Movie Project #42: Withnail & I [1987]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

Withnail & I [1987]

Withnail & I [1987]
Director: Bruce Robinson
Writers: Bruce Robinson
Country: UK
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Starring: Richard E. Grant, Paul McGann, Richard Griffiths
Running Time: 107 minutes

On paper, Withnail & I sounds like a film I would absolutely love. Two downtrodden actors, both of whom are drunk more than sober, take a road trip out to the country where they struggle to fit in with the country folk. This all takes place in 1969, the end of “the greatest decade in the history of mankind”, as one character states. Throw in some intelligent, well-crafted dialogue and a few spot-on performances, and it sounds like my kind of film.

Yet Withnail & I is missing something, and I can’t quite place what it is.

Withnail & I

The main characters in the film, Withnail (Richard E. Grant) and “I” (Paul McGann), have basically hit rock bottom. Both are unemployed and struggling to get by, mostly due to their love of the bottle. Withnail, in particular, is especially hard up. At one point, out of desperation, he begins chugging lighter fluid. He seems to have a death wish, with little regard for his wellbeing. “I”, also known as Marwood (though it is never stated as such in the film), is basically just along for the ride.

When the two of them decide they need a change of scenery, they hit up Withnail’s rich homosexual uncle, Monty (Richard Griffiths), who loans them his country cottage for a quick holiday. Their getaway is less than extravagant, as the cabin does not have proper heating, and they have little in the way of food and supplies. Monty comically (and unwantedly) shows up and hits on Marwood, making their miserable vacation even more uncomfortable. That’s pretty much the extent of the plot.

Withnail & I [1987]

In many ways, it feels like we are just witnessing a random week in the lives of two washed up blokes where nothing of any real substance happens. They drink, they talk, they complain of their situation, and then they drink some more. The two characters are clearly intelligent, as evidenced by their oft-witty dialogue, but they are difficult to connect with. While many of this cult film’s fans find their banter to be very quotable, nothing really stuck with me afterward.

The performances are quite good, especially that of Richard E. Grant, but they are not enough to elevate what is a mostly dry film overall. Perhaps I just don’t get this sort of British humor, or maybe I wasn’t in the right frame of mind for the film. This is one that I truly wanted to love, but ultimately it just didn’t work for me.

6/10

Movie Project #15: Two-Lane Blacktop [1971]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

Two-Lane Blacktop [1971]

Two-Lane Blacktop [1971]
Director: Monte Hellman
Screenplay: Rudy Wurlitzer and Will Corry
Country: USA
Genre: Drama
Starring: James Taylor, Dennis Wilson, Warren Oates, Laurie Bird
Running Time: 102 minutes

Reason for inclusion: Vanishing Point was one of my favorite selections from last year’s project, and many readers recommended I check out Two-Lane Blacktop as well.

Accolades: Inducted into the National Film Registry in 2012, part of the Criterion Collection

“What are you trying to do, blow my mind?”

There is something to be said about a man and his car. In Monte Hellman’s cult road movie, Two-Lane Blacktop, there isn’t a whole lot that *is* said. Instead, it’s the cars that do most of the talking.

With a cast comprised mostly of non-actors — Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson, singer-songwriter James Taylor and young photographer Laurie Bird — alongside the rugged character actor, Warren Oates, much of the focus is placed on two cars.

Taylor and Wilson, known only as “The Driver” and “The Mechanic” respectively, are a couple of drifters who live on the road in their souped-up 1955 Chevy One-Fifty. While stopped at a diner in Flagstaff, Arizona, a young hitchhiker (Bird) known only as “The Girl” hops into the back of their car. No questions are asked — she seems just as aimless as the two of them and wants to go for a ride.

And so they ride.

Two-Lane Blacktop [1971]

It’s in New Mexico where they meet another driver, “GTO” (Oates), who is a cocksure fella that is mighty proud of his 1970 Pontiac GTO. Nevermind the fact that he doesn’t seem to know too awfully much about his car, at least not anything that isn’t found in the manual. He loves to race, and the idea is quickly brought up to challenge the One-Fifty.

The stakes? Their cars. First one to Washington, D.C. gets both pink slips.

This sounds like the perfect setup for a balls-to-the-wall racing flick, but Two-Lane Blacktop is anything but. This is a minimalist film with sparse dialogue, and so much of it is open to interpretation. Not much actually happens in the film — the race is pretty much scrapped from the get-go — yet so much can be taken from it. This is the type of film that shows you the bare minimum and lets you interpret it as you see fit.

