Jackie Brown, Quentin Tarantino. I’m not a fan of QT but since his name is in the news again, I figured I should toss off…a fast recommendation to my favorite of his films. As far as I am aware (or care), Jackie Brown is the only adaptation that QT has made and the limitations of working within another person’s narrative (and the fact that the author of that narrative, Elmore Leonard, was also an Exec Producer on the picture) forced the director to abjure his usual cartoon violence in place of an intricate plot and nuanced characterization. He manages to coax outstanding performances from veteran actors many years his senior (it’s Samuel L. Jackson’s best work) and for once the characters in his film are believable and sympathetic, not merely dolls for the director to play with. The Southern California sets, costumes, and personalities are all rendered perfectly. The splatter-ketchup violence for which QT is so well known is here kept to a minimum; the gun play is often off-screen and far away. A complex heist is unwound in a smart, multi-perspective exposition that is more difficult and sophisticated to script and film than it appears on screen. Unfortunately, this film followed on the heels of the breakout success of Pulp Fiction (1994) and fans rejected it. They wanted more of the grindhouse matinee aesthetic that has now become QT’s signature style. Remaking the kind of schlock that we used to watch on Sunday afternoon VHF TV with lovingly attention to shallow detail, titanic budgets, big name stars, and a knowing wink, appeals to people who need to feel smart without actually knowing anything. It’s a shame that QT’s talent is wasted on such swill. Watch JB to see the potential he once had, and because it’s an intelligent, well-made crime flick.
Epic supreme fan Scott Moore sent in this photo of Singapore Black at Changi Airport, Terminal 3.
But you don’t have to go to the airport to get a copy! It should be available at your local bookstore in Singapore or Malaysia.
If you are one of the several billion people who don’t live in either of those places, ebooks are available for Kindle, Kobo, iTunes and more. Paperbacks will be available globally on Amazon soon, too.
Check out the Monsoon Books webpage for more info…
Point Blank, John Boorman. If like me you desire your hard-boiled California neo-noir with a heavy dose of existential dread, this is the film to beat. Lee Marvin channels Bogart’s darkness and anticipates the better aspects of Bruce Willis’s menace (it’s Marvin’s finest performance) while the cinematography and editing reach art house levels of quality. In this one film, you can see where Tarrantino got his vision thing—but in place of Boorman’s dread and ambiguity QT substitutes hipster cool; the sacrifice is depth. Point Blank adds a fourth act that exposes the futility of the chase and finishes with a question mark, not an exclamation point. At the end, we, along with the main character, wonder what all the fuss was about. We should have stayed dead on Alcatraz when we had the chance.
The Scent of Green Papaya, Tran Anh Hung. Small, slow, quiet and in Vietnamese, I’ve shown this in my film classes and students fall asleep. They failed…to be moved by the beauty of this film, which is as exquisite as a puzzle box. The peaceful elegance of the domestic love story is shot through with an undercurrent of violence that somehow captures the texture and soul of Saigon even though it was filmed entirely on a sound stage in France. Given this controlled environment, the sound design is exceptional: listen carefully as the overhead planes (heard never seen) shift from prop to jet as the story unfolds over decades. This fine attention to detail exists on every level of the film. It lives up to the promise that cinema loudly offers but fiction more easily deliveries: vicarious experience. This isn’t entertainment, it’s subtle absorption.
Maya Deren surrealist shorts, Meshes of the Afternoon; At Land; Ritual in Transfigured Time, et al. David Lynch had his moments, and most of those he lifted from Deren’s short films from the 1940s. Her project was to create art that injected a heavy dose of feminine sensibility into the largely male aesthetic of surrealism and in this she succeeded largely through technical achievements that were jaw-dropping at the time but have since become commonplace. Images that Deren created 80 years ago can be seen in everything from films by supposedly serious people like Lynch to sci-pop spectaculars like the Matrix movies to music videos for schlock-pop performers like Lady Gaga. Go to the source and chuck all these poseurs in the dustbin.
It looks like most of the short films are available on youtube. Here’s some good ones: