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Cinema in Tarantino’s ‘Inglorious Basterds’

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Quentin Tarantino Spotlight

“It means you’re gettin’ us into that premiere “

Throughout the history of drama, stories within stories have always sought to awaken audiences to postmodern ideas by using nestled narratives, forcing viewers to recognize the transformative power of the pen. Shakespeare, most notably, was a huge fan of the concept, including plays within plays in Hamlet, Taming of the Shrew, and many more of his dramatic works. In these instances, characters within a narrative were treated to a story similarly to the audience, creating a multilayered plot that often questioned the very nature of human identity and the idea of the “self.” As time passed and modern technology gave birth to cinema, stories within stories made their way to the silver screen through the works of directors like Buster Keaton, most notably in his masterpiece, Sherlock Jr.

While not as uncommon as some would suppose, stories within stories have continued this longstanding relationship with cinema, often making larger statements about the world in which its viewers live. With his deep understanding of narratives and encyclopedic knowledge of film, Tarantino joins a centuries-old conversation, making his mark with the controversial Inglourious Basterds. Deep down, his movie is so much more than the spaghetti western WWII film that its plotline suggests, as cinema in Inglourious Basterds is used within the narrative to explore the transformative power of screenwriting, and encourage a reevaluation of the nature of identity.   

Inglourious Basterds Cinema

Cinema in Inglourious Basterds builds upon this story-within-a-story tradition by deftly using film as a way to question the nature of time and history, particularly with his primary plot device, Nation’s Pride. In Tarantino’s fictional WWII, Nation’s Pride is a propaganda film made by Joseph Goebbels to glorify the heroic actions of Fredrick Zoller, a Nazi war hero known for killing hundreds of enemy soldiers singlehandedly to save a city. In its final construction, the film is an obvious misrepresentation of the facts of reality, as made apparent by Zoller’s uncomfortable reaction to watching it in the cinema. Although it was full of historical inaccuracy, Goebbels’ film is eaten up by his audience, particularly Hitler, who calls it “extraordinary, simply extraordinary.”

Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, although not blatantly propaganda, operates on the same principles as Nation’s Pride, taking historical liberties in order to craft a narrative that is visceral and appealing for his audience. Instead of portraying the reality of starved soldiers, death camps, and banal backroom meetings, Tarantino’s WWII is full of spies, double agents, explosions, as well as excessive and dramatic violence, creating fantastical events for his characters to experience.  In Tarantino’s narrative world, the truth is much more boring than the fictions of his imagination, and cinema offers him a vehicle to create timelines that are significantly more exciting, but feel just as real as the world in which the audience is sitting.

Inglorious Basterds takes this notion a step further by commenting on the cinematic style “narratives” that exist within its universe, using the Basterds’ reputation as further evidence that fiction is much more exciting than reality. Because of their exploits, the Basterds gained notoriety amongst the German ranks as cold-blooded horrors, and spread fear amongst the ranks. Aldo becomes “the Apache,” Donny Donowitz is morphed into “the Bear Jew,” and Utivich becomes (humorously) “The Little Man.” In Inglourous Basterds, each of the Americans take on cinematic properties and become “characters” within the German narrative, giving them great power within the reality of the film. Even Hitler himself is afraid of this narrative force, banning these stories from being told within the German ranks in order to protect the soldiers’ psyche. It seems as though even the Basterds are aware of this narrative effect, and apparently enjoy it, with Aldo been commenting in an almost fourth-wall-breaking style that “Frankly, watchin’ Donny beat Nazis to death is the closest we ever get to goin’ to the movies.”

Inglourious Basterds Cinema

That being said, once the Basterds are captured, the façade fades and reality sets in. Aldo is not a savage, but an outlaw with a knife; Donowitz isn’t a monstrous golem, just a kid from New York; and the Little Man isn’t the pint-sized terror that everyone imagined. In Tarantino’s script, once the narrative of fiction is dispelled, the common reality of life will set in, and history restarts its course. Although fiction is much more exciting than the truth, fact will always regain control once the cinematic mystery is scattered.

