Tag: road movie

Riding In Cars With Ron Howard Double Feature: Eat My Dust (1976) and Grand Theft Auto (1977)

Seen: On dvd on our big screen/projector setup, both rented from the Tisch Library at Tufts.

So here is a thing I didn’t know about Ron Howard (well, several things): he got his start, like so many filmmakers, with Roger Corman. He was in his early twenties when Corman cast him in Eat My Dust, a high-octane car chase movie that also features his dad Rance and brother Clint. Initially turning the role down, Howard then bargained for a chance to make his own movie if it was a success, and after writing a script with his dad he was set to direct and star in another, far superior road movie: Grand Theft Auto. Everyone had a good time, and now Ron Howard is famous. This was all during his Happy Days stint, too, so I’m impressed he found the time.

In the fairly nonsensical and nihilistic Eat My Dust, Howard stars as Hoover Niebold, a funny-lookin’ teen with a funny-soundin’ name, who sees his chance to get with the hottest girl in school (Christopher Norris) by stealing a racecar from the local track and taking her and his free-loading friends on a joyride across the county. They drive around, destroying buildings, cars, and a boat in their wake, and sort of kidnap an old man. Hoover’s sheriff father sends out a police force to capture them, but they’re smoked every time by the boy’s ruthless (and surprisingly sober) steering. But of course the real question is, Will he ever sleep with this lady? WILL THERE BE BOOBS?

This is a fast-paced, ridiculous sort of movie that doesn’t offer anything new for the viewer but does have plenty to entertain us. There is an impressive assortment of driving scenes and mass destruction, and it was interesting to see Ron Howard as this lascivious teenage jackass who still looks the way he looks. I also dug the crowd chilling at the police station in a sort of haunted-jail-comedy shtick (that makes sense if you’ve seen it). The story is paper-thin but no one is coming into Eat My Dust for plot, and it’s easy to sit back and just let things happen. It’s written and directed by Charles B Griffith, a frequent Corman collaborator who also gave us Death Race 2000, the perfect violent road movie. While it’s a fun enough movie, it’s sort of underwhelming just because I’ve seen so many better ones of its ilk. I also thought the complete lack of morals in these kids gave a surprising dark underbelly to the whole proceedings that didn’t quite fit tonally.


I’ve always thought of Howard as a perfectly able and very “crowd-pleasing” kind of filmmaker- his movies may entertain but I’m not going to be telling everyone I know about how his likable underdog totally won in the end, wowee! His first studio picture (he made several amateur films in high school), Grand Theft Auto, came as a complete- and utterly welcome- surprise. He stars as a hippie college student engaged to preppy rich girl Paula (Nancy Morgan). They’re determined to get married but her politician father won’t allow it, so they steal his Rolls Royce and high-tail it to Las Vegas with a stream of private detectives, cops, bounty hunters, and a spoiled rich kid (her intended) hot on their heels.

When I say “they” I mostly mean, “her”, since she is the badass one in this relationship, who actually takes the car and does most of the driving. Seriously, I am in love with Nancy Morgan as Paula Powers, the cardigan-wearing country club member with perfect hair who steals the show at every turn. She’s a totally unexpected component to this film that makes it so much better. Ron Howard is basically her sidekick as she decides to be awesome. Even without this thrilling gender turn-around, this movie is great though! So many really expensive cars are totalled.The high-flying car action and ridiculous characters are more exciting and better-written than in Eat My Dust– though it brings on a few of the same actors-, and the inclusion of the REAL Don Steele as a nosy radio reporter just makes for a good time that had me smiling ear-to-ear for most of the film. With him there I could imagine that this movie takes place in the same universe as Death Race 2000, a few years before everything became a dystopian shithole. And Marion Ross from Happy Days is there. Yes! See this movie, it is probably Ron Howard’s best ever! I’m not exaggerating!


Movie Review: Almost Famous (2000)

Seen: On DVD on our big screen/projector set-up, from my personal collection.

One of the few movies that has ever lived up to its massive hype for me, Almost Famous is Cameron Crowe’s love letter to the 70’s rock scene. Patrick “Oh My God Adorable” Fugit stars as William Miller, a wide-eyed, 15-year-old aspiring music journalist with a slightly unhinged but brilliant mother (Frances McDormand). After befriending well-known rock writer/magazine founder Lester Bangs (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), he finds himself documenting the first big tour of Stillwater (a mid-level band coming to grips with fame, or some such) for Rolling Stone. Will quickly becomes embroiled in the ups and downs of life with the band, from ever-battling egos to groupie ahem, I mean Band-Aid relationship drama involving Penny Lane (Kate Hudson). He soon realizes he’s in over his head, but sees it through to the bitter and thoroughly rockin’ end.

