s three strengths, its endearing qualities have made it a pop culture reference that even the casual movie watcher would recognize. The heart of this film asks the question, “What would you do when all hell breaks loose?” Three different plotlines show the audience that even if your day seems to be going pretty well, there’s always something that just comes in and screws it all up. We all have things we’d like to forget, and whether it’s an accident or a completely random series of events, there are some things that others don’t need to know about. The moral of Pulp Fiction seems to be: fix the problem and move on.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 works that you’ll either love or hate.

Bacon #: 2 (Inglorious Basterds / Michael Fassbender -> X-Men: First Class / Kevin Bacon)

#006. Altered History

I would suspect that the two most used words in pitching movies are “what if?” Many films use this question to sell their story. It allows our minds to take something that exists and play out an alternate universe where a minute change could have huge consequences. While these speculations can usually be tied to the science fiction genre, and its examination of the future, sometimes they can be used to postulate about the past. The biographical picture (or biopic for short) tends to want to hold to the truth of what happened in the past, but the opposite could be considered with this week’s two films. What if the history that we all know had been slightly changed?

WatchmenWatchmen
Year: 2009
Rating: R
Length: 162 minutes / 2.7 hours

In Watchmen, the “what if?” has to do with superheroes. What if people stepped into the roles that so many children idolize? What if these superheroes actually changed the flow of history? Many historians spend most of their time speculating how world events may have been affected by small decisions. Lets say, for instance, the United States had actually won the Vietnam War. What would that have done to our society as we know it? Would Nixon have gotten a second term? Would we all have come to a global peace, or would more wars have been started as a result? Watchmen examines what the 1980s would have been like if superheroes were infused into our history.

While we tend to idolize superheroes, Watchmen starts with these caped crusaders in retirement after the government decides that their services are no longer needed. It’s 1985, and their era has come to an end. And yet, retirement doesn’t seem to satisfy some people, be it Rorschach, the masked vigilante, or the murderer of “Comedian”, one of Rorschach’s colleagues. The death of Comedian is the event that brings the gang back together, as they try to figure out why they’re being targeted. As the film progresses, the conspiracy deepens as we learn about how the superheroes changed the world, but in the end, they were only human (well, mostly human, Dr. Manhattan might not fall under that category anymore). The shocking ending, while somewhat different than the ending of the graphic novel it was based on, ties everything together as the “Doomsday Clock” strikes midnight.

Inglorious Basterds
Year: 2009
Rating: R
Length: 153 minutes / 2.55 hours

While Watchmen examined an altered 1985, Inglorious Basterds looks at one of the biggest influences on our world to date: World War II. And even though the film doesn’t go much into what happens after the altered history, it does provide an intriguing twist. The reason it is intriguing is that with an understanding of history, the audience will know what will happen at the end of the movie, or at least what they think will happen. They’ll watch Titanic and they know in the back of their heads that the boat will sink. That was history, it can’t be changed. So when a movie like Inglorious Basterds comes along, the audience has an idea of how it will end, but the twist is that this film examines an altered history, thereby disguising its ending.

The brunt of the film revolves around revenge. In Nazi-controlled France during World War II, some Jews have had enough. They tire of the holocaust against them and pick up the fight to bring some of the suffering to the Nazis. Two factions of this vengeance are examined in this film, although they end up playing off of each other in the end. The first person out for blood is Shosanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent), who was the only survivor of her family after some Nazis led by Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) brutally murdered them. Secondly, we have American Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), who leads a contingent of Jewish-American soldiers, the “Basterds.” Their only goal is to kill Nazis, plain and simple. Throughout the course of the film, an opportunity arises that drives both Dreyfus and Lt. Raine to put their lives on the line in order to take out the heads of the Nazi party. While history certainly has one outcome for World War II, Inglorious Basterds certainly has another.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 different takes on history