Monday, August 24, 2009

Inglorious Basterds (2009)

Directed by Quentin Tarantino. There is nothing more pathetic than a dormant blog, unless of course nobody reads it. I remember once Albert Brooks on the Howard Stern Show telling a story about doing a radio show interview for nearly two hours before the disc jockey figured out that they'd been off the air for more than an hour, and not one person had called to let the jock know. Nobody has bitched to me about not complaining about movies, though to be sure, I have always known this is more for me than anybody else.

It's not clear whether the question is to write or not write? As expression, surely it is a form of therapy. I've been working 60-hour weeks, but I haven't stopped watching movies. In between watching the Red Sox gradually throw away this season and reading a bit I have grabbed bits of movies, occasionally at 4AM when coming home from the days at the office that began at 6AM the day before. Maybe I'll eventually write about some of these:
  • The Great Texas Dynamite Chase (1976)
  • Killer Bees (1974)
  • The Savage Bees (1976)
  • Knocked Up (2007)
  • Turistas (2006)
  • Smile (1975)
  • What About Bob? (1991)
  • One Crazy Summer (1986)
  • Roxanne (1987)
  • The Bad News Bears (1976)
  • The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training (1977)
  • Crank (2006)
  • Miss March (2009)
  • Frost/Nixon (2008)
  • We Are Marshall (2006)
  • The Wackness (2008)
  • He's Just Not That Into You (2009)
  • So I Married An Axe Murderer (1993)
  • Bee Movie (2007)
  • Fast Food Nation (2006)
  • 52 Pick Up (1986)
  • Reality Bites (1994)
  • The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)
  • How to Steal a Million (1966)
  • The Double McGuffin (1979)
And speaking of "The Double McGuffin," don't get me started on the number of rare movies I've acquired in the last month or so that I haven't looked at. It's heartbreaking. I'm used to baseball season cutting into seeing movies, but work has made this silly. I'm seriously thinking of changing careers. Something big needed to happen to kick me and force me to make time to write again.

Enter Quentin Tarantino's "Inglorious Basterds." I literally count down time to the release of each new Tarantino movie. I put it on the calendar and the day a new one is released I find a way to sneak out of work early to see it, if possible.

The best thing about the prospect of Tarantino making a WWII picture is destruction of the mold. A broad history of WWII flicks suggests two categories: early ones that dramatize significant historic events ("The Bridge on the River Kwai," "Where Eagles Dare") and contemporary ones that exploit the rhetorical question of how the holocaust was allowed to occur ("Schindler's List," "The Reader").

All deaths are not equal. We cry during "Schindler's List" because the genocide depicted is real and we realize just how recent it was. We do not feel as empathic toward the Nazis brutally beaten and scalped in "Inglorious Basterds" because the specific incidents and the story is fiction and we feel they have it coming. But there are major parts of history re-written here, and there is some savage violence that is effectively humanized amid the fiction. We're entertained but make no mistake; we are forced to deal head-on with our anger and realize that we don't feel the same way about all real-life deaths.

Everything here is not effective. Despite what Tarantino is saying in every talk show interview promoting this flick, I'm not so sure Brad Pitt was perfect for this. His first appearance onscreen is his most critical scene. But his furrowed brow and aimless pacing suggest more an actor struggling to remember his lines than one establishing a bond with either other characters or the audience.

That's the only big problem with this movie. Compared to Tarantino's other movies, this one is missing real chemistry between the characters onscreen. An exception is Col. Hans Landa, who is played by a German actor, Christoph Waltz, in his first American film. Anytime this Nazi character spends any amount of time onscreen, it's a powerful, tense exchange. But he's a Nazi, so it's not really a conversation, it's an interrogation. You can't blame Col. Handa for that. He's just doing his job. At 2.5 hours, while there's almost nothing but dialogue in this movie, there's precious little conversation.

All that said, "Inglorious Basterds" will end up one of the best movies of the year, and Waltz will unquestionably be nominated for an Oscar. Since Pitt is in the movie, Waltz will get only a supporting actor nomination, which is too bad, since I'm sure he has more screen time in this than Pitt, but that's the way it goes.

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