Friday, January 15, 2010

Inglourious Basterds

(Movie Reviews)

I once had an English professor at Calvin who was always complaining about violence in movies. He would go off for rants about the subject in the middle of his lectures, and was one of those people who was convinced that most of society's problems could be traced back to Hollywood's influence.

You can imagine how surprised I was when I found out he was a big fan of "Pulp Fiction."

"I once saw a movie," he said to the class, "that I almost walked out of. I thought it was violent, I thought it was crude, I thought it was tasteless. And then, halfway through I realized it was a satire. And I had a great time after that."

This raises the question: when reviewing a Tarantino movie, how much of the subject material is Tarantino morally responsible for, and how much of this can be written off as just a satire/ homage to other movies?

For example there is a lot of stuff in this movie that should give us pause. It takes one of the greatest atrocities in human history, and exploits it to tell a trashy fiction story.
It also has a strong revenge theme, and (like a lot of Tarantino's work) features more than a little bit of sadism.

But then again, this material doesn't necessarily represent Tarantino's own views. This is his homage to all the Nazi-exploitation films that have come before him.
He's the dedicated scholar of pop culture and pulp fiction, and he knows that over the past 70 years, few subjects have been exploited more than Nazi Germany and World War II movies. In retrospect, it was just a matter of time until he worked his way around to it.

In particular I noticed that the ending climax was drawn straight from "The Dirty Dozen" (a film which was itself accused of sadism back in its time). And so whilethe casual sadism of the movie repulsed me a little, I've decided to write it off as Tarantino responding to the culture, and not creating it.

With that elephant out of the way, let's get into the entertainment value of the film.

I rented this film with my brother-in-law, and on the drive back home we discussed our views on Tarantino: which of his movies we liked, and which of his movies we didn't like.

"You know," I said, "Some of his movies on repeated viewing I've decided aren't all that great. But the first time watching any of his films I'm always on the edge of my seat the whole time, because you feel like he's crazy enough to do anything. So you never know what's going to happen next, and that makes the whole movie really suspenseful."

I suspect this is true for most people.

And Tarantino has apparently realized he has this power. He takes advantage of it by mercilessly drawing out every scene, knowing he has the power to do this and still keep you on the edge of your seats. And so, as in every Tarantino movie, the conversation lingers. It wanders. It goes off on unrelated tangents. It does anything but get to the point. And yet you watch it fascinated.

He does, however, somewhat overplay his hand in this movie. The long drawn out scenes that are so fascinating at the beginning of the movie start to wear on you towards the end. Halfway through my brother-in-law and I both agreed that, although we didn't know where the movie was going, we both thought it should get there soon.
The opening scenes of this movie are brilliant, but in my humble opinion, it would have been better if this movie had started to gradually gain momentum throughout, so that each scene was a little faster paced than the last.

As it is, the key to sitting through this movie is to just know ahead of time that it's extremely slow paced, and try and go into it with the appropriate level of patience. (As with "Jackie Brown".)

But say what you want about Tarantino, the good thing about his movies is that they are always something fresh and different.
If you waste too much of your life watching movies (as I do), you're probably sick of the same old-same old formulaic Hollywood and plot structure. There's none of that here, and as a result the movie felt fresh and new. I'm not sure I'd want to re-watch it again anytime soon, but I can't remember the last time I enjoyed a new movie as much as I enjoyed this one.

Perhaps Tarantino's exalted reputation for genius is simply an over-reaction based on the delight people get from something new and different.
(No, actually on second thought it can't be that simple. If that were true, than all the Tarantino imitators in the late 90s would have been just as successful as he was).

While on the subject of Tarantino, my past related posts: Kill Bill, Kill Bill update, and Kill Bill 2.

Link of the Day
Anarchism 101 with Noam Chomsky

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