QT8: The First Eight 2019 ****

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Any critic worth their salt should always be asking; why this? And why now? A documentary about Quentin Tarantino is a great idea since there’s plenty to unpack on someone who has been a hugely significant film-maker for several decades now. But there’s also a backlash against Tarantino that’s partly due to his now-ended collaborations with publically-disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein; this latter issue is what Tara Wood’s documentary partly addresses, since it’s less that a complete picture of the subject. If you want to hear what Brad Pitt, Christopher Walken, John Travolta, Bruce Willis, Leonard DiCaprio and other stars feel about working with Tarantino, then look elsewhere, because none of them seem to have been prepared to go to get out of bed and go to bat for the great man here.

QT8: The First Eight amounts to special pleading on behalf of a film-maker whose body of work does not require apology. It may not be fashionable to say it, but Quentin Tarantino is probably the most exciting film-maker working today, and the eight films he’s made so far are unique in being consistently original, sparky, thoughtful and riddled with moments of kinetic magic. He’s also prone to over-writing, excessive-length, self-indulgence and casting himself in his own movies in a detrimental way, but it’s easy to forgive such idiosyncratic garnish when the main meals he provides are so substantial. Tarantino promised that anything could happen at any time in his movies, and he’s delivered on that promise. He’s the kind of film-maker who is envied by everyone in the industry, and there’s also plenty who would love to see him knocked off his perch, so it feels like he’s been given the chance get his bona-fide character-witnesses in before any accusations start flying.

Wood’s film features the likes of Zoe Bell, Diane Kruger and Jennifer Jason Leigh attesting to Tarantino’s genius with all aspects of film-making, while sounding the death-knell endorsement that’s spelled curtains for everyone from Luc Besson to Weinstein ; ‘he really loves women’. Loving women is no excuse for hurting women, but as far as this critic knows, there’s absolutely no case for Tarantino to refute aside from an on-set accident during the filming of Kill Bill, documented here by Uma Thurman’s own video of the incident. A quick consideration of the number of people killed making James Bond films might be a useful point of perspective here. In terms of MeToo, Wood’s film recognises that Tarantino knew of his producer’s crimes, but then again, every man and his dog in the street knew about Weinstein, and that kind of behaviour has been part of the industry since movies began. If every actor, writer, director or star who worked with Weinstein is going to have to lodge a special defence in documentary form, our cinema’s will be overrun with contrite apologists.

Wood also doesn’t address a more potent accusation; that Tarantino’s films have a disproportionate level of violence towards women. On balance, it’s probably more accurate to say that Tarantino is an equal opportunities maniac who sadistically turns the screw on both men and women in his narratives; it would take a deliberate mis-reading to suggest that he targets only one sex for his nastier demises. Without much reference to his most personal film, Once Upon A Time…in Hollywood, Wood’s film settles for cheery talking heads, well-chosen clips and the general warm-and-fuzzy feel of an enjoyable DVD extra. It’s compulsive and entertaining, but it’s anything but definitive; most directors have to pop their clogs before such a reverent obituary is offered up, and few directors are as alive as Tarantino is today.

Signature Entertainment presents QT8 in Cinemas, on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital HD from 13th December, 2019

The Driver 1978 *****

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Walter Hill’s 1978 thriller is a tense cat-and-mouse game between unnamed character; Ryan O’Neill is the Driver, Bruce Dern the detective, and their internecine relationship is the focus of The Driver’s taut narrative. O’Neal is excellent in a role written for Steve McQueen, and his lack of dialogue pre-dates Ryan Gosling’s equally taciturn role in Drive 2011. Hill’s realistic approach to the action was out of touch with the high-flying stunt-driven action of the period, but the film has endured due to the labyrinthine plotting and the sweaty, physical intensity of the LA locations.

Silent Running 1973 ****

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The effects guru behind Kubrick’s 2001, Douglas Turnbull’s directorial career stalled with his quicky sci-fi drama Brainstorm, but he managed to create a highly influential cult offering with 1973’s Silent Running. With Earth dying, the remaining flora and Fauna have been placed in a huge spaceship/greenhouse, with hippy curator Bruce Dern and his crew responsible for maintaining its survival. When orders come to abandon the ship, Dern battles his other crewmembers only to find himself tending the garden alone, with the help of his three robotic helpers, Huey, Dewey and Louis. Played by midgets in boxes, the personality of these three robots makes up for Dern’s studied lack of charisma, and Silent Running makes a strong ecological point, while also capturing the loneliness of outer space years before Gravity.

Black Sunday 1977 ***

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Despite testing better than Star Wars and Jaws, Black Sunday didn’t become the late 70’s sensation that producer Robert Evans anticipated on the back of his hits Chinatown and Marathon Man. But Black Sunday is a thrillingly chilling trackdown thriller with Robert Shaw as an Israeli agent knows as The Final Solution. He’s on the trail of Bruce Dern as a disillusioned Vietnam vet who plans to load a Goodyear blimp full of explosives and crashing in into the Super-bowl during play.  A pre Hannibal Lecter Thomas Harris’s novel provides some tense scenes, including a pre-Scanners exploding head, and tight screenwriting with North By Northwest’s Ernest Lehman. The variable effects in the grandstanding final sequence, shot during a real Superbowl, let the film down, but it’s easy to see why Quentin Tarantino and Christopher Nolan saw that influenced Kill Bill and The Dark Knight Rises.