By prominently including cinema in Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino’s film becomes a critical piece used to explore the way that film and narratives can bend the very nature of reality, metaphorically ‘changing’ the course of history for theatergoers as they watch the piece, only to drop them back into reality as the credits roll. In a way, Inglourious Basterds is a part of the centuries-old conversation on the power of cinema, joining the likes of Keaton and Shakespeare to illustrate that playwrights and screenwriters can bend the rules whenever they want, and that viewers always readily accept the fiction within the lines.

Even as a superficial WWII movie, Inglourious Basterds remains a celebration of cinema, rife with subtle nods and in-jokes, reminding viewers that film is an omnipresent force within their lives while cleverly crafting a fictional world ruled by the silver screen. To this end, cinema in Inglourious Basterds further serves as Tarantino’s love letter to its transformative power, giving him an opportunity to immortalize its ability to change the course of history, so to speak. For the director, reality and fiction cease to matter in his narrative world; instead, the most important element is the enjoyment of the audience. And if the audience has fun, does it matter if everything that they are watching is a fraud?

Ty is here to talk Nintendo and chew bubblegum, but he's all out of gum. He is an Animal Crossing Fanatic, a Mario Kart legend, and a sore loser at Smash. Currently dying all the time at Apex Legends on Playstation. Add him on Switch at Creepshow101 or on PSN/Live at Grimelife 13 and play!

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TIFF 2019: ‘Jojo Rabbit’ Pleads for Love and Laughter Amidst Hatred

‘Jojo Rabbit’ brings Waititi’s signature humor to a coming-of-age movie about growing up as a youth in Nazi Germany.

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Jojo Rabbit

After directing Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok, Taika Waititi probably got carte blanche to do whatever he wanted in Hollywood. Already signed on to do Thor: Love and Thunder, the New Zealand director decided to do something almost no other director would probably consider: making a comedy about Hitler. That would be the reductive elevator pitch, which is how many will approach the film when it is officially released, but Jojo Rabbit is hardly that. Instead, Waititi satirizes hate itself, as well as all the ridiculously extreme convictions people have that hold the world back from being peaceful. It’s all done with that signature Waititi charm that makes the film a joyous mix of entertaining dialogue and lovable characters.

The hardest thing to get past in Jojo Rabbit is its initial premise. Set during World War II, just as Germany is on the cusp of defeat, the film follows ten-year-old Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) as he begins his training to be a part of Hitler’s army. After he is sent home from a Nazi bootcamp, he discovers a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) hiding in his house, and is forced to help hide her or risk his mother (Scarlett Johansson) being murdered by the Gestapo. His blind fanaticism to Hitler and his ideals puts Jojo in a precarious situation that is only further made tense by the presence of his imaginary friend, Adolph Hitler (played with Chaplin-esque exuberance by Waititi).

Jojo Rabbit

It would be easy to write off Jojo Rabbit as a farce if based on its initial set up. Easily reminiscent of the director’s first coming-of-age film, Boy, there’s a level of quirk that will likely aggravate audiences unwilling to give the premise the time of day. Hitler is not played off as menacing — he’s played off as a joke. The entire Nazi regiment is filled with cartoonishly evil devotees to Hitler, as well as naive children that join the army as last-ditch draftees. It’s easy to see these portrayals as mere jokes, but the screenplay doesn’t ever feel like it’s one hundred percent about showing Nazis as bad; instead, it goes even broader to show that hate itself is bad and worthless, by using Nazi Germany and Hitler as target practice.

