Tag Archives: Pulp Fiction

“ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD” Review (✫✫✫✫)

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Movies, murder, and Manson.

Long before Quentin Tarantino became a household name thanks to the likes of Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill, Tarantino was just an ecstatic, side-eyed cinephile whose entire upbringing was brought up thanks to the movies. At 14 he wrote a parody screenplay to Burt Reynolds’ 1977 hit Smokey and the Bandit called Captain Peachfuzz and the Anchovy Bandit. At 15 he dropped out of high school and worked as an usher for an adult movie theater called Pussycat Theatre. Then in his 20’s, he worked for five years at a video store before going to work as a production assistant for Dolph Lundgren’s workout videos. It wouldn’t be long after until he wrote his first full-length screenplay for Robert Rodriguez’s 1996 film From Dusk Till Dawn. At nearly every corner, movies have come to define Tarantino and a part of his life. If he were any more into movies, he’d be a cinema projector and have film reels flowing through his veins.

I feel his unorthodox upbringing fuels, at least partly, his fascination behind Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, a movie that feels equally as crazy and side-wined as Tarantino’s life has been, but in many ways, also serves as a personal and heartfelt homage to the movies. Oh, and Charles Manson and his murderous cult are involved in this movie as well. If movies, murder, and the Manson family tied into one storyline doesn’t describe a Quentin Tarantino movie, then nothing ever will.

In this devilishly wacky and zany dark comedy, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt play a big-time TV star and his stunt double, both of which are looking for work in the dog-eat-dog world of 1960’s Hollywood. Their adventures into relevance take them everywhere in Hollywood to meet several famous celebrities, including Steve McQueen, Bruce Lee, Wayne Maunder, James Stacy, and Jay Sebring. All while this is going on, famed film director Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) and his actress wife Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) move in next door to them, all while a strange man stalks them throughout the neighborhood.

How does the Manson family murders tie into this story about Hollywood hijinks and high-profile celebrities? I’m not telling you. Part of the joy of Tarantino’s screenplays is that they play against the audiences’ expectations. That’s one of his greatest strengths as a writer – the unpredictability of his stories. Who could have expected, after all, that John Travolta would die halfway through Pulp Fiction, only to be revived through a flashback much later? Who also could have expected that both Leonardo DiCaprio and Christoph Waltz would be killed by the end of the second act in Django Unchained and that Django would have to spend the rest of the movie fighting a racist black man? And who also could have predicted that Inglorious Basterd’s ending would include riddling Adolf Hitler’s smarmy head full of bullet holes?

Time and time again, Tarantino has proved how he can flip expectations on the audience’s heads and deliver some of the most quirky, unusual, and shocking stories ever put on film. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is no exception. It has all of the cleverness and wit of a Tarantino screenplay, but with twice as much satire and self-awareness. How do you think this movie will play out? Now do a complete 180 and go the exact opposite direction of what you’re expecting. That is Once Upon A Time In Hollywood in a nutshell, and it’s ingenious because of it.

But it isn’t just Tarantino’s writing skills that are on full display here: it’s also his expert craftsmanship and direction. Most of his movies feature gratuitous blood and gore as a common trademark of his, with it most of the time aimed towards his male character’s genitalia. And like clockwork, this movie also features a variety of violence that has Tarantino’s stamp of approval. What’s curious is that it isn’t a prominent feature throughout the film. In fact, the gory violence is mostly absent until the third act, where Tarantino finally lets loose in his typical nutty fashion. Most of the movie even serves as a staunch critique of violence in mainstream media, how it wears at the mind and desensitizes its audience to macabre bloodshed and sickening imagery. Tarantino’s own filmography is a prime example of this, as his movies have gotten progressively more violent ever since he released Reservoir Dogs in 1992. Does that make him a hypocrite, then, to critique and examine violence and its cultural impact while celebrating and relishing in it at the same time? Possibly, but this movie doesn’t examine cultural violence like it’s an issue to solve but rather as an inevitable quality of entertainment. I appreciate Tarantino’s introspection into observing that issue, even if he isn’t exactly exempt from it.

