The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

(USA 1974)


“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-

Wild at Heart

(USA 1990)

“Man, I had a boner with a capital ‘O.'”

—Sailor Ripley


“And this here’s a story with a lesson about bad ideas.”

—Lula Pace Fortune


“Don’t turn away from love, Sailor.”

—Glinda the Good Witch

Wild at Heart is one of David Lynch’s more maligned films. Roger Ebert hated it to the point of indignation ( Vincent Canby seemed perplexed—I can’t tell whether he was bored, annoyed, or just flummoxed ( Jonathan Rosenbaum called it “appalling,” “inept,” and “debasing” ( A host of other critics rolled their eyes and sighed, dismissing it, I suppose, as a violent and exploitive piece of shock fluff.

I never saw Wild at Heart until now. Some of the points raised by its detractors are valid, but I still liked it for the same things that made them hate it. Erratic, vulgar, and really sweet, it’s offputting yet compelling and—surprise!—it has a happy ending.

An atypically straightforward narrative for a Lynch project, Wild at Heart is a decidedly deranged, bloody road movie/romance/thriller based on Barry Gifford’s novel of the same name. Upon his release from a North Carolina prison after serving time for murder—never mind that it was self-defense—Sailor Ripley (Nicolas Cage) exits the jailhouse to find his lover, Lula Pace Fortune (Laura Dern), waiting for him outside in the sunlight with his snakeskin jacket, the symbol of his individuality and his belief in personal freedom. They spend some time catching up in a motel room and at a speedmetal concert before they decide to blow off his parole and take off for California.

Meanwhile, Lula’s mother, Southern lady Marietta (Diane Ladd), is making plans of her own—and they involve her private detective boyfriend (Harry Dean Stanton) and a hit man (J. E. Freeman) who’s got Sailor as his target. A bad omen detours the starcrossed lovers to Big Tuna, Texas, where they unwittingly plant themselves smack in the middle of a bad situation that looks to be turning deadly fast.

OK, I’ve seen versions of this same story before. The plot is familiar and for the most part implausible—not to mention really, really thin at times. Lynch goes overboard with his depiction of sex, violence, and gore—even though they all have a place here. None of this matters, though, because the characters, which are both the focus and the strength of the film, are fantastic.

As usual, the casting is stellar. Cage is at his best here, working that edgy deadpan earnest manic thing he did so well in his early films. Dern is flawless as a sweet Southern girl who’s found her place with bad boy Sailor, everyone else be damned. Willem Dafoe is super creepy as hayseed bad guy Bobby Peru—those teeth! Above them all, however, is Ladd, who’s fucking fabulous even with her face covered in red lipstick. She’s vengeful at times, remorseful at others; but all the while, a perfect lady. She shines here. There’s a reason she was nominated for an Oscar for her performance ( This film works because the actors give it their all.

Wild at Heart is loaded with Lynch’s trademark what-the-fuck weirdness—a man at a bar quacking like a duck (you read that correctly) and cousin “Jingle Dell” (Crispin Glover) sitting on the floor in the bathroom screaming for Christmas or standing at the counter in the dark making a hundred sandwiches for lunch are bizarre moments even by Lynchian standards. There’s a lot more to it, though. I love the theme of finding a happy place in the midst of horrible things happening. I love all the references to various staples of Americana—cowboys, cars, highways, Elvis Presley, and my favorite, The Wizard of Oz. I love that underneath it all is a touching love story that we can all relate to.

What I find most interesting, though, is that so many things about Wild at Heart scream Quentin Tarantino, yet he had nothing to do with it. In fact, it came out two years before Tarantino’s first major film, Reservoir Dogs. I never thought of David Lynch as an influence on him, but Wild at Heart makes me wonder.

Side note: Wild at Heart is a rated R movie. For the screening I attended, however, I was lucky enough to catch an unreleased rated X version. The X rating was no doubt due to the graphic violence—it wasn’t the sex scenes. The print was in bad shape, all scratchy and beat up, but it was totally worth it to see an X-rated Lynch film.

