Quentin Tarantino

November 7, 2016

3 Simplistic Things: October 2016

Halloween has come and gone, and so we enter the final two months of the year, including a big election the likes of which many of us have never seen before (yes, Obama was a big deal). But now we have to deal with the decision of electing a e-mail-deleting “nasty woman” or a xenophobic, racist in a red Made in China “Make America Great Again.”

“Moore” of the Same
From our good friend Michael Moore comes another documentary about our failed political landscape. More in line to a college commencement speech, “Michael Moore in Trumpland” essentially rails on Trump while “praising” Clinton. But you be the one to decide.
Tarantino’s Dead…pool
This is something weird that was floating around the Internet last month after the news broke the Time Miller had left “Deadpool 2.” Of course fanboys blew their load on the likelihood that one of the last great directors we have working today would throw his hat into the ring on a comic book sequel…but c’mon.
Gimme Five!
Well, this was news just because of the shear insanity of adapting a book that is only 128-pages and squeezing not two, not three, not even four, but FIVE films out of “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” But never underestimate the power of Potter-heads.
That’s me for this month…kthnxbye.
April 24, 2015

The Simplistic Reviews Podcast (Ep. 46): Late April 2015

FOR MATURE AUDIENCES

You might be asking yourself, “What?! Another Simplistic Reviews Podcast?  You mean these guys are actually getting off of their ass and putting out content for the public to consume?”  Yes, it might sound crazy, but…..uh….yeah….another podcast….from us…..Simplistic Reviews.

As we get closer and closer to our grandest episode so far; Number 50, we look back at our lives and search for meaning, apparently that means we bring up Bill Cosby again, the fact that Iceman is now gay, Donatello is dead, and fantasize about Moira Quirk in that sexy referee outfit…mmmmmm…..

All this, and our newest segment, Simply Say Anything, where we hold a radio over our head and praise the likes of Lena Dunham, Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2, and explain why Quentin Tarantino is actually the worst director in modern cinema.  Have we lost our minds…..maybe….but we’re not telling, and you’ll just have to listen to this month’s SIMPLISTIC REVIEWS PODCAST!!!!  WHY AM I YELLING…IN PRINT?!?!?!


 SHOW NOTES
Moira Quirk
Spider-man Shortlist
Tarantino in Sleep With Me
Donny is Dead
Iceman Gay?
Mark Summers’ non-Double Dare accident

MUSIC NOTES
My Flows Is Tight By Lord Digga
We Gotta Get Out Of This Place By The Animals
Birds And Brass By Sort Of Soul
In Your Eyes By Peter Gabriel
Nickelodeon GUTS theme
Human Beings By Van Halen

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August 20, 2013

R.I.P. Elmore Leonard

On August 20th, 2013 we lost one of the masters of the modern crime novel, Elmore Leonard.  The voice behind classics like “Rum Punch,” (which was turned into the Tarantino classic “Jackie Brown) “Get Shorty,” “Out of Sight” and the short story, “Fire in the Hole” (which was turned into the FX TV series “Justified”) passed away today at the age of 87.  For future reading, here are our reviews on “Justified” and “Jackie Brown.”

He will be missed……

Elmore Leonard
1925-2013


January 4, 2013

Holiday Hangover: Inglourious Basterds

Inglourious Basterds – Tension

I don’t think any war in our nation’s, or world’s, history has been done to death like World War II.  There have been romantic, comedic, heart-wrenching, and just plain bad tellings of “The War to End All Wars.”  On the top of my list I have “Saving Private Ryan” and the so-far-under-the-radar “Enemy At The Gates,”  whereas craptastic crap like “BloodRayne” remains at the bottom of the English Channel.  But you know that when a filmmaker like Quentin Tarantino gets a bug up his ass that he wants to make a war film its not going to be like any war film you’ve ever seen.  Enter, “Inglourious Basterds.”

