October 16, 2013

Tarantino and Israeli Movies

I'm working on the post I promised to write, but I have to take a break to comment on a story that's probably not going to interest a lot of people, but I feel like I can't just ignore it. I'm talking about Quentin Tarantino endorsing an Israeli movie by the name of Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf (מי מפחד מהזאב הרע), which is one of the worst movies I've ever seen.

First of all, let me get this out of the way: I despise Tarantino and his movies. I didn't use to have anything against Tarantino himself: honestly, I found Pulp Fiction to be passable at best, and I seriously think that any attempt to make movies like Kill Bill out to be anything other than dimwitted exploitation is just people kidding themselves. But up to that point, it wasn't personal. Everyone is free to like bad movies. Hell, I love How High and the Friday trilogy, so who am I to say anything.

But then Tarantino made two movies that were so offensive to me, I just couldn't take it anymore. I'm talking about Inglorious Bastards and Django Unchained. To be honest with you, I haven't watched either one all the way through: I tried watching IB about 4 times, and could never get through the halfway point, because this movie is SO GODDAMN BORING. Say what you will about Friday, at least you wanted to see how Craig and Smokey are going to get out of trouble. Who could possibly care about Tarantino's cartoon characters?

But that's not the worst part of it. The worst part is that Tarantino, in both cases, was seeking to exploit some of the worst human tragedies in history to make another stupid gore-fest. Like Spike Lee said, Tarantino was trying to make out slavery to be a Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western. He tried to do basically the same thing to the holocaust in IB.

The thing is, I seriously believe Tarantino is actively trying to offend people at this point. After Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs, I guess he realized that critics and pretentious movie snobs will praise basically any movie he puts out, and that's when he started basing all his movies on splattering blood. After a while, he thought "you know, I bet I could poke fun at the holocaust and get away with it too". And how right was he - Israeli Jews were actually stupid enough to invite him over so they could personally kiss his ass. "OK guys", he then said, "I know what I'll do next - make light of slavery!" "Oh no, Quentin, you'll never get away with that." "Oh you just watch me." And the crazy thing? Yeah, he got away with it for the most part.

My dislike of all things Tarantino aside, I hated Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf from the day I watched it, which was probably less than two weeks after it was released here. Israeli film critics were heaping praise on it, claiming that "it doesn't look like an Israeli movie", and they're right, insofar as the production values are actually pretty good for the most part. But that alone doesn't make a good movie. A good movie has to tell a story, has to be somewhat interesting, and it doesn't hurt if it's brave enough to discuss an issue that's somewhat taboo. Unfortunately, Bad Wolf is a cowardly and pointless movie.

Spoilers for the movie follow, although honestly, you're not going to watch it. The movie is about a middle-aged man by the name of Gidi (Tzahi Grad), kidnapping and torturing Dror (Rotem Keinan), who is under suspicion for kidnapping and murdering Gidi's daughter - based, by the way, on a rather ambiguous testimony by one other girl - to get him to confess and tell him where he buried parts of his daughter that were never found (I won't go into the specifics). Now, torture is a rather taboo subject in Israel, much more so than even in the US. Both the army as well as the secret service employ it regularly, and anyone who opposes that practice is widely considered to be a self-hating traitor. I'm actually bound to get a lot of hate mail just for pointing that out, but what the hell, right?

This means that the movie could really have done something brave and interesting by tackling the issue of torture, because Dror spends the entire movie denying he had anything to do with the girl's murder, up to the point where Gidi eventually kills him. But no. No one ever says anything about torture being wrong or ineffective in principle. The only thing that's in question is Dror's guilt, and the movie even manages to demolish that tiny bit of interest by showing us in the last scene that yeah, Dror actually did it. It's as if the directors were such blatant cowards that they had to say "hey, we know those torture scenes were gnarly, but don't worry- the guy deserved it!"

Another factor which makes this movie impossible to like is the presence of Lior Ashkenazi. Now, I have been bashing the movie a lot, but Grad and Keinan actually manage to turn in great performances. They're great actors who do the best that can be done with the god-awful writing (which often feels like someone tried to write something for an American cop show and then used Google translate to put it into this movie), and are unfortunately wasted here. Ashkenazi, on the other hand, is just a terrible actor. Throughout the movie, he has exactly one facial expression - a combination of "I'm a tough guy" and "I'm worried", which is probably an attempt to make it clear to us that his character is some tragic hero. It doesn't work, and for a hero, he sure acts like a scumbag vigilante for most of the movie, who basically leaves Dror to die at the hand of a maniacal torturer.

The funny thing is, the creators seem to be somewhat conscious of what enormous cowards they are, so they have a Palestinian character on screen for a grand total of about 30 seconds, as if to say "hey look, an Arab. You know, because this is a movie about torture." I am willing to bet good money that in one of the earlier drafts, the guy had a much bigger role, and was only left in the movie so that there would be an argument for it not being a complete cop out. 'Cause otherwise, the guy is completely redundant as far as the plot goes.

I could go on about how much this movie sucks and all the ridiculous, pointless things about it. I think you get the message, though. I'll finish with this thought: there's a saying in academia that first-rate people hire first-rate people, while second-rate people hire third-rate people, and third-rate people hire fifth-rate people. Tarantino is a second-rate movie director praising a third-rate movie, and I dread to think what garbage will start receiving praise next.