Saturday, October 31, 2015

Top 51 Things I Love About Reservoir Dogs (that no one talks about)

Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight drops this Christmas in glorious throwback fashion. For the first two weeks of its release, the film will screen in theaters specifically equipped with a projector that can properly display the film’s 70mm film stock. I’m beyond excited for a new QT film, so in preparation for The Hateful Eight’s release, I’m going to spend every Friday between now and Christmas discussing Tarantino’s body of work. Today, we start at the beginning, with Tarantino’s fierce and iconic debut, Reservoir Dogs. Enjoy! And remember to come back next Friday for Pulp.

So great that the last actor established in the opening scene was, at the time, the film’s only star.

Pay attention to how the cinematography changes in the opening scene, depending on what is being discussed. It begins with roaming dolly shots during Mr. Brown’s (Quentin Tarantino) “Like a Virgin” theory, then changes to traditional tripod setups during Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) and Joe’s (Lawrence Tierney) argument about Joe’s book. It then goes back to dollies when music is brought up again (the group’s discussion about K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the ‘70s), and then back to traditional tripods (this time all close-up shots) during Mr. Pink’s (Steve Buscemi) tip speech. That’s great cinematography; constantly changing (which keeps us curious), yet always reliable (which makes us comfortable).

Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) laughing at White mocking Joe. You can tell Orange and White are pals.

Chris Penn’s hard ‘k’ at the end of his “Come on, throw in a buck,” line delivery.

I would love to know if Keitel was directed to use that spoon, or if he just did. Either way, great use of a prop.

“I got two words for that: learn to fuckin’ type.” This is why I love Tarantino’s dialogue.

Chris Penn tripping over a chair as they leave the table. Accident or directed?

One of the most notable things about the famed credit sequence (that is rarely discussed) is that it wasn’t actually shot in slow motion. To shoot in slow-mo, you set your camera to a heightened frame rate (120fps is popular), then slow it down to the standard frame rate (24fps) in editing. That’s how you get that crisp, clean slow-mo look. But here, Tarantino shot the scene at the standard frame rate, then slowed it down to 12fps in editing. That’s why the slow motion in the sequence is clunky and slightly off. Yet, of course, it totally works for the material.

Tarantino withholding his writer/director credit from the opening credits, so that it is the first credit we see at the film’s conclusion (union films aren’t allowed to do both). He did this in Pulp Fiction as well.

This is by far the most upsetting scene in the film for me. Why? Tim Roth’s acting. Effective violence is all about performance, not gore.

Whenever I want to make my friends laugh, I do my spot-on impression of Mr. Orange wailing: “She had a baby, man! She had a baby!”

White raising his eyebrows after Orange asks to be held. It’s a small look that says, “Yeah, I mean, I guess. Kinda weird, but, I guess.”

Orange agreeing with Pink about the heist being a setup. A bold move for Orange to agree, given that he was in on it.

White asking Pink to discuss the setup in the next room. They’re like parents who don’t want to argue in front of their children.

Tarantino never gets enough credit for his stealth oners (long takes disguised as long takes). This hallway shot, for example, runs a healthy 1 minute 32 seconds. May not seem like that long a take, but considering a lot of the action takes place off screen (Pink throwing shit around), it’s pretty significant to hold the shot here.

People always say it’s a continuity error that Mr. White doesn’t light his cigarette here. I disagree. He thinks about lighting it, but simply chooses not to. It’s not like he tries to smoke it throughout the scene, he just holds it. Never understood what all the fuss was about.

This shot is another stealth oner, by the way. Coming it at 1 minute 26 seconds.

Pink calling the pedestrian he just plowed over a “Fucker!” all while three cops chase him. Never too late to insult someone, I suppose.

Love the two dudes in the background on their bikes. Just hanging out, watching.

Cutting away from a scene when the sound is at its peak. Great little editing device.

White darting a look at Pink as he loads his gun, as if to ask, “What do you plan to do with that, motherfucker?”

See, now he’s ready for that smoke, so he actually lights it. What’s the big deal?

Cutting from a master in one setting, to an out of focus, low-angle medium shot in flashback… that shit never happens. That is why I love movies.

