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Inglorious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, 2009)

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message 1: by Phillip (last edited Aug 26, 2009 12:01PM) (new)

Phillip i posted this on movies we just watched, but realized it was really messy. so i cleaned it up a bit and am posting it here, as promised...i know this isn't sci-fi, but alex and i wanted to post our reviews here so others (not in the "other" group) could jeer and chime in at will....tom also wrote a nice piece on this on the "other" group, and is welcome to add his two cents!

Inglorious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, 2009)

I had to wait a bit before writing this – I was so deeply annoyed by this movie that I needed a day to cool out and form some semblance of objectivity. If you’re looking for someone to encourage you to rush out and see Tarantino’s newest excuse to wage violence against his audience, you might want to look elsewhere.

I want to start by saying that I have had mixed feelings about Tarantino from the get-go. His first release Reservoir Dogs was so shocking the first time I saw it, I walked out of the theater in a state of post-traumatic shock. But time passed and I watched the film a few times now and it has grown on me. I was eventually able to see the humor that everyone was raving about. RD remains his strongest and most original effort. The movie explores the theme of trust really well and it doesn’t feel like he’s copying other films.

Pulp Fiction was a step forward in terms of how Tarantino handled structure and I enjoyed it without reservation. Yes there are lots of images of graphic violence and the ample supply of humor is dark, but again, I felt a freshness in the narrative that I enjoyed and I feel the film holds up under multiple viewings.

On first viewing Jackie Brown felt like a step backward but it has actually become my favorite movie by QT. It doesn’t seem overcrowded with clichés borrowed from other filmmakers, which was my main criticism of Kill Bill. Sure, it’s a take on Blaxploitation, but he resists some of the clichés (like not insisting that Pam Greer take off her clothes). It’s a good solid caper flick and the performances are memorable.

Then we come to Kill Bill…

In jazz there are two kinds of improvisers: the masters of the genre are the kind of players that can spin endless variations on themes in their own unique style. The other kind (which I can’t stand) are the players that have learned a lot of licks (little melodic phrases or motifs) from their heroes and their improvisations consist of stringing together those riffs that they have stolen and are passing off as their own ideas.

In Kill Bill, Tarantino assumes the cinematic equivalent of the latter example. KB quoted (note for note) so many sequences from Hong Kong fight films, samurai classics and Spaghetti Western scenes that he really should have called it a tribute to his favorite films (perhaps he did…but I seem to have overlooked it). The violence is turned up to 11, but somehow Uma Thurman keeps you focused on her plight and her road to liberation. If it were not for the violence inflicted upon her by her targets the film would be absolutely senseless. But Mr. T. at least offers us a glimpse of why she takes pursuit against her oppressors. Ultimately the film doesn’t hold up so well. It’s a long movie with one too many episodes and stylistic leaps - many of which are borrowed, no, make that stolen - from other movies.

Inglorious Basterds isn’t so much a plagiarism fest, but an excuse to exercise his insistence on intense violence propped up by one of his favorite fixations: revenge. Apparently Kill Bill didn’t offer Tarantino enough screen time to exorcise all of his revenge fantasies. Without giving away anything that doesn’t already exist in the film’s trailers, I would like to talk about the basic engine that drives this movie: using the Nazis as Tarantino’s idée fixe…

One of the central problems with this movie is that the Nazis at this point are passé. I’m not saying they didn’t commit horrors during the Second World War and I’m not saying we should forget the holocaust. But in 2009, some 75 years after the close of WWII, it seems time to move on. Have any of you been to Germany lately? Trust me, things have changed! The Nazis are too easy a mark for this kind of belligerent ridicule from an intelligent filmmaker at this point in history. Movies like Der Untergang (Underground) have masterfully examined the Nazi party from the inside, offering us a glimpse of the human beings (not monsters or fictional constructs) that populated the party and drove the holocaust.

But Tarantino isn’t interested in history or examining the psychological impulses that are inherent in holocaust narratives. Instead he props up the SS like so many wooden puppets so his heroes (and, conceivably, his audience) can have a ball destroying them. And yet he seems to take as much pleasure revealing the Nazi’s reign of terror as he does when he portrays the payback waged upon them by a regiment of killer Jews.

