Twenty years ago this year I saw my first Quentin Tarantino movie. A rental, "Reservoir Dogs" blew me away and still does to this day. 7 further theatrical films have followed, all of whom I've been lucky enough to see on the big screen during opening week, and obsess over during re-watches on the small screen.
I've therefore been a Quentin Tarantino obsessive for half of my life. Every new film is eagerly awaited, and every one eagerly defended (in my head anyway) from the queue of critics lining up to dismiss his latest creation. Too violent, too oblique, too self reverential, too exploitative. Too clever even! All criticisms and many more have passed his way.
There can be no doubting that Quentin's films will pass into movie folklore. They're not all as masterful as Pulp Fiction. They're not all as heart breaking as Jackie Brown. They're not all swathed in nostalgia and homages to cinema of the past. But they are lovingly created by an auteur. He has written and directed all eight films. He has created characters in all of his films that are richly layered, yet with human hearts and frailties. There can also be no doubting that his films split audiences like no other Director except maybe Lars Von Trier.
Can we just say he's a terrible actor, especially when starring in his own films, and move on?! As well as writing and directing all of his films, he's also acted in cult classics such as Four Rooms, From Dusk til Dawn and Desperado both of which were directed by his lifelong friend Robert Rodriguez. Tarantino has also guest directed on both "Four Rooms" (hugely underrated film) and "Sin City", as well as writing classics such as "True Romance" (directed by Tony Scott), "Natural Born Killers" (directed by Oliver Stone) and "From Dusk til Dawn" (directed by Robert Rodriguez).
One last, but important note - All his films up to 2009 were edited by Sally Menke, who sadly passed away in 2010. RIP.
This is my personal blog and general love in with a genius. I've created it in honour of one of the greatest cinematic Directors of our age and maybe the greatest storyteller ever. His films have produced arguably the greatest performances from some of modern day cinema's greatest acting talent. Uma Thurman in Kill Bill is simply astonishing. Samuel L Jackson's performance in Pulp Fiction speaks for itself, and in his last two films he has propelled Christoph Waltz's amazing acting talent into the stratosphere. He has also reinvigorated the careers of some of his early heroes like Pam Grier and David Carradine and Robert Forster in particular is both sublime and at his career best in Jackie Brown. This is an entirely personal blog, how I've felt watching these classics and taking them to my heart over the years. They are very definitely written in a myopic, fan based way and I've also tried to make this blog distinct from my earlier film blogs by concentrating on specific scenes, chapters or characters. I've also, hopefully, changed the format subtly in a small homage to Tarantino. Nothing too earth shattering but see if you can spot them.
This is not intended as a fact track or reams of quotes or intended to give spoilers that may spoil your enjoyment of his cannon of work. All of those things can be gained elsewhere on the Internet! My main purpose aside from my over the top love for this genius of a Director is to give 5-10% maximum of the respective films, be it a dissection of the opening scene or the central character and his traits, and never to give away too much in terms of exposition that will lead to obvious spoilers.
His films raise many questions, his characters spill over into other films, his themes likewise. I love the following eight films so much, I hope I do them justice in a very small way, and I hope you enjoy the ride. Now, grab yourself a Big Kahuna Burger and enjoy!
Reservoir Dogs (1992)
9 minutes and 40 seconds into this stunning debut classic from Quentin Tarantino and all seems in order. Shooting the shit around a coffee house table are mainly sharply dressed guys in black suits discussing various topics of the day, from the meaning of Madonna's "Like a Virgin", the merits or otherwise of tipping and the contents of the Boss' address book. Cue Steven Wright and his sublimely distinctive voice, "K Billy's Super Sounds of the 70's", and one of the most iconic movie introductions of recent history.
Following those first nine minutes, our cast of characters are introduced. Driving to the safe house is "Mr White" played with trademark cool and in a calm, methodical manner by Harvey Keitel. In the backseat, "Mr Orange" is bleeding profusely from a gunshot wound and our first introduction to a gem of a performance from Tim Roth. It's also the first of several dual performances throughout the film, whereby the story is excellently told by just two characters. Two cameras, Roth never losing eye contact with Keitel, it's a sublime moment. Back to Tim Roth, and his crowning glory in this film, the commode story. To justify his place in the heist team he memorises a drug selling story set in an airport toilet. Within a short two minute scene, Roth is excellent as we cut from learning the story in his flat, to performing for a friend, to actually performing the story in a nightclub. All the while, the flashbacks are cut between the actual event as portrayed in the story, to the nightclub and back again several times, before ending the story back in the actual event, telling the ending (as it were) to the Police officers in attendance!
"Mr Blonde" is a reckless, carefree thief and Michael Madsen brings the character to life in yet another iconic manner. Tarantino films are synonymous for being eminently quotable and in this debut feature, Mr Blonde features highly with classics such as "Are you gonna bark all day little doggie, or are you gonna bite?". There are numerous others. Suffice to say, Michael Madsen is superb. Separately, Mr Blonde has two key dual scenes, firstly a boisterous stand off with Mr White (with trademark cutting dialogue between the two), then with the unfortunate Policeman who has been kidnapped.
Quentin Tarantino plays a small cameo as "Mr Brown", as does Eddie Bunker as "Mr Blue", and there we have the heist team in full. In support of the team are two much fuller and richer roles, starting with the Boss "Joe Cabot", brilliantly played by Laurence Tierney and a truly stand out, career defining yet slightly unfulfilled role for Chris Penn as "Nice Guy Eddie".
Watching this classic in retrospect it's easy to spot the future Tarantino trademarks such as zoom close ups on inanimate objects (a bowl of quarters while searching for a wedding ring), character or place names for future films, dialogue that has transcended into the zeitgeist and a soundtrack that is absolute perfection. From "Little Green Bag" by the George Baker Selection accompanying the opening credits to "Hooked on a Feeling" by Blue Suede, "I Gotcha" by Joe Tex, to the immortal, iconic use of Stealers Wheels "Stuck in the Middle with You". Adding to the soundtrack but eminently more to the actual film is comedian Steven Wright. Using radio interludes as a path between Acts and his unique voice describing "K Billy's Super Sounds of the 70's" always raises a smile and from the first watching of this film has always been effective.
