Serious Business

The most subversive thing about Inglorious Basterds isn't its scenes of Nazis getting scalped or clubbed to death with a baseball bat by Jewish-American vigilantes--or even the fact that Hitler himself gets his in Tarantino's jaw-dropping finale. Instead, it's how flawlessly measured the film's rhythms are and how little of the long-but-doesn't-feel-it runtime is actually occupied by the sort of rah-rah blood-and-guts action that the film's ad campaign aggressively suggests.

The opening scene is an extended conversation between Christoph Waltz's brilliantly played Nazi officer and a dairy farmer hiding Jewish neighbors under his floorboards that switches purposefully, yet effortlessly, between French and English. When this casual, ostensibly polite interrogation yields abruptly to torrential gunfire, it's a precisely inserted punctuation mark, standing in for the brand of dramatic, Oscar-y histrionics that Tarantino has consistently avoided like the plague and that, no doubt, Waltz's Col. Hans Landa would find entirely embarrassing. It's as stunning, in its way, as the more literally explosive climax that Tarantino is methodically working toward from the opening credits on; and, rivaling Uma Thurman and David Carradine's heart-to-heart near the end of the second Kill Bill installment, it's the most effective use to date of Tarantino's famous flair for dialogue.

At the same time, the most surprising thing about Inglorious Basterds as a WWII/Holocaust movie isn't its "irreverent" attitude toward the facts and specificities of history--that was assumed from the project's genesis--but rather Tarantino's active engagement with histories both political and cinematic, personal and global. In fact, the final point may be that, as an American born long after the end of World War II, it's difficult and perhaps fruitless to attempt to neatly extrapolate fact from fiction, celluloid battles from their real-life equivalents. Maybe, Tarantino supposes, there's as much to learn from The Dirty Dozen and The Great Escape as from dutifully faithful historical accounts--and more than from recent reenactment drills like Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers. No, the power of cinema didn't bring down the Third Reich or end the second World War. But it just might prevent the third one.


Brief Encounter

I've never seen the movie Twilight (or, for that matter, read any of the books), but I can't resist passing this short anecdote along: Earlier tonight, around 11:30 PM, I saw the main vampire guy and lead actress chick from Twilight hanging out, visibly stoned, smoking cigarettes outside a 7-Eleven in downtown Vancouver. I did a double-take and asked, "You're the guy from Twlight, right?" (I only made the connection a few moments later that the short, mousey, entirely ordinary-looking girl standing beside him was his less instantly recognizable costar.) In between weed giggles, he said, "No, man--I get that all the time, though." A heavyset 35-ish year-old man accompanying them laughed and mouthed to me, "it is them." Meanwhile, some girl went up to the two celebs and without saying a word to either actor, had her friend snap a picture. Then a street guy asked Twilight Guy if he could have the last drag on his cigarette. Without actually responding, Twilight Guy handed Street Guy the remainder of his smoke.

Alas, I didn't have a camera handy or else I'd be trying to turn a quick buck right now rather than merely jotting this down on the blog...


Not Fierce Enough

Is it reasonable to call Obsessed "disappointing"?

Yes, I think it is, actually. It's not like I was expecting Terrence Malick or even, say, Adrian Lyne; I try to be an optimist at the start of every movie, but I'm also a realist. What I was hoping for was a prime slice of camp-tastic psychodrama--the sort of thing that one can design a drinking game around and rewatch endlessly on VH1. This is precisely what the trailer seemed to promise: Beyonce saying things like "I'll show you crazy" and "she was naked in your hotel room?", Ali Larter flashing the guy from The Wire in his parked car, some obvious notes of Fatal Attraction for Dummies, etc.

Of course, these moments are in Obsessed, and there are a couple new choice snippets: an odd remark from Beyonce about carpet tattoos on her and her husband's asses and one from Larter where she refers to a gay co-worker she's known for, like, two days as "Patrick, you silly old queen." What isn't in Obsessed are the campier-yet moments that the trailer seemed to promise were in store. Unfortunately, almost all of the juicy, over-the-top stuff we've already seen (numerous times) going in. Most of the rest feels curiously...restrained? That's certainly not a word I thought (or hoped) I'd be using in this post, but even the climactic Beyonce-Larter death match feels sort of perfunctory. Obsessed? More like Overly Infatuated.

Alas, a dud for all the wrong reasons.