Posts Tagged ‘quentin tarantino’

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Waaaaayyy back in my early days as an armchair critic, I focused almost exclusively on exploitation, horror, and other “B”-movie genres. They’re pretty much all I wrote about, in fact, and calling my blog “Trash Film Guru” made a kind of sense back then. These days, of course, I find myself casting my hopefully-more-sharply-trained critical eye on just about anything, and if I went back and added up the numbers over the last two or three years I’d probably find that I’ve reviewed just as many comics as I have films, and that I’ve reviewed as many Hollywood blockbusters, documentaries, foreign films, and straight-to-video numbers as I have old-school (or, for that matter, new-school) exploitation flicks, but still — the “Trash Film Guru” name continues to run at the top of my site, and since it does, I take it as almost a personal responsibility to review new Quentin Tarantino films as soon as they come out, given that he’s essentially the living embodiment of the exploitation ethos in our day and age.

Not that it’s a responsibility I don’t relish, mind you — I’m not ashamed to admit that I still absolutely love all of Q.T.’s work to one degree or another (yes, even Death Proof), and that I still consider it a genuine cinematic “event” when something new from the man hits theaters. And yet —

I never did get around to seeing 2015’s The Hateful Eight when it was playing cinemas. I was short-staffed at work at the time and clocking six-day weeks for a good few months there, and so getting out to the movies just wasn’t something I had time for. By the time things settled down a bit and I found myself with something vaguely resembling “free time” again, wouldn’t you know it — the damn thing was long gone. It’s out on Blu-ray and DVD now (with excellent picture and sound as you’d expect and sparse extras, the most notable of which is a decent little “making-of” featurette), though, so hey — I can finally do my duty as a self-appointed “guru” of exploitation and report back to you, dear reader, with my thoughts on this, our guy Quentin’s latest, and perhaps most divisive, effort.

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First off, let’s not kid ourselves — everybody loved Inglourious Basterds (and with good reason), and everybody especially loved that long, slow-burn first scene. A lot of folks even openly wished the entire flick had aped its tone and structure, and evidently Tarantino was listening, because The Hateful Eight is easily his “talkiest,” most insular, most claustrophobic, most subtle work yet. It takes a long time to get going and is decidedly less flamboyant in terms of its balls-to-the-walls, operatic violence(though rest assured there’s still plenty of it) than we’re used to from the auteur, but in many ways that’s the best thing about it — not only because, hey, a little variety is always good, but because Tarantino extends that meme outward within the film itself. The Hateful Eight, ya see, is much more than “not exactly what we were expecting” —  it’s also never exactly what it appears to be.

On the surface, of course, this story about bloodthirsty bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (played by Tarantino mainstay Samuel L. Jackson) crossing paths with more-supposedly-gentlemanly-but-really-even-more-twisted fellow bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) as he escorts his latest captive, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) into the one-horse town of Red Rock, Wyoming barely ahead of a blizzard sounds like it’s probably a fairly traditional western — as new characters make their acquaintance, though, such as the town’s purported new sheriff, Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), and add layers of intrigue to the proceedings, one starts to get the idea that perhaps Tarantino is going to give us a Peckinpah-esque “revisionist” western. It’s not until we meet the rest of the “hateful” bunch, though — former Confederate General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern), Red Rock hangman Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), cow puncher Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), and substitute shopkeep Bob (Demian Bichir), who are all waiting out the storm inside the confines of an establishment known as Minnie’s Haberdashery — that we realize what we actually have on our hands here is an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery where no one is who they appear to be. Even the ones, paradoxically, who are.

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But hold on a minute. Is that really what Tarantino is serving us here? Of course not. The various characters are, in fact, the flesh-and-blood embodiment of any number of problems (specifically those of the racial, cultural, political, and sexual varieties) plaguing just-post-Civil War America, and even as the onion of just who the fuck did what and what it even means is being peeled, the deftly-intertwined socio-political commentary is where the real action is here — and even there you honestly have to wonder whether or not Tarantino is confining his critique to this historical setting, or showing just how little has really changed between then and now. None of this ever gets heavy-handed, but it sure is thought-provokingly juicy.

