Posts Tagged ‘Quentin Tarantino’

30. From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

Director: Robert Rodriguez

Starring: Harvey Keitel, George Clooney, Quentin Tarantino, Juliette Lewis, Ernest Liu, Salma Hayek, Cheech Marin, Danny Trejo, Tom Savini, Fred Williamson, Michael Parks

It really doesn’t feel like it’s been 20 years since “From Dusk Till Dawn” was unleashed upon the world. In fact, it almost feels like it could have happened yesterday… or even overnight. The thing that best serves to keep this movie fresh in the mind is how effortlessly it is able to combine two completely different genres into one beautiful package. Add to that the fact that the script was written by Quentin Tarantino (as his first paid Hollywood writing gig) and an excellent cast of characters, and you have a classic modern horror movie on your hands.

Bank robbing brothers Seth (George Clooney) and Richie Gecko (Quentin Tarantino) are on the run, both from the FBI and law enforcement of the State of Texas. They’ve already killed a few cops, feds and civilians, and two more casualties soon follow at a liquor store. On top of it all, they’ve also kidnapped a bank clerk, to whom Seth has promised she will live as long as she does all that they ask of her. Unfortunately, Richie has a bit of an impulse control problem. He rapes and murders the woman while Seth has stepped out of their motel room to pick up some hamburgers.

Meanwhile, a family of three driving an RV fatefully stops to rest at the very same motel. Jacob Fuller (Harvey Keitel) is a former preacher who lately has questioned his faith following the death by auto accident of his wife. Jacob and his children, Kate (Juliette Lewis) and Scott (Ernest Liu), are to be the Gecko brothers’ next hostages. Forcing Jacob to drive past the Mexican border, the Gecko brothers’ destination is a strip club called the Titty Twister, where are supposed to rendezvous at dawn with a man named Carlos. Until that time, they intend to enjoy themselves, and encourage the Fullers to do the same.

The fun only lasts a short while. After a very sexy show from the featured attraction, Santanico Pandemonium (Salma Hayek), the truth of this place is revealed: All of the employees (the girls, the bartender, the band, Santanico and others) are in fact vampires! Most of the truckers and bikers who’ve shown up to eat, drink and get their rocks off are killed within minutes. Richie himself is bitten and killed by Santanico. When Richie turns, Seth is forced to drive a wooden stake through his heart. By the end of the initial assault, the only ones who still have a pulse are Seth, Jacob, Kate, Scott, Sex Machine (Tom Savini) and Frost (Fred Williamson).

As the survivors commit to dealing with the dead bodies so as to prevent them from rising up again, one of them bites Sex Machine on the arm. Gradually, he turns into a vampire. When he does, Sex Machine bites both Frost and Jacob. As Frost becomes a vampire, he tosses Sex Machine through a door, allowing a second wave of vampire to fly in as bats. Retreating to a storage room, Seth, Kate and Scott and an injured Jacob (wielding a shotgun) make the most out of what they can find to create weapons to be used against the vampire horde. This includes a Super Soaker with holy water (for Scott), a crossbow (for Kate), and a rather phallic pneumatic drill with an attached wooden stake (for Seth).

Going back out into the crowd of vampires, the group begins to fight back. Jacob doesn’t last long before he changes and bites Scott. Kate is forced to kill her father, and then her brother as well. Having lost their weapons in the fracas, Seth and Kate are down to one gun with a scant amount of ammunition. Daybreak arrives, and the sunlight starts to peek through the holes in the walls, made by earlier gunfire. Seth instructs Kate to create more holes, but it’s only partially effective, as the vampires continue to close in on them. Just then, Carlos (Cheech Marin) and his men show up outside. Seth hollers at him to shoot down the doors, which then exposes all the vampires inside to sunlight, killing them in a fiery explosion. Expressing anger at Carlos’s ignorance of just what kind of establishment that the Titty Twister turned out to have been, Seth makes their planned exchange, and give some of the money to Kate. Afterwards, Seth sends Kate on her way back home, while he departs for El Rey, Mexico.

