Warning! This site contains satire, cynical adult humor, celebrity gossip, and an occasional peanut by-product or two!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Inglourious Basterds

I was so annoyed when I went to Inglourious Basterds and found out it wasn’t about my family. That always was the pet name I used to describe uncles and my father, although being an English major I was smart enough to spell “Inglorious Bastards” correctly even if I was only thinking of my uncles in that light. Okay, so technically they weren’t bastards bastards. Their parents were married, but in the colloquial sense, they were all a bunch of Inglourious Basterds, kind of like the illiterate goons referred to as the title characters in Quentin Tarantino’s latest blood-drenched fantasy now at the Essex Cinemas.

These Inglourious Basterds are a ragtag group of Jewish soldiers brought together to hunt Nazis in occupied France during World War II (probably the best time to find them if you think about it), led by a lug-nut American Lieutenant named Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt; The Curious Case of Benjamin Button). Aldo is a good ol’ boy from dumbfu--, um, he’s from rural Tennessee, and hardly seems an observant member of the Red Sea Pedestrian Genealogy Pedigree Society, but, then again, neither do any of the rest of the cast, not that it matters since this is a Quentin Tarantino movie after all. Bradley walks around with his lower lip wrapped under his teeth, apparently meant to give him a “country” look, i.e., simple-minded. It works because he accomplishes the feat so well he quickly becomes the least interesting person on screen despite his being the only one with a “name” to draw in crowds. I felt like he was using ‘Barney’ from “The Simpsons” as his inspiration. See what happens when you have six kids under eight at home.

The real stars of the film are its two female leads and Austrian actor Christoph Waltz (German tv’s "Tatort"). Waltz nails the role of multi-dimensional and very sociopathic SS Colonel Hans Landa, the type of soldier that Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney would positively swoon about on those late night sleepovers while they painted one another’s toenails and did each other’s hair (what there is left of it anyway). Landa is a relentless Jew hunter without a seeming ounce of compassion or conscience in him. As he explains early on, he equates the Jews to rats and the Germans to squirrels. While they may both be rodents, if both were to run into your home only one would elicit a visceral reaction of total disgust or nausea. And that’s the nicest thing he says in the whole movie. He has the same warm personality of my mother-in-law but without her masterful sneer. Still, despite that deficiency, Waltz makes for a great Nazi and he dances through the five “chapters” of this saga, and makes his presence in the overarching story felt even when he is not present.

The other major forces in the movie are played by Mélanie Laurent (Paris) and Diane Kruger (National Treasure: Book of Secrets) plays Shosanna Dreyfus, a Jewish teenager who escapes her own murder when Colonel Landa orders the slaughter of her family in Chapter One of this epic. She reappears a few years later in Chapter Three as a movie theater owner in Paris who by several twists of fate finds herself host to the gala premiere of a Nazi-sponsored film directed by Joseph Goebbels (Sylvester Groth; Hilde) himself, Hitler’s Chief of Propaganda. Oy! Wait until you see what they do to the cinema for this event! I haven’t seen this many swastikas and machine guns on display since a “Shirtless Saturday” BBQ and Gun Show in a Wal·Mart parking lot in Mississippi. I’ll bet you can already guess whose favorite Colonel is going to be front and center row for this event and is bound to take a personal interest in the beautiful young theater owner, unaware of their previous connection... or is he? Also on hand is Germany’s favorite (fictional) actress of the period Bridget von Hammersmark (Kruger), an undercover agent for British Intelligence who is pegged in Chapter Four to be the contact for the Basterds when they parachute into Nazi-occupied France to set in motion the big finale Chapter Five story, which, of course, turns into something completely unlike what the viewer is led to expect.

The obvious collision of all these stories into a combustible explosion from which the Inglorious Basterds shall rise triumphant is far too simplistic an end-game for a director like Tarantino, and he does not disappoint here. While I do usually cut artsy fartsy types like Quentin slack because they are (for lack of a more modest word) geniuses, I do wish he wouldn’t alter real history’s timeline or the outcome of real people’s fates as has a knack for doing. I won’t go into details for fear of spoilage, but with the general laziness of the American public today I’m just afraid that a lot of people will go see movies like this, where history is rewritten, and take what they see as fact because, God forbid, they would read something deeper than TV Guide or US Weekly. Books? If they don’t contain Sudoku puzzles in them and come in paperback then they are something called “paperweights” or “school work.” But I digress.

Inglourious Basterds is a terrific albeit flawed film. As Tarantino is known to do, he chooses music to score his movies that is terribly out of place most of the time and can be distracting. In thiscase, the opening theme sounds like it belongs in a 1970s spaghetti western scored by Ennio Morricone, not remotely Bavarian, French or even war-like. Otherwise, he is a stickler for detail and the costumes and sets will propel you back in time and you won’t just feel you are watching a movie but that you are a part of the story, especially because he does take those dreaded liberties with historical fact. Anyone who knows their history will either be baffled or furious at Tarantino’s ‘alternative universe’ because it provides an unknown “future past” where anything is possible. Most will consider that exciting though, but much more exciting is the presence of Mélanie Laurent, who owns the screen in every scene in which she appears. She is incendiary as the revenge-fueled young woman under Landa’s thumb. The 26-year-old actress has already gained much fame in her native France, but I’d make bank that this may be the beginning of a cross-over career into American films and her entrée into the Hollywood elite.

There are very few directors out there today making movies that will surprise you, and Tarantino is one who does. When you think you know how ~ and when ~ the tale is ending things will careen wildly and shockingly, sometimes comically, onto new ground. Inglourious Basterds is not just another war movie. I’m not quite sure I’d even categorize it as a war movie even though it obviously concerns matters happening during World War II, but it is much more a story of human emotions and deep, dark feelings. Do yourself a favor and see this delicious and daring drama. It beats another dry old documentary on the Hitler Channel, um, I mean the History Channel any day.

No comments: