Sorry, What to Watch took a turkey day break as last week was really light on new product worth mentioning. This week? Pretty much the same but we don’t want you to miss us too badly. Here’s five recent Blu-ray, DVD, and streaming releases that may have caught your attention on new release shelves lately, ranked in the order we’d add them to our holiday wish list.
Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Inglourious Basterds’ With Brad Pitt Lives Up to Expectations
CHICAGO – What truly distinguishes Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” from the cookie-cutter marketplace also makes its impact incredibly difficult to put into words. It’s a film that’s impossible to pin down - a thriller, drama, comedy, action film, and a slice of revisionist history played as modern revenge fantasy. And it’s a total blast.
The man who directed “Pulp Fiction,” “Reservoir Dogs,” and “Kill Bill,” has made another near-masterpiece that will likely be his most divisive and controversial film, one of the few from this season that you can expect to hear arguments about in coffee houses and bars. Some will find QT’s latest way-too-talky, about an hour too long, and even offensive in its subject matter. Others will embrace a few of the most remarkable performances of the year, a masterful technical accomplishment, and a film that could have only come from the unique mind of one of the best directors of the last twenty years. Tarantino has done it again.
Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) and Sgt. Donny Donowitz (Eli Roth) in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds.
Photo credit: Francois Duhamel/TWC
The ads may (incorrectly) make “Basterds” look like a big summer action movie, but it’s much more of a dialogue-driven film about the power of reputation and propaganda. The film, told in chapters, opens with the two characters who will provide the true through-line for the story - Shosanna Dreyfus (played later by Melanie Laurent) and Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) - in arguably the best scene of the year in any film.
Photo credit: TWC
The rest of “Basterds” is about how the life of Shosanna, now the manager of a movie theater scheduled to show Nazi propaganda, and that of Landa will intersect again by way of a few crazy Americans (including Brad Pitt, Eli Roth, and BJ Novak), a British double agent (Michael Fassbender), a German actress (Diane Kruger), and an audience filled with the leadership of the Third Reich.
“Inglourious Basterds” is filled with characters with reputations that precede them (most of them even have nicknames like ‘Aldo the Apache,’ ‘The Jew Bear,’ and more). Of course, no one’s reputation precedes them more than the film’s writer/director, Quentin Tarantino, one of the few filmmakers who makes films that inspire passionate discussion.
The fact is that “Inglourious Basterds” is not for everyone. The lengthy passages of dialogue (akin to the pacing of “Death Proof) go on ten times longer than most directors would pace them before exploding in moments of extreme violence than last mere seconds. The awkward pacing and brutal violence will turn some people off and the previews selling the film as an action-packed Brad Pitt movie are false advertising.
At the same time, “Inglourious Basterds” is incredibly thrilling, beautifully shot, and features two of the best performances of the year from Laurent and Waltz. Laurent beautifully sells the emotional arc of the film, refusing to turn her character into a standard hero as she goes from victim to planning her own deadly mayhem. And Waltz gives the best performance of the year, playing a character akin to Hannibal Lecter in the way he’s both despicable and riveting.
As for the rest of the cast, Kruger does a lot with just a few scenes and Schweiger is a lot of fun in a small role. Pitt is certainly not bad, but his is not the face I think of when I think of “Basterds” - it’s Waltz and Laurent. It’s certainly not Mike Myers, who can now lay claim to the worst scene in Tarantino’s history, a talky scene that explains the involvement of a British agent in a crucial scene but falls completely flat on its own and is the film’s biggest blemish.
As he has done for his entire career, Tarantino has delivered something that’s not easily dissected, discussed, or dismissed. Even if you hate the pacing and the violence of “Basterds,” it’s that rare film worth talking about with friends. Tarantino continues to be one of the true rebels of cinema, one who won’t be easily pinned down other than to say he will deliver something uniquely his own every single time. If only there were more filmmakers like him.