The second-best movie I’ve watched all month (behind only “Psycho”), I have long considered “From Dusk Till Dawn” to be a fantastic movie in every conceivable way. It’s horrific (thanks to wonderful makeup effects from KNB), it’s well-acted… George Clooney in particular is just superb… and expertly written. I love the fact that it’s essentially two movies for the price of one, starting off as a action-crime getaway movie before transforming into a vampire flick at the sixty-minute mark.

I kinda wish we’d seen a little more from Tom Savini’s Sex Machine, as he’s just hilarious. Cheech Marin, a veteran of Robert Rodriguez’s films, plays three roles: in addition to Carlos, he also shows up as a border patrol officer and as one of the vampires. Greg Nicotero (best known today for his directing and supervision of the makeup effects on TV’s “The Walking Dead”), in addition to working on the makeup effects for “From Dusk Till Dawn,” also cameos as a biker from whom Sex Machine steals a beer. Although Nicotero’s character dies off-screen in the final cut of the film, a deleted scene shows that his head is bitten off by Santanico Pandemonium.

If you love the work of Quentin Tarantino but never have bothered with “From Dusk Till Dawn,” you’re missing a lot! Everything that makes a Tarantino script great is present here. If you’re a “Walking Dead” fan and love the gore that the show provides… same answer, except that it probably would have been even better before cuts were made to bring the movie down to an R-rating. Basically, you can’t go wrong. As fresh now as it was in 1996. Two decades from now, you’ll doubtless be able to say the same thing, because “From Dusk Till Dawn,” like the creatures of the night that it depicts, is immortal.

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Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Starring: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Chris Penn, Steve Buscemi, Lawrence Tierney, Michael Madsen

The crime caper genre truly is a most intriguing one. As the audience, we will likely stand as the only living witnesses in following along as felonies are committed, money/jewels are lifted, and bullets fly. We champion one or more of the main characters as the action progresses. We do these things not because these are the characters the movie has chosen to focus on, but because the actors who bring them to life really know their shtick, and perhaps because we’ve seen something of ourselves within them. The hardened criminals, who are capable of gunning down teams of police officers (and the occasional bystanders) without even blinking, have been humanized.

Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney) has arranged for six men to steal a satchel full of diamonds. To ensure that they have nothing to tell the police about each other should anything go wrong, all six men go by assigned colors as their aliases. After a pre-title sequence involving a discussion on the meaning behind Madonna’s “Like a Virgin,” we find out fast that the heist did not go according to plan at all. Writhing in pain and screaming in fear at the sight of his own blood is Mr. Orange (Tim Roth), dying from a gunshot wound to the belly and sprawled out in the back of a stolen car with Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) at the wheel. At this moment, they have no idea if anyone else made it out alive, and Mr. White is focused on calming his hemorrhaging partner down and making it to the warehouse set up as the rendezvous point.

Once at the warehouse, White and Orange are soon met by Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi), who managed to make it out of the chaos with the diamonds. That leaves only two they’re unsure about: Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) and Mr. Blue (Eddie Bunker). Mr. White and Mr. Orange (who is now lying unconscious) know of Mr. Brown (Quentin Tarantino)’s fate. Brown was to have been the getaway driver, but took a cop’s bullet right between the eyes. Mr. Pink and Mr. White talk about the events that led them into their current messy situation. Both are appalled at the actions of Mr. Blonde, who killed many civilians after the bank’s alarm was triggered. Mr. Pink is certain there’s a mole in their group, because he’d noticed two sets of police cars arriving at the scene. One, he surmises, was already there lying in wait while the second wave was the one responding to the alarm. The two start to argue over whether to risk apprehension by driving Orange to a hospital, where he might have a fighting chance to live, and draw their guns on one another.

This is where a very much alive Mr. Blonde makes his presence felt. He is truly a “psychopath,” as described by Mr. White. There is nothing about Mr. Blonde that should make the audience want to see him make it through to the end. Despite this, Michael Madsen does such a good job at making Blonde a despicable human being that we love to hate him. Quentin Tarantino’s subsequent films have often given the impression that they may exist within the same universe, and the theory goes that Mr. Blonde, whose real name is revealed later (as are one or two others) is the brother of John Travolta’s character from “Pulp Fiction.” Though never confirmed by “Pulp Fiction,” I do like the idea.

Though I’m sure it was done largely to cut down on set costs, I think it’s brilliant that we never see the actual heist. Most of the movie takes place at the warehouse. We have to allow the characters’ testimony to exist as fact, because we weren’t there and didn’t see what happened. We can also use our imagniation to fill in the blanks. This way, “Reservoir Dogs” can focus on its characters, showing in flashbacks how three of the six men got hired. There’s not much to Mr. White’s flashback. We already know he’s a tough guy who will do whatever is necessary to either see a job completed or get away alive. What we aren’t shown… and what WAS shown by that opening scene in the car… is his human side, his empathy brought out by Mr. Orange’s suffering. The other two flashbacks do tell us more about the men behind the colorful nicknames, what their true names are and what their motivations for taking the job happen to be. In addition to the minimization of the set locations, no one was hired to compose a musical score. The only times you hear any songs in the film are when someone turns on a radio (exceptions to this being the opening and closing credits). Otherwise, the roar of the warehouse’s pipes serves as the only background noise.

Everybody who has seen and enjoyed “Reservoir Dogs” has a favorite character. Some like the take-charge Mr. White, owing to Harvey Keitel’s familiarity with this type of role. For many, it’s Steve Buscemi’s pessimistic, paranoid Mr. Pink who tickles the funny bone. For me, it’s Tim Roth as Mr. Orange, the kid who’s in over his head with a job for which time could not have helped him prepare for all possible contingencies. At the time I first saw the movie, I had no idea of Roth’s true nationality, which only further goes to show how terrific an actor he is. (Exactly why is it that English actors seem to have no trouble in faking an American accent, but not vice versa?) “Reservoir Dogs” being Quentin Tarantino’s first go at a full-length motion picture signaled great things to come. No one could have known how great. Tarantino’s ability as a writer/director to communicate to his audience through his characters… often with the use of pop culture references… is part of what makes his movies as entertaining as they are. Even makes you forget that your rooting for the bad guys.

Grindhouse (2007)

Directors: Robert Rodriguez & Quentin Tarantino

Starring (in “Planet Terror”): Rose McGowan, Freddy Rodriguez, Michael Biehn, Jeff Fahey, Josh Brolin, Marley Shelton, Bruce Willis

Starring (in “Death Proof”): Kurt Russell, Rosario Dawson, Vanessa Ferlito, Jordan Ladd, Rose McGowan, Sydney Poitier, Tracie Thoms, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Zoe Bell

Back in the 1970s, the old rundown single-screen theaters which had been popular before the age of television were given a new purpose. Audiences could buy their tickets, go in and enjoy two, three, or sometimes even more films in one night. You could expect several different genres to be represented, including horror, martial arts with badly dubbed English, and even pornography. Often, the films would be in poor shape, having been shipped all around the country and played over and over. By the late 80’s/early 90’s, when I was old enough to go out to the theater, the availability of home video had rendered the grindhouse theaters obsolete. Oh, you’d still get the occasional movie marathons for things like “Star Trek” and the ritual midnight screenings of “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” but it wasn’t the same experience. Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez remember the grindhouse well, and it has helped shape the direction of each man’s career as filmmakers. In 2007, they took their fondness for the grindhouse one step further, creating a double-feature experience for the modern audience. It’s a shame that not everyone got the memo.