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The other delicious bit of sleight-of-hand that Tarantino indulges in comes by way of the brilliant “switcheroo” he pulls immediately after the film’s opening act. Robert Richardson’s gorgeous cinematography at the outset gives us magnificent snow-swept vistas of such quietly ominous grandeur that I was literally kicking myself for not having seen this flick in 70mm, and coupled with Ennio Morricone’s Oscar-winning score the feel established early on in epic in the truest sense of the word — then the remaining 90% of the movie takes place in a single room and is pretty much a stage play on celluloid. Here’s the funny thing, though : Richardson and Morricone’s work only gets stronger once confined to these tight quarters. I have no idea how that works, but works it does.

Needless to say, the acting from all parties concerned is absolutely superb, and much as every line of dialogue in The Hateful Eight  is loaded with import whose meaning will only become clear later, every single movement, gesture, even facial tic on the part of the actors matters here. At over two-and-a-half hours long you’d be forgiven for assuming that there was a fair amount of “filler” material on offer in this flick, but the truth of the matter is that each and every detail is relevant to this film’s outcome. Not only are there almost no “throwaway” lines, there are very few, if any, “throwaway” moments.” So, ya know, pay attention.

And I hope that the nay-sayers who bad-mouthed this flick are still paying attention. If ever there was a film almost purposefully designed to benefit from critical re-appraisal as the years go on, it’s this one. Sure, it’s something of a lengthy slog and most of the tension is bubbling well beneath the surface, but damn — The Hateful Eight is a powder keg that could go off at any second, even if it isn’t always exclaiming that fact in forceful, “in-your-face” tones. You do need to be patient with this flick — but your patience will be richly rewarded.

So — is this Tarantino’s best work? No, Jackie Brown still holds that honor in my own humble opinion. But The Hateful Eight is definitely his most complex, multi-faceted, nuanced, and politically aware effort to date, and shows that while the years may be mellowing the tone of his product, they are in no way blunting its impact.

 

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Arthur Marks has certainly been getting a lot of love around these parts lately, hasn’t he? Recently I more or less politely begged for a long-overdue reappraisal of his fine Pam Grier flick Friday Foster, and today I’m here to spread the good word about what is undoubtedly his absolute masterwork (a term regular readers of this site will know I don’t toss around loosely), 1973’s Detroit 9000.

Honestly, this is one of those movies I probably should have reviewed ages ago, but now’s as good a  time as any seeing as how Lionsgate has recently re-released it on DVD alongside The Mighty Peking Man and Jack Hill’s Swtichblade Sisters in a nifty little package called “Quentin Tarantino’s Rolling Thunder Pictures Triple Feature,” Tarantino having acquired the rights to all three titles back in the 1990s for the midnight screening/revival circuit. None of the films contain any extra features to speak of, but they do feature nicely remastered widescreen transfers and perfectly serviceable mono sound, and seeing as how the disc retails for under ten bucks from most online outlets — well, how many ways can you say “essential purchase?”

But enough with the free plug for Lionsgate product. What sets Detroit 9000 apart from much of the other blaxploitation fare of the time (a category which this flick may or may not actually fall into — it’s certainly debatable) is the intelligence and extra level of humanity and characterization that Marks, his fine cast, and screenwriter Orville H. Hampton inject into the proceedings. Sure, this is a pretty goddamn violent pressure-cooker of a flick, with uneasy police partners Lt. Danny Bassett (the legendary-in-my-book Alex Rocco) and Sgt. Jesse Williams (Hari Rhodes) tasked with tracking down the armed masked men who ripped off $400,000 from a black-tie fundraiser for ethically-questionable African-American congressman Aubrey Hale Clayton (Rudy Challenger), and okay, Scatman Crothers pops up along the way as — gosh, what a shocker — a crooked preacher-man, and fair enough, some bits of dialogue are “borrowed” directly from Dirty Harry, as is a heavy dose of atmosphere,  but that doesn’t mean this isn’t a slice of B-movie bad-ass-ness worth taking seriously.

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For one thing, nobody here is a saint. Both leads are deeply flawed, all-too-human individuals, and Rocco and Rhodes turn in superb performances that bring out all the nuances in the script. This is an intelligent story delivered by intelligent performers with a firm grasp on the surprising subtlety inherent in the material. sure, the old “this is a conspiracy that reaches all the way to the top” angle was predictable even by 1973, but come on — would you honestly have it any other way? Some things become formulaic simply because — well, they work. And Detroit 9000 doesn’t just work, it works overtime, providing a very real sense of the intense political weight being brought to bear on these guys to crack this case open, and crack it open quickly. As long as they find an “acceptable” solution, of course —

And that means, of course, even more stress for our fallible-yet-intrepid twosome, since it’s a lead-pipe cinch that the answers they find aren’t going to be what the higher-ups want to hear. Rest assured, though — in a world where the good guy aren’t so great, the presumed bad guys aren’t necessarily so bad, either (even when they are, if you get my meaning), so definitely expect a few surprises along the way.