Before I dive into “Basterds,” I’ll preface;  I was actually going to review all of Tarantino’s directorial efforts in order, but the holidays sidetracked me and I ended up skipping right to “Django Unchained,” where you can read that review right here.  I’d like to think of “Basterds” as the moment where Tarantino went mainstream, and I mean REAL mainstream.  “Basterds” was his first film to feature a TRUE leading man in Brad Pitt, and he finally was able to reward one of his actors with an Academy Award in Christoph Waltz.  In a way it was also one of his most accessible efforts in theaters where it was the largest release for a Tarantino movie to date, “Kill Bill Vol.1” was a close second.  And it was the first of his films to be available in a Digital, DVD, and Blu-Ray format (since the writing of this review you can pick up the Tarantino XX Blu-Ray Collection that features all of his films in an HD format).

“Inglourious Basterds” follows the exploits of a group of Jewish-born Army Mercenaries and their commanding officer Lt. Aldo Raine as they merrily maraude across Europe killing, scalping, and branding Nazis.  But that is just a small portion of the film, which also follows a French-born Jewish female theater owner planning her revenge against Nazis who are planning to premier a propaganda film entitled “Nation’s Pride.”  Included in attendance are Joseph Goebbels and Adolf Hitler.  As you can imagine there are twists, typical Tarantino humor, and scenes of fantastic violence.  The difference between “Basterds” and Tarantino’s other films is the tension and you can cut it with a knife in several scenes.  The best examples include the Strudel scene and the Bar scene.  What you also start to see, and this might have started after QT finished up his “Kill Bill” saga, is the change in his tone of film.

Tarantino began making and writing films with an edge, a very gritty edge.  He dealt with the wrong side of law in thieves, murderers, sadists, and hit-men   And for the most part, it all seemed to fit in some realm of reality.  When “Bill” was released you began to see a different side; which included more fantastic plot devices and stories that revolved more around revenge and the bloody road that leads to it.  I’m not going to say that Tarantino is getting lazy, its really just a maturation process in his filmmaking, or an evolution if you will.  He’s moved from the gritty streets of Los Angeles, to a fantastic Earth 2 of DC proportions.

Look at any war genre film from the 1960s and 70s, and “Basterds” has its fingers all over it.  From the original “Inglorious Bastards” to “The Dirty Dozen” and maybe in throw in a little “Wild Bunch” and you have “Basterds” in a nutshell.  What Tarantino really brings out is the fact that a so-called “foreign” film can be accessible to any audience.  There are a ton of subtitles across this nearly three hour epic, but the actors who read the dialogue do it so well, and with such fluidity, that you get seduced by their delivery, no matter if its in German, French, or Italian.  I brought up Christoph Waltz winning an Oscar for his portrayal of Col. Hans Landa, aka, The Jew Hunter, and part of that victory must have come from his ability to act and deliver dialogue in English, German, French, and Italian with gusto, hilarity, and conviction.  Every time he appears on screen you are transfixed on his slimy SS Officer.  You both hate and love Landa, and there aren’t many characters in the history of film you can say that for.

Is “Inglorious Basterds” a good movie, of course it is.  While some viewers saw it as a little boring, uneven, and maybe even a romantic take on Nazis and World War II France, there is still plenty to take away from “Basterds.”  Also, I would put money on the fact that the ending of “Basterds” is one of the most satisfying in any Tarantino film to date, even “Django Unchained.”  If you haven’t already, or maybe if you’ve even seen it a few times, check out “Inglourious Basterds,” it’s tons of fun, and started a new chapter in the career of Quentin Tarantino.

Fun Fact:  Eli Roth, who appears as Sgt. Donny Donowitz, aka The Bear Jew, in “Basterds” directed the scenes from the film-within-a-film, “Nation’s Pride.”

