Cult classics are an odd bunch of films. These films that are labelled as such stretch from a variety of genres and, for lack of a better term, critical outlook. Sure, a majority are underrated, but what about films that skirt into “so bad, it’s good” territory.
There are standouts like Showgirls, “Manos” The Hands of Fate, Troll 2 and Birdemic. Even the older film of director Ed Wood (Plan 9 from Outer Space, Glen or Glenda, etc.) garners this praise. Yet, it’s Tommy Wiseau’s The Room that has stood out as the magnum opus of bad cinema in the modern era.
It’s been the canon fodder of internet reviewers and comedians alike since its release in 2003 and for obvious reasons. The film is absolutely awful with a plot that Lifetime Movies would pass up. The film is directed, produced, written and starring Wiseau as Johnny, a lovable San Franciscan.
Johnny has a good life with his wife Lisa (Juliette Danielle) as they share passionate moments of navel penetration and using roses in the bedroom. Unfortunately, Lisa has grown dissatisfied with Johnny and is seeking out his best friend Mark (Greg Sestero) to ignite an affair behind Johnny’s back. The affair begins and Johnny is slowly becoming suspicious of Lisa’s actions behind the scenes. Can their marriage work as it cracks or will Johnny succumb to the pressures of the reality before him?
The answer to that question will reveal itself after several unresolved subplots, side characters that add nothing and long-winded sex scenes. The dialogue is utterly horrendous and delivered as such with classics quotes of “I got the results of the test back. I definitely have breast cancer” or the immortal words of “You’re tearing me apart, Lisa.” The acting is abysmal due to Wiseau’s material being weak to begin with as the actors struggle to treat it seriously.
The production itself is also not the best basically staged like a theatrical production being shot on access television. The use of green screen for the rooftop scenes is obvious especially when Tommy enters via the door to reveal it is a much larger room inside. The ADR (alternative dialogue recording) is blatant with some line reads not matching with the scenes at all.
Yet everything that could be said about the film has already been said. From the internet reviewers Nostalgia Critic and Alison Pregler, wrestling podcast OSW Review or the crew over at Rifftrax, the film is constantly in the internet consciousness. The film even has a fan made point-and-click game called The Room Tribute (which is free to play).
It has become a phenomenon with its widespread exposure bringing Wiseau out obscurity and into the spotlight. He is always touring at conventions hocking his wares, at midnight screenings with the rabid fan base and starred in the sequel to another “so bad, it’s good” film Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance.
The rest of the cast embrace the craze of The Room by talking up the madness of Tommy Wiseau’s production. Sestero going as far to write a book about the experience titled The Disaster Artist. The book itself is being adapted into a film of the same name by James Franco, a fan of the film, with Franco playing Wiseau.
The Room is a widespread cult hit among film fans and geeks alike with a unique brand of bad all its own. It takes the typical plot of a direct-to-video drama and manages to screw it up in spectacular fashion into an unintentional black comedy for the ages.
Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers combined all the badass action of martial arts and the cheesy goodness of Saved By the Bell. Five teenagers with attitude, later six, are given powers by Zordon (voiced by Robert L. Manahan) to protect the the city of Angel Grove from the clutches of Rita Repulsa (voiced by Barbara Goodson) and Lord Zedd (voiced by Robert Axelrod).
The Rangers battle against the Putties, got involved in gigantic kaiju-inspired battles and the occasional mishaps of those always kooky Bulk (Paul Schier) and Skull (Jason Narvy). The show relied on footage from the Super Sentai series from Japan in order to adapt it for an American audience complete with horrendous dubbing and screwy editing.
The show was so popular with the kids at the time that 20th Century Fox teamed with Saban Entertainment to produce and make the Rangers cinematic debut in 1995′s Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: The Movie.
Long before the upcoming 2017 big screen revamp, this film gave the audience what they wanted: Power Rangers on the big screen.
Upping the ante and giving the film version a bigger budget, this film took a risk by adapting the show with original content including a new villain, original footage that was not the Super Sentai footage and introducing a whole new ninja-based power called Ninjetti for the Rangers. The film is a goofy, cheese-filled romp, but feels like it should have stayed on the small screen in the long run.
Our rangers for this film are:
Blue Ranger Billy (David Yost)
Pink Ranger Kimberly (Ashley Jo Johnson)
Red Ranger Rocky (Steven Cardenas)
Black Ranger Adam (Johnny Yong Bosch)
Yellow Ranger Aisha (Karan Ashley)
White Ranger Tommy (Jason David Frank)
During a skydiving charity event for the passing of Ryan’s Comet, the Rangers team with comical and lovable bullies Bulk and Skull in order to raise money, but those two miss the target. They instead find themselves in a construction site which has unearthed a giant purple egg. Later that evening, Repulsa, along with Goldar (voiced by Kerrigan Mahan) and Lord Zedd, open up the egg to reveal the villainous Ivan Ooze (Paul Freeman).
Ooze is hellbent on seeking revenge on Zordon for destroying his rule of Earth 6000 years ago and does so by not only laying waste to Zordon and the Rangers’ Command Center, but by selling his hypnotic ooze to the people of Angel Grove in order to work for him to dig up his own zords known as Ecto-Morphicons. It’s up to the Rangers save Angel Grove from Ivan Ooze armed with their new Ninjetti powers from Dulcea (Gabrielle Fitzpatrick) of the planet Phaedos and use their new Ninjetti Zords to defeat Ooze once and for all.
Power Rangers: The Movie is a bit of a mess, but what a beautiful mess it is. In my original review back in 2013, I was admittedly really harsh to it. In hindsight, the film captures the spirit of the show and the show itself is not the greatest to begin with. As a longtime fan, I prefer In Space to the original Mighty Morphin’ series, but that’s just me.
