Revisiting RESERVOIR DOGS On The Big Screen – Thanks Again Cool Classics @ The Colony!

As a film geek/blogger it’s probably not surprising that one of my favorite pastimes is to see old movies, whether for the first time or hundredth, on the big screen. A 35 MM print, new or old, of a particular cult or could be cult movie really is most certainly my cup of tea. As I’ve blogged before, The Colony Theater in North Raleigh has been showing a regular round of what they call “Cool Classics”. Last Saturday night was right for a midnight show of arguably Quentin Tarantino’s best flick. Since my girlfriend and I have attended such previous pop culture staples as ERASERHEAD, PURPLE RAIN and most recently enjoyed re-seeing CITY OF LOST CHILDREN we were game to revisit:


RESERVOIR DOGS (Dir. Quentin Tarantino, 1992)


It was hugely fitting that the night before this late show, The Museum Of Art in Raleigh screened THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE. Why you ask? Because Mr. Too Cool For Film School Tarantino lovingly lifted the use of colors as code names from that classic 70’s heist film – i.e. Mr. Blond, Mr. Brown, Mr. Blue etc. Of course he snarkily threw in Mr. Pink just so Steve Buscemi could have something to hilariously complain about: “Yeah, Mr. Pink sounds like Mr. Pussy. Tell you what, let me be Mr. Purple.” He lifted lots more from other films here too but whether you consider it a rip-off or a homage, RESERVOIR DOGS, 17 years later, is still colossal cinema and one of the most daring breakthrough debuts of a director ever.


This was before independent films were the rage and award nominee regulars. Many notable auteurs had offered up dark crafty fare before but while filmmakers like Jim Jarmusch and Steven Soderbergh made cool indie films, Tarantino made indie films ultra cool. With RESERVOIR DOGS and its overwhelmingly influential follow-up PULP FICTION, the former video store clerk created a world of wise guys in suits with thin black ties, vintage cars with blood splashed interiors, 50’s styled diners, f-bombs and n-words dropped in nearly every line, endless pop culture reference riffing, and soundtracks full of 70’s funk/pop deep cuts. The opening credits slow motion shuffle to George Bakers Little Green bag alone defines Tarantinos savvy assured style.


Most of the action in RESERVOIR DOGS (nobody really knows what the title means – Tarantino himself wont say) deals with a never seen heist gone wrong and takes place in a mostly empty warehouse. It has been said that for budgetary reasons most directors first films are essentially ‘filmed plays’. That said, seeing this film on the big screen for the first time enhanced the spare staging scenarios for me to an edgier level than I expected. The iconic shot, used on many posters and the go-to promotional picture, of Harvey Keitel with gun pointed at an on the floor Steve Buscemi is 10 times more effective here than on any TV viewing when it pulls back to reveal Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) coolly watching them in an over the shoulder viewpoint. Likewise the shot from the P.O.V. of the cop (Kirk Baltz) tied up in Mr. Blonde’s car trunk – I mean it’s obvious to say but it’s so nice to see this film like this how it was truly meant to be seen.


One flaw of many film folks’ first films is that the actors all talk like the writer/director (see Richard Linklater’s SLACKER). This is actually something that works well in Tarantino’s favor here despite all odds. I can practically hear Tarantino coaching Buscemi, Keitel, producer turned actor Lawrence Tierney,Tim Roth et al. through all of their lines but somehow that’s actually a plus in these punchy proceedings. Tarantino wisely kills off his own character (Mr. Brown) after his opening Like A Virgin breakdown speech presumably because he was aware his acting wasnt up to the caliber of his co-stars – too bad he didnt make the same decision in future films (especially PULP FICTION and DEATH PROOF).


In the low budget framing but the high formula re-thinking that defines Tarantino’s cut and paste career, RESERVOIR DOGS deserves future wave after wave of big screen audiences. Even if you own a special edition DVD or Blu-ray, consider seeing it on the big screen if a print comes to your area. Every detail from Steven Wright’s voice-over on the radio (“K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the Seventies” to be exact) to the sadly late Chris Penn’s scene steals as Nice Guy Eddie just screams for larger projection. One great moment – in a pivotal scene, Madsen spoke just as somebody in the audience made a distracting noise by dropping their drink. Keitel responded “excuse me?” as if he didn’t hear because of the offending interruption. Madsen had to repeat himself louder. Many at the Colony theater late show laughed – a communal sensation that can’t be recreated at home. Maybe that’s a disclaimer that should be on this film as well, especially the brutal cop’s ear slicing sequence: “These are trained professionals – don’t try this at home.”