December 31, 2012

Happy Holidays: Django Unchained

Django Unchained – Conversation

I’ve been hearing this a lot lately;  “Tarantino is back…..classic Tarantino,” blah, blah, blah.  My question is; “What would you call classic Tarantino?”  Yes, he’s known for his witty dialogue, mind-bending plot twists, and recently, alternative takes on important periods in U.S. and European history.  But I reiterate; “What would you call classic Tarantino?”  My answer:  There’s no such thing!  People like to come off as smarter than they are, myself included, but of course I’m reviewing movies so I need to come off as a little bit of an expert, aka, dickhead.  Tarantino is Tarantino, you can’t say any of his work is “classic Tarantino” because every film he makes is entirely original and nothing like the previous film he made.  Here’s a practical example of two other directors to prove my point:  Take Ridley Scott.  He is known for his sci-fi epics, “Alien” and “Blade Runner.”  After those two films he went in entirely different directions, please see “Gladiator” and “Matchstick Men” as examples.  Classic Scott would be sci-fi, and he went back to that with ‘Prometheus” with mixed results.  Another director would be William Friedkin, known for taut thrillers and exciting crime work, please see “The French Connection” for a excellent example.  Friedkin left those movies for a while but returned with “Killer Joe” a taut thriller that keeps you on your toes with plenty of violence.  “Joe” would be classic Friedkin.  Digressing, enough talk about “Classic Tarantino.” Yes, you can say a movie of his is a classic but enough saying “Classic Tarantino.”  I feel it’s something that someone says whose only seen “Kill Bill” and “Inglorious Basterds.”  Sorry, I had to get that off my chest, but this brings me to Tarantino’s newest “classic” the Southern-fried Spaghetti Western “Django Unchained.”

“Django” is a modern day “Birth of a Nation,” only with more guns, more talking, and the white man getting his comeuppance.  It’s intriguing, noteworthy, timely, violent, offensive, and thought-provoking.  Not since 1997’s “Amistad” has the issue of slavery been covered in such an unflattering light.  Whereas Steven Spielberg directed “Amistad” with his usual gravitas that includes a two-and-a-half hour history lesson, Tarantino directs with HIS usual gravitas that includes memorable characters, witty dialogue, graphic, sudden violence, but this time, with more maturity.  I might add that Tarantino had the added challenge of directing his first movie without the assistance of late-editor, Sally Menke, who passed away shortly after the premier of “Inglorious Basterds” in 2010.

Tarantino uses both the original 1960s “Django” film, starring Franco Nero, (who he also gives credit to during the opening credits for “Django”) and the much-maligned (and probably still is) film “Mandingo” as a template for his newest blood-soaked revenge opus.  We follow Django, played with much restraint by Jamie Foxx, as he and Dr. King Schultz, a dentist turned bounty hunter played by Christoph Waltz, set out from Texas to Tennessee and into the dark heart of Mississippi to collect bounties and save Django’s wife, Broomhilda, from the evil clutches of plantation owner Calvin Candie, played with conviction and maniacal delight by Leonardo DiCaprio.  Once again, the plot is easy to follow and unlike much Tarantino fare, is streamlined and doesn’t deviate into his non-linear storytelling aside from a few flashbacks of both Django and Broomhilda.  In typical Tarantino fashion, he is also able to find humor in dark subject matter which ranges from KKK riders who are having disguise issues to cameos by the likes of Don Johnson playing a slave-owning Colonel Sanders, and Tarantino himself as an Australian slaver.

If you’re a fan of Sergio Leone, or any Western, you’ll love the vast landscapes that Tarantino uses to great effect and moments of tension between characters.  It’s much like “Basterds” where the tension usually pays off with a grand crescendo of violence, blood, and dead bodies.  Contrary to what people might say about the violence in “Django,” its nowhere as bad as some of the other stuff that is out there, but I think it’s the context in which the violence is portrayed that might get some people’s goats.  Aside from the physical violence, which runs the gamut of black on black, white on black, and black on white, there is also the assault of the dreaded “N-word.” dum-dum-dum……the word that people still try and skate around as much as they can.  However, I don’t have a problem with Tarantino’s use of the word, especially in “Django.” Spike Lee might have an issue with it, but when you haven’t made a movie that matters since “Inside Man,” I’d be a grumpy, short, black guy too.  The word pretty much takes on a character in-and-of itself.  It flows freely throughout the film, but you know what, it flowed freely in 1858, and it still flows freely today.  No matter your creed or race, everyone has said the word, either out loud or under their breathe.  George Carlin gave us the “Seven Words That You Can’t Say,” and thank goodness he didn’t put this on the list.

