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    Inglourious Basterds

    Gloury be!

    "Inglourious Basterds" is the anti-Nazi revenge-fantasy comedy you didn't know you wanted to see until Quentin Tarantino foisted it on you.


    As the summer winds down, there's no better way to beat an August heat wave than sitting in an air-conditioned movie theater watching some good old-fashioned movie magic. And the most exhilarating, irritating, intense, anachronistically perverse and ultimately joyously satisfying piece of this summer's — and maybe even fall, winter and spring's as well — moviemaking has to be "Inglourious Basterds," Quentin Tarantino's glorious mess of a misspelled movie. You either love it or hate it, and obviously I loved it!

    Written and directed by: Quentin Tarantino.
    Cast: Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Eli Roth, Michael Fassbender, Diane Kruger, Daniel Brühl, Mélanie Laurent, Denis Menochet, Sylvester Groth, Mike Myers, Rod Taylor.
    Cinematography: Robert Richardson.
    Edited by: Sally Menke.
    In English, French, German and Italian without subtitles.

    Related links: Official site
    Filled with an International array of faces both hugely famous (Brad Pitt) and vaguely familiar (Diane Kruger, Eli Roth) but mostly fresh (Christoph Waltz, Melanie Laurent, Daniel Brühl, Til Schweiger and Michael Fassbender) for American audiences, "Inglourious Basterds" swoops the audience into a World War II fantasy-land with the words, "Once upon a time ... in Nazi-occupied France." And fantasy is the operative word as Tarantino lets us know we're in for a cinematic roller-coaster ride. So a-l-l-l-l aboard for his Nazi fantasia in five chapters!

    No one else comes even close to Tarantino's voluminous (if show-offy) love of every cinematic trope ever made. As filmdom's official and self-proclaimed bad boy/geek-fanboy filmmaker he makes MOVIES (in huge capital letters) that are always in one way or another about other movies he loves. In the end (and the end here comes at just a tad over two and half hours) it's Tarantino's film, from conception to projection — ten years in the making — so if he annoys us a bit both on and off screen, then so be it. All monstres sacrés are annoying in person, and Tarantino more than lives up to that dubious sobriquet.

    Inglourious Basterds  
    This time he's on about World War II flicks, and in "IB," there are dozens of references — if not full-out homages — to everyone and everything from such maverick directors as Sam Fuller, G.W. Pabst and Robert Aldrich to actors George Sanders, Audie Murphy and Emil Jannings, plus the famed German film studio UFA and others even more esoteric and anachronistic. David Bowie even underscores the fiery conclusion.

    Pitt stars as the Clark Gable mustachioed, cigar-chomping Lt. Aldo Raines, head of a band of Nazi-scalping, Jewish-American soldiers dubbed Apaches (for obvious reasons) whose sole mission is to kill as many Nazis as they can, as nastily as they can. If Raines is another misspelled nod, this time to movie veteran Aldo Ray (Ray's ex-wife Johanna, a favorite Q.T. casting director, also worked on the film), then perhaps his film critic / secret agent, Archie Hicox, is a combined nod to director Alfred Hitchcock and his oft-time star Cary Grant nee Archie Leach. The film fairly taunts the audience to recognize and play with such references.

      Inglourious Basterds
    Originally, comic actor Simon Pegg was cast as Hicox, but, played by handsome German/Irish actor Michael Fassbender ("Hunger"), the role moved from a more comic creation to Robert Donat at his breezy Hitchcockian best in "39 Steps." And speaking of handsome, young Daniel Brühl is boyishly gorgeous as Nazi war hero Frederick Zoller, Tarentino's imaginary National Socialist version of Gary Cooper's Sgt. York or American's own Murphy. But the true find of the film (without whom Tarantino insists, and I concur, it could not have been made) is a middle-aged German actor named Christoph Waltz, who literally steals the film from his younger, handsomer co-stars (Pitt included).

    As a Conrad Veidt-style Nazi colonel named Hans Landa, Waltz is the smoothest, most charming, erudite villain since Sanders or maybe ever. If his work is all anyone can talk about, it's also the glue that holds the fragmented story together. Suffice it to say he both opens and closes the film and one might call him the heart and soul of the film, if it weren't for the fact that he has neither. The distaff side is no less well portrayed by Diane Kruger in full Demi Moore mode as UFA star and British double agent Bridget Von Hammersmark. Melanie Laurent is the Jewish Shosanna, masquerading as the Christian owner of a Parisian cinema (what else?) in Nazi-occupied Paris, where she shows Leni Riefenstahl mountain films, the favorite genre of Adolf Hitler, along with the French standards of the day.

    Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds. in Inglourious Basterds  
    Christoph Waltz in "Inglourious Basterds."
    Plotwise, Hicox and Von Hammersmark are part of an Allied plan to blow up the leaders of the Third Reich — look for Rod Taylor and Mike Myers as Churchill and a Colonel Blimpish general in almost unrecognizable cameos. The Nazi leaders will be in Shoshanna's cinema watching an UFA film about Zoller (the Nazi Audie Murphy) produced by no less a filmmeister than Goebbels himself. Shoshanna and her black lover Marcel (Jacky Ido) work out a similar explosive plan involving highly flammable nitrate film, as the Goebbels film, "Nation's Pride" (actually shot by Eli Roth of "Hostel" fame, who also plays Apache Sgt. Donny Donowitz), unspools to the delight of the Führer and his cohorts.

    Sitting in our own moviehouses, watching Tarentino's revisionist WWII fantasia brings to mind myriad fact-based "failed-to-kill-Hitler" films, most recently "Valkyrie" and "My Führer." Of course, we know how World War II ended for real. But Tarantino's multi-language make-believe epic satisfies a hunger we probably never realized we had. We want to see Hitler die and not by his own hand, but by ours! There are cheers during the fantasy-filled final few minutes and suddenly revenge is not only sweet, it's chewy, crunchy and totally satisfying as served up fiery hot by Tarantino. I can't wait to see "IB" again!

    AUGUST 24, 2009

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