Sunday, August 16, 2009

Unglorious Basterds

No, that's not a spelling error, it's just my incredibly clever way of saying that this movie fell a bit short of the mark. Now I don't consider myself to be a true Quentin Tarantino fan. I like Pulp Fiction very much [it’s on my DVD shelf behind me] but not really Reservoir Dogs or Jackie Brown, not bad movies, just not “me”. The man is arguably a better writer when he's not directing as I love True Romance and From Dusk Till Dawn [both also on my DVD shelf behind me]. However Tarantino’s contribution to cinema has been less then stellar this decade. 2003’s Kill Bill Vol.1, superior to its 2nd half the following year was his last truly great work. Following that, he wasted time directing episodes of ER, a scene in Robert Rodriguez Sin City and produced the irredeemably shit Death Proof. A lot of hope was therefore pinned on the Inglorious Basterds.

In development for what seemed like an eternity, Inglorious Basterds conjured up images of an modernly ultra-violent Dirty Dozen remake filled with Tarantino’s dark humour and snappy dialog and the Basterds themselves fighting and killing thousands of Nazis in pitched battles on their way to their glory – basically better than Viagra for war-nuts. Well that’s not what we got… The movie opened with what should be heralded as one of the greatest war-movie scenes in history. It’s a simple conversation between a French dairy farmer and SS Colonel Hans Landa over glasses of milk concerning the whereabouts of the farmer’s Jewish neighbours. The raw tension of this 20 minute scene is stunning and the dialog is superior to any of Tarantino’s “café” scenes in Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs where the characters are in deep philosophical conversation. Sadly as soon as this is over, the whole fuckin’ thing falls completely apart and degenerates into something ultimately unworthy of it’s magnificent opening.

I will say at times, the dialog is sharp and as witty as Tarantino usually produces. The humour and violence he infuses into his movies is present here but sadly not in the abundance we’ve come to expect from the man. There are sparsely few genuinely amusing moments involving the Basterds' attempts at Italian but Mike Myers' General Fenech would have been more at home in an Austin Powers piss-take movie [yes I don’t mean even a real Austin movie – they’re actually good] where he plays all of the characters alongside multiple Eddie Murphy’s or some equally stupid crap – here it’s just stupid.

Of huge disappointment is that only 50% of the movie is focused on Lt. Aldo Raine [Brad Pitt] and his men – the other half is a completely unconnected but nonetheless intense revenge tale with Mélanie Laurent’s character Shosanna, who is determined to kill the Nazis who murdered her family. Now in the hands of a ‘serious’ director, this story of ultimate revenge would be outstanding, a film in itself; I think I’d even be happy with Tarantino directing it himself provided he’d film it like the aforementioned first 20 minutes of this movie. Sadly this is completely wasted here as part of Tarantino’s WW2 wet-dream with Mike Myers' over-acting, stereotypical hammy villains and other such inappropriate elements which don’t meld.

The characters in this movie were a mixed bag of either excellence or “why have this character even in this movie?” Til King Arthur, The Replacement Killers Schweiger’s Sgt. Stiglitz [pictured right] character would be in the former group and easily my favourite Basterd. A defector from the Nazis he joined the lads in country after they saved him from a death sentence. The aforementioned villain Col. Landa "The Jew Hunter” began as a sublimely evil and reprehensible SS officer, but he soon degenerated from a cold calculating detective into a parody of himself and finished the movie as a sad excuse for a hammy sub-standard Bond villain. Don’t get me started on Rod Taylor’s appearance as Winston Churchill: Why? Dear sweet Lucas why?

A mention must be paid however to Eli Roth, director of Hostel as Sgt. Donny Donowitz “The Bear Jew.” His was a wonderful performance and was the highlight of two of the movie's most intensely blood-soaked scenes: one where he beats a Nazi’s head to a pulp with a baseball bat and later empties an MP40 sub-machine gun into another’s face. Which brings me to the point that the instances of violence here earned this movie a full star. Other than Roth’s scenes, we see some splendid throat slitting, swastikas being carved into foreheads and some Native American style scalping which was really quite exquisite. Sadly, these brief albeit beautifully filmed moments of violence are too infrequent and spread out over the movie’s over-long running time resulting in unnecessary boredom on the part of the audience, without even so much as the tension of the opening scene to punctuate them.

