REVIEW: 'Django Unchained' Vs 'Inglourious Basterds'

'Django Unchained,' 'Inglourious Basterds' and Tarantino's Alternate Realities

There's a scene at the end of "Inglourious Basterds," Quentin Tarantino's 2009 gonzo World War II meditation, where (SPOILER ALERT) the good guys win. The Basterds' plot to trap the top Nazi officials in a movie theater, as well as Shosanna's plan to burn the place to the ground, have effectively merged and rendered the SS helpless. As the fire begins to rage and Basterds Omar and Donowitz slice their way toward their prime enemies, a viewer would be forgiven for gleefully soaking in the impending narrative and watching the ragtag team murder their way to victory. And then Adolf Hitler, who's also attending the screening, is riddled with machine-gun bullets by Omar and killed, and the viewer's mind twinges with prior knowledge: "That never really happened."

"Inglourious Basterds" was the first Tarantino film to set its crosshairs on history, and by the time the credits rolled, it had become clear that the director's interpretation of the famous (and infamous) events of 65 years earlier was intentionally inaccurate. Instead of abiding by the touchstones of historical dramas, Tarantino warped the past into his own image, and bestowed the audience with a triumphant revision that carried a great big wink as subtext. "Django Unchained," Tarantino's seventh film, delves even deeper into the history books and offers a new vision of the pre-Civil War South, with Jamie Foxx starring as a freed slave-turned-bounty hunter with a slew of viciously ignorant plantation dwellers on the other end of his gun. With these two films, which can arguably be labeled companion pieces, Tarantino has created a pair of "historical revenge" epics that allow the oppressed to violently dispose of their oppressors, even though such gratification never actually occurred.

But those are minor details -- so what if a Jewish soldier never got to shoot Adolf Hitler a dozen times in the torso, or a slave got to pierce a rotund white man's heart and intone, "I like the way you die, boy," as Foxx does in the "Django" trailer? With these films, Tarantino is arguing that history cannot be rewritten so much as remolded to first play upon the audience's predetermined sympathies, and then dismiss the age-old tales in favor of some ostentatiously fabricated heroics. In both "Basterds" and "Django," the images of the respective periods are painstakingly arranged, perhaps so well that the work goes unnoticed; from the 1940s German cinema to the sun-kissed Mississippi plantations, Tarantino's masterful production design steeps the viewer in the history that he's about to blow up. But when the trap door finally swings open and the audience is splattered with an improbable series of events, it's hard not to get swept up in the positive mayhem, especially since Tarantino has constructed a lifelike stage for his heroes to succeed upon. If it looks real and sounds real, then these acts of vengeance -- Jews killing Nazis, bounty hunter slaves killing slave masters -- could have been real, right? The mind knows that the answer is no, but Tarantino wants to appeal to our hearts.

Of course, there is a stark difference between "Inglourious Basterds" and "Django Unchained," with the latter constructed more like a lost piece of mythology than a twisted Ken Burns documentary. Early in the film, Christoph Waltz's character recounts a German fable in which a man climbs a mountain and walks through hellfire in order to save his own damsel in distress; his pistol-packing protege, Django, then embarks on a quest to replicate that fable by trying to find his wife, who has been separated from him by the slave trade. Unlike "Inglourious Basterds," which showcased the untrue demise of Hitler, Joseph Goebbels and basically the entire Third Reich during its climax, Django is railing against fictional white men and women that represent the cruelty of the unemancipated South, and not, say, an actor playing Jefferson Davis. In this way, the storytelling can stretch out more comfortably -- we root for Django to exact revenge upon the violently racist obstacles between his wife and himself, and whenever he is successful, we don't feel guilty knowing that that's not how it really happened 200 years ago. Tarantino's two newest films are works of highly improbable historical fiction, but "Django Unchained" prevents its fantastical action from including 19th century characters that its audience will recognize (and if you want that, you can walk a few paces across the multiplex and see "Lincoln").

There are other factors that tether "Inglourious Basterds" and "Django Unchained" together, other than the Tarantino signatures of whip-smart dialogue, tremendously showy performances and a lot of blood. For one, both films are very, very funny in parts. Despite the brutality of the subject matter, there are knowing jibes and slick one-liners that reference the absurdity of war and slavery. And while "Inglourious Basterds" included one of Brad Pitt's loosest performances as Basterds leader Aldo Raine and a supporting spot by Mike Myers as a British general, "Django Unchained" has Jonah Hill and Don Johnson swapping lines in one of Tarantino's most deliberate showcases of slapstick to date.