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Marks, absolute master of pacing that he is, keeps things moving along at a very nice clip here, and there’s never a dull moment — the action scenes are explosive and fraught with drama and tension, but even the quieter moments aren’t so quiet as every word in every off-handed exchange does at least something to propel the main narrative forward. This is a very economical film (both metaphorically and, I’m sure, literally), and the always-resourceful Arthur doesn’t waste a frame. Run to the kitchen or bathroom and you’re guaranteed to miss something — good thing for that “pause” button.

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Detroit’s a simmering powder keg of barely-subsumed racial tensions here, as well, and that only adds to the brooding-bordering-on-oppressive vibe that this film captures. Anything could happen at any moment — look at a guy the wrong way and things are gonna blow sky high. Any alliances formed are temporary, purely for the sake of expediency, and susceptible to fracture without a moment’s notice. Buckle up, folks — the road start out bumpy and it only gets bumpier. All of which is fun, of course, but it means you’ve gotta keep your wits about you, as well — and trust me, when the shit hits the fan at the end, you’ll be glad you did.

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There’s no two ways about it, friends — Detroit 9000 (the title refers to a distress code on the police radio band, if you were wondering) is the real deal. There’s no slack in its act. It’s not afraid to get its hands dirty because they were never clean to begin with. Good times are fun and all, but they’re transitory, fleeting; the best times come with a price and force you to remember them, even when it’s inconvenient. This flick is a terrific piece of crime drama from start to finish, but it demands — and takes — its pound of flesh along the way. Get your ass off my blog and watch it right now.

"Bonnie's Kids" Movie Poster

If you’re looking for the prototype exploitation film, the one that has it all and then some, then friends, look no further than writer-director Arthur Marks’ 1973 low-budget opus Bonnie’s Kids.

First off, there’s the matter of the title — Bonnie And Clyde, despite being a couple years old, was still doing brisk box-office business at the time — and as the titular Bonnie in this film, the mother of the two protagonists we’ll get to in a moment, is dead, and never so much appears even in flashbacks, this flick’s name is an obvious cash-in attempt to “tie in” with the Faye Dunaway-Warren Beatty classic.

So far, so good. Let’s turn our attention, then, to the advertising campaign. Just take a look at that poster, dear readers — it features the lead actress’s (highly exaggerated, of course) measurements prominently displayed! I ask you, does it get any better than that? Your host thinks not.

Next up there’s the matter of the cast — exploitation veterans all around, from Tiffany Bolling (The Candy Snatchers, The Centerfold Girls) to Alex Rocco (Brute Corps, The Wild Riders) to Steve Sandor (Stryker, The No Mercy Man) to Robin Mattson (Candy Stripe Nurses, Phantom of the Paradise).

And finally, of course, there’s the plot — or rather, the sheer, perverse tawdriness of so many of the plot elements. Bad-news sisters Ellie (Bolling) and Myra (Mattson) Thomas, a small-town waitress and high school student, respectively, live with their good-for-nothing alcoholic stepfather, a guy so foul even his own poker buddies hate his guts and tell him so, frequently. One night after the game breaks up, step-daddy overhears Myra engaging in a little titillating phone talk with one of the many junior Romeo pricks she’s teasing. Slapping the phone out of her hand, he picks her up and hits her, kicking and screaming, to the bedroom. As he attempts to mount her, Ellie walks in and, resisting his charming entreaties to “come over and join them” and “give stepdaddy a kiss, like when you were a little girl” (or words to that effect), she decides, instead, to pull out a shotgun and blow his ass to kingdom come.  And did I mention (okay, I didn’t) that Myra’s phone frolicking takes places after she’s already taken a shower in full view of the leering eyes of both her stepdad’s poker pals and the local cops?

So we’ve already got bare teenage boobs, voyeurism, phone sex, attempted rape, implied child molestation, pseudo-incest, and bloody murder of a (sort of) family member — before the opening credits even roll!