With W. Morgan Sheppard, Grace Zabriskie, Isabella Rossellini, Sherilyn Fenn, Sheryl Lee

Production: PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, Propaganda Films

Distribution: Manifesto Film Sales, The Samuel Goldwyn Company (USA), Palace Pictures (UK), Bac Films (France), Cineplex Odeon Films (Canada), Finnkino (Finland), Hoyts Distribution (Australia), Háskólabíó (Iceland), Meteor Film Productions (Netherlands), Sandrew Film & Teater (Sweden), Solopan (Poland)

125 minutes
Rated X (alternate version)

(Music Box) B

David Lynch: A Complete Retrospective

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 (, 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

Django Unchained

(USA 2012)

“The ‘D’ is silent, hillbilly!”


If anyone would take a stab at something that sounds as ridiculous and cringeworthy as tackling American slavery in a spaghetti Western, it’s Quentin Tarantino. “I want to do movies that deal with America’s horrible past with slavery and stuff, but do them like spaghetti Westerns, not like big issue movies,” he said, clearly referring to Django Unchained in a 2007 interview—five years before it came out. “I want to do them like they’re genre films, but they deal with everything that America has never dealt with because it’s ashamed of it.” (

The title here references Sergio Corbucci’s 1966 film Django, an actual spaghetti Western in which the titular hero, a cowboy, is thrust into a row between Southern Klansmen and Mexican revolutionaries. In Django Unchained, the story starts in 1858—just a few years before the American Civil War. Django (Jamie Foxx) is a slave separated from his wife, the curiously named Broomhilda von Shaft (Kerry Washington), after they were caught trying to escape a plantation. He’s shackled to a group of slaves that the Speck brothers (James Remar and James Russo) are driving on foot to be sold.

Enter traveling dentist Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a genteel German driving a wagon with a big wooden tooth on top of it. Schultz is actually a bounty hunter looking for the Brittle brothers—Big John (M.C. Gainey), Lil Raj (Cooper Huckabee), and Ellis (Doc Duhame)—who happen to be Django and Broomhilda’s former masters. He makes Django an offer he can’t refuse: help him find and kill the brothers, and Schultz will pay him, set him free, and help him find Broomhilda.

Django Unchained is structured in essentially three “episodes.” The first takes place in a one-horse town near El Paso, where Schultz provokes the ire of the townfolk, the sheriff (Don Stroud), and a U.S. Marshall (Tom Wopat). The second takes place on a plantation owned and operated by Spencer “Big Daddy” Bennett (Don Johnson—um, wow!). The last, longest, and most twisted takes place on another plantation in Mississippi, the bountiful Candie-Land, owned by charming but sadistic Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) and operated by his shifty Uncle Tom house-slave, Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson).

Tarantino actually pulls off what he said he wanted to, and he does it quite well. Django Unchained could have been a really dark film like its immediate successor, The Hateful Eight. The two films have a lot in common. The tension—and there’s lots of it—built into the story is deliberately and profoundly slow in reaching a boil. Django Unchained certainly has Tarantino’s trademark violence, revenge theme, and liberal use of the ‘n’ word—116 times, a record for a film according to IMDB ( A few scenes are difficult to watch, the “Mandingo fight scene” being the worst for me. Unlike The Hateful Eight, though, the violence here is Tarantino’s typical flagrantly graphic cartoonish gore. He also shows a more conspicuous sense of humor—for example, Django and Broomhilda are ancestors of John Shaft of the Shaft franchise (

Django Unchained is an unlikely and uncomfortable pairing of an ugly part of our collective past with absurdity, but it’s entertaining while still getting its point across: we’re still living with the aftermath. It’s the kind of film you mull over for a long time after you see it.

