Rest In Peace Maria Schneider

Maria Schneider was one of the most intoxicating women I’ve ever seen on film in 1975’s  The Passenger.  The film starred Jack Nicholson while he was in his zone; The Passenger was released one year after Chinatown and the same year as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest but was overlooked due to the overwhelming praise and commercial success as those films.  Luckily, Nicholson bought the rights to the movie and re-released an extended cut on DVD a few years ago where I happened to discover it at TLA Video (RIP) on a whim.

I had never seen Maria Schneider before.  She made her bones in Last Tango in Paris opposite Marlon Brando when she was nineteen years old, but The Passenger opened my eyes to this French facemelter.  Her eyes and inviting looks did most of the talking to Nicholson.  Her curly hair and young, brazen attitude made you want to walk over hot coals just to get her a lemonade.  Nicholson played a guy who exercised an out clause on his normal identity, opting to skate around Europe posing as a dude photographer and Schneider played the broad who dangled the carrot.  Suddenly Nicholson was stealing cars and running around Italian churches without a care.  It’s amazing how much you don’t give a good damn when a pretty Parisian takes a shine to you.

Anyway, Schneider’s career derailed due to drug use and a nervous breakdown in the 70’s.  She made no other films of substance until passing away at 58 years old from a longtime illness.  She peaked at 21 years old, going toe to toe with arguably the best two actors of the 20th century during the last great era of excellent filmmaking.  And like that, she was gone.  It was like falling in love with a girl during summer camp who then moved to Anchorage, Alaska.  You always wondered what she was up to now, if she still smelled the same, if she ever settled down, what you might say if you ever bumped into her at the super market.  But you never did.

Rest in Peace Maria Schneider.  You can read more about her career at the AV Club.  And I highly suggest watching The Passenger.

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Meth on Films

Method Man is an interesting study.  From 1993-1995, he was the best rapper alive.  Every young aspiring cat wanted to be Tical.  He was larger than life, packing a voice, flow, and cadence never heard before.  One of the Ego Trip rap lists (I believe) made a chart of the Rap Kings of New York gave Meth the crown during that era pre-dating eventual throne claimers Biggie, Nas, Jay-Z, Raekwon, 50 Cent, Diddy, Jim Jones, etc

My personal claim about Method Man’s legacy is that in 1997, during the zenith of Wu triumphs with the release of Wu-Tang Forever, he was the second best rapper of that year following Biggie.  Since then, his well-documented career has been up and down like a yo-yo.  But if you revisit Wu-Tang Forever, you start noticing what was influencing Meth beyond the usual assortment of comic books, headbanger boogie smoke, and the Twelve Jewels. 

As a fellow emcee, you oftentimes get stuck on words or phrases.  You might have a little notebook you scribble all these things down in.  You might snatch up a sticky pad or Subway napkin or receipt to jot down those fleeting characters to use later when crafting lyrics.  When you hear emcees reference a certain book or particular corner in Brooklyn, and you one day happen upon it, it’s a weird reward: THIS is exactly what Rapper X was talking about in 1995!  You begin carrying around these buzz words that mean nothing to you outside of rap lyrics only to watch them explode like protons and electrons when you stumble across that movie or that video game or that dusty piece of vinyl or that particular cut of white girl. 

In 1997, before Netflix and Redbox and IMDB.com, Method Man was either A) watching alot of American Movie Classics on basic cable or B) jotting down the titles of films from an earlier era that had badass titles suitable for a killa bee’s dart artillery.  Where he came across these titles is uncertain; Meth is a legendary comic book fiend, and he later went on to work in Hollywood in campy stoner flicks as well as arthouse movies with Zach Braff.  But in 1997, I have no idea how Ticallion came across the film The Naked City, a 1948 black and white semi-documentary noir about two detectives finding the killer of an attractive female.  But he did and he referenced it in “As High as Wu-Tang Get”.

