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“Ladies, That Was Fun”: What’s Happening Under the Hood in “Death Proof”…

Okay… Warren’s sending over shots, and you know the house rules. If he sends over shots, you gotta do them.

What?

Hey, them’s the rules, baby.

Warren says it, we do it!

I love that philosophy! “Warren says it, we do it.”

The filming of Kill Bill, Vol. 1 and Kill Bill, Vol. 2 took nine arduous months. There were a variety of reasons for this, most obviously that the film represented a departure from the stylistic sensibilities and aesthetic associated with Quentin Tarantino. A director best known for his snappy dialogue and vivid characters was pushing himself outside of his comfort zone, building a movie that would incorporate elaborate action sequences and even an animated interlude. In fact, the films came after something of a short break in the director’s career. The six year gap following Jackie Brown was the longest in his career to that point.

As shooting was winding down, an incident occurred on the set. Details of that incident would not be made public for more than a decade and a half, although it would have a profound impact on all involved. By all accounts, Tarantino pressured Uma Thurman into driving a stunt car herself, leading to an accident. Thurman recalls, “The steering wheel was at my belly and my legs were jammed under me. I felt this searing pain and thought, ‘Oh my God, I’m never going to walk again.’” Thurman was not paralysed, but she was scarred by the experience, with a “permanently damaged neck and […] screwed-up knees.”

It was an act of reckless malfeasance from a director who had – with Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction – announced himself as one of the preeminent directorial voices of his generation. Tarantino is remarkable among directors of his generation for establishing a cult of personality, being as effective on the chat show circuit as behind the camera. Tarantino has been known for making brass pronouncements and asserting his authority, from his famous assertion that he is god within his fictional universes to his insistence on shutting down lines of questioning in interviews to rejecting reporters’ questions outright.

The case involving Tarantino and Thurman is perhaps more complicated than a lot of the similar stories of directorial abuse that have entered the spotlight since the #metoo movement rippled through Hollywood. This complexity is compounded by the fact that Thurman has publicly forgiven Tarantino for his part in the accident, and for Tarantino’s contrition on that point. (Tarantino’s public support of progressive causes like Black Lives Matter also plays a part, even if there is still a larger debate to be had about Tarantino’s relationship with African American culture.)

Even if none of this was made public until after the release of The Hateful Eight, these details hang over a lot of Tarantino’s work since the accident. Tarantino has conceded, “Beyond one of the biggest regrets of my career, it is one of the biggest regrets of my life.” It is notable that Tarantino had always been particularly close to Thurman. The story for the Kill Bill films is credited to “Q and U”, the pair practically living together during the development of the story. (Tarantino allegedly promised the script to the actor as a thirtieth birthday present.)

The tragedy echoes through a lot of Tarantino’s subsequent work. It is notable, for example, that a lot of Tarantino’s later work focuses explicitly on the idea of rewriting history. Inglourious Basterds famously offers an alternate ending to the Second World War, a striking piece of historical revisionism. There are also shades of the tragedy to be found in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, which features two protagonists that are – to quote actor Brad Pitt – “two sides of the same coin.” Rick is a washed-up has-been who worries he is out of touch. However, his best friend is a reckless stuntman who may have killed his wife.

A lot of the discussion around Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood has likened it to Inglourious Basterds. This makes a great deal of sense. Both stories are effectively historical revisionist fairy tales. Notably, the opening chapter of Inglourious Basterds is even helpfully subtitled “Once Upon a Time in Nazi-Occupied France.” It is a logical point of comparison, but one that conveniently glosses over an even more obvious reference point for Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood within Tarantino’s filmography.

That point of comparison is Death Proof.

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113. Once Upon a Time In America (#70)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, The 250 is a fortnightly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America.

Drawn back to New York City from a decades-long exile, retired gangster David “Noodles” Aaronson discovers that the past is not buried nearly as well as he might like. Navigating a complex web of secrets and betrayals, “Noodles” is forced to confront sins past; both his own and those dearest to him.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 70th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Favourite Son (Review)

Favourite Son feels like the culmination of something that has been festering across the third season of Star Trek: Voyager.

The Star Trek franchise is generally regarded as progressive and forward-thinking. There is some debate to be had about whether this is an accurate summary of the franchise, given some of the creative decisions made over the course of its half-century run. However, there are times at which the franchise feels particularly liberal and points at which it feels particularly reactionary. A product of the mid-nineties, running through to the turn of the millennium, Voyager tends to feel very conservative in places.

This is a little bit what watching the episode feels like.

This is a little bit what watching the episode feels like.

In the second season, this reactionary tendency played out through the treatment of the Kazon in episodes like Initiations and Alliances. In the third season, with the Kazon long gone, it seems that Voyager has turned its reactionary gaze upon its female cast members. To be fair, the show’s first two seasons had any number of unfortunate creative decisions when it came to various female characters. Most notably, the decision to turn Seska into a baby-crazed maniac in Manoeuvres did not bode for the first female-led Star Trek series.

Nevertheless, a misogynist streak has manifested itself across the third season as a whole. In some cases, this has been relatively subtle; like the awkward insistence upon sexualising three-year-old Kes in the eyes of her two mentor figures in Warlord and Darkling. In other cases, this has been the entire point of the plot; like the decision to have Q try to sleep with the franchise’s first female lead and introduce his shrewish wife in The Q and the Grey or to introduce a psycho stalker in Alter Ego.

The original red wedding.

The original red wedding.