From there’s things just get sleazier. Ellie and Myra split town and seek out their rich uncle, Ben, a fashion-industry mogul who puts them up on his expansive ranch-cum-estate and has a little plan : a couple of his —ahem! — “associates” (the aforementioned Rocco and Scott Brady) are arranging to pick up a package he’s sending them at the local bus station, but first Ben needs  someone to drop the package off, and the thugs he’s dealing with need someone to pick it up and bring it to another bus station, where it will be shipped to the one they intend to pick it up at (unnecessarily convoluted? You betcha). Ben enlists Ellie’s help to bring the package tothe drop-off-spot, a relatively seedy motel, and the two sorta-gangsters hire a dim-witted private eye (Sandor) to pick it up from her and take it to the Greyhound terminal for shipment.

At this point the two sisters, pictured as essentially inseparable in most of the film’s advertising, are split up — for the rest of the movie. While the main plot revolves around Ellie and her newfound PI boyfriend opening the package to discover a half-million dollars in cash, at which point she decides their best bet is to make off with it, the film turns back to Myra solely, it seems, to keep the sleaze quotient high.

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Not that Ellie’s story is, you know, classy — there’s plenty of pure, unadulterated raunchiness going on there, including gratuitous nudity (Bolling, a prototypical good-lookin’ 70s blonde bombshell bares almost all, I’m willing to bet, in every single movie she was ever in), amoral (we’ll get back to that word shortly) theft from a family member, the (temporary) selling out of her new boyfriend in order to get a shot at all the cash to herself, and the calculated making-up with the guy (guess he’s a real sucker) when she needs his help. Oh, and there’s accidental murder along the way, too — the two toughs kill the wrong couple in another motel room and Ellie and her beau mistakenly do away with the guy she’s trying to catch a ride off in her attempt to abscond with the cash by herself (it’s a long story).

But geez, our gal Ellie is positively a candidate for sainthood compared to her kid sister.

Back at Uncle Ben’s, Myra is busy bedding an older ranch-hand more out of boredom than anything else, stealing trinkets from her aunt, and teasing said aunt, a lecherous older lesbian, with her teenage charms in order to woo stuff out of her when she realizes that outright theft probably won’t be necessary.

And now we get back to that word amoral again. It’s pretty clear that either one of Bonnie’s little darlings will do whatever it takes to get them selves ahead, and when the aunt who’s taken a shine to young Myra is — uhhhmmm — “dispatched” from the ranch, in a truly shocking manner, the younger sister shows no more qualms about it than the elder does in selling out the guy who’s been risking his as for her.

And that streak or amorality plays all the way through to the film’s conclusion, when Ellie and her fella finally come face-to-face with the two small-time gangsters (and by the way, Rocco and Brady’s characters are the obvious prototypes — there’s that word again,  I guess amoral isn’t the only “Pee-Wee’s Word of the Day” in effect here — for John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson’s cons in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction) who’ve been on their tails, precluding the happy reunion of the two sisters (I’ll spare the specifics, since you really need to see this flick) at the end — and Myra, true to form ,brushes off the nixed meeting with astonishing nonchalance.

"Bonnie's Kids" DVD from Dark Sky Films

After years of clamoring from fans, Bonnie’s Kids has just been released on DVD from Dark Sky Films. For a so-called “Special Edition” it’s pretty light on the extras, but there are theatrical and TV ad spots included, and he disc features a fairly comprehensive interview with Arthur Marks (who also gave us exploitation gems like Bucktown and Detroit 9000 among other exploitation gems). The remastered anamorphic picture looks great and the mono audio track is crisp, clean, and largely distortion-free. A commentary would’ve been nice, but on the whole it’s a fairly solid little package.

There are better drive-in/grindhouse movies than Bonnie’s Kids, but few that tick off so many boxes on the unofficial comprehensive exploitation checklist. It’s sleazy, it’s violent, it’s surprisingly dark in tone and nihilistic, and there’s very little by way of pure filler in its 105-minute run time. Whatever you’re looking for in a B-movie sleazefest, this one;s got it, along with plenty you probably quite frankly weren’t looking for. You certainly couldn’t make a film anything like this today, it’s a sheer product of its time.

You’ll enjoy it, and hate yourself for enjoying it. What more could you possibly ask for?

"The Disturbance" DVD Cover

"The Disturbance" DVD Cover

Looking back on things, 1990 was a strange year to try to make an independent exploitation film, as the landscape was shifting but had not yet settled. 42nd street was in its death throes, as were the drive-ins, but both were still up and running, if only on fumes. The home video market had cooled off a bit from its early-80s “explosion” days, and the two Shannons — Tweed and Whirry, in chronological order, had not yet established the direct-to-VHS market as being primarily the stomping grounds for “mature” T&A “mystery thrillers.” In addition, some movies were even going right to cable, with the proliferation of Skinemax and other pay channels looking for movies to fill up their schedules on the cheap. Last but not least, the independent “art house” circuit had not really come into being yet in anything like the form it is today.

