The Essential Tarantino – What to watch before Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Tarantino just released his ninth film, Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood.  The movie follows the lives of fictional characters actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), and real life actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), in the days before the Manson Family murders.  The movie debuted in second place behind The Lion King, and is receiving rave reviews. Now is the perfect time to review the director’s catalog and suss out the essential Tarantino films. 

Reservoir Dogs

Tarantino’s first film premiered at Sundance in 1992, and was picked up by Miramax.  The film also played at Cannes. The story concerns a group of bank robbers reconvening after a bank heist gone wrong, to figure out what happened.  The movie introduced several staples of Tarantino’s work, including pop culture references (the Madonna debate in the opening scene), long scenes of dialogue (including the opening scene), profanity, extreme violence, a story told out of chronological order, and a hip soundtrack. 

The movie features three actors Tarantino is fond of working with: Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen, and Tim Roth. The title doesn’t have a specific meaning. It just sounds cool. 

Pulp Fiction

When Tarantino returned to Cannes in 1994, he was a star.  He had a following, and anticipation was high for his new film Pulp Fiction.  Inspired by pulp novels, the movie weaved together the tales of several criminal figures, including two hitmen (John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson), a corrupt boxer and his girlfriend (Bruce Willis and  Maria de Medeirios), a gangster’s girlfriend (Uma Thurman), and two robbers (Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer)….among others.

Pulp Fiction took Cannes by storm and won the Palme d’Or.  It revived Travolta’s career! The movie was nominated for Best Picture, and Travolta, Jackson, and Thurman were all nominated for Oscars.  Tarantino was nominated for Best Director. Tarantino and Roger Avary won Best Original Screenplay. The film also received a nomination for Best Editing.

This is the director’s most essential work, and the film against which all his other movies are judged.  

The last quarter of Four Rooms

Four Rooms is kind of a “throw away” film.  It was a fun anthology where four directors each got to direct a quarter of the flick.  To illustrate how forgettable the movie is, I can only remember three of the four sections of the movie. 

Tim Roth plays a bell boy who will break all of his mentor’s rules by the time one fateful New Year’s Eve is over.  Tarantino directs the end of the flick — the last room that Roth has to deal with. This section of the movie is a remake of a classic “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” episode that originally featured Peter Lorre. 

Bruce Willis, Quentin Tarantino, Jennifer Beals, and Paul Calderon play a game of poker, where the stakes go beyond money. This section of the movie is wicked fun…and if I were programming a QT film festival, I’d definitely include it.  

Kill Bill Volumes 1 & 2

Volume 1 is Tarantino’s martial arts film.  And Volume 2 is his first western. But together, they’re a compelling drama about revenge and its consequences.  (Tarantino has gone on record saying that he recently talked to star Uma Thurman about making a part 3 featuring Vernita Green’s adult daughter seeking vengeance against her character.) 

The House of Blue Leaves sequence in Volume One is probably one of the longest action scenes ever filmed.

The change of tone in Volume Two is daring. Thurman gives a tour de force performance as The Bride.  These movies came out during a period in my twenties when I felt a lot of anger. There was something about them that was very special to me. A catharsis. Waiting for Volume Two to start was like waiting for The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King to begin.  

Inglorious Basterds

I’ve only seen this one once, so it’s hard for me to speak of it eloquently or at length.  There is something quite satisfying in Tarantino’s rewriting of history. Violence and revenge are major themes of this film as well.  Christoph Waltz won his Oscar for this movie and he as cold blooded and terrifying here as he is lovable in Django. The tense opening scene is a breathtaking highlight.  Our review is here

Django Unchained

Tarantino crossed the Western and the Blaxploitation film to create this controversial picture.  Say what you will about it, but the image of the slaves’ abused ankles alone at the beginning of the film drove home the horror of slavery to me, in a way few things ever have.  I have never forgotten it. The inhumanity of it. Whatever other parts of the movie may be over the top, that stuff really happened. Christoph Waltz’s retelling of the Broomhilda legend is a highlight.

Take RunPee to the Movies

Don’t miss the best parts of a Tarantino film or any other movie.  Use the RunPee app every time you go to the movies. Especially for films that are over two hours like Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood.  We add new Peetimes every week for all the Hollywood hits. You can also keep up with all the latest movie news and reviews by following us on Twitter @RunPee and liking us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RunPee/.  

Movie Review – Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood

Movie review : Inglourious Basterds

Movie Review : Django Unchained

Hey, #Tarantino fans, are you ready for #OnceUponATimeInHollywood?  #GoldenMan takes a look at QT’s #filmography with The Essential Tarantino.  #ReservoirDogs #PulpFiction #Uma #TimRoth #Travolta #SamJackson #ChristophWaltz

Best Movie MacGuffins Explained

Star Wars is loaded with MacGuffins. Can you name them all?