So this segment, Meth on Films, will delve into the movies Method Man referenced on Wu-Tang Forever, a surprising and interesting list of films that span the genres of horror, action, comedy, drama, and documentary.

First up: The Guns of Navarone (1961)

Referenced in: “Triumph” (‘Iron Lung ain’t got to tell you where I’m coming from, Guns of Navarone tearing through your battle zone, rip through your slums’)

Theatrical trailer:

Tagline: “An impregnable fortress… An invincible army… And the unstoppable commando team”

Starring: Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn, David Niven

Directed by: J. Lee Thompson (Cape Fear, Battle for the Planet of the Apes)

Plot Summary: Two powerful German guns control the seas past the Greek island of Navarone making the evacuation of endangered British troops on a neighboring island impossible. Air attack is useless so a team of six Allied and Greek soldiers is put ashore to meet up with partisans to try and dynamite the guns. The mission is perilous enough anyway but are the Germans on the island getting further help too?

Interesting pieces of trivia:

  • The highest grossing film of 1961
  • Gregory Peck often said he was disappointed that so many viewers had missed how anti-war the film was intended to be
  • Because the stars were all too old for their characters, the movie was nicknamed “Elderly Gang Goes Off to War” by the British press
  • There is no Navarone in real life

Hollywood appeal: Part of a cycle of big-budget World War II adventures that included The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), The Longest Day (1962) and The Great Escape (1963)

Wu-Tang appeal:

  • The film’s score has been covered by Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, a definite influence on the Clan, most notably RZA and his blunted basement production techniques
  • Referenced by Jules in Pulp Fiction (Every time my fingers touch brain, (…) I’m the Guns of the Navarone), which came out in 1994 and might’ve caught Meth’s attention
  • Though not a kung fu flick , the basic concept of the film (historical underdogs go up against a daunting evil power) falls in line with signifiers of injustice and strategicly orchestrated  counterstrikes found in various Shaw Brothers films.

Meth’s usage of the film in his rhyme: Since the “gun” part of Guns of Navarone is referring to a massive German gun emplacement that commands a key sea channel, it’s pretty vicious for Meth to use these particular hand cannons to tear up your battle zone and your slum.  One would assume this particular firepower to be quite damaging to anyone, military personnel or civilain, along the eastern seaboard in the late 1990’s. 

Next up: Johnny Dangerously (1984)

“Come Together (Zilla Rocca Remix)”

Maybe a year or two ago, I made my dad an interesting gift for Father’s Day: a remix version of Joe Cocker’s cover of “Come Together” by the Beatles from the film Across the Universe.

My dad’s a major influence on me, not only as aperson but as an artist and musician.  He taught me how to make mixtapes — when Rob broke down the proper arrangement of music when composing a mixtape in High Fidelity, I remember my father saying almost the same thing.  Start hot, ease into the mellow joints, end with a bang.  I even discovered a mix CD my dad made for me last year on my birthday.  Cuts from Kanye West were right there next to Beck and Buddy Holly and John Lennon and even Akon (c’mon dad….).  He’s a sucker for anything catchy; he’s had the hook to Wu-Tang’s “C.R.E.A.M.” in his conciousness for 15 years.

So I figured what the hell — might as well make this song public after all this time.  And he always wondered why I hadn’t rode this highly illegal track to fame and fortune.

Download:

Come Together (Zilla Rocca Remix) by Joe Cocker

If you like it, below is the original version of Joe Cocker’s “Come Together” from Across the Universe, an outstanding movie and soundtrack you need to own.