In addition to the two feature-length films, “Grindhouse” is armed with a few fake trailers. The first one, for Rodriguez’s Mexploitation film “Machete” (which became a real movie in 2010), features Danny Trejo as Machete Cortez, a former Mexican Federale out for revenge against the swine who hired him to assassinate a Texas Senator and then double-crossed him before he could carry out the assignment. The trailer is bloody violent, but with a sense of humor… exactly what you would come to expect from the director of “From Dusk Till Dawn,” “Desperado,” “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” and “Sin City.” It’s also filled with scratches and skips, just like any grindhouse trailer would be.

The tone is set for the first feature, “Planet Terror,” also directed by Robert Rodriguez. Nothing more or less than a balls to the wall (and, in some cases, the floor) zombie horror film, “Planet Terror” is non-stop fun from beginning to end. It is filled with several memorable characters, including but not limited to: Dr. and Dakota Block (Josh Brolin & Marley Shelton), Texas barbecue connoisseur J.T. Hague (Jeff Fahey), the mysterious badass El Wray (Freddy Rodriguez), and his off again/on again flame, Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan). But my favorite, mainly because of the actor playing the role, is Sheriff Hague (Michael Biehn), brother to J.T. Older and rougher around the edges than during his “Terminator”/”Aliens” days, Biehn plays Sheriff Hague as tough but not unreasonable. He’s also quite anxious for his brother to let him in on the secret to his barbecue sauce, which is a nice recurring bit that plays out during the course of the film. Other familiar faces pop up. Bruce Willis and Quentin Tarantino are soldiers from an army base full of men poisoned by a chemical weapon known as DC2, the source of the zombie epidemic.

An awful lot of stuff happens and then is glossed over, such as a broken wrist and chipped tooth that magically heal themselves in the next reel. Speaking of reels, there’s an in-joke about how sometimes grindhouse films would have missing scenes. Did the audience lose something important in that reel? Quite possible, but you learn to just go with it. The same attitude applies when you think about the implausibility of a woman being able to shoot people with an M4 carbine assault rifle attached to the stump that used to be her right leg. Just go with it! Logic was thrown out the window the moment the zombies showed up.

After the conclusion of “Planet Terror,” at which point several American audience members inexplicably got up and walked out of the theater, there are three more fake trailers. As with “Machete,” they’re made to look scratched up.

First up is “Werewolf Women of the S.S.,” by far the one with the most outlandish title and premise, directed by Rob Zombie. In this Nazisploitation film, it is Nicolas Cage as Fu Manchu who completely steals the spotlight. He completely embraces the craziness that has long been associated with his on-screen persona with just one line. Despite this, I have to say this would be the one out of the lot that I would be the least interested in seeing as a full-length movie. The second trailer is for a gothic horror film in the style of a 1970s Hammer Films release entitled “Don’t.” This trailer is as true to the look and feel of a movie from that period as it is in keeping with the tradition of US trailers for 1970s British films being without dialogue. This one might be worth further expansion, though I doubt that Edgar Wright will ever find the time to get around to it. Finally, and my personal favorite, is Eli Roth’s trailer for a holiday-themed slasher film set in Plymouth, Massachusetts called “Thanksgiving.” As a lover of slasher films, and of those from the late 70’s/early 80’s in particular, I really want this one to become a real movie. It’s over-the-top and beyond goofy, but I love it. The music for the trailer consists of two separate tracks from the score for the 1982 horror anthology film “Creepshow.” Michael Biehn appears again, and he gets my nomination for the most hilarious utterance of the phrase “son of a bitch!”

There is another fake trailer, but it only appeared in a limited selection of theaters, most of which were in Canada. The movie is “Hobo with a Shotgun,” an exploitation film with a (very) low-budget feel to it. This one became reality in 2011. The feature-length version, starring Rutger Hauer, is as bizzare as bizzare gets, much like a Z-grade film from the Troma Studios catalogue.

