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Andrew Cooper, SMPSP / © 2015 The Weinstein Company

20 Facts About Your Favorite Quentin Tarantino Movies

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Andrew Cooper, SMPSP / © 2015 The Weinstein Company

Love him or otherwise, there’s no denying that Quentin Tarantino is a natural born filmmaker. Since bursting onto the scene with 1992’s Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino has crafted a slew of films that have consistently amazed, and occasionally offended, audiences around the world. To celebrate his 54th birthday (he was born in Knoxville, Tennessee on March 27, 1963), here are 20 facts about some of your favorite QT films.

1. WHATEVER EXPLANATION YOU’VE HEARD FOR THE TITLE OF RESERVOIR DOGS PROBABLY ISN’T TRUE.

Tarantino told potential investors that “reservoir dog” was a gangster term from French films like Breathless and Bande à Parte, and that it meant “rat.” That wasn’t true; Tarantino just knew that investors would want an explanation for the title, and that they wouldn’t know those films well enough to contradict him. Later, the widely told story was that it came from Tarantino’s days working at a video store, when he recommended Louis Malle’s Au revoir les enfants (1987) and the customer misheard it as “reservoir dogs.” (But Tarantino expert Dale Sherman points out in his book, Quentin Tarantino FAQ: Everything Left to Know About the Original Reservoir Dog, that Au revoir les enfants wasn’t available to rent until after Tarantino’s employment at the video store.) Another version of the story has Tarantino’s girlfriend recommending that movie, and QT himself mishearing it. Yet others have suggested that it was a combination of Au revoir les enfants and Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs (1971). Tarantino has never given a clear, plausible explanation for the title, so quit asking him.

2. YOU CAN WATCH PULP FICTION CHRONOLOGICALLY ... KIND OF.

The narrative structure of the film plays out of sequence, but it’s easy enough to break it down into seven distinct sections (a prologue, an epilogue, two preludes, and three large segments) that can then be re-ordered into a chronological narrative (here’s an infographic).

3. JACKIE BROWN DRIVES BUTCH’S CAR FROM PULP FICTION.

The Honda Civic that Pam Grier drives in Jackie Brown is the same car that Butch (Bruce Willis) drives—and hits Marcellus Wallace with—in Pulp Fiction. The car also makes a brief appearance in Kill Bill: Volume 2.

4. WARREN BEATTY WAS TARANTINO’S FIRST CHOICE FOR THE TITLE ROLE IN KILL BILL.

When Tarantino let the actor go because of creative differences, he cast David Carradine in the iconic role because Carradine previously appeared in Tarantino’s favorite childhood TV show, Kung Fu.

5. THE CONCEPT FOR DEATH PROOF GREW OUT OF TARANTINO’S DESIRE TO BUY A VOLVO.

In a 2007 interview with Newsweek, Tarantino explained the genesis of the idea for Death Proof, the director’s half of Grindhouse: “About 10 years ago, I was talking to a friend about getting a car. And I wanted to get a Volvo because I wanted a really safe car. I remember thinking that I didn’t want to die in some auto accident like the one in Pulp Fiction … So I was talking to my friend about this, and he said, ‘Well, you could take any car and give it to a stunt team, and for $10,000 or $15,000, they can death-proof it for you.’ Well, that phrase ‘death proof’ kinda stuck in my head."

6. CHRISTOPH WALTZ WASN’T THE FIRST CHOICE TO PLAY COLONEL LANDA IN INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS.

Tarantino originally wanted to cast Leonardo DiCaprio. 

7. THE HORSE THAT JAMIE FOXX RIDES IN DJANGO UNCHAINED IS HIS OWN.

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He was given the horse, whose name is Cheetah, as a birthday gift four years before the movie’s release.

8. TRUE ROMANCE WAS TARANTINO’S FIRST SCREENPLAY.

In the original script, Clarence Worley (Christian Slater’s character) wrote the screenplay for Natural Born Killers while traveling cross-country with Alabama. But the script ended up being over 500 pages long, so Tarantino decided to split it up into separate movies.

