Sofia Coppola's Debut Film "The Virgin Suicides"


The directorial debut of Sofia Coppola came in 1999 in the form of an adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides hypnotically enthralling book “The Virgin Suicides”.  The daughter of famed director Francis Ford Coppola, Sofia made a less than stellar acting debut in her fathers Godfather: Part III in the early 90s.  Her immense talents in directing is definitely were she belongs and it all started with this film.

The Lisbon sisters, Cecilia, Lux, Bonnie, Mary and Therese live in a modest suburban Detroit neighborhood.  Their mystical beauty casts a spell over the neighbor boys that last a lifetime.  The mystery and legend of the girls only deepens as they all end up taking their own lives.  Born too strict religious parents played by James Woods and Kathleen Turner, the girls live a sheltered life and their noose of freedom is always getting tighter and tighter.  The film is told through the memories of the neighbor boys who spend there days imaging what the girls must be like.

The youngest of the girls, Cecilia (Hanna Hall), gets things started by surviving a suicide attempt.  Her lost and melancholic face always seems to be somewhere else. Like the film itself it lives in this dreamy sort of limbo between life and death.  After getting advice from counselors the Lisbon parents agree to throw a party so the girls can socialize with boys.  This ends as bad as a party possibly can as Cecilia finishes what she started by killing herself.  

Lux (Kirsten Dunst), the second oldest at 14 is by far the most outgoing and adventurous of the girls.  She is pursued by the coolest guy in school Trip Fontaine (Josh Hartnett).  She plays hard to get but Trip is persistent and eventually wins her over with their relationship culminating at the homecoming dance.  Ignoring her curfew and other sisters she gives it all up for Trip as they spend the night on the football field.  Waking up alone, Lux returns home to a new level of restraint.  Her infuriated parents take the girls out of school and their bedroom becomes their prison. Lux devolves into the town slut as the boys watch her sneak out to be with a new guy just about every night.  The girls eventually reach out to the guys and they communicate their feelings over the phone by playing records back and forth.  The girls finally decide they want out and the guys agree to take them any where they want, but their way out is more drastic than anyone could have imagined.

As I mentioned before Coppola injects a dreamy, otherworldly quality to every aspect of the film.  Being set in the 1970s reinforces this, from the clothing and music and performance of the actors.  Although I would have liked to have known more about the other sisters, the five of them all seem to act as one.  The ultimate question of why the girls kill themselves remains a mystery, even as the guys vividly recall the events some 20 years later.  For Coppola “The Virgin Suicides” was only a precursor to her hit 2003 film “Lost is Translation” which brought her several awards and accolades.

Rockport Rates: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

1. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Obviously, the original is a landmark film in the history of not only horror but cinema itself.

2. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
A remake of unexpected greatness that launched the glut of other horror re-makes most of which were awful.  An extremely rare example of a remake/sequel hitting all the right notes and delivering a decent film.

3. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)
Tobe Hooper’s sequel takes more of an over the top comedic route starring Dennis Hopper.

4. Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 (1990)
An interesting and adequate sequel aside from it’s ridiculously impossible ending.  

5. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006)
After the success of the 2003 re-make, this origin story film leaves a little to be desired, but not as bad and the utter garbage to come.  Tries to follow in the steps of Saw and Hostel with the excessive and over the top gore.

6. Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994)
Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger? Two big Hollywood actors from Texas get there starts in the plotless mine numbing insanity.

7. Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013)
An obvious money grab trying to cash in on the renewed 3D craze.  Just terrible all round from the script, actors, you name it.

8. Leatherface (2017)

This second origin story is as lifeless as a hacked up corpse.  Picking up on some of the dead end story lines of the previous film.  Stop humanizing Leatherface!  A lazy script and D list actors trying to remain relevant.  We need more grindhouse and less boring Dr. Phil backstory.

"Joy Ride" is a quite a Trip!


One of the forgotten gems of the early 2000s, “Joyride” is a thrilling and entertaining road film with a horror twist.  Starring the late Paul Walker, Steve Zahn and Leelee Sobieski the cast is first rate as well as the direction by John Dahl.  The script also got a rewrite from J.J. Abrams, who at the time was a relative unknown.  Although mired in re-shoots and other setbacks, the final film is surprisingly good.

Lewis (Paul Walker) is a college student from California who is going home for spring break and decides to cash in his plane ticket to buy a crappy car so he can pick up his girlfriend in Colorado.  He gets a call from his estranged older brother Fuller (Steve Zahn) who needs to be bailed out of jail.  This creates our nice little road trip scenario.  Fuller is the risk taking loose canon compared to Lewis’s more reserved and responsible type.  While getting a tire fixed Fuller has a CB Radio put it, kind of random, but it works.  This sets up the whole premise of the film.  To pass the time on the open road the guys use the CB to pretend to be women, Fuller’s idea pf course.  Lewis or Candy Cane as he calls himself plays along and they go fishing on the airwaves.  They start talking to a guy named Rusty Nail and start to reel him in.  They go as far as setting up a meeting a sleazy roadside motel and when Fuller runs into angry businessman in the rental office decide he should be the one to meet up with Rusty.  The guys rent the room next door so they can here how it all goes down.  Obviously it doesn’t go well and the man is severely beaten.  They guys are shaken and have a bit of a guilty conscious, but they talk it over with police and are back on the road in no time.

