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Tag: Quentin Tarantino

QuickView: Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood (2019)

Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood poster

“It’s official old buddy, I’m a has-been.”

Rick Dalton

Set in the late 1960s, as Hollywood’s heydey is already drawing to a close, it is easy to see washed-up actor Rick Dalton as a vehicle for Tarantino’s anxiety about his own continuing relevance. The interwoven tapestry of stories combines real and fictional characters, allowing Tarantino to revel in the filmmaking process and insert his characters into classic movies. The introduction of Sharon Tate is intended to cast a shadow over the story and Tarantino deftly fills an extended sequence at the Manson family’s ranch with a sense of unease and dread, but he also makes a conscious decision to assume knowledge on the part of the audience. I suspect Tate’s story plays far better in the USA (where the Manson family murders are deeply ingrained in the public consciousness) than elsewhere in the world. Once Upon A Time‘s alternate reality is telegraphed early when a stuntman played by Brad Pitt bests Bruce Lee in a fight. Some may view this as disrespectful but Tarantino is obviously a fan of Lee and the entire point is the ridiculousness of this outcome. It leaves the audience guessing at how Tarantino will treat Tate’s brutal murder, particularly given Inglourious Basterds‘ loose adherence to historic fact. Although staples like chapter headings are gone, Tarantino still gets in his own way. Multiple foot shots break the immersion, feeling perfunctory and self-indulgent, and — as with The Hateful Eight — the most irritating tool is an out-of-place single-use voiceover, deployed here to summarise the events of a six-month time jump, all of which could have been communicated effectively on screen instead. Ultimately this is as much a languid movie for film lovers as it is for Tarantino fans — his ninth film sits solidly in the middle of his catalogue but, for a director appearing to question his relevance, that is no small feat.


The Hateful Eight (2015)

The Hateful 8director: Quentin Tarantino
writer: Quentin Tarantino
starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins
running time: 187 mins
rating: 18

Bringing desperate men in alive,
is a good way to get yourself dead.

The Hateful Eight is two thirds tense talky thriller and one third traditional Tarantino bloodbath.

The plans of John “The Hangman” Ruth [Kurt Russell] to claim the bounty on his captive, Daisy Domergue [Jennifer Jason Leigh], are complicated by an approaching blizzard. Racing for shelter, their stagecoach picks up two men stuck on the road, Major Marquis Warren [Samuel L Jackson], another bounty hunter, and Chris Mannix [Walton Goggins], former rebel soldier and future sheriff. When they reach the cabin in which they plan to wait out the storm, the owners are gone and they find a shady collection of guests with whom they will be spending the night. It soon emerges that at least one of the men has designs on freeing Domergue before she hangs.

This is a film designed for those who wished the tense opening scene of Inglorious Basterds had continued for the entire film. This is similarly a script in which Tarantino expertly creates action sequences through dialogue alone. Dangerous characters circle one other, using careful questions to probe for weaknesses, taking cover behind lies and attacking with accusations. An unhurried Tarantino shows notable restraint in delivering a film where the first gunshot rings out over halfway through the film. This relies on a strong cast, comprising many Tarantino regulars and a few new faces. We know what to expect from those like Jackson, Tim Roth and Michael Madsen. Walton Goggins excels, bringing a more energetic version of his antagonist Boyd Crowder in Justified. Russell, an imposing physical presence, is given more to work with than in Death Proof and delivers, whilst Leigh delights in venomous delirium.

The camera work is beautiful, from the difficult white outdoor sequences to making sense of the cluttered interiors. The cabin feels at times expansive or claustrophobic as the scene requires. Of particularly note is a scene in which Daisy plays the guitar in the foreground whilst other characters interact at the far side of the room, with the camera panning and pulling focus between the two with expert precision that contemporary films rarely attempt.

Oswald Mowbray and Chris MannixThe “roadshow” version of the film is a true spectacle, projected in 70mm and showcasing Tarantino’s love of old Westerns as he indulges in wide, languid shots of sweeping vistas that are excised from the general release (its running time is shorter by twenty minutes). It would not be a classic Western without an Ennio Morricone score, of course, which is brought to the fore with an opening overture preceding the film.  It also brings a carefully timed interval punctuating the proceedings. Up to that point, the film’s tempo is impeccable, ratcheting tension while exploring the relationships between characters and, in particular, racism in the southern States following the loss of the civil war. The way in which characters voice their own racism — whether open or more insidious — and seek to exploit others’ racist beliefs is as much a commentary on modern America as a historic one.