The Future is Now

I stumbled across this old story in the Washington Post that was written back in 1998, when Spike Lee was gearing up to release the sorta-great, kinda cringeworthy film He Got Game.  It’s worth watching as a serious basketball fan, sure, especially for cameos from guys the league has forgotten: John Wallace, Walter McCarty, Travis Best, etc.  There’s a specific part of the article that fascinated me, and it tied into the philosophical aspects of Bill Simmons’ recent column written after the Celtics eliminated the Cavs and the Assassination of LeBron James by the Coward Antawn Jamison/ Mo Williams/ Mike Brown that soon followed.  Simmons logically deduced the motivation of NBA greats.  After LeBron’s gutless showing in games 5 & 6, primarily the fourth quarter of Game 6 at home, he determined that LBJ didn’t have Jordan or Magic’s killer win-at-all-costs DNA, but rather Doctor J’s penchant for simply wowing people instead.  Here’s his breakdown:

Russell, Magic, Bird, Duncan, Walton, West and Havlicek: Winning.

Wilt: Numbers.

Oscar and Barry: Perfection.

Shaq: Fame.

Kareem and Elgin: Pride.

Moses: Rebounds.

Malone and Garnett: Work.

Barkley: Fun.

Cousy, Stockton, Isiah, Pippen and Nash: Team.

For Doc[tor J] and LeBron, you probably need more than one word. By the rules of the game, we can use only one. So we’re forced to pick this one: Amaze. You are who you are.

You are who you are.  People change, take on responsibility, and  learn from experience, but at their core, there aren’t many new surprises coming down the pike.  Bill Parcells used to say you are what your record says you are, a definitive reflection of your previous actions that lead up to a current assesment. Old baseball players always say you are what the back of your basball card says — if you’re a liftime .275 hitter, you might hit .400 in April or .150 in September, but in the end it all evens out.  There’s no surprises.  The evidence is always there.

This brings me to the Spike Lee article written twelve years ago.  Apparently before Ray Allen was cast as Jesus Shuttlesworth, other young stars were considered for the role.  Look at the reasons for why these guys didn’t get the job, then think about where they are today in their careers.  Remember, all of this took place when these guys were 18-20 years old and straight up newborns in the league:

“Los Angeles Lakers sensation Kobe Bryant, 19, was on the list but had summer basketball commitments.”

As Simmons said in his piece, Kobe is about greatness.  He is consumed with basketball.  Even when he was young and succumbing to the bright lights, he turned down a chance to star in a Spike Lee movie in order to work on his game.  Shaq would’ve taken the lead and worked in some goofy nickname like “Big Jesus of Nazareth” Shuttlesworth for the character.

“Eighteen-year-old Toronto Raptor Tracy McGrady, who just left high school last year and is the NBA’s youngest player, tried out but was judged too reserved for the part.”

Any correlation between McGrady’s shy personality as a rookie and the underachieving talent who never made it past the first round of the playoffs and slimed his way out of Orlando and Houston?  Hmmm……

“The photogenic Philadelphia 76er Allen Iverson, last year’s top rookie, wasn’t prepared when he came for auditions and seemed distracted.”

Allen Iverson unprepared for a job?  Allen Iverson not caring about nuances and professionalism?  As Ralph from Simpsons would say about failing English, that’s unpossible.  I’d sum up Iverson’s motives in one word as this: self.  After watching LeBron shrivel in the playoffs, I realized Iverson’s selfishness actually benefited the Sixers; there’s no way he wouldn’t have dropped 35-50 points against the Celtics in that situation.  It would’ve taken him 25-30 shots to happen, but still.  Kudos to Larry Brown for exploiting Iverson’s greatest personal and professional weakness and making it an asset for those 3-4 years.

“And then there was an unusual request by the agent for two of the league’s brightest young stars, Kevin Garnett and Stephon Marbury of the Minnesota Timberwolves: Guarantee one of them the lead role or neither will audition.   “I was like, ‘Look man, this ain’t the NBA,’ ” recalls Lee. “There ain’t no guaranteed contracts, buddy. This is a film.”

Marbury and Garnett weren’t invited in.”