The second part of  the “Grindhouse” double feature is Quentin Tarantino’s “Death Proof.” This one is half action thriller, half slasher horror, only the killer’s weapon of choice is his car instead of a knife. As is a staple of Tarantino’s films, “Death Proof” has many uninterrupted scenes of group conversation. Normally, that’s something to look forward to. In “Death Proof,” the dialogue is so bland and uninteresting that I just want to get to the carnage with the car. It feels like it takes millenia, but Stuntman Mike (played fantastically by Kurt Russell) finally delivers the goods at the halfway point. Until then, the highlight is a musical track swiped from another movie. As Jungle Julia (Sydney Poitier) sends a text message on her phone to what must be her boyfriend, the piano theme “Sally and Jack” from Brian De Palma’s “Blow Out” can be heard. Knowing full well the emotions this song carries with it, I can’t help but get a little choked up. The remainder of “Death Proof” is much more enjoyable. This time, Stuntman Mike picks a group of girls who, like him, have experience in the movie business. Oh, and they’re not easily messed with, either. The best of them is Zoe Bell (credited as herself), who previous to “Grindhouse” had gained notoriety as Uma Thurman’s stunt double in “Kill Bill,” in addition to doubling for Lucy Lawless on TV’s “Xena: Warrior Princess.” The stuntwork she does on the hood of a “Vanishing Point” 1970 Dodge Challenger is really the coolest part of “Death Proof.”

As I indicated earlier, the experiment failed. Whether because audiences were somehow unclear as to the full content of what they were getting with “Grindhouse,” or because it hit theaters in April when it should have been either a summer or late October release, the experiment failed to generate much box office. But that failure has not killed off the project completely. In addition to “Machete” and “Hobo with a Shotgun,” a sequel to “Machete” (“Machete Kills,” an improvement over its predecessor) was released in 2013, and another sequel has been promised/threatened. Although the “Machete” movies are beginning to move away from the grindhouse feel and into James Bond/Star Wars territory, they’re still using 1970s material. Personally, if not Rodriguez/Tarantino, I’d like to see someone be brave and present audiences with another attempt at channeling the grindhouse spirit. Like vinyl records, in spite of their flaws, movies like this are meant to transport you back in time to a certain era, regardless of whether you were alive then or not.

Inglourious Basterds (2009)

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Starring: Brad Pitt, Melanie Laurent, Christoph Waltz, Michael Fassbender, Eli Roth, Diane Kruger, Daniel Bruhl, Til Schweiger

The saying goes that history is written by the victors. Fantasy, on the other hand, is written by those who could care less what the history books say. Quentin Tarantino, the writer/director who created such modern classics such as “Reservoir Dogs,” “Kill Bill” and “Pulp Fiction,” has for years brought us films which represent the kinds of movies he grew up on. But it wasn’t until 2009’s “Inglourious Basterds” that Tarantino’s own “reel affinity” led him to try his hand at a World War II epic. Based on his previous work, one shouldn’t be going in expecting a serious drama. Indeed, “Basterds” is as uproarious as it is “Inglourious.” What might not be anticipated is just how deep into the realm of fantasy this movie travels.

In 1941, Nazi colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), aka “The Jew Hunter,” pressures a Frenchman into revealing that he is hiding a Jewish family underneath the floorboards of his home. All members of the Jewish family is killed, save for their daughter Shoshanna , who escapes the machine gun fire and is spotted by Landa running away from the house. Landa has his gun trained on Shoshanna, but shockingly allows her to continue running.