Maybe it’s my white guilt, but yes, I have black friends.  Does that give me the excuse to use the “N-word?” No, it doesn’t.  There really isn’t a need to use the word at all, but we still use it, even in casual conversation. While I was watching “Django,” in a packed theater, I knew the dialogue was going to be chalk full of “the word that shall not be named,” so i was waiting to hear some noise when stars like DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson starting dropping the “N-bomb” like it was going out of style.  But, alas, not a peep.  Perhaps people were prepared to hear that type of language, and if you’ve seen “Jackie Brown” you know that Tarantino loves using it in a casual sense.  The reason this word is effective, and makes sense in “Django,” is the context.  Yes, slavers and plantation owners used this word freely (of course I don’t know that for sure, but what would you expect racist slave owners to say in the 1850s).  Tarantino’s dialogue has always been known to be both direct, and a zeitgeist for the time and place the story is taking place in.  He takes ugly language and somehow makes it beautiful and poetic.

The one problem I did have with “Django” was ironically enough the music.  Usually the music that QT picks is almost as important as his dialogue and characters, but this time around it seems like a cash-in.  There’s original music from John Legend and Rick Ross (the first time in a Tarantino film that music was actually written for his films), and while you’re not going to include music from the 1850s, why include the 808-thumping sounds of Ross.  In a film full of good ideas, this was by far the most awkward and perplexing.  It almost felt like a cheap MTV-type movie gimmick, see the trailer for “Gangster Squad” as a prime example.     

As most of Tarantino’s films, there will be a lot of conversation about the violence, language, and how he takes portions of genre films that he loved and makes them his own.  But I find “Django” his most polarizing film.  You already have the line in the sand where many people think that he is tearing the scab off the topic of slavery and uncovering the ugly, but true, side to life in the South for African-Americans in the 1850s.  Others are saying the violence is too much in a post-Newtown world, while I’m saying, relax!  Sorry social crusaders, it’s a movie, or maybe this time, it’s a little more than a movie.  Maybe it’s time to have a conversation about our ugly past.  Since the founding of our nation we have been gun-toting, slave-buying, violent jingoists.  As a society we crave violence in our films, video games, and news.  But the moment something tragic occurs it’s time to tone it back.  Enough toning back, we have to face our past demons and prepare for new ones that are sure to come.  While “Django Unchained” might not be Tarantino’s best film, it’s an example of filmmaking where someone decides that we can’t keep looking at our past through rose-colored glasses.  There were some despicable things, and people, in the work-up to the Civil War, and whether you like his style or not, no one spins a story quite like Quentin Tarantino who re-writes history again, sort of, with “Django Unchained.”

Fun Fact:  The story of Broomhilda, or Brynhildr, is an old German legend that involves a Norse Valkyrie.  She was later popularized by Richard Wagner’s “Ring” cycle opera series.

December 24, 2012

Happy Holidays: Kill Bill

Kill Bill – Feet

After the brilliance of “Jackie Brown” and showing his critics that he wasn’t just an exploiter of violence, our old friend, Quentin Tarantino, stood up, brushed the dirt off of his shoulders, straightened his tie, and said “Guess what motherfu*cker, I’m going to do an old-school kung-fu flick now!  What!”

Of course that’s not what he said, but it would have been bad-ass if he did nonetheless.  After all the accolades of both “Pulp Fiction” and “Brown,” Tarantino decided to work on his first pet project.  A true genre film that centered around one woman and her blood-thirsty quest for revenge against a group of assassins that tried to murder her on her wedding day.  That movie(s) is “Kill Bill” or as I like to call it “Uma’s Got Some Hammertoe.”

*I will be reviewing these films (Kill Bill Vol. 1 and 2) as one film.  Sure, I could split it up into two reviews and make you wait for the second one just like QT made us wait in the theaters, but since it’s the holiday season, I’ll do you guys a solid.

