Saturday, September 05, 2009

How Low Can I Go?

Lower, possibly, if the sadistic odiousness and smug, heartless flippancy of the whole thing, plus the patent failures of several long and dumbly blocked scenes, and of whole plotlines and entire performances, make me unable to care that Waltz is terrific, that the strüdel scene works, that some of the camera movements in the opening sequence are as arresting as the cackling smoke-face at the end, and that there is a kind of Bonnie and Clyde bravura to the climax of the basement scene. But even in that scene, conviction and verve duke it out with grandiosity and rot and Just, Shut, Up, so much so that I can't tell what finally wins. Much to admire, arguments to be made, lots of smart people who've taken a lot from this movie. But it's a hard, terrorizing, and willfully dumb object, frequently earning as blunt an adjective as "stupid," and the last half-hour could barely stop begging me to despise it. I have begun to comply, though I'm trying, sort of, to resist.

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Blogger Andrew K. said...

Reading this is like reading an oddly structured poem. I will be seeing this tomorrow and with all the raves I just have a feeling I won't like it...but I'll try to be unprejudiced.

12:53 AM, September 05, 2009  
Blogger Calum Reed said...

There are so many tangents that you can't help but step back from the film a little, but Tarantino somehow always manages to get away with having a structure and pretty much ignoring it. The lack of protocol is refreshing.

5:57 AM, September 05, 2009  
Blogger qta said...

thank you SO much. I was beginning to think I was the only one.

7:42 AM, September 05, 2009  
Blogger NoNo said...

So...I'm guessing you didn't like it? :-(

The thing about Tarantino's films is that there is no in-between. You either love it or hate it but you can always understand why someone feels the opposite of your opinion.

1:08 PM, September 05, 2009  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Andrew: Good luck! I am not sure what prejudices would be most salient or destructive in this case. I'm about split on QT's oeuvre, and I had been basically hesitant for months but intrigued by the complex, occasionally exuberant responses I was hearing. There's certainly a lot to think about.

@Cal: But, for the reasons you specify, that approach is becoming a protocol for QT, no?

@QTA: You are high, high, high, high on the list of people that I am ecstatic to be in agreement with. I am oddly delighted that you didn't like it.

@NoNo: I think you're quite right, about the extremity of responses he provokes and the leeway for making opposed but plausible arguments. He's great for discussion. But this time, it felt like the formal filigrees and barely-coherent ironies were real loopholes inside a staggeringly puerile conception. I'm really having trouble with it.

1:32 PM, September 05, 2009  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@All: You'll notice, perhaps, that I've doctored the still. There's a big red clue on the marquee.

1:32 PM, September 05, 2009  
Blogger Catherine said...


I have to disagree with you, NoNo, on the simple love/hate Tarantino dichotomy. As far as I'm concerned, there's plenty for me to love in almost all his films - unfortunately tempered by all the stuff there is for me to despise, or bemoan, or cringe at. Inglourious Basterds was no different. Clearly, I thrilled to Melanie Laurent's acting, her whole story arc and her look, Christophe Waltz, Michael Fassbender doing his very best George Sanders, the implied middle finger to the sector of the audience who can't abide subtitled films, the Goebbels-as-studio-mogul sideline and most of the lengthy dialogue scenes (strudel, rendezvous in the tavern, glass of milk). As usual with Tarantino, I take great pleasure out of the confidence with which he stages scenes and for the most part, I was entertained.

However. (And this is a big however). I have MAJOR, MAJOR issues with the entire Basterds storyline, including, but not limited to, Eli Roth's odious 'performance'. I found the revisionist history-aspect of the showdown in the cinema absolutely reprehensible, and incredibly insulting to the memories of all those who suffered and died as a result of the Third Reich. I really don't want to come across like a prude or a priss (or whatever the correct term is) but I really do have a big problem with that ending; especially when I have friends on Facebook updating their statues with "Go see Inglourious Basterds, Hitler gets shot in the face!!! :D".

Also, Tarantino's propensity violence is, as usual, a problem for me. Especially the gleeful, lurid swastika-carving that occurs throughout. And I really, really wish Tarantino had let Shoshanna have a happy ending, rather than giving the last laugh to a gurning, machinegun-toting Eli Roth.

2:10 PM, September 05, 2009  
Blogger tim r said...

