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Thursday, 20 January 2011

Love On The Run: 3 US films of the 90's

 I have no particular reason for wanting to write this post, but it does concern three of my favourite films that I find are often overlooked and underrated, not that I think they are great films, in fact they could all be classified "guilty pleasures".
This will hardly be one of my most eloquent posts, so don't expect much, I just felt like writing about a few films I enjoy, nothing very complex...

These films don't really share much in common except the basic theme of a young American couple on the run from their enemies, be it the police, gangsters or family. I just happen to lump these three together when thinking of this style of film, a bit like when thinking of Vietnam films one thinks of Apocalypse Now, Platoon and Full Metal Jacket.
All of them are from the 90's and are just great fun to watch, they are colourful, violent and romantic, all slightly disturbing, but hardly very challenging to watch.

(And Yes, the title of this post is a complete rip-off of one of Truffaut's "Antoine Doinel" films, I'm very much aware of that, think if it as a "homage" to that genius.)

1 Wild At Heart - 1990

Snake Skin jacket+Nic Cage= extreme cool

Directed by the great David Lynch, I admire his work a lot and think he is very creative although more than a little insane, but insanity and creativity are basically two sides of the same coin.
This is definitely one of his minor films, it doesn't reach the brilliance of The Elephant Man or Blue Velvet, but it is far less weird than Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway and the atrociously bad Inland Empire. That being said, it is nowhere near a "normal" film, it is filled with surreal situations and characters, visions and hallucinations.

This is a film that polarized audiences, some hated it (including famed film critic Roger Ebert, but then again he was never a fan of Lynch) and others loved it, but apparently more people loved it though for it took home the prestigious Palm D'Or at Cannes, this win was one of the most controversial for quite some time.

Was it worthy of this honour?, I personally don't think so, there were many other more deserving films that year such as Dances With Wolves, Good Fellas and White Hunter, Black Heart,
It is a fun film but it has some serious flaws in it's narrative and at times just feels very crude and nasty, I think that was the aspect of the film that put many people off it, for it is filled with violence and sex and in way that brings the film down.
But despite the fact that it's often hard to watch because of Lynch's penchant for shocking images, it is still quite a romantic film, Nic Cage and Laura Dern give great performances and the script is well written variant of the Wizard of Oz.
Cage's character is probably one of the best things about the film, he is quite visibly based on Elvis, but I felt he could of been developed far more, in fact this film had many opportunities that it seemed to overlook,  it wasn't quite so Wild At Heart as the title and the opening of the film might lead you to believe.
 It has a fantastic soundtrack as well.

Recommended for those not easily offended.

 2 True Romance - 1993
This is by far the most misleading poster I've ever seen, those who have seen the film will agree...

So 3 years after Wild At Heart we have another film with similar themes, but this one is far more entertaining and considerably better written, as the script was penned by none other than the genius Quentin Tarantino, sadly though he didn't direct it. That job was given to Tony Scott, brother of Ridley Scott. Now Tony Scott is mostly know for his many action films which are all slightly above average as far as action/thrillers go, but none of them are great films.
So sadly he just didn't bring that spark of genius that Tarantino would of if he had directed it (but the Tarantino presence is still felt strongly through the script) , which isn't to say that it's badly directed, quite the contrary, in fact I think this is Tony's best film.
So despite the minor let-down in the directing department this is still a wonderful film, full of witty dialogue, great performances by the two leads,Patricia Arquette and Christian Slater, who have excellent chemistry (they were a real life couple, so that surely helped), it's packed full of fantastic cameo's (Samuel Jackson, Christopher Walken, Brad Pitt....) in fact this film has one of the best ensemble casts I've ever seen ,with Dennis Hopper, Gary Oldman, Tom Sizemore, Chris Penn and many more.
I would hesitate to say this film is "action packed" but it certainly has it's fair share of gun fights and other such acts of violence, but at heart it is a Romance, in fact it's the kind of Romance young men who are more than slightly nerdy dream about, it's basically a dream come true for all film buffs or comic book nerds, for after all it was written by the king of all film buffs Tarantino, so it's full of sly references to films he loves and popular culture.
So it's one of my favourite Romances, filled with action, actors I love and a wonderful script, it's a must-see!!
I myself have lost count of how many times I've seen it.

