Man: "He really is one of our most indulgent filmmakers."
Alvy Singer: "The key word here is indulgent."- Woody Allen's ANNIE HALL (1977)
If you're a Quentin Tarantino fan you might want to stop reading this right now because chances are, you're not going to like what I have to say here. Go on. We'll wait for you to leave.
Are they gone? Good. Let's get down to it.
I must confess that I've only seen three Quentin Tarrantino films: PULP FICTION (1994), DEATH PROOF (2007) and, most recently, RESERVOIR DOGS (1992). Like millions of moviegoers, I fell for the hype when PULP FICTION was released. Everything I read about the film convinced me that this film and director were the second coming of CITIZEN KANE and Orson Welles, respectively.
PULP FICTION, for all of it's non-linear storytelling, good cast and outasite vintage rock and pop tunes, was, in my opinion, a vastly overrated piece of work. There's no real story of any kind here. There's no main protagonist. There are a couple of down-the-rabbit-hole sequences (the pocket watch story and the fresh-from-the-roadshow-cast of DELIVERANCE basement dwelling Gimp) that have absolutely nothing to do with what passes for a plot. The watch story is mildly amusing while the whole Gimp sequence made me squirm and wonder what the hell I had gotten myself into.
The whole thing with the briefcase is a direct steal, oh, I'm sorry, homage to Robert Aldrich's infinitely better film noir masterpiece KISS ME DEADLY (1955). I'll grant that there are some wicked dance moves in the Jack Rabbit Slim sequence and Tarantino does have a flair for staging brutal, realistic action scenes. But what PULP FICTION has more of than anything else is dialogue. Tons of dialogue. Page after page of dialogue. These characters don't need guns to kill people. They can talk them to death. The incessant chatter goes on and on and on and you know what? It's just not that good. It's nowhere near as clever as QT wants us to think it is because the dialogue isn't about establishing and creating believable characters and advancing the story. No, it's all about Tarantino shouting from the roof-tops: "Look at Me! Look at Me! I'm a Writer! I'm a Director! I know a lot of useless pop culture and movie trivia and I'm going to cram as much of it as I can into this screenplay because there's no one to tell me no!"
Or words to that effect.
I didn't much care for PULP FICTION, despite the cult status it has gone on to achieve. I decided Tarantino just wasn't my cup of tea. I avoided his work until 2007 when QT and Robert Rodriquez teamed up for GRINDHOUSE. Again, everything I read about this old-fashioned B-movie double feature sounded intriguing so I decided to give it a shot. I thoroughly enjoyed Rodriguez's PLANET TERROR, the first half of the double bill. I loved the fake trailers. I was actually looking forward to the filmed (partly) in Austin Tarantino movie, DEATH PROOF.
Here's what happens in DEATH PROOF. A bunch of women meet in a cafe (the now demolished Omelettry on Burnet Road) for breakfast. They sit around and talk. For a long time. Then they get in a car and drive around Austin. They talk some more. A lot. They end the day at the Chili Parlor on Lavaca where they meet psycho killer Kurt Russell. He indulges in dialogue that once again exists only to showcase QT's immense wealth of pop culture trivia. The women are killed in a homicidal auto accident. Cut to Southern California and a new group of women. They talk. A lot. Russell shows up again and after about 45 minutes of talk, an extremely well staged car chase sequence takes place. The stunts and action are all first rate but my clothes had gone out of style in the time it took Tarantino to finally get around to something of interest. I swear, I came this close (holds up thumb and finger with very little space between them) to walking out of this turkey.
So, I decided that's it. I'm done. No more Tarantino for me. But wait, I'm a glutton for punishment because I recently decided to give him one more chance. I had never seen his debut film, RESERVOIR DOGS and the used copy at the thrift store was only a buck and I decided what the hell, why not give this one a shot? After all, the premise, a heist gone wrong, sounded promising.
Good Lord what an abomination DOGS is. Extreme violence. Extreme profanity (why do white guys get to casually drop the "N" bomb in Tarantino's films?) Extreme fracturing of space and time. And last but not least, extreme talking. Talking. Talking. Talking. Cool soundtrack though.
Tarnatino thinks he's being cool by using a broken narrative (flash forwards and flash backs) to tell the story of a heist gone wrong. Trouble is, by breaking up the standard tropes of this sub genre he effectively eliminates any element of suspense. We know from the get-go that things go wrong but why should we care about these characters when we've just met them in a long and talky cafe sequence at the beginning of the film. Oh, and the fact that one of the men is an undercover cop comes as just as big a surprise to the audience as it does to the bad guys. But by the time that little plot point was revealed, I was far past giving a damn about the whole thing. I just wanted the sadistic violence and endless talking to stop. Please stop.
As you can no doubt guess, I won't be seeing THE HATEFUL EIGHT. Everything I've read about this film makes me think that every frame of this film is permeated with the stench of pretension. Shot in 70mm. A three-hour running time. An overture. An intermission. A title card announcing it as the "eighth Quentin Tarantino film." All of that's fine if you're David Lean and you're delivering LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962). But when you're QT and you're asking people to sit for three hours and watch eight people sit in a snow bound cabin and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk.....well, you get the point.