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Reservoir Dogs (#110 of 12)

Review: Adilifu Nama’s Race on the QT: Blackness and the Films of Quentin Tarantino

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Review: Adilifu Nama’s Race on the QT: Blackness and the Films of Quentin Tarantino
Review: Adilifu Nama’s Race on the QT: Blackness and the Films of Quentin Tarantino

Aiming to confront “the racial frankness in [Quentin] Tarantino’s films and not the man himself,” Adilifu Nama’s new book offers close readings of the writer-director’s eight feature films (and additionally, True Romance) in order to unveil the complexities of racial interest and formation as they occur within the Tarantino oeuvre. Nama takes this charge as a corrective to critics like Armond White who view Tarantino’s films as “pop sleaze without the politics,” or Stanley Crouch, who’s compared Tarantino’s interest in race with novelist Ralph Ellison’s. Nama falls somewhere in the middle, wishing to lift the “hackneyed claims that Tarantino is a racist,” while stopping well short of hagiography, stating “at most [Tarantino’s films] serve as catalysts for discussions around black racial formation across the public sphere.” The latter assertion is well taken, since the totality of Race on the QT provides ample, perceptive examinations, but almost exclusively along narrative and character lines, with little attention paid to form or aesthetics, rendering several of these readings useful, but only up to a point.

Nama’s best insights come in the book’s first chapter with analyses of Reservoir Dogs and True Romance, where clever approaches to dialogue and each film’s implicit critiques will make even the most ardent viewer want to revisit them. Nama is particularly on point with Reservoir Dogs, which he deems “a visual analogue of the type of hypermasculinity and extravagant violence rapped about on top of 1970s funk samples.” That is, Nama meticulously mines each of the film’s white characters’ racist views on blackness (of which there are plenty) and positions them in relation to Holdaway (Randy Brooks), the film’s sole black character, since he’s “a formidable tactician and the principle architect for bringing down [the] crime organization.” By recasting Reservoir Dogs as a “racial revenge narrative,” Nama acutely displays the film’s ties with Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained, films that utilize this kind of narrative far more explicitly. However, Nama’s discussion of these films proves largely unsatisfactory, since here he’s adamant and repetitive in his assertions that Inglourious Basterds is a “science-fiction fantasy” and Django Unchained a “Gothic horror film.” These categorical imperatives detract from Nama’s stated interests in reading for blackness.

A Cut Above: An Interview with Django Unchained Editor Fred Raskin

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A Cut Above: An Interview with <em>Django Unchained</em> Editor Fred Raskin
A Cut Above: An Interview with <em>Django Unchained</em> Editor Fred Raskin

By all accounts, Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained is a massive film in both scope and scale, boasting a large ensemble cast, a story that spans years, and a mix of locations and climates. The job of assembling all of this was given to film editor Fred Raskin, who, while working closely with Tarantino, cut the film to a final run time of two hours and 45 minutes, leaving almost two additional hours of footage on the cutting room floor.

A graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, Raskin honed his craft working as an assistant editor for Tarantino’s late editor Sally Menke, aiding her on Kill Bill: Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. He then moved up to the position of editor with director Justin Lin, working on three Fast and the Furious films: The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, Fast & Furious, and Fast Five. After Menke’s tragic death in 2010, Raskin got the call from Tarantino to take the lead on editing his new Spaghetti-Western-meets-blaxploitation flick.

After spending nearly a year assembling Django Unchained, Raskin, who is now armed with a BAFTA nomination, opens up about his work on the Oscar-nominated film, the job of a film editor, and working with one of his cinematic heroes.

If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot Matt Maul’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Matt Maul’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Matt Maul’s Top 10 Films of All Time

In compiling my Top 10 film list, I tried to avoid obvious choices based on general consensus. Movies like Modern Times, It’s a Wonderful Life, and The Searchers are great, and I respect them for what they are, but I almost never stop what I’m doing to watch them. The list below includes 10 films I must make a pilgrimage to at least once a year.

15 Famous Movie Savages

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15 Famous Movie Savages
15 Famous Movie Savages

Oliver Stone returns this weekend with Savages, a nasty crime thriller based on Don Winslow’s drug-cartel novel. The dictionary defines “savage” as “an uncivilized human being,” “a fierce, brutal, or cruel person,” and “a rude, boorish person.” In other words, it covers just about every villain who’s ever graced the screen. To whip up a list of 15, we set our sights on vicious characters as fierce as they are remarkably uncouth. There are no classy rogues here, folks. These are teeth-gnashing, eardrum-piercing, elbows-on-the-table types, and from a child murderer to a furry monster to two more Stone creations, they comprise a choice selection of scoundrels.

