August 21, 2009

Absurd Alternate Timelines Have Never Been So Awesome!

I'm on a movie high right now. I'm still reeling from the brilliance that was District 9, the trailer for Avatar has been replayed on my computer on average a grand total of 100 times, I saw The Road Warrior for the first time yesterday, and the new Quentin Tarantino movie just decided to grace audiences with its presence. This is a review of that film! Inglourious Basterds is the latest from the master of pulp, fatuous, bullshit, and is as historically accurate as it is grammatically correct. It's also too long, often boring, but, still an incredibly entertaining experience to sit through.
Basterds tells a few stories. All of them are set in WWII around the time the Allies invaded Normandy. Under the leadership of Lt. Aldo Raine, eight Jewish-American soldiers, nicknamed "The Bastards" have been carving a swath of death through Nazi occupied France, killing and scalping every Nazi that they see. On the other side of the spectrum, we have Shosanna, a Jew who escaped the brutal murder of her family from the Nazi's and now runs a cinema in Paris. Then, we have Col. Hans Landa, a Nazi SD officer, who is the man behind the death of Shosanna's family, and who is hot on the trail of The Bastards. All these stories converge at Shosanna's cinema, where the Nazi's are hosting a gala premier of a new propaganda film, at which all the members of German high command, including Hitler himself, are attending. So, naturally, The Bastards devise a plan to blow the place to hell, Shosanna puts her elaborate revenge into action, and Landa turns up to throw a wrench into their plans. In classic Tarantino fashion, Basterds is convoluted, confusing on the first viewing, and elaborate in ways that put other elaborate plots to shame. Like Kill Bill, Basterds is told in chapters, the titles of which are hysterical. This is Tarantino at his best. 
Acting wise, Basterds is just as strong as any other Tarantino movie. I don't know what it is about him, but Tarantino just manages to bring out the best in his actors. Brad Pitt is a bundle of ridiculousness and hilarity as Raine, the Lt. with a penchant for scalping Nazis, or, as he says it, Nah'zis. With this and Burn After Reading last year, Pitt is quickly showing us that he has serious chops when it comes to being so ridiculously absurd, it's uncomfortable. Other members of the Bastards also turn in fine performances, including Eli Roth as the baseball bat wielding Donny "The Bear Jew" Donowitz, B.J. Novak as Smithson "The Little Man" Utivich, and Til Schweiger as the Nazi-turned-Bastard Hugo Stiglitz. Diane Kruger shows up as a german actress who is spying for the British. She does a fine job for the hour or so that she's on screen. Melanie Laurent does a superb job as the vengeful Shosanna. Her revenge is one of the best put together you will ever see. All of these performances pale in comparison to one person, and that one person is Christoph Waltz as Col. Landa. He won the Best Actor award at Cannes a few months back, and he is sure to get an Oscar nomination. He is so friggin' good in this movie, this pathetic little review doesn't do him justice. He is at one moment, charming as hell, and the next, so evil and malicious you want nothing more then to jump into the frame and punch him. Every line uttered by him is solid gold, and since this is the infamous Tarantino dialogue we are dealing with, the quality of the gold is significantly higher then usual. He is simply perfectly cast and steals the entire movie. He is to this movie what Samuel L. Jackson was to Pulp Fiction.  Tarantino is known to cast the right people in his movies, and Basterds is no exception. 
Now, as we all know, I'm a huge Tarantino fan. I love pretty much every single one of his movies, including Death Proof. When it comes to interesting and original stories with the most easily quotable dialogue anywhere, Tarantino does it unlike anyone. In terms of interesting and original story, Basterds is right up there with Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill. In terms of dialogue, it falters a bit. Seeing as this is war film, a lot of it is subtitled. There are in fact entire chapters that are more or less entirely subtitled. For some reason, when writing for these scenes, Tarantino seemed to lose his mojo. It's not that the writing for these scenes is bad, it's still remarkably good. But it's just not the witty, roll-of-your-tongue ridiculous type of dialogue we've come to expect from Tarantino. It's nothing any other person couldn't write. It's made doubly obvious when you hear the english segments, because they are classic, bullshit spewing, hysterical Tarantino. The talk between Landa and Raine near the end of the movie is one the best things Tarantino has ever written. It's no "Royale with cheese", but it's close. Also, as is custom in his movies, Tarantino's characters love to talk... a lot. This is fine in his other movies, where the dialogue is so funny and interesting. Here, however, where a good amount of the scenes include 30+ minutes of subtitled dialogue, it's just not as interesting. There's one scene in a tavern that just goes on for forever and a Wednesday. I checked my watch, maybe, three times during that. Also, this movie is LONG! Like really long. It goes on for 2 and a half hours. Needless I was a little restless halfway through. I can't even bear to think about what it was like at Cannes, before Tarantino made cuts and all. All this is forgiven though when we get to the finale, which is spectacular. I don't want to give anything away, but I will say this. I approve of the alternate history Tarantino has cooked up. If only it were that easy. 
Don't get me wrong, Inglourious Basterds is a great movie. You're hard pressed to see something this original and entertaining anywhere. Tarantino lets his usual problems hamstring him yet again, but regardless, this is one of, if not the, most fully realized movies he's has made! 

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