Film Review: True Romance (1993)

Release Date: September 8th, 1993 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Tony Scott
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Music by: Hans Zimmer
Cast: Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Gary Oldman, Brad Pitt, Christopher Walken, James Gandolfini, Bronson Pinchot, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Rapaport, Saul Rubinek, Conchata Ferrell, Chris Penn, Anna Thomson, Victor Argo, Tom Sizemore, Kevin Corrigan, Michael Beach, Ed Lauter (uncredited)

August Entertainment, Davis-Films, Morgan Creek Entertainment, 119 Minutes (theatrical), 121 minutes (unrated Director’s Cut)

Review:

“If there’s one thing this last week has taught me, it’s better to have a gun and not need it than to need a gun and not have it.” – Clarence Worley

Since I just revisited Natural Born Killers, a film written by but not directed by Quentin Tarantino, I figured that I’d also checkout the other one.

True Romance was directed by Tony Scott using a script that Tarantino sold in an effort to get enough money to make Reservoir Dogs. That being said, out of the two scripts he sold, this is the one that was translated to screen the best. Also, Tarantino doesn’t disown this film, as he does Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers.

I think that Scott’s directorial style mixed with Tarantino’s writing was a pretty good match. Granted, this also benefits from having an incredibly talented ensemble cast and one of Hans Zimmer’s most unique but incredibly effective musical scores.

Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette are f’n dynamite in this and despite the insanity of the circumstances they created, they were pretty believable, had superb chemistry and you really wanted these two kids, who had just found true love in each other, to make it though and have that “happily ever after” ending. They luckily succeed. Although, maybe they don’t but I’ll get into that towards the end of the review.

Beyond the two leads you’ve got so many notable people, many of which are in small roles or in the case of Val Kilmer, completely obscured to the point that you don’t even know that it’s him. The real standout scene in the film doesn’t even star the leads, though, it stars Dennis Hopper, who is only in a handful of scenes and Christopher Walken, who is only in this one iconic scene. And man, it’s one of the greatest scenes of Walken’s career. It happens midway through the film and it leaves you with a legitimate sense of dread, making you understand just how much trouble the young lovers are actually in.

The second most iconic scene in this is where Patricia Arquette enters her motel room alone to find James Gandolfini sitting in a chair clutching a shotgun. It’s an unnerving and extremely f’d up scene, as Gandolfini brutalizes Arquette. It’s a scene that Hollywood wouldn’t have the balls to do today due to how brutal it is. However, Arquette does get the upper hand in this ultraviolent fracas and makes Gandolfini pay in an even more brutal way.

That being said, this is an exceptionally violent film but those who have experienced Tarantino’s work, should know what they are getting into, even if the material is brought to life by another director.

So watching this film for the first time in a long time, I was left wondering about the ending. We see the young lovers leave behind the craziness that became their life for a bit. The closing moments show them on a beach with a child. All seems well and good.

However, I doubt that Christopher Walken’s very driven and cold mobster character isn’t just going to stop looking for them, especially after the crew he sent to catch and kill them were all taken out in a blaze of violence in the film’s finale. So there’s that bit of worry in the back of my head and it does leave the movie open for a sequel. However, I’d leave this alone and never attempt that. By this point, that ship has most definitely sailed, anyway.

True Romance is a great film, top-to-bottom. It’s built up a legitimate cult following over the years and being that Arquette’s Alabama is directly tied to Harvey Keitel’s Mr. White from Reservoir Dogs sets it in the same universe as that film and Pulp Fiction and just adds to the picture’s mystique and coolness.

Rating: 9/10

Film Review: Natural Born Killers (1994)

Release Date: August 26th, 1994
Directed by: Oliver Stone
Written by: Quentin Tarantino, Richard Rutowski, Oliver Stone, David Veloz
Music by: various
Cast: Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Robert Downey Jr., Tommy Lee Jones, Tom Sizemore, Rodney Dangerfield, Edie McClurg, Russell Means, Evan Handler, Balthazar Getty, Steven Wright, Marshall Bell, O-Lan Jones, Mark Harmon (uncredited), Adrien Brody (uncredited), Arliss Howard (uncredited), Ashley Judd (Director’s Cut), Rachel Ticotin (Director’s Cut), Denis Leary (Director’s Cut), Bret Hart (Director’s Cut)

Alcor Films, New Regency Productions, Warner Bros., 118 Minutes (theatrical), 122 minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“Once upon a time, a woman was picking up firewood. She came upon a poisonous snake frozen in the snow. She took the snake home and nursed it back to health. One day the snake bit her on the cheek. As she lay dying, she asked the snake, “Why have you done this to me?” And the snake answered, “Look, bitch, you knew I was a snake.”” – Old Indian

Quentin Tarantino wrote the script for this film and sold it just like he sold the script for True Romance. At the time, he wasn’t an established filmmaker and he was initially trying to get money to make Reservoir Dogs. That money eventually came from a producer and he was able to obtain more for that film than just what he had selling some scripts for the bare minimum.

However, once this movie came out, Tarantino disowned it for various reasons and it’s been a pretty sore subject for him, ever since.

I’m not a big fan of it either, even though the vast majority of my friends in 1994 (and many today) seem to love this motion picture. Since I hadn’t watched it in at least fifteen years, I wanted to revisit it and try to look at it as objectively as possible, since I only remembered a few key scenes.

Overall, this isn’t a bad movie but it’s certainly not as good as many people have made it out to be. It’s kind of a mess, narratively. It has a broken, Tourette’s-like pace and it relies so much on wacky visuals that it looks more like a mish-mash of unrelated ’90s music videos trying to tell a coherent story.

I guess you could look at the film as being from the point-of-view of the two insane characters it features. So things may look wacky to them but that doesn’t mean that it can just be dismissed if it has more of a negative impact on the total package than a positive one.

I take Tarantino’s side in regards to him hating the sequence with Rodney Dangerfield. In that sequence, the movie turns into a sitcom with a laugh track. But it deals with the fact that Dangerfield’s character rapes his own daughter. It’s not edgy or cool, it’s actually quite distasteful and I say that as a guy that has loved exploitation movies since he was a kid. I know that it’s supposed to be unsettling but it makes the movie jump the shark and it never really comes back. Sadly, for the picture, this happens really early on.

The only sequence in the movie that I really liked was the one with the Native American. I also think it’s the most important scene in the film and ultimately, it leads to their arrest, after betraying the only figure in the story that potentially could’ve helped save them from themselves.

The film is really split into two very different hours. The first sees the characters meet, get married, go on a spree of murderous violence and come to the Native American that could’ve possibly given them a different path to walk in life. The second, sees these two in prison, now beloved by the violence-hungry media and with millions of fans that see them as some sort of fucked up folk heroes. With that, the television journalist that interviews them for his program, has a severely unhealthy obsession with them and ultimately joins their cause when a prison riot starts.

The movie was trying to paint a picture about the state of America and the media at the time. It was trying to show the media and the public’s obsession with violence and love of terrible people. While this is possibly true to some degree, the picture is so over the top with it that it’s not remotely believable. I grew up in this time, I was the most impressionable then too. I was a ’90s edge lord trying to say and do edgy, stupid shit because it’s what we did back then. And while many were fascinated by serial killers and violent crime, I still can’t believe that these characters would’ve been worshipped by millions. Sure, I could see some shitheads embracing them like the shitheads that embraced the Columbine shooters a few years later. However, these type of people are a very, very small minority in society and don’t necessarily reflect a widespread problem.

I guess I can look at the movie as more of a warning against these things because nothing in this film is presented in a way that should be taken literally. However, I think that Oliver Stone’s impression of the human race was extremely flawed and he was pretty fucking paranoid. In fact, by making this film, he contributed to that very problem, as it was something that the Columbine shooters looked at for inspiration. I’m not blaming Stone, though, as there’s no way he could’ve known this and he’s not responsible for the acts of other people.

