Scenes That I Love: Winston Wolfe Says Goodbye In Pulp Fiction


Today is Harvey Keitel’s 81st birthday.

Harvey Keitel is one of those actors who has given so many great performances that it’s difficult to pick which one is his best.  He’s almost always great, even when the film sometimes isn’t.  That said, I’ll always have a lot of affection for the character of Winston Wolfe, the cleaner that Keitel played in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.

Keitel doesn’t show up until the final third of Pulp Fiction but once he does, he pretty much takes over the entire film.  For me, though, my favorite Winston Wolfe moment comes at the end of his story, when he says goodbye to John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson and essentially reveals himself to be kind of an old-fashioned, almost dorky (if impeccably dressed) guy.

Happy birthday, Harvey Keitel!

Film Review: Fingers (dir by James Toback)


Welcome to method actor Hell!

The 1978 film, Fingers, tell the story of Jimmy “Fingers” Angelilli (Harvey Keitel).  Jimmy is a creep who works as a debt collector for his father, a small-time loan shark named Ben (Michael V. Gazzo).  Jimmy is violent and brutal and often wanders around with a disturbingly blank-look on his face but we’re supposed to like him because he’s a talented pianist and he’s got a recital interview coming up at Carnegie Hall.  Jimmy carries a radio with him wherever he goes and he’s obsessed with the song Summertime.  He’s the type who will sit in a crowded restaurant and play the song and then get upset when someone tells him to turn off his radio.  By the end of the movie, I was really hoping that someone would take Jimmy’s radio and smash into a hundred pieces.

Jimmy is in love with Carol (Tisa Farrow, who was a far better actress than her sister Mia and who would later appear in Lucio Fulci’s classic, Zombi 2), who doesn’t really seem to all that into him.  Despite being in love with Carol, Jimmy still hits on every woman that he meets and, because this is a 70s films, he’s constantly getting laid despite being kind of a charmless putz.

Jimmy meets a former boxer named Dreems (Jim Brown).  Carol is apparently one of Dreems’s mistresses.  Jimmy silently watched while Dreems knocks two women’s heads together.  Jimmy stands there with his little radio and a blank expression on his face.  Is anything going on inside of Jimmy’s head?  It’s hard to say.

Eventually, Jimmy finds out that a gangster (Tony Sirico) owes his father money but is refusing to pay.  It all leads to violence.

As a film, Fingers is pretty much full of shit but that shouldn’t come as a surprise because it was the directorial debut of James Toback and there’s no American filmmaker who has been as consistently full of shit as James Toback.  Fingers has all of Toback’s trademarks — gambling, crime, guilt, classical music, and a juvenile view of sexuality that suggests that James Toback’s personal development came to a halt when he was 16 years old.  It’s a pretentious film that really doesn’t add up too much.  Again, you know what you’re getting into when James Toback directs a film.  Don’t forget, this is the same director who made a documentary where he was apparently shocked to discover that no one wanted to finance a politically-charged remake of Last Tango in Paris starring Alec Baldwin and Neve Campbell.

Fingers is a bit of an annoying film and yet it’s not a total loss.  For one thing, if you’re a history nerd like I am, there’s no way that you can’t appreciate the fact that the film was shot on location in some of New York’s grimiest neighborhoods in the 70s.  While I imagine it was more of a happy accident than anything intentional on Toback’s part (because, trust me, I’ve seen Harvard Man), Fingers does do a good job of creating an off-center, dream-like atmosphere where the world constantly seems to be closing in on its lead character.  Jimmy is trying to balance his life as violent mobster with being a sensitive artist and the world around him is saying, “No, don’t count on it, you schmuck.”

As well, Harvey Keitel gives a …. well, I don’t know if I would necessarily say that it’s a good performance.  In fact, it’s a fairly annoying performance and that’s a problem when a film is trying to make you feel sympathy for a character who is pretty unsympathetic.  That said, there’s never a moment in the film where Keitel is boring.  In Fingers, Keitel takes the method to its logical end point and, as a result, you actually get anxious just watching him simply look out of a window or sit in a corner.  Even though Jimmy eyes rarely shows a hint of emotion, his fingers are always moving and, just watching the way that he’s constantly twitching and fidgeting, you get the feeling that Jimmy’s always on the verge of giving out a howl of pain and fury.  It doesn’t really make Jimmy someone who you would want to hang out with.  In fact, I spent the entire movie hoping someone would just totally kick his ass and put him in the hospital for a few weeks.  But it’s still a performance that you simply cannot look away from.  Watching Keitel’s performance, you come to realize that Fingers is essentially a personal invitation to visit a Hell that is exclusively populated by method actors who have gone too far.

