Categories
Interesting TV

Quentin Tarantino on Robert De Niro

Back in March 1994 Quentin Tarantino did an interview for a Channel 4 TV series called Cinefile where he talked about the career of Robert De Niro.

He makes many astute observations about the actor’s career, discussing his performances in landmark films like Mean Streets, The Godfather Part II, Taxi Driver, The Deer Hunter, Raging Bull and Once Upon a Time in America.

Here is the show in 3 parts.

N.B. Note Tarantino’s comments towards the end which highlight the decline in the quality of De Niro’s choices during the 1980s which only got worse in recent years with appearances in The Adventures of Rocky and BullwinkleMeet The Fockers and Righteous Kill. There is also a moment where he anticipates the team up of Pacino and De Niro in Heat.

Categories
Interesting

Quentin Tarantino on There Will Be Blood

Quentin Tarantino talks about There Will Be Blood and his friendship with writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson.

[ad]

Categories
Cinema Thoughts

Inglourious Basterds

Inglorious Basterds UK posterInglorious Basterds is an insane but deeply satisfying World War II spaghetti western.

Imagine if Sergio Leone and Francois Truffaut co-directed The Dirty Dozen after someone had sprinkled LSD on their lunchtime pasta and you’ll get a good idea of Quentin Tarantino’s latest film.

Set in its own alternative universe, it boldly reinvents the traditional war movie as a stylish revenge western whilst also paying deep reverence to cinema itself.

It will almost certainly divide audiences and critics, but this, for me, was a significant return to form for the writer and director.

Tarantino is one of those rare film-makers who became famous as a modern day auteur in the 1990s and it is worth recapping his career to date, to get a gauge of where this fits in to his career.

With his debut Reservoir Dogs (1992) he exploded on to the scene with a stunning heist movie that marked him out as a major talent with a particular ear for dialogue and an appetite for shocking violence.

Pulp Fiction (1994) not only built on the success of his debut but managed to become one of the defining films of the decade: it won the Palme d’Or; grossed over $200 million world wide; revitalised careers; spawned a raft of imitators and became a cultural phenomenon.

Jackie Brown (1997) perhaps could never live up to the acclaim and success of Pulp Fiction but it contains some of his best and most mature work, especially the performances of Pam Grier and Robert Forster.

Kill Bill Vol 1 (2003) and Kill Bill Vol 2 (2004) was long, drawn out revenge epic with Uma Thurman as an assassin that featured some brilliant sequences but felt like one film spread out too thinly over two.

The Grindhouse (2007) project was a double bill homage to 70’s exploitation cinema with Robert Rodriguez making the zombie horror ‘Planet Terror‘ and Tarantino making the stalker drama ‘Death Proof‘.

It flopped at the box office, which resulted in it being released as two separate films and thus ultimately defeating the point of being a double bill.

His work in that was mixed, with dull sequences with annoyingly verbose female characters contrasted with an underrated turn from Kurt Russell as the villain and a thrilling climax.

All of this brings us to Inglourious Basterds, a project that Tarantino has been developing on and off for years, which finally went in to production last autumn.

It is a World War II story (with significant chunks of history rewritten for effect) which involves a large ensemble cast of characters, who are slowly drawn into a tale of revenge.

There is a young Jewish woman (Melanie Laurent) who escapes the slaughter of her family by a ‘Jew hunting’ Nazi (Christophe Waltz); a group of Nazi-hunting commandos known as ‘The Basterds’ led by a Southern lieutenant (Brad Pitt); a British agent (Michael Fassbender) behind enemy lines; a Nazi war hero (Daniel Bruhl) who has become a film star; an German actress double agent (Diane Kruger) and the Nazi high command of Hitler (Martin Wuttke) and Goebbels (Sylvester Groth).

Now, you may have already heard of the decidedly mixed reaction to the film at the Cannes film festival this year, in which some critics declared their hatred of the film.

But after the hysterical reaction to Antichrist earlier this year and the misguided vitriol hurled at Che the year before I’m beginning to wonder if some critics are getting too affected by the early screenings, parties and stress of the festival.

When I sat down to watch Inglourious Basterds yesterday I did so with a degree of trepidation as I’ve fallen a little out of love with Tarantino’s work. Despite numerous qualities, the films of the past decade simply don’t compare to those in the previous.

