I did not actually curtail my moviegoing at all to get things to fit on the page; it was just a nice weekend for sitting on the deck and reading, especially after a couple days of downpour. Good for grilling, too, although I messed it up by not opening the bottom vents on my charcoal grill. Surprisingly, that made a pretty good baked potato, but by the time I was ready to put the steak tips on, they were being done few favors.
Stubless: Kill Bill Volume 1, 9 June 2013, 10pm-ish, in the living room.
The theme of the week: Things that are only there for a blip, whether they be special screenings (William and the Windmill); previews for things that may or not play later (The Attack); the Quentin Tarantino repatory series (>Jackie Brown, Foxy Brown, and, sort of, Kill Bill); or stuff that leaves after Thursday because a one-week booking was either advertised or inevitable (The Prey and Wish You Were Here). Heck, it sort of felt like I was rushing to get to Mud because it was going to be moving to one of the smaller screens at the Coolidge the next day. The funny thing is, I'm getting the feeling like it's just now getting noticed across the country while it feels like it's been in Boston for quite a while. Nice little sleeper success.
Another funny story: I watched Kill Bill on Sunday night because I knew I was going to hit the back end of it's double feature at the Brattle on Monday but wouldn't be able to make the screening of the movie itself, plus I figured to see the second part on Tuesday. Well, I spent Tuesday night in with a headache, so there was no need for the urgency, other than it being a great movie.
Anyway, I figure to go back and do the QT stuff as its own post in a few days, once the series at the Brattle has finished, so you'll pardon me if those entries are a bit perfunctory.
* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 6 June 2013 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (first-run, 35mm)
I hope there are a fair amount of kids still having summers full of freedom and adventure like the ones in Mud. Not adventure in the sense of getting into fights and nearly dying in a couple of different ways so much as being able to build things or get on the river and poke around with no particular aim, of course, although my motives are selfish: I don't really want to consider the sort of movies that folks who grew up with scheduled play dates that graduated to online gaming after being given their first iPhones at the age of five so that their parents could keep tabs on them will make.
The funny thing about Mud, though, is that as much as it venerates that sort of carefree youth, it is also chronicling its end: The state is cracking down on the sort of houseboats where Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and his family live, letting the folks living that way now stay but demolishing them when they leave - and Ellis's mother (Sarah Paulson) wants to move to town. And when you get right down to it, everything Ellis does seems to be paralleling a story from the youth of Mud (Matthew McConaughey), a fugitive romantic hiding on an island, likely to drag Ellis and his friend Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) down with him because Ellis sees his own family falling apart and wants to pull something together.
Maybe that's the point, not often made quite so explicitly in coming-of-age movies: What you do as a child is wonderful and important, but would be dangerous and destructive as an adult, so Ellis has to go to the town and learn how society works, have his heart broken, and the like, rather than staying the same, because that direction leads to being Mud.
At any rate, writer/director Jeff Nichols does it very nicely. He's got a fine cast, whether they be stars (McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon), great character actors (Sam Shepard, Michael Shannon, Paulson), or perfectly-cast kids (Sheridan & Lofland). He connects his setting to them, and is able to balance the surreal nature of a boat in a tree with the practical question of fixing it and getting it in the water without ever hurting the strange beauty of the idea. The story gets better the more the audience thinks of it, even if it does hit my pet peeve of a climax being someone tripping and falling down, but other than that, it's an impressive little movie.
* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 7 June 2013 in the Brattle Theatre (QT Chronicles, 35mm)
Robert Forster had better send Quentin Tarantino a very nice Christmas present and card every year, because it's not difficult to imagine a parallel universe where he's got the dopey sidekick role and Robert De Niro is the co-star of the movie, rather than vice versa. It likely wouldn't have been as good - has De Niro ever been able to convey the sort of low-key, lived-in sincerity as Forster? - but you can easily see a studio wanting that, just looking at their star power at the time and the number of lines in the script for each.