His film begins with a Morricone-flavored theme set that I associate with the Leone Spaghetti Westerns (????) OK, it’s a Tarantino film, no need for anything to make sense as long as it sounds hip or looks cool. This opening gesture merely beckons the kind of flimsy logic that operates throughout.

If you’ve seen the trailer for this film, you have witnessed Brad Pitt addressing his recruits. This is about all you get in the way of character development for our heroes. It seems Tarantino is just too anxious to get to the point: murdering Nazis and scalping them Apache style (because beating them to death with a baseball bat just isn’t quite brutal enough). Most of the Germans are introduced similarly, if at all. Adolf Hitler is a flimsy shadow of a character that squeals like a pig - a cartoon construct roasting on a spit. Colonel Landa is one exception (the actor playing Shoshana the other) and consistently offers the most satisfying sequences in terms of performance. But the majority of the script feels forced. Elements that work in a movie like Pulp Fiction (the foot massage dialogue for example), doesn’t seem to work when it flows from the mouths of Nazi operatives. The humor often falls flat as a result.

I’m not saying the guy doesn’t know how to make things look good, or that his crew doesn’t know how to light a scene. The cinematography is nice to look at, but the pacing often feels rushed or compressed due to Tarantino’s insistence on labeling everything in chapters (because he figures we’re not smart enough to follow along without the aid of cue cards).

Since this film cannot be viewed as a study of the war or the holocaust, I have to assume that QT is issuing this latest effort as pure entertainment. If this relentless (and mostly mindless) bloodshed is entertaining then I don’t want to be a part of a society that values such expression as entertainment. Instead of accessing the thrills, suspense or psychological intrigue that comes with horror or various suspense genres, the violence in this film reads as one of Tarantino’s most exploitive efforts. The director has rarely shown so much contempt for his audience. There are no heroes in Inglorious Basterds, only bloodthirsty killers.


message 2: by Alex DeLarge (new)

Alex DeLarge | 342 comments Mod
Boring. The story that should have been told is relagated to the fate of a minor character.

INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (Quentin Tarantino, 2009, USA) The power of cinema to kill: to change the world, to capture truth at 24/fps and develop a new reality, a nitrous allegory concerning propaganda and revisionist history. Unfortunately, Director Quentin Tarantino buries his grand idea amid the violent squalor of hack acting and boring exposition, delivering a superficial catharsis where the once powerless Jewish victims punish Nazis, represented by the commando squad of Inglorious Basterds, who fill their abattoir with the bodies and scalps of German animals. This is frustratingly Tarantino’s worst film because there is a good story here, one that should have been homage to Truffaut’s THE LAST METRO instead of B-movie action flicks. The opening sequence as Colonel Landa cross-examines a farmer, knowing that the farmer is hiding a Jewish family under the floorboards, is absolutely stunning. Actor Christopher Waltz brilliantly portrays Landa, and it’s mostly his performance that keeps this dull film from being a total bore. The Colonel toys with the farmer, drinking milk, his subtle expression betraying the secret confidence that lingers between them: it’s not the words that matter it’s the eyes. But even here, Tarantino implodes the suspense with a harsh soundtrack instead of letting the machine gun’s staccato accusation pass judgment. And here is the crux of the real story, as one young girl escapes…to exact her revenge upon the Colonel and the entire Third Reich. Why did Landa let the girl escape? This question should have been Tarantino’s architecture of revenge and redemption…but it is a question never explored within the ‘Jew Hunter’s” psyche. The film should have followed Shosanna and her conflict with the Colonel, using her Cinema as the means to destroy the Reich: there is no need for the Basterds, and their exploits do little to drive the narrative: their purpose seems to add comic relief and bloodletting. Tarantino’s usually taught dialogue is mostly purposeless and inert, creating few laughs as Brad Pitt and Eli Roth chew up the scenery and spit out languid profanity. The exception is a café sequence where Landa sits across from Shosanna years later…and orders her a glass of milk. Is this an insight into his lust for the hunt, an answer to why he let her escape? We never know, because the story isn’t concerned with her plight, only the adventures of imbeciles. Tarantino fills scenarios with Pabst and Riefenstahl references, an Emil Jannings walk-on, and was that a Dietrich poster in the background? Our Jewish heroine burns down the house with a cinematic fury while her ghostly visage condemns these tyrants: she speaks for the millions of dead because she is one of them, and here is the heart, the cathartic thrill of the story. But it’s washed away by Tarantino’s vainglorious misbegotten skin-carving climax. (D)


message 3: by Phillip (last edited Aug 26, 2009 10:56PM) (new)