But the good news is that this actually delivers the goods and whilst it isn’t in the same league as his first two films it is absorbing, well crafted filmmaking laced with considerable wit and style.

The big rap on it from some critics is that there is too much talk and that it is boring, but from the bravura opening sequence (a homage to an early sequence from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly) it had me hooked and if you think about, even Tarantino’s best films have been much more talk than action.

That opening scene is superbly handled – a master class in tension, involving a Nazi having a drink with a French farmer – and it sets up the rest of the story beautifully.

A lot of the film does involve characters talking for extended periods and there is a notable lack of conventional action sequences, but this is actually a strength rather than a weakness.

The main reason for this is that the pool of characters here are some of the best Tarantino has ever written and his uncanny eye for the right actor has paid rich dividends here.

It is being sold as a World War II action movie starring Brad Pitt, but this is a much more European flavoured film with a diverse and expertly cast ensemble.

Brad Pitt does well in a key role but the real stand outs are Christophe Waltz who is marvellous as the multi-lingual SS offficer nicknamed ‘The Jew Hunter and Melanie Laurent as Shosanna Dreyfus, his Jewish nemeis who ends up owning a cinema in Paris.

One sequence between them, set in a restaurant, is superbly played with an underlying menace and tension that is tweaked quite brilliantly. To some it will be just more ‘Tarantino speak’, but the context, the use of music and extreme close ups all give it a different texture from what you might expect.

The rest of the cast all do sterling work but special praise must go to Michael Fassbender and Mike Myers for their only scene together – a wonderfully played military briefing which is hilarious, although I suspect it will be a litmus test for those who love or hate this film.

Going in you might expect this to be mostly about the Basterds killing Nazis, but that is only one slice of the pie, with the real juice of the film being a revenge tale in which even celluloid itself is drafted into the plot.

Whilst much of the discussion about the film will inevitably centre around the director and his reputation, it is worth mentioning the wonderful technical work across the board.

The production values are first rate, with the studio based scenes (shot at Babelsberg Studio outside Berlin) mixed seamlessly with location work and the production design by David Wasco is complemented beautifully by the costumes by Anna Sheppard.

The cinematography by Robert Richardson is beautifully composed and when combined with Tarantino’s style and Sally Menke’s editing makes for some wonderfully snappy and memorable sequences. (One involving a map is almost pitch-perfect in its execution).

Music has always been a strong point in Tarantino’s previous films as he has made a point of never using an original composer and instead inserting previously recorded pieces.

Along with snippets of his beloved Ennio Morricone, he makes great use of David Bowie’s Cat People (Putting Out Fire), the music from The Entity and even a blast of Elmer Bernstein’s theme to Zulu Dawn.

For longtime fans of the director, look out for the now trademark scenes involving feet, a Mexican stand off, close ups of food (think cream rather than Big Kahuna burgers) and numerous references to films throughout.

At 153 minutes maybe some of it could have been cut a little bit more (one sequence in a bar seems to have been trimmed slightly since Cannes) but the fact is that I never looked at my watch during the film – it had me absorbed and each chapter rolling into the next was a pleasure.

Mainstream audiences may get put off by the use of subtitles (attractive yellow ones as it turns out) used in much of the multi-lingual cast and the fact that Brad Pitt is in it less than the marketing is letting on.

This is a film that exists very much in its own world, as you will see when it gets to the climax, but it is such a rich and lovingly created one that avoids the pitfalls of many movies set in World War II. It is as much about our perceptions and fantasies of that war than it is about the actual war itself.

In terms of where this fits into the director’s career, I don’t think Quentin Tarantino will ever top the expectations Pulp Fiction forced on him. Since the enormous critical and commercial success of that film he seemed to be indulged at Miramax (which, to be fair, his success helped shape) and perhaps he hasn’t had the creative tension down the years that he needed.

His last couple of films – despite undoubted qualities – seemed to be showing an artist retreating into his own self-referential head.

Grindhouse marked the point where he seemed to be chasing his own pop culture tail and this was paralleled by the commercial misfires at the newly formed Weinstein Company.

With this film they have partnered with Universal and interestingly this is the first time Tarantino has worked with a major studio as writer-director. Maybe this has given him a new sense of responsibility and helped him creatively.