Oh, sure, some of the old rules were still in play — at least a little bit of nudity was a must, for instance, but the “slasher” craze had died down a bit and heavy-duty gore was considered a bit passe at the time — as was, if we’re to be completely honest, horror itself.

Thankfully, though, not everyone got the message.

Down in south Florida, an aspiring your director named Cliff Guest had gotten ahold of a script by equally aspiring young screenwriter Laura Radford that he thought (quite rightly) had some real pop to it. He was able to secure (a laughably small amount of) financing through an outfit called A.F.T. Productions, headed by one Ron Cerasuolo, who would later go on to business success as the guy who came up with the original idea for the “Planet Hollywood” restaurant chain.

It’s worth noting, at this point, that of these three principal players, “The Disturbance” remains the only credit on the film resumes for any of them  (and the same is true for Timothy Greeson, who played the film’s troubled leading man, although that’s not particularly relevant to the point — yes, I do have one! — that I’m about to make here). That being said, however, they sure hit on a novel way to market their product.

Given that a theatrical release seemed almost impossible for a low-budget effort like this, and that much of what was assumed at the time to be horror’s last throes was headed straight to video and/ or late-night “premium” cable, it looked like “home viewing platforms,” as they say in industry lingo (although the wretched phrase had yet to be coined at the time) were going to serve as the dump-off spot for this little 10-years-too-late exploitation effort.

But what if they could expand the film’s market without the aid of even the most miniscule theatrical run?

That’s where the purely accidental genius brought about by cold, hard necessity came into play, and either Guest, Cerasuolo, or both in concert came up with the idea of actually making two films here for two completely different markets.

One would be a DTV ultra-low-budget “psychological horror” that followed the screenplay as written, namely the story of a young guy named Clay Moyer (the aforementioned Greeson), a schizophrenic guy who’s just been released from a long stretch in a mental hospital and has returned home to live with his parents. He’s prone to sleeping late and spending all damn day down at Miami beach doing nothing apart from watching the waves and trying to keep his head together. One day while indulging in this exhausting regimen, he meets a young lady named Susan (Lisa Geoffrion, since deceased, who also has only one screen credit to her name — that being this one, of course) and the two strike up a romance. Things are looking up for our guy Clay — he’s staying stable, he’s getting laid, and he even gets a job as a dishwasher in a kitchen.

Before too long, though, Susan begins to wonder why they never go to his place, only hers, and why he doesn’t talk about his past or his family very much. And when his clingy, smothering behavior starts to really cramp her style, she decides she’s had enough.

Needless to say, things spiral downwards pretty rapidly for Clay at that point. He’s been having troubling dreams about violent murder that only get worse when his ladyfriend dumps him (he even dreams about killing her). He begins to stalk her and to harass her at work. He has long periods of blacked-out or “missing” time. And just to add insult to injury, his mom catches him jerking off in the shower.

When dead bodies start turning up in the vicinity, though, Clay has to wonder if his dreams are really that, and if the fact that he can’t account for long stretches of time most nights might have a sinister explanation.

Not a bad little premise, if hardly resoundingly original. What is it, then, that sets this movie apart from so many other similar “Psycho”-type flicks?  Well, for one thing, the gore effects during the dream (or are they?) murder sequences  are good, especially given the budgetary constraints involved. But there’s much more to it than that, which is where the secondary market for this film really comes into play.

You see,  Radford’s script wasn’t just a garden-variety mentally-disturbed-killer-terrorizes-the-community story. It actually provided a rather detailed, accurate, thoroughgoing, and even sympathetic portrait of mental illness, in particular schizophrenia obviously, and those who suffer from it (and Greeson deserves credit for portraying Clay in a realistic, as well as humanistic, manner). So what did Guest and Cerasuolo (again, who gets the exact credit for this idea I couldn’t say) decide to do? They made another movie. Of the same movie. How appropriately schizophrenic is that? Which brings us to —

"What's Wrong With the Neighbor's Son?" VHS Box Cover

"What's Wrong With the Neighbor's Son?" VHS Box Cover

“What’s Wrong With the Neighbor’s Son? ” is “The Disturbance.” Minus the T&A. And the gore. It was distributed amongst the academic and clinical communities as a “realistic portrayal” of what it’s like to suffer from schizophrenia, a straight-ahead, no-frills, non-sensationalistic character study of those who suffer from this horribly debilitating from of mental illness and the challenges they face at home, in the workplace, and in their communities — a look at their internal and external struggles as they work to stay stable and find a place in a world that fears them. It’s won praise and accolades from most major psychological associations, been included as part of the curriculum in countless college courses and research and study groups, has been shown in numerous mental illness support groups, and has even been praised by Presidents Bush, Clinton, and Bush Junior. In short, it’s a well-respected and groundbreaking academic film.

