The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

(USA 1974)

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“The film which you are about to see is an account of the tragedy which befell a group of five youths, in particular Sally Hardesty and her invalid brother, Franklin. It is all the more tragic in that they were young. But, had they lived very, very long lives, they could not have expected nor would they have wished to see as much of the mad and macabre as they were to see that day. For them an idyllic summer afternoon drive became a nightmare.”

— Narrator

 

“Look what your brother did to the door! Ain’t he got no pride in his home?”

— Old Man

I didn’t expect much when I sat down for the low budget slasher classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, a movie that somehow escaped me all these years. I’ve got to admit, it’s not bad.

The premise is simple: five friends in their 20s, three guys and two girls, are driving a van on a road trip through rural Texas in the summer. The purpose of the trip is to check on a few dearly departed relatives of Sally (Marilyn Burns) and her disabled brother, Franklin (Paul Alan Partain), after a gruesome grave robbery in the town where they grew up. It’s very Scooby Doo.

They pick up a crazy hitchhiker (Edwin Neal) outside a slaughterhouse who grosses them all out talking about killing cattle with a sledgehammer. He passes around a few photos of some he finished off himself. He’s dirty, scabby, and jittery. He snaps a photo no one asked him to, then has the nerve to charge them two bucks for it. He invites them over for dinner (head cheese) with his family before he cuts his hand with a pocketknife. Freaked, they pull over and throw his nasty ass out.

That’s not the worst of it — it’s just the beginning. Working from a screenplay he wrote with Kim Henkel, director Tobe Hooper taps into something pretty fucked up here. Mixing hicks with chainsaws is unsettling enough, but “Leatherface” (Gunnar Hansen), the masked executioner behind that sliding freezer door, is truly frightening. So is decomposing “grandfather” (John Dugan). When you stop to think about it, so is a gas station barbeque.

All the essential elements of horror are here: characters stranded in the middle of nowhere, empty houses, no phones or gas, bugs, bones, rotting corpses, chases in the dark, falling down, power tools as weapons, kidnapping, a faceless menace, and a bunch of blood.

Cinematographer Daniel Pearl creates some surprisingly artful shots, particularly on the highway, in a sunflower patch, and a scene with feathers. They look great. The artful moments, however, are far and few between. The pacing is strange: the first four victims are picked off in quick succession, leaving just Burns, who has nothing to do but run around and scream for nearly the entire second half. Even after all she goes through, no one needs that. Still, for all its flaws, I winced, I snickered, I looked away in disgust. But I saw the whole thing through to the end — no pun intended.

I hate to spoil the ending, but contrary to the movie poster…none of this is true.

With Allen Danziger, William Vail, Teri McMinn, Jim Siedow, John Larroquette

Production: Vortex

Distribution: Bryanston Pictures (USA), Astral Films (Canada), New Gold Entertainment (Italy), Succéfilm AB (Sweden), Jugendfilm-Verleih (West Germany), Bac Films (France), New Line Cinema (USA), René Chateau Productions (France), Filmways Australasian Distributors (Australia)

84 minutes
Rated R

(iTunes rental) B-

http://www.thetexaschainsawmassacre.net

Suburbicon

(USA 2017)

George Clooney’s Suburbicon probably isn’t going to end up on anyone’s “best” list, nor should it. Too bad, because it’s got all the right elements: an experienced director with a strong point of view and his heart in the right place, a story by Joel and Ethan Coen, and a solid cast. The trailer sold me.

I guess I can see where this was headed. Unfortunately, though, some bizarre calls from the director’s chair drive Suburbicon into the ground. What could’ve been a biting and clever comment about race and the postwar American Dream, isn’t. Instead, Suburbicon is a confused jumble of ideas that don’t seem thought out or placed very well.

