RESERVOIR DOGS

By Marc S. Sanders

The first time I saw Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, I was flabbergasted by the inventiveness of the twists present within the simplicity of its low budget filmmaking.  As a community theatre actor, I could see there were many moments that were executed as if they were stage performances.  Tarantino just happened to record it all live on camera. Amid the bloody gore, there were some surprises to the script that I never saw coming even if they were plain as day.  Much like The Usual Suspects or The Shawshank Redemption where the unexpected is offered, and it is seemingly obvious despite no signs of early detection, I was entertained.  However, thirty years later, my values have evolved since the release of Tarantino’s first film.  You gotta show me more than just circumstances and contrived set pieces.

As director and writer of the movie, Tarantino plays puppet master to a collection of criminals.  Six of them are dressed uniformly in black suits and ties and they only know one another by a moniker nickname of “Mister” followed by a color.  These are no ordinary criminals though.  Unlike other films, they don’t just talk about the stretch they had in prison or a heist they pulled off at one time.  These guys debate the artistic merits of Madonna’s Like A Virgin and if she went down hill following her True Blue album.  One of them, even has an opinion contrary to the others about tipping a waitress at a diner.  He doesn’t believe in it.  United, the others try to tell him how wrong he is, but he has higher standards for excellence in table service.  It’s deliberately ridiculous!  Clint Eastwood never talked about any of this.  Not even Newman or Redford.  Lee Marvin?  Charles Bronson?  Forget it!  (Jack Nicholson may be the exception in Five Easy Pieces, but that character wasn’t a criminal.) Quentin Tarantino, however, believes that even low-level hoods have a viewpoint on anything from pop culture to societal expectations.

These six guys have been assembled by a kingpin named Joe (Lawrence Tierney) and his husky, bruiser son Nice Guy Eddie (Chris Penn) to carry out a diamond robbery.  The film opens with these conversations over breakfast and then jumps to the aftermath where Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) is bleeding to death in the back seat while Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) is high tailing it away.  When they get to their rendezvous warehouse, eventually Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) and Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) arrive and the strangers among themselves contemplate if they were set up by one of their own since the police were already waiting for the robbery to take place.  Is one of them a cop or a rat?  Occasionally, Tarantino cuts away from this one warehouse setting to flashback to how some of these guys came to be recruited for the heist.

The scenario of Reservoir Dogs is creative.  It demonstrates that there is no honor among thieves.  Much like Tarantino’s films to come afterwards, his characters are thin and two dimensional.  That works in pictures like Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained.  Here, I didn’t embrace that aspect.  Reservoir Dogs seems to move in a direction of the Clue board game.  I know nothing about Professor Plum or Colonel Mustard’s history.  I just need to determine if one of them did it with the candlestick in the Billiard Room.  In Tarantino’s film, I just need to put a blindfold on and take a shot in the dark of who the rat among the gang is.  That’s all.  It’s just circumstantial. 

I appreciate how unique these criminals are with their mundane conversations and their cool swagger, but there’s nothing much beyond that.  Tarantino might have known that too.  He only has one question to answer before the end of the movie.  In between, to fatten up the length of the film, he incorporates a savage torture scene on a cop that Mr. Blonde takes hostage.  It’s memorable, but what does the scene really serve?  What do I take away from watching Michael Madsen’s cool, strutted character hacking off a man’s ear and dousing him in gasoline, while Stealer Wheel’s Stuck In The Middle With You plays on the radio?