Setting Jojo up as the main character, the film breaks down his staunch hatred of the Jewish race by forcing him to confront his beliefs and what they mean to the world around him. How his fanaticism affects his mother, or how it has suddenly forced him out of being a child, all contributes to Jojo as a character being torn down inch-by-inch by the love surrounding him. Jojo’s mother, Rosie, is worn out by the war and simply wants it to end, while Sam Rockwell’s Captain Klenzendorf seems at odds with the ideals of the Hitler regime, and now acts as a high-ranking officer with a very lazy devotion to the fuhrer. 

Klezendorf and Rosie are characters that always exist within Waititi’s films. Klezendorf substitutes as a father-like figure to Jojo, as his own father continues to fight the war in Italy. He tries to provide guidance and love to the child while Rosie struggles to deal with Jojo’s blind devotion to Hitler — who also acts as a father-figure to the young boy. Jojo Rabbit explores how propaganda and hateful rhetoric can shape the youth into hateful people without the years spent open to the world around them. It’s an ambitious extension upon Waititi’s prior coming-of-age tales, which tend to show how negligence can affect a child’s upbringing.

Jojo Rabbit

Jojo Rabbit is also one of the funniest movies of the year — not because it makes fun of Hitler and Nazi Germany (though those jokes are also gold), but because it takes aim at every form of hatred. Waititi only has sympathy for those who have the potential to love, and so he doesn’t just make everyone the subject of ridicule, but focuses on those characters who bring it on themselves. A dedicated SS officer will be ridiculed to the high heavens because he just wants to capture and kill traitors and the Jewish people; it’s the price paid for being a jerk, and Waititi simply has no time to defend every character’s actions.

Jojo Rabbit isn’t here to simply say that a time period and a certain person was bad. Waititi is making a claim that many have already made: there is too much hate in this world, so why not be a little nicer? Opening with a German version of The Beatles’ “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” there’s a constant nagging at the oppressors of the film to be a little nicer and maybe open up to another point of view. Easily the most audacious film in the director’s filmography, Jojo Rabbit successfully balances the quirky humor of Waititi’s his previous efforts with a dark subject matter. The result is a movie that not only will make audiences laugh, but will have them valuing the importance of laughter and niceties in a hate-fueled time.

The Toronto International Film Festival runs September 5 – September 15

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‘Nefarious’ Shows Passion For The Home Invasion Genre

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From creative horror fiend Richard Rowntree comes his newest venture, a home invasion film titled Nefarious. The Dogged director and his crew have found an angle to take on the genre to make it feel fresh and lively.

Nefarious follows a few different people in the same small town, from four roommates in trouble with a considerable debt to the wrong people, to a special needs man named Clive who has won a considerable sum of money in the lottery. The film follows multiple sides of the story as they develop, with the violent and ill-tempered Darren at the helm of the intruders. With desperation leading him and his thugs to the house of Clive and his brother, Marcus, these intruders find they’ve gotten into something so much bigger than they thought.

Nefarious kicks off with the first of many interrogation room asides that allude to the events of the film. Soon the plot gets rolling, and the story begins to be pieced together. These interrogation room scenes place characters against a pitch-black backdrop, giving off a bit of a surrealist and dreamlike vibe, and some of the most impressive shots — particularly a scene with the two detectives looking through a two-way mirror — come from this setting. The intro runs a bit long, but continues the surrealist lean, with shaky visuals ranging from violent to erotic to strange shots of different individuals.

Nefarious - Interrogation
Lou being interrogated in the dark expanse.

Whilst Nefarious is a low budget horror experience, it makes use of what it has very well. The cinematography is fantastic, with varied camera angles and creative framing, along with an attention to colour and lighting. There’s a marked step up in the lighting department from Richard Rowntree’s previous offering; Dogged did use what they had well, but with Nefarious it feels like there’s more mastery over it.

On the technical side, everything comes together nicely, not ever feeling cheap or like it’s cutting corners. In fact, the gore and action — which doesn’t really rear its head until the denouement — is quite effectively done. The one exception is a slightly stilted jab with a crowbar to end a character’s life, but it doesn’t hinder the scene at all. The sets are also incredibly well put together, feeling realistic (perhaps due to filming in real houses and locations), and one particular secret room is all the right kinds of terrifying and disturbing.