Also, I’m not sure how much of this paranoia was due to Tarantino’s original story or how Stone interpreted it and pushed the envelope. But based off of how Tarantino felt about the finished film and specifically about the incestuous rape stuff, I’d have to lean towards Stone on this one.

Getting back to the television journalist, played by Robert Downey Jr., the moment that he so quickly flipped his switch to bonkers and joined the murderous duo in their prison escape, I mentally checked out, completely.

From that point on, it was hard to reel my brain back in and it jumped the shark a second time and even higher than the first. There should be a term for that. Maybe I’ll invent a new one in honor of Downey Jr.’s character and say they “pulled a Wayne Gale.”

Yeah, that probably won’t stick but whatever.

Anyway, I do think that the movie really is superbly acted from top-to-bottom. One person that I haven’t mentioned yet that really turned it up to eleven was Tommy Lee Jones. Fuck, he was intense in this movie and I believed his character, every step of the way. What a performance, man.

And with that, I have to tip my hat to Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Robert Downey Jr., Russell Means, Tom Sizemore and even Rodney Dangerfield, who was exceptional in a sequence that was severely off-putting and cringe.

In the end, it’s the acting that really salvages the picture.

Rating: 5.75/10

Film Review: Heat (1995)

Release Date: December 6th, 1995 (Burbank premiere)
Directed by: Michael Mann
Written by: Michael Mann
Music by: Elliot Goldenthal
Cast: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Tom Sizemore, Diane Venora, Amy Brenneman, Ashley Judd, Mykelti Williamson, Wes Studi, Ted Levine, Jon Voight, Val Kilmer, Dennis Haysbert, William Fichtner, Natalie Portman, Tom Noonan, Kevin Gage, Hank Azaria, Danny Trejo, Henry Rollins, Tone Loc, Ricky Harris, Jeremy Piven, Xander Berkeley, Martin Ferrero, Bud Cort (uncredited)

Forward Pass, New Regency Productions, Warner Bros., 170 Minutes

Review:

“You know, we are sitting here, you and I, like a couple of regular fellas. You do what you do, and I do what I gotta do. And now that we’ve been face to face, if I’m there and I gotta put you away, I won’t like it. But I tell you, if it’s between you and some poor bastard whose wife you’re gonna turn into a widow, brother, you are going down.” – Vincent Hanna, “There is a flip side to that coin. What if you do got me boxed in and I gotta put you down? Cause no matter what, you will not get in my way. We’ve been face to face, yeah. But I will not hesitate. Not for a second.” – Neil McCauley

I saw this movie in the theater on a date during my junior year of high school. I think that my then-girlfriend was really annoyed because she wanted something “long and boring” so that we could fool around in the back row. Unfortunately, for her… this movie grabbed my attention and I couldn’t look away from it from start-to-finish.

Heat just clutches onto you immediately with the armored truck heist and how shit in that heist goes sideways, even though the criminal gang does successfully pull it off. The whole sequence was just absolute perfection, though, and it set a really, really high bar for the rest of the picture. However, that high bar would be surpassed with the bank robbery that starts the third act of the movie.

Never has there been a better bank robbery sequence on-screen. At least, I’ve never seen one and I’ve seen many. It’s just cinematic perfection. I love the way it’s shot, the way everything played out, the lack of any music and the absolute intensity of the rapid gunfire, as the criminals and the cops turn downtown Los Angeles into a literal warzone for several minutes. The tension building of the robbery itself, just before the bad guys hit the streets, was incredible!

Apart from these stupendous heist sequences, the film is full of great scene after great scene. Credit really should go to everyone involved in the movie, though.

The cast is one of the most talented ever assembled in this movie’s era and the direction by Michael Mann was damn near perfect. Mann’s pacing, visual style and tone all closely matched what he did with the original Miami Vice television series and the film Manhunter. While this lacked the ’80s panache it was still very stylized and just felt like a more refined and updated version of what I see as the patented Michael Mann style.

For a film that’s just under three hours, there isn’t really a dull moment in this thing. Every scene matters and even the most minute shit ends up having some sort of impact on the story or the characters within.

