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143. Once Upon Time… in Hollywood – This Just In (#127)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Phil Bagnall, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This time, Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood.

It’s February 1969. Everything is changing. Hollywood itself seems to be facing an inevitable collision with the turmoil that has engulfed the rest of the world. Against this backdrop, lives intersect and collide. Returning from the United Kingdom, Sharon Tate moves in next door to washed up fifties western star Rick Dalton, both completely unaware of how profoundly their lives will impact one another.

At time of recording, it was ranked 127th on the Internet Movie Database’s list of the best movies of all-time.

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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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Non-Review Review: Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is a fairy tale, for better and for ill.

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New Podcast! The X-Cast – Season 4, Episode 13 (“Never Again”)

I had the pleasure of popping by The X-Cast again, this time to discuss Never Again with the wonderful Deana Ferrer.

Long-time readers of the blog will know (or at least suspect) that Never Again stands out as one of my favourite episodes of The X-Files. Most days, it’s a toss up between that and One Breath. There are a lot of reasons for that, but I think the most obvious is that – as I’ve gotten older – I’ve found myself identifying more with Scully than with Mulder. Scully’s anxieties and uncertainties here, her self-doubt and her insecurity, all resonate with me more and more as I get older. More than any other X-Files episode, I understand the feelings that drive Never Again.

Of course, there’s more to it than that. It is also a fantastically constructed episode of television, an interesting illustration of how continuity is an external construct in long-form narratives, and something that pushes very strongly at certain ideas of what The X-Files is and what The X-Files is about. So it was a pleasure to join Deana to discuss the episode, to break it down and to try to make sense of it all. I know it’s a controversial episode, so I simply hope that we make a relatively coherent argument for it.

As ever, you can listen to the episode here, or click the link below.

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Non-Review Review: Life Itself

Life Itself is a spectacular disaster.

There’s an incredible amount of ego on display in Life Itself, which makes a certain amount of sense. It is an auteur project from Dan Fogelman, written and directed by the guy responsible for This is Us. It is the kind of adult-centric drama that people don’t really make anymore, from the mind responsible for one of the biggest television hits of the decade. On paper, it is easy to see why there was a bidding war over Life Itself on the festival circuit, major studios tripping over one another to offer the largest cheque.

A pregnant pause.

Watching the film, of course, it is easy to see why Life Itself ended up as a cinematic footnote. It was dumped at the United States box office, dead on arrival. It limped into the United Kingdom with a simultaneous theatrical and television release on Sky One, a strategy usually reserved for enjoyable nonsense like Final Score. There is a reason for this. In Life Itself, ego gives way to indulgence. There is an incredibly and obnoxious smugness to Life Itself, the confidence of a truism scrawled clumsily on a beer mat, punctuated by several exclamation marks and underlined for emphasis.

Life Itself watches like the work of an over-eager film student motivated primarily by the profundity of their own insight, having assembled an impressive cast and offering a globetrotting story. Unfortunately, Life Itself is decidedly less fun than the best of those pseudo-profound philosophical treatises, delivered with a suffocating sense of its own self-importance.

Some significant (An)tonal issues.

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93. Reservoir Dogs (#76)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT, with the occasional bonus episode thrown in.

This time, Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs.

Following a disastrous botched jewellery heist, what remains of a criminal gang meets at an abandoned warehouse. Unsure of who to trust and unable to determine what went wrong, these violent men quickly turn on one another while navigating a complex web of shifting loyalties.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 76th best movie of all-time on the Internet Movie Database.

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“The Things You Gotta Remember Are the Details”: Reservoir Dogs and the Fragility of Memory and Meaning in the Nineties…

It’s always interesting to understand how much of being one of the defining artists of a cultural moment is down to understanding the zeitgeist, and how much of it is down to simply being in the right place at the right time.

This is not to denigrate the incredible skill and talent required to be perfectly positioned “in the right place at the right time”, as any amount of sustained success requires both a great deal of determination and an incredible amount of talent. Quentin Tarantino is undeniably determined and impressively talented. Tarantino has a unique knack with dialogue, a keen understanding of genre, and a fine appreciation of the history the medium. It is hard to imagine a world in which Tarantino would ever have been unable to parlay those skills into some form of success in filmmaking.

Still, there are very few directors who were so perfectly in step with the nineties as Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino is a writer and director who emerged almost fully formed, to the point that many critics and pundits would argue that his first two films are the best films in his filmography; Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. (As an aside, there are a not-insignificant number of pundits who would argue that Tarantino’s best film was his third, the underrated Jackie Brown.) It seems fair to describe Tarantino, however controversial his legacy and however divisive his modern films might be, as a defining nineties filmmaker.

(As an aside, it should be acknowledged that Tarantino arguably had something of a similar moment towards the end of the first decade and into the second decade of the twenty-first century. Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight are films that have generated a lot of polarised debate, but they also seemed very much on-the-pulse in terms of the tensions and anxieties that bubbled to the surface of American popular consciousness at towards the end of the twenty-tens. However, that is perhaps a debate for another time.)

Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction speaks specifically to a collection of nineties anxieties and uncertainties that seem only to have crystalised in retrospect, as if working through an existential crisis that the decade didn’t realise it was having in real time. Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fictions are stories about memory and meaning, and how fleeting the human understanding of a chaotic world can be. They are stories about the breakdown of social order, and of trying to find some way to navigate increasingly turbulent and unstable times.

They are films that embody the tensions of nineties as effectively as Forrest Gump or the films of Oliver Stone or Chris Carter’s work on The X-Files and Millennium.

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