Posts Tagged ‘Something Positive’

Warning: total spoilers.

By and large, I’m a fan of Quentin Tarantino. Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill Volumes 1 & 2 and Death Proof are among my favourite films, and I’m far from averse to cinematic violence. I hadn’t heard much about Inglourious Basterds, but given that it was Tarantino, I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.

This is not a course of action I would reccommend to anyone.

Inglourious Basterds is, without a doubt, one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. It is a Tarantino production only insofar as there is graphic violence, and even then, it’s not up to his usual standard. But I’m getting ahead of myself: first, before we proceed any further, a plot summary.

Our story begins in Nazi-occupied France, where Col. Hans Landa, central antagonist of the film and nicknamed the Jewhunter, is in the process of questioning a local dairy farmer, whom he suspects of harbouring a Jewish family. Drawn out over roughly half an hour, their conversation serves to introduce three plot elements: Landa’s facility with languages, his conversational eccentricity, and the eventual massacre of the Dreyfus family, who are hiding beneath the farmer’s floorboards. The latter is relevant not only as a means of demonstrating Nazi brutality, but because the teenage Shoshanna Dreyfus, our soon-to-be heroine, escapes and flees for the hills.

Cut to Brad Pitt – sorry, Lt. Aldo Raine – addressing a group of Jewish American soldiers, the titular Inglourious Basterds, as they prepare to head behind German lines. Their mission, as described by the distantly part-Apache Raine, is to collect the scalps of one hundred Nazis apiece, a task they are positively hankerin’ to accomplish. Over an hour passes before these two plotlines meet up, but then, at two and a half hours long, the film is quite happy to take its time. Eventually, however, all becomes clear, or at least marginally less uncorrelated: now four years older, Shoshanna Dreyfus is running a cinema in Paris under an assumed French identity, where a young Nazi soldier, Fredrick Zoller, the subject of a soon-to-be-released propaganda film produced by Joseph Goebbels, starts to take an interest in her life. Almost instantly, Zoller decides that Shoshanna’s cinema will be the venue for the premiere of his film – at which point, enter the Basterds and some British allies, who, with the help of German actress-slash-double-agent Bridget von Hammersmark, are planning to blow up the opening night, thereby killing not only Goebbels, but all of the Nazi high command and even the Fuhrer himself. Shoshanna, meanwhile, having been forced to endure a meal in the company of both Goebbels and Landa, has her own plans for eliminating the Nazis on opening night, operating parallel to, but not in concert with, the efforts of the Basterds.

Wacky hijinks, as they say, ensue. Or at least, that seems to have been the general intention. But despite its complex tangential plotting, eccentric supporting characters and bizarre premise, Inglourious Basterds is anything but entertaining. Though usually a master of black humour, witty dialogue and satisfying revenge plots, Tarantino has, in this instance, unfathomably failed to perform in even one of these categories, let alone all three. The grand finale, which features Hitler being shot with a machine gun as the leaders of the Nazi party burn to death, fails on so many levels that it’s difficult to articulate; and when watching Jewish soldiers gun down Hitler in a Tarantino movie isn’t even remotely funny, satisfying or relevant, then it’s fair to say that, somewhere along the line, things have gone spectacularly wrong.

More than anything else, Inglourious Basterds stylistically resembles a Tarantino version of the most recent Cohen Brothers offering, Burn After Reading. Both featured casts composed almost entirely of vile, morally bereft characters, none of whom were the least bit likeable, which consequently made them difficult to watch; both featured loosely interwoven, anti-cathartic plotlines where an excess of human error and mad violence saw everything go horribly wrong; and both starred Brad Pitt as a weird guy with a moustache, although at least in Burn After Reading, he was given a couple of good lines.

At every turn, the viewer encounters a mess of contradictions. We are meant to enjoy seeing Nazis shot, burned and beaten to death on principle, as Lt. Raine’s opening speech makes abundantly clear – a somewhat redunant message, as this will be the automatic position of most viewers. But from thereon in, the Basterds themselves are endowed with no personalities, no histories, no redeeming qualities: they are viscious, avenging demons, which might still be workable were it not for the fact that every Nazi they encounter is given more depth, more humanity and better dialouge than the whole group put together. This makes for some grim, uneasy scenes: there is simply nowhere for the viewer to turn. Raine and his men are faceless brutes, impossible to like, while the Nazis, though more complex characters, are still Nazis. With both sides thus rendered unpalatable, the only hope of narrative salvation lies with Shoshanna Dreyfus, but even there, the audience is denied. Tarantino has a solid history when it comes to revenge films, particularly as orchestrated through the actions of strong, wronged women, but in the final wrap, despite the fact that Landa is directly responsible for murdering the Dreyfus family, he ends up the only Nazi of our acquaintance left alive. Indeed, Shoshanna never so much as singles him out for revenge, instead concentrating her suicidal efforts on bringing down the whole Reich establishment, and while this is not a cardinal sin in and of itself, it stands as a massive and poorly-executed departure from Tarantino’s stock in trade.

