Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Do I owe Quentin Tarantino an apology or is it the other way around?

You don't read all the blogs I write. I never get around to posting a lot of them. Like the one I wrote last week, skewering Quentin Tarantino for the opening scene of 'Inglourious Basterds'.

After I wrote the blog, I gave the opening scene some thought. And I came to realize that I might have been overreacting. In fact, I might have been wrong. So I took another look at 'Inglourious Basterds' (Sorry, Nora, but I couldn't bring myself to give 'Julie and Julia' a second chance.)

Turns out, there are some fine aspects to 'Inglourious Basterds'. Some of the performances are unexpected and refreshing. One shot in particular is magnificent. And Tarantino did a really good job creating a believable place and time.

On the other hand, I'm disappointed in the story. The premise has so much promise –– a renegade group of Jews who slip behind enemy lines to kill Nazis. And yet none of the promise is realized. The only way we know these guys are Jews is because Tarantino tells us they are. They don't act like Jews, particularly. You could have substituted "vegetarians" or "plumbers" in describing them and none of the dialogue or action would have had to be changed.

As for the structure, Tarantino has a propensity for avoiding the single protagonist, which is fine. That's his deal. But both Lt. Aldo Raine (played, astonishingly badly, by Brad Pitt) and Shoshana (played astonishingly well by Mélanie Laurent) are pursuing the same goal. Structurally, that means that either of them can fail and yet still succeed.

Kind of hard to feel that there's a lot of stake there.

Sure enough, hi-jinx ensue. But the stuff that Tarantino spends so much time and effort crafting doesn't so much move the story forward as serve to show how clever he is. The Jews posing as Italians are caught out not able to speak Italian! And in a movie theater crammed fully of Nazis, no less. How funny! The Nazi Jew-hunter plays a courteous guest in the home of the French farmer sheltering Jews! How long can he keep up the excruciating facade?

It's almost like watching a prequel to 'Hogans Heroes', which if you're too young to remember the show, was a sitcom that took place in a Nazi concentration camp, complete with a lovable, bumbling guard and clever Americans who ran the resistance from behind the barbed wire and just around the corner from the gas chamber and no, I'm not making this up.

Tarantino was nominated for a DGA award, which I'm glad to say he didn't win. But he's also been nominated for an Oscar.

An Academy Award.

The best director –– if you ask me –– is not only the person who makes every aspect of the piece as good as it can be (and that means getting Brad Pitt to learn his lines so he can actually deliver them believably), but also makes the piece appropriate to the subject.

I'm not saying you can't make a comedy about Nazis killing Jews or vice-versa. As a matter of fact, I happen to think 'Life is Beautiful' is one of the greatest films I've seen. What I'm saying is that 'Inglourious Basterds' is a silly little comedy without the depth, pathos, or even character development of 'Dumb and Dumber'. It's a third-grade T-ball champion stepping up to the plate at Fenway and, knowing that he can't even swing at a pitch, deciding to entertain the crowd with a goofy dance.

Tarantino does a lot of things well. And I'd rather sit through any of his films than one of Nora Ephron's. But is this truly Oscar material?



  1. Yes, really!

    WIthout polarizing your restrained, perhaps even hand, this is my experience, with respect:

    Tarantino: n., the Platonic ideal to describe what exemplifies all that Hollywood loves; form without content, fire without heat, entertainment without resonant meaning.

    Academy Awards: n, a Hollywood imprimatur political body, enfranchised to reward variants of Tarantinoism. Often influenced by Cameronism, a steady erosion of cultural depth by cliche.

  2. It's funny because, when I saw the film, I found that Brad Pitt played incredibly well, and Mélanie Laurent, incredibly badly (but I'm French). The best actor, of course, was Christopher Waltz.

  3. "They don't act like Jews?" Lol. What were you expecting them to do?

  4. As much as I really really dislike the content of Tarantino's films, I think his ability as an editor (in the writing) is second to none. He can create tension like nobody's business. But that's it. When I sat through Avitar, I was tense because I was being bombarded by sound and Viewmaster 3D images that were about as real as a prog-rock album cover. If I had to pick one, I'd go with the hated, torture-loving Tarantino.
    That said, he's up for best director, not editor or writer. So yes, he should not be up for it.

  5. Everyone. Literally, everyone I know who has seen this film has deemed it to be perfect, one of Tarantino's finest. I've still yet to see it myself, but I did see a few scenes that looked pretty cool. So after all that, it's hard to understand where you're coming from. I guess I'll just have to report back.

    Also, I'm too young for it, but I used to watch Hogan's Heroes on TV Land with my family. Right after Leave it to Beaver. Nostalgia.

  6. "Hogan's Heroes" took place in a POW camp, NOT a concentration camp. There's a big difference.

    The main character in "Inglorious Basterds" was neither Aldo Raine nor Shoshanna Dreyfus, it was Hans Landa. The opening scene was the PERFECT way to introduce him and tells you everything you need to know about the way he operates.

  7. Interesting idea. But if Hans Landa is the protagonist, the Shoshanna Dreyfus story is a total red herring. Plus, isn't the protagonist supposed to confront overwhelming opposition? Where's the opposition? Landa doesn't really meet much.

  8. So when the Jews weren't "acting like Jews", were they not complaining about the lack of bagels in Germany? About the price of the movie theater tickets? About how loud everyone is being? How does a Jew act like a Jew? Or did I cover it?

  9. How about the fact that their religion prohibits them from working on Friday, yet that's the night they're supposed to blow up the theater. Or eating pork, when they're stuck behind enemy lines in Germany and the only thing available is schnitzl. Some could be religious, so they say a prayer before and after they club someone's brains out. Or wear those little box things and the shawls. Humor doesn't have to be insulting.

  10. 「不可能」這個字詞,在聰明人的字典中是找不到的。 ..................................................

  11. A "silly little comedy"? I can't agree with that. I see where you're coming from, though, because you liked "Life Is Beautiful", a film I thought was totally obnoxious; truly vomitous shit. I'm not sure how Jews should act, but the way they acted in BASTERDS did not give me pause.

    I do think Tarantino did an exceptional job constructing an audacious, original blend of history and exploitation. It's a balancing act he succeeded at, and one rarely attempted at a high level.

    The film felt like "cinema" to be in the old sense, and I admired the plotting and staging.

    Does it deserve Academy consideration? Absolutely! That such an oddball, peculiar work has gotten so much attention shows me that there is still hope in the world.

    I want Bigelow to win (because of her dazzling body of work, esp. NEAR DARK), but if Tarantino wins, I'll be very happy for him.

    For me, the film expands the artform. UP IN THE AIR keeps it "safe". And that will not be remembered in ten years like the BASTERDS will.

  12. Yes! I definitely agree with Phantom of Pulp.

    I would also like to see Bigelow win best director, but I definitely think Tarantino deserves Best Original Screenplay.

  13. When comparing Pitt's and Laurent's acting in this film, I am not sure you can really say which is good and which is bad... They look like they belong to different movies altogether. I think that is the biggest problem of this film.

  14. Not sure I understand why you feel, Daniel, that there is a disconnect with Pitt and Laurent's respective performances.

    The characters are from two very different worlds and have totally opposite agendas. Are they supposed to be more alike?

    They're not.

    I liked both performances.

    Personally, I think Tarantino did a good job blending the genres.