I think Garnett would’ve been a very interesting choice for the lead in He Got Game.  He faced the same pressures and glare as Jesus Shuttlesworth being a high school juggernaut, first in South Carolina and finally at Farraguat Academy in Chicago.  Simmons summed up Garnett as “work”, but when he was 19 years old, he was “The Kid”, a lanky stringbean who was both exuberant and humble.  He excited Minnesota and all basketball fans upon arrival.  His teammate back then Stephon Marbury is and was a punk.  An entitled brat.  Classless.  Petulant.  No team nor contract nor coach was ever good enough for his destructive standards.  I think Garnett knew this about Steph but held him down anyway.  That was Garnett’s Achilles Heel all those years in Minnesota — he was too loyal. 

We finally caught an honest glimpse of this after Game 6 when KG spoke to the media about the exchange of words between he and LeBron at center court:

Loyalty is something that hurts you at times because you can’t get youth back. I can honestly say that if I can go back and do my situation over, knowing what I know now with this organization, I’d of done it (changed teams) a little sooner.”

I can’t fathom Kevin Garnett giving Spike Lee an ultimatum.  I can imagine the Vaseline chompin’, Isaih Thomas conspirator Marbury giving Spike the bird. 

“[Ray] Allen, who had never even appeared in a school play, worked with an acting coach for eight weeks prior to shooting and is convincing.”

Watching Ray’s career unfold, this doesn’t surprise me.  His work ethic is legendary; on the Sonics he got to the gym every night hours before the first player and inspired all the young guys to do the same.  He is classy, respectful, low key, clinical.  Being a lock for the Hall of Fame and one of the top 5 shooters of all time isn’t enough; he is a free agent after this year and will certainly get a multi-year deal after he busted up the Cavs and now the Magic.  He is “professionalism”.  Or as Jackie MacCullan said beautifully in the Boston Globe, “routine excellence” is the key to his success.  And he has been nothing but routine before and after He Got Game.

Spike Lee remembers all of these things.  I bet the first time each of these guys played in the Garden in 1999, he talked trash about them not walking with Jesus or whatever, and then moved on to other projects and lousy Knicks teams over the years.  As a disciple of the NBA, he’s been awed by Kobe, disappointed by T-Mac, conflicted with Iverson, enlighted by Garnett, disturbed (but not shocked) by Marbury, and appreciative of Ray Allen, because Ray has been the same guy since he went one-on-one with Denzel as a baby faced millionaire athlete.  The results of his choices and motives are evident.

I wonder what Spike thinks of LeBron.

Someone Should’ve Got Pregnant: “Cop Out” Review

It’s like “Nothing to Lose”/”Money Talks” with a better soundtrack*. 

And police badges. 

And less funny.

Kevin Smith said in an interview how this movie is 80% dialogue between two guys, something his movies thrive on depending on your personal taste, and 20% action. 

On paper, this should’ve been a slam dunk.  The cameos should’ve kicked it up a notch (Kevin Pollack, Jason Lee, Fred Armisen, a scene stealing Susie Essman) and Smith goes to great lengths to keep the familiar black/white buddy cop dynamic intact.  But third banana Sean William Scott was even worse than you could’ve imagined.  He’s a one-trick pony and used exclusively as an obnoxious ten minute throw-in to spice up a car ride between Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan, something I never thought a scene involving Tracy Morgan would ever need.

The plot is farfetched and the movie never pulls you in one direction fully.  Is this a homage to the 80’s cop movies or a satire on straight edged badass cop partnered with loudmouthed fool partner?  I was lost.

It is Kevin Smith’s first foray out of his comfort zone of the View Askewuniverse, and he’s smart and honest enough to improve on the next script he’ll end up directing exclusviely.  But “Cop Out” suffers the growing pains of Silent Bob sitting behind the camera.

*Rakim’s “Follow the Leader” is used to soundtrack a car chase.  Why this has taken so long to happen baffles me.  Props to Kevin Smith.

1 Stallone Clap Out of 4

1 Stallone Clap = “Stop Or My Mom Will Shoot”

2 Stallone Claps = “Demolition Man”

3 Stallone Claps = “Cop Land”

4 Stallone Claps = “Rocky”

The Top 25 Movie Scenes of the 00’s: #25-23

I watch a lot of movies. 
 
