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Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs

What kind of heist flick is it where we don’t even see the heist? The best kind. The Quentin Tarantino kind. Reservoir Dogs has aged incredibly well, it’s his leanest and meanest film to date and stands as the blood soaked crash course leading to the sustained, verbose historical epics we have come to know him for these days. Many consider Pulp Fiction to be his official breakout but the magic first took flight here on the outskirts of LA as a band of marauding jewel thieves in identical suits tries to smoke out a rat from their very midst. Like a bizarro world version of the Rat Pack, this profane, volatile murder of ex-con crows discuss Madonna, tipping waitresses, The Lost Boys and more before erupting together in a cascade of yelling and bloodshed that remains as exciting now as it no doubt was in the initial theatrical run. Dialogue runs the show here, whether between Harvey Keitel’s Mr. White and Tim Roth’s Mr. Orange, Chris Penn’s Nice Guy Eddie and his gangster father Joe (Lawrence Tierney) or Michael Madsen’s Mr. Blonde and whoever he’s decided to intimidate on a whim. Madsen gives the performance of his career early on and Blonde is a character for the ages, a self appointed psychopath who tortures an LAPD hostage (Kirk Baltz) more out of vague amusement than outright malice in a scene that has since been inducted into time capsules everywhere. When we meet these guys, they’re casually having breakfast in a greasy spoon diner, chattering on about everything under the sun except the jewel robbery they’re about to commit. It’s only after the stylized opening credits and the hectic aftermath of said robbery that Tarantino flashes back to scattered exposition and backstory for these guys, and it’s that kind of deliberate editing that has not only become a hallmark for the filmmaker, but keeps his stories so fresh and enthralling. The audience knows almost right off the bat who the rat is, but the fun is in observing paranoia levels rise in their ranks as they each begin to suspect the man next to them and turn on each other like a pack of hyenas in the Serengeti of industrial Los Angeles. From the iconic torture scene set to Stuck In The Middle With You to the tense Mexican standoff to the frantic escape and firefight with LA’s finest, this is one gritty slice of life crime piece that the years have been most kind to. Tarantino has evolved and adapted as his career has moved forth, but its always nice to come back to the scrappy little picture that started it all, see how it’s influenced countless other filmmakers over the decades and bask in the bloody, expletive filled, dialogue heavy bliss again every once in a while. An all timer.

-Nate Hill

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Top Ten Harvey Keitel

Harvey Keitel is one of cinema’s most valued actors.  His brand: tough alpha male, career criminal, and the all-around bad motherfucker.  His filmography is unique; he has been a mainstay in the works of Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, James Toback, Abel Ferrara, and most recently Wes Anderson.  While his hallmark is the tough guy, he’s been able to transform that archetype into colorful dimensional characters that only he could have portrayed on film.  Whether he’s in a crime film, a big budget opus, or an incredibly small independent film, Keitel is always on the mark and he is always fascinating to watch.

ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE 1974 Dir. Martin Scorsese

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In his third collaboration with his friend Martin Scorsese, Keitel gives a dual layer performance.  He starts out being the affable and charming suitor of Ellen Burstyn’s Alice – until he isn’t.  He’s the all too real sociopath that is able to cover his anger and inner frustration with his charm.  Keitel is frightening in this film, the way he’s able to camouflage the character’s actual motivations and drive is unique to the range he has as an actor.

BAD LIEUTENANT 1992 Dir. Abel Ferrara

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There has never been a performance like Keitel’s turn in BAD LIEUTENANT.  It is as pulverizing as it is soul bearing.  He removes the audience from their comfort zone, and takes them into the heart of darkness, watching a man spiral out of control.  He’s a killer, a gambler, a junkie, a cop – yet he accidentally finds a reason to live through redemption.  While the Bad Lieutenant is incredibly vile, the subtle vulnerability that Keitel graces makes this performance all that more tragic.  Aside from being one of Keitel’s finest performances, this remains one of the best performances in cinema history.