With Laura Cayouette, Jonah Hill, Walton Goggins, Dennis Christopher, Dana Gourrier, Nichole Galicia, Miriam F. Glover, Quentin Tarantino, Franco Nero, Russ Tamblyn, Bruce Dern, Misty Upham, Danièle Watts, Robert Carradine

Produced by The Weinstein Company, Columbia Pictures

Distributed by The Weinstein Company (North America), Sony Pictures Releasing (International)

165 minutes
Rated R

(iTunes rental) A-

Breakfast at Tiffany’s

(USA 1961)

“You musn’t give your heart to a wild thing. The more you do, the stronger they get, until they’re strong enough to run into the woods or fly into a tree. And then to a higher tree, and then to the sky.”

—Holly Golightly

So, “Audrey Hepburn is having breakfast at Tiffany’s”?! Why, yes, I would love to join her!

When Fathom Events, Turner Classic Movies, and Paramount Pictures invited me to “fall in love again” for a special 55th anniversary screening of Breakfast at Tiffany’s in a select theater near me, well, I couldn’t say no. Until now, I’ve only seen it on my television or computer screen.

I admit, I’m a sucker for this film—even though it’s not the kind of thing I usually go for, and Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi was a terrible idea even if many films of the era did the same thing to get a big name involved. Whatever. I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like this film. Directed by Blake Edwards and adapted for the screen by George Axelrod, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a fine midcentury fairy tale. Set in Manhattan, Holly Golightly (Hepburn) leads a life full of the very trappings I imagined myself having as an adult: a cool apartment in a big city, great clothes, wicked accessories, lots of fashionable friends and acquaintances, wild parties, drinks all the time, travel plans, and generally risqué fun and fabulousness. I have some of them.

What’s brilliant about this story, though—and probably why it appeals to me—is its dark side. Nothing here is what it seems: what we see is a ruse—to use the words of O.J. Berman (Martin Balsam), Holly is a phony. Her life is phony. She puts on an act. It’s more than simply running away from her past, represented by ex-husband Doc (Buddy Ebsen) and his references to her former self, Lulamae. She’s not the naïve eccentric she would have everyone believe she is. She’s also not the high society sophisticate she presents, either: the apostrophe ‘s’ she adds to the name of her ideal escape (the store is called “Tiffany & Co.”) gives her away. Frankly, she’s not even true call girl material, however downplayed that part of her personality is (we’re only told that she gets fifty bucks for the powder room).

Like her dark sunglasses and the Halloween mask she steals from the five and dime with fellow phony Paul Varjak (George Peppard), Holly’s working a facade she hides behind. Holly is a product of Lulamae’s imagination; she left behind her life in Tulip, Texas, for a bigger, more exciting one. The problem is, she doesn’t seem to know exactly what she wants, bouncing carefreely from one half-baked plan to another. She’s afraid to commit to anything because doing so puts her in a vulnerable position. Why else would one call her cat, “Cat” (Orangie)? Oh, the poor slob without a name!

At the end of the story, Cat represents something different. Holly throws him out of the cab into the rain in a “bad” neighborhood. She realizes that she wants to belong somewhere, to someone. Ummm…Paul? I know Truman Capote wrote a different ending, and I tend to disdain a neat, happy Hollywood ending; but here, it’s perfect. I can’t see a better way to end this story. Sorry, Mr. Capote.

Three more things: Patricia Neal is fantastic as stylish girl “2E.” Henry Mancini’s score is the cherry on the top of this sundae—mmmmm! If I ever have two dogs, I’m naming them Sally Tomato (Alan Reed, who went on to be the voice of Fred Flintstone) and Mr. O’Shaunessy (Joseph J. Greene).

