Monday, August 31, 2009

Inglourious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino does it again. Cool movie.

In terms of verisimilitude, it's right up there with Hogan's Heroes.

I mean. Come on ...

Plot Thread #A: The Nazis cook up with a propaganda film called Stolz der Nation. True story about a Nazi Sergeant York -- a crack German sniper who mows down a human meat mountain of American GIs who try to storm his position in a tower. Said sniper plays himself in the movie, with that wacky auteur, Joseph Goebbels, directing. OK. So, gee, where should we premiere this movie? Hmmm ...

Well, why not Paris? You know, that city with that funny tower over in Vichy France. We could have Hitler, Goebbels, Goering -- hell, the entire German High Command could attend the premiere! Hey it's spring of 1944, the Allies haven't invaded yet, why not?

Naturally, we wouldn't need to bother with setting up troops in a security perimeter in the streets outside the cinema or cordoning off the city blocks around it. For that matter, who needs guards in the lobby? It'll be fun! What could happen? It's not like the smoking hot theater owner is secretly Jewish with a burning heart for revenge or something.

Plot Thread #B
The OSS drops a team of stone-cold killers into occupied France. Eight of 'em, all Jewish, led by Brad Pitt. (That wacky "Wild" Bill Donovan. Sure lives up to his name.) Anyway. Their mission: rip-off The Dirty Dozen. Well, more specifically, to inflict Apache-style torture and humiliation on the Nazis to demoralize the ranks. Eight guys, one with a baseball bat. Should be enough.

OK. Captain Obvious says ...

Faults with Plot Thread #A
The Nazis were evil, but they weren't stupid. They'd have !@# guards around the cinema and a ten-block radius of the city around it -- and clear out all the civilians for good measure. They'd inspect every square inch of the cinema. They'd pack every square inch of the cinema with human pit bulls from the SS. And have their own dudes running the projector and working the popcorn machine. Or they would if they decided to hold the premiere there. But they wouldn't. No way in hell. It'd open in Berlin.

Faults with Plot Thread #B
If a team of pseudo-Apaches from the Bronx were scalping and mutilating the Nazis, the Nazis would, of course, respond. They'd divide occupied France into a grid and begin a systematic, scorched-earth campaign, laying waste to Square G-7, Square G-8, etc. -- working square by square until they wiped out the team. But they wouldn't stop there.

The Nazis, would begin reprisals against the civilian population of occupied France -- and probably American POWS -- since the "Basterds" were, after all, violating the Geneva Convention.

The Nazis were in the habit of wiping out villages as reprisals for resistance. (Maillé, Lidice, a long bloody list) They'd do worse in this humiliating scenario. Say ...

A ratio of 10 dead French civilians for every German solider the Basterds killed. Or 100-1. 1,000-1. (Not only killing them. Probably replicating any torture the German soldiers received.) The Nazis would do whatever it takes, until the Basterds (or their superiors) couldn't stomach the collateral damage.

Over in China, the Japanese massacred 250,000 Chinese civilians for helping surviving airmen from the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo escape. Something like that.

And, as Sun Tzu pointed out in The Art of War, the Nazis would never surrender to the Basterds if they knew they'd be tortured, killed and mutilated. As Tzu noted, torture is a lousy strategy. You don't demoralize the enemy. You put 'em in a frame of mind where they'll fight to the death and never give up. The Apaches lost, remember?

OK, I had to vent. All that said, I don't have a problem with QT's wild violations of plausibility and logic.

His movies (especially the recent ones) are more like dreams than realistic narratives. Like dreams, they're a mix of granular realism and loopy violations of logic.

So, in Kill Bill, The Bride boards a plane to Tokyo, and they let her take her Samurai sword on board? It's hanging off her freaking hip while she's looking out the window?

Stuff like that.

Inglourious Basterds mixes its violations of logic with extremely believable stuff. The "Jew Hunter's" interrogation of the French farmer hiding a Jewish family under his house at the beginning of the movie, for example. It's not that QT can't do realism. He does, when he wants to -- and does it very well. But he doesn't always want to.

Inglorious Basterds is a dream -- more specifically, a revenge fantasy. The Jews Strike Back. They kill Hitler. Wouldn't it be pretty to think so?

Hitler gets shot full of holes and blown to pieces in 1944. For once, WWII has a happy ending. I know how the real story ended.

But I like this movie better.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Bringing it all back home

Finally caught the ending to Battlestar Galactica on DVD. It did not disappoint.

First, they actually ended the series. That in itself is an amazing accomplishment. They didn't leave the poor bastards stuck in space like the folks on Gilligan's Island.

More than that, the ending was actually satisfying. Storm and fury and mythic themes and spectacular deaths do not alone make for a satisfying series ending. (See X-Files.) But they pulled it off.


Essentially, they come back to earth -- our earth. Dylan's song leads them all back home. Pretty much, the series creators could either make the Battlestar humans our (A) decendents or our (B) ancestors. The answer is (B).

Ultimately, it's divine intervention time. Deus Ex Mechanae, yep. Now, it may be disappointing to some to drag God into it just to settle your plot points. But frak it. Until very recently -- going back to Oedipus -- the point of dramatic fiction was usually WE'RE ALL THE PAWNS OF DESTINY.

In this case, the shadowy entity guiding the show isn't all-powerful, as the angels representing Him/Her/It seem to imply. God nudges things along, but the humans/robots being nudged can still screw things up. I'll buy that for a dollar.

Up until that hallelujah moment, the series maintained a gritty believability. On the DVD commentary, Edwards James Olmos was quoted saying something to the effect, "If I see any three-eyed aliens, I'm off the show. If this is an honest extension of the implications of Blade Runner, I'll consider it." That's exactly what it was.

The series creators set a tough goal for themselves and pulled it off. In the process, they exceeded everything that came before. (Too bad Fox aborted Firefly, but there it is.)

For now, Battlestar Galactica is the gold-standard in televised science fiction.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the war room

Taiwan? Sounds tasty!

Our friends at the RAND Corporation speculate on a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

Friday, August 14, 2009

District 9

District 9 is fairly close to the premise of Alien Nation. Fairly close as in just shy of out-and-out plagarism. But that's OK. Nothing new under the SF sun.

Basically, a massive ship of alien refugees came to earth in the '80s -- and had the bad luck to land (or hover) in Johannesburg, South Africa. The aliens (now numbering about 2 million) have been herded into a refugee camp. Much tension between the shelfish-like aliens (called "prawns") and the locals. It seems humans can't fly the alien ship or use the alien weapons -- so they can't even trade their advanced tech. The aliens are being relocated to another camp further from the city. A clueless bureaucrat is in charge. Let's just say he finds the process transformative.

A fun movie that takes stuff we've seen before (power suits, alien refugees) and twists them around to make a fairly original statement about human rottenness and redemption.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Remember the fabulous '80s?

When I first saw this, moralistic bastard that I was, I thought it was a sign of the impending doom of civilization. Now, it just cracks me up.