Certainly Inglourious Basterds is a refreshing change of pace from the crime and exploitation influenced work he had been doing of late.

This movie will not please everyone, it will piss off some critics, it will cause heated debates and it may or may not even help save The Weinstein Company.

But in a summer that has given us soulless, mechanical junk like Wolverine, Terminator: Salvation, Transformers 2 and G.I. Joe, I am grateful that it exists and hopeful that it will be the platform for Tarantino to explore new creative territory.

> Official site
> Read more reviews of Inglourious Basterds at Metacritic

Categories
News

Quentin Tarantino on Larry King Live

Quentin Tarantino was recently on CNN’s Larry King Live, discussing the recent death of actor David Carradine.

[ad]

The two had worked together on the Kill Bill films and Tarantino strongly feels that the actor’s death wasn’t suicide.

> More on David Carradine’s death and career
> Quentin Tarantino at the IMDb

Categories
Cannes

Cannes 2009 Reactions: Inglourious Basterds

Brad Pitt in Inglorious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino has long been a favourite of the Cannes Film Festival, winning the Palme d’Or in 1994 with Pulp Fiction and heading the jury in 2004.

His latest film is Inglourious Basterds, which is set in Nazi-occupied France during World War II.

The plot follows a group of Jewish-American soldiers (led by Brad Pitt) whose mission is to kill Nazis, and the other follows a young Jewish woman (Mélanie Laurent) who seeks to avenge the death of her parents by the Nazis.

There has been a lot on anticipation for the film and here is a summary of the critical reaction, which ranges from mixed to disappointing.

Todd McCarthy of Variety calls it an entertaining fairytale:

‘Inglourious Basterds’ is a violent fairy tale, an increasingly entertaining fantasia in which the history of World War II is wildly reimagined so that the cinema can play the decisive role in destroying the Third Reich.

Tarantino’s long-gestating war saga invests a long-simmering revenge plot with reworkings of innumerable genre conventions, but only fully finds its tonal footing about halfway through, after which it’s off to the races.

By turns surprising, nutty, windy, audacious and a bit caught up in its own cleverness, the picture is a completely distinctive piece of American pop art with a strong Euro flavor that’s new for the director.”

Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian (a longtime fan of QT) is massively disappointed:

Quentin Tarantino‘s cod-WW2 shlocker about a Jewish-American revenge squad intent on killing Nazis in German-occupied France is awful. It is achtung-achtung-ach-mein-Gott atrocious.

It isn’t funny; it isn’t exciting; it isn’t a realistic war movie, yet neither is it an entertaining genre spoof or a clever counterfactual wartime yarn. It isn’t emotionally involving or deliciously ironic or a brilliant tissue of trash-pop references. Nothing like that.

Brad Pitt gives the worst performance of his life, with a permanent smirk as if he’s had the left side of his jaw injected with cement, and which he must uncomfortably maintain for long scenes on camera without dialogue.

His Guardian colleague Xan Brooks also thinks the film is a mess:

Quentin Tarantino‘s self-styled spaghetti-western war movie sends Hitler to the movies where, by God, he gets what’s coming to him.

“For all that, ‘Inglourious Basterds‘ remains a mess: an obese, pampered adolescent of a film that somehow manages to be both indolent and overexcited at the same time.

Oh sure, this adolescent is talented and has ambition and moxy to burn. But he’s so bumptious, brattish and full of himself that it becomes a little wearing.

And what was with all those movie references? Michael Fassbender plays a heroic film critic, while Tarantino’s script pays extended, obsequious tribute to French cinema and the auteur theory.

It all struck me as special pleading; the smarm-tactics of a schoolboy who has rushed through his homework and decides that his best hope is to butter up the teacher.”

Mike Goodridge of Screen International has mixed feelings:

An intermittently-inspired World War II epic which illustrates both Quentin Tarantino’s brilliance and his tendency towards indulgence, Inglourious Basterdsis composed of a series of long-running vignettes strung together by a slender story thread.

The problem is that no one character or set of characters runs through the entire two-and-a-half hour running time, and, with some of the scenes running up to half an hour each, the thread of the drama is left disjointed and the focus ever-changing.

Eric Kohn of indieWIRE thinks it lacks ambition:

“Given what the world expects from Quentin Tarantino – the man, the myth, the pastiche-driven movie machine – his latest feature, ‘Inglorious Basterds,’ stands out for its seemingly low ambition.”

