This time, Director Face/Off pits two legendary visual storytellers against each other: Paul Thomas Anderson and Quentin Tarantino. While some may disagree, the two have some stuff in common – both directors were obsessed film fanatics at very young ages, broke into the industry humbly by way of short films and co-written screenplays, and then went on to make cinematic staples like Pulp Fiction and Boogie Nights. Both directors make solid, intriguing films held up by foundations of strong, colorful characters, nonlinear narrative continuity and plenty of violence. Who does it all better, though?
To recap, the rules of Weekly Review have dictated that this is where I review films that I’ve seen for the first time at home (a rule that has been a sliding scale in terms of my following it) but has mostly now been expanded to include older films that I’ve seen in the theater (your Shinings and Seven Samurais) as well as screeners of upcoming releases that I saw at home – because if you’re not seeing it in theaters, you’re not really seeing it at all. A few of this week’s crops slightly challenge the status quo – one, a release of a 1981 film that never really saw a true theatrical release that I caught at a film festival in a packed (and appropriately rambunctious) screening and another classic that I recently talked about on InSession Film. I’ve seen Pulp Fiction a thousand times (exaggerated figure) but still think it’s worth passing along a few words on. Similairly, I saw one of my all time favs, Raiders of the Lost Ark, on the big screen for the first time (go Cinerama!) so that had to get its own few words. And finally, it’s been three weeks since the last addition so I’m pretty much breaking all the rules and regs but that’s the way it goes in the wild, wild west that is Weekly Review..
Fable horror Absentia twists a classic wive’s tale into new shapes and sizes. Produced with a paltry budget of 70 grand, Mike Flanagan‘s eerie husband absentee horror tells the story of a wife whose spouse has been missing for seven years. With her sister recently back in her life after a stint in recap of the narcotic variety, clues to where he might have gone begin to reveal themselves as she puts the final touches on paperwork declaring him dead in absentia. Impressive for its slight budget with fine performances from Katie Parker, Courtney Bell and Morgan Peter Brown, Absentia still fails to make enough interesting moves along its path to keep you fully interested, regardless of the nifty conclusion it caps off with. In a squeeze, it’s not a wasted Netflix session though your choosing could be more inspired. (C)
PULP FICTION (1994)
A finer piece of cinema may there never be, Pulp Fiction is a definitive game changer for late-20st century cinema. Hailed as inventive for an insurmountable plethora of reasons – independent cinema’s first real hefty international cume, Tarantino’s novel use of nonlinear storytelling, investment in character, violence and intelligence that made the film accessible and “cool” for all ages ands backgrounds – Pulp Fiction doesn’t let up more than 20 years after its making and its cinematic staying power has but grown exponentially. There may be no greater deconstruction of the gangster on film than Jules and Vincent in their opening moments riffing on culture shock and foot fetishes. (A+)
TRUE LIES (1994)
At the height of his starring power, Arnold Schwarzenegger plays an American James Bond (nonetheless with a thick Austrian accent) in one of James Cameron‘s more toned down action flicks. Though it may be dialed down by Cameron standards, the action in True Lies is simply bonkers, with the last hour or so of the movie spilling from one city-rending potential disaster to the next. And yet, it all works wonderfully and comes together to showcase one of the finer examples of Cameron’s keen eye for spectacle while serving as a reminder of why Arnie was once such a superstar. I mean, before the Furious 7 crew were driving super cars across Dubai skyscrapers, the guy almost jumped a horse between his own cityscape. (B+)
When the programmers of SXSW announced that a re-release of 1981’s Roar was the Super Secret Screening that had people waiting hours in line for, the disappointment in the air was palpable. Low expectations or not, Roar was a visceral delight of the highest order – an absolutely batty passion project that employed hundreds of wild big cats to batter, maul and gore over 70 cast and crew members working on the film. The movie itself is a jocular horror to behold – a family comes to Africa to reunite with their father who’s taken up with the lions and tigers and leopards (oh my!) to find feral felines literally everywhere and no daddy in sight – but watching actors fend off these killers cats while delivering their Disney knock-off lines makes for some truly amazing cinema of the most guffaw-able niche variety. Like The Room, Roar is a movie you must watch with friends, slightly buzzed that is guaranteed to make you roar with laughter, shock and utter amazement as to how in the hell anyone allowed this thing to be made. (A-)
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981)
Arguably the best adventure movie of all time, Raiders of the Lost Ark introduced the world to Indiana Jones. Harrison Ford, hot off of Star Wars, makes the man in the hat iconic from his very first frame – he’s sexy, dangerous and loosely moral. Indy is in many ways an approximation of the hallowed relics he seeks – a living antique of Nazi-era misadventures and WWII heroism – and there has never been any Hollywood icon quite like him. From Steven Spielberg‘s lasting directorial work – the boulder, the visual shadow play, the awesomely weird physical comedy – to John Williams‘ signature score – who doesn’t whistle Indy’s theme song when exploring ancient ruins? – to FX work that still holds up to this day – exploding melted head FTW – Raiders of the Lost Ark is my go-to for breezy nostalgia of epic proportions. This thing is so good and so timeless that it belongs in a museum. (A+)
THE NYMPHETS (2015)
Gary Gardner wastes very little time setting the stage for The Nymphets, a dark odyssey into the exploits of a drunken night out with some underaged vixens. And at only an hour and fifteen minutes, it’s for the best that he does not. Joe (Kip Pardue) meets female friends Brittany (Annabelle Dexter-Jones) and Allyson (Jordan Lane Price) when a bouncer refuses them entry into a club and decides to take the potentially statutory femme fatales back to his place for some drinks and late night fun. The film is bristling with energy – topped out by Dexter-Jones and Price’s giggly but sexually wiggly performances – and definitely has a teasing nature to it, one that Gardner exploits for its full potential, even if it kind of ends up going nowhere fast. As Joe reveals that he’s willing to go the distance to bed these PYTs, Gardner unveils man’s harrowing aptitude for masochism in his dastardly pursuit of sweet release. A SXSW Midnighter with real bite, The Nymphets is a one-and-done ride to the brink and back, slight though it may ultimately be. (B-)