There’s a forgotten film in Tarantino’s CV. It’s his most conventional and relatively simple film. It is however a loving ode to the 70’s which in true Tarantino style would give Blaxploitation goddess, Pam Grier centre stage in the kind of movie a black actress from her cinematic background, and age, (sadly) never gets to be part of, let alone lead. She repays Tarantino’s faith with an amazing performance which less reminded the world (aside from her devoted fans) and more showed it, just how good she is. Playing opposite a character actor like Robert Forster who gets the role of a lifetime, whilst heavy hitters Sam Jackson, Robert De Niro and Michael Keaton also bring A-game material. This is a film that the more I watch, the more I appreciate. The more conventional approach is indeed an interesting change of pace for Tarantino, as is the singularity of his homage focus. The soundtrack is amazing. This really doesn’t deserve to be somewhat forgotten. I get why some were a little disappointed. It’s not as grandiose and sliced into beautifully weaved nuggets of utter gold like Pulp Fiction but it’s still brilliantly delivered.
Once again, Tarantino would leave audiences hanging for his next film. A six year hiatus saw him turn out a film so expansive he had to split it into two. By this time, his status in Hollywood was very much top of the table. He could do anything he wanted. Tarantino has indulged whims from day one, but in Kill Bill he did so even more headily. It would see him re-team with Uma Thurman in a two part love letter to Japanese Samurai cinema, spaghetti western, Chinese Kung-Fu films and anime (among a host of other things). A cacophony of influences all thrown into a blender and working in a way only Tarantino could make work. The film isn’t as consistently brilliant as Pulp Fiction and a little jumpy, whilst the first part is also the more exciting (due to some exceptional fight sequences). Still, part two also has significantly brilliant turns by Michael Madsen, Michael Parks and David Carradine. Even if he’s not batting at his best as a whole, they’re are still sequences throughout the two part tale which hit home runs with aplomb.
Whilst there was a relatively short wait for Tarantino’s next film, it was something of a halfway house. Death Proof, one half of a two part Grindhouse Double bill (along with Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror) is as indulgent as Tarantino has ever got. A film that allowed him to pay ode to Corman, to Russ Meyer, Troma and more. Whilst it may feature an inspired Kurt Russell (again, even when misfiring, there’s still moments of majesty) and great stunts, it’s also messy. It probably ranks as his weakest work, almost willfully lacking some of the care of his others, but also in paying such close homage to grindhouse, those ‘pure’ moments of Tarantino segue just seem out of place, whilst sequences of the female cast delivering page upon page of QT dialogue feels off (in protagonist focus, particularly working in unison with Uma, or in Jackie Brown, he writes female parts well. Otherwise, not that much.). In homaging something so specific and breaking away from that for long scenes, it just feels more skitty than it should. Still, despite this, there’s much to enjoy in the film.
Tarantino hit back hard in his follow up, Inglorious Basterds. This is a film that kind of annoys me. So much of the film is 10/10, but there are scenes that don’t match the high points, that kind of slow things down a bit (sorry Mike Myers). Again, he’s the most powerful and wilful director in the game. He’s got the freedom of the City, but sometimes even the best of the best need someone to come in and say ‘Quentin me old son…this scene needs cutting.’ Whether it’s any scene with Christophe Waltz, or Michael Fassbender’s finger faux pas, this has truly exceptional moments. Some of the best stuff Tarantino has produced, which considering his legacy, is quite something. As stated, even at his most indulgent, in scenes only he could get passed, there are moments of inspired genius (the offing of Hitler is bizarre, savage and unforgettable).
Django Unchained saw Tarantino go full blown Western. Much like Basterds this film is largely inspired, if a nip and tuck away from perfection. Waltz returns on exceptional form again. DiCaprio relishes his opportunity to star in a QT film by chewing the life majestically out of his scenery. Jamie Foxx in addition gives a career best performance in the lead role. Disappointingly, where Foxx could have kicked on to become one of the best in the business, his choices after this weren’t the best, and he’s kind of drifted out of the limelight.
The Hateful Eight was another film with great moments and performances. At over 3 hours though, once again it’s just plagued with an inconsistency that probably more so than any of his others, is to the detriment of the film. There are aspects here that bring to mind Kill Bill, Basterds and Django, without ever quite reaching the peak points of those. These are perhaps time periods and homages that whilst enjoyable, aren’t in perfect unison with Tarantino’s style and dialogue gifts, whereas Pulp Fiction was (in it’s more contemporary setting, crossed with 50’s love-in) and Jackie Brown in its contemporary and 70’s odes also was.
This is why Once Upon a Time In Hollywood in its time and place feels so perfectly match to every strength Tarantino has and even fits the potential for indulgence even more (having Bruce Lee appear is inspired). If he’s objective enough in the edit, and nails the structure, this could be his best of the century. The first trailer promises, even as deliberately vague as it was, greatness. At his best he makes films which are relatively light, with heavy moments. His previous films have been a reverse really, and didn’t flow as well as his best works. His next certainly looks to be leaning more on the lighter side as the default setting, which again, could promise potential greatness.
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has three features due out on DVD/VOD in 2019 and a number of shorts hitting festivals. Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see…https://www.instagram.com/jolliffeproductions/