Monday, November 29, 2010

Welcome to the Rileys

"Welcome to the Rileys" takes two old plots and makes a rather touching new plot out of them. What we’ve seen before is (1) the good man who hopes to redeem a prostitute, and (2) the frozen suburban couple who find new hope in their marriage. The film involves such characters in a story that is a little more real and involving than we expect.
James Gandolfini stars as Doug Riley, an Indianapolis plumbing supplies contractor. His wife, Lois (Melissa Leo), hasn’t been able to leave their house in years. He’s having an affair with Vivian (Eisa Davis), a black waitress at a pancake house, and their two brief scenes together show enormous warmth. He isn’t ready to leave his wife, however, perhaps because he knows she would not survive alone. Their daughter was killed at 15 in a car crash.

Doug goes to New Orleans for a convention, is depressed, wanders into a stripper bar and finds himself through no desire of his own receiving a hard sell from Mallory (Kristen Stewart). He doesn’t want sex. He wants to talk. She thinks he’s crazy. She is worn and wounded, hostile and vulnerable. He drives her home and ends up fixing her plumbing, cleaning her shabby shotgun house and offering her $100 a day to stop hooking.

We think we see where this will lead. That’s not where it leads. Ken Hixon’s screenplay deliberately avoids most of the obligatory dialogue in a situation like this and throws some curves at us. One of the surprises involves Lois. Mired in deep depression, Doug decides with a jolt to sell his business and stay in New Orleans. When he informs Lois, she finds the courage to leave her house and drive herself down to New Orleans.

Now watch how she reacts to the reality of her husband’s relationship with Mallory. This involves good writing and acting. Lois is a grown-up. She isn’t jealous; she’s more concerned that he’s crazy. He isn’t defensive; he’s matter-of-fact. This is Mallory, she’s a 16-year-old runaway, he’s helping her, she doesn’t want help. That’s how it is.

It’s such a relief to be spared the usual cliches here and observe how Leo so convincingly channels a woman’s mothering instinct. It’s good, too, to see how director Jake Scott uses the physical presences of his well-cast actors. Stewart here is far from the porcelain perfection of the “Twilight” movies, and it’s a relief to see that it is, after all, physically possible for a teenager to have complexion problems in a movie. Leo is worn out by loss and worry, but smart and kind.

And look at what Gandolfini does. He’s a mountain of a man, but gentle, not threatening. In terms of body language, he establishes his character in a scene where he crawls into bed with his wife, and the mattress sags and he burrows into his pillow and looks — comfortable. When he smokes, his huge hands dwarf his cigarette. (There’s a subtle tweak: He uses regular cigarettes, not king size, because they make his huge hands look even larger.)

I was struck at once by the uncanny accuracy of his central Indiana accent. I grew up in Downstate Illinois hearing men speak exactly like him. A kind of firm, terse understatement, on a flat, factual note. I could close my eyes and imagine one lifelong friend in particular. Going online, I found that the coastal critics as a group thought he was using a Southern accent, “for some reason.” They’ve never been to the Midwest and possibly never to the South. We all sound the same to them. Gandolfini has the accent spot on, and it’s certainly not one that we’ve heard before from him.

“Welcome to the Rileys” does a convincing job of evoking its New Orleans locations. Mallory’s house is messy and forlorn. Her street is depressing. The city at night seems a contrast between artificial merriment and loneliness, and more evocative than another city known for sin, Las Vegas.

What happens among the three people I will not say. The film introduces them, makes them plausible and then what happens is pretty much what might happen. These people haven’t studied up on their archetypes. Each one is doing the best possible, under the circumstances.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

White Material

Isabelle Huppert, small and slender, embodies the strength of a fighter. In so many films, she is an indomitable force, yet you can't see how she does it. She rarely acts broadly. The ferocity lives within. Sometimes she is mysteriously impassive; we see what she's determined to do, but she sends no signals with voice or eyes to explain it. There is a lack of concern about our opinion; she will do it, no matter what we think her reasons are.

