Our Top Ten Tarantino Dynamite Dames

Posted by Michael Pinto on Aug 20, 2009 in Cinema |

Shosanna Dreyfus from Inglourious Basterds played by Melanie Laurent.

Quentin TarantinoOn the face of it Inglourious Basterds looks like a clear cut “World War II guys film” if there ever was one, but the inclusion of the character Shosanna Dreyfus made me realize that there was a bit more going on here. In fact in interviews Quentin Tarantino states that Shosanna was “always a main character”. Which made me reflect on the wealth and diversity of ladies that Tarantino has always featured in his films — in fact it’s something that makes his films into something much more interesting than what you see out of Hollywood. Of course part of his magic is that often Tarantino will write a role with a particular actress in mind. Here are my favorites characters that he’s conjured up over the years:

Jackie Brown as played by Pam Grier

Character: Jackie Brown
Actress: Pam Grier
Film: Jackie Brown

Poster for Jackie BrownTarantino wrote this role with Pam Grier in mind. Based on an Elmore Leonard novel Quentin re-crafted the story to be a tribute to 1970s blaxploitation films. When the film was made Pamela Suzette “Pam” Grier was not what you’d call a typical Hollywood star being 48 years old, yet Taratino having grown up with films like Foxy Brown knew that there was magic there. What I love about this film is that while on the face of it you’ve got a classic crime story, the real story is the almost romance between Jackie Brown and Max Cherry who was wonderfully played by Robert Forster (another under appreciated actor). I think my favorite scene in the film comes at the end when she asks Max “are you afraid of me?” and he gestures back “just a little”. Folks who expected this film to be a copy of Pulp Fiction came away disappointed, but for my money I enjoy it even more every time that I see it (definitely a future classic).

Mia Wallace as played by Uma Thurman

Character: Mia Wallace
Actress: Uma Thurman
Film: Pulp Fiction

Mia Wallace: There's such a sad quality to this characterThere’s something so tragic about the character of Mia Wallace which is rings very true to life because it represents the underside of Hollywood. Mia is the ultimate “almost was” with her best years and only shot at fame behind her, she’s sort of just going along for the ride. We see her multiple sides in this role too which is nice, there’s that brief scene where she is with Marsellus when he’s angry about Butch — but of course the real center of the film is the date with Vincent. Not unlike Jackie Brown there’s quite a bit of romantic tension in this film which is wonderful given that it’s focused on the crime genre. Besides how many other gangster films have memorable dance scenes?

Elle Driver (California Mountain Snake) as played by Daryl Hannah

Character: Elle Driver (California Mountain Snake)
Actress: Daryl Hannah
Film: Kill Bill

Daryl Hannah is Splash!Even though she’s been in films like Blade Runner I tend to associate Daryl Hannah more with silly films like Splash and Steel Magnolias — that’s why for me seeing her play a sadistic assassin was wonderful. Frankly I wouldn’t have had the vision to cast her as the ultimate heavy to go up against Beatrix Kiddo in the film, but what I love about Taratino is his ability to break actors out of their typecasting and have them try something new. And Hannah really got into the role too, she seemed to own the character — a prop like an eye patch can come off as campy but she really pulled it off. The fact that you wind up hating the lady who played the “sweet mermaid from Splash” by the end of the second film speaks volumes to me about Daryl Hannah acting skills.

The dangerous ladies from Death Proof

Characters: Kim Mathis, Zoë Bell, Lee Montgomery
Actresses: Tracie Thoms, Zoë Bell, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Film: Death Proof

Alright I cheated, these three play a trio who tun the tables on bad ass Stuntman Mike (played by Kurt Russell) — but they’re all very equal on screen and I couldn’t single one actress out of the three as the ultimate star of this car driving tag team from hell. When you first meet them your thinking is that these are the next set of victims at the hands of serial killer Stuntman Mike: But what I love about the film is watching them turn the tables so by the end of the movie you almost feel sorry for a serial killer who is being kicked to death by the ladies. I also loved the Taratino touch of casting New Zealand stunt woman Zoë Bell as herself, it gave the trio that extra bit of credibility on the screen. Although it never struck box office gold I think in the years to come folks will come to see Death Proof as one of the best action films that stands out as something authentic in an era of canned computer graphic effects.

Beatrix Kiddo (Black Mamba) as played by Uma Thurman

Character: Beatrix Kiddo (Black Mamba)
Actress: Uma Thurman
Film: Kill Bill

I feel guilty about mentioning Uma twice in the same article, but frankly her role in Kill Bill was quite opposite who she played in pulp Fiction: In fact what’s amazing to me is that the same actress with the same director can play two parts that are so opposite of each other. While Mia has been crushed by life, Beatrix is fighting back from the edge of death is this wonderful two part spaghetti western which takes us everywhere from Texas to Tokyo. I think it’s fair to say that Beatrix Kiddo is the ultimate empowered woman, not only can she take down every top assassin that comes her way — but she’s a good mommy too! What more could you ask for a role. And part of what makes Uma so good in this role is that Quentin Tarantino write it with Uma in mind.

