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Summertime Rolls: Inglourious Basterds

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In every Tarantino movie, there is that one performance that sticks with you.  It’s never the actor playing the “main” character, if such a creature even exists in his movies; instead, it is a unknown or has-been actor portraying one of what the Academy would call “supporting” characters.

Right on down the list, you see a then unknown Steve Buscemi stealing scenes from Harvey Keitel in Reservoir Dogs.  Or Samuel L. Jackson walking away with Pulp Fiction (and this was in that long ago time when Sam wasn’t in every single movie that came out).  Robert Forster, he of Alligator fame, was even nominated for an Oscar in Jackie Brown.  David Carradine in Kill Bill, Zoe Bell in Death Proof, and now Eli Roth in Inglourious Basterds.

Just kidding- Eli Roth is one of the few weak points of the movie, but you know who is pretty good?  This German guy, Christoph Walz, who plays Colonel Hans Landa, a.k.a. The Jew Hunter.  And what each of these supporting roles have had in common is that the actor was really good at showing intelligence in the character.  Even Zoe Bell in Death Proof had a kinesthetic intelligence that was the most jaw-dropping thing in the whole movie (remember her handing from the front of the car with no straps?).

Waltz, who plays his Nazi as part hawk, part rat, and part Encyclopedia Brown, never lets the audience forget that he is the smartest guy in the room.  And this makes him terrifying as all get out.   Especially if you are, say, a Jew hiding under the floorboards or a theater owner trying to enjoy a strudel and a very ominous glass of milk.

I know, Tarantino’s skill with the written word has long been documented, but I really do feel it bears repeating here.  Believe me, as a fan of the WWII genre, nothing you have seen will prepare you for what he does here.  For one thing, for it being a WWII movie, Inglourious Basterds is perhaps his talkiest movie yet.  That’s OK, because for me, there is no finer creator of dialogue than Quentin himself (with perhaps a nod to the Coen Bros. stylized work).  There are at least three huge set pieces in this movie that generate so much suspense that it becomes downright Hitchcockian.  What is so impressive is that Tarantino achieves this primarily through the words his characters say to one another.

I don’t want to give anything away, but I will say that the opening scene on the farm, the basement bar sequence, and the premiere of Nation’s Pride are all about as good as anything you will see this year.  And then there are so many little moments that stand out as perfect little gems throughout:  The King Kong/20 Questions moment, Mike Myers as a British general, the unfortunate Cinderella homage, the David Bowie song.

In fact, I liked pretty much everything in this movie.  Oh, except for Eli Roth.  I would have been fine if he hadn’t spoken, but I don’t think the guy is much of an actor, and he took me out the movie whenever he said a word.  That said, when he isn’t speaking, he is pretty imposing as “The Bear Jew,” especially when he delivers his patented brand of punishment on uncooperative Nazis.   Other than that, I don’t have a single complaint.  I’m glad the summer is ending on this very high note.

Oh yeah, Brad Pitt is good in the movie, too.


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