Quentin Tarantino 1963–
(Full name Quentin Jerome Tarantino) American director and screenplay writer.
The following entry presents an overview of Tarantino's career through 1998.
Among the most successful American filmmakers to emerge in the 1990s, Quentin Tarantino is best known for his off-beat, darkly satiric gangster films Reservoir Dogs (1992), Pulp Fiction (1994), and Jackie Brown (1997). Earning large box office receipts and cult adoration as a new renegade force in Hollywood, Tarantino is distinguished for his signature aesthetic (including a penchant for extraordinary, but sometimes humorously rendered) violence, long sequences of dialogue in which characters examine subjects such as cheeseburgers and pop songs in exhaustive detail, and a glorification of popular culture in general and B-movies in particular. Aside from the qualities of his movies themselves, Tarantino is noted for the fact that he achieved success outside of the Hollywood mainstream as a video store clerkcum-independent filmmaker who cobbled together $1.5 million to make his first picture. As such he has offered an example to other aspiring cineasts, and his enormous financial and critical success—Pulp Fiction won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, an Academy Award for Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen, and other awards—has gained the attention of Hollywood. Thus Tarantino has emerged, as he observed somewhat derisively in a 1997 interview with New York Times Magazine, as "an adjective": "Every third script out there," he said, "is described as 'Tarantino-esque.'"
Tarantino was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1963, and was reportedly named after a Burt Reynolds character on television. In 1965, when he was two years old, his mother Connie left his father and moved to California, bringing Tarantino with her. Still a teenager, Connie, who later became a corporate executive, settled in Harbor City, a middle-class neighborhood that bordered on rougher areas. Among the latter was the town of Carson, which included a theatre where Tarantino regularly attended movies. Though he was a bright child, he suffered from hyperactivity, and did poorly in school. Finally, having failed several grades, he dropped out of the ninth grade when he was fifteen or sixteen years old. He went to work as an usher at a pornographic movie theatre and studied acting, but except for a bit part as an Elvis impersonator on the television show "Golden Girls" in 1990, achieved little success as an actor. At age twenty-two, he went to work at Video Archives, which he has referred to as "the best video store in the Los Angeles area." The job, which he held for five years, gave him important exposure to a wide variety of films, and he and coworker Roger Avary—another future filmmaker—would often see four movies a day. In 1990, Tarantino and Avary went to work with producer John Langley, a regular video store customer, and moved to Hollywood. There they began developing the all-important contacts, most notably with producer Lawrence Bender, necessary in the world of filmmaking, and raised $1.5 million. In film terms, it was a shoestring budget at best; but it was enough to make Reservoir Dogs, which grossed many times that sum. With the release of the film two years later, and the resulting critical attention, Tarantino was propelled to stardom on a level seldom enjoyed by the people behind the camera. Though he has acted in a number of movies, most of these are roles either in his own films, or cameos in those of others. Director Tony Scott bought one of Tarantino's early screenplays, which became True Romance (1993), and a story by Tarantino became the basis for Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers (1994). Tarantino and Stone disagreed over the latter picture, however, and Tarantino disclaimed all involvement in the resulting film, even delaying release of Pulp Fiction until later that year in order to further establish his distance from it. As for Pulp Fiction, Tarantino again managed to make a film on a relatively small budget, $8 million, and this time enjoyed even greater critical and commercial success. Along with his emerging notoriety, Tarantino began to establish himself as a Hollywood businessman. Having formed A Band Apart, his production company, in 1991, he later formed commercial and music subsidiaries, and in 1995 established Rolling Thunder, a specialty distribution company. During the mid-1990s, he played small roles in the making of several films, including an uncredited rewrite on Scott's Crimson Tide in 1995. He also worked with Robert Rodriguez, another independent filmmaking sensation whose El Mariachi was remade for U.S. audiences as Desperado (with a cameo by Tarantino), on From Dusk Till Dawn (1995). In 1997, Tarantino released his third movie as writer and director, Jackie Brown, based on the novel Rum Punch by Elmore Leonard.
