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On the QT

A Guide to Quentin Tarantino’s Best and Worst Acting Roles

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By Brian Steele and Nick Nadel

If you’re a fan of film director Quentin Tarantino, you’ve likely wondered why he keeps hiring a quirky actor named Quentin Tarantino to be in all his movies. Heck, he’s a cornerstone of the Tarantino canon, having appeared in everything from Reservoir Dog to Django Unchained, where his shaky Australian accent nearly derailed the movie. Unlike other actors in his films, Tarantino isn’t a major star. He’s not a reclamation project from the ’70s. He’s got a certain manic charm to him, but he always seems a bit overmatched in the acting department. The reason Tarantino keeps appearing in Tarantino movies is simple — he IS Quentin Tarantino.

Okay, I guess we all knew that, but it’s a little more complicated. Tarantino started his career as a video clerk with a dream. That dream, to be an…actor? Wait, what? Apparently, Tarantino has said he only fell into writing and directing because he needed scenes to perform in acting class. Finding that he had a gift, he kept going, but never gave up on his first dream, which has sometimes led him to appear in some unlikely places. Here’s a look at the bizarre wonderful, confusing, and admirably stubborn acting career of Quentin Tarantino. (Warning: Some clips are NSFW.)

Best: My Best Friend’s Birthday, Clarence Pool

Quentin Tarantino has been casting himself from the very beginning. His first on-screen role came in this unfinished film, which he co-wrote with another video store clerk, Craig Hamann, and directed over four years. While a lab accident destroyed portions of film, leaving the movie unfinished, what remains is classic Tarantino. His manic delivery style is evident from the get-go, as he delivers a monologue about being a suicidal three-year-old obsessed with the Partridge Family.


Best: The Golden Girls, Elvis Impersonator

Tarantino’s first professional acting gig was also one of his most bizarre. Having lucked into a new manager through a video store friend, he booked the first part he went out for. It didn’t hurt that the manager billed him as “Elvis meets Charlie Manson.” The part was as an Elvis impersonator on an episode of The Golden Girls, and Tarantino even wore his own clothes, saying he was “the Sun Records Elvis. I was the hillbilly cat Elvis. I was the real Elvis; everyone else was Elvis after he sold out.” He claims to have lived off the residuals from the episode for a year.


Best: Eddie Presley, Asylum Attendant

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Tempe Video

Tarantino’s next role oddly dovetails with his previous one. In a movie about an Elvis impersonator suffering a nervous breakdown, Tarantino wasn’t the one doing the hip swinging. Instead, he played the small part of an attendant at an insane asylum. The other attendant? None other than Bruce Campbell. Talk about two great tastes that go great together.


Best: Reservoir Dogs, Mr. Brown

The same year that Tarantino appeared in Eddie Presley, he also released a little crime caper that forever changed the world of independent film. His role as a “Like a Virgin”-obsessed crook immediately introduced Tarantino’s distinctive dialogue to the world and inspired a generation of filmmakers to cast themselves in their magnum opuses.


Best: Pulp Fiction, Jimmie

1994 was a big year for Tarantino. Pulp Fiction became a box office and cultural sensation, with the cowriter/director himself playing a memorable role as Jimmie, the coffee snob who lets Vincent and Jules clean up a dead body at his house provided that they leave before his wife Bonnie gets home from work.


Best: Sleep With Me, Sid

This 1994 indie rom-com wasn’t a big hit, but it is notable for one reason: unlike many of the other movies on this list, this film is perhaps most famous for the iconoclast director’s passionate performance. Sure, there was probably a bit of typecasting here. If ever Tarantino knew how to play a part to perfection, it’s this one, as a manic loudmouth who corners you at a party and screams about movies. Still, in just under three minutes Tarantino makes an impression that has kept the film relevant for the last 20 years.


Best: Somebody to Love, Bartender

This forgotten indie romance features a star-studded cast of acting greats like Harvey Keitel, Stanley Tucci, Anthony Quinn, and Steve Buscemi as a drag queen. Oh, and Tarantino as a bartender. The film’s director, Alexandre Rockwell, would reteam with Tarantino a few years later for Four Rooms.


Worst: All-American Girl, Desmond

How many directors, at the height of their powers, take a one-off part on a cheesy ABC sitcom? This 1995 episode, the second to last of the series, played as an extended parody of Tarantino’s films. He agreed to appear because he was friends with the show’s creator and lead, comedian Margaret Cho. Still, it’s hard to shake the feeling that this is like Scorsese following up Taxi Driver by doing a cameo on Welcome Back, Kotter.


Worst: Destiny Turns on the Radio, Johnny Destiny

The late ’90s saw a rash of Tarantino knock-offs. Suddenly, every movie was full of pop culture-quoting criminals, mixed with retro music and dark comedy. They were everywhere, and by and large, they were awful. (Do yourself a favor and never see Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead.) What separated Destiny Turns on the Radio from the bunch is that, for some reason, Quentin Tarantino stars in it, as a possibly supernatural weirdo who pops in and out of the other characters’ lives. You’ve got to admire his commitment to booking parts, even if they’re blatant rip-offs of his own work.


Best: Desperado, Pick-up Guy

By 1995, filmmakers started to figure out how to best use Tarantino’s acting abilities. Have him show up, deliver a singular, weird moment, and then disappear. Don’t give him too much of a character, or responsibility to the plot. Here, his good friend Robert Rodriguez has Quentin tell a joke, and then disappear. And he nails it, in his own unique way.


