Although the upcoming Machete (well, it’s upcoming if you live in the UK like us) is well and truly Robert Rodriguez’s baby, spawned from a fake trailer as part of the Grindhouse collaboration, he’s enlisted Quentin Tarantino as his uncredited producer on the sly. Why? Because he’s cool – what he does is cool.
Not all of his projects have enjoyed the critical acclaim that Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction did, but few can deny that everything Quentin turns his hand to has an unmistakable air of awesome. I’ve compiled a list of his top 10 coolest movie moments, although with so many moments to choose from, heated geek debate is inevitable…
True RomanceClarence & Alabama Talk Kung Fu
When Tarantino penned True Romance, the emphasis was definitely on wish-fulfilment. A self-confessed Kung Fu and film addict, Tarantino probably went to bed many a night wishing he could find his own hooker with a heart of gold, one who also happened to enjoy a good old-fashioned Sonny Chiba triple bill (Chiba later played Hattori Hanza in Kill Bill Volume 1 – a role he originally played in a Japanese TV show way back when in 1980). And who can blame him?
Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette are quite the couple as she busts her Kung Fu moves on him in that dazzling red and leopard print combo. Plus, both Clarence and the audience get pretty psyched about the relationship when Alabama fails to be fazed by the fact that he’s little more than your common-or-garden comic book geek.
This part-cute, part-cool sequence climaxes in, well, a climax, which is overlooked by a candle-lit statuette of The King. Let it never again be said that romance can’t be done with an edge.
Sin CityThe Car Scene
Using everything he’d learned from Butch and Esmeralda Villalobos, Quentin Tarantino stepped in as guest director for a close-quarters car scene in Frank Miller and Robert Rodrigruez’s brainchild, Sin City.
The scene depicts an overwrought Dwight (Clive Owen) driving the corpse of Detective Jack Rafferty, better known as Iron Jack, with intention to dump. True to form, Tarantino doesn’t give the audience a moment’s respite from the tension, relieved only by Benicio Del Toro’s deliberate overacting as Jack’s talking corpse, creating an almost mock-Hitchcock atmosphere.
The constant use of close-ups coupled with Owen’s straight-man reactions cleverly play on the undercurrent of film noir, and provide a generous dose of gallows humour. Tarantino also had a hand in the undisputed cool exuded by the character of “deadly little Miho” by equipping her with the sword that would later be used by the Crazy 88 when they went up against The Bride in Kill Bill Volume 1.
Death ProofRose McGowan Gets Smushed
Drawing on his encyclopaedic film knowledge, Tarantino cleverly casts McGowan as the shrinking damsel locked in the passenger seat of Kurt Russell’s Death Proof car. Not only does her character in this portion of the film create a satisfying contrast to her part in Planet Terror, the other half of the Grindhouse double bill, but with her blonde hair and doe-eyed expressions she is the stereotypical sacrificial blonde stolen straight from the golden age of the slasher movie.
Tarantino’s cinephile brain was no doubt making a comment on her well-known performance in Scream in which she played the smart-talking, non-blonde anti-sacrifice (you may recall that she still ended up being put to death by cat-flap).
I can’t watch this scene without the words “Please don’t kill me Mr. Ghostface, I want to be in the sequel” ringing in my ears. Team this impeccable casting with Russell’s slyly sinister performance and you’ve got a pretty irresistible recipe for movie cool right there.
Reservoir DogsThe Commode Story
Although notoriously known for its whole cutting-off-the-ear scene, there’s a lot more to Reservoir Dogs than Michael Madsen dancing about to Stuck In The Middle With You. Nobody is denying that that is, in itself, an awesome and generation-defining scene. But the scene in which Tim Roth’s Mr Orange tells that story about the cops waiting in the men’s room whilst he’s stranded with a pocket full o’ drugs is a defining moment for that character, and for the audience in terms of buying into the film and the situation Tarantino has presented us with.
The thing about Reservoir Dogs is that the criminals in it are really cool. They wear freshly-pressed suits and dark shades, they navigate general conversation via pop culture references, and they’ve always got a cool song playing on their car stereo. Tarantino has the task of drawing the audience over to the side of this fairly meek undercover cop, and the commode story is the moment where it happens.
The second he convinces Joe and the rest of the crew that he’s been in a sticky situation or two with the law, we start to recognise that this kid’s got potential after all, and begin rooting for him to win out. You’ve got to watch Quentin when it comes to character development: he’s crafty.
Kill Bill: Volume 1The Copperhead Kill
From the second Vernita Green (a.k.a Copperhead) opens her door and the audience hears that Ironside theme sample for the first time, it is apparent that unparalleled coolness is about to ensue. The next thing we know we’re watching a limb-bending kung fu battle sequence, mixed with a decent-sized dollop of dirty fighting.
The girls only break it up when Vernita’s little girl, Nikki, comes home from school to find a blood-spattered, heavy-breathing mommy and her new, awkward-looking friend looking, well, awkward. This is classic Tarantino: injecting real life into the lives of violent characters, showing us what happens when vindictive souls get home from the office.
