Film Review: Leaving Neverland (dir by Dan Reed)


“Is it okay to still listen to the music of Michael Jackson?”

Over the past few days, I’ve seen many different variations of that headline.  The Guardian asked, “Can We Still Listen To Michael Jackson?” From Slate: “Will Michael Jackson songs still play at weddings?  We asked three DJs.”  And, of course, Entertainment Weekly chimed in with: “Can we still listen to Michael Jackson’s music after HBO doc Leaving Neverland?” As far as I know, the Guardian has yet to accuse Entertainment Weekly of headline plagiarism.  That’s how seriously this question is being considered.

Fortunately, for me, it’s not a question that I have to answer.  Michael Jackson’s music has never been an important part of my life.  All of the songs and albums that people rave about — Thriller, Bad, that song about the rat — were all pretty much before my time.  Usually, whenever I have heard any of those so-called classics, my usual reaction has been that 1) they’re ludicrously overproduced and 2) they tend to drag on forever.  (Seriously, there’s no reason to ask Annie if she’s okay that many times.)  Some people grew up with the idea of Michael Jackson being the King of Pop and a musical innovator.  I grew up with the idea of Michael Jackson being a rather frightening eccentric who didn’t appear to have a nose and who wrote songs about how unfair it was that the world wouldn’t accept that he just really, really enjoyed the company of children.  Since neither Jackson nor his music have ever been an important part of my life, it’s rather easy for me to shrug and say, “Sure, let us never hear his music again.”

Still, there are many people debating the question of whether or not it’s time to cancel the legacy of Michael Jackson.  That’s because of Leaving Neverland, a 4-hour documentary that premiered at Sundance and which recently aired on HBO.  Leaving Neverland deals with two men — choreographer Wade Robson and former actor Jimmy Safechuck — who claim that they were both sexually abused by Michael Jackson as children.  Interviewed separately, both Robson and Safechuck tell nearly identical stories about first meeting Jackson, being invited into the sanctuary of Jackson’s Neverland, and eventually being brainwashed, abused, and eventually abandoned by Jackson.  It’s not just that Robson and Safechuck both separately tell the same story.  It’s also that the details will be familiar to anyone who has ever been abused.  The grooming.  The manipulation.  The thrill of sharing a secret eventually giving way to the guilt of feeling that you’re somehow at fault.   And, of course, the combination of fear and denial that both Robson and Safechuck say initially caused them to lie and deny having been abused by Jackson.  Both men talk about how Jackson used their own broken families to control them, suggesting that only he understood what they were going through and that they were only truly safe when they were with him.  Jimmy Safechuck, in particular, speaks in the haunted manner and nervous cadences of a survivor.  Their stories are frequently harrowing and, watching the documentary, one can understand why counselors were on hand for the Sundance showing.

That said, those who have complained that Leaving Neverland is a very one-sided affair do have a point.  (To see what many of Michael Jackson’s supporters have to say about the men and their stories, check out #mjinnocent on twitter.Leaving Neverland is very much a product of our current cancel culture.  From the start it clearly chooses a side and, for four hours, it focuses only on that side.  Far more attention is paid to the civil suit that Jackson settled out of court than the criminal trial in which Jackson was acquitted.  Much has been made on twitter about inconsistencies in Safechuck and Robson’s stories.  Yet, are those inconsistencies the result of an intentional attempt to subvert the truth or are they the result of the trauma that the two men suffered at the hands of their abuser?  When I checked in on twitter during the documentary’s airing, it was fascinating to watch as the two camps debated who should be cancelled, Michael Jackson for being accused of pedophilia or Wade Robson for saying that Jackson’s hair felt like a brillo pad.

Ultimately, Leaving Neverland is a portrait of the power of fame.  One imagines that if a stranger had approached the mothers of Wade Robson and Jimmy Safechuck and said that he wanted to spend a weekend sleeping in the same bed as their sons, the mothers would have a very different response than they did when Michael Jackson did essentially just that.  For all the red flags to be found in Jackson’s public behavior, he was often dismissed as just being an eccentric artist, a harmless Peter Pan-like figure.  (You have to wonder if there was no one in his camp who was willing to say, “Y’know, Michael, maybe you should stop being photographed with little boys for a while.”)  One of the more interesting things about the documentary is to see how quickly Jackson recovered from the 1993 abuse allegations.  The same reporters who very gravely report the allegations about Jackson in ’93 are later seen glibly referring to Jackson as being the “king of pop,” just a few years later.

