Tag Archives: Romance

Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown

Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown runs right around two and a half hours, and if you were to go through the film and separate all the scenes that are directly about the central plot specifics from the ones that are simply characters hanging out, shooting the shit and socializing, you’d probably cut the film in half. There’s a lesson I was taught in film school and it goes something like “every scene in the script must serve/move the plot and anything that doesn’t must go.” Well, I get the creative sentiment there but it’s often much more complicated than that, and often very subjective what one person will distill personally from a scene and use for their appreciation of the story overall versus another person being bored by it. In the case of Jackie Brown, I absolutely loved each and every laidback scene of breezy character development. These people start talking about movies, weed, cars, guns, the city or anything offhand and slowly, gradually they shift into what the story is about, which is the genius of Tarantino’s screenplay, an adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s novel Rum Punch.

As the titular Jackie Brown, Pam Grier gives the performance of her career as a desperate middle aged career woman trying to score a little extra loot for herself, and getting trapped between a rock and a hard place in the process. She smuggles cash in from Mexico for low rent arms dealer Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson), a fast talking psychopath who enlists his newly released ex con pal Louis (Robert De Niro) into helping him out with the latest gig. Also involved is Ordell’s beach bunny stoner girlfriend Melanie (Bridget Fonda), a low level thug on his payroll (Chris Tucker) and stoic, sad eyed bail bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster). All these players shuffle around the LA chessboard, often lazily and in no rush and it’s these scenes that give the film its lifeblood. Jackie and Max find compassion, solace and bittersweet romance together, Tarantino let’s them circle each other in no great hurry and later in the film when they do share a kiss it’s just the most beautiful, well built up moment. Grier comes from a blaxploitation background and it’s apparent in her performance, but we also get the sense that this operates on a real plane, much more so than many other Tarantino films. Forster is always noble, observant and calm in most of his career, there’s a few obscure manic performances from him out there but for the most part he underplays his work. Max has to be his best creation, a steely journeyman dude who’s seen enough and wants something new in his life, something he finds in Jackie as he falls in love with her literally at first sight.

This is a character piece, and in addition to Grier and Forster we get incredibly vivid, funny and idiosyncratic work from all involved. Jackson is hysterical as the most verbose cat of the bunch, he’s also scarier than Jules in Pulp Fiction too. DeNiro plays Louis as a dim-headed fuck-up who seems to be playing dumb to stealth people, then seems to actually be thick again until we’re just not sure right up until the hilarious last few beats of his arc that result in some of the funniest black comedy I’ve ever seen. Fonda let’s a stoned veneer hide a deep resentment and hatred for pretty much everyone around her until she takes it one step too far and pays for it hilariously. Michael Keaton and Michael Bowen show up doing a flawless good cop bad cop routine as a local Detective and an ATF agent on both Jackie’s and Ordell’s trail. Watch for Lisa Gay Hamilton, Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister and genre veteran Sid Haig as well.

I get conflicted when ranking this amongst other Tarantino films because he’s adapting someone else’s work and therefore it’s not purely his creation, which is always when his most energetic and inspired stuff happens. Jackie Brown is a masterpiece and one of my favourite films, no doubt. But it’s Tarantino doing something else, chilling out in the pool and letting this cast of characters hang out too, in bars, beach apartments, cars, cluttered offices, malls and airports. There’s no great momentum or surge behind this story, it’s all very laconic and easy breezy, which is the strongest quality. But it just as much feels like a Leonard story as it does Tarantino, which works too. His crazy, wild style and pop culture obsessions are given a modest track to race around because of Leonard’s low key, slow burn dialogue aesthetic and the resulting flavour is so good it’s almost perfect. But it’s not just Quentin at the helm. Whatever your thoughts on that and comparisons with this film next to the ones he’s both written and directed, there’s no arguing that this is a beautiful, hilarious, touching, suspenseful, romantic classic of the crime genre.