Hear, hear, hear, hear, to the power ten. My own grade has been swerving to the far reaches of the C spectrum and back -- it was near the D borderline when I came out (seething) and I've only talked myself round to a reluctant C+ (which could easily go down again) by (a) making a real effort to banish that hideous last scene (and much of the last reel, really) from my mind and (b) remembering how impressed I was by its better stretches, which is genuinely, though grudgingly, quite impressed. Still, I'm totally with your dismay here as well as your question mark, and agree with much of what Catherine says too. The Basterds are, to a man, hateful. Pitt is horrible. Waltz is a wizard. All the stuff to do with language belongs in a more consistently inspired film. Plus, in the "long and dumbly blocked scenes" category, I'd be thrilled to hear that you include the Mike Myers one, which I thought was DOA.

I really don't think it's an open and shut case, but at its worst it feels less like any other Tarantino film, more like this year's Apocalypto -- a similarly divisive, critic-baiting pop-auteur comeback to which the phrase "sadistic odiousness" could equally apply.

Somewhere between unholy mess and interesting failure? I'm sticking to that, as far as I can...

11:17 AM, September 06, 2009  
Blogger tim r said...

PS. The Duplicity grade is far more of a surprise to me, but maybe that deserves a separate thread...

11:21 AM, September 06, 2009  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Catherine: I won't add to what you say except to second almost all of it quite heartily. (I felt like Laurent was a real detriment to the movie, everywhere outside the strüdel scene, but otherwise we are completely copacetic, it seems.)

@Tim: The Apocalypto connection was front and center for me, too; you might notice that this post, just like the urge that prompted it, echo this one quite closely. I would want anyone championing the "technique" of Tarantino to recuperate the Myers/Fassbender/Taylor scene. Maybe they could do it—like NoNo says, Tarantino does have the virtue of eliciting real ingenuity from others—but I found it close to unbearable, Fassbender notwithstanding. I wish the last reel of the movie had been one of the tools for Shosanna's, um, "final solution," it's just so despicable, the INLAND EMPIREish smoke-face image notwithstanding. (Tarantino seems to be "doing Lynch" in several shots in this movie...)

**IF** the movie were trying to make a brusquely equalizing statement about the crude, corrupting force of all "vengeance" or all violence, it might have something going for it to explain some of what is otherwise just reprehensible to me, particularly toward the end (in the projection booth, in the theater, and finally in the woods). But is it even imaginable that QT of all people would profess such a stance? I simply can't believe it, and even if he were, what an astonishing idiom to select in order to show us that all murderous violence is created equal, and invites comparable comeuppance, and the entire world is a parable of the Survival of the Crudest. I'm worried I'm in a Matrix place of having to see a movie I detested again, partly to make sure I'm giving enough credit to what is technically expert in it, and partially to make sure it's fair to say, No, all that virtuosity plays out in the service of such a smug, objectionable concept that partial credit is not an option. I wish there were a way to do it without paying again, though I'll give it to QT, he's started some important conversations.

As for Duplicity: loved it. Charmed and delighted, almost perpetually. Considered an A–. I can't remember: did you not like it, or you're just surprised that I did? (Maybe you're right that a separate thread is in order.)

12:19 PM, September 06, 2009  
Blogger tim r said...

THREAD TWO: I actually didn't get on with it at all, but then we were in pretty different places on Michael Clayton also, so it might just be that there's something about Tony Gilroy's directing style that pisses me off -- it certainly becomes clear which writing ideas he's besotted with, because we don't hear the end of them. Some nice stuff around the edges, I remember, but that recycled-dialogue conceit between the leads really stuck in my craw, and I basically wanted to be watching Sneakers instead.

BACK TO THREAD ONE: My view is perhaps more basic. I can't possibly recuperate the Basterds stuff in any "good" version of this movie, so I chuck it out (as Tarantino undoubtedly should have) and focus on the stuff that works. Problematically, I didn't like Laurent much either, which makes this a hard distinction to make, though I agree she comes good in the strudel scene, and there's something about her hardness as an actress which is maybe pretty essential to the whole smoke-face thing having such a scary charge. Another thing that really bothered me was the cowardly shortcut taken with Pvt Zoller, who has to be converted in a finger-click from bashful sweetheart to rapey Nazi, as bad as any of them, so that his own imminent demise doesn't upset the audience. It's typical of QT's pandering tactics. Then I compare all the early scenes with Waltz, how good Fassbender and even Kruger are in the basement scene, and a lot of the movie's other striking felicities, and the best I can do is separate them out altogether. For me, it's two different movies tearing each other to bits -- I just wish the repellent one didn't have to win!

3:57 PM, September 06, 2009  

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