A MacGuffin is any object that drives the plot and motivates the characters in a movie. You might have seen the name “MacGuffins” over bar bistros in the lobbies of many AMC theaters. That’s an industry in-joke.[pullquote] It sounds like the name of an Irish pub, but it’s really a nod to a long standing film tradition, coined by Alfred Hitchcock himself, for an object that’s an excuse to make characters do things, have a quest for, and usually fight over.[/pullquote]

MacGuffins can be almost anything, but the point is, it is a “thing.” Sometimes a MacGuffin can be a person-as-thing, but that’s a bit more rare. Another crucial point about MacGuffins — they’re usually quite fungible. [pullquote position=”right”]It really doesn’t matter what the thing is, so long as the characters spend their narrative trying to get it (or, in some cases, lose it). [/pullquote]

Here are some well-known movie MacGuffins that you probably never thought about: 

  • Raiders of the Lost Ark — this whole flick is about finding the Ark, protecting the Ark, using the Ark, and finding a safe place to store it. I’m not sure an FBI warehouse is the safest place, but it’s probably as good as keeping it under the sands of Tanis. Note that for all Indy’s efforts,  nothing he does actually helps the cause in the end. He’s just lucky he knew enough not to die from it. And as we saw in the subsequent Indiana Jones films, there’s always some kind of MacGuffin driving the plot, including the Holy Grail. This is a case-book example of MacGuffins in action. (And yes, the holy grail in Monty Python’s Holy Grail counts too.)
  • Titanic – The Heart of the Ocean. Awwww.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of The Black Pearl – the last coin of the cursed gold qualifies, and so does Will Turner himself. I think each film in this increasingly bizarre series centers in a MacGuffin of some sort.
  • Most of the Mission Impossible series has a MacGuffin driving the plot, which really is just an excuse to see Tom Cruise pulling off his own wild stunts.
  • The Necronomicon in Army of Darkness qualifies in a super fun way. Have you seen this movie? (Go find it. Bruce Campbell is the best B actor in the business.)
  • A Fish Called Wanda has the bag of money, and a whole lot of tomfoolery involved in getting it, including an actual fish named Wanda. (Haven’t seen this? It’s one of the world’s funniest movies and stands up to the test of time.)
  • The Project Genesis in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. But you knew this, right? Even the whales in The Voyage Home count.
  • Unobtainium is kind of a jokey name, but certainly qualifies as a MacGuffin in Avatar. The natives of Pandora need it to survive, and the invading humans want it. They also kind of get it. Bummer.  It all works out in the end, mostly.
  • The Marvel Cinematic Universe is all about MacGuffins. You could make a case for each of the current 20 films having some kind of MacGuffin. Most of them have to do with Infinity Stones, and who has them, and who tries to protect them from Thanos (or Ronan, or Loki, or the bad guy in Dr. Strange, or that dark Elf in Thor 2). Remember the stones go by all kinds of names, like the Orb, the Aether, the Tesseract, and so on. But it’s not always about the stones: Vulture just wanted alien technology. The Iron Man trilogy was about arc reactor tech. Killmonger wanted the power of Vibranium. Thor sought a replacement for his hammer, so Stormbreaker was the latest MacGuffin. Ant Man is about Quantum Tech and Pym Particles. Name me one MCU movie NOT about a MacGuffin, and you’ll win ten points to your Hogwarts House.
  • Speaking of Harry Potter, I don’t think a single entry in the 8 movie pantheon is MacGuffin-free. Look at the Sorcerer/Philosopher’s stone, the Tri-Wizard cup, the orb of prophecy, the Horcrux search, the quest for the Sword of Gryffindor, and the Deathly Hallows. Since Harry turned out to be a horcrux himself, he qualifies as a personified MacGuffin.
  • Like with the Sword of Gryffindor, swords are common themes to base a quest around. Look at the King Arthur movies: we even have two swords! The sword in the stone is one, and the one the Lady of the Lake tossed at Arthur. (“You can’t expect to wield supreme power just ’cause some watery tart threw a sword at you!” <— recognize this quote? If you’re a true cinephile, you should.)
  • The Lord of Rings is a great exception to the ideal of questing FOR an object. In this case, the fellowship is about destroying something: the One Ring of Power. It’s a self-proclaimed fool’s quest, but somehow, the good guys win. (Although not without great cost along the way.)
  • The Lord of the Rings does the sword thing too, with the shards of Narsil being forged as a great flaming weapon, to be reforged and wielded only by a descendant of Isildur. So we can check that box too.
  • In the Hobbit, it’s the Arkenstone.
  • The Wizard of Oz has the Ruby Slippers.
  • In the various incarnations of Dune, the Sandworms are an unusual MacGuffin, which, like Harry Potter, are also in the form of a living being. The spice itself is a HUGE MacGuffin — without it, space travel would simply cease. And this relates right back to the Sandworms. Lost yet? Ignore David Lunch and the SciFi versions; re-read the novel. I hear there will be yet another filmatic attempt at Dune soon…so we can hope it’s the definitive version.
  • In a less fantasy mode, we’ve got Pulp Fiction. What exactly was in the magically glowing briefcase? Was it Marcellus Wallus’ soul, as many fans speculated? We never find out, although it actually doesn’t matter in the end.
  • Fantastic Beasts also featured a magical suitcase that all characters sought. In this film, however, we definitely saw what was in there.
  • Star Wars is usually about MacGuffins, which are often force-users (ie – people). In Solo, look at how Coaxium drives the plot. The Millennium Falcon  qualifies too. In The Force Awakens, Luke himself is the MacGuffin (and so is his lightsaber). A New Hope and Rogue One have the stolen Death Star data tapes. Star Wars is loaded with MacGuffins, including R2D2 himself. Once you start noticing these, you can’t stop. (Kind of like eating Pringles.)
  • The Maltese Falcon – an obvious one, from a classic-era film. Hmmm, also Rosebud in Citizen Cane.
  • All heist, thriller, and caper movies are about finding a thing. Often a tech thing, and sometimes just money — as in Die Hard. I dare you to name a caper that isn’t about acquiring something. Look at the Ocean’s films for a start. Everyone’s after something, and the whole plot hinges around that thing.
  • Apollo 13 and even First Man are about similar MacGuffins, be they the moon itself, or just finding a way to get home from said moon.
  • Are you a Buffy fan? Remember her Axe of Power? MacGuffin. The entire series is loaded with MacGuffins, including Buffy herself.
  • In the X-Files, aliens from space qualify as MacGuffins. And I’m not sure this was ever resolved. At least Scully learned to believe. 😉