-Nate Hill

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Bob Rafelson’s No Good Deed

It’s kind of rare for rambunctious actors like Samuel L. Jackson and Milla Jovovich to sit still for something as dramatic and dialogue heavy as Bob Rafelson’s No Good Deed, but it’s nice to see. This is a thriller of sorts, but it’s more low key than that and ends up being a chamber piece about two characters getting to know each other that just happens to take place against a criminal backdrop. Jackson plays a police detective on a routine investigation who turns up at the wrong place at the wrong time and gets drawn into a weird bunch of felons all hiding out and planning a bank job. Stellan Skarsgard is Tyrone, their volatile, violent leader, Jovovich is his quiet but intuitive and underestimated girlfriend, left alone to watch Jackson, now their hostage. This leaves acres of script space for Milla and Samuel to play, manipulate each other, bicker, banter, become close and twist the situation to both their ends while gradually catching feels for each other. It’s interesting that Rafelson casts these two because they’re usually to be found in action heavy stuff, shooting guns, swinging swords and tasked with stylized dialogue. Here they are laid back, oddly but nicely paired and the most quiet I’ve ever seen them, and it… kind of works. Skarsgard is mean and nasty, which he’s always been great at, journeyman oddball Doug Hutchison plays another lowlife in their gang, while Joss Ackland and Grace ‘Sarah Palmer’ Zabriskie play the senior faction of the crew, a strange husband wife duo who can still wield a shotgun when the situation calls for it. This is based on a Dashiell Hammett story which probably means it was sitting in someone’s desk drawer for decades before being found and reworked for this century. Rafelson gives it the pacing of something by Elmore Leonard and eccentricities to spare. It’s not a super memorable thing or a great film by any standards but works well enough as a sleepy, romantic crime thriller. Oh yeah, this is the legendary Rafelson’s final feature film before apparent retirement, so it’s worth checking out for that reason too.

-Nate Hill

Mick Jackson’s The Bodyguard

I really wanted to like The Bodyguard, and I even convinced myself during it that it’s a better film than it is, but at the end of the day i had to reconcile that it’s just messy, unfocused and doesn’t sell us enough on the story. By now everyone know what’s up here: sombre, serious personal bodyguard Kevin Costner is hired to protect free spirited, social butterfly pop star Whitney Houston from any assailants or stalkers. She’s reluctant at first, he’s a paranoid micro manager who uneases her entourage. There’s a rapport that leads to romance, and they fall in love. Once the stakes are high, an elusive, dangerous stalker begins to make moves on her, threatening everyone’s life and the romance we are supposed to care deeply about. But…do we? There is a modicum of natural chemistry between the two, but it isn’t allowed to bloom organically and ends up both choked and smothered by an overelaborate thriller baseline full of ludicrous plot turns and sensationalistic stuff. Their affair is periodically put on hold by threats, the faux academy awards, a trip up north to visit Costner’s father (Ralph Waite) and other diversions but in a film with this much potential I expected much more time spent solely on these two, their interactions and what they mean to each other. The thriller elements are played up to maniacal heights and I really wish they would have calmed their shit with it, I know that’s part of the deal here but they’re trying to be In The Line Of Fire or something and it’s laughable. The film finds some footing in Houston, who gives a fantastic performance and the best work in sight here, but neither Costner, the script or the overall resulting film rise up to meet her. She’s soulful, vulnerable and full of life while everyone around her seems sort of vaguely confused and preoccupied with nothing in particular, apart from Mike Starr who shows signs of life as a loyal member of her posse. The thriller machinations aren’t believable and a character who is purported to be so keen and intelligent as Costner is here would have realistically figured out the identity of the killer an act earlier than he does here, but the plot requires him not to until the very last minute, frustratingly so. Don’t even get me started on the ending that is so not earned by a well cultivated relationship that came before, or the super awkward, random final shot that had me laughing but not in a good way. Worth it for Whitney, it’s obvious here why she a superstar and she has the acting chops to back up that beautiful voice, but she really deserved a far better film than this.