Phillip on the job, as always, alex. i resisted a plot summary to avoid spoilers, so i'm glad you focused on the story that went untold....shoshana's story. there is a rich tale there that was neglected. what a shame.

mostly i'm disappointed because i think tarantino could be a really fine filmmaker if he could just exercise a little self-control. he showed great promise as a young director and that's why it pisses me off to see him go for the brutish gags in favor of a more coherent narrative.


message 4: by Alex DeLarge (last edited Aug 29, 2009 02:43PM) (new)

Alex DeLarge | 342 comments Mod
Rob, hopefully you get your computer back soon:)

Brad Pitt and his gang where all hacks (hope the double entendre was understood), with really fine performances from Waltz and Laurent. It was nice to see Rod Taylor again though!

Kubrick's violence was ironic, it was meant to be ballet, to be beautiful as understood and viewed from Alex's perspective. Kubrick was after the elusive conundrum of free will, and he visually explored these themes in CLOCKWORK. The rape scene to Singin' In The Rain is an emotionally jarring juxtaposition making it even more difficult to "viddy well".
I didn't have much problem with the violence in IB; after all, I laughed out loud when the young kid in PULP FICTION had his head accidently shot off, so maybe I'm not the best judge of character:) But I thought it served little purpose: it wasn't funny, ironic, or any homage I could discern.


message 5: by Phillip (last edited Aug 29, 2009 11:22PM) (new)

Phillip i responded to this earlier today while i was riding the train and while passing through a tunnel the server ate my lengthy response. grrrrrrrrrrrrrr. and i was on a roll, too.

i'm going to let alex defend his points on his own and respond to the points that rob raised in what i assume are responses to items i mentioned.

rob wrote: They may be strong influences, but he definitely IMPROVES on them. And, let's be honest....how many people would KNOW he was riffing off of these obscure films if he hadn't come out and said as much?

you've used this argument in other discussions i've had with you...

well, i noticed, and i'm no film scholar. i'm a guy that likes movies and watches them. but what's your point? it's ok if he steals from others as long as no one knows who he's stealing from?

let's start with the copycat issue. as i said, i don't feel there's a big plagiarism fest going on in inglorious basterds. i was referring to kill bill, and i remain steadfast in my position. watch the last 20 minutes of kobayashi's hara kiri, or the ending sequence of samurai rebellion and you will see, shot for shot, a great deal of choreography that tarantino out right lifts from those films. i'm talking about the sequence in kill bill towards the end of part one where uma takes on that whole room full of black suited assassins....and that's just one example.

this isn't just a case of "influences". it's a case of ripping someone off note for note and passing it off as your own work. and those are not grindhouse flicks, as you mention, rob - the ones i mentioned are samurai classics. i think tarantino probably has a film collection at home that all of us would envy and i also think he has a great knowledge of films (and not just grindhouse - i've heard him talk about truffault and many other "art house" directors). i am also fully aware that art does not exist in a vacuum and that we are all influenced by the masters, or whoever it is that we have been inspired by.

my point is at this stage in his career, tarantino has a lot of clout in hollywood, a lot of committed fans and has earned a helluva lot of critical acclaim. we're not talking about some obscure filmmaker that emerged from rural wisconsin and fell into the limelight by accident. we're talking about Quentin (kiss my arrogant white ass if you ain't feelin' me) Tarantino. The guy earned our respect with his early works, but from where i'm sitting he's resting on his laurels and not pushing himself. i don't think he succeeded in kill bill and inglorious basterds. QT has earned a lot of critical acclaim and if he wants to continue to maintain our respect, we have to hold him to certain artistic and aesthetic standards, whether his influences are grindhouse or not. i'll get back to this in a second.

moving on:
i would agree that the colonel and shoshana turned in good performances, and i said as much in my post...but in the case of the other performances, (the bastards in particular), they felt like cardboard constructs and the script they had to deal with was empty...it's not like you could coax a great performance out of a lot of those lines.

