It’s a night of impossible choices on the rep circuit in New York tonight. I have to drive out to LaGuardia at 10pm so luckily I’m exempted from playng King Solomon. No matter what you decide, enjoy this poster gallery of some incredible films — in a couple cases, literally unable to be believed.
THE YARDS (2000)
What They Say: “THE YARDS is not exhilarating like some crime movies, or vibrant with energy like others. It exists in a morose middle ground, chosen by [director James] Gray, deliberately or not, because this is how his own memories feel. When indictments come down in political scandals, the defendants often say they were only trying to operate within the system. So they were. Their other choice was to find a new line of work. The system endures. If you don’t take the payoff, someone else will. Fairly nice people can live in this shadowland. Sometimes things go wrong.” — Roger Ebert.
What I Say: Not to be confused with THE WHOLE NINE YARDS, also from 2000, this is the second feature from filmmaker James Gray. Gray is one of those guys who I don’t think has made an out-and-out great movie yet, but is in my opinion most-likely-to-succeed. This movie is an excellent example of why. While modern movie success seems judged on whether or not you’ve made a loud superhero or robot movie, James Gray is out there, making movies like the kinds the studios made in the 1970s, low-fi character pieces about recognizable human beings. THE YARDS is typical of his work: strong cast, stark cinematography, attention to character detail and believable environments. And Joaquin Phoenix, who has been in all Gray’s movies since. After THE YARDS he made WE OWN THE NIGHT and TWO LOVERS. His current movie, THE IMMIGRANT, was just shown at Cannes and is among my most awaited of the year.
What They Say:
“At its most fundamental level, ALIEN is a movie about things that can jump out of the dark and kill you. It shares a kinship with the shark in JAWS, Michael Myers in HALLOWEEN, and assorted spiders, snakes, tarantulas and stalkers. Its most obvious influence is Howard Hawks’ THE THING (1951), which was also about a team in an isolated outpost who discover a long-dormant alien, bring it inside, and are picked off one by one as it haunts the corridors. Look at that movie, and you see ALIEN in embryo.” — Roger Ebert.
What I Say:
ALIEN is science-fiction before it’s anything (future, spaceships, aliens = sci-fi) – but it plays like straight-up horror. It’s a haunted-house movie, a ghost story, but one where the supernatural being who is stalking a trapped bunch of people also happens to be an alien. And it’s an alien of a kind no one’s ever seen in movies before or since. The Alien, as designed by HR Giger, is one of the iconic movie monsters, one of the few monster icons from the second half of the twentieth century. And Sigourney Weaver is the ultimate “last girl” – like Jamie Lee Curtis in HALLOWEEN, she plays a character of depth and resourcefulness that is rare for genre films. She’s a true survivor. Well, her and the cat. Good old Jonesy…
This movie is so crucial, for so many reasons.
It brought a gloss to horror and a new prestige to sci-fi, and it’s the movie that truly launched director Ridley Scott’s career. It has [at least] one of the great shocks in movie history. It has one of the great female leads in action, sci-fi, horror, whatever. And it’s the movie that established how the Aliens are cat people rather than dog people.
Like I said: crucial.
TRUE ROMANCE (1994)
Where: The Landmark.
What They Say:
Two lovers (Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette) are thrust into a dangerous game of high-stakes negotiations and high-speed adventure. The pair come into unexpected possession of a suitcase of mob contraband. They flee to L.A., where they’ll sell the goods and begin a new life. But both sides of the law have other ideas. Written by Quentin Tarantino and directed by Tony Scott (THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123, DOMINO).
What I Say:
Personally, I’m a big Tarantino fan. For better or worse, the stuff he’s into is the stuff I’m into – by which I mean Sergio Leone movies and 1970s soul music and so on, not so much lady-feet and eyeball damage. I think that as a screenwriter, Tarantino has been a pervasive influence, either by example or by avoidance. And what he’s done for the cult movie DVD market cannot be underestimated. It’s because of him that I have ALLIGATOR and MIGHTY PEKING MAN in my home library, and if even for that alone, he’s a hero to me.
Unpopular opinion time: I don’t think that Tarantino has ever written a better scene than the scene he wrote between Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper in TRUE ROMANCE.
Almost as good? Routinely.
As good? Frequently.
Better? Probably not.
Watch it here:
I love that scene. At its most crucial moment, it’s almost entirely about something different than what is actually happening. In any other script by almost any other writer, it’d be a standard crime-movie occurrence: Walken’s gangster character repeatedly asking Hopper’s hapless security guard where his thieving son has gone, bellowing and slapping and so on. And it’d be shorter. In Tarantino’s version, sure it starts out that way, but soon enough, most of the talk is centered around Chesterfields and Italian history. The subtext is clear, but the menace and the resignation and the refusal and the “fuck you, Walken” all happen just under the surface. This is Screenwriting 101 for writers who want to learn the “show, don’t tell” rule. It makes a rote scene unique, surprising, and shocking. It makes the two actors as good as they’ve ever been. It makes you almost not notice the fact that Tony Soprano is walking around in the background, when you go back and watch it.
Of course, the reason that calling this scene Tarantino’s best is an unpopular opinion because it’s a scene from a Tarantino script that he didn’t direct. Tony Scott did. I think it’s still a compliment because it’s the writing that you remember best about the movie. It’s great work from Tony Scott and cinematographer Jeffrey Kimball and composer Hans Zimmer and particularly the casting department, who assembled quite literally one of the best casts in modern movie history, but even still, it’s a QT rodeo. TRUE ROMANCE is the movie that got Tarantino’s career going, and it’s the script that encapsulates the majority of his interests, themes, and obsessions all in one place. What was to follow was all there at the beginning.