Post note: I realize after re-reading this that I was addressing folks who’ve already seen this movie. If you haven’t seen it – by all means, screw waiting for a big screen opportunity, just rent the damn thing and complete the indie initiation of your film education – why doncha?


More later…

10 Movie Characters Revived Via SNL By Their Original Actors

For no other reason than to take a break from reviews of the all the prestige Oscar bait out there I decided it was time for another patented Film Babble Blog list. Enjoy!

It’s interesting that some actors stay away from reprising their best known roles when Saturday Night Live comes a-calling. In the 2 times Robert De Niro hosted there were no appearances by Travis Bickle (TAXI DRIVER), Jake La Motta (RAGING BULL), Max Cady (CAPE FEAR) or even deluded comedian Rupert Pupkin (THE KING OF COMEDY) who actually would lend himself nicely to a follow-up sketch. Sally Field even stressed in her monologue on her one time hosting gig that she would not be playing any past parts to the comical disappointment of Flying Nun, Gidget, and SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT fans (actually just one – Burt Reynolds as played by Phil Hartman). Many movie stars though have fearlessly stepped back into old shoes and reclaimed their iconic characters even if it’s just for the sake of satire. Here’s some of the best:

1. Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates from PSYCHO (March 13th, 1976) Perkins was the first actor to take on the role that made his name for a SNL sketch. It was a gutsy move because the part had him typecasted him for years but he slips back beautifully into Bates in a commercial parody entitled “The Norman Bates School Of Motel Management.” In his direct to the camera address he stutters, imitates (or channels) the voice of his mother, and gives us a quiz to see if we’re motel material: “Question One – A guest loses the key to her room. Would you: A: Give her a duplicate key. B: Let her in with your passkey. C: Hack her to death with a kitchen knife.” Silly, yes but Perkins playing Bates again later in 2 80’s sequels and a 90’s TV movie (yep, 3 more times) is much sillier.


2. Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia from STAR WARS * (Nov. 18th , 1978) Fisher, who also did the opening monologue in Leia garb, joined the cast as her most famous character in a Frankie Avalon/Annette Funicello beach movie parody entitled “Beach Blanket Bingo from Outer Space.” Frankie (Bill Murray) hits on the visiting Princess to Annette’s (Gilda Radner) chagrin while celebs such as Vincent Price (Dan Aykroyd) and Chubby Checker (Garrett Morris) make obligatory cameos. Her appearance is actually light years less embarrassing than on “The Star Wars Holiday Special” (broadcast just one day earlier by the way) in which she also insisted on singing a song for us. Most notable however is the sight of Leia in a gold bikini a full 5 years before RETURN OF THE JEDI.


* Still not calling it A NEW HOPE, damnit!


3. Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison from THE DOORS (Dec. 9th, 2000) Donning a wig, 60’s threads, and a perpetually stoned expression, Kilmer embodied the Lizard King one more time in a Behind The Music satire that centered on “Rock And Roll Heaven.” Morrison forms a band with other dead musical icons such as Jimi Hendrix (Jimmy Minor), Janis Joplin (Molly Shannon), Keith Moon (Horatio Sanz), Billy Holly (Jimmy Fallon), and as the announcer (real Behind The Music narrator Jim Forbes) reveals: “a Wild Card – Louis Armstrong (Tracy Morgan) on trumpet.” Morrison’s afterlife band called The Great Frog Society is soon the talk of Heaven, but offstage things were falling apart (Forbes stresses: “‘offstage things were falling apart”, is a registered trademark of VH1 and Behind the Music’”).


4. Glenn Close as Alex Forrest from FATAL ATTRACTION (Feb. 25th, 1989) This support group sketch actually takes place during the events of the 1987 infidelity suspense thriller. Close’s murderous stalker character shares her stories with her group members (Dana Carvey, Nora Dunn, Victoria Jackson, and Jon Lovitz) and therapist (Kevin Nealon) who of course are supremely disturbed by them. Portraying Alex as merely the victum of a one-night stand is an especially nice funny touch here considering, well, you know.