Anyway, my feelings about Fingers were mixed.  Can you tell?  It’s an interesting movie.  I’ll probably never watch it again.

That’s The Way Of The World (1975, directed by Sig Shore)


Welcome to the down and dirty world of the music industry in the 1970s.

Coleman Buckmaster (Harvey Keitel) is a record producer who is known as the “Golden Ear,” because of his success at discovering new talent.  Coleman is the son of a jazz pianist (to whom he brings a birthday present of cocaine) and he is convinced that consumers are not as dumb as music execs assume that they are.  He believes that his latest group, known simply as The Group (but played by Earth, Wind, & Fire), have what it takes to become a big success despite not having a conventionally commercial image.

Coleman’s boss, Carlton James (Ed Nelson), disagrees.  Carlton orders Coleman to spend less time working with The Group and to instead devote his energy to producing a single for a new band called The Pages.  Led by Franklyn Page (Bert Parks), the Pages present themselves as being a clean-cut and wholesome family band.  Carlton is sure that their innocuous style and feel-good harmonies are going to be “the sound of the 70s.”  Coleman disagrees but he tries to balance working with both groups.  While he tries to make The Group into a success, he also tries to find something worthwhile in The Pages’ new single, “Joy Joy Joy.”  Complicating matters is that, against his better instincts, Coleman has fallen into a relationship with Velour Page (Cynthia Bostick), who is not as innocent as the band’s image makers makes her out to be.

Written by journalist Robert Lipsyte and directed by producer Sig Shore (he did Superfly), That’s The Way Of The World is an interesting look at what was going on behind the scenes of the music industry in the 70s.  It’s not the first film to suggest that the recording industry was run by unethical and corrupt record labels (nor would it be the last) but it feels authentic in a way that a lot of other music industry films don’t.  That’s The Way Of The World emphasizes just how manufactured most popular music is.  Insisting on trying to do something different, as the Group does, will only lead to you being snubbed by the industry.  Play ball and record music that means nothing — like the Pages — and you’ll become a star overnight.  Having a hit has less to do with the work you put into it and more with how many people your label is willing to pay off.  As one exec puts it, getting your record played on the radio (in those days before YouTube and Soundcloud) means resorting “payola, layola, and drugola.”  Harvey Keitel performs his role with his trademark intensity and Bert Parks is brilliantly cast as the thoroughly fake Franklyn Page.

Today, The Way Of The World is best-known for its soundtrack, which was also one of Earth, Wind, and Fire’s best-selling albums.  Though the film was a bomb at the box office, the album was not.  The Group may have struggled to get anyone to listen but Earth, Wind, and Fire became the first black group to top both the Billboard album and singles charts.

Beware The Pages

Robot In Lust: Saturn 3 (1980, directed by Stanley Donen)


The time is the future and Earth is so polluted and overcrowded that the survival of humanity is dependent on space stations that are located across the galaxy.  On one of the moons of Saturn, Adam (Kirk Douglas) and Alex (Farrah Fawcett) are researching and developing new ways to grow food.  Alex is young and has never experienced life on Earth.  Adam is in his 60s and says that Earth is the worst place in the universe.  Alex and Adam are not just colleagues but lovers as well.  Inside the tranquil facility, Adam, Alex, and Sally the Dog live a lifestyle that feels more like late 70s California than 21st century Saturn.

Adam is disturbed when a cargo ship arrives.  The ship is piloted by Captain James (Harvey Keitel, giving the film’s only interesting performance despite having had all of his dialogue dubbed by Roy Dotrice), who immediately takes an unwelcome interest in Alex.  (“You have a great body,” he says, “May I use it?”)  Captain James starts telling Alex stories about life back on Earth and encouraging her to abandon Adam.  Captain James also reveals that he’s accompanied by an 8-foot robot named Hector.  Hector is designed to replace one of the scientists.