Dumber than the Average Bear Naughty Bear

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Dumber than the Average Bear: Naughty Bear
Dumber than the Average Bear: Naughty Bear

Naughty Bear is an unpleasant forest animal. Naughty Bear is his equally unpleasant game, a title (available for Xbox 360 or PS3) whose cutie-pie premise isn’t the least bit cute and whose execution leaves everything to be desired. Arriving on the heels of advanced clips that indicated an amusing Sesame Street-gone-awry vibe, SOS Games’s latest—in which you make Naughty scare other forest bears, or simply hack, bludgeon, or shoot them in gratuitously violent ways—promised inventively vile, delinquent action wrapped up in a cuddly stuffed-animal façade. Such a discordant form-content scenario always seemed a tad too on-the-nose (see, Naughty looks like a toddler’s toy! But he acts like Reservoir Dogs’s Mr. Blonde!), but as with all art forms, games deserve the benefit of the doubt. Alas, to actually attempt to make it through this dud’s myriad levels is to know the meaning of frustration: From graphics to audio to level structure and basic gameplay mechanics, Naughty Bear is unendurable.

As stated above, you play as Naughty, a prickish bear that the forest’s other bears despise. At start, Naughty isn’t invited to a birthday party, leading to a task in which you have to scare and/or kill those who left him out of the fun. Except that’s not really the case—because, in truth, all you really have to do is kill them. By using one of the trigger buttons, you can have Naughty roar at others in an intimidating fashion in order to rack up points. However, with the exception of those missions that specifically require you to scare and not harm, there’s no reason to frighten anyone. Roaring is one-note and audibly irritating (the accompanying sound effect quickly becomes a virtual version of nails on a chalkboard), and setting up more elaborate environmental traps to alarm or unsettle is equally tedious. Murder always gets the job done quicker, and because no tangible value is placed on acquiring points in the first place (they’re random, save for the need to acquire a certain amount to complete each stage), simply slashing your way through levels is the more inherently efficient way of going about things.

The Conversations: Quentin Tarantino Part One

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The Conversations: Quentin Tarantino Part One
The Conversations: Quentin Tarantino Part One

JASON BELLAMY: Ed, I am daunted. Let’s get that out of the way. This is the last subject I ever expected us to cover—Quentin Tarantino. What a thoroughly thankless assignment! It’s not that there isn’t anything to say about the oeuvre of this 46-year-old filmmaker. Hardly. Since 1992, when his Reservoir Dogs became an indie sensation, Tarantino has inspired as much chatter as one encounters in his tongue-powered films. Diehard film fans from both sides of the aisle have dissected his influence and influences. They’ve celebrated his distinctive style or ridiculed it. They’ve called him the greatest filmmaker of his generation or a plagiarist, and sometimes both at the same time. They have suggested he is a heroic preservationist of film history, a filmmaking Indiana Jones, or they have suggested he is film history’s archenemy, a Nazi-esque figure using others’ masterpieces as kindling for his bonfires. I could go on. Tarantino’s films may be original, brilliant, witty, exhilarating, hilarious, childish, nauseating, offensive, brazen, pathetically derivative, or some combination of the above, but they are always something. Everyone, it seems, is somehow affected by Tarantino. Everyone, it seems, has a take on Tarantino.

Against this wall of noise, what are two more opinions worth? Ed, we’ve never gone into one of these discussions with the attitude of creating the preeminent analysis of the subject in question (neither of us is that arrogant), but in this case I’m not sure we can even hope to produce the most illuminating two-person debate of Tarantino to appear at this blog. As longtime readers of The House Next Door already know, Matt Zoller Seitz and Keith Uhlich set the bar extremely high with the transcription of their live QT debate in April 2007 that they called My Tarantino Problem, and Yours. It was that piece, incidentally, that made me leap at the chance to bring our conversations series here to the House. I’ve read it start to finish at least a half-dozen times, and it never ceases to engage me. And thus it’s that piece that made me think that Tarantino wasn’t a topic worth our time. Save for bringing to the table QT’s seventh—depending on how you count—major directorial effort, Inglorious Basterds, which as of beginning this discussion we haven’t seen, what more is there to say?

