We all make mistakes. To err is human. Occasionally we purposefully avoid a movie because of particular tastes or dislikes and in some rare cases we find out that what we passed on turns out to be a great movie after all when we finally get off our high horse and give it another chance. This new column’s sole purpose is a way of penance for all those mistakes, gaffs and blunders we stoopidly made in our youth or even in recent times for movies we should’ve seen.
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Thirty-Year-Old Me: After the highly entertaining and stylistic masterpiece of Kill Bill, I was pumped for Tarantino’s next opus about a platoon of Nazi-hunting Jews lead by Brad Pitt. I’ve always been a huge Tarantino fan since Reservoir Dogs and I would highly argue that he is the most creative writer/director working today. I’ve bought books of screenplays of his 90s movies when I was a budding young film fan in high school and then Jackie Brown came out in 1997.
Back in the 90s I was totally unaware of the underground, grindhouse exploitation films of the 70s. I’ve heard of Blaxploitation since Shaft and Foxy Brown were huge hits and highly influential. Never seen them back then, mind you but their stature in film history stood tall. So when I was disappointed by Jackie Brown, it was mostly because I didn’t have much exposure and admiration for B-grade exploitation flicks. (I recently watched Jackie Brown and it’s still not that great but better than I remember but that’s a review for another day perhaps) So having versed myself in grindhouse and schlock for the better part of the last half-decade, I totally know where QT is coming from and what movies he’s
ripping off homaging and referencing.
So back in 2009 when I watched all 3 hours of Inglourious Basterds I was a bit bored and let down by the lack of Pitt’s Jew platoon slaughtering scores of Naughtzees! We can always expect 45% of a QT flick to be nothing but talking (another problem with Jackie Brown and Death Proof) and when the conversation works, it’s great but sometimes it doesn’t always keep my attention like Bill talking about dead goldfish and Superman mythology in Kill Bill Volume 2. Plus, half of the movie isn’t even about the Basterds at all when it shifts focus to Shosanna and her revenge plot. And then the whole killing of the high ranking Nazi officials and Hitler in the theatre set off my history-buff alarms. Up until recently I couldn’t shake the whole ‘why did QT make a movie so fantastical that rewrites history’ and ‘why did he cast Mike Myers as a British intelligence officer?!’ I don’t think I totally hated the movie as a whole because QT did give us the exposure to the awesome acting genius of Mr. Christoph Waltz but I thought it was another misstep in QT’s oeuvre.
What Did I Miss: Since adding Hans Landa in our annual Villain Madness tournament last month, I decided to revisit every QT film since Pulp Fiction since I only saw them once. (Admittingly, Pulp Fiction—which is now over 20 years old!—did not age as well as I would’ve hoped. The dialogue that I loved when I was 15 is very silly now to me, again another review for a another day. But long story short, what was ‘cool’ in the 90s is not that ‘cool’ now.) The Kill Bills still hold up to masterpiece status. In fact, I would put the first Kill Bill as my #1 movie of a list of films from 2000–2010! The second one shifts its tone a little too much and the pacing is not as great as Vol. 1 but as a whole it’s the perfect movie. But after giving Inglourious Basterds a second chance I was floored!
Since I was watching with a new grindhouse/schlock perspective I totally see what QT was doing in Basterds. I quelled the irrelevant notion that Hitler has to always die in a bunker in Berlin and welcomed the fantasy that QT was imagining. But more than the finale issues I had, I found a whole new appreciation for Shosanna’s revenge plot and the tension in each and every scene she was in. Sharing a blitz with Landa in the restaurant scene is fantastic. And holy shit did I forget about the bar scene with Michael Fassbender! One of the best scenes of recent years for its edge-of-your-seat tension. Its downright nerve-wracking. The finale is great too with the tone-shift of Pitt and his men trying to pass off as Italian filmmakers. And then the whole slaughter of the theatre is, now to me, cathartic to watch the Basterds and Shosanna annihilate the worst monsters in history like dogs. A few years back I just didn’t get what QT was doing—having fun with a historical-based story—and was blind-sided by the serious subject matter. For some reason I missed the black comedy of the story since it wasn’t a common subject to exploit in a movie for me. But now I want every movie to be a historical grindhouse from QT. I want him to have as much fun and twist the subject matter and tone as much as possible. Sure, he homages way too much from those grindhouse flicks of the 70s, almost to the point of annoyance, but they are not well-known to begin with to overly whine about his obsession for them. I would argue that he adds enough of his own creative flourishes that it overcomes his homages to those bygone underground flicks.
I was a fool for missing out on the fun of Inglourious Basterds. Its far from being a perfect movie but boy, is it a fucking hoot to watch—even for 2.5 hours. If you take QT too seriously then you lose out on the fun of his flicks. I think back in the 90s he was taken too seriously from critics that it skewed his professional stance a bit. In other words, I always thought of him as the next Scorsese, when he really was the next Brian DePalma or Mario Bava when it comes to style. There’s a great method to QT’s madness and like I said, he is an awesome writer/director and I hope he continues on this professional trajectory.