Three years later, United States Lieutenant Aldo “The Apache” Raine (Brad Pitt) gathers a team of eight Jewish-American soldiers for a behind-enemy-lines mission with a simple purpose: “killin’ Nazis!” The group scalps those they kill, and they leave an identifying mark on those they set free. Specifically, a swastika is carved into the head of anyone they spare, which will effectively let everyone know this person is a Nazi long after he has put away his uniform. Around this same time, a young blonde woman has come into ownership of a movie theater. The name she gives to identify herself is Emmanuelle Mimieux, but we know her better as Shoshanna Dreyfus. It is at this theater where a most bloody, war-changing and history-defying event is set to take place. The Nazis have a propoganda film they wish to premiere there, and in their arrogance, all of the important figures in the Third Reich plan to attend. Members of the British military, the Basterds and Shoshanna herself all have designs on making this the moment when World War II is brought to an abrupt end, but an awful lot of carelessness threatens to doom this mass assassination plot.

While writing my review for “The Fisher King” (1991), I brought up the subject of another Terry Gilliam film called “Brazil,” which I had thought overrated at the time I saw it… yet I feel now that I might have been too harsh. Although I don’t currently have access to that movie in order to prove my theory, it got me thinking about what other movies I might have given a bum rap. With today being Memorial Day, the time seemed right to revisit “Inglourious Basterds,” which I saw theatrically but remember coming out of the screening feeling underwhelmed. There were three distinct reasons for why this happened:

1) Any time Brad Pitt is not on-screen, I kept waiting for him to come back. Aldo is that much fun to watch.

2) I really hate it when any movie or TV show requires a character or characters to act foolishly or otherwise out-of-character for the express purpose of bringing about their death(s).

3) I was completely unprepared for exactly how fast and loose this movie plays around with history. Many things happen in this movie that, had they occurred in real life, would have drastically changed the way World War II ended. At the time, I forgot to simply have fun. Instead, I cast my mind toward how the climax of the movie in particular would seem to undermine the sacrifice of those who died in the remaining months of the war. If it were any other war except for World War II, I honestly don’t know whether that thought would have entered into it.

Perspective, especially several years worth of it, sure does a lot to alter one’s attitude. Of my three main objections from five years ago, only one still sticks around. I have come to appreciate the Oscar-winning performance of Christoph Waltz a hell of a lot more than I did in 2009. He’s very much like Anthony Hopkins in the way he commands attention. He could be narrating the business section of the newspaper and make it sound like something worth listening to. Thus, I am not as bothered when Brad Pitt is not in a given scene. I’m also at peace with the fact that, while this movie may happen to have a WWII setting, it is most definitely a fantasy film first. Where I still have a problem is in one particular scene featuring an easily avoidable death for a major character. That this character’s demise takes place is merely a sign that the script has run out of use for them, and this is simply the point where the story must cast them aside. I still maintain this could have been handled in a way that didn’t make this person look like an idiot. Though this happens during a crucial point in the film, I can’t consider this one flaw by itself to be a dealbreaker.

I can safely say that, in giving this movie another look, I enjoy “Inglourious Basterds” much more now. The problems I had with it should never have clouded my judgment, especially considering all the silly horror, comedy, and action films I watch to my heart’s content. This wasn’t the first time I’ve had to see a Quentin Tarantino film a second time in order to fully appreciate what he was trying to do, and it probably won’t be the last.  But I hope that this experience has finally taught me to not only stay off the proverbial high horse, but put that sucker out to pasture entirely.

30. Pulp Fiction (1994)

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Starring: John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, Bruce Willis, Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, Maria de Medeiros, Ving Rhames, Eric Stoltz, Rosanna Arquette, Christopher Walken, Quentin Tarantino, Frank Whaley

Were I to pick one director with whom I most desire to have a sit-down discussion accompanied by a few drinks, it would be Quentin Tarantino. In his interviews, he leaves me with the impression that he and I share more than a few of the same interests in the world of cinema as well as music. Tell me you can listen to “Jungle Boogie” and not want to get up out of your chair and dance badly. It doesn’t hurt that Tarantino and I also share the same birthplace of Knoxville, Tennessee. I freely admit to giggling the first time I heard Bruce Willis mention my hometown in this movie.

