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HTF Blu-ray Review: TRUE ROMANCE



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#1 of 26 OFFLINE   Michael Reuben

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Posted May 16 2009 - 07:07 AM


True Romance (Blu-ray)

Studio: Warner (Morgan Creek)
Rated: Unrated (original release: R)
Film Length: 121 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
HD Encoding: 1080p
HD Codec: VC-1
Audio: English Dolby True HD 5.1; English DD 5.1; French DD 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH; Spanish; French
MSRP: $28.99
Disc Format: 1 50GB
Package: Keepcase
Theatrical Release Date: Sept. 10, 1993
Blu-ray Release Date: May 26, 2009


Introduction:

I thought all film fans already knew True Romance, but when my friend and colleague, Adam
Gregorich, sent me the review disc, he mentioned that he'd never heard of it - and Adam is no
amateur. Maybe the film is still only a "cult" classic. I know some of you know it well (at least
one HTF member has an image from it in his signature), but for those who know little or nothing,
here's the deal: This is a great film and a great Blu-ray, and I'm going to try to intrigue you
without giving away too many plot details, which are way more fun if you discover them for
yourself.

True Romance was released in September 1993, and it was ahead of its time. The script came
from that pop culture junkie Quentin Tarantino, but this was before he was famous. With just one
film to his credit (Reservoir Dogs), he'd had enough success to instill confidence, but not so
much that he'd become weighted down by the burden of being a cinema icon, as happened in the
latter half of the nineties. The script for True Romance displays all the verbal dexterity, allusive
exuberance and casual indifference to conventional plotting that would so thrill audiences a year
later in Pulp Fiction, but would vanish for almost ten years until Kill Bill. (I like Jackie Browne,
but it's a low-key affair.)

And who should latch onto this high-voltage material but Tony Scott, one of the slickest and
most commercial directors in Hollywood. It's easy to forget, after all these years, that before
Scott made his name with studio blockbusters like Top Gun and Beverly Hills Cop II, he debuted
on the American scene with a high-concept art film about lesbian vampires called The Hunger. In
True Romance you can almost hear Scott chuckling as he gleefully polishes every curlicue of
eccentricity in Tarantino's pop-trash script. It didn't hurt that Tarantino's ornately profane
dialogue attracted an acting ensemble of a calibre seldom rivaled before or since.


The Feature:

 
I had to come all the way from the highways and byways of Tallahassee, Florida to
Motor City, Detroit to find my true love. If you gave me a million years to ponder, I
would never have guessed that true romance and Detroit would ever go together. And to
this day, the events that followed all seem like a distant dream. But the dream was real
and was to change our lives forever.

Alabama

Clarence Worley (Christian Slater, still in his heartthrob phase) and Alabama Whitman (Patricia
Arquette, never lovelier or more alluring) are a young couple who meet in wintry Detroit and
instantly fall in love. They're not Bonnie and Clyde, nor are they Kit and Holly from Badlands.
But they remind you of both, and of every other doomed outlaw couple that has ever wandered
the American landscape.

 
In Jailhouse Rock he was everything rockabilly's about. I mean, he IS rockabilly. Mean,
surly, nasty, rude. In that movie he couldn't give a fuck about nothing except rockin' and
rollin', living fast, dying young and leaving a good-looking corpse.

Clarence


Appropriately for a movie scripted by Tarantino, the young lovers first meet in a movie theater
showing a triple feature starring martial arts legend Sonny Chiba. Their courtship continues at a
comic book store. It would spoil the fun to reveal any more, but let's just say that the relationship
is both complicated and magnificently simple in its intensity. And despite outward appearances,
Clarence is not an ordinary man. For one thing, he has an unseen "Mentor", who looks and
sounds just like Elvis (Val Kilmer, in a sly impersonation) and can be counted on for sage advice
in the most difficult circumstances.

