Movie of the Week: From Dusk till Dawn (1996)

Robert Rodriguez directs George Clooney, Harvey Keitel and Juliette Lewis in this Tarantino scripted crime / horror mash-up where two criminal brothers take a family hostage and end up in a vampire strip bar.

Tarantino says he writes two kinds of movies. His real world movies like Pulp Fiction or True Romance. And his “movie movies” where he makes the sort of grindhouse cinema that his fictional character like Alabama Worely or Jules Winfield might watch, discuss and emulate. Who knows where Inglorious Basterds resides in this dichotomy but From Dusk Till Dawn is a definite QT movie movie. So much so he got peer, buddy and genre flick rebel punk Robert Rodriguez to direct it. Rodriguez is a blunter movie maker, he’ll cover up cheap sets and adequate acting with toe tapping editing and brash colourful action. He’s like a down and dirty Tim Burton… his visual touchstones are Peckinpah sweat, Mezcal bottle labels and seared meat going into a burrito. Juicy, colourful, throwaway… but solely his – a Rodriguez movie looks like a Rodriguez movie… and if you don’t believe me here’s Danny Trejo to authenticate it. His movies are no cutlery or place settings needed. They move, they pump. He rides Tarantino’s longueurs of dialogue and hangout hard. Keeps things moving. And when the violence starts, it is lurid, memorable, kinky, RELENTLESS. The prosthetic FX are brilliant but the CGI is under developed. The fatalism and the anti-heroics endearing. Tarantino donates himself an acting role that fits his limited capabilities… a foot fetish perv looking for trouble. Clooney translates his eye-catching TV work on ER into his first big screen score. He is a fucking movie star in this, carries the film through jarring transitions and downward nihilistic moods. As is Salma Hayek in her demonic striptease, she does as much impression making in one sultry scene as Clooney does throughout. This is a great Friday night at the movies. I can’t believe I went to see Tarantino sucking whisky from a stripper demon’s toes with my parents as a teen. MOVIE MOVIE!

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My Top 10 Robert Rodriguez Movies

1. Sin City (2005)

2. From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

3. Desperado (1995)

4. El Mariachi (1992)

5. Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

6. Roadracers (1994)

7. Planet Terror (2007)

8. Machete (2010)

9. The Faculty (1999)

10. Once Upon a Time In Mexico (2003)

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Hatchet (2006)

Adam Green directs Joel David Moore, Mercedes McNab and Tamara Feldman in this swamp slasher where a tour group are decimated by indestructible retard Victor Crowley.

Cameos from horror legends and some very gory kills elevate this cheap, broad horror spoof. The flashback to the legend of Victor Crowley and the make up effects belong in a far less camp film. There are some shamelessly cartoonish dumps of acting that hold Hatchet back… but it is silly, fast and director Green’s heart is in the right place.

6

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)

Burr Steers directs Lily James, Sam Riley and Jack Huston in a horror / period romance mash-up.

The book was a joke gift people bought for loved ones who vaguely liked Austen and horror (that’s most people, right?). A bit like The Ladybird book of Brexit or the Crazy Frog ringtone, there’s little surprise that a modern fad does not a great night at the movies inspire. I guess when Natalie Portman was involved there could have been a better movie birthed from such ignominious circumstances. I can’t tell Lily James and Lily Collins apart, I think the one here is the more talented and less insipid but this isn’t the showcase for that. There aren’t really enough zombies or action sequences. Leaving us with a film that is 80% straight Pride and Prejudice adaptation. Matt Smith and Sally Phillips noodle interesting performances in the wings, the production values are solid. The only time this threatens to come to life though is in a saucy tooling up montage involved blades and frilly corsets. Redundant.

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The China Syndrome (1979)

James Bridges directs Jane Fonda, Jack Lemmon and Michael Douglas in this conspiracy thriller about news reporter who uncovers dangerous corruption in the safety procedures of a nuclear power plant.

The China Syndrome should really fly. Attractive leads chasing down a story. Small scale peril as the powers that be try to muffle the damning footage, big scale peril as the plant threatens to overload. The satire of a Fail-Safe or a Network aimed for in its deadpan doomsaying. A sweaty, shattering chunk of committed acting from Jack Lemmon as the plant supervisor who slowly realises corners have been cut on his complex safety system. Yet it never grips. Side characters are often the ones tagging in for the action sequences, Bridges loses his nerve when everything reaches boiling point. Leaving us with a thriller that only ever threatens to be thrilling.

