Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Glorious Basterds

I've been busting myself on a project recently and juggling that with other commitments like reading work, so a lot of TV is getting recorded at the moment, to be watched at a later date. (Special shout out though to The Street and Desperate Romantics. I've seen a few episodes of both and truly excellent stuff.)

However when I got the offer of a spare ticket to the Inglourious Bastards premier a couple of weeks ago, I spent about three seconds deciding to take some time out.

I love Tarantino. I think most people who write do. He's one of us, right? But I'm also a purist. For me, guest directing, segments, and all that crap, doesn't count. So I didn't get involved with Grindhouse/Death Proof shenanigans and as far as I'm concerned Basterds is Trantino's fifth movie after Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown and Kill Bill. Dogs just blew everyone away didn't it? Quite literally in fact. It came out of nowhere, by a guy no one had heard of, and was just brilliant. Pulp Fiction, I think, is a masterpiece. It's just one of my favourite movies and screenplays of all time. Jackie Brown is also a very, very good movie. I often feel that if that had come first, it would get far more credit. But following up the previous two was always going to be extremely difficult. Is that why we had to wait six years for Kill Bill? I don't know. But when it came, it didn't do anything for me. I didn't even see Vol. 2 in the cinema. It just wasn't my cup of tea, plain and simple. It's not even that the movie didn't work. Some of it did, some perhaps didn't. But it wasn't to my taste. However I respect it enormously because one thing that stood out for me was the fact that Tarantino had obviously been able to make exactly the film that he wanted to. He'd reached a stage where there must have been little interference from the Weinsteins, something unheard of for them!

Six years later and Basterds sounded like something far more interesting from my point of view.

(Spoilers from here)

If I hear one more time that this is Tarantino’s ‘men on a mission’ movie I think I will scream. But alas that’s exactly what it is. Well, to be a little bit more thoughtful about it, it’s actually an action adventure movie set to the backdrop of World War Two. To me that’s different from being a World War Two movie, or more exactly, a Holocaust movie. It’s a shame Tarantino has come in for some stick for both altering historical fact and accused of trivialising the war. Make no mistake. This is Tarantino’s ‘take’ on WW2. The Nazis in Basterds are the Nazis from The Dirty Dozen, The Great Escape or even Indiana Jones. They are almost caricatured, comic book esque villains. They are most certainly not the Nazis of Shindler’s List or The Pianist. And as for historical fact? Well, wouldn’t it have been nice if Hitler and the entire high command of the Third Reich had been slaughtered by a bunch of Jews in a movie theatre in Paris!?

Because of the backlash about the film, and because it was Tarantino, I didn’t really know what to expect. But I definitely enjoyed it. It’s characterised by Tarantino’s sharp ear for snappy, funny dialogue, and of course by pretty hardcore violence. Brad Pitt gives his funniest performance since Mickey the Pikey in Snatch a million years ago and it becomes apparent pretty quickly why Christopher Waltz won best actor at Cannes for his performance. I think a special mention though should go to Melanie Laurent, who as Shoshanna Drefus, actually gives the most restrained, emotionally true performance in the movie – probably a tricky thing to do when everything around you is a little bit crazy.

On the writing side, as I mentioned, it’s classic Tarantino. But that has its pros and cons. As with Bill, he can get away with things that others can’t. The movie opening is a perfect example. It’s essentially one (very) long scene of two people talking at a table. It’s well written, and Tarantino almost literally adopts the Hitchcock mantra of this being interesting if the audience knows there’s a bomb under the table – on this occasion the bomb being replaced by Jews hiding under the floorboards. He repeats this a couple more times, with people talking but under the table they are pointing guns at each other etc. Let’s face it, in Tarantino movies, people talk and talk and talk… and then usually kill each other.

The rather dodgy avalanche of imitations that followed his debut all those years ago is testament that this style is probably best left to him. I for one certainly wouldn’t recommend to any new writer to write twenty-minute scenes of people chatting, no matter what you’ve got under the table.

But like I said, it’s a good movie and Tarantino fans will love it. And at the end of the day it’s a film about Jews killing Nazis. What’s not to like?


Anonymous said...

The Street? Truly excellent?


Jez Freedman said...

You don't reckon? I've seen 4 so far I think. I thought the Joe Armstrong one was the weakest from the ones I've seen but there has still been some mighty writing.

But I'd be interested to hear what's not working for you?

Anonymous said...

I can't bear the convenient plotting, the glaring obviousness, the sanctimonious tone. It's no better than Eastenders, but wants us to believe it's Shakespeare.

I confess, I've only had the stomach for three of them. The first one was fine, thanks largely to Bob Hoskins. The last one was a diluted, less subtle version of the same story in Series Two (except Timothy Spall didn't, that time). The alcoholic who discovers he has a son was simply appalling.

My greatest criticism in all of them is that every action and response is artificial and incredible. Yes, drama is artificial and incredible, but the characters need to be consistent and credible. They need to act and react in ways we can believe they would act. The characters in The Street don't. They act like ciphers to create artificial effects, and it makes the drama gutless, meretricious and meaningless.


Jez Freedman said...

Fair enough. I would disagree that the characters aren't credible. Like I said I haven't watched them all yet but I felt the actions and reactions of Bob Hoskins, Anna Friel and the racist bloke who took credit for rescuing the little girl even though he didn't were all emotionally true.

I would argue that Jimmy McGovern set out to do two things with The Street. One was to surrupetiously reintroudce the one off play for today. And the other was to remind us how good soaps could be with small stories told well. I think over the 3 seasons he's done both.

But hopefully I'll come back to look at The Street in more detail when I get round to finishing the series!

Anonymous said...

I loved it. There was a slight dip in the middle, but all in all it's the strongest thing that was on TV.

It was either that or Monday Monday.

Plus it was the only night in the week when my misses was quite for an hour.


Can't wait to see 'The Bear Jew' is action.

Jez Freedman said...

"it was the only night in the week when my misses was quite for an hour."

haha I can see why you'd rather remain anonymous!

DavidM said...

Yeah, I agree that Inglourious Basterds was a real return to form for QT. Totally enoyed it.

As for The Street, well, it wasn't without its faults but overall it was impressive stuff. I think the actors carried it through the more contrived moments.
I only watched the first few minutes of the first episode of Desperate Romantics. That was enough to be frank.

Jez Freedman said...

I honestly think the first ep of Romantics was the weakest, and I was also unsure about it. But stick with it - it's great, funny, bawdy stuff!