As Lt. Aldo Raine, Brad Pitt southern-drawls his commands, telling his squad he ain't very happy he had to leave his home in the Smoky Mountains to fight these dirty Nazis - and when directly questioned about where his home is , he proudly declares "Maynardville". As in East Tennessee. I'm certain this is the first ever film reference to the town of Maynardville - and it was director Quentin Tarantino's movie "Inglourious Basterds" that made it happen.
Tarantino's take on World War II is also part of his continuing love story with film itself - reels and reels of 35mm film burn up the screen in the movie and they sure burn up Tarantino's heart, and I just love how he tells his love of filmmaking and storytelling. There's likely far more film references here than actual scenes of violence, but you don't have to be a consummate film buff to like "Inglourious Basterds" -- you'll just like it even more if you are.
This is not a summer movie big blow-up crapfest tied into a toy line - see "G.I. Joe" for that, and note that any one of Lt. Raine's squad would beat the living daylights out of every character in "Joe". It's not a CGI Digital 3-D crapfest either -- this is a movie, dammit, for people who love movies and great storytelling. He even made sure the audience sees those so-called "cigarette burns", marks in the upper right corner of the screen which tell the projectionist to change reels. Yes, Tarantino re-writes the history of World War II here, and his version is spectacular, funny and startling - there are no giant military battles here. This is a battle between hearts that burn at 24 frames per second.
When most of Hollywood's mainstream efforts have nearly all turned into rapid-fire cuts and edits and flying cameras, all meant to imply action and violence, Tarantino plants his camera, carefully composes shots akin to John Ford or Jean Renoir, and his characters talk to each other. Some filmmakers would have taken the opening of "Inglourious Basterds" and made it a blitzkrieg of camera angles and rapid editing - but Tarantino's opening scene is about 15 minutes which are incredibly suspenseful, brilliantly acted and written, and sets up the riveting characters of Nazi Colonel Hans Landa, aka The Jew Hunter, and a young Jewish girl in hiding, named Shosanna, who barely escapes that first scene alive. As Landa, actor Christoph Waltz certainly earned this year's Best Actor Award at the Cannes Film Festival.
That first scene shows why Tarantino deserves the high praise he has received for the last 17 years: on the surface, it is a simple conversation between a French dairy farmer and a Nazi officer, but it has many more layers, right down to the life and death consequences fill every word and every gesture. Similar scenes of one-on-one conversation occur often in the movie, each one more suspenseful than the last.
Tarantino says in this interview with The Village Voice that Landa is best character he's ever written, and that's quite true. I was constantly fascinated and immensely entertained by the character and how vividly Waltz brought him to life. Shosanna, played by actress Melanie Laurent, also turns in a spectacular performance -- just as so many in this movie do, like Pitt and actor Michael Fassbender, as a British commando brought in to special mission to attack the Nazi high command officials -- what's more, he is recruited because he is a film critic, an expert in German cinema.
Music choices for the movie, as usual with Tarantino, are always unique, and his choices here are bold and brash - he repeats his usage of several Ennio Morricone soundtracks, and they underscore the scenes with wit and with pathos. He even works in one of my favorite songs ever created for a movie, David Bowie's blistering song "Putting Out Fire" from the remake of "Cat People" as Shoshna plots her ultimate revenge against the Nazis.
On a side note, in the VV interview mentioned above, Tarantino is asked again to name his favorite films, and he says that over the years, the movie that he likes best is Sergio Leone's "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly" and I have to agree with him. Leone took one of American cinema's central genres, the Western, and turned it into something brand new. And Tarantino blends the Western and the War Film into something new, too, destined to be a masterpiece. Just like Lt. Raine wanted his work to be remembered.
I asked my friend Matt McClane to write up a review of "District 9", a sci-fi tale from producer Peter Jackson and director Neill Blomkamp. I just didn't have time to see it for this weekend's post but Matt has the skinny on how just good this one is at his blog, The McClane Tirade --
"This week I took a trip through District 9 and somehow made it out of there unscathed.