It was an alternate reality that started like this…
…then Tarantino made it all his.
It’s my very strong belief that you haven’t seen a modern classic until you’ve seen a Quentin Tarantino movie. Simply put, he’s a genius. I doubt that there’s a single one of his films that don’t offer at least one decent quote. Hell, Pulp Fiction has at least twenty of ’em!
Yesterday’s review of Natural Born Killers is the last review you’ll see me writing about QT–that is, until his long-awaited next opus. I should mention a third classic lie that he’s used to cover up a truth he wants his audience to figure out: QT says he’s going to retire soon because of the interference of technology in today’s film industry. Particularly when everybody and their dog (you’d better believe it, since my dogs are both pretty big QT aficionados) has said this guy is the best thing modern cinema has, it’s almost impossible–to use a word that never made its way into the QT dictionary–that he’d retire because of technology. I don’t doubt that he’ll retire soon, and it’ll be because he’ll have brought his entire oeuvre full circle. No need to beat it up at that point, right?
I’m talking about the “easter eggs.” They’re the little bits that make up a certain sense of humor you can’t really pick up on until you’ve given QT’s films (some, not necessarily all) more than a single watch. But they demand several viewings, so it’s not a Herculean task, mind you. As I write this post (July 30th), I am almost finished with my third Kill Bill double feature; I’ve also seen Inglourious Basterds three times, and Pulp Fiction and Django Unchained twice each.
Now that I’ve seen every film Tarantino has directed and written (though the focus of his dual universe is more on the writing that defines him so immensely), I’ll make an attempt to blow your mind with these “easter eggs.” This post is not spoilerific at all (honestly!), so feel free to go wild, no matter how much Tarantino you’ve seen.
“You got guns on us. You decide to shoot, we’re dead. Up top, they got grenades. They drop them down here, you’re dead. That’s a Mexican standoff, and that was not the deal.” –Brad Pitt in Inglourious Basterds
A Mexican standoff is defined as a standoff between three opponents–no more and no less–armed with guns. Tarantino loves a good Mexican standoff. They’re in every film he wrote but didn’t direct (all three) and three films he wrote and directed: Reservoir Dogs (1992), Pulp Fiction (1994), and (although it’s initially doubted by the non-redneck characters in the specific scene) Inglourious Basterds (2009).
This is one that doesn’t require much analysis to get a hold of, but it’s not one many viewers seem to realize. Every title that Tarantino has directed is two words long–Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill, Death Proof, Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained…count ’em. It’s so suspicious that it seems as if it’ll spell something crazy when QT has completed his moviemaking spree. Don’t cha think? Additionally, True Romance is (obviously) two words long; perhaps this is to compensate for the fact that, while it was directed by Tony Scott, it’s a remake of Tarantino’s lost debut film from 1987: My Best Friend’s Birthday. Four words! Convulsions!
“Fox Force 5”
Google Mia Wallace’s (Uma Thurman) “Fox Force 5” monologue from Pulp Fiction. This is where she explains to Vincent Vega (John Travolta) the concept of a failed TV pilot she starred in. She describes the five women and, whaddaya know? They match up precisely with the women from the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad in Kill Bill. In addition to that, the “joke” that she makes Vincent wait for for so long seems like symbolism for the premise of Kill Bill:
“Three tomatoes are walking down the street- a poppa tomato, a momma tomato, and a little baby tomato. baby tomato starts lagging behind. poppa tomato gets angry, goes over to the baby tomato, and smooshes him…and says, ‘Catch up!'”
Tarantino’s already a step ahead by now: he’s probably led you to believe that since “the Bride” (Uma Thurman in Kill Bill) is pregnant, her baby is the baby tomato. Which doesn’t seem to make sense. It makes sense that she, in fact, is the baby tomato, and Bill and his Squad are the parents. Add in Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang Bang”, and now you have a revenge film about a woman who’s set out all the way to Japan and back to Texas to turn that table.
The (admittedly subtle) joke makes a lot more sense chronologically: During World War II, Donny “The Bear Jew” Donowitz (Eli Roth) was a Jewish-American vigilante turned war hero, who (in an alternate reality) overthrew Hitler’s power in a movie theater. His son, Lee Donowitz (Saul Rubinek), set out to follow in his footsteps. Not to enlist in the army, but to become a movie producer. Thank you, Tarantino.
V. Vega [x2]
Vic “Mr. Blonde” Vega was portrayed by Michael Madsen in Reservoir Dogs. He was asked by Tarantino to reprise the role in a followup work, but Madsen declined. Therefore, we also know John Travolta as Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction. Some say the two are actually brothers, which is quite probable, as well.