The seeds of Tarantino’s brand were definitely showing in his first film, an independent project that luckily Harvey Keitel had enough faith in to help finance its shoestring budget.  The black suits became usual for Tarantino’s films along with pop rock of the seventies for a soundtrack.  Action scenes of a Lethal Weapon flavor have never been the director’s choice.  Rather, quick shots of gunfire followed by cutaway edits to the next talking scenes are his narrative.   It all shows here.  It just wasn’t as well rounded as it came to be in his seminal film, Pulp Fiction

The best acting comes from Tim Roth as Mr. Orange.  The character is given a flashback moment for how he’s brought into the gang. It is intriguing enough to be a movie of its own.  I wanted more from this guy’s story, because of Roth’s performance.  As well, for most of the film he’s bleeding his guts out from a gunshot wound in the stomach.  His hysteria is contrary to most other bad guys who get shot in the movies.  Mr. Orange suddenly doesn’t look so tough.  He’s crying like a baby and begs his closest teammate, Mr. White, to drop him off at the hospital.  He even tells Mr. White “God bless you for what you’re doing for me.”  Lee Marvin or Jimmy Cagney would never say that.  For a tough guy low level hood, this is not a cliché gangster who laughs at the face of death.  It’s imagination that thinks outside the box.  Forgive the intended pun, but Mr. Orange may be one of Tarantino’s most colorful characters.  I just wanted more from the guy.

These guys may be intentionally corny in their conversations. They may be super cool with their sunglasses and curse word laced dialogue.  However, that only goes so far before it looks like an ad for the Gap in the 1990s.  Beyond what the film shows with the Mr. Orange character, there had to be more depth.  

What Reservoir Dogs lacks turns me towards a mixed review for the film.  Still, I saw the movie before Pulp Fiction ever came out and I recall way back then that this Quentin Tarantino fellow has got something special brewing.  I couldn’t wait to see what was coming next, and I wasn’t disappointed.

TRUE ROMANCE

By Marc S. Sanders

The structure built into the script for True Romance by Quentin Tarantino, directed by Tony Scott, is like the trunk of a solid oak tree with strong, sturdy branches representing its collection of seedy characters in off color scenes. Tarantino sets it up – an Elvis infatuated boy meets a rookie call girl (Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette), boy marries girl, and then boy & girl find a suitcase filled with a fortune in uncut cocaine. A simple storyline that now allows a bunch of fun, short vignettes to be played out, all leading to one moment after the other within this universe of outlandish, lurid debauchery.

What works so well in True Romance is that literally from beginning to end, you are always meeting a new and incredibly interesting character. Each new scene welcomes someone new into the fold. For that, you need an all-star cast. Gary Oldman, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Walken, Val Kilmer, Conchata Farrell, Dennis Hopper, James Gandolfini, Brad Pitt, Bronson Pinchot, Saul Rubinek, Michael Rapaport, Tom Sizemore, Chris Penn, Ed Lauter, Elvis & martial arts master Sonny Chiba. The list goes on and on. It should be noted that some of this cast were hardly stars before this film, which flopped at the box office in 1993. Before the movie became a cult B movie obsession on home video and cable, it was blazing the trail of well established careers for much of its talent.

Nearly every character can have a story of their own written about them. Take Gary Oldman in one of his best roles as the vicious looking pimp named Drexel, a white guy adopting a Jamaican gangsta accent with dreadlocks, gold caps on his teeth, a blind eye and wickedly curved scar down the side of his face. His appearance alone makes me beg to know this guy’s background. Drexel’s introduction comes early when he pumps a shotgun into two hoods. Shortly thereafter he’s conversing with Clarence Worley (Slater), and we know who’s in charge of this scene. Oldman is only given about 10 minutes of screen time but it’s hardly forgettable.

The same goes for Walken, as a well dressed mafia don interrogating Clarence’s father (Hopper). This scene has become legendary for film lovers and it carries it into a well played, stratosphere of intelligence and timing in performance duality. It remains one of the best scenes Tarantino ever wrote as we learn a probable origin of Sicilians from a doomed Dennis Hopper. This is an acting class at its finest.

Tak Fujimoto filmed the piece showing contrasts of a wintery cold and dirty Detroit versus a sun soaked Los Angeles. It’s sharp photography of gorgeous colors schemes.

Hans Zimmer scored the soundtrack, deliberately saluting Terrance Malick’s Badlands where we followed a similarly young criminal couple played by Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek. Zimmer’s fun, melodic tones to celebrate Arquette and Slater’s adventures is perfectly in tune with the two-dimensional charm of their new and happy relationship. Most of Tarantino’s script is taken seriously. Zimmer was the right device for that.