If that’s not bad enough, it also turns out that Captain James is not really Captain James but instead, he’s Captain Benson.  Benson was originally assigned to fly the cargo ship but, after a psychological profile deemed him to be psychotic, Benson was replaced by James.  So, Benson killed James by pushing him out of an airlock.  Now, Benson is on Saturn 3 and he’s uploaded both his homicidal impulses and his lust for Alex into Hector’s programming.  Soon, Hector is rampaging through the facility, determined to have Alex for himself.

For an ultimately forgettable film that plays like an Alien rip-off (even though the two films were actually shot at the same time), Saturn 3 has long been infamous for its troubled production.  Martin Amis, who wrote an early draft of the script, even wrote a novel, Money, based on the filming of Saturn 3.  (In the novel, Kirk Douglas is renamed Lorne Guyland and insists on getting naked as much as possible in order to prove that he’s still virile.)  The film was originally meant to be the directorial debut of John Barry, the famed British production designer.  However, Barry departed the film after two weeks, with reports differing on whether he left voluntarily or if he was fired.  The film’s producer, Stanley Donen, took over as director.  Stanley Donen, who also directed legitimate classics like Singin’ In The Rain, Charade, and Two For The Road, confessed to having no affinity for science fiction and it’s obvious from watching his one foray into the genre that he was not exaggerating.

The idea behind Saturn 3, with Hector taking on the personality of it creator, is an intriguing one but the film doesn’t do much with it and the film’s choppy pace indicates that there was extensive executive tinkering both during and after filming.  Harvey Keitel is convincingly strange in his role but Farrah Fawcett is miscast as a scientist and Kirk Douglas does his usual grin and grimace routine, usually while naked.  (It doesn’t seem that Martin Amis had to stretch the truth too far.)  The 8-foot Hector looks impressive until he actually has to chase Fawcett through the facility.  That’s when it becomes obvious that anyone with two functioning legs could easily outrun the lumbering robot.

In space, no one can hear you scream.  But they might hear you laughing at Saturn 3.

Here’s The New Trailer For The Irishman!


The second trailer for Martin Scorsese’s upcoming gangster epic, The Irishman, dropped today and …. wow.

Now, admittedly, the reaction online has been kind of mixed.  Some people are a little bit concerned that the de-aging technology is just going to be too distracting, especially considering that this is a four-hour movie.  I will admit that both Al Pacino and Joe Pesci looked a bit …. well, off.  I mean, all the CGI in the world can’t change the fact that this is a film that will feature elderly actors playing youngish gangsters.

Still, the story that The Irishman is telling is a fascinating one and, since Robert De Niro’s character claimed to be both a hitman and a participant in the JFK assassination, the film seems like it will appeal to both mafia afficianadoes and conspiracy theorists.

Add to that, is a Scorsese film and how can you not be excited about that?

That said, the main reaction to this latest trailer seems to be shock that Ray Romano is apparently holding his own opposite actors like De Niro, Pacino, Pesci, and Harvey Keitel.  But, believe it or not, Romano actually has developed into a pretty dependable character actor.  Anyone who has seen The Big Sick can attest to that.

Anyway, The Irishman is expected to be a major Oscar contender.  Of course, they said the same thing about Silence.  We’ll see what happens!

The Irishman will be released on November 1st in select theaters and will then drop on Netflix on November 27th.

Here’s the trailer!

Oh Hell Yeah! It’s The Trailer for The Irishman!


Oh hell yeah!

The trailer for Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman has been released!

In The Irishman, Robert De Niro plays Frank Shearan, a hitman who was active in the mob for decades.  Before his death, he claimed that he was not only responsible for the death of Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa, Sr. but also that he played a role in the assassination of John F. Kennedy!

Robert De Niro plays the Irishman.  Al Pacino plays Hoffa.  Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Ann Paquin, and Ray Romano all have supporting roles!  (Don’t roll your eyes at that last one.  Romano has actually developed into a fairly interesting character actor.)  Apparently, a huge amount of money was spent on de-aging CGI so that the elderly De Niro, Pacino, Pesci, and Keitel could all play men in their 30s and 40s.  It’s either going to be brilliant or it’s going to be like Captain Marvel, where you were happy to see Samuel L. Jackson looking so young but you couldn’t help but notice that he didn’t seem to be quite as expressive as usual.