There’s a great use of irony in this scene when Kiddo ends up killing Copperhead in front of her daughter, after protesting that she wouldn’t. Tarantino left many an audience member praying for some far-off sequel with the line “When you grow up, if you still feel raw about it, I’ll be waiting.”
Also, leave it to Tarantino to hide a gun in a box of cereal named Kaboom.
Jackie BrownThe Black-Out Scene
Having already established Samuel L. Jackson as the unforgiving arms dealer, Ordell Robbie, Tarantino has Pam Grier’s Jackie turn the tables on him when he pays her a visit intending to blow her away. Convinced she has given information to the Feds who caught her smuggling money (and planted drugs) into the US, Ordell threatens to strangle Jackie in her darkened apartment.
Little does Ordell know that he’s not going to win this round of murder in the dark, as Jackie surreptitiously pulls a gun on him, aiming it at a part of his anatomy he’s rather attached to.
A black out scene is a bold move for any director. You have to be completely sure that the audience have bought into your character and your situation in order to cope without the visual cues usually afforded to you in film. Tarantino pulls it off, however, as we see Jackie, who up until this point has been the victim rather than the aggressor, completely turn the tables on the less-than-likeable Ordell, and cut a deal that will ultimately make her rich.
Pulp FictionBrett’s Apartment
Let’s be honest: I could have written an article on the top ten coolest moments in Pulp Fiction alone and still not have acknowledged the true greatness of this film. This was undoubtedly the hardest pick of the bunch but, at the great risk of rebuff, I opted for the sequence that takes place inside the ill-fated Brett’s apartment.
There’s something about Samuel L. Jackson’s Jules that immediately unnerves us and at the same time enthrals us. In fact, there are several things. His Big Kahuna Burger small-talk, his unmistakable over-confidence and his amazing ability to down what is clearly a large Sprite in one fell swoop.
And this is just the shortlist for his awe-inspiring performance. We also see the mysterious glowing suitcase, rumoured to carry Marcellus Wallace’s soul, for the first time in this scene, and we hear the faux Bible passage Ezekiel 25:17, written by Tarantino himself.
Some people might find it arrogant that a writer/director would think himself worthy of writing his own holy gospel (Jackson did have a hand in it too, it should be noted), but those of us well-versed in celluloid culture understand Tarantino to be the equivalent of a deity in film terms. So, for us at least, it’s a fit.
Kill Bill: Volume 2The Superman Monologue
Known to fans as The Superman Monologue, this sequence in the second instalment of the Kill Bill story is made irrefutably cool by David Carradine’s considered delivery.
He single-handedly makes comic book geekery sound like something everyone should be a part of, which of course it is, by explaining the difference between Superman and other comic book heroes. His alter ego, Clark Kent, is the disguise, whereas Peter Parker and his cronies have to don a mask and a bullet-proof suit to become their super hero selves.
Bill describes Clark Kent as Superman’s critique on the human condition, and then compares this with the settled life Beatrix was going to feign as Mrs Tommy Plympton. The comic book reference is a hark back to True Romance, and Bill also calls Beatrix a “natural born killer”, referring to one of the first scripts Tarantino ever worked on. It’s all about the film and comic book geekery here, but I don’t see anything wrong with that. As self-confessed geeks it is, after all, our bread and butter.
Inglourious BasterdsThe Hidden Jews
With Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino proved there was no subject he deemed untouchable. World War II has, along with Vietnam and other wars, been handled with care by a great number of producers over the years. But the Tarantino treatment, of course, demands a truly unique approach.
The opening sequence, in which Christoph Waltz plays a multilingual Nazi on the hunt for Jews, provides a gripping beginning to his story. He takes his time to set this scene and build sufficient tension. The audience is well aware of the likely outcome – death for the Jewish refugees by firing squad – but still, the performances of Christoph Waltz and Denis Menochet above the floorboards, and the beautiful Mélanie Laurent below, grip us, and keep us hoping for an outcome other than execution.
The moment Menochet cries his first tear, however, the audience knows that their hopes are dashed, as Tarantino gives the audience only a little bit of what they want. Melanie Laurent’s character narrowly escapes and, since this is a Tarantino film, is given a chance to enact her revenge later. This scene is a fantastic example of just how much Quentin knows about toying with audience expectation. He’s a pro.
From Dusk Till DawnThe Salma Hayek Table Dance
Tarantino’s strengths arguably lie in his writing and directing, but his acting performance in From Dusk Till Dawn never fails to get a wry laugh out of me, particularly in the scene when Salma Hayek does her table dance. Salma and her snake obviously dominate this scene, but Tarantino’s reactions are priceless, as he echoes every expression and gesture that every teenage boy made watching this sequence for the first time.
His performance is perfectly understated next to Salma’s erotic gyrations, and his rapture cleverly foreshadows the toothy carnage that is about to ensue. Quentin’s performance in this scene lets the audience know in no uncertain terms that although the women are seemingly objectified in this seedy hide-out, they are ultimately in charge, and will very soon be turning the tables in a bloody aftermath.
Perfect comedy timing and a subversion of gender expectations that any feminist would be proud of. Is there no end to the lengths that Tarantino will stretch to?
Agree? Disagree? Head to the comments!
Machete arrives in UK cinemas on 26th November