Two-Lane Blacktop [1971]

I appreciate this abstract form, but the film left me wanting more. How did GTO, who is clearly going through a midlife crisis, get to this point in his life? Why are The Driver and The Mechanic drifting along so aimlessly? And why in the hell is The Girl staying with them?

There are little things in the film that everyone can appreciate, however. The cars sound LOUD — in a nice touch, it’s often difficult to hear the characters talk over the engines. There are also some beautiful shots of the Route 66 countryside. And although Taylor and Wilson are devoid of personality in this film, Warren Oates delivers a wildly entertaining character. As I dig into the classics, he is quickly becoming a favorite actor of mine.

Two-Lane Blacktop is a divisive film. There are those that absolutely love it (hence the cult following), whereas others find it dull and boring. I’m somewhere in the middle. At the very least, it is an interesting relic of its time.

7/10

Movie Project #10: The Warriors [1979]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

The Warriors [1979]

The Warriors [1979]
Director: Walter Hill
Screenplay: Sol Yurick (novel), David Shaber, Walter Hill
Country: USA
Genre: Action/Thriller
Starring: Michael Beck, James Remar, Dorsey Wright
Running Time: 92 minutes

Reason for inclusion: This is one of the essential cult films I have heard so much about but never seen.

Accolades: Part of the 500 Essential Cult Movies list and the New York Times Guide to the Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made

Warriors, come out to play-i-ay.

One of the great joys in watching film is to finally see a cult classic for the first time. I had heard so much about The Warriors already — I’m sure *everyone* has heard the quote above, right? — but watching it still managed to be fresh and invigorating.

The Warriors takes place in a dystopian version of New York City in which gangs run the streets. It’s a dark, gritty city, and it seems that everything is tagged with graffiti, including the inside and outside of subway trains. The most powerful gang in the city is the Gramercy Riffs, and their leader, Cyrus (Roger Hill), has called a midnight summit of *all* New York area gangs. He requests that every gang sends nine unarmed delegates to meet in the Bronx to hear his proposal. Cyrus calls for a truce so everyone can work together to obtain total control of the city.

The Warriors [1979]

Shit hits the fan when the leader of the Rogues shoots and kills Cyrus, then pins the blame on a member of the Warriors group. Now every single gang member in NYC is out for blood against the Warriors, and the film follows them as they attempt to make it back to their Coney Island stomping grounds in one piece.

“I’ll shove that bat up your ass and turn you into a popsicle.”

The Warriors [1979]

It’s a pretty basic story, but what makes The Warriors so great is its style. This goes for the dangerous NYC wasteland all the way to its colorful cast of characters. The gangs we are introduced to are all memorable and utterly ridiculous at the same time. The Warriors are a shirtless bunch that wear brown pleather vests with a “Warriors” patch on the back. The Orphans — a group of misfits so low on the totem pole that they didn’t even get invited to the summit — wear greasy green shirts and blue jeans, and they are anything but intimidating. My favorite gang? Easily the Baseball Furies, a silent, facepaint-wearing bunch that wears old baseball jersies. Also, who could forget the Boppers — a snazzy-looking group with bright purple hats and vests?

Very few of the characters are even attempted to be fleshed out, but that’s not a problem here. This is a film in which you need to just sit down and enjoy the ride, campy dialogue and all. Taken on these values, The Warriors is a lot of fun. I can dig it.

8/10

 
This film inspired a 2005 video game of the same name. Anyone play it?

Movie Project #46: Dead Man [1995]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Dead Man [1995]

Dead Man [1995]
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Genre: Drama/Fantasy/Western
Starring: Johnny Depp, Gary Farmer, Lance Henriksen, Robert Mitchum, John Hurt, and Gabriel Byrne
Running Time: 121 minutes

“Do you know my poetry?”

Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man, shot entirely in black-and-white and labeled a “psychedelic Western” by the director himself, is unlike any film I have seen. What starts out as a familiar Western plotline — a foreigner arrives in an unwelcoming new town and gets in trouble — quickly flips itself on its head and turns into an absurd existential journey.

