"If You Like Quentin Tarantino..." Book Review
Written by Katherine Rife
2012, 192 pages, Non-Fiction
Released on November 1st, 2012
If You Like Quentin Tarantino...(IYLQT) has a subtitle of "Here are Over 200 Films, TV Shows, and Other Oddities That You Will Love", so right away you know what you are getting into. Perhaps other than Spike Lee, there are few directors alive today that polarize film fans like Quentin Tarantino. For as many fans that love his work, it seems there are just as many that hate him. On one side you have the rabid fans who defend the...homages...found in Tarantino's movies, where the detractors (who are just as rabid) call it nothing more than thievery. I stand somewhere in the middle. I seriously question if Tarantino could make a film free of the lifting of scenes from lesser known movies, but that doesn't stop me from enjoying his films. I own all from his catalog and watch them now and again, but I have to call it like I see it. Many times, the coolest scene you'll find in a Tarantino flick was plucked from a movie the general public has not seen, much less heard of. This is something that has been (and will be) discussed ad nauseam on message boards, and I'd rather have not even brought it up, but I needed to in order to discuss one glaring problem in author Katherine Rife's otherwise fantastic book.
Rife is obviously a huge fan, not just of Tarantino, but also the films that influenced him, arguably to a fault. For example, Reservoir Dogs is probably one of the director's most debated films regarding whether or not it was a ripoff of Ringo Lam's City on Fire. Regardless of what side of this you're on, it cannot be denied that at the very least, Tarantino borrowed heavily from it. On this, Rife says, "Admittedly there are some striking similarities, but considering the films are very different in other respects, it's not really fair to call Dogs a "ripoff."" However, when talking about Battle Royale and its 2012 official American release, she says, "Well, they may have finally been reassured by the popularity of a little book called The Hunger Games, which (ahem) liberally borrows from Battle Royale." Seriously, please. I'm definitely not defending The Hunger Games here, but to say that "liberally borrows" from Battle Royale and justify Reservoir Dogs' "striking similarities" to City on Fire is disingenuous at best. Don't defend one while accusing the other. Both are equally guilty of this. If this were the only case, it would not be worth mentioning, but Rife does seem to go out of her way to justify Tarantino's obvious borrowing.
Yet, as I said above, other than that, this book is damn good. Rife tackles each film individually (to the point of even breaking up the Kill Bill movies into separate entities), recommending movies, music and even other filmmakers that either influenced that particular film or is close enough in style that you'll dig it. And it's not lazy, either. She meticulously goes into why she suggests what she suggests, from plot breakdown to particular scenes to look out for. Having seen a majority of the movies mentioned in IYLQT, I can only say I'm more than impressed. I love the fact that she mentions not just the obvious movies, but delves deeper into some of the lesser known stuff as well.
For example, within the section on Kill Bill: Volume 1, Rife not only suggests the expected Lady Snowblood and the Lone Wolf and Cub series, she also makes note for the reader to check out the amazing Sex and Fury and Female Yakuza Tale (the former of which I enjoyed more than Lady Snowblood, and I loved Lady Snowblood). Another offered is the Female Prisoner Scorpion series. I have to admit, I own Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion, but I have yet to watch it. Considering how solid Rife's suggestions are, it's high time I changed that.
My favorite section of the book is the one on Jackie Brown. Not only is Brown my favorite Tarantino film, I love everything I've seen in the blaxploitation genre (except for, ironically, Melvin Van Peebles' Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song — the movie that started it all). In my defense, though, I really loved Mario Van Peeble's Baadasssss!, which chronicled the making of Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song. Yes, Shaft and Superfly are on her list of suggestions, but she also throws out Black Caesar (a film that tells a tale similar to Scarface, but is far superior) and Across 110th Street. Rife makes a case for the latter where it could possibly not be considered a blaxploitation film; one that I not only agree with, but it's the same reason why I never considered Jackie Brown part of that same genre (even though, for some reason, people do consider it blaxploitation).
I could (and would eagerly) dissect each chapter of the book because, and I can't stress this enough, Rife really does an awesome job with her suggestions. Her conversational writing style is also great because the book really reads like a discussion you are having with friends rather than some sort of thesis (which, for some reason, I was expecting when I went into it). This is one I know I'll be going back to often. Judging by the high marks she gives to movies I like (and in some cases love), I am confident that I will dig the movies I haven't seen that Rife suggests. I desperately wanted to give this five stars, but the lack of some objectivity that permeates because of the fanboy-like defense of Tarantino's lifts, I can't in good conscience. Yet, even with that, it doesn't stop me from highly recommending If You Like Quentin Tarantino... Even if you don't like him, that won't stop you from enjoying this nugget of gold. And if you do, all the better.