 In Claire Denis' "White Material," she plays Maria Vial, a French woman running a coffee plantation in an unnamed African country. The land has fallen into war, both against the colonialists and among the insurgents. In an opening scene, a helicopter hovers above Maria and French soldiers advise her to evacuate quickly. This she has no intention of doing. As it becomes clear that her life is in danger, she only grows more opaque. Huppert's approach is valuable here, because any attempt at a rational explanation would seem illogical. I believe her attachment to the land has essentially driven her mad.

This isn't even her farm. It was owned by her former father-in-law and run by her ex-husband (Christopher Lambert). Now she is in day-to-day charge and moves with confidence. The way she dresses makes a statement: She likes simple sandals and thin print sundresses that make her seem more at home than durable clothing would. She doesn't even much like hats or sunglasses. She runs through fields like a child. She drives a truck, runs errands, goes into town to hire substitute labor when her workers walk away in fear of the war. There's a scene where she all but tries to physically restrain departing workers.

They try to be reasonable with her. Yes, it will be a good crop of coffee beans, but there will probably be no way to get it to market. Anarchy has taken over the land. Child soldiers with rifles march around, makeshift army stripes on their shirts, seeking "The Boxer" (Isaach De Bankole), a onetime prizefighter and now the legendary, if hardly seen, leader of the rebellion. When Maria is held at gunpoint, she boldly tells the young gunmen that she knows them and their families. Her danger doesn't seem real to her. There is no overt black-white racial tension in the film; the characters all behave as the situation would suggest.

Claire Denis, a major French director, was born and raised in French Colonial Africa, and is drawn to Africa as a subject; her first film, the great "Chocolat" (1988), was set there, and also starred the formidable Isaach De Bankole. Both it and this film draw from The Grass Is Singing, Doris Lessing's first novel, the idea of a woman more capable than her husband on an African farm. Denis' 2009 film "35 Shots of Rum" dealt with Africans in France. She doesn't sentimentalize Africa nor attempt to make a political statement. She knows it well and hopes to show it as she knows it. Huppert's impassivity perhaps suits her; the character never expresses an abstract idea about the farm or Africa, and the nearest she comes to explaining why she won't leave is asking, "How could I show courage in France?" No one asks her what that means.

We meet the ex-husband and his father, but the other major figure in the film is her son, Manuel (Nicolas Duvauchelle). This boy, in his late teens, seems prepared to spend all of his life in his room. While his mother manages the farm, he projects indolence and total indifference. He cares not about her, the farm or anything.
Events cause him to undergo a scary transformation, but it's not one we were expecting. He doesn't move in a conventional narrative direction, but laterally, driven by inner turmoil.

This is a beautiful, puzzling film. The enigmatic quality of Huppert's performance draws us in. She will never leave, and we think she will probably die, but she seems oblivious to her risk. There is an early scene where she runs in her flimsy dress to catch a bus and finds there are no seats. So she grabs onto the ladder leading to the roof. The bus is like Africa. It's filled with Africans, we're not sure where it's going, and she's hanging on.

Monday, November 22, 2010


I just wanted to say sorry to all of my followers about my lack of posts recently. I've been really busy and haven't had time to put up new reviews. I will have a new one up either tomorrow or the following day.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

127 Hours

Sometimes a person will make an enormous mistake and get a lot of time to think about it. There was a man who went over Niagara Falls sealed inside a big rubber ball. It never made it to the bottom. The ball lodged somewhere on the way down. He’d counted on his team to cut him out after he landed. Oops! Aron Ralston, the hero of "127 Hours," had an oops! moment. That’s even what he calls it. He went hiking in the wilderness without telling anyone where he was going, and then in a deep, narrow crevice, got his forearm trapped between a boulder and the canyon wall. Oops.
We all heard about this. Ralston stumbled out to safety more than five days later, having cut off his own right arm to escape. He is an upbeat and resilient person and has returned to rock climbing, although now, I trust, after filing a plan, going with a companion and not leaving his Swiss Army Knife behind. The knife would have been ever so much more convenient than his multipurpose tool. I imagine that every time he considers his missing right forearm, he feels that under the circumstances he’s better off without it.

What would you have done? What about me? I don’t know if I could have done it. It involves a gruesome ordeal for Ralston, and for the film’s audience, a few of whom have been said to faint. But from such harrowing beginnings, it’s rather awesome what an entertaining film Danny Boyle has made with "127 Hours." Yes, entertaining.

For most of the film he deals with one location and one actor, James Franco. There’s a carefree prologue in which Ralston and a couple of young woman hikers have a swim in an underwater cavern. Later, during moments of hallucination, other people from his life seem to visit. But the fundamental reality is expressed in the title of the book he wrote about his experience: Between a Rock and a Hard Place.

Franco does a good job of suggesting two aspects of Ralston’s character. (1) He’s a cocky, bold adventurer who trusts his skills and likes taking chances, and (2) he’s logical and bloody-minded enough to cut through his own skin and bone to save his life. One aspect gets him into his problem, and the other gets him out.

Is the film watchable? Yes, compulsively. Films like this don’t move quickly or slowly, they seem to take place all in the same moment. They prey on our own deep fear of being trapped somewhere and understanding that there doesn’t seem to be any way to escape. Edgar Allan Poe mined this vein in several different ways. Ralston is at least fortunate to be standing on a secure foothold; one can imagine the boulder falling and leaving him dangling in mid-air from the trapped arm.

Suddenly, his world has become very well-defined. There is the crevice. There is the strip of sky above, crossed by an eagle on its regular flight path. There are the things he brought with him: a video camera, some water, a little food, his inadequate little tool. It doesn’t take long to make an inventory. He shouts for help, but who can hear? The two women campers have long since gone their way and won’t report him missing because they won’t realize that he is. For anyone to happen to find him is unthinkable. He will die or do something.

"127 Hours" is like an exercise in conquering the unfilmable. Boyle uses magnificent cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle and Enrique Chediak, establishing the vastness of the Utah wilderness, and the very specific details of Ralston’s small portion of it. His editor, Jon Harris, achieves the delicate task of showing an arm being cut through without ever quite showing it. For the audience the worst moment is not a sight but a sound. Most of us have never heard that sound before, but we know exactly what it is.

Pain and bloodshed are so common in the movies. They are rarely amped up to the level of reality, because we want to be entertained, not sickened. We and the heroes feel immune. "127 Hours" removes the filters. It implicates us. By identification, we are trapped in the canyon, we are cutting into our own flesh. One element that film can suggest but not evoke is the brutality of the pain involved. I can’t even imagine what it felt like. Maybe that made it easier for Ralston, because in one way or another, his decision limited the duration of his suffering.

He must be quite a man. The film deliberately doesn’t make him a hero — more of a capable athlete trapped by a momentary decision. He cuts off his arm because he has to. He was lucky to succeed. One can imagine a news story of his body being discovered long afterward, with his arm only partly cut through. He did what he had to do, which doesn’t make him a hero. We could do it, too. Oh, yes, we could.

Monday, November 15, 2010


The freight train pulls out of a siding with no engineer on board and accelerates to 70 m.p.h., and you see how Tony Scott's "Unstoppable" gets its title. The movie is as relentless as the train, slowly gathering momentum before a relentless final hour of continuous suspense. In terms of sheer craftsmanship, this is a superb film.
The trouble begins when an engineer (Ethan Suplee) dismounts after thinking he had brought the train to a full stop. He hasn't. When he sees the train slowly pulling away, the look on his face is adequate to fuel the next several minutes. At first, it's assumed that the train is a "coaster," but no luck. It's under full throttle.