Listen, I love conspiracy movies.  I love gangster movies.  I love historical movies.  And I love Scorsese movies!

Bring it on, Netflix!

Made Man: Martin Scorsese’s MEAN STREETS (Warner Brothers 1973)


cracked rear viewer

Let’s talk about Martin Scorsese a bit, shall we? The much-lauded, Oscar-winning director/producer/film historian has rightly been recognized as one of out greatest living filmmakers, with classics like TAXI DRIVER, RAGING BULL, GOODFELLAS, GANGS OF NEW YORK, and THE DEPARTED on his resume. Yet Scorsese started small, directing shorts and the low-budget WHO’S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR? as a film student. He got work as an editor (UNHOLY ROLLERS) and assistant director (WOODSTOCK) before directing a feature for Roger Corman called BOXCAR BERTHA, starring Barbara Hershey and David Carradine. When Scorsese and Mardik Martin cowrote a screenplay based on Martin’s experiences growing up in New York’s Little Italy, Corman wanted to produce, but only if the film could be turned into a Blaxploitation movie! Fortunately, Warner Brothers picked it up, and the result was MEAN STREETS, which put Scorsese on the map as a filmmaker to be reckoned with.

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Stallone Acts: Cop Land (1997, directed by James Mangold)


Garrison, New Jersey is a middle class suburb that is known as Cop Land.  Under the direction of Lt. Ray Donlan (Harvey Keitel), several NYPD cops have made their home in Garrison, financing their homes with bribes that they received from mob boss Tony Torillo (Tony Sirico).  The corrupt cops of Garrison, New Jersey live, work, and play together, secure in the knowledge that they can do whatever they want because Donlan has handpicked the sheriff.

Sheriff Freddy Heflin (Sylvester Stallone) always dreamed of being a New York cop but, as the result of diving into icy waters to save a drowning girl, Freddy is now deaf in one ear.  Even though he knows that they are all corrupt, Freddy still idolizes cops like Donlan, especially when Donlan dangles the possibility of pulling a few strings and getting Freddy an NYPD job in front of him.  The overweight and quiet Freddy spends most of his time at the local bar, where he’s the subject of constant ribbing from the “real” cops.  Among the cops, Freddy’s only real friend appears to be disgraced narcotics detective, Gary Figgis (Ray Liotta).

After Donlan’s nephew, Murray Babitch (Michael Rapaport), kills two African-American teenagers and then fakes his own death to escape prosecution, Internal Affairs Lt. Moe Tilden (Robert De Niro) approaches Freddy and asks for his help in investigating the corrupt cops of Garrison.  At first, Freddy refuses but he is soon forced to reconsider.

After he became a star, the idea that Sylvester Stallone was a bad actor because so universally accepted that people forgot that, before he played Rocky and Rambo, Stallone was a busy and respectable character actor.  Though his range may have been limited and Stallone went through a period where he seemed to always pick the worst scripts available, Stallone was never as terrible as the critics often claimed.  In the 90s, when it became clear that both the Rocky and the Rambo films had temporarily run their course, Stallone attempted to reinvent his image.  Demolition Man showed that Stallone could laugh at himself and Cop Land was meant to show that Stallone could act.

For the most part, Stallone succeeded.  Though there are a few scenes where the movie does seem to be trying too hard to remind us that Freddy is not a typical action hero, this is still one of Sylvester Stallone’s best performances.  Stallone plays Freddy as a tired and beaten-down man who knows that he’s getting one final chance to prove himself.  It helps that Stallone’s surrounded by some of the best tough guy actors of the 90s.  Freddy’s awkwardness around the “real” cops is mirrored by how strange it initially is to see Stallone acting opposite actors like Harvey Keitel, Robert De Niro, and Ray Liotta.  Cop Land becomes not only about Freddy proving himself as a cop but Stallone proving himself as an actor.

