Saturday, June 9, 2012

A Tarantino Film Review

As with my other celebrity profiles, if you want a full biography, Wikipedia is there for you. I'm going to speak about Quentin through my relationship with his various films. Below, I've ranked his body of work from my favourite to least favourite. The criteria for this list is simple: I'm judging his films based on my personal tastes, the entertainment value, the writing, the directing, and the re-watchability and lasting effect they've left on me.

1. Inglourious Basterds, 2009: Anyone who knows my taste in film knows that I do not usually enjoy period pieces, I seem to gravitate towards modern-era films, though there are exceptions. This is one of them. The acting, scene structure, dialogue, and history-bending plot all work towards this being my favourite Tarantino film. The chilling opening sequence, Brad Pitt's introductory monologue as Aldo Raine, the absolutely tense meeting between Shosanna and The Jew Hunter in the French cafe, the German pub-house sequence, and so many more memorable moments are what makes this movie almost perfect. In my first theatre viewing of the film, people were walking about during the long dialogue scenes, likely expecting a war epic to contain much more action. But as people were walking out, all I could think was: These scenes are exactly why I'm here.

2. Death Proof, 2007: This film was released with Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror as part of the Grindhouse double-feature. I visited the theatre three times to see these movies, each time appreciating the work of each director more and more. Death Proof is a classic slow-burner, not an ideal choice for those who want an action-packed thrillride from beginning to end. The film is unique in that throughout its run, two different groups of characters are introduced. Just when you think the first group is going to the one you're watching for the course of the film, well, they're not. And then a new group is introduced. Kurt Russell steals the show as Stuntman Mike, a charming and sadistic predator who uses his stunt car as his weapon of choice. This is probably Tarantino's slowest paced film, but when there's pay-off, such as the final car chase sequence, it makes all the tension and extensive dialogue worthwhile.

3. Reservoir Dogs, 1992: I first saw this on television, I was a teenager and just getting into the crime-drama genre. The version I originally saw was censored, and I remember feeling like it was average, with a few memorables scenes and a very entertaining finish. I never thought of 'Stuck in the Middle With You' the same way again. A couple years later, I witnessed the uncensored version, the way Tarantino meant for it to be seen. I developed a newfound appreciation for the perfect mix of hilarious chemistry between the actors, and violent action typical of a criminal-heist-gone-wrong film. Though I haven't watch this movie in a couple years now, it's still a treat to come across on television (uncensored preferably), and holds a special place in my Tarantino film heart.

4. Pulp Fiction, 1994: This film would be higher on my list if it wasn't such a damn chore to watch. I actually like it better than Reservoir Dogs, however, the re-watchability factor came into play there. Dogs is like a rock and roll album, you throw it on for entertainment, have fun with it while you can, and when it's over you move on to other things. Pulp Fiction is like Tool album, you really have to commit to the emotionally draining process you're about the endure. In the end, it's worth your time, but it's a difficult form of entertainment to just casually throw on. I first saw Pulp Fiction with my parents when I was 12 years old. You can imagine how awkward that might have been, especially when the the infamous Gimp scene came along. About a year later, my parents were out for the night and I came across it on TV. I feel like I was still much too young to fully appreciate what I was witnessing. I've seen it again multiple times over the years, the most enjoyable time being a full-screen showing at a Casino theatre theme night with my girl Chinacat Sunflower. As exhausting as it may be to watch, this is Tarantino's masterpiece and will likely be the film he'll be most remembered for long after he passes on.

5. Kill Bill, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 (2003/2004): While I acknowledge the fact that Volume 1 and Volume 2 of the Kill Bill series are unique and differ from each other in pacing, vibe, and style, I feel like they belong together on this list. I saw the Volume 1 in my late teen years, at the movie theatre with my older brother and his friends. I was familiar with Dogs and Pulp at the time, but didn't really understand what I was getting into. I had never quite seen a film like it, and honestly didn't know that a film-maker could do some of the things that Tarantino pulls off in both these films. I saw Volume 2 on DVD, and while I can appreciate some of the scenes and the closure that it gives to the first movie, I wasn't very entertained by it. The main reason why I've ranked the Bill series so low is that I'm not a fan of the genre(s) that Tarantino is paying homage to, so it's difficult for me to find inspiration and entertainment in these films. Stylistically, they're arguably his best work, but there's a connection to the characters and writing that I just didn't find with the Kill Bill films. Online rumour has it that Tarantino's next project is a third installment in the series, where Vernita Green's daughter Nikki tracks down Beatrix Kiddo for revenge. As a fan of Tarantino's work, I'll definitely watch the movie if/when it's complete, but I also kind of wish he'd leave this series behind and continue to offer us original characters and plotlines.

6. Jackie Brown, 1997: This is easily my least favourite Tarantino effort. I've tried to give this film a chance over the years, but it never seems to resonate with me. For this reason, I honestly don't have much to say about it. Maybe it suffered from being released after the powerhouse Pulp Fiction, maybe it's just not a very good film, maybe I'll give it another chance in a couple years and love it. I'm reasonable enough to understand that I'm not going to like every project by my favourite directors, and this film is an example of that. I'm sure there's fans out there who cite this as Tarantino's best work, that's the beauty of art criticism, but this film just doesn't inspire, engage, or entertain me in any way.

Honourable Mention: 'Grave Danger (Part 1/2)', CSI, 2005: This two-parter episode was the CSI Season 5 finale, written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. Now going into their 13th season, 'Grave Danger' still stands out as some of the most shocking, creative, and intense episodes in the entire series. In this episode, CSI Nick Stokes (one of my favourite TV characters ever), is kidnapped by the father of a criminal who claims that CSI falsely convicted her of a crime. Nick is buried alive in a coffin, which is equipped with a live-feed video camera so that the rest of the team can watch him die. This episode is special because it perfectly mixes the established tone of the CSI series with Tarantino's signature style. Also, it features amazing performances from the cast, further proving that Tarantino's stories and words can bring out the best in his actors. The scene where Nick has a fever-dream in which he's witnessing his own autopsy is a classic, both hilarious and heartbreaking.

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