Sunday, October 21, 2012

Film Journal: Week Ending 10/14/2012

Inglourious Basterds (2009, Tarantino) **** 1/2 A
"This work has been totally misunderstood" is the essential subtext of many of Quentin Tarantino's digressions (whether in life or by in-movie proxy via one of his characters) upon pop-culture ephemera and serious art and everything in between. Tarantino has served up everything from the true meaning of TOP GUN (homosexual proselytizing) to Superman (Clark Kent as the hero's cultural criticism) to (within this very film) KING KONG (white America's fear of black men). For crying out loud, were one to watch the entirety of the QT oeuvre chronologically, the very first scene would feature a character played by Tarantino himself, providing a (somewhat convincing) exegesis on the what Madonna's "Like a Virgin" really means. His signature style prominently involves recontextualization of existing work. No, he keeps insisting, this isn't about that. It's actually about this. This work has been totally misunderstood.

Having said all of that, Tarantino's INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS has been totally misunderstood, and, given that the director himself seems to promote the misunderstanding, I am left to wonder if he isn't punking the film world, or if he understood that the film he actually made wasn't marketable and thus agreed to market a different one, or if even the Great Gazoo of Subtext himself has failed to realize what his movie is REALLY saying.

This isn't a Jewish revenge picture. It's not even a revenge picture. It's a commentary on propaganda in film. It is perhaps the first movie I've seen that really takes a look at the fact that Nazis have become in our pop culture essentially inhuman beasts made for and fit for slaughter, rather than human beings guilty of terrible crimes. This is not to say that Tarantino has made an apologia for Nazis, but it does a brilliant thing: it forces an audience (an American audience in particular) to confront their reaction to pop-culture-assisted dehumanization. Imagine the scene, played out in multiplexes across the land; a group of people in a movie theater watching INGLORIOUS BASTERDS. Onscreen, a group of Nazi hoi polloi sit and watch a film about a German war hero, cheering each death of each dehumanized soldier. Suddenly, two parallel revenge schemes hatch simultaneously. Our heroes gun down Nazis like. . .well, like the vermin they are, while the rest of them burn to death, and the matinee audience for Quentin Tarantino's ostensible 'revenge' flick cheer this mass killing (probably) like . . . well, like the on-screen Nazi's who were just whooping it up as they watched the fictionalized death of a dehumanized enemy (QT even lets the Basterds kill Hitler to take the movie unmistakeably out of the realm of historical reality and into the realm of abstraction). The bait is taken; the trap is closed. The real-life audience has been put in the place of the film-life Nazi. It's a beautifully subversive way of presenting the theme.

Oh, also, it's beautifully shot, acted, and written, with three of the best suspense set pieces of recent memory ("Landa orders milk", "three glasses", and "Landa orders milk again") and the funniest punch line of the year: "Buon giorno!" This is Tarantino's best movie since PULP FICTION.

St. Elmo's Fire (1985, Shumacher) 1/2 (D-)

Short: This was not a good movie and I did not like it and I did not like the people in it and I did not like the things that these people did and I did not like the way what they did was presented either aesthetically or thematically.

Long: Boy, this isn't any good at all, unless you're looking for a vicarious laugh at the Eighties-ist of all things Eighties (To cite just one example: Rob Lowe in a sleeveless shirt and skinny bandana and poodle hair totally and unironically striking a bad-boy rock pose while, um, playing sax. Yeah.)

Shot with the eye for craftsmanship, composition, and trenchant detail we've come to expect from a Joel Shumacher film, ELMO'S follows a bunch of whiny, entitled, spoiled, unlikeable brats as they graduate from college and proceed to become miserable. At the end, they are still a bunch of whiny, entitled, spoiled, unlikeable brats (except for Mare Winningham and sort of Ali Sheedy) who now go to a different bar (spoiler). The film, while acknowledging that some of the characters are making some bad choices, clearly expects us to find most of them endearing and charming from start to finish, instead of vacuous losers (Moore, Lowe, McCarthy) or budding serial killers (Estevez, Nelson, also sort of McCarthy just on general principles). It also expects us to believe that Andie MacDowell is a doctor, which is against at least three articles of the Geneva convention.

Good song to roller-skate to, though.

8 1/2 (1963, Fellini) **** (A)

This movie just keeps unfolding further every time I watch it, and I find myself at a loss as to what to say except "watch it, and for the love of God please don't try too hard to understand it." Probably has the most seamless transitions from past to present of its kind. (Does anybody know, was it the first to do that trick? It seems unlikely for the release date, but it strikes me here as an entirely new trope.) Does surreal as well as any other Fellini I've seen, and Fellini does filmed surrealism as well as anybody whose name is not "Luis Buñuel." Mastroianni performs effortless deflation of his effortless cool with each new angle of his odd hat. The harem scene is hilarious and lacerating. The final freak parade is beautifully forgiving and celebratory. I really like this.

Oldboy (2003, Park) ** 1/2 (B-)

Huge points for style and for employing plot twists that at least make sense in the moment. Unfortunately most of those points get docked right back off again because I don't care for nihilism simply for its own sake. Still, the scene that I will call "A Man, A Plan, A Hammer: Hallway" has to make anybody's all-time list of amazing fight scene choreography (that said choreography makes use of impossible physics should be considered a feature, not a bug), and the parallels between the opening shot and a girl on a bridge are admittedly gorgeous. I just wish at the end I had even the slightest reason to give a crap.

Caveat: I watched this on a Netflix streamer that only had an English dub available. It was decently done as far as those things go, but I really hate non-Studio-Ghibli dubs, which seem to lean hard on the extraneous appended "huh?" in order to make the audio sync to the lips, and usually employ much worse actors than the ones who originally delivered the lines. It's possible that a subtitled version would make me more generous.

Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted (2012, Darnell/McGrath/Vernon) ** (C)

This movie wasn't very realistic.

1 comment:

TripJax said...

I actually got to see OldBoy in the theater. I was very impressed. Earlier this year I brought it up on Netflix and found it unwatchable due to the dubbing. I just can't handle dubbing over after seeing the original.

I've had 8 1/2 waiting for months to watch. I might just have to do that this week.