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Is Tarantino's Latest "Big, Bold" Or "Appalling?"


Never an auteur of modest ambitions, in "Inglourious Basterds" director Quentin Tarantino takes on World War II, provoking one critic to label it "Pulp War Fiction."
The critics are all over the map, many sounding simply in awe.
"The movie is not boring, but it’s ridiculous and appallingly insensitive—a Louisville Slugger applied to the head of anyone who has ever taken the Nazis, the war, or the Resistance seriously," says David Denby in the New Yorker.
"Not that Tarantino intends any malice toward such earnest people. The Nazis, for him, are merely available movie tropes – articulate monsters with a talent for sadism. By making the Americans cruel, too, he escapes the customary division of good and evil along national lines, but he escapes any sense of moral accountability as well. In a Tarantino war, everyone commits atrocities."
Well, maybe. Moral accountability is relative, I think.
Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times, says, "A Tarantino film resists categorization. ‘Inglourious Basterds’ is no more about war than ‘Pulp Fiction’ is about – what the hell is it about? Of course nothing in the movie is possible, except that it’s so bloody entertaining. His actors don’t chew the scenery, but they lick it. He’s a master at bringing performances as far as they can go toward iconographic exaggeration."
Ebert later calls it "a big, bold, audacious war movie that will annoy some, startle others and demonstrate once again that he’s the real thing, a director of quixotic delights."
So, he succumbs to calling it a "war movie" after all.
So be it; the movie seems to defy categorization, as does is writer and director. What the hell is Tarantino about?
The Hero is Brad Pitt as Lt. Aldo Raine, leader of the Basterds (Tarantino’s spelling.) Tarantino probably wants us to hear “Aldo Ray,” star of countless war films and B pictures. Raine is played by Pitt as a broad caricature of a hard-talking Southern boy who wants each of his men to bring him 100 Nazi scalps, according to Ebert.
"For years his band improbably survives in France and massacres Nazis, and can turn out in formal eveningwear at a moment’s notice. Pitt’s version of Italian is worthy of a Marx brother," says Ebert.
"The story begins in Nazi-occupied France, early in the war, when the cruel, droll Nazi Col. Hans Landa (Waltz) arrives at an isolated dairy farm where he believes the farmer (Denis Menochet) is hiding Jews. He’s right, and a young woman named Shosanna (Melanie Laurent) flees into the woods. It is for this scene, and his performance throughout the movie, that Christoph Waltz deserves an Oscar nomination to go with his best actor award from Cannes. He creates a character unlike any Nazi — indeed, anyone at all — I’ve seen in a movie: evil, sardonic, ironic, mannered, absurd."
Denby calls the movie "an extravagant jest about the Second World War—Joseph Goebbels commissions a propaganda combat film and assembles the Nazi leaders in occupied Paris, in 1944, for its première at a lovely Art Deco theater. As the big night approaches, groups of European movie people and Jewish American soldiers plot to use the occasion to eliminate the Nazi command and bring an end to the Third Reich. (Some plan to set fire to the theatre, others to blow it up.) The anti-Nazi cinemaphiles include the female theater owner; her black lover and projectionist."
And guess who the theater owner is? None other than Shoshanna, whose family was killed by the Nazis.
"But, in ‘Basterds,’ Tarantino is mucking about with a tragic moment of history," Denby carps, "Chaplin and Lubitsch played with Nazis, too, but they worked as farceurs, using comedy to warn of catastrophe; they didn’t carve up Nazis using horror-film flourishes. Tarantino’s hyper-violent narrative reveals merely that he still daydreams like a teenager. It should be said, however, that the scenes set in Paris, in which Tarantino imagines the formal but abrasive nature of social life among the Nazi élite, are all beautifully designed (by David and Sandy Wasco) and photographed (by Robert Richardson).
Andrew L. Urban in Urban Cinefile says, "Be prepared for unsettling shifts in pace and tone, be prepared to be shocked and amused, to laugh and guffaw and to be always surprised in this comic fantasy which is cheeky enough to reinvent history and has audiences clapping as it does so."
So, march right up and take your chances.
It’s almost two and half hours of solid Tarantino, 152 minutes. It’s rated R for strong graphic violence, language and brief sexuality.
It starts Thursday at Sunny Isle Theaters.


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