Saturday, 9 April 2011

122: Boot-shot! Tarantriguez season...

CAUTION: Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.

If there's three things I love about a movie, it's foul language, gunfire and boot-shots. Alright, "trunk shots" if you're in the USA. You know what I mean, though. It's the thing where you put the camera in the boot of a car (alright, "trunk") to give the perspective of whatever's being revealed to the characters opening it. Usually guns, but can also be people. Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez love a boot-shot. They also love foul language and guns.

They're not the only ones to use them, of course. They're all over the place. There's one in Kevin Smith's Clerks. Even I've used one before.

Anyway, what better (read: flimsier) pretext to use for watching 13 films in 10 days?

The (selected) movies of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. They do great films together, they do great films apart.
Some of these I hadn't watched at all, some I hadn't watched a lot, and some I hadn't watched for ages.
These are the mini-reviews from my Facebook review album...

15 March 2011.
The inspiration for Tarantriguez season. Full review here.
This movie is adrenaline from the word go. This, sadly, is its only let-down: common sense dictates that you can't keep that momentum up for 105 minutes, and that there's got to be some downtime to let the audience breathe and fit in a bit of plot. As the plot is beautifully minimal, you're pretty much stunned into submission in that downtime, so it seems like nothing's really happening. It is, of course, but it's hard to compare with the action sequences.

Not that it matters; the entire ensemble is a fucking joy to watch, here. And Danny Trejo makes me grin like an idiot anyway. This film triumphs on every level that it sets out to, and most importantly: it knows its place.

Yes. 7. It's that awesome.

From Dusk Till Dawn
26 March 2011.

"Psychos do not explode when sunlight hits them. I don't give a fuck how crazy they are."
And so my Tarantino/Rodriguez season begins. I don't know how, but I'd genuinely forgotten that this is one of my favourite films of all time. Script, soundtrack, stylisation, cast, effects, all absolutely flawless. A grindhouse road/heist movie, this switches tracks at the hour-mark and becomes a vampire/zombie flick. And all done with such panache that you'll be seriously considering armed robbery as a career option by the blood-soaked end.

It's difficult to pin down exactly why I love this so much, when I just love everything about it. The rock/blues soundtrack definitely helped though, snaring me in the first time I saw it, back in '96. Like 'Shaun of the Dead', this is a film that I'm always in the mood to watch. To the point that I can't remember why I haven't watched it for so long.

Oh, don't mention the sequels, though. I don't want to talk about those.

Reservoir Dogs
27 March 2011.

"Excuse me, but the last fucking thing you need is another cup of coffee…"

1992. My god, has it been that long? After a lengthy dialogue-scene, the film-proper opens after a botched diamond raid. The surviving thieves make their way back to the rendezvous point, and a series of flashbacks and monologues fills us in on who they are, what they had planned, and why it went wrong.

Brilliantly powerful performances from all concerned. Tarantino's directorial debut still packs as much punch as it did back then. The only downside I noticed today is the under-use of Eddie Bunker's 'Mr Blue'. Everyone else either gets their backstory or significant scenes fleshed out. But other than mentioning Madonna's 'Lucky Star' in the opening scene, we barely hear from him again and we don't get to see him during the robbery flashbacks. Even Tarantino's 'Mr Brown' gets his opening speech and a death-scene.

As intense as the movie is, it's also the reason I can't get TOO excited by it. It's very claustrophobic (by necessity), the dark humour does nothing to lighten the mood, and I've really got to be in the mood to watch it. There are also a couple of stretches of downtime as various setups are being told, which leads to the pacing feeling uneven. I'd be interested to watch a version of the film cut into chronological order. Apart from that, it's a masterpiece of the genre.

Also worth mentioning, I watched the 2006 re-issue, with the 'white' disc and sleeve artwork (almost GTA-like) and animated 'standoff' menu. Absolutely beautiful, complements the film greatly.

A five may seem low, but compared the other films in the Tarantriguez season, it's definitely got the feeling of "an early work".

Sin City
27 March 2011.

A first time viewing for me, although it's been recommended a few times in the past. For the most part? Style over substance. Too much style, in fact. It looks beautiful, and it's acted and scripted well, but the three stories don't pull together enough for my tastes. I like that it plays with the timeline, making your brain re-adjust when you see a character that's been killed or maimed in a previous segment, but there's no circular-payoff as there is with the likes of Pulp Fiction.

The only reason this is on today's list is because it's a Robert Rodriguez movie. It's certainly more film noire than grindhouse, and while he's pulled that off well, I don't consider it to be his best work.

Don't get me wrong, there are many things to love about this, but the visuals overshadow the narrative completely.

It's okay, but I doubt I'll watch it again.

Pulp Fiction
27 March 2011.