Just as Tarantino's films are peppered with references to other directors' movies, Reservoir Dogs appears to be modeled on Stanley Kubrick's The Killing (1956), a dispassionate post mortem on a robbery. The storyline of Tarantino's film is simple: an aging crime boss gathers a group of criminals, who are given colors (e.g., Mr. Blonde, Mr. Pink, etc.) instead of names in order to protect their identities, and plans a jewelry-store heist. But one of the men is a cop, and the robbery—which itself is never depicted—goes terribly wrong. The film plays tricks with time, shifting backward and forward, for instance from a long scene in a pancake house before the heist to a short vignette of a horribly wounded gangster just after it. After a series of temporal disjunctions, the action ultimately returns to a warehouse where the robbers have gathered to square off against one another in an attempt to find the traitor. As notable as the temporal shifts are the film's stylistic touches: the brutal violence against the 1970s musical soundtrack, the use of matching anonymous black suits by the color-designated robbers, and the long quasi-philosophical discussions which take place in the stage-like warehouse. True Romance similarly involves a crime, or series of crimes, that have gone wrong; but whereas Pulp Fiction takes place in a world of men, without benefit of female characters, at the center of True Romance is, as its name implies, a love story. The central figures, Clarence and the prostitute Alabama, are thrown together by circumstances, and when Clarence kills Alabama's pimp and steals a bag containing a fortune in cocaine, they are forced on a cross-country race against federal agents and a crime boss. Like Reservoir Dogs, True Romance ends in a bloodbath, but with a twist. Pulp Fiction, in contrast, actually begins with a standoff, or rather with events leading up to a standoff; but in a "Tarantino-esque" inversion of time sequence. The viewer will not return to the opening scene, and thus know what comes next, until the end of the movie. Pulp Fiction is comprised of several plots, most of them surrounding a drug lord named Marsellus. There is a subplot involving two hit men employed by him; one centering on Marsellus's alluring wife, who suffers a near-fatal heroin overdose while out on the town with one of the hit men; as well as a sequence involving a boxer who double-crosses Marsellus and flees for his life, only to find himself in a position to save the man who wants to kill him. In the final scene, one of the hit men makes a decision to leave his life of crime; already the audience has seen a segment that takes place later in time, in which the other henchman confronts the results of his own refusal to do so. "The Man from Hollywood," Tarantino's section in Four Rooms (1995), for which he and three other directors made segments, is much simpler, and revolves around an attempt to reenact a hair-raising scene from an Alfred Hitchcock television show in which Steve McQueen bets Peter Lorre his little finger than he can get his lighter to light ten times in a row. In From Dusk Till Dawn Tarantino presents an unusual combination of a straightforward bank robber getaway story with a tale of Mexican vampires. His next film, Jackie Brown, uncharacteristically features a female protagonist. The title character and heroine is an underpaid flight attendant who earns extra money by helping an arms dealer, Ordell, launder money. When she is caught by the police, Ordell, fearing that she will turn him in, wants to eliminate her. On this backbone of plot are formed numerous other subplots, most notably ones involving a tender-hearted bail bondsman who comes to Jackie's rescue, and the federal agents who goad her into helping them. All her adversaries underestimate Jackie, as a sequence surrounding the transfer of a bag containing money serves to illustrate. More complex than Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction in terms of character development, Jackie Brown also follows an essentially linear progression of events that relies upon fewer temporal shifts to move the story along.
Reviewers have been as quick to praise Tarantino for aspects of his style as they have been to condemn what many consider his excessive use of violence. As critics note, one of the most memorable parts of Reservoir Dogs is a gruesome scene in which Mr. Blonde cuts off a police officer's ear while the 1970s hit "Stuck in the Middle with You" plays in the background. Likewise, Pulp Fiction features a brutal S & M homosexual rape scene, along with a large body count. His penchant for violence and degradation has prompted some reviewers to compare Tarantino's early work to French dramatist Antonin Artaud's Theater of Cruelty. However, as critics observe, Jackie Brown is relatively restrained with regard to bloodshed. This has led several reviewers to suggest that Tarantino is mellowing, and many have noted signs of maturation with regard to character development and his treatment of love. Whereas Pulp Fiction takes place entirely in a man's world, Jackie Brown includes a touching, unconsummated relationship between the bail bondsman and the title character. Though Tarantino has proven less likely to exploit bloodshed or sex in his latest film, he has, as critics observe, maintained another aspect of his style: an attitude towards pop culture, including B-movies, old TV shows, and other paraphernalia of mass media, that wavers between veneration and satire. The opening scene of Reservoir Dogs, in which Mr. Brown (played by Tarantino himself) offers a memorable exegesis of Madonna's 1985 hit "Like a Virgin," and the long discussion about cheeseburgers between the two hoodlums in Pulp Fiction are frequently cited as emblematic of his style. Tarantino's contributions to True Romance and Four Rooms were panned by most reviewers, and From Dusk Till Dawn received mixed assessment. While Tarantino's detractors dismiss his work as derivative, sensational, and nihilistic, others praise his films for their eccentric humor, wit, and unpretentious democratic perspective. As Tarantino commented in a 1997 interview with New York Times Magazine: "I don't believe in elitism. I don't think the audience is this dumb person lower than me. I am the audience."