5. Elijah Wood as Frodo from THE LORD OF THE RINGS series (Dec. 13th, 2003) st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) }
Gollum (Chris Kattan) interrupts Wood’s monologue to plug their new sitcom pilot featuring an Odd Couple (or more like Perfect Strangers) premise. As Wood describes it: “Basically, the idea is that, before they make it to Mordor, Frodo and Gollum decide to move to Denver and share an apartment together.” Of course, wackiness ensues.


6. Dennis Hopper as Billy from EASY RIDER * (May 23rd, 1987) Using actual footage of the ending to the New Hollywood classic, we see Billy and Wyatt’s (Peter Fonda) ultimate demise (that can’t possibly be a Spolier! at this point, can it?). Not so fast, with a “later that day” caption this sketch shows that Billy and Wyatt (now played by Dana Carvey) survived to get treated by a local Doc (Jon Lovitz) and even run into their lawyer friend George Hanson (Phil Hartman doing his best Jack Nicholson). Billy: “George, man, I thought you were dead, man!” George: Nah… just a bad hangover. I felt like I’d been whopped on the head with an ax handle. [ holds up bottle ] This stuff’ll ruin ya!” Billy: Yeah, man. I’ll take that [grabs and opens bottle].

* Incidentally on the same episode Hopper also played Frank Booth from BLUE VELVET in a game show parody called “What’s That Smell?”

7. Steve Buscemi as Mr. Pink from RESERVOIR DOGS (Oct. 15th 1994) In definitely one of the best sketches of a dreary season, John Travolta revisited his Sweathog roots in “Quentin Tarantino’s Welcome Back Kotter”. The sketch was overpopulated as an SNL sketch can be with all of the cast (including Chris Farley, Adam Sandler, Chris Elliot, Mike Myers, Janeane Garafolo, you get the picture) hamming it up but the finale involving a cameo from David Lander (Squiggy!) joining old Laverne And Shirley partner Michael McKean was greatly upstaged by Buscemi bursting in the doorway, gun raised and fitting sophomoric put-down ready: “Up your hole with a mellow roll!”


8. Richard Dreyfuss as Roy Neary from CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (May 13th, 1978) One of the first to mock his own character and film while it still played in theaters, Dreyfuss again put on the worn bathrobe of the alien obsessed Neary who now comes to believe the Coneheads are the source of his implanted visions. The sketch (“Clone Encounters Of The Third Kind”) ends, like the film did, with Neary leaving earth with his new intergalactic friends.


9. Tim Robbins as Bob Roberts from BOB ROBERTS (Oct. 3rd, 1992) Another appearance that occurred when the character in question was still on the big screen, Robbins’ conservative folk singing candidate was on hand for a sketch entitled: “Bob Roberts Book Burning.” It was a funny premise – Roberts burning books while singing about free expression but its place on the program was incredibly overshadowed by that week’s musical guest Sinead O’Connor who had free expression thoughts of her own * that night.


* For those of you who don’t know what I’m referring to – O’Connor, after an acapella version of Bob Marley’s “War”, tore up a photo of Pope John Paul II and yelled: “Fight the real power!” Audience silence and the prospect of the segment never being re-run was the result.


10. Robert Mitchum as Phillip Marlowe from THE BIG SLEEP (1978) and FAREWELL, MY LOVELY (1975) (Nov. 14th, 1987) This film noir satire called “Death Be Not Deadly” appropriately filmed in black and white gave the great Mitchum the chance to spoof his Private eye character and one of the conventions of the genre. Seemingly mistaken that his comments/narration is in voice-over when actually it’s Marlowe speaking aloud, he confuses and annoys his clients (Kevin Nealon, Jan Hooks). As funny as it is a fond tribute.


Okay! Of course there are others – both Mel Gibson and Danny Glover did their cop buddy characters in “Lethal Weapon 6” in 1987 (before there was even a LETHAL WEAPON 2) and Margot Kidder reprised Lois Lane while SUPERMAN was still flying high in 1979 so I’m sure there are many I’ve neglected but that’s what the comments below is for.


More later…