A few spare moments are played with dread and seriousness though. Slater and Arquette are truly in love. So, Tarantino & Scott threaten what the film treasures. Arquette as a call girl named Alabama Worley is incredible throughout the film. Her emotional range really comes through during a brutal beating scene with Gandolfini. It pains a viewer to watch the moment, but it comes long after we’ve grown to love her.

Later, towards the end, our favorite couple is again endangered during a three way Mexican standoff. It’s hilarious, and way off kilter, but then it also gets downright scary.

That’s the beauty of True Romance. It’s a well-organized mess of emotions from comedy to drama to violence and silliness. Tarantino has great set pieces put together in a connect the dots rhythm.

It’s an endlessly quotable film. It’s a visual film. It’s a literal roller coaster of dangerously amusing storytelling told with affection and violence.

True Romance remains one of my favorite films of all time.

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD (2019)

by Miguel E. Rodriguez

Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Timothy Olyphant, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Luke Perry, Al Pacino, Kurt Russell
My Rating: 10/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 84% Certified Fresh

PLOT: A fading television actor and his stunt double strive to achieve fame and success in the film industry during the final years of Hollywood’s first Golden Age in 1969 Los Angeles.


Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film is a little bit like Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.  It’s big, bombastic, and goes the long way around the barn to get to the finale, but in the end it all makes sense and is a transcendent experience.

Let’s see, where do I start?

First of all, the film’s evocation of 1969 Los Angeles is like Mary Poppins: practically perfect in every way.  I’m no fashion scholar or visual historian, but every exterior shot of the city was pretty convincing to my layman’s eyes.  The movie theatres, the movie posters, the restaurants (anyone else remember “Der Weinerschnitzel”?), the cars, those HUGE sedans sharing the road with VW Bugs and M/G’s…it’s clear they did their homework.

There’s the performances by the two leads.  Tarantino once said he considered himself the luckiest director in modern history because he was able to get DiCaprio and Pitt to work on the same film.  Can’t argue with him on that score.  They carry the film in a way that few other tandems could have.  (Newman and Redford come to mind.) Mind you, DiCaprio and Putt don’t look much like each other, considering one has to be the other’s stuntman, but you get the idea.

Above all, there’s the story.  DiCaprio plays Rick Dalton, a former leading man from ‘50s TV westerns who is now playing colorful bad guys in ‘60s TV westerns.  Brad Pitt plays Cliff Booth, the stuntman who’s been taking the dangerous falls for Dalton for years.  Dalton happens to live next door to Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate on Cielo Drive in the Hollywood Hills.

All the trailers, and all the industry buzz, reveal that the Manson family and Sharon Tate play a part in the film.  That’s no spoiler.  Given what we know about those events, the movie plays like Gimme Shelter, the landmark documentary about the ill-fated concert at Altamont that was actually due to take place a few months after the events of this film.  It’s all very suspenseful, in the sense that we know what’s coming, but we’re just not sure how the movie is going to approach it.  So every scene with poor Sharon Tate in it is overshadowed by the fact that we know her ultimate fate in history.

It’s like the famous Hitchcock analogy of suspense.  Two people are eating at a restaurant when a bomb suddenly goes off under their table…that’s surprise.  Put those same two people at the restaurant, where the audience knows there’s a bomb under the table, but it doesn’t go off right away as the two people eat and converse and have dessert, and we’re wondering will they leave BEFORE the bomb goes off or not…?  That’s suspense.

And that’s the genius of this movie, with Tarantino’s sprawling, winding screenplay.  We get to know Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth intimately, we get the rhythms of their relationship, of Dalton’s mood on set, of Booth’s quiet acceptance of his role as Dalton’s sole support system.  We are treated to lengthy scenes showing Dalton at work on the set of a TV western, so we can appreciate the vast differences between an actor and their characters.  There’s a brilliant backstage scene between Dalton and a child actor who is impossibly, hilariously advanced for her age, and who winds up giving Dalton some goodhearted advice.