Scott tells the story from several points of view. In the cab of another train, a longtime engineer named Barnes (Denzel Washington) is breaking in a new man, Colson (Chris Pine). In the station yard, a yard master named Connie Hooper (Rosario Dawson) is in charge of dispatch and operations. In the railroad's corporate offices, an executive (Kevin Dunn) is concerned mostly about the cost of losing the train, which seems harsh, since it is carrying hazardous materials and is rocketing straight toward the heart of Scranton, Pa.

Overhead, news choppers circle, providing a live TV feed that Scott intercuts with the action. That allows him a plausible way to provide an overview and narrate the action; a similar device was used by his brother Ridley Scott to help us follow events in his "Black Hawk Down" (2001).

There isn't a lot of room here for personality development, but Washington and Pine provide convincing characters, the veteran driven by love of his job, the new guy more cynical. This conflict isn't ramped up for dramatic effect in the screenplay by Mark Bomback, but is allowed to play out as naturally as it can, under the circumstances. Rosario Dawson makes her dispatcher aggressively competent, and the hurtling train of course rumbles beneath everything.

Chase scenes involving trains have an unavoidable limit: Trains require tracks and can only go forward or in reverse. There are sidings, but getting on to one may not be very simple. Two other films that come to mind are Buster Keaton's "The General" (1926) and Andrei Konchalovsky's "Runaway Train" (1985), which won Oscar nominations for the two men in its locomotive, Jon Voight and Eric Roberts.

How Scott deals with his "chase" is not for me to reveal here, but although the possibilities of two trains on one track would seem to be limited, he and Bomback are truly ingenious. They employ a kind of logical lateral thinking: The trains can move only in certain ways, but those ways may not be as obvious as we assume.

Not that those are terms we're thinking of during the action. The photography and sound here are very effective in establishing that a train is an enormously heavy thing, and once in motion wants to continue. We knew that. But Scott all but crushes us with the weight of the juggernaut. We are spellbound. And we sure hope those little kids are saved.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Four Lions

There’s a difference between blowing up people and blowing up things. When the African National Congress in South Africa was bombing power pylons, that made strategic sense. When terrorists blow up people (and themselves), it strikes me as self-defeating idiocy. Believing in heaven is commonplace. But surely only a stupid person would blow himself up to get there sooner.
“Four Lions" is a transgressive comedy about five such people. They live in an anonymous British suburb and dream of jihad. They speak such a fluent mixture of working-class Brit slang and argot, in such fluent accents, that it’s odd to hear their radical beliefs in such commonplace slang.

All are Muslims. Four have Pakistani roots. One is a red-bearded Brit whose ideas are the most aggressive. They conduct a scheme to strap bombs to their bodies and strike against society. In this scheme, they are so amateurish they fly below the radar of British intelligence. Nor do they have a very clear plan; Barry, the convert, believes they should blow up a mosque to radicalize Muslim moderates. The Catch-22 here is that therefore the bomber should be a white Westerner. Hello, Barry.

“Four Lions" is impossible to categorize. It’s an exceedingly dark comedy, a wicked satire, a thriller where the thrills center on the incompetence of the villains. It’s fueled by both merriment and anger. It shows characters so dazzled by the prospect of the next life that they have no cares about their present lives — or ours. It is about Muslims, but also about the fundamentalist mindset in general, which admits no doubt.

Consider Omar (Riz Ahmed), who I suppose is the film’s closest thing to a hero. He has a loving wife named Sofia (Preeya Kalidas) and a sweet child. He works as a security guard. He has a comfortable flat, where he studies terrorist videos on his laptop. He despairs of the ignorance of some of his comrades (one has “special needs"), but perhaps he thinks that even the stupid are useful as suicide bombers. Omar and his wife openly discuss his plans without a shred of doubt.

The others seem average blokes, apart from their fanaticism. They all seem serene about the prospect of blowing themselves up; they attach much importance to entering heaven with smiles on their faces. They have either not received or were unable to benefit from an education preparing themselves for reality. This is sad, and all the more so because the “four lions" (and a young recruit they pick up) are so satisfied with themselves.