The acting in this film is pretty bad, save for David Frank as Tommy, Jo Johnson as Kimberly and Yong Bosch as Adam. The story and the dialogue is abysmal with certain plot threads not making total sense, but then again, this is based off a show where they once had to fight a rapping pumpkin. It also does nothing for the people who are not into the show to begin with as anyone coming into this trying to give it a chance will be alienated out of the gate with countless lines of exposition that would make Final Fantasy look casual in comparison. The CGi effects are disgustingly outdated, even by the standards of 1995. This film was just two years after the groundbreaking effects of Jurassic Park, so there was no excuse for it to look so bad.
Luckily, the film does have some positives that can help with the enjoyment. The costume designs and makeup effects are awesome. Lord Zedd always looked brilliant, Ivan Ooze was completely astounding and the revamp Ranger suits are some of the best suits to this day. Love and care were actually put into these designs and fleshed out for the big screen.
The original action footage for the film is great fun, well choreographed and sticks to the spirit of the Super Sentai footage. The absolute highlight of the film is Freeman as Ivan Ooze. Freeman seems to be having a ball on set, chewing the scenery until there is none left to bite out of. He’s over-the-top and a maniacal comic that just happens to have superpowers.
It’s not worth go, go going after (that was horrible), but Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: The Movie gives the fans at the time what they wanted, but once the nostalgia wears off, the flaws will finally show.
Film A Week Podcast begins Season 1 of its year long look into cinema with 1984’s Purple Rain.
Hosts Serg Beret and Patrick Raissi purify themselves into the waters of Lake Minnetonka to encounter the majesty of the late Prince, the cackles of Morris Day and the beauty of Apollonia. Beret also reveals the rotating selection of guest hosts, themed months, Criterion of the Month and Classics Revisited of the Month.
“The evening star is shining bright So make a wish and hold on tight There’s magic in the air tonight And anything can happen…”
In the early 2000’s, Disney was struggling to keep traditional hand drawn animation afloat in an era of computer-generated animation. Dreamworks started to show off with unadulterated send ups like Shrek and Pixar was giving brilliant stories in Finding Nemo. Disney, however, was delivering projects that had limited appeal (with the exception of Lilo & Stitch) with Atlantis getting mixed reviews, The Emperor’s New Groove taking forever in production and Treasure Planet being a major flop on par with The Black Cauldron.
The straw that broke the camel’s back was Home on the Range, a film about three cows trying to save their farm which was flat out a waste of talent, time and tree pulp. Disney said “well, we fucked that up” and focused on CGI animation to compete with their competitors. Unfortunately, their first film out of the gate was Chicken Little, which was a flat out waste of talent, time and megabytes. After much noise and certain films succeeding such as Meet the Robinsons and Bolt, Disney shocked all animation fans with a return to form of hand drawn animation to the rejoicing of fans everywhere.
Disney decided to tackle the classic story of The Frog Prince in their film “The Princess and the Frog” with new twists and something the company never really did before. The film took a new twist on the story set in the 1920’s New Orleans with a predominately Black cast. Now this caused a shit storm in certain areas as the princess’ former name was going to be Maddy, which the Black community where having none of as it was practically offensive as it was to close to Mammy. Disney went back and changed it to the much nicer name Tiana and changed the name of the film from The Frog Princess to The Princess and the Frog to avoid audiences thinking she was a frog and potential spoilers.
The film was ready for wide released with a all-star Black cast of Anika Noni Rose as the titular princess, Terrance Howard as her father, James, and Oprah Winfrey as Tiana’s mother, Eudora. Others include Keith David as Dr. Facilier, a voodoo witch doctor referred as the Shadow Man, Jennifer Lewis as Mama Odie, a blind voodoo priestess that just happens to be 197 years old, and Michael-Leon Wooley as Louis, an alligator with a dream of playing trumpet with the big boys. There is also a bevy of other voice actors such as Jim Cummings as Ray the firefly, Jennifer Cody as Tiana’s white friend Charlotte, John Goodman as “Big Daddy” LeBeouf, Charlotte’s dad, and Bruno Campos as the naive Prince Naveen of Maldonia. With the cast in place, Disney headed into this film with a dream. So, what’s the story?
Tiana (Rose) is constantly working at to obtain the dream of owning her own restaurant that she wished for. She gets no sleep in between jobs and is drowning in the day to day. Tiana is hired by her friend Charlotte (Cody) to serve her “man-catching beignets” at a welcoming costume party for Prince Naveen (Campos). Naveen is recently cut off from his family and is New Orleans to live a little and find a job under the watch of his servant LAwrence (Peter Bartlett). Naveen unfortnately comes to deal with Dr. Facilier who takes advantage of Lawrence’s desire to have the power of the prince and Naveen to suffer as a frog for the rest of his days. Naveen escapes and goes on search for help and comes across Tiana in a princess costume wondering if her dream is worth it. After seeing the book of The Frog Prince, Naveen suggests to Tiana being a “princess” that they can kiss and break the spell. This strategy doesn’t work and Tiana gets turned into the most adorable damn frog on screen.
These two head out on a journey involving the aforementioned Louis (Wooley), Ray (Jim Cummings), Mama Odie (Lewis) while trying to fight off the Shadow Man’s shadows and evil ways.
“The Princess and the Frog” may not be seen as the best of Disney films, but it certainly holds it owns together. It is great to see Disney tackle the old tale with a new twist as it takes notes from E.D. Baker’s The Frog Princess and the classic tale into a weird meshing. The story works wonders for its setting as New Orleans, though a big city, is very contained and small. It’s a smaller scale for sure as the film only goes from the swamps to the city itself, but everyone is connected in some sort of way. The message the story conveys is also startling as it is a mature message.
