handful_ofdust: (washington!)
[personal profile] handful_ofdust
Okay. The big complaints addressed, up front: Yes, it's very long, and yes, it's very talky (more than a "normal" Tarantino film, even). There's also far less overt action than you think there'll be going in, since the Basterds themselves are a plot device and background series of events rather than a constant foreground storyline--that latter honor is shared fairly equally between blonde, blue-eyed Jewess-in-hiding Shoshanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent) and slimy-charming S.S. "Jew-hunter" Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), two sides of an uneven cat-and-mouse game played out "Once upon a time...in Nazi-occupied France". Finally, most of the film has subtitles, since many characters speak a language other than English, and people's ability to speak languages other than English fluently and/or convincingly provides a couple of plot points/running jokes--and yeah, people often let slip a fair amount of information on old movies along the way (strangely, since this IS QT we're talking about, here). But I happen to be fine with subtitles and like old movies, so fuck it.

Landa and Shoshanna first meet after Landa manages to (almost literally) sniff her family out at the neighboring dairy farm where they've been hiding; he uses the fact that he and the Gentile farmer who's sheltered her thus far can both speak English to disguise his plans, then brings in a death-squad to shoot up the floorboards, killing her mother, father, uncle and little brother. As Shoshanna rockets off across the fields, covered in their blood, Landa has a chance to shoot her in the back, and doesn't. "Au revoir, Shoshanna!" He sings out happily, instead. He's obviously a man who likes A) the chase and B) a challenge.

Meanwhile, over in Italy, scar-throated mountain man Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) and his man-crushy Boston baseball fan right hand Sgt. Donny Donowitz (Eli Roth) are putting together a crack guerrilla team for the purpose of one THANG and one THANG only--"Killin' NAHT-zees." Said team is naturally composed of the people most likely to want to kill Nazis, ie Jews with relatives in the old country--or rather not, anymore--like Donny (who, by his body-language, seems to have picked out the whole roster himself). Soon, they're beating Nazis to death with baseball bats (okay, that's just Donny), working diligently towards collecting 100 Nazi scalps each, and carving swastikas into the foreheads of the few Nazis they let live to tell their stories and swell the Basterds' legend.

Fast-forward to 1944. Shoshanna now owns and operates a small movie-house in Paris, where she and her projectionist boyfriend Marcel (black and French, another combination the occupying regime thinks shouldn't be allowed to exist) try to live beneath the radar, collaborating as little as possible. Unfortunately, Shoshanna attracts the attention of Frederick Zoller (Michael Bruhl), a nice young man who loves film and speaks very good French, yet also happens to have recently become the Nazi equivalent of Aldo Ray: He killed almost 300 enemy combattants from a sniper's perch, then played himself in a Goebbels film about the incident, titled Nation's Pride.

Obviously, Shoshanna wants nothing to do with Frederick, but he insists on trying to impress her by persuading Herr Doktor Goebbels to move Nation's Pride's official premiere from the Ritz...to Shoshanna's little theatre, where the entire Nazi High Command will be in attendance--including Hitler. And that's where all our characters begin to converge.

My overall verdict is that while I enjoyed Inglourious Basterds whole-heartedly while I was in it (NB: Wow, I just wrote that as "whore-heartedly"; apt), it cannot possibly be approached from the point of view of it being "just another" World War II movie/action film/exploitation picture/movie about people who love movies, love to talk, and mainly hate each other. Yes, it has huge helpings of all of these, and they mesh better than you might imagine--but what the film is, when all's said and done, is a swoonily elaborate piece of propaganda/wish-fulfillment, as over-the-top and virulent in its own way as Nation's Pride is in its. This is Tarantino playing moral chicken the Leni Riefenstahl-but-not-really way, roping in Roth to shoot Goebbels' vision of Zoller's deification, then balancing it by letting Donny bust heads and riddle Nazis with machine-gun bullets like he's having a Face Of Jewish Rage orgasm. As Roth himself has pointed out, you can't really feel bad about killing Nazis, and he has his own reasons to want to act out that scenario--but if you think he's not enjoying it you're fooling youself, just like if you think YOU wouldn't enjoy it too, you're fooling yourself extra-hard. Sadism in a good cause, during the last Good War.

