Thursday, October 22, 2015

When you can't sleep and decide to ramble about something you barely remember

Later this month, every seat in the New Beverly Cinema will be warmed by asses male-female-trans-liberal-conservative-anarchist-fat-skinny-nice-pleasant-douchebag-asshole-etc. because tickets to the All Night Horror Show marathon are now sold out. That wasn't the case for the From Dusk Till Dawn marathon I attended on October 9th at midnight; about 30, maybe 35 people total were in attendance that night.

Why so few when it felt like there should've been so many? Who knows? The ticket sales to these things are like the twisters in Twister: you can't explain 'em, you can't predict 'em. And killing yourself sure as hell won't bring Helen Hunt's father back.

So yes, the first From Dusk Till Dawn followed by a direct-to-video sequel and a direct-to-video prequel, and after that, Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror. All four films were presented in 35mm, which I guess is obvious considering that owner Quentin Tarantino laid down the law last year when he found out they were showing films in digital and to him digital is like a woman born without feet -- Fuck Dat Chit Mang it's 35mm or nada up in this bitch. But yeah, these were all his personal prints, so that was cool.

There were a couple of vampire trailer reels during the night and the first one included the fun Fright Night (ramblings for it somewhere here); The Lost Boys starring saxy/sexy man-god Tim Cappello and some other actors; and the criminally slept-on Innocent Blood, directed by everybody's favorite irresponsible filmmaker/decapitator, John Landis.

I hadn't seen the first FDTD for about 16 or 17 years when I listened to the audio commentary on laserdisc, and so much had happened between now and then; back then I thought Rodriguez/Tarantino were the beginning and end of Film and I was filled with a seemingly eternal optimism for the future of me and my fellow Earthlings. Those were the days. Remember those days? I think about those days a lot, bros. A LOT.

Today, I haven't 100-percent enjoyed one of Rodriguez's joints without defense since Planet Terror, which makes me wonder if it's a coincidence that his decline began after leaving his wife Elizabeth Avellan for Rose "Hey, I can be Lexi Alexander too!" McGowan, kinda like the way shit started going downhill for Peter Bogdanovich after he left Polly Platt for Cybill Shepherd? Maybe just maybe there's something to that whole Behind Every Great Man line. All da single ladies say YEEEEEEAAAAAAHHHH!!!!

Hey kids, in case you don't know who Peter Bogdanovich is, he was like the Quentin Tarantino of the 1970s in that he made a fuckin' masterpiece and everybody loved him for it, which he then misunderstood as meaning everybody wanted to see HIM: in movies, talk shows, magazines, all that shit. He thought people gave a shit about the man who made the movies and his thoughts on everything when all they gave a shit about was the movies themselves. But unlike Tarantino, he stopped hitting home runs and could only occasionally score a double at sparsely attended games.

I feel that Mr. Bogdanovich was born in the wrong time -- he should've made his bones nowadays when he could've been on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram where hundreds, thousands, even millions of people would've given a shit about literally his latest shit. I mean, he could've taken a pic of his bowel movement and it would have likes, favorites, retweets. Oh man, all the love he could've gotten from the loveless, people don't give a shit about their fellow men and women but give a shit about every passing thought of a celebrity who doesn't know them and honestly couldn't give a shit about them except in the departments of How Many Tickets Will You Buy?, Don't You Agree With Me?, and How Awesome Is My Life? (but with the occasional I'm Just Like You thrown in to keep the waters from boiling).

All the comments on Twitter that he can look at and refuse to respond to even when the comment merits a response! All the occasional commenters who don't want to be seen as an ass-kisser so he or she makes some insult in order to get attention and when he or she does, he or she says IMA JUSS KIDDIN-UH! And then somewhere along the way in all this Twitter/Facebook/Instagram ego knobswalloing, Bogdanovich would make a very human mistake and say something stupid like we all do and then AND ONLY THEN can the backlash begin! And then! Then he'll discover the Block button! Cuz haters gonna hate, right Boggy?

