RESERVOIR DOGS (1992)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Violence and Language

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Directed by: Quentin Tarantino

Written by: Quentin Tarantino

Starring: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Steve Buscemi, Lawrence Tierney, Michael Madsen, Chris Penn, Quentin Tarantino & Kirk Baltz

Quentin Tarantino’s rise to fame is a tale that inspires any filmmaker. This twenty-something transformed from a video store clerk/film buff seemingly overnight to a sensation at Sundance 1992 with his directorial debut, RESERVOIR DOGS. Tarantino is clearly a guy who loves movies and that comes across in his work. While some might find his frequent homages to older movies to be a bit obnoxious, those who love the man’s work really love the man’s work. I fall into the latter category. Tarantino became one of my favorite filmmakers during formative years of high school when my passion for critiquing films was coming out. Though it can be a bit too self-indulgent in its dialogue, RESERVOIR DOGS is part of the reason that independent cinema is where it is today and Tarantino’s debut still holds up over two decades later.

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A mob boss and his son organize an elaborate, seemingly foolproof diamond heist. In the process, they hire six criminals and assign each an alias (Mr. White, Mr. Orange, Mr. Blonde, Mr. Pink, Mr. Blue, and Mr. Brown). In a shocking twist, the robbery goes horribly wrong with two men dying, Orange getting a bullet in his gut, and the rest of the crooks scrambling to put together why this happened and what to do about it. They come to the conclusion that there must be an undercover cop in their midst and the whole job was doomed to begin with. As minutes pass, blood spills and the criminals get more desperate for the identity of the rat. We are given these answers and plot points through flashbacks of the remaining criminals.

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Non-linear storytelling is part of the reason that RESERVOIR DOGS works so well. What might have been huge restrictions for other directors (a lack of sets and short amount of time), Tarantino turns into strengths. We never see the actual robbery, but we hear details about it from the characters. We are also shown the direct aftermath of the botched job which leads helps our imaginations piece together what a bloody, chaotic mess it was. Using careful stylistic choices, Tarantino thrusts the viewer right into the film’s oddball tone right from the beginning. This movie is violent and serious, but also has a twisted and darkly comical sense of humor. The latter is immediately obvious through an opening monologue about Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” actually being a song about big dicks and a now infamous torture scene set to the song “Stuck in the Middle with You.” It bears mentioning that Tarantino knew how to implement good soundtracks from the beginning of his career. With a running joke of K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the Seventies playing on the radio, Tarantino appropriately uses songs to help set the tone of his movie.

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If there’s anything that will make or break your experience with RESERVOIR DOGS, it will be whether or not you enjoy watching these criminals. Frankly, I love these colorful (not only in name) characters. Tarantino doesn’t make the mistake of glamorizing their immoral lifestyle as he shows the ugly nature and frequent conflicts erupting amongst them. Harvey Keitel is fantastic as Mr. White. Though we aren’t given much info about his personal life, you can see that there are redeeming qualities to this villainous character by the way he treats the wounded Mr. Orange. Another big stand-out is Michael Madsen as the psychopathic Mr. Blonde. He’s just as entertaining as he is scary. Meanwhile, Steve Buscemi plays the slimy “professional” Mr. Pink extremely well. Lawrence Tierney and Chris Penn blend right into the roles of mob boss Joe and his son Nice Guy Eddie. The only performance that occasionally gets over-the-top in comes from Tim Roth as Mr. Orange. A few of his lines come off like he’s overacting.

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RESERVOIR DOGS is one of the most influential independent films in cinematic history. It helped revolutionize a new era of filmmaking during the 90’s. Though Tarantino can be a little too self-indulgent in moments (he’s not a good actor, but still gives himself a cameo as Mr. Brown), his directorial debut stands as one of the most darkly entertaining crime movies ever made. RESERVOIR DOGS is pretty much required viewing for cinephiles everywhere.

Grade: A

SIN CITY (2005)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 4 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Sustained Strong Stylized Violence, Nudity and Sexual Content including Dialogue

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Directed by: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez & Quentin Tarantino

Written by: Frank Miller

(based on the SIN CITY graphic novels by Frank Miller)

Starring: Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Clive Owen, Rosario Dawson, Jessica Alba, Nick Stahl, Josh Hartnett, Powers Boothe, Michael Madsen, Jaime King, Elijah Wood, Rutger Hauer, Benicio Del Toro, Brittany Murphy & Michael Clarke Duncan

With the long-awaited sequel (almost a decade since the first movie) coming right around the corner, the urge hit me to rewatch SIN CITY. To be perfectly honest I haven’t seen this movie in five years, though it was a favorite of mine in high school that I viewed repeatedly. Frank Miller, graphic novelist behind 300, and Robert Rodriguez (along with a brief bit by Tarantino) brought to life the gritty crime stories of Frank Miller in a beautifully made film. This was one of the first films to be constructed in this kind of visual fashion that other movies would use further down the line (e.g. 300 for a good film and THE SPIRIT for a bad one). All the beautiful spectacle in the world cannot save a film that lacks in the writing department, but luckily Frank Miller’s stories are brought to life frame for frame. As in there wasn’t even a full writing credit on this film, because everything was right out of Miller’s books.