And with about twenty minutes or so of nudity and gore thrown in, it’s “The Disturbance,” a far-better-than-average psychological horror exploitation film.

It got a little bit of buzz when Quentin Tarantino mentioned it as being among his top ten favorites of the 90s, but by and large “The Disturbance” saw very little distribution on the home video market (the original VHS release is literally impossible to find), and it only saw release on DVD last year from Media Blasters as part of volume one of its “Rareflix” box set collection (the other two movies coming with it being “Posed for Murder” and “Death Collector”). It’s not available for individual sale, but the “Rareflix” boxes are pretty cheap (they can be had new for about $15 each), and all things considered you get a decent amount for your money, given that the disc has a pretty decent-looking full-frame transfer, plenty good mono sound, and features a nice selection of Media Blasters trailers and, best of all, one of those semi-inebriated commentary tracks from Media Blasters personnel that made the (now, apparently, sadly canceled) “Rareflix” collections (there are four of them in total) such a treat for B-movie junkies.

So oo yourself a favor and check this movie out, it’s definitely several cuts above most similar fare and offers a much more realistic portrayal of serious mental illness and its consequences and effects than much more high-brow fare that tries to tackle similar material. Plus, it’s got more gore and nudity than that other purportedly “classy” — but usually in truth much more exploitative and much less authentic — stuff.  It’s well-made, absorbing, and even, dare I say it, compelling psychological horror on a shoestring budget, and you know, somehow I find it appropriate that the behind-the-scenes crew and the cast have no other credits to their name, since this film exists in a category all its own.

"Inglorious Basterds" Movie Poster

"Inglorious Basterds" Movie Poster

So, here it is. After well over a year of hype, speculation, dropped hints, and quite a bit of pre-release hand-wringing from various quarters worried about the film’s purported “implications,” Quentin Tarantino’s latest— typically homage-heavy —flick, “Inglourious Basterds,” has arrived in theaters. And while it marks, in some ways at least, a bit of a departure for everyone’s favorite grindhouse renaissance man, in truth, at its core, it represents another venture into territory he’s mined several times already—the good old-fashioned revenge story. The setting has changed, sure, as has the mixture of visual storytelling styles Tarantino employs, but ultimately this is every bit the “gettin’ me some getback” tale that the “Kill Bill” films and “Deathproof” were, albeit less haphazard and more thoroughly-realized than those previous efforts were. Looking back, one can even see how those earlier films were sort of trial (and at times error) runs for what he would ultimately attempt to do with “Basterds,” in much the same way that Lynch had some hit-and-miss efforts with “Lost Highway” and “Fire Walk With Me” before hitting his surrealistic stride with “Mulholland Drive.” Tremors before the big earthquake, if you will. Ripples in the pond before the big fish breaks up out of the water. In any case, “Inglourious Basterds” is definitely Tarantino’s best film since “Jackie Brown,” and probably—hopefully—his final statement on the revenge cinema he’s been obsessed with since then, because it’s hard to see how he could do the genre any more justice than he does here.

“Once upon a time, in Nazi-occupied France—” is how the first of the film’s five “chapter” sequences opens, and this opening scene plays out in exactly the Sergio Leone style its introduction implies, with a long, tense sit-down stand-off between a French farmer and evil Nazi sumbitch Col. Hans Lander, nicknamed “The Jew Hunter” and played with absolutely palpable menace by Chritoph Walz, who steals every scene he appears in. It’s a lengthy scene to be sure, with each passing second upping the tension quota still further, and by the time it ends in a flurry of bullets and sawdust, the audience is awash in equal waves of repulsion and relief. It’s a truly brilliant opening that grabs the viewer by the balls and doesn’t let go — and while the farmer and the Jews he’s hiding underneath his floorboards are all murdered,  his daughter gets away, and , in typical Tarantino style she’ll grow up to be a young woman hellbent on payback a la Uma Thurman in the “Kill Bill”s and the troupe of actresses and stuntwomen in “Deathproof.”