Following the interval, the film becomes a familiarly loose Tarantino pastiche. Unfortunately Tarantino sometimes gets in his own way. This is immediately evident from an unnecessary voiceover explaining what could have been more effectively shown simply by returning to the previous scene from an alternate angle. The gore is by turns visceral and cartoonish, resulting in a somewhat inconsistent tone even within the more violent portions of the film. It would be easy to criticise the film for this late tonal shift and inconsistency but at this point Tarantino films are almost a genre unto themselves. Where in the past Tarantino paid homage to the films he loves, now he is almost doing the same to his own style of film-making. From that viewpoint, whilst not his finest, The Hateful Eight is a Tarantino film par excellence.

rating: 3.5/4

Kill Bill, vol. 2 (2004)

director: Quentin Tarantino
starring: Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah, Gordon Liu
running time: 136 mins
rating: 18

Kill Bill, vol. 2After a noir-esque recap of her previous outing, The Bride [Uma Thurman] returns to cross the last three names off her list. We are first shown a flashback to the wedding rehearsal at which we have already seen her gunned down by her former assassin colleagues, as well as glimpse into her training under the tutelage of Pai Mei [Gordon Liu]. She then takes on the seemingly resigned Budd [Michael Madsen], and one-eyed Elle Driver [Daryl Hannah] before finally confronting her former love Bill [David Carradine] and discovering the existence of the daughter she never knew survived.

The change in tone is immediately clear in this character and dialogue driven sequel. A casual conversation between Thurman and Carradine outside the chapel is filled with indescribable tension because we already know what follows. Tarantino crafts arguably his best surreally tense comic moment in a bristling scene in which Thurman attempts to talk over an assassin hired to kill her, soon after discovering she is pregnant.

Pai Mai trains The BrideTarantino’s directorial flair again pervades this film as he makes some masterful transitions that occassionally border on pretentious, except that for the most part they work. Again we are treated to black and white passages, in one of which Uma Thurman’s white clothes make her appear to glow. The aspect ratio shifts to 1.33:1 with questionable purpose for one sequence, while another fight utilises a split-screen. He’s certainly showing off but the variety is satisfying. The most impressively original two-minute scene occurs in total darkness with a superbly chilling use of surround sound that feels positively claustrophobic even in a large cinema.

The performances all hold much greater depth than its predecessor. Thurman especially is now able to show a much greater range as we see her emotional capacity and a hidden regret rather than just a woman on a hell-bent mission of revenge. Carradine is masterful as the smooth-talking villain and his charismatic attitude of calm coolness works far better than the alternative typically hammy revenge villain. Combined with Tarantino’s easily flowing down-to-earth dialogue he becomes one of the most accessible psychopathic mass-murderering kingpins. In contrast, Gordon Liu has great fun in lampooning his 1000-year-old kung-fu master stereotype Pai Mei with incredibly humorous results (by far the best ever overuse of facial hair as a prop!), although those familiar with this character staple from martial arts movies will undoubtedly appreciate this more.

Bill and The Bride face offThe action is still strong when it occurs, although for the most part it is far more restrained. Budd takes longer to dispatch than both we and The Bride expect, while her showy swordfight with Elle (both now armed with Hatori Hanzo-crafted katanas) tears straight through the walls of a trailer home, ending in typically grizzly Tarantino fashion. In contrast, the eventual showdown with Bill is largely a war of words, careful, precise and rivetingly tense. The inevitable fight is short and sudden (they swing their swords while still seated) and almost poetic in its conclusion.

For all its visual dexterity, Volume 2 remains overlong, often granting excessive screentime to unimportant secondary characers who tend to lack colour. It flows poorly at times, jumping disjointedly (although not quite disorientingly) from one point to another. There are a few serious plot flaws too, such as quite how such a brilliant ex-assassin still fails to take out her victims cleanly, when they have such an apparently easy time outwitting her. Sure, they know she’s coming, but then she knows they know too. Further the expected background on just why the other DiVAS hate her so much never quite emerges. Why should Elle care that she is made to “suffer to her last breath”? Tarantino seems not realise just how gaping these holes appear when the rest of this installment is so astutely written.

Undoubtedly the two Kill Bill films will polarise audiences, many of whom will love the stylish action of the first and hate the slower pace of the second, while others (and especially, it would seem, many critics) will praise the second having been disappointed with the first. The fact remains, however, that the full scope and vision of Tarantino’s modern revenge saga is only evident when the two films are viewed together. Put simply, Tarantino needed to make some harsher editorial choices, removing the unnecessary extraneous material rather than stubbornly hanging on to every last shot. The resulting streamlined single film would have been the part-homage and yet uniquely original masterpiece he came so close to creating, while instead he has just created two very, very good films.

rating: 3.5/4

"A film is a petrified fountain of thought."

(CC) BY-NC 2003-2023 Priyan Meewella

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