As Zoller points out to Shoshanna, though, every German soldier is somebody's son, just like every pretty secretly Jewish girl is somebody's daughter. If Nazis ain't got no humanity for pretending Jews aren't human, yet Nazis are human too, where does this leave us? (You better discuss on your own, if you want to, 'cause the movie sure isn't gonna do it for you.)

Tarantino does this sort of feel bad about feelin' (a little too) good switcheroo pretty consistently throughout Inglourious Basterds, so much so that I suppose it could get wearing for those in the audience who aren't being constantly distracted--as I was--by the set-pieces and throw-away fillips he piles in on top. Cut I.B. altogether over some vague moral qualms, and you'll miss a heck of a lot: Til Schweiger's Hugo Stiglitz, a German army guy who joins the Basterds after suddenly deciding to kill every S.S. officer he sees, staring daggers at one who's sat down right next to him even while he still has a bar-game card with "Marco Polo" written on it stuck to his forehead; Michael Fassbender as Archie Hickox, a pre-War film critic turned O.S.S. officer, who tries to explain the Oxford intonation to his otherwise perfect German by claiming he comes from a mountain village so obscure he and his family were background extras in The White Hell of Pitz Palu; Diane Kruger's revelatorily smart, sexy and self-interested Bridget von Hammersmark; Brad Pitt's utterly atrocious, hillbilly-accented version of Italian; the crazy--yet somehow workable--soundtrack choices. ("Theme from Cat People", anyone?)

Uncomfortable? Hopefully. Fun? Indisputably.

Those basterds!

Date: 2009-08-25 03:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] asakiyume.livejournal.com
We were just talking about this movie (even though none of us have seen it yet).

Okay, so I have two questions for you. First, what was the thing that made the movie most fun for you? And second, do you generally like Quentin Tarantino films? (I haven't seen very many. I liked Pulp Fiction and didn't like A History of Violence.)

Date: 2009-08-25 03:55 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] handful-ofdust.livejournal.com
The most fun? Well, without giving anything away, I really liked when it would snake in directions I hadn't necessarily thought it would--break what you assumed were the established "rules" of the story you thought it was telling. There's a great attention to detail coupled with an equally great slapdash elan in almost every Tarantino film I've ever seen, and this is no exception; they seem like they should cancel each other out, and maybe they do, for some people. Not me, though.;)

And generally, yes, I do like Tarantino films. I used to take a lot of shit for that, back when I was a film critic--people thought I was incapable of analyzing his work objectively, just because I think it's cool-ass. I beg to differ; I'm perfectly capable of loving something without forgiving it everything. Still, the things some people see as flaws in his work are rarely the things which pop for me, so...YMMV.

OTOH, A History of Violence is actually David Cronenberg, not Tarantino. Were you thinking of something else?
Edited Date: 2009-08-25 03:56 pm (UTC)

Date: 2009-08-25 04:01 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] asakiyume.livejournal.com
Nope, I was just mistaken! Thanks for correcting me! So maybe my mileage for Quentin Tarantino is higher than I thought--I really liked Pulp Fiction but really hated A History of Violence--which turns out not to be by him, so yay.

Now I feel more... wait for it... SANGUINE about the film under discussion here.

I was put off by the description of the current film because it seemed too much to be an excuse for enjoying sadism. But the plot you described, and, yeah, the twists and turns, really intrigued me and got me thinking I might actually like it.

ETA: look who can't code HTML...

second ETA: and, to clarify, when I say, "I was put off by the description," I don't mean your description--I mean trailers and things.
Edited Date: 2009-08-25 04:03 pm (UTC)

Date: 2009-08-25 04:08 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] handful-ofdust.livejournal.com
Oh believe me, the sadism is plenty sadistic! But in his heart of hearts, I truly do think that Tarantino knows it, and is at least slightly poking a pin into the idea that if the person being tortured is only implicated in crimes awful enough--as Marv says about hitmen, in Sin City--"no matter what you do to 'em, you just can't feel bad."

