(Squinting at the guy on the left, Pitt thought, “Pfff, you think you can sneak an Asian stand-in past me? I bang my girlfriend in front of a Cambodian kid.”)
Waiter? I’ll have a kickass movie with my 8-ball, please.
Inglourious Basterds is the tongue-in-cheek WWII epic Tarantino would’ve written in ’95 or ’96 if he’d been doing more coke back then. Which is to say it’s classic Quentin –- ballsy, bloody, eccentric, with multiple interconnected stories coming together just so –- but not without the excessive talk that almost ruined Kill Bill 2 and made Death Proof his least enjoyable movie to date. (I’d rather date Jackie Browne, she puts out). The dialog isn’t excruciatingly mundane this time, but just because the words are smart and thought provoking doesn’t mean there couldn’t have been less of them. Tarantino is a savant in the way that he can nail certain aspects of human nature, even within an intricate, whacked-out plot (without being able to spell! How the hell does he do that?). But at times it feels like he deals with self-editing the way an autistic deals with spontaneity.
For me, the quintessential Tarantino scene is the finale of True Romance, when Christian Slater, the cops, a police informant, the mob, and a Hollywood mogul’s team of armed bodyguards all end up in a Mexican standoff during a botched drug deal in a hotel room (a Mexican standoff being like a regular standoff that will work for less money because it’s drunk). Inglourious Basterds is, as they say, “kinda like that.” The story involves Brad Pitt as Aldo Raine and his band of Basterds, S.S. Colonel Hans “Jew Hunter” Landa, and Shoshanna, a French Jew who was the only one of her family to escape murder at the Jew Hunter’s hands. Posing as a goy, Shoshanna (somehow) becomes the proprietress of a movie theater in Paris, where she catches the fancy of Daniel Brühl, Nazi super-soldier and subject of the propaganda film Nation’s Pride. Hoping for a taste of that sweet secret-Jew ‘tang, Brühl convinces Joseph Göebbels to hold the movie’s premiere at Shoshanna’s theater –- a premiere which Hitler, Goring, and the entire Nazi high command will be attending, where both Shoshanna and the Basterds plan to have their revenge. You catch all that? Bottom line: sh’t’s gonna hit the fan at the theater. Come lubed to the max, the safe word is “lightbulb.” Eli Roth will be there too ;-(
Every scene leading up to the climax is an exercise in incremental tension building, often capped off with a delightfully gory scalping and/or death by baseball bat. Ever found yourself laughing uncontrollably at someone getting bludgeoned to death with a bat? While watching a movie, I mean? I for one can now check that off the list, right below “crying during sex.” Quarterbacking the slow-tension builds (usually) is German actor Christoph Waltz, playing Landa as a refined psychopath — in German, French, English, and Italian. Some are calling him an early contender for best Actor. On the one hand, his pleasant mix of subtlety and over-the-top isn’t something we haven’t already seen from, say, Gary Oldman or Daniel Day-Lewis, but on the other, there aren’t too many actors in the world who could’ve accomplished what Waltz did for reasons of simple linguistics. So basically, he’s like a quadralingual Daniel Day-Lewis. Big deal, bro, how much can you bench? Bottom line, he’s fun to watch.
The movie itself is as full of charming absurdities as the Landa character. Remember in Pulp Fiction when Uma Thurman calls John Travolta a square by tracing an invisible square with her fingers (and it’s actually a rectangle, but that’s another story…), and Tarantino outlines her finger path like John Madden’s telestrator? And you’re like “Dude, did I just have an acid flashback?” Similarly, Inglourious Basterds has opening titles in three different fonts, subtitles that sometimes translate “Merci” as “Merci” and other times as “Thank you”, characters that seem hell bent on unnecessary suicide missions, and the most ridiculous collection of accents and stunt casting this side of a Dreamworks cartoon. Like I said, if Tarantino wasn’t doing massive amounts of coke when he wrote this, I’ll take an eightball of his dandruff for my next Miami Vice party.
For the most part, his cokehead-like mix of excess and fixation is a good thing, like a sculptor who brings the same flair and innovation to the nutsack dimples as he does to the whole statue. But sometimes you want to shout, “Jesus, dude, how long do you expect me to sit here admiring nutsack dimples?” Perhaps I could’ve chosen a better metaphor, but suffice to say, I nodded off a few times during the scene in the tavern, probably because he often uses five lines of dialog to hammer home a point we got after two.
But occasional draggy-ness aside, what have we got? A movie that is simultaneously:
- A multi-national WWII epic
- A funny, self-aware, violent b-movie
- A satisfying revenge flick
- A tale of alternate history that’s less allegorical but more fun than Watchmen
- Brad Pitt with a porn ‘stache talking like Foghorn Leghorn.
BOOSH. If I had to rank the Tarantino movies:
1. Pulp Fiction
2. Reservoir Dogs
3. Kill Bill 1
4. Inglourious Basterds
5. Jackie Browne
6. Kill Bill 2
7. Death Proof/Grindhouse