Looking over lists of the top films of the decade at other sites, I realized I wasn’t interesting in shucking the greatness of unseen indie power house flicks or championing blockbusters that won awards the past 10 years.  As a movie geek, there’s some movies that aren’t noteworthy nor become critical smashes but deliver moments and scenes more memorable than Best Picture winners like Crash and A Beautiful Mind. 
  
 That’s what I’m interested in: replay value and the trademark scene that pops in my head when a movie in mentioned in passing. 
  
I’d say There Will Be Blood is arguably the best film of this decade but I can’t watch it again –it’s such an epic investment.  I can however watch the final scene of Daniel Plainview’s bowling alley on repeat.  Other movies like Michael Mann’s Miami Vice rightfully came and went but I’ll rewatch it just for the blistering gun shot sounds; I’ve never heard more realistic gun shots outside of 8th and Diamond or 13th and Wharton in all my life.
 
So that’s what we’re celebrating here at Clap Cowards: the 25 Best Movie Scenes of the 00’s.  A movie ain’t a movie unless there’s a moment where you’ll stop everything to rewatch it on TBS on a Saturday afternoon, to quote it with your friends for months, to replay it in your head ten times after you walked out of the theater. CAUTION: SPOILER ALERTS APLENTY
 

"You're either a wolf or a sheep"

#25 Training Day “The Learning Process” 

Denzel, much like DeNiro and Pacino, was such a good actor for so long and so noted for his skills that he now acts on auto-pilot, namely taking whatever character is on the page and “Denzel-ing” it: the heavy shoulder strut, the million dollar grin and smile, the direct and cutting glare, the heavy and stern delivery of monologues.  This was never more evident in 2007’s American Gangster as he played Frank Lucas, a 70’s drug boss who quietly pushed all the mobsters and suppliers out of business in New York City.  You see Frank Lucas is a living person, and most notably, if you ever see or hear him speak, he’s as country as a chicken coop.  Yet Denzel relayed none of this; Denzel just Denzeled the role as always.  This isn’t a bad thing for moviegoers who support the Denzel Brand; let Johnny Depp do the makeovers and weird vocal tics.  Denzel is gonna be a bad mafucka, straight up.  Subtelty and character transformation seemed to have been swept off the table for the bulk of this decade in Mr. Washington’s resume. 

The last time we saw Denzel not coasting through an enjoyable movie was 2001’s Training Day.  Playing Alonzo Harris, a renegade sociopath detective who believes in punishing criminals by operating in the same no holds barred fashion as they do, Washington was so terrorizing and audacious that he yapped up Russell Crowe and A Beautiful Mind from outright sweeping the Oscar’s.  Training Day was far from Washington’s best on-screen performance (cough cough Malcolm X cough cough).  No wonder Washington has been on record of saying Alonzo is his favorite character of all the roles he’s played — it shows. 

The #25 Movie Scene of the Decade sets the tone for Training Day beautifully: Alonzo and new recruit Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) are riding around LA in a black rimmed out 1979 Monte Carlo.  After agreeing to a moral contract he can’t quite possibly fulfill, Hoyt is riding shotgun next to the King Kong of Narcotics, a man who will lash out on anyone suspected of tainting his jungle.  Alonzo offers Hoyt a hit of a weed pipe: 

You gon’ smoke it?”
“Naw man, I became a narc to rid the streets of dopers, not become one”
“Come on man, take a hit”
“Naw, man”
SLAMS BRAKES, POINTS GUN AT HOYT’S FACE IN THE MIDDLE OF AN INTERSECTION

“Yeah, right. If I was a drug dealer, you’d be dead by now, motherfucker. You turn shit down on the streets, and the chief brings your wife a crisply folded flag. What the fuck’s wrong with you? Talking about – You know what? I don’t want you in my unit. I don’t even want you in my division. Get the fuck out the car. Go back to the Valley, rookie. ”
(painful pause)
“All right, I’ll smoke it.”