Johnny Depp stars as William Blake, who we quickly learn is a “dead man” even if he doesn’t know it yet. An accountant from Cleveland, Blake rides by train all the way out to the frontier town of Machine where he has been promised a lucrative new job. It’s clear upon arrival that Blake is woefully out of place. He shows up in a preposterous checkered suit, and he is nearly laughed out of the company building by the business manager (John Hurt). It turns out the job position has been filled, and even after appealing to the company’s truculent owner, John Dickinson (Robert Mitchum, in his final film performance), Blake walks away empty-handed.

Dead Man [1995]

Things only get worse from there. Blake somehow manages to bed a woman, only to have her sulking ex-boyfriend (Gabriel Byrne) show up afterward. In an act of self defense, William shoots the man, getting himself shot in the process. The bad news continues as it is revealed that this was the son of Dickinson, and the wealthy business owner hires a posse of hitmen to snuff out the accountant.

While on the run, Blake meets a large Native American guide, Nobody (Gary Farmer), who attempts to help him come to terms with his impending death. It is from this point forward where the film takes a surreal turn, as Nobody takes Blake on a journey of spiritual enlightenment. They meet some bizarre characters along the way (including an unforgettable group of mountain men played by Iggy Pop, Billy Bob Thornton and Jared Harris), and we are kept up to speed on the hitmen via seemingly random interludes. The film fades in and out of the paths of each side, much like Blake goes in and out of consciousness.

Dead Man [1995]

Quite frankly, there’s a lot to take in, and it can get difficult to piece it altogether. By all accounts, this seems to be a film in which multiple viewings are necessary to get the full effect. Critics were divided upon its release — Roger Ebert famously gave this 1 1/2 stars, while Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote an entire book on the subject — but it has built a cult following since then.

I can’t say I’m entirely on board with the film, but I loved the cast, led by Johnny Depp’s meek protrayal of William Blake. Gary Farmer makes for an intriguing spiritual guide, a more contemporary take when compared to the early Western time period. The supporting cast is nothing short of phenomenal, with memorable performances from the likes of Mitchum, Hurt, Iggy Pop, Thornton, Harris, Alfred Molina, and even Crispin Glover. Throw in Neil Young’s improvisational guitar score and you have all the makings of a bona fide cult hit.

My first impression of Dead Man is mixed, but there are enough ideas in place that make me believe I could enjoy it more on a second viewing. I may need to go on my own spiritual quest beforehand, however.

6/10

Horror Movie Roundup #4: Brutal Edition (Martyrs, I Spit on Your Grave, Wolf Creek)

Well, this batch of horror films was a little more difficult to digest than the last. Here are my takes on three controversial movies of the genre:

Martyrs [2009]
Martyrs [2009]
One of the most notorious films to come from the New French Extremity movement, Martyrs is not an easy watch by any means. The film follows a young woman who teams up with a friend and goes out for revenge against those who kidnapped and tortured her as a child. Once the two women reach their destination, all hell breaks loose, and it is revealed that this kidnapping was not an isolated event. This transition represents a major tonal shift, almost making it feel as if there are two films in one. What was a pretty solid revenge flick turns into something that is borderline “tortune porn.” Some argue that there is a deeper meaning behind the second half, and there may very well be, but the non-stop abuse isn’t any different than what can be found in Saw and the like. Regardless, this is a film that I won’t be forgetting any time soon, for better or for worse. 6/10

I Spit On Your Grave [1978]
I Spit on Your Grave [1978]
I’m going to come right out and say it: this is the worst film I have ever seen. I’m not being hyperbolic — this “film” is pure garbage. The first 45 minutes or so involve a woman heading to a rural retreat only to be gang-raped multiple times by the same group of men. When they finally leave her behind, she begins to extract bloody revenge on each of them, one-by-one. It’s a basic exploitation plot, but the difference here is that there is absolutely no talent involved in this project. The sickening, graphic rape scenes eventually lead to a handful of ridiculous, poorly conceived revenge kills, and that’s it. Some claim there was some type of feminist agenda to this, but I don’t buy it. This was made for pure shock value, and it features some unbelievably terrible acting. Every now and then I like to test my limits in film, but I could not find one single redeeming value in this. I can’t believe this has a cult following. 1/10

Wolf Creek [2005]
Wolf Creek [2005]
This Australian take on the serial killer subgenre has some real highs, but takes too long to get going. When three backpackers (two British, one Aussie) get stranded in the Australian Outback, they are assisted by a local bushman who is more psychotic than he first appears. Basic serial killer 101, but what sets this apart from others in the genre is the film’s gorgeous cinematography. This uses the Outback beautifully as its backdrop, milking the landscape as often as possible. The main villain is also a charismatic one, but I just wish we had more time to get to know him. The film spends too much time early on showing the backpackers partying and getting wasted, but it never provides much in the way of character depth. Thus, once the madness finally begins, there is little attachment to any of them. The film could have also done more with the concept instead of relying so heavily on the countryside, but it’s still an enjoyable effort for the most part. 6/10

Have you guys seen any of these? What did you think of them?

