If anyone can make killing and scalping Nazis look like fun on the big screen, it's Quentin Tarantino. His "Inglourious Basterds" is a strangely fanciful take on World War II films, with a tribute to old war films with a preening over-the-top villain - Col. Hans Landa, played with glee by a little-known Austrian actor ChristophWaltz. He's joined by a band of "Dirty Dozen"-style commandos made up of revenge-minded Jews and led by a crazy Tennessean, Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), in a nod to the Hollywood actor Aldo Ray, who doffs many a combat helmet in his career.
As expected, Tarantino peppers the film with cinematic references, using the works of the great Italian film composer Ennio Morricone throughout the soundtrack, and in chapter four of five he has a film critic (Michael Fassbender) sent off by a British officer (Mike Meyers, nearly unrecognizable) for a mission involving a Nazi movie premiere in Paris where Hitler and the German elite are to attend.
It has nothing to do with real history, of course, although Winston Churchill and the Fuhrer appear as well as Joseph Goebbels, and famed actor Emil Jannings, who was in director Josef von Sternberg's "The Blue Angel." There's even a discussion about movies between a German Army hero, Fredrick Zoller (Daniel Br hl) and a young French Jew, Shosanna Dreyfus (M lanie Laurent), who's running a cinema in Paris while concealing her identity. In a nice turn, Diane Kruger plays German movie star turned spy, Bridget von Hammersmark, suggesting both Marlene Dietrich and Nazi glam queen and filmaker Leni Riefenstahl.
Everything in "Inglourious Basterds" is in the service of the writer-director's cinematic phantasmagoria, from its vivid colors to its bloody comic-book style. Tarantino has always been able to pull a joke from a grotesque situation or make the unpalatable hard to turn your eyes from. He doesn't linger around for emotion very much, though. The first scene set in 1941 farmhouse in France where Nazi have come to look for Jews in hiding is like that. There are moments of tour de force filmmaking, but while Tarantino creates the fear and repulsion, he's not interested in reminding you about the victims.
Lee's 'Woodstock' a '60s snapshot
Woodstock was a massive event. Ang Lee's "Taking Woodstock" is a small, enjoyable film that takes place on the edge of the 1969 music festival that attracted some of the world's biggest rocks groups and some half-million people.
Demetri Martin plays Elliot Tiber, whose memoir was adapted for the film. A closeted gay designer, Elliot has returned - part out of guilt - to the Catskills to help his parents, Jake (Henry Goodman) and Sonia (Imelda Staunton) keep their failing motel afloat. In doing so he has become head of the local Chamber of Commerce. When a nearby town revokes the permit of Woodstock Ventures - the company putting on the concert - Elliot who has a permit for his own little arts festival - sees a chance to fill rooms. His parents' place isn't suitable, but nearby dairy farmer Max Yasgur (Eugene Levy) did.
The rest, they say, was history, although Lee isn't interested in telling the story from the center, and in many ways his film is a companion piece to the massive documentary "Woodstock," which focuses on the music, the people and the mud. And while there is mud in "Taking Woodstock," its more about learning about personal freedom.
As a gay man, Elliot feels boxed in, as does his high-school friend Billy (Emile Hirsch), a paranoid Vietnam veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
As the festival nears, authorities and locals fear the worst from thousands of people expected to descend on the town. But society was already starting to change. "I was expecting to come here and beat up hippies," a motorcycle cop tells Elliot as he looks around, a flower in his helmet.
There are some funny touches throughout the scene, including the Earthlight Players (a real theater troupe at the time), whose members would disrobe at the flimsiest excuse. But Lee and screenwriter James Schamus neither sentimentalize the event, aggrandize it nor mythologize it. It was three-days of peace, but the film - as the title suggests - wants its audience to think about what came out of it.
Boys will be boors in 'Hangover'
As a sports fan, I endure a lot of beer and fast-food commercials that play on the idea that the average American male is a boorish, insensitive baboon. It's hard to know if that's because the TV ads are merely reflecting the truth or that by watching so many dumb commercials and movies that tell us we are, that we are becoming boorish, insensitive baboons.
I have no answer to that, but pass me a banana. Which brings me to the "The Hangover," an unexpected hit about four dudes - played by Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis and Justin Bartha - who drive to Vegas from L.A. for a bachelor-party weekend. Oops, things get out of hand because boys will be infantile, especially when consuming too much.
I admit I laugh at some of the commercials I watch, and I laughed at some parts of "The Hangover." (I not sure I'm proud of it, though.)
Directed by Todd Phillips, the film is mostly inoffensively dumb - despite naughty words and behavior - and occasionally amusing, but I wish boys' humor would grow up sometime.
Keep in mind
"The Girl From Monaco," a light-weight French thriller about a Paris lawyer (Fabrice Luchini) who is lured to a resort town by an accused murderess (St phane Audran) and then finds himself attracted to the local TV weather girl (Louise Bourgoin), has some nice twists.
"G-Force," Jerry Bruckheimer's first foray into 3-D kids' films about some rodents that save the day is as loud and action-packed as his live action films.
"The Tudors: The Complete Third Season" again tries to convince us the English King Henry VIII's court was filled with runway models.
And there are two pretty decent British dramas that aired on PBS recently - "Collision" and "Place of Execution" - as well as "The Sherlock Holmes Collection" and "Murder by Decree" that feature the British sleuth as we wait to see what director Guy Ritchie and Robert Downey Jr. will do with him.