There are elements of slapstick, particularly involving an unfortunate sheep (who was “harmed during the making of this film," the end titles tell us). And the climactic sequence involves the four men dressing up in bizarre clown costumes to run in the London marathon. Why? To blow up other marathoners?

During this plan, one lion locks himself inside a kebab shop, taking the owner and three customers hostage. When he’s reached by a police negotiator and asked for his demands, he admits he doesn’t have any. He seems, indeed, to have little idea why he has a bomb strapped to himself. The importance of blowing himself up and arriving in heaven with a smile has overshadowed any mundane considerations.

“Four Lions" was directed by Chris Morris, a British TV and radio satirist, and co-written by Morris, Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong (who wrote the political satire “In the Loop"). They have made the film with heedless abandon. Its strategy is to regard imbecility with a poker face and permit horrifying acts to occur absentmindedly. Sometimes this is funny and sometimes not at all, but you can’t call it boring.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


"Megamind" was the third 3-D movie I'd seen in a row, and as I struggled to free my glasses from their industrial-strength plastic envelope, I wasn't precisely looking forward to it. Why do 3-D glasses come so securely wrapped they seem like acts of hostility against the consumer? Once I freed my glasses and settled down, however, I was pleased to see a 3-D image that was quite acceptable. Too dim, as always, but the process was well-used and proves again that animation is incomparably more suited for 3-D than live action is.

I'd just been rewatching "Superman" (1978) and felt right at home with the opening of "Megamind," narrated by a bright blue alien over flashbacks to his infancy. Born on a distant planet, he's packed into a rocket ship and blasted off to Earth, just like the Man of Steel. En route, he meets his lifetime nemesis, a golden child who lands on Earth and in the lap of wealth. The blue child, alas, lands in a prison and is raised by hardened convicts.

As they grow up, these two super-beings are destined to play crucial roles in nearby Metro City, where they're named Megamind (voice of Will Ferrell) and Metro Man (Brad Pitt). We may remember that Superman was given his name by Lois Lane, and here the story of the two superbeings is covered by a TV reporter named Roxanne Ritchi (Tina Fey). Roxanne's cameraman, Hal (Jonah Hill, looking rather Jonah Hill-like), later morphs into yet a third super-being named Titan.

This set-up is bright and amusing, even if it does feel recycled from bits and pieces of such recent animated landmarks as "The Incredibles" with its superpowers and "Despicable Me" with its villain. "Megamind" even goes so far as naming Megamind's fishy sidekick "Minion" (David Cross), a nod to the Minions who serve the despicable Gru. I enjoyed Megamind's conclusion, after being bullied as a child, that if he can't get credit for doing anything good, he might as well become a villain.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a hero requires a villain, and "Megamind" has some fun by depriving Megamind of Metro Man. Left without an opponent, he loses his zeal for evildoing, and actually clones Titan to cure his loneliness. All of this of course is accomplished with much slapstick and sensational action, in a population which consists entirely of super-beings, plus Roxanne, the prison warden and cheering thousands of anonymous humans.

Tina Fey does a spirited job with Roxanne, and again I was reminded of "Superman" and Margot Kidder's high-spirited, unafraid Lois Lane. This time Roxanne isn't smitten by anyone, which is just as well because these guys are aliens, after all.

"Megamind" is an amusing family entertainment and gains some energy from clever dialogue and the fun Will Ferrell has with his character. I like the way he pronounces "Metro City" like "metricity," for example. The 3-D is well done, if unnecessary. Nothing in the movie really benefits from it, and if you can find it in 2-D, that's the best choice. Save the surcharge and see those colors nice and bright.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Due Date

"Due Date" is nearly a down-market retread of the great comedy "Planes, Trains and Automobiles." It pairs up Robert Down-ey Jr. and Zack Galifianakis in the Steve Martin and John Candy roles, puts them in a car together, sends them down the highway, and doesn't neglect to rip off one but two car doors.
The first film by director Todd Phillips since his blockbuster "The Hangover" cheerfully includes some of the same raunchy humor and the same dogged persistence in the face of overwhelming character defects. It's not as funny, but few films could be, and it does have some very big laughs. Unfortunately, the story holding them together isn't as successful.