In the next chapter we meet the Basterds themselves, a team of “G.I.Jews,” as they’re being called in the reviews, assembled by Lieutenant Aldo Raine, a been-there-done-that-can’t-faze-him-in-any-way Southern Boy caricature that Brad Pitt sinks his teeth into with relish. The Basterds have a simple remit—drop into Nazi-occupied France and “git” their commanding officer “one hunnert” German scapls each . Apart from Pitt’s ultraviolent good ole boy,  other standouts among their ranks include Til Schweiger as Hugo Stiglitz, a psychotic German enlisted man with a hatred for authority so deep-seated that it causes him to murder 13 of his commanding Nazi officers, thus prompting his jailbreak at the hands of and conscription into the Basterds, and “Hostel” director Eli Roth and Donny  “The Bear Jew” Donowitz, who takes pride in dispatching his Nazi victims with a baseball bat — watching Donny at work is the Basterds’ favorite form of entertainment and, as Aldo says, “the closest we get to goin’ to the movies.”

From there, our scalphunters find their simple mission dovetailing with a covert British mission to take out the Nazi hierarchy, including Hitler himself, at the premier of Joseph Goebbels’ latest propaganda film taking place in the cinema that just happens to be owned and operated by Shosanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent), the daughter of the farmer murdered by Lander in the opening scene. Along the way we get a fun, scenery-chewing cameo by Mike Myers as a British military strategist, film legend Rod Taylor (of “The Birds” fame) as Winston Churchill, plenty of scenes of Der Fuhrer himself ranting and raving, a couple of typical Tarantino seemingly-unrelated-to-anything-but-ultimately-quite-significant subplots (including one about the star of Goebbels’ new film taking a shine to Shosanna) and long scenes played out in tightly-confined spaces, including a brilliant one involving the undercover British operatives in Nazi guise and actual German soldiers that plays out in a basement bar. By the time we get to the big finale in the crowded cinema where the Basterds, the British (who include in their ranks a double agent who is  one of the leading ladies of German cinema), and Shosanna and her boyfriend/accomplice all make their move against the German high command at once, the expanse of the movie auditorium and its huge crowd represents welcome relief from the claustrophobic spaces and intense, face-to-face conversation that comprise the rest of the film.

Two things that absolutely must be pointed out to the prospective viewer— one, leave any preconceptions about historical reality at the door. “Inglorious Basterds” absolutely pisses all over history in its quest to craft a satisfying revenge yearn. Two, if you’ve seen Enzo G. Catsellari’s absolutely superb Italian “Dirty Dozen” knockoff “The Inglourious Bastards,” forget that, as well. Tarantino riffs on (or rips off, take your pick) the title for this movie, but that’s it. This is not a remake in any way, shape, or form.

Brad Pitt is a Basterd

Brad Pitt is a Basterd

Lots of ink has already been spilled in the service of, and column inches (both print and electronic) devoted to,  detailed analyses of real or imagined political subtexts at play in “Basterds.” Is it the cinema’s greatest statement of Jewish pride, showing them fearlessly going after the vengeance they so richly deserved but were too often denied in reality? Or is it a morality play a la Steven Spielberg’s overwrought-and-already-forgotten “Munich,” showing how bloodlust ultimately corrupts the human soul, even when pursued for purposes almost no one would quarrel with? Could it, possibly, even reinforce antisemitic stereotypes by saying “hey, here’s what the Jews could have done if they’d had any balls?” or “Look, give them half a chance and the Jews would have been every bit as sadistic and depraved as their Nazi tormentors?”

My own feeling is that Tarantino himself is probably having a good laugh at all this. “Inglourious Basterds” is none of these things—it’s a distillation, a refinement, of a genre that Tarantino has spent the better part of a decade working within, transposed into a deliberately provocative and ripe-for-overanalysis historical setting so that he can do with the artsy-fartsy, self-important “film analyst” crowd what he loves to do to them best—fuck with them mercilessly. While they’re losing sleep over their quite-often-woven-from-whole-cloth interpretations of the filmmaker’s intentions and equally woven-from-whole-cloth concerns about the audience’s interpretation of said intentions, our guy Quentin can rest easy knowing he’s done exactly what he set out to do—tell a kick-ass revenge story that makes all the right people sweat for all the right reasons. While  the “Inglourious Basterds” take out the Nazi Bastards onscreen with no remorse and plenty of out-and-out glee,  Tarantino himself is taking out the pretentious bastards of the film world in exactly the same way.