I would love to tell Tarantino in person how I feel about each one of his movie scripts, but I would undoubtedly spend the most time on the subject of “Pulp Fiction.” Its narrative format having been inspired by the 1963 Mario Bava-directed horror anthology film “Black Sabbath,” “Pulp Fiction” is a three-movement symphony, of which the instruments are violence and witty dialogue. Not a single character in the movie can be categorized as a “good” person, and yet the story provides for us ways in which to both sympathize and root for them all to succeed at what they’re doing.

One of my favorite things Tarantino does with this movie comes during the segment featuring the boxer named Butch, played by Bruce Willis. He’s in the process of making his getaway after winning a match in which he was supposed to take a dive. While driving back to the motel room where his girlfriend is waiting for him, he comes to a stop sign. Right there in front of him crossing the street is the crime boss he cheated out of thousands of dollars. It’s right out of a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” and it’s just perfectly played.

I don’t know if I can come up with another actor in the last twenty years whose film career experienced a resurrection quite like John Travolta’s did thanks to “Pulp Fiction.”  Introduced to the world by the TV show “Welcome Back, Kotter” and the films “Grease” and “Saturday Night Fever,” his best pre-“Pulp Fiction” movie is easily Brian De Palma’s 1981 conspiracy thriller “Blow Out.” The early 1990’s, however, saw Travolta starring as the father of a talking baby in “Look Who’s Talking” and its sequels. Thank goodness for Tarantino! As the accident-prone hitman Vincent Vega, whether he’s the focus or not, Travolta has a key part to play in each of the movie’s three segments, each involving messes that Vincent creates which someone else will have to help to clean up. You get the sense that Vincent might shoot his own foot off if someone weren’t around to hold him by the hand.

John Travolta gets many of the film’s best lines, but the majority of those that aren’t spoken by him are given to Samuel L. Jackson as Jules, Vincent’s partner in the hit assignments. Jackson plays Jules as a man who can walk into any room and take control of a given situation, even when the odds seem against him. He’s as much of a smooth talker as he is a stone cold killer. But Jules is not a stoic individual. When someone annoys him, Jules will let them know it immediately, and not always with his words. But a near-death experience which Jules equates to an act of God causes him to question whether he still wants to be in his current line of work. Probably the smartest decision he’s come to in his life. Samuel L. Jackson is so reliably good at his craft, is it any wonder how he got more work in the 1990’s than any other actor?

Although Vincent and Jules are clearly my favorite characters, and although there are several noteworthy performances throughout including that of Uma Thurman (whose image dominates the promotional material for “Pulp Fiction”), my favorite piece of acting comes in the flashback that leads into the “Gold Watch” segment. No, I’m not talking about Christopher Walken, although he is terrific. The guy is so good that he can star as the villain in the worst James Bond movie of all-time (1985’s “A View to a Kill”) and still be the best part of it. No, I’m referring to the child actor playing the young Butch. This kid deserved an award of some kind. How do you listen to the speech that Walken gives in this scene and manage to keep a straight face? Granted, the way the scene is set up, it’s possible they might’ve filmed their parts separately and would thus never have been on set at the same time, but I’d like to think this kid sat attentively without so much as breaking a smile while the great Christopher Walken talked of hiding a watch in the one place no one would ever think to search for it.

I close on this final thought: If there does not exist somewhere in this world a Jack Rabbit Slim’s restaurant, there should. If it does exist, then it’s on my bucket list of things to do before I die to locate this place and eat there.

37. Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003)

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Starring: Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah, David Carradine, Sonny Chiba, Julie Dreyfus, Chiaki Kuriyama, Gordon Liu, Michael Parks

Sometimes, a good old fashioned revenge story is all you need. As there is generally not much more to them than “protagonist is wronged, protagonist tracks down the villain, villain gets their comeuppance,” it falls on the director to get creative. In the case of “Kill Bill,” this meant that Quentin Tarantino was able, as he was with his three previous feature-length efforts (“Reservoir Dogs,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Jackie Brown”), to show us what sort of movies he grew up on or with which he is otherwise enamored. This creates a very special director/audience bond that I think is significantly undervalued these days.

