I was hoping I could make these Classic Friday posts be at least vaguely on topic with something that's happened recently, but that's what I get for putting off saving those articles until it was too late. So you get an old review of a Quentin Tarantino movie:
Inglorious Basterds Review
by Alex Hill
I envy anyone who can even describe a Quentin Tarantino movie, let alone write a review for them. I’ve seen Inglourious Basterds in what must be the most packed theatre I’ve been in. “District 9″ was fortunate that it was released sooner. Its reign at the top of the box office will be short-lived. Tarantino’s new film is, I think, going to hold the public’s attention much longer. And I have no earthly idea what it is I’ve just watched. Calling it a comedy shortchanges its dramatic punch. Calling it a drama belies the humour it finds in the uncomfortable black reaches of Nazi-occupied France in the 1940’s. It defies explanation or classification. The best I can do is say that it is definitely a “Quentin Tarantino movie”. To anyone who’s seen his previous work, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If not, well, you will after you see Inglourious Basterds.
It follows a handful of Jewish-Americans dropped into France in the early ’40’s, intent to destroy and scalp as many Nazis as they can. And that’s about all we hear from them. I’m not kidding. The title characters in this film are barely even in the movie, save for a couple of comic-relief meat-heads. It isn’t strange to feel cheated sometimes, especially when some characters receive an unusual amount of attention and build-up only to wind up dead 10 minutes later.
I guess that’s how it is in war. Everyone’s fair game. This is something you’ll find in any Tarantino movie. No matter what you may know about his past work, about actors, about top-billing, you do not know who is going to survive in his films. In a boring picture, the only survivors are the lead actor and actress. You know, the “big stars” who adorn the greatest amount of space on the poster. Some movies you see coming all the way down sunset.
This director, instead, writes so that his characters’ actions drive them to their fates, whatever that may be. It doesn’t matter if you’re the comic relief, the mousey rookie, the minority figure, the dame, the midget, or even Brad Pitt. No one is bulletproof. Nor are any more destined for an early demise than their company. I admire any movie that doesn’t leave me knowing how it will end as soon as it starts. There are survivors in Inglourious Basterds, but don’t think you can expect ‘em to be who you expect ‘em to be.
I also admire the unapologetic pace seen here, and also in “Jackie Brown” and “Kill Bill Volume 2″. There is violence, oh is there ever violence. But it builds up to that. Indeed, it takes its sweet damn time, and I am thankful for that. To those who left Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen sick of confusingly edited scenes of carnage, take heed that only one such instance occurs here. It is otherwise a long, maddening crawl toward almost unwatchable, often completely unexpected bloodshed. Perhaps it takes us off our guard by letting us get comfortable with scenes of extensive dialogue and Tarantino’s vintage sense of humour. This movie conditions us, then desensitizes, then re-sensitizes. It sets us up, breaks us down, and starts the process over. Building higher, and breaking harder. I’m convinced those with short attention spans will not be disappointed. Even when the subtitles take control of the film, he never reduces the audience to boredom. He makes every second count.
Do I dislike Brad Pitt? That’s what I found myself asking as I watched this. I don’t think I do. I think I’m just sick of him being the subject of intense scrutiny and examination, simply for existing. Is his real life really that interesting? Can’t Entertainment Tonight just leave this guy alone? He applies himself well here. Do paparazzi really think it’s more interesting to see him leaving a restaurant than playing a Tennessee leader with Apache ancestry attempting to sneak into a movie premiere by pretending to be Italian? The first word that fell out of his mouth in that scene left every seat in stitches. I liked him at that point.
I guess it doesn’t bare saying that this is a film of fascinating performances. I almost said they were “human”, but what human beings act or speak like this? It sort of comes with the territory. Christoph Waltz plays the quintessential Classhole, a nazi officer with the much-earned nickname of “The Jew Hunter”. He is a man who knows his opponent and the strategy in front of them well before they’d like. He’s seen it all, indeed he seems omniscient at times. I don’t think any plan of subterfuge would get past him, and then here come the Basterds, for whom let it be said that subtlety is not a strong point. He is a man content to let his victims think they are in the clear. All the better to snatch their hopes from them just before they can be fulfilled. And his tone is so polite, so without-a-care that he fools even his commanding officers in ordinary conversation.
Waltz plays him as a man who knows, who knows they know, and who knows they know he knows, and is content to let his prey stew in that. Watching him is a tennis-match between giggling at his script and squirming at the malevolent evil that he enjoys as a hobby, with the attitude others might apply to a stamp collection.
There is an entire “Chapter” devoted to a bar full of interesting personalities, some pretending, some honest, some drunken, and some dangerously focused. The Projectionists, played by Melanie Laurent and Jacky Ido, are good people in a bad time who might just play the most important role in re-writing history. Even Mike Myers(yes, THAT Mike Myers) is here in a subdued role, as a British officer debriefing one of his boys sneaking into France to join the Basterds. This isn’t just a World War II movie, but a movie about its characters, and how their oddities collide with each other.
Much can be said for the experience of viewing a movie as much as the movie itself. The right speakers in the AMC chain I visited did not appear to be functioning, so I could only make out half of what was being said. And I was still enthralled. Forgive the rating at the top of this review. It feels wrong to try and cram a film like Inglourious Basterds into a 1-5 rating scale. I might as well assign it a question mark, or Twelve Goats out of Blimp. I’m sure I’ll regret it later, no matter what number is up there. QT’s film, like all of his films, draw from strange and seemingly alien sources of reference than we’ve come to expect from conventional Hollywood. Even the soundtrack is mostly instrumental selections from features like “The Alamo”, “The Big Gundown” and… “Cat People”. Some might see it as a Frankenstein of War and Spaghetti Western movies. It just might also be his masterpiece.
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