In 2012, the United States Library of Congress deemed Breakfast at Tiffany’s “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry (

114 minutes
Not rated

(Evanston Century) A

Fathom Events

Nocturnal Animals

(USA 2016)

Tom Ford is a Virgo, and everything he does reflects textbook traits of his sign: his products are sharp, observant, and meticulous. He exhibits impeccable style and substance. He’s a perfectionist, and it shows. His films are no exception, and his aesthetic serves them well. I seriously dug A Single Man, but I figured it was a one-off project after a few years passed without a follow up. I’m glad Ford proved me wrong: Nocturnal Animals is great. It’s also different; A Single Man is in essence a gentle and compassionate love story, whereas Nocturnal Animals is a bitter tale about a bad romance, regret, revenge, and closure with a comment on how art mirrors life. Certainly not a breezy endeavor, it offers quite a bit of food for thought.

WARNING: Potential spoilers ahead!

Susan Morrow (Amy Adams), a study in contradictions, has all the material trappings of the glamorous life—too bad none of it brings her happiness. A rich and successful Los Angeles gallery owner, she hates what she does for a living. Her husband (Armie Hammer) is dashing but absent, offering more of an arrangement than a marriage. Part of the problem might be the bankruptcy he alludes to in one of their conversations early on. Or maybe it’s the transcontinental affair he’s carrying on in New York City. Their home is a chic box in the hills; Susan is alone in it—except for the hired help, of course.

A package arrives out of the blue from her ex-husband, Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal). They haven’t spoken in years; their relationship did not end well. A simple guy she knew from growing up in Texas, she broke his heart with three horrible things she did—not the least of which was telling him he lacked what it takes to be a writer. Edward sent her the manuscript of his forthcoming novel, Nocturnal Animals, which he dedicates to her. He included a note stating that he will be in town and wants to meet her out.

Susan opens it and starts reading. Immediately, the story seduces her. Edward’s novel, depicted from her imagination as a film within the film, is a tragically violent work of pulp noir. Tony Hastings (Gyllenhaal) is driving down a dark desert highway in Texas with his wife (Isla Fisher) and their daughter (Ellie Bamber) when a band of hicks runs them off the road. Facing a menacing proposal, Tony tries to talk his way out. Sensing weakness, nefarious psychopath ringleader Ray (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) exploits the situation and separates Tony from the girls. With one potential shot at saving his family, Tony blows it and ends up seeking help from the police. Officer Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon), a pithy cowboy with a badge, can’t comprehend why Tony didn’t put up a fight, but he helps track down the bastards so Tony can exact revenge.

Ford adapted his screenplay from Austin Wright’s 1993 novel Tony and Susan. What’s both interesting and distracting about Nocturnal Animals is the way he presents the story: he bounces back and forth between Susan’s present reality, her past, and Edward’s work of fiction that ties both together. It’s a very tricky feat, but he absolutely nails it with smooth transitions and masterful use of imagery and symbolism to connect the three narratives. Like most people (I suspect), I was far more interested in Tony than Susan even though Susan’s past and present are necessary to understand the story: Edward’s novel is a metaphor for his relationship with her. Many have complained about the ending, which is open to interpretation. I found it both realistic and satisfying whether Edward says “fuck you” to Susan or lets her off gently.

Visually, Nocturnal Animals is flawless. Ford’s sets, props, clothes, colors, and staging all work together with Seamus McGarvey’s dark and lovely cinematography to create a striking realm where naked fat ladies, a hick taking a dump, a bloody papercut, and discarded corpses are all things of beauty. The acting is superb all around, but Laura Linney is particularly exquisite in her brief role as Susan’s Lone Star Republican mother. All big-haired and dripping pearls and superiority, she sips her martini at an exclusive restaurant and urges Susan to forget about marrying a weak man like Edward. Fabulous!

116 minutes
Rated R

(Landmark Century) B+


(USA 2016)

On August 1, 1966, Charles Whitman, an engineering student at the University of Texas, Austin, killed his mother and his wife before taking over the observation deck of the 30-story Main Building on campus (“The Tower”). Known as the infamous “Texas Tower Sniper,” he then shot random passers-by on the mall below, terrorizing the campus for over an hour and a half. When it was over, 17 victims including him were dead and dozens were wounded ( Quite possibly the first mass shooting on a school campus in the United States—and definitely the first of this magnitude—the event resonates nearly 50 years later.