“‘Basterds’ lacks the crackly excitement of Tarantino’s other efforts, mainly because he can’t seem to tie the whole package together.”

David Bourgeois of Movieline feels it was lightweight:

“‘Inglourious Basterds’ felt slight.

More time fleshing out characters and less time showcasing stylistic flourishes might have helped make it glorious indeed.

Sukhdev Sandhu of The Telegraph has some praise but feels it to be undistinguished:

“Casting Mike Myers and pal Eli Roth (director of ‘Hostel‘) is self-indulgent, Christoph Waltz though, as a cackling and multi-lingual German colonel, makes for a terrific villain.

Long-time fans will enjoy the Morricone-slathered soundtrack, and the allusions to Kubrick and Henri-Georges Clouzot.

Cannes normally adores Tarantino (he won the Palme d’Or for ‘Pulp Fiction‘), but this time? It’s not so much inglorious as undistinguished.”

Dave Calhoun of Time Out has mixed feelings:

“You get the feeling with ‘Inglourious Basterds’ that Quentin Tarantino desperately wants to put away childish things. Nor is he hiding the fact.

Not only is Brad Pitt’s closing line of the movie ‘This may well be my masterpiece,’ but ‘Inglourious Basterds’ is, a lot of the time, a little more restrained, a little quieter than we’ve come to expect from films like ‘Death Proof’ and ‘Kill Bill.’…

For all its shallow pleasures, there’s no getting away from the troubling theme of sadistic revenge at the heart of ‘Inglourious Basterds’, a theme that’s hard to take seriously in such a movie, about such a period of history.

Alison Willmore of IFC thinks there is way too much talk:

The ratio of talk to action – not gun fights or explosions, but just people doing stuff – in ‘Inglourious Basterds’ is, generously, nine to one.

Again and again, characters sit down over drinks (whiskey, champagne, milk), and the stakes may be high, but the conversations are meandering and lengthy, and no matter how clever they may get, they end up defeated by their own pace and their writer’s inability to let anything go.”

Jeffrey Wells of Hollywood Elsewhere is disappointed and also thinks there is too much talking:

It’s not great. It’s a fairly engaging Quentin chit-chat personality film in World War II dress-up. It’s arch and very confidently rendered from QT’s end, but it’s basically talk, talk, talk .

No characters are subjected to tests of characters by having to make hard choices and stand up for what they believe, and nobody pours their heart out. What they do is yap their asses off. Cleverly and enjoyably at times, yes, but brisk repartee does not a solid movie make.

The theme, I suppose is the penetrating and transformative power of film. The secondary theme is a Jewish revenge fantasy against the Nazis. (Costar Eli Rothcalled it “kosher porn” in this sense.)

No emotional currents, no sense of realism and no characters you’re allowed to really and truly enjoy and care about.

It’s an arch exercise in World War II genre filmmaking, a kind of filmic valentine for people who love film and film culture, and a put-on about World War II movies.

Mike D’Angelo of The AV Club thinks it the strangest film QT has made:

“Conceptually, this is easily the strangest film he’s ever made, as well as the least commercially viable.

In terms of its tone, its rhythms, its (sorry, I have to) mise-en-scène, its moment-to-moment creativity and imagination and inventiveness, this is far and away the most ordinary film Tarantino has ever made….

I was never bored by ‘Inglourious Basterds,’ I was never terribly excited by it, either. It was just kind of… there, stuck in second gear, functioning like the longest decent B-movie programmer of all time.”

J Hoberman of the Village Voice thinks it emblematic of QT’s recent movies:

Inglourious Basterds’ might well be QT’s [masterpiece] – if by that we mean the fullest expression of a particular artist’s worldview…

Perhaps one should call ‘Inglourious Basterds’ – a sort of World War II spaghetti western, even more drenched in film references than blood – quintessential Tarantino.

A little long, a bit too pleased with itself, it’s a movie of enthusiastic performances, terrific dialogue, amoral, surprisingly crude, mayhem, and mind-boggling juvenile fantasy.

It proves once again that Quentin Tarantino really knows movies – and that movies may be all he really knows.”

Check out the full press conference over at the official site.

> Inglorious Basterds at the IMDb
> Official site