THE LONG opening sequence of Quentin Tarantino’s latest film is a piece of scintillating cinematic bravado that must rank alongside the café scene that opens Reservoir Dogs and the “watch up the ass” passage from Pulp Fiction for virtuoso brilliance. In it, an urbane, superficially-charming Gestapo official – who relishes his nickname The Jew Hunter – visits a French farmer’s remote rural house and gently interrogates him. It’s a scene that throbs with quiet menace and impending tragedy, as Tarantino’s enthralling wordplay and some fabulously subtle acting keeps you riveted. It’s QT at his best.
Sadly – to quote one of the filmmaker’s older lines – that’s as good as it’s gonna get, and it’s never gonna get that good again. Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino’s attempt to mesh his filmmaking obsessions to the old-fashioned war movie genre, is a flabby hotchpotch that meanders, stutters and eventually runs out of steam, while being only sporadically entertaining.
It’s a shame, because there’s much in it that should be great fun. Brad Pitt has a laugh playing Lt Aldo Raine, a thick-jawed cowboy leading a group of badass Jewish G.I.’s into occupied Europe to cause havoc and scare the bejezus out of the Nazis. Eventually they set their sights on wiping out the entire German high command when they attend the premiere of Joseph Goebbels’s latest propaganda masterpiece at a Parisian cinema, while the beautiful young owner of the cinema – a secret Jew – develops similar plans of her own.
Like all of Tarantino’s work, it’s a swirling tapestry of cinematic references – to exploitation cinema, revenge dramas, war movies, schlock horror, film theory – and has more nuances and ideas than the rest of the week’s releases put together. Ireland’s Michael Fassbender does good work as a gentleman Brit commando (and former film critic – a very Tarantino touch), and Diane Kruger does a gutsy turn as a Dietrich-style film star, while Christoph Waltz acts everyone off the screen as the fearsome Gestapo man. The dialogue bubbles, boils and amuses as Tarantino rewrites history to suit his own groovy fantasies with wild abandon.
And yet. The film’s a complete structural mess, Tarantino apparently having abandoned any impulse to self-edit, and it all ends up being resoundingly tiresome – there are only so many loose ends and narrative cul de sacs you can take. You get the feeling Quentin’s become more interested in amusing himself than his audience, and that’s sad.
AFTERSCHOOL tells the story of protagonist Robert (Ezra Miller), a tortured freshman in a US prep school suffering from teenage alienation and insecurity. The film begins with a five-minute montage of random clips from the internet, some violent, some sexual, some anodyne. It then follows Robert as he makes a documentary about the school , inadvertently filming the death from drugs overdoses of two older girls.
What follows is an unrelentingly dark – and frankly unfocused – journey into a world of antidepressants and illegal drugs, sudden youthful death, grief, guilt, teenage alienation, sexual angst and the influence of media culture.
The film is shot in a documentary style by director Antonio Campos, and we are clearly in indie film territory here, with lots of mumbling, little music to speak of and an abundance of wobbly camerawork. It is all perhaps intended to make the viewer feel voyeuristic, but the characters are not sufficiently developed, making it much too hard to connect with them. That said, the acting from the cast of young unknowns is excellent, and at times darkly comic.
However, a lack of direction means that too many plot lines end up unresolved, and a lack of any real conclusion for any of the characters leaves one feeling adrift. Campos has bitten off more than any viewer can chew over in 107 minutes.