Gogo Yubari as played by Chiaki Kuriyama (栗山千明)

Character: Gogo Yubari
Actress: Chiaki Kuriyama (栗山千明)
Film: Kill Bill

Chiaki KuriyamaYou can beg better than that! My only regret with Gogo Yubari is that we never got to see more of her in Kill Bill: Frankly as an anime fan I think she could have carried her own film — there’s something great about a deranged school girl with martial art skills! In Kill Bill she gives Beatrix a real run for her money too in a all too gruesome fight scene. If you’d like to see another film with Chiaki Kuriyama you should check out the 1999 film Battle Royale (バトル・ロワイアル).

Esmeralda Villa Lobos as played by Angela Jones

Character: Esmeralda Villa Lobos
Actress: Angela Jones
Film: Pulp Fiction

Angela JonesBuesnos Noches Butch! I think what actors like about Tarantino is that even the small bit parts have a wealth of texture to them which makes them stand out in your mind after the film is over. For my money Esmeralda Villa Lobos is the most sexy character that Tarantino has ever put on the screen! Played by Angela Jones for just a few minutes she gets that great line “So vhat does it feeeel like to kill a man with yer bare hands?” — it’s not just the line but her sexy delivery of it, as if she’s getting off on it somehow. I also love how her femininity is so well contrasted with Butch who is such a macho palooka type, and then add to that she’s driving the get away car so you know there’s some other previous unspoken history there. Angela Jones has appeared in a few other films since Pulp Fiction, but frankly I wish that Hollywood would take better notice of her.

Jody as played by Rosanna Arquette

Characters: Jody and Trudi
Actresses: Rosanna Arquette and Bronagh Gallagher
Film: Pulp Fiction

My two favorite cinematic drug addicts! Pulp Fiction could have been too glossy for its own good — but the hanging out in your PJs all day look at potheads gave it that nice little bit of realism. To me Rosanna Arquette’s quintesential role was was the perfect housewife trying to be Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan, so it was brilliant of Quentin to cast against that and make her the ultimate Gen X slacker. It’s funny because here again she’s playing a housewife, but she even managed to out cool Madonna in her hipster autheticity — I could easily see her character here hanging out with Courtney Love. And then there’s her trusty sidekick Trudi perfectly played by Irish actress Bronagh Gallagher. By the way since Pulp Fiction Gallagher had a role in Star Wars Episode I and is currently pursuing a music career.

O-Ren Ishii (Cottonmouth) as played by Lucy Alexis Liu

Character: O-Ren Ishii (Cottonmouth)
Actress: Lucy Alexis Liu
Film: Kill Bill

Lucy Alexis Liu as O-Ren IshiiThe backstory on O-Ren Ishii could stand up as a feature length film in its own right: The idea of a Chinese-Japanese-American who grows up to head a Yakuza conglomorate is great. In fact my one of my favorite scenes from the first Kill Bill film was the flashback scene which shows her confronting old school boss Tanaka the old fashioned way: By killing him off with a quick flick of her wrist! But once again what I love about seeing Lucy Liu in this role is that prior to this you’d always see her playing “the good guy” (or maybe that’s “the good gal”) — her works in Charlie’s Angels is so different than this role where she plays a real bad ass.

Sofie Fatale as played by Julie Dreyfus

Character: Sofie Fatale
Actress: Julie Dreyfus
Film: Kill Bill

Sofie FataleSofie is very much like the ultimate second lieutenant — although sadly she doesn’t get much screen time in Kill Bill accept as the hostage to Beatrix Kiddo, and then as a messenger to Bill. Sofie is the type of character you might expect to encounter in a spy novel novel or elite corporate setting: A high powered lawyer of Japanese/French descent who runs the business side of things. The relationship between O-Ren Ishii and Sofie Fatale has intrigued so many folks that some fans have even write fan fiction on the topic! There’s also the implication that Beatrix had a real ax to grind with Sofie relating to some other untold back story. It should be noted that Julie Dreyfus will have a role in Inglourious Basterds as Francesca Mondino, and apparently Taratino wrote the role just for her so it’s going to be great to see what she does in the film.

Below: Quentin Tarantino on the set of Kill Bill with Daryl Hannah.

Quentin Tarantino on the set of Kill Bill with Daryl Hannah


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