Suburbicon, which gets its name from the fictional suburban housing development where the film takes place, involves two concurrent stories that play out separately in late ‘50s suburbia. The main story, the one that the Coen brothers developed over 30 years ago, follows the boneheaded attempts of daft Suburbicon resident Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) at covering his tracks in an insurance scam he perpetrates with his sister-in-law, Margaret (Julianne Moore, who pulls a Patty Duke and does double duty also playing Gardner’s wife, Rose). Gardner is also dodging two amateur hitmen (Glenn Fleshler and Alex Hassell) who are trying to reach him. To make matters worse, his grade school age son, Nicky (Noah Jupe), inadvertently threatens to blow his cover. It isn’t long before it’s clear that Gardner’s in way over his head.

Meanwhile, the Mayers, a black family, move into Suburbicon, right next door to the Lodges. This subplot is based on an actual event that happened in Levittown, Pennsylvania, in 1957 (http://ushistoryscene.com/article/levittown/). In fact, the film uses what appears to be real-life footage from it. The residents don’t want a black family living near them, apparently because they think it will cause the neighborhood to go to hell. So, they stage a protest outside the Mayers’ house, chanting, playing instruments all night, and eventually trespassing and vandalizing. In the midst of this brouhaha, Nicky befriends the son, Andy (Tony Espinosa), who’s about the same age.

The residents get louder and more violent as the Coen plot develops into something darker and more violent.

Suburbicon has a few big problems. First, it clearly wants to make a grand statement or observation. It fails because it doesn’t integrate the two plots. We don’t get much about the Mayers. Whatever point this subplot was supposed to make is completely overshadowed by the main plot, and it comes off as merely an ironic parallel. It’s weird, manipulative, and simply doesn’t work.

Second, I have no idea how all that happens inside the Lodge residence does so with the huge mob next door. How does no one notice what’s going on right outside the door? How does everyone in that huge mob miss the people coming and going from the Lodge residence? Some of them are bloody. Hello?

Third, the plot twists are evident a mile away.

Fourth, neither Damon nor Moore pulls off the sinister vibe their characters call for. Somehow Clooney misses the mark on the sheer weirdness of the plot and the characters despite the sharp, exaggerated dialogue you usually get from the Coen brothers. Oscar Isaac is the only actor who nails it; his small part as an insurance investigator, regrettably short, stands out as the only bright spot here — although both Jupe and Nancy Daly as Gardner’s secretary deserve an honorable mention. Overall, though, the end result here is hopelessly flat and surprisingly lifeless. It’s frustrating to see.

I didn’t hate Suburbicon, but I didn’t love it. Its points are muddled. I expected a lot more, and there was so much to work with here.

With Karimah Westbrook, Leith M. Burke, Megan Ferguson, Jack Conley, Gary Basaraba, Michael D. Cohen, Steven Shaw, Don Baldaramos, Ellen Crawford, Cathy Giannone, Allan Wasserman, Mark Leslie Ford, Richard Kind, Robert Pierce, Pamela Dunlap, Jack Conley, Frank Califano, Lauren Burns

Production: Paramount Pictures, Black Bear Pictures, Silver Pictures, Smoke House Pictures

Distribution: Paramount Pictures

105 minutes
Rated R

(ArcLight) C-

http://www.suburbiconmovie.com

Tokyo Vampire Hotel

(Japan 2017)

This theatrical cut of director Sion Sono’s Amazon Prime miniseries Tokyo Vampire Hotel [東京ヴァンパイアホテル] (http://www.indiewire.com/2017/04/tokyo-vampire-hotel-sion-sono-amazon-1201808369/) is a fast-paced stylish and colorful bloodbath, something that wouldn’t be out of place in Quentin Tarantino’s oeuvre.

Manami (Tomite Ami) is a nice girl who shares a tiny apartment with her boyfriend (Saito Takumi) in Tokyo. Just after she arrives for dinner with her friends on the evening of her 22nd birthday, a crazy gun-toting assassin (Shoko Nakagawa) in a fuzzy pink mink shows up and takes out everyone in the restaurant — except Manami, whom she came to kidnap.