Originally conceived on the set of “Pulp Fiction” by Quentin Tarantino and Uma Thurman, the plot revolves around a former assassin known to us only as The Bride (Uma Thurman), who four years earlier was beaten up, shot and left for dead at a wedding chapel in El Paso, Texas by the very people she used to work alongside. The trouble is that the Bride was also pregnant, and is none too pleased when she wakes up from her four-year long coma. From there, she makes it her mission to first will her limbs out of entropy, and then to go after the five people responsible for her predicament. In true Tarantino-like fashion, the movie is presented in a non-linear manner, and as such we are shown the Bride tracking down and dispatching her second target, Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox), in the movie’s first scene following the prologue and opening credits. The rest of “Kill Bill Vol. 1” then is devoted to the Bride tracking down her first target, O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu), including a beautifully animated sequence telling O-Ren’s ultra-violent origin story. As a result, instead of the question of IF she will succeed in her mission (How else would there be a “Vol. 2” if she doesn’t?), the question turns to HOW she will succeed. Vol. 1 leaves three names left on the Bride’s Death List: Bud (Michael Madsen), Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah) and Bill (David Carradine).

Everybody here does a great job. I would never have considered Uma Thurman as an action hero until this movie’s release in 2003. David Carradine, although his face is never shown in Vol. 1, is finally given a second iconic character for which he will always be remembered. But I think the scene stealers here are Sonny Chiba and Chiaki Kuriyama. Tarantino has a habit of forecasting people he wants to work with in future projects by doing a bit of name-dropping in each of his scripts. In “True Romance,” for which he wrote the script but did not direct, the main character played by Christian Slater is a huge Sonny Chiba fan through his “Street Fighter” movies (not to be confused with the videogames or Jean-Claude Van Damme film adaptation of the same name). Tarantino also is a fan of Sonny Chiba’s Japanese TV show “Kage no Gundan” (aka “Shadow Warriors”). The characters played by Chiba throughout each series are all named Hattori Hanzō. Chiba’s sword-maker in “Kill Bill” is simply meant to be the latest Hattori Hanzō. As for Chiaki Kuriyama, who plays O-Ren’s bodyguard Go-Go Yubari, she presents as great and memorable a one-on-one challenge to the Bride as any of the five on her Death List. Tarantino found Kuriyama by watching the 2000 film “Battle Royale,” which I am convinced must have served as at least a partial inspiration for the “Hunger Games” franchise of books/movies.

Tarantino’s own list of inspirations for “Kill Bill” does not end there. It includes, but is not limited to:

Sanjuro (1962), Death Rides a Horse (1967), The Mercenary (1968), Twisted Nerve (1968), Fists of Fury (1972), Lady Snowblood (1973), Gone in 60 Seconds (1974), Deep Red (1975), Black Sunday (1977), Game of Death (1978), City of the Living Dead (1980), Samurai Fiction (1998), the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone & the suspense thrillers of Brian De Palma.

The music for “Kill Bill” is also made up almost entirely of things Tarantino borrowed from other movies/TV shows. THE very best for me is “The Lonely Shepherd.” With that song’s inclusion, this movie (along with “The Karate Kid”) taught me that it’s perfectly okay to be a fan of Gheorghe Zamfir. As for the movie itself, it took a second viewing for me to really get what it was all about. As I was re-watching it for the millionth time (exaggerated, of course) for the purposes of this review, I was reminded of my feelings at the time, and it struck me that I had a similar experience with “Inglourious Basterds.” I’m thinking now I may have to give that one a second look, soon, because if I can change my mind so drastically about “Kill Bill,” who’s to say I can’t do it again?