25 June 2007

Tarantino & Rodriguez (addendum)

1995 - Four Rooms
"The Missing Ingredient" (directed by Allison Anders) - I enjoyed this one more than I used to (something I can also say for the entire movie). While a coven of female witches questing for sperm doesn't exactly ring true, it's all in good fun. Cartoony magic, a pretty topless girl with cherries in her hair and a resurrected goddess make for an entertaining into to the anthology. And, remember when Madonna was a kitschy actress who'd show up in random movies? Good times.

"The Wrong Man" (directed by Alexandre Rockwell) - For some reason, this segment's my favorite. Goofy noir. I particularly like Ted's speech about how he hates the name Theodore ("Pretty soon Theodore becomes 'Theo the Thumper'..."). His excuse, delivered perfectly by Tim Roth, for sitting on Angela's lap is also priceless: "I was just trying to help her breathe a little."

"The Misbehavers" (directed by Robert Rodriguez)

"The Man from Hollywood" (directed by Quentin Tarantino)


Tarantino (1995)

1995 - ER: "Motherhood" - C: "My girlfriend used to make me watch this all the time." Me: "My wife used to watch this all the time." Both: "I hated this show!" So, we weren't exactly fans going into this. I do understand why Tarantino wanted to direct an episode of this show. It's fast-paced and full of activity. There are wounded people being wheeled every-which-way through the hallways in every scene. There are a million characters to juggle. It's a never-ending barrage of goings-on and it would be a challenge for any director to manage it all.

There isn't really much here that is clearly Tarantino's, though. As is typical with episodic television, the director really isn't that important. He's the taskmaster that brings the writer's story to life while conforming to the producer's vision of the show. About the only thing that stood out to me as pure Tarantino were a couple of extended shots of women's bare feet.

If anything, this episode explains one reason George Clooney shows up in From Dusk Till Dawn. (6/10)

1995 - Four Rooms: "The Man from Hollywood" - What would happen if you got drunk and decided to imitate the bet from that Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode called "Man from the South"? Well, this is pretty much it. To complete the Hitchcock homage, this segment is shot with Rope-style long takes. The long takes aren't particularly impressive, but they do give the scene a more immediate, theater-ish feeling.

What I always liked about this segment was the ending. The lighter fails immediately. There isn't any faux-suspense bullshit: cut to close-up of a sweaty Norman focusing on his lucky lighter. Cut to close-up of lighter. Cut to close-up of Ted holding the hatchet. Cut to close-up of lighter lighting once. Twice. Three times. Cut to Norman looking nervous. Etc., etc. Nope. The lighter fails, the hatchet falls and the finger gets for-real cut off. Just like what would really happen to a bunch of drunks making this bet. (7/10)

Rodriguez (1995)

1995 - Desperado - It's a lot slicker than El Mariachi, but it's lost the guerilla filmmaking charm of its predecessor. Actually, Desperado, having a similar plot to the previous movie and shot in the same Mexican town, shows what effect increasing a filmmaking budget by 1000 times will have. You can replace the leads with a pair of pretty faces. You can burn down a building and shoot the hell out of a bar. You can have rockets blowing up people and cars. You can have animal wranglers. You can hire Los Lobos. Still, though I think it's a bit better of a film that El Mariachi, it's not 1000 times better.

What I think would've been cool -- and maybe I think this because his previous film was highly stylized -- was if Rodriguez had shot the entire movie in the style of the opening "tall tale." Maybe that would've been impossible, but that's always been my favorite part of the movie. The vigilante's face is eternally in the shadows. Guns are so powerful they propel badguys 15 feet into the air. He could've made Buscemi's tale a framing device and had the preternaturally powerful Mariachi reign vengeance upon vengeance upon the criminal element.

Anyway, this is some solid, gunfightin' fun. (7/10)

1995 - Four Rooms: "The Misbehavers" - This was always my least favorite segment of this movie. This is not because it's bad or poorly made. The ending is an image of a ridiculous predicament that you can't help but smile at. I think it's just that the precocious kids vs. loser adult dynamic feels overused. Kids annoy adult. Adult gets comically annoyed. I've seen this in too many cartoons to be fully interested.

