We appear to be in yet another cinema-is-dead era. Quentin Tarantino, whether you like him or not, continues to defy this notion. Shot on actual film and always announcing themselves as genuine events, the writer/director’s movies provoke conversation and controversy in roughly equal measure.
As much has been evident since he burst onto the scene with his debut feature, a bloody crime drama in which no one is innocent and everyone’s a suspect. (And seriously, who shot Nice Guy Eddie?)
Tarantino fulfilled the promise of “Reservoir Dogs” and then some with his sophomore effort, which unanimously won the Palme d’Or (a rarity) and wound up being a defining pop-culture touchstone of the 1990s. A shot of adrenaline delivered straight to heart of cinema, “Pulp Fiction” is still its maker’s greatest work.
The first of Tarantino’s films not to progress achronologically, “Jackie Brown” is sometimes regarded as a scaled-back version of its director’s signature aesthetic. That’s true to an extent — it is, after all, his only adaptation of a prexisting work — but just because this blaxploitation-inflected corker reveals its ambitions more subtly doesn’t mean they aren’t present.
The six years between “Jackie Brown” and “Kill Bill: Volume 1” represent the longest gap between any of Tarantino’s nine films. Luckily, the Blood-Spattered Bride’s two-part revenge saga proved worth the wait. Uma Thurman, reuniting with her “Pulp Fiction” director, made her (somewhat) unnamed character into Tarantino’s most memorable protagonist.
Comparing the two halves of “Kill Bill” to one another is something of a fool’s errand, as the project was originally envisioned (and made) as one four-hour experience, but this meditative conclusion served to remind that Tarantino doesn’t necessarily need elaborately choreographed set-pieces to compel audiences — not that they aren’t highly entertaining.
Tarantino’s contribution to “Grindhouse” seems to be the orphan of his filmography, but it’s worthy of a closer look. “Death Proof” is best viewed alongside “Planet Terror” — not to mention the host of fake trailers, some of which ended up being made into real movies — but it still stands up well on its own.
“Inglorious Basterds” proved something we probably should have alredy known: that, in Tarantino’s world, movies are so powerful that they can literally help kill Hitler. If nothing else, his enthusiasm at simply being able to make movies in his own idiosyncratic way is probably unmatched by any other working filmmaker.
The “D” is silent, but this bloody revenge fantasy certainly isn’t. Tarantino’s highest-grossing movie, “Django” is also very much of a piece with its immediate predecessor.
With all due credit to the three films that preceded it, “The Hateful Eight” has to be the best of Tarantino’s films since at least “Kill Bill.” A chamber drama-turned-bloodbath, it’s yet another example of the writer/director’s words cutting as sharply as his characters’ many implements of violence. (It helps that the endlessly referential filmmaker worked elements of John Carpenter’s “The Thing into his vision for this quasi-Western.)