 
Have a seat, boy. Grab yourself a eggroll. They got everything here from a diddled-eyed
joe to damned if I know
.
Drexl

But before their love can fully take flight, Clarence and Alabama have to deal with Drexl, a
vicious small-time hoodlum played by Gary Oldman in perhaps the most eccentric performance
of a career studded with eccentric performances. (Blink and you'll miss Samuel L. Jackson as
one of Drexl's associates; the voice gives him away.) Without their intending it, the encounter
with Drexl leaves Clarence and Alabama in possession of a suitcase full of cocaine, and they
hightail it out of town. Before leaving, though, they stop to say goodbye to Clarence's father
(Dennis Hopper), a former cop now working as a security guard. Mr. Worley checks with his old
police contacts and says that the young couple appears to be in the clear. Naturally, they don't
mention the suitcase.

 
I'm the Anti-Christ. You got me in a vendetta kind of mood. You tell the angels in heaven
you never seen evil so singularly personified as you did in the face of the man who killed
you
.
Vincent Coccotti

Entire suitcases of cocaine can't go missing without someone noticing. Drexl's superiors are hard
upon Clarence's and Alabama's trail, and they arrive at Mr. Worley's door in the person of
Vincent Coccotti (Christopher Walken) and a team of thugs, including Virgil (a pre-Sopranos
James Gandolfini). The face-off between Walken and Hopper as Coccotti and Worley is a
legendary scene: nerve-wracking, cringe-inducing, funny and ultimately horrifying. It's like one
of those great Hitchcock scenes that retains its punch even after multiple viewings. It's worth the
price of admission all by itself.

 
We now return to Bullitt already in progress.
Clarence

Unaware that they're being pursued, Clarence and Alabama arrive in Los Angeles, where
Clarence meets up with his childhood friend, Dick Ritchie (Michael Rapaport), who is trying to
make it as an actor and is currently up for a bit part on the series T.J. Hooker (his tryout is
hilarious). Dick lives with a stoner roommate named Floyd (Brad Pitt, showing how the right
actor can make a small role a memorable scene-stealer). Clarence presses Dick to put him in
touch with someone in Hollywood to whom he can sell the entire suitcase of coke for one big
score, after which he and Alabama can leave for Mexico. With great reluctance, Dick introduces
Clarence to Elliot Blitzer (Bronson Pinchot), a member of Dick's acting class. Elliot's day job is
as an assistant to a big-time producer, Lee Donowitz (Saul Rubinek), who is the kind of player
that can afford and might want a suitcase full of premium coke at a discount price. (The character
of Donowitz is said to have been based on producer Joel Silver.)

 
Now the first time you kill somebody, that's the hardest. I don't give a shit if you're
fuckin' Wyatt Earp or Jack the Ripper. Remember that guy in Texas? The guy up in that
fuckin' tower that killed all them people? I'll bet you green money that first little black
dot he took a bead on, that was the bitch of the bunch.

Virgil

Just as Clarence seems to have everything lined up, trouble comes calling. One of Coccotti's
thugs, Virgil (Gandolfini), catches up with Alabama at the motel where she and Clarence are
staying.The scene that follows is one of the most brutal in the film (and one of the principal
scenes that had to be trimmed to get the film an R rating). Upping the ante, two local cops (Tom
Sizemore and the late Chris Penn) learn of the impending drug deal and pressure Elliot into
becoming their informant. They send him wired into the hotel suite where the buy is to take place
and wait in a nearby room with a squad of cops. The producer, Lee Donowitz, has his own
heavily armed security team, and as if that weren't enough artillery, the rest of Coccotti's thugs
arrive on the scene after a memorable conversation with Floyd the stoner and burst into the suite
just after the cops do. The result is the most dramatic Mexican standoff since The Good, the Bad
and The Ugly.


 
If there's one thing this last week has taught me, it's better to have a gun and not need it
than to need a gun and not have it.