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For those who don’t know (a surprisingly large amount out there), SIN CITY is composed of four different crime stories that weave and intersect around each other. Think PULP FICTION loaded with even more over-the-top gratuitous violence that also packs a depressing and dark edge. The main thing I can see turning people off SIN CITY is how damned dark it is. However, some stories inject crazy humor into the mix and go into ridiculous territory that remind the viewer they’re essentially watching a live-action comic book. I’m going to tackle each story individually to address the pros and cons of all four tales, but the movie is absolutely gorgeous to behold. Extreme care and attention to detail was put into every frame to bring Frank Miller’s gritty city landscape to life and the sinful citizens inhabiting it. So without further ado, on to the four stories contained within 2005’s SIN CITY…

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THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS RIGHT: Serving as an opener and closer to the film, these two brief segments welcome to the viewer to the nasty world of SIN CITY and bid them on their way right before cutting to credits. Josh Hartnett plays a character known only as The Salesman. He woos two different women and harbors a dark agenda. This story lasts under five minutes, but keeps a level of mystery around the Salesman character that makes you want to know more about him. This information is never given and never will be, but Josh Hartnett knocks it out of the park with his charismatic and foreboding performance. The opening bit also serves as a nice introduction to just what kind of tone the entire movie will have. A+

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THE HARD GOODBYE: If there’s a single story that I would point out as my least favorite in SIN CITY, it would be HARD GOODBYE. It’s not as if the story is terrible, because it is actually very creative. It follows Marv, a scarred and thuggish individual. He’s just had the time of his life with Goldie, the one hooker who has ever accepted his love. After waking up from a drunken stupor, Marv finds Goldie murdered in bed with him and he’s framed for the crime. Unfortunately for the corrupt cops and a powerful family, Marv is a lunatic who has no problem with hurting anyone who gets in his way or applying vicious torture techniques in order to get information. Mickey Rourke’s misshapen giant is a gentleman to ladies, but is more than a little eager to get his hands dirty on the male scum of Basin City (a.k.a. Sin City).

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The only flaw I find in HARD GOODBYE is how damned dark and mean-spirited the whole story is. It might seem silly to complain about brutality in a movie called SIN CITY. It’s also worth noting that this film originally received an NC-17 from the MPAA and had to go through some edits in order to secure an R rating. Most of these edits most likely come from HARD GOODBYE as it’s nightmarish at points. Elijah Wood pops in for a memorable role that doesn’t have a single line of dialogue. This story also has the most depressing ending of the bunch. It’s phenomenally made and vicious, but it’s also downright unpleasant at points. As well-made as this film is, I’m glad this story was fired early. A-

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THE BIG FAT KILL: Things go from depressing to really entertaining in this story involving gun-totting prostitutes, a hardened man named Dwight, and quite a lot of gangsters. After kicking his girlfriend’s abusive drunkard of an ex out of her apartment, Dwight is convinced that he’s up to no good and follows him into Old Town. This section of the city is full of hookers who will give you the night of your life if you follow the rules or be the death of you if you try any funny stuff. Murder, chaos, and a race against time to cover up a bad mistake ensues. I don’t want to say too much about this story, because some of the enjoyment comes from how wild things get and the unexpected turns the plot takes. BIG FAT KILL is a nice pick me up from the depressing previous story and packs a lot of absurd humor that makes it the most entertaining segment of the movie. I would even go as far as saying that this is my favorite tale of the four being told. A+

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THAT YELLOW BASTARD: The final story actually begins before HARD GOODBYE and then picks up after BIG FAT KILL. John Hartigan is one of the last honest cops in Sin City. They’re a rare breed, in case you can’t guess from the title nickname of Basin City. Hartigan has been on the trail of a pedophile/child-killer who happens to have powerful connections. John puts a few bullets in the psycho and saves an eight year-old girl named Nancy, but finds himself framed for the crimes. Eight years after being locked up, Hartigan is a free man and tries to protect Nancy from the now yellow-skinned psychopath who wants revenge. The plot of YELLOW BASTARD is predictable, but is very cool to watch unfold to say the least. This is the a more character driven story that is actually given a decent amount of time to make you care about John and Nancy. Sympathizing with them makes everything to come that much more gripping. One of the more grotesque deaths you’ll see in cinema occurs in this story and it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving character. Predictability aside, this story delivers on every level. A+

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SIN CITY works in visually capturing a comic book brought to life, but also has Frank Miller’s stellar writing behind it. Every single actor and actress, including usually less-than-great Jessica Alba, gave exactly what was needed of them in their characters. The biggest strength is that all four stories (despite how short they actually are) could fill a four separate movies worth of material and still be rock solid. Packing them all inside a barely over two hour long running time leaves no room to drag and captured my attention from frame one. There are lots of things to like in SIN CITY. The beautiful visuals are merely icing on the cake as the movie moves from emotional and cold to dark and grim to strangely funny and all around amazing. There was never anything quite like SIN CITY before it came along and even if this ten-year-delayed sequel doesn’t deliver on the promise of delivering more great material, then we’ll always have this perfect noir that stands as a cinematic landmark of sorts.

Grade: A+

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