Sunday, November 30, 2014

INGLORIOUS BASTERDS (2009) - Quentin Tarantino

I've had plenty of qualms with Tarantino's output post-Jackie Brown (his last truly great movie in my humble opinion, along with Pulp and Dogs). Some of them have been nitpicky issues of excessive length and indulgent cameos in otherwise fine films (Django Unchained). Some of them top-to-bottom problems with execution (Death Proof) or method of exhibition. I still see no good reason for Kill Bill to be more than two hours total, much less two separate films. So it's no big surprise I had some "issues" with Basterds when I first saw it five years ago in the theatre. Watching it again over the weekend, most of those quibbles still remain, those certain showboating Tarantino-isms that tend to pull me right out of an otherwise engaging film. To name just a few...

1. The randomly placed Sam Jackson voiceover, either explaining the flammable properties of silver nitrate film or giving unnecessary exposition about a character--Hugo Stiglitz--with accompanied anachronistic guitar sting

2. The wildly self-indulgent and nearly half-hour basement tavern scene where the characters are, for some reason, playing the very modern college mixer "Who Am I?" drinking game

3. The very on-the-nose David Bowie Cat People sample ("I'm putting out the fire with gasoline")

4. The bloated run-time, as per usual

5. The unfortunate presence of director/actor Eli Roth

That said, as with most things Tarantino, the cringe-worthy and the inspired often go hand in hand. There are tons of things to admire in this film, and after the disappointments that were the Kill Bills and Grindhouse, I still consider Basterds to mostly be a return to QT's early career form. Historical settings (WWII, the Old West) seem to be serving him well these days. Alternate histories more so. Here are a few of the things that I loved both times around, things that absolutely no director but Tarantino could get away with...

1. The masterly suspenseful opening twenty minutes at the French dairy farm, on par with anything Hitchcock ever did (or DePalma ever copied)

2. The lovingly detailed close-up inserts of Shosanna's strudel ("Wait for the cream!")

3. The microscopic attention to foreign languages (accents and subtitles not as boring things to trudge though but modes of subterfuge and suspense!)

4. Every single line that comes out of a perfectly cast Christoph Waltz's mouth (especially "It's a bingo")

5. The laughably fake Hitler dummy that gets chewed to a machine gunned pulp at the end

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