Clarence

The ensuing mayhem is by turns comical, horrific and edge-of-your-seat suspenseful. It also leads
to the film's conclusion, over which Tarantino and Scott fought, in a friendly way that is more
fully explored in the special features. And, like the rest of True Romance, the ending is utterly
over the top and unbelievable, because the film never pretends to be realistic. It exists in an
alternate fairy tale universe that feels familiar because it is constructed out of the great collective
unconscious of pop culture junk food: of kung fu movies and comic books, western movies and
gangster films, rebels without causes and whores with hearts of gold, Elvis the King and rockers
striking a pose. We all know this world, and at one time or another, we've all felt its seductive
pull. True Romance invites us to live there for two hours with a pair of the hottest young lovers
around.

 
I like you, Clarence. Always have. Always will.
The Mentor

And what tour guides we have. Only a screenwriter of Tarantino's originality and brashness
would stop the action during a deadly encounter between a lead character and a hitman to let the
hitman (the hitman!) deliver a long speech about what it's like to accustom oneself to murdering
people (an excerpt is quoted above). Only a director of Scott's confidence and skill would not
only keep the speech, but also use it to build even more tension into the scene. And only an actor
of Gandolfini's quality (and remember: he was virtually unknown then) would seize the
opportunity to wrap his tongue with such delight around every syllable of this choice dialogue,
giving it that special mixture of brutality and raw charm that he would perfect, some years later,
in the character of Tony Soprano.

That's only one scene. There are many others.

 
. . . you're so cool, you're so cool, you're so cool . . .
Alabama

Video:

Like the laserdisc and the previous DVDs, the Blu-ray contains the unrated director's cut. Is it
demo material? That depends on your definition. Unlike such recent Tony Scott extravaganzas as
Man on Fire, True Romance wasn't filmed with saturated colors that pop off the screen and
make people drool over HT equipment. The visual scheme is subtler and more clever. For the
first hour of the film set in Detroit, the color scheme is grayish and muted; the air is often hazy,
whether with cigarettes indoors or with steam or smoke belching from chimneys and grates
outdoors. As soon as Clarence and Alabama head west, the image brightens considerably, but
even then it always retains a degree of filtered softness and haze. How could it be otherwise
when the road that these two lovers are traveling is as much a dreamscape as a landscape? Right
until the end, Clarence is getting advice from his imaginary mentor, Elvis, whose face we never
see except deeply out of focus.

For True Romance, Scott and cinematographer Jeffrey Kimball created the visual equivalent of
the private inner world that Clarence and Alabama share and that briefly envelops everyone they
encounter, for good or ill (mostly the latter, since true romance is a powerful, destructive force).
Nothing ever looks quite real, but if you pay attention to almost any frame in which Alabama
appears, she will usually be the most vivid thing in it.

So what does this mean for the video image? When the film starts, you may be tempted to say,
"Meh!", because the image doesn't leap off the screen and shout, "Look at me!" But as the film
progresses, you should start noticing the wealth of tiny details: Alabama's jewelry, the individual
links in the chain around Clarence's neck, the elaborate make-up that transformed Gary Oldman
into Drexl. Then there's the rock-solid steadiness of the image during the rapidly edited eruptions
of violence - scenes that hold up better on this Blu-ray than any other video version to date,
because it conveys enough visual information for the cuts to make as much narrative sense as
they did when I saw the film projected theatrically.

I've seen every video version of this film since laserdisc, and, to paraphrase Walken's Don
Vincenzo, if you know them like you know your own face, you can't be fooled: This is a great
transfer.


Audio:

True Romance was released in Dolby Stereo, and thankfully the 5.1 presentation created for
DVD didn't mess with the original mix. It remains front-centered, and the surrounds are used
primarily to open up the sound, particularly the music score with its eclectic selection of pop
songs and Hans Zimmer's Latin-inflected score. The Dolby TrueHD on this Blu-ray does well by
the score, which sounds richer and fuller than any version I've heard so far. This is particularly
important during the climactic shootout, when the mournful tones of Zimmer's score need equal
weight with the thunder of gunfire. It's a carefully balanced mix, and the TrueHD maintains the
balance beautifully.