Peter Highman (Downey) and Ethan Tremblay (Galifianakis) have a Cute Meet, or more of a Brute Meet, at the Atlanta airport, when Ethan's beater knocks off the door of Peter's Town Car. Peter is a neat, precise architect with a schedule to meet. Ethan is a shaggy man-child who confesses that on the way to the airport he and his buddy split a six pack — of 40s.

Ethan is like Joe Btfsplk, that character in "L'il Abner" who always had a black rain cloud over his head, with the difference that the cloud is over the head of whoever he's standing next to. Ethan efficiently destroys Peter's trip by switching carry-ons with him, shoving his hairy belly into his face (under stress, to be sure), and getting them both thrown off the flight by insisting on using the words "bomb" and "terrorist." That scenario leads to a run-in with TSA agents (who, oddly enough, seem to be morphing into Hollywood's villains du jour).

All cross-country trips involving odd couples require deadlines. Peter agrees to accept a ride in Ethan's rental car only because he must be back in Los Angeles with his wife, Sarah (Michelle Monaghan), who will deliver their child very soon by C-section. Ethan needs to get to L.A. because he dreams of becoming an actor. If you doubt Ethan Tremblay has a future in acting, simply consider Zach Galifianakis.

There are stops along the way to visit Western Union, Peter's old buddy (Jamie Foxx), and Ethan's practitioner in "herbal medicines," a pot dealer played by the scene stealer Juliette Lewis. Those visits are funny. There are also running gags involving Ethan's beloved pet dog and a coffee can containing the ashes of his father. When Ethan performs the rather private act of pleasuring himself in the car's front seat, it's not funny, but when the dog is inspired to copy him, it is. No matter how much I think, I can't decide whether training a dog to do that is cruelty to an animal.

So the movie probably contains enough laughs to satisfy the weekend audience. Where it falls short is in the characters and relationships. "Due Date" may offer enough, but with the example of the classic "Planes, Trains and Automobiles," it could have offered more.

Downey and Steve Martin are more or less a stand-off. But John Candy (and director John Hughes) made his character earnest, inept and lovable. The Galifianakis character seems more an exercise in passive aggression. He lacks social skills so urgently it's hard to believe he doesn't know what he's up to. Surely no one could be that obnoxious by accident. In comedy it helps if we have a bottom line of affection for the characters, and Galifianakis and Phillips make affection awfully hard to feel for Ethan.

There's a moment in "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" when the Steve Martin character thinks he has seen the last of John Candy, and then pauses, reconsiders and returns. There's a moment something like that here, but frankly, we don't know why the Downey character returns.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Pulp Fiction

Quentin Tarantino is the Jerry Lee Lewis of cinema, a pounding performer who doesn't care if he tears up the piano, as long as everybody is rocking. His new movie "Pulp Fiction" is a comedy about blood, guts, violence, strange sex, drugs, fixed fights, dead body disposal, leather freaks, and a wristwatch that makes a dark journey down through the generations.

Tarantino is too gifted a filmmaker to make a boring movie, but he could possibly make a bad one: Like Edward D. Wood Jr., proclaimed the Worst Director of All Time, he's in love with every shot - intoxicated with the very act of making a movie. It's that very lack of caution and introspection that makes "Pulp Fiction" crackle like an ozone generator: Here's a director who's been let loose inside the toy store, and wants to play all night.

The screenplay, by Tarantino and Roger Avary, is so well-written in a scruffy, fanzine way that you want to rub noses in it - the noses of those zombie writers who take "screenwriting" classes that teach them the formulas for "hit films." Like "Citizen Kane," "Pulp Fiction" is constructed in such a nonlinear way that you could see it a dozen times and not be able to remember what comes next. It doubles back on itself, telling several interlocking stories about characters who inhabit a world of crime and intrigue, triple-crosses and loud desperation. The title is perfect. Like those old pulp mags named "Thrilling Wonder Stories" and "Official Detective," the movie creates a world where there are no normal people and no ordinary days - where breathless prose clatters down fire escapes and leaps into the dumpster of doom.