The film itself is sometimes overstuffed.  Along with the corruption investigation and the search for Murray Babitch, there’s also a subplot about Freddy’s unrequited love for Liz Randone (Annabella Sciorra) and her husband’s (Peter Berg) affair with Donlan’s wife (Cathy Moriarty).  There’s enough plot here for a Scorsese epic and it’s more than Cop Land‘s 108-minute run time can handle.  Cop Land is at its best when it concentrates on Freddy and his attempt to prove to himself that he’s something more than everyone else believes.  The most effective scenes are the ones where Freddy quietly drinks at the local tavern, listening to Gary shoot his mouth off and stoically dealing with the taunts of the people that he’s supposed to police.  By the time that Freddy finally stands up for himself, both you and he have had enough of everyone talking down to him.  The film’s climax, in which a deafened Freddy battles the corrupt cops of Garrison, is an action classic.

Though the story centers on Stallone, Cop Land has got a huge ensemble cast.  While it’s hard to buy Janeane Garofalo as a rookie deputy, Ray Liotta and Robert Patrick almost steal the film as two very different cops.  Interestingly, many members of the cast would go on to appear on The Sopranos.  Along with Sirico, Sciorra, Patrick, and Garofalo, keep an eye out for Frank Vincent, Arthur Nascarella, Frank Pelligrino, John Ventimiglia, Garry Pastore,  and Edie Falco in small roles.

Cop Land was considered to be a box office disappointment when it was released and Stallone has said that the film’s failure convinced people that he was just an over-the-hill action star and that, for eight years after it was released, he couldn’t get anyone to take his phone calls.  At the time, Cop Land‘s mixed critical and box office reception was due to the high expectations for both the film and Stallone’s performance.  In hindsight, it’s clear that Cop Land was a flawed but worthy film and that Stallone’s performance remains one of his best.

 

Insomnia File #33: The Comedian (dir by Taylor Hackford)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If you were having trouble getting to sleep around two in the morning last night, you could have turned over to Starz and watched the 2016 film, The Comedian.

It probably wouldn’t have helped.  It’s not that The Comedian is a particularly interesting movie or anything like that.  Abysmally paced and full of dull dialogue, The Comedian would be the perfect cure for insomnia if it just wasn’t so damn loud.  Robert De Niro plays an aging comedian named Jackie Burke and, in this movie, being an aging comedian means that you shout out your punch lines with such force that you almost seem to be threatening anyone who doesn’t laugh.  However, the threats aren’t necessary because everyone laughs at everything Jackie says.

Actually, it’s a bit of an understatement to say that everyone laughs.  In The Comedian, Jackie is such a force of pure, unstoppable hilarity that all he has to do is tell someone that they’re fat and literally the entire world will shriek with unbridled joy.  The thing with laughter is that, in the real world, everyone laughs in a different way.  Not everyone reacts to a funny joke with an explosive guffaw.  Some people chuckle.  Some people merely smile.  But, in the world of The Comedian, everyone not only laughs the same way but they also all laugh at the same time.  There’s never anyone who doesn’t immediately get the joke and, by that same token, there’s never anyone who can’t stop laughing once everyone else has fallen silent.  The Comedian takes individuality out of laughter, which is a shame because the ability to laugh is one of the unique things that makes us human.

Anyway, The Comedian is about a formerly famous comedian who is now obscure.  He used to have a hit TV show but now he’s nearly forgotten.  Why he’s forgotten is never made clear because nearly everyone in the movie still seems to think that he’s the funniest guy in the world.  Jackie’s an insult comic and people love it when he tells them that they’re overweight or when he makes fun of their sexual preferences.  This would probably be more believable if Jackie was played by an actor who was a bit less intense than Robert De Niro.  When De Niro starts to make aggressive jokes, you’re natural instinct is not so much to laugh as it is to run before he starts bashing in someone’s head with a lead pipe.

Anyway, the plot of the film is that Jackie gets into a fight with a heckler.  The video of the fight is uploaded to YouTube, which leads to a scene where his manager (Edie Falco) stares at her laptop and announces, “It’s going viral!”  Later on, in the movie, Jackie forces a bunch of old people to sing an obnoxious song with him and he goes viral a second time.  I kept waiting for a shot of a computer screen with “VIRAL” blinking on-and-off but sadly, the movie never provided this much-needed insert.

