Pros provide a reality check for best pic hopefuls

Robert M. Citino on
INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS

I laughed and I cried, but mostly I winced. It’s not a history movie at all. It’s a revenge fantasy, and as that it works pretty well. That nearly final shot with Shosanna on the screen with the place going up in flames and Hitler’s getting machine-gunned, there’s a part of me that loved seeing that deeply, but not the historian part of me.

My first reaction to the movie was, ‘This movie’s nonsense. Nothing even remotely like it happened in World War II.’ Of course, that’s the tragedy. Nobody came to the rescue of the Jews or any of the other victims of Nazism. It took four long years to bring that problem under wraps. There was no instant solution to it.

Seth Rogen has a line in “Knocked Up” about being Jewish. He says, whenever you see a movie with Jews, they’re getting their assess kicked. Maybe Tarantino decided he was going to do something about that problem and give the underdog the upper hand.

I was born in 1958, and I grew up watching really ridiculous war movies in the ’60s and the ’70s — tough-guy American soldiers doing one ridiculous, impossible thing after the other, with the Germans apparently being the stupidest people on the planet. This movie reminded me of those movies. To be fair, no one took films like “The Dirty Dozen” as art, as some people take Tarantino’s films.

As a historian, I was interested in Landa’s character. He was completely amoral and the one completely realistic note in the film. At the end, it’s like any dictatorship. There are a lot of people who shot themselves when that regime went down. They couldn’t bear to live in a world without Hitler. But there were other people who fled to points north, south, east and west and tried to get out of Germany. And that’s Landa. It struck a human note for an otherwise one-dimensional character.

Robert M. Citino, a specialist in German military history, was ranked “No. 1 Professor in the Nation” by former students on the site ratemyprofessors.com. He is the author of eight books and teaches at the Barsanti Military History Center at the U. of North Texas.

Buzz Aldrin on
AVATAR

Jim Cameron and I share a common interest in Mars and in the deep oceans, but I’m interested in getting him back into reality because I think we’re on the verge of making some fairly crucial decisions on our space policies. So much has been done with science fiction that defies reality, like beaming people up and “warp 7.” The public just doesn’t understand how difficult travel to another star would really be and how much new energy sources would be needed to do that.

Avatar” is a projection of the reality of life on Earth to somewhere else, and I think Jim has really caused people to think about other species and how human they would be. I come to this with the background of having co-written a science-fiction story, “Encounter With Tiber,” which involved a species from another star system. There’s no requirement that says they have to look like us to be advanced, although they would need a certain brain size and physical characteristics.

Cameron provides outstanding coverage of an alien species, but I think the idea of trying to get a resource that belonged to somebody else in an aggressive fashion could have been dealt with differently. All that destruction … I know it’s great for special effects, but I’ve always been interested in peacefully solving a conflict. Interaction between humans and aliens comes with a lot more complications to it than putting someone in a box and closing the lid and transporting them into a different species. Still, “Avatar” challenges people to think realistically and critically in a far more acceptable way than anything I’ve ever seen before.

As part of Apollo XI’s crew, Buzz Aldrin set foot on the moon during the historic first lunar landing. He launched the Rocket Hero brand to inspire people of all ages to reach for the stars.

Willie Nelson on
CRAZY HEART

Watching “Crazy Heart,” I was having problems believing it was a movie. It looked too real, and it was hard not to think I was just watching another old drunk country singer trying to make it. Especially the guys who work bowling alleys — or “skull orchards,” as we call ‘em — where you have to dodge beer bottles all night long and fight your way in and out. It reminded me of those days. I kept waiting for someone to come out and arrest somebody.

Jeff Bridges did a great acting job. He drew on Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings, Billy Joe Shaver, maybe me, I don’t know — there’s just so many names you could throw in there that he was portraying, getting all of them at once. I don’t know whether he knew he was morphing like this, but he was. And his singing was great.

The movie was definitely accurate about Bad’s character, but it’s also accurate about most of us because I don’t know anybody whose star has gone all the way and never stalled or started to come down. If you’re lucky, it’ll stay in there, but nine times out of 10, you just dive back to the bottom and hope that you saved enough money to take care of yourself and your family.

