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"Inglorious Basterds"-{Blu-ray}-(Wayne)
Reviewer:
Wayne Klein
Studio: Weinstein/Universal
Genre:
Drama
Release Date:
12/15/09
Special Features:

Featurettes, interview with Brad Pitt and Quentin Tarantino, "Nation's Pride", film poster gallery tour, trailer for "The Inglorious Bastards"

Review:

Director Quentin Tarantino returns with a fantasy alternative history of World War II where Hitler and his evil minions get theirs in a French movie theater in a tribute to the foreign B-movies that Tarantino grew up watching as a kid (the same ones I grew up on so I have a fondness for Taratino's tributes in his films). Borrowing his title from one of his favorite Italian World War II "epics" "The Inglorious Bastards" which was sort of an Italian variation on "The Dirty Dozen", Tarantino revives the World War II action picture in much the same way that he revived the dark noir genre with a modern twist. ***

Brad Pitt plays Aldo Raines aka Aldo "the Apache" (so called because he's part American Indian and his team collects the scalps of those they kill) the leader of the guerilla warfare team of the title. They are all Jewish and all take their revenge killing Nazi soldiers behind enemy lines and striking terror in the hearts of German soldiers in Nazi occupied France. His band of killers ultimate mission--to kill Hitler, Gobbels and the other leaders of the Nazi party in a rain of bullets and explosives. ***

Featuring an odd performance form Brad Pitt as Aldo, anonymous performances (for the most part) by the members of his team, two other strong performances from German actor Christoph Waltz as the charmingly evil and bizarre Col. Hans Landa and Mélanie Laurent as Shosanna Dreyfus who escapes from Landa after her entire family is brutally murdered, "Inglorious Basterds" is a dark, often funny romp with Tarantino doing what he does best--raid other genres from the past and paste them together into a colorful, often unique picture. Don't get me wrong, I admire Tarantino (although I don't believe he's a genius--everything that he's created borrows from the B-movies and foreign films that he admired growing up) and think this deserves to be named as one of the best films of the year BUT he tends to over reach with "Inglorious Basterds" which doesn't allow significant character development of Aldo's band of guerilla fighters and that means that he often misses the opportunity to recall the colorful films (like the original Italian film he borrowed the title from) which often had unique, bizarre secondary memorable characters. ***

There are a number of secondary characters where the casting of Tarantino's friends at the expense at more gifted actors weakens the material. Eli Roth as "The Bear Jew" a feared killer within Raines' team looks the part but doesn't have the dramatic skills to pull off his underwritten part. Likewise there are other supporting roles that were given to Tarantino's friends that feature generic, weak performances (which may be part of the intend here considering the source films that he is citing in his work but the average member of the audience isn't going to know that) or he places talented actors before the camera with an underwritten part requiring them to inject their personalities into the role to help expand on the meager characterizations (speaking of which look for a nice cameo by Rod Taylor of "The Birds" and "The Time Machine" fame as Winston Churchill and Mike Myers as General Ed Fenech) in his script. The fact is that Tarantino like Spielberg manages to ape the films that he admired growing up and can inject something new and fascinating in his deconstruction of these minor exploitation classics. ***

If Tarantino had burst on the scene thirty years ago these films would have gone right over the heads of most movie savvy fans luckily he has a better informed film culture to deal with now. That said, he also resorts to cinematic shorthand that is illegible to others not because the audience isn't informed about film culture or his references but because he ends up being a bit lazy allowing his "voice" as a director to be overwhelmed by making a tribute to the films he admired. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't luckily for most of this film it does but, as he did with "Deathtrap", Tarantino seems to be losing his ability to focus often pushing his material from riveting cinema that has tributes to the films he admired to becoming full fledged copies of the films he grew up admiring without their low budget cinematic energy. What does all of this mean? It means that if Tarantino continues down this path he's going to be guilty of making pale imitations of the films he admired without the spark of creativity that made his work so refreshing 20 years ago. As a film director Tarantino seems at a creative crossroads--if he continues on the same path his films will become dull in the wake of the other directors he has inspired and if he takes a different but wrong road his work could easily degenerate into a parody of itself as it did with "Deathtrap" and "Kill Bill Part II". ***

