Take a Ride through the "Badlands" with Terrence Malick



 2/18/2018

“Badlands” was the debut film from American auteur Terrance Malick and brings us the story of lovers on the run.  Released in 1973 and starring Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek, the film has its characters desperate for something else.  Loosely Based on the true story of Charles Starkweather, the teenage spree killer who tore a path through Nebraska and Wyoming in the late 1950s.  Along for the ride was his 14 year old girlfriend Caril Ann Fugate.

Holly is a lonely 15 year old girl in a small Texas town who lives with her dad.  He voice echoes throughout the film in voice over that is more than just narration but is like a diary of her thoughts and feeling about life.  While twirling her baton one afternoon in the front yard a young and muscular garbage collector starts up a conversation, this is Kit.  Kit is charismatic bad boy from the other side of the tracks with a strong resemblance to James Dean.  Kit is about 10 years older than Holly and their fast moving relationship has been kept from her father.  But when he finds out he takes it out on her dog by shooting it in the yard.  Kit pleads to him that he is a good man and that he means only the best, but this doesn’t work.  When things come to a head Kit gets violent and when trying to take Holly away he shoots him dead.  Holly seems rather indifferent to this.  It could be that she is in a state of shock cause she does slap Kit, but sees this as he chance for freedom.  They bury his body and set the house ablaze before hitting the dusty open road.


They hideout in the woods making treehouses and eating what they can find or steal.  When a group of bounty hunters come across their camp Kit is ready for them and kills all 3.  Holly is quick to defend him although does she really know what kind a person he really is?  They run to a friend of Kit’s and stay with him for a while until Kit’s paranoia gets the better of him and shoots him in the back when he thinks he is about to rat on them.  Kit and Holly hit the road once again but for Holly life on the run is still a life of solitude and loneliness.  She doesn’t take part in the killings but she is loyal to Kit.  They become a part of the landscape just like all of the other animals we see in the barren plains.  They make their own roads with no destination in mind.  Although they are both looking to be free, they end up creating their own prisons.  The law finally catches up with them in Montana.  He leaves Holly so she doesn’t get hurt and burns a path through the plains.  He seems to have out run the police but sabotages his own car, and allows himself to be caught.  He is polite and congenial to all of the law enforcement people.  He is so charismatic and likable that some of the cops even ask for his autograph.

This is one of the great films of the 70s and introduced the world to Terrance Malick.  His films are deeply meditative and in tune with the natural world and peoples involvement with it.  He later went on to direct the equally brilliant “Days of Heaven” in 1978.  Only then to take an astonishing 20 year break from filmmaking and reappearing with “The Thin Red Line” in 1998.  He has now been making films at a regular rate.  An artist and philosopher Malick is truly one of a kind. 

"Natural Born Killers" by Oliver Stone

2/15/2018

Controversial in its time Oliver Stone’s 1994 film “Natural Born Killers” was at the center of the long heated debate of whether media violence influences actual violence, especially in young people.  Similar to rock music and horror movie outrage in the 80s.  It’s just one of those issues that will never go away.  

This film is an all out assault on the senses, an acid trip down desert roads and small towns.  A sharply satirical look at the early 90’s when the “Talk Show” was king and tabloid journalism went to unimaginable lengths.  While inspired by the true story of Bonnie and Clyde and the Arthur Penn film, “Natural Born Killers” is pure fiction.  Here we have Mickey and Mallory Knox, a love crazed couple on a vicious killing spree and becoming tabloid and talk show mega stars in the process.  The film is shot completely in dutch angles giving every moment a jagged and uneasy feeling.  The editing is a cocaine fueled chop shop with almost 3,000 cuts.  Cutting in black and white footage, animation, different film stocks, you name it it’s in there.

Mickey, “the big bad wolf," is played by Woody Harrelson and is a revelation when compared to his previous persona of the meek country boy Woody Boyd in the popular T.V. show “Cheers”.  Mallory is played by the little known actress Juliette Lewis.  While looking like a young Patti Smith, she matches Harrelson’s crazy intensity.  A pre-drug rehab Robert Downy Jr. plays Wayne Gale, a self righteous Geraldo Rivera like television journalist who will do anything to get the story, no matter how many people he hurts along the way.  On the hunt for Mickey and Mallory is an equally twisted Detective Jack Scagnetti (Tom Sizemore), while being and author himself he falls for the media hype surrounding the couple.  Comedian Rodney Dangerfield also goes against type as Mallory’s abusive father, while brief his scenes are pretty amazing.


At about the mid point of the film Mickey and Mallory run into a Native American man who can see them for who they are.  He is the only selfless and kind character in the whole film.  Around the fire he puts them into a nightmarish trance where they relive the abuse inflicted upon them by their parents.  Mickey is jolted awake only to shoot the native man as a reflex.  As they leave this is the only time he feels real regret for what they’ve done.  Outside they become surround by an army of rattle snakes and are bitten numerous times.  Life on the run is about to come to an end in the parking of a pharmacy where they try to get the “snake juice”.  Separated and taken to prison they come under the eye of Warden Wurlitzer, played by Tommy Lee Jones.  Just like all the other characters, the warden is an extremely intense looking dude like he is 2 seconds from massive heart attack.  However the warden allows Wayne Gale a special post Super Bowl live interview with Mickey himself.  This is the just the moment needed to light a fuse and bring down the whole establishment.  While trying to figure out why Mickey is the way he is we come to a tipping point.  “I guess I’m just a Natural Born Killer” (Hey, that’s the title of the film) after those words a prison riot erupts and an orgy of anger, violence and mayhem is released.  Mickey and Mallory escape and our heroes/mass murderers are free and their newest super fan Wayne Gale is along for the ride.  Until they make an example of him being the worst kind of person.  The epitome of what is wrong with modern society.  He begs for him life and that he needs to survive to tell their tale.  They point to the running camera and his life is ended.


Does this film glamorize violence and manipulate young minds into deviant life choice? Does music?  Does the daily news?

Take the Trip with "Bonnie and Clyde"

2/7/2017

“Bonnie and Clyde” was released in 1967 and based on the true story of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow whose depression era crime spree is one of the most infamous in American History.  Starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway this film is a true classic.  The film was released in a time when the country was going through some tough times both socially and politically.  The films depiction of on screen violence was quite the landmark in that it set the tone for films to come.  The filmmakers don’t just  show the violence, but the consequences of it as well.  It depicts Bonnie and Clyde as heroes even as they rob banks and murder police officers.  They were also decades ahead of their time as they were some of the first media superstars.  They were proud of what they were doing and told people “We rob banks”.  They took pictures of themselves holding guns and looking tough, especially Bonnie with a cigar in her mouth and a gun on her hip.  Bonnie was a lonely and bored small town waitress with no hopes for the future, while Clyde was an ex-con with a talent for stealing cars.  They were the perfect match and fell in love almost immediately.  The film is so many things it’s a love story, a road movie, a crime drama and even funny at times.

The themes of personal freedom, rebelling against authority, and strong women fit in perfectly with the ideals of the 1960s.  Bonnie and Clyde end up forming the Barrow Gang which included his brother Buck and his wife Blanche and C. W.  Moss a young gas station attendant who is good at driving and fixing cars.  During a bank robbery while the gang gathers up all the money, Clyde asks an old man in overalls if “That’s his money or the banks?” “Its mine” he says and Clyde lets him keep it.  Clyde is not out to harm and steal from the good blue collar working man, but the establishment itself.  I think he sees himself as a sort of vigilante against the oppressive government. 

While the film is light on music and quiet in some dramatic moments, there are several scenes with a loud banjo playing.  It just doesn’t seem to fit.  It’s probably put in for a light hearted and comedic tone, but I found it quite distracting.  The editing was also a little off putting at times.  When Bonnie and Clyde are hiding out and in bed together Clyde proclaims again that he is no lover boy and gets up frustrated, the cuts are rather disorienting.  I get what the directors wants to communicate, but I just think it looks bad and sloppy.  There were also a few scenes that looked way too melodramatic and overacted.  The actress Estelle Parson who plays Blanche actually won an Academy Award for her role which I thought was way over the top and actually annoying at times.


As I mentioned previously the violence is quite brutal and realistic for the time.  There are a number of shoot outs with the cops and in the last one Buck is shot in the face, but staggers around in a bloody mess for the next few scenes before finally dying.  Both Bonnie and Clyde get shot in the arm and Blanche gets glass in her eyes.  But the ultimate scene is when Bonnie and Clyde finally reach the end of their crime spree and are taken out in a hale of gunfire. I really liked this film and can see why people call it a classic and although its 50 years old it still holds up as an entertaining an engaging film.


Nicholas Roeg's "Walkabout" is a Spiritual Journey

1/20/2018

A walkabout is an Australian aboriginal ritual right of passage a young boy makes to become a man.  Nicholas Roeg’s 1971 film “Walkabout” is a study of humanity and the clashes of old and new.  Juxtaposing the fast and furious city life to that of the slowed down outback and quite the shock for a couple of kids who like the aboriginal boy are thrust into the harsh landscape to fend for themselves.

A teenage girl, played by Jenny Agutter, and her little brother, the directors son Luc, play unnamed characters who are going out on a picnic with their father.  Not to Hanging Rock mind you, but into the flat and desolate outback.  The father character, played by John Meillon, remains in the VW Bug rather distraught as he looks at his newspaper and listens to the radio.  The children investigate the landscape and the girl sets up the picnic area.  Then shockingly the reason for the picnic becomes clear, the father takes out a gun and fires on the kids, who duck for cover.   He then douses the car in gasoline and lights it up, then kneeling before it raises the gun to his head and fires.  In shock the kids gather their few possessions and head into the landscape.  Roeg keeps the cameras eye on various different animals that populate the outback usually opening new scene with a different animal, the character have now entered an area where they are also one of the animals.

The kids roam the dusty expanse in the full sun with no clear destination.  Nearing exhaustion they finally find and oasis, a small watering hole with trees and little fruits.  They bathe, drink and rest until the next morning when everything has dried up.  With their survival in doubt a figure appears on the horizon, its and aboriginal boy hunting lizards.  The boy is played by David Gulpilil who has since had a long career of playing aboriginal characters. “Walkabout” being his film debut he plays a character about the same age as the girl about 16 or so.  Although there is a language barrier, he helps them out with survival techniques and companionship.  He is your average teenage boy, he likes to goof around and has an amazing smile.  Undertones of sexuality begin to filter in as their journey continues, although still with no destination in sight.  There is a quick cut montage of the aboriginal boy hunting and the girl swimming naked.  Death, beauty, and survival are the themes that rule in the outback.

They end up finding the abandon ruins of a farm and set up camp there for the foreseeable future.  One of the main overarching theme of the film is of the white mans desecration of the native people and there lands, similar to the United States.  The aboriginal boy disappears for a while and returns to perform what looks to be a mating ritual.  He is painted white and dances outside the house hold plants in each hand.  From the girls point of view this looks to be a frightening and menacing dance.  All through this he is silent and make strange facial expressions.  She stays away from him in fear while he does this dance all throughout the night.  Things happen that I don’t want to give away in this review, but the girl is obviously left changed by her experiences in the outback. 

“Walkabout” is great film that has so many things to say.  It is the death of innocence, a comment on modern (1971) society, and mainly of the human condition.  It is made by a master filmmaker and deserves to be seen by all.


The Beautiful and Uplifting "Whale Rider"


1/1/2018

The New Zealand based film “Whale Rider” was the indie phenomena of the 2002 award season.  Directed by Nicki Caro and starring 13 year old Keisha Castle-Hughes, both of which receiving numerous awards and critical praise.  Castle-Hughes was at the time the youngest person to ever be nominated for Best Actress in a Leading role at the Academy Awards.  The film is about girl power, about strength and determination in the face of male dominated traditions.

Paikea, is a young Maori girl descended from a long line of tribal chiefs.  She would be in line to take over one day but she happens to be a girl.  Only first born sons are allowed to rule.  Her mother and twin brother died in child birth and she is being raised by her Father and Grandfather named Koro.  Koro has always resented Paikea and blames her for killing his daughter and the first born son.  Although they love each other, they have a very strained relationship. Their society is deeply traditional and have no desire to change, but with Paikea’s will and determination, not to mention natural born talents, she will try to push Koro to institute long needed changes. 

This relationship between Paikea and Koro is at the heart of the film.  Paikea is constantly testing Koro’s patience as she tries to train with the boys and at one point defeats one of the them in a stick exercise.  Blasphemy! Koro feels that she is desecrating sacred rituals.  She then goes to live with another women and shows off some amazing skills in the water.  While back home Koro slips into a deep depression, his conflicted feelings has thrown his whole life out of whack.  He can’t even find it in his heart to attend Paikea’s big play at school.  At this play she gives this absolutely heartbreaking speech, that really kicks the film into high gear.  Koro ends up taking a walk along the beach to get some air and encounters a beached whale.  He gets some help and the race is on to save it.  While Paikea arrives home just in time to become the person she was born to be.  With a calm confidence way beyond her years she instinctually climbs atop the giant mammal and directs it back to sea.  Just like the old stories and folklore foretold, Paikea is the one.  Koro has this major epiphany and accepts Paikea as the true heir and next tribal chief.  “Whale Rider” is a deeply emotional and entertaining film without being overly sappy and over the top.  It feel true to life and all the performance are absolutely incredible.