Special Features:

All of the special features come from the 2002 two-disc special edition DVD, which was apparently
not reviewed at HTF. Some features from that special edition have been omitted; the omissions
are listed below. There are no new features, and none of the features have been given any special
Blu-ray treatment. The disc has not been encoded for BD Java.

To expedite the posting of this review, I have not spent the additional time to go back and listen
anew to the three feature-length commentaries. But each of them is worth a listen.

Commentary by Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette.

Commentary by director Tony Scott.

Commentary by screenwriter Quentin Tarantino.

Selective scene commentary by Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Brad Pitt and Michael
Rapaport:
These are short commentaries, from app. five to thirty minutes each, set against
individual scenes featuring each of these actors. It's a format that I wish other DVD producers
would try. Because each commentator has a relatively short time, he brings out his best stories
immediately and doesn't save anything for later. Kilmer is quite funny talking about how he
ended up as such a spectral presence in the film (in full Elvis make-up, he says, he looked like a
transvestite), and Pitt talks about being considered for the lead but saying he just didn't "get" the
story. He was intrigued enough by working with Tony Scott to talk the small role of Floyd (for
reasons that can't be explained without spoilers), which, thanks to Pitt's interpretation, has
become iconic. (Floyd's honey bear bong is now sold in head shops.)

Alternate ending with optional commentary by Tony Scott and Quentin Tarantino. Let's
proceed here with caution. Tarantino wrote one ending, but Scott decided that it didn't fit with
the film as he was making it and asked for a different one. He assured Tarantino the change
wasn't for crass commercial reasons but because the story demanded it, and the two agreed that
Scott would shoot both endings. Today, even Tarantino agrees that Scott's ending is the right one
for the film that Scott made. Though Tarantino would have made the whole film differently, he
likes Scott's version.

Above all, do not watch this until you've seen the film. You have been warned.

Deleted/extended scenes with optional director commentary (29:02). There are eleven in all,
many of which are extensions of existing scenes. Video quality varies, and although the scenes
have been formatted to fill the width of the HDTV screen, the resolution appears to be no better
than standard definition. By and large, a comparison of these scenes to the finished film
demonstrates the virtues of crisp editing.

Original 1993 featurette (5:35) (SD). Standard promotional stuff, but worth it just to note who's
featured and who isn't. Today, Tarantino would be front and center talking a blue streak. In 1993
no one thought to put him on camera. But Scott does say that it was the quality of the script that
allowed him to assemble such an amazing cast, and Walken comments that the scene he's just
finished is "Elizabethan in its complexity" (which it is).

Behind-the-scenes interactive featurette (5:33, main feature; app. 18:00, supps.) (SD) (spoilers
galore!). This is a making-of, with some of the footage marked for branching when a heart
symbol appears on screen. It had the same arrangement on the DVD. It contains much on-set
footage, some of it quite interesting, but only if you know the scenes being filmed.

Theatrical trailer. Like the deleted scenes, it's presented across the entire screen, but the
resolution is standard definition. It's a great trailer. It's the one that made me want to see the film
when it was first released, but apparently not many others felt the same way.

What's missing: Although the disc jacket lists an "animated photo gallery", I couldn't find it
anywhere on the Blu-ray. That feature does appear on disc 2 of the 2002 DVD special edition;
it's a series of publicity and on-set stills that play as a slide show. Also included on the 2002
DVD but omitted from the Blu-ray: two TV spots; cast and crew bios; trailers for other Morgan
Creek titles; and (via DVD-ROM) screenplay with storyboards and production notes.

To me, the truly significant omission is the director's storyboard track that displayed Scott's
hand-drawn storyboards accompanying the film; this was set up as a subtitle track and should not
have required substantial additional space on the Blu-ray. Its omission is puzzling.


