This week may look deceptively small in the world of Dorkery, but dang, it seriously packed a punch. Once upon a time, I bitched & moaned about the lack of culture in Washington DC...at least as far as the movie scene was concerned - still lots of killer music venues & events to discover. But with the recent additions of The Alamo Drafthouse & The Angelika Film Center (along with the old standbys of the AFI Silver, West Side Cinema, & E Street Cinema) Washington DC now has an amazing lineup of movie houses. You can't go a weekend without a vintage screening of The Wrath of Khan or Rocky Horror Picture Show. And this week Matt & I finally witnessed Bruce Lee's iconic smasher, Enter The Dragon over at The Alamo, and I crossed off another Cinematic Resolution with Fellini's hipster classic 8 1/2. And our big screen future sill includes Jaws 3D, Top Gun, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, & The Silence of the Lambs. This truly is the Silver Screen paradise our Nation's Capital deserves.
However, as fun as those big screen classics were, the film that ruled this week was Rolling Thunder. Shout Factory finally brought this grindhouse classic to blu ray on Tuesday, and I will be forever grateful. I remember catching a VHS watch a decade back, enjoyed it a little, but couldn't quite see Quentin Tarantino's obsession. Now I'm one of the converted, and it's a strong contender for this year's Top DVD Release. If you're at all interested in exploitation cinema than you have to add this sick puppy to your collection.
Running Scared: In this neon remake of Kurosawa’s Stray Dog, Paul Walker screams through some sort of New Yorker accent as the criminal goomba charged with stashing his bro’s cop killing revolver. Director Wayne Kramer leaves the slick Vegas cool of The Cooler behind, and attacks his audience with this vile & violent decent down the felonious rabbit hole. Once you get past the accent and the hysterics, Walker ain’t half bad. The absurdity of the adventures he forces upon his family make Running Scared a must-see for grindhouse fans. This is certainly not a wannabe exploitation a la Planet Terror, Machete, and The Expendables. Running Scared is the contemporary "real deal" equivalent to those glory days of Roger Corman kill fests. This flick relishes the muck of sex & violence; shines a bright red bulb on the gyrating horrors forced upon its characters and smiles at your revulsion or – gulp – perverted entertainment. Sure, it has its winks too. Karl Roden’s demented admiration for The Duke. The Albino Pimp’s pathetic imitation of Tony Montana. The nosferatu shadows cast by the husband/wife child killing combo. But there is an honesty to the exploitation that seems lacking from the pale pretenders. With Quentin Tarantino you’re often in on the joke, laughing along with or at his monstrous nods to popcorn past. Wayne Kramer’s Running Scared is sincere filth. Over the top. Gross. Uncomfortable. Wrong-headed. But Kramer means it.
What I Did: Jason’s comics are often painfully funny. He loves to riff on genre, scoring good chuckles from planting Athos on Mars or sending Hitler through the time tunnel. In this collection of early shorts, there are a couple of good laughs, but mostly it's heartache to be found. In particular, the coming of age saga “Hey Wait” had me wincing. I recognize a lot of myself in the fanboy gushing over Neal Adams’ Batman, and their monster squad rules, but then the tale takes that Stand By Me turn, and Jason drops a surreal hiccup in the timeline. What the cartoonist leaves us with is an event that permanently shapes, if not breaks, a life. A moment of youth that forever shadows a sad existence. That’s not fun. But it’s got bite. And Jason excels at bite.
Enter The Dragon: AKA the film in which Bruce Lee puts all the chips down on the table. Not satisfied with his treatment in Hollywoodland, but riding the wave of a couple of international hits, Lee goes for broke with this Kung Fu Hustle and the result is an action masterpiece with a serious side order of cheese. His injections of the “Fighting Without Fighting” philosophy add a fanciful flavor to the violence, but when he lands on Mortal Kombat island for a little sibling slaughter revenge, that dime store zen must be ignored. The production balances out Lee's howling wisdom with the righteous Jim Kelly and the ultra smooth, bad luck sex machine John Saxon. The trilogy of badasses face off against Jim Henson's evil twin (Bob Wall!) and Mister Han's interchangeable slice & dice hands. Bruce Lee is a monster of muscle, and it's seriously delightful to watch him storm through their brittle bodies.
