Monday, August 17, 2009

Inglourious Basterds (2009)

(Image from IMP Awards)

Inglourious Basterds (2009)

Woah! This is the first Tarantino film that I've actually been blown away by, and is easily my favourite of his films (knocking Jackie Brown off the top spot). The film is, without giving anything away, a new take on World War II; and by that I mean an alternate history, one that is outrageously funny and enthralling from start to finish, with quite a few shocks thrown in for good measure.

Taking place 'once upon a time in Nazi occupied France', the film is divided into 5 'chapters' that follow several different interweaving story threads and characters. The titular 'Basterds' are a team of Jewish American soldiers led by Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) who drop in to France to dish out bloody vengeance upon the Nazis, taking no prisoners and causing Hitler a major headache. Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) is a rather clever Nazi put in charge of hunting down the remaining Jews in France, a task he is exceptionally proficient at. Mélanie Laurent plays a Jewish woman, Shosanna, who survives the massacre of her family and hides in plain sight in Paris as the owner of a cinema, one that through fortuitous circumstances draws the Basterds, the Nazi top brass, and Col. Landa together.

One thing 'Inglourious Basterds' is not - despite outward appearances - is an action film. Sure, it's got some action in it and it is a violent revenge story, but for the most part it is a very dialogue heavy film that is made up of protracted conversations. That shouldn't be a put off because it's a Tarantino film, and the way these chapters and scenes are written as almost stand alone self contained mini stories that still gel together as part of a cohesive broader narrative, together with the snappy dialogue, is simply brilliant. It's sometimes tense, sometimes funny, and always engaging, with every character being layered and distinctive, even the very minor ones who pop into the film for a scene or two. And some of these scenes are nerve wracking, ratcheting up the tension minute by minute and keeping you on the edge of your seat. While the plot seems there to serve the characters, it's still excellent, albeit one that clearly takes place in an alternate, slightly surreal reality.

Of course, a great script doesn't equate to a great film without performances to go with it, and in this case the ensemble cast is uniformly excellent, with the standout being Waltz's ruthlessly brilliant and oddly amusing (and occasionally laugh out loud hilarious) and foppish Col. Landa. Sure, he gets the best lines in the film, but the delivery is simply fantastic. The rest of the cast is also in tune with the writing, playing it straight or slightly OTT as appropriate. Brad Pitt is great as Raine, a character that is unabashedly comical in nature, while at the other end of the spectrum Laurent's Jewish survivor is a much more serious and tragic character. There are also terrific minor standouts littered throughout the film, too many to really list out. The only weak link is a jarring appearance by Mike Myers, but I suppose it's only a problem if you're familiar with Mike Myers.

Everything about this film is praiseworthy, from the stylish visuals and editing to the music. One could argue that it runs a bit long, and in truth many of the scenes could easily be trimmed without detracting from the overall story, but part of the joy of watching this film is to witness these characters interacting and engaging in verbal combat, so in my mind the length is more a strength than a weakness! Inglourious Basterds is irreverent, occasionally extremely violent, and overall flat out brilliant and almost certainly unlike anything else you've seen before! Like I said, it's my favourite Tarantino film and among the most enjoyable cinematic experiences of the year for me. It makes me want to go back and re-watch all of his films again, just to reassess them!

[I'm not sure if I've come out of retirement here or not - this might be a one-off. Man, I'm rusty!]

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Hands On (Part 4) - Blood, Guts, and Wool

Continued from here, here, and here.

"Ammi, I have something to tell you. You're not going to like this." he almost whispered.

He nodded at the sheep with an air of familiarity and, after taking a deep breath, stated loudly and with affected confidence, "That sheep is staring at me because...  we have a history."

Taken aback, she too stared at him; his eyes were now transfixed by the pure white and woolly mammal before them. She glanced furtively at the sheep, which seemed equally transfixed by him. She looked from sheep to man and from man to sheep, and from sheep to man again, but already it was impossible to say which was which, so similar were their expressions and demeanour. A wave of nausea passed through her. "What do you mean [you fucking worthless cocksucker]?" she asked tentatively, half afraid of the horrors the answer would surely hold.

She noticed him cringe slightly and realized she'd had another uncontrolled outburst. "Please, please, please try to reign yourself in, just this once. This is really hard for me to say," he said huskily, his voice now bereft of false bravado. She nodded slowly, but both of them knew she couldn't control the outbursts any more than she could control the beating of her icy heart.

Not the real outbursts, at any rate.

What her son didn't know was that she milked her condition for all it was worth, dropping f-bombs with reckless abandon, safe in the knowledge that everyone would attribute it to Tourette's. She could sense, however, that this was a profound moment, and that her son was about to bare his soul. While swearing like a sailor had a soothing effect on her, she resolved to withhold any controllable expletives for the time being. Being somewhat responsible for his tormented childhood, she owed him that much, even if he was a fucking worthless cocksucker. "I'll try listening for once", she thought.

"You see, it's all clear to me now. Every second of my existence, every choice I have made, every seemingly random occurrence that has driven me down this one path instead of a myriad others, has led me to this moment." He paused, and then, maniacally, barked "This... is... DESTINY!" as his right leg kicked forward uncontrollably. He then paused once more, took another deep breath, and started recounting his sorry tale.

"I first met Fluffy eight years ago when she was just a lamb. This was when I spent the summer with pervy old Uncle Trendy in England", he began. Her mind reeled - FLUFFY? The word - nay, the NAME - reverberated in her mind, dulling her senses and drowning out the now nostalgia tinged drone of her son's voice. Fluffy. Fluffy. Fluffy. She could no longer look at his face. Nausea took hold again.

Her eyes flitted down and locked on to his hands, which were now firmly attached to the steering wheel by his vise-like grip. Oh, those hands, those tender hands. She despised almost everything about her son, but those hands - surely their perfection was proof of God's existence? She felt herself drifting away into what she called her 'serene space', an imaginary alternate reality where her son was a guitarist rock God who could make sweet sweet love to his guitar with those tender hands, a reality in which he had won the heart of a horny groupie.

Her serene space was unashamedly romantic and perfect, cheesy even, but so what? Reality was full of the mundane, like pullovers, and sheep, and pullovers with sheep on them. The serene space was bliss, its single disturbing aspect the fact that she invariably placed herself in the role of the horny groupie. While this disturbed her, it did so only slightly, and certainly not as much as she felt it ought to. Not enough for her to keep it a secret, at any rate.

Her son droned on, but now there was also a paradoxically palpable excitement to the drone that drew her out of her serene space and back to reality.

"By this point, my heart was beating fast with the fear and excitement coursing through me! I saw Fluffy then for the very first time, and in that moment, in that perfect moment... I no longer needed proof of God's existence!"

Dizzy, she tuned out for a moment, and when she tuned back in - "... need you to understand that my love for sheep isn't the issue here. The thing is, the military were experimenting on them, changing them, and the things Fluffy could do, they transcended my wildest dreams! It's wrong, but it felt so right!"

"I can't listen to this anymore [you sick wanker]!", she screamed. Her hollering was so loud that it almost drowned out the explosion. Almost. Fluffy had ceased to be fluffy or anything else for that matter, having been unceremoniously turned into a shower of blood, guts, and wool. The atmosphere was saturated with blood, leaving the world shrouded in a hellish red mist. Paralyzed by the sight, neither of them could so much as breathe. It was in that eerie moment they saw a figure walking towards them, Reservoir Dogs style, through the bloody haze.

The figure soon became recognizable. "In-[fucking]-conceivable!", she muttered. It was....

Over to N now.