Reservoir Dogs (film) 1992
True Romance (screenplay) 1993
Pulp Fiction (film) 1994
Four Rooms [with Alexandre Rockwell, Allison Anders, and Robert Rodriguez] (film) 1995
From Dusk Till Dawn [with Robert Rodriguez] (film) 1996
Jackie Brown (film) 1997
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SOURCE: "'Reservoir Dogs,' Tarantino's Brash Debut Film, Announces a Director to Be Reckoned With," in Los Angeles Times, October 23, 1992, pp. F1, F14.
[In the following review, Turan offers qualified evaluation of Reservoir Dogs. While praising Tarantino's "undeniable skill," Turan objects to his preoccupation with "operatic violence."]
Like it or not (and many people will have their doubts), writer-director Quentin Tarantino has arrived, in your face and on the screen. His brash debut film, Reservoir Dogs, a showy but insubstantial comic opera of violence, is as much a calling card as a movie, an audacious high-wire act announcing that he is here and...
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SOURCE: "Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow, and Blonde?," in Artforum, Vol. 31, No. 3, November, 1992, p. 11.
[In the following essay, Dargis examines the depiction of male violence in Reservoir Dogs.]
Let me tell you what "Like a Virgin"'s about. It's about this cooz who's a regular fuckin' machine. I'm talkin' mornin' day night afternoon dick dick dick dick dick dick dick dick dick.
Then one day she meets this John Holmes motherfucker and it's like, Whoa baby. I mean this cat is like Charles Bronson in The Great Escape: he's diggin' tunnels. All right, she's gettin' some serious dick action and she's feelin'...
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SOURCE: "Blood Lines," in New Republic, November 23, 1992, pp. 30-1.
[In the following review, Kauffmann offers tempered praise for Reservoir Dogs.]
How happy the human race must be these days. Photography and cinematography have done so much to further our age-old appetite for the sanguine. It's as if, after many centuries of waiting, those of us who do not actually hack or bludgeon now have the chance to see the hacked and bludgeoned. The latest Granta has a piece by Luc Sante—part of a new book called Evidence—that consists of police-file photographs of murder victims with his critical comments on them. In his aesthetic study of these...
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SOURCE: "Partners in Crime," in New Statesman & Society, January 8, 1993, pp. 34, 36.
[In the following review, Romney offers favorable assessment of Reservoir Dogs.]
Who said the devil doesn't have all the best tunes? In 1971, A Clockwork Orange shocked everyone rigid because its droog Alex liked to choreograph his ultraviolence to a Beethoven soundtrack. Twenty years on, things are a little more flip. In Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs (on general release), Michael Madsen's psycho gangster Mr Blonde tortures a policeman to Stealer's Wheel singing "Stuck In The Middle with You".
It's a deeply unsettling scene to watch, not just...
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SOURCE: "Gunfight at the Hokey Corral," in Los Angeles Times, September 10, 1993, pp. F1, F8.
[In the following review, Turan offers negative assessment of True Romance.]
It is hard to say what is more dispiriting about True Romance, the movie itself or the fact that someone somewhere is sure to applaud its hollow, dime-store nihilism and smug pseudo-hip posturing as a bright new day in American cinema.
