Just take a look at the previous post's date. It's been a wasteland of a summer, no? Star Trek- two hours of technicolor glee, but that was May. Up- a winner, and should be somewhere on the 1000 best films ever made. And since I'm full-time in Halifax now, I've blinked and missed anything critically notable like The Hurt Locker, and... um... The Hurt Locker. Instead it's been a parade of disappointment. When did movies stop making sense? Transformers, Harry Potter, Wolverine, Terminator- name your franchise; every one of them was like picking up issue #340 of a comic book I've never read. Maybe if you sit around thinking about Dumbledore's Army (but wasn't that what the last HP was about? And why not even a mention of said army in this new one?) or the internal workings of Jazz the police car Transformer (Is he the police car Transformer? Is he a he? Or an it? And was he even in Revenge of the Fallen?), you might be of another opinion, but you'd also be a child, and no one makes movies for grown-ups any more.
But- one that rides the line (meaning there's grown-up pleasures to be had, but if you just want to "Aw, Dude! That was fuckin this! That was fuckin' that!" all your way through it, fill your emotionally stunted boots) is the one I saw last night, Inglourius Basterds.
I've never been one to worship Tarantino to the exclusion of all else, but I've been a fan. I saw Reservior Dogs a year before it became an obsession at my and everyone else's university, and that's triggered an auto-reaction to every one of his films since (even Pulp Fiction): that there's never going to be that pure experience of being surprised by this filmmaker again. Or so I thought.
I think it's the classically evocative WWII setting that made so much of this movie pop for me. Every one of Tarantino's tricks that I'd grown so aware of worked for me here. As a writer I'm a huge fan of knowing the rules and promptly breaking them. This movie introduces characters, then shoots their nuts off before they've had a chance to do shit-all for the story or for themselves. There are extended scenes (or, in recent QT style, 'Chapters", such as the "Rendezvous in Nadine" sequence, that are as good as any stage script I've read in ages, that meander down entirely irrelevant roads (the 'King Kong' conversation b/t the undercover Basterds and the German officer), and pull themselves together just in time for the denoument, which is as abrupt as a gunshot to the face. Literally.
And there's just enough silence and breathing room in this film to set one's mind going. I found myself thinking, early on, 'Is this a film about good and evil? Or just about evil? Or just about war?' These are guys who don't beat them (well, in one sense of the word, they do), but join them. They're not glorious, and they're bastards. They, like their foul German opposers, don't think a lick about what horrid shit they're inflicting on hundreds of people. And that makes the nihilistic bent that Tarantino works with jive the best it has in any of his work.
There's a moment in the polar opposite of this film, the aforementioned Star Trek, where Kirk and Spock are trying to talk their way through an encounter with Nero, the planet-destroying villain, who of course doesn't want anything to do with diplomacy. And just when you think you might get one of those orations on humanity that Patrick Stewart did so well and Scott Bakula did so badly, Kirk just says "Fuck it. All we can do is shoot at him"
And Spock agrees. And they do.
That's what Inglourious Basterds is from start to finish. We all know why Shoshonna works with a steadfast resolve to burn every Nazi alive in her movie theatre- because that's what you do when the world's that way. And if you think these thoughts are far too lofty to have come out of this particular moviegoing experience, well.
I can't immediately bring to mind a war film that didn't have the protagonists coming to grips with the moral lapses they've expereinced in battle, which is something I suspect one doesn't do much of in The Fight. And before going to this movie I found my mind drifting over the PC implications of having Jews do this in a movie, but that's kind of all out the window now.
Posted by Nate Crawford at 8/23/2009