Another trademark is the use of the characters themselves to tell the story, as opposed to laying every part of the story on the screen. As we've established, the diamond heist doesn't go according to plan, yet we don't see it. Similarly, the ending of the infamous torture scene is not seen.
Further trademarks such as the use of a non linear time line is incorporated and being a fan of these film types I love the way it engages you in the story. Flashbacks are brilliantly used, fully explored and are richly detailed. As the majority of the film takes place in a safe house/warehouse, the film needs these flashbacks to be as explored as they are. They're not throwaway segments just to propel the story along, they are fully incorporated into the narrative. Also inserted into the narrative are numerous film/TV and culture references which are synonymous with future Tarantino films, but this film sees the least heavy use of them. The film opens with the Madonna discussion, The Lost Boys film is discussed, as are film stars such as Charles Bronson and Lee Marvin, with Mr Blonde's funny and infamous taunt at Mr White: "I bet you're a Lee Marvin fan!" Many more besides.
20 years since it's release, Reservoir Dogs has become a phenomenon, a cultural reference point, an iconic piece of film making. Still as fresh, challenging and disturbing as it was on release, it deserves its place as one of the greatest directorial debuts of all time.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Pulp: (1) A soft, moist, shapeless mass of matter
(2) A magazine or book containing lurid subject matter, and being characteristically printed on rough, unfinished paper
"Vincent? We happy?" "Yeah, we happy"
Where do you start when describing Pulp Fiction, especially with as few spoilers as possible? Three distinct stories spread across seven interweaving narratives. A fractured time line connecting some of the finest created characters of our age. A neo noir or American Noir, with some of the most quotable and indeed quoted dialogue in film history. A story of gangsters, small time criminals, a boxer, a drug dealer and an all important watch. Some criticised the film's bloody violence and aggression on release, similar to that of it's predecessor. Major criticism was reserved for it's open and graphic showing of continual drug taking. Thankfully sense prevailed early on, and it's rightfully taken it's place in the hallowed halls of the "Greatest films of all time".
Like all Quentin Tarantino films, I love this film to obsessive levels! 18 years on this shows no signs of abating, indeed on re watching specifically for this blog it took me way beyond the two and a half hour run time. Rather than provide a brief premise for the film, I'm going to appraise both the opening scene and the closing scene. Will this not break my "minimum spoilers" edict? Actually no, as it'll provide roughly 5-10% of the film's content, and it's a continuation scene of sorts. Tarantino is meticulous with every scene he shoots and I hope to convey this here. I also hope to convey how it makes me and/or the audience feel or react.
Beginning with "Pumpkin" and "Honey Bunny" and a wide shot of them which is beautifully lit next to the Diner window. This wide shot is one of only four main camera angles used in the Prologue. With a close up on Plummer, similar close up on Roth, and a zoom close up on Roth as he launches a tirade against immigrant shop owners who have the temerity to fight back during any robbery. This is preceded by playful, sexual banter, edited quickly between the two close up angle shots, building the tension as the topic of conversation settles on their next robbery. Losing eye contact with each other just once to be corrected that "Garcon" in fact means "Boy", the split second interlude breaks the tension and is the film's first amusing aside. Seemingly egging the other one, the sexual overtones are clear, as is the love and affection they have for each other, despite the frank nature of their conversation. The tension continues to build, especially the sexual overtones, they are clearly being turned on by their decision to rob the Diner, "right here, right now". The tension is only broken by Roth slamming his gun down on the table and his instructions for Plummer to control the crowd of diners and he'll look after the employees. The shot of the gun is typical Tarantino, a jolting, tension breaking close up and is the fifth different angle/shot of the scene. "I love you Pumpkin"- "I love you Honey Bunny". The scene length is 5 minutes.
Pumpkin (Tim Roth) and Honey Bunny (Amanda Plummer) both give incredible and pulsing performances. The scene length is short but it's an emotional roller coaster of love, passion, anger, desire and ultimately desperation.
Opening on the outside of the Diner we are quickly transported to a single shot of "Jules" and "Vincent", which remains a single shot and lingers long as they discuss first the greatness of their working colleague "Winston Wolfe", then the merits and demerits of eating bacon! The shot is only broken by a close up on Vincent as he laughs at his Partner for finally relaxing and enjoying himself and coming out of character. A typical Tarantino tension breaker but equally typically this is replaced with another, as close up, quick edited shots of the two are shown discussing that day's miracle event. Vincent is perplexed that Jules is taking the event so seriously, almost mocking him, but the majority of the screen time is now on Jules. Explaining the miracle and the "touch of God", the tension again builds, but again broken, this time by a separate shot of a diner shouting "Garcon - Coffee". Resuming the tension, still with the two close ups quickly edited against each other, Jules holds court before another tension breaker and the iconic "If my answers frighten you Vincent, you should cease asking scary questions".
A rolling close up of Jules is broken by "Pumpkin" and "Honey Bunny" as they begin their robbery, with a manic edited sequence of their crowd control and employee control techniques. Frantic, aggressive and a typical jolting lurch again from Tarantino. A close up of the cash register is also typical Tarantino, but is purely scene setting for the finale'
Pumpkin, collecting wallets from the diners is drawn to Jules, the coolest and calmest diner. With a rolling, close in shot of Pumpkin, gun pointing at Jules he demands both his wallet and the infamous briefcase. Only broken by occasional flash shots of the Diner Manager or Honey Bunny, the focus is now on two close in shots, of Pumpkin and of a calm Jules, completely at ease at having a gun pointing at him. The briefcase is opened and whilst distracted, Jules reverses the roles, now with gun pointing directly at Pumpkin, a single shot, never losing eye contact, he screams at Honey Bunny, gradually reducing the scream to a stern command, to a gentle almost whisper. Still with eyes fixed on Pumpkin, but talking quietly to Honey Bunny, Jules is now both holding court, and in complete control. Another tension breaker, talking quietly he requests everyone to be cool and with yet another pop culture reference, this time to "Happy Days", Jules states "We're gonna be like three little Fonzies here".
Now seated, Pumpkin still has a gun pointing directly at him, Honey Bunny, on a table with a gun pointing at Jules, with Jules still talking to Honey Bunny but never taking his eyes away from Pumpkin. The tension has dropped as Jules has taken control, however a typical Tarantino style of a Mexican standoff is very evident between the three. This is heightened further as the three become four as Vincent returns from the toilet. Any dialogue now is never directed at the person intended, Jules talking but with eyes fixed on Pumpkin, when Pumpkin talks his eyes never waver from Jules, Vincent to Jules, but never wavering from pointing his gun at Honey Bunny.
