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Robert A. Mills

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"POPCORN" THEATER REVISITED
9/22/2009 7:49:25 AM    [ Flag as Spam or Inappropriate ]

I broke one of my long established tenets of conduct and went to a “popcorn” theater one rainy Sunday afternoon recently and saw a movie: “Inglourious Basterds”—Brad Pitt, misspelled title, flagrant time-warp errors, et al.

My enthusiasm was concocted, tempered actually, by our close friends, Patty and David Roberts, inveterate movie buffs whose insistence we accompany them was, we suspected accurately, based on friendly sharing more than co-participating in any sort of intellectual exercise. Any movie starring Brad Pitt, even one written and directed by Oscar winner Quentin Tarantino, might prove as effectual as an unloaded dueling pistol.

“Inglourious Basterds” was, in that sense, an embarrassing waste of whatever talents Mr. Pitt might or might not possess. He is not Robert Duval; as a character actor he brings to the screen what Gabby Hayes mastered as Roy Rogers’ sidekick. Of course, Duval is long past the age of playing World War II military heroes in the ‘40s, and Aldo Ray, upon whom Mr. Pitt’s persona is loosely based, is vaguely eulogized in the movie (the long departed actor’s widow, Johanna Ray, was onboard the Tarantino Train as a casting director.) Even Sally Menke’s editing magic was transparent; Gabby Hayes had, in his heyday, no box office strengths to entice the Weinstein family, who, along with Universal, footed the bill. Viva Brad Pitt.

But it didn’t matter. We were well compensated for the admission price by the uncanny performances of Christoph Waltz and Diane Kruger. Who? Mr. Waltz, a 52-year-old Austrian actor, stole the show as Nazi Colonel Hans Landa. His role, utilizing more intricate speeches and intense dialogue than Hamlet and Macbeth combined, was more than an actor’s dream of controlled evil—he was what every movie-goer purporting to be a World War II buff believes a real Nazi to have been like.

I had never seen or heard of Diane Kruger before, but, thanks to the New York Times, I had seen pieces of her screen test for the role of Bridget von Hammersmark, a fictitious but renowned actress of Nazi films and convenient double agent. Although she, in real life, is a German lady who speaks fluent French and Deutsch, her English is impeccable and unaccented; a gorgeous blonde, she looks and sounds precisely like the girl-next-door whose next movie should be a re-make of “State Fair” with Harry Connick, Jr. (It won’t be, of course, but it should be.)

For serious students of the time, “Inglourious Basterds” is unmitigated historical fiction, which did not and could not have occurred in any sense, other than through the abject horror and evil personified by the National Socialist dementia of Adolph Hitler and his verminized cohorts. That the Nazis were a subhuman species of moral and political corruption is the stuff of truth. Mr. Tarantino’s genius, despite the myriad of inaccuracies and goofs, is that he sees it in the light of 21st century movie making. It is his ability to enlist and direct actors like Waltz and Kruger (neither, ironically, were his first choices) that will be remembered and discussed long after the interminable violence of the movie subsides into so much noise, smoke and tomato sauce.

Christoph Waltz, pronounced “valts,” with nearly ninety screen credits in Europe, was awarded Best Actor at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. I am inclined to agree with the Chud.com critic (I think it was Devin Faraci) who wrote that Waltz deserves not an Oscar nomination, but the whole award: “[Just] give him the gold!” And be done with it.

Another cast member who deserves more than a mention is Mélanie Laurent who, as Shosanna Dreyfus, became Bonita Granville reincarnate; she dominates every scene in which she appears, except those she shares with Christoph Waltz. Luckily, she never appears in the same frames with Diane Kruger (no known relation to Hollywood icon, Otto Kruger; she was born Diane Heidkrüger in Algermissen.)

Ms Laurent, at twenty-three, possesses at least an equal number of screen credits in Europe as her age. I don’t know if I entirely agree with Manohla Dargis of the NYT when she suggests that Laurents is “also elbowing for attention” while “running a cinema in Paris under a pseudonym.” If stealing scenes with one’s eyes and lips can be considered “elbowing,” Ms Laurents is guilty of grand but anatomically incorrect larceny.

Sadly, the major culprit in this movie is not Nazi barbarism so much as it is Quentin Tarantino’s insistence that we pay homage to him as Alfred Hitchcock, David Lean, Stanley Kubrick, Orson Welles, Ingmar Bergman, Francis Ford Coppola, Fred Zinneman, Michael Curtiz, Lewis Milestone, and Woody Allen all rolled into on.

To his credit, he does not (he says) want to be Steven Spielberg. According to Dargis, Tarantino is “not making a documentary or trying to be [Mr.] Spielberg: Mr. Tarantino is really only serious about his own films, not history.”

You can say that again.

Spend the money and go see this film. You’ve got all winter to read Churchill’s history of World War II in Europe and find out what it was really all about.

Copyright © 2009 by Robert A. Mills

*************************

Due to the serious flooding in metro Atlanta, these bi-weekly Blogs will, for a time, be a hit-and-miss proposition. I have had to move my office; workmen will be tearing up carpeting and drywall for several days, and heavy machinery will be conducting the drying out process. Please hold off sending me any unnecessary emails until after October 1.


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