With Roth, though, I think he either genuinely doesn't get that part, or has agreed to disagree--to go along to get along as long as it means he can act out his fantasy of revenge on the big screen, creating an avatar for himself (Donny, the "bear Jew", possibly a golem, all kick-ass) which might eventually outlive him. Which is sort interesting to me, in itself...
Edited Date: 2009-08-25 04:10 pm (UTC)

Date: 2009-08-25 04:16 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] asakiyume.livejournal.com
...which might eventually outlive him. Which is sort interesting to me, in itself...

Seriously! That's an awesome story idea--someone who creates an avatar/golem self to fulfill some... thing they want to fulfill, and then that creation survives them and maybe becomes more memorable than they are, themselves. Huh, like writers who ware overshadowed by their oeuvre, only more personal.

--and I understand that the movie's sadistic. It's just that what you wrote made me see that there's more to it than just that--but I'm not dismissing its presence by any means.

Date: 2009-08-25 04:28 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] handful-ofdust.livejournal.com
Even within the movie's framework as it exists, it would still be pretty awesome if Donny turned out to have always been an actual golem--like his uncle the rabbi had cobbled him together in the basement, got everybody in the neighborhood to spend a week indoctrinating him so he thought he'd really grown up in Boston, then sign his bat en masse and send him off to Europe to wreak havoc. But...that'd be a different film, I guess.;)

Date: 2009-08-25 04:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] benet.livejournal.com
See that's what I've been thinking! A sort of Atrocity Archives-ish AU, by way of The Narrows, where Donny really is a golem.

Date: 2009-08-29 06:35 am (UTC)
sovay: (Rotwang)
From: [personal profile] sovay
Don't tempt me!

But I really, really want to read it!

Date: 2009-08-29 01:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] handful-ofdust.livejournal.com
Uncle: "Boychik...we didn't want to tell you, but--" (Shrugs helplessly)

Donny: "Well, fuck a duck! Though this does explain a LOT."

Aldo: "Like what?"

Donny: "Why my skin's so dry, for one thing..."

Date: 2009-08-25 03:56 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sixteenbynine.livejournal.com
Sadly, everything I hear about this film simply makes me want to see it less and less. Then again, I skipped on "Kill Bill" as well, and just went and saw all the movies Tarantino was "paying homage" to instead.

Date: 2009-08-25 03:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] handful-ofdust.livejournal.com
A perfectly fine response, seeing how shamelessly he quotes Lady Snowblood, amongst others. But like I said, there's always stuff you don't necessarily expect and would miss having experienced for yourself, in and around the sampling; he's like the Beastie Boys, that way. (Paul's Boutique edition, rather than Check Ya Head.)

Date: 2009-08-25 04:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sixteenbynine.livejournal.com
And as a BB fan myself, the parallel is quite welcome. :D It's just that all of the movies I've seen by him have annoyed me in some way that I find difficult to verbalize -- it's like sitting next to some guy who can't stop nudging you in the ribs and whispering about what's going on because he can't help but prove how clever he is.

Date: 2009-08-25 04:28 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] handful-ofdust.livejournal.com
Yup, granted. I can't disagree.;)

Date: 2009-08-25 04:39 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] readingthedark.livejournal.com
Adoring Kill Bill, which I did, required an appreciation for 1970s Kung Fu revenge flicks. Adoring Death Proof required an appreciation of 1970s car films and a revenge version. All Basterds needed was a nascent desire to see revenge on Nazis--which I also adored, but I think it's a much more accessible film on the whole and is almost sure to be succesful in ways Grindhouse wasn't (like selling lots of tickets).

The Weinsteins are bad news and one too many losses would wreck how QT has managed to surround himself with people who can protect him from a lot of what eats directors. In terms of the Anti-Nazi "Jewish rage" propaganda, I think it's an extremely good point (and something I did also sense but didn't realize quite what I was twigging on), but I also think that QT makes movies about vengeance and needed to make sure to pick a large force of evil that could work as shorthand. It's why he has worked on this story for so long, he's only going to have a culture like this to beat up on once...unless he goes to Napolean next.