Where was I? Oh yes, Mr. Rodriguez long ago directed a film from a Mr. Tarantino's screenplay and it was titled From Dusk Till Dawn. I liked it then. And guess what? Do you give a shit? Of course not, but here I go anyway: I still like it! Not only that, I like it a little more now! If anything has kinda changed over the years between viewings, it's that I now prefer the first half over the second half. And for those who -- believe it or not! -- haven't seen this film yet, the first half is about two asshole criminal brothers on the lam (Quentin Clooney plays one, Tarantino plays/wishes he were the other) who kidnap a broken family (former pastor Harvey Keitel, his daughter Juliette Lewis, and an Asian dude) and make a run for the Texas/Mexico border. The second half has them all in Mexico, hanging out at a distant desert biker/trucker bar called the Titty Twister, where they end up having to fight off various strippers, bartenders, barkers, and bouncers because the aforementioned staff also happen to be vampiric motherfuckers. They should've known something was up when they saw my man Danny Trejo working behind the bar (Hi Danny!)

You know bros, I've been so used to the newer Rodriguez joints that I forgot how his older stuff used to feel a bit more chill. That is to say, filmmaking-wise homeboy was nice until it was time not to be nice, know what I mean? No? OK. What I'm saying is that his style in this movie is to keep shit kinda restrained with the camera moves and cutty cuts cuts if the scene doesn't call for it. I mean, shit man, that entire first half is mostly one long slow burn -- with the exception of the opening liquor store shootout, but sheeeeeiiiit that shootout was preceeded with a hell of a monologue by Michael Parks that is done with a minimum of cuts and a nice slow & steady zoom at one point. A-PLUS, mi amigo.

And goddamn, I said goddamn what a performance by Clooney! No joke, this guy, he's not going crazy or chewing up the scenary or anything like that, he just plays a good badass asshole. I can't compare his work here to his work as Dr. Ross on "ER" because I only watched two episodes of that show: the East Coast feed of "ER Live" and the West Coast feed of "ER Live" (We had an old-school giant satellite dish back then). But I watch him here and I totally buy him as a deadly & dangerous dude who will deal out death and assbeatings if need be, but has limits to his evilness. When he gives his word to Keitel that no harm will come to his family if they don't fuck around, I always felt that he meant it. You'd be scared of this guy, but you can trust him to adhere to his flimsy-as-fuck moral compass.

You can't say the same about Seth's brother, though. Quentin Tarantino gives his best performance ever/so far as Richie Gecko, who is kinda like Lennie from "Of Mice & Men" only instead of petting rabbits this motherfucker rapes and kills women. (Yeah, I know: to-may-to, to-mah-to.) He's a scary motherfucker here too in that he's one of these creepos who can go from speaking in a fakey soft-spoken manner to flipping out angry/agitated in a second. In other words, he acts like Tarantino probably does when he runs out of coke or Cristal or feet. That was me trying to be funny right there, I have no proof he does any or all of that shit. So, I take that back. See, I kid the coke-snorting, Cristal-swilling, foot-sucker.

My favorite Richie Gecko moment is when he goes to the soon-to-be-kidnapped family's motel room door; Keitel answers the door and it's our boy Q.T. pretending that he needs to borrow their ice bucket for him and his "lady friend". After he delivers his request, Seth does this thing with his mouth where his lips are -- shit, my vocab is fucked and I don't know if there's a correct word for this but the best way to describe it is that he purses his lips inward. It's like some shit you'd see a little kid do when he knows he's being bad.
(Reason #10,402,901 why I can't stand children.)

The only other time I've seen someone do this in a movie -- that I can remember at this moment -- is Pauly Shore in AFI's #101 pick for Top 100 Army Comedies Starring Former MTV VJ'S, In the Army Now; Lynn Whitfield is Shore's drill sergeant and she's giving him shit because he can't maintain a straight "gig line" (keeping the line of your shirt even with the edge of your belt buckle and seam of your zipper) during routine inspection and he's like "I guess my gig line needs straightening, huh?" and that's when he gives her the Richie Gecko rape-mouth. And it's kinda like rape right there because he did that shit on purpose so now she has to adjust his shirt and pants for him while he's making "UHHH!" and "OHHHH" noises. She should've full-force clutched his fuckin' trouser weasel and forced him to weez a little juu-uuice.

