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

Not Quite Hollywood ***

Australia’s cinematic birth and early years as an exploitation darling is the subject of Mark Hartley’s documentary, with lurid scenes from the films themselves interspersed with some enthusiastic talking noggins, notably directors Quentin Tarantino and Brian Trenchard-Smith. Starting out with sex comedies like Alvin Purple, and reaching the Mad Max films by way of The Man From Hong Kong, this is a lively portrait of an anything-goes ethos at work, with crazy film-makers executing crazy films, and an equally wild audience seemingly awaiting each project. Even hardcore genre fans won’t know every film mentioned here, and clips from Dead In Drive In and Mad Dog Morgan are intriguing. Surprisingly, this didn’t reach must of an audience in it’s homeland, but as a calling card overseas, this Oz-sploitation flick lays out the central tenets of a notably fun cinematic subgenre.

The Man With The Iron Fists 2012 ***

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Quentin Tarantino and ElI Roth’s influence is obvious in this wonderfully slapdash martial arts epic from 2012, with writer/director RZA uncorking the gore as limbs, arterial blood and heads fly like silly string in feudal China. With various parties chasing hidden gold, the action centres of the brothel of Madame Blossom, with those pursuing the prize including Blacksmith (RZA), Silver Lion (Byron Mann) and expatriate Brit Jack Knife (Russell Crowe). The plotting doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, but that’s not a problem when the action is so baroque, with Crowe clearly having fun as a kick-ass Richard Burton and Byron Mann sending himself up to great effect as Silver Lion. The Man With The Iron Fists is a better comedy than a thriller, but it captures the cheerful, anything goes feeling of a Shaw Brothers film to good effect, and even if the film lacks a happy centre, there’s a driving will to entertain that pays off in the end.

Grindhouse 2007 ****

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Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s 2007 double-feature is often found online in separate parts, Planet Terror and Death Proof, a shame because only by watching the full 191 minute cut are the pleasures of this valentine to bargain basement movie-making fully realized. Planet Terror catches the splattery playground atmosphere of 80’s video fodder pitch-perfectly, as the denizens of a hospital battle against zombie-aliens, with Freddy Rodriguez a leading man with hidden depths such as the ability to run up walls during a fight. When the action switches to Austin Texas for Tarantino’s Death Proof, part of the joke is the way that locations, actors and props are re-used; in the aftermath of Stuntman Mike’s horrific act of vengeance, the action returns to the same hospital, miraculously unscathed by the carnage of the preceding drama. There’s a wealth of in-jokes, cameos and references to enjoy, but most critics missed the point; Grindhouse isn’t about making fun of specific films, but an appreciation and a tribute to the happy-go-lucky ingenuity of low-budget film-making.