It takes one of the foundations of the Disney corporation of “When You Wish Upon A Star” and says “Nope, that’s just to set a goal. You have to work at it.” That is a wonderful message as it is true. It takes hard work and focus on getting the dream, but the message also tells you not to make that the sole focus. Look at the world around you, smell the roses and don’t forget others as you accomplish the goal that are set out. That takes major cojones to tell an audience of kids. It takes its character’s ambitions seriously and doesn’t dull them in anyway. Yet, there are moments that seemed to be in there for the sake for being in there such as Louis being a typical comic relief, the stuff with Lawrence that is simply “I’m evil because, fuck it, why not?” and an odd out of nowhere fight with frog catchers, which while fun, is sort of useless.
The animation is nothing but stellar. It is so nice to see Disney hand drawn animation in a modern era because it not only came back, but it came back with a vengeance. It’s rich, vibrant and not afraid to play with the pallette of greens, purple, browns and black. For example, the “Friend from the Other Side/Transformation Central” sequence is a sight to behold. Hell, watch it for yourself.
That sequence alone is worth watching this film. I saw this film the first weekend it came out and when that scene came on, me and my sister shouted “That’s how you do animation.” It was gorgeous as hell. Even better, the whole film is filled with magical moments like that.
The songs by Randy Newman work wonders. I was iffy at first because of those corny tunes from Toy Story, but Newman nailed the bayou and jazz sounds of that era to a tee. Highlights besides the sequence above are “Almost There” with a upbeat Broadway-esque jazz tune with minmalist 2D animation, “Ma Belle Evangeline” as Tiana and Naveen dance (see the title card for this post) “Dig a Little Deeper” with Lewis going full gospel and “Down in New Orleans” with Dr. John giving his unique sound to the world of Nawlins. It’s a fun soundtrack and I listened to it days after re-watching the movie.
The vocal performances are great with David, Cody, Rose and Cummings being the real standouts. David as Dr. Facilier is astounding as he covers the charm and charisma of a con man, but all the evil of a bastard. The scene in which he is face to face with Tiana and manipulates her with visions of her dreams is brilliant. He delivers every line with such bravado and assurance that it is hard for even the audience to tell him no. Cody’s performance as Charlotte is too damn hilarious. She covers the Southern Belle stereotype to a tee and every line she delivers is effin’ gold. Rose gives Tiana a strong voice that proves she can make herself accomplish her dreams and goals. This actually makes the battle of wits between her and Facilier incredible. Cummings as Ray the firefly is filled with heart and soul as he maybe a comic relief, but he has dreams of his own one day to be with the love of his life, the northern star named Evangeline. This helps make (spoilers) his death all the more upsetting because we want him to succeed.
The film went on to become a modest hit, but not big enough for Disney to continue with hand drawn. In a winter packed with Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakel (who took their kid to see that crap?) with Avatar (I forgot that existed), it suffered a small loss. The next hand drawn film would be Winnie the Pooh, released the same day as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2, to which I assume the schedule guy at Disney was promptly fired for.
The film, though, does have its fair share of fans, myself included, that enjoyed what it brought to the table. Tiana has gone to be part of the Disney Princess franchise and Dr. Facilier is now getting recognized as one of Disney’s best villains since Jafar from Aladdin. The Princess and the Frog is a fun and fantastic film with wonderful animation, top notch performances and a message that doesn’t talk down to its audience.
Next week, Film A Week continues Black History on Film month with a bad mother-“shut your mouth!” What? We are just talking about Shaft, man. Shaft gets the Film A Week treatment next Wednesday, February 17. See you then.
This month of February, Film A Week takes a look at Black History on Film. These range from icons of the industry, memorable characters that stand the test of time and important moments within cinema itself. It is to celebrate the influence of Black culture in cinema and show their place in the world of cinema, music, art and beyond. Let’s get it started with a look at the most influential group in hip-hop: N.W.A.
“You are now about to witness the strength of street knowledge.”
Their music was their art. Their rhymes caused controversy. Their look and reputation scared the ever-loving shit out of White America. N.W.A. aka Niggaz Wit Attitudes consisted of MC Ren, DJ Yella, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and Eazy (Motherfucking) E. They were the epitome of the rap scne showing off their reality through their music to engage the audience into what was going on not only in Los Angeles, but the nation itself. Of course, every group has its beginning leading to a rise and, eventually, a fall. Straight Outta Compton, just like their music, encapsulates what made N.W.A. America’s most wanted rap group.
“Cause the boys in the hood are always hard You come talking the trash we’ll pull your card Knowing nothing in life, but to be legit Don’t quote me boy cause I ain’t said shit” – Eazy-E, “Boyz-N-The Hood”
Straight Outta Compton, directed by F. Gary Gray, is an intense look at the life of the group by showcasing not only them as a group, but as individuals. The story is the aforementioned rise and fall with a bit of an edge showing the gritty reality of the gangsta rap lifestyle in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Some parts may seem exaggerated, but the fact that even those exaggerations might have happened, it adds to the group’s legacy.
Andre Young aka Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) and O’Shea Jackson (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.) are looking for an outlet to express themselves. While working as part of World Class Wrecking Crew, complete with hilarious satin jackets that Ready for the World would envy, Andre brings O’Shea to the stage as Ice Cube to give Compton a taste of reality rap, which pisses off the club owner Alonzo Williams (Corey Reynolds). Andre has had enough of this Shalamar-esque crap, along with O’Shea tired of putting up with the daily street bullshit, go to their friend Eric Wright (Jason Mitchell) to start recording in the studio. Wright uses the money he hustled in various drug deals to start up Ruthless Records. One of the first records they record is Eric as Eazy-E being given the chance to rap on “Boyz-In-The Hood.” These three, along with Lorenzo Patterson aka Ren (Aldis Hodge) and Antoine Carraby aka Yella (Neil Brown, Jr.), join together to become N.W.A.
“When something happens in South Central, Los Angeles, nothing happens, it’s just another nigga day….
