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The Nazi-killin’ bidness is booming: Pitt in Inglourious Basterds.

Filmmaking Made to Look Easy

By John Rodat

Inglourious Basterds

Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Few—if any—filmmakers do violence and banter so well as Quentin Tarantino. So, a war picture, with the subject matter’s endless opportunities for punishment and profanity, seems natural (almost inevitable) for him.

But, though Tarantino’s hallmarks—the pop-culture quips and the unflinching, even gleeful, brutality—are signature, they’re only the outward expressions of something deeper in the writer-director.

Tarantino’s immensely fun new flick, Inglourious Basterds, is only nominally a WWII movie; really it’s a movie about the love of moviemaking.

Don’t despair: This is not to say that the trailer you saw is misleading. Inglourious Basterds isn’t overtly metafictional or ironically self-aware. There are good-guy Americans, the titular band of Jewish-American soldiers led deep behind enemy lines by the charismatic hayseed Lt. Aldo Raine (the charismatic Okie, Brad Pitt); there are the bad guy Nazis, most notably the “Jew Hunter” Col. Hans Landa (a wonderfully civilized vision of evil acted by Christoph Waltz, who’d completely steal the movie if matched against anyone with less wattage than Pitt); there’s the cool and elegant Brit operative (Michael Fassbender); and the glamourous German double agent (Diane Kruger), etc. You’ll recognize the form.

Stock players aside, Inglourious Basterds differs from, say, The Longest Day. The war depicted in this movie is not the one you know from history books. No spoilers here, but Tarantino departs from the factual in quite spectacular fashion. Because that’s what Tarantino truly does better than anybody else: create visceral filmic spectacle, seemingly out of sheer whim.

He’s equal parts Ed Wood and Midas. Many of the decisions he makes just shouldn’t work. The occasional voice over by Samuel L. Jackson, the ’70s-style supertitle announcing one member of Pitt’s team (just one. Why? Who knows? Quentin just thought it was cool), the achronological progression of scenes, the sequence set to David Bowie’s 1982 song “Cat People” . . . every one of these decisions is bad on paper.

And, amazingly, every one of them works.

A prominent story line in Basterds involves a young Jewish woman (Mélanie Laurent) living in occupied Paris under an assumed identity as the owner of a movie theater. Through a chance encounter with a young German war hero, she finds herself host to a premiere attended by the Nazi high command, including propogandist-filmmaker Joseph Goebbels (Sylvester Groth). It’s a delightful, surprisingly subtle and graceful sleight of history that Tarantino has arranged here: wresting the power of film, by the power of film, out of the hands of a psychopath’s PR man and containing him within—and then having at Goebbels and his bosses with the full force of Tarantino’s aforementioned gifts. (One wonders at how many industry in-jokes go unnoticed by we hoi polloi in these scenes.)

Inglourious Basterds, by all rights, should be a mess and it isn’t.

Because Quentin Tarantino is made of film.

 Funny ’Cause It’s True

In the Loop

Directed by Armando Iannucci

You wouldn’t think that starting an illegal war would prove a source of comedy gold, but In the Loop, a British riff on real-life political events in London and Washington during the buildup to the start of the Iraq War, is hilarious.

It’s also vicious. And it hurts. The dialogue is sharp, mean and witty; the characters are sharper, meaner and wittier.

A bumbling Brit government minister (Tom Hollander) misspeaks in a BBC interview: “War is unforeseeable.” Then, trying to backpeddle, misspeaks again: “We may have to climb the mountain of conflict.” This brings down the wrath of the prime minister’s political enforcer, Malcolm Tucker (rhymes with “fucker”). Tucker seems too over-the-top to be real, but is too recognizably, deadly serious to be dismissed as mere caricature. He’s the PR terrorist plaguing everyone in the film, British and American. He’s the film’s stone-cold heart, played manically, with just a whiff of brimstone, by Peter Capaldi. His foul-mouthed tirades are backed by a laser-like focus. His one moment of physical comedy—frantically dashing across Washington, D.C., to make an important meeting—is as frightening as it is funny.

James Gandolfini is the only big name in the cast; he’s an antiwar U.S. general with a first-class bullshit detector. Also on hand are Anna Chulmsky, who is both charming and craven as a State Department staffer who has authored a too-realistic assessment of war prospects; David Rasche is all smooth malevolence as a warmongering diplomat; and Steve Coogan has a delicious bit as the hapless, misspeaking minister’s working-class nemesis.

None of the characters are “humanized” in conventional comedy terms. If this had been made in Hollywood, a few of them would have been presented as “sincere” and shown to have “feelings.” In the Loop is too realistic for that tripe.

You know how comedies are supposed to have happy endings, even if the happy ending is transparently meant to be absurd and unbelievable? (Think of the tournament win and post-victory make-out session in DodgeBall, or W.C. Fields’ improbable triumphs in The Bank Dick.) I hate to break it to you, but In the Loop stays true to its subject—you remember how the Iraq War began, don’t you?—and to itself. The characters may not get what they deserve, but they damn sure get what’s coming to them.

—Shawn Stone

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