“Inglourious Basterds” Review


Yesterday, my friends and I went to the Arena Grand to see Quentin Tarantino’s new movie, Inglorious Basterds, which he has supposedly been working on for almost a decade. At the very end of the movie, after carving a swastika into a Nazi’s forehead, Brad Pitt’s character turns to the camera and says “I think this is my masterpiece.” Obviously, Quentin Tarantino was speaking to the audience with this line, and is quite proud of this movie.

Tarantino should be proud. He took his usual routine – humorous violence, cool villains, non-stop cheesy pop culture references – and made it work in the setting of the Holocaust, a historical event that few like to joke about, at least openly. Tarantino’s style is toned down slightly, since the 1940s didn’t have the cheesy pop songs or fast food orders of the late 20th century, but everything is still there. When one character, known for killing dozens of Nazi SS officials, is introduced, his name shoots across the screen in bold, bright letters that look like they came from the seventies, and a power guitar chord is sounded. The movie also features a montage set to David Bowie and Giorgio Moroder’s early eighties hit “Cat People”.

Despite Tarantino’s sarcasm, I never felt that the gravity of the Holocaust was disrespected. Brad Pitt’s crew of American Jews intent on killing as many Nazis as possible is always understood to be on a righteous mission, despite their ruthlessness. If anything, the Holocaust setting makes Tarantino’s formula work better. Tarantino’s movies have always glamorized violence, and the fact that most of the violence in Basterds is affecting Nazis makes it easier to enjoy. The scenes that show the violence and hatred of the Nazis are intense and could upset some people, but they served to make Brad Pitt’s murderous acts more excusable and, frankly, enjoyable. They are certainly easier to root for than John Travolta’s character in Pulp Fiction and even Uma Thurman’s in Kill Bill.

The movie is flawed, mostly in the same ways all of Tarantino’s movies are flawed. The dialogue sometimes drags on too long and feels awkward, some characters (including Brad Pitt’s) are underdeveloped, and the movie itself is too long. But it is good, and Tarantino should get credit for presenting the Holocaust from a new, bold perspective, and doing so quite masterfully.

A Trillion Here, A Trillion There . . . .

The Administration will officially raise its 10-year deficit projection by close to $2 trillion, from $7.1 trillion to $9 trillion.  Yikes!  Even by modern inflated standards, that is a staggering sum of money, and it raises an increasingly daunting question:  who is going to buy the debt instruments that would allow us to finance that debt, and at what cost?  In order to entice investors to accept the risk that the United States might not be able to repay such extraordinary sums, might the Treasury Department have to offer higher interest rates and higher yields, thereby making it even more difficult for the U.S. government to pay off its debt and get back to a balanced budget?

There is no doubt that our country cannot continue deficit spending on this scale.  We have to reduce our deficits, and quickly, or we may face a real economic crisis in the very near future.

Vacation Time

President Obama and his family have left Washington, D.C. for a 10-day vacation in Martha’s Vineyard. From the descriptions in the press, it sounds like he will have a pretty good vacation, where he will play a lot of golf and spend time with his family. In fact, it appears that President Obama will comply with most of my five rules of thumb for a good vacation:

1. Leave your immediate area for somewhere new — There is no such thing as a really relaxing “staycation.” You don’t get out of your normal schedule, people at work don’t feel like it is that big of a deal to give you a call, and it is much too easy to slip back into the office for a quick phone call.

A scene from Marthas Vineyard

A scene from Martha's Vineyard

2. Go somewhere near water — Don’t ask me exactly why, but for most of us landlocked Midwesterners being near water immediately puts us into a more relaxed vacation frame of mind. (Of course, the fact that water also tends to go along with sun, beaches, waterfront bars, and cold adult beverages may help.)

3. Plan to do things on your vacation that are out of the norm distractions — President Obama plans to play golf, which is a good idea. It is impossible to play golf — or, at least, play it with any tiny degree of success — when you are thinking about anything other than your next shot. I like going somewhere where there are antiquities to see or interesting museums to visit for the same reason, because I tend to get immersed in the new things I am seeing.

4. Eat things you don’t normally eat — It might be pancakes for breakfast, or fresh seafood, or some kind of regional cuisine, but if you change your eating patterns and try something different, it helps to put you in that relaxed frame of mind.

5. Leave lots of time for family meals and talks — We’ve taken some great vacations as a family, and all of them featured relaxed time where we get a chance to talk more than we do normally. Often it is over a meal, or as we are driving to the next stop on the itinerary. Many of my most treasured vacation memories just involve being with Kish and the boys at some specific location, like eating shaved flavored ice in the town square of Assisi as the sun sets, or having a loose meat cheeseburger at a Maid-Rite restaurant in a small Iowa town.

Have a great vacation, Mr. President! You deserve a break.