Keith Maitland’s Tower is a sort of oral history of this tragic day, and it’s compelling from the outset. I may seem to be stating the obvious here—how could the story of such an event be anything but compelling? I haven’t mentioned that the whole thing is animated—as in, a cartoon. I must admit that I was skeptical. Turning a combination of archival footage and reenactments into rotoscopes that have an offbeat King of the Hill quality sounds dubiously unfitting for many reasons. Nonetheless, Tower works unsparingly well.

With barely a mention of Whitman—his name comes up toward the end, and only incidentally—Maitland chooses to focus on those caught in the confusion. He doesn’t say who is shooting or why, putting viewers into the thick of it. He let’s survivors, heroes, and witnesses narrate their ordeals: what they were doing, who was with them, and what happened to them. Claire Wilson (Violett Beane), a pregnant teenager who was the first one shot on campus, tells about seeing her boyfriend, Thomas Eckman, die right next to her and losing her baby while she lied in a pool of her blood on the hot concrete. She also talks about the woman, Rita Starpattern (Josephine McAdam), who played dead to stay with her and keep her conscious until help could get to her. Aleck Hernandez (Aldo Ordoñez) tells about being shot in the shoulder while delivering newspapers with his cousin riding on his bicyle with him. Allen Crum (Chris Doubek), a middleaged bookstore employee, tells about dodging bullets to help a victim on the ground and winding up on the observation deck while Whitman was still shooting. Austin police officers Houston McCoy (Blair Jackson) and Ramiro Martinez (Louie Arnette) talk separately about their roles in bringing down Whitman.

Each account is unflinchingly brutal with lots of personal detail. The animation is an odd but effective way to bring us close to the action in a way that otherwise wouldn’t happen. Considering how it’s presented, Tower is surprisingly emotional and personal. I haven’t seen a documentary like this before.

96 minutes
Not rated

(Music Box) B-

Blood Simple.

(USA 1985)

“If you point a gun at someone, you’d better make sure you shoot him. And if you shoot him, you’d better make sure he’s dead. Because if he isn’t, then he’s gonna get up and try to kill you.”



“I ain’t done nothing funny.”



“Well, ma’am, if I see him, I’ll sure give him the message.”

—Loren Visser

I snagged tickets for the first screening when a theater near me announced a brief summer run of the Coen Brothers’ debut Blood Simple. A sharp 4K digital restoration, I’m not sure whether this is the original version—a few minor edits and cuts have been made over the years, and a song (The Four Tops’ “It’s the Same Old Song,” appropriately enough) was taken out and put back in. It doesn’t matter, though, because whatever changes were made are imperceptible, as least to me. This version is exactly as sordid, labyrinthine, and suspenseful as I remember.

Written by both brothers with Ethan as producer and Joel as director, everything about Blood Simple. is unique and masterful. The story starts out simple: set in rural Texas, bar owner Marty (Dan Hedaya) suspects that his wife, Abby (Frances McDormand), is having an affair and hires a private investigator, Loren Visser (M. Emmet Walsh), to find out whether he’s right. He is: Visser follows Abby and one of Marty’s employees, Ray (John Getz)—a bartender, of course—to a motel and takes photos of them in flagrante delicto. Soon after, Ray quits his job, provoking Marty to reveal that he’s onto Ray and Abby. Marty asks Visser to kill them, and that’s when things get complicated.

WARNING: Potential spoilers ahead!

Visser, you see, is a con man: he takes Marty’s money but doesn’t really kill Ray or Abby—instead, he doctors one of the photos he took at the hotel to look like they’re both dead; he paints on bullet wounds and gives the finished photo to Marty. A brilliant series of events all stemming from misunderstandings—like an episode of a demented Three’s Company—ensues, dragging all four characters into a murderous downward spiral.