Other times, this sexist attitude has bubbled through the background of various episodes to the point that it builds to critical mass. Torres is victimised by her male colleagues over the course of three straight episodes, and none of them are held accountable; she is sexually assaulted by Vorik in Blood Fever, stunned by Chakotay in Unity, and tortured by the evil!EMH in Darkling. In each of those cases, the show seems to shrug off the violence committed by male characters against one of the show’s female leads.

All of these elements come to the fore in Favourite Son, an episode that would have been painfully retrograde had it aired as part of the original series during the sixties. Favourite Son is that most uncomfortable myth dressed up in science-fiction drag, the tale of an island of beautiful women using their sexual prowess to lure men into their clutches to emasculate them. It is terrifying to think that this episode made it to air in the late nineties.

A beautiful dream.

A beautiful dream.

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Star Trek – Turnabout Intruder (Review)

This July and August, we’re celebrating the release of Star Trek Beyond by taking a look back at the third season of the original Star Trek. Check back every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the latest update.

This is the end.

And what an ignominious ending it is. Turnabout Intruder is the last episode of the original Star Trek run, bringing down the curtain on three years of boldly going and bidding farewell to this cast… at least for the moment. It is also an infamously terrible episode of television, in which Captain Kirk finds himself swapping bodies with the psychotic scientist Janice Lester. Lester is repeatedly categorised as insane, but her primary motivation seems to be rebellion against Starfleet’s institutional sexism.

It's full of stars.

It’s full of stars.

Seen as this is a Gene Roddenberry story, Turnabout Intruder sides entirely with Starfleet on the matter. This was the same writer and producer who would later balk at The Measure of a Man because he thought that Data should willingly surrender himself to Starfleet experimentation. So, instead of becoming an exploration of sexism and discrimination, Turnabout Intruder instead becomes a vigorous defense of institutionalised misogyny. Of course Starfleet doesn’t allow women captains, the episode suggests, they could never handle the strain!

It is an episode that really puts paid to the show’s claims of liberal progressivism, credited to a writer who would in later years cultivate a mythology of himself as the architect of that liberal progressivism. Turnabout Intruder is just about the most damning argument against the franchise’s utopian idealism imaginable, which makes it particularly insulting as a series finale.

William Shatner did not react well to news of cancelation.

William Shatner did not react well to news of cancellation.

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Bound (Review)

This May, we’re taking a look at the fourth (and final) season of Star Trek: Enterprise. Check back daily for the latest review.

Bound is, for all intents and purposes, the last standalone episode of Star Trek of the Rick Berman era.

There are five more episodes following Bound, but they consist of two two-parters and the official series finale. Bound is very much the last “regular” episode of Star Trek: Enterprise to be produced, the last episodic adventure in the series. In fact, given the trends in contemporary television that are nudging the format towards serialisation and long-form storytelling, it seems entirely plausible that Bound could be the last standalone episode of Star Trek ever produced.

Strike a pose.

Strike a pose.

As such, it is a shame that Bound is a complete and utter disaster. It is an embarrassment to the series and to the franchise. More than that, it is an embarrassment that was written by the fourth season showrunner and which feels very much like the big ideas of the fourth season carried to their logical conclusion. Bound recalls the horrible sexism of episodes like Precious Cargo and Bounty, cloaking its objectionable sexual politics in the guise of nostalgia. Arguably the best things about Bound is that it makes Rajiin seem well-constructed in comparison.

Bound is easily the worst episode of the season and a strong contender for one of the worst episodes of the series. What better way to remember Enterprise?

Nostalgic sexism, hoy!

Nostalgic sexism, hoy!

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The X-Files – One Son (Review)

This July, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the sixth season of The X-Files and the third (and final) season of Millennium.

Two Fathers and One Son are a mixed bag.

They are very messy and convoluted episodes of television, attempting to resolve a long-running plot without committing to a resolution. They swing wildly between clichéd ambiguity and b-movie exposition. They strain to stitch together half-a-decade of storytelling into a ninety-minute finalé, while trying to avoid drawing attention to any of the countless elements that might contradict or undermine the story that they are telling. They are both ambitious and efficient, energised and noncommittal.

They're here.

They’re here.

At the same time, Two Fathers and One Son make a valiant effort to bring the vast sprawling global conspiracy down to a more manageable level. Over the years, the conspiracy has evolved from a few alien abductions to a vast plot against the majority of mankind. Although they doesn’t always succeed, Two Fathers and One Son try to ground this crazy story about faceless rebels and looming colonisation in the trauma of a single family unit. The fate of mankind plays out against the backdrop of a family collapsing under its own weight.

While it doesn’t work as well as it might, it does help to draw attention to the larger themes that have played out across The X-Files as they relate to power and control, legacy and guilty, abuse and exploitation. It seems appropriate that Two Fathers and One Son should push these ideas to the fore as it attempts to close off the show’s long-running conspiracy thread, reminding viewers of what it was actually talking about.

Baby steps...

Baby steps…

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Progress (Review)

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is twenty years old this year. To celebrate, I’m taking a look at the first season. Check back daily for the latest review or retrospective.

Progress is the best episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine‘s first season to date. Of course, there are better episodes ahead – two of them clustered at the end of the show’s truncated first year – but Progress still represents a considerable improvement over anything that has come before. It isn’t quite perfect, but it does have a nice character focus and takes advantage of the show’s unique perspective and position. It’s evidence that the writing staff were at least engaging with the show’s status quo and trying to work with it to tell interesting stories, with Progress offering an early pure example of what Deep Space Nine story should probably look like.

While the first season has been quite bumpy (although notably less bumpy than any of the opening seasons of the other three Star Trek spin-offs), Progress offers a demonstration that we are getting somewhere. The title might apply as much to the status of the show itself as to the themes of the episode.

Burning down the house...

Burning down the house…

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