The movie resurrects not only an aging genre but also a few careers.

John Travolta stars as Vincent Vega, a mid-level hit man who carries out assignments for a mob boss. We see him first with his partner Jules (Samuel L. Jackson); they're on their way to a violent showdown with some wayward Yuppie drug dealers, and are discussing such mysteries as why in Paris they have a French word for Quarter Pounders. They're as innocent in their way as Huck and Jim, floating down the Mississippi and speculating on how foreigners can possibly understand each other.

Travolta's career is a series of assignments he can't quite handle. Not only does he kill people inadvertently ("The car hit a bump!") but he doesn't know how to clean up after himself. Good thing he knows people like Mr. Wolf (Harvey Keitel), who specializes in messes, and has friends like the character played by Eric Stoltz, who owns a big medical encyclopedia, and can look up emergency situations.

Travolta and Uma Thurman have a sequence that's funny and bizarre. She's the wife of the mob boss (Ving Rhames), who orders Travolta to take her out for the night. He turns up stoned, and addresses an intercom with such grave, stately courtesy Buster Keaton would have been envious. They go to Jack Rabbit Slim's, a 1950s theme restaurant where Ed Sullivan is the emcee, Buddy Holly is the waiter, and they end up in a twist contest. That's before she overdoses and Stoltz, waving a syringe filled with adrenaline, screams at Travolta, "YOU brought her here, YOU stick in the needle! When I bring an O.D.

to YOUR house, I'LL stick in the needle!" Bruce Willis and Maria de Medeiros play another couple: He's a boxer named Butch Coolidge who is supposed to throw a fight, but doesn't. She's his sweet, naive girlfriend, who doesn't understand why they have to get out of town "right away." But first he needs to make a dangerous trip back to his apartment to pick up a priceless family heirloom - a wristwatch. The history of this watch is described in a flashback, as Vietnam veteran Christopher Walken tells young Butch about how the watch was purchased by his great-grandfather, "Private Doughboy Orion Coolidge," and has come down through the generations - and through a lot more than generations, for that matter. Walken's monologue builds to the movie's biggest laugh.

The method of the movie is to involve its characters in sticky situations, and then let them escape into stickier ones, which is how the boxer and the mob boss end up together as the captives of weird leather freaks in the basement of a gun shop. Or how the characters who open the movie, a couple of stick-up artists played by Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer, get in way over their heads. Most of the action in the movie comes under the heading of crisis control.

If the situations are inventive and original, so is the dialogue. A lot of movies these days use flat, functional speech: The characters say only enough to advance the plot. But the people in "Pulp Fiction" are in love with words for their own sake. The dialogue by Tarantino and Avary is off the wall sometimes, but that's the fun. It also means that the characters don't all sound the same: Travolta is laconic, Jackson is exact, Plummer and Roth are dopey lovey-doveys, Keitel uses the shorthand of the busy professional, Thurman learned how to be a moll by studying soap operas.

It is part of the folklore that Tarantino used to work as a clerk in a video store, and the inspiration for "Pulp Fiction" is old movies, not real life. The movie is like an excursion through the lurid images that lie wound up and trapped inside all those boxes on the Blockbuster shelves. Tarantino once described the old pulp mags as cheap, disposable entertainment that you could take to work with you, and roll up and stick in your back pocket. Yeah, and not be able to wait until lunch, so you could start reading them again.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


Anybody have any requests, I am running low on newer movies to review.  I will try to fulfill every request, and I apologize in advance if I don't get to yours.

Monday, November 1, 2010


I just wanted to say thanks to all of my followers.  I am looking forward to continuing on with my blogging adventure, and here's to a hundred more!