5

The Phantom of Liberty (1974)

Luis Buñuel directs Jean-Claude Brialy, Jean Rochefort and Monica Vitti in the series of surrealist skits about modern life, perversity and intellectualism.

Slightly more accessible than The Milky Way but equally as dated and indulgent. You’d get a lot more out of watching just one episode of Monty Python.

5

Ash is the Purest White (2018)

Jia Zhangke directs Zhao Tao, Liao Fan and Feng Xiaogang in this modern gangster melodrama following the on-off relationship between a gangster and his loyal moll.

The 21st century is navigated by encroaching western influences, mobile phone evolution and architectural expansion. A faltering relationship between a rising criminal and his lover goes through many twists and turns. To reveal the first big one here would rob the film of some of its power. I was glad I went in relatively blind. At two and a half hours, the epic and the intimate… the cliched and the enigmatic… work themselves into quite a spellbinding net. Zhao Tao’s lead role is distinctly rich and complex. Meaty enough that I bet every female Hollywood star is itching to get the remake rights. The final act set in the present day lacks the glamour and the natural propulsion of the earlier more gripping chapters but this is a strong piece of arthouse cinema. Well worth hunting down.

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The Decameron (1971)

Pier Paolo Pasolini directs Franco Citti, Ninetto Davoli and Maria Gabriella Maione in this anthology of bawdy mediaeval tales based on the classic text by Boccaccio.

Carry On style larks with arthouse production values. Daft, erotic and spirited. I really enjoyed this despite a horrid collection of the worse teeth in any movie ensemble ever.

7

The Myth of the American Sleepover (2010)

David Robert Mitchell directs Brett Jacobsen, Claire Sloma and Amanda Bauer in this teen drama where various teens go on romantic quests during the last night of summer partying.

A calling card debut, too slight to really be its own thing. There are lots of missed chances and fey realisations but the competing various threads have no real narrative strengths. The performances are attractive but none of them you hook you in. So you are left with a vibe. And it’s a vibe has worked better in David Robert Mitchell‘s next two films It Follows and Under the Silver Lake. An air of unspoken creepiness… woozy, hazy but with the distinct impression something deeper, mythical, unfathomable is going down just out of frame. He is a very distinctive director, one I really like, yet his debut is just a little too uninvolving than to be anything more than a low budget advert for his burgeoning house style.

5

Bloodsport (1988)

Newt Arnold directs Jean-Claude Van Damme, Donald Gibb and Leah Ayres in this martial arts film where a soldier goes A.W.O.L. to compete in an underground competition for his master’s honour.

Not a particularly good film but camp and bloodthirsty in all the right ways. You can’t help but enjoy it. The athleticism of a young Van Damme is a thing of beauty. There is a pleasing unintentional Alan Partridge-esque quality to his journey; the tightly combed side parting, the hanging around in a mid budget hotel, his awkward attempt to ignore a sexual assault on a bus. And we also get a loooooooong flashback sequence where a gormless teenager is dubbed by an adult approximating what a teenage Muscles From Brussels might sound like. Pretty sweet stuff! The fights themselves are fast moving, muscular affairs. The soft rock soundtrack and montage edits get the blood going. There’s a base humour that is infecting. The funnest part is the backstory. All based on the lies and embellished tales of a self-aggrandising fabulist called Frank Dux. He made up the Kumite contest and his record card is proudly displayed over the final freeze frame even though it is as iffy and unverified as your bullshitting school mate whose uncle was a black belt ninja. Certainly the most beer and pizza friendly “based on a true story” feature I’ve scratched my chinny beard through.

7

Tristana (1970)

Luis Buñuel directs Catherine Deneuve, Fernando Rey and Franco Nero in this drama about a young girl who becomes the ward of a hypocritical bon vivant, who desires her yet cannot control her.

While no Belle De Jour, I enjoyed this slight tale. The cast impress, especially Fernando Rey’s pathetic yet likeable older libertarian. Deneuve is as mysteriously beautiful as ever as the naïf corrupted. It does feel like a project that slightly loses its grip along the way at times.

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