Straight outta Compton, crazy motherfucker named Ice Cube
From the gang called Niggas Wit Attitudes” -“Straight Outta Compton”
The group presses Eric’s record which catches the attention of Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti). Heller offers Eric and the group a chance to be their manager. Reluctant at first, the group eventually agrees and Heller tries to get investors to give them a record deal. After a performance at Skateland in Compton, Brian Turner (Tate Ellington) of Proirity Records decides to give them a record deal after mentioning the California Raisins as the “little fuckers that made him fuckin’ gold.” N.W.A. head to the studio to record and begin to record their hit “Striaght Outta Compton.” Unfortunately, while taking a break, they are taken down by the Torrance Police just because of how they look with their trademark gear. Heller tells off the cops saying they are his clients. The cops scoff and the group go back in to bring to life “Fuck Tha Police.”
“Fuck the police coming straight from the underground
A young nigga got it bad cause I’m brown
And not the other color so police think
they have the authority to kill a minority”
– “Fuck Tha Police”
The group hits it big and begins to tour the nation while White America losing their fucking minds. The FBi sends them a letter informing them that they are being investigated for “Fuck Tha Police” due to the song’s nature and possible provocation of violence against cops. While performing at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, the Detroit Police force says if they perform it, they will be arrested. As such, the group, well within the rights of the most American concept on the planet of free speech, get arrested for expressing themselves. The group hold a press conference telling the public what they do is art and what they are showing is something everyone is afraid of being aware of. All of this chaos is due to their lyrics and color of their skin. The group is infuriated by it. Frustration tends to grow in between the massive amounts of partying and sex, along with Andre dealing with the sudden death of his brother. The crew returns home to Compton to focus on work for the future. Ice Cube, on the other hand, is getting sick of not being under contract by Heller. Heller has been holding the contracts of all the others not Eazy-E hostage. Cube sees that Heller is screwing Eazy and the others out of money and declines to resign. This sows the seeds of the break-up, leading to Ice Cube to go solo on Priority Records. Cube hears a diss on N.W.A.’s new record called “Message to B.A.” Ice Cube, beyond pissed about his own projects and the diss, strikes back and hard with “No Vaseline.”
“Get rid of that Devil real simple, put a bullet in his temple.
Cuz you can’t be the Nigga 4 Life crew
with a white Jew tellin’ you what to do.” – Ice Cube, “No Vaseline”
Heller, as does Eazy, but Dre, Yella and Ren begin to see what Cube was talking about. Dre goes solo by signing to Suge Knight’s (R. Marcos Young) label Death Row and, honestly, I don’t really know what the heck Ren and Yella where up to. Cube and Dre have their ups and downs with their friendship. Dre gets to help with new artists such as Snoop Dogg (Keith Stanfield) and Tupac Shakur (Marcc Rose) while dealing with Sug Knight being a complete scary asshole. Cube is busy writing Friday, supporting a family and trying to make ends meet. Eazy is on his own struggling with money and his solo life. He comes to terms with Heller over Heller practically screwing him over with the contract. Eazy has been growing weak and ready to end Knight’s life due to him being a threat to him. One day, after reconciling with Cube and Dre, Eazy collapses and is taken to the hospital. Turns out, Eazy is HIV Postive and is in a severe state. Dre, Cube, Yella and Ren get wind of it all and realize this is the end of Eazy. It is also the official end of N.W.A. ever becoming one again. With a Bone Thugs-N-Harmony demo left for him, Eazy never gets to hear as he passes on. The surviving members finally part their ways to go on. Unfortunately, Eric Wright, the soul of the group, won’t be around to enjoy it with them.
“Lil E-Z long gone Really wish he could come home But when it’s time to die, gotta go bye bye All ‘lil thug could do was cry, cry” – Bone Thugs-n-Harmony “Tha Crossroads”
Straight Outta Compton is a biopic that stands out among others. Yes, it does touch on the points all biographies have made before and even is overly-long at times, yet it never comes off as boring. It’s interesting to dive into this group because it still feels recent. 1988 is quite far away, but I was born in 1992, so it seems a bit close to that age. I watched this film with my mother who was a kid and teen of the 80’s and knew more than I did. She said that the film depicted everything quite right and I have to agree. It is the world as seen through their eyes. It’s a complex world riddled with problems and race issues. It’s a problematic world and a gritty one. The group themselves are not depicted as heroes, but more anti-heroes because they actually do some heinous things every now and then, but they have a voice to acknowledge it and the world around them. The way the issues in this movie are handled are great . It shows the anger and frustration cause by the authority figures. This sort of goes back to the authority analysis from The Graduate as the authority here are keeping the new generation of voices down, but now that authority is the police force that has racist undertones to their overbearing power. Even worse, that problem still exists today with the Black Live Matter movement and the constant beatings by the police force. It’s very idiotic that those trying to protect us are the same people trying to keep others down due to their false sense of entitlement. I’m all for the police forces, but if any police officer is like the ones depicted in this feature, please drop your gun, your badge and leave the force because you are a fucking joke.
The performances in the film are outstanding. The casting department did a great job in the casting of newcomers as each of them took the time to make their roles feel real and perfect. The standouts are the main three of Dre, Cube and Eazy. Hawkins plays Dre with ease and a sense of honesty as the audience can tell that Dre is a smart man and a very supportive partner. Jackson, Jr. does a great job playing his father and really comes across as the worthy successor to his father. There is a moment where he tells Brian in the film “I have a kid on the way” and my thought was “Yes, you do…wait, that kid on the way is you!” Mitchell as Eazy captures the role as a man who is smart, knows the game and is genuinely upset when nothing works out. There is soul in that performance. The other great performance comes from Giamatti as Heller who is depicted not as a bad guy, but a guy who got into his own sense of insecurity taking advantage of others. Young as Suge Knight is, with all honesty, fucking terrifying. Anytime he comes on screen, their is a sense of evil and an aura of “oh, god no” looming.
