Tag Archives: tarantino

Movie Review – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)

Grab your time travel machine, 3.5 readers.  It’s time to go back all the way to 1969.

BQB here with a review of Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film.

I’ve been a longtime Tarantino fan, 3.5 readers.  I suppose most Gen Xers are.  His films have always been known for 1) time jumps, i.e. starting at the end and working back to the beginning, so that the end of the movie becomes essentially how the whole mess started 2) long pieces of expository dialogue where characters drop key plot points by word of mouth in passing and 3) 1960s and 1970s pop culture references galore.

Remember Inglourious Bastards?  This film is another alternate history project.  Just as Tarantino rewrote WWII, so too does he give the infamously terrifying Manson family murder of actress Sharon Tate a rewrite.  The tale centers around down on his luck actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his trusty stuntman/errand boy Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt.)  Together, they are a pair of old Hollywood legends who once put out a popular 1950s cowboy show, only to fizzle in the middle of their lives.  Rick is having a tough time finding work, and if he can’t work then Cliff can stunt.

Long story short, Sharon Tate and her husband, director (later turned on the run pervert) Roman Polanski, are Rick’s neighbors, and I could tell you more but suffice to say, during their quest to restart their careers, Rick and Cliff get sucked into the Manson family madness in a big way.

Having studied Tarantino’s movies for a long time, I have to say this one is far different.  His 1960s pop culture references are there, but there a but more subtle, with the occasional hint toward what is being referred to for the millennial generation.  Tarantino’s adoration of the 1960s and 1970s was already a bit stale in the 1990s when he got his start, and I remember as a teenager, watching his films was the first time I learned of some of the 60s/70s references to which he was referring.  So, his work is cut out for him in trying to stay afloat in a sea that is now dominated by young adults who were in short pants at the turn of the century.

Somehow, he pulls it off.  And he also, much to my surprise, refrains from the heavy, heady dialogue that is his trademark.  True, his dialogues were often a joy to behold, but here, he focuses more on showing rather than telling.  Ironically, it’s almost like this grandmaster blew up all the writing rules in his youth, only to begin grabbing hold of them in his old age.

It’s in the showing where this movie excels.  We see Leo as Dalton sitting on a float in his backyard pool, reviewing his lines for a part in a movie that he needs to remain relevant in the acting game.  This shows us that Dalton is desperate.  He’s old but he isn’t ready to quit just yet, and wants to give it his all before his final curtain call.

We see Cliff Booth sitting alone in a dingy trailer, his only friend a big dumb dog.  His house is a mess, looking as though he never cleans.  He cooks a pot of mac and cheese, then sits down before the TV to eat it straight out of the pot.  He is a consummate bachelor.  Unlike Dalton, he is used to a shit life.  Aspirations of anything else don’t compute with him.

And finally, we see Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate.  So proud of herself for making it in the movie business is she that she goes to a cinema and takes in one of her films, in awe of her accomplishment.  It’s a sweet moment.

Overall, this is Tarantino’s love letter to his favorite flicks, genres, actors, directors…really, his kiss for that period of time in Hollywood history that formed the foundation of his work.

Ultimately, Rick and Cliff have to take everything they thought they knew about the movie business and turn it up on its ear to keep going in a world that’s changing, and Tarantino does that here as well.

After all, this is a movie that starts at the beginning and ends at the end.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy.

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The Writer’s Battle – Reservoir Dogs – Non-Linear Storytelling, Doing More with Less and Setting Your Story to a Soundtrack

Are you going to bark all day little 3.5 doggies, or are you going to bite?

BQB here with a little green bag of a discussion about Quentin Tarantino’s 1992 film debut, “Reservoir Dogs.”  What can you 3.5 aspiring writers learn from this flick?  A lot.

Non-Linear Storytelling

Tarantino was the main pioneer of this type of storytelling, namely, when a writer starts at the end and works back to the beginning, rather than start from the beginning and work the story until its conclusion.

In this case, we get an introductory scene where a group of criminals are sitting down for breakfast in a diner.  They trade jokes and we get a sense of each individual’s style.

Next thing you know, Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) is driving Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) to a hideout.  Mr. Orange has been shot in the gut, an apparent sign that a planned diamond store heist went bad.

You’re never actually shown the heist.  Most of the film takes place in a warehouse/hideout as the characters try to figure out how their heist went so wrong, why the police were waiting for them, and most importantly, which member of the crew is the rat who told the cops about the job?

From there, the film goes into flashbacks where we see bits and pieces of the escape from the heist that went wrong, as well as some past “get to know” some of the characters scenes.  The film always returns to the warehouse as the characters move the story forward, trying to figure out who did the crew wrong.

Tarantino could have done this a different way.  He could have started with the backstory of the characters in the beginning, put the heist that goes wrong in the middle, and have the fighting over who the rat is at the end.

Wouldn’t that have been boring though?  Instead, Tarantino chooses to put the most exciting part first.  You jump right into the action – a blood soaked back seat, a pained Mr. Orange screaming out in terror about his impending demise, a calm Mr. White driving a getaway car while holding Mr. Orange’s hand, telling him he’ll be ok.