And interspersed through it all is Sharon Tate.  Sharon Tate bopping to music at home.  Sharon Tate picking up a female hitchhiker on her way into town.  Sharon Tate almost passing, then backing up to admire with youthful excitement, her name on the marquee of a movie theatre, right next to (gasp) Dean Martin’s name!  Sharon Tate dancing, walking, smiling, drinking…living.  She’s the diner at the restaurant, and the Manson family is the bomb we know will eventually go off.  It casts a pall over the proceedings, but not in a bad way.  It’s an interesting way to bring the reality of the situation into focus from time to time.

And now I have to end this review before I inadvertently give away certain, ah, plot elements that elevate Tarantino’s film from a mere character study or period piece into the heady heights of cinematic transcendence.  I have not myself read any reviews of the film, so I can only guess that whatever negative reviews are out there probably center on the film’s finale, or perhaps on its meandering script.  All I can say, or will say, is that I am firmly on Tarantino’s side on this one.  The way the conclusion was written and filmed is the kind of thing that people will still be talking about years from now.

So just take it from me.  If you’re a movie fan, and ESPECIALLY if you’re a Tarantino fan, this is right up your alley.  It’s easily his most slowly paced movie since Jackie Brown, but that just gives you time to e-e-e-ease into the characters, like putting on a tailored suit piece by piece.  This film, like Beethoven’s Ninth, is a masterpiece.

PULP FICTION

By Marc S. Sanders

No one can deny that Quentin Tarantino’s classic film, 1994’s Pulp Fiction is one of the greatest screen accomplishments of the latter half of the 20th century. It’s strange, lurid, scary, unforgivingly funny and altogether different from practically anything that came before it. How did the Weinstein brothers with Miramax films prophesize the energy it would surge in mainstream audiences?

When I first saw the film I was apprehensively going with two college friends who insisted I see what they experienced from a prior viewing. Suddenly, I realized that alternate surf 70s rock, black suits, and a kinetic visit to the restaurant known as Jack Rabbit Slims could entertain and make me look further than just a facial close up.

Tarantino entertains the lens of his camera by making his audience the camera. A drug dealer scrambles to find a medical book to awaken a boss’ wife who is dying from a potent heroin overdose, and the camera stands in place only frantically swinging left and right. The camera doesn’t move while everyone in the scene remains in a panic, frightened of administering an adrenaline shot. The camera stands still to allow the audience to stand in the room as well. It’s very unusually funny, but unnerving and suddenly we are amid the clutter of crime and drugs frightened of a terrible fate.

Another scene follows two gangsters down the hall as they debate whether a foot massage equates to fellatio on a woman. They look serious as they earlier regretted bringing shotguns to their destination but here they are having a debate likely reserved for men’s locker room talk. Is a foot massage really worthy of dropping a guy out of a four story window into a glass enclosed garden below? I mean, apparently the poor guy developed a speech impediment.

Tarantino used Pulp Fiction as an excuse to show how criminals inadvertently lead their lives to the unexpected, beyond a cliché cop bust. Two guys might be settling a personal vendetta, but somehow get interrupted by a redneck gang rapist and his chained up “gimp.” Two other guys might be trying to deliver a briefcase and yet somebody’s brains splatter all over the inside of a car. Another guy might have left behind a family heirloom gold watch as he and his girlfriend run for their lives, or they might suddenly acknowledge a moment of clarity when death seemingly walks out of a bathroom door.

Some might not agree but I always consider Tarantino’s colorful film characters to be rather two dimensional. What you see is all you see. There are no hints at an underlying motivation or a background to anyone you meet in Pulp Fiction, or any of his other films. Normally, that’s a negative in my book but with Quentin Tarantino it is what’s expected. He’s a masterful script writer of the situation. A well known fan of kung fu and lurid crime movies of the B variety, gangsters like Vincent Vega, Jules Whitfield, Marsellius Wallace, Butch Coolidge and Winston Wolf (even the names are entertaining) get caught up in just a random moment in time. Beyond the incident nothing else matters, and just to make it fun Tarantino uses his favorite editor, Sally Menke, to scramble everything out of order. I like to think the script was assembled this way to demonstrate that what happens in one instance doesn’t reflect what happens in another. Every brief moment is bookended. Again, two dimensional characters who don’t reach an intended karma. It doesn’t matter what’s been done before or what will be done next. It only matters in the moment.