Anyway, it's good times and if you haven't seen it, then that's most likely because you've never gotten around to it. It's full of blood and gross-out gags and yet the grossest thing in the movie is knowing Quentin Tarantino probably had a stubby chubby going on while they were shooting the scene where Satanico Pandemonium (well hello, Salma Hayek) sticks her foot in his mouth. Even grosser is knowing that despite judging Tarantino for that shit, I know that if I had Tommy Wiseau money I'd cast myself in a movie where every other scene is me banging chicks. And the scenes in between those would be about chicks raving about having banged me or crying because they haven't. Yet. (Working title: The Chick Banger)

There might have been one or two more trailer reels between movies, but I can't remember because my lazy ass took too long to get around to writing this shit, but I remember some of the vampire flicks in the reels included Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (which I remember catching in the theater and not digging at all); The Fearless Vampire Killers (which I still haven't seen but based on the trailer looks like unfunny ass, but hey, Leonard Maltin gave it three-and-a-half stars AND it was directed by famed child rapist Roman Polanski, so it deserves a shot); Blade (from Stephen Norrington, a talented visualist who I wish would make another movie even though I'm sure he was instrumental in Sean Connery's retirement from cinema, which is a mortal sin that cannot be forgiven); and Near Dark (yay Kathryn Bigelow!).

Somewhere between the breaks, Matt (from Matt and Cat Have Back Issues) the dude who was conducting the all-night festivities gave away prizes to lucky audience members that included prizes like Grindhouse on Blu-ray, the From Dusk Till Dawn box set, and something else I can't remember. I didn't win any of them, so fuck 'em.

Anyway, the second movie was From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money. Yeeesh. I remember catching this movie back in '99 on good ol' VHS from an establishment called Blockbuster Video. Now gather around, kiddies, as I tell you about this Blockbuster Video. Back in the day the world used to be filled with buildings that were stocked with "video cassettes" of films and you would go to the building, and inside you would look at the cover art of the video cassette and based on that and/or word-of-mouth and/or the plot description on the back of the box, you would then "rent" (or "hire" for our non-Murican friends) it for a day or two. Then you would take the movie home and hope it lived up to your expectations or surpassed them.

See, back then we didn't have Netflix or Amazon Prime or YouTube or Hulu or Vudu or Dudu or Tubby and Little Lulu, any of that shit. Back then, if the movie sucked five minutes into it, you couldn't just stop playing it and move on to the next cine-stream, you continued watching because you made a commitment, goddammit! You kept watching and hoped it got better. If it didn't, shit, that's life in the big city. If it did, then you felt good about keeping the faith. Besides, it's not like you were going to waste gas money and drive back to the video store and get another one. And if you did, God help you.

Anyway, soon another set of buildings known as Blockbuster Video stores started popping up everywhere. They specialized in Top 20 films, and you would think that plus higher rental prices would've doomed them, but no, they were making money hand over fist and soon it made it harder for the other video stores to stay in business. This sucked because then it became harder to find lesser known films or films that were unrated or NC-17 because Blockbuster didn't stock those. Eventually when it came time for Blockbuster to also meet Jesus, we actually shed tears for those fuckers because at that point that was all we had left. Today, people looking to rent movies now stand in long lines in front of a Redbox like commies waiting for toilet paper.

I wasted all that time talking about that shit because I honestly don't have much to write about with Texas Blood Money, other than I didn't care much for it back in '99 and I liked it even less now. But I guess I should talk about it, huh? I should try. I can't quit now, I'm too far in to this waste of time. OK, so this was a direct-to-video movie directed by Scott Spiegel, who in his various duties as part of the Raimi crew also co-wrote films like Evil Dead II, Thou Shalt Not Kill...Except, and the Clint Eastwood/Charlie Sheen epic The Rookie. As a director, he had only done one complete feature (the supermarket slasher Intruder) and some uncredited work on The Nutt House. Based on Intruder and this movie, his specialty appears to be clever camera angles like a camera following a oscillating fan, camera following the up-and-down movements of Tuco from "Breaking Bad" doing push-ups, a neck bite shot from the inside of the vampire's mouth, and he even throws in a sex scene done Dolemite-style from the POVs of the banger and bangee.