Again with the purposeful camera movement. Before, all of Orange and Pink’s warehouse scenes were shot on tripods. Now they’re handheld. That jerkiness makes us anxious, as if something bad is about to happen (which it is).

Good time to mention the film’s sound design. Boom operators, mixers, designers… they spend hours trying to remove the hollow echoes produced by voices in a big room, but Reservoir Dogs embraces the auditory structure of the warehouse. Love it.

Stealth oner: White and Pink argue about taking Orange to the hospital. Shot length: 1 minute 48 seconds.

This is the first time Michael Madsen’s character is referred to “Mr. Blonde” to his face. When I saw Reservoir Dogs for the first time, I wondered so badly who White and Pink were talking about. Which actor is the psychopathic mad man?! I want to know! A great character reintroduction.

Next time someone makes you mad, tell them off as articulately as you can, then punctuate your argument with “ASSHOLE!” It’s brilliant.

Pink rolling his eyes after Blonde asks White, “Are you gonna bark all day, little doggie, or are you gonna bite?”

Blonde smiling during his confrontation with White. Dude is nuts.

Those fuckin’ tusks.

Blonde just barely managing to grab the chair as Nice Guy Eddie (Chris Penn) body slams him. If Madsen had missed that chair, he would’ve gotten wrecked.

Blonde laughing hysterically in the background after Pink lands a shitty punch on the cop.

“Either he’s alive or he’s dead, or the cops got him… or they don’t.” That’s a great line, but Nice Guy Eddie’s annoyed double take is even better.

White giving Orange one last look (off screen), before he leaves. He really cares about him.

White and Blonde staring each other down as White leaves.

How pleased Blonde is when “Stuck in the Middle with You” begins playing. Like he’s thinking, “God… damn, I haven’t heard this tune in years.”

“Watch your head”. Ha, yep.

The sound of the ear hitting the floor after Blonde tosses it aside. Jesus Christ.

In the age of film (which Reservoir Dogs was shot on), I have no clue how you could start inside a moderately lit location, move outside into the harsh sunlight, then go back inside to the location, all in one shot, without having exposure issues. That would be so incredibly difficult to pull off, trust me.

Love that Mr. Blonde’s final line is a reference to The Wizard of Oz.

A lot of people think the radio magically turns off after the song is finished, but if you listen closely, you can hear commercials being played.

Flashbacks within flashbacks are a tough thing to pull off, but damn if The Commode Story from Reservoir Dogs doesn’t pull it off great. Also, the main rule for flashbacks within flashbacks is that you land where you began, which, of course, Reservoir Dogs does.

Orange making a mock “wrong answer” buzzer sound when he refers to himself as “Freddie” during his Commode Story rehearsal.

Orange wearing a wedding ring as a prop.

Nice Guy Eddie’s hurried line delivery as he’s describing his friend Carlos.

Technically, the scene where Joe assigns the Dogs their names takes place before Orange meets with his cop buddy in the diner. At the diner, Orange tells his friend about the color-themed names, which means the assignment scene has already happened. Point is, if your story is solid, audiences won’t give a shit if your film momentarily takes place out of order.

Tim Roth’s British accent coming through during the line, “You’re not blind, you just got blood in your eyes.”

Orange’s horrified look as he watches White kill two cops.

Again, never understood what the big deal was about the final shootout. Joe shoots Orange, White shoots Joe, Eddie shoots White, White shoots Eddie. Yeah, it happens fast, but White clearly gets two shots off. Actually, he gets three, but only hits twice.

More great sound design. Turn your speakers up all the way, and you hear police cars roll up, a brief shoot out, and then the cops telling Pink to put his hands up. “Don’t shoot, I’ve been shot, goddamnit!” Pink yells. And because we don’t hear any more shots, it’s safe to assume that Pink was shot in the brief scuffle, and then gave himself over to the cops without further incident. Put de lime in de coconut and call me in the morning.

