Thursday, September 03, 2009
Friday Movie Review--Inglourious Basterds (sic)
I have been a big Tarantino fan--particularly his early stuff: The supreme True Romance (which he wrote, but didn't direct); and the very good Reservoir Dogs. Heck, I even liked his acting in the Indy film Sleep With Me. But things started to go south with a overlong and not always good Pulp Fiction and, after an interesting Dutch Leonard crime book adaptation, Jackie Brown, they continued to go south with the so overlong it had to be subdivided Kill Bill, which was only good occasionally, and then hit rock bottom with the no-real-reason-to-exist Grindhouse double feature tribute thing. Meanwhile, Tarantino the actor gave reinforced meaning to the phrase 'one trick pony.' And Quentin became a bit of a fatuous a-hole all the rest of the time. So this film was primed to be his comeback, his masterpiece. Did he do it? Well, not really, no. On second though: Not by a mile.
Almost all of Tarantino's work before this has been in the realm of the seedy underside of criminal life, with some delusions of grandeur now and again. His films were something like therapy and longing--Tarantino's attempting to be, by proxy, one of the cool kids (and I do mean kids) instead of merely being a goofy movie nerd with peculiar tastes in films, and, to be fair, an ear for weird but compelling dialogue. There was also a lot of adolescent energy, wonder, broad humor and a hip joy in the early films, but Tarantino is 46 now--far past time to put aside childish things.
Inglourious Basterds is actually five different stories with overlapping characters, including Brad Pitt, playing Lieutenant Aldo Raine, who's supposed to be from east Tennessee but sounds like he is from Missouri via generic Southern accent school. Pitt has put together about a dirty half dozen, this time with just Jewish soldiers, with a former Nazi psychopath for spice. They are supposed to be hiding out-- ambushing and killing Nah-zees in occupied France just before D-Day--but they seem to have the run of the place. They move as they please, usually in allied uniforms, but are never detected. They don't seem even to post a guard; everyone is looking in at the prisoners at their hide-out. This is not just alternative reality but a decided unreality with an underplaying of just how dangerous the Germans were.
Here is one thing that puzzled me--the sniper/film fan is recognized by a superior officer. OK, perhaps he had commanded him in the past. But then other people recognize him, he's hounded for an autograph, and he suddenly has all the earmarks of a movie star, which he actually is. But the only movie he's made has yet to premier. How did people recognize him?
I see I skipped the all talking (although some say it was tense) beginning interrogation scene by the best actor in the film, Austrian Christopher Waltz, who, by movie's end, has a chest full of medals, including the Knight's Cross, for apparently nothing more than setting up for shooting helpless, hiding Jews. A Knight's Cross for that? No one, then or now, mistook the Einsatzgruppen for heroes. Perhaps Tarantino is fixated on the Jew hating (and killing) part of the Nazi story. I think that part of their history is important, indeed, never to be forgotten, but there was other stuff to note, like the politics, the energizing of the whole German volk, and German prowess at war--from weapon development to new ways of warfare. Most of the Germans in this movie are about as deadly as Sgt. Schultz. But Waltz, at least, unlike the cartoon versions of the Nazi leadership he hangs with, is deadly. Oh, and he also has mad skills as a detective.
Then there is the mostly talking meeting in the basement (which was pretty tense) and which ended pretty badly for everyone there. Unfortunately, in both of the almost all talking scenes, Tarantino's former sense of compelling dialogue has been stretched (through various languages) and attenuated down to near tedium. Also, if Tarantino really was as hip as he believes himself to be, the Basterds would have carried STG 44s, the coolest gun the Germans produced, rather than the underpowered MG 38s they seem to rely on. Oh that reminds me. What the heck was that floor made of in the farmhouse? Papier-mâché? Back in the basement, the Brit, SS officer and Nazi psychopath end up in a three way Mexican standoff, just like at the end of Reservoir Dogs. Tarantino is not above paying homage to (stealing from) other movies, including his own.
Then there is the revenge fantasy, and this really was pretty good, with a film within a film and the cinematic laughing Jewess, her revenge complete, expanding over her victims in the smoke of doom (that will make more sense when you see it). But what was the theme of this endeavor--that the Nazis, monomaniacal Jew killers despite their impeccable manners, were evil? Who doesn't know that? This movie had the intellectual heft of a feather, a really tiny and particularly unsubstantial feather. You stop thinking about it the second you leave the theater. Still, there are a lot of people, about 80% of those who saw this, who really loved it, so perhaps I'm being too harsh here. It was good to see Rod Taylor is still alive. All the women were good to great. The violence is ugly and off-putting, just as it should be represented. There's humor now and again sometimes in the oddest places.
However, after 30 plus years of reading about WWII, I continue to be amazed how quickly and efficiently we, as a unified nation, petty much dropped everything else and took on and beat both Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, at the same time, in less than four years, at the end of a long Depression (albeit with a lot of help from the Soviets and the British Empire). We will almost certainly never again face such formidable enemies. Does this movie display an appreciation of that historical near miracle with the appropriate shared sense of pride, sacrifice and accomplishment? Nah, are you kidding? This is the sniggering schoolboy's take on the seriousness of those exceptional victories.
Labels: Inglourious Basterds
I agree that Brad Pitt was not very good, and his accent was way too over the top but THATS what is funny about it, come on, when he's trying to be italian? Hilarious.
But whatever. You might have changed Charlie's impressionable mind but my thoughts about the movie are still completely intact. I thought it was a silly, grusumely awesome, hilarious and sometimes well written and well acted movie.