Thursday, August 27, 2009

Inglourious Basterds

I'm really sorry that I'm so behind on posting. To sum it up, my life has been insanely busy. Aside from having to meet a tight deadline at work on Monday, I'm on call now and have had a cousin in from out of town so blogging has fallen as a priority. I haven't even practiced guitar in several days, and I got Batman: Arkham Asylum just sitting on my couch, begging me to play it (the little I played from the demo was pretty incredible, by the way). I should be back to normal next week as things will calm down by then. I just wanted to put together a quick post for now with my review of Inglorious Basterds.

The Basterds

Quentin Tarantino is, without question, my favorite director of all time. Aside from being a total movie geek, what I love about him is his intense passion to make great films no matter how long it takes. He's a perfectionist. Each one of his films are full-blown experiences. It's incredible to consider that his worst movies are probably Reservoir Dogs and Death Proof, even though they're almost instant genre classics. He spent over a decade writing Inglourious Basterds and I've been waiting for it ever since I saw Kill Bill (Vol. 2). As you can imagine, my hopes were high and I had a lot of expectations walking into the theater (which I barely made it into since Cinebarre doesn't understand what it means when you buy tickets in advance), but I'm glad that I didn't seek out leaked information or read the script before watching the movie. In fact, you should try to shield yourself from spoilers as much as possible, as well.

So how did it stack up? It's almost certainly the best movie to come out so far this year. On one hand, it wasn't quite what I expected at all from the trailer and hearing comparisons to The Dirty Dozen. Part of the confusion comes from the fact that he wrote enough scripts to create 3 films, but it's not a World War II movie, an action film, or a dirty dozen homage. It's actually a very dialogue-heavy, cerebral spaghetti western that takes place during World War II and happens to have some very trademark Tarantino action scenes. All I can really tell you about the plot is that it's about a group of Jewish-American soldiers deep behind enemy lines in Nazi Germany who have a goal of killing as many Nazis as possible and giving the Nazis something to be afraid of.

What I find really striking about this film, compared to all his movies since Reservoir Dogs, is that it's really slow-paced and yet it flies by. My friends were shocked when we walked out of the theaters more than 2 and half hours after the show started (including trailers). It's a movie characterized by a few long scenes focusing on very important dialogue. There are some random flashback sequences and moments of brutal violence, but there really aren't a lot of scene changes when you add it all up. As I was watching the movie, I was trying to remain skeptical and didn't feel that the dialogue was as quotable as it was in Pulp Fiction (which I hold is his masterpiece, even though I like Kill Bill the most), but I was wrong. There were a number of lines that stuck with me (some of which are in the trailers) that I say to myself every so often now. Each word almost feels like it's carefully crafted. My only criticism is that I felt on at least one occasion that the switch from using a foreign language to using English was a bit contrived, much like it was in Oren Ishi-i's speech to the Council. It's hard to complain though because I still loved those scenes in spit of that.

Another striking quality, although this isn't really a huge surprise coming from Tarantino, is his attention to detail. This movie just bleeds details that you can't begin to appreciate on your first viewing. I really hope his costume designer is at least nominated for an academy award because they did a wonderful job of totally nailing the atmosphere and the time period. The sets were well put-together, as well. It's so perfect that I was a little sad to learn that German viewers had to watch a version with some Nazi iconography redacted due to federal law.

I don't think I have enough words to praise the acting in this film. I think sometimes Brad Pitt is underrated because he's such a mainstream actor, but this may be his best role yet. No one could've been a better Aldo Raine than him. What's crazy is that he's not actually the star of the show - Christoph Waltz is as Hans Landa. He definitely needs an Academy Award for the tension that he sends down the spines of the audience. I didn't know who Cristoph Waltz was before seeing this movie, but I don't think I'll ever forget him as Landa whenever I see him in the future. I also have to give props to Mélanie Laurent as Shoshanna. Her emotions jumped off the screen and it was a really memorable performance. No one did badly, to be honest. The casting was perfect (as usual, for Tarantino), to put it simply.

One more thing to note is that this movie had scenes in it that were very visually powerful. There were several shots in this movie that I think would look great as a still shot framed and hung somewhere. That's partially a tribute to the cinematographer, but obviously a lot of people are involved in making scenes like that. There's one image towards the end of the film that's so powerful that it comes to my mind every day now and has just stuck with me.

I can't possible end this review without citing the fact that the tense scenes in this movie were so nerve-wracking that it was palpable. I've never been so afraid or anxious in a movie that wasn't in a horror genre before. Even though I felt a couple of times that he was being cheap in using music to build these moments, I appreciated how difficult they are to construct and didn't feel like they were being artificially dragged on but were just organic pieces of the film.

I don't know how to criticize this movie, I honestly don't. There's a reason why it has the second highest grossing
second-half of August opening and the best opening weekend for any Tarantino film. I can say that it did start out slow, and if you're not willing to stick with it you may be inclined to even walk out earlier, but it's imperative that you stay through the end. Some scenes definitely could've been a little shorter, and some of the violence could've stood to be a little less graphic (and stomach twisting), but I don't feel like these were major drawbacks by any means. The humor in this movie was consistently fun and refreshing, and the provocative scenes were just as fun to watch unravel as your favorite scenes were in Pulp Fiction. If you're not squeamish, I cannot recommend this movie higher. I can see some people not appreciate how geeky some parts of this movie are, but you're going to be hard-pressed to find a movie this year with a better script or better acting. If you see it for nothing else please see it for those two things. I give this movie an A+, and I'm already dying to get my hands on it on Blu-ray (though I know that won't be until next year).

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