A glorious film about some 'Basterds'Jan. 4, 2010
By G. Michael Dobbs
Two big summer hits and a rare television show are in this week's DVD column.
Writer and director Quentin Tarantino is back to form with a film that could only be described as every 1940s comic book and pulp writer's fantasy.
Imagine you were writing a superhero comic book or pulp magazine in 1943. Wouldn't you love for your high-powered hero to smash into Europe and end the war by killing Adolph Hitler? Naturally the reality of the headlines prevented those writers from placing their characters in such plots and now decades after the fall of Berlin, Tarantino has constructed a great wish fulfillment that any of those writers would have embraced.
His World War II story is a complete fantasy, but has enough realistic action and characters to give it dramatic weight, despite its outrageousness. Like many of his other films, "Inglourious Basterds" represents the director's use of some of his favorite themes and actors, but unlike the rambling self-indulgence of "Kill Bill, Volumes One and Two," those devices add to the story rather than detract from it.
The title of the film -- although spelled differently -- is from an Italian war movie from the 1970s that is a favorite of the director's.
Brad Pitt stars as the leader of an American terrorism squad of all Jewish soldiers whose job it is before D-Day to find Nazis in occupied France, kill them, mutilate the bodies and then leave enough survivors alive to spread the story. That plot line is intertwined with that of the story of a young Jewish woman who managed to escape being killed by a methodical Nazi officer (played with chilling intelligence and humor by Christoph Waltz).
If you've not seen the film yet, I don't want to tip any more of the film's plot. I can only say there are some great moments in it as well as twists and turns. And yes, being a Tarantino movie, there are scenes in which the violence can be quite explicit -- you've been warned.
The extras on the two-disc set include an interesting interview with veteran actor Rod Taylor on his portrayal of Winston Churchill as well as the complete version of the Nazi movie that is featured in the film. I particularly enjoyed a montage of the young woman who worked the slate at the beginning of each take her non-sequitor witticisms were very funny.
At his best, Tarantino, a filmmaker who clearly loves movies, is inventive, surprising and audacious and this is one of his best efforts.
The Sherlock Holmes Collection
With the release of Guy Ritchie's "Sherlock Holmes," there are now a lot of older Holmes films making their way onto DVD. This new three-disc release from A&E Home Video gives American viewers the opportunity to see some Holmes adventures they have never seen before.
The great British actor Peter Cushing portrayed Holmes in the Hammer version of "The Hounds of the Baskervilles" in 1959 and retuned to the role of the world's first consulting detective in a series of 16 hour-long adaptations for BBC television in 1968. These shows were never shown here and the new DVD sets features five of the films, apparently the only ones now in existence.
I'm a huge Cushing fan and I welcomed the chance to see these productions. Like other BBC dramas of the time, any interior scene was shot on videotape on a soundstage and most exterior scenes were shot on film. This use of two different formats brings about an odd mix of lighting techniques and textures that does take some getting used to.
Each generation seems to have its own Holmes. For years, Basil Rathbone was the embodiment of the detective, while Jeremy Brett proved to be the favorite of others. Would Cushing have carved out such a niche if these shows had been seen here? I think so. They were competently produced although the thin musical score lends the air of watching a theatrical performance rather than a film -- and Cushing's portrayal of Holmes had the sharpness readers saw in the original Conan Doyle books and stories.
While I doubt young people seeing the Guy Ritchie film would recognize this Holmes, I'll venture to deduce those of us who read the books or saw the Rathbone films would like this Holmes indeed.
As an extra, the set includes an episode of "Biography" about the character and his creator.
The Hangover: Unrated
"The Hangover" could have been a mere updating of that lowbrow favorite from the 1980s "Bachelor Party." Instead, the film that became the biggest comedy hit of the summer was something far more. Part mystery, part outrageous comedy and part buddy film, "The Hangover" proved to be a film that could still bring about laughs even after repeat viewings.
Naturally, I wanted to see what gems lurked in the "unrated" version and I have to say I'd stick to the theatrical version which consumers receive as a digital version when they buy the unrated one.
There is no more naughtiness in the unrated version than in the R-rated theatrical cut. Instead there are several scenes that are extended with a handful more gags. The additions don't slow the film down, but they certainly don't add to it.
If you've not seen the film as yet, it's about a group of friends in Las Vegas for a bachelor party a nightlong event they can't remember the next morning. To make matters worse, they have lost the groom. The film is about three of the friends retracing their steps in an effort to figure out where their missing pal could be.
The two-disc set has the usual features including a gag reel and a making-of feature.
A very funny film with a heart, "The Hangover" is worth having.