Packed with a huge and talented cast, engaging dialogue, excellent songs, and plenty of real-life references, Almost Famous is probably one of the most fun dramatic movies I’ve seen. Drawn from Crowe’s own experiences as a young writer for Rolling Stone, the film is soaked in the good kind of nostalgia while still managing to tell a compelling story. The script continually hops around from city to city and character to character, blending romance, familial drama, casual philosophy, and coming-of-age tropes, but wisely never strays far from its most resonant message: It’s all about the music. Crowe’s deep and palpable love of music runs strongly throughout the film, reminding us of every band who’s ever changed our lives and every song we’ve ever put on repeat obsessively and every heart-wrenching sing-a-long we’ve ever soldiered through.

Of course, the cast totally makes the movie. Between Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s droll advice and Billy Crudup’s drug-fueled ravings, Jason Lee’s big-headed rants and France McDormand’s hilariously unhinged parenting, Patrick Fugit’s utterly pinchable cheeks and Kate Hudson’s surprisingly effective performance, plus appearances from Fairuza Balk, Zooey Deschanel, Rainn Wilson, Anna Paquin, Noah Taylor, Jay Baruchel, and even a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Mitch Hedberg- there are just so many great people to watch! Crudup is probably the “star” but to me it’s all about the lovable and mild-mannered turn of Fugit, whom I adore in basically anything anyway. He’s funny and believably naive, with a few memorable outbursts and a lot of long, meaningful looks.

What more can I say? I love this movie. It helps that I first saw it in high school, which is definitely the perfect time to watch it. I was engulfed in the fascinating lifestyles of these people, and totally jealous my own teenage life was so boring (especially when I found out some of William’s experiences had actually happened!). But watching it now I’m a little less jealous because most of these people probably wouldn’t actually be too fun to hang around. They’re too self-obsessed.

And the chicks are great.


Pair This Movie With: For another rock n’ roll movie that makes me long for life in the 70’s (which doesn’t happen very often), there’s The Runaways.

My original poster design for this film is available for purchase.

Movie Review: Paris, Texas (1984)

*Special Note* I’ve always liked how Rich includes how/where he saw a film in his posts, so I think I’ll start doing the same. It’s nice to remember how I watched something.

Seen: on DVD with our big-screen/projector

Working on that “11 movies to see in 2011” list is mighty slow-going, let me tell ya, but I’m happy to check another off the list. Helmed by versatile German director Wim Wenders, Paris, Texas is an introspective drama focusing on Travis Henderson (Harry Dean Stanton), a lost man found wandering the desert with gaps in his memory, a worried and abandoned family, and no accounting for where he disappeared to four years prior. When his brother Walt (Dean Stockwell) finds him, Travis refuses to talk for the first several days of their car ride to California. He eventually begins to open up, and meets the son (Hunter Carson) he left as a four-year-old that Walt and his wife Anne (Aurore Clement) have been raising. Father and son reconnect during a road trip to Houston, TX, where they hope to find Hunter’s mother (Nastassja Kinski).

This is a goddamn beautiful film. Wenders has often expressed interest in American culture in his other films, and here he seeks to capture the American Southwest- its red tints and blazing sun, sprawling brush and clear skies, seemingly everything set in a sprawling expanse. I read somewhere that the landscape is the real star of this movie, and there is some truth to that. Wenders has an eye for color and composition, which he fully utilizes for the drawn-out, thoughtful visuals in Paris, Texas. He moves from desert sparseness to suburban hills to big-city sleaze with grace and precision and a bit of grittiness, all set to a jangly instrumental soundtrack from Ry Cooder.

Of course, the script and performances play a major role in the film’s success as well! The dialogue is fairly simple, but the plot brings in elements of mystery and familial drama and a tiny bit of road trip zaniness for a well-rounded experience. Harry Dean Stanton, so often a supporting actor, proves himself a damn fine lead as Travis, with a weathered and woeful face and a stoop carrying the weight of the world. The drop-dead-gorgeous Nastassja Kinski (Klaus Kinski’s daughter, poor thing) has limited screen time but makes use of it with a memorable monologue and heartbreaking reaction shots. I also loved Dean Stockwell as Travis’s brother Walt. He’s just so sweet and good-natured and… brotherly– he’s very effective. Most impressive of all, Hunter Carson provides us with a solid child performance that doesn’t get on my nerves, so congratulations to him!

I loved this movie, plain and simple. Its expansive, haunting imagery leaves an imprint, and its tragic and mysterious story touches on questions of family obligations, deep-seated loyalties, and the possibility of redemption. Oh Wim, why haven’t I seen all of your movies?


