Skip to main content

What you are doing is not how it's done.

From Dusk Till Dawn
(1996)

(SPOILERS) Tarantino undertook a bout of script doctoring during the mid-90s, but From Dusk Till Dawn represents his sole outright gun-for-hire job from inception, and apart from feeling through-and-through like a scrappy Robert Rodriguez production, with “That’ll do” writ large across it (complete with a plum part for mate Quentin), it’s also an unusually scrappy screenplay, lacking his usual inventiveness and memorable dialogue, leaving instead merely a pervading air of unpleasantness.

Tarantino claimed “Not really” when asked if he wrote Richie Gecko for himself (“I wasn’t visualising anybody. I wrote an exploitation film. It’s a head-banging horror film for horror-film lovers!”) But it’s very easy to believe that Richie, treated to a whole scene in which he gets to exult in and suck off Salma Hayek’s toes, was designed with its screenwriter in mind (it’s also been said he was originally going to direct but elected not to so he could concentrate on the writing and playing Richie; how true that is, given Robert Kurtzman, who paid for the screenplay, was originally pegged to call the shots, is debatable).

Certainly, there’s no way he and Rodriguez didn’t indulge their peccadilloes, thick as thieves as they are. There’s also Quentin and serial killers: “The planet Earth couldn’t handle my serial killer movie” as it would “reveal my sickness far too much”. Well, we already have a movie where he plays – quite convincingly, to be fair to him and criticisms of his acting, although effects guy Tom Savini as Sex Machine is definitely more proficient – a sicko who rapes and murders at the drop of a hat, hallucinating conversations and extrapolating from there onwards.

Making an intentional exploitationer is almost insulation against criticism in Tarantino’s book, hence Grindhouse. But in both cases, reviewers didn’t hold back. And rightly so. This is the dog-end of Tarantino, his penchant for the sordid and degrading unrelieved by more artful or creative influences. It comes across more like a Tarantino knock-off than the real deal, right down to the either tired/tiresome or OTT dialogue (Cheech Marin’s “pussy” speech is a virtual parody of the director’s obsessions), culminating in the incredibly lazy “I don’t care about living or dying any more. I just want to send as many of these devils back to hell as I can”.

Consequently, Rodriguez is perfect to direct this kind of crapola, because he really doesn’t care about quality: the more slipshod and homemade, the better. There’s zero tension during the vampire section, the surprise attack turned around with ease, and any kind of obstacle (be it the turned Richie, or vampire Salma) likewise summarily dispatched. Compare it to Vamp (unsuspecting humans get turned at a vampire bar), and the results are infinitely inferior.

Which means that, relatively, the first half is superior. Indeed, the best scene is the first, featuring the kind of Tarantino trickery he’s famous for, as an encounter between Michael Parks’ Texas Ranger and John Hawkes’ liquor store clerk plays out with the Gecko brothers on the premises, unbeknownst to Parks or us. But anything goes in the name of exploitation, and it’s beyond me how you’re supposed to have fun with a movie (let alone “see it six times. I would”) where Richie commits the acts he does.

Horror movie section-wise, it turns silly quickly, unfortunately without being a whole lot of fun with it. Fred Williamson is easily the highlight, along with his Nam speech, but the special effects are entirely less than special, and the treatment of vampires is closer to zombies (tearing flesh and feeding).

From Dusk Till Dawn is notable as Clooney’s first post-ER role, but like Batman & Robin and The Peacemaker (and to an extent the likeable-but-bland One Fine Day), he has the right ideas but misses the boat – who wouldn’t want to work with Tarantino, play Batman, star in an action blockbuster for new-studio-on-the-block DreamWorks), make a romcom opposite Pfeiffer? In each case, the material or the right people aren’t there, so it’s no wonder he regrouped. Still, it stands as a curiously atypical role for him, a hard-edged criminal who only isn’t defined as a sociopath by reflection of how much of a psychopath his brother is (“a bastard, not a fucking bastard”). He can deliver “Everybody be cool. You – be cool”, and make it sound like choice dialogue, but mostly, you’re conscious how beholden he is to the actorly quirks and tics that have since defined him.

Of the rest, Harvey Keitel can’t salvage a lousy role as a preacher who has lost his faith, and Juliette Lewis survives unscathed on the basis that she isn’t being annoying in a Tarantino film (Natural Born Killers) or any other film (Strange Days) of that period for a change. The mid-90s had Tarantino dabbling, indulging his yen for acting (which thankfully peaked, or troughed, with his stage role in Wait Until Dark), beefing up others’ scripts, and even taking guest director gigs on TV (ER). He clearly had a blast making From Dusk Till Dawn or he wouldn’t have reunited with Rodriguez for Grindhouse, but together, they’re an irredeemable dive too far into the kind of shlock he unselfconsciously adores. Shlock you just can’t self-consciously replicate. Even Natural Born Killers has more merit than this, and that’s really saying something.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Popular posts from this blog

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.