In truth this latest example of Hollywood's growing fascination with Bad Boy Chic (the kind of films where the men are violence-prone misfits and the women gasp and coo) has all the originality of a paper cup. A derivative dead end that pushes...
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SOURCE: "Smut in Your Eye: Scott's 'True Romance,'" in Commonweal, October 22, 1993, pp. 22-4.
[In the following review, Alleva offers unfavorable evaluation of True Romance.]
Want to feel like a fool? Go see True Romance. That will do the trick.
For starters, there's the fictional company you will have to keep. The hero is an Elvis-obsessed, moronic piece of white trash named Clarence Worley who, when he's not clerking in a comic-book store (where he reverently samples the product), doesn't get out of his apartment much, although he always treats himself to a Kung-fu triple feature on his birthday. And, get this, his favorite chop-socky star...
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SOURCE: "A Thugfest," in New York, October 3, 1994, pp. 96-9.
[In the following review, Denby offers favorable evaluation of Pulp Fiction.]
It's not hard to see why actors have been eager to work with the young writer-director Quentin Tarantino. A bad-boy entertainer, "dark" but playful, Tarantino writes an American gutter rant—golden arias of vituperation interlaced with patches of odd, hilarious formality (the formality functions like an outbreak of classical movement in the middle of a modern-dance concert). His latest, Pulp Fiction, which won the Palme d'Or at Cannes last spring and just opened the New York Film Festival, is an ecstatically entertaining...
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SOURCE: "Tarantino's Twist," in Rolling Stone, October 6, 1994, pp. 79-81.
[In the following review, Travers offers high praise for Pulp Fiction.]
Now that Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction has won the Palme d'Or at Cannes, opened the New York Film Festival and made the former video-store clerk a name to suck up to big time in Hollywood, you're probably thinking the writer-director of Reservoir Dogs has sold out his renegade ass. Think again. The proudly disreputable Pulp Fiction (cost: a measly $8 million) is the new King Kong of crime movies. It's an anthology that blends three stories and 12 principal characters into a mesmerizing mosaic of the...
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SOURCE: "A Real Hamburger of a Movie," in New Statesman & Society, October 8, 1994, p. 29.
[In the following review, Romney offers unfavorable assessment of Pulp Fiction.]
I don't have that much to say about Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, but that's OK, because it has plenty to say for itself. Watching it is like sitting in a diner for hours on end while the guy opposite you simultaneously gabbles away, stuffs his face and juggles balls. Sort of how you'd imagine a dinner date with Tarantino to be.
I loved Reservoir Dogs. Loved the suits, loved the pace, loved the bloodshed, loved the shock of alarm when the film suddenly made you...
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SOURCE: "Quentin Tarantino," in Rolling Stone, November 3, 1994, pp. 76-78, 80-1, 110.
[In the following essay, Wild discusses Tarantino's films, career, and artistic influences.]
Quentin Tarantino, madman of movie mayhem, has a mother. How's that for a shocker? She has seen Reservoir Dogs, the 1992 heist film that made a cult sensation of her writer-director-actor son and raised the stakes on movie gore with a 10-minute torture scene featuring the severing of an ear. "That happens to be my mother's favorite scene," says Tarantino, 31, a high-school dropout who has gone from video-store clerk to genius auteur du jour in just a few feverishly busy years. Mom has...
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SOURCE: "Hot Shot," in Times Literary Supplement, November 11, 1994, p. 26.
[In the following review, Binyon offers favorable assessment of Pulp Fiction.]
Quentin Tarantino's latest film, Pulp Fiction, opens and closes in a Los Angeles coffee shop. In the prologue, a young couple, Pumpkin (Tim Roth) and Honey Bunny (Amanda Plummer), are contemplating over breakfast a change in business methods: robbing coffee shops instead of liquor stores. Two and a half hours later, the epilogue returns to the same place at the same time. Drawing their 32s, Pumpkin and Honey Bunny leap on to the coffee-shop tables to put theory into practice. Within this circular frame three...
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SOURCE: "Shooting Up," in New Republic, November 14, 1994, pp. 26-7.]
[In the following review, Kauffmann offers unfavorable evaluation of Pulp Fiction.]