Pair This Movie With: To lighten the mood a bit but stick with the father-child road trip theme, there’s the splendid con artist comedy Paper Moon. Or some of the scenery reminded me of Badlands.

Movie Review: The Doom Generation (1995)

Sex. Violence. Attractive young people. Rock Music. Surreal imagery. More sex. Between his latest feature Kaboom, a hazy remembrance of Mysterious Skin, and a recent viewing of The Doom Generation, I think I’m beginning to pick up on Gregg Araki’s trademarks. Gorgeous and hot-headed teenager Amy (Rose McGowan) and her cute pothead boyfriend Jordan (James Duval) just want to make out, do drugs, and listen to cool tunes. When they find themselves accidentally abetting a stick-up that ends in murder, the couple winds up on the run with the infuriatingly sultry Xavier (Johnathan Schaech). As they drive from isolated motel to isolated motel, they meet with a number of unsavory characters, several of whom believe Amy to be some ex-lover or other and subsequently try to kill her. I predict a threesome will happen at some point. I will lay down money on that.

Between the stilted, insincere line delivery and inexplicable plot developments, it took me a while to get into this film. It’s like someone watched a Hal Hartley feature and thought, “Hmm, I sure to enjoy the over-choreographed, stagey feel of these conversations, but let’s push it so far it just looks like everyone’s a bad actor.” After about 20 minutes I settled into the flow and enjoyed myself more, drinking in the overall weirdness of a decapitated talking head, super-90’s fashion choices, meandering storyline, and frequent breaks for sex and violence. It’s like a surreal gladiatorial games out there.

Rose McGowan is super hot. Johnathan Schaech is super hot. (Spoiler alert) They bang. This should be enough for a lot of movie goers. But Araki constantly flips between erotic titillation and gory fixation, with the loose plot merely a showcase for his twisted vision of today’s corrupted youth. These kids retreat to gaudy, oversaturated motel rooms and dimly-lit clubs for peace of mind, feasting on convenience store snack food and cigarettes. Nobody’s libido is kept in check, and there’s little concept of sexual preference. There is no hope in their world, and seemingly no point to anything. The climactic scene is a heady mix of regular porn and torture porn, throwing in some white supremacy imagery for good measure. It leaves a mark, let me tell you.

Overall I guess I did like The Doom Generation, even if it did its best to confuse and alienate me. I’m still not sold on the stilted dialogue and pacing, but I respect the cast enough to know it’s definitely a stylistic choice and not just their performances. It’s weird, it’s sexy, it’s unexpected. It’s an experience. But one I probably wouldn’t watch again.


Pair This Movie With: Um. The aforementioned Kaboom definitely has its similarities. And I know this is part of a trilogy Araki did but I haven’t seen the other two films so I can’t recommend them. Otherwise… Natural Born Killers, maybe?

PS For more informed opinions about Araki’s films check out Toby’s blog.

IFF BOSTON: The Trip (2010)

After reading about this film’s screening at TIFF as well as several mentions of dueling Michael Caine impressions, The Trip became the film I was most excited for at IFF Boston. Edited together from a BBC show, the movie depicts an ill-fated road trip through northern England. Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon both play semi-fictionalized versions of themselves, with the former set to travel around reviewing fancy restaurants in the rural north after his journalist girlfriend leaves for the US, and the latter tagging along in her absence. They eat overly complex food, discuss their careers, have a few impromptu sing-a-longs, and engage in a plethora of competitive impersonations.

Oh jeez, ok, it is hard to explain why this movie is so funny, since two British dudes sitting in a pretentious restaurant doing impressions at one another doesn’t really sound like the best time to me. But honestly, it is consistently hilarious. The semi-improvised dialogue is the right mix of self-deprecation and partially-malicious mockery, exposing Coogan as a flailing wannabe and Brydon as a persistent goofball. Their love-hate relationship is weird and interesting, though slightly uncomfortable at times.

I didn’t know this was edited from a tv show when I watched it, but it makes sense given the nature of the film. It’s sort of rambling and meandering, with an episodic structure punctuated by revelations about Coogan’s personal problems and a silly interaction with Brydon. The dialogue is great and the more dramatic touches are sweet, and the rolling vistas of the British countryside are absolutely gorgeous, but the wandering narrative gave the film a purposeless feel. I can see it working better as a tv show than as a movie, since I’d expect a bit more cohesion in the latter. Still, it’s really enjoyable, funny, and surprisingly pretty, with a pair of highly entertaining leads and some tantalizing shots of strange dishes. I would love to watch the whole series.


Pair This Movie With: It’s the spiritual sequel to Tristram Shandy, and I think they’d go well together.