If I do nothing else, I will convince them that Herbert Stempel knows what won the goddam Academy Award for Best goddam Picture of 1955. That’s what I’m going to accomplish.

Quiz Show (1994) (SPOILERS) Quiz Show perfectly encapsulates a certain brand of Best Picture nominee: the staid, respectable, diligent historical episode, a morality tale in response to which the Academy can nod their heads approvingly and discerningly, feeding as it does their own vainglorious self-image about how times and attitudes have changed, in part thanks to their own virtuousness. Robert Redford’s film about the 1950s Twenty-One quiz show scandals is immaculately made, boasts a notable cast and is guided by a strong screenplay from Paul Attanasio (who, on television, had just created the seminal Homicide: Life on the Streets ), but it lacks that something extra that pushes it into truly memorable territory.

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

Say hello to the Scream Extractor.

Monsters, Inc. (2001) (SPOILERS) I was never the greatest fan of Monsters, Inc. , even before charges began to be levelled regarding its “true” subtext. I didn’t much care for the characters, and I particularly didn’t like the way Pixar’s directors injected their own parenting/ childhood nostalgia into their plots. Something that just seems to go on with their fare ad infinitum. Which means the Pixars I preferred tended to be the Brad Bird ones. You know, the alleged objectivist. Now, though, we learn Pixar has always been about the adrenochrome, so there’s no going back…

Piece by piece, the camel enters the couscous.

The Forgiven (2021) (SPOILERS) By this point, the differences between filmmaker John Michael McDonagh and his younger brother, filmmaker and playwright Martin McDonagh, are fairly clearly established. Both wear badges of irreverence and provocation in their writing, and a willingness to tackle – or take pot-shots – at bigger issues, ones that may find them dangling their toes in hot water. But Martin receives the lion’s share of the critical attention, while John is generally recognised as the slightly lesser light. Sure, some might mistake Seven Psychopaths for a John movie, and Calvary for a Martin one, but there’s a more flagrant sense of attention seeking in John’s work, and concomitantly less substance. The Forgiven is clearly aiming more in the expressly substantial vein of John’s earlier Calvary, but it ultimately bears the same kind of issues in delivery.

In a few moments, you will have an experience that will seem completely real. It will be the result of your subconscious fears transformed into your conscious awareness.

Brainstorm (1983) (SPOILERS) Might Brainstorm have been the next big thing – a ground-breaking, game-changing cinematic spectacle that had as far reaching consequences as Star Wars (special effects) or Avatar (3D) – if only Douglas Trumbull had been allowed to persevere with his patented “Showscan” process (70mm film photographed and projected at 60 frames per second)? I suspect not; one only has to look at the not-so-far-removed experiment of Ang Lee with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk , and how that went down like a bag of cold sick, to doubt that any innovation will necessarily catch on (although Trumbull at least had a narrative hinge on which to turn his “more real than real” imagery, whereas Lee’s pretty much boiled down to “because it was there”). Brainstorm ’s story is, though, like its title, possibly too cerebral, too much concerned with the consciousness and touting too little of the cloyingly affirmative that Bruce Rubin inevitably brings to his screenplays. T

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989) (SPOILERS) There’s Jaws , there’s Star Wars , and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws ’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy , to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “ more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie ”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “ mainly boring ”. Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the

You ever heard the saying, “Don’t rob the bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in three counties”?

2 Guns (2013) (SPOILERS) Denzel Washington is such a reliable performer, that it can get a bit boring. You end up knowing every gesture or inflection in advance, whether he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy. And his films are generally at least half decent, so you end up seeing them. Even in Flight (or perhaps especially in Flight ; just watch him chugging down that vodka) where he’s giving it his Oscar-nominatable best, he seems too familiar. I think it may be because he’s an actor who is more effective the less he does. In 2 Guns he’s not doing less, but sometimes it seems like it. That’s because the last person I’d ever expect blows him off the screen; Mark Wahlberg.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

Do you know that the leading cause of death for beavers is falling trees?

The Interpreter (2005) Sydney Pollack’s final film returns to the conspiracy genre that served him well in both the 1970s ( Three Days of the Condor ) and the 1990s ( The Firm ). It also marks a return to Africa, but in a decidedly less romantic fashion than his 1985 Oscar winner. Unfortunately the result is a tepid, clichéd affair in which only the technical flourishes of its director have any merit. The film’s main claim to fame is that Universal received permission to film inside the United Nations headquarters. Accordingly, Pollack is predictably unquestioning in its admiration and respect for the organisation. It is no doubt also the reason that liberal crusader Sean Penn attached himself to what is otherwise a highly generic and non-Penn type of role. When it comes down to it, the argument rehearsed here of diplomacy over violent resolution is as banal as they come. That the UN is infallible moral arbiter of this process is never in any doubt. The cynicism