DANGEROUS GAME 1993 Dir. Abel Ferrara

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Off the heels of BAD LIEUTENANT, the seminal trio of Abel Ferrara, Harvey Keitel, and cinematographer Ken Kelsch embarked on one of the most daring and transgressive pseudo autobiographical films, DANGEROUS GAME.  Like Fosse’s ALL THAT JAZZ or Felini’s 8 ½ Abel Ferrara uses his actor as a vessel to tell his own story on film.  Keitel completely shakes his gangster vibe but leaves his darkness and intensity completely intact to play filmmaker Eddie Israel in a movie within a movie.

FINDING GRACELAND 1998 Dir. David Winkler

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In the vastly underseen FINDING GRACELAND, Keitel plays a quietly broken drifter who claims to be Elvis Presley.  While on the road to Graceland, he gives his most quietly heartfelt performance with an incredible amount of soul and reach.  We’ve seen characters like this before in cinema, but seeing Keitel playing a man claiming to be Elvis, along with singing SUSPICIOUS MINDS, is a one of a kind performance.  Yes.  Harvey Keitel sings Elvis.  That’s worth watching it on its own.

FINGERS 1978 Dir. James Toback

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Somewhere there needs to be a theatre showing a double bill of FIVE EASY PIECES and FINGERS.  This is a key performance from Keitel, where he plays the gangster and the intellectual.  He’s a brutal enforcer for his father, yet doubles as a piano prodigy.  Both sides of himself have one thing in common: sexual addiction.  FINGERS is Toback’s finest hour as a filmmaker, and is yet another performance of Keitel’s that is chalked up in the underseen category.

THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST 1988 Dir. Martin Scorsese

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Martin Scorsese’s most seminal film, THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST is controversial and monumental for a variety of reasons.  One of the most enamoring aspects is Keitel’s reinvention of Judas.  He’s an insurgent warrior, he’s the loyal follower, and then he becomes the voice of reason while Jesus is being guided through his final temptation.  Keitel’s turn earned him a Razzie nomination, and that is completely off base.  Keitel is brutish and forceful; purposely directed to speak with an overt Brooklyn accent with a new take on the Biblical character.

MEAN STREETS 1973 Dir. Martin Scorsese

HK MEAN STREETS

MEAN STREETS is often mentioned as the film that birthed the brilliant collaboration of Scorsese and De Niro, but the film is much more than that.  Keitel takes the lead, as the morally conflicted Charlie who is set to take over for his gangster Uncle, yet having to constantly juggle his wild card best friend Johnny Boy (brilliantly played by De Niro).  De Niro has the flashy role, but Keitel is the foundation of the film.  He’s Scorsese’s alter ego; he is struggling with his faith, his family, and his identity.  Keitel gives an incredibly soft and vulnerable performance as a man who is stuck in his own quagmire, having no way out.

RESERVOIR DOGS 1992 Dir. Quentin Tarantino

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This is the performance where everything Keitel has done before comes to a perfect culmination.  There isn’t an actor who has delivered Tarantino’s dialogue with as much weight as Keitel.  Keitel walks Tarantino’s walk, and in particular talks his talk.  There is a Shakespearean quality to Keitel’s performance in this film.  From the start of the film, we know he’s heading for impending doom, and he does it all with gravitas and honor.

TAXI DRIVER 1976 Dir. Martin Scorsese

HK Taxi Driver

Originally, Scorsese wanted Keitel to play the campaign staffer Tom (the role Albert Brooks knocks out of the park), but instead Keitel wanted to play the pimp who had only a few lines of dialogue in the original screenplay.  Keitel transforms into a smooth and funny character, yet in his private encounter with Iris (Jodie Foster) we see what a master of manipulation and control he is in a creepy and quiet way.

