Archive for The Wrecking Crew

Trash

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 20, 2019 by dcairns

I started out wanting to observe, for what it’s worth, that every single movie name-dropped in ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD is terrible, but that’s not quite true. THE GREAT ESCAPE is a fun movie, and FUNNY GIRL is OK. But it’s startling how many stinkers are featured. CANDY is a very unusual and kind of interesting bad movie, and John Dykstra worked on it, so I guess it’s an in-joke too, since he did this film’s model shots (the drive-in crane shot, and the Pan-Am jets). But then we get a poster for Mike Sarne’s JOANNA… holy crap.

Then we have THE NIGHT THEY RAIDED MINSKY’S (described by its own director, before it opened, as a piece of crap); KRAKATOA, EAST OF JAVA (the most geographically inaccurate title ever?), THREE IN THE ATTIC (QT once tried unsuccessfully to get star Christopher Jones out of retirement), THE MERCENARY, VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, DON’T MAKE WAVES (OK, the last two have Sharon Tate in them so one can understand them being mentioned — but DMW was such a miserable experience it caused Alexander Mackendrick to give up film-making), THE ILLUSTRATED MAN, THE SERGEANT, LADY IN CEMENT…

Vulture’s article on this cites a few actual good films I’d forgotten or missed: 2001, PRETTY POISON, THE BOSTON STRANGLER. So there are good films in the mix: I guess a recreation of 1969, if accuracy is the aim, ought to feature more bad films than good, since that’s the way the balance always swings. But I don’t understand the nostalgia for this kind of stuff.

I suppose true nostalgia could definitially be about ephemera and garbage, stuff that exerts an emotional pull on us despite or maybe even because of its seeming worthlessness. But that kind of nostalgia — “Remember Space Hoppers?” — is pretty useless. It gets its power from an unrelated source — “I was young once” — and the specific things it focusses on are meaningless to others of a different generation.

The weirdest hommage to me is THE WRECKING CREW, a Dean Martin “Matt Helm” movie — I’ve always regarded that series as genuinely toxic. We all know the sixties Bond films are chauvinist; the Flint movies with James Coburn are seriously sexist; but the Matt helm movies are actually misogynistic. The filmmakers sincerely seem to hate women and devote as much screen time as they can to demeaning them.

This makes for an odd, unreadable scene in OUATIH when Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate goes to see the real Sharon Tate in TWC. I like that they didn’t digitally replace Tate with Robbie, or reshoot the movie. But if the intention is to pay tribute, the material used seems a strange choice. But then Tate’s movies are not a glorious bunch, alas: THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS is probably the least obnoxious, and I guess VALLEY OF THE DOLLS has camp value.

I get the impression that the scene is supposed to show Tate enjoying the audience’s reaction to her performance. And I guess maybe it works that way for some. But THE WRECKING CREW devotes most of Tate’s screen time to humiliating her character, showing her as clumsy, stupid, annoying to the hero, while displaying her body at every opportunity. Margot Robbie seems to have a hard time overlooking this, or at any rate her reactions don’t totally convince as those of someone enjoying the experience in a clearly readable way. I think Tate was too smart to have behaved this way, and Robbie is too smart to convincingly act it. There’s some kind of barely-tangible discomfort that manifests itself in a kind of blankness — the smile is big, apparently sincere, but somehow empty and non-specific.

When you see interviews with B-movie starlets looking back on some trash they were in, there’s always a rueful quality, and also a little pride — “At least I was a trouper, I put up with it all.” To me, showing Tate with that attitude to a really dumb, obnoxious movie she was in would give her more credit as a thinking professional.

(Acting watching a movie seems to be hard: when the kids go to see Harold Lloyd in HUGO, it’s maybe the most forced bit of performance in any Scorsese film; Kiarostami, no slouch, made a whole movie focussing on an audience watching an imaginary film, and it’s weirdly pointless and unmoving.)

Look, I know it’s not great film criticism, but I just really, really despise the Matt Helm series. It may be what’s stopped me looking at director Phil Karlson’s earlier noirs, which are supposed to be very good. Although I stumbled on a few fun Henry Levin movies — Henry helmed the two Helms that Phil didn’t film — and they’re modestly enjoyable. Both men seem to be bone-weary, disenchanted and dyspeptic by the time they get to Dean Martin spy caper hell.

