QT8: The First Eight 2019 ****

QT8_AMAZON_1920x1080-1

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

Easy Money 1983 ***

easy money

It was a sign of the times that Rodney Dangerfield was rejected for inclusion by the American Academy; Caddyshack is one of the great comedies of the 80’s, or any era, and Dangerfield parlayed his bug-eyed class warfare shtick to several successful films including Back to School and Easy Money, both of which were number one box-office hits. There’s pretty much no outlet for this kind of film in 2019, yet Dangerfield’s routines, with a comedy personal firmly honed from decades of club and tv work, still work well today.

Easy Money, co-written by PJ O’Rourke and directed by James Signorelli, takes a long time to get to a familiar situation; Monty loves booze, spliffs, over-eating and over-indulging; when he discovers his mother-in-law has passed away, he’s thrilled at the prospect of increased freedom, but her passing comes with a catch; Monty has three months to reform his character, or he won’t get a share of the old bird’s loot. It takes about 40 minutes of establishing Monty’s vices before we cue predictable but effective gags about unattractive salads, with Joe Pesci on hand as Monty’s encouraging pal, Jennifer Jason Leigh as Monty’s daughter, and Jeffrey Jones as his rival. Tom Noonan turns up in a role clearly intended for Bill Murray, and there’s a fair roster of talent involved.

Dangerfield’s comedy largely came from a concerted attack on snobbery, which makes it ironic that his work wasn’t valued by an atrophied elite who failed to move with the times. Like Groucho Marx, Dangerfield didn’t fancy any club that would accept him as a member, and refused the Academy’s offer when they final came back to him. No matter; Dangerfield laughed all the way to the back, and his comic personal is shown in good form here; it’s reckless, irresponsible fun. Comes complete with a Billy Joel title song.

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/movie/easy-money-1983/id868880821

Synedoche, New York 2008 ***

nyc

The death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman left something of a gap; who else could play the central character of this bizarre Charlie Kaufman comedy drama? Hoffman plays Caden Cotard, a theatre director who is a hypochondriac and also is struggling with his family relationships; his wife and daughter leave him to go to Berlin while he works on his latest theatrical opus. The production takes years, and while he’s holed up in a vast warehouse, Cotard begins to experience heath issues which he believes might be fatal. Writing and directing for the first time, Kaufman retains the quirks if not the good humour of his earlier work, aided by a strong female cast including Jennifer Jason Leigh, Emily Watson Samantha Morton and Michelle Williams. But ultimately it’s Hoffman’s portrait of a creative man at the end of his teacher that proves the most haunting; art and life are intertwined in this story, and in real life, tragedy caught up with Hoffman’s prodigious talent in the worst possible way.

Good Time 2017 ****

A good time is not had by all in this blistering low-life thriller from George and Bennie Safdie, featuring Twilight’s Robert Pattinson in a role that blows away any notion of him being defined by his teen-idol status. Pattison is intense as Connie Nikas, who bursts in on his brother’s Nick’s psychological evaluation and whisks him off into an abortive bank-robbery that leave the two men splattered with paint and on the run.  Nick is arrested, and when he’s unable to make bail, Connie decides to bust his brother out of jail, setting in motion a violent chain of events that lead to an amusement park and a bottle of soft drink that’s laced with several thousand dollars worth of LSD. The detail is vivid and persuasive in Good Time, which takes a few handbrakes twists on the way to a downbeat ending.  Bennie Safdie plays Nick well enough, but Pattinson is quite extraordinary here, with good support from Jennifer Jason Leigh and Barkhad Abdi. Good Time made barely a ripple at the box office, but should develop an audience on streaming if there’s a market of hard-bitten, intense crime cinema.

Anomalisa 2016 ****

anomalisaCharlie Kaufman’s stop-motion/puppet film is an anomaly; it might be a romance, it might be an anti-romance, it might be a plea for equal rights for sex-toys. David Thewlis voices Michael, a jaded family man who falls in love with Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) during a convention he’s speaking at in the Fregoli hotel. It’s her voice that first attracts Michael, not surprising when every other character, male or female, is voiced by Tom Noonan. Michael and Lisa’s one-night stand is captured in granular detail, and Kaufmann ingeniously uses puppets to make their bedroom scenes non-exploitative. Whether it’s a portrait of a man incapable of love, or a valentine to the transitory nature of love itself, Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman’s film is very much up for interpretation, as is as sub-plot where Michael buys a sex-toy and presents it to his family on his return home. Whatever it means, Anomalisa is imaginative, brilliantly executed and heartbreakingly sad.