Brad Pitt

January 4, 2013

Holiday Hangover: Inglourious Basterds

Inglourious Basterds – Tension

I don’t think any war in our nation’s, or world’s, history has been done to death like World War II.  There have been romantic, comedic, heart-wrenching, and just plain bad tellings of “The War to End All Wars.”  On the top of my list I have “Saving Private Ryan” and the so-far-under-the-radar “Enemy At The Gates,”  whereas craptastic crap like “BloodRayne” remains at the bottom of the English Channel.  But you know that when a filmmaker like Quentin Tarantino gets a bug up his ass that he wants to make a war film its not going to be like any war film you’ve ever seen.  Enter, “Inglourious Basterds.”

Before I dive into “Basterds,” I’ll preface;  I was actually going to review all of Tarantino’s directorial efforts in order, but the holidays sidetracked me and I ended up skipping right to “Django Unchained,” where you can read that review right here.  I’d like to think of “Basterds” as the moment where Tarantino went mainstream, and I mean REAL mainstream.  “Basterds” was his first film to feature a TRUE leading man in Brad Pitt, and he finally was able to reward one of his actors with an Academy Award in Christoph Waltz.  In a way it was also one of his most accessible efforts in theaters where it was the largest release for a Tarantino movie to date, “Kill Bill Vol.1” was a close second.  And it was the first of his films to be available in a Digital, DVD, and Blu-Ray format (since the writing of this review you can pick up the Tarantino XX Blu-Ray Collection that features all of his films in an HD format).

“Inglourious Basterds” follows the exploits of a group of Jewish-born Army Mercenaries and their commanding officer Lt. Aldo Raine as they merrily maraude across Europe killing, scalping, and branding Nazis.  But that is just a small portion of the film, which also follows a French-born Jewish female theater owner planning her revenge against Nazis who are planning to premier a propaganda film entitled “Nation’s Pride.”  Included in attendance are Joseph Goebbels and Adolf Hitler.  As you can imagine there are twists, typical Tarantino humor, and scenes of fantastic violence.  The difference between “Basterds” and Tarantino’s other films is the tension and you can cut it with a knife in several scenes.  The best examples include the Strudel scene and the Bar scene.  What you also start to see, and this might have started after QT finished up his “Kill Bill” saga, is the change in his tone of film.

Tarantino began making and writing films with an edge, a very gritty edge.  He dealt with the wrong side of law in thieves, murderers, sadists, and hit-men   And for the most part, it all seemed to fit in some realm of reality.  When “Bill” was released you began to see a different side; which included more fantastic plot devices and stories that revolved more around revenge and the bloody road that leads to it.  I’m not going to say that Tarantino is getting lazy, its really just a maturation process in his filmmaking, or an evolution if you will.  He’s moved from the gritty streets of Los Angeles, to a fantastic Earth 2 of DC proportions.

Look at any war genre film from the 1960s and 70s, and “Basterds” has its fingers all over it.  From the original “Inglorious Bastards” to “The Dirty Dozen” and maybe in throw in a little “Wild Bunch” and you have “Basterds” in a nutshell.  What Tarantino really brings out is the fact that a so-called “foreign” film can be accessible to any audience.  There are a ton of subtitles across this nearly three hour epic, but the actors who read the dialogue do it so well, and with such fluidity, that you get seduced by their delivery, no matter if its in German, French, or Italian.  I brought up Christoph Waltz winning an Oscar for his portrayal of Col. Hans Landa, aka, The Jew Hunter, and part of that victory must have come from his ability to act and deliver dialogue in English, German, French, and Italian with gusto, hilarity, and conviction.  Every time he appears on screen you are transfixed on his slimy SS Officer.  You both hate and love Landa, and there aren’t many characters in the history of film you can say that for.

Is “Inglorious Basterds” a good movie, of course it is.  While some viewers saw it as a little boring, uneven, and maybe even a romantic take on Nazis and World War II France, there is still plenty to take away from “Basterds.”  Also, I would put money on the fact that the ending of “Basterds” is one of the most satisfying in any Tarantino film to date, even “Django Unchained.”  If you haven’t already, or maybe if you’ve even seen it a few times, check out “Inglourious Basterds,” it’s tons of fun, and started a new chapter in the career of Quentin Tarantino.

Fun Fact:  Eli Roth, who appears as Sgt. Donny Donowitz, aka The Bear Jew, in “Basterds” directed the scenes from the film-within-a-film, “Nation’s Pride.”

December 29, 2012

Crappy Holidays: Killing Them Softly

FRUSTRATING

Hey, have you ever watched a film that has great characters, great performances, great dialogue, and creative visuals, but still ends up being a totally FRUSTRATING mess?  If not and if that is your cup of tea, go ahead and watch Killing Them Softly.  A crime noir film by Andrew Dominik based on the George V. Higgins novel Cogan’s Trade.  I haven’t been this FRUSTRATED after seeing a film in a while.  FRUSTRATED because it is a good film that seems to do everything in it’s power to be a bad one

The film stars Brad Pitt as a ‘Fixer’ of problems for an organized crime organizationWhen two petty criminals hold up an illegal card game, Pitt is brought in to make sure the right people pay and clean up the damage.  It is a simple premise that is drawn out by terribly slow pacing.  Killing Them Softly plays out more like a play than a novel.  With little to no surprises to be had throughout, you will find yourself wondering why it took so long to get to their payoff.  However, the largest criticism of the film, for me, is it‘s methods in attempting to deliver a message. 

This film is about the realistic methods of capitalism in our society today.  How we actually fight and claw to make a dollar in this world, and what consequences we suffer for our efforts However, Aaron Sorkin himself would blush at the heavyhanded way this allegory is forced down our throats.  From beginning to end, while the plot of the story tries to play out, we are audibly and sometimes visually interrupted by speeches from Barack Obama and George W. Bush talking about American society, the American dream, and the separations between the rich and the poor.  No, really.  A gangster film that doubles as a documentary for MSNBC.  The clumsy way they place these clips in the film completely took me out of the movie.  I might be stereotyping here, but I didn’t think many mafia thugs listen to NPR right before tuning up a guy.  They don’t make their message the elephant in the room.  They make it the animated flying elephant in the room, complete with magic feather and racially insensitive talking crows to boot.  It is a distraction, not a backdrop that hurts the picture through its unsubtly.

I threw up my hands many times while watching Killing Them Softly because it is very good when it isn’t preaching to you.  Performance wise, Pitt is excellent.  James Gandolfini delivers one of the better performances you’ll ever see him do.  Richard Jenkins puts me at ease, performance wise, like a confident pilot on the intercom of a turbulent flight.  His scenes with Pitt are great, but belong in a better movie.  Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn round out a cast that all seem to have brought their A game.  Unfortunately, I feel that they’re all wasted on a film that I could only recommend to 1980s republicans and wannabe cinematographers. 

Director Andrew Dominik’s visual style is one of the most underrated in Hollywood.  He can make you exclaim “That was cool!” with a scene as simple as someone getting out of a car.  His camera trickery, however, never gets too overbearing.  He brings a richness to the dreary city environments and an intimacy to every setup.  The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford put him on the map.  However, I’d love to see him do something even more ambitious than an indie and get him more exposure.  This film definitely won’t help matters.

Killing Them Softly proves that even the perfect arrangement of film circumstances can still produce a lackluster movie.  A result that FRUSTRATES the person anticipating the the film for months and the oblivious audience member equally.  Watch it…reevaluate your political outlook on society…pay me…then tell me I’m wrong.

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