Tarantino XX: Twenty Years of Violent Fun
It seems almost unimaginable that it has only been 20 years since the world got to meet a new true auteur in American cinema. 1992 saw the rise of his madness to the screens, such bold, brutal and fascinating films can only come from a mind equally consumed by the love for filmmaking. Quentin Tarantino’s films could be labeled as indescribable; however, there is a system to his chaos, and his mix of genres, themes, and tones. Testosterone fueled plots that sometimes follow epically beautiful women into blood gushing crime films that include memorable dancing sequences, or perhaps revenge seekers infused with karate nuances or Spaghetti Western’s aesthetics; all of these coated with a peculiar dose of dark humor, and political incorrectness to the 10th power.
Only one man can get away with all of it and still have his work considered Academy Award worthy material, cinematic gems so unique that can be accused of anything, but never of unoriginality. Pulpy, violent, and yet harmoniously stylized to be visually striking, Tarantino is, in his twisted manner, an all around film buff turned director. Acting in his films, writing, and directing, and proudly outspoken about his lack of formal training, known to have replied to questionings of his pedigree: “I didn’t go to film school, I went to films.”
Indeed, one can see the love for cinema in his work, the love for all of cinema that is. At first sight, his films are gritty machismo-heavy stories; nonetheless, he has managed to include elements of gangster films, with a dash of Japanese samurais, animation, blaxploitation, or some horror and Grindhouse tendencies, all in conjunction to elevate the B-movies that he loves into the most unique movie going experience for those who are willing to accept his deranged magic. Here is a look at the many milestones in the history of one of the movie masters of our time:
A group of mobsters sit at a restaurant eating breakfast while one of them, Mr. Brown, played by Tarantino himself, delivers a speech on the meaning behind Madonna’s “Like A Virgin” song. Such irreverent opening sequence marks his debut feature; which would go on to become a book-to-follow in independent filmmaking. Minimal in its presentation but charged with outrageously smart dialogue, the film is a knockout thanks to the vivid delivery of the cast and the ingenious script. Certainly this was no small feat for a first time director, but Tarantino crafted a crime movie distinct from what other filmmakers had dare to create.
Reservoir Dogs is a violently explicit story ahead of its time, a work of art in its own right. We know nothing about these characters, even their names are replaced by colors, most of the action takes place in an isolated warehouse, and the amount of gore and profanity can surely upset more than a few people; however, even with all these limitations, the story is entertaining, and brutally powerful. Tarantino refuses to show the actual incident that unravels the plot, but with such decision he explores the audience’s thoughts on loyalty, justice, morality and power. A magnificent ensemble was responsible for bringing the script to life, Steve Buscemi as “Mr. Pink” is phenomenal, a sneaky and selfish criminal, as well as Tim Roth as “Mr. Orange” and Michael Madsen as “Mr. Blonde” who build up the action and intrigue until the last shot. Definitely a bold first impression that would set the stage for more to come.
True Romance (1993)
It is rare, and maybe even a tad sad, that a film is most remembered because of its screenwriter rather than for its director. True Romance is one of those cases; although directed by Tony Scott, the critical praise was towards the script, artfully crafted by Quentin Tarantino. Certainly his lighter, most Romantic script, the story still focuses on criminals who stray away from the righteous path by deceiving someone more powerful.
A Bonnie-and-Clyde-style couple played by Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette fall in love in the midst of the search for a mobster’s stolen money, as the police and the bad guys close in on them, they must find a way to run off and keep the money. Shootings, witty sarcasm, and a charismatic villain played by Christopher Walken adorn the plot. The story is infused with all of the familiar Tarantino themes, including a small but charming performance by Brad Pitt, and a legendary scene know as the “The Sicilian scene” involving Walken and Dennis Hopper. Tarantinos’s special touch drives the film even if he is not in the directorial chair, talk about a powerful auteur signature.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Early on in his career, Quentin Tarantino would deliver a quotable American classic. Starring John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson and Uma Thurman, this masterpiece of crime cinema is perhaps the director’s most acclaimed film and the one that once and for all positioned him as a master storyteller with a predilection for dark characters.
