Follow awfulagent on Twitter

About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Inglorious Basterds

So as I expected when I did my post on the Oscar nominations, Inglorious Basterds did find it back into a movie theatre in New York City, so the studio could show off its wares nicely to the Oscar voters. This is definitely one of the nice things about living in New York, one of the reasons why I live here and not elsewhere. And to my happy surprise, when I got to the Landmark Sunshine on Tuesday night Feb. 23 to see, not only was it there, but it was on the bigger downstairs theatre the Variety Screening Series rents out and not one of the smaller theatres upstairs. So if any of the 20ish people at the 7:15 showing were Oscar voters, the studio was indeed putting its best foot forward.

Well, the movie was such a delight on so many levels that I was pretty much kicking myself not to have seen it when it first opened, maybe even on a bigger screen.

First and foremost, I now have my rooting interest for Best Supporting Actor. Christoph Waltz is a German actor not much known on these shores, with credits that don't go much beyond "German spy" in Goldeneye. Here, he plays a role that we've seen in film dozens of times before, the Nazi officer who hunts Jews and kills people. I certainly can't say that we sympathize with him, because after all he hunts Jews and kills people. But he does play the role with a kind of relish, a delight, a joie de vivre, an elan, an aplomb, a distinctiveness, that we just never see from an actor playing this role. He chews up the scenery, he steals the show, but lurking beneath it all there's a constant self-awareness that what he's about is a nasty business, that he isn't someone you want to cross. It's a masterfully modulated performance, an indelible work of true screen genius. So come March 7 when I shall be live-blogging the Oscars, I'll be in the Christoph Waltz camp.

Waltz's presence in the movie is an example of the deeply essential German-ness of a lot of the casting. The young actor Daniel Brühl, as another example. And all of these people co-existing with a Brad Pitt, a Mike Myers, an Eli Roth. And then there's a French actress Julie Dreyfuss from the Kill Bill movies. There's a term "europudding" that Variety uses, often in a negative sense, that take an actor from country A and a director from country B, film in country C in the language of country D, in order to cover all bases and maximize the sales. That could definitely apply to Inglorious Basterds, except the term is intended as a negative oftentimes, and this movie makes you wish for more of them.

The entire musical soundtrack is borrowed. If it sounds like it's something Ennio Morricone might have done for a spaghetti western or Italian gangster movie, it's because it is something he composed for a spaghetti western or Italian gangster movie. These tracks are joined by cuts from Cat People or White Lightning or a composer Jacques Loussier whom I've never heard of before. There's not an original note to be found, and it's pitch perfect.

Contemporary cinema is not known to linger. Michael Bay is at the extreme end of the quick cut, but it's safe to say his style of short shots and fast cuts is closer to the norm. A lot of times now if we're looking at a movie that's leisurely in its editing, it's probably way in the opposite direction, the kind of over-stuffed art film that I felt was pretty much self-parodied in Police, Adjective. What a change of pace this is. The lion's share of the movie is taken up with just a few very long scenes. There's one at the beginning, where we meet the Christoph Waltz character as he interrogates a farmer about Jews that might be hiding in the area, and it's a good 20 minutes, and all of it pretty much in the main room of the farmhouse. There's another later on in a basement night club that goes on for around a half hour. Each of these long scenes is a miniature masterpiece. As long as the scenes are, they never seem slow or dull. The words being spoken are interesting and suspenseful. The music is heightening the atmosphere. The camera movements aren't flamboyantly suspenseful like Brian de Palma might be but are gently nerve-wracking. These gentle scenes build real suspense and come to great climaxes in ways we're simply not used to seeing. This is a quality that's shared on this year's best picture nominees with Hurt Locker, which manages to find a serenity in the chaos of war. It definitely ain't shared with Avatar.

A very nice piece of work.


Ricky Bush said...

Most excellent review of a most excellent movie. You really have a talent for putting what we all see into words. I try to do the same with blues music.

Erin said...

A belated second to Ricky's comment. I came away from Inglorious Basterds a little perplexed, with a 'what's the fuss all about' reaction. I loved Christoph Waltz, but found the rest a little underwhelming. Maybe I just wasn't in a good mood that day, because reading through your post, I had several, "It's true, that was very well done..." moments. In hindsight, I appreciate the movie more than I did at the time.