Like my book reviews site, these are movie reviews I write for entertainment purposes only. These are just my reviews and my opinions. They are not endorsed by Blogger or any movie studios or anyone else. So there. I borrowed my scoring system from the Metacritic site, which does not imply an endorsement from them, although I think they do have a very nice website. I convert the 1-100 scores into 1-4 stars, essentially it works like this:

1 star = 25 points
2 stars = 50 points
3 stars = 75 points
4 stars = 100 points

And then if something falls about halfway between, then I'll give it an added half-star.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Inglorious Basterds

I'm not a Quentin Tarantino fan and I've never really understood the attraction. "Pulp Fiction" was OK but to me seemed way overrated. "Inglorious Basterds" didn't do anything to convert me. It did help me in possibly understanding the disconnect I experience versus other people, notably film critics. Most of his movies like this one are an homage to campy '70s drive-in fare; since I don't remember the '70s there's really no way I can share in his nostalgia. So it always ends up like a joke that everyone gets except for me.

"Inglorious Basterds" is a campy homage of war movies, notably the 1978 Italian original. Though in this case the plot sounds completely different. In 1941 in occupied France Colonel Landa (Golden Globe and probable Oscar winner Christopher Waltz) known as the Jew Hunter kills a family of Jews hiding at a dairy farm. But an 18-year-old girl named Shoshanna escapes.

Three years later, just before the D-Day invasion, Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) assembles a squad of Jewish soldiers who drop into Europe and launch a guerrilla war against the Nazis. They employ brutal tactics, most notably scalping the victims or leaving any survivors with a swastika carved onto their foreheads. Because of this brutality they're known as the "Basterds."

Meanwhile, Joseph Goebbels and the Nazi propaganda machine are planning to screen a new film called "Nation's Pride" in Paris. At the behest of the war hero/star of the film, the screening is moved to a little cinema run by a young woman. If you can't guess who this woman is then you must be blind, deaf, and dumb. When the Basterds get word that the German high command is going to be there, you can figure they have to be there too.

What's odd to me is that the Basterds are the least interesting part of the movie. Thankfully there's only a couple of scenes where we have to see their gory tactics. (There's nothing pretty about watching people getting scalped.) The Basterds remain one-note characters throughout, most without even a token personality like in most war movies. The only ones you're likely to remember are Aldo because he's Brad Pitt and "The Jewish Bear" (Eli Roth, who's no stranger to gory movies as creator of the "Hostel" films) because he smashes a dude's head in with a baseball bat.

The story about Shoshanna and the cinema was far more interesting. I'd dare to say that "Inglorious Basterds" would have been better without the Basterds hamming it up. A simple cat-and-mouse between Shoshanna and Landa would have been far more interesting because these were the film's most developed characters. It wouldn't surprise me if Waltz does win the Oscar for Landa, not after Heath Ledger won for the Joker last year, setting the precedent.

What I really don't like about this movie is the alternate history component. I'm reminded of Michael Chabon's excellent Pulitzer-winning novel "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay" about two Jewish comic book authors in the early days of World War II. As reports come in about Nazi atrocities, the comic book authors (and many in the industry) wrote fantasy pieces where their hero kills legions of Nazis and captures Hitler to end the war. The problem is that the authors feel only a momentary burst of satisfaction, because when all's said and done it's just a fantasy. I could imagine that Jews watching this might cheer for a moment before realizing that same spiritual emptiness because this fantasy changes nothing that happened.

As I said at the beginning, I have no nostalgia for old '70s films (except maybe "Star Wars") so this film isn't very effective to me. I squirmed in my seat numerous times not just from the scalpings but also through some of the lengthy dialog scenes, especially the interminable scene in the basement of a tavern. Others, especially film critics, disagree.

That is all.

My score: 50/100 (2 stars)

Metacritic score: 69/100 (2.5 stars)

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