Pulp Fiction is a non-linear homage to the graphic and violent cheap literature of the early 20th century, enhanced with Tarantino’s encyclopedic knowledge of film. A much more developed plot in comparison to his directorial debut, the story focuses on the misfortunes of a pair of hit men as they carry out their boss’s dirty deeds. Travolta and Jackson as Vincent and Jules respectively, became pop culture icons delivering some of the most darkly humorous lines from the mind of Quentin Tarantino. Who can forget the iconic dancing sequence at a flamboyant dinner between Travolta’s character and Uma Thurman, who plays the mob boss’s sexy and dangerous wife?
The film went on to skyrocket the careers of all its participants, Tarantino won the Palm d’Or of Cannes in 1994, the film also received seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Director, and acting nomination for all three of the main players, winning the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Undoubtedly an essential film in Tarantino’s career, it is probably one the most graciously crafted scripts in movie history, and a testament of what his creative madness can create. From its opening sequence as the song “Misirlou” by Dick Dale & The Del-Tones plays you know you are in for a crazy ride of mesmerizing violent fun.
Jackie Brown (1997)
This is by far the lesser known of Tarantino’s directorial efforts, but also his most deliberate depiction of his love for blaxplotation films and powerful female characters. Pan Grier plays Jackie Brown, a regular flight attendant who makes some extra cash by smuggling money from Mexico. Her operations are abruptly stopped as her illegal arms trafficker boss Ordell (Samuel L. Jackson) is under investigation and suspicious of his entourage. Grier’s character is a tough African American woman who, although foreign to violent crime, decides to pull one on the criminals and the detectives to pursue her financial stability.
Following Tarantino’s earlier films the story is as usual layered with satirical humor, explicit violence, and over-the-top characters. The director pays tribute to the 1970’s blaxploitation genre that was characterized by gruesome stories of crime involving African American characters. Again Tarantino was the center of attention because of its used of derogative racial slang words and overall tone of his film. It was a minor success at the box office, but earned him praise from critics and a couple of Golden Globe nominations for Grier and Jackson. Still extraordinary for a filmmaker with only three films in his short, bur prolific career.
Kill Bill Vol.1 (2003)
Continuing with his love for heroines the director delivers his most ambitious project to date, a mixture of genres and visual styles that expanded over two films. Six years after his last picture Tarantino returned with the story of The Bride, played by his earlier muse Uma Thurman. A master assassin turned vengeful mother, The Bride wakes up from a coma after four years since her colleagues attempted to murder her.
The first volume of the saga sees Uma’s character going after the first two names in her revenge kill-list. The director unfolds the plot in an artful manner by using flashbacks, action-packed black and white battles, and even Anime to lead us into the world of these fearless female killers. In the acting department, Lucy Liu as O-Ren Ishii delivers an arresting performance, evil yet pragmatic, and with a sense of malicious innocence and elegance, that elevate her character form bloody murderer to a stylized female samurai.
Tarantino’s violence never seemed so artificially perfect and comedic, heads being chopped up, telekinetic toe revivals, a teenage psychopath girl and a following of 88 bald maniacs, all of it orchestrated by the director’s mind and his many influences. Kill Bill is a feast of gore, swords, eclectic but on point music (the soundtrack for the film is superb), and a very angry mom in search for her baby’s killer.
Kill Bill Vol.2 (2004)
Such rich story could not be told in just one film. The second installment in the Kill Bill bonanza comes to tell us more about The Bride’s past and her involvement with Bill and the rest of the gang. We learned she actually has a name, Beatrix, and that her relationship with her despicable boss goes deeper than just criminal professionalism. A recurrent theme in Tarantino’s film is the sour relationships’ between leaders of criminal organizations and their followers; in this second volume those disagreements take parental form.