9. FROM DUSK TILL DAWN WAS TARANTINO’S FIRST PAID WRITING GIG.

He wrote the script for the film, which Robert Rodriguez directed, for $1500. Tarantino wrote the From Dusk Till Dawn script as a way to showcase the talents of a special effects company called KNB. In return, KNB agreed to provide the special effects for the “ear scene” in Reservoir Dogs free of charge.

10. MICHAEL KEATON PLAYED HIS JACKIE BROWN CHARACTER IN ANOTHER MOVIE.

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Keaton plays FBI agent Ray Nicolette in Jackie Brown. One year later, he reprised the role for Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight (both movies were based on Elmore Leonard novels).

11. TARANTINO DIRECTED RESERVOIR DOGS BECAUSE TONY SCOTT DIDN’T.

Because he was still new to the business, Tarantino knew he couldn’t direct both True Romance and Reservoir Dogs. So he gave both scripts to Tony Scott and told him to pick one. Though Scott wanted both of the films, he ended up choosing True Romance, leaving Tarantino to make Reservoir Dogs.

12. BRUCE WILLIS COULD’VE BEEN SUED IF HE RECEIVED A SCREEN CREDIT FOR FOUR ROOMS.

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As a favor to his friend/Pulp Fiction director, Bruce Willis appeared in Tarantino’s “The Man from Hollywood” segment in Four Rooms for free. Which is a no-no as far as the Screen Actors Guild is concerned. In order to avoid a possible lawsuit for violating guild rules, Willis received no screen credit for his part.

13. PULP FICTION’S VINCENT VEGA WAS WRITTEN FOR MICHAEL MADSEN.

Tarantino specifically wrote a number of roles in the film for chosen actors (including Samuel L. Jackson, Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, and Amanda Plummer), but nothing compared to his dedication to having Michael Madsen play Vincent. Madsen, who knew of Tarantino’s plans and said he wanted to do the part, dropped out two weeks before the script was finished to star in Wyatt Earp.

14. ELI ROTH DIRECTED INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS’ FILM-WITHIN-A-FILM.

The director best known for horror films such as Hostel and Cabin Fever also appears in Inglourious Basterds as Donny Donowitz. The faux Nazi propaganda film Nation’s Pride, seen in Chapter Five, lasts just over six minutes.

15. “THE MAN FROM HOLLYWOOD” IS BASED ON A ROALD DAHL STORY.

Tarantino’s segment in Four Rooms is based on a Roald Dahl short story, Man from the South, which was previously adapted for a 1960 episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

16. TARANTINO THINKS HE “OVER-TWEAKED” DEATH PROOF.

And even said so in an interview. Still, he said he was proud of the film.

17. MICHAEL FASSBENDER REPLACED SIMON PEGG IN INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS.

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Before Michael Fassbender was cast to lead Operation Kino, Tarantino wanted Simon Pegg to play Archie Hicox. Pegg had to drop out to shoot the motion capture for Steven Spielberg’s Tintin, a decision which Pegg said caused him “agony.”

18. LEONARDO DICAPRIO HAD SOME ISSUES WITH ALL THE RACIAL SLURS IN DJANGO UNCHAINED.

Co-star Jamie Foxx once shared that DiCaprio was rather uncomfortable shooting a scene that required him to repeat a number of racial slurs. Sensing his discomfort, Foxx recalled that Samuel L. Jackson took DiCaprio aside and gave him a sort-of pep talk: “Hey, mother***er, this is just another Tuesday for us. Let’s go.”

19. ROBERT RODRIGUEZ DIRECTED PARTS OF PULP FICTION.

When Tarantino is on screen as Jimmie, someone else had to be behind the camera—and that someone was frequent collaborator Robert Rodriguez.

20. IN TURN, TARANTINO DIRECTED A SCENE IN SIN CITY.

This scene.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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