Now, the depiction of women in this movie is a hot button issue and shouldn’t be ignore. It is horrendous on how they are used as groupies and sex objects during the tour scenes. No woman should be deemed as only an object. Also, skipping over the entire domestic abuse cases and beating of Dee Barnes all at the hands of Dr. Dre is really something that the film could have used to show how far Dr. Dre has come from being the beater, but to also give the victims of his actions a chance to get their story heard. The fact that all that was given was a “I’m sorry” is completely upsetting.
Straight Outta Compton is a great biopic and maybe one of the best ever made. It tells the story that needs to be told, delivers fantastic performances and gives the audience something to talk about, be it their legacy or the issues shown throughout the film. It is a film that is sure to become a classic, not just in the hip-hop community or the Black community, but for everyone in the years to come.
“Damn, that shit was dope!”
Next month, Film A Week continues with a look at a historic moment in Black History with a film featuring a predominantly Black cast of characters and giving a return to form to a classic piece of storytelling. It also is a plus that the film broke new ground in animation and for Disney. Join the first Black Disney Princess Tiana on a journey to accomplish her goals, even if it means accidentally turning into a frog. “The Princess and the Frog” on Film A Week next Wednesday, February 10.
“Clowns to left of me, jokers to the right, Here I am, stuck in the middle with you” – “Stuck in the Middle With You” by Stealers Wheel
The quintessential modern masterpiece and the thrilling debut by a young Quentin Tarantino is considered by many not only one of his finest works, but perhaps second to that of Pulp Fiction. It has been well loved in its 24 years of existence as a classic crime thriller with humorous black comedy dialogue, interesting characters and use of non-linear storytelling. It is also known to me as the “What the fuck is wrong with you?” film as that is the response I get from everyone when I say I haven’t seen the movie. Yes, it is true. I am about the same age as the film and I had never seen it before. As we have established before I am A) cinema impaired and B) an idiot. Enough of my poor choices in life, let’s get on to Reservoir Dogs. For full effect, the video below should be played.
This film follows a group of men before and after a heist gone wrong. This men with names only Crayola could envy are Mr. White (Harvey Keitel), Mr. Orange (Tim Roth), Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi), Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen), Mr. Blue (Eddie Bunker), and Mr. Brown (Tarantino himself). Under the guidence of their boss Joe Cabot (Lawrence Teirney) and his son “Nice Guy” Eddie Cabot (Chris Penn), they do the job until Brown is killed, Blue has run off, Orange is shot and under the care of White. Pink is waiting for them in a nearby warehouse for the two to arrive contemplating whether the heist went wrong because of a set-up by the cops or because of Blonde’s psychopathic shooting spree. This leads to revelations about the backgrounds of each character, the motives of their actions, the outcomes of fates and a hell of a lot of blood. There’s also dark humor a plenty. After all, it is a Tarantino film.
With that premise and after time has passed since its release, the question that remains is if the film has stood the test the time.
The short answer is “yes.” The long answer is “oh, fuck yes.”
It is a rare feat that any film still feels fresh after all these years, especially a crime film. Technology changes, times passes and the world of crime is always changing. This film, however, keeps it simple and focuses on the character. It doesn’t go into dramatic details of how they did the heist. Hell, the heist is not even shown, but through the character’s conversation, the audience has an idea about how everything went down. The film is a character piece as the idea is to get an understanding of who these guys are and Tarantino does it the only way he can: through dialogue.
There is a rule for writers known as “show, don’t tell.” With Tarantino, he knows this and can wow a crowd with the simplicity of words with a result. He tells us who these guys are by telling us what they are capable of and allowing us to draw some conclusions. Basically, the dialogue is a bit like foreplay in that it teases the audience a bit to draw some interpretation show that when the film shows us what they can do, it feels worth the wait. A prime example is Mr. Blonde as a character because the audience sees a calm and collective guy upon first sight.
When White and Pink talk about his shooting rampage, there is a bit of a shock and it increases when he appears drinking a soda as if nothing has happen. Once White and Pink exit the film for a tad, the audience sees the true Blonde as he becomes more than cool, but becomes a near monster with the most famous torture scene. It’s bloody, horrific and kind of humorous. Tarantino blends it all together in one scene that pays off big.
The other actors make the dialogue and story just as rich. There is never a dull moment as these guys all have been veterans on the job and seem to be about as calm. In the moments of panic though, they show their vulnerability and ruthlessness. The highlights include Pink nearly going over the edge, White as an older vet attempting to be the straight man and Orange, writhing in pain as he bleeds out, trying to keep his composure. These are real emotions on display and never come off as phoned in.
The opening scene is much more lighthearted than the rest of the film displaying what these men are like outside of the job. They are normal guys that love to bullshit, relax and talk about pop culture and their views on the world. Even in those moments, they go from being criminals to just regular Joes like everybody else. Eveything from an interesting interpretation of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” being about dick to Pink refusing to tip while playing a small violin for those struggling to make it, these guys just sound like a couple of guys that see this as another day in the life.
When getting to the backgrounds of the main men, these also ground them in reality with a sense that these guys can still be around today just being themselves. It’s not overblown with dated ideas or cliches, but rather ones that can allow this to be performed today and still feel new. The only thing a bit dated is the soundtrack, but even that works as these guys all listen to tunes of the 70’s and genuinely enjoy it. It actually connects them all together in a strange way. The music is an extension of their bond.
Reservoir Dogs is a great and timeless thrill ride. It captures all the cool of the heist without showing it, all the drama that comes with its downfall through its performances and delivers a bloody good show that rivals Gallagher’s Watermelon routine. It is a great piece of independent film making and shows what was to come for the rest of 90’s cinema, for better or worse.