I would be remiss if I did not mention Leonardo DiCaprio or Brad Pitt. Obviously, they are both incredibly talented and charismatic actors that have developed their own style and likeness similar to Quentin Tarantino. Perhaps that’s why they work so well together in this movie. Pitt succeeds in being the sly, slick, Cool Hand Luke-type character that remains level-headed and calm through all circumstances, even when they’re extraneous or unusual. DiCaprio, meanwhile, is an especially ecstatic character. It’s funny to watch him hyperventilate over the smallest of inconveniences, or damn near tear up when he’s told he should star in a spaghetti western. I like that about DiCaprio, how he can switch from such challenging roles such as Hugh Grant in The Revenant to more comedic and clumsy roles such as Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. It really demonstrates his range as an actor and shows how well he can take on an assortment of characters, no matter how different they may be.

I feel like Once Upon A Hollywood may end up being incredibly divisive, both towards the passionate fans of Tarantino’s work and those who can’t stand him and his wacky, off-beat style. To me, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood embodies Tarantino’s strongest traits as a writer and a director without veering too far into being excessive or self-indulgent. Dare I say it’s my favorite Tarantino film? I’m not sure if I’m quite there yet, but it’s definitely in my top two alongside Pulp Fiction. However you may feel about Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, I can only speak for myself and how I feel about it. On that note, I will say that by the end of the movie, I was shocked, revolted, and incredibly disturbed by what I saw. I was also rolling in my seat dying of laughter. That might say more about me than it does Quentin Tarantino, but hey, that’s the movies for you.

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“THE HATEFUL EIGHT” Review (✫✫✫)

Quentin Tarantino sticking up his bloodied middle finger. 

You could not have picked a better title for The Hateful Eight if you had a team of eight Quentin Tarantinos working on the script. It’s simple, straightforward, and to the point: you take away everything you need to know about it, just like Tarantino’s writing. There’s eight killers, they’re all hateful, and they blow each other up in bloody, gory Tarantino-esque fashion. Whether you’d like that sort of thing depends on if you like Tarantino. I do, and I had just as much a blast watching this movie as Tarantino did writing it.

As already mentioned, The Hateful Eight pits eight character’s wits and murderous instincts against each other, all with unique names that accurately reflect their histories and personalities. They include The Bounty Hunter (Samuel L. Jackson), the Hangman (Kurt Russell), the Sheriff (Walton Goggins), the Mexican (Demian Bichir), the Little Man (Tim Roth), the Cow Puncher (Michael Madsen), the Confederate (Bruce Dern), and the Prisoner (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the last of which the plot more or less focuses around. Trapped in a cabin during a harsh winter storm, these eight killers need to keep their wits intact so that they don’t start murdering each other.

This being a Tarantino movie, however, that obviously doesn’t work out very well.

For a lack of a better word, Quentin Tarantino went through hell to get this movie made. First, his script got leaked a few months before he was supposed to start production. Then, he decided to turn his screenplay into a book. When he finally resolved to make it a feature film, he received threats from police officers for participating in a Black Lives Matter protest in New York. Oh, and he had to battle being released in the same month as Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It has not been an easy year for Quentin Tarantino.

With that in mind, I appreciate that Tarantino is still able to make a quality film up to his standards, despite everything he’s been through this year. What is it you love most about Tarantino’s movies? The performances? The dialogue? The characters? The dark humor? The grit? The violence? The shock value? The Hateful Eight has all of that just as much as Inglorious Basterds, Django Unchained, and Pulp Fiction does. To classify it as a western or a comedy or a mystery doesn’t do it justice. Tarantino movies are almost a genre all their own.

That much is how The Hateful Eight is similar to its counterparts. The differences lie in its mystery element, in the characters trying to find the one person slowly, yet violently, killing off everyone else in the cabin. That being confined to eight people makes it difficult to keep this a mystery, as we already know more or less who the “good” guys are, if such a thing can exist in this movie. Regardless, it’s fun to hypothesize and figure the plot out, as there is the added element of mystery that gives The Hateful Eight a sense of intrigue over Tarantino’s other pictures.

