Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Inglourious Basterds review

This review may contain spoilers. I'm going to try not to give out too many but there are probably a few in here. Turn ye back now or face thee the consequences of Movie Nerd-dom!

Still there?

Okay you're now in ODF territory (Own Damn Fault).

Quentin Tarantino is a weird director for a lot of people of my age group. Like Metallica, Tarantino seems to have a sharp dividing line of when he was awesome and when he went downhill, or vice versa. For example, a lot of Metallica fans point to the Black album as the album that started them into crapacity: phrases like “They were much better before that fucking Sandman” or “Metallica has turned into a bunch of fags” (please note these aren't my words, they are the words of two guys in particular I went to high school with) were used. Other people, myself included, see the Black album as Metallica in their best form.

For film fans and specifically Tarantino fans, this rings true with Kill Bill. Some fans see it as a turning point and a triumph, others see it as a “Where the fuck is the dialogue-heavy gangster movie I love? What's with this kung fu shit?”.

And to be honest, I can completely understand both sides of the argument.

Now for the sake of the rest of the article, you should know, I am firmly in the former territory.

Still there?

Okay now for the three of you left reading this, we're getting to Inglourious Basterds, so bear with me.

I love Kill Bill (both volumes soon hopefully to be put back together in the Whole Bloody Affair DVD set I'm willing to kill to have put out) and I also rather enjoy Death Proof (his contribution to Grindhouse – although to be honest, I much prefer it as part of the double bill with fake commercials, etc).

I see them both as the work of a director who is not only skilled at his craft and in storytelling, but also as films the director wanted to make. No one badgered him into making either of these films, they aren't based off a comic book or a remake of another movie: like them, hate them or love them, both of those movies were exactly the movies Quentin Tarantino wanted to make, with very few compromises.

Inglourious Basterds is the same way.

And before a single one of you gets on me about it being a remake, it isn't. It shares a similar title (not misspelled however) with an Italian film starring Bo Svenson and Fred Williamson, but the plots are nothing alike. I know; I own it in a two-disc special edition DVD...yes, I am that one guy.

The Inglourious Basterds is a multi-sub-plot film about a plot to kill Hitler and the majority of his top guys during a film screening in Paris. Part of this involves Aldo the Apache (Brad Pitt) and his group of Basterds: Jewish American soldiers using gruesome guerrilla tactics to scare the Germans, tactics including but not limited to brutally murdering and scalping Nazi soldiers. The other main story revolves around a young Jewish woman named Shosanna, the only survivor of a raid on her family's safe haven by Colonel Hans “Jew Hunter” Landa.

Basterds is a war film that is completely Tarantino's from start to glorious finish. It is not historically accurate, nor does it pretend to be. It is also a film that borders on comedy at many moments While the violence is grisly and brutal, there are moments where the film almost ventures into Marx Brothers territory.

Tarantino has also proved some critics wrong by demonstrating an ability to do suspense effectively. There is a bar scene in Basterds that, at first, seems like a typical Tarantino dialogue scene. Then it seems like it's a scene going a little too long...and then a lot too long...and finally you're just begging for something to happen – not because you want the scene over and done with, but because the suspense is driving you nuts. You know that someone has to die...but when?

I was surprised by a few things in Basterds. The first is that a majority of the dialogue is in French or German.

The second was Eli Roth.

For those of you who didn't know beforehand, Eli Roth, who plays the baseball bat wielding “Jew Bear” Seargent Donny Donowitz (and who gets the majority of the screen throughout the film) is himself a director. He is the guy behind Cabin Fever and the Hostel films. And while I don't think this proves he's an amazing actor by any stretch, it does prove if he wants a second career, he could probably have it.

The third thing that was almost a revelation to me is Austrian born actor Christoph Waltz, who portrays the villainous “Jew Hunter”. Every single moment this man is on screen, he commands it. As far as I can tell from his IMDB entry, this is his first North American/English language film, but I really hope it's not his last. Hell, I'm even thinking of searching out some of his German work just to see more of this guy.

The film is well written – over his last couple films, Tarantino has used learn his trademark dialogue-heavy scenes sparingly. The action is well filmed and as with all of his movies, his use of music is superb. There are a few of his “regulars” showing up as bit parts, the best of which is Harvey Keitel playing (perhaps) the father of his Winston character from Pulp Fiction. If you noticed his cameo, you will completely understand what I mean.

Now for the bad.

If you didn't like Kill Bill or Death Proof, chances are you are not going to like this film either, nor will it make you a believer in Tarantino's current direction as a film maker. Sam Jackson does make an appearance but he ain't in a suit and this definitely is not a crime picture.

I also felt, despite the slightly-over-two-and-a-half hour running time, some of the film seems rushed. I would love to see more of Aldo and his Basterds or more on how Shosanna went from running away from Landa to owning a movie theater.

Now I'm going to get a little political.

My only other main concern was the film taking up the Indian Jones banner of “All Germans WERE NAZIS and therefore ALL Germans were EVIL fucks who deserved the same treatment they gave the Jews.”

While I know it's just a movie, and as I also pointed out it's not historically accurate in the slightest, it still bothers me a little that all Germans are painted with this brush. The truth of the matter is, not all Germans were Nazis, and the majority of German soldiers did not know the Holocaust was occurring. One of the few positive things to come out of Bryan Singer's Valkyrie was the fact that is brings up this point. It's like saying that every solider in Iraq rapes and pillages.

And before someone gets up in arms. I am not a Holocaust denier in any regards. I know it happened, and to be honest, I also happen to think it's a lot worse then the general media lets us think: beyond the millions of Jews there were also millions of Poles, POW's, various Slavs, disabled, mentally ill, homosexuals and Romani who were sent to the camps and never came back. Not to mention the atrocities that the Japanese committed during the same time period.

Anyway, back to the movie.

I understand it makes it good for the plot but a couple more good Germans would have been nice.

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