When King Kong points a pistol at your face and waves a pipe stuffed to the gills with weed in your direction in broad daylight as his black leather jacket proudly compliments his police badge dangling around his neck, YOU TAKE A HIT! 

"Is a pig's p*ssy pork?"

#24 Hustle and Flow “I Can Pimp Skinny”

Let’s be real: 2005’s Hustle and Flow would not have been a critical smash, a launching pad for Terrance Howard, and a gateway for Three 6 Mafia to hypnotize minds from the Oscar’s to MTV without 8 Mile breaking through three years earlier8 Mile was to hip hop films as Spider-Man or Batman Begins were to comic book movies: it made money, won over critics, and enabled moviegoers to take movies about rap seriously.  Hustle and Flow is more gritty and lovable and was thankfully welcomed upon arrival.  You don’t have to an ironic appreciaton of Paul Wall or Mike Jones to like Terrance Howard’s DJay as a rapper and  broker-than-a-joke pimp trying to keep the AC on for his snowflake hoe.

DJay’s shining moment comes after he’s laid down his demos to cassette tape, literally spilling sweat in the hot-ass makeshift studio soundproofed by egg cartons, and sees local superstar Skinny Black (played sharply by Ludacris) in the spot, the potential Puffy to his potential Biggie.  It’s where DJay, much like Eminem in the final battle sequence of 8 Mile, decides to put up or shut up, to risk public humiliation for his dream or duck away because it’s easier to pretend like he wasn’t all that serious to begin with.  Unlike B. Rabbit puking in a toilet due to nerves, DJay simply says to himself “If I can pimp $20 hoes out the back of this motherfucking Chevy, I can pimp Skinny.”  Howard reportedly spent 2 months living in Memphis hanging out with and interviews almost hundreds of pimps and prostitutes.  Pimpin’ really ain’t easy, even on-screen.

*SPOILER* DJay approaches Skinny Black like a vulture.  While Skinny is concerned with liquors, hoes, and bro’s, DJay is skillfully casual and confrontational, respectfully blunt while kissing the ass of his apparent hero.  He gains respect by challenging Skinny Black while he’s working him like a $10 hoe in a Wal-Mart parking lot.  Thinking back on the scene now, it’s no coincidence why so many southern (and west coast rappers for that matter) emulate and glorify pimps: they are master salesman who just happen to live right down the street from you.  They can sweetly and expertly talk you out of a quick $40, or in the case of Hustle and Flow they can sidestep an A&R, manager, and a posse to hand off a damn cassette tape filled with tales of broke ass pimpin’ and serenades to tricks yet to be whupped.

 

#23 The Wrestler “Half pound of egg salad comin’ up!”

Mickey Rourke, face like a heavy bag, dingy winter coat kept alive by duct tape and staples.  Fake tan, stringy weathered blonde hair, hanging with former wrestlers at an autograph signing that resembled a wake or a senior home with merch and photo opps.  Banging twenty somethings with beefcake fetishes then retreating back to his rusted trailer on the edge of town, letting down his forgotten daughter for the LAST time but never the few remaining diehard fans that give him an air of invincibility and duty from his formerly famous and currently pitied celebrity.    Marisa Tomei, the hands of time reminding her she can maybe pull off 32 years old on the pole but some wise ass frat boy will see the truth and announce it after getting turned down by the younger hotter pieces of ass.

This is the world of 2008’s The Wrestler, a feel-good tragedy by Darren Aronofsky.  Much has been made about Rourke’s return to Hollywood after a decade plus of exile and boxing, weightlifting, and plastic surgeries gone awry.  I thought his role as Marv in Sin City was more charming and damning as a comic book super freak with the heart of a saint, but Randy “The Ram” Robinson, well, you see guys like him everyday — you just might not know what they once were.   You see The Ram driving a tractor trailer or doing demolition downtown.  You see him working the forklift at Loew’s or delivering pizza in a busted up Lincoln.  But Rourke’s character will have none of that.  He belongs in the ring. 