The fact is that as good as "Inglorious Basterds" is (and it's DAMNED good), it could have been better if Tarantino had bared down the multiple subplots that all connect at the conclusion of the film. The film is meant to be episodic but parts of the story often fail to add to the power of the whole here. If Tarantino had worked with another writer or producer that could have either tightened the multiple narratives of the film or expanded them further with character bits that would have made the supporting characters more than ciphers, than "Inglroious Basterds" could have been an exhilarating masterpiece instead of an exceptional film. Flawed as it is "Inglorious Basterds" still manages to pay tribute to the foreign exploitation films that flooded the American market as B-movies during the 60's and 70's. ***

The sequences that work best in the movie are those like the tension filled opening where Tarantino isn't afraid to keep his camera somewhat static as Waltz interrogates Denis Menochet trying to discover where he might be hiding the Drefyus family or the sequence in the French tavern basement where Allied operatives meet to discuss the assassination of Hitler. Surprisingly the scenes with actress Mélanie Laurent in the French cinema because the sequence acts as a set up for the conclusion of the film but just doesn't have much dramatic value (until the party begins). Still, overall the best parts of the film manage to dazzle even and often seem to come from a better unseen movie. Tarantino could have used a writing partner to help strengthen the script. ---

Image & Sound:

All I can say is that "Basterd" looks glorious with a marvelous looking crisp Blu-ray transfer. Detail manages to be razor sharp even during some of the night sequences or those that take place within the dark theater. Kudos to whomever supervised the transfer because they captured the essential look of Tarantino's film. ***

Audio sounds marvelous with a lossless SDTS-HD 5.1 mix that remains startling active even during low key scenes relying heavily on dialogue. ---

Special Features:

Sadly there's no audio or PIP commentary for the film with Tarantino and Pitt. We do get a roundtable discussion the two with Elvis Mitchell discussing the genesis of the project and how this project which began life over a decade ago was amazingly flexible when it came to amending the shooting script to make sure to meet the deadline that Tarantino had in mind. ***

We also get "The Making of the film within the film 'Nation's Pride"' a sort of German version of Audie Murphy's "To Hell and Back". Incidentally the Blu-ray box touts that you get the entire "Nation's Pride" film within the film and the Blu-ray title suggests that it's a entire feature--it isn't. It's all the footage that was shot for "Nation's Pride" that was shown on screen in the film as well as bits that didn't make it into "Inglorious Basterds" edited together into a 10-15 minute film. I have to give the directors of "Nation's Pride" Tarantino and Eli Roth props though because they perfectly capture the "look" from that time even throwing in a cheesy Eisenstein montage tribute not too dissimilar from the one Brian DePalma threw into "The Untouchables" but as good as it is (including vintage looking opening titles), it's not all that much more than we see in snippets in the scenes within the movie theater. ***

"The Original Inglorious Bastards" suggests that maybe you get the actual feature film on the Blu-ray--you don't. We do get the lengthy trailer for the film which Tarantino convinced Weinstein to bring out on DVD (an excellent suggestion by the way on his part). ***

We also get a goofy gag reel of sorts where Tarantino's film editor gets "tributes" in bits and pieces as well as "Tarantino's Camera Angel" which is also amusing. ***

"A Conversation with Rod Taylor" allows Taylor to discuss how he became involved in the project and we also see behind-the-scenes footage of the shooting of his scene with Mike Myers. ***

We also get a tribute of sorts to the director of the original "The Inglorious Bastards" director Enzo G. Castellari who has a cameo in the film. ***

Things are rounded out with a film poster gallery tour as well as alternate/extended scenes from the film. ---

Final Words:

An exceptional film and near return to form Quentin Tarantino's "Inglorious Basterds" occasionally misses the mark but it's clear that even when Tarantino misses that he has something worthwhile right around the corner to impress you with. Recommended.

 

 
 
 
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