Manami flees, only to be picked up by another kidnapper, the mysterious K (Kaho). K in not so may words explains that Manami is a pawn in a war between two vampire clans, the Draculas and the Corvins, who have been enemies for centuries. Unbeknownst to Manami, she’s the target of a worldwide vampire hunt. K takes her to the glamorous Tokyo Vampire Hotel, which is run by a creepy geisha empress (Adachi Yumi) who needs blood.

The end of civilization is coming, but the empress has a plan: use the hotel to trap a healthy supply of humans to serve as food. Things don’t pan out as planned when the humans figure out what’s happening and the Draculas show up to crash the party.

This photo sums up what you’re getting into here:

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Tokyo Vampire Hotel is quirky, sexy, lavish, and fun. Sono serves up an imaginative feast of dazzling eye candy and nonstop action. His use of Christian symbols adds a nice touch. The sets are fantastic, and the action moves from the streets of Tokyo at night to inside the hotel to Bran Castle in Transylvania, and back. The editing works to make nine episodes flow seamlessly into a feature length film. However, the story wears thin after a little while, and it can’t sustain the interest I started out with. The gore gets old, too. The length, nearly two and a half hours, is a problem. It demonstrates why Tokyo Vampire Hotel is probably better in smaller doses.

With Mitsushima Shinnosuke, Yokoyama Ayumu, Kagurazaka Megumi, Shibukawa Kiyohiko, Takatsuki Sara, Tsutsui Mariko, Sakurai Yuki

Production: Amazon, Django Film, Nikkatsu Pictures

Distribution: Nikkatsu International Sales

142 minutes
Not rated

(AMC River East) C+

Chicago International Film Festival

Ginger Snaps

(Canada 2000)

“Shit, wrists are for girls. I’m slitting my throat.”

— Ginger Fitzgerald

Puberty is tough enough without your older sister turning into a werewolf. Just ask 15-year-old Brigitte Fitzgerald (Emily Perkins), who with her sib, Ginger (Katharine Isabelle), stages gory death scenes and takes pictures of them, like a pair of morose Cindy Shermans. When they were kids, they made a pact to die together. Their classmates think they’re weird.

A run-in with mean girl Trina Sinclair (Danielle Hampton) sparks a war. Walking through the woods on their way to exact revenge one October night with a full moon, Ginger gets her first period. She also gets attacked by a mysterious and savage beast — the same one responsible for eviscerating all the dogs in the neighborhood.

Ginger turns increasingly feral over the next few days, growing more aggressive and sexual. Her wounds, which heal almost immediately, are sprouting hair. Oh yeah, she’s also developing what appears to be…a tail?

Brigitte, or “B,” connects with cute, brooding dope dealer Sam (Kris Lemche), who struck and killed the beast while he was driving his van down the road where it ran after it attacked Gretchen. He’s got a recipe for what might be the cure. The clock is ticking as Gretchen gets farther out of control, and Halloween — with another full moon — approaches.

On paper — all I had going into it because I’d never heard of it — John Fawcett’s Ginger Snaps sounds dubious at best. The premise seems trite. The part about the period sounds stupid, and the analogy to “becoming a lady” is obvious.

Turns out, Ginger Snaps is surprisingly good. Incorporating familiar elements of teen movies and splatter flicks, Fawcett, who wrote the screenplay with Karen Walton, pushes the “suspension of disbelief” envelope. He knows just when to stop, though. There’s quite a bit of gore here. The special effects are dated but effective nonetheless.

What really sells this film, though, is the acting: Perkins and Isabelle evoke a warmth to their relationship despite their offputting personalities and a fierceness to their bond. They’re totally believable as sisters. The final scene, which involves only them, is downright sad. Crushing, even.