The cast is great. Likely, you know who all the players are by now. The best compliment is that they obviously listened closely to the director’s vision. They spoke his language which had yet to be very mainstream before this film’s release. They are a pioneering cast of great talent and many owe quite a bit to Tarantino for jump starting and reviving their careers.

Pulp Fiction is a rousing expedition in sin and surf music symphony with endless quotable and un-PC dialogue that revolutionized filmmaking and brought about risk taking movie makers. It’s just exciting and fun and wild and it especially became a favorite upon seeing one of my favorite kinds of scenes-a dance sequence. If you incorporate dancing into a non musical film, you’ll likely win me over.

Spoiler alert: Vincent & Mia win the dance contest, and right they should. Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell” became that other popular film song once Pulp Fiction hit the scene.

Thank you Quentin Tarantino.

INGLORIOUS BASTERDS

By Marc S. Sanders

If you are going to rewrite history then go crazy.  Go big and bloody.  Go for broke.  Don’t hold back.  Quentin Tarantino didn’t hold back when he penned and directed Inglorious Basterds, my personal favorite of his films.

To date of when this review is published, Tarantino has directed nine films and if ever the maturity of a director is so evident, it really shows with Basterds where three quarters of the picture is performed in either French or German.  English is secondary here, and Italian is limited to only a couple of “Bonjournos!”  and “Gorlamis!”

Tarantino presents early 1940s France when Germany occupied most of the country and practically rounded up all of the Jews.  In 1941, a cunning detective of a Nazi Colonel, Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz performing as one of the greatest villains of all time) visits a French dairy farmer to ensure there are no unaccounted-for Jews scurrying around; scurrying around like their beastly equivalent, the rat.  Landa is the hawk that will most assuredly find them.  This scene is the best written moment within Tarantino’s catalog of various scripts and dialogue exchanges.  The Landa character offers justification as to why a Jew needs to be exterminated to the point that he nearly had me (a conservative practicing Jewish man) believing in his hateful philosophy.  The lines crackle here with Waltz doing most of the talking while the sad dairy farmer can do no more than respond with certifying Landa’s interesting points.  Tarantino closes the peaceful discussion with horrifying violence though.  Hans Landa may be complimentary of a farmer’s milk and his three beautiful daughters.  He may be eloquent in his dialogue albeit French, German or English, but he is a ruthless enforcer of law …of Nazi law at least.  I also would like to note Tarantino’s tactful way of using props like the pipes the characters smoke, the glass of milk that is consumed by Landa and the ink pen and spreadsheet he uses for accounting of the Jews in the area.  There’s an uncomfortable intimidation in all of these items as they are handled by Waltz, the actor.  Later in the film, Waltz will send a chill down your spine as he happily enjoys a delicious strudel with whipped cream.  Inglorious Basterds is a great combination of directing, editing, cinematography and acting.

The film diverts into a few separate stories, namely the title characters led by Aldo “The Apache” Raines, played with Tennessee redneck glee by Brad Pitt.  The Basterds consist of mostly Jewish American soldiers tasked with going deep into enemy territory and literally killing and scalping one hundred Nazi soldiers, each.  However, keep at least one alive during each encounter with a carved souvenir on their forehead, to spread the word of the Basterds intent.  This is deliberate B movie Dirty Dozen material and it works because it doesn’t take it self seriously.  Tarantino maintains that pulpy fiction narrative.  A cut to an over the top cry baby Adolph Hitler asks “What is a Hugo Stiglitz?” and then we get a quick pause with big black block letters across the screen spelling out HUGO STIGLITZ.  This guy is a bad ass; a German turncoat who only wants to kill fellow German Nazis.  He’ll shoot them up until they are dead three times over.  He’ll stab them in the face twenty times through a pillow.  He’s not a suave killer.  He likes it violent and bloody messy.  The Basterds are fans.