Date: 2009-08-25 05:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] handful-ofdust.livejournal.com
And maybe not even then, considering how few people (outside of O'Brien and Novik nuts) really remember Napoleon anymore.

Date: 2009-08-25 05:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] readingthedark.livejournal.com
I guess that's why QT got away with shorthand. The Nazis are the only group of people it's "okay" to be xenophobic toward. Rather than build up a reason (showing atrocities), he just went straight to the revenge, which let him do way more characters because it didn't need buildup.

Date: 2009-08-25 04:52 pm (UTC)
baggyeyes: Mr. Bean (Bean)
From: [personal profile] baggyeyes
I saw Kill Bill, and got really annoyed with how in love Tarantino was with himself.

I have to say, based on your review, and this article at Newspaper Rock, I can't say I have much reason to think much has changed.

Date: 2009-08-25 05:30 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] handful-ofdust.livejournal.com
Well, they're all good points, so yeah, maybe not. You need to pick and choose on your own personal bases.

Inglorious B

Date: 2009-08-30 07:18 pm (UTC)
baggyeyes: Princess Leia (Default)
From: [personal profile] baggyeyes
My brother wants to see it though. I really have to pick and choose what I can see because my (lack of) cash flow. My sister's been dragging me to movies like Time Traveler's Wife. (Good: Naked Eric Bana. Bad: Logic holes big enough for a universe to fall into)

Date: 2009-08-26 06:43 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jackal-lies.livejournal.com
I love your movie reviews. And the idea that one of the soldiers is a not actually human human could be very interesting if done well, not just the whole 'indestructible killing machine with no conscience!' route. Which Terminator Salvation sort of did, but the golem idea is good as well.
I really feel strange and kind of stalkerish refering back to all your old diary entries, but you once wrote you had a ending of 3:10 To Yuma mapped out where everyone lived and it sounded beautiful beyond words. Is there any chance, after Book Of Tongues, that we might see it?

Date: 2009-08-26 01:36 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] handful-ofdust.livejournal.com
Listen, I really don't want to promise anything, especially since I pretty much have to go straight into another book right after this one. In a lot of ways, my obsession with 3:10 to Yuma has been channeled into Tongues and its sequel, A Rope of Thorns; considering the difficulty I had writing even a very short piece for the 2008 Hallowe'en challenge, that ship may well have sailed forever. I'm sorry to disappoint you.

Date: 2009-08-27 01:32 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] moon-custafer.livejournal.com
scar-throated mountain man Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt)

What does it say about me that I read those words and thought "That's why we iodize salt now."

Date: 2009-08-27 03:37 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] handful-ofdust.livejournal.com
I don't know!

P.S.: Really liked your Deadwood piece--the dialogue was amazingly accurate!--though it did have some formatting issues. You might want to go back and stick a few more "br"s here and there (inside angle-brackets, obviously).

Date: 2009-08-29 12:48 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] moon-custafer.livejournal.com
Thanks! I got a favorable comment from the deadwood_fic group too. Now thinking of a Deadwood/Moonstone crossover....

Date: 2009-08-29 06:44 am (UTC)
sovay: (Rotwang)
From: [personal profile] sovay
Is Inglourious Basterds at all in dialogue with Ernst Lubitsch's To Be or Not to Be (1942)—which I consider the definitive film about Nazis vs. art—or is that not one of the films Tarantino's pulling from? The fact that cinema seems so central to the plot made me think of it.

Date: 2009-08-29 01:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] handful-ofdust.livejournal.com
Hmmm, as always, good question. I suppose it's possible you could read IG--especially in its latter sections--as a farce with hideous consequences, and TBoNTB often plays with the same idea. I think where it's different is that there are no innocent victims involved, after the first ten minutes; it avoids completely the "usual" Holocaust narrative of trying to get other people out of that situation alive. The Basterds don't rescue anyone, that we can see; Shoshanna isn't sheltering anyone, aside from Marcel and herself (though the theatre certainly looks large enough to house a few fellow fugitives). Vengeance, not rescue, is the goal of the day, for everybody.
Edited Date: 2009-08-29 01:48 pm (UTC)
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