Thus concludes The Greatest Films…I’ve Never Seen month as we journeyed into Kurbrick’s vision of space in 2001: A Space Odyssey, listened to the sounds of Mozart in Amdeus, witnessed an affair to remember in The Graduate and got stuck in the middle with Reservoir Dogs. Next month, Film A Week decides to explore Black History on Film. The next four films will look into the way Black culture has shaped cinema and the impact made and there is no better way to begin it by going Straight Outta Compton. See you, Wednesday, February 3.
“And here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson,
Jesus loves you more than you will know.
God bless you, please Mrs. Robinson.
Heaven holds a place for those who pray”
-“Mrs. Robinson” by Simon & Garfunkel
Coming-of-age stories are no longer fresh or exciting in today’s world. Even in the 1960’s, there were a fare share of those stories around for teenagers to relate to, but they were never short of horrid beach party movies. The only other one worth remembering was 1956’s Rebel Without A Cause. Luckily, 1967 had The Graduate to make up for the dry spell of great coming-of-age movies.
The Graduate has been hailed, like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Amadeus, as nothing short of a masterpiece. This is the second film every one around me looked at me with disgust and said “How haven’t you seen it!” I’m tired of hearing this, even from my own mind telling me, and decided to see it. Before we hop into with my thoughts are, let’s talk about the plot.
There is more to this plot than the affair between Benjimin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) and Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft). Our titular graduate Ben has come back to California from college home to his parents (including William Daniels aka Mr. Feeny) with worries of the future carrying him. At a graduation party filled with his parents’ peers and friends, an older woman named Mrs. Robinson is intrigued by Ben. Mrs. Robinson asks for a ride home from Ben and they converse leading to an interesting conversation. Ben feels that Mrs. Robinson is coming off a bit too strong.
Ben rejects her advances, including her being naked in front of him, and leaves. Yet Ben finally gives in, sets up an affair at the Taft Hotel with a fake name in order to make love to Mrs. Robinson. This becomes more than an affair when Ben sees an interest in Mrs. Robinson’s daughter Elaine (Katharine Ross) much to her chagrin and is trying to decide if he should continue to graduate school or runaway from responsibility. As the tensions increase and the story plays out, Ben must come to terms with what is right, what is his future and where his relationship with Mrs. Robinson will end up.
The Graduate is more than the affair everyone remembers it for. It’s much more in-depth due to the direction of Mike Nichols and the screenplay by Calder Willingham and Buck Henry. It is quite an experience watching it for the first time, so be forewarned there are spoilers ahead for a movie that is nearly 50 years old.
One is being older and around the age Ben is. If I was in high school watching it, I probably would still be wondering why the hell it is so important. The relatable aspects, despite his own horrendous moments, really take a hold. There’s even a moment he realizes his actions after the burlesque show and even tells Elaine that he thought he had to be rude at his college age while becoming a tad redeemable in the recognition. He also stuck in the middle of the young kids of the next generation and the older generation. The hotel door revealed all in that. Here is a young adult opening a door for the older people as the young people enter, yet he is directly in the middle of it all with the door open to being with the old and the door about to close on the youthful days of yore. At this current moment, I feel like Ben because I’m not quite young, but I’m not that old either.
Second is Mrs. Robinson as a character and the other adults. These characters put a hold on Ben and try to put themselves in him. They see a kid with a bright future and seem to want help, but are actually weighing him down. His parents weigh him down in his own sense of freedom and education that bring him down mentally. Mrs. Robinson also weighs him down with arousal and seduction to take advantage and control of his sexual state of being at his current moment in time. This is during the 60’s where exploring the sexually was becoming in fashion. Here Ben is being tied down by her to the point she does everything in her power to stop him going further in exploration, i.e. with her daughter. It’s a battle of oppression by the previous views while coming to terms with the progressive views. Robinson is just slightly craving what he youth have and uses Ben as means of getting that. She needs to feel that old sense of wonder, freedom and possible rebellion with Ben in tow.
Third is the direction. Holy shit, pardon the language a tad, but the direction in this movie is perfect. There are shots that tell more than dialogue can. The dialogue of the film is hilarious including fun lines of wit and watching Hoffman fumble in both seducation and awkwardly stroll through life, but certain shots give it weight. The shot of him in the pool shows him at peace in the middle of nowhere escaping his troubles. The famous leg shot and stocking shots emphasize the power Robinson has on Ben. There is one shot I really loved (pictured above) where Ben is laying in the pool and is looking up at his parents and the Robinsons. The sun is directly behind them, giving them a mysterious shadow quality, totally showing the shadow they put on Ben. It emphasizes the previous point of the old generation against the younger generation.
Finally, the ending of this movie is great. I now have context to it and it makes sense. They made it out, but their is no uncertainty in the air looming. There faces say it all after the manic chaos of the end. They are free, but then “The Sounds of Silence” comes in to further demonstrate their uncertainty. It’s poignant and puts a nice cap on the the whole experience.
The Graduate is simply perfect and great for anyone in their twenties to relate to. IT hits every note just right to tell a story from its direction, its dialogue and its underlying tones of the old versus the new. The Graduate is worthy of its recognition.
Next week, The Greatest Films…I’ve Never Seen ends with a bang. The number one film on my list of movies I’ve never seen is finally here and it is a modern classic. Time to hang out with Mr. Blonde, Mr. White, Mr. Orange, Mr. Brown, Mr. Blue, and Mr. Pink. This month ends with Reservoir Dogs.
For the purpose of this review, I reviewed the widely available three hour R-rated “Director’s Cut” as opposed to the two hour and 40 minutes PG-rated version of the film. The reasoning being is that it is closer to Milos Forman’s vision and Peter Schaffer’s work.