Worst: Four Rooms, Chester

Four directors (including Tarantino) teamed up for this uneven anthology film set during one wacky night at a hotel featuring various unsavory characters. Tarantino’s segment is basically an extended riff on the Steve McQueen and Peter Lorre episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents that itself was an adaptation of the Roald Dahl story “Man from the South.” Basically, it involves Tarantino giving a long, hammy monologue before Tim Roth’s butler character chops off some dude’s finger. And Bruce Willis and Jennifer Beals hang out in the background because, hey, it’s the ’90s. Fun fact: Bruce Willis went uncredited in the film since he broke SAG rules by doing the role for free as a favor to Tarantino.


Best: From Dusk Till Dawn, Richard Gecko

Many fans still consider Tarantino’s trigger-happy psycho Richard Gecko to be his best performance. We really can’t argue with that. It’s one of the few times he plays an actual character and not Quentin Tarantino.


Worst: Girl 6, “QT”

The feud between Spike Lee and Quentin Tarantino has been well documented. Spike has taken exception to Quentin’s liberal use of the “N-word.” Quentin has mostly ignored him, continuing his bizarre quest to be viewed as a cartoon black man. But for one shining moment, the two men came together, in Lee’s satire of the phone sex industry. (Again, it was the ’90s.) Here, Tarantino plays an over-the-top (even for him) director of a modern blaxploitation flick who tries to take advantage of the film’s lead. You have to wonder if this whole part was a middle finger to Tarantino, and that he just didn’t pick up on it.


Best: Curdled, Richard Gecko

Tarantino produced this 1996 dark comedy, which holds an interesting place in his filmography. Angela Jones, who played the murder-obsessed cab driver in Pulp Fiction, stars here as a murder-obsessed crime scene cleaner who encounters a serial killer played by ’90s charmer William Baldwin. Tarantino has a brief cameo when the Gecko Brothers’ mugshots turn up on a fake true crime show called Miami D.O.A. Yet another example of how all of Tarantino’s movies are connected.


Worst: Steven Spielberg’s Director’s Chair, Jack Cavello

In 1996, Tarantino starred in a Steven Spielberg co-directed drama as a convict facing execution who must rely on his girlfriend (Jennifer Aniston) to prove his innocence. Also, Penn and Teller star as killer magicians. What, you’ve never heard of it? Well, anyone who played the interactive movie game Steven Spielberg’s Director’s Chair has seen it and experienced Tarantino delivering a performance that could be best described as Sean Penn in Dead Man Walking meets The Three Stooges. It’s begging to be rediscovered as a lost classic from the era when Tarantino would say yes to any acting role he was offered.


Worst: Little Nicky, Deacon

Except for a voice cameo on an answering machine in Jackie Brown, Tarantino stayed off the screen for much of the late ’90s. But in 2000, he turned up in this Adam Sandler bomb, in which the famous director went full-on Rob Schneider, as a (possibly) Southern preacher whose life turns into a series of pratfalls once the titular Little Nicky shows up. Tarantino is clearly giving it his all here, which you have to admire, considering he’s an Oscar-winning writer, and this movie’s script was the result of a stoned chimpanzee and a copy of Final Draft having a baby.


Best: Alias, McKenas Cole

And now we get to Quentin Tarantino the actor’s big break. After a cameo-filled career, he finally got to dig into a real character that he didn’t write himself. Tarantino is comfortably quirky as this recurring Alias villain, and you can almost picture him parlaying it into bad guy roles on 24 and Heroes if his work as a successful filmmaker hadn’t gotten in the way.


Best: Duck Dodgers, Master Moloch

Tarantino voices a martial arts master who trains Duck Dodgers and his Space Cadet in this clearly Kill Bill-inspired episode.


Best: Grindhouse, Rapist (Planet Terror)/Warren (Death Proof)

Tarantino plays one of his signature creep roles in Robert Rodriguez’s segment of Grindhouse. (You definitely want to cheer when Cherry Darling stabs him in the eye with her wooden leg.) In Death Proof, Tarantino directs himself as Warren, the guy that the ladies do shots of chartreuse with. (Stealing from himself, Tarantino comments on the “tasty beverage” in a nod to Samuel L. Jackson’s famous line from Pulp Fiction.)


Best: Sukiyaki Western Django, Piringo

Tarantino appears to be having a blast in this Japanese spin on the Spaghetti Western, directed by his friend Takashi Miike. He gets to play the Clint Eastwood part in this high camp affair, delivering an intense monologue before slaughtering a bunch of colorful bad guys. Why he was the perfect person for this role isn’t entirely clear, but this cameo seems to have helped spark Tarantino’s current love of Westerns, so we can be grateful for that. And let’s all remember, Tarantino is still a young man. Sure, he’s got a lot of great movies left in him, but he’s also got years and years to pop up in distracting cameos, full bad accents and hyper line delivery. You be you, Quentin. We wouldn’t want it any other way.


Best: Inglourious Basterds, Scalped Nazi/American Soldier in Nation’s Pride

Eagle-eyed viewers might have noticed Tarantino’s two brief cameos in his World War II epic. First, the director is visible as a Nazi soldier who gets scalped by Aldo’s crew. He then switches sides, playing an American soldier in the propaganda film Nation’s Pride.


Best and Worst: Django Unchained, LeQuint Dickey Mining Co. Employee

We’re not sure what’s most memorable about Tarantino’s role in Django Unchained — his explosive exit or his Crocodile Dundee-esque Australian accent.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.