With Mimi Rogers, Jesse Moss, John Bourgeois, Peter Keleghan, Christopher Redman, Lindsay Leese, Wendii Fulford, Pak-Kong Ho, Lucy Lawless

Production: Motion International, Copperheart Entertainment, Water Pictures, Lions Gate Films, Oddbod Productions, TVA International

Distribution: Motion International (Canada), Unapix Entertainment Productions (USA), Lions Gate Films

108 minutes
Not rated

(Music Box) B-

Music Box of Horrors

http://www.gingersnapsthemovie.com

Funeral Parade of Roses [Bara no Sōretsu]

(Japan 1969)

Funeral Parade of Roses [薔薇の葬列] is an intriguing film for a few reasons. Clearly influenced by the French New Wave, writer and director Toshio Matsumoto comes up with something simultaneously ordinary yet avant-garde, very much a product of its time yet years ahead. It’s extraordinarily cool.

Structured as a movie within a movie, Funeral Parade of Roses follows Tokyo “gay boy” Eddie (Pîtâ a.k.a. Peter) through his many exploits as a young transvestite immersed in the underground club scene. He might even be a hooker. Meanwhile, he’s carrying on a secret affair with Jimi (Yoshimi Jô), the boyfriend of club elder statesperson and fellow gay boy Leda (Osamu Ogasawara). Leda is onto them. Oh, the drama it creates!

While all this is going on, a camera crew records Eddie as though this were The Real World or Truth or Dare.

As Eddie ponders who he is — and looks to alcohol, group sex, drugs, and lots of attention from others for answers — Matsumoto explores “queer identity” through him. He intersperses interviews, flashbacks, episodes with Eddie’s mother (Emiko Azuma), and even a musical diversion or two to offer clues. A crazy subplot develops, and it references Oedipus in a tacky and sad but clever way.

Clumsy in its exploration of “gay life” and downright disturbing at points, Funeral Parade of Roses is nonetheless fun to watch. Shot in gorgeous black and white, it has an otherworldly feel. When it’s not nihilistic, it’s kitschy and entertaining — almost in a nascent John Waters way, just not quite as rough. The clothes are mod. The music is heavy on classical. The ending, sudden and bloody, is really messed up.

I’m not sure what exactly Matsumoto is saying here — a lot is open to interpretation — or that I agree with him. Either way, I enjoyed the journey.

With Yoshio Tsuchiya, Toyosaburo Uchiyama, Don Madrid, Koichi Nakamura, Chieko Kobayashi, Shōtarō Akiyama, Kiyoshi Awazu, Flamenco Umeji, Saako Oota, Tarô Manji, Mikio Shibayama, Wataru Hikonagi, Fuchisumi Gomi, Yô Satô, Keiichi Takenaga, Hôsei Komatsu

Production: Art Theatre Guild, Matsumoto Production Company

Distribution: Art Theatre Guild, Image Forum (Japan), Cinelicious Pics (USA)

105 minutes
Not rated

(Gene Siskel Film Center) B+

Lost Highway

(USA 1997)

I watched David Lynch’s Lost Highway on my iPad on an Amtrak train from Chicago to Rochester. The one thing I strongly recommend is that it be viewed on the big screen, or at the very least on a flatscreen television. Quite simply, the visuals here are far too beautiful to see in an abridged format. And frankly, the visuals—sets, colors, costumes, actors, props—are the best part of the film.

The second thing I recommend is that it be watched under the influence of something—booze, pot, or better yet, prescription drugs.

This begs a question I’ll just answer: Lost Highway is fucked up—thrillingly so. The whole things starts with a videotape of our unlucky hero, saxophonist Fred Madison (Bill Pullman), murdering his wife (Patricia Arquette), who in an alternate universe is having an affair with Madison’s younger alterego, Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty). The married couple has no memory of this murder. Neither party seems aware of this wrinkle in time and space, either. The connection lies with two people: demanding gangster Mr. Eddy (Robert Loggia) and creepy-ass flour-faced Robert Blake in what must be his most frightening role as The Mystery Man, a pallid ghost straight from a silent movie or a video by The Cure.

