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?

Really?