Cult Movie Review: Miami Connection [1987]

Miami Connection [1987]

Miami Connection [1987]
Directors: Y.K. Kim and Woo-sang Park
Genre: Action/Crime
Starring: Y.K. Kim, Vincent Hirsch and Joseph Diamand
Runtime: 83 minutes

Every now and then, the stars align to create a film that is so ridiculous that it just begs to be seen.

Miami Connection, the latest cult movie sensation that is hitting the midnight theater circuits, is a prime example of this. I dare you to name another film that features motorcycle-riding ninjas, middle-age thugs and an 80s New Wave band that also happen to be experts at Tae Kawn Do.

The mastermind of this film, director/writer/lead Grandmaster Y.K. Kim, gathered a group of his friends (including one who is a dead-ringer for Michael Phelps), all of whom had no prior acting experience, to create a film that serves as a ringing endorsement for Tae Kwon Do.

Kim plays Mark, a member of the New Wave band, Dragon Sound, that seems to have exactly two songs to their name (and yes, we hear both of them in their entirety more than once). The band is a tight-knit group, performing night-after-night while also living together. They are BFFs, yo.

Dragon Sound gets a gig as the house band of a local night club — “somewhere in Miami” — but soon find themselves entangled in gang warfare after the band they replaced seeks revenge. Our heroes are continually harassed by random groups of thugs — including a scene in which the bad guys dump perfectly good beer over their heads — before finally they have had enough and start using their Black Belt Tae Kwon Do expertise to fight back.

There are a couple of other inane subplots, including a band member searching for his long-lost father, but they are just diversions from the amusingly choreographed martial arts scenes. It’s clear that Kim and his buddies are quite talented in Tae Kwon Do, and it’s fun to watch them destroy countless bad guys. Watching the four of them annihilate endless waves of thugs never gets old.

Miami Connection [1987]

This movie has all the makings of a camp classic, and it’s full of bad acting, poorly dubbed dialogue, terribly improvised lines, and cheesy special effects. Throw in the ridiculously catchy tunes of Dragon Sound and this is one of the best experiences you can have in the theater this year.

I was a little skeptical about Miami Connection at first; after all, how could it live up to other cult hits like The Room or Troll 2? But as soon as the characters just started talking, I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed. Seriously, this post doesn’t do the film justice at all. If you’re into “so bad they’re good” movies, this is a must see.

Rating on a normal scale: 2/10
Rating on an entertainment scale: 9/10

See for yourself what this is all about with this hilariously awesome trailer:

Movie Project #37: Pink Flamingos [1972]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Pink Flamingos [1972]

Pink Flamingos [1972]
Director: John Waters
Genre: Trash
Starring: Divine, David Lochary and Mary Vivian Pearce
Runtime: 93 minutes

Sometimes my curiosity gets the best of me.

I have a habit of seeking out films that have garnered notoriety over the years for any number of reasons. Cult films, “so bad they’re good” flicks, disgusting endeavors… you name it, I’ll watch it. One of my biggest blind spots in this regard is the work of director John Waters. Dubbed the “King of Trash”, his early 1970s output is frequently hailed as some of the filthiest, most rotten films ever created. Pink Flamingos is perhaps his most notorious full-length feature, and that seemed like an appropriate choice for this project.

Pink Flamingos [1972]

Amusingly dubbed as a “transgressive black comedy exploitation film” by Wikipedia, the movie revolves around the character of Divine (played by the drag queen actor of the same name) who has been dubbed the “filthiest person alive” by local tabloids. She lives in a small trailer with her family, including her large egg-loving mother, Edie (Edith Massey), her sex-crazed son, Crackers (Danny Mills), and her good friend Cotton (Mary Vivian Pearce). They are living a seemingly happy life until a rival couple, Raymond and Connie Marble (David Lochary and Mink Stole, respectively), develop a plan to sabotage Divine’s career and take over the “filthiest person alive” title. The film follows both sides as they attempt to “out-filth” each other.