The heroine of the film is Shoshanna (Melanie Laurent), a Jewish girl who is living undercover as a cinema owner in France.  By implied force she is tasked with presenting Himmler’s proud film of Nazi Germany’s finest war hero, Fredrick Zoller (Daniel Bruhl), recreating his bird’s nest three day sniper battle against an army of three hundred men.  This is where Tarantino does best at writing what he knows, and what he knows best is anything about cinematic film.  He literally uses his knowledge of film and film reels to bridge his story while setting Shoshanna on a mission to actually end World War II in one swift motion.   

In addition, he captures the adoration of film lovers and celebrity status.  Zoller is as a heroic celebrity as John Wayne or Zorro.  When he is recognized in the coffee houses or on the street, he humbly stops his ongoing flirtation with an uninterested Shoshanna, to give an autograph or pose for a picture.

Furthermore, Tarantino applies the scientific knowledge of how 35mm film is more flammable than paper as well as how to edit a film reel to an unexpected moment for her Nazi audience.  He knows the architecture of a European cinema with its lobby and balconies and seating capacities.  He allows his characters to speak on an intellectual level by discussing great film artists of the time – filmmakers not as well known as Chaplin here in the United States, but just as great or even artistically better. The art direction of the cinema both inside and out is adorned with washed out, distressed classic noir films.  Shoshanna changes out the lettering of the curved marquee top of the theater as well.  It might sound mundane, but to me it’s all atmospheric.

Beyond the subject of cinematic art, a bad guy will weed out a spy in Nazi garb by recognizing how he signals for three drinks with his hand.  There’s a right way and a wrong way to place an order with a bartender.  Inglorious Basterds may be a fictional historical piece, but it also will give you an education. All of this reminds me that Quentin Tarantino has graduated from the simplicity of Reservoir Dogs to something bigger and grander and glossier.  Production money with a large budget will lend to that status of course, but Tarantino still had to learn to truly know what he was doing.

I will not spoil the ending here.  It’s a bloody blast for sure.  Moreover, it’s shocking.  If anything, Inglorious Basterds introduces an exclusive universe that resides in the mind of Quentin Tarantino where the text book is thrown away, burned, riddled with bullets and blown up; it is where something else altogether happened, and you know what? I really wish it did actually happen this way.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN…HOLLYWOOD

By Marc S. Sanders

There’s no question the most different of Quentin Tarantino’s directorial efforts is his latest film, Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood. Already described as his “love letter to cinema of the late 60s,” his 9th effort also implies the end of the Hippie Era by devoting a portion of time to B movie actress Sharon Tate, infamously murdered by Charles Manson’s followers when she was 8 months pregnant with Roman Polanski’s child.

Margot Robbie plays a near, gorgeous exact replica of Tate. She’s deliberately short on dialogue and I like to believe it’s because Tarantino treasures her as an innocent angel who was loving the atmosphere of Hollywood. She’s preserved of being nothing but likable. She dances with glee in her bedroom in the Hills or in public at the Playboy Mansion. One day she visits the local cinema to see her performance in “The Wrecking Crew” with Dean Martin. Tarantino shoots close ups of Robbie loving her footage as a pratfall klutz while listening to the audience reaction. She’s loving every second of the experience. People love her and she sees the love she has for people. Critics took issue with Robbie’s lack of dialogue. Not me. The performance is all there. Robbie is wonderful to look at with responses of pure happiness and celebration.

The main focus of the film is on Rick Dalton played by Leonardo DiCaprio with a huge range of drama, comedy and well intentioned over acting when Tarantino is wanting to spoof the TV western for fun. We see a collection of Dalton’s work, most especially on the fictional black and white TV western that airs Sundays at 8:30 on NBC (cue Dalton’s cowboy hat close up accompanied with “BONG, BONG, BONG!).