The tension is broken by Jules, still in complete control, as he demands the return of his wallet (cue typical Tarantino close up of wallet) and by calmly reciting Ezekiel 25:17. Deliberately now, the tension has completely drained away for the film's denouement. Discussing Ezekiel 25:17 and it's meaning, Jules has reached his own personal conclusion, his intended path for the future and his determination to see it through. Releasing his gun, he tells Pumpkin and Honey Bunny to leave, which they do, shattered, in each others arms. Leaving, the film ends with Vincent (carrying a book) and Jules (carrying the infamous briefcase), walk casually and calmly to the exit, before tucking their guns into their pants, and calmly leaving. The scene length is 16 minutes.
So there you have it! The other 90%? It's another two hours of flat out brilliance from a meticulous Director at the very top of his craft, and some of the greatest actors of our generation. Go see it. And if you've seen it already, see it again. You won't regret it. The film follows a three act structure very loosely, though as you've seen above these rules don't strictly apply, but are titled "Vincent Vega and Marsellus Wallace's Wife", "The Gold Watch" and "The Bonnie Situation" with continuous interweaving narrative strands throughout. The brilliant characters not already named above but who feature prominently include:
(Ving Rhames) Gets Medieval on someone's ass, and other areas of the body. Also prone to throwing people out of tall buildings if they give his wife a foot massage. This fact remains unproven.
Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) Sexy and sublime temptress. A performance I could watch again and again.
Butch (Bruce Willis) A journeyman boxer seeking a final payday. Steals somebody's Chopper and sings "Flowers on the Wall" in my favourite scene of the film
(Harvey Keitel) "I'm Winston Wolf. I solve problems"
(Christopher Walken) One single, surreal scene from the Master.
The soundtrack is a joy all of it's own. No musical score to speak of, more an eclectic mix of 60's/70's tracks from Tarantino's own collection. "Misirlou" plays over the opening credits and from there a collection of classics, "Jungle Boogie" by Kool and the Gang, "Let's Stay Together" by Al Green, "Son of a Preacher Man" by Dusty Springfield, "Girl, you'll be a Woman Soon" by Urge Overkill and "Flowers on the Wall" by The Statler Brothers are particular favourites and stand outs.
Although I've only concentrated on the Prologue and Epilogue, there is a two hour masterpiece from Quentin Tarantino in between. I've tried to keep spoilers to a minimum, but moreover tried to critique the Director's genius in just two small narratives. 18 years on, this modern classic remains as fresh, invigorating and challenging as it's always been.
Jackie Brown (1997)
"My ass may be dumb. But I ain't no dumbass!"
Based on Elmore Leonard's "Rum Punch" (although Tarantino wrote the screenplay), this is very much his homage to 1970's cinema and blaxploitation films in particular. As he's noted several times, these were the films he grew up on, sneaking into Grindhouse cinemas to watch Pam Grier (also referenced in Reservoir Dogs) a firm teenage favourite. The first Tarantino film to use a standard linear time line, this remains my personal favourite and considering the love I have for all Tarantino films, this is high praise indeed! It's my favourite purely because everything is subtle, the comedy is very black, but subtly done in so many distinct ways, the touches and flourishes of Tarantino are very evident, as are the flashbacks and the first split screen narrative. Suffice to say, the characters are rich and detailed and the screenplay is a joy. And although a homage, it's not overly so, and even subtle in this way too. As with all Tarantino films, the soundtrack from his personal collection is a joy, eclectic, yet often more tender than his previous (and future) films. The first scene and set up magnifies all these, and much more.
The film is bookended by "Across 110th Street" by Bobby Womack, and is played in full both times. Firstly, it accompanies a rolling shot of "Jackie Brown" (Pam Grier) as she makes her way hurriedly to the airport departure gate. Early opening credits are rolled with a nod and homage to Blaxploitation Cinema and as with previous films, the upcoming segments and narratives are titled, such as "Hermosa Beach, California", "The City of Carson" and "LA International Airport". By the third of these narratives, all main characters have been introduced and that's where we'll start.
Ordell and Louis visit "Max Cherry" (Robert Forster) to secure a bail bond on "Beaumont Livingston" (sublime cameo from Chris Tucker), an employee of Ordell's. With Louis very much in the background, this is a trademark Tarantino scene, of close ups on photo's, coffee mugs and other seemingly irrelevant objects. However it's the framing of Max and Ordell, and the superb performances from Forster and Jackson that are to the fore. Four main camera angles are used, with quick editing between the four raising the tension. Either close up or extreme close up on each of the two characters, a short scene, but confirms to the audience all we need to know. Samuel L Jackson as Ordell is again superb, smoking nonchalantly without a care in the world, relaxed and unfazed, it's pitch perfect and reveals a slightly more likeable layer to that of the first scene.
Robert Forster as Max deserves a special mention as, in my humble opinion, it's the performance of his career. Sublime and never flustered despite the chaos surrounding him, it's a quiet, composed and assured performance. With little or no real narration in the film, Max (and Forster's performance) become our story narrator, the film's soul and reason and deliberately so from writer Tarantino. It's clear very early on that Max falls in love with Jackie and it is her and her alone that can fluster Max, but more of this later.
As the title suggests, this is Jackie Brown's film and Pam Grier carries the film, propels the film and is the heartbeat throughout. The screenplay part was written explicitly for her and her sublime performance justifies this. The shared scenes with Robert Forster are a joy and backed by some of the best music choices in the film. Again, a Tarantino film spills over with great musical choices, but their shared scenes are backed by "Natural High" by Bloodstone and the fantastic "Didn't I Blow Your Mind This Time" by The Delfonics.
A crime caper, yes. But so, so much more. Subtle and flamboyant, brash and tender. Sexual tensions running high throughout and when released (once) it's a black comedic highlight of the film! Who's playing who? Who's falling in love with who? The follow up film to Pulp Fiction was always going to be difficult, nigh on impossible. Not as good as Pulp Fiction, but this fan's favourite. A triumph and a joy.