Mr. & Mrs. Brown
Tarantino had initially planned to write and direct three adaptations of Elmore Leonard’s novels, but he turned to write and direct only Rum Punch, the one he truly “fell in love with.” Tarantino changed the name of the lead character from Jackie Burke to Jackie Brown. Unless this was a blaxploitation-like aim at a surname (it was probably that too, but he could’ve gone much more “Roger Corman” with the name), it feels like an echo of the character Tarantino himself played in Reservoir Dogs–a man who, by the same sort of creative license, became known as “Mr. Brown.” So maybe, in some parallel universe that exists only to Tarantino, his supporting character in Reservoir Dogs is married to Pam Grier’s leading lady in Jackie Brown?
Jules: “My name’s Pitt. And your ass ain’t talkin’ your way out of this s##t.”
Brett: “No, no, I just want you to know… I just want you to know how sorry we are that things got so f##ked up with us and Mr. Wallace. We got into this thing with the best intentions and I never…”
Jules: “I’m sorry, did I break your concentration? I didn’t mean to do that. Please, continue, you were saying something about best intentions. What’s the matter? Oh, you were finished! Well, allow me to retort. What does Marsellus Wallace look like?”
Jules: “What country are you from?”
Brett: “What? What? Wh – ?”
Jules: “‘What’ ain’t no country I’ve ever heard of. They speak English in What?”
Jules: “English, motherf##ker, do you speak it?”
Brett: “Yes! Yes!”
Jules: “Then you know what I’m sayin’!”
Jules: “Describe what Marsellus Wallace looks like!”
Jules: “Say ‘what’ again. Say ‘what’ again, I dare you, I double dare you motherf##ker, say what one more goddamn time!”
Christopher Walken stood up right in front of a chair where Dennis Hopper was sitting in True Romance and listened to him ramble on about how (mind you, this is from the mind of a man who needed a breathing mask to keep himself contained in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet) the reason you’ll find so much human trash
like Hopper himself in Sicily is because they’re (supposedly) descended from “Negroes.” Just over a year later, Samuel L. Jackson was in the same place as Walken, and Frank Whaley in the same place as Hopper. Hopper’s character tosses in his grave when a man like Samuel L. Jackson not only disproves him but shows so much animosity toward Whaley that the only differences between the scene’s appearances in True Romance and Pulp Fiction are that, a) the character of power is ten times more awesome in Pulp Fiction (fact, since I didn’t see Walken walkin’ out with any Oscar nomination); and, b) Hopper rambles his ass off like me right now, whereas Whaley can only blurt out a few spastic “What?”s. If you want to go further, there’s a loose connection to the Sicilian prejudice in Jackie Brown: while he doesn’t play Jackson’s father or grandfather, Robert De Niro does co-star alongside Samuel L. Jackson. Worth mentioning, if only because Robert De Niro portrayed the Sicilian mafioso Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part II, and spoke every line of dialogue in Italian.
Lucy: “What are we gonna see?”
Clarence Worley: “A Sonny Chiba triple feature. The Streetfighter, Return of the Streetfighter, and Sister Streetfighter.”
Lucy: “Who’s Sonny Chiba?”
Clarence Worley: “Who is Sonny Chiba? He is…he is bar none, the greatest actor working in martial arts movies today.”
In True Romance, Christian Slater meets Rosanna Arquette and invites her to celebrate his birthday with him–at a Sonny Chiba triple feature. As if three minutes of Slater’s crazed (or nearly crazed) dialogue wasn’t enough to show that Tarantino appreciated this martial artist, Sonny Chiba was cast as real-life character Hattori Hanzo in Kill Bill: Vol. 1.
Mr. Pink: “What was the name of the chick who played Christie Love?”
Nice Guy Eddie: “Pam Grier.”
Mr. Orange: “No it wasn’t Pam Grier. Pam Grier was the other one. Pam Grier did the film. Christie Love was like Pam Grier TV Show without Pam Grier.”
Mr. Pink: “So who was Christie Love?”
Mr. Orange: “How the f##k should I know?”
Mr. Pink: “Great. Now I’m totally f##king tortured.”
In Reservoir Dogs, one of Tarantino’s many dialogue-obsessive scenes (i.e. the most realistic conversations you may ever see on film) features a somewht small mention of Pam Grier, who starred in several blaxploitation flicks back in the 1970s. Tarantino’s 1997 blaxploitation homage, Jackie Brown, was a star vehicle for her supposedly dead career.
Vincent: “What’cha mean, ‘walk the earth’?”
Jules: “You know, like Caine in Kung Fu.”
In Pulp Fiction, Samuel L. Jackson compares a criminal adventure of sorts to Kung Fu, a TV series that ran from 1972 to ’75. Carradine was later cast for Kill Bill. Although most of his appearance in Vol. 1 amounts to a “Charlie in Charlie’s Angels performance” (though he actually gives a performance beyond the “Charlie” monotone), his Vol. 2 performance as Bill made for quite a badass swan song.