There’s just so many things in there. For the guy writing the songs, it looks sort of like he’s having a big time in show business, but he’s really going through a form of self-torture, not only to write all of that shit while he’s drunk, while he’s fucked up, but then he’s got to go out and perform it every night. You can bring back a lot of misery doing that. You’ve gotta be a pretty good actor not to fall back into that spot when all that shit was happening. I think that’s why a lot of drugs and alcohol are involved with entertainers who go out and do that every night.

Willie Nelson is a country music legend and close friend of “Crazy Heart” music producer T Bone Burnett. They have a new album together set for a March release.

Henry Engelhardt on
THE HURT LOCKER

I was in bomb disposal for 20 years, and this was pretty accurate considering it’s a movie and not a training film. The story centered on the final days of a guy over there in Iraq, with him working on his last jobs before heading home, and it showed him as a very knowledgeable and dedicated man, and as someone who’s very focused — maybe even over-focused — on doing the job.

It also did what I think are some very important things. It showed the relationships and the support necessary between the individuals working on bombs, and it showed that bomb disposal work is a very episodic thing. When you go out and render safe maybe 800 bombs a year, you’re going out three, four times a day, and each one is different with its own hazards. Sometimes they’re funny, sometimes they’re just very scary situations, and “The Hurt Locker” showed all of this very clearly and handled the material well.

Of course, no film is realistic in all its details, but the important things were done very well. And it showed things that people might say are inaccurate, like removing a flak jacket or bomb suit to work on a bomb, which happens, because if that bomb’s going to explode and kill you, it doesn’t really matter whether you’re wearing the suit or not. But the scene where they chase terrorists down alleys? That was pure Hollywood, and it would never happen. But given the story about the kid, it was emotionally effective and worked within the movie’s storyline.

Henry Engelhardt is an adjutant with the National Explosive Ordnance Disposal Assn.

Charlotte Chandler on
NINE

Federico Fellini would have seen “Nine” not as an imitation of “8 1/2″ but as a kind of homage to his work. Even he would have called it “Felliniesque.” He would have liked that it expressed the guiding force in his life — that dreams are the only reality.

Also, he would have appreciated the film’s spirit of circus. He loved circus as a way of life. It was a form of remaining as a child and Fellini was proud of the fact that he kept a lot of his childlike spirit.

When Fellini and I went to the movies, he always slid way down in the seat so you couldn’t even see his head. He’d gotten into that habit because he didn’t want his mother to find him if he stayed for the second show.

He would have loved Sophia Loren. Professionally, she was his dream girl. Fellini felt that having a beautiful woman in a film tremendously enhanced the film. He would have been overjoyed with all the beautiful women in “Nine.”

In his mind, he would have been in love with these women, but in real life, he was a shy person and wouldn’t have been comfortable with so much beauty. He wasn’t the Casanova he had made himself out to be. One reason he had that reputation is that he created it. He wanted to be the Italian Man.

There was no shortage of women who were available to him but it would have interfered too much and would have been too tiring for the kind of work he had to do. And for Fellini, his work was everything. That’s another reason he would have really liked the film: It brought attention to his work.

Biographer Charlotte Chandler was a personal friend of Federico Fellini and wove her interviews with the acclaimed director into the book “I, Fellini.”

Vidyaprana on
A SINGLE MAN

A Single Man” is completely contrary to the norm of action-packed visual overload. It’s like a throwback to old-fashioned moviemaking, where there’s real substance to think and talk about. There’s two levels at work in it: what’s going on consciously with the characters, and then what’s going on under the surface spiritually.

The imagery is important. There’s the repeated image of George floating in water, which points to what we call “going into your causal body at night” in the Vedantic tradition. It’s a state of vague being, without any perception going on, and he’s aware of it when he awakens and finds it very disquieting. But our philosophy says that it’s actually the closest we can come in our “normal” life to our own intrinsic spiritual state, as we don’t have the distractions of the mind and body.