As always, the make-it or break-it element comes down to Tarantino’s almost insane obsession with on-screen violence. At times, it gives it that extra shock value that is so ridiculous, you can’t help but laugh about it. At other times, it’s just sick, and it makes you want to throw up the more you think about it. That’s what happened with me and Django Unchained after watching too many nut shots for my own comfort. The Hateful Eight is just as guilty for being violent as Tarantino’s other motion pictures, and while it doesn’t get away with all of its violence (such as the uncomfortable nut shots), it’s still smart enough to survive beyond its onslaught of blood, guts, beatings, bruisings, stabbings, and gore that’s enough to fill up The Shining’s elevator lobby.

Do you like Quentin Tarantino? If the answer is yes, then you will want to see The Hateful Eight. If no, then you definitely don’t want to find yourself alone in this cabin with these eight murderous psychopaths.

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“SIN CITY” Review (✫✫)

“There ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone.”

You’re either going to love or hate Sin City. There’s no getting around that fact. Like the movies directed by Quentin Tarantino or Eli Roth, Sin City is a movie specific to its own tastes, and doesn’t care much about the opinions opposite of it. It’s a violent, gross, disgusting and putrid film full of the stuff that would make a Catholic priest faint. If that sounds like something you would like, by all means, be my guest and have at it. If you are repulsed by my description of the film, I certainly don’t blame you.

Based off of the comic book series by Frank Miller, Sin City is a film that follows four separate stories that (mostly) intertwine together. John Hartigan (Bruce Willis) is an aged police officer who is viciously pursuing child rapist Roark Jr. (Nick Stahl). Marv (Mickey Rourke) is a rough-around-the-edges thug who is framed for the murder of a prostitute he slept with named Goldie (Jamie King). And Dwight (Clive Owen) is a private investigator who gets pulled into a turf war, risking the lives of cops and prostitutes alike.

What do all of these stories have in common? They all started because of a woman, and these men go out to kill because they love their woman. Or, at least, whatever constitutes as love in this universe, in which case it’s a one-night stand.

It’s so difficult to review a movie like Sin City. Why? Because it’s not for people like me, that’s why. I don’t like watching movies like Sin City. I don’t like watching blood and violence for the sake of blood and violence, or watching sex and nudity for the sake of sex and nudity. It’s hard to be non-biased with movies like these because I watch moments where a naked woman walks out with bare breasts and all, and I can’t help but imagine the director thinking “Hey, let’s have this actress naked in this scene, because boobs.”

Sin City is aggressively, unnecessarily violent. How violent? So violent that the least bloody scene in the movie came from Quentin Tarantino. That’s how bad it gets. Red, white, black and yellow blood splatter across the screen like Jackson Pollock was making a painting. Severed heads and body parts are frequently cut off and thrown around in the film like missing pieces to a G.I. Joe. Those body parts include testicles, by the way, on multiple occasions. And don’t even get me started on the absurdity of its kills. In one scene, Marv gets beaten, stabbed, shot, and crashed his car into a lake and still gets up to pursue Goldie’s killer. Good God, are these guys made of kevlar or something?

Remind you, I have no problem with violence in movies, but here it’s just far too absurd and disgusting to be able to fully stomach. When it’s used to illustrate an emotion or a point in movies like Pulp Fiction or Taxi Driver, I praise its purpose and its usage. Here, it illustrates no emotion or urgency. It’s a glorified selling point for a really long, disgusting, stupid movie.

I did like the visualization of Sin City. That, and its opening scene. I liked it’s black-and-white style, it’s sense of contrast and expert use of shadow and lighting. It gave it a strong reminiscent feeling of the classic neo-noir films that inspired the original Sin City comic books, the ones that have the snazzy saxophone playing in the background as two lovers stand on a balcony, telling each other that they love each other and that they never want to leave each other. The film itself, in fact, functions as a parody of the neo-noir genre: characters stand on balconies, docks, outrun police cars, smoke cigarettes and talk in thickly exaggerated accents to the point where it can’t be taken seriously.

Realize, however, that this wasn’t on accident; director Robert Rodriguez wanted you to see how he exaggerated details so you would understand that him and Frank Miller were lightly poking fun at the genre, all while at the same time suggesting delicate homages to it as well. I like that they tried to reach for a deeper effort with the film, even though their intentions were smarter than the film itself was.

So what’s my end consensus? Is it a movie that you should see or skip? I’ll leave that decision in your hands. For now, I have done my job in telling you what the movie is like, and I will wash my hands clean from it. I have church in the morning.

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