Tarantino pretentiously doesn’t believe that anyone can score one of his movies because it's like someone "interfering with his vision", or so he says, which is why he chooses pre-existing music and songs when putting a soundtrack to his movies. Inglorious Basterds is no different, the soundtrack here consists of many cues written by veteran composer Ennio Morricone which were in fact written for now long-forgotten Spaghetti Westerns and also bizarrely mixed in is a track by David Bowie. The former does work somewhat with the visuals on screen, the latter however is a harsh reminder that you’re watching a total fucking mess anyway, so why not Bowie in WW2? Wibble!

If I was to excavate for a meaning to this movie, I'd have to say that Tarantino was trying to tell us how dangerous film can be - not just the old nitrate film which we discover [through misplaced narration by Samuel L. Jackson, before witnessing for ourselves] is highly flammable - but the medium of film itself is dangerous as witnessed through the disastrous consequences, both physically and emotionally that Basterds' premier of Nazi propaganda movie "A Nation's Pride" had. Of such ironic pity however is the fact that Tarantino did not take his own advice and has made a movie that will no doubt be loved by the increasingly underdeveloped minds of the worlds youth who will believe that this is - if not "based on a true story" will believe that it's completely true. Sigh, I can just imagine the history essays now...

Final Verdict: Was I expecting too much from this? I think not, I wanted something from the man who made Pulp Fiction, even the man who wrote True Romance. But what I got was the latest movie from the director of Death Proof. Alas Basterds is not the comeback movie everyone hoped it would be and Tarantino ends this decade with nothing more than a feint whimpering homage to his Spaghetti Western and War movie collection which is likely to offend those that survived the harrowing conflict of World War II. Nice one Quentin!

Colonel Creedon Rating: **


Constance said...

there is a whole lot more to write about when it is a terrible movie!

Civilian Overseer said...

Colonel, How can any movie that involves killing Nazis in droves be bad?, unless of course you object to the Allies victory in WWII.

vaughan said...

No he objects as do I to an pat happy ending which insults those who actually fought and died for the allies...I'm sure there are those who would have loved to have seen Michael Collins end with Liam Neeson cutting Alan Rickmans Dev in half while quipping "How's that for Partition!" but it would still have been grossly untrue.It doesn't help the finished film is a pile of shite directed by some one who's ego is obviously out of control

Civilian Overseer said...

Mr V, I didn't know you had the habit of putting things into the Colonel's mouth but howabout we let him get his own words out?.

Lieutenant General Creedon said...


I have no problem with seeing Nazis die, hundreds of them, thousands of them.

I have no problem loading up a game of Call Of Duty, Medal of Honor or even Wolfenstein and personally helping them on their way to the hell they deserved.

Equally I have no proplem with Fatherland, a very highly regarded TV movie about an Alternative Universe where Hitler won. It was terrible to imagine, but was handled tastefully.

So I have no problem with alternative universes or Nazi Killing or a combination of the two but it must still retain some class of respect for history even if not followed word for word but if not - make some disclaimer, some obvious disclaimer.

But the elimination of the entire Nazi heirarchy [and I mean all of them] at the one time in a cinema being guarded by TWO GUARDS which including Hitler being machine gunned in the face until his head caves in, and the remaining Basterds go home because the war is over and everyone lived happily ever after pisses on the grave of everyone who died in the conflict.

@ Vaughan: Don't forget Collins must catch the bullet at Beal Na Blath with his teeth, turn and smile at the camera and perform an exaggerated wink.

Former Grunt said...

From Christy Lemire of the AP..

"If only Quentin Tarantino the director weren't so completely in love with Quentin Tarantino the writer, Inglourious Basterds might have been a great movie rather than just a good movie with moments of greatness."

Civilian Overseer said...

Colonel, I'll accept that as an honest measured assessment. See Mr.V, the Colonel is a big boy..., but of course you already know this.