Kill Bill volume 1 (2003)
"This Woman deserves her revenge - and we, deserve to die"
Originally planned as a single film but after a final cut was over 4 hours long, together with Producers The Weinstein Brothers, it was decided that "The Bride" deserved two outings, and two chances to Kill Bill. With characters developed jointly by "Q & U" (Quentin and Uma for those unfamiliar with Tarantino films) and a mix of live action, Japanese anime', iconic actors with further parts written specifically for them and a fractured non linear time line, this fourth Tarantino film seemingly has everything. And by the time you've watched Chapter Five, you'll see what I mean!
My appraisal of Kill Bill Volume 1 will be to very briefly outline the opening prologue and four of the five distinct Chapters. For any Tarantino purists out there, yes I have deliberately left out certain scenes of the brief outlines for each of the four chapters.
In the remaining Chapter I aim to dissect this, scene by scene with as few spoilers as possible, but with as much texture and Tarantino love as I can muster.
Opening with a distinctive nod to his inspirations of Japanese and Hong Kong Cinema and martial arts films, "Shaw Scope" is quickly replaced by a 1970's style "Our Feature Presentation" slide, amid crackling and sound distortion.
"Revenge is a dish best served cold" - Old Klingon proverb
A flashback sequence to local sheriffs surveying the scene of the bride's massacre and light relief from both the music "That Certain Female" by Charlie Feathers and the Sheriff's son immortal line "Hell, they even shot the coloured fella who played the organ". Recovering at the hospital, we are introduced to another member of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad "Elle Driver" aka "California Mountain Snake"
Secondly, the showdown with the Crazy 88's that has gone down in bloody movie folklore. Starting with a pulsing excerpt from Ennio Morricone's "Death Rides a Horse" and holding Sofie Fatale hostage, through to it's bloody, limb strewn conclusion is pure Tarantino. The Bride, dressed in a full yellow jumpsuit in a clear homage to Bruce Lee takes on all comers with her trusty Hattori Hanzo samurai sword. With flat out brilliance from both the Director and his leading lady, the showdown is also edited quickly, a constantly moving camera and camera angles, slow motion shots, several mexican standoffs and tellingly, yet more Hong Kong cinema tinged sound effects. This segment alone needs to be seen to be believed, however, only part way through her destruction of the Crazy 88's, Tarantino switches the colour to Black and White (primarily to camouflage the extreme bloody exchanges) but this works to perfection, as does the homage colour change to blue towards the end of the scene. The intense nature of the scene is broken typically by Tarantino with a hilarious short sequence before we enter the final showdown.
Entering a snow covered, picture book style rooftop garden, the assassins approach each other, step by step, covered by one long, lingering shot. Mixing Japanese and English again, the tension is raised still further as the shots are now of extreme close ups on both protagonists. Mixing beauty with violence yet again, the rooftop garden is beautifully decorated and with slow motion snow falling in the background (plus a cut away to a water fountain) the metaphor is heightened further by the assassins themselves. O-Ren Ishii, in immaculate white, The Bride, blood splattered and weary. As they come together, another masterful choice of music begins "Don't Let me be misunderstood" by Santa Esmeralda, and with yet more homage shots of slow motion and close ups on the eyes, the final showdown commences. At the end of a breathtaking 3 segment Chapter, we fade to the strains of the beautiful "The Flower of Carnage". How very apt.
With notable cameos from Michael Bowen (returning from a cameo in Jackie Brown) as "Buck" and Father and Son Michael Parks and James Parks as "Earl McGraw" and "Edgar McGraw" respectively. Both reprise their roles in a future Tarantino film, and Michael Parks provides a career best cameo in Kill Bill Volume 2.
Unsurprisingly, it is Uma Thurman who deserves the plaudits and it is a truly masterful performance. The role of The Bride required everything, from composure to anger, to regret to fulfillment, triumph and sorrow. All is evident, as is a skilled use of a samurai sword, which is pulled off magnificently. Interspersed throughout with Hattori Hanzo's edicts for life as a narration, a fractured time line that suggests The Bride has only just got started and an auteur at the very top of his game. A soundtrack that is utterly fantastic and highly recommended as a stand alone CD. Oh, and someone called Bill (you may remember him?) doesn't really feature in his film at all. Appetite whetted? Good. On with the show!
Kill Bill volume 2 (2004)
Opening in Black and White but no references to "Shaw Scope" or crackly 70's "Our Feature Presentation" slides this time. Kill Bill Volume 2 was always mooted as being Quentin Tarantino's Spaghetti Western and this is very much his homage to the genre. The opening titles themselves are noir styled and fade into a repeat of The Bride's apparent slaying at her wedding of the first film. The opening monologue closes at the end of a noir saturated drive, one camera and The Bride never taking her eyes from the screen as she narrates her intention to "Kill Bill".
With a continued narration from The Bride, we slowly zoom into a sparsely populated wedding chapel. Tiring of a staid and bizarrely matter of fact wedding rehearsal (though this includes a superb brief cameo from Samuel L Jackson as "Rufus"), The Bride walks slowly toward the exit for some fresh air. Hearing a familiar sound as she approaches the door and a close up of The Bride, it's clear who's making that familiar sound.
Bill, sitting nonchalantly and playing his flute is clearly as aware as The Bride to each other's presence. Extreme close ups of both are quickly intercut with minimal dialogue. The two assassins approach each other, step by slow step, each one a homage and each one captured by Tarantino. It's evident that both are pleased to see the other and are deeply in love with each other, yet similarly detached from this and remaining in their assassins character. They remain wary of each other, as aptly shown by Tarantino's quick editing again and constant facial close ups. This is replaced quickly by a long, lingering single shot of the two assassins, with performances and dialogue to match, they each try to gain the upper hand and dominate the discussion, before Tarantino breaks the tension in typical fashion with first over the shoulders shots of both, then the introduction of Tommy.
(a superb cameo from Chris Nelson) is The Bride's husband to be and Carradine's portrayal here of Bill is outstanding. Never wavering, nor taking his eyes away from Tommy, his disgust and anger is clearly boiling. With the rehearsal about to start, Tarantino reverts to one single shot, brilliantly lighted to give The Bride an ethereal white glow surrounding her. Seeking Bill's approval, The Bride ends with a kiss that is not returned. A second kiss that is equally not returned, and slowly and quietly resumes the rehearsal. Bill's expression has again never wavered, nor has Tarantino's single shot, until with a reverse upward zoom we back out of the chapel to be met with the oncoming Deadly Viper Assassination Squad.
