Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

A True Tarantino Film

Posted: August 28, 2011 in Uncategorized

“I always said, if I had to f**k a guy… I mean had to, if my life depended on it… I’d f**k Elvis.”

It’s a line in the opening monologue of 1993’s True Romance, a line that identifies the film as unmistakably belonging not to the director of the film, Tony Scott, but its writer, the king of pop-culture and f**k-bombs himself, Quentin Tarantino.  The movie lacks directorial flair, so the dialogue and plot shoulder most of the burden.

The story revolves around Clarence, a comic shop employee with a penchant for old kung-fu movies.  He meets Alabama, a hooker, one night at a late screening, and shortly afterwards, they marry.  Alabama however, is afraid that her pimp will find her, so Clarence takes it upon himself to free his wife from her fear.  In doing so, he inadvertently ends up with a suitcase full of cocaine.  He and Alabama decide sell it, and flee to Los Angeles with the owners in hot pursuit.  


How many times do I have to tell you?! It needs more cowbell!


The strength of the writing is augmented by Scott’s direction, which, as mentioned before, is straightforward.  The camera records, rather than interprets, leaving plenty of room for Tarantino’s stylized, ultra-hip dialogue to tell the story. Tarantino’s movies can be self-indulgent and shallow, and often have more to do with the writer/director’s love of film rather than anything profound.  True Romance isn’t much different in this respect, but it does feel tighter, less bloated than his more recent efforts.  There are no drawn-out conversations about the death of a goldfish, or the names of fast-food burgers in Amsterdam.  I know these types of conversations are what makes Tarantino movies unique and that they’re  a large part of why people like him, but I think he can get carried away sometimes.  That’s not to say that the movie is completely devoid of this trademark; it’s undeniably present, but it has more connection with the plot and characters than is typical.  Everything is necessary to the story and developing the characters. 

Though it’s not one of his more famous efforts, True Romance is one of Tarantino’s better ones.  If you have even mildly enjoyed one of his movies, check this one out.   


Stars ****1/2


Fascinating Fact: Tarantino has said that this film is the most autobiographical he’s made to date. 


Recommended Films: Pulp Fiction, Natural Born Killers


Next Weekend

Movie #13


Steven Spielberg has the distinction of having made two films that are on my personal list of the worst movies ever made.  Both of them hold positions in the top five, which is why I’m always a little bit trepid before watching one of the influential director’s movies.  Thankfully, Duel suffers from none of Spielberg’s overt and often cloying sentimentality, and this makes the movie one of his better efforts.  The entertainment value is terrific, and Spielberg’s talent is apparent.  Not all the accolades can be lain on the director though, as author/screenwriter Richard Matheson opts to keep the dialogue to a minimum and let the tension arise from the dramatics of the chase.     

The plot is painfully simple, yet the simpleness lends itself to the effectiveness of the movie.  Dennis Weaver plays a business man who, while driving to see a client, decides to pass a slow-moving, smog-belching tanker truck.  From that moment on, he finds himself relentlessly pursued and harassed by the belligerent vehicle and its  driver.

The plot works, and it does so because the writer and director make terrific use of their not insignificant technical skills.  As mentioned before, Matheson chooses silence (mostly) over dialogue.  This serves a dual (or should I say Duel) purpose; it not only emphasizes the menacing roar of the tanker and the crunch of metal as it slams again and again into its victim’s rear bumper, but it also serves as a reminder of the character’s total isolation.  There is some dialogue, most of which is written as a voiceover and used to clue the audience in to Weaver’s character’s emotional state.  It’s corny, and Weaver’s performance, while a bit dated, is good enough to be able to carry the film without it.

Come on and join our convoy/ ain't nothing gonna get in our way/We gonna roll this trucking convoy/across the USA/ Convoooy!

From a directorial standpoint, Spielberg does a great job of imbuing the commonplace with menacing qualities.  Notches on the truck’s rust-ridden body hint at the number of its victims.  It disappears and then, without warning, is barreling down on the small, red Plymouth Valiant.  The driver is never shown, giving the vehicle an almost preternatural quality to it.  While it’s true that the truck is shown from the outset, the many closeups of the grill, the tires, the exhaust pipe, etc. either in the rearview mirrors of Weaver’s car or shown from the camera’s perspective,  remind one of the old monster-movie trope of showing only parts, or glimpses, of the “creature” in order to evoke a greater sense of fear in the audience.  It’s great, and executed well.  Still though, the movie is not perfect.  One oddity arises from an early scene in which Weaver pulls over at a gas station to phone his family.  It’s a very transparent and superficial attempt to paint the character as sympathetic, to give him a little more depth.  It doesn’t work, mostly because outside of that scene, the family is not relevant.  I may be wrong, but I credit this contribution to Spielberg; nearly all of his films pertain to the familial in some way.  Overall though, it’s easy to tell, even in 1971, why Spielberg is, and continues to be, such a popular filmmaker.

