438 posts categorized "Classic Cinema"

October 29, 2023

RESERVOIR DOGS — SHOCKTOBER!

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ColeSmithey.comIn 1992 Quentin Tarantino did something that hadn't been done since 1986 with David Lynch's "Blue Velvet;" he reinvented cinema.

A deft application of an originally voiced time-flipping narrative, Tarantino's "action" script is a filmic illusion worthy of Hitchcock or Welles. 

The main conceit of Tarantino's deconstructed bank heist story is that the film's "action" occurs after the heist. Well-constructed flashback sequences and flashy monologues impose an emotional undercurrent of back-story on every dramatically inflected scene.

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Each of Tarantino's six black-suited robbers is known to the others only by his color coded pseudonym. Eddie Bunker plays Mr. Blue, the director himself plays the chatty Mr. Brown, Harvey Keitel is Mr. White, and Steve Buscemi is Mr. Pink.

ReservoirDogs

Suffering from a belly gunshot wound sustained during the heist, Mr. Orange (in Tim Roth's gutsy portrayal) is an undercover cop sincerely befriended by Keitel's character.

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Left bleeding in the gang's warehouse, Roth's Mr. Orange witnesses the psychotic Mr. Blonde (manically played by Michael Madsen) torturing a young cop named Marvin Nash (Kirk Baltz) to the funky lyrical strains of "Stuck in the Middle With You (Stealers Wheel).

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Tarantino's brutal counter-point doesn't just sucker punch his unsuspecting audience in the solar plexus; the effect goes for the heart and groin as well.

Reservoir-Dogs

"Reservoir Dogs" is a flawlessly conceived picture whose theatrical design pivots on Tarantino's touches of Grand Guignol shocks. "Reservoir Dogs" created a sub-genre of crime suspense copycats, of which Troy Duffy's "The Boondock Saints" (1999) is one of the most embarrassing examples.

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Over his career, Quentin Tarantino's films have proven everything that "Reservoir Dogs" seemed to promise and still achieves.

Freshness and raw passion.

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This minimalist masterpiece is the real McCoy.

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"Reservoir Dogs" was an instant classic the moment it premiered in Cannes in 1992. 

I should know, I was there.

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And I met QT, the day after the premiere in the halls of the Palais du Festival, and told him how much his movie kicked my ass. The oh-so-young and talented Tarantino said, "That's just what I want to hear."

Fucking cool.

Rated R. 99 mins.

5 StarsModern Cole SF SHOCKTOBER!Cozy Cole

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THE HONEYMOON KILLERS — SHOCKTOBER!

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Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does. This ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

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Thanks a lot acorns!

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“Ray kissed them, Martha killed them. They turned a Lonely Hearts Club into a slaughterhouse.”

The salacious tagline for “The Honeymoon Killers” was a tabloid-styled ad almost as incendiary as the 1983 New York Post headline “Headless Body In Topless Bar.”

The film’s original title (“Dear Martha”) was far too pedestrian for writer/director Leonard Kastle’s roasting of Americana values, tortured attitudes regarding sexual expression, and nostalgia-riddled romanticism of the masses.

Honeymoon Killers

Check out the scene where Ray’s new bride belts out “America the Beautiful” from a bubble bath while Ray and Martha empty her purse in the next room. The filmmakers are merciless with a roiling subtext of satirical statements and deadpan counterpoint.  

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Never mind that Kastle and producer Warren Steibel fired Martin Scorsese as the film’s original director after 10 days because Scorsese seemed to spin wheels. Nonetheless, a couple of sequences that Scorsese directed remain in the film.

Cool.

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The movie is based on the real-life exploits of a pair of money-hungry serial killer lovers. Kastle’s eerie crime drama follows Alabama-born nurse Martha (played with brooding hostility by Shirley Stoler) and her Elvis-haired Latin gigolo boyfriend Ray (Tony Lo Bianco).

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Opposites attract.

Martha is a zaftig woman with lust, greed, and jealousy in her heart. Ray is a handsome, suave Rudolph Valentino-inspired con man. Between his Latin accent and always-polite demeanor, Ray makes every woman he meets feel like the only woman in the world. The partners-in-crime pose as siblings while Ray conducts marriage proposals with unsuspecting widows who the couple eventually kill in order to steal the women’s life savings and life insurance. Naturally, things get complicated, messy, and nasty.

Honeymoon-killers

Made in 1969, "The Honeymoon Killers" presaged elements of David Lynch's filmic approach, and clearly informed John McNaughton's similarly-themed stomach-churner film "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer." Romantic dysfunction never looked so banal, brutal, and ugly as it does here. Kastle’s dry documentary style is as inspired by Cassavetes (“Faces”) as it is by Frederick Wiseman's films (see “Titicut Follies”). The real Martha Beck and Ray Fernandez were executed by electrocution on March 8, 1951. 

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This is a raw crime drama exploitation movie that compares favorably to Richard Brook’s adaptation of Truman Capote’s “Cold Blood” (1967). Kastle employs a similar docu-styled editorial approach to the narrative and to its noir filmic compositions. The filmmaker allows social subtext of ‘40s era America to bubble up. When she's fired from her nursing position, it gives Martha opportunity to take the moral high-ground to authority; she indignantly announces her recent marriage like a diva in full bloom.  