The plot is basically a moot point because this is all about shock value. This is one vile, disgusting film that completely shattered my preconceptions of how trashy a movie can be. I had heard of one scene beforehand, the infamous eating of dog feces, but I did not know that this was 100% real. That’s what makes this so gross — everything in this is legit, aside from the human murder scenes. There is a certain scene early in the film involving a chicken that will upset any and all animal rights activists. There’s also a character that is credited as “The Singing Asshole”, and yes, that title works literally. There is a scene with unsimulated oral sex, and full-frontal nudity is a common occurrence. Needless to say, this movie has no boundaries at all, and most people will not be able to handle this.

Pink Flamingos [1972]

Pink Flamingos was made on a ridiculously low budget of $10,000, and the cast is comprised almost entirely of friends of John Waters. As such, the acting is terrible, and overall there is very much a “home movie” presentation. This is amateur to the full degree, but I suppose that is partly what has helped give this a cult following. Not many people could make a trash film of this magnitude on that type of budget, but then again, there isn’t anyone like John Waters.

By and large, Pink Flamingos is a bad film. It piles on the trash and never lets up. There are a few genuinely quality scenes — primarily when the 50s rockabilly tunes are featured prominently — but this lives and dies by its shock value. A film of this magnitude did not need to be made, and I am quite shocked that this holds an 81% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I suppose I am content with seeing this once just to remove my curiosity, but I cannot recommend doing the same for anyone else. Also: I will never hear Surfin’ Bird the same way again.

4/10

 
Pink Flamingos [1972] - title screen

Cult Movie Review: The Trip [1967]

The Trip [1967]

The Trip [1967]
Director: Roger Corman
Genre: Drama
Starring: Peter Fonda, Susan Strasberg, Dennis Hopper and Bruce Dern
Runtime: 85 minutes

After reading Jack Deth’s great post on Roger Corman over at Front Room Cinema, I was inspired to see one of the legendary director’s films. There was one in particular that stood out to me: The Trip, a 1967 feature written by Jack Nicholson. As luck would have it, the film is currently available on Netflix Instant Watch.

As the title would suggest, The Trip is all about LSD. Filmed in “psychedelic color”, the movie stars Peter Fonda as Paul Groves, a young television commercial director who is heartbroken over the divorce proceedings with his adulterous wife. Looking for some sort of guidance with his life, Paul decides to embark on his first acid trip with the help of his friend John (Bruce Dern), an experienced advocate of psychedelics.

The Trip [1967]

From this point on, we follow Paul as he fades in and out of reality, essentially joining him on this trip. He sees all sorts of things, some real, some not. Kaleidoscopic colors, dwarves, strobe lights, naked dancers, druids, police.

Paul meanders aimlessly through these visuals and starts to freak himself out. In a fit of terror, he escapes the house (and his ‘sitter’) and wanders off to the city. This is when the movie really shines, as now we get to see how Paul interacts with others. A conversation with a not-so-classy lady at the laundromat is freakin’ hilarious and is the highlight of the movie. The lady suspects something is off with Paul as he plays around with the washing machines, but she appreciates the attention regardless.

The Trip [1967]

The movie culminates with Paul returning to where he came, this time running into a young Dennis Hopper, whose character also acts as a sort of guide for our acid-ingesting friend.

The Trip is a relic of its time, a fascinating snapshot of the Summer of Love and its free-spirited hippies. It has been said that Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson all took acid together in order to prepare for the film. Even Roger Corman dropped acid for the first time so he had a better idea of how to direct this film. Perhaps most amazing is that Bruce Dern, not a fan of drug culture whatsoever, was able to play an acid guide so effectively. He is the voice of reason throughout the film, a way to keep Paul in check and make sure he has a good time.

Obviously, this isn’t a movie that everyone will enjoy. The first half of the film drags along as Paul doesn’t do too terribly much, but it becomes wildly entertaining once he hits the city. It certainly helps to have an interest in the late 60s counterculture period and/or psychedelics in general to fully appreciate this. Music buffs will get a kick out of The Electric Flag’s groovy soundtrack as well.