R.I.P. David Carradine — December 8, 1936 – June 3, 2009
In Inglourious Basterds, during the “drinking game” scene that turns into an “At this range, I’m a real Fredrick Zoller” scene (you know what I’m talking about if you’ve seen the movie; otherwise I’ve rendered you catatonic), one of the soldiers is trying to guess the character written on the card stuck to his head (the object of the game itself). After several questions, he quite laughably guesses, “Am I the story of a Negro in America?” His other guess comes right after as the correct one: “Then I must be King Kong!” Now try watching Django Unchained and thinking of it for the whole two hours as The Revenge of King Kong.
Leone : “Dollars” :: Tarantino : “Bills”
Tarantino has always expressed a love for Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy
because he is a sane man. When asked about Kill Bill: Vol. 3 and the possibility of making it, he’s most commonly reported as answering with, “We’ll see, probably not.” But he’s also said that while he wants to make Kill Bill into his own Dollars trilogy, he feels it’s too late to knock that off his checklist. Interestingly enough, if one watches Natural Born Killers as the interlude between the first and second volumes of Kill Bill, it works dynamically. One of the opening moments of Vol. 2 features David Carradine expressing his disappointment in Uma Thurman right before her “wedding-turned-massacre.” He tells her, in a matter of thirty seconds, that they could’ve traveled the world just…killing people. And lived happily. Well, if you look at just the starting point (Texas, where Kill Bill is also set), Natural Born Killers is that fantasy precisely; Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis are convincing body images of David Carradine and Uma Thurman, respectively, per the sick and twisted mind of Carradine. Thus, if you watch them in that sequence, it becomes Tarantino’s Bills trilogy, a parallel to the Dollars trilogy Sergio Leone made in the ’60s. Though if you ask me, Natural Born Killers (#2 in the sequence) is the best of the three, whereas The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (#3 in the Dollars trilogy) is most commonly heralded as a definitive classic.
“All right, ramblers, let’s get rambling.”
“All right, ramblers, let’s get rambling.” That’s a quote from not one, but two QT films. The first was in 1992’s Reservoir Dogs; the second, 1996’s From Dusk Till Dawn. Whoever spoke the line in ’92 (I’m going off everything I notice in the canon, so I’m not doing any additional research whatsoever) was probably quoting George Clooney in the screenplay QT wrote four years later. I know that it doesn’t sound like it makes sense, but a) there’s not really much chronological about QT’s films, and b) the movies exist in two separate universes: Reservoir Dogs is one of QT’s “heightened reality” films, the movies that depict characters and situations as close to reality as he’ll ever let them be; while From Dusk Till Dawn resides in the “movie-movie” universe, the vicinity with movies that don’t make very much sense in terms of reality, but they’d be watched by the characters in the “heightened reality” universe. Ergo, it’s not unlikely that the titular mob in Reservoir Dogs had watched From Dusk Till Dawn (or, at least, one of them had).
“Django. D-J-A-N-G-O. The ‘D’ is silent.” –Django (Jamie Foxx)
QT loves spaghetti westerns. No doubt about it. His most recent, Django Unchained, is a western, with a title inspired by an obscure 1960s spaghetti western called Django. The soundtrack features R&B, rap, and (in large amounts) music that was crafted originally for spaghetti westerns. Three years earlier, he considered Inglourious Basterds “my [his] spaghetti western,” most likely because there’s too much guerrilla warfare to call it a “war movie.” (I’d have to do that research, which I won’t, because that’s cheating; I’m going off of what I have analyzed.) Every track on the soundtrack, save for David Bowie’s “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)”, is an instrumental piece composed for a spaghetti western. Go back to ’03 and ’04 and you notice something about Kill Bill: 33% of the soundtrack is mimicry of the chord progression used in the never-more-meaningful cover of Cher’s “Bang Bang”, recorded by Nancy Sinatra for the title sequence. (There’s an easter egg within an easter egg–QTception!) Another 33% is the RZA’s modern, electronica approach. The other 33% is composed of, alternately, the
utterly annoying 126.96.36.199’s; and a few unmissable spaghetti western snippets that were reused to the same effectiveness in Inglourious Basterds.
“Let me tell you what ‘Like a Virgin’ is about. It’s all about a girl who digs a guy with a big d##k. The entire song. It’s a metaphor for big d##ks.” –Mr. Brown (Quentin Tarantino)
Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” is the start of the first in a long (long!) string of classic QT conversations. Three years after it set up Reservoir Dogs, Madonna herself appeared in the god-awful Four Rooms. (Hey, I never said she was in QT’s segment, nor did she deserve to be.)
“Zed’s dead, baby.”
Fabienne: “Whose motorcycle is this?”
Butch: “It’s a chopper, baby.”
Fabienne: “Whose chopper is this?”