In between beating up the heckler, ruining his niece’s wedding, and hijacking a retirement home, Jackie finds the time to fall in love with Harmony Schlitz (Leslie Mann), a character whose name alone is enough to The Comedian one of the most annoying films of all time.  Harmony’s father is a retired gangster (Harvey Keitel) and you can’t help but wish that Keitel and De Niro could have switched roles.  It wouldn’t have made the movie any better but at least there would have been a chance of Keitel going batshit insane whenever he took the stage to deliver jokes.

I’m not sure why anyone thought it would be a good idea to cast an actor like Robert De Niro as a successful comedian.  It’s true that De Niro was brilliant playing a comedian in The King of Comedy but Rupert Pupkin was supposed to be awkward, off-putting, and not very funny.  I’m not an expert on insult comics but, from what I’ve seen, it appears that the successful ones largely succeed by suggesting that they’re just having fun with the insults, that no one should take it personally, and that they appreciate any member of the audience who is willing to be a good sport.  Jackie just comes across like a cranky old misogynist.  Watching Jackie is like listening to your bitter uncle play Vegas.  I guess it would help if Jackie actually said something funny every once in a while.  A typical Jackie joke is to refer to his lesbian niece as being a “prince.”  Speaking for myself, when it comes to Robert De Niro being funny, I continue to prefer the scene in Casino where he hosts the Ace Rothstein Show.

Perhaps the funniest thing about The Comedian is that, when it originally released into theaters, it was advertised as being “The Comedian, a Taylor Hackford film,” as if Taylor Hackford is some type of Scorsese-style auteur.  Taylor Hackford has been making films for longer than I’ve been alive and he has yet to actually come up with any sort of signature style beyond point and shoot.  The second funniest thing is that The Comedian was billed as a potential Oscar contender, up until people actually saw the damn thing.

Though it may have failed at the box office, The Comedian seems to show up on Starz quite frequently.  They always seem to air it very late at night, as if they’re hoping people won’t notice.  

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Winning Season
  26. Rabbit Run
  27. Remember My Name
  28. The Arrangement
  29. Day of the Animals
  30. Still of The Night
  31. Arsenal
  32. Smooth Talk

Sundance Film Review: Reservoir Dogs (dir by Quentin Tarantino)


The Sundance Film Festival is currently taking place in Utah so, for this week, I’m reviewing films that either premiered, won awards at, or otherwise made a splash at Sundance!  Today, I take a look at 1992’s Reservoir Dogs, which premiered at that year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Technically, I guess I’m obligated to start this review with a spoiler alert.  Though, seriously, is there anyone out there who hasn’t seen Reservoir Dogs?  I guess that there may be.  But surely, even if you haven’t seen it, you know everything that happens in the movie.  You know about the Like A Virgin conversation at the start of the movie.  You know about the ear scene.  You’ve seen countless parodies of that scene where the cast walks down the street in slow motion.  I find it hard to believe that there are people who don’t know everything about this film but still, I guess it’s always a possibility.

Reservoir Dogs is a challenging film to review, though not because it’s overly complicated or difficult to follow.  Instead, the problem is that it’s hard to know what’s left to say about Reservoir Dogs.  Just about every crime film that has come out in my lifetime has owed an obvious debt to Reservoir Dogs.  It’s the film that launched the directorial career of Quentin Tarantino.  It’s also features one of the greatest acting ensembles in the history of American film: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Steve Buscemi, Chris Penn, Kirk Baltz, and Lawrence Tierney.  Tierney’s presence was especially important.  By appearing in the film, the veteran tough guy actor passed on the torch of hard-boiled crime to a new generation.

At its most basic, Reservoir Dogs is a heist film.  It employs the type of jumbled timeline that has become a Tarantino trademark.  The film starts with a group of 8 criminals eating breakfast and preparing to rob a jewelry store.  Then it jumps forward to immediately after the crime, with Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) shot in the gut and Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) desperately trying to get them both to the safety of a warehouse.  That’s where they are joined by Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi).  Mr. Pink is convinced that they were set up.  He rants about being a professional.  He asks if Mr. White had to shoot anyone during his escape.

“A few cops,” Mr. White says.

“No real people?” Mr. Pink replies.