-Nate Hill

Richard Pearce’s No Mercy

Richard Pearce’s No Mercy is essentially a formula cop/revenge flick with all the recognizable elements visible, but it’s done so damn well that any generic beats don’t even really matter when you’re treated to atmosphere, action and chemistry this good. Richard Gere is an actor who gets cast as the affluent business guy or clean cut hero often, but he’s most effective when they let him fly his freak flag a bit and show some edge, he’s scary here as an unhinged Chicago detective out to avenge the savage murder of his partner following a botched sting operation that wasn’t even sanctioned to begin with. He’s led from the grey urban sprawl of the Windy City to sweaty, jazz soaked backroads of New Orleans in pursuit of a really nasty local kingpin (Jeroen Krabbe) responsible for the bloodshed. There’s naturally a blonde bombshell (Kim Basinger) who belongs to this monster since she was sold to him at age thirteen, and naturally sparks fly between the two as they fall in love amidst a rain of bullets, standoffs, chases and shootouts. You might be rolling your eyes and I’ll admit that the plot is well trodden soil but honestly this thing is so well made and engaging I didn’t care that I knew how it would all turn out because after all, the fun is in the journey there. Gere and Basinger have a natural rapport that isn’t rushed or forced and for a good two thirds of the film they hate each other in realistic fashion so that when passion eventually ignites it feels warranted. Plus the romance is so secondary to them simply meeting as two people that it never feels silly nor soppy and there’s somehow something sexier about her teaching him how to eat crawfish than the two of them actually getting it on. Gere is a live wire here, out of his element in the Bayou but determined to avenge his partner’s at any cost, including his own life. “If I die it’ll be on Chicago concrete!” He barks stubbornly, and we believe it. Basinger always brings a wounded nature to her work, she’s fantastic here as someone he believes to be a planted seductress until he learns that she’s just another victim. There’s a painful scene where she has to sign a lawyers form and when the attorney (perennial 80’s asshole William Atherton) announces that she can’t read, you can see the sympathy unclouded on Gere’s face. Sparks fly between these two and I’d love to see their other collaboration Final Analysis at some point. George Dzunda makes a fiery appearance as Gere’s wrecking ball of a precinct captain, a dude with a thousand yard glare who’s standing less than a foot from you. Alan Silvestri outdoes himself with a smokehouse of a score that accents Louisiana nicely and cues Krabbe’s bad guy in creepy fashion. This dude is one nasty piece of work, and the character can be forgiven for being one-note simply for how scary he is, a greasy haired, sadistic French bastard who enjoys gutting people with a knife and lords over the Bayou with a reign of ice terror. I’m not sure why this has amassed such a lukewarm overall reaction. It’s nothing innovative but everything it tries to do it does excellently. Stylish, immersive romantic crime thriller with a hot blooded central romance, well staged action scenes and atmosphere to spare.

-Nate Hill

James Mangold’s Knight & Day

Both Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz can carry a film nicely on their own, but both of them front and centre in the same project makes for a great time, even if it is a piece of inconsequential fluff like James Mangold’s Knight & Day, a riff on the romantic action spy comedy that sees the two of them shooting their way across the globe before inevitably ending up in each other’s arms. This film looks, feels and sounds like a million others out there, it’s brightly lit, generically shot and doesn’t have much in the way of its own brand of style or atmosphere. What sets it apart are Tom and Cameron, who breathe life into the two roles and provide their own lighting with those famous smiles. He’s Roy Miller, a slightly aloof super spy on the run from both his former bosses (Viola Davis and Peter Sarsgaard, both meaning business) and a nasty Latin arms dealer (Jordi Molla). She’s June Havens, a bubbly rare auto restorer who bumps into him in the airport and gets swept up in a frenzied world of intrigue, murder, car chases, dodgy feds, international escapism and all the Miller Lite PG-13 gunplay the MPAA can shake a stick at. There’s a freeway pileup in Boston, a rowdy hand to hand beatdown aboard a plane that Cruise is forced to land in a cornfield, a motorbike chase in Madrid, and (my favourite) a close quarters knife fight on a train through the Austrian Alps. It’s all fun and games without much of a brain in its head, but the idea is to have a good time anyways. Cruise plays it slightly loopy here, as if decades of stressful spy work has left him… not quite all there. Best line of the film? “Nobody move or I’ll kill myself and then her!” He barks to a diner full of people as he drags her off to another action sequence. Diaz is game for it and keeps up with him, especially once she starts to get a feel for the fast and loose lifestyle. The film doesn’t make too much of an impression and I wish it had more of an organic vibe all its own to match what the two stars bring to the table, because as is the overall visual aesthetic is a bit bland, and over-lit. Cruise and Diaz make it worthwhile though, and are clearly having a blast. It just occurred to me, but where did that title even come from?