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The picture’s naturalistic black-and-white noir compositions are augmented by a stark soundtrack punctuated with Gustav Mahler’s anthemic classical music.

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“The Honeymoon Killers” was the only film Leonard Kastle made, and he poured all of his talents into a picture that comes across as a labor of love. François Truffaut famously called “The Honeymoon Killers” his favorite American film.”

Rated R. 108 mins.

5 Stars COLE MONSTERCozy Cole

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FIRST REFORMED — SHOCKTOBER!

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Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does. This ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon.

Thanks a lot acorns!

Your kind generosity keeps the reviews coming!

ColeSmithey.com

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ColeSmithey.comHow refreshing it is to be reminded of the mortal shocks that valid Cinema can deliver. When audiences first saw “Taxi Driver” (written by Paul Schrader) they couldn’t wait to talk about it.

It was an experience they had to get off their chests. Audiences were confused but intuitively informed by “Taxi Driver’s” dire provocation.

Here was a film that captured the fall out of the Viet Nam War in a stark portrayal of a [racist] veteran’s psychological, and existential, crisis in the midst of an American culture shock.

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For all of its mis-readings by audiences who also misunderstood Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street” or Paul Verhoeven’s “Starship Troopers” (both ingenious filmic satires), “Taxi Driver” remains a cinematic touchstone that refuses to submit to the ravages of time. So too will “First Reformed” stand as a bellwether film for the ages.

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Culture shock plays a role here too. As Paul Schrader did with “Taxi Driver,” he transplants God’s lonely man of Thomas Wolf’s indispensable essay into the modern world. However, this time it is not Manhattan’s urban cesspool that ignites the mind and body of our searching protagonist, but rather a perfect storm of globalized political, corporate, and religious corruption that infects Ernst Toller, a war vet (military Chaplin) turned small-town minister.

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Missing are any visual trappings and sexy locations that would distract from Schrader’s formally composed character study. Small-town America is the hotbed environment where a toxic chemical dumping ground releases vapors of social unrest and rage. This film’s formal compositions seethe with restrained silence and nostalgic dignity.

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Although Schrader retains the voice-over narration approach he effectively utilized in “Taxi Driver,” this time he puts a diary in our protagonist’s hand. Ethan Hawke’s Reverend Ernst Toller (named after the Jewish German left-wing playwright exiled by the Nazis) is the not-so glorified caretaker of the First Reformed Church in a fictitious town in upstate New York. Sick with an internal disease for which he refuses to seek medical care, Toller sets out to keep a handwritten journal that he will “shred and burn” at the end of one year. Empty whiskey bottles pile up in his weekly trash. Ethan Hawke’s performance is exquisitely transparent.   

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Having lost his son to the Iraq War that he insisted his boy enlist, against his wife’s wishes, Toller squandered his marriage. His salvation came from Reverend Joel Jeffers (Cedric Kyles), the leader of a large institutional church that guards its corporate funding with a vengeance. The church will soon celebrate its 250th anniversary at a “re-consecration” event to be held in the well-preserved “souvenir shop” church that Toller oversees.  

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Reverend Toller embraces the challenge of faith brought to him by Mary Mensana (Amanda Seyfried), a pregnant newlywed who has recently moved to the area with her ecological activist husband Michael (Philip Ettinger).

Michael doesn’t believe Mary should give birth to their 20-week old fetus due to the impending dire effects of climate change that will ravage human life in the coming years and decades.

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What follows is a concise thesis on how Christian ideology is co-opted by corrupt forces, and how the religion’s “washed in the blood of the lamb” imagery feeds into radicalizing those who are most committed to its precepts.

Far from the “thriller” genre that some are attempting to pigeonhole “First Reformed” into, the film is a transcendent drama built on a rigorous filmic foundation.

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There are two sequences of romantic affection in the film. Each one arrives as a dangerous if not outright radical act.

How and why is it that we the audience can be so provoked by something as natural as a kiss when the violence that we see or expect to witness seems more inevitable, if not natural?

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As Thomas Wolf pointed out in his essay, Christ’s primary teaching was that “loneliness could be destroyed forever by the life of love.” You don’t have to be religious to see the truth in that, but you should see “First Reformed” a couple of times to understand how Paul Schrader shows you what connects us in the kingdom of heaven that we all possess and share. Is "First Reformed" a perfect film? Yes, yes it is. 

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Rated R. 113 mins.

5 StarsTHE BLOOD OF DRACULATHE BLOOD OF DRACULA Screen Shot 2023-10-29 at 1.24.18 PM THE BLOOD OF DRACULA THE BLOOD OF DRACULA
Dramatist and LA GRANDE BOUFFE (THE BIG FEAST) regular Phil Holt returns to the podcast to discuss PAUL SCHRADER'S FIRST REFORMED over a glass of BUNKER'S BROWN ALE.

Bon appétit!

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Cozy Cole

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