The movie starts with Bruce Campbell and Tiffani Thiessen being attacked by bats in an elevator, then you realize that it's a film-within-a-film being watched on television by Robert Patrick. The weird thing is that both the film-within-a-film and the "real" film don't feel any different from each other at all. We interrupt this shitty low-budget horror/comedy to bring you another shitty low-budget horror/comedy now in progress. This movie is fucking corny, dude. The effects (particularly the bat effects) are like the late-90s version of the kind of effects from low-budget movies that would show late at night with some creature feature host interrupting it. Knowing how everyone in the Raimi crew rolls, I'm positive that shit was on purpose and that's the tone Spiegel wanted but I guess I wasn't in the mood for that shit both times I watched this fuckin' thing.

Patrick plays an ex-con who is still down for some crime time, so he rounds up the ol' gang to meet up with their escaped convict buddy Duane Whitaker for a job in Mexico. On the way there, Whitaker takes a unexpected detour that leads him to the direct-to-video version of the Titty Twister  (Hello again, Danny Trejo!). He gets bit, takes off, meets up with the boys, and it's like being a vamp is cutting into his bandit time because he still goes on with his plan to rob a bank. And at this point TBM feels like more of an Innocent Blood sequel than a FDTD sequel because much like Robert Loggia's character in the former, Whitaker decides that the more vamps in his crew, the stronger it'll get. And the stronger the crew gets, the easier it'll be to make money and eventually run shit. In comes a homie, and out comes his fangs.

The idea of the movie and the plot on paper sounds pretty cool, so why did it feel like such a slog to me? I think it comes down to a script filled with dialogue that has the intention of clever, funny, and occasionally badass -- but intention don't mean shit if you can't pull it off. I'll admit that maybe I'm just being a humorless asshole here, but I just wasn't getting into the jokey vibe of this one, or maybe the jokey vibe just plain sucked here. The execution is kinda off too, with so much (if not damn near the entire fucking film) emphasis on the "cool" shots over everything else that it quickly became tiresome, giving the proceedings a hotshot student film vibe. I bet you this movie plays better with the sound off, just some cheesy looking movie with weird shots that's kinda boring in the first half but then gets a little interesting when the bank robbery goes down with shootouts, flying bodies, broken glass, and vamp action.

Yeah, I think the best way to watch this movie is in the background of some hipster bar amid the din of clinking glasses, too many loud conversations about who knows what, and someone's iTunes playlist blaring through the speakers -- and even then, someone at the bar would turn to the screen and watch some of it before saying "This looks dumb." And I'll be watching from across the bar, judging that person and everyone else in that bar who isn't me, while secretly wanting to be a part of them.

The third film of the night was From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman's Daughter, and man, comparing this film with the last one -- you wanna talk about apples and oranges? Fuck that, this was more like apples and fetuses. Part tres is pretty goddamn good, which ups my previous just plain "good" opinion when I saw it a few years ago on DVD (which I won along with a Stroker Ace DVD at a midnight screening of Grindhouse at the Nuart). I don't know if following up the last film helped it play better this time around or if it really did get better for me over time. But what I know for sure is that this one was much better made. This director P.J. Pesce, he handled this movie like he wanted to make an honest-to-goodness Movie and not a parody/approximation of a movie like fuckin' Spiegel over here.

I don't know if this one had a bigger or smaller budget than Texas Blood Money, but I'm sure it was low-budget all the same. The difference between these films is that in their 35mm presentations, TBM felt like a cheapie direct-to-video joint unnecessarily blown up for the big screen -- a child wearing grown-up clothes -- while The Hangman's Daughter did not, it looked expensive (even if it wasn't) and it felt like it had some scope to it and therefore it felt right at home projected in the New Bev.

There are clear Leone homages here and there (particularly the "here" part) but it's not all ripoff shit, this Pesce dude has a really cool style that employs great compositions, the occasional left field use of gore when you least expect it, gore when you totally expect it, slow-motion, and none of it feels gimmicky. It all left me wondering why this dude hasn't been given a bigger canvas to paint on since this flick. He made a TV-movie called The Desperate Trail for Turner a few years before this, and that was pretty damn good. He also made a direct-to-video sequel to Smokin' Aces which was better than it had any right to be. Looking at his CV, his wheelhouse nowadays is direct-to-video sequels; I haven't seen his Lost Boys sequel nor his Sniper 3, but shit, but based on what I've already seen of his work, I'll give 'em a look-see for sure.

