Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Unbearable Crapness of Basterds

Unfortunately, Quentin Tarantino's new film Inglourious Basterds is crap. I'm a fan of Quentin Tarantino, so don't think this is that kind of hate. We've all seen Pulp Fiction, which is brilliant even though it's the default whenever someone has to prove how brilliant and whatever pomo Tarantino thing he is. And whether you've seen it or not, Kill Bill is probably his greatest success to date. It's honorific and informed and fun and immaculately stylized, with a score that is probably his best pound for pound, to say nothing of the performances, which are all career toppers and buttressed by the true stars of the film, Gordon Liu and Sonny Chiba, who Tarantino is smart enough to call upon to please all of us nerds who want our kung-fu movies authentic. And, despite whatever people blabber about, the violence in Kill Bill is better than the violence in Reservoir Dogs because it's just as violent, but poetic. More musical. Choreographed, the way kung-fu movies are supposed to be. It's a master class in study. Like all of his films, to be honest, but what I'd describe as supreme within his career.

And Inglourious Basterds has all of that. It's grotesquely violent at times. Look away gross. There's tons of killing--guns of all sorts, blades, explosions, even a bludgeoning. So nothing we haven't seen already. The irritating part is that some of it's pretty worthwhile. Brad Pitt deserves some kind of award for doing the heavy lifting. The other half is done by Christoph Waltz who, with Pitt, picks up the slack left by just about everyone else. And they're both absolutely hilarious. Laugh out loud when it's racist and inappropriate funny. Their performances are nothing short of brilliant. But the rest of it stinks.

The plot, so you know what I mean. Pitt is Lt. Aldo Raine, who the Nazis know as Aldo Apache, because he's part Apache and because of some other really racially sensitive footage that has to do with white people's version of Apaches. He leads a bunch of Basterds through France on a mission that ends up being an attempt on Hitler's life. That's all you get. I may slip and give up more later, but you are hereby warned, so stop now if you don't want to risk it.

Like I've said, none of the other actors--save Denis Menochet who appears at the outset as the farmer Perrier LaPadite--are doing anything to help. The guys who play the Basterds themselves could've been any of a million generic role actors. They had good writing, so the characters were funny, but the actors didn't do anything to distinguish themselves. Blah blah blah, they whole rest of the cast was C- at best, believe me.

Apparently, it's some weird rite of passage to make a WWII movie. Hanks, Eastwood, Spielberg, Benigni, Affleck, I'm talking to you. Not all of you do it well. Tarantino, you too, buddy. Yours stunk. Just like Benigni's and Gump's.

See, here's the problem. WWII as a topic for entertainment is just plain inappropriate. I'm not innocent. I've seen far too many of these movies--The Dirty Dozen is my nominee--and I've played that Call of Duty game. But my wife's right, it's just gross. Even humor doesn't make it ok. Benigni, this means you, testa di tufa. Mel Brooks hardly, barely gets away with it. And I'm not really sure he does. Tarantino's not only not funny enough to pull this off, but he monkeys with history.

See, the final climactic to do is one big ejaculatory, retaliatory, masculinist fantasy. One that we all want. Me. You, I'd bet, if you're at all human. Everyone I can think of, I hope. But it's cheap, and unnecessarily glorifying of unnecessary and cruel mass violence. That most of us would probably consider prosecuting ourselves, but should nonetheless recognize as needless, thus inhumane and disgusting, violence.

And you cannot mess with this kind of history, even within the context of a movie.

And what really ends things for me is that every trick, every stock idea or gimmick, or plot maneuver, or character trait, or framing device, or scene catalyst, or whatever, is something that we already know Tarantino can do. We've seen it all already, in all of his other movies.

Listen, buddy, if you want to be the arguably most interesting pop director of the 1990s, that's cool. I'd probably give it to you anyway, just because I think you've earned it. But if you want to keep on being someone we need to care about, if you want us to keep going to see your films, if you want us to give you any more respect, if you want to continue to credit yourself with A Film By, you need to do something new. Remember what happened to Woody Allen?

If you think you're some kind of Antonioni-level guy, you need to bring it better.

In one way or another, I've seen this movie before. And so have you. Crap.

In other crapitude this week:

Chris Johnson and LenDale White, you are on notice. Javon Ringer deserve to have both of your jobs. Step it up or you don't get to start.


  1. I didn't know people could NOT like Life Is Beautiful. I watch films about WWII like it's nobody's business. And it ain't. But here's what I think: When it comes to film making and WWII, with Hitlermania and the Holocaust especially, you can either be real (and focus on loss) or be brave (and focus on potential). Schindler's List is "real" but unrealistic on an emotional level (but it's cool, because Spielberg also did Empire of the Sun, which is an A+ perfect movie forever). Grey Zone is another "real" one. And "real" is sterile and dark and controlled, like an SS uniform or some shit, and why would anyone want more of that? Or you could be brave. Like Roberto Benigni, who WON THE TANK (!!!). Or like Louis Malle (Au Revoir, Les Enfants).

    I really liked Inglorious Basterds. It was cathartic. I felt the spirit of good ol' fashion THEATER. But I think Quentin Tarantino's films lack QUIET compassion. Maybe he's an Aries. (Look this up - if I'm right, be amazed. If I'm wrong, my second guess is Scorpio.)

  2. Before watching Tarentino's Basterds, I went to the source and watched the original. I'm not saying it's better--just much different. Then I watched the extras, the interview with the director in particular. Tarentino interviews Castellari, and although I like Tarentino's movies, I don't like him. He makes me nervous--like someone who's done too much coke way too early in the night nervous.
    In in the interview, Tarentino continuously interrupts Castellari with sentences that start out "Well when I remake your movie". The original Basterds isn't amazing, but this aging Italian man deserves more respect that constant interruption and some hyperactive wippersnapper telling him how much better his version of the movie is going to be.
    As for Tarentino's Basterds, I like that the plot was revealed slowly. That's good for Tarentino, he needed to slow down a bit. However, I don't know why Eli Roth had to play the Bear Jew (I got bored and referred to him as Jew Bear for the rest of the movie). Why was the fat kid from Freaks and Geeks cast? Or BJ Novak from the office?
    The end is a terrible American WWII cream dream that's both anticlimactic and without focus. At least when Eastwood made Letters from Iwo Jima, we knew how it was going to end--and that's how it ended. Maybe Tarentino owed some jews in Hollywood a favor. Maybe he carries some kind of Jewish white guilt. Or maybe, like always, he just couldn't contain himself.