Your mind immediately asks the question, “How did this heist go so wrong?”  And now you want to sit back and let Uncle Quentin tell you how.

Doing More with Less

This was the first film Tarantino directed.  Sure, he had a bigger budget than any of us indie writers, but still, he didn’t have much compared to other big name films of the day.

Even so, he did a lot with very little.  Consider:

  • Mr. Blonde’s soda cup – We have a scene where Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) and Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) have turned guns on each other, both men starting to lose it as they’re trying to figure out who the rat is and how to avoid going to jail.  Suddenly, we are interrupted by a tell tale sip.  Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) is sipping soda out of a fast food cup through a straw.  The implication?  Mr. Blonde does not give a shit.  He is an unfeeling psychopath.  Any rational person would be scared out of their minds, consumed with fear that the cops will bust down the door any second.  Mr. Blonde?  He murdered a bunch of people in a heist, and then during a citywide search, he stopped at a drive-through to get some food.  He literally did not give a shit that he’d get killed or sent to prison, he was not unsettled by the murders he committed, he was perfectly content to stop for fast food and have a bite to eat while there was a manhunt for him and his crew in progress.  Keep in mind this is not stated.  It’s all about show and tell.  Here, for the price of a ten cent soda cup, Tarantino told us an epic shit ton about Mr. Blonde’s character.

 

  • Steve Buscemi’s gunfight with the cops – So many gun scenes are cliches.  Both sides fight.  No one gets hit.  No one has to reload.  The guns are easy to control, there’s no kickback, everything works out.  Here, Tarantino shows us the furious side of a gun battle.  Buscemi empties his gun at incoming police until his clip runs out.  You see police officers fall in pain, you see the stress on Buscemi’s face.  The message?  Real life gun battles aren’t all summer blockbuster hocus pocus.  Shit gets really terrifying, really fast.

 

  • The nonlinear format itself – I have a hunch that the nonlinear format helped Tarantino save money.  He could have dropped a ton of dough on a major heist scene, show the criminals in an elaborate robbery, followed by epic gunfights and car chases.  Instead, he trusts the actors to tell us about it as they try to piece together the mystery of the rat and the actors do well, the stress they are obviously feeling tells us they were just involved in some heavy shit.

Setting Your Story to a Soundtrack

Tarantino invents a 1970s music station that everyone is listening to throughout the film.  It makes for a retro vibe, and Tarantino was surely trying to pay homage to the cheesy Beretta style crime dramas of his youth.

Playing “Little Green Bag” as the criminals walk down the street gives us a sense that these are some hardcore pricks.

Meanwhile, in an iconic scene, Mr. Blonde tortures a police officer set to the sounds of “Stuck in the Middle with You.”  This song is a happy song, one that makes you want to smile and dance…but it shows what a psycho Mr. Blonde is, namely, that he is enjoying dancing to this happy beat while he’s cutting off a cop’s ear and setting him on fire.

Most people would never do such a thing.  The few that would usually know that this would be no time to dance.  Mr. Blonde is a special kind of crazy.

Of course, you don’t have the rights to use popular songs like Tarantino did.  However, I find that my writing is helped when I listen to songs related to time periods I am writing in.  It puts me in the mood.

How Nonlinear Storytelling Can Fix Plot Holes

Suppose you are a hardened criminal fresh off a botched diamond heist that went wrong due to a rat.  Who would you immediately suspect?

If you said, “The New Guy,” congratulations.  You’re acting like a stylish, early 1990s diamond robber.

The irony is the film goes for most of its length with the characters fighting over who the rat is.  We aren’t told there is a new guy until we get towards the end.  Then we discover Mr. Orange is the new guy and also an undercover cop.  Spoiler?  Shut up, you’ve had since 1992 to watch this thing.

But that’s the thing.  You’re not a stylish early 1990s diamond robber, so you weren’t thinking like one.  Maybe “the new guy” might have popped into your head, but you don’t find out until the end that there was a new guy.  Once you do, you realize the whole crew is apparently very, very, ridiculously stupid.  I mean, they knew he was the new guy.  Why didn’t any of them go, “Hey, I think the new guy might be the rat…”

Had Tarantino followed a linear format and told us up front that Mr. Orange was the new guy, he’d of been the obvious rat suspect, giving away the story’s most vexing question.

Conclusion

With this film and its followup, “Pulp Fiction,” Tarantino inspired a generation of filmmakers and writers, challenging them to abandon the rules in favor of coolness, style, and better yet, to grab the viewer’s attention and draw them in.

Think about writing like dating.  If you are super rich and have a ten foot King Kong penis, you might want to drop that information sooner rather than later.  If you make your date wait until the tenth date to find out your most amazing qualities, she might get bored by then and switch you off, like your audience will do with your writing.

In other words, Tarantino dares us to start with the ice cream first, and then we’ll work our way to the meat and potatoes.  Give us that bloody gunshot victim screaming in pain in the backseat right away, and then we’ll stick around to fight out how he got into such a terrible state.

You can do this too, if you dare.  Begin with the most awesome part of your story, then explain how we got there.

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