Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Tarantino's Greek Chorus

By Steve Evans

Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino understand how to use songs in a film like no other living director. Take your pick: Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Casino, Jackie Brown, The Departed, Django Unchained. Brilliant music in every one. Great song selections underline the storyline without bludgeoning home the point.

Both men have new films coming out this year. Tarantino’s lands first. The full trailer for Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood dropped today and it promises amazing entertainment. A film about lost innocence along the boulevard of broken dreams. I encourage you to check out the new trailer on YouTube.

Back on point, one of the tunes he’s using on the soundtrack is by the obscure band Los Bravos. It’s a typical Tarantino choice: all but forgotten, catchy as hell, contemporaneous to the film’s setting and brimming with sly commentary about the onscreen action. Just like a great soundtrack should.

So if you know the fate of Sharon Tate and listen to the lyrics of Bring a Little Lovin', you’ll discover that Tarantino still brings a positively wicked sense of ironic counterpoint to his song selections. There’s a reason he has a rep as one of the hippest cats in the movie bidness. As for Sharon and bug-eyed Charlie Manson, whether Tarantino attempts to rewrite history à la Inglourious Basterds will be determined July 26. Unless you're among the handful of fortunate motherfuckers who got to see the premiere at Cannes this afternoon, after which Tarantino and his cast received a six-minute standing ovation.

Cinema Uprising copyright © 2019 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Want to Live? Then Die in L.A.

By Steve Evans

Summer blockbuster season is upon us and I am mostly unimpressed with the cinematic slate. I’ll go see Scorsese’s latest and Tarantino’s, too, but that’s about it. Summer is a time for action films, and for my money, the more violent the better. Many terrific action films have been made over the last half century and you’d best believe I’ve seen ‘em all. The Bond films hold up and, well, Die Hard (1988) is still the gold standard for Christmas movies featuring terrorists and machine guns and exploding helicopters. Yippie-kai-yay, etc.

But now and again I revisit the work of William Friedkin when I want a textbook refresher on how to shoot an action film. His early success, Best Picture winner The French Connection (1971), made a star out of Gene Hackman and delivers what remains one of the great chase sequences in all cinema. I watched it again the other night. Brilliant flick, infused with the influences of the French New Wave. Friedkin’s horror-film follow-up, The Exorcist (1973), never did anything for me except trigger a fit of the giggles. Why that flick scared anyone remains a mystery to this day: “Your mother sucks cocks in hell!” “Oh? Here’s a puke bucket, you little harlot.” Friedkin faltered after that for nearly a decade with several misfires. Then he turned 50, got serious, and directed another masterpiece.

I’m talking about his 1985 thriller To Live and Die in L.A., about a brooding counterfeiter and the secret service agent determined to take him down. This is a damn-near perfect action picture, with credible, well-developed characters performed by a sterling cast that includes Willem Dafoe, William Peterson and John Turturrro in an early role. The action set pieces are many and memorable. There are beautiful babes – the kind you trust and the kind you sleep next to with one eye open. The band Wang Chung delivered their best-ever work for the soundtrack. Almost everyone in the film has a nasty attitude. And what is an action flick without balls-to-the-wall violence? Here the brutality is potent, bloody, abundant and unapologetic. This may be the most nihilistic action movie ever made, outside of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear, which Friedkin himself remade in 1977 as Sorcerer.

Oh. You want a chase sequence in downtown L.A.? Friedkin outdid his own previously best effort in The French Connection. Ask yourself what it would be like to fly down a freeway at 80 mph. Going the wrong way. With cars coming head-on. To Live and Die in L.A. answers that question.

This film exudes effortless style. It’s an outrageously slick piece of entertainment with enough throbbing testosterone to make Big Arnold Schwarzenegger cry like a sissy with skinned knees.

I first saw the picture in a theater 34 years ago. Back then, it blew my mind at the possibilities of action cinema. Leaving the theater, I recall breaking several land speed records driving home, such was my lingering excitement. I am still waiting for someone to surpass the pure adrenaline this film delivers.

Cinema Uprising copyright © 2019 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Thoughts after a church fire in France

By Steve Evans

Yes, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) was filmed entirely on the RKO Studios backlot. Yes, they actually built the front of the cathedral to scale for the film, which is the essential cinematic version of Victor Hugo's immortal classic -- the novel that is directly responsible for saving the Notre Dame Cathedral in the early 1800s during but one of the many threats to its existence over eight centuries. Hugo's book shamed the French government into restoring the cathedral in the 1830s when it was already almost 500 years old.
Nearly a century later, Lon Chaney gave the title role an admirable whirl as Quasimodo the bell ringer in a 1925 silent film. So did Anthony Quinn in '56 and Anthony Hopkins in '82. But the '39 film is the one that unfailingly transports me to medieval times when life, as Tommy Hobbes liked to say, was nasty, brutish and short.

So I'll revisit this one tonight. Charles Laughton delivers one of the greatest performances in film history. A cast of thousands. The finest production values available at the time. This movie puts the hook in me from the opening credits and orchestral score; I will watch it without interruption until the fade to black. First saw this picture on television as a teenager and wept with joy, such was its impact. Wore out a VHS copy from my late 20s to early 30s. Still have a DVD. Bought a restored print on Blu-ray mere months ago. Lest the point be lost, I love this film. Essential viewing.

Cinema Uprising copyright © 2019 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Half of the Coen Bros. to Direct Another Macbeth

By Steve Evans

Most intriguing film news of the day... Joel Coen, sans brother Ethan, is set to direct yet another film adaptation of Macbeth. He is also writing the screenplay, again, without his brother. This represents a first in their 35-year collaboration. Two-time Oscar winner Frances McDormand, Joel's wife, is to play Lady Macbeth. Two-time Oscar winner Denzel Washington is in talks to co-star in an undefined role. Would be interesting if Denzel played Macbeth, as that would represent a refreshing reversal of so many white dudes playing Othello in blackface through the years. Conversely, Denzel playing Macbeth will inevitably raise questions, like, what's a brother doing in 11th century Scotland? That would be in keeping with Coen's Dutch-angle sensibilities. 

Whatever he's up to, Coen will need to jazz it up a bit, because Orson Welles and Roman Polanski, who made their own versions in 1948 and 1971, respectively, will be tough to beat. Yet another version with Michael Fassbender in the title role was released just four years ago.

I mention all this because why Joel Coen would want to make his solo directing debut with a Shakespeare adaptation -- a play that's been filmed more or less definitively many times before -- has got to be one of the great curiosities of the cinema in the last 25 years.

Cinema Uprising copyright © 2019 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.