Lost Highway isn’t my favorite David Lynch film. However, it’s intriguing and vague enough to keep me thinking about it. I’m not sure what to make of this one—but I’m also not sure I care enough to do the work to figure it out. Maybe someday, definitely not today. The star cameos are enough for now.

Interesting fact: Lost Highway features the final film performances of Blake, Jack Nance, and Richard Pryor. Who knew?

With Alice Wakefield, John Roselius, Lou Eppolito, Henry Rollins, Mink Stole, Gary Busey, Lucy Butler, Giovanni Ribisi, Marilyn Manson, David Lynch

Production: October Films, CiBy 2000, Asymmetrical Productions, Lost Highway Productions LLC

Distribution: October Films (USA), Polygram Filmed Entertainment (UK), Rialto Film AG (Switzerland), RCV Film Distribution, Cinemussy (Spain), Senator Film (Germany), Atalanta Filmes (Portugal), Edko Films (Hong Kong), NTV-PROFIT (Russia), Artistas Argentinos Asociados (AAA) (Argentina), AmaFilms (Greece), New Star (Greece), Sandrew Film (Sweden), United International Pictures (UIP) (Australia), Warner Brothers (Finland)

134 minutes
Rated R

(iTunes rental) C+

http://www.davidlynch.de

Kill Bill: Volume 1

(USA 2003)

“Revenge is never a straight line. It’s a forest. And like a forest, it’s easy to lose your way. To get lost. To forget where you came in.”

—Hattori Hanzō

“It’s mercy, compassion, and forgiveness I lack,” The Bride (Uma Thurman) plainly informs one of her assailants before she exacts revenge. “Not rationality.” Uh, really? Right off the bat, Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, Volume 1 (not to be conflated with Kill Bill: Volume 2, which is longer but not quite as good) is an action film packed with snark and coolness. Uma Thurman is The Bride (codeman Black Mamba), who in the sepiatone opening scene is lying on the floor of a chapel in El Paso, Texas. She’s in a wedding dress, bleeding and pleading for her life. “It’s your baby,” she tells Bill (David Carradine, who has a bigger part in the second installment). He shoots her in the head.

Four years later, The Bride wakes up—midfuck, mind you—from a coma in the hospital. There’s no baby. She takes out a would-be rapist, Jasper (Jonathan Loughran), and an orderly named Buck (Michael Bowen), who pimped her out. Incidentally, Buck has a catchphrase that rhymes with his name—you figure it out. The Bride runs off with Buck’s truck, the “Pussy Wagon.” Once she gets her feet and legs moving, she sets out to settle a score—or six. First, though, she has to persuade retired master swordsmith Hattori Hanzō (Sonny Chiba), who runs a sushi bar in Okinawa, to make her a sword.

Kill Bill: Volume 1 is totally far fetched, but that’s not important. Like most Tarantino films, the emphasis here is on the characters and the action, not the plot; otherwise, two hours of not much more than a badass blonde babe methodically killing teammates who double-crossed her when she was a member of something called the Viper Assassination Squad wouldn’t work. Originally intended as one long film (http://killbill.wikia.com/wiki/Kill_Bill:_Vol._1), Kill Bill: Volume 1 depicts two of the paybacks: Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox), who’s now a housewife and mother in suburban Los Angeles, and O’Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu), the head of the Tokyo Yakuza.

Beautifully staged and shot, the violence is over the top yet perfectly choreographed. The scene at the House of Blue Leaves is eloquent right down to the blood in the snow. Tarantino plays around with the sequence of events and mixes genres including anime. He employs his penchant for sharp dialogue, snazzy settings with memorable names, and sick humor. Plus, he throws in cool music and clothes; Daryl Hannah dressed as a nurse, for example, is fucking fabulous! As a result, Kill Bill: Volume 1 is a dazzling bloodfest. It takes a certain type to love a film like this—and it’s one of my favorites.