As mentioned above, the core of “Bill” is a revenge film, wrapped in a Shaw Bros. movie, encased in a Shakespearean tragedy, tied up with a nice bloody bow.  You can take Tarantino’s three previous films and throw them out the window; “Kill Bill” is a love letter to a by-gone era of 1970s chop-socky karate flicks that members of the Wu-Tang Clan were getting high to back in the early 1990s. (side note:  RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan was the music supervisor for Vol 1.)

Across a four-plus hour epic, if watched back-to-back, Tarantino takes us on a blood-spattered journey with The Bride, our protagonist, as she extracts revenge the best way she knows how; with a samurai sword crated by Hattori Hanzo and the Five-Finger Exploding Heart Technique taught to her by Pai Mei, the mysterious karate master.  If you grew up in the golden age of karate movies, watched “The Green Hornet” or were “Protectin’ Ya Neck” with the Wu back in 1993, Tarantino creates a world that you can still put in the same universe as “Pulp Fiction” and “Jackie Brown” but fashions it in a way that makes it seem other-worldly.

The plot is simple, but its the way that Tarantino weaves this revenge yarn that’s the treat.  Told through a series of flashbacks and his trademark non-linear format, we see The Bride training with Pai Mei, learn how to walk again starting with just one wiggle of one toe, her vengeance on the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, and finally her face-off with Bill himself.  Oh, I almost forgot;  plenty of Uma Thurman feet through both films.  No need to head over to your local adult video store if you love feet, because Tarantino shares your tastes.

I know I might be selling this movie short, and I’m withholding a ton of information, including plot twists, but my recommendation is to stop reading this review, go out and buy “Kill Bill” and enjoy it for all it’s worth.  Thurman’s turn as the killer bride is good, but its funny how she all but fell off the face of Hollywood after what you might call her magnum opus.  One of David Carradine’s last roles as Bill is almost as iconic as his turn as Caine in “Kung-Fu,” and the fight scenes, as over-stylized as they are, are extremely fun to watch with plenty of arterial spray.  Chill…..have a pill, and watch “Kill Bill.”

Fun Fact:  If you want to get creative you could call “Fox Force Five,” first mentioned by Mia Wallace in “Pulp Fiction,” as a precursor to the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad.  There was a Black fox, Asian fox, French fox, and two American foxes.  Coincidence?

December 18, 2012

Happy Holidays: Jackie Brown

Jackie Brown – Comeback

Pam Grier was a big star in the 1970s.  I mean she was Foxy Brown (the original Foxy Brown, not this one, even though this one did have something to do with the following film) and Coffy.  She was the epitome of “the baddest bitch” (and not this shit either).  Pardon my language, after dealing with Tarantino flicks for the past two weeks I finally feel like I’m getting into character.  The novice Tarantino head will consider either “Pulp Fiction” or “Inglorious Basterds” his masterpiece (for the record I have no issues whatsoever with either film, they are both fantastic in their own rights) but “Jackie Brown” from 1997 is by far Tarantino’s most accomplished effort and showed a master at work, in complete control of his cast and story while developing an alternate universe that paralleled, or maybe even intersected at times, his “Pulp”and “Reservoir Dog,” universe.

A comeback can come in many shapes and sizes.  For “Brown” this was a comeback of sorts for both Grier and Robert Forster (who was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance) and also Tarantino himself.  Between the time “Pulp Fiction” premiered in 1994 and the release of “Brown,” QT had hit some rough times.  Have you ever seen “Destiny Turns on the Radio“? And while “Four Rooms” was decent enough it was still a bomb.  Come 1997, he had a lot to prove, and by God, he proves it.

Like any great genre film, the plot is simple, yet complex.  We have an airline stewardess, played by Grier, who works for a small-time pimp and drug-runner named Ordell Robbie, played by Samuel L. Jackson (and for my money the best performance of his career).  Two ATF agents bust the stewardess and she heads to prison.  Enter the middle-age bail bondsman, who falls head over heels for our stewardess who has a plan to put an end to Robbie’s career.  We have twists, double and triple-crosses, and enough quirky characters and quotable lines to shake a stick, or an AK-47, at.  “Brown” is an exercise in blaxplotation for the mod-set.

