Aug 22, 2009

Inglorious Basterds

The Weinstein Bros. have done it again. Once more, the Nazis are doing just fine by them, to judge from the sold out crowds this opening weekend.
I am not a fan of Quentin Tarantino, but I will go see any movie where Jews scalp Nazis and bash their brains in with baseball bats.
For those of you who wonder why I am not a fan of the Quentin, in short, because I think he is an idiot savant, who is quite talented, and encyclopedic in his knowledge of movies, but who is not interested in putting his cinematic nerdness to better use. I find his reverse snobbery about blaxploitation and cheesiness really annoying. The only movie of his that I like is Pulp Fiction. Having said this, in Inglorious Basterds he is going for something more ambitious than celebrations of grindhouse and shit like that, I could not care less about.
Inglorious Basterds is cheeky for several reasons other than coming up with an alternate, much happier ending for the enemies of the Third Reich. It shows its utter chutzpah not only by imagining bloodlusty Jews, but actually by making the American audience READ SUBTITLES in a movie spoken mostly in French and German. For that reason only I am willing to forgive Tarantino his usual mindless grotesquerie. For that reason only, I'm ready to kiss and make up with him.
As my friend Sarah says, the movie is so meta. For Inglorious Basterds is more about movies than it is about the Second World War. It's about movie Nazis and about WWII revenge fantasies. It is delightful to see the Nazis get their comeuppance, and then some, only to remember that alas, it's only a movie.
Inglorious Basterds is long and talky and only intermittently witty, and sometimes its vacuousness is tedious, but it also is fun. Super violent fun.
Having more fun than any actor I have seen in recent memory, is Christoph Waltz, who won the best actor award at Cannes this year, for his performance as the suave Nazi "Jew Hunter" Hans Landa. Waltz is a marvel to behold. Not only is he prodigious and effortless in French, German, English and Italian, he is so alive and mercurial at every second, you never want him to leave the frame. He relishes the part yet never overdoes it. One of our biggest movie stars, Mr. Brad Pitt, who gets paid gazillions of dollars just to show up, mangles his one supposed Tennessee accent and tries to have some fun but he is absolutely no match for Mr. Waltz. Why he has to be from the South and speak in an accent he can't handle is beyond me. Why he could not be an American Jew is also beyond me. I find it interesting that the actors chosen to play the Jews all have the same physical type. Why the typecasting? It seems to run contrary to the entire concept of the movie.
The rest of the cast is a mixed bag, with the excellent Michael Fassbender (unrecognizable from Hunger) playing, of all things a British spy who was a former film critic and some very good, well known German actors. I thought that Melanie Laurent and Diane Kruger sucked. Eye candy, but they totally lack the glamour, sophistication and pizazz of the actresses of yore.
You have to love an audience that hears a familiar voice over the phone and whispers in recognition: "it's Harvey Keitel!".
Tarantino has a Jewish woman kissing a Black man, which is fine with me, and Nazis saying horrid things about Jews and Negroes, for which they get beautifully punished. I wish Tarantino had made a little more of the fact that when the Nazis took over, they killed their wonderful film industry (to our good fortune, because many talented people came to Hollywood and gave us brilliance). He alludes to it, but as many things in this movie, swiftly and only in passing. But he does show the great German actor of the time, Emil Jannings, a man who made it in Hollywood and went back to Germany to make films for the Nazis. May he be rotting in hell as we speak.
The movie is filled with references to other movies. Nazi Hugo Stiglitz is named after a Mexican actor of crappy seventies movies. A Nazi soldier says that Goebbels thinks he's going to be the German Van Johnson (in my estimation one of the worst actors of all time). Such were the Nazis. Tasteless and clueless.
The plot doesn't make much sense, and everything is half-baked, except of course for the violence which is as usual, overbaked. Without the moxie and the diverting sense of mischief, this movie would probably be untenable.
The audience clapped at the end. Hurray for Hollywood.

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