The funny thing is that Part III has a less original story than part II, yet is the better film. Not dissing on part III's story, I only mean that it's less original because this is pretty much just FDTD's basic outline in a different time period (early 1900's Mexico -- yup, this is a prequel). Stepping in for the Gecko Brothers anti-hero slot you have a real Mexi-bastard named Johnny Madrid (played by Marco Leonardi from Cinema Paradiso and Like Water for Chocolate), who escapes public execution thanks to a rifle-wielding fan named Reece (Jordana Spiro, who's been in a lot of things but who I'll always remember from USA's "The Huntress" even if you don't -- but I sure as fuck do! USA was dead to me for a while when they cancelled that one) and to show his appreciation he nooses her to a cemetery cross and leaves her dangling.

But hey, that dirty girl was seriously damaged goods, so you can't feel too bad for her. She didn't help her situation either by asking Madrid to show her the outlaw ropes because she wanted to be a "monster" like him. Hey Reece, did you ever consider the possibility that this guy might be sensitive to being called names like that, even though damn near everything he does justify such names?

And see, that right there is one of the many improvements Tres has over Deuce in this series; the main character is a complicated fucker of a human being. There's no arguing Reece's scouting report on Madrid but of course he'll beg to differ via attempted murdering her ass. He's a bad dude but apparently harbors some kind of deep-seated belief that he has something resembling Honor, which he demonstrates when he decided to let Ambrose Bierce live after a violent stagecoach robbery (a stagecoach of which Bierce was a passenger and of which Madrid was jacking).

Oh yeah, didn't I tell you? The author of "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" figures into this story, and he's played by Michael Parks and I dug how the filmmakers took the author's real life disappearance and made it part of this story. If The Hangman's Daughter is to be believed (seeing as this is clearly a reenactment of true events), when Bierce took off for Mexico to ride with muthafuckin' Pancho Villa, along the way ran into Madrid and his crew. (He also ran into Rebecca Gayheart's Jesus freak and her pussy-whipped husband, but fuck 'em.)

As for Madrid and his crew -- and the titular Hangman's Daughter with whom he ran off (played by the lovely Ara Celi), they are horse-powering their way through old-school Mexico doing the bandito thing with the Hangman on their tails until they make a stop at a bar/whorehouse (Danny Trejo! Dude, we keep running into each other!) that seems a lot like an old-fashioned version of the Titty Twister, complete with a Satanico Pandemonium-esque lady (played by Sonia Braga) running shit. Could it be?

Shit man, I don't know. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't.

I'll say this again, the story is basically the first FDTD all over again, particularly the second half where it all goes SPOILER Titty Twister on us with gore and gross-outs. It was a tad disappointing to see everything get resolved in such a routine manner though; the film does such a great job building everything up by having all the characters run into each other at this location, all of them with various beefs of various sizes. There was so much potential as far as what could happen between them while trying to fight off the vamps and survive, but most of it was left un-potentialized. So much tension and animosity and hatred and straight out I'MA KILL YO ASS between these people and you felt very little of it between them because it felt like the filmmakers were more interested wrapping things up. I get it, there are bigger things to worry about when you're surrounded by vampires, but they could've taken their time leading into that mode. I was hoping for some score settling, but I had to settle for keeping a survival tally.

But I honestly just spent more time and words on something that only bugged me a little. This is still very much a good little flick worth a watch, a true part of the FDTD saga. Because as far as I'm concerned, the DVD boxed set might include three films but there are only two From Dusk Till Dawns: the first one and The Hangman's Daughter. Maybe I wasn't the only one who felt that way; the applause that this film received at the end credits made a strong contrast with the silence that greeted the end of Texas Blood Money.

There was a very quick break between films, and my buddy and I used it as an opportunity to increase our chances of getting lung cancer. While doing so, I noticed a guy go up to the ticket booth to ask Matt about purchasing a ticket for the fourth and final film of the night, Planet Terror. It was around 5am at this point and I thought that was a geeky-cool thing to do, to be like "You know what? I'm up early (or up late) and I just want to catch this one film!". I overheard Matt telling him that the ticket was for the entire night, though, which would be about $20, and at that point my friend and I went inside. So I don't know if the guy ponied up the $20 for this one film or if a deal was worked out. But I swear I saw him in the theater, or maybe I was too bleary-eyed to distinguish the handful of remaining cinemagoers in the crowd.