3 Natural Born Killers - 1994

Scary Woody Harrelson and slightly psychedelic imagery, that pretty much sums up the film.
 Oliver Stone, a director who is much disliked, mainly in the US, for his extremely Leftist politics, strong anti war stance and constant critique of the US and it's inhabitants lifestyles.
I personally think he's a great director, and greatly respect him for his Vietnam Trilogy and JFK, this film on the other hand, Natural Born Killers is easily one of the most intriguing films I've ever seen, I can't say I enjoyed it, for to enjoy this one would have to be rather sick. But many aspects of it did impress me greatly, such as  Stones camera work and editing, which is wonderfully messing and disorientating, usually such terms are negative when describing a film but considering this is a film about a psychopathic couple who go on a massive murder spree then you can understand the Stone actually did a great, if totally unconventional, technical job on this film. He constantly changes between Black and White, Colour, various shades of green and red, uses very strange camera angles and distorted images, as well as fast camera movements and loads of other little tricks that make this film completely unique, for even if you didn't like this film (which many, many people didn't) you have to admit it is unique.

This film would take a very long time to dissect and fully explain so I'll just say that it's a compelling look inside a couple of psychopaths heads (which is of course a disturbing place to look), it is also a Romantic story told from the point of view of these killers who become celebrities during their brutal killing spree, thus Stone criticises modern Celebrity culture, as well as many other things including reality shows, reporters and even the Police. 
Woody  Harrleson is excellent as the main character, his performance in this really changed the way I thought of him as an actor, Juliet Lewis was as always terrible, the supporting cast were all very good and included Tommy Lee Jones in a brilliantly psychotic role, Robert Downey Junior in a role that seemed made for him and Tom Sizemore.
But this film is far from perfect, in fact it's an extremely flawed one, but I find that the various flaws only make this film more interesting, apart from a few such as Juliet Lewis's terrible acting (worst thing about the film), the occasional heavy-handedness of the film and the sometimes overly disturbing content.
A great satire, unorthodox directing, compelling yet disturbing characters, a very well written script based on a story by Quentin Tarantino (again!) and a strangely touching Romance all make for a very entertaining yet far from perfect film that is most definitely not for everyone.

Well, that's about it... Can you think of any films similar to the aforementioned ones? I would be interested in any suggestions, as well as your thoughts on these films...

And now I better get back to writing more serious (or rather, less lazy) and better written reviews, coming soon are reviews for the Mesrine films, Barry Lyndon and maybe Fritz Lang's expressionist masterpiece, Der Mude Tod...

Thanks For Reading!



  1. Nice! Really feel like watching Natural born killers now. But wasn't really a fan of true romance.

  2. Oh come on, True Romance is just great fun, how about that Sicilian scene between Hopper and Walken, didn't you like that?

    the first time I wathed Natural Born Killers, I was rather disturbed, I thought to myself, "that's a film I won't be watching again soon" but in fact I did watch it again not long after with a friend and I enjoyed it way more, it's definitely a film that improves with time, it's actually quite a clever satire underneath all the violence and weird camerawork....
    I'm sure you'll enjoy it if you do watch it again, and thanks for reading!

  3. I like your informality. I don't admire Lynch either, certainly not Elephant Man and not enen Mulholland Drive. Stone of course, can grip you with his handling of larger than life themes.

  4. Glad you're back Rana, I missed your comments!

    I personally think The Elephant Man is a masterpiece of Cinema and I was surprised to read Ebert's negative review, sometimes I just can't agree with him...
    The Straight Story is also an excellent Lynch, that and The Elephant man are by far his most accessible and I would think that even if one doesn't like his weird films, they could still enjoy those two.
    I have to admit that I'm not much of a fan of his weird stuff either, I didn't like Mulholland Dr as much as most, I hated Inland Empire a lot, and I haven't got around to Lost Highway yet...

