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

Vice Squad/Vigilante 1983 ***

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William Lustig brings the same verve to the vigilante genre that he brought to horror in Maniac, with Vigilante offering the simple pleasures of a well-made exploitation flick. Eddie Marino (Jackie Brown’s Robert Forster) is a mild-mannered blue-collar worker whose wife and kid become targets for a NYC street gang. But when the courts offer only suspended sentences, it’s Marino who gets sent to the slammer for complaining, with only Rake (Woody Strode) stepping in to save him from an in-shower molestation. Back on the outside, Marino’s pal Nick (Fred Williamson) is on hand to teach him a few tips about how to clean up the neighbourhood. Vigilante is a straight-taking (Williamson’s opening monologue is priceless) and hard-hitting thriller, rabid in thought and political stance, and all the more enjoyable for being true to its exploitative roots.

The Black Hole 1980 ***

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Disney’s first contribution to the post-Star Wars sci-fi boom is a curious mismatch of styles; the plot marries the kind of rollicking adventure of 20,000 League Beneath The Sea to the kind of mysticism of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001, with cute robots (VINCENT and Old Bob) for the kids.

Maximillian Schell plays Dr Hans Reinhart, whose spaceship The Cygnus is boarded by an intrepid crew including Anthony Perkins, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Forster and Yvette Mimieux. The secret of what lies beyond the black hole turns out to be something of a damp squib, but director Gary Nelson handles a beautiful production design with great skill, with dazzling visuals including a ball of flame demolishing the innards of the craft. Too slow for kids, and too silly for adults, The Black Hole is still a handsome production for sci-fi addicts.

Stunts 1977 ***

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Packed full of well-staged action, Stunts was part of the late 70’s idolization of the ‘Hollywood stuntman’ that reached its height with Hal Needham’s Hooper.

Robert Forster, later to be the romantic lead in Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, plays a hard-boiled professional stuntman who investigates a film shoot when his brother is killed in a fall from a helicopter.  There’s the usual camaraderie, the stuntmen pay tribute by trashing a motorbike from a cliff-top, but there’s an edge to proceedings as the stuntmen realize that they’re little more than cannon-fodder in a deadly entertainment machine.

There’s support from Joanna Cassidy and Richard Lynch, and Mark L Lester demonstrates the same narrative briskness that he brought of 80’s action classic Commando. Stunts is a decent little who-dunnit, with a gloss of impressive stunt-work to hold the attention.