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Review: Inglourious Basterds, The Age of Stupid and Departures

By October 4, 2009September 9th, 2010No Comments

Inglourious Basterds posterPlaying like the fever-dream of an obsess­ive teen­ager fallen asleep after read­ing a stack of Commando com­ics late at night, pos­sibly after too much cheese, Inglourious Basterds is anoth­er con­tender for most enter­tain­ing film of the year. In a 17 year career that includes only six actu­al fea­ture films (if you count Kill Bill as one), Quentin Jerome Tarantino has ded­ic­ated him­self to prov­ing that fol­low­ing the rules is a path made for fools and sis­sies. If only more film­makers were listening.

QT him­self has described Inglourious Basterds as a spa­ghetti west­ern med­it­a­tion on the war film and that’s as good a descrip­tion as any, I sup­pose. In Chapter One we meet wicked Nazi “Jew hunter” Hans Lander (Christoph Waltz – a rev­el­a­tion) as he forces a nervous French dairy farm­er to reveal the hid­ing place of a loc­al Jewish fam­ily. It’s a great set-piece open­ing, tense but leavened with moments of absurdity and it gets you in the mood for the thrill­ing non­sense that is to come.

While Lander is build­ing his career, good ol’ boy Brad Pitt is being para­chuted behind enemy lines with an under­cov­er Dirty Dozen of battle-hardened Jewish sol­diers, spe­cific­ally to kill Nazis in the most bru­tal way pos­sible. (The ideo­lo­gic­al wrinkle that most “Nazis” were just enlis­ted men like them­selves is neither here nor there in this story). The strands of Tarantino’s fantasy all come togeth­er in a final absurd con­flag­ra­tion and it’s entirely appro­pri­ate (and sat­is­fy­ing) that the finale should take place in a cinema – after all cinema is the begin­ning, middle and end of all you need to know about Tarantino.

As an aside, don’t be sur­prised to see the won­der­ful Waltz along­side District 9’s Sharlto Copley at the 2010 Academy Awards – two unknowns at the head of the pack for Best Actor.

The Age of Stupid posterIt’s just a the­ory but I feel fairly cer­tain that if you want to change people’s atti­tudes you don’t start out by insult­ing them. So, Franny Armstrong’s enviro-doc The Age of Stupid got off on the wrong foot with me and nev­er quite man­aged to woo me back. From the vant­age point of the mid 21st cen­tury, sit­ting alone in a museum of the world’s treas­ures built in an aban­doned off­shore oil rig, Pete Postlethwaite presents us with a for­lorn his­tory of the next 40 years. With zero polit­ic­al will to curb car­bon emis­sions, what the sci­ent­ists call “run­away” glob­al warm­ing has depop­u­lated the plan­et and caused mass human extinc­tion. Using archive foot­age, anim­ated his­tory les­sons and plenty of mater­i­al shot espe­cially for the film, Postlethwaite won­ders why we didn’t do any­thing when we had the chance.

The prob­lem is – what were/are we sup­posed to do? The Age of Stupid unfor­tu­nately isn’t very con­struct­ive and may leave audi­ences feel­ing only guilty and help­less. At least I was until the film told me that by not fly­ing any­where for the last four years I’m already doing my bit.

Departures posterUtterly dis­arm­ing and genu­inely feel-good, Japanese Best Foreign Language Oscar-win­ner Departures is pretty easy to recom­mend. Young cel­list Masahiro Motoki has his dreams of a clas­sic­al career dashed when his orches­tra goes bust. Aimless, he decides to go home to the pro­vin­cial town of his child­hood and live, with his pretty and seem­ingly sup­port­ive wife (Ryoko Hirosue), in the empty house left to him by his moth­er. He applies for a job involved with “depar­tures” think­ing it will be some kind of travel agency gig but instead he finds him­self train­ing in the ritu­al Japanese art of ‘encon­f­fin­ing’ – not “depar­tures” but “the departed”.

His friends and fam­ily frown on the creepy way he earns his liv­ing but he soon real­ises that the ritu­al (and pub­lic) pre­par­a­tion of a body for depar­ture is a spir­itu­ally import­ant and mean­ing­ful pro­cess – for him and the fam­ily (although less so for the deceased presumably).

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 26 August, 2009.