I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again (and again, and again): There is no contemporary director that I am more taken with than Quentin Tarantino. Sure, I get hyped whenever Scorsese, Soderbergh, Haneke, Herzog, McQueen, Burns and the like, have films on the horizon, but there’s something about A Film By Quentin Tarantino that thrills my movie-freaked mind to no end.
Looking over the films he’s done, well, let me just say if you aren’t a fan of Tarantino’s, then this post may fall on deaf ears. I can honestly think of no other director’s body of work that I have given a higher median grade average for. From the onset, QT has never not hit. In my eyes, he is a living master.
A worthy short film that was plagued by misfortune when a fire destroyed half of the original negative, now only 36 minutes of Tarantino’s out-and-out comedy remains, and that’s good enough for a taste of what was to be.
Shot in harsh 16mm black and white, the film is, essentially, about a guy who aims to do something nice for his friend’s birthday, but to no avail. The film definitely has the stamp of an amateur, but it’s fun nonetheless. B
Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Having trouble securing funding for a little heist movie he’d written, Tarantino made friends with Mrs. Harvey Keitel in a screenwriting class. She introduced the struggling writer to her husband, who eagerly helped get the film made, and the rest, as they say, is history.
What can I say about Tarantino’s perfect robbery-gone-awry thriller that hasn’t been said before? Perhaps most importantly, and now most obviously, is that the film never actually shows the heist that immediately ruins the lives of all the Dogs involved. We listen, we drop jaws, we look away, we admire, but never do we actually see. I know that point has been picked apart and dissected to death, but it’s an important point all the same. With Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino proved that words could indeed reign supreme. Sure, bitchin’ tunes and a bit of the old ultra violence doesn’t hurt, but more than anything, this is a film that so poignantly captures the art of the written word. Nearly as well as the film that would follow it. A+
Pulp Fiction (1994)
When I was 10 years old, I sat literally stupefied by the marvel that is Pulp Fiction. It was my first of many things: my first Tarantino flick, my first foray into the notion of cursing as an art form, my first discovery of non-linear storytelling – it was, in many ways, the movie that changed movies. (For me, but really for all of contemporary cinema, too).
I’ve long since hailed Pulp as my second favorite film of all time, and while Reservoir Dogs forcefully asserted that writing is an essential art form, Pulp Fiction cemented the notion with vicious gusto. It’s a film so acutely aware of what’s it’s doing (and ultimately, achieving) that to this day, I remain in awe of its command.
One final thing that doesn’t get discussed enough: my general movie tastes are obviously indicative of the fact that I like heavy cinema. I find a certain level of truth in the struggle. That noted, Pulp Fiction is, hands down, the funniest movie I’ve ever seen. And one of the very best, to boot. A+
Four Rooms: “The Man From Hollywood” segment (1995)
It’s New Year’s Eve and a bellhop is coming off of the worst shift of his life. Moments before he musters the courage to quit, the penthouse calls requesting a few items. The bellhop (played to Buster Keaton-esque excellence by Tim Roth) abides, taking a block of wood, a ball of twine, some nails, a hatchet as sharp as the Devil himself, and more to the man from Hollywood resting in the top floor.
The man is famous film director, Chester Rush (Tarantino himself), and what he has in store for his guests and the innocent bellhop is so perfectly… Tarantino. Rapid dialogue, extremely long takes, an angry Bruce Willis… what’s not to like? A-
Jackie Brown (1997)
Whatever movie Quentin Tarantino made directly following Pulp Fiction was always going to have the misfortune of directly following Pulp Fiction. That film is a cultural icon that changed the game. Whether you love it or despise it, its impact is inarguable. Jackie Brown isn’t as significant, but that certainly doesn’t cheapen its worth.
A sprawling, epic heist thriller, Jackie Brown tells the multilayered story of a down-and-out stewardess and how the men in her life all fall under her whimsical spell. What’s great about this film (okay, one thing that’s great about this film) is that you never know what Jackie (played to Oscar-worthy faultlessness by Pam Grier) is thinking. She’s double-crossing her boss, Ordell (Samuel L. Jackson, delivering the finest work of his career), by letting him know that she is double crossing him. She tells an ATF agent (a never-better Michael Keaton), that he’s in on the charade, and she suggests to the bail bondsman that loves her, Max Cherry (Robert Forster, a perfect encapsulation of middle aged despair) that he’ll benefit the most. There’s no question Jackie is running the show, but to who’s advantage? A+
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)
The revenge flick to end all revenge flicks, Vol. 1 of Tarantino’s epic Kill Bill sets the scene savagely, imploring flashbacks, jump cuts, black and white, anime and damn near every other narrative device you can think off, to tell its tale.