Yet, at the urging of our editor, here we are. I’m excited as usual, but, yes, I am daunted. I’d like to think that our conversation can tread lightly on some of those oh-so-familiar Tarantino battlegrounds in an attempt to find some mostly unexplored terrain, but, as simple as that sounds, I am doubtful. I am reminded that at the heart of every Tarantino discussion is a debate over Tarantino’s depth, or lack thereof. And so I wonder: What if in trying to look beyond the surface of Tarantino’s controversial reputation we find that there’s nothing more there? Could it be that the most compelling element of Tarantino’s filmmaking has become our inability to collectively define it?

The Philosopher and the Fan: Jean-Luc Godard and Quentin Tarantino—3rd Installment

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The Philosopher and the Fan: Jean-Luc Godard and Quentin Tarantino—3rd Installment
The Philosopher and the Fan: Jean-Luc Godard and Quentin Tarantino—3rd Installment

Parody and Pastiche

When one thinks of parody, one might immediately think of blitzkrieg spoofs like the Mel Brooks movie satires (Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, High Anxiety, Spaceballs, etc.) or the 1980 airline-disaster-movie takedown Airplane! But those deliberately lowbrow laugh-a-minute joke-fests represent only one kind of parody.

In general, parody has a critical intent: it tries to deconstruct and then mock outdated or plain silly conventions, and it does so often by adopting those same conventions. As many might agree, only if an artist understands those conventions can he even think about demolishing them through parody effectively. Parody, though, does not necessarily have to be funny/ha-ha comedy—it could also be funny/strange (to borrow terms coined by Andrew Sarris) in the sense that it is trying to render as odd and ridiculous certain artistic sacred cows, whether that entails merely a cliché or an entire outdated genre. Blazing Saddles, for instance, took on the Western genre as its target, while Airplane! toyed mercilessly with the conventions of the disaster genre that was seemingly in vogue through a good part of the 1970s. Of course, to be able to satirize both Westerns and disaster epics with any effectiveness, the filmmakers had to understand and, at the very least, look like a standard-issue Western or disaster epic (Airplane!, for instance, took this a step further and based its entire plot on a 1957 airline disaster flick entitled Zero Hour). Robert Stam defines it in this way:

The Philosopher and the Fan: Jean-Luc Godard and Quentin Tarantino—1st Installment

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The Philosopher and the Fan: Jean-Luc Godard and Quentin Tarantino—1st Installment
The Philosopher and the Fan: Jean-Luc Godard and Quentin Tarantino—1st Installment

Introduction

When Pulp Fiction hit the movie landscape like a tornado in 1994-—the film surprised almost everyone by picking up a Palme d’Or at Cannes that year-—it wasn’t only moviegoers lapping up writer/director Quentin Tarantino’s irresistible circular triptych of blood, guts, bullets and gleeful postmodern hip. Critics, by and large, bought into the hype for it too. When he reviewed it for the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert called Tarantino “the Jerry Lee Lewis of cinema, a pounding performer who doesn’t care if he tears up the piano, as long as everybody is rocking.” Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly called it “quite simply, the most exhilarating piece of filmmaking to come along in the nearly five years I’ve been writing for this magazine.”

Lost Recap: Season 3, Episode 20, "The Man Behind the Curtain"

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Lost Recap: Season 3, Episode 20, “The Man Behind the Curtain”
Lost Recap: Season 3, Episode 20, “The Man Behind the Curtain”

The specter of death has long hung-over the inhabitants of Lost but rarely has it struck as brutally or with the frequency it did in last night’s episode, “The Man Behind the Curtain” which detailed the act of betrayal that lead to the mass execution of dozens of employees of the DHARMA Initiative before ultimately snatching up the life of one of the show’s most popular characters…maybe. The angel of death: Ben Linus (Michael Emerson) who both lives up to the Wizard of Oz allusion in the episode’s title while rebuking it seemingly in equal measures. Ben, who you’ll remember once went by the Oz-centric nom de guerre “Henry Gale,” may not be the one pulling the strings behind the scenes, but he’s certainly calling the tune everyone dances to. The revelations of last night’s episode don’t exactly clarify the issue much either, presenting the illusive “Jacob” as both the ravings of a crack-pot (with shades of mother Bates and her boy Norman) as well as a very real and rather terrifying apparition. Is there a show on TV better at having its cake and eating it too?