Eventually, Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) shows up.  We already know, from the film’s first scene, that Mr. Blonde strongly feels that everyone should tip their waitress.  After he arrives at the warehouse, we discover that he also likes good music and torturing hostages.  Meanwhile, the robbery’s mastermind, Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney) and his son, Eddie (Chris Penn), are also on their way to the warehouse.  Neither one is happy about how things are going.

And while all this goes on, Mr. Orange continues to bleed in the background…

Reservoir Dogs is known for being a violent film and, even though the movie is 26 years old, some of the violence can still catch you off-guard and make you flinch.  The scene where Mr. Blonde chops off the cop’s ear is still not easy to watch.  However, the scene that always freaks me out is when Mr. White starts shooting at a police car and the windshield is suddenly smeared with blood.  Mr. White is one of the film’s more sympathetic characters but he doesn’t hesitate to kill.

Of course, I think it could also be argued that Reservoir Dogs is actually as close as Tarantino has come to making a film that condemns violence.  Not counting the flashbacks, the story largely plays out in real time, which means that we basically spend the entire movie watching and listening as Mr. Orange slowly bleeds to death in front of us.

I rewatched Reservoir Dogs for this review and I have to say that I was really surprised to see how well the film holds up.  I was honestly expecting to be a little bit bored with it, just because I’d already seen it multiple times and I knew who the cop would turn out to be.  I already had all of the film’s great lines memorized.  But, as soon as the film started with everyone arguing about Like A Virgin and whether or not to tip their waitress, I was sucked back into Tarantino’s world.  Once again, I found myself laughing at Steve Buscemi’s brilliant delivery of the line: “Why am I Mr. Pink?”  I was enthralled all over again by Tim Roth’s nervous intensity and Harvey Keitel’s weary integrity.  Even Michael Madsen’s psycho routine felt fresh, despite the fact that he’s played numerous cool-as-ice psychos over the course of his career.  Even the way Chris Penn told the story about Lady E still made me laugh.

(To be honest, the line that makes me laugh the most in Reservoir Dogs — and don’t ask me why because I’m not sure of the exact reason — is when the unseen cop who is heard to say, “Yeah, give me the bearclaw,” while following Eddie’s car.)

It’s just a cool movie.  How can you resist this?

What happen at the end of the film?  Well, we all know the basics.  (And here’s where that probably unnecessary spoiler alert comes into play.)  Mr. White kills Joe and Eddie, all to protect Mr. Orange.  Mr. Pink runs from the warehouse.  The seriously wounded Mr. White cradles the dying Orange in his arms.  Orange confesses to being a cop.  Mr. White lets out a wail of both physical and emotional pain.  The police enter the warehouse and order Mr. White to drop his gun.  Mr. White shoots Orange in the head and is then gunned down by the police.

But what happened to Mr. Pink?

That’s a serious question because Mr. Pink is my favorite member of this band of robbers.  (He gets all the best lines, probably because Tarantino was planning on playing the role himself before Steve Buscemi auditioned.)  A lot of people will tell you that they can hear Mr. Pink being arrested outside of the warehouse, shortly before the cops come in and kill Mr. White.  And yes, I realize that, in at least one draft of the script, that’s exactly what happened.

Well, I don’t care.  We don’t actually see Mr. Pink getting arrested.  We don’t hear him getting shot.  As far as I’m concerned, Mr. Pink made it out of there alive and managed to escape with the diamonds.  The police may have yelled at him to stop but, in the end, they were too busy killing Mr. White to keep an eye on him.  Mr. Pink escaped and is currently living on the beach somewhere.  As a result of selling the diamonds, he’s now financially comfortable but he still doesn’t tip his waitress.  That’s just the way Mr. Pink is.

Finally, one little bit of trivia: Reservoir Dogs may have premiered at the 1992 Sundance Film Festival but it didn’t win any awards at the end of it.  Instead, the big winner that year was a comedy called In The Soup.  The star of that film?  Steve Buscemi.

Previous Sundance Film Reviews:

  1. Blood Simple
  2. I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore
  3. Circle of Power
  4. Old Enough
  5. Blue Caprice
  6. The Big Sick
  7. Alpha Dog
  8. Stranger Than Paradise
  9. sex, lies, and videotape