Beatrix (Uma Thurman) continues with her killing spree by going after Budd in his isolated trailer. The Bride is forced to escape from being buried alive, only to find the most evil of them all, the one-eyed Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah). Full of gorgeously choreographed bloody fights, and a look into the martial arts past of the protagonist, volume 2 answers all of our questions in a final encounter in the depths of the Mexican countryside.
Kill Bill as a collective work, is one of Tarantino’s most amusing projects. His use of Spaghetti Western aesthetics mixed with martial arts films becomes a strangely cohesive and unified product that never seizes to surprise and entertain. Not surprisingly Uma Thurman got nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress (Drama) for both volumes, small proof of the amazing talent of Quentin Tarantino to drive his actors into the wilderness of his most violently beautiful dreams.
Death Proof (2007)
If someone in the film industry is close to Mr. Tarantino’s peculiar taste and sensibilities, it probably is Robert Rodriguez. Together they released a double feature titled Grindhouse, which is resembles the long gone double feature experience of low quality B-movies.
Tarantino’s feature in the project is the story of three women harassed by an old movie stunt that uses his “death proof” car as a murderous weapon. Less intricate than most of the director’s films, it is still truthful to all the great things that Tarantino is praised for. His uncompromising love for dubious and morally ambiguous characters is present, sparked with some female sensuality and a good serving of slasher film flavor.
Kurt Russell plays Mike, the misogynist killer who seems trustworthy at first but soon reveals is ulterior motives. The story recounts a few incidents in his serial killing spree, the last one being especially gripping as it involves a high-speed race against a car with a girl hanging on the hood. Simple and to the point, Death Proof is the menacing, yet at times very funny, ordeal of a man using his talent for evil. Yes, this is Tarantino’s work.
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
As if his genius madness hadn’t surpassed expectations, Tarantino decided to take on a reinvention of history, shinning his deranged vision on Nazis and Hitler himself. Brad Pitt receives the Tarantino treatment and becomes Lieutenant Aldo Raine, a vicious soldier whose mission is to torture and murder as many Nazis as possible, and to eliminate Nazi messiah himself, Adolf Hitler.
In this satirical pseudo recount of history, Christoph Waltz plays an equally disastrous murderer but in favor of Hitler’s interests. As Colonel Hans Landal, Waltz creates a malevolent, and demonic villain that delivers his orders with brutal elegance. His portrayal earned him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. An ensemble cast that included Michael Fassbender, Eli Roth, and Diane Kruger was also key to the success of the film. Tarantino gave World War II a maniacal revision that seems fresh and authentic to his sensibilities, violent but never purposelessly.
The concluding sequence at a cinema — no other setting seems more appropriate — is a memorable fictional vision of a more glamorous and just end to the world’s most atrocious psychopath. Hitler’s death becomes a glorifying finale to an amazingly inventive film that leads us to believe Tarantino can do no wrong. His nominations for directing and original screenplay are just mere technicalities to show the man public love. Inglourious Basterds is truly glorious, so much that he even took the liberty to misspell its title. What else can one say?
For his latest film Tarantino goes back in time once more to a much more controversial time in American history. It is no surprise that the master of cinematic homage’s makes a film that is part Western part blaxploitation film about a slave in search of his wife and revenge.
Jamie Foxx plays Django who aided by the man who bought him a freed him, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), sets off on a quest to rescue his beloved from the tyrannical Calvin J. Candie, play by Leonardo DiCaprio. The film seems to be right up the alley of what we expect from such an amazing director, and DiCaprio’s performance has gained lots of buzz for the upcoming award season.
This film comes as the perfect celebration for the first two decades in an amazing career; only the future can tell what will come at us next from Quentin Tarantino. Whatever it is, it will be anxiously awaited with open hears, squeamish eyes, and some sort of protection in case of some amazing, brutal and always necessary blood bath.
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