You guys, I’ve been watching the trailer for Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight” at least once a day since it premiered last month. Initially, it was born out of morbid curiosity, as the BS — mostly involving Tarantino’s predilection for acting like a junior high Mountain Dew addict rage-quitting “World of Warcraft” — surrounding this thing was at an apex.
Long story short, the script was leaked, Tarantino threatened to take his ball (and, presumably, his Kirk Douglas chin) and go home, then he decided to release it as a comic, then oh wait no, he was actually going to film the damn thing. My cats are more decisive when they’re tracking six wasps at the same time.
Regardless, I’m excited for the movie, because — whatever you think of him — Tarantino is probably the most outright entertaining filmmaker working today. His movies truck along at a fairly brisk clip, even when they’re nearly three hours long, the characters are compelling and weird, and — real talk — you know you’re gonna see some f***ed up s**t.
Besides all that, however, one of the things I appreciate most about Tarantino’s films is how he seems to imbue even his throwaway characters with some semblance of importance. Even if they enjoy barely a moment of screen time, some of these characters stay with you even longer than the lead cast, if only because you keep wondering what the hell they were doing there in the first place.
Here, in no particular order, are five of those characters.
1. Gogo Yubari — “Kill Bill: Vol. 1”
Portrayed by Chiaki Kuriyama — in an almost-repeat of her performance in “Battle Royale” — Gogo Yubari acts as O-Ren Ishii’s personal bodyguard, and is the sobering hangover to your latent schoolgirl fantasies. Only 17 years old, she’s a proficient and sadistic killer, holding her own against, and almost defeating, Uma Thurman’s “Bride” character, despite being much less experienced in mortal combat.
Gogo is interesting because we don’t know a thing about her. Yeah, we get a short flashback where she offers to screw some creep in a bar and then impales him with a dagger (*swoon*), but that just underscores her mania without doing anything to explain it. There are only two ways her origin story plays out: she experiences some horrifically traumatic event at a young age or she’s just plain evil from the outset. Either way, we get the best Batman or Michael Meyers story never written.
2. Woman Who Shot Tim Roth, then got Shot by Tim Roth — “Reservoir Dogs”
This is a little bit of a stretch, but bear with me. “Reservoir Dogs” was Tarantino’s first film, and is widely considered his best by anyone who hasn’t seen “Inglorious Basterds.” He didn’t yet have the budget to spend on establishing back-stories and tidy morsels for every one of his supporting characters; hell, the film barely had the budget for any supporting characters.
Still, he had a penchant for dramatic implications. Midway through the film, Roth’s character — an undercover cop posing as a bank robber — attempts to carjack the woman after a heist goes wrong. She stops the car, then very decisively reaches into the glove box, pulls out a revolver and promptly pumps a round into Roth’s stomach as soon as he flings the door open. He falls to the ground, stunned, then leans up and shoots her in the head, killing her instantly, before slumping back to the pavement.
It’s one of the most visceral scenes in a markedly visceral movie, and unfortunately nearly leads to Roth dying like a coked-up cartoon in the back of Harvey Keitel’s car. But what about this woman who, by the way, looked like the night manager at Walgreen’s? She was flagged down and forced over by, to the best of her knowledge, a hardened criminal, and she jumps straight to bust-a-cap mode. Most of us would be soiling ourselves repeatedly and offering incentives to Roth so that he would avail us of the car in a more expeditious manner. Was she a war veteran? A survivalist? A MacGuffin? We don’t know, and that’s why we remember her.
3. Esmerelda Villa Lobos — “Pulp Fiction”
Speaking of MacGuffins, holy crap this movie. You could fill a book with all the loose and dead ends here, and I’d read it 10 times before going back and watching the movie another 20. But perhaps the greatest — I said perhaps; wait for No. 5 — Macguffin in the whole film is taxi driver Esmerelda Villa Lobos, as played by Angela Jones. As an aside, Hollywood: why haven’t you beaten down Ms. Jones’ door, offering her every role ever? She hasn’t worked in film since 2011, and the only notable credits on her filmography are this movie, “Children of the Corn V,” and as a hooker in “Man in the Moon,” which is kind of like being cast as a hooker in “Children of the Corn V.”
Consider this: we meet Esmerelda as she is listening to the conclusion of Butch’s (Bruce Willis) boxing match on the radio. After hearing that he won, she immediately shuts off the radio, leaps out of her third-floor apartment window into an open dumpster, then drives away in her taxi to go and totally randomly pick up Butch.
Even if the window/dumpster thing weren’t a red flag, the pure calm and ease with which she interacts with Butch, who just killed a man in the ring with his bare hands, indicates something greater at play. At the risk of sounding overwrought, there’s something vaguely Lovecraftian about her presence. She is profoundly unsettling, suggesting an otherworldly calm and awareness. There are a couple of possibilities: she could be a contract killer who decides, for whatever reason, to let Butch off the hook; clearly, she knew where he would be, and when. She could also just be a death-obsessed loon. Either way, good lord.
4. Tracker — “Django Unchained”
Leaving aside for the moment the critical furor surrounding this movie, it’s arguably Tarantino’s greatest effort as a filmmaker; some critics, like Leonard Maltin, said that the film ground to a halt as soon as Leonardo DiCaprio’s Calvin Candie was introduced, but Leonard Maltin is an aging sack of dishrags who doesn’t understand that there is an art to scenery-chewing; see Pacino, Al in Literally Everything Since 1996.
Zoe Bell, a stuntwoman by trade, plays this character, who appears in two scenes, speaks no dialogue and only ever reveals her hair and eyes as distinguishing physical characteristics. But let’s delve: she lives on the grounds of Candieland, the massive cotton plantation that Calvin Candie owns and runs; not only that, she lives with the overseers and white laborers just off the main property. She carries an axe around with her, and nobody messes with her, or even addresses her throughout the course of her appearance.
Let’s be clear: pre-Civl War South was a racist environment, but it was also definitely a misogynistic environment. Women had their place, which was to wear pretty clothes and smile. This woman, this “Tracker,” wore pants and a button-down khaki shirt, cowboy boots, a wide-brimmed hat, and a red bandanna over the bottom half of her face, and nobody seemed to want a piece of her. She’s gunned down by Django in the film’s climax, but I’m willing to bet that, if it were a fair fight, that might have been a very different film.
5. Buddy Holly — “Pulp Fiction”
Oh yeah. Ooooooooh yeah. I’m about to go hard in the paint here, you guys. Try and keep up.
Steve Buscemi is playing Buddy Holly at the Jackrabbit Slim’s restaurant during John Travolta’s date with Uma Thurman in “Pulp Fiction.” He has about three lines, one of which is “Hi, I’m Buddy, what can I get you?” He says that line with all the gusto of a dying goldfish, which gives you an idea of the kind of decisions this man has made in his life up to this point. Or —
He’s still Mr. Pink from Reservoir Dogs. Recall that, at the end of that movie, Buscemi’s Mr. Pink is the only one who may have made it out alive; there’s gunfire offscreen, but we don’t see what actually happens. If we assume he’s alive, and if we assume that the briefcase in “Pulp Fiction” contains the diamonds from the botched heist in “Reservoir Dogs,” then not only is Mr. Pink still alive and kicking, but he’s likely the most powerful crime boss in the city, with even the likes of Marcellus Wallace under his thumb. This waiter gig? Just a way to pass the time and listen to white-boy rockabilly.