Ol' Dirty Basterds

inglourious-basterdsDisney should have taken the four billion they paid for Marvel and bought Tarantino instead. Why? Inglourious Basterds is the only movie that I've seen that has had a director in something like the last five years. What's more, it's just about the only movie I've seen that has had a writer (who also happens to be the director, but what you gonna do?). It also has a movie star. And a supporting star. To say Inglourious Basterds is good would be like saying water is wet. It is so, so much more than that.

Tarantino is not sitting on his laurels. He is not only pushing himself, he is pushing audio/visual storytelling. Forget cinema, the movies, whatever you want to call it. He's doing things in Inglourious Basterds that will affect YouTube and video games and novels and comic books and plays. He trumped The Sopranos' last two seasons, that's how high he was aiming. And he did it without making it either a history lesson or a plate of spinach. Not to say that it was a perfect movie. Far from it; though tight and smart, there are loose threads everywhere. He is a director/writer who gloriously colors outside the lines. The first bold move: the rewrite of history.

Spielberg is a student and a visualist. His Saving Private Ryan was a case history. But, except for the insane opening, it lacked the frenzy of even five seconds of Inglorious Basterds. And the focus. Spielberg was mince meat in the face of Brad Pitt and his bastards.

The fact is, sometimes the magnitude of events is such that we can only truly understand it through art. Tolstoy knew this. Were there real Rostovs? I don't think so. Did Napoleon do everything he had him do? Maybe, maybe not. But the stuff of history, when imagined TRULY, can tell us more. Picasso said [warning pretentiousness ahead], "Art is the lie that tells the truth." And by imagining a war, Tarantino tells us things about life. For one, he doesn't fake accents. To find an effective antagonist, he had to find an actor who spoke French, English, German, and Italian. Not just speak them, act in them. And he did.

His historical personages hew to their real (or mythic) realities. Hitler's Berchtegsgarden hideaway is more real, and more scary, than the real one. Imagination makes the real more real.

Witness Mike Myers's turn as a British general. And Churchill. Astonishing, comic and real at the same time. Our slavish obedience to reality is a crutch for weak art. But that is another topic. Thankfully Tarantino's daring doesn't stop there.

He has boldly lobbed a grenade into the gut of the short attention span world all the critics are lamenting. The twenty-some-minute set piece that opens the film is as deliberate and slow and tense as Rohmer or Hitchcock.

But again, this movie has no higher purpose (neither did John Ford's nor Lubitsch nor Hawkes nor Delmar Davies nor...nor...) Tarantino's smart enough to know that you need a video-game-worthy hook to bring 'em in. Then, like the greatest of the past, you slip in the art. Not to get artsy fartsy brownie points. To move people. So, again, he rewrites history, but not stupidly. It is all plausible. [In fact, this is a trick many serious modern historians use, speculative or counter-factual history, but we need not go into that.]

How did he do it? Well, besides talent, which is ineffable, he had a producer to back him up. And he had fun. He is the most impulsive filmmaker working on the planet today. And he delivers. Fun? Too much fun. Scary. Yes. Big themes? Oh yeah. The gore quotient? Well, EC Comics in the early '50s was doing as much or more.

Big, splendid, artistic, messy, fun. Film is back. At least in the person of one filmmaker and one movie. I cannot get it out of my head. Or my heart. - Ken Krimstein

Ken.jpg

Mr. Krimstein is a writer, cartoonist, father, and grump who lives in New York City. So there.

But it doesn't really matter...

...because my real issue with the statement that this film is the greatest WWII film ever is that it isn't really a WWII film at all, no more so than Batman is a film about New York City. Aside from some beautiful coloring and cinematography, and a solid performance from Landa, I see absolutely no value in this film. Tarantino certainly has guts, but in the case of this movie I have no respect for him or his guts.

Mr. Pink (a.k.a. C. Jefferson Thom)

OK, I'll grant you two...

Air Force by Howard Hawks and Forbidden Games by Rene Clement...

Check out the balls on Ken...

...to bad he doesn't have the brains to go with them.

First, Tarantino is no Kubrick and he never will be. Second, to call this the best WWII movie is an absurd statement and one you should be embarrassed to voice in public. I'm glad you can recall all the terms and techniques that you learned in film 101, but you still fail to relate them to this film in any tangible manner. There was no real cat and mouse game between Landa & Pitt, that was merely tacked on in the end. As for the characters, Tarantino did his usual move of introducing them and showing off how bad-ass they were but that was pretty much it. There was little to no character development, just dictation. Thank you, Quentin, but I couldn't take your word for it this time. The man's made two good movies and he's lucky to have people like Ken here to keep blowing the hot air into that inflated balloon he's been huffing on for the past decade.

