Friday, December 18, 2009
Thanks to a friend who works as an entertainment blogger, earlier this week I finally got a chance to see Inglourious Basterds at a closed screening in L.A. to celebrate the film's release on DVD the following day. The viewing was attended by none other than the director himself, Quentin Tarantino, as well as some of the film's stars including Diane Kruger, B.J. Novak, Eli Roth, Samm Levine, and Omar Doom, as well as Tarantino's longtime producer, Lawrence Bender. Here's my report from behind the press line at the red carpet event, as well as a quick review of the film. To go straight to all my photos from the event, click here.
Although the press had been directed by the organizers of the event to park at a separate location away from the theater (presumably to prevent traffic, crowd and parking problems near the revival house venue which is located in a more residential and sedate part of town away from the somewhat more bustling parts of nearby Hollywood and West Hollywood), since it was a theater I'd been to many times, I easily found parking nearby on a quiet, dark residential street only a couple blocks away. As I walked to the theater, I saw that it had been dressed up like a classic movie premiere event, complete with large arclights pointing to the sky and a classic red carpet at the entryway. I wasn't able to get past the security people and the front of the theater until my buddy came out from the secure area with the press wristband he had snagged for me; it was cool to be able to bypass the regular line of special ticket holders and hang out in the press area that was traditionally roped off from the red carpet area. We were near one end of the press line, closest to the front of the theater—in fact, we were facing the main doors. As my friend noted, there definitely is a pecking order in these things, and we were pretty much at the end of the line, but as far as I was concerned, at least we were in front of the theater, and not facing some unglamorous storefront.
Living in L.A., I have a little familiarity with these kinds of events, and this one was pretty laid back and relaxed, no doubt in large part because there weren't any major A-listers involved, let alone major media that I was aware of, nor was it a major studio event. This simply seemed to be a party Tarantino was throwing for friends and fans. As a result, all the P.R. people were pretty nice, and the media people we were positioned next to were pretty friendly and talky as well. The actors were all friendly and engaged. All were charming and responsive; the funniest line I recalled was Novak. Referring to his character in the television show in "The Office," he joked that the film definitely was a step up for him, from "a douchebag to a basterd."
Shortly before the scheduled screening time, the VIPs started showing up. For the most part, they made their way down the press line to be interviewed. As I said, it wasn't a major frenzy since it was a smaller, low key event and for the most part my buddy got to interview many of the people who came down the line, including Bender, Novak, Levine, Doom, and Roth. Those he didn't get, including Tarantino and Kruger (who was accompanied by Joshua Jackson, who she apparently is currently dating), stopped to talk with the video crew next to us, so even they were in close proximity to us as they walked by. As you'll see in my photos, before all going in, they stopped to take group shots.
Inside, all the attendees were treated to free popcorn and bottled water placed at each of the seats—which I much appreciated since I didn't get a chance to grab dinner before getting to the theater after work!
Tarantino was brought up to introduce the film. He had the cast members in attendance to join him on stage and, true to geek form, he announced that he had put together his own reel of previews. They were clearly intended to whet our appetite, as they consisted of mostly war mission films like the Dirty Dozen, Hornet's Nest, Army of Five, and, of course, the original Inglorious Bastards!
As with most Tarantino films, Inglourious Basterds is brash and fun, proudly wearing its geek and genre cred on its sleeve. Like many of his other films, Basterds is a genre film that turns the genre on its head. It's also as much a black comedy as it is an action war film—after all, without giving anything away, given the film's ending, there's no way one can take the picture wholly seriously. But along the way, he manages to present his trademark crackling dialogue and create memorable and funny characters, while nevertheless giving viewers a chance to emotionally invest in some of the characters.
The actors are all terrific, and it's important to recognize that their outstanding work was made possible by a solid script. While Christoph Waltz has deservedly received the lion's share of the attention for his turn as SS officer Hans Landa, Brad Pitt also deserves credit for having great fun with his character while also managing to keep it on this side of real. Pitt is a hoot to watch, even when he's not the main focus of a scene or a shot.
Other great performances are delivered by Daniel Bruhl as Fredrick Zoller (who my friend described as the "German Audie Murphy"), Kruger as a German actress who also is a double agent for the allies, and Melanie Laurent as Jewish refugee Shoshanna Dreyfus hiding in plain view of the Nazis as a Paris theater owner. As always, Tarantino's women are amazingly strong and, despite the laughs, the film has its share of heart and tragedy.
As he often does, Tarantino echoes movie moments throughout the film (much of its tone reminded me of Ernst Lubitch's To Be or Not To Be). Though my wife loved the film, she did say she wished she had learned more about the Basterds and that the movie had focused on their background and how they got together, which is a standard formula for such movies. My response was that since this was a genre "men on a mission" film, there was no need for Tarantino to hew to this formula—anyone who grew up watching these films (as I did) like the Dirty Dozen and the Devil's Brigade already knows these characters, and the gauntlet of training and infighting they no doubt had to go through before coming together a team. This conceit allows Tarantino to go straight into the guts of the story.
Click here to see all the photos from this event....