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Posts Tagged ‘Two-Lane Blacktop’

When visiting my parents or talking to then on the telephone they often ask what movies I have seen, if I respond with the name of a film they haven’t heard of my mom, knowing I watch a lot of foreign language movies will ask “is it foreign”. On more than one occasion I have given the somewhat flippant and slightly rude response “yes, American”. It is funny that a movie made five thousand miles away in Hollywood is familiar and not foreign because it is in something similar to “The Queens English”, and yet something made across the channel in France, still on the same continent as England, is in some way foreign and exotic. Maybe we are two nations joined by a common language and not divided by it as George Bernard Shaw quipped. Whatever the reason, as we step below the surface of these idea we find an interesting thing, filmmaking does exist beyond the bright lights of Hollywood, both in Europe and in the rest of America.Mean Streets The Terminator Blood Simple Memento

When I talk about American independent cinema it isn’t just the obvious and seminal movies like Easy Rider (1969) (Dennis Hopper) or Two-Lane Blacktop (1971) (Monte Hellman) or the small no budget movies that you have never heard of. Think of some of the biggest name directors working today: Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, Ethan and Joel Coen, Christopher Nolan, then look at their independent films Mean Streets (1973), The Terminator (1984), Blood Simple (1984), Memento (2000) . Sam Raimi may be making money movies for Disney now but it all started with Evil Dead (1981) and Evil Dead II (1987). Would George Lucas have made Star Wars (1977), if he hadn’t already made THX-1138 (1971) or the hugely profitable American Graffiti (1973)? Then there are directors like David Lynch, Quentin Tarantino and Darren Aronofsky that are just more comfortable outside or on the edge of the system. There was a time before he started believing his own publicity that Kevin Smith was the darling of the indie scene thanks to the cult status of Clerks (1994), but before that came Richard Linklater’s Slacker (1991). A day in the life of various social outcasts and misfits held together by loose strands and an even looser narrative, the style and the realistic dialogue became a blueprint for a generation. Linklater wasn’t seduced by Hollywood instead he remained in Austin and two years later he came up with Dazed And Confused (1993).Dazed And Confused Clerks THX 1138 Evil Dead

The same can be said for foreign language cinema, it isn’t all about weird esoteric art house movies, there are many accessible movies not in the English language. Not that the weird esoteric art house movies are a bad thing, they are just not the best place to start. The test as to if a movie is accessible and worth seeing is simple, would you watch it if it were in English? If the answer is yes, it is worth a look. There were two movies that seemed to cross the language barrier that came out within a year of each other just over a decade ago: Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amélie (2001). Many of the people who watched and enjoyed them wouldn’t normally have seen a movie in another language. There have been some interesting examples too; the French thriller Tell No One (2006) is very American in its style, no great surprise, it is based on an American novel (of the same name) by Harlan Coben. A Hollywood remake was supposed to have been made but it doesn’t appear to have materialised yet. The same can’t be said for Anything for Her (2008), it took just two years for the American remake The Next Three Days to hit cinema screens. Both Tell No One and Anything for Her benefited from the presence of actresses familiar to English speaking audiences Kristin Scott Thomas and Diane Kruger respectively. On the subject of remakes the terrible Queen Latifah movie Taxi (2004) is a remake of a great French movie also called Taxi (1998). It has spawned three sequels (the first of which is also really good) the movies are notable for lots of things including significant early roles for Marion Cotillard.Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon Amélie Tell No One Anything for Her

When I first saw Oldboy (2003) it immediately became one of my all time favourite films. I didn‘t expect it to have gained the following that it has, I also didn‘t think Hollywood would dare to touch it, but they have the American remake of Park Chan-wook’s vengeance movievis in production and is set for release later this year, it is directed by Spike Lee. The other movie that plays well to British and American audiences is Run Lola Run (1998). It put its German star Franka Potente and director and Tom Tykwer onto the international stage both have worked in American and their native Germany many times since. But I can trace my first experience of a foreign language movie back a little further than that. In 1990 I read a review of a film I really wanted to see Nikita (1990). At fourteen years old I didn’t have a chance of getting into see it at the cinema to see the eighteen certificate movie, but a couple of months later (when I was fifteen) renting the video was surprisingly easy. Its impact in America was such that it spawned a Hollywood remake and two television series. Its director Luc Besson’s next two films Léon (1994) and The Fifth Element (1997) were in English.Oldboy Run Lola Run Nikita Taxi

I have done little more than scratch the surface of independent and foreign langue movies, but I hope I have inspired at least one person to look below the tent-pole blockbuster and popcorn movie and towards the smaller films that don’t get all the publicity. Many of them will get limited runs in big multiplexes but others are harder to find, but if this means you are also helping to support your local independent cinema’s it’s an added bonus. As you grow to love them as much as I do you will look deeper and further back at older movies and a whole world of cinema will open up to you. I know that I am to a certain extent preaching to the converted as many readers are film fans and bloggers themselves and are far more cineliterate than me.