What makes “Brown” special is the fact that normally when books are taken and transformed from the written word to the silver screen, it’s never done as good and you always hear the same comment, “the book was better.”  Well, when the author of said book that you are adapting says that this is his favorite adaptation of his work, you got something good.  “Brown” is based on Elmore Leonard’s novel “Rum Punch” from 1992.  You might remember another Leonard novel that was adapted shortly before “Brown,” which was “Get Shorty” from 1995, starring John Travolta, who was Vincent Vega in “Pulp Fiction.”  It’s the circle of life baby.

Overall, if you want the perfect Tarantino flick to check out during the holidays, or anytime for that matter, it has to be “Jackie Brown.”  While it might be the most unappreciated of his film repertoire, it’s an exercise in writing, acting, and direction at the genre’s best.

Fun Fact:  Have you ever payed close attention in “Pulp Fiction” to the music faintly played (between 2:30-2:35) in the hallway where Jules and Vincent are discussing foot massages?  That song is “Strawberry Letter 23” which you can also hear in this scene in “Jackie Brown.”

December 13, 2012

Happy Holidays: Pulp Fiction

Pulp Fiction – Coolest

Okay, you’re the new kid on the block, you just wowed people in Sundance and Cannes with “Reservoir Dogs,” you completed a script for “True Romance” and worked on a script with Oliver Stone for “Natural Born Killers.”  What do you do next if you’re Quentin Tarantino?  Well, you help resurrect John Travolta’s career, create a film that will change cinema forever, and turn Samuel L. Jackson into a Hollywood leading man (of sorts).  You simply create “Pulp Fiction,” for my money, the coolest film ever made.

To create the coolest film ever, you have to start with a cast, and “Fiction” gives a Woody Allen movie a run for its money cast-wise.  From Eric Stoltz, to Christopher Walken, and everyone in-between, you could say that everyone in this film gives the performances of their lives.  No one is mailing it in, and while some of the dialogue might come off a bit hokey and a little too noir-ish, the actors are giving it with conviction and believability.

To keep the cool factor going, you have to know you’re genre, and in Tarantino’s case, he uses every genre he’s ever loved and it shows.  You have blaxploitation, exploitation, french new wave, action, rape-revenge, buddy movie, the list can go on and on.  While you can call “Pulp” a drama film, I’d almost like to call it a homage to the essence of film.  It’s the best of what the genre can be in a tight 2 hour and 50 minute package.

As a side note, as much as people look into the film for it’s religious undertones, (Marcellus Wallace is the Devil, and Vincent and Jules are sent to get his soul back) get off of that already.  At the roots, “Pulp” is a grindhouse film at its best, and looking for deeper meaning in a grindhouse film is like looking for a virgin in the Catholic Church.  Get off your high horse cinephiles, for all we know it’s Wallace’s dirty laundry in the briefcase and it’s yellow because he pissed all over it.  Boom!  Mystery solved.

As for the plot of “Pulp” it goes a little like this.  Two hitman, Vincent and Jules, are sent by their boss, Marcellus Wallace, to procure a package from four men in an apartment.  Needless to say things get bloody, and both Vince and Jules need to lay low and dispose of a headless corpse in a trunk.  The plot moves to a series of vignettes that involve Vince, a boxer named Butch, played by Bruce Willis (I would also call this film a comeback of sorts for Willis as well) and a date with Vince and Wallace’s wife, Mia.  Needless to say, things don’t go so well with that either.  Moving along Butch pulls a fast one on Wallace when he doesn’t throw a boxing match in which Wallace loses a great deal of cash.  While Butch plots his escape from Los Angeles he gets sidetracked in the search for his missing gold watch.  Not to sound like a broken record but things turn sour for Vince, Butch, and Wallace himself.  Just like Tarantino’s previous outing, “Reservoir Dogs” the story is told in a non-linear fashion that keeps you guessing and even when characters meet their end you still end up seeing them again.