Initially shown on the film festival circuit during autumn 1984 before a wide release in January 1985, the Coens’ clever mix of psychology, film noir, and seriously dark humor is unparalleled by anything else from its day—the top three films of 1984 were Beverly Hills Cop, Ghostbusters, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, if that says anything ( Blood Simple. exhibits the Coens’ distinctive penchant for ridiculously well developed and eccentric characters, perfect dialogue, flawless plot layering and pacing, fierce tension that makes you squirm, misanthropy, and an innovative use of clichés—all hallmarks of their work. This film, which launched not just their careers but also those of McDormand (it’s her first gig in a movie) and cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld, is done so well it succeeds without a big budget. It’s a solid debut that serves as a blueprint of what was to come from these guys.

95 minutes
Rated R

(Music Box) A+

Everybody Wants Some!!

(USA 2016)

For me, Richard Linklater is hit or miss. Everybody Wants Some!! initially hit me as a miss: taking the same template, it starts out more like a Dazed and Confused knock-off than the “spiritual sequel” it’s billed as. It ultimately delivers—though what it delivers probably isn’t for everyone.

It’s August 1980. Jake (Blake Jenner) arrives at an unnamed Texas university, where he is attending school on a baseball scholarship and living in an off-campus house provided for the team. Predictably, the house and his teammates are a mess. His teammates are a motley crew of personalities that don’t always mix: competitive jocks, competitive weirdos, and competitive clowns. Most of them are on a quest for diversion: getting drunk, getting high, and getting laid. Through this quest, they bond as a team.

The energy and the humor here are definitely male—juvenile, lowbrow male at that. Picking up four years after Dazed and Confused, Jake might as well be Mitch (Wiley Wiggins), who played baseball and would have graduated from high school and started college during the summer of 1980. Regardless, the characters grew on me as I kept watching. So did the story.

Everybody Wants Some!! would be nothing without its excellent ensemble cast, which does an impressive job together. I fully expect to see some of these guys in bigger and better future projects. The chemistry between the team members is palpable and works really well. Glenn Powell—Chad Radwell in Scream Queens—is a natural as mischievous smooth-talker Finn, whose pickup line involves his “average dick.” He shines the brightest. Jenner exudes a boyish charm and confidence, and Tyler Hoechlin as McReynolds does cocky—and deflated—exceedingly well. Wyatt Russell as Willoughby nails “stoner”—anyone who went to school in the Seventies or Eighties will recognize him as someone they knew. Juston Street is awesome as Niles, an angry, angsty psycho who thinks he’s destined for the Majors. Zoey Deutch brings a winsome coquettishness to Beverly, Jake’s love interest.

I forgot about Dazed and Confused as Everybody Wants Some!! rolled on—its own essence and identity slowly but surely emerge. The plot is rambling and aimless—no big shock there—but it’s also fun and entertaining in its ridiculousness. I identify with its ridiculousness, totally. I like that Linklater chose the dawn of the Eighties—before Ronald Reagan, MTV, and Madonna—rather than deep in the throes. Everybody Wants Some!! is a nostalgia kick, and it got me reminiscing about my own college antics. It’s not profound. It’s not a great film, either—not even for Linklater, whose distinct touch is all over it. I still enjoyed it for what it is. A summer release makes a lot more sense than its currently scheduled April Fools Day opening, however fitting that particular day may be.

(Music Box) B-

Cartel Land

(USA 2015)

This one threw me for a loop. I expected an expose on the Mexican cartels, but that was just the backdrop. What Cartel Land is really about is the self-proclaimed “vigilantes” fighting the cartels on both sides of the border: Jose “El Doctor” Mireles, a Mexican shit-town physician running Las Autodefensas, and Tim “Nailer” Foley, a veteran running Arizona Border Recon. Boasting some intense on-the-ground footage, it isn’t quite clear who the bad guys are by the end. Total mindfuck.

(Music Box) B-