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1970 Dodge Challenger: The most directly referenced car in the movie. Not only is it the same make and model in the same colour, but Kim (Tracie Thoms) and Zoe (Zoë Bell) describe it as a “Vanishing Point car”dodge challenger Death Proof and vanishing point

1969 Dodge Charger: Stuntman Mike’s (Kurt Russell ) Charger appears to reference two movies. It has the same license number as the ’69 Charger in Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (938 DAN) and looks just like the Charger involved in a classic car chase with Bullitt’s Mustang.Dodge Charger

1972 Mustang: the Mustang is full of references including to his own movies. The has a colour scheme reminiscent of the outfit worn by The Bride (Uma Thurman) in Kill Bill (itself a reference to Bruce Lee) and the Kawasaki motorcycle she rides. The livery is also similar to the 1972 Ford Granada Coupé (sometimes incorrectly referred to as a Mustang) in Alexandre Aja’s French horror/thriller Haute Tension (Switchblade Romance in the UK). It is very similar to the 1971 Mustang to Eleanor from the original Gone in 60 Seconds (and not the remake Gone in Sixty Seconds as Kim reminds us “NOT that Angelina Jolie Bullshit”). If you look closely at the rear of the car it says “Lil’ Pussy Wagon” referencing the Pussy Wagon from Kill Bill.1972 Mustang death proof

1971 Chevrolet Nova: Unlike the other cars in the movie, Stuntman Mike’s Chevy Nova doesn’t appear to be a direct reference to any movie, but look a little deeper and there are lots of references. It shares a licence plate with Bullitt’s Mustang (JJZ 109). The Duck hood ornament (also used later in the movie on the Charger) is copy of the one seen on the Rubber Duck’s Mack truck in Convoy (1978). A more tenuses link is the primer grey paintjob, a possible reference to the 1955 Chevrolet One-Fifty from Two-Lane Blacktop (1971).1971 Chevrolet Nova Death Proof

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I have mentioned on many occasions the link between cinema and cars, but what is a car without a driver? Mel Gibson’s “man with no name” in How I Spent My Summer Vacation (aka Get the Gringo) is credited as Driver, but he is not the first or the best Driver; here are my top five characters called Driver (or The Driver):

FIVE: Driver (Dwayne Johnson) in Faster (2010): A throwback to both car and revenge movies from the 70’s. Dwayne Johnson is an archetypal antihero like Gator McKlusky in White Lightning. A man of few words, on a mission for revenge, the movie is far better than you would expect as its star, Johnson. Mostly likely to be seen driving: 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 

FOUR: The Driver, (Ryan O’Neal) in The Driver (1978): A minimalist classic about the best getaway driver in the business and the cop trying to catch him in the act. At its best in the chases and car related scenes notably the destruction of a Mercedes-Benz 280 S in a parking garage but not as cool or as slick as it thinks it is in the other scenes. It became the inspiration for many movies that followed as did Ryan O’Neal in the title role. Mostly likely to be seen driving: Anything with for wheels but notably: 1973 Chevrolet C-10 Pickup and 1977 Pontiac Firebird

THREE: The Driver (Clive Owen) in Ambush, Chosen, The Follow, Powder Keg, Star, Hostage, Beat the Devil, Ticker (2001-2002): Not actually a movie but well worth a place on the list. Along with Croupier (1998) this is where a lot of the Clive Owen for Bond talk came from. A series of web based BMW adverts with A list directors including: Tony Scott, John Woo, Guy Ritchie, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Kar Wai Wong, Ang Lee and John Frankenheimer. Aided by a supporting including Stellan Skarsgård, Gary Oldman, Danny Trejo and James Brown & Marilyn Manson (as themselves). With a great blend of action comedy and style they are that little bit more than just a series of car commercials. The idea is so good, so good that Luc Besson and Jason Statham took the idea and ran with it and thus, Frank Martin and the Transporter franchise began. Mostly likely to be seen driving: Various BMW’s from the early 2000’s

TWO: Driver (Ryan Gosling) in Drive (2011): When I first heard about Drive it was to be a Hugh Jackman action heist movie directed by Neil Marshall. While that could have been a great B movie, what we got from director Nicolas Winding Refn and star Ryan Gosling was so much more. Reminiscent of Michael Mann’s underrated classic Thief (1981). Violent rather than action packed, but the real pleasure is the way it manages to be retro and completely up to date at the same time, it is the star making turn Gosling has been waiting for. Mostly likely to be seen driving: a stolen getaway car or 1973 Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu

ONE: The Driver (James Taylor) in Two-Lane Blacktop (1971): A very different movie than the others on the list, where the others include violent action movies, Two-Lane Blacktop is an existential road movie, it is THE existential road movie. A time-capsule of the pre-Interstate Highway era and a metaphor for disaffected youth in a time when a nation and the world as a whole had lost its way and lost its innocence. This is life after Wyatt tells Billy “We blew it” in Easy Rider. The characters don’t have names in the true sense, they don’t need names! G.T.O (Warren Oates) drives a GTO, The Mechanic (Dennis Wilson) looks after the car, The Girl (Laurie Bird) is the girl they pick up along the way, The Driver (James Taylor) is just that, the driver. Mostly likely to be seen driving: 1955 Chevrolet One-Fifty Two-Door Sedan

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Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s I watched a lot movies America’s new wave, it is therefore no great surprise that the 1970’s featured heavily in my thoughts when picking “My Movie Year”. Here are a few that I considered but didn’t make the final cut:

1971: A Clockwork Orange, Dirty Harry, Vanishing Point, The French Connection, Two-Lane Blackto

1972: The Godfather, Deliverance, Cabaret, The Getaway, Silent Running

1973: American Graffiti, The Sting, Enter The Dragon, Don’t Look Now, Mean Streets

1974: Chinatown, The Godfather Part II, Blazing Saddles, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia

1979: Apocalypse Now, Alien, Mad Max, Life of Brian, The Warriors

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