Prefix: These posts are about films and will contain spoilers of films that are mentioned. It also inevitably contains information on those films. So if you want to watch these films with a clean slate (which I suggest you do) then stop reading before it’s too late!
Films that are mentioned in this entry are as follows:
- Django Unchained
- Reservoir Dogs
- The Killer
- Kill Bill
- Jackie Brown
- Stranger Than Fiction
This is the first post in a series of entries where I shall try to convey my love of cinema and film by showing my appreciation for certain filmmakers that I love and have influenced not only my film tastes but also my life. The effects of cinema and film on my life are genuine and the filmmakers in this series are responsible for that whether they wanted to be or not. First up:
The problem I have with Tarantino films is that people don’t know how good they really are.
This is going to sound elitist but I don’t think a lot of people can really tell just how good his films are. I believe that a lot of people think his films are fantastic only because they are popular and different to the usual crap they watch. A lot of what disappoints me with Hollywood films is that they take the easy way out, they hedge their bets, and they don’t take the extra step necessary to be extraordinary.
I point to the example of, and allow me to talk about something non-Tarantino first – ‘Stranger Than Fiction’. The brave thing to do, and I would argue the more interesting, and even right, thing to do, would have been for Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) to be killed off, just like Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson) always does with her leading characters. The film was interesting overall, but then to cop out like that to have a Crick survive at the end didn’t fit in with the rest of the film, and no amount or rationalising or appeal to Eiffel’s character development can justify it. The film itself, of course, is smart enough to know what it is doing: it knows it is disappointing, but then it also tries to actually turn it around, which only adds to my feeling of being cheated. Is that the feeling that they wanted to achieve? It’s the feeling that they got. Perhaps that would make them, Forster and Helm (dir. and wri. respectively), happy to hear that.
There are many other examples from mediocre films that could have been better had they taken the risk*. Was it the execs would told the creatives to refrain, for some reason of demographics? I don’t know, but I’m not trying to figure out who to blame. I’m just trying to, mostly in my own mind, clear up what I really think of films.
*(may do a series of entries where I attempt to explain how a film could have been improved)
So to Tarantino
Tarantino knows how to write and make films. He is sublime at it. He’s so good at it that I think he even knows when he’s gone too far himself. He has a distinct style, which couldn’t have gone unnoticed, that I think at one point he pushed a little too far. With ‘Django Unchained’ he held back and was less self-indulgent, the way I think he was with ‘Inglorious Basterds’, and he made a film that perhaps is over-the-top, but I feel is more honest than most where things are more sugar-coated (for totally legitimate reasons some of the time). And this is where I think Tarantino appeals to so many. His films are like a breath of fresh air to the usual Hollywood film. They’re more violent, sure, but they’re crafted with care and skill that is not often seen, and I think that comes through when watching his films. His knowledge of cinema and his love for it comes through in practically every frame. In ‘Inglorious Basterds’ the chapter set inside the cinema where Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent) plots to burn down the cinema, what I saw was a beautiful appreciation for The Cinema, the shots of the lobby make it look magnificent and grand. There are call backs to and influences from films that many would not notice as some are obscure even to the most knowledgeable of cinephiles.
He knows how to tell a story, he knows how to create characters, he know how to make a film, and he sure knows how to write dialogue. But he also knows when to dial it down. The whole of ‘Death Proof’ and the dialogue in the last hour of ‘Kill Bill’ was self-indulgent, and the credits to ‘Kill Bill’ were just him mouthing the words ‘I’m fucking amazing’ and masturbating whilst watching his own ego being played out on screen. But ‘Django Unchained’ is fantastic. Dare I say it, lest it sounds cliché, that ‘Django Unchained’ shows maturity.
23 years after John Woo’s ‘The Killer’, and a scene in ‘Jackie Brown’ where Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson) talks about the film, Tarantino has his ‘The Killer’ shootout – bad guys pouring into a building and our protagonist(s) killing them dead with a gun with super skillz – and it is as brilliant and well worthy of the original.
My favourite Tarantino film? It’s still ‘Reservoir Dogs’. It is him at his beginnings and his style was raw and his talent undeniable. In a critique of ‘Reservoir Dogs’ that I once read, but can’t remember where, so sorry for not being able to reference it here, it pointed out how Tarantino had an eye for creating characters:
- Mr. White – is the only one with the most experience and yet is the one that acts on emotion rather than experience.
- Mr. Pink – is the most loud and erratic and yet the most professional, doing what needs to be done.
- Mr. Blonde – is the calmest and collected one and yet is the most gratuitously violent and crazy one.
- Mr. Orange – is responsible for the deaths of almost all the characters by staying true to his job as a cop seemingly without conscience, but then exposes himself right at the end to clear it.
It is more subtle in later films and this is just one thing that makes his films so interesting.
Other things that make his films interesting, or perhaps controversial, could be the violence in his films. Are they gratuitous or are they justified? And also his use of the word ‘nigger’, usually written as ‘nigga’ in his screenplays, which even as I typed it just then doesn’t feel right as it is a word with such power and significance; it is not ‘just a word’. Some people, most famously Spike Lee, may hate him or dismiss his films because of these are two things that feature heavily in many of his films.
But I won’t have a discussion about that here right now.
Tarantino’s films are always eagerly anticipated and seem to constantly deliver and impress. He has been hugely influential and cannot be ignored in any conversation about cinema since the 1990’s. I’d recommend any or all of his films to anyone. They are all (and I guess this is true most, if not all, the writer/directors I’ll be talking about in this series) better than most. And if you can/want to, watch them in chronological order.
Having said all that, he isn’t much of an actor.