Smaller problems, too, abound. Samuel L. Jackson’s token voice-overs are bizarre, given that (a) he doesn’t have so much as a cameo role  and (b) the film is otherwise entirely unnarrated. The deliberate misspelling of Inglourious Basterds is shown only once, carved into a rifle butt, with no explanation. We see one character flash back to being whipped, presumably by the Nazis, in an incident which has hitherto never been mentioned, but which appears only minutes before the subject is killed, thus rendering it pointless. Shoshanna and her lover plan death for the Nazis, but while suicide is never discussed, neither do they try and save themselves. History is completely abused in orchestrating the grand finale, but tiny fragments of accurate socio-historical minutiae, like accents, hand gestures and detailed cinema knowledge, nonetheless prove the undoing of multiple characters. Arguably, this latter point is the straw which breaks the donkey’s back. Having spent over an hour painstakingly building up one suite of characters, Tarantino then kills all save one of them in the type of scene which is best described, in the immortal words of Something Positive webcartoonist Randy Milholland, as belonging to the ‘Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies‘ oeuvre.

I wish I could say otherwise, but when push comes to shove, Inglourious Basterds is two-point-five hours of my life – and yours – that can never be reclaimed. If you want to see a gripping action film with brilliant scripting, awesome effects, humour, genuine insight and future cult status, then I suggest you buy tickets for District 9. Anything else is folly.

Ever since a friend introduced me to Penny Arcade back in Year 10, I’ve been a devout gaming/geek webcomics fan. At one point, I was checking seventeen different strips on a daily basis; realising this was insane, I scaled back to fourteen, where I settled until my first year of college. Probably, this would’ve continued, except that the internet connection in my new room was mysteriously broken, and took three weeks, umpteen phonecalls and five consultations with university IT support to fix. By that time, the amount of banked strips had reached critical mass; I didn’t have enough time to catch them all up, and so I pared back to a bare ten, farewelling 8 Bit Theatre, GPF, Nodwick and others with a heavy heart.

Since then, different strips have come and gone – Machall and Demonology 101 have run their course, while Dresden Codak is a new favourite – but my affection for the genre has remained. As has my admiration for the creators of my favourite strips. After eight years of being exposed to their humour, social commentary and general musings, watching the changes in art style and hearing snippets of personal data, they somehow feel more like acquaintances than anything else, people I could bump into and share a laugh with. This is, perhaps, the big difference between webcomics and traditional print media: connection to the creators. I grew up on Snoopy and Garfield, but couldn’t have picked Charles M. Schultz or Jim Davis out of a crowd; I knew nothing about them, their lives or interests beyond an intangible sense that it must somehow influence what they drew and why they drew it.

Not so Fred Gallagher, Scott Kurtz, Jerry Holkins and Michael Krahulik, Greg Dean, Randy Milholland and Tatsuya Ishida. Perhaps more consistently than any other creators, these guys have been with me through the most formative years of my life. I’ve changed since I started reading them, and they’ve changed, too: since my readership began, two have been married and three have had their first children. I’ve left school, gone to university, moved states and tied the knot – but even on my honeymoon, I was still checking comics along with email.

It’s strange to think of geeks grown up – at least, so mainstream society would have us believe. There’s still a strong bias against the idea that you can play video games, enjoy fantasy or sci-fi and read comics as an adult without being just as immature as you were at fourteen, because of the perception that these are childish persuits. As a kid, I was a geekling born to normals; and worse, I was a girl, which made it harder for my parents to notice. Had I been male, perhaps my compulsive interest in dinosaurs, Mario and Transformers would have fit a pattern, rather than seeming incongruous compared a similar fixation on My Little Pony. The penny finally dropped when, after years of playing every console and computer game my friends possessed and saving hundreds of dollars pocket money for a colour Gameboy, I woke up one Christmas to my very own PlayStation. Since then, I’ve never looked back – but had I not stumbled on a group of like-minded webcomic geeks, things might have turned out differently.

One of the greatest trials in growing up is figuring out who you are, not just in relation to other people, but on your own terms. Without friends who shared my interests, I never would have discovered webcomics; but without webcomics, I might have lost confidence in the idea that I could succeed that way, too. Because that’s the other thing I learned: that quirky, geeky, interesting, creative people can, with sufficient effort and support, earn a living through what they love. Although I read books, watch films and listen to music, I’m not privy to the everyday struggle and success of the creators. The end product just appears, disconnected from any personal genesis: like a magic trick, it entertains and inspires, but the mechanics are deliberately concealed. Authors like Neil Gaiman lift the veil through individual blogs, but back then, it was webcomics that got the message through.

Unlike Peter Pan (or today’s lost boys), geeks can grow up. And if webcomics are anything to go by, they can be happy and creatively successful into the bargain.

Thanks, guys.