What’s interesting is that not just George but all the main characters are having an identity crisis. It’s very obvious for George, who’s very conscious he’s a minority and doesn’t fit in, and has to turn into “George” every day — we see that process as he dresses. Charley keeps trying to recover a past identity. And while Jim is comfortable in his skin, the young student lives just in the present and is free of the fetters that tie people down to a particular point-of-view, and he actually expresses what is closest to the Vedantic philosophy. He can verbalize his awareness of something beyond this reality, while George, the older professor, finds it far harder.

At the end, George has this kind of epiphany, which has brought him back to life just as he exits. From the Vedantic point of view, that’s very significant, as the philosophy says that whatever you’re experiencing in your final moment will lead you to your next incarnation. So he can go into his next incarnation without all the grief. He’s been released from that and can go into the light, which they show, and into something more positive next time around.

Vidyaprana is a nun at the Vedanta Society of Southern California. During his life, “A Single Man” author Christopher Isherwood was a follower of Vedantic philosophy.

LouAnne Johnson on
PRECIOUS

The director of “Precious” really made an effort to translate the author’s vision to the screen, and for the most part, I think the film succeeds, based on what the poet and author Sapphire said during several interviews: “We cracked open a stereotype, and a human being came forth.” Precious did emerge as a completely believable character, and I think the superb acting rescued this screenplay.

Readers and movie audiences want to relate to the main character. I think everybody could identify with Precious at the beginning of her story, regardless of their color or economic status, because her goals were universal. She wanted to stop feeling like a failure, she wanted to be accepted, she wanted to feel self-respect, and she wanted to be loved.

Of course, there must be obstacles to the character achieving the goals — and that’s where the story fell apart for me. Whether or not one person actually faced all these obstacles isn’t the point. One of my writing professors once criticized a story, and I argued that it was based on true events. He said, “Real life is no excuse for bad fiction.” I’m not saying “Precious” is bad fiction. It isn’t. Sapphire is a gifted writer. Precious is a unique, powerful, memorable character, perhaps unforgettable.

I have had students who had many of the traits of Precious, but not all in one person. I felt there were so many sad, negative aspects that it was too much for one character. I’ve worked with kids who’ve had similar lives and who’ve suffered through incest and physical and emotional abuse, but I’ve never, ever encountered a mother who was such a monster. She’s a great character, but way over the top in terms of reality. But an amazing performance.

LouAnne Johnson is a former Marine and teacher of troubled teens. Her book “My Posse Don’t Do Homework” was adapted into the film “Dangerous Minds.”

Chuck Leavell on
UP IN THE AIR

A great film with powerful themes given the state of the economy, and great acting. I loved the whole melancholy feel to it, and the sadness of Clooney’s character, who’s in this totally insulated world with a very strange job of having to fly around the country to fire people. He has no real home. Even his apartment looks like a hotel room, and he’s constantly on the road.

I could really relate to a lot of that, especially the first part of the film where he’s exhibiting his flying expertise. All that stuff — having the correct luggage, packing properly and taking only what you need — really hit home to me. I do the same things at the airport. I’m always checking out what line will be fastest, how to save time and so on.

The last time I toured with the Rolling Stones, we were on the road for over two years, a lot of it in planes, so I really chuckled at the scene about frequent flier miles, because I’m one of those guys! I’ll never reach 10 million, and I don’t have some magic goal like Clooney’s character, but I love getting them and it’s a very important perk of the business. Same with all the hotel cards. With the Stones, you’re always staying in five-star hotels like the Ritz-Carlton or Four Seasons, but often other tours don’t have that kind of budget, so you’re in the Hiltons and Marriotts, and I have a briefcase full of airline and hotel cards, and I loved that scene where they’re comparing cards and awards.

Chuck Leavell’s career as a keyboardist for Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones and others has made him a frequent flier, though he is also an environmentalist and co-founder of the Mother Nature Network.

The profiles in this section are based on interviews with Iain Blair, Peter Debruge and Anna Stewart.

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