From "Reservoir Dogs" to "Django Unchained," Quentin Tarantino's movies have gravitated to all sorts of extremes, swinging at will between the intensely violent and the perversely comic, the formally controlled and the politically incorrect. So why shouldn't his taste in movies be wildly moody as well?
Last month, as the former video store clerk and lifelong film geek prepared to do legal battle with Gawker Media for posting a link to his latest, unfilmed screenplay, two of his favorite movies became available on demand. As one would suppose, the two couldn't possibly be more opposite.
"Afternoon Delight," an American indie dramedy about an unhappily married woman who looks to a young trick-turning stripper for inspiration, was named by Tarantino last autumn as the best film of 2013. But apparently that was before he saw "Big Bad Wolves," an ultra-gory Israeli revenge thriller whose current publicity materials tout it as, indeed, the best film of last year according to Tarantino.
In the case of "Big Bad Wolves," a movie as playful as it is nasty, it isn't hard to guess at the film's appeal to the writer-director. A twisty murder mystery that follows a cop and a grieving father in their sickly coercive efforts to extract a confession from a meek schoolteacher accused of killing young girls, "Wolves" seems a direct descendant of "Reservoir Dogs," most obviously in its ironic use of cheery pop music to accompany the ugliest of situations.
Co-directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado tear several other pages from the Tarantino playbook, including the idea that the anticipation of violence can be more grueling for an audience than the violence itself. Arguably the movie's most savage scene involves not horror, per se, but the description of it, so full of great vengeance and furious anger as to defy transcription here. No doubt Tarantino was sincerely flattered by the imitation.
What he sees in "Afternoon Delight" is much harder to figure, unless it's simply another opportunity to proclaim his quirkily catholic tastes. In the film, Kathryn Hahn plays thirty-something Rachel, a former journalist and stay-at-home mom whose marriage to Jeff (Josh Radnor) has dwindled into routine, with no sex in six months. On the advice of a friend, Rachel takes her hubby out for a pump-priming night at a strip club, where she ends up getting special attention from a loopy lap dancer named McKenna (Juno Temple).
Soon enough, Rachel starts loosening up and getting naughty, smoking the occasional cigarette and then, believe it or not, inviting McKenna to move into the couple's suburban L.A. palace and serve as nanny to their precocious preschooler. Suffice it to say that McKenna administers to Rachel (and vice versa), although no favors are done for the actors, stuck as they are with a script that rarely strays far from sitcom territory.
As for Tarantino's curious admiration, he also claims to love "The Lone Ranger" and "Kick Ass 2," so who knows?
Also notable on VOD
You'll probably say I'm affecting a Tarantino-like form of knee-jerk contrarianism here, but, in all honesty, my vote for the man's most purely entertaining movie goes to "Death Proof" (on iTunes and Google Play), which just so happens to be the least known and appreciated of his eight features. Cut loose from its tether to the bottom half of the "Grindhouse" double bill from 2007, this gloriously gabby and car-crazed ode to two sets of lovably cool ladies hits the road speeding and accelerates from there.