Friday, August 21, 2009

Inglourious Basterds

Naturally, I want to talk about Inglourious Basterds. When I first heard that Tarantino was going to make this movie, I was really happy. One thing that I knew he "got" about WWII movies, which very few people actually verbalize, is that it's quite fun to sit and work up a bloodlust about killing Nazis.

I am quite certain that, just like all his other movies, this one will unleash some bullshit backlash. In his two movies with strong female leads, he was accused of misogyny, because some critics really are that fuckin' stupid. I love the double edged sword he always has to face, when half the people leave disappointed because it was so much talking and not enough shooting going on, while the other half of the critics are grossed out by his stylized violence. And, I know I've already seen a couple of articles lambasting him for making Jews look bad in this movie because there's a small group of them, the titular Basterds, who, to borrow a Tarantinoism, get medieval on the Nazis' asses. Well, let's get that out of the way. I think that criticism is fucking retarded and bullshit.

First off all, WHEN did it become fashionable to sympathize with Nazis? If we should be allowed to work up a frothing vengeance against any group in fictionalized cinema, I still think it should be the Nazis. And if you don't think we should be allowed to do that, even in fictionalized cinema, then go rent The fucking Notebook or some other Nicholas Sparks horseshit and shut your yap and let the rest of us enjoy our shit. And if anyone should be pissy with Nazis, why not the Jews?

As for the talky parts that I imagine most critics are going to rail against -- if you want a non-stop action picture, then go to one. See GI Joe or something like that. And, by the way, I have nothing against non-stop action pictures. I'm just also of the opinion that not ALL movies need to be that. At one point of the movie, Brad Pitt's character gets dressed up just like Bogey in Casablanca (This is only one of the innumerable small allusions/homages to cinema that Tarantino paints.) But it made me wonder who among the critics that are blasting this movie for being too talkative could actually sit through Casablanca today?

As a director, Tarantino long ago defined himself as an "auteur." Though his movie genres morph and change and though he incorporates different stylistic approaches, they are all stamped indelibly as his, and, without question, Inglourious Basterds sings his name all through. It's not a spoiler to tell you that the final line of the movie is one of the characters, looking into the camera, and saying, "This just may be my masterpiece." It is Tarantino anviliciousness at its best, a sly but not-subtle thump of his chest, and he definitely earns it.

First, the way this picture looks. From dusty farmhouses in France to movie houses in Paris, this movie is shot with some absolutely stunning scenes and iconic images. My personal favorite was when, as David Bowie's "Cat People" seemingly anachronistically plays, the red satin dressed heroine gets ready to seek her revenge, and at one point runs down a spiral staircase.

In that one sequence alone, it is a gorgeous visual mixup of noir, suspense, and glamour, echoing three stylistic titans: Scorsese, Coppola, and De Palma. And yet, moreso, it seems like the way those three would interpret and homage to Hitchcock. And yet, the final product is completely Tarantino. At this point, while speaking of the lush look of the film, I also have to say that part of its appeal was the incredibly beautiful lighting throughout, and the use of steady shots. Tarantino has not fallen to the dark, shaky-cam techniques of many of his contemporaries, and I can't appreciate him enough for it.

Second, the acting. Again he echos Scorsese in this manner: Any actor should jump to work on a Tarantino picture, because he's going to make them look incredible. And I do mean visually, but I also mean as actors, he does, somehow, possess the ability to pull the best possible performances out of his cast. There is Brad Pitt, and he's not exactly a revelation, simply because Pitt does do this sort of thing well. He is good, very good.

His Tennessee twang and cock-sure attitude are absolutely delightful. And I'm one of those strange women who are impervious to his physical charms. On paper, I never think much of Pitt. But then I watch him in some of his kooky roles, like 12 Monkeys or Burn After Reading, and he wins me over. He is by far the biggest name here, and he pulls his weight.

But Pitt does get upstaged. The two females, Diane Kruger (National Treasure) as a double agent, and Melanie Laurent as a Jewish girl who witnessed the brutal slaying of her family at Nazi hands, are both absolutely stunning in every way. And then, there is Christoph Waltz.

Waltz is cast as "The Jew Hunter," Colonel Hans Landa, and he is mesmerizing. It appeared to me that he's completely fluent in four languages, slipping in out of dialogues as easily as he slipped from gentlemanly to monstrous. Charming and suave, polite and particular, it is with his quiet reserve and coiled brutality that he's able to build such mounting tension and ultimately dread.