Luckily, this is probably Tim Roth's best segment. From his explosions directed at the ringing telephone to his impossibly cool-voiced cooing used to convince the kids to behave, he's in complete control of his performance. I've read that Steve Buscemi was the original choice for the bellhop. That would've been a different -- darker, maybe -- movie. Roth never fails to impress. (7/10)

20 June 2007

Star Trek: TOS 1.21: "Tomorrow is Yesterday"

Maybe it's because I exist in the body-modding 21st century, but I don't quite get why people are always freaked out over Spock's appearance. Should a scowling man with a Moe Howard haircut and deformed ear tips elicit an expression of shock from a 1960s military man? Captain Christopher must also jump at his jet's shadow on the runway.

yr: 2267 / 1969
sd: 3113.2
ad: 26 Jan 1967

18 June 2007

OLR: Sicko (2007)

Details are glossed over as in all of his documentaries, but this is still going to be a powerful argument for the people of the US to ponder. (8/10)

d. Michael Moore

[watched the way Moore recommended]

16 June 2007

Tarantino (1994)

1994 - Pulp Fiction - One of the most quotable movies of all time. By the time I made it to college in 1995, the VHS of this flick was in heavy rotation in the dorms. Every other sentence out of my schoolmate's mouths back then was a line from this movie. Jules' dialogue, naturally, was the favorite. The soundtrack was often played in people's CD players. A group of us even caught it replaying at a local theater. If anything, this movie offers me a lot of nostalgic comfort.

Luckily, it offers a lot more than that. It's a confident movie. It feels like Tarantino accomplished exactly what he set out to do with it. It sports vividly realized characters spouting endlessly entertaining dialogue, a masterfully assembled soundtrack, and a story arranged non-chronologically not just for the novelty. Pop culture references abound, but, unlike some things, they aren't necessary to enjoy the film. The movie works if you don't catch any of them and is even more fun if you do.

After the movie, we watched You're Still Not Fooling Anybody, Mike White's follow-up to his Who Do You Think You're Fooling?. Instead of comparing PF to another film with a similar plot, this short merely shows where some of the pop culture references in PF came from. The Ezekiel quote is from the opening scroll to Karate Kiba, the "pair of pliers and a blowtorch" line came from Charley Varrick, Butch encountering Marcellus at a crosswalk is like that scene in Psycho, etc. It's a weak effort to pin Tarantino with the charge of plagiarism and smells more like sour grapes.

Pulp Fiction: unless Kill Bill blows me away, this is Tarantino's best. It's also one of my favorite films of the 1990s. (9/10)

Rodriguez (1994)

1994 - Roadracers - Before firing up the DVD, I was thinking: "Roadracers? Looks like some kinda '50s drag racing movie. Meh." Actually, no it isn't. Roadracers is a cinematic ball of energy that plays with the conventions of '50s teen movies, ultimately blowing them away with a shotgun blast to the chest. What a nice surprise this flick turned out to be.

Though this move was infamously shot in just 13 days, it isn't sloppy. The actors nail their characters. David Arquette, in particular, becomes possessed by the ghost of a chain-smoking, squinty-eyed, leather-clad 1950s rebel without a cause. The editing is beyond hyperkinetic. The simple process of lighting a cigarette -- which happens countless times in this flick -- often involves as many as five cuts. I can see this technique annoying some, but it only serves to emphasize the style of the film. It's a BAM-POW-ZOWEE blast from a hyperreal vision of the past.

Most of all, I like the story. For first three-quarters of the film, it follows a fairly standard story arc. A rebel plays the guitar and has a beautiful girlfriend. He likes to hang out at the local diner with his quirky pal. The local police hassle him and he runs into some trouble with the mostly harmless local bullies. One day, the rebel is given a choice to determine his fate: try out for a band that just got signed or fight the bullies at the playground. After much cajoling from his gal and quirky pal, the rebel makes the right choice and heads to the club to try out. Things are going his way; he's gonna make it!

Not really. The band turns out to be lip-syncing sellouts. He destroys the band's instruments, beats the band members and heads to the playground to rumble. The bullies turn out to be armed with more than little switchblades. The rebel is shot in the shoulder. Fleeing briefly, the rebel retrieves a shotgun. He kills the head bully, gets the police to ram into a tree and explode, leaves his girlfriend, and -- covered in blood, with a crazy expression on his face -- roars down the highway into the credits. Neat.

C says: "I love finding good movies you've never heard of." Hell, even the wife was impressed with this one. (8/10)

13 June 2007

OLR: Badlands (1973)

Only the beautiful cinematography did anything for me. (6/10)

d. Terrence Malick

12 June 2007

Star Trek: TOS 1.20: "The Alternative Factor"

Kirk, pal, you could've thrown the crazy one in space-jail. Trapping both in the parallel universe corridor "for all eternity" wasn't even close to the only alternative. Then again, it allowed for your fine "What of Lazarus?" moment on the bridge.