Both films also allow Tarantino to experiment with extended, agonizingly tense sequences: in "Basterds," the tavern scene in which undercover actress Bridget von Hammersmark must rendezvous with the Allies without giving away her true motives is a bravura display of quiet dialogue that ultimately leads to a firefight. The details of "Django's" own act of pure nervousness won't be spoiled here, but Tarantino stretches the feeling of that tavern scene across an amazing amount of footage in his latest effort. The director has been causing stomach knots for years -- remember Vincent and Jules' house call early in "Pulp Fiction"? -- but never over quite this long of a running time.

As his career enters its third decade, Tarantino has decided to look back with his last two films and graft his style on some of the ugliest pieces of world history. Whether or not he continues down this path remains to be seen -- perhaps his next film will feature Thomas Jefferson slashing the throats of a few Redcoats? -- but after shaking up history like a snowglobe with "Inglourious Basterds" and now "Django Unchained," it will be interesting to see what subject he tackles and transforms next.

From the Web

More on Vibe

Getty Images

An Unofficial Documentary About Drake Is Currently On Streaming Services

An unauthorized documentary about the rise of musician Drake can be viewed on video distribution services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. Drake: Rewriting the Rules initially dropped on Vimeo in Nov. 2018, and now, fans of the "God's Plan" musician will have a chance to watch it at their leisure on other platforms.

The documentary chronicles the music superstar from his days growing up in Toronto, to portraying Jimmy on the hit-teen drama Degrassi, to becoming a hip-hop star and working with musicians from Kanye West to his Young Money leader, Lil Wayne.

"Discover the untold story of how Drake rewrote the rules and rose from a child actor to become a cultural phenomenon and global musical icon," writes IMDb of the film's synopsis. "He is the king of pop and hip hop, combining many musical styles into one mainstream sound." The film runs 74 minutes long. Interviews from media figures and writers are included in the doc, which was directed and written by British filmmaker Ray King. However, no representatives from Drake's team are included.

Drake has not commented on the doc as of press time. He has been relatively quiet in the news, however, it's being reported that he is close to securing a residency of sorts at the Wynn's XS Nightclub in Las Vegas.


Continue Reading
Courtesy of Hulu

Stream: Hulu's 'FYRE Fraud' Doc Examines The Festival That Scammed Thousands

In 2017, rumors of an exclusive festival taking place in the Bahamas took over social media. Organized by Billy McFarland and promoted by Ja Rule, the FYRE Festival was the new, cool kid on the festival block and quickly put other more seasoned festivals to shame.

But all that glitters isn't gold.

FYRE FRAUD, the new documentary streaming on Hulu, takes an intimate look at the scam that left thousands stranded on the island. Directed by Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby Nason, the dark-comedy interviews whistleblowers, victims, and the convicted con-man himself, McFarland.

In a press release, Fraust and Nason said the goal isn't to make light of those who were scammed.

"Our aim was to set the stage for a strange journey into the moral abyss of our digital age, going beyond the meme to show an ecosystem of enablers, driven by profit and willing to look the other way, for their own gain.

"We draw on countless cultural references, on true crime tension, and on humor - but we did not intend to create a toothless comedy about the Fyre Festival. We hope this film can pierce our collective apathy and disrupt our own millennial peers, if only for an instant - to look at these stories for what they truly are, and to halt this algorithm before it devours us whole."

FYRE FRAUD is now streaming on Hulu.



Continue Reading
Al Bello

Dave Chappelle Isn't Sure His R. Kelly 'Chappelle Show' Skits Were Insensitive

The Surviving R. Kelly series may be over, but the fallout from it has seemingly just begun.

Director dream hampton took to Twitter during the airing of the Lifetime documentary and spoke honestly about the several celebrity men she contacted in hopes they'd speak on camera about R. Kelly and the years of sexual allegations that have shadowed him. Among them was Dave Chappelle.

The beloved comic famously made a music video entitled "Piss On You" mocking the real-life video of R. Kelly urinating on an underage girl. During the Chappelle Show heyday, he used R.Kelly's legal woes as material for years.

TMZ caught with Chappelle in West Hollywood and asked him if he regretted not being featured in hampton's series and instead he dodged the question.

"Jesus Christ, I just had dinner," Chappelle said in between taking a drag of his cigarette. "I just ate. Strop bringing that motherf**ker up."

When pressed about whether or not he thinks his old skits were insensitive, the 45-year-old said "I don't know. I'd have to watch it again."

D.L. Hughley joined Chappelle for dinner and commented on R.Kelly and the forthcoming Michael Jackson documentary, Leaving Neverland, which outlines sexual assault allegations against the late singer.

"If you can be mad at R. Kelly, you should be mad at Michael Jackson," Hughley said.


Continue Reading

Top Stories