By now everybody knows that Quentin Tarantino is the happiest man in the world. Not so many years ago he was a clerk in a California video store, devouring film film film. Then he tried to break into filmmaking himself, first by writing scripts. It took years to get in. But those video days and the buff-dom of his boyhood sustained him, and now he is where he dreamed of being. He is making the films that will stock those video stores. Some younger aspirant will sell Tarantino tapes.
About his grit...
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SOURCE: "Beaten to a Pulp," in Commonweal, November 18, 1994, pp. 30-1.
[In the following review, Alleva offers favorable evaluation of Pulp Fiction.]
Maybe you have to be able to see through Quentin Tarantino before you can enjoy him. Like all his previous movies, Pulp Fiction is packed with violent larcenies, shootouts, drug deals, mob executions, gangland politicking, and (a Tarantino specialty) heavy-duty, sadistically gloating speeches made by hitmen to their victims just before the bullet to the brain is dispatched. No wonder that this latest Hollywood wunderkind has been labeled the "hot high priest of film ultra-violence," "the Sultan of Sadism,"...
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SOURCE: "Minor Magic," in Artforum, Vol. 33, No. 7, March, 1995, pp. 63-6, 110.
[In the following essay, Cooper discusses the appeal of Tarantino's dialogue and cinematic presentation.]
There should be a dozen youngish American filmmakers as inspired as Quentin Tarantino. Then it would be easier to designate him a quirkily brilliant minor director, which is what he is. But even with his rather glaring limitations—stagey archetypal characters, short- and long-term memory problems, a lazy visual sense—there's so much finely tuned energy in his films compared to most of his contemporaries. Tarantino really is one of the few post-Martin Scorsese directors capable of...
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SOURCE: "Geek Chic," in Artforum, Vol. 33, No. 7, March, 1995, pp. 63-6, 104, 108.
[In the following essay. Indiana discusses the depiction of black experience, violence, and masculinity in Tarantino's films.]
Like O.J. Simpson and Newt Gingrich, Quentin Tarantino has become one of those cosmically disseminated mirages that even the most resolute ascetic living in a hole somewhere becomes aware of "through the media." For us ordinary folks who consume magazines and TV programs haphazardly, he—like O.J., like Newt—has acquired the pull of a vortex into which all conversation eventually spills. Edgy from coffee nerves, verbally diarrheic, a study in hip geekiness or...
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SOURCE: "Slick Shtick," in Artforum, Vol. 33, No. 7, March, 1995, pp. 63-6, 110.
[In the following essay, Wood discusses elements of satire, violence, and homophobia in Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction.]
American culture generally enjoys cleverness: it is so much easier to grasp than real intelligence, so much less challenging and dangerous. Cleverness doesn't disturb, it keeps people happy, gives them "kicks," it's all slick fun. And Americans are supposed to be happy—isn't this the land of equal opportunity, so if you're not happy it's your own fault, there must be something wrong with you. Cleverness helps you to forget that things might be different,...
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SOURCE: "'Four Rooms' No Showcase for Quartet of Filmmakers," in Los Angeles Times, December 25, 1996, p. F12.
[In the following review, Mathews offers negative assessment of Four Rooms.]
Alexandre Rockwell, who came up with the idea for the anthology comedy Four Rooms, says of the characters in his segment, "They are walking the line, and when you walk the line, sometimes you fall into hell and sometimes you trip into heaven."
Moviegoers run the same risk every time they plunk down the price of a ticket, and those who do so for this film will soon feel the heat of Satan's breath.
It's not enough to say that Four Rooms...
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SOURCE: "Add Horror, Drama, Robbers, a Biker Bar; Blend on High," in Los Angeles Times, January 19, 1996, pp. F1, F8.
[In the following review, Mathews offers unfavorable assessment of From Dusk Till Dawn.]
As both a veteran video store clerk and movie junkie, Quentin Tarantino knows that "The Desperate Hours" belongs in the drama section and "Night of the Living Dead" in the horror. So where, if he had his old job, would he rack Robert Rodriguez's From Dusk Till Dawn, which, in the blink of an eye, shifts from the first genre to the second, all in the name of comedy?
Tarantino wrote From Dusk Till Dawn in 1990 for a reported fee of...