Final Thoughts:

The vibrant landscape of pop detritus that Clarence and Alabama inhabit was one that Tarantino
would shortly make even more mythic in Pulp Fiction, for it is much the same world inhabited
by Vincent and Jules, Marcellus Wallace and Winston Wolfe. But in True Romance, that world is
seen through the eyes of a true romantic. One doesn't usually think of Tony Scott in such terms;
his customary image is that of a macho man who makes loud films with big hardware, and True
Romance
has its share. But this unusual collaboration produced a truly unique film of both raw thrills
and surprising emotional depth -- and now it's been given its best video presentation ever.


Equipment used for this review:

Panasonic BDP-BD50 Blu-ray player (Dolby TrueHD decoded internally and output as analog)
Samsung HL-T7288W DLP display (connected via HDMI)
Lexicon MC-8 connected via 5.1 passthrough
Sunfire Cinema Grand amplifier
Monitor Audio floor-standing fronts and MA FX-2 rears
Boston Accoustics VR-MC center
Velodyne HGS-10 sub


Edited by Michael Reuben - 7/22/2009 at 03:19 pm GMT
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#2 of 26 OFFLINE   TravisR

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Posted May 16 2009 - 10:20 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Michael Reuben
I've seen every video version of this film since laserdisc...
You just reminded me how many times I've bought this. And I'll be adding one more to that tally on May 26. Posted Image

Thanks for the review, Michael!

#3 of 26 OFFLINE   Neil Middlemiss

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Posted May 16 2009 - 02:00 PM

Terrific review, Micheal. Great film too.
"Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure Science" – Edwin Hubble
My DVD Collection

#4 of 26 OFFLINE   Brent M

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Posted May 16 2009 - 04:34 PM

Must buy!!! Posted Image
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#5 of 26 OFFLINE   Walter Kittel

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Posted May 16 2009 - 04:39 PM

Nice review, Michael. I was a little concerned about this transfer given the style of the film - especially in Detroit. Thanks for assuaging my fears.

I'm pretty sure I've owned every home video release of this film and it looks like I'll be adding another copy to the collection.

- Walter.
Fidelity to the source should always be the goal for Blu-ray releases.

#6 of 26 OFFLINE   MatS

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Posted May 16 2009 - 07:53 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Michael Reuben
< scenes that hold up better on this Blu-ray than any other video version to date,
because it conveys enough visual information for the cuts to make as much narrative sense as
they did when I saw the film projected theatrically.

I've seen every video version of this film since laserdisc, and, to paraphrase Walken's Don
Vincenzo, if you know them like you know your own face, you can't be fooled: This is a great
transfer.

-- and now it's been given its best video presentation ever.

I've read a lot of "noise" from other sites and am now glad to hear some real perspective and good news

I have this on order from WB's B2GO sale and am much more relieved with my purchase having read the above

#7 of 26 OFFLINE   EricW

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Posted May 16 2009 - 08:05 PM

this is the only early Tarantino movie i still like after all these years. glad to hear the transfer is at least decent. looking forward to getting this.
"now, if that's a fact, tell me... am i lying?"

#8 of 26 OFFLINE   Michael Reuben

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Posted May 17 2009 - 12:39 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by MatS
I've read a lot of "noise" from other sites and am now glad to hear some real perspective and good news
There's been no DNR that I could detect; so there's visible film grain. And there's the constant presence of smoke and haze, whether from visible sources in Detroit or from smog in L.A. I could see how someone who doesn't know the film might mistake this for "noise", but it isn't.

Scott says in one of the featurettes that True Romance doesn't look like his other films, and he's right. He went back to the clean, glossy look in his next film Crimson Tide, and he's pretty much stayed with it every since.
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#9 of 26 OFFLINE   urbo73

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Posted May 17 2009 - 04:50 AM

blu-ray.com has given it a rather poor reivew:

Blu-ray.com - True Romance Blu-ray Review (Unrated)

Not sure what to think anymore...