Repo Man: "It happens sometimes. People just explode. Natural causes." This is a wicked little comedy. It's not so much Ha-Ha funny, but Alex Cox obviously understands punk culture and its reactionary anger to 1980s consumerism. An odd, jokey tone tinged with real bitterness. In a lot of ways, this is the perfect double bill with John Carpenter's They Live, another film brimming with weird sci-fi anger expertly targeted against the masters of the world - F You Reagan! Emilio Estevez is a suburban drifter angry at the world for some mysterious reason. Enter Harry Dean Stanton, a man with purpose, a Repo Man. Together this dynamic duo snatch back the property of those who dare to live above their means. And, of course, they're just one wrong repo away from total thermo nuclear warfare! I'm fascinated that Criterion added this to their collection, but I'm beyond pleased with their Special Edition treatment. A gorgeous disc, and an essential addition for genre hounds.
Savage Wolverine #5: Frank Cho's run on this needless Wolverine spin-off comes, thankfully, to a close. There were some great panels along the way (just look at that bastard snikt his claws into the jolly green giant), but the story left me cold. Raptors. Shanna the She-Devil. Gorillas. Man-Thing. Hulk. Whales. I love all those things, but the story never brings them together in any kind of satisfying manner. Maybe it's time to pair Cho with an actual writer, as it's obvious he needed a firmer narrative to hang his big booty action upon.
The Wake #1: Scott Snyder & Sean Murphy's ten issue mini-series begins like the very best Michael Bay 'splosionfest. An exiled scientist is recruited into a top secret government project populated with other quirky exiled scientists. There is an apocalypse coming, but what's it all got to do with a teethy fishman? Not sure, but I'm happy to find out. And I'm happy to be enjoying Snyder's writing again. His last batch of Bat-Books have been tiring; The Wake looks to be a real shot in the arm.
Hangover Part III: This is a film I saw. I don’t really have much of an opinion. Did I laugh? Yeah. A few times. But only when the film sinks to its most violently disturbed - Ken Jeong smothering a rooster, that's hilarious right? Sure, I enjoyed the hangover detective work of the first film, and piecing together their drunken mistakes like a fratboy Sherlock Holmes. The second films was a sad, pig bursting remake. But this time the producers actually seem to think we care what happens in the lives of these sophmoric nimrods. Maybe you care, I certainly don't. John Goodman steps out of a Coen Brothers flick to scream threats at our trio of dunces, and Bradley Cooper manages to keep his dignity while Zack Galifinakis bulls his way through the china shop. Attempts at originality just birth character repetition. Meh.
8 1/2: Is this the greatest movie about movies? Some certainly seem to think so, but I must claim ignorance since Federico Fellini's surrealist exploration of craft left me scratching my head. Although, I certainly see where Woody Allen stole his entire career from. Marcello Mastroianni holds a certain charm, but as he bashes his ego upon various sexual prey, I found myself growing aggravated with his rich white man problems. He's an impotent fool, tortured by the gifts that life has mysteriously granted him. Where is the auteur? All I see is nerves. Maybe that's the point? Maybe I'm just not the creatively haunted soul this film is meant for? But if we were going to get this mopey, I could have used a bit more of the dreamscape and less of Mastroianni's lifeless reality. Well, at least I can now check this off the bucket list.
Rolling Thunder: "You learn to love the rope." In Taxi Driver, screenwriter Paul Schrader delved into the isolation and depression experienced by the returning Vietnam Vet. It's a masterful exploration of loneliness and obsession helmed with revelatory craft by Martin Scorsese. Released a year later, Rolling Thunder travels similar themes but under the watch of John Flynn (The Outfit) the result is a much more exploitative and angry vehicle. After spending years in a POW camp, William Devane returns to Texas only to discover a son that doesn't recognize him, and a wife with a replacement lover. Hiding behind his mirrored sunglasses, Devane stifles the rage below the surface, refusing to unleash his anger till a roving gang of borderland goons invade his hamlet home. He's left mutilated on the kitchen floor, but it's just the excuse his temper has been waiting for - on comes the hook hand, then the sawed-ff. Partnering with Tommy Lee Jones, the two killers cross into Mexico for a bloody whore house showdown. Rolling Thunder is a shocking beast of a film. It's success hinges on it's fury, but the heat is only as strong as the undeniable sadness inflicted upon Devane at the very beginning of the film. The quiet moments between father & son. His nodding acknowledgement at his wife's infidelity. And when it's time to Death Wish, the audience is just as thankful for the character to have a mission to let loose biblical terror. Taxi Driver is for the contemplative cineaste. Rolling Thunder is for the Old Testament avengers in the audience.