As I’m getting older, my attention span is getting worse and sometimes, sitting down to watch a movie this long is a real turnoff. I’m also surrounded by distractions and it’s hard to give a lengthy picture like this my full attention. However, Heat is so damn solid, all the way through, that it’s damn near impossible not to get lost in it.

And when you get to that first scene between Pacino and De Niro, you will feel chills. I still do and I’ve probably seen this a half dozen times over the years.

Rating: 9.5/10

Vids I Dig 142: Filmento: ‘Heat’: Creating The Ultimate Bank-Heist Shootout

 

From Filmento’s YouTube description: The bank robbery shootout sequence in Heat is arguably the greatest movie gunfight ever filmed. Today, we’ll be taking a closer look at the sequence in order to determine why that is. What is it that makes the bank heist shootout in Heat so great? Why does it top most Top 10 movie shootouts of all time?

If you haven’t seen Heat, you might’ve heard about it as one of the greatest crime movies ever made, inspiring later known crime thrillers like Ben Affleck’s The Town, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, Martin Scorcese’s The Departed, Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto (GTA) and so on. What’s the secret? Should we take lessons from the screenplay of the film? Or is it just overall nerdwriter knowledge? To be honest, we can only see.

Film Review: Devil In a Blue Dress (1995)

Release Date: September 16th, 1995 (TIFF)
Directed by: Carl Franklin
Written by: Carl Franklin
Based on: Devil In a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley
Music by: Elmer Bernstein
Cast: Denzel Washington, Tom Sizemore, Jennifer Beals, Don Cheadle, Maury Chaykin, Terry Kinney

TriStar Pictures, 102 Minutes

Review:

“It was summer 1948, and I needed money. After goin’ door-to-door all day long, I was back again at Joppy’s bar trying to figure out where I was gonna go looking for work the next day. The newspapers was goin’ on and on about the city elections – like they was really gonna change somebody’s life. But my life had already changed when I lost my job three weeks before. ” – Easy Rawlins

You know what is refreshing? Seeing a black lead in a film-noir picture, even if it happened half a century after the height of the style. But who was a better choice than Denzel Washington for this picture? He’s handsome, debonair, classy and has the gravitas and charisma that a film-noir lead needs to have. He’s so good in this, actually, that I would have loved to see this character return in a series of films.

Even though this came out in the 1990s, it does feel like authentic noir, more so than a lot of the neo-noirs of that era. Washington is perfect in this, as is his charismatic buddy, Don Cheadle. Tom Sizemore also pulls his weight and gave life to an interesting character that pulls Washington’s Easy Rawlins into this noir web. Then you also have Jennifer Beals, who immediately makes an impact in anything she is in due to her natural beauty and solid acting chops. I never felt like Beals got as many good roles as she probably deserved. Here, she feels like a true woman of film-noir.

In this film, we see Easy Rawlins take a job form the mysterious DeWitt Albright (Sizemore). He is hired to track down Daphne Monet (Beals) and it is said that Albright was looking for her on behalf of Todd Carter (Terry Kinney). Daphne is suspected of hiding out somewhere in the black community of Los Angeles. As the film rolls on, you discover that Carter did not ask this of Albright and that Albright is not who he seems. And this is when the real noir twists come in.

Devil In a Blue Dress is a jazzy and energetic film that doesn’t have a dull moment. This was a film that really felt tailor made for Washington. Unfortunately, it wasn’t hugely popular and that is kind of disappointing, because this film could have given birth to a cool trend of long overdue black film-noir. Sadly, black Americans were hugely underrepresented in classic noir, even though they had a large presence and cultural influence on urban America, where most noirs took place.

This is one of the best neo-noirs of the 1990s, hands down. While it isn’t quite on the level of The Two Jakes, a film I love but the critics, not so much, Devil In a Blue Dress feels right at home next to it.

This is one of my favorite Denzel Washington films and it also features one of my favorite Don Cheadle characters of all-time. What’s not to love?

Rating: 8/10