Resuming full colour and with a homage orange tint prevalent, a long shot of a mountain vista is soon replaced by a quickly edited two camera discussion between Bill and his brother "Bud" (Michael Madsen). Although their friendship and kinship now a thing of the past, Bill has come to warn Bud that The Bride is part way through her revenge and he'd like to help.
Chapter Seven - The Lonely Grave of Paula Schultz:
(Larry Bishop) A sublime and surreal cameo!
Bud (Michael Madsen) Just warming up for Chapter 9 and acquiring some bargaining chips along the way! A gem of a Chapter seeing one of our protagonists going to an incorrectly named grave and Johnny Cash's superb "A Satisfied Mind". A Chapter very much in the mould of the Director.
Chapter Eight - The Cruel Tutelage of Pai Mei:
Consists of three distinct narrative strands, a four camera angle fireside chat between a falling in love "The Bride" and Bill and a claustrophobic 2 camera angle escape from a coffin. Both sublimely shot and lighted. In between comes a performance from Gordon Liu as "Pai Mei" that is near perfection and Quentin Tarantino at his very best. Tarantino and Liu combine to produce the ultimate homage to Hong Kong cinema, extreme zoom in close up's/cutaways, slightly out of sync language from actor to screen, Liu's laughter and beard stroking! Some sublime kung fu.
Chapter Nine - Elle and I:
The opening and the Chapter in general is pure homage, to muscle car films of the 70's (soon to have a film all of it's own), spaghetti westerns and Hong Kong Cinema. From "Elle Driver" (Daryl Hannah) and her drive to Bud's trailer (with added suitcase), to the spaghetti western tinged sunset behind The Bride as she walks endlessly to meet her next assassin. Both of these key themes merge as we see The Bride, high on a mountain side watching Elle's arrival as we did earlier.
Cutting to inside the trailer, and an awkward conversation between two assassins, both with enmity for the other. The conversation is punctuated with typical Tarantino flourishes, of close ups on drinking glasses and the blender and the dialogue is prosaic, with Bud asking Elle which "R" she's feeling "Retirement" or "Regret". Before Elle can answer fully, Bud, opening the suitcase full of money receives Elle's surprise gift for him!
With Bud now prone and slowly dying (fantastic upside down shot of Elle standing above him, lighting a cigarette), she sits and calmly reads a narrative from the Internet, flicking through her notebook as she goes, before, with Bud on the brink of death, giving her answer, "Regret". Answering a call from Bill, she confirms the death of his brother and finally confirming that The Bride (whose name has been deleted throughout is actually...................) is dead too. She attempts to leave the trailer.
With a flying kung fu kick, The Bride knocks Elle down, and thereafter Tarantino infuses the third homage of this Chapter, Hong Kong Cinema with zest. The two assassins stage a violent kung fu battle, with slow motions galore, extreme close ups and numerous kung fu infused sound effects. Mid way through, Elle has a further revelation that fires The Bride still further and after a samurai sword mexican stand off, The Bride can finally score through Elle's name on her "Death List". With a last, lingering look at the fallen Elle, The Bride limps from the trailer.
Last Chapter - Face to Face:
(Michael Parks) Following his brief cameo in Kill Bill Volume One, Michael Parks produces yet another brief, scene stealing cameo here as Bill's friend.
Bill (David Carradine) Finally appears in his own film and finally gets the chance to act his arse off in a sublime performance.
Death Proof (2007)
Initially concepted as part of a Grindhouse double bill with good friend and "brother" Robert Rodriguez's "Planet Terror" (which is also highly recommended, naturally), early negative critical reaction saw both films released separately. Both fans of 1970's Grindhouse cinema whereby the theatres themselves were less than salubrious and the quality of the film print poor and decayed, this is also Tarantino's homage to stuntman orientated films of the period, of muscle cars but is primarily another exploitation film. In relation to Grindhouse itself, it became infamous for the poor quality, crackling sound, badly edited and distorted picture the Theatres would provide and in my own amateur homage to this I've reviewed this fantastic film by concentrating on this as you'll see. I've also picked and briefly described my five favourite scenes from each act.
A brief premise: "Stuntman Mike" (Kurt Russell) is a psychotic killer who derives sexual pleasure from car crashes, especially if they involve beautiful women.
The film itself is split into two distinct Acts, with a short bridging scene in between the two. My own amateur homage to Grindhouse will be to point these out in each Act, however I've only concentrated on the real crunching and awkward examples of this, as the film, and especially Act One is bathed in them! Please don't let the Grindhouse aspect of this film put you off watching as it's a fantastic film (naturally), rich characters, Tarantino dialled up to 10, and the Grindhouse aspect just adds to the flavour of the whole piece. Did I mention the soundtrack? Sublime. Enjoy!
ACT ONE - Grindhouse homages:
- During the opening title sequence "Thunderbolt" is deliberately and incorrectly shown as the film's title.
- Crunching abrupt cut from "Arlene" (or "Butterfly") as she's running holding her crotch to the apartment of "Julia Lucai" (or "Jungle Julia"), to all three girls now driving in their car.
- Screen flicker as Jungle Julia says "Who's Holding?".
- Abrupt cut from a conversation about Jesse Letterman to a totally separate "no hooking up tonight" conversation.
- Car containing the three girls simply disappears in the middle of the road, and in mid cheer as the girls go past another billboard for Jungle Julia's radio show.
- Crunching "cigarette burn" before introduction to Jungle Julia's friend "Marcy"
- Dialogue constantly out of sync for 3/4 seconds during same introduction to Marcy.
- As Marcy addresses Butterfly, the reels sound as though they are turning in reverse so we hear "so you must be", then "you must be the infamous Butterfly".
- A completely blank slide is inserted during the above conversation.
- Sadly(!) the lapdance from Butterfly comes to a crunching abrupt halt mid-way through the fantastic "Down in Mexico" by The Coasters.
ACT ONE - Five favourite scenes:
"Down in Mexico" by The Coasters, and Butterfly's lapdance for Stuntman Mike. It's sexy. It's sublime. It's Tarantino.