Finally, for those of you with an interest in all things Quentin, my buddy Mark has an interesting—and mercifully brief, in comparison to my own posts—analysis of  Tarantino’s use of the “Mexican stand-off” in almost all of his films. Check it out at http://norwegianshooter.blogspot.com.

"Not Quite Hollywood" Movie Poster

"Not Quite Hollywood" Movie Poster

“Stone.” “The Man From Hong Kong.” “Stork.” “Fantasm.” “Long Weekend.” “Mad Max.” “Turkey Shoot.” “Razorback.” “Dead-End Drive-In.” ” Mad Dog Morgan.” “BMX Bandits.” “Patrick.”

If the names of these movies don’t ring a bell—or even if they do—you’d be well-served by checking out director Mark Hartley’s respectful-yet-irreverent new indie documentary “Not Quite Hollywood,” a fascinating look at the history of “Ozploitation,” the bizarrely unique brand of low-budget exploitation filmmaking from Down Under.

In a very real sense, the history of the Ozplotation and the history of Australian filmmaking are one and the same, as no other country on earth has a movie industry whose roots lie in low-budget, drive-in pictures, and while more serious and scholarly arthouse fare like “Picnic at Hanging Rock” and “The Last Wave” were the types of films Australia wanted to be known for producing in the 1970s, in truth these high-brow pictures were few and far between, and the bedrock of this nascent industry was the low-budget genre picture designed to draw people into the drive-ins (Australia is the only country besides the US with a distinct drive-in movie culture) and deliver the same types of cheap thrills, cheap shocks, cheap sex, and cheap gimmicks as their more-well-known American counterparts—all, of course, delivered on a cheap budget.

In truth, there was no Australian film industry to speak of until “Stork,” an ultra-low-budget screwball sex comedy, came along in 1971 and proved to the Australian filmgoing public—and prospective producers/investors—that Australia could produce its own fare for its cinemas and even, eventually, worldwide distribution markets. A veritable flood of Aussie sex comedies followed, such as the highly-popular “Alvin Purple” and “Fantasm” films, and the nudity-filled romps rules the day for several years until the small cadre of Australian filmmakers started to branch out into genres such as horror, action, and biker (or “bikie” as they’d say down there) movies, as well—there were even a few Australian kung fu flicks!

“Not Quite Hollywood” covers it all, with candid interviews from the directors, producers, stars,  and cinematographers behind many of the most notable Ozploitation efforts. Special attention is paid to the gonzo, balls-to-the-walls stuntmen who did so much to make this bizarre brand of filmmaking what it is, as well. American and British stars who made the trek Down Under  to either revive sagging careers or just plain keep working such as Dennis Hopper, Jamie Lee Curtis, Stacy Keach, and George Lazenby are on hand to share their recollections, as well.

Plenty of folks who went on to have fairly successful careers in Hollywood like George Miller, Fred Schepisi, and  Russell Mulcahy got their start directing Ozploitation pictures, and while names like Brian Trenchard-Smith are not as well-known stateside, their names are well-known to the Australian filmgoing public and their contributions to the growth and development of Aussie film cannot be overstated. Future mega-stars like Nicole Kidman and Mel Gibson got their start in the world of Ozploitation, as well.

Oh, and there’s plenty of Quentin Tarantino, too, if you’re interested—as a human treasure-trove of knowledge of all things exploitation, he knows many of these movies well and his thoughts and reminiscences on them are insightful, interesting, and delivered with a lot less self-involved self-importance than we’ve grown accustomed to from him over the years.

I’m a little biased toward the subject matter here because I absolutely love Australia, having spent six months there, and I absolutely love low-budget exploitation filmmaking, so pairing the two is a match made in heaven for your humble host. But I have to admit that my own exposure to the world of Ozploitation has been minimal at best, since most of these films are unavailable on DVD here in the States. Sure, I’ve seen most of the well-regarded “classics” of  the filed like “Stone,” (my personal favorite of those I’ve seen and one of the absolute best biker movies ever, period) “Mad Max,” “Roadgames,” Razorback,” and what have you, but this movie has got me wanting to hunt more down—a lot more. There’s a plethora of delights for the low-budget coniosseur to be found in the wild world of Ozploitation, and I can’t wait to discover some of them for myself.