Strangely, I had no memory of this episode.

yr: 2267
sd: 3087.6
ad: 30 Mar 1967

OLR: Jaws III (1983)

That scene where we see that dude's perspective from inside the shark as he gets eaten was rad. (7/10)

d. Joe Alves

09 June 2007

OLR: Y tu mamá también (2001)

I'm always up for a sexy, Euro-style road trip flick, but it's not even in the same galaxy as Children of Men. (7/10)

d. Alfonso Cuarón

Tarantino (addendum)

1993 - True Romance (directed by Tony Scott) - I think it's probably lucky for Tarantino that he didn't get to direct this one. Billed as "Tarantino's follow-up to last year's smash Reservoir Dogs," it would've been nothing more than a disappointment. It's a decent enough crime flick, but -- outside of the infamous meeting between screen psychos Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper -- nothing too special. Tarantino rescues the character of Clarence and a lot of his dialogue from his unfinished first film. It's interesting to see the difference in delivery between Slater's Clarence and Tarantino's Clarence when they give the same speech about Elvis. I think I prefer Tarantino's acting; he was more passionate and believable talking about the King. (7/10)

1994 - Natural Born Killers (directed by Oliver Stone) - I think it's probably lucky for viewers that Tarantino didn't get to direct this one. Supposedly, the script started life as the second half of True Romance. It's hard to see how Clarence and 'Bama turned into Mickey and Mallory. Tarantino apparently felt the same way and disowned the film. Thirteen years later, it's still a spot-on parody of our media culture. How appropriate that I watched it on the day CNN shameful spent hours covering Paris' return to jail. Unsubtle as all get-out, but -- beginning with the Roadrunner beeps in the very first scene at the diner -- never meant to be anything else. (8/10)

08 June 2007

Star Trek: TOS 1.19: "Arena"

I'm surprised that this episode is even rerun in these times. It describes the correct components of black powder? Think of the children!

I feel real sorry for the poor guy who had to wear the rubber lizard suit in the California desert. You're a trooper, man.

I dig the new radio chatter added to the bridge soundtrack. It's a nice reminder that there's hundreds of people busy at work in the lower decks, making sure the ship runs smoothly.

yr: 2267
sd: 3045.6
ad: 19 Jan 1967

03 June 2007

Rodriguez (1990-1992)

1990 - Bedhead - A cute short about a brother tormenting a sister and her super-powered revenge. Sibling rivalry will be a theme that runs through most of Rodriguez's movies. Appropriately, the siblings in this movie were played by Rodriguez's real-life brother and sister.

This short film isn't too dissimilar from any student film you might see at your local college's film fest. Most noticeable about it is the energy apparent in the filmmaking. The camera flies around in a Raimi-esque manner and always seems to be zooming in on something. The kids battle in an exaggerated, slapstick way all over the yard. The pace is quick and the editing is snappy.

It's an entertaining little film, miles better than anything I managed to output in college. (7/10)

1992 - El Mariachi - The famous $7000 movie. While shooting in Mexico in the main actor/producer's hometown probably helped the budget quite a bit, this is still an impressive feat given the result.

The same energy from Bedhead infects this movie. The camera zooms through streets and dreams. The action is sped up for comedic effect. The editing of the shootouts is exciting. Rodriguez plays around with every cinematic trick he can think of. Visually, it's a fun (and funny) movie.

So, what's the deal with people ordering a beverage, taking one sip, and leaving? It wasn't explicitly pointed out in the movie, but this is what happens every time a character sidles up to a bar. Is this a standard piece of Mexican humor I'm missing out on? Or just the way the film ended up? Maybe it's like smoking in movies: giving characters a drink to briefly sip gives them something to do when they don't have any lines?

The story is the weakest bit in the film. Most of the movie is, essentially, El Mariachi accidentally running into Moco's men, who try to kill him because he fits the description of a rival criminal. The dream sequences seem to be there just because dream sequences are fun to shoot, not because they add anything. And, I realize Rodriguez had no idea he'd make two big budget sequels to this little film, but it's not much of an origin story for a hero. "He watched in horror as some woman he picked up at a bar the other day was shot in front of his eyes." or "He fights crime because he can no longer play the guitar." It's not exactly in the same neighborhood as Bruce Wayne or Frank Castle's reasons for their wars on crime.

Still, I wish I had the gumption to sell my body to science in order to make a movie. If anything, I admire Rodriguez for his determination. (7/10)

Tarantino (1987-1991)

1987 - My Best Friend's Birthday - Due to a fire, only half of this film survives. Though it doesn't have any titles or credits, the extant portion seems to be the first half of the film. It's a comedy in which the main character -- played by an Elvis-pompadour-sporting Tarantino -- keeps trying to do nice things for his best friend on his birthday and those things end up backfiring on him.