    Stone is definitely a talented director, such a shame he doesn't get more recognition in the US.

  5. Nice pics for that genre of movies.True romance is just great fun in my opinion. As for Wild at Heart its been so long since I've seen it,that I really can't remember anything but something about a head rolling(Willem Dafoe's maybe). As for Natural Born Killers it was strange but in a good way,I even found myself empathizing with Downey Jr's sleazy character.

    As for David Lynch I have nothing but love for him. I enjoyed both Twin Peaks,Lost Highway and Mulholland drive. Inland Empire scared me shitless with those 45 minute breaks between in your face warped images, and explosive screams.It was just plain disturbed.

  6. Thanks,
    you remember correctly, Willem Defoe's head does roll, in fact that almost got this film an X rating so they had to add gunsmoke to make it less gory...

    Downey's performance in Natural Born killers was his best in my opinion, he just fit the role perfectly, although that might not be good thing considering the character...

    I haven't seen Twin Peaks but I heard it was his worst film...
    as for Inland Empire, it was one of the hardest films to finish I've ever seen, as well as being very disturbing...

  7. Jack:
    Well, I disagree with Ebert often, but not in the case of Elephant Man. That's why I decided not to review it. Politeness stays me from saying more. (I'm much much older than you (more years nave I than hath a pack of cards cards), and went for movies with a vengeance only since seven years or so, and while sheer age is hardly a qualification, I present it as an excuse for my occassional bluntness.

  8. Bluntness isn't always a bad thing so no need to apologise, but I still find it hard to believe that you didn't like The Elephant Man, maybe you should write a review for i'd be interested to know why you disliked it...

  9. Yes Wild At Heart. The dark humor in that movie is priceless, and its prime Nick Cage. As good as the other two films are that's the Alpha pick.

  10. Jack: It was some time since I saw it and most of my "reviews" are written immediately. And I have on occasion discovered people take criticism of a well loved movie as a personal affront. To ridicule the film is to ridicule the man who loved it. Like, love me, love my dog.

    Well, since you insist, and going by memory, I found it distasteful, rather than an uplifting tale of heroism like "The Miracle Worker" (2000) about Helen Keller. I completely agree with Ebert's insightful negative review. I quote in part:

    "It is conventional to say that Merrick, so hideously misformed that he was exhibited as a sideshow attraction, was courageous. No doubt he was. But there is a distinction here that needs to be drawn, between the courage of a man who chooses to face hardship for a good purpose, and the courage of a man who is simply doing the best he can, under the circumstances.
    Wilfrid Sheed, an American novelist who is crippled by polio, once discussed this distinction in a Newsweek essay. He is sick and tired, he wrote, of being praised for his "courage," when he did not choose to contract polio and has little choice but to deal with his handicaps as well as he can. True courage, he suggests, requires a degree of choice. Yet the whole structure of The Elephant Man is based on a life that is said tobe courageous, not because of the hero's achievements, but simply because of the bad trick played on him by fate. In the film and the play (which are similar in many details),"

    The film focuses more on his misfortune than his transcendence of misfortune. He remains an object of pity more than any admiration he evokes. He is an object of charity, and never really attains to true human dignity.

  11. @Bradley
    Yes, I think the Dark humour of Wild at Heart is often taken to seriously which would account for the large amount of negative reviews,
    Nic Cage is particularly great in this one, but I believe he has given better performances...

    I try not to take affront if someone doesn't share my opinions, other people though don't always react too well to my criticism of such films as The Dark Knight or any other of Nolan's work for that matter...

    Anyway as for The Elephant Man, well it's been a while since i've seen it and I definitely owe it a rewatch but I'm still going to have to disagree, I think what many people miss about the film is that much of the attention goes to Anthony Hopkins' character, he can be likened to the viewer of the film as he learns about Merrick's horrific life and tries to help him...
    But he also questions his actions, he doubts if he is doing the right thing and hesitates to make of Merrick "an object of charity" as you put it...

    It seems like we'll just have to agree to disagree about this particular film, but then again one can never agree with someone else on every single subject!

  12. Fair enough for the time being at least!