"Oh man, I shot Marvin in the face…"

It's hard to be objective about a film you've watched so many times, you still quote it to this day. So instead, here are my thoughts as I watched it:
• Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs both feature guys in suits letting off un-silenced shots in built up areas. Wouldn't someone be calling the cops at all?
• As with R'Dogs, the only thing that places it in a specific time is the use (and size) of mobile/cell phones. Other than that, the stories are timeless. A nice touch.
• With the exception of Maria De Medeiros' Fabienne, all of the cast are on fantastic form here (and to be fair, I think she's 'supposed' to irritate me that much).
• That being said, this really is Sam Jackson's film, isn't it? I grin like an idiot throughout each one of his scenes here.
• It's also worth pointing out that even though Ving Rhames has since been typecast in his 'gruff/commanding' role, he still hasn't topped Marsellus Wallace.
• And I've only just realised that the woman who plays Butch Coolidge's mother in the 'gold watch' intro sequence, is the woman who played Gloria, the bank-teller-hostage in From Dusk Till Dawn. Well, there ya go.


El Mariachi
28 March 2011.

What I want to know is, what did they do with all the money?
< What money? >
The money they'd budgeted for actors…

Wow. Cheap'n'cheerful, this. Made for $7k, and if I'm being honest, it shows. Although, in fairness, it wasn't originally made for a global audience.

Mexico looks nice, and the architecture and colours remind me of Scarface and GTA's Vice City (ie Miami. Yeah, I'm not sure either).

A few leaps-of-faith aside, the story's sound enough and fairly well told. If you're prepared to bear with it, it's quite good fun. I can't work out what's more painful, though; the acting from the Mexican cast, or the English-language overdubbing.

In all honesty?

Jackie Brown
29 March 2011.

As with Pulp Fiction, I watched this to death back in the day, so thoughts as I go:
• Robert De Niro's 'Lewis' character really reminds me of Earl Hickey in the first half of this. All scruffy clothes, 'tache-and-stubble and a general air of shruggy acceptance. This makes me smile.
• Sam Jackson's 'Ordell Robbie' is an illegal gun dealer for crying out loud. You'd think that he of all people would know the value of using a silencer, surely? He's waking up the whole street at all times of the day and night in here.
• Another great performance from Mr Jackson, and while obviously more restrained than in Pulp Fiction, no less powerful.
• Overall? A much slower ride than 'Dogs and 'Fiction, but more class and character development make up for it.

A great watch, but I've really got to be in the mood for it. This doesn't happen too often, but when I watch it, it's worth the wait.


30 March 2011.

Well, then. This is a worthy predecessor to From 'Dusk Till Dawn', but in turn it accentuates all the shortcomings of 'El Mariachi'. There's a very nice flashback sequence at the opening of the film, which is either to reward those of us who sat through 'EM', or to let us know that this is a sequel and not a remake. Maybe both.

There's way more humour than I expected, although it's fairly understated and quite unevenly placed. Banderas and Buschemi make a good comic duo, I'd have liked to have seen more scenes with them in. Tarantino, for his small part, was also a highlight, even if he basically just plays himself. The film's bad guy, 'Bucho' is a weak point, as he never comes across as being that dastardly, even when he's killing his own men, like any megalomaniacal drug-lord should.

The gunfights are pretty spectacular, but there seems to be a lot of downtime between them, and the plot doesn't quite drive it fast enough in the meanwhile. All in all? I enjoyed it, and look forward to Rodriguez's third in this trilogy, up for viewing in two days time.


Inglourious Basterds
01 April 2011.

…I think Christoph Waltz may well be one of the finest actors of our generation. Now, in fairness, I've only seen him in this and in The Green Hornet. But whereas he's great in tGH, he's quite outstanding in Inglourious Basterds. In the same way that Sam Jackson owns every scene of his in Pulp Fiction, the same can be said of Waltz here.

In addition to this, the hyper-un-real movie is made surreally believable by Tarantino's casting of German/Austrian actors for the part of the Nazis, French actors for the French parts, and likewise for the American roles (the notable exceptions being that the main three British roles are played by an Australian, a Canadian, and Michael Fassbender, who's German/Irish. Not that this matters as Fassbender's portrayal is flawless, and the other roles are minimal).

The only downer I've got on the film is the overt stylisation (graphics on-screen, out of context music etc). You'd normally expect way more from a Tarantino movie, and in that case it'd work brilliantly. But in I.B., it's used so sparingly that when there 'is' a scribble or a logo on the screen, it pulls you right out of what's otherwise a credible historical action-thriller (completely overblown, yes. But still credible in context).

If you can handle that the movie's unflinching in its treatment of the Jewish, Nazi and Allied Forces characters… you'll enjoy it greatly. But it's certainly not for everyone.

I enjoyed it greatly. The clue is in the Chapter One title card: "Once Upon A Time… in Nazi Occupied France". It's a bloody, vengeful fairytale.


