Monday, February 22, 2010

Movie Catch-Up: Knowing, Inglourious Basterds

My wife has gone international again (Haiti, of course). Solo nights + exacerbated insomnia = perfect opportunity to catch up on the movies we'd rather not waste our “together time” on. Today's cases in point:

Knowing, the infamous Alex Proyas/Nicolas Cage vehicle that Roger Ebert loved, despite the nearly universal chorus of contempt sung by the rest of his cohort. Braced for my own indifference, I was instead pleased to find myself beguiled by a story that was emotionally unsettling from beginning to end. Comparisons have been made, appropriately, to M. Night Shyamalan's Signs — both films attempt to explain the ways of God to men — but Knowing is the better film for its use of ambiguous biblical metaphors that raise deeper, more nettlesome questions than the superficial ones they settle. Having said that, neither film is one I'd care to add to my library: a single viewing with friends, family (or youth group) is enough to generate the desired dinner conversation.

Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds — if your idea of a well-rounded meal is Skittles and Beef Jerky, this is probably your idea of a great movie. Well-seasoned moviegoers don't need me to articulate just what a po-mo white trash meta-referencing geek Tarantino is — and if that sounds like a bad thing, I don't necessarily mean it to. It's just that by now Quentin's entire ouevre, with only one exception, has the collective feel of a marathon session of, “Why don't you come over to my back yard, and we'll all play 'Let's Pretend'?” (sorry, correction: “Lett's Pritend”) The tropes are all there: the cheery perambulations around a subject of deadly consequence, the Mexican Stand-Offs, etc. Tarantino's true gift lies in who he entices out to play. Say what you will about Tarantino's little-boy games, he sure knows how to get the girls involved: Mélanie Laurent and Diane Kruger bring the emotional content for Chritoph Waltz to endanger. Waltz deserves Oscars and more, as does Robert Richardson for framing it all so beautifully, and Sally Menke for working miracles in the editing room. But none of these people can rescue Tarantino from the grim fact that he was a wunderkind, whose wunder is fading with his status as kind.

Final verdict: Michael Blowhard used to rate the success of a movie by its lack of “fast-forward moments.” Neither flick prompted me to FF, but I was content to leave Basterds running for a few minutes while I took a bathroom break.


Joel said...

I actually really enjoyed "Inglorious Basterds". Or the first half of it at least. (By the second half, I thought the momentum of the story was beginning to lag.)

Mostly I just liked how unpredictable it was.

But your criticisms are valid I think. It wasn't so much a real movie as just a collection of meta-references.

Whisky Prajer said...

I enjoyed it more than I probably let on, but I think the best I could say for IG is it's a clever lark. It's not a story that takes place in Occupied France; it's a story that takes place in Hollywood's Occupied France, circa The Dirty Dozen. The worst I can say is the technique distracts from the emotional and moral and narrative content (or lack thereof). It doesn't bother me that a movie like IG gets made, or does well at the box office; it bothers me that it gets hailed as a masterpiece.

But what do I know? I'm just playing video catch-up. It could very well be the best movie of the last year. And the Academy is the last place I should look for any sort of aesthetic or moral validation. If I had my way, Best Picture would go to Persepolis, but we're three years too late for that to happen.