While many call “Pulp” the best film in Tarantino’s repertoire; it’s a tough call for me.  It’s groundbreaking in the development of indie cinema throughout the 1990s, and proved that good writing can be both dramatic, smart, cheesy, and funny as hell, but I’ll cover my favorite film of his in a future review.  Tarantino turned the mundane conversations of what they call Whoppers in Paris into high art and created a cultural zeitgeist.  He turned the inhuman into people that we can relate to, and while there is a good amount of violence in “Pulp” it never feels gory or overdone in a way that seems unneeded to move the story along.

You know how when you were a kid and you would tell someone “Hey, if you looked up the definition of stupid you’d find a picture of you next to it.”  Well, if you looked up coolest you would find a picture of Samuel L Jackson holding a 9mm with Tarantino standing behind him like a proud parent.

Fun Fact:  Recognize who played the waiter Buddy at Jack Rabbit Slims?  Well, that was Steve Buscemi, who played Mr. Pink in “Reservoir Dogs.”

December 10, 2012

Happy Holidays: Reservoir Dogs

Reservoir Dogs – Cool

Disclaimer:  Reviews this month will either be listed as Crappy or Happy Holidays.  This in no way is saying that certain movies are bad or good, but rather will make you feel good or happy, or depressed or crappy, but on occasion crappy will mean just that, a big pile of crap.  Glad we cleared that up, now enjoy the reviews.

20 years ago I was eight years old, and Quentin Tarantino had made his first film and it was playing at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah.  Being eight I was more interested in Nintendo, Saturday Morning Cartoons, and watching “The Goonies” for the 100th time.  Tarantino in no way had been engrained into my brain….yet.  Come 1994, “Pulp Fiction” is released.  I’m still a little too young to fully grasp that two movies had been made within two years of each other that would change the way I thought, wrote, and viewed film.  But more on that later, let me tell you why “Reservoir Dogs” is the coolest movie to grace cinema in the last 20 years.

This past Tuesday I went to my local multiplex to see “Dogs” as it was intended, on the big screen (thank you Fathom events for giving audiences the chance to see classic movies again in a theater setting).  It was quite an experience to think this is how people were watching this same movie 20 years ago at Sundance or even Cannes.  It was incredible to be honest.  The crowd looked a little young, like scenester hipster kids who just heard about QT after “Inglorious Basterds.”  But I digress.

“Dogs” is the tale of six strangers handpicked by crime boss Joe Cabot, played by Lawrence Tierney, to hold up a jewelry store and steal a large stash of diamonds.  Without fail, the heist turns sour with several of the men getting killed and the survivors questioning what happened, and thinking that one of the crooks might actually be a police informant.  Simple right?  Well, it actually is a relatively common plot device used in crime films, but Tarantino weaves a narrative that is anything but.

The main thing that sets Tarantino’s movies apart from other common fare is the narrative construction that moves forward and backwards through time with ease.  Sure, flashbacks are used where we meet Mr. White, played by Harvey Keitel, Mr. Blonde, played with maniacal perfection by Michael “why don’t I get more work in Hollywood” Madsen, and Tim Roth as Mr. Orange, but the non-linear storyline was something relatively new in Hollywood 20 years ago, and while many try to duplicate it, rarely can anyone replicate it like Tarantino.

Normally in films with murderous criminals we don’t feel remorse or anything in common with them, but its funny that as soon as these criminals open their mouths and start talking about the meaning of a Madonna song, why tipping in a restaurant is a biased idea, or whether Pam Grier played the role of Christie Love, you forget that these guys are bad guys because they talk just like you and I.  This is another trademark of Tarantino; he makes you feel empathy for characters that can be supremely evil and sadistic, and by sharing a common bond, such as love for Blaxplotation movies, or music from the 1970s, you feel a kinship, which is incredible even while someone is having their ear cut off with a straight razor.

While “Dogs” might not be Tarantino’s magnum opus (I’ll reserve that for another review upcoming), it still stands as a touchstone for independent film in the early 1990s, and encouraged young filmmakers to go out and try their hands at movie-making.  Without “Dogs” you probably wouldn’t have movies like “The Usual Suspects,”  “The Way of the Gun,” or “Lucky Number Slevin.”  While all of those films are cool, they will never have the far-reaching influence of “Reservoir Dogs.”