Leaving Neverland is a powerful documentary but I doubt it will change anyone’s mind.  That’s one of the dangers that comes from picking a side as deliberately and unapologetically as this documentary does.  Your argument may be great but only those who agree with you are going to listen.  Those who support Jackson will see it as being a hit piece.  Those who believe Jackson was guilty will see the documentary as being validation.  Ultimately, whether or not it’s still okay to listen to Michael Jackson’s music is a decision that only you can make for yourself.

Sundance Film Review: Moon (dir by Duncan Jones)


With this year’s Sundance Film Festival getting underway in Colorado, I’m going to be spending the next few days looking at some films that caused a stir at previous Sundance Film Festivals.  Today, I’m taking a look at the 2009’s Moon.

It’s time for all good people to praise Sam Rockwell.

As far as I’m concerned, Sam Rockwell is one of the patron saints of character acting.  Is there anything that he can’t do?  He can do comedy.  He can do drama.  He can play the cool, older guy, like he did in The Way, Way Back.  He can play the nerdy, weirdo as he’s done in too many movies for me to list.  He can play a mentor and he can play a student.  He can make you laugh and he can make you cry.  He’s one of those actors who can seamlessly transition from small indie films to huge blockbusters without missing a beat.  Rockwell won an Oscar for his performance in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and he might just win another one for playing President George W. Bush in Vice.  He can even dance, as anyone who has seen him in Iron Man 2 can tell you.  Rockwell’s been acting since he was a teenager and he’s definitely earned the right to be known as one of our greatest actors.

For that reason, it can sometimes be a little bit difficult to decide just which performance is Rockwell’s best.  He’s appeared in so many different movies and he’s played so many different characters.  Even when the movie’s bad, Rockwell is usually great.  However, if I had to sit down and pick one Rockwell performance as being the epitome of everything that makes him a great actor, I’d probably go with his performance in Duncan Jones’s contemplative sci-fi film, Moon.

In Moon, Rockwell plays a man named Sam.  Sam has spent three years living on the dark side of the moon.  He works for shadowy Lunar Industries.  His job is to mine the moon for helium-3, an alternative energy source that is now all the rage on Earth.  It’s a lonely job for Sam.  He gets up every day.  He rides his lunar rover across the stage.  He returns to the sterile facility, where he lives.  Sometimes, if he’s lucky, he gets recorded messages from his wife and daughter.  His only companion is a robot named GERTY.  Though Sam trusts GERTY, we know better, if just because GERTY speaks with the voice of Kevin Spacey.

From the minute we meet Sam, we can see how living on the Moon has affected him.  He’s quiet and a bit meek.  After three years of isolation, Sam accepts whatever he has to accept to survive.  He doesn’t complain about rarely getting to talk to his family.  He doesn’t question why he has to work alone.  Whatever fight Sam once had in him is gone.  Now, Sam just wants to finish out his time and go home.

And then, one day, Sam is driving the lunar rover when he has a sudden hallucination and then passes out.  He ends up crashing into a crater….

Suddenly, Sam wakes up at the facility.  However, it doesn’t take long to notice that this Sam seems different from the Sam who we met at the start of the movie.  The Sam who wakes up in the facility is younger and angrier than the Sam who we first met.  This new Sam is less willing to accept everything that GERTY tells him.  Even more strangely, this new Sam is convinced that he’s just arrived on the moon….

And then the new Sam meets the old Sam….

In Moon, Sam Rockwell gives two empathetic and memorable performances as the same person.  Old Sam is beaten down by life.  New Sam is angry and just a little bit arrogant.  And yet, what makes the performance so brilliant is that you can easily see how the New Sam could eventually transform into the Old Sam.  Thanks to both Rockwell’s performance and the film’s stark imagery, it’s easy to see how the isolation could eventually rob Sam of his passion, his will to fight, and his intellectual curiosity.  When the Old Sam meets the New Sam, he’s reminded that there used to be more to his life than just the drudgery of his daily routine.  And when the New Sam meets the Old Sam, he’s confronted with what a future of isolation means to him.

Of course, the new Sam and the Old Sam weren’t meant to meet.  And now that they have met, Lunar Industries is on their way to clean up the mess….

Released in the same year as James Cameron’s bombastic Avatar, Moon is a low-key and thoughtful science fiction film, a meditation on isolation and identity.  Duncan Jones directs the film in a stark and low-key style, allowing the film’s story to play out at its own pace.  As visualized by Jones, the lunar landscape is impressive the first time you see it and increasingly bleak with each subsequent look.  Far more than Ridley Scott did in The Martian, Jones captures what it actually is to be totally alone.  (That no critics compared The Martian and Moon, despite their obvious similarities, is astounding to me.)