Fortunately, it didn't go down that way (although I seem to recall that when it was still being called Rum Punch, Sylvester Stallone was attached to one of those roles; that might have been interesting). And it's kind of sad that Pam Grier didn't get the same sort of career boost Forster did - she's worked since then, sure, and maybe she's had better roles than I think because directors don't often think to cast someone like her in a role she can kill unless they're specifically making something for a black audience, which doesn't get in my face very often. It's sad because, for as much as this movie reminded people of how awesome the young blaxploitation star Pam Grier was, she was much more pin-up than actress then, which is not the case here. She's fantastic, an utter joy to watch as she brings Jackie from this low place to the point where the audience realizes that she is always the smartest person in the room - and gets some delight out of how she's discovering this.
Consider the film's opening scene, where she's standing still on an airport people-mover, then has to run to catch her flight. The credits run during that scene, so the audience really notices the odd rhythm of it, but still maybe doesn't quite make the connection to later in the movie, just before when everybody is trying to con each other, when Jackie is again walking right to left (unusual itself), but striding purposefully. She's the same woman, but her attitude has completely changed. It's a great example of the way Tarantino is playing this movie - laid-back, adopting Elmore Leonard's style in many ways, but with purpose. He gives himself enough time not to build Jackie, Max, Ordell, and company up as more than they are but to still make them individually interesting without giving them easy quirks.
* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 7 June 2013 in the Brattle Theatre (QT Chronicles, 35mm)
Huh - given how this movie is the one people usually bring up when talking about how awesome early-seventies Pam Grier was, I figured it came before Coffy, which was trying to recapture what made it work, when in fact it's the other way around. Now, neither of those movies are really good, but imagine what they'd be without Grier: Even if she isn't really much of an actress yet and is getting parts mostly based on her bust, she's still got the sort of charisma that makes a B movie more entertaining than it has any right to be.
This one isn't really good at all, and is downright ugly at times, both in how it treats its heroine and how bad the rest of the cast is. But it's got Grier as Foxy, who is fantastic as the stalwart heroine who is capable of anything that needs to be done once she's been roused from her hibernation. It's a better part than it might be; for all it's built as a woman using her sex appeal as her main weapon, it's just as much about her unwillingness to back down. And that's pretty great.
Kill Bill: Vol. 1
* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 9 June 2013 in Jay's Living Room (QT Chronicles, Blu-ray)
It seems like a strange thing to say about a movie that is so plainly built as a genre homage mash-up, but I kind of think that this is the movie where Quentin Tarantino became a great filmmaker. Oh, sure, he'd gotten a lot of praise for his screenplays before, and getting fine performances out of guys that nobody expected much from, but from the very start of this one, where Vivica A. Fox opens the door for Uma Thurman and they start wailing on each other, it's crazy action time, and that's great.
After all, before Kill Bill, Tarantino's films were known for their violence, sure, but it was always about how shocking it was - "holy crap, that came out of nowhere!" - bunch more about the fact of the violence than using action to let the audience understand these characters. But from that first great fight, we learn about the Bride not just from what she's willing to do, but the relentless way she does it. Same for Vernita, O-Ren, and all her henchmen. And while it's easy for critics to talk about how the strength of Tarantino is in his dialogue - that's the part that's obviously writing, and thus easy for them to understand - the fact that he is really starting to get the job done with movement and action here means that he's mastering an essential tool.
It's not always a smooth transition to being a more action-oriented filmmaker; there are times when his pop-culture-referencing dialogue is as unreal as it usually is, often mimicking the weaknesses of the movie's he's recreating, which doesn't quite work when you're trying to be fairly clever in other places. But, man, when this movie is on, it's on: It's hard to imagine a sequence that does a better job of pumping the audience up than the Bride's arrival in Tokyo, complete with model city, samurai swords openly displayed in the plane, brightly colored motorcycles, and the music from "Battle Without Honor or Humanity" on the soundtrack. And then you get a pretty darn amazing action scene after that, and the perfect cliffhanger.
I should watch this thing more often, whether I see Part II afterward or not.