Also, it prominently showcases the following shitkicking classic of grindhouse cinema:
THE STREET FIGHTER (1974)
Where: Spectacle Theater. It’ll play again on June 15th and June 29nd.
What They Say:
Sonny Chiba IS Tokuma Tsurugi: a high-priced, high-voltage assassin hired by the Yakuza to kidnap the heiress of a deceased billionaire. When his demands are too high, all-out chaos ensues. Shortly thereafter, the body count starts to grow…
A significant shift away from the classic, technical martial arts, THE STREET FIGHTER features numerous sequence of raw, shockingly graphic brawls and battles that garnered the film the first ever X rating solely for violence. Chiba is pure brute force, an anti-hero that acts not out of honor, but for self-satisfaction. But even for a character with zero morals, Chiba’s magnetic personality shines through, lending his mercenary killer a sparkly, devilish demeanor.
A prime cut of juicy 70s kung-fu topped with an X-ray blast to the skull, THE STREET FIGHTER is unadulterated escapism of the bloodiest order.
*WARNING: THE FILM CONTAINS GRAPHIC DEPICTIONS OF VIOLENCE*
What I Say: A must-see. It’ll put hair on your chest. And besides: You might meet your own Alabama Worley.
THE LAST SHARK a.k.a. GREAT WHITE (1981)
Where: Spectacle Theater.
What They Say:
From hard hitting Italian genre genius Enzo G. Castellari comes the most uncanny of all JAWS clones, THE LAST SHARK (L’ultimo squalo). This one swam so close to the original that Universal Pictures slapped a big fat lawsuit on the distributor and pulled the movie from American screens shortly after its release. Universal cried plagiarism, but we all know the real reason- they were scared!
Two reasons: this shark is really, really scary and VIC MORROW. That’s right, trash movie martyr Vic Morrow brings his intense presence to the aquatic proceedings as a grizzled shark whisperer. Is he Irish, is he Scottish? Who knows, but he’s got a brogue and he hates sharks. Sound familiar? Well, the similarities don’t end there, trust me.
You know the story, but it’s the style that makes this one shine. Castellari’s impeccable penchant for slow motion, gorgeous photography, and perfectly realized action all add up to a slick, ultra Italian entry into the “hey, this is pretty much JAWS” sub-genre.
And forget John Williams, Castellari’s frequent collaborators, the brilliant De Angelis brothers, provide their signature funky sounds to this baby, including the KILLER theme.
Unavailable on video in the U.S. for years, The Spectacle plucks THE LAST SHARK out of import laserdisc limbo and puts it back on the screen! Kick the summer off right and say “GO TO HELL BIG MOVIE STUDIOS!” The originals may be owned by the majors, but the rip-offs belong to the people!
What I Say: I’ve not seen this one! But you know I love my sharks and I love my Enzo G. This is the one it kills me most to miss.
JAWS 4: THE REVENGE (1987)
What They Say:
What’s a shark to do when his favorite family (to eat) leaves Amity Island for a vacation in the Bahamas? Somehow determine exactly where they’re headed and then swim fast enough to beat their flight, of course!
Michael Caine stars as a pilot named Hoagie (sandwiched into the role of “Just Barely Replacing Roy Scheider”), throwing his dignity into the propeller of an airplane which is later eaten by a shark. Mario Van Peebles also appears, conveniently answering the question, “Which of the Van Peebles is the respected actor-director-playwright, and which is the one who punched a shark in the face?”
Given a rare “zero stars” by the late, great Roger Ebert, this watery chum bucket of a sequel is the perfect way to ring in the summer season and all the cinematic disappointment it brings.
What I Say:
Well, I mean, the shark breaches and roars. I repeat: The shark roars. How Joseph Sargent could make a movie as terrific as THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE (1974) and then later this is one of the great mysteries of the universe. But I don’t blame him. And Michael Caine has taken an unfair amount of shit for this movie. So has Mario Van Peebles, even though it’s a toss-up as to whether he’s more annoying in this movie or in HEARTBREAK RIDGE. (Probably this.) No, the person who deserves the blame for JAWS 4 is whichever studio executive green-lighted it. Not for nothing, but Lorraine Gary (Ellen Brody) was married to one. Steven Spielberg has always insisted he cast her on her merits, and I’m not particularly anti-Lorraine Gary myself but I do notice that in the next monster movie Spielberg made after JAWS 4, JURASSIC PARK, the businessman-type doesn’t come off too well. (The lawyer is the one who gets eaten by a T-Rex while cowering in a porto-potty.) White men in suits are always the ones who make the roaring-shark decisions.
WHAT IS IT? (2005)
Museum Of Art & Design. With Crispin Glover in attendance.
What They Say:
A labor of love more than nine years in the making, WHAT IS IT? is an unsettling, surreal, and thought-provoking head-trip that prompts many more questions than the film’s title alone. A cinematic nightmare of sorts, Glover populates his film with various taboos that have long been censored or untouched by corporate-funded studios. Many of the actors have Down syndrome, one has cerebral palsy, and others are masked pornographic actresses. There are snails, a man in blackface, and Mr. Glover stalking around in long hair and a fur coat, credited as “Dueling Demi-God Auteur/The Young Man’s Inner Psyche and Id.” What is it, indeed.
What I Say:
“Sorry, Venkman. I’m terrified beyond the capacity for rational thought.”
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Tags: Aliens, Cats, Charlize Theron, Dan O'Bannon, Enzo G. Castellari, James Caan, James Gray, Joaquin Phoenix, Jon Abrams, kung fu, Mario Van Peebles, Mark Wahlberg, Megaviolence, Michael Caine, New York, Quentin Tarantino, Ridley Scott, Sharks, sigourney weaver, Sonny Chiba, Tony Scott, Vic Morrow