Meanwhile, the music doesn’t particularly standout on its own, but the distorted bassy beat backdropping a few scenes fits incredibly well with the tone. There’s also an off-kilter element to the soundtrack that helps keep the viewer on edge.

Nefarious - Fridge
Gross and off-putting, just how you want your frozen viscera.

The acting isn’t stellar across the board, but for the most part it’s quite impressive, with performances from Gregory A. Smith as Clive, Toby Wynn-Davies as Marcus, and Buck Braithwaite as Darren shining. Nadia Lamin also puts in a solid performance as the conflicted Lou, and there’s even a cameo from the director himself as the taxi driver.

By the time the denouement is reached, Nefarious reveals a twist more complex than one would first think. Whilst it’s foreshadowed thoroughly enough to see coming, the weight and scope still come as a surprise, and the exposed extra layers of secrecy keep us on our toes. This finale is built to fantastically, culminating in a whirlwind of brutal and sadistic action, but it does get a bit muddied by those multiple twists overlapping each other, which can make it a bit less impactful. Regardless, the great imagery, execution, and pacing through the final confrontation creates a solid finishing point for Nefarious.

Nefarious defies its budget and shows us a refreshing approach to the home invasion genre, whilst allowing itself to grow outside of it as well. There are a few hitches here and there, but nothing that takes away from an otherwise excellent and thrilling ride. The ending alone is worth the watch, though the buildup is captivating as well. Now with two full-length competent horror films under his belt, I’m looking forward to seeing what angle of the genre Richard Rowntree explores next.

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TIFF 2019: The Piercing ‘Marriage Story’ Is a Festival Standout

Noah Baumbach’s newest drama is a searing portrait of a marriage dissolving, and his best film to date.

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Marriage Story

In 2010, director Noah Baumbach began divorce proceedings with his now ex-wife, Jennifer Jason Leigh. The divorce was finalized three years later, and since then Baumbach has been in a relationship with actor and director (and occasional collaborator) Greta Gerwig. It’s impossible to view his newest film, Marriage Story, without taking into account his own dissolved marriage; this is a searching, seething work of recriminations and longing that pits two all–too–human parents against each other, and invites the audience to not only imagine which bits of psychic trauma are his own, but also to consider our own relationships, successful or not.

Marriage Story stars Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver as Nicole and Charlie, a married couple living in New York City with their young son Henry. The film opens with a montage as Nicole recites the things she most loves about her husband, from the way he can cook and doesn’t mind waking up with their son, to his skill as a theater director. In turn, Charlie narrates his favorite aspects of Nicole, his regular lead actor. There are plenty of opportunities for tears here, but the unguarded emotions of these confessions might get them started right from the beginning. But just as they finish reciting these traits, we’re brought back to reality; these confessions were things that they had written down to read to each other as a kind of peace offering at the start of their mediation following a separation that has led up to their divorce. But Nicole doesn’t like what she has written — or at least doesn’t want Charlie to hear it. And if she won’t go, then it’s not really fair for him to read his. So neither tells each other what they most admire in the other, and instead stop seeing the mediator.

It’s the first strike in Nicole and Charlie’s mutually assured destruction agreement. Though they initially plan on avoiding using lawyers, Nicole gets tipped off to a well-regarded attorney (a funny and ice-cold Laura Dern) who advises her to take a maximalist position in order to ensure she gets half of everything she wants — at the very least. Once she has a lawyer, Charlie tries out a variety of legal counsels (a soothing Alan Alda and a fiery Ray Liotta), but the real conflict comes down to location; Nicole has taken Henry to Los Angeles while she films a pilot, and wants to stay even after it’s finished. Charlie, however, thought they would move back to New York. Each escalation in the feud necessitates an opposing reaction, and the two are driven further and further apart, even as they try to stay close for the sake of their son.