Still furious that he’d been played Rusty Nail tracks down guys and turns the tables on them.  What makes or breaks this film is Lewis and Fuller, they are real relatable people, who are more than you average horror stereotypes.  They play off each other really well and Zahn’s off the wall character is very well done in a role that could have been an awful parody.  You feel for the guy and you want them to survive.  At the halfway point of the film we finally meet Venna (Sobieski), Lewis’s girlfriend.  She is smart, sophisticated, and nothing like your typical scream queen, although things do end up trending towards the damsel in distress syndrome in the third act.  Rusty Nail continues to torment our characters and abducts Venna’s roommate.  In the films funniest scene Rusty forces Lewis and Fuller to go in into a restaurant buck naked and order burgers.  Rusty then manages to abduct Venna as well in a cornfield chase.  He then sets a trap for the guys at another roadside motel, just like what they did to him.  “Joyride” has its share of Hitchcockian moments and strives to be better than your run of the mill horror movie, even if it does tread on familiar themes.  And like most horror films leaves you with an ambiguous twist ending that leaves open the possibly for sequels.  Two straight to video sequels were made without any of the original characters, except for Rusty Nail of course, I don’t plan on seeing these but they do exist.

Abel Ferrara's Cult Classic "Ms.45" Starring Zoe Lund


In the same vein as “I Spit on Your Grave” released in 1978, “Ms.45” released in 1981 is a rape revenge shocker.  A B style feminist film of a woman’s revenge against the men who have assaulted her.  While “Grave” got all the attention, good and bad, “Ms.45” has been a hard to find almost forgotten cult classic.  In 2014 Drafthouse Films released a new remastered copy of the film on DVD and Blu-ray.

Directed by Abel Ferrara and starring the amazing Zoe (Tamerlis) Lund.  This was Zoe’s film debut and at only 17 is quite the revelation as the mute garment worker Thana.  Like most of Ferrara’s films the story takes place on the gritty streets of New York City.  This was the early 80s so it has that grimy sleazy feel to it.  It is established early on that all men are dirty sex crazed pigs, and on the way home from work the meek and innocent Thana is hauled off into an alley and raped by a masked man.  While this is happening another man is breaking into her apartment.  In a state of shock Thana makes her way home only to run into the burglar still in her apartment, where she is raped again.  Although this time she is able to kill her assailant with an iron.  Now what to do with the body?  She pulls him into the bathtub and dismembers him, wrapping his pieces in garbage bags which she gets rids of on walks throughout the film.  Thana’s journey from sweet and innocence to sexy cold blooded killer is amazing as Zoe shows great range and boldness for a girl her age.

Thana’s work starts to suffer and her boss, Albert, gives her a break because of her severe disability.  Her nightmares and anxiety drive her over the edge and after shooting another over eager sleezeball in the face, she starts actively looking for more victims.  She lays on the red lipstick pretty thick as she trolls the streets doling her brand of vigilante justice.  Her stereotypical victims are actually pretty funny.  She kills a pimp whose whaling on one of his girls.  Then gets into a car with a Arab Sheik who thinks she’s a prostitute, she kills him and his driver.  In another ridiculous encounter she kills or injures an entire street gang.  This is all pure B movie awesomeness.

In an effort to make Thanna feel better and be more apart of things, Albert wants her to attend a Halloween party and she agrees. This party in the climax to this great piece of cinema.  Dressed as a nun with Albert as her date she mingles with the crowd and they both eventually go upstairs.  Although Albert is obviously gay, he comes on to Thanna and pays the price, but in this instance Thanna was in full control and looks to have planned his murder.  She then goes on a slow motion killing spree throughout the party targeting all the men.  She is taken down by one of her female co-workers with a knife to the back, metaphors anyone?

This is a great film if you love the nostalgic seventies-ish vibe.  The musical score is full of whaling saxophones and disco beats.  At a cost of about $70,000 this film has it all and I didn’t even mention Thanna’s eccentric landlady and her dog Phil.  Check it out and you’ll have a great time!

"Welcome to the Dollhouse" The Best Indie Film of 1995!

Welcome to the Dollhouse

“Welcome to the dollhouse” was the breakout indie film of 1995 and launched the career of film maker Todd Solondz.  The auteur director is known for his dark humor and satirical wit, he likes to torture his characters not to mention his audience with painfully awkward and embarrassing moments that also hit a nerve of truth.  
Heather Matarazzo plays Dawn Wiener a spirited seven grader.  But let’s be honest she’s far from the prettiest girl in school and growing up is hard.  She is mercilessly bullied at school and is know as “Wiener dog”.  We follow Dawn in the school cafeteria desperately trying to find a place to sit, but that’s only the beginning of her daily adventures.  Even when trying to do good and helping others it always seems to backfire.  When trying to defend herself, she is the one that gets punished.  Home is not much better with her younger pretty ballerina sister and older book smart brother.  She is the family whipping girl.  Its comes to mind that if there was ever and inspiration for the character of Meg on “Family Guy’ this is your girl.

You’d think that Dawn would be damn near suicidal, but no she takes it in stride and lives her life.  She has cobbled together a clubhouse in the yard called “The Special People’s Club” where she and a neighbor boy talk.  Unknown to her she is later told what the clubhouse really means.  When her brother starts a garage band with a couple of his friends they sound awful until they get high schooler Steve Rogers to be their lead singer.  Dawn is immediately smitten with him.  A common theme in a Solondz movies is that Love is awkward and bizarre and feelings can burst out in some pretty strange ways.  When Brandon, the meanest of Dawn’s bullies, threatens to rape her after school, she is terrified. The first attempt is thwarted by a school janitor and when Dawn shows up for the second attempt they just goof around.  He kisses her, but its rather sweet and not in the least menacing or violent.  Brandon really is more than just a one dimensional bully stereotype.  His character is fleshed out and made whole, when see why he acts the way her does. Their relationship is odd but thats life.

While taking place in the early 1990s before the internet, smart phones and social media the ideas explored are timeless.  A dark satirical thread is woven through this thick tapestry of American suburban life.  “Welcome to the Dollhouse”.