Featuring Sam Rockwell at his absolute best, Moon is a sci-fi film that remains haunting and powerful, even after films with bigger budgets and flashier special effects have faded into obscurity.

Sundance Film Review: Searching (dir by Aneesh Chaganty)


With this year’s Sundance Film Festival getting underway in Colorado, I’m going to be spending the next two weeks looking at some films that caused a stir at previous Sundance Film Festivals.  Today, I’m taking a look at the 2018’s Searching.

Searching tells the story of David Kim (John Cho) and his daughter, Margot (Michelle La).

David thinks that he has a close relationship with his daughter but, in reality, they’ve been drifting apart ever since David’s wife died two years earlier.  Now, Margot is away at college and David is alone at home.  They still communicate, of course.  They message each other on Facebook.  They Skype.  David sill sends Margot money for her piano lessons.

And yet, even if he can’t bring himself to fully admit it, David knows that they’re not as close as they once were.  Their conversations are often awkward and he doesn’t really know much about the friends that Margot has made at college.  Too often, he finds himself starting to ask her about what’s really going on in her life, just to then erase the message before sending.  One night, when Margot tells David that she’s going to a friend’s house for a study group, he has no reason not to believe her.  It’s not until Margot fails to return from studying that David is forced to confront how little he actually knows about his daughter’s life.

As a film, Searching is set almost entirely on smartphones and computer screens.  Considering that the movie could have just as easily been called Unfriended 3: Searching, this is a surprisingly good and emotionally resonant film.  We watch as David helplessly sends out messages to his daughters, messages that are destined to be unanswered.  We watch as David looks at old pictures and videos of the family he once had, searching for some sort of answer hidden in the past.  And, as we watch all of this, we come to realize that David is not just searching for his daughter’s whereabouts.  Instead, in a world dominated by social media, he’s also searching for a human connection, for something more than just a tweet or a cryptic status update.

Of course, the film does occasionally threaten to take its format just a bit too far.  Sometimes, you really do find yourself wishing that David would just get offline and go outside and look for his daughter.  (Actually, he does do that but, because of the film’s narrative structure, we don’t really get to witness it.)  By the time David is having nightly FaceTime sessions with the detective (Debra Messing) assigned to his daughter’s case, you can be excused for fearing that the film’s style is going to end up collapsing in on itself.

Fortunately, Searching is held together by the lead performance of John Cho.  Whenever Searching threatens to veer into self-parody, Cho is there to bring it back on track.  Before this film came out, I guess Cho was probably best known for appearing in the Star Trek movies.  Searching made him the first Asian-American to headline a mainstream thriller in Hollywood and Cho gives such a sympathetic and compelling performance that you’re willing to excuse whatever flaws might be present in the film’s narrative.  Because he’s played by John Cho, you want David to find his daughter.  You want him to find that for which he’s searching.

Sundance Film Review: Three Identical Strangers (dir by Tim Wardle)


With this year’s Sundance Film Festival getting underway in Colorado, I’m going to be spending the next two weeks looking at some films that caused a stir at previous Sundance Film Festivals.  Today, I’m taking a look at the 2018 documentary, Three Identical Strangers.

It’s generally agreed that last year was a great year for documentaries.  Between RBG, Would You Like To Be My Neighbor?, and Free Solo cleaning up at the box office, 2018 was the year that proved the audiences were willing to pay money to see reality captured on film.  For me, there was no better documentary released last year than Three Identical Strangers.

Three Identical Strangers starts out like a Hallmark movie and then slowly turns into a horror movie.  In New York, in the early 1980s, three young men who have previously never met discover that they’re triplets.  At first, they’re a media sensation.  Young, handsome, and charismatic, Edward Galland, David Kellman, and Robert Shafran become instantly celebrities.  We watch archival footage of them appearing on a talk show and talking about how they discovered each other and everything that they have in common.  They all smoke the same brand of cigarette.  They all tend to have the same fashion sense and interests.  All three of them smile while announcing that they’re single and they like women, which causes the audience to break into applause.

It was the 80s and we’re told that meant sex, drugs, and rock and roll.  There are the three brothers at a club.  There they are walking down the streets of New York, with three huge grins on their faces.  There they are making a cameo appearance in a film with Madonna.  Soon, they’re opening up a restaurant together, they’re getting married, and they’re starting families of their own….

And yet, as we watch all of this happy footage, we’re also watching present-day interviews with David Kellman and Robert Shafran.  It’s impossible not to notice that, in the present, both of them speak in voices tinged with weariness.  In the present day interviews, neither one of the brothers smile.  Both of them have their guard up.  To put it simply, neither one of them appears to be particularly happy.

It’s also impossible not to notice that Edward Galland, who is frequently described as having been the most charismatic of the triplets, is nowhere to be seen.

While the three triplets are becoming celebrities, the families that adopted them are wondering why they never knew about the other brothers.  All three of the brothers were adopted through the same adoption agency and, interestingly, all three of them were put into families that had just recently adopted a daughter as well.  One brother was given to an upper class family while another was adopted by a middle class family and finally, the third brother was given to a lower class family.  It quickly becomes clear that this was not a coincidence.

Instead, the three brothers were a part of a social experiment, one designed to see how growing up at different economic levels would effect them.  And, as quickly becomes clear, Edward, David, and Robert weren’t the only part of that experiment.  Under the direction of psychologists Viola W. Bernard and Peter B. Neubauer, several sets of twins and triplets were separated for the exact same reason….

To say anything else about this haunting documentary would run the risk of spoiling it.  It’s a thought-provoking film, as well as a rather disturbing one.  Watching the film, it’s impossible not to mourn for the childhoods that the brothers lost.  At the same time, you do find yourself wondering if all of the triplets’s subsequent problems can be blamed on the experiment or if they would have happened even if they all had been raised in the same family?  The documentary leaves the answer to that question ambiguous.  Much like the triplets, the audience is left wondering what could have been.

Oddly, Three Identical Strangers was not nominated for the Best Documentary Feature Oscar.  Well, that’s the Academy’s loss because this film was the best documentary of a very good year.

 

Sundance Film Review: The Tale (dir by Jennifer Fox)


With this year’s Sundance Film Festival getting underway in Colorado, I’m going to be spending the next two weeks looking at some films that caused a stir at previous Sundances.  Today, I’m taking a look at 2018’s The Tale.

The Tale is all about memory.

Jennifer Fox (Laura Dern) is, as her mother (Ellen Burstyn) often reminds her, nearly fifty years old and childless.  She’s been engaged to the sensitive Martin (Common) for three years but she’s in no hurry to get married.  As for children — well, she decided a long time ago that she didn’t want to have children.  Jennifer is a documentarian and a teacher.  She not only records real life but she also teaches others how to do the same thing.  She makes films that, in the decades to come, will be used by future students of history who want to know what it was like to live in the late 20th and early 21st Century.  And yet, it’s her own history that Jennifer has never come to terms with.

When her mother comes across a school essay that a 13 year-old Jennifer once wrote about her relationship with her riding instructor, Mrs. G (Elizabeth Debicki), and her running coach, Bill (Jason Ritter), Jennifer dismisses her concerns.  As Jennifer explains it to Martin, her mother is just upset because Jennifer once had a boyfriend who was “older.”  Of course, that older boyfriend was in his 40s.  What’s obvious to everyone but Jennifer is that her coach took advantage of and raped her.  Jennifer, however, refuses to accept that.  She refers to the coach as being her “lover” and, more than a few times, she attempts to dismiss the whole topic by shrugging and saying, “It was the 70s.”

It’s not that Jennifer doesn’t realize the truth about what actually happened.  Laura Dern gives a fiercely intelligent performance as Jennifer, one that slowly and deliberately peels away at the layers of defensive protection that Jennifer has spent the past 35 years developing.  Jennifer knows what happened but she’s allowed her memory to cloud the reality of it, largely because that’s the only way that she could deal with the aftereffects of Bill’s sexual abuse.  When Jennifer thinks back to the summer that she spent with Mrs. G and Bill, she first sees herself as she was when she was 15 years old, curious and headstrong.  It’s only when Jennifer looks at a photograph that was taken that summer that she sees starts to see herself as she really was, an introverted and vulnerable 13 year-old (played by Isabelle Nelisse) who was groomed and abused by two predators.

As Jennifer investigates her past and finally begins to understand what really happened over the course of that summer, her memories begin to change.  Hazily-remembered conversations take on new meaning and she begins to understand that terrible truth between the looks that were often exchanged between Bill and Mrs. G.  At times, the older Jennifer finds herself interrogating her memories of Bill, Mrs. G, and even her younger self.  She demands to know how they could have done what they did and their answers leave you wondering whether you’re hearing what they would really say or if your just hearing what Jennifer would hope they would say.  When Jennifer talks to others who were around that summer, she’s shocked to learn that she wasn’t the only one who Bill abused and her insistence that she was Bill’s lover (as opposed to his victim) sounds more and more hollow.  When Jennifer finally does track down some of her abusers, you wonder if their somewhat confused reactions are due to guilt or if it’s possible that there were so many victims that they don’t even remember what they did to Jenny Fox.  And if they do remember, they seem to be either horrifically ignorant or curelly unconcerned about the consequences of their actions.