Glad you enjoyed my slice,

Mr. Pink

Kubrick

One last (maybe) coda. I think it's interesting the 'Mr. Pink' (great slice at Two Boots Pizza btw) mentioned a Kubrick film. I think Tarantino is the late great director's only heir -- at least on what used to be called 'the big screen.'

Completely, Gloriously Implausible

Q: Was it plausible that Hamlet saw and spoke to the ghost of his father on the ramparts?

Even if you want to follow the charade of reality (as, alas, we all do -- from the perversion that is 'reality tv' to 'cinema verite' docs to journalism), what happens in war is, well, unreal. Madness. That is the point of war. One side plans for the other side to do something 'implausible,' and vice versa.

But all that aside, without either going into the plot, or recounting the story for 87.5% of the review (as 99.34% of all film reviewers are wont to do) and without, hopefully, giving away any 'spoilers,' allow me to go on at a bit more length than my original shortish notice (above.)

First -- [pretentiousness alert] let's consider that little directorial trick called by our friends the French 'mise en scene.' What does this mean? It means, what are the things we see on the screen, in the scene? How is it staged. This is in contrast to montage, or cutting from scene to scene. As any theater director will tell you, the mise en scene -- or stage setting as I believe they call it in theater -- is critical. Tarantino used this technique with much art here, using it to describe, limn, portray, expound, intensify not only who his characters were but the tension lines between them. The Gestapo agent emerging in the cellar. The trio, with Churchill, in the vast, empty royal hall -- just a grand piano and a globe that doubled as a liquor cabinet. Everything was weighted with meaning. What meaning? Impulsive meaning, artistic meaning. Otherwise known as feeling.

Montage, well, that is so overused we don't need to talk about it. But what about an expressionist use of color? To express feeling. Like red.

Tarantino knows his tool kit, very very well. Rather than just blasting in to a close up whenever he feels he needs to make the audience interested, his story 'earns' the close up. The drawn out dialogue scenes built human emotion to a fevered pitch not just with the words, but, like a great writer will do, the pauses between the words, the what is not said. And then, to show that these long set pieces were not stage plays or one act plays, he focuses on eye twitches. Pure cinema.

Some of the artifice he proudly displayed. But the real art was hiding, way under the hood. Because when you take on big questions -- war, love, violence -- you can't answer them. You can just pose them.

Then, story. Sure there was a story. Yeah, you could write it on the head of a pin. But what about the cat and mouse game between Pitt's character and Landa. Here, too, wheels within wheels whirred.

But to get back to my initial thought -- we embrace reality as a substitute for art at our own peril. Of course, if things are so fake they blow it for us, that doesn't work. But if things are earned, built, they do. The Basterds, you don't have to explain them. They are raw revenge-driven rage. But the smooth evil of Landa, the serpent in the garden, so much more cunning.

Finally, after 70 years and millions of feet of film since the September 1, 1939 launch of WWII, we may have our first truly honest film about that most horrible of all wars.

Plausible?

I have met quite a few people who love this movie, some who have even been crazy enough to say it's his best. I personally thought it was dull, indulgent and anything but plausible (the entire command of the Third Reich is at this movie theatre, along with Hitler himself, and there are only TWO guards outside Hitler's box... it's funny when he asks for gum, but there is nothing plausible about any of it). Aside from "Reservoir Dogs", Tarantino's work has been marked by style, dialogue and a complete lack of substance. I found this movie to be consistent with those qualities except that the dialogue was tedious (though not nearly as bad as "Kill Bill, Vol. 2" & "Death Proof") and the style fragmented. It felt like he had a bunch of ideas that would be cool and then just threw them all together. I agree that there were some beautiful shots (the finale with the flames and the projected face was particularly memorable) but most of them were not worthy of the drawn out time they were given. As for the pacing, I like slow ("Barry Lyndon" is one of my favorite movies) but this movie was needlessly so. I find it irritating people seem so eager to praise this movie and yet no one can give a clear answer to explain their appreciation for it. Honestly, this review reads more as a blind praise that was ready to be given the moment the reviewer walked into the theatre and it makes me sad that some many people are so willing to except this as greatness when so many directors, Tarantino included, have done so much better.

Rod Taylor was Churchill!!!

Almost as good as he was in 'The Time Machine.'

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