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SOURCE: "Doing Brando," in Film Comment, Vol. 32, No. 1, January-February, 1996, pp. 83-8.
[In the following essay, Bush examines the persona of violent male characters in Tarantino's films, especially as derived from earlier crime genre films and performances by Marlon Brando.]
Back in the early Fifties, a solid decade before Quentin Tarantino was born into Knoxville, Tennessee poverty, Marlon Brando, young and still hard, was re-surveying the horizon of passion for postwar American men. He carved out low swales of improvisatory naturalism, and shaped patches of dark mumbling where rash and grievous outbursts could feel at home with the new Beat preference for the raw...
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SOURCE: "The Man Who Changed Everything," in New York Times Magazine, November 16, 1997, pp. 112, 114-5, 117.
[In the following interview, Tarantino discusses his films and the Hollywood movie industry.]
Quentin Tarantino, in shorts and a T-shirt, is padding around his palatial mansion in the Hollywood Hills on a Sunday afternoon in late October. He has lived here less than a year, and the previous occupant, the pop singer Richard Marx, left most of his overstuffed furniture behind. Tarantino has added some touches: movie posters are strewn everywhere; there are bronze sculptures of characters from Reservoir Dogs, his first movie, and Pulp Fiction; a...
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SOURCE: A review of Jackie Brown, in Variety, December 22, 1997, pp. 57-8.
[In the following review, McCarthy offers tempered criticism of Jackie Brown.]
Facing the daunting task of making a third feature that could measure up to Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, not to mention one that would disarm the detractors ready to pounce on him no matter what, Quentin Tarantino treads turf that is both familiar and fresh in Jackie Brown. Unquestionably too long, and lacking the snap and audaciousness of the pictures that made him the talk of the town, this narratively faithful but conceptually imaginative adaptation of Elmore Leonard's novel "Rum...
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SOURCE: "Tarantino Lets Attitude Show in 'Jackie,'" in Los Angeles Times, December 24, 1997, pp. F2, F12.
[In the following review, Turan offers unfavorable assessment of Jackie Brown.]
Unlikely as it sounds, Jackie Brown is Quentin Tarantino's idea of a nice film. Not that it's everyone's idea of nice: This hotbed of industrial-strength profanity isn't headed for the Disney Channel any time soon. But motivating the writer-director here is not his usual impulse toward outrageousness but what has to be called a sweet desire to pay tribute to two key influences in his creative life, writer Elmore Leonard and star Pam Grier.
This is Tarantino's...
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SOURCE: "Sheparding the Weak: The Ethics of Redemption in Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction," in Literature-Film Quarterly, Vol. 26, No. 1, January, 1998, pp. 60-6.
[In the following essay, Davis and Womack explore themes of moral development and spiritual conversion in Pulp Fiction. According to the critics, "Beyond the hazy lens of Tarantino's deliberately dark gangland tableau … Pulp Fiction proffers a fictional universe where miracles still happen, where love can still make a difference."]
Although a number of critics in the popular press laud Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction (1994) for its non-linear narrative, quirky performances, and...
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SOURCE: "Return of a Foxy Mama," in Rolling Stone, January 22, 1998, pp. 61-2.
[In the following review, Travers offers high praise for Jackie Brown.]
Sorry to disappoint those who longed to see Quentin Tarantino fall on his famously flashy ass, but the overlong, overindulgent Jackie Brown—the Q man's first feature as a writer and director since Pulp Fiction, in 1994—scores a knockout just the same. Loaded with action, laughs, smart dialogue and potent performances, Jackie Brown is most memorable for its unexpected feeling. Tarantino adapts Elmore Leonard's 1992 crime novel, Rum Punch, without losing the author's compassion for...
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Bowman, James. "On the Q.T." American Spectator 29, No. 11 (November 1996): 72-3.
Discusses Tarantino's negative influence on other filmmakers.
Denby, David. "The Good Enough Mother." New York (20 September 1993): 64-5.
A negative review of True Romance.
Gallafent, Edward. "Geek Makes Good." Times Literary Supplement (16 February 1996): 21.
Discusses Tarantino's films and career through review of Wensley Clarkson's Quentin Tarantino: Shooting From the Hip, Jami...
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