Yup, I started getting sleepy and nodded off throughout Planet Terror, but c'mon you can't blame me for that. I refuse to take responsibility for that. This was a Friday night/Saturday morning and I had a long day at work that started early the previous day and I didn't have time for a nap before taking off to the New Bev. That doesn't change anything, people. I can roll with the big boys and girls from dusk till dawn, I'm the real thing when it comes to all-nighters, I'M BONA FIDE!!!

Anyway, this was the extended version of Planet Terror, which is about 15 minutes longer than the version that played in the Grindhouse double feature with Tarantino's Death Proof. It's also presented in Rodriguez's preferred 1.78:1 aspect ratio rather than the 2.35:1 used for Grindhouse. It's worth a watch, just to see what was taken out put back in, but I feel that the shorter cut is the better viewing experience. I've said this before in my previous ramblings (which is why I won't go on too long about this film) but the shorter Grindhouse cut of PT fuckin' moves, man! It's fast-paced without overwhelming you. The additional scenes and moments in this longer cut make some of the previously relentless sequences play out in stops and starts -- speed bumps in the Autobahn.

My favorite example of the longer version hurting the overall pace is when the character of Wray (Freddy Rodriguez) arrives at the hospital to save his girl Cherry Darling (Rose!), followed by the Sheriff and his Deputy (Michael Biehn and Tom Savini). In the Grindhouse cut, he rolls his Killdozer in front of the hospital, gets out, and heads straight inside and we cut to the interior of the hospital. Immediately Wray begins stabbing every zombie-like "sicko" who gets near him, only stopping or slowing down to kill as he makes his way to Cherry's room. It's a fucking awesome scene that is all pure propulsion made even more propulsion-ier by Rodriguez's pulsing electronic score on the soundtrack.

In the extended version of this scene, after Wray enters the hospital the film cuts to Savini keeping watch outside the place with his gun drawn. He's a nervous nelly, this Savini; his eyes dart in every direction as patients and medical staff and infected are running all around him then BLAM!!! He fires out at someone who only appeared to be a sicko but was unfortunately just a very sickly patient. Biehn witnesses this and calls Savini a dumbass. Then we get an additional moment of a character inside the hospital getting torn apart by sickos and THEN we finally get to Wray wrecking shit inside the hospital.

Maybe Rodriguez needs to make shorter Grindhouse cuts of his most recent work because I feel like Planet Terror was the last time he knew exactly the right pace for the moment. You know what, I kinda take that back because Sin City: A Dame to Kill For was clearly cut down to the bone in comparison to its source material. Even the first Sin City had an extended cut released somewhere along the line. Maybe a longer version would actually improve that one.

OK, I don't want to end up on another three paragraph rant about an unrelated topic, so I'll just wrap it up now. It was a good time at the New Bev, and I dug the shorter all-nighter format. Not because I'm becoming an old man who needs to sleep at night, but because I think it opens up the possibilities of future mini-all-nighters. Because I need shit to do on a weekend night, guys. I'm too lame for clubs and too cheap for bars, but fuck yeah I wouldn't mind paying to see a bunch of movies in the middle of the night. Get working on it, people!

Let's see, what haven't I mentioned yet OH YEAH -- at the ticket booth, we were each given a Japanese program for From Dusk Till Dawn. It was pretty cool and I'll put that right up there with my Che program from the roadshow screening at the Nuart. I don't speak/read Japanese so I miss out on what's written inside but maybe I can get one of those losers who learned Japanese so they can watch Anime without dubbing or subtitles to translate it for me. I'll say "What's up, loser who learned Japanese just to watch Anime better! How's it going?" and then he'll say "Not bad, I'm doing all right. So how are you doing, guy who watched Max Max: Fury Road 25 times at the movie theater?" and then the guy standing next to us who learned French so he could watch Luc Besson's early work without subtitles or dubbing will high-five the Anime guy and say "TouchĂ©!"