In the memoir of gap-toothed comedian Terry-Thomas, he writes about working with Sharon Tate. Like everyone else who knew her, he was struck by her sweetness. She told him she couldn’t act at all, but that he shouldn’t worry, it seemed to come out alright. And he observed that she appeared to be correct: she played her scenes quite naturally, didn’t seem to try to act, and was perfectly effective onscreen. That self-deprecating, insightful and carefree attitude MIGHT leave Tate able to look at her work in THE WRECKING CREW and smile. But I think it’s a more interesting insight than anything Tarantino offers.

TT ˃ QT

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The Do-Over

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 17, 2019 by dcairns

Firstly, don’t read this if you haven’t seen ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD yet and are planning to. I will discuss the ending. The first review I read was in The Guardian where they coyly described it as “audacious” and said they could reveal no more, and I immediately flashed on what it could be and was correct.

Oh, potential spoilers for INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS and GRAVITY also.

Fiona turned to me with her adorable WTF? face when this one revealed its hand, an expression I recall from the similar moment in INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (and from GRAVITY, where it seemed, in the moment, impossible that a certain actor could be exiting the picture midway). But she explained afterwards that it wasn’t that her mind was blown by this twist, but that Tarantino was brazenly recycling the twist from IB (“What we must never do,” says Jake Hannaford, that wise and wizened old goat, “is steal from ourselves.”)

“What’s the POINT?” she wanted to know.

First section of movie: skilled recreation of 1969 LA. Some very good lookalikes and performances from people playing Bruce Lee, Steve McQueen (sympathetic here, “an asshole” in Polanski’s opinion, and I take him to be a fine judge of that quality with special insight), Connie Stevens (!), James Stacy (?), Charles Manson, though they needed a Polanski who looks more like a twelve-year-old (though Rafal Zawierucha does good Polanskian grunts of disgust). Product placement of defunct and/or fictional products. An evocation of the plight of the actor on the slide, both sympathetic and skeptical. Numerous lingering and lascivious shots of young girls’ feet.

Paul Duane, on Twitter, seemed to like the same parts of the film I did, and noted: “I was relieved about one thing: no grandstanding QT monologues.” Well, Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) gets one grandstanding m., but it’s supposed to make us want to see him get punched, so yes, that does feel like QT has figured something out about the way audiences process the grandstanding m.

Incidentally, this is a very white film. Which makes the casual racism (“Don’t cry in front of the Mexicans”) harder to excuse — sure, I buy it as accurate to the period, but it also means the film can be enjoyed by racists without anything to give them cognitive dissonance and we have TWO scenes of white, fair-haired people defeating Chinese people in fights — Brad Pitt and the actual Sharon Tate in THE WRECKING CREW, knocking out Nancy Kwan. Though I was glad of the cutaways of Lee training the movie’s Tate (Margot Robbie), which allows him to close out his role on a positive note, like Travolta in PULP FICTION, who buts for that film’s playful structure would make his concluding appearance dead on the toilet with an inferior paperback thriller by his side.

For about the ninth time running, I was disturbed by Tarantino’s compulsion to make his characters assholes. His impulse to save the inhabitants of Cielo Drive is sort of sweet, sort of adolescent, but certainly tainted by the way he does it — with an alternate, counter-historical bloodbath, a cathartic outburst of movie violence, performed by a hippy-hating alcoholic actor and a possible wife-killer.

Leo’s character gets an ego-boosting compliment from a child actor — and doesn’t return the compliment. Is it because he’s an asshole and QT wants us to notice that, or because he didn’t think about it? Hard to know.

Tarantino said at the time of NATURAL BORN KILLERS that he hated serial killers and thought the right thing to do was execute them, and he hated them even worse for that because he was in all other respects opposed to the death penalty. I can understand that.

I think what’s going on with these alt histories is maybe that Tarantino hates the Holocaust and the Manson killings because they take the fun out of fictional violence, if you really think about them. So wouldn’t it be nice to replace them with fictional violence, take a fantasy revenge on the perpetrators, numb the pain of the real-world horror? Well, no. The only part of this I can approve of is the undercutting of the pseudo-catharsis with fantastical absurdity (the handy flame thrower in the garage), reminding us, in Bokononist fashion, that we’re being given a comforting lie.

MY version of a happy ending to this story would be one in which NOBODY gets hurt. I can feel the visceral energy of the manic gonzo mayhem but I don’t want it or need it in this context.

I think I can get another post out of this movie’s movie allusions, though… so I will.