With Julie Dreyfus, Chiaki Kuriyama, Gordon Liu, Michael Parks, James Parks, Sakichi Sato, Ambrosia Kelley

Production: A Band Apart

Distribution: Miramax Films

111 minutes
Rated R

(Logan Theatre) A

https://www.miramax.com/movie/kill-bill-volume-1/

Goat

(USA 2016)

Son of Saul remains one of the more memorable films from last year, and it’s because of how it was done: it’s harrowing to watch because it shoves the viewer front and center into its violence—physical and psychological. Goat, the film adaptation of Brad Land’s memoir about his experience with fraternity hazing, deals with a different subject altogether but works the same way: it’s difficult to watch, and it makes its points exactly because it’s difficult to watch.

High school senior Brad (Ben Schnetzer) is sensitive, naive, and kind of aimless. After leaving a party at his older brother Brett’s (Nick Jonas) frat house because it’s “getting weird”—he wants no part in pounding booze, snorting blow, or watching a live sex show—Brad agrees to give a lift to a sketchy townie (Will Pullen) who approaches him as he’s walking alone to his car. It’s just up the street in a small college town, so what can happen? Sketchy townie has a friend (Jamar Jackson), and the encounter goes somewhere Brad wasn’t expecting: they make him pull off the road, beat the shit out of him, and run off with his ATM card and his car.

The investigating officer (Kevin Crowley) is skeptical when Brad reports the incident—he suspects Brad is not telling him the whole story. The experience doesn’t sit well. On the fence about college and feeling like a self-described “pussy,” Brad decides to enroll at the school where Brett goes—and pledge his fraternity, Phi Sigma Mu. The guys in the house talk a lot about brotherhood, but something is off. Brad goes forward with rush week, anyway—and even motivates his dorm roommate, Will (Danny Flaherty), to rush (a.k.a. pledge) along with him. They become “goats,” which we learn is another word for pledges. Led by their “master” Dixon (Jake Picking), things get increasingly degrading and barbaric for the goats as they move through “hell week.” What is Brad trying to prove, and to whom?

Goat is brutal. With the opening shot—a pack of shirtless college boys jumping up and down in slow motion, participating in some fraternity ritual and looking more like a troop of apes than a group of students—director Andrew Neel sets the tone and sticks to it all the way through. The hazing rituals involve a slew of nastiness: face slapping, mudwrestling, and cages are the least of it. James Franco, one of the film’s producers, makes an appearance as Mitch, an older Phi Sig alum who never left town. Amusing on the surface, it doesn’t take long to see that Mitch is pathetic. The best thing about the film is Brad and Brett’s relationship, which becomes strained once the latter sees the former going through hell week. The whole cast is impressive—particularly Jonas, who’s made some strides since his stint on last season’s Scream Queens.

Goat emits a whiff of Reefer Madness sensationalism—I was never in a frat so I’ve never gone through anything like hell week and can’t speak to it with any personal experience (though I have friends who were in fraternities, and most of them withdrew for one reason or another). Regardless, I found Goat provocative not so much for taking on hazing and asking why anyone would put up with it, but for raising questions about bigger and broader things like groupthink and pack mentality, societal permissiveness, what “brotherhood” means, masculinity, and how it all interacts with the primal instinct inside each of us. If nothing else, Goat serves as a springboard for discussing a number of topics after the show.

96 minutes
Rated R

(Music Box) B+

The Nice Guys

(USA 2016)

Last year’s Inherent Vice disappointed me; I dug its ’70s Venice Beach vibe, but I found the story choppy and its execution ultimately lackluster—unforgivable for a film with arguably the best all-star cast in years. Little did I know walking into the theater that Shane Black’s The Nice Guys is exactly what I hoped for with Inherent Vice: an unapologetically dippy and fun action retro-comedy with stylish sets, cool clothes, and a rad soundtrack. Shallow? Maybe. But I enjoyed The Nice Guys a lot more; like old MTV, it’s a fluffy guilty pleasure.