And the tension and dread is what Inglourious Basterds is about -- at least until the epic denoument, which is filled with twists and shocks. And here is where I'll call utter bullshit on the critics who complain about the dialogue in this movie. Though I somewhat disagreed because it was character building, I could understand that the conversations in Death Proof sometimes sagged. In Basterds, however, I never once felt that. The film is broken down into five chapters, and in each chapter, there is an uphill, slow crescendo building, punctuated with a small release, almost like a roller coaster that keeps re-setting to the opening climb after the initial dip. And Tarantino builds these crescendos through the dialogue as he ratchets up the suspense, always pitting two characters against each other, playing cat and mouse, waiting to see if one will discover the other's secret and if hell will break loose. And whether it's a glass of milk, a strudel, or a game of 20 questions, Tarantino finds the fit to dance around the direct issue while unmasking the involved parties.

All this tension/minor release keeps culminating until the fifth chapter, where all points collide, the coaster goes full tilt, and all hell does breaks loose. It is in this section that Tarantino unleashes the unraveling action and it becomes a near visual orgy along with being an emotional climax. Which, I realize all sounds very sexualized, but, I guess if Tarantino fucks the way he films, it probably is fairly epic. Amidst all the action and twists, always adorned with other references -- both to film and pop culture of that day -- there are also the trademarks of Tarantino. Most easily notable, his foot fetish is still on display, and this time it's integral to the plot and creates more than just a luscious, lingering camera shot.

I must also say that for all his directorial expertise -- and at this point it is mastery and expertise that he's cultivated, it's still also his screenwriting abilities that serve him so well. He is, for my money, the most consistently brilliant film writer working today. He seemingly easily creates these intertwined plots and sews them all together in a satisfying ending, while also delivering the goods with some of the most entertaining dialogue along the way. And, most notable, his characterizations are more impeccable than ever. Christoph Waltz's Hans Landa is the most obvious and delicious villainous example. But Tarantino is sly as ever, too. Nazi sympathizing? His celebrated Nazi sniper Fredrick Zoller, played by Daniel Bruhl, is also a brilliant creation -- the kind that makes us question our bloodlust for the Nazis the way he displays such a gentle, awkward, and affable charm. In the same vein, Tarantino sets up the climax at a Nazi screening of a German propaganda picture, where we see the Nazi brass kicking back and reveling in watching Nazis kick Italian ass -- and they laugh at it as the Italians bleed out and die ingloriously, making us cringe. And he does this all while begging us, egging us on to laugh at and cheer for the Nazis' destruction. Talk about having cake and eating it, too. And though he never comes anywhere close to tear-jerking melodrama, there is, always, an underlying, nearly indefinable soul to his work and characters.

Even though he's Quentin Tarantino, I still doubt he's got absolute power and autonomy to do things exactly as he wants them. But what he's put on the screen with Inglourious Basterds certainly feels and appears to be as pure as we can possibly get to his vision. And that vision is definitely one that incorporates his love of film and movies, and it cleverly injects his own sensibilities and tastes -- twisted as they sometimes are. Some people will be disappointed, because he doesn't keep remaking Pulp Fiction. Instead, he keeps attacking different genres and putting his imprint and style upon them, and he keeps growing and getting bigger in scope. Most notably, this is something different. It does not follow the formula for a summer action-movie, or a drama, or a thriller, or anything. It's a Tarantino picture. And it's glorious. The bastard did it again. And yes, it just may be his masterpiece.


Ellen said...

Just saw it yesterday and holy shit, this is a magnificent review. RollingStone should give you a job. Brava.


SusanD said...

Aw, thanks Ellen!

GC SMITH said...

Great review.

Where the hell are you keeping yourself.

I still want you to be my agent as I never sold WHITE LIGHTNING and now have another novel, THE CARBON STEEL CARESS (serial murdering husband and wife team).

Maryanne said...

wonderful review!

SusanD said...

Thanks Maryanne & GC! GC, I can't be someone else's agent, as I can't even sell MY books. Then again, yours are certainly better than mine, but still, I think I'm cursed.

trudi said...

I knew you'd love it. My hubby and son loved it. They went to the first midnight show. I may go see it . Though I still haven't recovered from Pulp Fiction.

SusanD said...