Clearly, this is an ongoing list. I can’t sit here all day naming every flick with a MacGuffin. But feel free, absolutely, to name your favorites in the comments. It’s good geeky fun!

MacGuffins Bars at AMC Theaters

Movie Theater Review – AMC Fashion Valley in San Diego

Why There Won’t be a Sequel to Cabin in the Woods

Hey, let’s hide in that creepy cabin! That always goes well. And we should totally split up!

If you’ve seen Cabin in the Woods and enjoyed it, you’ll probably love Bad Times at the El Royale. Both are directed by Drew Goddard, and he uses the same kind of narrative deconstruction technique in each. Cabin in the Woods is a sardonically amusing take on the typical “teens in a creepy cabin the the woods” horror trope, with lots of wackiness and a crazy ending that defies expectations. Bad Times does the same thing, deconstructing the sort of noir Pulp Fiction ensemble, and also pokes fun at the recent Hotel Artemis.

Which leads fans to ask if there may be a sequel to Cabin In The Woods.  Discussions with Drew and co-writer/heavy hitter Joss Whedon indicated they have almost zero interest in continuing the tale. If you’ve seen it, you’ll realize that the ending goes straight to crazytown, and any sequel would have an entirely different theme.

(Big Spoiler Ahead —— get off this train now ——-)

In essence, at the denouement of Cabin in the Woods, the world as we know it ends. This isn’t the first time Joss went for it (remember the finale of Angel?). Any subsequent story would have humanity fighting monsters, demons, and gods. Cabin really has a perfect ending AS IS. It asks a good question — what if? What if we had a movie that ended in mass death and destruction? It leaves us sort of satisfied in a weird way. It’s just a fantastic movie that scares us a little, makes us laugh a lot, and ends with a Big Bad Bang. The End, period. Love it.

This article on Cinema Blend discusses what Joss and Drew think of their minor opus, and how any sequel would simply undercut the message. There’s a suggestion that some spin-off films are possible, using the same timeline and picking up with the experimental cells in other countries. I’d be fine with something like that, if it was handled deftly. But only if. What do you think?

 

UPDATE — I’m adding a link to some thoughts on Cabin in the Woods; for some reason Escape Room made me think of that classic fun ‘horror’ film. There are similar thematic elements:

Movie Review – Escape Room – Surprisingly Lively, Clever, and Fun

Movie Review – Hotel Artemis

Movie Review – Bad Times at the El Royale