Oh, and if you’re wondering what Spielberg’s two worst movies are, click on the links below:

Stars ****1/2


Fascinating Fact: The film took between twelve and thirteen days to shoot.


Recommended Films: Joy Ride, The Hitcher

Next Weekend

Movie #12

When The Warriors was released in 1979, it quickly became a favorite of gangs nationwide; several people believed the film would incite violence though, and it was quickly pulled from theaters.  The movie’s brief run didn’t prevent it from becoming a success financially, and today, The Warriors is rightfully regarded by critics and audiences as a quintessential cult classic.  The costumes are outstanding, amplifying the sense of camp and spectacle (the two stand-outs are the uniforms of the Baseball Furies, who look like they can’t decide whether to go to a Yankees game or a Kiss concert, and the very non-threatening, rollerskating, overall-wearing Punks) and the brawls are expertly executed, combining brutal violence with overtly stylized choreography.

This is what happens when you don't wash your hands.

The plot is simple: The Warriors, having been framed for the murder of the leader of the biggest gang in New York by another gang, find themselves suddenly positioned deep within enemy territory and must make it back to their own turf as every gang in the city searches for them.  There are no complexities, no twists or turns, but it hardly seems to matter; there’s enough atmosphere and thrills to keep the audience invested for the entirety of the run time.

Typically, I spend a little more time reviewing the film as a whole, but I was struck by the position of women in the film and want to delve a little bit deeper into the issue.  The film is comprised of a predominantly male cast, and, one would think, given the subject matter, that women would be pushed to the margins, but they have the most important roles in the film.  First, there’s the DJ.  Her true identity is never revealed; she remains, throughout the film, a pair of lips.  The camera never strays from the close-up on the DJ’s lips, and it is this focus that gives the character her strength.  She becomes a leader to the gangs pursuing the warriors, urging them towards their goal with frequent updates as to the locations and status of the rogue group.  Her lips, these sensual parts of the  body, are her means of communication, and so become the source of her power.

The Lizzies, a group that exploits their own sexuality in order to achieve their goals.  In their only scene in the movie, the primarily female group seduces three Warriors up to an apartment.  Hoping for a little more than mild foreplay, the three men seem to forget their goal give into the advances of the women…Then, they pull out their pistols and The Warriors find themselves in a difficult situation.  The world of The Warriors is a world where brawn determines the status of your gang.  Almost nobody uses guns; the weapons of choice seem to be blunt melee weapons like bats.  An entirely female gang, lacking in physical strength, must turn to other means if they expect to hold their own.  It’s interesting to note that, once the women do have the gang members in their snare, they resort to that phallic symbol of power, the firearm, to finish the job.

Finally, there’s Mercy, a young woman The Warrior’s pick up during a confrontation between them and the Orphans.  She’s promiscuous, but, as her relationship with The Warriors develops, several situations evidence that she’s deeper than she’s given credit for.  She will eventually be a catalyst for Swan, the group’s leader, though at first, nobody wants to recognize her as anything other than what she is.  Swan in particular maintains his emotional distance and treats her poorly.  It’s not until 2/3 of the way through the movie, during a scene in which Swan and Mercy are walking through the subway tunnel, that her character is able to have an impact.  Both Swan and Mercy are living in stagnation because it’s safe, familiar.  However, Swan has had his familiar world disrupted by the events of the evening.  Mercy also finds herself in an unusual situation when Swan initially accepts, then rejects, her advances.  Her attempts to get through to, and with, Swan, do have an impact on the laconic leader of The Warriors.   “This if the life I got left,” Mercy says to Swan in the subway, referring to her promiscuous ways.  Her words reach Swan and he begins to wonder if maybe there’s more to life than idleness and violence.  A perfect example of the change in his character can be seen when he picks up a forgotten corsage he finds on the ground and gives it to Mercy.  Maybe it’s not too late to change.

Stars :****1/2


Best Quotes

Luther: Waaariors….Come out to play-ay!

Ajax: I’ll shove that bat up your ass and turn you into a popsicle!


Recommended Viewing: Southern Comfort, Assault on Precinct 13

Next Weekend

Movie #7

As a former film student, and someone with a strong interest in narrative, I really shouldn’t have enjoyed director Tony Scott’s The Hunger.  The plot is largely unintelligible, leaving out critical information and forcing the befuddled audience to interpret events as it sees fit. I vastly prefer subtlety to exposition, but The Hunger seems to favor subtlety at the cost of coherence, and this is a detriment to the film.  Still, the performances are excellent and the production design is flawless.  Also, it’s fun to watch this knowing that Scott’s next film would be Top Gun.