7/10

LAMB Movie of the Month Review: Heathers [1988]

Heathers [1988]

Heathers [1988]
Director: Michael Lehmann
Genre: Comedy
Starring: Winona Ryder, Christian Slater and Shannen Doherty
Runtime: 103 minutes

I was pleased to see Heathers selected as the LAMB Movie of the Month. This is a film that has been on my must-see list for a while now, and its nomination gave me validation to bump it up in the queue and finally sit down to tackle this cult hit / dark comedy.

The film gets its name from a high school clique of popular/rich girls that all share the first name of Heather. They are cruel to everyone in school, and despised by most. Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder) is a classmate of theirs who associates with them to maintain her popular status. Veronica is generally more caring than her associates, but is forced to act like them in order to remain “friends”.

Heathers [1988]

Things get interesting at school when Jason Dean (Christian Slater) shows up. J.D. is a rebel, a new guy who doesn’t give a shit about anyone or anything. Naturally, Veronica finds him to be fascinating, and the two hit it off. As Veronica is disgusted with her “friends”, she works with J.D. to concoct a plan to get rid of them one-by-one. This plan is taken to another level, however, when J.D. poisons the lead Heather (Kim Walker), killing her and leaving a note behind to frame it as a suicide. This is only the beginning of what soons become J.D.’s rampage, one that Veronica struggles to stay away from.

Going into Heathers, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew it was a dark comedy (which I generally love) and that it starred Christian Slater in his breakthrough role. What I didn’t expect was non-stop snappy dialogue that had me in hysterics, and the very dark suicide subject matter. In this regard, I loved what the film had to offer.

Heathers [1988]

On the other hand, there was one thing that nearly ruined the movie for me: Christian f’n Slater. I am not too familiar with his work, having only seen him in True Romance, but he was beyond grating as James Dean. Slater’s godawful Jack Nicholson impression is just terrible, and I could not help thinking as such every time he appeared on screen. Based on this performance, it blows my mind that he was once considered a heartthrob.

If J.D.’s role were given to a more competent actor, I wholeheartedly believe that Heathers would rank among my favorite comedies. As such, while I enjoyed the film, I did not fall in love with it like I wanted to. There’s so much to like, especially the witty dialogue and Winona Ryder’s fun performance, but Slater really drags the film down. Still, it’s easy to see why this is a cult hit, and it’s worth seeing regardless.

7/10

Movie Project #1: Vanishing Point [1971]

Due to the overwhelming success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a second round for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Vanishing Point [1971]

Vanishing Point [1971]
Director: Richard C. Sarafian
Genre: Action/Drama
Starring: Barry Newman, Cleavon Little and Dean Jagger
Runtime: 106 minutes

I miss owning a car.

Vanishing Point has re-emphasized that point for me, and I really want to hit the open road again.

There’s something to be said about just driving through open terrain for long stretches at a time, especially when you are behind the wheel of a souped-up car. That’s the case for Kowalski (Newman) and his white 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T. He has accepted an assignment that requires him to deliver the Challenger to San Francisco from Denver in one weekend. That’s not enough for Kowalski, however, and he takes a bet to get the car there in 15 hours or less (an especially difficult task for that time period).

Why the hell not? The dude can drive.

Vanishing Point [1971]

Hopped up on speed pills, Kowalski effortlessly weaves in and out of traffic, carefully dodging construction areas and evading the police. Those in the way have less than desirable results, often leading to spectacular crashes. It’s exhilarating just to watch the professional at work.

We don’t learn much about Kowalski, and he really doesn’t have much to say. A few brief flashbacks show that he is a Vietnam War veteran, a former race car driver and former police officer, but they don’t provide an extensive amount of depth. This isn’t a big deal because it’s easy to empathize with the man who is just looking to finish his job.

Vanishing Point [1971]

Despite spending most of his time driving, Kowalski manages to meet/connect with a few people along the way. Most important is Super Soul (Little), a blind radio DJ who hears of Kowalski’s high speed chase and encourages him to keep going. As any driving aficionado understands, good music is essential to enjoying the journey. Super Soul is enigmatic and delivers the audio goods on his end, with a soundtrack that has cuts from Bobby Doyle, Delaney & Bonnie and Mountain, to name a few.

It’s easy to see why Vanishing Point is considered a cult classic today. There’s the breathtaking cinematography that proudly shows off the American Southwest. There’s the white-knuckle racing and the relentless chases. There’s a killer and diverse soundtrack. Consider me the latest fan to the ever-growing Vanishing Point collective. This is a damn fun movie, and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to kick off my project.

9/10