Los Angeles, 1977: Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is a detective—the world’s worst, by his own admission—down on his luck. Amid jobs like the senile widow looking for her missing husband—his ashes are in an urn on the mantle—March is hired by the aunt (Lois Smith) of a dead porn actress, Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio); she claims her niece just visited her, and she wants him to find her. After a run-in with thug-for-hire Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) and a trail that leads to a girl named Amelia (Margaret Qualley) and an “experimental” skin flick called How Do You Like My Car, Big Boy, March joins forces with Healy to solve a mystery that brings them right to the heart of the porn and auto industries.

The Nice Guys is a treat all around. No one thing carries this film; it’s a successful combination of multiple elements. The story and tone—a mix of the aforementioned Inherent Vice, Lethal Weapon (also by Black), and Boogie Nights with a whiff of Scooby Doo—is surprisingly cohesive, absorbing, and entertaining. Where Lethal Weapon‘s Martin and Roger are buddies, March and Healy are “frienemies:” the former is as drunkenly and sweetly inept as the latter is soberly and brutally efficient. It works; Gosling and Crowe, who looks like John Goodman these days, have a solid chemistry. It’s fun to see them both in something light, and they seem to have a good time here. I never thought of Gosling as a comedic actor, but his timing is great—my favorite scene is Healy busting into the men’s room stall on him. March gets by thanks in large part to his teenaged daughter, Holly (Angourie Rice), who serves as a voice of reason even as he corrects her grammar. Matt Bomer makes a brief, creepy, and violent cameo as John Boy, a hitman with a big mole on his face—anyone familiar with The Waltons no doubt will get the reference right away. Kim Basinger is a welcome surprise as a hard, all-business federal agent. The whole thing ends in a crazy choreograped sequence involving a film canister.

Philippe Rousselot’s cinematography is snappy, with vivid colors that shine though even during the night scenes. The Nice Guys depicts a sleazy era of Los Angeles in a cheeky, over-the-top way—a time I would have loved to have seen it. This is not a film that takes itself seriously—it seems to revel in its frivolity. Seeing it over Memorial Day weekend was a great way to kick off the summer movie season. Indulge, I say.

116 minutes
Rated R

(ArcLight) B-

http://www.theniceguysmovie.com

Reservoir Dogs

(USA 1992)

In the grand scheme of all things Quentin Tarantino, Reservoir Dogs is not his best work. Sure, it exhibits his trademark wit, crass, and twisted sense of humor in a few Quent-essential scenes, like the diner analysis of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” (with Sean Penn’s now dead brother Chris sitting there listening but not contributing) and Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) making a Van Gogh out of Officer Marvin Nash (Kirk Baltz) while  blaring Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle with You.” Tarantino does a great job assembling memorable characters and setting up an uncomplicated plot. Smartly, he focuses on the aftermath instead of the failed heist itself, dropping only breadcrumbs of info about what exactly went down.

The problem is that for all its charm, Reservoir Dogs just doesn’t bring enough energy; the plot and the characters feel sketchy and underdeveloped. Tarantino relies heavily on dialogue that can’t sustain the whole film; the characters– especially Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) and Mr. White (Harvey Keitel)– talk and yell and kvetch an awful lot while not much actually happens. After not seeing it for over a decade, I was surprised at how long it took to get going. As Tarantino’s first directing job– his “lost” 1987 film My Best Friend’s Birthday, which sort of became the script for True Romance, doesn’t count– Reservoir Dogs is most interesting because it shows a pivotal voice still in development.

I loved it when it came out (I was 21 or 22 years old), and Reservoir Dogs is a respectable start– hell, it’s iconic and better than a lot of movies. Hindsight is 20/20, though, and seeing it again demonstrates that Tarantino’s best work was yet to come. Indeed, his very next film, Pulp Fiction, is lightyears ahead in style and substance: it’s tighter, far more cohesive, and has a lot more pizzaz. What a difference two years makes.

(Music Box) B

http://www.miramax.com/movie/reservoir-dogs/