Marriage Story

Baumbach has admitted that some details of the film are based on his own divorce, but he’s also said he interviewed many of his friends who divorced around the same time, as well as lawyers and judges involved in divorce cases. In some ways, Marriage Story isn’t just a portrait of a couple separating, but a primer on divorce court that far surpasses something like Kramer vs. Kramer, which was out of date even in 1979. The film is also an opportunity to observe two of the best living actors at the top of their game. Johansson and Driver have a knack for finding the sweet spot between un-actorly naturalism and the stylistic ticks that we recognize as compelling acting. It gives us a sense that these people were actually a family, and really cared for each other. Baumbach’s script helps; it’s maybe his best writing ever, filled with so many painfully open moments, yet leavened with just the right amount of humor. He’s also as fair as he could be, and neither parent comes off as too saintly or self-centered.

Marriage Story ends in a circle of sorts with the discovery of Nicole’s notes about Charlie’s best qualities. Their marriage was effectively over before the film even started, but I kept thinking back to that lovely introductory scene. How might their journey to divorce progressed if they had the courage to speak openly to each other in that one moment? Perhaps something might have been better. Marriage Story doesn’t harbor any of those romantic illusions, however; once it’s over, it’s over.

The Toronto International Film Festival runs September 5 – September 15

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TIFF 2019: Terrence Malick Puts Faith Front and Center in ‘A Hidden Life’

Terrence Malick makes a glorious return to scripted films with this searing portrait of faith at all costs.

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A Hidden Life

Terrence Malick is back! Or maybe he never went anywhere. Those propositions have divided critics who either see everything he directed after 2011’s The Tree of Life as failures, or who find his subsequent cinematic experiments to be vital additions to his oeuvre. I tend to fall into the latter category, having considerable affection for To the Wonder, Knight of Cups, and Song to Song, which seems like a transition of sorts back to the more tightly scripted narrative films he made up through The Tree of Life. Now, with A Hidden Life, Malick returns to his favorite subjects: religion, morality, family. It may not be a return to form per se, but it’s top-notch Malick, and already one of this year’s best films.

A Hidden Life is inspired by the true story of Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian farmer who was executed after he refused to swear allegiance to Adolf Hitler. Jägerstätter is played by August Diehl, best known to American audiences as the lead Nazi in the bar shootout in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. We first see him tending to his crops in the hilly town of St. Radegund, far above the clouds. (The film was originally titled Radegund before Malick settled on A Hidden Life, which is derived from a line in George Eliot’s Middlemarch.) He lives with his wife, Franziska (Valerie Pachner), and their three young daughters. Malick and his new cinematographer, Jörg Widmer, film the Austrian landscape with some of the lushest greens ever depicted on film, and Franz’s whole family spends plenty of time frolicking in the beautiful surroundings (though he has significantly toned down the frolicking now that he’s working with a tighter script).

Franz first receives military training sometime after the rise of the Nazis but before the start of the Second World War. While there, he befriends a fellow soldier named Waldlan (Transit’s Franz Rogowski), whom he will fortuitously meet again years later. Through the luck of a deferment for farmers, he’s able to return home to his village, but his anti-war, anti-Nazi stances make him an enemy of the other villagers. Malick doesn’t go out of his way to construct contemporary parallels in A Hidden Life, but viewers might breathe a sigh of recognition at the way some of the villagers so whole-heartedly adopt cruel, ugly sentiments once they’re presented aloud by a compelling leader. By 1943, Franz’s deferment ends, at which point his unwillingness to serve sends him on a path to the guillotine.

A Hidden Life

Malick depicts Franz not as a saint looking to serve as an example for others, but merely a man concerned with good and evil. He’s told by multiple figures that no one knows of his principled stand, and that it won’t have any meaningful impact on the Nazi war effort. But he’s not looking to be a hero — just to do the right thing. Diehl’s expressive face is often contorted into anguished looks as he wrestles with his decision. His moral position opens his wife and children up to harassment and even assault from other villagers, and his death will leave them barely able to care for their crops and livestock. Though A Hidden Life is primarily Franz’s story, there are plenty of lovely scenes with Franziska at home, both with her children and with her sister, who lives with the family.