Two musicians, both alike in musicality In fair Vienna, where we begin our film
From opera’s blood to a final unity
There was never a tale of friend or foe
Like of Amadeus and Salieri from long ago
Amadeus, a classic tale of rivalry, murder, music and the rise and fall of one of the world’s most talented musicians. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is one of the most creative genius in music and a mad man of sound and operatic. His ideas are complex, his concepts a true work of art and his legacy beyond compare. This is why the film is so intriguing to be told from his competitor and confidant Antonio Salieri, played by F. Murray Abraham.
In 1823, Antonio Salieri (Abraham) screams and writhes with pain as he attempted suicide that he killed Mozart and he blames himself. Salieri is taken to the asylum as Father Vogler (Richard Frank) is prepare to hear what is Salieri’s confession of his murder. Turns out this confession is all about the tumultuous rivalry between him and Mozart (Tom Hulce), Mozart’s complex relationship with his father Leopald (Roy Dotrice) and wife Constanze (Elizabeth Berridge), the genius that was his operas and compositions, and the occasional moment of humor or two along the way. By the end of the tale of him and Mozart, it is up to the audience to decide if his confession of murder is justified or a madman obsessed with his rival’s lifestyle.
For a tremendous three hours of length, Amadeus does something few epics can do and that is never get boring or tiresome. It’s a brilliant film that always keeps the pace going and pique the audiences interests in the world of Mozart. The direction by Milos Forman is essential to the creation from capturing the bright spots of Mozart’s genius in gorgeous shots in Vienna and the imagery captured in the operas shown. There are moments Forman captures imagery quite well, including the appearance of Mozart’s father with the black faced costume and the stunning set work and design throughout. It as if Forman hopped in a time machine and just went back to film it on location. There is triumph within the direction.
The performances are what truly make this film become a classic. The rivalry between Salieri and Mozart is astounding with Abraham becoming fully immersed in role. He gives Salieri a weight to him and fully makes him human. Salieri has given up practically everything to be successful and is torn between being enraged by Mozart’s genius or embrace what he is. There is stillhope within him, but the defeat toward the end is still sound, even if he sees Mozart’s death as a bit of victory. Even in older makeup as Salieri in the asylum, the audience gets the feeling he has experienced everything firsthand and allows the audience to believe every word he has.
Hulce is being a delightful carefree brat in his role. He plays Mozart as a rock star, constantly chasing women, drinking and partying, yet there is a human emotion behind him. He is geninunely hurt when the Emperor Joseph II (Jefferey Jones in a slightly hammy performance) brushes his ideas for The Marriage of Figaro aside and physically distraught when the Masked Figure gives him the Requiem to write alongside The Magic Flute. The most powerful moment is the handling of his father’s disapproval and the death of him as well. Hulce is upset and seems to never live up to the standards of his father’s wishes.
The story is more than just the rivalry at this point and about two men who never could live up to there potential. Salieri cannot live to be on the same pedestal that Mozart is put on and must wander in his own mediocrity and jealously for the rest of his being. Mozart can never go beyond being a genius fighting for money and getting the respect he earned, only to end up dying and being buried is a pauper’s mass grave, which is a theoretical event, but justifies the story at hand. It’s a remarkable film that is set up for repeated viewing to dive deeper into the lingering undertones the film carries.
Lastly, the use of the musical works of Salieri and Mozart is phenomenal. They add the extra layer to make this film great. The descriptions of music by Salieri are painted in auditory form as he rambles and the dark moments of the film are highlighted by the powerful works and choirs ringing out. It’s masterful in its simplicity of relying on the music that made the composer famous, but given grandiose heights of being used at the right moments to keep the tension building within the story. It was right of the production team to use the works instead of an original score as it would have harmed the story the film was trying to convey.
Amadeus is a rarity in just how perfect a film can be. There is not a complaint I had throughout and appreciated every moment of the film. It is a masterpiece that must be enjoyed, appreciated and studied for future generations of filmmakers to see what can be done with cinema. From top to bottom, this is one of the greatest films I have finally seen…and it only took my girlfriend two years of convincing to watch her favorite film. Boy, was I an idiot for not listening at first?
Next week, the second of my biggest regrets of films I haven’t watched before is finally being covered. It’s shocking to say that even at my college age, I have never seen the tale of young Benjamin Braddock and his affair with Mrs. Robinson. Film A Week takes a look at The Graduate.
Film A Week ended its original run on December 31st, 2013 with The World’s End having covered a variety of films from the great and bad. It’s been about two years removed from the end that something told me “Wait…there are still movies that you have never watched or went back to rewatch.” Well, I figured it’s about time, but now there are no rules on long how this can go, every month will have a theme and all movies are free game.
For the first month, I figure I embarrass myself by covering “The Greatest Films…I’ve Never Seen.” Yes, my dumbass self have not seen the following for movies this month before and my friends, family and girlfriend have berated me forever because of not seeing them. Having had enough of this crap, I decided to get it started with a bang with the Stanley Kubrick classic science fiction masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey.
First film out of the gate and the most difficult to analyze, 2001: A Space Odyssey has polarized audiences, critics and broke film students for years. It’s a technical marvel of filmmaking, production and storytelling by making everyone who comes across it think about what the film is it about. Is it about evolution? Is it about the natural versus the artificial? Is it boring, plodding piece of pretentious art only rented because the video store was out of Star Wars? Now, before we get existential about the film and the many, many questions, let’s talk about the plot.
The plot is, for the most part, complicated. A black slab called the Monolith apparently left by aliens can help those that come across it gain knowledge as seen with man apes discovering tools. Match cut to a spaceship with Dr. Haywood Floyd (William Sylvester) preparing to comes across the Monolith on the moon of Europa and is hit by the wave of its power. Eighteen months later, Dr. David Bowman (Keir Dullea) and Dr. Frank Poole (Gary Underwood) are on a mission to Jupiter with a crew in hibernation. An AI named HAL 9000 (voice by Douglas Rain) keeps operations on the ship with promises of never having a problem until it eventually has one. What follows is an odyssey like never before.