Butch: “It’s Zed’s.”
Fabienne: “Who’s Zed?”
Butch: “Zed’s dead, baby. Zed’s dead.”
What if I told you that when Bruce Willis backed-and-forthed with his obnoxious girlfriend (Maria de Medeiros) on the iconic “Zed’s dead, baby,” he was only paraphrasing a fleeting line delivered by Christian Slater in True Romance.
B-movie “Feature Presentation”
A smaller one, but Tarantino seems to like pitching himself as a sort of “neo-Ed Wood.” Death Proof opens up with the characteristic, psychedelic low-budget title card (“Feature Presentation”), along with music. Some home video issues of Kill Bill: Vol. 1 feature this, as well.
Earl and Edgar McGraw
From Kill Bill: Vol. 1:
Earl: “Who’s the bride?”
Edgar: “Don’t know. The name on the marriage certificate is ‘Arlene Machiavelli.’ That’s a fake. We’ve all just been calling her ‘the Bride’ on account of the dress.”
Earl: “You can tell she was pregnant. Man’d have to be a mad dog to shoot a goddamn good-looking gal like that in the head. Look at her. Hay-colored hair, big eyes. She’s a little blood-spattered angel.”
I’m not sure if Robert Kurtzman’s story and/or Quentin Tarantino’s screenplay for From Dusk Till Dawn were originally with the intent to have Earl McGraw (Michael Parks) and his son Edgar McGraw (real-life son James Parks) as recurring QT characters, but it’s so fun seeing them come around. Texas is one of QT’s primary settings, and in almost every Texas-set QT film, these two have some sort of cameo. I’ll admit that I can’t quite remember how they were pitched in their “opening act”–QT’s screenplay From Dusk Till Dawn, which was directed by Robert Rodriguez–and I don’t remember a single moment of performance the duo made in Grindhouse (apparently, they featured noticeably in both parts of the film: Rodriguez’s Planet Terror and Tarantino’s Death Proof), but when they take a careless, joking look at a woman who’s been bulleted into a coma, in Kill Bill: Vol. 1, I’d have to question (s)he who naturally refuses to laugh.
The Smitty Bacall gang
Part of the story in QT’s most recent, Django Unchained, concerns the search for a gang led by the wretched Smitty Bacall. Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), who rescues Django (Jamie Foxx) to find his wife (Kerry Washington) as well as this gang, is a perhaps the grandfather or great-grandfather of Paula Schultz, whose headstone (marked with the birth-year 1922) is the one under which Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah) plans to bury “the Bride” (Uma Thurman) in Kill Bill. Additionally, one of the members of the Smitty Bacall gang is Crazy Craig Koons. A few generations later, we have Captain Koons (Christopher Walken). He was a good mate of Butch Coolidge’s (Bruce Willis) father’s during “the war,” and we see him in a flashback passing down the gold watch to Butch as an heirloom. The adult Butch loses the watch, which sets a major portion of the plot into action (and more than likely sets his obnoxious French girlfriend into a state of eternal confusion). Also worth noting is that if the “wanted, dead or alive” notice had very slightly misspelled Crazy Craig Koons’s name, it’d spell Krazy Kraig Koons, making his initials bear an appropriate resemblance to the Ku Klux Klan (abbreviated more commonly as “KKK”). Though QT has a great Klan joke early on, and it lasts for an outrageously funny ten minutes; the subtlety of the latter joke is greatly appreciated.
The briefcase enigma
There’s a briefcase in Reservoir Dogs that is the exact same as that in Pulp Fiction. No, I don’t think that’s just QT recycling the same movie prop two years later. Though it wasn’t luminous in Reservoir Dogs, and that which was smuggled inside the briefcase is not something that could transfix a human being, by any means. Not sure where people come up with theories like “Michael Jackson’s gloves” and “Tarantino’s Academy Award,” though. The former brings up a sixth (fifth?) storyline in Pulp Fiction; the latter…well, he’s not Mel Brooks, and if he were to break the fourth wall, he’d be a bit more subtle.
Censorship matters (well…)
In Kill Bill: Vol. 1, and in the former half of Vol. 2, the real identity of “the Bride” (Uma Thurman) is bleeped when spoken, entirely for effect. While it’s impossible (unless you’re a really quick lip-reader) to figure out what it is when spoken directly, it’s spoken in euphemisms throughout the dialogue. Sometimes it’s even awkward dialogue that gives it away. The example above took me three viewings to catch (if you want spoilers, you’ll have to consult Google, since it’s pretty subtle).
Not just a director’s cameo
Remember Larry Dimmick (Harvey Keitel) from Reservoir Dogs? Could he be related to Jimmie Dimmick (Quentin Tarantino) from Pulp Fiction? Is it coincidence that Larry is “Mr. White” and Jimmie is just total white trash? Hmm…