SMOKE 1995 Dir. Wayne Wang

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SMOKE is another one of those quietly underseen gems of independent cinema.  In a very low key way, we see Keitel in a new light. He’s himself, in a certain regard, a brash New Yorker who smokes, runs a tobacco shop, yet he has an undying pension for art.  In this film’s case, he’s a photographer, who has taken the same photograph in the same intersection every day for the past twenty years.  This is a very touching film, and Keitel gives one of his sweetest performances.

YOUTH 2015 Dir. Paolo Sorrentino

HK YOUTH

In a character that is fusion of Charles Bukowski and John Cassavetes, Keitel plays writer/director Mick Boyle who is on his annual holiday in the Swiss Alps with his best friend, Michael Caine.  This was a role that Keitel was born to play.  He’s the artist that is overflowing with creativity and inner torment.  He’s being torn apart by his own emotions and ego, and he gives is a bittersweet showboat of a performance of what it is truly like to be an artist.

Honorable mentions: BAD TIMING, BLUE COLLAR, BUGSY, CITY OF INDUSTRY, COP LAND, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, THE PIANO 

Top Ten Quentin Tarantino Characters: A Write Up by Nate Hill

Quentin Tarantino’s career has been vividly defined by all the beloved qualities which we hold dear in film: visuality, music, dialogue, emotion, conflict and especially character. His films contain some of the most captivating, idiosyncratic and unique people to ever grace the screen, played by an incredible lineup of actors, some of which he would go on to use time and time again. Below you will find my personal top ten picks from the rogues gallery of individuals who have appeared in his stories. Please keep in mind these are characters from films he has both written and directed only, not just ones he has written. Enjoy, and if you do, please share!

10. Zed, played by Peter Greene in Pulp Fiction. 

  

      Greene refused this part multiple times, causing Tarantino to hunt him down like a dog and basically beg him to play the role. When the director has a face in mind for a role and won’t quit like that, you’d better believe he’s gonna make magic with it if he ever manages to sway the actor. He does, and so does Greene, an actor with a distinct, sinister look who plays the absolute hell out of the character, spinning a small supporting turn into one of the most terrifying movie villains ever, and certainly the scariest character in Tarantino’s career. Everyone’s favourite redneck rapist sheriff, Greene leaves quite the unsettling impression with his work. 

9. Texas Ranger Earl McGraw, played by. Michael Parks in Kill Bill, Grindhouse and From Dusk Till Dawn

  

Tarantino casted underrated acting chameleon Parks as this character several times, each appearance resulting in pure gold. My personal favourite has to his bit in Kill Bill Volume 1, where he’s called to the El Paso wedding chapel massacre. Parks can literally play any part thrown his way, be it melodramatic French Canadian drug runner, neo-nazi hit man or the laconic southwestern lawman archetype, which he nails down to the detailed mannerisms here. McGraw is a lynchpin of Tarantino lore and an absolute pleasure to see every time he pops up. 

8. Captain Koons, played by Christopher Walken in Pulp Fiction

  

Walken balances weirdness and gravity like no other, often blurring the lines between the two to amusing and touching effect. When given what is perhaps the juiciest monologue ever written by Tarantino, Walken gives us a mesmerizing account of his time in the war, and his efforts to protect a coveted family heirloom which he then presents, with much ceremony, to a young Butch Coolidge. The film halts the momentum dead in its tracks to allow Walken to do his thing, completely off the leash and inhabiting his own special corner of the beloved film. He’s unforgettable, and makes a two minute appearance speak the volumes of eons.   

7. Bill, played by David Carradine in Kill Bill

 

There’s a scene in Kill Bill Volume 2 where Uma Thurman discovers Bill waiting for her outside the wedding chapel, playing his pan flute. There’s an epic passage of Morricone music, and he looks her dead in the eye. Upon reviewing a rough cut, Tarantino turned to Carradine and said “I think this is your best moment of the film.” Carradine’s response was, “Hell, I think it’s the best moment of my whole career!.” Bill is a mythic, titular antagonist who is built up no end for the duration of the films, the ultimate badass villain, and when the climax arrives in the eleventh hour, Tarantino writes an exodus for the character that is far more personal, emotional and grounded than I imagine anyone saw coming. It’s a gift to Carradine and fans alike, a villain with depth and purpose who exists in a surreal comic book world where the people couldn’t be more human or real. Carradine purrs his way through the role of his career and on into legend. 

