Tag Archives: Holocaust movies

‘Inglourious Basterds’ rather inglorious for a film by Quentin Tarantino

In this film publicity image released by The Weinstein Co., ...

Lead Nazi slayer Aldo Raine, played by Brad Pitt, addresses his merry band of Nazi slayers in Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds,” one of Tarantino’s less gory — and lesser — endeavors (which at least came to us in just one part…).

As I have noted before, I think that they make way too Holocaust-themed movies. No, I’m not anti-Semitic, and no, I’m not a Holocaust denier, and it’s sad that I have to state that up front.

It’s that the Holocaust has been done.

But I’m a Quentin Tarantino fan, and so I saw “Inglourious Basterds” on its opening weekend.

I love ya, Quentin, but I can give “Basterds” only a “B.”

“Basterds” starts out promisingly. The opening scene, in which Nazis search for Jews being hidden at a French farmhouse, at first seems overlong, but then you realize that Tarantino got it just right.

And then it looks like the entire movie, or most of it, anyway, is going to be about Brad Pitt, who plays an American named Lt. Aldo Raine with a hick accent who is something like Robin Hood leading a band of merry men, only this Robin Hood and these merry men (who call themselves the “Inglourious Basterds”) don’t steal from the rich and give to the poor, but they hunt, kill and scalp — yes, scalp — Nazis in Nazi-occupied France. And most of these Nazi slayers are Jews.

But after teasing us with this novel slant on the whole Holocaust-movie thing, “Basterds” then goes into a much-less-interesting and less novel direction involving a young Jewish woman named Shosanna (well-played by Melanie Laurent) who survived the Nazis’ slaughter of her family and who plots her revenge when the premiere of a Nazi propaganda film is slated to be shown in the movie theater that she owns and operates in France.

Pitt and his band of merry Nazi killers come back into the movie, but only after we’ve been fairly bored by the whole movie-theater subplot.

Pitt does a kick-ass job in “Basterds,” as does Christoph Waltz as Nazi Col. Hans Landa, the “Jew hunter,” whose Oscar-worthy role runs throughout the entire film. It is largely on the strength of the performances that I can give “Basterds” a “B.”

Also doing a great job are Eli Roth as the “Bear Jew,” who takes a baseball bat to Nazis’ craniums, and Til Schweiger as former Nazi Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz, who for some reason decided to turn on his fellow Nazi officers and start terminating them (whether he opposed their “cause” or whether he is just psychopathic is not clear to me) before he was taken in by the Basterds. I wanted to see much more of these two characters and I was disappointed to see one of them terminated too early and too ingloriously.

Also interesting about “Basterds” is Tarantino’s reinterpretation of Adolf Hitler (played by Martin Wuttke) as a perpetually fuming and sputtering tyrant hilariously (darkly so) replete with a red monarch’s cape. (Tarantino also reinterprets the history of Hitler in an interesting way that I can’t tell you about, because it would give away the ending of the movie…)

Mike Myers (yes, the “Austin Powers” Mike Myers) makes an appearance as a British general that is supposed to be quirky, I think, but is more throwaway than quirky.

Tarantino’s re-envisioned Hitler and his twisted version of Robin Hood and his band of merry men alone make “Basterds” worth seeing — and I must admit that it’s hard not to feel some amount of glee to witness Nazis being exterminated like the cockroaches that they were — but “Basterds” has too much that isn’t that interesting and doesn’t measure up to what we’re used to getting from Tarantino, so it misses an “A” for me.

Maybe the uninteresting portions of “Basterds” were Tarantino’s attempt to be a more “serious” director? If so, well, he should have stuck to what he does best. There is no shortage of “serious,” “respectable” movies about the Nazis and the Holocaust out there.

“Kill Bill,” to me, still remains Tarantino’s best work to date.

My grade: B

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Kate rocks; ‘The Reader,’ not so much…

Actress Kate Winslet arrives at the Vanity Fair Oscar party ...

Associated Press photo

Kate Winslet holds her statue for Best Actress for her performance in “The Reader” last month.

I love Kate Winslet — she was great in “Little Children” and “Revolutionary Road” — but today I saw “The Reader,” for which she won Best Actress (because she won Best Actress for it), and she should have won for her much better performance in “Revolutionary Road.”

“The Reader” starts out promisingly with the tale of a love affair between a 15-year-old boy (played masterfully by David Kross) and a much older German woman named Hanna Schmitz (Winslet), but then the film gradually devolves to the point where it becomes a preachy lecture (rather literally) on how horrible the Holocaust (in which Hanna later becomes embroiled) was.

And “The Reader” doesn’t delve much into Hanna’s psyche as to why she did what she did when she worked for the Nazis, and we are left with the feeling that this isn’t because the filmmakers left it to us to figure it out for ourselves, but because the filmmakers didn’t know how to develop Hanna’s character on film. Indeed, about the only change that the character of Hannah goes through in “The Reader” is increasingly bad makeup jobs on Winslet as her character ages.

Ralph Fiennes adds little to “The Reader” as Michael Berg, Hanna’s teen lover all grown up — the grown-up Michael’s involvement with the even older Hannah lacks passion, heart and even rhyme or reason (why doesn’t he respond to her letters from prison when he is sending her recorded audiotapes there, and why doesn’t he visit her in prison?) — but hey, if Ralph Fiennes is in your movie and your movie is about the Holocaust, you’re sure to win an Oscar, right?

“The Reader” director Stephen Daldry, who also directed “Billy Elliot,” seems to do better with younger actors, such as with Kross, whose performance in “The Reader” rivals Winslet’s (if it doesn’t exceed it), and with Jamie Bell, whose kick-ass performance as the title character in “Billy Elliot” unfortunately didn’t launch the career for Bell that it should have. Daldry with “The Reader” seemed unable to elicit much from Fiennes and not enough from Winslet; directing youth might be more his forte. 

All of this aside, did we really need another Holocaust movie?

The Nazis executed about six million Jews in the Holocaust, one of history’s most horrific events.

We get it.

Straight-on Holocaust movies like “Schindler’s List” are been there, done that, so the majority of the crop of more recent Holocaust-themed films seem to be more tangential, such as “The Pianist,” “The Counterfeiters” and “The Reader.”

Still, the genre of the Holocaust/Nazi movie has been exhausted, and the plethora of Holocaust/Nazi films now are serving only to make the historical event more trivial rather than to make it more poignant.

While I know that Holocaust/Nazi movies have “Academy Award nomination” written all over them, I beg Hollywood: Please stop…

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