QT8: The First Eight

I was 13 years old when I saw the video Reservoir Dogs at my local video store. There were – for me at the time – not many familiar actors in it. But the cover looked pretty cool with guys in suits with guns. Plus there was a lot of praise on it from critics, so I decided to give it a shot. I had no idea what to expect, but Jesus Christ was it a good movie! Ridiculously great filmmaking. One of the best movies I had seen at that point and to this day still.

It is funny to hear all these actors in the documentary QT8: The First Eight basically relate to the exact same experience. Tim Roth, shown while being carried in the warehouse by Harvey Keitel, remembers talking to Keitel about what they had just shot and saying: “Man, this is going to be a really great movie!” Keitel agreed.

Reservoir Dogs premiered on Cannes in 1992, very prestigious for a debut, and it was a great success. Everybody wanted to meet Quentin there and he became a movie making star overnight. Everybody said: “Can you believe this guy? He can write and direct and it’s sensational stuff.”

For a long time I was jealous of Tarantino. And when I watch this documentary I still am. I mean, wouldn’t it be something to be able to write screenplays like this guy? And this is also a shared emotion by many people interviewed for this doc. Talent like this is rare. Many people, including me, tried to write scripts like him. But to no avail.

His first screenplays – True Romance and Natural Born Killers – he had to sell to pay the rent. True Romance was originally told in non-chronological order Tarantino-style. Oh and the pop culture loving Clarence, basically Quentin’s alter ego – died at the end. Luckily Tony Scott changed that. At least I for one liked the happy ending.

Tarantino wanted to become a director, so he wrote a script that he could do on a low budget: Reservoir Dogs. Harvey Weinstein distributed the film. After that everybody in Hollywood wanted to work with him, but the Weinstein’s got to produce all his movies up until The Hateful Eight. Then the scandal broke out, and Tarantino – who according to Michael Madsen had known about Weinstein’s misconduct for some time (read Tarantino’s confession-story here) – switched to Sony for his ninth movie Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

And this Weinstein-business is the only major stain on Tarantino’s career. That, and pushing Uma Thurman to do a car stunt in Kill Bill, which went wrong causing permanent physical problems for her. No good, Mr. Quentin. But there is a lot to balance it out. He is described by everyone in the doc as a very nice guy who enjoys life, and appears to be a great friend for his many cronies.

Pulp Fiction, that followed Reservoir Dogs, is one of the masterpieces of the past 50 years. Michael Madsen, for whom the part of Vincent Vega was originally written, was committed to Wyatt Earp at that time. Nightmare! He takes it well, commenting on the extremely successful casting of John Travolta. “It is one of main reasons the movie worked.” Plus Travolta can dance and Madsen – who did a dance scene in Reservoir Dogs – can’t, at least in his own opinion. “They would have had to change the script into that they don’t win the dance contest.”

How do you follow up a masterpiece like Pulp? You don’t. Just make a very good genre film instead starring Pam Grier, queen of the blaxploitation movies Quentin went to see during his childhood. Jackie Brown is a beautiful film about people trying to figure out what to do with their lives. Then he made another genre film with a strong female lead, a mash-up between Hong Kong cinema and a spaghetti western. Kill Bill is an astonishing accomplishment. Bit of trivia: The razor the Bride uses to escape from the coffin in Vol. 2 is the same used by Mr. Blonde in the torture scene in Dogs. Everything is related in the Tarantino universe.

Then he went on to make another feministic movie with powerful girls in it. Death Proof is a clever slasher flick / carploitation movie shot by the maestro himself. With an unforgettable Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike. After that came his war movie effort. Inglourious Basterds is unlike any war film ever done before. It is storytelling at his best. Django Unchained is another historic film and it’s brutal. It might just be a little too funny for a film about slavery. But Tarantino likes to hand out justice to his characters. Hitler gets machine gunned to death in Basterds and in Django, the black hero – after having killed a ton of slavers – rides off into the sunset with his girl, an image you won’t find in many westerns.

The Hateful Eight, the final movie treated in this doc, is in a way Reservoir Dogs redone as western. Everything comes full circle. Even Weinstein’s story. Apparently John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth (played by Kurt Russell) is based on the monstrous Weinstein. He gets a big fat lesson in the film. Tarantino said many times that he wants to quit at ten movies, because otherwise he fears the quality will go down and people will say: ‘This one is not so good, but this guy used to make great movies’. Let’s hope he will break his word and continue to make movies forever. His style and voice are unique and irreplaceable in Hollywood. Whatever happens, currently nine films are in the can. And I will certainly keep enjoying his work till the end of my days and share it with friends. When you absolutely, positively, want to blow away everybody motherfucker in the room, accept no substitutes.

American Gangster (2007)

‘There are two sides to the American dream.’

Directed by:
Ridley Scott

Written by:
Steven Zaillian (screenplay)
Mark Jacobson (article)

Denzel Washington (Frank Lucas), Russell Crowe (Richie Roberts), Josh Brolin (Detective Trupo), Lymari Nadal (Eva), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Huey Lucas), Ted Levine (Lou Toback), John Hawkes (Freddy Spearman), RZA (Moses Jones), Armand Assante (Dominic Cattano), Cuba Gooding Jr. (Nicky Barnes)

Ridley Scott has worked in a lot of different genres, including science fiction (Alien, Blade Runner), historic epic (Gladiator), road movie (Thelma and Louise) and thriller (Hannibal). With American Gangster he added another genre to his very impressive resume.

As with many of the great gangster films, the basis of American Gangster is a true story. Frank Lucas (Washington) is a special kind of incarnation of the American dream. When his mentor, drugs kingpin Bumpy Johnson dies, Lucas replaces him as Harlem’s number one drug lord. His power quickly spreads throughout the whole of New York and New Jersey and he even becomes bigger than the Italian Mafia. He is opposed by Richie Roberts (Crowe). An honest cops who fights corruption and injustice while all of his colleagues are on the take.

So far nothing new. Scott attracted many great talents for his movie, but what makes Lucas’ story special? When viewing this, it is hard not to think of other films that have preceded American Gangster. The cop Vs. the gangster story reminds of Heat, and Lucas buying drugs in the Southeast Asian jungle is reminiscent of Blow. And when observing black dealers and users in the streets, countless of Blaxploitation films come to mind. Not in the least place because Scott uses the all-familiar song Across 110th Street, like Tarantino did in Jackie Brown.

Well, one of the things that makes the story special, is the way Lucas smuggles his dope into the USA. Namely in body bags of killed US soldiers that served in Vietnam. The fact that Lucas profits from his country’s pointless struggle against communism and narcotics has a great taste of irony. That aside, we have seen most of this before. But it doesn’t really matter. The film is so entertaining that one can easily forgive it for its little original premise. The great casting, production design and visual style alone make this a totally enjoyable experience. Washington is very convincing in his first gangster portrayal and Crowe also turns in another excellent performance as law enforcer.

The supporting cast features many great familiar faces such as Josh Brolin, Armand Assante, Jon Polito, RZA and Idris Elba, who have all played gangster types before. The cast, Scott’s visual style and the detailed seventies settings ensure that there is not a boring moment in the whole movie. Kudos to Scott who was already seventy years old when making this. He definitely made the grade.


FRANK LUCAS: “Nobody owns me though. That’s because I own my own company, and my company sells a product that’s better than the competition. At a lower price than the competition.”

James Gandolfini was offered the role of detective Trupo, but turned it down.