"The woods are lovely, dark and deep. And I have promises to keep. Miles to go before I sleep. Did you hear me Butterfly?. Miles to go before you sleep". The prelude to the above scene!
"Hold Tight" by Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich", a thumping song and astonishing build up to the car crash to end all car crashes!
Jungle Julia dancing in front of the jukebox, long hair twirling, as the superb "Baby, It's You" plays behind her.
Throwing away his cigarette and with a deliberate smile directly to the camera, Stuntman Mike has bad plans ahead.
ACT TWO - Grindhouse homages:
- As Stuntman Mike pulls into a parking spot, the colour is abruptly changed to black and white.
- As "Abernathy" (Rosario Dawson) is sitting on the bonnet of her car smoking, the black and white abruptly changes back to colour.
- Crunching pink distortion as "Zoe" (Zoe Bell) climbs out of the car to execute her "ships mast" stunt.
- "The End" credits end abruptly, replaced by a "Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino" and then quickly and awkwardly back again.
ACT TWO - Five favourite scenes:
Stuntman Mike tickling and licking Abernathy's feet as they're dangled out of the car. All whilst "Lee" (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is singing an awful version of "Baby, It's You"
The diner conversation between Lee, Abernathy, Zoe and Kim. Sublime camera angles (with occasional fleeting glimpse of Stuntman Mike), pop culture and film culture dialogue. Flirty and fun, and very definitely Tarantino.
Zoe's Ship's Mast!
The first of two utterly breathtaking car chases!
Cornered, Stuntman Mike needs help. And fast!
Inglorious Basterds (2009)
The A-list cast provide superb performances: Brad Pitt (Aldo Raine), Diane Kruger (Bridget von Hammersmark), August Diehl (Major Hellstrom), Slyvester Groth (Joseph Goebbels) and Melanie Laurent (Shoshanna), with eclectic supporting cameos from Eli Roth (Donny Donowitz), Mike Myers (General Ed Fenech) and Martin Wuttke (Hitler).
For this, Tarantino's 7th film, I'm concentrating on two of my favourite actors of the modern day, Michael Fassbender and Christoph Waltz.
Archie Hicox (Michael Fassbender) Heartbreaking as Bobby Sands in 2008's "Hunger", his creation of David in "Prometheus" was the star turn of the film. As Brandon in 2011's "Shame" he mesmerises you on his graphic descent into hell, and his verbal duel with Viggo Mortensen in 2011's "A Dangerous Method" is a joy.
Appearing in just three scenes of the "Operation Kino" Chapter, Fassbender's role as Archie Hicox is a supporting one but is both a standout and triumphant performance. Alongside a quietly effective cameo from Mike Myers as General Ed Fenech (and his small nod to his alter ego character of Austin Powers), his first introduction is of an upright English gentleman soldier, eloquent and intelligent and a scholar of the 1920's/1930's German film industry. A quiet beginning, as is his introduction to The Basterds! Trying to ingratiate himself within a tight knit team, he fully engages with all the team present, but it's his performance in the ensuing French bar that is magnificent. Now undercover and speaking German fluently, he is accompanied to the rendezvous with the double agent Bridget Von Hammersmark by Basterds members "Hugo Stiglitz" (Til Schweiger) and "Wilhelm Wicki" (Gedeon Burkhard).
Long before his own error, Fassbender's slight change in demeanour and frown replace the laughter of before and the resigned, knowing look he gives his team as he distributes the whisky before the final showdown is priceless. Reverting to English, he captures the character of Archie Hicox perfectly:
From his very introduction in the first scene of the film, Waltz as "Hans Lander" is always one step ahead of his adversaries, and always treading a fine line between calm, methodical precision and revengeful anger. He revels in his role bestowed upon him by The Fuhrer, and of his "Jew Hunter" nickname.
Throughout all of his interrogations, official and un-official, he lives up to his moniker, seemingly ahead of the game, already out thinking and out smarting his prey.
His performance in the first Chapter is a master class of character acting. Smiling and cordial to his hosts, yet instantly back to a blank, vacant expression, it's key to note his repeated glances and stares at young daughter Charlotte, three or four times he returns a glare that establishes his duality and of his exertion of control. The interchange between himself and "Mr LaPadite" (an excellent cameo from Denis Menochet) in the opening Chapter is the perfect introduction to Hans Lander. Meticulous and methodical, in control and determining the pace of the conversation, Mr LaPadite slowly crumbles as the SS Detective exerts control.
The comedic break with the smoking of their pipes is typical Tarantino and the first of only a few such trademarks in the opening Chapter. This is Waltz's performance to the fore, brilliantly encapsulated when, after Mr LaPadite has asked if it's ok to smoke his pipe in his own house, a smiling Hans Lander replies "Please Mr LaPadite, this is your house. Make yourself comfortable!"
Following the slaying that ensues, and with "Shosanna" (stand out performance from Melanie Laurent) in his sights as she escapes, pistol cocked and ready to fire he revels in the apparent ability to decide life and death. Despite her escape, he is almost triumphant in his "au revoir Shosanna!" exhortation. It brings to an end the best of the five Chapters, and a masterclass from Christoph Waltz.
His brief appearances in Chapters Three and Four layer the character perfectly before another full on performance in the final Chapter. Playful, blackly comedic interrogations, with Waltz always dominating both the story and the screen abound in this Chapter, as does the change from calm and meticulous, to avenging killer.
Aside from these two fantastic character performances is a gem of a film that excites every time I watch. Critically panned (what else?), it's Quentin Tarantino dialled up to about 9 on a scale of 10. As I've noted above, what I love most about this film is Tarantino's lighter touch and letting the characters he created actually breath throughout the film. At over two and a half hours it is one of his longer films but one with very different stories, varying locations and narrative strands to pull together. It's brilliant. It's critically hated. Excellent! Tarantino's clearly having the desired effect!
Django Unchained (2012)
"How much for young Django here?"