The Wrestler asks this question: if your calling in life will eventually kill you, do you know the ledge or are you obligated to keep going?  Is death the ultimate price or the grand prize?  The badge of honor or the body bag?  Cause The Ram will tell you for sure, living like this ain’t no prize.

The #23 scene of the decade gives you a glimpse of Randy combining his wrestling persona with his everyday life of eating shit to pay the bills: working part time at the deli counter at a supermarket.  He’s alive.  He’s charismatic.  He’s slicing up a half pound of roast beef.  He’s charming the pants off old ladies like they’re eye candy at Royal Rumble.  He’s writing up orders, breaking balls, recommending lunch meats, and oblivious to the ridiculous scene of a beefed up animal in a hairnet pulling out chicken salad in the freezer.  Go deep! he says as he floats a package of cold cuts to a guy’s basket.  He’s joyful because he’s losing himself in something so sad and entertaining, the same way he does earlier in the film when a freak is stapling five dollar bills to his body in the ring. 

You watch this seen and realize that Randy just needs an audience, whether it’s on pay-per-view or at the deli counter.  That’s the feel good.  The tragedy is knowing that moments like these cannot sustain The Ram, that he cannot walk away from that which he is built for, even when it almost guarantees a painful death.  Maybe it all could be different if the damn manager at Acme would toss the Ram a couple more hours each week behind the counter.  I mean really, what exactly is The Iron Sheik up to these days anyway?

The Nazi-Killin’ Business is A-Boomin’: “Inglorious Basterds” Review

Inglorious Basterds might be the least “Tarantino” Tarantino movie yet.  The soundtrack is devoid of forgotten  funk and rock 45’s from the 60’s and 70’s.  Michael Madsen is ghost.  No one is drinking a tasty beverage.

As my buddy Greg said, Tarantino somehow managed to make a sprawling World War II movie where 70% of the film is in French and German and Brad Pitt is on screen for about 20 minutes strictly as comic relief.  Though the previews promote a non-stop festival of bullets and Nazi scalping in German occupied France, Basterds is built on a great eye for subtelty.  From the opening sequence in a gorgeous farm house in the French country side, to the pristine movie theater decorated in Nazi garb that makes up the climax, Basterds could’ve passed for A Thin Red Line visually.  But unlike that boring-ass “war movie”, Basterds delivers the goods.

It’s clear to see why Chris Staltz won Best Actor at Cannes earlier this year as Lt. Hans Landa aka “The Jew Hunter”: every scene featuring the character had my stomach in knots, just waiting for him to unleash hell on someone after accomodating and flattering them with his charm and debonair bouyant smile.  Hans Landa is one of the most terrifying characters I’ve seen since Anton Chigurh–they both know what you know, and how they get what they want is mortifying in a precise, clinical, and ghastly fashion.

Brad Pitt excels when he is asked to go over the top with his characters.  From True Romance to 12 Monkeys to Fight Club to Snatch, Pitt shines when he’s given an extreme personality to work with.  As Basterd chief Aldo Raine, Pitt plays a stereotypical southern drill sargent but through a Tarantino prism–he’s smart, curt, and full of clever verbiage whether he’s squeezing a Nazi for information or seemingly nabbed by the enemy.  You keep waiting for him to show up on screen.

Detractors will knock the running time (2 and a half hours).  History buffs will be miffed.  Tarantino haters will call it indulgent and grandiose.  And I agree with alot of the criticism.  But Basterds is Tarantino mastering suspense.  The movie could stand to lose a good 20 minutes, but the payoffs are so shaking and vicious, I’m fine with sitting in my seat that much longer to get there.

4/4 Stallone Claps

1 Stallone Clap = Get Carter

2 Stallone Claps = Demolition Man

3 Stallone Claps = Cop Land

4 Stallone Claps = Rocky