02 April 2011.

"I ain't stalkin' y'all, but I didn't say I wasn't a wolf…"

A worthy addition to not only the Tarantino canon, but also the grindhouse genre. This movie is almost the pinnacle of QT's works, with references to his previous works ranging from the coffee-shop conversation, reminiscent of the 'Dogs opening scene, through to the yellow/black striped car and revenge-motif from Kill Bill. Scanning forward to Inglourious Basterds (released after this), there's also a couple of members of the Basterds in supporting roles, as well as a boot-shaped pint-glass (not sure what the glass means). So it's a shame that with so many nods to his other movies, it doesn't quite manage to be as good as any of them.

The thing that lets it down for me is the disparity between the first and second halves. The first one has that lovely grindhouse feel, with faux scratches, blurs and jump-cuts. But after the black and white opening sequence to the second half, we get (for the most part) the same polished Tarantino we're used to. It's not bad at all, but it's a completely different feel, and it doesn't quite work as smoothly as it could.

I've never been a huge fan of Jeff Bridges, but I've got to hand it to him that he does well here in his role as a serial-killing stunt driver. Let's not forget that this is the guy who was dull in two Tron films. Also worth mentioning is the brilliant Michael Parks as the continuity-defying Earl McGraw.

All in all? Kinda flawed, but still deeply enjoyable.


Once Upon A Time In Mexico
02 April 2011.

"Are you a Mexican? Or a Mexican't?"

Robert Rodriguez's third film in his Mariachi trilogy. Johnny Depp? Willem Dafoe? Mickey Rourke? Really? Well, we get Eva Mendes, so I'll let them off. This is an odd one. Great action sequences, but the rest of the film seems unnecessarily complicated, with huge sections that don't involve El Mariachi at all. If RR wanted to make a political-action-thriller, he could just as easily have done it without Banderas and Hayek.

There's a nicely used series of flashbacks in the first half, but they run their course early, when they could have ran parallel to the whole movie (and made the payoff better). This kind of sums up the film: a collection of good ideas that never quite take off. Having already seen 'Machete', I can see what the better parts of this were developed into.

Not 'bad', just messy. Rodriguez has done so much better, before and since.


Kill Bill Vol 1
03 April 2011.

"It's mercy, compassion and forgiveness, I lack… not rationality."

Once you get past the self-indulgence of the concept, it's very easy to enjoy this. The scenario of 'The Bride' was created by Tarantino and Uma Thurman on the set of Pulp Fiction, and brought to life over the subsequent years. It certainly feels like a vehicle for Uma, and it's over-acted occasionally by several of the players.

That aside, this is one beautiful looking movie, and in terms of artistic vision, I can't fault it. On-screen chapter titles, as per Quentin's style, are about the most intrusive the 'graphics' get. There's a fantastic animated segment, and the use (and lack) of colour during the Crazy-88 battle is gorgeous (and, in fact, throughout the whole film).

What can I tell you? I love Tarantino, and I love this.

Kill Bill Vol 2
03 April 2011.

This film is usually compared (unfavourably) with it's predecessor. It seems a little unfair as they're essentially two halves of the same film. Two very different halves, granted, but after watching the two back to back, they work perfectly for me. KBv2 is also referred to as the 'western' counterpart to the 'martial arts' Vol1. I don't really see that myself. The only thing that would make it cowboy-like is that large sections of the story take place in America. The overall revenge-theme runs through in the same way, and the fighting is stylistically similar in both parts. It's just that the second film has less sword-play by volume. But after the Crazy-88, that's understandable.

The 'Pai Mei' flashback sequence brings some much needed fun to the proceedings, complete with 'Kung Fu movie' camerawork, and Gordon Liu's excellent turn as the grouchy Kung Fu master

And no matter how many times I watch this, I always wonder how the final showdown is going to take up the remaining 30 mins of film time. Then I watch the amount of superb acting and dialogue between Thurman and Carradine, and thank Quentin for not rushing through that. I love this as much as I love the first one :)


Planet Terror
04 April 2011.

Start on a high, go out on a high. This is Robert Rodriguez's contribution to 2007's Grindhouse double-bill, and I've got to say it grinds more than Death Proof. There are scratches and crackles for the entire movie, with burn-outs and missing reels piling on that feeling of cinematic grunge.

The plot's fairly straightforward: An incident with some bio-weapons has led to a mutant/zombie outbreak, and a town mutates, eats each other, explodes and catches fire. Roughly in that order. And when you think it couldn't get any more ridiculous? There's a go-go dancer with a machine gun for an artificial leg.

In terms of 'feel', this is RR in 'Dusk'/'Machete' mode, which it seems to me is what he does best. Guns, gore and girls. This is so over the top, it becomes better than it was probably meant to be.


I'm going for a lie down now, bye.

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.

• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organizations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

No comments:

Post a Comment