Miriam Blaylock is a vampire.  Her lover, John, has begun to age at a greatly accelerated rate, a side effect that all of Miriam’s victims eventually suffer from.  No amount of blood can save him.  Desperate to restore his former youth and beauty, John tries to enlist the help of Sarah Roberts, a doctor who has devoted her life to studying progeria (a disease that causes rapid aging).  Roberts initially rejects John’s plea for aid, and John continues to exist in his state of living decay, even when Miriam relegates him to a coffin in her attic.  Shortly after this, Dr. Roberts shows up at Miriam’s house, asking if she can see John.  John is beyond help at this point, but perhaps Roberts can do something for Miriam.

Surprisingly (or not), this isn't the strangest David Bowie has looked.

While this may seem fairly straightforward, it’s not presented in such a direct manner; get ready to make a lot of guesses. Flashbacks are frequent, and presented with little context.  The reason for John’s aging is never revealed.  Relationships are left undeveloped, boiling down to addictions to love and companionship rather than anything more profound. Frustrating also, is the fact that none of the questions are really answered.

The first thirty minutes, which center around John and Miriam, are definitely more effective and interesting.  Maybe it’s because it’s fascinating to watch David Bowie grow old as the eternal youth that was promised to him slips away.  Maybe it’s because the obstacle is physically present, tangible, while the latter two thirds of the film deal with more abstract issues.  Even with this great first third, the plot isn’t the reason to watch this movie.

As previously stated, the production design is absolutely amazing.  A beautiful eeriness pervades the mansion in which Miriam lives, and the enormous, dark rooms serve to accentuate the characters’ loneliness and isolation.  The shadows are starkly cast, and the general atmosphere is reminiscent of a modern-day film noir.  There were also times when I was reminded of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.

Finally, it would be remiss of me not to mention the sex scene between Susan Sarandon and Catherine Deneuve, since this is mostly what the film is known for.  Personally, I think it was unnecessary.  Yes, vampires and sex have long been associated with each other, but the whole scene felt inorganic, more of a gimmick to get people into the theaters as opposed to an occurence happening naturally within the narrative.

Despite my complaints, I’ll admit I got pretty involved in The Hunger.  It’s definitely not for everyone, and I’ll admit that once David Bowie was out of the picture, I briefly considered turning it off.  Stick with it though, if you can.   The plot won’t ever get clearer, but the art direction and the performances are worth it.

Stars:  ***


Best Quotes

Miriam Blaylock: You’ll be back. When the hunger knows no reason! And then you’ll need to feed, and you’ll need me to show you how.


Recommended Viewing:  Martin, Nosferatu (Herzog’s remake).

Saturday, May 14th

Movie #5

Kiss Kiss, Blog Blog

Posted: April 2, 2011 in Uncategorized

500 Essential Cult Movies: The Ultimate Guide.  I discovered this voluminous guide to cinema’s good, bad, and ugly the other day while I was in Barnes & Noble’s.  As I was flipping through the nearly five hundred pages of cult films, both classic and obscure, an idea came to me; I would cook all 524 recipes in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of…Wait a sec…That doesn’t seem right.

I’m not much of a cook, but I do love film, so I decided that I’d slog my way through almost every movie in this book and share my experiences with anyone who has the patience and courage to follow along.  Not all of them are low budget, of questionable quality, or pander to very specific audiences.  The book takes a very broad approach to the term “cult”, defining it only as films “that inspire almost unhealthy level of devotion in their fans.”  This definition allows for the inclusion of movies that many would not typically consider “cult,” such as The Matrix, The Exorcist, even Vertigo. The good news is that these are more accesible, more “watchable,” than most of the other films in the book.  The bad news is that I’ll be skipping over most of them.  Many people will probably have seen them already, and the purpose of this blog is to expose myself and others to cinema’s secrets, not big-budget Hollywood blockbusters.

I’m not going to give myself time limit, but I am going to hold myself to a minimum of at least one film a week.  Yes, I know.  At that rate, I’m going to finish this little project in six years, but I fully expect to change my goal from one to two films a week within the first few months.  My girlfriend will also be along for the ride, contributing her opinions and what I’m sure will be much needed moral support during the darkest hours.

It’s going to be difficult, disgusting, often times downright disturbing, but most of all, and most importantly, it’s going to be a blast. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Saturday, April 9th

Movie #1