AVATAR (2009) - *** 1/2 (out of four) INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009) - **** (out of four) Heroes and villains switch, victories go tainted and angels and demons run about in Quentin Tarantino's bold, loud, recklessly audacious masterpiece Inglourious Basterds--a beautiful movie, one that is epic and thorny in scope and headspinningly rich with allusions, multiple interpretations, theatrics and mise-en-scene. One may confuse Inglourious Basterds as simply an ignorant splendor of hipster movie karaoke and bloodbaths, but the movie addresses so much more--dynamic, classy, insane streaks of dialogue and monologues that cover everything from hardboiled romance, cinephilia, ethics and devastating confrontations, communicated passionately and gloriously through a sprawling range of multifaceted characters--desperados, political leaders, wolves and corpses alike. Through the Fountain of Youth stream of ideas, showdowns and clever deliveries, Quentin Tarantino transfers ruminations of history, war, morals and of course, movies, and the rushes, depths, mysteries and conflicts that surround them all. From the first encounter between a French farmer hiding Jews beneath his attic and the much feared Jew Hunter--a scene primal and thespian in emotion and suspense and pastoral and dreamlike in composition and landscape (one of the few great movie scenes of 2009)--Tarantino announces himself as big, bold and revolutionary, and spends the rest of the movie effortlessly proving himself right and much more, full force and speed, right until the explosive end. The movie may remind one of, perhaps, a masterful literary work (the movie is even divided in chapters); if Quentin Tarantino was a writer, this would be his masterpiece, the Great American Novel. Through all the youthful flurry of love and passion that Inglourious Basterds so proudly displays, its genious is spread with even balance, even scene intertwining, gently passing on to the next. There are showdowns. There are battles of wills, mind and guns. There are wild schemes, delirious plots and cackling, careful strategies that fuel the colorful, varying characters in the dizzying, delusional, rampaging world of Inglourious Basterds. Yes, but Quentin Tarantino adds not merely a cinephilic subtext and beautiful, impressionistic pageantry to his alternate history. The movie meditates on questions, morals and what-ifs, and surrounds itself around film's relationship with culture, society and history. The toppling of the Third Reich is achieved through the cinema, and the movie-within-a-movie in Inglourious Basterds--Nation's Pride--is itself fueled by greed, war and violence. The movie is alive and kicking with philosophy, poetry, and curiosity, punctuated by paroxysms of bloodshed. It works on so many different readings: as entertainment, as a wondrous, feverish, impassioned cine-essay (think Histoire(s) du Tarantino or Tarantino le Fou?), as a crazy but oddly profound look at intolerance, racism and nationalism flipped and spun and turned upside down. It's commentary, it's movie-making love, it's simply satisfying. It's fueled by bravado performances--Bradd Pitt's Southern twang is genius, and Hitler's speech is dialogue perfection. The card game was brilliant and so was everyone in the opening and ending chapters, as well as all in between--and how can one forget Christoph Waltz' role as Hans Landa, possibly one of the best male roles since Peter O'Toole wore a white robe and called himself T.E. Lawrence back in 1962? I can't say any more, I'm speechless. I'd tell you more, but I would feel bad for spoiling all the wonder and genius that went into this ferocious, bold, massive, bloated and brilliant work of art that is Inglourious Basterds. It's enough to turn the most jaded of old movie critics back into a young cinephile again. And whereas Inglourious Basterds is a magnificent illusion in all respects and terms, visual and intellectual, literary and structurally, Avatar makes itself known as a magnificent illusion, but of a very different type. James Cameron has dropped the tin ear and stale, calculated romanticism that plagued the otherwise decent Titanic, and has developed a more noticeable, more annunciated heart and soul, a vision of greater passion and complexity. The tribes, the conflicting cultures and Green/anti-War messages that are shown are quite developed, quite clear and fully-blown, so one can witness every breathing, living detail, political and spiritual, emotional and reverent. But there's something very slightly, almost microscopically off with the lush, splendid Avatar--perhaps, through all the visual splendor and wondrous, impressionistic swirls, colors and textures that make up the craft of the movie, Cameron and co. didn't find enough time for some good writing? But there honestly isn't much negativity to write on about Avatar. The humanity and theatrics alike are all in full form and shape, balanced well with the beautiful, jaw-dropping universe of Avatar's 2154-set vision. Has there ever been anything in cinema more eye-opening to watch than to see the world of Pandora, with the cloudy, swirling blue bead that is Earth being completely engulfed by its dropdead gorgeous, varying hues of pink, orange, blue and crimson? It's an incredible, heartstopping journey, to watch and experience the senses and landscapes of Avatar. Watching it is very similar to, say, Star Wars (as Roger Ebert very correctly pointed out), a cultural and technical landmark of its time--a work of lovely, passionate entertainment, albeit an overt, if not beautifully realized, anti-industrialist allegory on the times of today. This is punctuated in its bubbling, rising storyline--where one paralyzed military soldier leaves his body through terms of medical surgery into the body of a humanoid-like native in the land of Pandora--and explores the spiritual, ceremonial, and nature-worshipping tribe of Na'vi. Such visual, cultural and political complexity on display is wondrous, something that should be admired and reflected upon over more than one viewing, and perhaps even some background study. The tales and faces of men at war, the Na'vi, their stories, lives and memories--are all seen in full, visceral splendor through the 3-D, the forested, exotic realms and stretches, mechanical and natural, from the skies to the seas, in Avatar. It passes the Uncanny Valley, transcends the Hero Cycle, and sidesteps the cliches and tropes that one would attribute to such an epic tribal/space opera. It's a visual storm, one of purity and craftsmanship, a new step--a leap, in fact--towards the future.