6. Budd, played by Michael Madsen in Kill Bill

  

Tarantino brings out the best in Madsen, a purely charismatic dude who unfortunately makes a lot on unwatchable junky poo movies these days, squandering his obvious talent. This is is shining hour, playing Budd as a bitter backwater kid and younger sibling, nearing the end of his road and fermenting in bitter loneliness way out in the California desert. Madsen channels tough guys of the golden age as Budd, a rotten son of a bitch with a glint of humanity showing through his booze-dimmed eyes. 

5. Hans Landa, played by Christoph Waltz in Inglorious Basterds

  

Quite possibly the most entertaining villain in Tarantino’s work, due the the exuberant and absolutely committed performance of Waltz, in a trailblazing turn that would put him on the map in a big way. Beaming from ear to ear in almost every scene with a charming grin that dissipates occasionally, showing traces of the spider beneath, he’s a wonder in the role, a nazi A-hole rotten straight to the core. He doesn’t even possess any constitution or debt of faith in the cause which his smartly emblazoned SS uniform advertises; he’s in it for himself only, which is one more despicable quality to add to the list of traits one might use to define him. Perhaps the biggest Basterd of them all, and a joy to watch. 

4. Vincent Vega, played by John Travolta in Pulp Fiction

  

Pulp Fiction kickstarted Travolta’s career back into gear in a huge way, and it’s easy to see why as we watch his Elvis-esque slickster prance about the screen with effortless, heroin addled coolness and one hell of a dance sequence. His hair deserves its own spinoff film, he steals scenes by simply laying low and playing the dude with flair that never makes itself overly known. 

3. Mr. Blonde, payed by Michael Madsen in Reservoir Dogs

  

A stone cold psycho to the bone, Madsen relishes in brining this cop killing sadist to life, and dancing his way through one of the most iconic Tarantino scenes to date. Madsen has a rumbling threat to his work, a paced, portentous vibe that suggests the onset of a dangerous storm, but always seems to veer on the edge. With Mr. Blonde he crosses that line and shows us what a true madman looks like, without even raising his voice above a willowy growl. A class act in violent behaviour that laced with the blackest humour that we feel bad for laughing at. Mr. Blonde all the way. 

2. Jules Winnfield, played by Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction

  

A rain of hellfire awaits any viewer who has the privilege of seeing Jackson bellow forth biblical fury in his first collaboration with Tarantino. He’s the life of the party in Pulp Fiction, an articulate, relentless loudmouth with a character arc that amusingly negates his belligerent nature and makes Jules all the more fascinating for it. Jack sonics at his most magnetic when he’s in Tarantino films, and this is mile zero, baby. Not for a second does the spark leave his eye, or the threat of violence evaporate from his wake. Criminals who ruminate on life, love and cunnilingus have become a goldmine for writers post Tarantino, and one which he only mined the first nuggets of. Jackson is ground zero for the character type, and fires it up in a way which none of us will ever forget. 

1. The Bride a.k.a. Beatrix Kiddo, played by Uma Thurman in Kill Bill

  

Tarantino’s muse has been Uma Thurman since the days of Pulp Fiction, and here he writes a titanic revenge epic in which the actress gets to bare her claws and sink her teeth into the single most affecting and arrest in female role that he has ever written, also forging the best, or at least my favourite performance from any actor or actress in his films. The Bride is the revenge archetype, an angry blonde angel forsaken by her lover and dead set on a bloody warpath. Tarantino isn’t above writing in moments of stirring emotion, including the final twenty minutes of Volume two which is Thurman’s showcase piece as an actress and an achingly appropriate send-off for The Bride, as well as the one which she deserves. 
Thanks for reading, more to come!