Fun Fact:  A reference to a female thief named “Alabama” is made by Joe Cabot to Mr. White.  You might remember another female criminal named Alabama Whitman from the Tarantino-penned “True Romance” from 1993. 

December 10, 2012

Crappy Holidays: The Man With The Iron Fists

CONVOLUTED 

I am usually in favor of the person at the helm of a particular genre film loving the material they are making.  You put Joss Whedon, a man who has comic book blood running through his veins, in charge of The Avengers, you get a film that is highly enjoyable to the uninitiated while still respecting and indulging the built in fan base.  You put Marc Webb, who is known mostly for music videos and 500 Days Of Summer, in charge of Spider-Man, you get a Twilight-esque, tweentastic, crapfest that commits every single atrocity a superhero film critic uses to devalue the genre.  So, I was very interested when I heard RZA, a man who has loved martial arts films his entire life, was actually doing one.  Unfortunately, The Man With The Iron Fists turns out to be a film with good intentions but poor execution.

For those who don’t know, RZA is a founding member of the 90s rap group The Wu Tang Clan.  Watching any of their videos or listening to any of their song lyrics should illustrate how much he is into martial arts films.  Fellow martial arts film fan Quentin Tarantino even sought RZA’s help to pick out the proper songs for his film Kill Bill Volume 1.  A friendship grew and led to many collaborations.  The culmination would be RZA’s seven year dream project The Man With The Iron Fists.  RZA wrote the script under the watchful eye of Tarantino and fellow friend Eli Roth, and took on directing duties himself.  With all that history and love, with all those helping hands, it is a shame that the film itself turns out to be such a CONVOLUTED mess.  There are so many storylines happening at once with so many vaguely explained characters, you’ll be hard pressed to follow along.  This weakens any stakes the film tries to set up and creates nothing but confusion for the audience.  I’m a pretty attentive guy when it comes to movies, but even I found myself muttering “Is that guy a good guy or a bad guy?” more often than not.  Robert Rodriguez’s films Planet Terror and Machete stumbled into the same problem.  However, those films have a tongue and cheek approach throughout that distracts you from their overly confusing plots.  The Man With The Iron Fist is not light enough to excuse the clutter.

So, why bombard the audience?  I believe RZA does this in a futile effort to world-build.  To create a universe that he can transport us to and manipulate it’s rules.  However, he is not nearly as experienced enough of a filmmaker to do that.  To really pull this film off he’d have to have the scope creating skills of a Chris Nolan or an Ang Lee with the character creation understanding of a Quentin Tarantino or a Guy Ritchie.  He does not.  He would have been better off making this script simple.  A revenge flick or an epic quest.  Not a Shaw Brothers version of Snatch.

The performances are a mishmash as well.  You have RZA as the lead playing everything completely straight, while Russell ‘Why The Hell Am I Here?’ Crowe clowns around like its an SNL sketch.  Now, I can’t completely blame RZA for Crowe’s performance.  I’m not sure how much direction a hip hop mogul can seriously give an Oscar winner before being laughed off his own set.  It might have been a better idea to just have unknowns in these parts to give RZA more control over the performances.  That or have producer Eli Roth direct the film outright.  His lack of understanding in how to direct his talent shows. 

The one positive I can give The Man With The Iron Fists is that its nice to look at.  The cinematography is descent and the action scenes are very fun.  How much of it was RZA and how much of it was stunt choreographer Corey Yuen and Eli Roth is debatable.  The CGI feels slightly out of place at times, but not any more than the hip hop soundtrack. 

The Man With The Iron Fists is the text book example of someone biting off more than they can chew.  RZA is a gigantic fan of the martial arts film genre and you can see his love for it buried underneath the chaos.  However, a more tempered and measured approach to the story and direction could have possibly helped make a better film.  If you want to see this done right, watch Kill Bill Volume 1 or 2.  If you want to see it done not so right…drink some honey nectar…watch The Man With The Iron Fists…then tell me I’m wrong. 

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