I actually saw it last Wednesday at a sneak preview (courtesy of Indiefest) at the Castro with Quentin Tarantino in attendance (who was entertaining, although much of the Q&A were fans slobbering and asking him "How did you get to be so awesome?") Then I saw it again on Friday with a friend. And I've been slow to write about it. I think I've actually had writer's block. And I think I've figured out why.
At first, I couldn't write about it without sounding like ridiculous ad copy. Something like, "It's a bad-ass Nazi-killin' Jewish revenge fantasy" (and it is). But I couldn't put into words how it's something more than that. How the Basterds are just one part of the story. How the opening line--"Once Upon a Time...in Nazi-Occupied France" would be a more appropriate title (not that INGLORIOUS BASTERDS isn't the coolest title ever). How the opening scene with Col. Hans Landa, the "Jewhunter" (Christopher Waltz, who is the most amazing revelation in this movie. I predict big things in his future) interrogates a French dairy farmer to find the Jews hiding under his floorboards is so tense I held my breath at times. How it's a propaganda film about Nazi propaganda films. How it's very much about cinephilia, how it literally uses film as an incendiary device, and how the climax literally burns down the screen. And that's not even getting into the actual Basterds themselves. A team of Jewish-American soldiers undercover in France killing as many Nazis as possible. How can you not love that? Plus there's Brad Pitt doing an outrageous accent as Lt. Aldo "The Apache" Raine, there's Eli Roth (director of CABIN FEVER and HOSTEL) as "The Bear Jew". I know plenty of people who either love or hate Eli Roth, but you at least have to give him credit for bulking up for the role, and seeing him prancing around after beating a Nazi skull in with a baseball bat is pretty amusing ("Teddy fuckin' ballgame knocks it out of the park!") At times (in fact, quite a lot of the time) it devolves into a weird style of near-slapstick (especially when the Basterds go under cover as Italians). There are little moments I love. Like applying rouge as war paint--short, not at all-subtle, but effective and makes me laugh. There are so many more things to love. I haven't even talked about Hugo Stiglitz. And I haven't (and won't) talk about the surprising ending. In fact, a lot of this movie surprised me. You can go in expecting just the Basterds, but you get so much more (the main reason I think ONCE UPON A TIME IN NAZI-CONTROLLED FRANCE would be a more appropriate title).
In the Q&A afterwards, Quentin talked about story, and while there are some great movies out there, too many Hollywood movies don't really have a story, they're 90 minute sitcoms. I.e., they set up a situation in the beginning, and the rest of the movie is living up to that situation. There isn't a winding path it goes down where things happen to move from one situation to another. And that's really what impressed me. That if you just see the beginning, you can't guess how it will end. If you just see the beginning and the ending, you would have to wonder how it got from A to B. The ending is far from inevitable, and the route there is far from direct.
And if none of what I wrote about made any sense, then I'll just end by saying it's the fact of Jewish vengeance, and I loved that.