-Nate Hill

The Man In The Moon

The Man In The Moon is a hauntingly opaque title for a film; it could be a literal sci fi, decidedly cartoonish or something more vague. In this case it’s a sad, enlightening and unusually mature coming of age story starring Reese Witherspoon as a girl teetering on the cusp of childlike whimsy and the tough life lessons that follow, introduced to romance, tragedy and the complexities of life as one gets older. The poster and description sounds something along the lines of My Girl, which is an astute enough film about the nasty curveballs that life throws us, but this one deliberately dodges any cliches we may see coming and mines life for the odd, unpredictable turns it takes that you don’t often find woven into narratives. Witherspoon has never been better than she was in her first few key roles as a young actress, this being a lynchpin. She plays Dani, a fourteen year old girl growing up in the south with her loving parents (Sam Waterson and Tess Harper) and beautiful older sister (Emily Warfield). She’s a forthright tomboy who loves playing in hidden glens and watering holes out in the backwater, and finds a kindred spirit in Court (Jason London), a teenage boy new to the region living with his mom and brothers. Sparks fly between the two and burgeoning emotions rose up in Dani with the fires of adolescence, until confusion and tragedy force her to reconcile them in ways that are difficult for a girl her age. The plot takes you by surprise and doesn’t him along idyllically like similar films, rather finding the bends in the road of life and emphasizing that things don’t go our way more often than they do. Witherspoon is magic in the role, balancing anger, first time heartbreak and grief incredibly carefully. She never over or underplays emotion either, and that goes for the rest of the cast too, who all coexist realistically, make the rural setting feel lived in and sculpt the relationships between one another in genuine, warm fashion. A gem that’s been sort of lost in the tides of time, but holds up wonderfully.

-Nate Hill

Steve De Jarnett’s Miracle Mike

Ever had one of those clammy nightmares where you’re dead sure that some catastrophic disaster is imminent, but are next to powerless to do anything about it, run or escape what’s coming? Steve Dejarnett’s Miracle Mile captures that feeling uncannily well, and is now one of my favourite films for that as well as many other reasons. It’s not that that sensation is pleasant or at all enjoyable to relive outside of a dream, but it’s so hard to tangibly recreate on film that what Miracle Mike achieves is a rare commodity among mood-scapes. The film is disarmingly benign as it opens: a young man (Anthony Edwards) and woman (Mare Winningham) meet and fall in love outside a neon adorned diner in dreamy, pastel hued Los Angeles. They make plans for later that night, and a whimsical note takes hold. We’re treated to some of the most inspired foreshadowing I’ve ever seen involving a pigeon, a lit cigarette and an open power line. As night descends on the Miracle Mile neighbourhood of LA, Edwards finds himself back at the diner when the pay phone outside rings. He answers it, and a frantic voice warns him that nuclear attack is coming to the city in just over an hour. What would you do? Who would you tell? He races right back into the diner and, panicked, informs the rogues gallery of oddballs you’d find at such an establishment after midnight. Naturally they all freak out too, and as soon as that cat is out of the bag, it’s a feverish, mad dash to exit the city before the threat arrives, if indeed it is a credible danger. That’s part of the beauty here; whether or not this is a hoax is not clearly revealed until the absolute last minute of the film, but would you risk not taking it seriously? These characters react in a variety of ways, but Edwards just wants to find that special girl he met earlier when things felt so sunny and full of possibility, to find her and escape together. It’s one of those ‘real time, one night in the crazy city’ films that unfolds over a short period of time but couldn’t be more full of instances, encounters and the kind of strange occurrences only the witching hour has to offer. The romantic angle, usually played to the hilt of melodrama in these kinds of films, is somehow so frank and truthful that we buy it, we care about these two kids and it makes the thought of apocalypse all the more dreadful. For all it’s focus on death and potential destruction, this is a beautiful film that is so full of life and character, a sly cross section of LA’s invisible working class under the nocturnal skies and a bubble gum, eye popping display of colour, design and eccentricity. The cityscape is populated by an ever present cast of brilliantly used character actors including O Lan Jones, Robert Doqui, Kurt Fuller, Mykelti Williamson, Edward Bunker, John Agar, Lou Hancock, Denise Crosby, Kelly Jo Minter, Allen Rosenberg, Earl Boen, Brian Thompson, Peter Berg and a quick but badass cameo from Aliens’s Janette Goldstein, once again waving around a big gun in exuberant fashion. A film needs a good score, and whenever Tangerine Dream is hired to compose, unfiltered magic happens. Their music here is a driving force to the action, an atmospheric lullaby that exudes both beauty and danger in its synth laden, melodic pulse. This is such a unique film, such a deft melting pot of genres that the recipe can’t really be defined as anything but a flavour all it’s own, an experience that makes you feel primal fear while wowing you with cinematography, editing and one shots that practically pull you right into the action. Points also awarded for bravery in pulling off that ending without compromise. The very definition of a forgotten gem, and a film that should be on every shelf.

-Nate Hill