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  1. I still go back and forth between this and Inglourious Basterds as my favorite Tarantino movie. I always felt Pulp Fiction was kind of overrated, but i can't get enough of Reservoir Dogs. Steve Buscemi and Michael Madsen are both fantastic here. I don't think anyone can ever listen to Stuck in the Middle With You without thinking of this movie anymore. It's been a while since the last time i have seen this now and this made me want to watch it again. But it's gonna have to wait till tomorrow because tonight i am watching Halloween as i do every year on this day.

    1. Such a great film, never gets old. Pulp will always be my favorite, but Dogs is a close second. And you're right, "Stuck in the Middle With You" is forever married to this film. So, so good.

  2. Love this idea. I also would like to point out the foreshadowing in the 16 and 24 slide. The camera is distant as if someone else is there, listening. And how the pink and white can are together but the orange can is separate.

    1. Love that you paid attention to the framing and staging as well. No one mentions that in regards to this film, but QT obviously put quite a bit of thought into it.

  3. Good stuff, man. I really love this film, and it is one that hasn't gotten old for me, like...dare I say it!...Pulp Fiction. Love that you paid such close attention to the Keitel cigarette lighting scene. I always felt like that was awkward on Keitel's part. It seemed as if he just couldn't get it right, it was a long take, so Tarantino just made do with it. Now, I sort of see it as he is just so deep in conversation he has to stop and continue the argument to make really lighting up worth it. Thanks for that. It's so funny the little things like that in movies that stick with us. Really need to watch this soon. It's been too long.

    1. Yes, exactly! He just doesn't think it's worth it, so he just continues with his conversation. You see actors do this with eating all the time as well. Instead of taking a bite, they just keep talking. Never understood all the fuss. But I'm glad you get it!

  4. Haha wow I literally just saw this again last night. Great film.

  5. Great list! Reservoir Dogs is, without a doubt, the introduction to a master of cinema. A wonderful cast, and you really can't go wrong with a Tarantino screenplay. I can't wait for The Hateful Eight, plus your next Tarantino posts!

    1. Thanks so much! I'm so excited to get this series going. Really glad you dig his films.

  6. Still, my favorite film by Quentin Tarantino. There's so much about it that I love about this. I remember renting it at Blockbuster or some video store across the street from my house (which is now a place that sells cellphones in one half and the other is Little Caesar's). It was a fucking atom bomb to the head.

    In fact, you could say that my adolescent can be summed up in two parts. Before Reservoir Dogs where I just mostly watched family films and anything that only my parents approved with the exception of a few things like comedies that starred Eddie Murphy and Chevy Chase or Rocky. After Reservoir Dogs where I watched different things and came to the conclusion that the family films at the time like Blank Check and North were just really bad fucking films. At the same time, I was listening to music my parents didn't like at all. That film means a whole lot to me at the age of 13 and I'm glad it still holds up after all these years.

    1. Oh man, I love that story. That's pretty much the exact relationship I had with Pulp Fiction and Taxi Driver. My adolescence is before those movies, and after those movies. So cool that we're alike in that way. Also didn't know Dogs was your favorite QT film. It's so goddamn good.

  7. I always love this feature even though 'Reservoir Dog's is not one of my favorites. You always pick out such fun and unique things.

  8. I remember going out to dinner with my family and giving a variation of Buschemi's "tipping" speech. No one in my family is too familiar with that they were all pissed off lol. I ended up putting in. (but normally I would never do that.) ;-)

    1. I mean... he makes a lot of good points in that rant haha. His only slip up is when he says that servers make minimum wage. Maybe they did in '92, but they definitely don't know. Most of my server friends in L.A. make $3 an hour, and the rest is tips. Bummer!

  9. This is why '90s QT will always be my favorite. Awesome work, buddy!

  10. I personally love Mr. Pink's colorful expressions as he circled the cop, examining what Mr Blonde did. He slows down as he's about to get to the side with the chopped ear, knowing what he's about to see, then he bites his fist when he does. The faces are great.

    1. That's a great call. I love that expression too. Fuckin' Buscemi, man. Love the guy.

  11. I personally love Mr. Pink's colorful expressions as he circled the cop, examining what Mr Blonde did. He slows down as he's about to get to the side with the chopped ear, knowing what he's about to see, then he bites his fist when he does. The faces are great.