I honestly think the most important distinction to highlight in this film (above its impeccable use of music, its never-ending, ceaselessly thrilling sword fight sequence, and its stirring cinematography) is the fact that it stands as its own film. The original movie was destined to clock in at over four hours, so Harvey Weinstein suggested splitting them up. Normally, this causes the first film to result in a cliffhanger that is better suited on weekly television. And while Tarantino leaves Vol. 1 with the audience gasping for air (not to mention, more more more), it is most definitely it’s own film. Vol. 2 makes it better, but Vol. 1 certainly stands tall on its own. A
Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004)
I remember when Vol. 2 came out, and people were pissy about the fact that it didn’t have as much action as its predecessor. And while that’s accurate, it’s not entirely fair. Vol. 2 isn’t a good action film, but it isn’t trying be. Vol. 1 offers up the thrills, whereas Vol. 2 delivers the heart.
Make no mistake, The Bride being buried alive, the trailer park fight, Michael Madsen’s voice – Vol. 2 has its fair share of excitement, but I’ve always considered it one of Tarantino’s more accomplished dramas. The reuniting of The Bride with her thought-to-be-deceased daughter proves to be some of the most emotionally charged scenes the director has ever put on film. Kill Bill as a whole is a kung fu pop masterpiece. Split up, they are a flawless action picture, and a dutifully heavy drama, respectively. A
Death Proof (2007)
In an interview Tarantino gave a few years ago, he said he is obsessed with recycling a familiar film notion, and making his version the best. He cited Death Proof’s grueling and fascinating climatic chase sequence as an example. Car chase sequences are a dime a dozen in films, but QT wanted to make his the best one yet. It’s a tough argument as to if he succeed, but I simply find it impossible to disagree that what Tarantino did during that epic showdown is nothing less than hair raising.
And that’s just one fuckin’ scene of this grindhouse romp. Yeah, I get it, many people (most…?) didn’t dig the Grindhouse shtick upon its initial release. Reasons for that are varied, but I was so taken with what Robert Rodriquez and Tarantino went for from the get-go. Maybe people felt let down (or aggravated) by getting to know a handful of girls through extended conversations (that had nothing whatsoever to do with plot), only to see them all perish. Me? I thought it was ingenious. In the warped, exploitative mind of Quentin Tarantino, no one is safe. Period. A
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Spanning the globe with a multitude of actors speaking just as many languages, Tarantino’s revisionist World War II flick is a war film of our time. Instead of sandy beaches, QT’s battlefield is a basement pub, where the slight mispronunciation of a word can slowly, painfully cause your demise. Extended scenes of torture are swapped for lengthy conversations about European films and the importance of having your strudel with cream. In short, from its title on down, Inglourious Basterds aims to do things differently. Tarantino has little interest in authenticity; his sole concentration is to entertain.
And, circling back to one of my main points, most clearly since Pulp Fiction, Inglourious Basterds solidifies that screenwriting is an art. You’re never entirely sure where the conversation will go (or if they will go anywhere), but it’s impossible to not take your ears off the spectacle of QT’s verbose manner of speaking. Its first scene enforces my point entirely. The initial curiosity, slowly mixed with unbearable suspense, before finally resulting in ultimate dread, all with the spoken word. That’s saying something. A
Django Unchained (2012)
In all honestly, it’s a little too early to measure Tarantino’s latest against the entirety of his body of work. Many people have asked me if I prefer this slave revenge epic to the retaliation depicted in Inglourious Basterds. My answer: Who knows. Both are bold, new, and simply unforgettable. Is Django Unchained as good as Inglourious Basterds (or Kill Bill, or Jackie Brown or whatever)? I can’t say. What matters is that when you sit down to watch Django Unchained, you are witnessing the birth of something new.
Critics of the film medium often say that film is dead – it’s only comprised of secondhand content. Sadly, they are mostly right. But every once in a while, Quentin Tarantino musters up the courage to step into the arena one more time and give us something fresh. Now, for a guy who makes it so blatantly obvious that he rips from other films, I still feel confident in calling Tarantino’s work it’s own. For better or worse, the man makes his own movies. Djagno Unchained is a perfect case in point. A
Kill Bill: Vol. 1
Kill Bill: Vol. 2
My Best Friend’s Wedding
Just Plain Bad
Previous Director Profiles include:
Paul Thomas Anderson
the Coen Brothers
David O. Russell
Paul Thomas Anderson
the Coen Brothers
David O. Russell