Tarantino, ’60s classics headline summer film festivals

Summer brings a lot of outdoor activities, but for the next six weekends, movie lovers will have plenty of reasons to spend time indoors. Village 8 Theatres and the Louisville Palace are hosting their annual summer film festivals, kicking off Sunday and wrapping up Aug. 3.

Both festivals will feature films that illustrate cinema’s evolution — in one case, within the work of a heralded, sometimes controversial writer/director; in the other, over the course of a tumultuous decade.

Tarantino at Village 8
scene from Pulp Fiction

That’s a tasty murder. John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson in “Pulp Fiction,” screening June 30 at Village 8. | Courtesy of Miramax

The Tarantino Film Festival at Village 8 kicks off Sunday with the director’s first feature, “Reservoir Dogs” (1992), which lays out the template for much of his early work — conventionally amoral characters who adhere to their own code, moving through time-shifted narratives with a big twist about two-thirds of the way in.

Matthew Kohorst, general manager at Village 8, said he wanted to showcase Tarantino’s films in advance of the August release of “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” the director’s ninth feature. The flick boasts a slew of Hollywood A-listers in what’s likely to be a blood-drenched but super-cool account of the Manson Family murders.

As far as the festival’s lineup, Kohorst said he personally selected the director’s landmark film “Pulp Fiction” (1994), which most critics consider to be his best. It’s unquestionably groundbreaking, with meticulous interlocked plotlines and clever, almost theatrical dialog.

Other picks for this summer come from the Village’s Caleb Johnson, a huge fan of the director.

In his best films, Tarantino illustrates his character’s skewed morality by having them engage in banal conversations in situations that average folks would find insane — think gossiping about your boss’ wife as you head out to murder a room full of punk drug dealers.

At his worst, Tarantino just talks you to death. But the Village 8 isn’t screening “Death Proof” (2007) this summer, so you’re safe there.

Django Unchained

Jamie Foxx is remarkable in “Django Unchained,” screening July 14 at Village 8. | Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

The schedule for this summer’s festival is:

“Reservoir Dogs” — Sunday, June 23 at 3, 7, 7:30 p.m.

“Pulp Fiction” — Sunday, June 30 at 3, 7, 7:30 p.m.

“Inglorious Basterds” (2009) — Sunday, July 7 at 3, 7, 7:30 p.m.

This film marked a turn for Tarantino away from moral ambiguity to stylized, wrathful violence. The rough-and-tumble protagonists aren’t the nicest guys in the world, maybe, but they are slaughtering Nazis, so there you go. Christoph Waltz won the Oscar for his portrayal of an utterly loathsome Nazi (like there’s any other kind).

“Django Unchained” (2012) — Sunday, July 14 at 3, 7, 7:30 p.m.

This time it’s Leonardo DiCaprio’s turn to be vile, as a plantation owner who crosses the wrong guy in Jamie Foxx’s “Django.” Foxx can be very good in the right role, and he’s very, very good here. And Waltz grabbed another Oscar.

“Kill Bill Vol. 1” (2003) — Sunday, July 21 at 12:50, 6:50 p.m.

“Kill Bill Vol. 2” (2004) — Sunday, July 21 at 3, 9 p.m.

This matched set — really, it’s one four-hour film — is showing as a double feature. It’s also Kohorst’s other personal pick for the festival. One $8 ticket gets you both blood-drenched features. These movies marked Tarantino’s shift  to moral extremities and almost fetishized violence. Uma Thurman’s The Bride is no angel, but, as she tells a little girl, “you can take my word for it, your mother had it comin’.”

Classic Summer Movies at the Palace
Midnight Cowboy

John Voight and Dustin Hoffman bring humanity to a pair of hustlers in “Midnight Cowboy,” screening Friday, Aug. 2, at the Palace. | Courtesy

The movies screening this summer at the Louisville Palace illustrate the evolution of American cinema during the ’60s, where movies moved from tight studio control to more clearly reflect the filmmakers’ visions (oh, glory days and all). They also tackle political and social themes of their time in a way that few big studio flicks of ’50s did.