Rick is realizing he’s becoming past his prime. Marty Schwarz, his agent and a producer, played by Al Pacino warns Rick that he’s at a point where he’s only going to be the villain of the week on The Green Hornet and Batman. Rick does not take this well. Using his stunt double pal, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) to talk to, Rick is consumed with insecurity and alcoholism.

Tarantino wants to depict an era in Hollywood on its way out. A fictional character like Rick and the well known fate of Sharon Tate symbolize this turning point.

A third example is with Cliff. Rumored to have killed his wife, Cliff has trouble finding stunt work on a set. So he’s happy enough to just drive Rick around in his Cadillac, and fix his antenna. A great moment occurs when Cliff antagonizes a cocksure fist of fury Bruce Lee to a fight. Bruce doesn’t do so well against Cliff. Bruce Lee maybe not be what he once was, or what audiences ever perceived. Times they a changin’.

This is not the aggressive film that Tarantino is mostly known for. It’s primarily calm as we see these characters navigate around Hollywood locals, listening to The Rolling Stones and the Mamas & The Papas, and various product advertisements. Rick and Cliff are suffering a little. Suffering at the loss of what they were and the world they are forced to enter, nor what they are accustomed to. Sharon is ready for what’s next. Yet, will she get the opportunity to carry on?

The ending is bound to leave people divided. It’s different and very, very unexpected. It makes no difference how you feel about it. What matters is if it generates a response, and based on the theatre where I saw the film, yes! Yes, there is a massive response to what occurs.

Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood is not his best film. There were moments where I thought it was a little slow and the film lacks the dialogue punch that many know Tarantino for. There’s really not one memorable line that stayed with me. I guess that’s what the trade off is when you finally are served multi dimensional characters that Tarantino has hardly offered before.

It’s the best non Tarantino film that Quentin Tarantino has ever directed.

KILL BILL VOL. 1

By Marc S. Sanders

Kill Bill Vol. 1 is Quentin Tarantino’s love letter to the best in Kung Fu films. A cinematic celebration for the eyes amid swords, blood and feminine gusto.

I consider Tarantino a writer of two dimensional characters; people with roll off the tongue names like Elle Driver and the only depth he awards them is to provide a code name like a breed of a deadly snake (Black Mamba, Cottonmouth). Multi dimensional characters are an absolute must for me most of the time. The only time I forgive its absence is when I watch Han Solo, Indiana Jones (circa the original Raiders…) and anything introduced by way of QT. Why? Because with these examples it is the situation and depiction of action that offers more than what you see. A ball and chain with a saw blade is wielded by Gogo, the catholic school girl assassin, and we don’t care so much if it hits its target. Rather we care about its traveling trajectory. The ball will zing through the air, sever a wooden table into splinters and zing back to hit its target in the back of the head. QT can thank his loyal editor, the dearly departed Sally Menke for achievements like this.

None of this is serious. It’s a step by step storyline of revenge by Uma Thurman as The Bride, who is vowing heinous revenge on Bill and his underlings for having the nerve to crash her wedding and leaving her for dead.

Getting from place to place is the glorious fun of the picture, thanks to a rocking soundtrack and actors (Thurman, a stellar Lucy Liu and a brash Vivica A Fox) ready to recite heightened, forthright dialogue that a 10 year old might give to his favorite action figures. “The baseball diamond where I coach little league and we have ourselves a knife fight.” Only assassins from Quentin Tarantino’s glossary talk like this.

Action scenes are not only gorgeously crafted with knife choreography and plenty of martial arts, but there’s almost a slapstick element to it all, along with a comic book feel. Tarantino is a well known Three Stooges fan and beyond being an admirer of cinematic heroes. The Bride doesn’t just spill the blood of her opponents (The Crazy 88), she severs limbs and heads so arteries splurt a never ending spray of blood. By the time the showdown of 1 vs 88 is over, the blood is in such excess, it appears as if the most extreme of pie fights has occurred among the mess. This is Quentin Tarantino with free reign and an unlimited budget to offer up what Kung Fu cinema fondly remembered from the offerings provided by legends like Sonny Chiba (who appears as a legendary sword maker here) and Bruce Lee.

