Inglorious Basterds

So where do you start with Quentin Tarantino? The geek-genius, with no co self-control, discipline or artistic self-control. Feted by actors & the Weinstiens. His first 3 films were all varying shades of brilliant – whatever your moral take on the violence, the profanity and the plot-lines these were clearly the work of a man capable of genius in his chosen field. But then, whichever way you slice it, things started to go wrong. Kill Bill was just too much; Grindhouse an insulting fiasco. As many have said, he’s a frustrating director precisely because it’s so evident just what he could be capable of if he really put his mind to it. He doesn’t seem to notice that very few of even the more keen and observant film fans really care about all the sly cross-referencing: films that are really about films (as he’s been known to claim this one is) are often a sign of creative death akin to the band who writes an album about being on tour – most of us just don’t care that much.

He may argue that this is a film about war films, which it may be. There are actors playing actors; an undercover agent whose a film theorist when his country’s not at war; the plot turns on a film screening of a film starring one of the characters. Some of that works, some of that we just don’t care about. What’s more striking, and potentially either troubling or inspiring, is the attitude this World War 2 story takes to the subject of Jews in wartime Europe. Like the earlier Defiance, this film wants to challenge idea of Jews as helpless victims and tells a story of Jews fighting back against the Nazi oppressor. All well and good. The problem for Tarantino is that Defiance was at least based on fact, about a real group of people. His film, on the other hand, is self-consciously re-imagining history. It literally changes the story of war – it’s deliberately and consciously fictional. In and of itself, that stands in a Shakespearean tradition. But what’s he saying? Is he implying that this is what the Jews should have done and were too cowardly to do? If it is, tell that to my grandmother, lucky to escape wartime Europe with her life. Is he just having a bit of fun with a revenge story? If so, it’s dangerous ground to have fun on? Or is he examining the ethics of revenge? Well, I was actually feeling particularly vengeful against someone who’d hurt me when I saw the film, and it certainly warned me off. But given his track record, it’s hard to believe that was his intention.

So Inglorious Basterds leaves us a lot of questions. It’s too long, too flabby. On the plus, there are many truly excellent performances, and a handful of sequences (the opening especially) that are as good as anything you will see in the cinema all year. Which just, as usual, makes it frustrating. It’s ten times better than the woeful Grindhouse; it’s morally troubling, it’s not for the squeamish. It contains brilliance. It’s just not entirely brilliant.

Shame, if not completely so.

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Edinburgh Fringe: Sensory Overload

I was born and bought up in Edinburgh to English parents, and as such I became a regular visitor to the Fringe. I have vivid memories of getting hold of the frighteningly thick Fringe programme and essentially picking shows at random. I have a particular memory of a one-man production of Dr Faustus, and Paul Merton’s Comedy Story Players. Both odd, for different reasons, and in their way sum up much of what is so great about the Fringe.

So returning for a week at the Fringe after 10 years, it was apparent that the random approach couldn’t be taken due to cost. So the shows were chosen on the basis of what our group fancied….here’s a brief survey of what we ended up doing.

Monday

Dylan Moran (Stand-Up Comedy). We were lucky to get tickets for one of only two shows he was doing. I like his intelligent cynicism and world-weariness. I’m also never quite convinced that his implied inebriation isn’t more performance than actual. There were some great moment, but he lapsed a bit too much into simple, easy laughs of the ‘I hate politicians’/’Men and women are different variety’. That’s all fine if you say something striking, which he rarely did. That doesn’t mean it’s not funny; I laughed hard at times at the delivery of a gifted performer. He is though, merely good to very good.

Tuesday

Peter Duncan’s Daft And Dangerous A one-man show from the former Blue Peter’s presenter and Chief Scout. It’s great fun whatever your vintage or background. An hour of musical style singing, acrobatics, audience-participation, comedy and generally good times, using the varied story of his career to this date as the hook for a highly entertaining hour. He’s playing throughout the Fringe – strongly recommend this. Get tickets here.

Stephen K Amos (Stand-Up Comedy) An hour of comedy from a comedian I didn’t know before hand, but is growing rapidly in popualrity. He’s just been awarded his own BBC show, and I can see why. His show, which he’s touring all over the UK in the Autumn, is called The Feelgood Factor, and that says it all. It’s the opposite of Dylan Moran in many respects – optimistic, upbeat and just plain fun. The occasional obvious moment, but never too much. Even the interacting with the audience was of a kind and gentle type. Really enjoyed this – laughed until I hurt. Get tickets for the autumn here

Wednesday

One Man Lord of The Rings In an hour. A brilliant performer, the voices are amazing and the comedy about right. Not worth it if you haven’t read the book or seen the films…..and even for me, at an hour it was a little stretching. Worth seeing, but not a stand-out.

Thursday

The Magnets The bare description of 6 voice acappela music doesn’t do justice to this show. The guys spent an hour performing covers of songs they truly make their own, without any instruments or backing tracks. Some of the noises were jaw-dropping in their complexity. The singing is amazing, the performance thrilling and the charisma exhilarating. Quite simply, fantastic – see more here

What none of this covers, of course, is the great vibe around the city – the buzz in the many fine independent coffee shops, the street performers, and the city’s beauty. It was great to be back. Hope it’s not 10 years until the next time.