They are all landmarks in their own right, but only one of them, 1969’s “Midnight Cowboy,” won the Oscar for best picture. A couple won no Oscars at all, but when you’re up against “Lawrence of Arabia,” what are you gonna do?

All screenings are on Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $8 and available through the Palace website.

The festival lineup is:

“Spartacus” (1960) — Friday, June 5

Stanley Kubrick was the third director picked for this epic of the Roman servile war — David Lean turned it down, and star/producer Kirk Douglas fired Anthony Mann after just a week. Douglas turned to the young Kubrick, whom he’d worked with before, and things turned out OK.

“Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1961) — Saturday, July 6

This utterly charming, if a little bit sanitized, adaptation of Truman Capote’s cafe society classic gave the world the little black dress, which no one will ever wear as well as Audrey Hepburn. Capote always claimed Holly Golightly was an “American geisha,” anyway.

Breakfast at Tiffany's

There’s iconic, and then there Audrey Hepburn. “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” screens July 6 at the Palace. | Courtesy

“To Kill a Mockingbird” (1962) — Friday, July 12

Sometimes childishly simplistic, this story of racial injustice has been the subject of recent reflection (and even a little when it came out), but at least in terms of early ’60s mainstream cinema, this was a fairly bold take. Brock Peters is great. Note: ’50s Hollywood really backslid here. You should be sure to see “Gentleman’s Agreement” (1947) and “Intruder in the Dust” (1949).

“A Hard Day’s Night” (1964) — Saturday, July 13

This Beatles documentary comedy was actually nominated for Best Screenplay, and deservedly so — it’s hysterical. Director Richard Lester’s cheeky comedic sensibilities were a perfect match for the Fab Four. And the music is OK, too.

“Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” (1964) — Friday, July 19

Ahead of its time. In fact, this Cold War black satire would be ahead of any time. Kubrick coupled the impossibly easy charm of Peter Sellers with broad slapstick and genuine tension to craft a peerless classic.

“The Graduate” (1967) — Saturday, July 20

Anne Bancroft gives the performance of five lifetimes in this story of just not knowing what to do with your life. While a work of its era, Mike Nichols’ refusal to dig too deeply into the specific pathos of the late ’60s creates a genuinely timeless comedy. And it has one of the best closing shots, ever, period.

“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” (1967) — Friday, July 26

Probably the most dated film on this list, the standouts here are the performances, particularly from Sidney Poitier and Katharine Hepburn. Stanley Kramer films are always talky and a little preachy, and that’s certainly the case here. It plays more like a ’50s Hepburn-Tracy comedy than late ’60s social commentary — which is not all bad.

“Easy Rider” (1969) — Saturday, July 27

This one has no qualms about jumping headfirst into the ’60s, with a tasty dose of self-righteous nihilism pitched in for good measure. Hey, bikers just wanna be free, man. It was controversial in its day. Now, it feels more like a time capsule, and a highly enjoyable one at that. Peter Fonda is remarkable.

Easy Rier

Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda ride easy in “Easy Rider,” showing July 27 at the Palace. | Courtesy

“Midnight Cowboy” (1969) — Friday, Aug. 2

John Voight and Dustin Hoffman pull off the nearly impossible trick of making the audience connect with Joe Buck and Ratso, who not only are severely damaged, but also just kind of boring, at least at face value. Not remotely shocking by today’s standards, the X-rated “Cowboy” is still grimy, but the performances shine through. And to its credit, the studio refused to make any cuts for the ratings board. Imagine that.

“Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid” (1969) — Saturday, Aug. 3

This escapist Western comedy stands out when William Goldman’s script has the courage to show that all that free-wheeling fun comes at a cost to somebody. Katherine Ross’ pain as Butch and Sundance ride off is one of best quiet moments in cinema.