April 2, 2007

Viewer Discretion Advised: Tarantino films

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In honor of the opening of Grindhouse this Friday, I present the five best scenes from Tarantino films (forget about Robert Rodriguez). Hopefully Death Proof (Tarantino’s stock in Grindhouse) will provide us with a memorable scene worthy of Big Macs and Superman.

1. Reservoir Dogs

Reservoir Dogs has its fair share of great scenes, but the most exciting, tense and taut scene comes at the very end, when the colorful criminals are caught up in the hurly burly of trying to identify the “rat.” Spit flies like bullets at the fight at the O.K. Corral, the floor is laminated with Mr. Orange’s blood and the air is saturated with a lot of testosterone, anger and paranoia. Is it the acting that makes this scene so great? The aggravating fact that we know the true identity of the “rat”? The deftness of Tarantino’s direction? It’s all of the above that makes this nihilistic showdown both great moviemaking and a fitting tribute to the heist genre that so clearly inspired this film.

2. Pulp Fiction

Where to start, you might ask? Easy — the chapter entitled “Vincent Vega and Marsellus Wallace’s Wife,” the most exciting, fun and downright awesome “scene” (considered liberally) of the film. This chapter is a needed respite from the gritty underworld and bible-quoting fury of the rest of the movie, and it’s the scene that I think contributes more than any other to the bizarre brilliance of this parallel pulp universe. From the dinner table conversation, to the Jack-Rabbit slim dance-off, to Uma Thurman’s slinky interpretation of “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” to the unforgettable heroin overdose, this “scene” is one long, blissful cinephiliac wet dream.

3. Jackie Brown

The fact that Jackie Brown is considered the weakest entry in Tarantino’s formidable oeuvre is a testament to his greatness as a director. Tarantino’s tribute to the blaxpoitation films of the 70s is a great film, and one for which other filmmakers would I’m sure kill to call their own. Tarantino loves to stage grand, dramatic climaxes, and this one is no exception. Taking place at a shopping mall, of all quotidian, capitalist places, this scene best captures the crosscutting intelligence and desperation of Jackie Brown the woman, who, as she points out, is just a black woman in her 40s trying to make a living, and the thoroughly entertaining rat race-quality of the movie itself. Robert De Niro, Bridget Fonda, Michael Keaton, Robert Forster and Samuel L. Jackson are all hot on her trail, each with distinct motivations, but they are no match for the timeworn canny of Jackie Brown, played to a pitch by Pam Grier and lovingly crafted by Tarantino.

4. Kill Bill: Volume 1

Whenever you ask someone which half of Kill Bill they prefer, you’ll most often hear Volume 1. That’s because it’s the more brazen, action-packed volume, but it is not the better one. Still, it is a great (half of a) film, and, taken with its companion piece, it makes one mega cinephiliac masterpiece. The best scene? My personal favorite is the De Palma-inspired, Twisted Nerve-scored hospital scene, when Elle Driver attempts to kill the Bride in her sleep. But for pure aesthetic and quality reasons — and inasmuch as this is, above all, an action film — I’ll have to go with Chapter 5, “Showdown at House of Blue Leaves.” It needs no justification, but I will merely say that, besides being entertaining as hell, it is expertly edited and choreographed, by none other than martial artist extraordinaire Yuen Woo-Ping.

5. Kill Bill: Volume 2

The more measured and mature volume, Kill Bill: Volume 2 is the best example of Tarantino’s craft as a filmmaker. The reason why: it’s perhaps his only work to evoke the audience’s pathos. Yes, pathos. And the scene that accomplishes this is the final chapter, “Face to Face,” the long-awaited meeting between Beatrix Kiddo and Bill. The conclusion to Tarantino’s furious epic is flawlessly executed, in the same way that Bill makes a ham and cheese sandwich. Tarantino proves a lot in this one glorious scene — that he can direct children, that he is capable of understatement, that there is such thing as sympathy for the devil. From Beatrix’s moments with B.B., to Bill’s manic swagger, to the Bride’s broken vengeance, the finale of the Kill Bill saga has all the beauty of a samurai clash on a moonlit beach, and all the impact of a quiet punch to the heart.