It’s a brave and powerful film, one that is made all the more disturbing by the fact that director and screenwriter Jennifer Fox is telling her own story.   At least year’s Sundance Film Festival, it premiered to acclaim and controversy.  There was also some surprise when, instead of securing a theatrical release, the film was instead sold to HBO.  At the time, there was a lot of concern that the film’s power would somehow be diluted as a result of playing on television as opposed to a big screen.  However, in hindsight, the small screen — with its unavoidable vulnerability — was the perfect place for this uncompromising and emotionally raw film.

The Tale is not an easy film to watch but it is an important one.  It’s a film for anyone who has ever struggled to come to terms with the past.  It’s both a reminder that you’re not alone and a warning to not ignore or laugh off your suspicions.  It’s also a good example of the type of film that probably would never have been discovered if not for Sundance.  There’s a lot of legitimate criticism that one can direct towards the Sundance Film Festival but occasionally, it does do what it’s supposed to do.

Here’s What Won At The 2018 Sundance Film Festival!


Compared to previous years, the buzz around this year’s Sundance Film Festival has felt pretty subdued.  There haven’t been any headlines about any huge distribution deals.  I haven’t seen many articles declaring that “Next year’s Oscar race has already begun at Sundance!” this year.

That said, Sundance remains the first big event of the film year.  Even if the coverage was unusually subdued this year, it still appears that there were some intriguing films at this year’s festival.  Myself, I’m definitely planning on making the time to see Burden, Blaze, Lizzie, Colette, Eighth Grade, and The Tale.

On Saturday night, the following films won awards at the Sundance Film Festival:

U.S. DRAMATIC COMPETITION

Grand Jury Prize: “The Miseducation of Cameron Post”

Audience Award: “Burden”

Directing: Sara Colangelo, “The Kindergarten Teacher”

Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: Christina Choe, “Nancy”

Special Jury Award for Outstanding First Feature: Reinaldo Marcus Green, “Monsters and Men”

Special Jury Award for Excellence in Filmmaking: “I Think We’re Alone Now”

Special Jury Award for Acting: Benjamin Dickey, “Blaze”

U.S. DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION

Grand Jury Prize: “Kailash”

Directing: Alexandria Bombach, “On Her Shoulders”

Audience Award: “The Sentence”

Special Jury Award for Social Impact: “Crime + Punishment”

Special Jury Award for Creative Vision: “Hale County This Morning, This Evening”

Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Filmmaking: “Minding the Gap”

Special Jury Award for Storytelling: “Three Identical Strangers”

WORLD CINEMA DRAMATIC COMPETITION

Grand Jury Prize: “Butterflies”

Audience Award: “The Guilty”

Directing Award: Ísold Uggadóttir, “And Breathe Normally”

Special Jury Award for Acting: Valeria Bertucecelli, “The Queen of Fear,”

Special Jury Award for Screenwriting: Julio Chavezmontes & Sebastián Hofmann, “Time Share”

Special Jury Award for Ensemble Acting: “Dead Pigs”

WORLD CINEMA DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION

Grand Jury Prize: “Of Fathers and Sons”

Audience Award: “This Is Home”

Directing Award: Sandi Tan, “Shirkers”

Special Jury Award: Steven Loveridge, “Matangi/Maya/M.I.A.”

Special Jury Award for Cinematography: Maxim Arbugaev, Peter Indergand “Genesis 2.0”

Special Jury Award for Editing: Maxim Pozdorovkin & Matvey Kulakov, “Our New President”

OTHER AWARDS

NEXT Audience Award: “Search”

NEXT Innovator Award: “Night Comes On” AND “We the Animals”

Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize: “Search”

Sundance Institute NHK Award: Remi Weekes, “His House”

Sundance Institute/Amazon Studios Producers Awards: Katy Chevingy & Marilyn Ness (“Dark Money”) AND Sev Ohanian (“Search”)

Sundance Open Borders Fellowship Presented by Netflix: Talal Derki (“Of Fathers and Sons”) AND Chaitanya Tamhane AND Tatiana Huezo (“Night on Fire”)

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
  10. Reservoir Dogs

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