The contours of Franz’s story are understandably inspiring, and it’s not surprising that he was beatified in 2007. (Pope Benedict XVI made regular Sunday walks to St. Radegund as a child.) Malick’s films have always had elements of the religious and the divine, but this is his first film to expressly examine a character’s journey of faith. His camera has always been pointing toward the heavens, into the sun; and when he wasn’t looking up, Malick was looking for the holy closer to us, in the tiny, innocent creatures that populate our world. Now he’s kept his camera pointed straight ahead and found holiness in man himself.

The Toronto International Film Festival runs September 5 – September 15

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TIFF 2019: Benson and Moorhead Bend Time in the Psychedelic ‘Synchronic’

Trippy visuals and historical context ground this ambitious science fiction film.

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Synchronic

Bringing together trippy science fiction and the grit of New Orleans, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead continue their streak of grounded genre-fare with Synchronic. With another exploration into concepts of time and reality, Synchronic plays out like a cross between Martin Scorsese’s Bringing out the Dead and Shane Carruth’s Primer. Though not as nuanced in its characters as previous entires in their filmography, Benson and Moorhead provide another delight for genre fans, and a compelling idea that never gets too far out of their grasp, despite its ambitiousness.

Focused on two paramedics, Synchronic finds Steve (Anthony Mackie) and Dennis (Jamie Dornan) driving through New Orleans and stumbling upon several drug overdoses in the city. The only connection between the overdoses is that all of the victims took a new designer drug called Synchronic. As the incidents start piling up, the two become entangled in the mystery of the drug’s effects after Dennis’ teenage daughter (Ally Ioannides) takes it and goes missing. While Dennis tries to find his daughter, Steve takes it upon himself to learn what exactly Synchronic does to the user, which ultimately leads to the film’s surreal and genre-bending narrative.

Tensions between the two escalate as Dennis contends with his failing marriage, which is only made worse when their daughter disappears, while Steve hides a terminal illness that leads him to experiment with Synchronic. As an isolated alcoholic who is dying, Mackie is probably the best he’s ever been in a role that doesn’t really offer him much in terms of character development but still puts him in situations where his charisma brings magnitudes. Hefty amounts of emotional baggage are dropped on him, and he does a significant job elevating the material. Meanwhile, Dornan continues to be bland, and his chemistry with Mackie feels forced every time they banter. In fact, almost all of the emotion in Synchronic comes up short because of this lack of chemistry and Dornan’s poor acting.

Despite that, Synchronic is enjoyable because of where its science fiction concept is willing to reach. The visuals are otherworldly as different time periods blend into each other, and Benson and Moorhead continue to show what can be done on a modest budget. While the film’s trippy concept is explored thoroughly enough, there are facets that desire extrapolation, such as the personal ramifications of taking the drug — which isn’t explored, despite drugs with hallucinatory and psychedelic effects tending to take the user into account. Instead the drug here has the same effect on everyone, with any deviations dictated by external factors. However, the film casually explores Steve’s character within the guise of this, making for a riveting — but not all that deep — look at the past to see how much better things are now.

Synchronic doesn’t quite live up to the neat package that The Endless was, but Benson and Moorhead pare down the scope of the film in order to keep it neater and more controllable. Otherwise, not only would it have been a messy venture, but the dull characters would deny any thrills. Thankfully, Mackie does wonders in a very subdued emotional performance that complements the visually arresting imagery. Synchronic is a solid genre flick that will keep Benson and Moorhead on the rise in the genre community, and will satisfy fans of a psychedelic premise rooted in the real world.

The Toronto International Film Festival runs September 5 – September 15

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