‘Basterds,’ aliens, and sarcasm (oh my)

“Personal Days” by Ed Park caters to fans of office theme
I happened to stumble across Ed Park’s satirical debut novel accidentally. I went to the library intending to check out a highly intellectual work of nonfiction. However, the cover of “Personal Days,” on which the title is spelled out on a computer keyboard, distracted me (Yes, I routinely judge books by their covers). While “Personal Days” isn’t a work that will upset the literary world, for fans of “The Office” and “Office Space,” or anyone who has ever worked in an office situation, or anyone with a love of satire and randomness for that matter, it is a fast-paced and enjoyable read.

Ed Park is clearly a talent to watch. His quips, delivered matter-of-factly at the end of a long phrase, caught me off guard, often causing me to laugh aloud, once or twice making me gasp for breath.

While “Personal Days” is sometimes a little too familiar in tone and formula to the aforementioned cult favorites, Park attempts to differentiate his story by throwing in a contrived, yet captivating, office mystery.
—Laura Herzog

‘District 9’ outshines predecessors
While Cloverfield hardly invented the hand-held, pseudo-documentary style, it popularized the technique as a way of creating a sense of realism in science-fiction films, opening the door for movies like “District 9.”  But where Cloverfield was simply good, queasy fun, Neill Blomkamp’s directorial debut is smart, thought-provoking and, by all sci-fi geek standards, awesome.

The film is set in a fictionalized Johannesburg, South Africa, where aliens are segregated from humans and live in a ghetto called District 9. Blomkamp uses this premise as an allegory for the real-life apartheid system before turning the film into an exciting, fugitive-on-the-run thriller. “District 9” is sci-fi social commentary in the tradition of “The Twilight Zone,” while also providing all the chase sequences and exploding heads a late-summer action flick should have.

Boasting seamless special effects and a plot that continuously surprises, District 9 is well worth revisiting several times.
— Steven Avigliano

‘Inglourious Basterds’ is quintessential Tarantino
Writer-director Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” is ostensibly a revenge war movie, with Brad Pitt leading a band of Jewish people to topple the Third Reich. But it’s also a genre-bending mash-up. It’s the World War II movie Sergio Leone would have made, and it’s a fantasy that lets an African-American and a Jew watch Hitler burn.

Sometimes it feels like watching three or four different movies, with Pitt’s basterds scalping Nazis, Western-movie tension broken by B-movie violence, and multiple plans to trap the Führer in a movie theater. Though these shifts and layered film references feel capricious, the movie’s tremendous climax majestically brings them together. An ode to the power of movies and a visual feast, the culmination is absurd, even though you know it’s coming.

“Inglourious Basterds” is Tarantino’s most ambitious movie, so though it’s the most challenging, it’s also the most rewarding.
—Nathan Fuller

500 Days of Summer
A heartbreaking comedy with a twisted but honest happy ending. This year’s Sundance Film Festival select delivers the brutality of love, or in Summer’s case, the lack thereof.

Greeting card writer Tom(Jason Gordon-Levitt) finds himself hopelessly in love(again) with co-worker Summer(Zooey Deschanel), when he is unexpectedly dumped just as the relationship seems to border perfection. The movie depicts the moments preceding and following the breakup in inconsecutive flashbacks, building upon Tom’s unyielding heartbreak.

Deschanel is ironically charming as Summer, though denying Tom sympathy as he spirals deeper into depression is impossible. Deschanel is somehow equally innocent in her cynicism as Levitt is in his romantic ideals. The accessibility created by both Levitt and Deschanel demands an equal empathy for both characters, even though the story is delivered from Tom’s perspective.

Accompanied by a stellar soundtrack, the film creates a new breed of romantic comedy, one that fights to find and defend romance, rather than trivializing it.

-Katie Brenzel