Tag: 3.5 stars

Movie Review: From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

What better way to celebrate Halloween than by watching the main Robert Rodriguez film I haven’t yet seen? OK! In this heist/kidnapping/action/vampire movie penned by Rodriguez pal Quentin Tarantino, a lot of unlikely things happen. I’m not talking about the whole “hundreds of vampire creatures attacking a bar” thing. I’m talking about a bullet going through a hand and using duct tape to bind it, sexy exotic dancer Santanico Pandemonium (Salma Hayek) allowing sleazeball Richard Gecko (Tarantino) to suck beer off her foot (hmm I wonder what fetishist wrote this screenplay?), and oh yeah: George Clooney and that aforementioned sleazeball are cast as brothers?! In what universe could the same person have spawned such a smooth-voiced, classically handsome gentleman along with a greasy, pinched-faced, perpetually whining barely-fully-formed human? Ugh. Rodriguez, please, stop letting your friendship with this asshole get in the way of your movies. You are so much better than that.

Anyway, From Dusk Till Dawn starts out as a straight up action movie with brothers Richard and Seth Gecko on the run with a bunch of stolen money, who ultimately take the Fuller family (Harvey Keitel, Ernest Liu, and Juliette Lewis) and their camper hostage until they can make it to Mexico to hand over their spoils to their boss. We realize early on that Richard is prone to angry outbreaks and needless murders, and is generally unstable. Seth is more sensible and seeks to kill as few people as possible, yet still remains loyal to his brother. They make it to the bar where the meeting will take place, after which the Fullers will be free to go. After waiting a little while they realize that the dancers and bar employees are all vampires who feast on customers when night falls. So the Fullers and the Geckos team up with bar patrons Sex Machine (Tom Savini) and Frost (Fred Williamson) to stave off the growing tide of hungry creatures.

There are great action and gore sequences, as in any Rodriguez film. Clooney feels out of place in reference to other roles I’ve seen him in, but he does a good job with the part. Fun cameo appearances besides Salma Hayek include Danny Trejo, Cheech Marin, and John Hawkes. The screenplay is tell-tale Tarantino but with less pop-culture references and long conversations, due to the quick-moving plot. I like that halfway through it was suddenly a vampire movie, forcing kidnapped and kidnappers to work together and forget all about the initial central plot points- the money and the escape from cops. The improvised weaponry was also a fun A-Team-like time. But it didn’t all fit together as well as I’d hoped. Maybe things happened too fast, or he was trying to put too much into one movie, or it wasn’t scary enough, but something about the whole thing just didn’t feel right. I have loved almost every other Rodriguez flick I’ve seen (even Spy Kids) but this didn’t seem to live up to their smart, well-paced, action-packed but still heartfelt standards. It was still enjoyable but it’s not the kind of movie I feel like rewatching. If you’re a Rodriguez or Tarantino fan it’s still a must-see, but could probably be passed otherwise. I’d recommend watching it with a group of people who are prone to commentating, as it lends itself well to Tarantino jokes and general “Question Mark?” moments.


Movie Review: Appaloosa (2008)

So pretend you’re Ed Harris: you are a pretty well-known and well-respected Oscar-nominated actor, who wants to try directing a second time (after 2000’s Pollock) and writing for the first. Naturally, you will also star. You have the ability to make a successful movie, but decide to relegate your story to an unpopular, outdated genre so that despite its awesomeness, it probably won’t be seen by too many people. This is fine in an “art for art’s sake” kind of way, and I doubt the main people in this movie were interested in increasing their personal wealth, it’s just too bad.

In Appaloosa, Ed Harris plays self-designated defender of the law Virgil Cole who, with his partner Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen), rides into the town of Appaloosa with the intent of freeing it from the clutches of clever, amoral rancher Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons). He appoints himself marshal and lays down new laws for the sake of peace, killing some of Bragg’s men in the process. His goal is to prove Bragg murdered the town’s previous marshal and ultimately get him convicted. Tension runs high in the small, fairly isolated town, with both sides of the law simmering quietly. Meanwhile newcomer Allison French (Renee Zellweger), a jovial young widow, catches Cole’s eye, but their budding relationship becomes rocky due to Cole’s reserved and prudish nature, Ally’s desperate need for attention, and the ever-present shadow of Bragg. Eventually the romantic and justice plots are fused, resulting in a long tug of war between Bragg and Cole. Both sides’ ethics are questioned, and even Cole and Everett’s steadfast friendship is strained.