Even if you didn't know this was a Tarantino movie -- and somehow didn't recognize his distinctive mug in the form of Clarence, a disc jockey at K-Billy -- you'd notice his influence in the film right away. Fresh out of the gate, he's already peppering his movies with watchable characters, good songs from prior decades and lengthy conversations about pop culture. The dialogue in this movie is just as entertaining (or annoying, depending on your view) as it will be in his future, more successful films. There are deep conversations about Eddie Cochran's tragic death, Elvis' acting ability and De Palma's Dressed to Kill. Clarence's inexperienced negotiations with a prostitute -- sorry, a call girl -- as a gift for his friend was nicely done. Clarence's line "I AM IN HELL!" after accidentally snorting some itching powder was one of the funniest things I've seen in a while.

Outside of the writing, the filmmaking isn't quite there. The camera was largely stationary. When it decided to move, it appeared to be just to play around. One shot slowly rotated around two characters talking, but a pool table lamp obscured their conversing faces for most of the time. The editing is pretty sloppy, too. I noticed a few instances where it appears that they stitched two takes from one shot directly together without cutting to something else to cover for the transition. But, that's just the type of thing you're forced to do when making a cheap movie.

Amateur, half-movie though it is, it's still a lot of fun. C and I were laughing up a storm. It's worth tracking down if you're a fan. (7/10)

1991 - Reservoir Dogs - It was one of the films that helped bring independent cinema to the mainstream's attention. It helped propel both Tim Roth and Michael Madsen's acting careers. It spawned a spate of hipster, ultra-violent crime flicks over the following decade. Not too bad for a kid who's first film got half-destroyed in a fire after working on it for three years.

Watching the movie again this time -- and maybe it was because I cranked the volume to appreciate the new DTS mix found on the 15th anniversary DVD -- I really noticed the music. Here's what I like about Tarantino's taste in music: it's not the same old shit. It's oldies music, but he rarely ever uses songs that you'd hear on your local oldies channel. In fact, looking over the artists who wrote the songs featured in the movie, I don't recognize a single one. Though he may be choosing the tunes partially for their nostalgic value, I get to listen to a variety of quirky, never- or seldom-heard songs like the fantastic "Little Green Bag" in the title sequence.

Casting is another of Tarantino's strengths that shines in this film. Tim Roth's performance as the undercover policeman is fantastic. His is the yardstick with which to measure anyone's portrayal of bleeding to death from a belly wound. Michael Madsen is just a good as the psychotic, cool-as-a-cucumber Mr. Blonde. Lawrence Tierney, Steve Buscemi, Chris Penn, Harvey Keitel: there ain't a dud in the group. Tarantino also wisely kills off the weakest actor early: Mr. Brown departs shortly after his "Like a Virgin" monologue.

After the movie, we watched Who Do You Think You're Fooling?, the infamous short showing the similarities between RD and the Hong Kong action flick City on Fire. I'll reserve judgment until CoF arrives from Netflix, but I suspect accusations of plagiarism are far too severe. I tend to think of Tarantino as a bebop musician of film, riffing on a variety of cool stuff he's seen others do, while mixing in his own style of story structure, tone, humor and dialogue.

Useless trivia: years ago, Robert Kurtzman came to my college to talk to a handful of film students and he brought The Ear with him as a show-and-tell item. It was a piece of latex.

C says: "I still think this is Tarantino's best movie." I think that honor belongs to the next one, but we'll see. (8/10)

Tarantino & Rodriguez (opening thoughts)

Free from my year on the SOL and my melted brain having recovered from writing 227 individual posts on that particular subject, I think I'm ready to tackle a "normal" chronocinethon. Or two. It makes sense to do both Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's films simultaneously. They work together so often and influence each other's work so much, they're essentially cinematic brothers.

Maybe my choice of directors is a bit strange at this time. They both just came out of a high-profile flop a couple of months ago, sending their "stock" in Hollywood to an all-time low. Instead of plowing ahead into the much anticipated Sin City sequel, Rodriguez is now working on a remake that I have next-to-no interest in. Tarantino is seemingly getting nowhere with his next film, which he's been working on for years.

Eh, whatever. I like their films and my amigo C agreed they'd be fun to get into right now. Our next ten or more weekends will be filled with Mexican vampires, botched jewel heists, underage spies and women wielding both swords and witty banter.

02 June 2007

Guest OLR: In the Realms of the Unreal (2004)

Such an interesting individual deserved a better documentary. (5/10)

d. Jessica Yu

01 June 2007

OLR: Jaws 2 (1978)

The series takes a quick turn from serious to goofy horror even before this underwater Jason Vorhees eats a helicopter. (7/10)

d. Jeannot Szwarc