#10 of 26 OFFLINE   Michael Reuben

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Posted May 17 2009 - 06:35 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by urbo73
blu-ray.com has given it a rather poor reivew:

Blu-ray.com - True Romance Blu-ray Review (Unrated)

Not sure what to think anymore...
The Blu-ray.com reviewer and I start from different understandings of how the film is supposed to look. I don't claim to have the definitive word, but if you read both reviews, my experience with the film does go back further.

Also, I wasn't able to find what equipment the reviewer was using, which can often account for differences in evaluation of image quality.
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#11 of 26 OFFLINE   Richard Gallagher

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Posted May 17 2009 - 10:21 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by urbo73
blu-ray.com has given it a rather poor reivew:

Blu-ray.com - True Romance Blu-ray Review (Unrated)

Not sure what to think anymore...

I've never known Michael Reuben to steer anyone wrong.
Rich Gallagher

#12 of 26 OFFLINE   MatS

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Posted May 17 2009 - 11:16 AM

just to clarify Michael
when I said "noise" I meant chatter/complaining/etc from people at other forums (I'll let you guess one in particular)
"noise" was not in reference to specific elements of the PQ

#13 of 26 OFFLINE   Michael Reuben

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Posted May 17 2009 - 11:30 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by MatS
when I said "noise" I meant chatter/complaining/etc from people at other forums (I'll let you guess one in particular)
"noise" was not in reference to specific elements of the PQ
Got it. For reasons I'm sure I don't have to explain, the PQ sense of "noise" is always uppermost in my mind when wearing a reviewer hat, especially given the Blu-ray "grain" controversies. I should have realized you meant the other kind. Posted Image
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#14 of 26 OFFLINE   urbo73

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Posted May 17 2009 - 12:01 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Michael Reuben
The Blu-ray.com reviewer and I start from different understandings of how the film is supposed to look. I don't claim to have the definitive word, but if you read both reviews, my experience with the film does go back further.

Also, I wasn't able to find what equipment the reviewer was using, which can often account for differences in evaluation of image quality.

Agreed. I trust this site more. My point was similar to Mr. RAH's point r.e. reviews of Blu-ray discs. If one is not familiar with the film to have a reference point, a picture quality review becomes very subjective. That's all.

#15 of 26 OFFLINE   Sam Posten

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Posted May 17 2009 - 02:30 PM

LAdies and gentlemen, THAT is how you review a film. Bravo.

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#16 of 26 OFFLINE   Adam Gregorich

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Posted May 18 2009 - 06:05 AM

And yes, I will be blind buying this. Thanks Michael! Posted Image

#17 of 26 ONLINE   Michel_Hafner

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Posted May 19 2009 - 08:36 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by urbo73
blu-ray.com has given it a rather poor reivew:
And deservedly so. Oversmoothed.

#18 of 26 OFFLINE   Bryan^H

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Posted May 19 2009 - 03:20 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by EricW
this is the only early Tarantino movie i still like after all these years. glad to hear the transfer is at least decent. looking forward to getting this.
Seriously? Seeing Kill Bill 1 in the theaters was one of my favorite film experiences...ever. That being said, True Romance is probably my second favorite Tarantino movie, and I look forward to picking this puppy upPosted Image

housekeeping 2.jpg

"She always does that, she just wanders away"

 

 

 


#19 of 26 OFFLINE   EricW

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Posted May 19 2009 - 03:50 PM

not counting KB1... when i said 'early' i'm talking Reservoir Dogs, Pulp, Dusk til Dawn, etc. dialogue is just too thick.
"now, if that's a fact, tell me... am i lying?"

#20 of 26 OFFLINE   Bryan^H

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Posted May 19 2009 - 06:58 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by EricW
not counting KB1... when i said 'early' i'm talking Reservoir Dogs, Pulp, Dusk til Dawn, etc. dialogue is just too thick.
Oh, somehow I completely missed the "early" part of your post.
Pulp Fiction still holds up for me quite well. I can still get sucked into that world the minute I start watching. Reservoir Dogs not so much any more.

housekeeping 2.jpg

"She always does that, she just wanders away"

 

 

 



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