this introduces my next main issue. the nazis are a cheap trick propped up to justify the kind of film tarantino wants to make (a violent film). if he were telling a well developed narrative here, i could almost applaud it. as i mentioned above, there are some excellent films like der untergang that take on the nazi question from the inside with remarkable results. this just isn't that kind of film, and perhaps it's foolish of me to hold him to that kind of standard, but again, the plot feels really flimsy to me....and we're talking about a film that runs well over two hours...it's not like he didn't have time to develop some ideas. i feel he uses the nazis because he knows he doesn't have to do a lot of exposition - he just assumes everyone hates them on principal and wants to see them tortured and maimed and burned at the stake.

i'm going to relate this to your point about the audience as voyeurs in the cinema, cheering when the nazis get roasted. i didn't feel that way at all, mostly because i can't call a superimposed chalk line with an arrow pointing to goebbels (or any of the other notable SS crowd) as plot development. no one in that theater existed on any kind of deep human level to me, and that's tarantino's job to give me something to hang on to so i can feel something when a scene like that goes down. if i compare it with one of the final scenes in "come and see" (one of the greatest war films i know of), where the nazis round up an entire village, lead them into a barn and burn it down, well, wait a minute, i can't compare it to that scene. the barn burning scene in come and see WORKS (i dare anyone to watch that and not be weeping uncontrolably when it's over). the fire scene in IG just reads like some kind of whacky WB antics. there isn't an emotional climax there for me at all because tarantino didn't do what he needed to do to prepare me to have one.

finally, i suppose i am particularly sensitive to this whole way-overdone-nazi-bad-guy routine because i have so many dear friends in germany who are truly lovely people trying their best to overcome this enormous shadow that still hangs over their country, despite their current progressive politics and their continued artistic and cultural excellence.

i neglected to mention death proof in my original post, because i have only seen it once. here's a situation where i feel QT is really on a roll. the film isn't overly long (which isn't a problem with me as long as the movie is keeping me engaged), and it seems like the perfect kind of romp that he can pull off without straying too far from where his talents rest. i wish he would make more of those 90 minute flicks, i think he has a real flair for it, and leave the films that are trying (in his own unique way) to merge into more "serious" (forgive me for using that word) cinema. whether you think inglorious basterds is "serious" or not, i think in both kill bill and inglorious basterds he is trying to come from a different set of traditions that exist in art house and related styles.


message 6: by Sam (new)

Sam my oh my what a lengthy response you have there darlin' ... I'm going to need my entire flight to digest it alll


message 7: by Phillip (new)

Phillip you probably have much better things to do!
have a great trip!


message 8: by Phillip (last edited Sep 02, 2009 09:41PM) (new)

Phillip to narrow the focus, let's address the topic of violence in cinema... you cite two examples: full metal jacket and the shining.

dick haloran's death is the shining is devastating. you're rooting for someone to help wendy and danny. when haloran arrives and jack hammers an axe into his chest, there are so many reasons to feel despair. the scene moves me because kubrick made me care about all of the characters; i am just as concernned with jack's redemption as i am the family's survival.

when private pyle shoots the sargeant and then himself in full metal jacket i'm equally as heartbroken. more than anything, i want pyle to either a) go home to hisfamily and work at a gas station, or b) survive training camp.

kubrick uses the first half of his film to show us the severe methods of dehumanization used in training young people to be trained killers. pyle's behavior is one possibility in development of the teachings of drill sargeant hartman. he is the crazed animal, turning on its master. the negation of everything human, as expressed in pyle's downfall, is tragedy with a capital T...

but with inglorious basterds i didn't feel anything when the room full of nazis is torched. you don't care about anyone in that room. i don't care about the nazi soldier who gets the baseball bat treatment because he just appears out of nowhere...i'm encouraged, instead to laugh at it.

tarantino made me care about the characters in his early films, and i think those films work. this doesn't work for me. i'mnot willing to enjoy violence for the sake of entertainment.

tarantino


message 9: by Phillip (new)

Phillip sorry, i got cut off...

i was going to say that the films that use violence in a way that i can appreciate offer me some kind of emotional catharsis. in all of my favorite horror films, for example, the violence portrayed on screen helps me understand something unique about human behavior, and some, like texas chainsaw massacre, really push the level of what is acceptable to show on screen. in the case of tcm, i am wholly sucked in to the plight of the girl's survival. and the grizzly violence represents aspects of family (and fledgling capitalists out to milk the american dream) that are horrifying. again, there is an emotional catharsis in tcm that i don't find in inglorious basterds.


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