If anyone can make killing and scalping Nazis look like fun on the big screen, it's Quentin Tarantino.
His Inglourious Basterds is a strangely fanciful take on World War II films, with a preening over-the-top villain: Col. Hans Landa, played with glee by little-known Austrian actor Christoph Waltz. He's joined by Dirty Dozen-style commandos: revenge-minded Jews and led by a crazy Tennessean, Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), in a nod to Hollywood actor Aldo Ray, who doffed many a combat helmet in his career.
As expected, Tarantino peppers the film with cinematic references, using the works of the great Italian film composer Ennio Morricone throughout the soundtrack, and in chapter four of five he has a film critic (Michael Fassbender) sent by a British officer (Mike Meyers, nearly unrecognizable) for a mission involving a Nazi movie premiere that Hitler and the German elite are to attend.
It has nothing to do with real history, of course, although Winston Churchill and the Führer appear, as do Joseph Goebbels and famed actor Emil Jannings, who was in director Josef von Sternberg's The Blue Angel. In a nice turn, Diane Kruger plays German movie-star-turned-spy Bridget von Hammersmark, suggesting both Marlene Dietrich and Nazi glam queen and filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl.
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Everything is in the service of the writer-director's cinematic phantasmagoria, from its vivid colors to its bloody comic-book style. Tarantino has always been able to pull a joke from a grotesque situation or make the unpalatable hard to turn your eyes from, but he doesn't linger for emotion. There are moments of tour de force filmmaking, but while Tarantino creates the fear and repulsion, he's not interested in reminding you about the victims.
Inglourious Basterds retails for $29.98, $34.98 for the two-disc edition and $39.99 on Blu-ray.