It is a monumental film to sit through to the point it feels like a wonderful chore. At moments, modern audiences can find it draw and boring in its pacing, yet the imagery presented grabs the attention of the viewer. The music, all public domain scores, emphasizes each segment or long standing sequence. To be honest, I had to fight myself from not sleeping because the music and calmness of imagery (in the first half anyway) was making me tired, but I wanted to see what happened next.
Kubrick had an eye for visuals and design. It’s an art exhibit with a plot practically due to the gorgeous shots from the match cut, the opening sequence and the scene of Dave trying to rescue Frank from tumbling in space. There is artistry in every shot which helps tremendously for capturing the eerie and terrifying nature of space. Space has no sound, the characters are isolated and the emptiness of the universe is supposed to comfort them.
Two terrifying scenes of note is the approach mentioned of the Monolith on Europa with a choir from the far reaches of hell sighing and crying as a piercing noise devastates the Europa crew. The second is HAL 9000’s descent into a killing machine. It’s not loud or even bloody. The first death is off screen and the rest of the crews are only shown via vital scans tracking heartbeats and monitoring their awareness. It’s scary for the sake that is done in pure silence and without warning. The “Computer Malfunction” sign beaming from the screen is an image I cannot get out of my head.
The performances are simple in a complex film, but that is fine. The standout is Rain as the HAL 9000. It’s draw and monotone, but has a chill factor in how calm it is about everything. This even helps Dullea in one particular sequence. When it tells Dave it can read lips from what him and Frank were talking about in the pod, Dullea seems defeated and must find a way to take HAL 9000 out of the way. Rain gives no remorse until the end with Dave talking about the song he learned to sing in order to get sympathy. Luckily, it doesn’t work.
The ending is the one thing that has caused constant debate. What the hell was that about? Is usually the first thought. For myself, I had the same question and had to think quite a bit. Ad Dave approaches approaches the Monolith. He is traversing through what is dubbed dubbed the stargate, a pastiche of colors and trippy LSD driven imagery. It’s terrifyingly beautiful, but then it gets weird. Dave approaches a room dubbed the Renaissance Room with an idea version of himself which appears to be cracking cracking or the makeup at the time was just miserable. That Dave is then the only Dave we have left as it keeps evolving till Dave’s eventual death leading to a star child being born.
The End. Rolls credits.
Wait, what the hell did just happen?
I cannot give a concrete answer since this ending is open to interpretation. Personally, it involves evolution and the dangers of the progression of technology. I am assuming that, not saying that is exactly the answer.
The Monolith can help bring knowledge to those within the grasp of it. It can bring power as well. Dave is evolving beyond what he is thought to be capable of. The HAL 9000, like the Monolith, is a black rectangular object with power and knowledge. Dave is his own natural being and HAL 9000 is just an artificial sentient being he is forced to come face to face with. He realizes the danger and evolves to find a way to destroy the artificial representation of the Monolith. The Monolith is aware of Dave’s action and evolution that he is tossed through the universe to another plane and is reborn for humanity to thrive in the next step as Dave has already destroyed the artificial next step. I believe that’s it, but maybe I’m just insane.
A close friend of mine named Miguel Carachure loves this film. I asked him to give his personal thoughts on the film and it’s state as a masterpiece in science fiction.
When I hear the overture of Stanley Kubrick’s greatest film (and that is NOT an opinion, ask AFI) my mind aches with anticipation to hear that procession of horns and drums of “Thus Spake Zarathustra.” The accompanying image of the moon slowly descending to reveal the earth and the sun gradually rising and rising, subconsciously being affected on an existential level (if that’s even possible). When those stark white opening titles appear, I can’t help but get chills when a ‘Stanley Kubrick Production’ comes up followed by the film title itself; 2001: A Space Odyssey.
But enough of that, my amour for the film is making me fangirl, let’s focus on two oddly specific things, (which in no way were guidelines given to me by my friend) my interpretation and why it is a classic.
The film happily haunts cinema historians with its minimal dialogue, plot and its story structure, which is divided into chapters and unfamiliar to many casual moviegoers, (but quite familiar to Mr. Tarantino). My belief is that Kubrick is attempting to simplify a story billions of years in the making, while also economizing plot by avoiding extraneous exposition and inconsequential character dramas. This is in service of illustrating the evolution of mankind: from the ‘Dawn of Man’ to ‘Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite’ Kubrick is interested in telling the biggest picture imaginable, the ultimate dramatic conflict one could possibly tell; Humankind fulfilling its rhetorical potential of becoming great.
Kubrick was odd. Deeply insightful yet kind of a lunatic, the pinnacle and cliché of genius wunderkind and with 2001, he does both brilliantly. Often he made movies with tough subject matter and mostly focused on the follies and darkness of man such as Dr. Strangelove and A Clockwork Orange, respectively. 2001 is Kubrick’s ultimate statement of the potential of life, humankind and any other interpretation you could conjure up because THAT is why it is a classic; its universal appeal of universal possibilities. Like all of Kubrick’s films, it’s relevancy stands simply because it is a film about the human condition developing and changing, it will continue to inform and amaze many generations to come as it was intended to do.
Miguel hit the nail on the head. “2001: A Space Odyssey” gets everything it deserves. It’s a masterwork of not just science fiction, but film in general. At this point, it’s critic proof. It’s timeless and will continue to polarize audiences for years to come. This film is why cinema is an artform.
Next week, we move away from space and head back to Earth in Vienna with Amadeus. Time to take some time to pay a visit to the musical genius himself. Welcome back to Film A Week.
After much thinking and delay, it is time to return to something that made this website possible in the first place.
Film A Week will return on May 3 with 14 more films to review on a weekly basis with the 14 films not having covered yet from big regrets not seeing till now or just some movies I want to dive deep into. So, how do I start this second chapter? It starts with the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music on May 3. Get ready because there are more to come soon.