To say I was excited at seeing this for the first time would be a huge understatement. To say, as I did on Twitter, that watching a new Tarantino film as an unashamed and myopic fan, is akin to plugging every fibre of your being into the Matrix was both mixing my metaphor's and getting a little carried away with myself. But hey, I'd just seen a genius' latest creation, and what a creation it is. It's too early to judge the "critical reaction" but I have no doubt it will follow. There has already been a very public spat between Spike Lee and Tarantino regarding the use of the word "nigger" throughout the film (130+ times) and the usual outcry against the overt violence in the film. To base a judgement purely on these two terms is both ridiculous and as myopic perhaps as my love for the Director. That word is overly used, but squarely within the context of the film. I will detail my take on this later in the appraisal. The outcry over the violence employed is equally overblown and a lazy criticism yet again labelled at the Director. At times it is graphic, prolonged and disturbing and at others it is balletic, operatic and a joy to behold. Context is everything. Equally, this film and indeed the other classics noted above, aren't for everyone but as that myopic and lifelong fan of Tarantino I loved this new film on a par with Death Proof and Inglorious Basterds which is high personal praise. On with the film!
The opening twenty minutes (as with Inglorious Basterds) is a showcase for the wonderful acting talent that is Christoph Waltz. Along with Jamie Foxx, they are our two heroes for the duration of this 165 minute Western epic which is set in 1858 and two years prior to the American Civil War. These opening twenty minutes, whilst not introducing us to the entire cast, are an absolute joy, contain many Tarantino themes which please the geek fan in me, and here's my brief appraisal:
With a trademark opening shot of an old style Columbia Pictures icon this fades into yet another Tarantino trademark, of an uplifting and iconic soundtrack and the film's signature tune "Django" by Luis Bacalov. A brilliant, Western inspired track and one that sets the table for a soundtrack to the film that is yet again eclectic and brilliantly inspired. Throughout the full playing of this signature tune are red emblazoned opening titles set against the backdrop of black slaves, badly scarred and beaten walking slowly in a chain gang through an arid and unforgiving desert. Our hero, "Django" (Jamie Foxx) is only fleetingly front and centre but interestingly so, in a homage to Tarantino's 1997 film Jackie Brown.
Arriving at a wooded area with many of the chained slaves visibly tired and one falling to his knees in exhaustion, enter from the distance the film's star and yet another virtuoso performance of utter brilliance from Christoph Waltz as "Dr King Shultz". Immediately evident is his balletic and eloquent style of speaking despite the in joke use of it being "a second language" to him. Waltz immediately dominates the screen despite being a stranger amongst heavily armed guards and slaves, his language and demeanour immediately upsetting the less loquacious of the guards. Walking along the line of chained slaves he settles on Django and with a huge, calming smile addresses him to secure information. Django, unaccustomed to such friendliness cannot look at Shultz but rather it's Waltz's timing here, even in a very brief scene that excels. His smiles and nods are always in time as the camera remains fixed on him throughout their brief exchange, with Django rather more deliberately obscured and out of focus. Their conversation cut short by the two irritated guards, both of whom have now drawn their guns upon him, Shultz's smile as he approaches is one of wanting to bargain for the slaves, and Django in particular, however with gun's cocked and aimed towards him he drops his lighted lamp and in one movement kills one guard "fancy pants" indeed(!) and kills the second guard's horse, immobilising him underneath the weight of the dead animal.
Completing his business with the remaining still alive guard, it's clear that Shultz isn't the dentist he proclaims to be, rather a bounty hunter (no spoiler as this is evidenced very early on!) but it's Christoph Waltz's performance that is yet again sublime and captivating. With his distinctive eloquence, he issues a "Bill of Sale" for Django and conducts the conclusion of his business with a sublime authority with the still prone guard, hitting the said guard deliberately on the head with the money used to purchase Django. Darkly comedic throughout the opening ten minutes, it's Christoph Waltz's warm smiles and nods that accompany the in jokes and dark comedic references brilliantly.
Before our heroes ride off there are three interesting points of note to be made, as firstly, Tarantino makes a first use of a slow motion camera as Django ceremoniously disrobes from his slave clothing and a reassuring second point is that a certain brutal guard gets his bloody comeuppance from the freed slaves. Thirdly, we again return to a virtuoso performance from Christoph Waltz as he gives the freed slaves two choices, "or two, you could unshackle yourselves, take that rifle, put a bullet in his head and bury the two of them deep, and make your way to a more enlightened area of this country", before a brief astronomy lecture and a "Ta Ta" to finish. Sublime. Cue the brilliant "Braying Mule" soundtrack from Ennio Morricone and a short but bizarre exposition segment leading to the final scene of the opening 20 minutes.
Our two heroes have taken residence in a local saloon or Inn and when you see this film you'll understand why I've chosen my words carefully and coyly here, but again Christoph Waltz is to the fore with a delightful "Alas! Now we must act as our own bartender!", doing so in a Tarantino trademark close up, holding court as he does so. He continues to do so with his account of the slave trade, of bounty hunting and all with an air of complete relaxation, supping his beer with delight. Django, sitting opposite him in a very simple bar room scene is still unable to fully look him in the eye, cupping his beer in both hands, listening to Dr King Shultz's proposition. "On cue! Here come's the Sheriff!"
Our two heroes walk through the swinging doors of the saloon, Django hesitantly looking around at the massed audience from the town, whilst Dr King Shultz purposely walks ahead of him and confronting the Sheriff, shoots him in the stomach. Cut to a wider angled shot of the town and to a circling Shultz who calmly stops before shooting the Sheriff again, this time in the head. As the townsfolk flee in all directions, amidst fainting ladies and cries everywhere, Shultz proclaims triumphantly and with a smile "Now you can go get the Marshall". Whilst Ennio Morricone's "Braying Mule" plays again, sit back in delight and enjoy the remaining 145 minutes of this wonderful film from a genius of a film Director.
The all star cast in support of Christoph Waltz's virtuoso performance (watch for his little touches, gestures and nods that top the performance, plus of course introducing his horse by name every time he interacts with a new character!) is a typical Tarantino mix of rising stars, stars of the past and cameos from trusted returnees of previous films. Notable cameo and vital roles fall to Bruce Dern as "Old Man Carrucan", Dennis Christopher as "Leonide Moguy" and returnees to a Tarantino film are Zoe Bell, Michael Bowen and James Parks all as various "Trackers" and the wonderful Michael Parks also cameos as a "LeQuint Dickey Miney Company Employee" alongside the Director himself, cameoing again in his own film. However the marquee stars not already noted follow below, and we'll start with Django:
Django (Jamie Foxx) Grows into the film in line with that of his character. Dominates the screen by the end of the film, as all true heroes should. His dual scenes with Waltz are a joy, especially again as his character and background develops, oh, and it's "Django, the D is silent".
Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) On paper, Django's wife. But so much more.
A stunning performance from Washington, whose portrayal in the flashback sequences are just heartbreaking.
Calvin Candie (Leonardo Di Caprio) A self confessed "seasoned trader", Di Caprio is magnificently over the top as perma smoking Candie. Pouting, gesticulating, camp even, but sadistic and driven to win at all costs. A superbly disturbing performance.
Stephen (Samuel L Jackson) A regular Tarantino collaborator, Jackson again provides a "take" on a character all of his own. Limping, aged senior Head Servant for Candie, he infuses much needed dark black humour and a duality of character that says so much. A unique performance.
Big Daddy (Don Johnson) Smallest of the marquee roles, a Plantation and Slave Owner visited by our heroes, he excels in his earliest scenes when bargaining with Dr Schultz.
Quentin Tarantino (Writer/Director) Leaving the best until very last, but worry not, this is not a treatise on his acting skills, but of his Directing prowess and the creation of yet another stunning cinematic classic. Firstly, Quentin is indebted to Editor Fred Raskin, his first film editor since the death of his regular and trusted collaborator Sally Menke. No doubt Quentin was heavily involved in the editing process, but the film's trademark quick cuts are a tribute to Raskin. A similar tribute is due to regular Director of Photography Robert Richardson, capturing the many changing settings perfectly and as you'd expect from a western stylised film, the wider shots of the surrounding vistas are brilliantly blended throughout the film. Some of the elongated horse riding scenes are brilliantly captured by Richardson, one of the film's many joys. Sharen Davis (Costume Design) and Production Designer J Michael Riva also deserve special praise.
The soundtrack is yet again a joy all of it's own and highly recommended. Leaning heavily on Ennio Morricone's iconic western influenced tracks, the soundtrack is also an eclectic mix (what else?) of joyful, uplifting tracks like "Freedom" by Anthony Hamilton & Elayna Boynton which is brilliantly used in one particular heart rending flashback. Apart from this and the aforementioned title track and Morricone's beautiful interludes, the eclectic mix continues with "100 Black Coffins" by Rick Ross, "I Got A Name" by Jim Croce and "Who Did That to You?" by John Legend as particular (and perhaps more popularly known) standouts. However, there are many more Tarantino inspired gems interspersed within the action, particularly "La Corsa" by Luis Bacarov, "Nicaragua" by Jerry Goldsmith and my particular favourite, the beautiful and haunting "Ancora Qui" by Elisa Toffoli.
The criticisms? The word Nigger is used far too much but sadly and a reflection of the unenlightened times, all within context. That particular six letter word (for it is just a word after all, or perhaps just pixels as you're reading this on a computer screen) dominates the film and very definitely jars at times. Deliberately so, and on many levels too. The alleged count of 130+ uses could easily and sadly have been nearly double that, as other oblique and equally racially abusive terms are used throughout the film in it's place. The stigma of this word and others like it will always jar an audience and thoroughly offend many people watching but here, as opposed to say, Pulp Fiction, there is a very obvious duality to it's use. Historically of the time yes, overused yes, but the juxtaposition of the characters who use it and to what ends raise interesting questions throughout. Similarly so is the portrayal of black slaves being inhumanely herded around and treated like cattle, some of which is appallingly graphic. The aristocratic white skinned reaction to a black man on a horse is shocking, but again, deliberately so. The contempt shown very definitely jars in many scenes, as does Django's verbal and physical abuse of fellow blacks. Context is needed again.
Prior to release, the now infamous hooded Ku Klux Klan meeting was broadly attacked. Offensive? Yes. Poorly acted and the first of two real clunker scenes? Yes! But the farce of the meeting itself is a parody in and of itself. It's absurd and ridiculous, and indeed ridiculed by the film itself. Deliberately, and not so deliberately! My criticisms are therefore four fold, overt use of one word (but in context), two very poor scenes which should have been cut (I'll leave you to decide where the other poor scene resides in the film) and the fact the whole charade is wholly contrived. But joyously so!
The triumphs? Returning briefly to the above Ku Klux Klan Meeting is an obvious example and one that pleased me most as a fan. The middle, hooded on horses segment is very poor, however it is surrounded by a wonderful and very un Tarantino like wide shot of galloping horses thundering towards their absurd meeting which is brilliantly lit and captured, as is the final piece of the jigsaw of this particular scene, ending magnificently as it does, but spoiler limits prevent me from revealing its finale'. There are minor homages to past Spaghetti Westerns but far fewer than I expected and the film is all the better for it with the joy being to appreciate the minimal nods as we go. Continuing with this theme, there are very definite Tarantino nods again at his past films and trademark use of close ups (the bar scene and pouring of beer being the obvious example) but again far fewer than expected. The joy again is the minimal use of them, with "Crazy Craig Koons" being a brilliant example for all Pulp Fiction fans out there. Equally, the use of a trademark crunching fast zoom is used sparingly and effectively. Mexican Stand Offs? Of course there are! It wouldn't be a Tarantino film without them!
There are many more touches and flashes from Tarantino from films past and present, some subtly so but my overall (biased) reaction is of joy at this film, and of a film that left me (again, as a fan) smiling broadly throughout. Without spoiling any further, if you're a fan of the Director you'll enjoy the little touches throughout the 165 minute running time. Every scene has a Tarantino "look" of meticulous precision, of giving everything to tell the story and a lot, lot more. A notorious maker of violent films, the violence is all here, present and correct. The shocking aspect is the unexpected violence, the ferocity of which is truly disturbing at times, as is a pervading air of impending violence that is cleverly manipulated away by the story. As with Reservoir Dogs, much of the violence is thankfully off screen (don't believe the hype) and the bloodiest and most extremely violent scene is captured, as only Tarantino can, in a balletic maze of slow motion cameras, quick edits and a thunderous musical soundtrack.
But above all, Tarantino returns to his most overlooked theme here, in that this is a love story above all else. Of our hero Django, searching for the love of his life, whatever it takes, Western style. Of unexpected friendship and indeed love for another man too, but I'm probably getting a little sentimental now. It's fantastic. It's loud. It's brash. It's subtle too. It's Tarantino! This fan is glad to see the genius' return.