Lawrence Tierney

This Tuesday is the 20th anniversary of the theatrical release of Reservoir Dogs, the film that not only put Quentin Tarantino on the map as an era-defining filmmaker but also gave the 3rd wave ska scene its own Phenix City Story (or Guns of Navarone or Dr. No or Scarface). Never mind the movie’s immediate legacy, though, because two decades later the story of “five total strangers” who “team up for the perfect crime” has outlasted the oddly inaccurate marketing (i.e. those lines from the posters, which also feature Chris Penn in a suit), the many copycats, the ska album samplings and even the overshadowing success and popularity of Pulp Fiction as the director’s big breakthrough to remain a significant pioneer and classic of American independent cinema. During its run in U.S. cinemas, which followed a debut at Sundance and appearances at Cannes and Toronto, not to mention earlier openings in parts of Europe, Reservoir Dogs never played on more than 61 screens, yet it earned close to $3 million. I’m certain it never hit my town in the suburbs, but I recall the first time ever hearing about it via a drawing of an ear in Entertainment Weekly illustrating a short note about the famously violent scene (my memory of this could be slightly off). And like so many of the film’s fans, I didn’t see it until the video came out the following Spring, at which time the torture bit became just one of numerous memorable moments. In […]

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Editor’s Note: Max Allan Collins has written over 50 novels and 17 movie tie-in books. He’s also the author of the Road to Perdition graphic novel, off which the film was based. With his new Mickey Spillane collaboration “Lady, Go Die” in great bookstores everywhere, we thought it would be fun to ask him for his ten best films noir. In true noir fashion, we bit off more than we could handle… We have to begin with a definition of noir, which is tricky, because nobody agrees on one. The historical roots are in French film criticism, borrowing the term noir (black) from the black-covered paperbacks in publisher Gallimard’s Serie Noire, which in 1945 began reprinting American crime writers such as Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler, Chester Himes, Horace McCoy, Jim Thompson, Mickey Spillane, W.R. Burnett and many others. The films the term was first applied to were low-budget American crime thrillers made during the war and not seen in France till after it. The expressionistic lighting techniques of those films had as much to do with hiding low production values as setting mood. In publishing circles, the term has come to replace “hardboiled” because it sounds hipper and not old-fashioned. I tend to look at dark themes and expressionistic cinematography when I’m making such lists, which usually means black-and-white only; but three color films are represented below, all beyond the unofficial cut-off of the first noir cycle (Kiss Me Deadly, 1955). Mystery genre expert Otto Penzler has […]

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Over Under: A New Perspective on Films New and Old

I break Quentin Tarantino’s career up into two stages. The first stage consists of his first three films, which are all crime movies, are all set in L.A., and which all just feel very much like “Quentin Tarantino movies” (a genre unto itself back in the 90s, if you lump in all the pretenders). After those first three films, he took a pretty lengthy six year break, and then he came back and started exploring other genres, making movies that were largely homages to the B-cinema he enjoyed in his youth. While there’s a soft spot in my heart for most of Inglorious Basterds, in general I prefer that first stage of Tarantino’s career to what came after. And as far as that first trilogy of crime films goes, I think most people are in agreement that Pulp Fiction is the masterpiece. It was the one that broke down the doors of the movie industry and ushered indie filmmaking into the mainstream, and it’s the one most often referenced when people talk about his career; so I’m not going to focus on that one here. I’m going to focus instead on Tarantino’s debut feature Reservoir Dogs, which was the film that first got heads turned in his direction, and which still gets mentioned right alongside Pulp Fiction as badass things from the 90s. And also I’m going to focus on Jackie Brown, which is kind of the forgotten Tarantino film. This is one that doesn’t get brought up much these […]

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