Kill Bill Vol. 1 is a glory to behold offering a variety of clear cinematography through different lenses (Black & white, red with siren sounds, quiet dual set ups in glowing blue, and the purity of Lucy Liu’s code in a snowy white setting). Following a prenote of “Our Feature Presentation” the picture is bright in color and crisp in sound. Cereal is spilled all over a kitchen floor following a knife fight, and you just adore the crunch beneath The Bride’s feet as she walks out.

Overhead crane shots give an outline of a locale. Scorsese did this for terrifying effect at the end of Taxi Driver. Tarantino uses it as a means for the viewer to be let in on everything The Bride considers or looks for. The 4th film from Quentin Tarantino is so well constructed and so well orchestrated. You see something new with each repeat viewing.

KILL BILL VOL. 2

By Marc S. Sanders

Kill Bill Vol. 2 offers an entirely different narrative than Volume 1, and that is why Quentin Tarantino is an electrifying storyteller. No two moments seem similar, even if the elements of the scenes (or chapters) seem the same with samurai swords, quick close ups, snap of the finger changes in cinematography and gonzo music cues.

I do prefer Volume 1 over 2 simply because it is a leaner film. This installment has just a little too much fat layered in, such as a storyline focusing on Michael Madsen’s “Budd” character. Not sure it was necessary for a scene where he is getting docked work hours from his boss because he was late. Not sure I needed a scene close to the third act where The Bride meets up with a South American contact before going to meet Bill. The dialogue in a few scenes like these offers nothing and didn’t even bring me the typical smirk I naturally get from QT’s films. They seemed more catered for bathroom breaks during the run of the movie.

Still, there’s a lot of glee and atmosphere in this picture, from a rehearsal wedding in gorgeous black and white with a nice Samuel L Jackson appearance to an enclosed, flashlight lit interior of a buried coffin. Best of all is the centerpiece of the film, The Cruel Tutelage Of Pai Mei (the best scene of both volumes and the salute that sends Tarantino’s love letter for Kung Fu cinema home). I love the Kung Fu Master Pai Mei, easily one of Tarantino’s best characters in all of his films combined. Tarantino works in the extreme close ups that Japanese filmmakers might have used for EXTREME DRAMATIC effect. Everything about Pai Mei is graciously recognizable and hearken back to these movies I’d catch while flipping channels on Saturday afternoon. Frankly, I never stuck with those flicks until the end, but for the fleeting seconds I watched, I got a white robed Kung Fu master Pai Mei to now fully appreciate in Kill Bill Vol. 2.

The Bride could arguably be Uma Thurman’s best role of her career. She’s a great carrier of the Tarantino heroine. The fighting skills she offers and what are deceptively edited in (thanks to Sally Menke) look so natural with her at the lead. You can’t take your eyes off of her, and you love to look at her.

David Carradine is another attraction. It’s rumored that Warren Beatty was up for the role of the sadistic, yet charming, Bill. No way could I see that working out. Carradine was the star of the series Kung Fu. How do you go with anyone else but David Carradine???? Carradine has a gorgeous, gravely stiletto voice that sounds awesome in stereo; deep and guttural. His facial features lend to a history of a villainous, but wise leader.

SPOILER ALERT: I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention QT’s smart imagination for disarming Daryl Hannah’s one eyed deadly assassin, Elle Driver. Find me another movie where an enemy is left in a trailer located in the desert with her remaining eye ripped out while a deadly black mamba snake slithers somewhere nearby. Tarantino closes this storyline by leaving her screaming alone with no eyes…in a desert…WITH A DEADLY BLACK MAMBA SNAKE. Does the audience need to see her die? Definitely not. Use your imagination of this being worse than stranded, and worse than dead. Pardon me but that’s fucking brilliant!

Again, QT’s characters are two dimensional. The Bride and Bill might have a little history behind them but that’s about it. It’s okay though, because this is pulp fiction (pun intended) that comes alive on the screen. No writer/director has ever elevated this kind of material so well.