Appaloosa is really good, but it has its ups and downs. There are some great, classic characters, from seemingly infallible Cole to solid, well-spoken Everett to fiendish Bragg to flaky, flirty Ally. They’re archetypes, but they’re done so well and given chances to develop. I was sort of confused and upset with Ally’s character- Where did she come from? Why was she so needy to the point of being easy? Not much about her was explained, and she really just acted as a catalyst for the climactic event. But as basically the only woman in a very male-centered movie, I didn’t really expect her character to be the focus. Also I felt the way Harris chose to tell the story was a little off. It was hard to tell how much time had passed for most of the film, and certain events were cut short and given no closure so that he could make it to the final scene. I understand not prioritizing every little thing, but it seemed he could have left some parts out, or just generally paced the movie better. Since it’s his first screenplay, I won’t harp on it, as overall it was an impressive writing debut. The film is very engaging and enjoyable, with striking visuals that include a beautiful hushed color palette and finely detailed costumes. Plus, it’s all about friendship! And the tagline is “Feelings Get You Killed”. Awesome.

I found something out about myself when watching this movie: I really like modern Westerns. It was a bit of a revelation, since aside from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, I hadn’t really seen any westerns that kept my interest (although I guess I can’t really have an informed opinion since I’ve never seen any of Sergio Leone’s). But, I’ve really been digging more recent ones like The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and 3:10 to Yuma and even 1999’s The Jack Bull. I’m excited to start delving into this genre, starting with The Proposition and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. Any other ideas?

Hal Hartley Double Feature: The Girl From Monday (2005) and The Unbelievable Truth (1989)

You all might as well know that I have a pretty serious thing for Hal Hartley films. I don’t know whether it’s the highly choreographed conversations, the puzzling character motivations, the liberating musical scores, the frequently re-appearing actors, the grainy cinematography, or the way everything seems to work out, but not really, and how each story seems like it still has so many places to go. I’m sure it’s some combination of everything. His films affect me like no one else’s, and I can’t compare them to anything. Continuing my journey through his collection of movies and shorts, the other day I settled on The Girl From Monday, his most recent before Fay Grim and his only foray into science fiction. It’s also his least well-liked, if IMDB ratings are any indication.

Shot in loose, blurry, hand-held format, The Girl From Monday has an anxious, uncertain mood that’s perpetuated by the ambiguity and confusion of the plot. Set in a not-too-distant future where people are considered stocks and everyone has a barcode tattooed on their arms (showcasing their status as consumers), the story is narrated by Jack (Bill Sage), the inventor of this human-based market. People sleep with each other to increase their personal value, making sex for pleasure odd and “barbaric”. All pretty Brave-New-World-ish. Jack is feeling uncomfortable with the world he’s helped create and ends up secretly leading “Counter-Revolutionaries”, mostly teens who are anti-consumerism and pro-sex-for-fun. He ends up dragging coworker and crush Cecile (Sabrina Loyd) into their illegal activity. Simultaneously, a strange and beautiful woman (Tatiana Abracos, in her only film role to date) appears and ends up staying with Jack. She helps him unlock some buried secrets of his past and also enacts a subplot about alien life.

Overall it’s entertaining, funny, and has a good cast. The experimental cinematography was a little off-putting but interesting. The story was kind of shoddy, but the concepts were good. I can see why this is one of his lesser films, but at the same time it still satisfied my need for Hartleyesque storytelling.


Finding myself with some time on my hands after The Girl From Monday, I decided to follow it up with another Hartley movie, one of my favourites: The Unbelievable Truth. His first film, it follows serious, ex-con-turned-automechanic Josh Hutton (Robert John Burke) as he tries to start a new life in his old town, surrounded by people who think he’s a mass murderer. Meanwhile, Audry Hugo (Adrienne Shelly) is a highly intelligent, gorgeous high school senior with constant fears of world wide nuclear destruction. She starts to fall for Josh but is thrown off by his alleged past and by her father’s threats against the relationship. Eventually she ends up working successfully as a model to make money for college as Josh grapples with his inexperience with women, among other things. Various characters interact and intersect, truths are revealed, deals are made, conversations are repeated, and everything is pretty swell.

This movie is awesome. Unfortunately it is a little bittersweet as each viewing of it re-awakens my sadness over Adrienne Shelly’s death. Also when will it be released on DVD already? Sheesh. Not that I don’t love watching the trailer for Black Magic Woman on my VHS copy (seriously, it is pretty damn hilarious- just look at the tagline), but come on guys. Let’s give Hal Hartley some high-quality, extras-ridden love.