Movie Project #9: Paris, Texas [1984]

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.

Paris, Texas [1986]

Paris, Texas [1984]
Director: Wim Wenders
Genre: Drama
Starring: Harry Dean Stanton, Nastassja Kinski and Dean Stockwell
Runtime: 147 minutes

A lot can happen in four years.

Desperate to get away from his past, Travis Henderson (Harry Dean Stanton) wanders mysteriously through the Mojave Desert. When we see him, he doesn’t look well. He is wearing a weathered suit jacket and tie with a worn-out red baseball cap on his head, and he has a scraggly beard that looks to not have been touched in months. Upon stumbling into an old dusty saloon, Travis searches for water before settling on a handful of ice cubes. He puts them in his mouth, begins chewing, and promptly passes out.

Paris, Texas [1986]

When he comes to, he is in a nearby hospital. A German doctor has sifted through Travis’s supplies (essentially just his barren wallet) and finds a phone number. A quick call goes out to Travis’s brother, Walt (Dean Stockwell), and he drives out immediately to pick up his long-lost sibling.

It takes a long time for Travis to begin talking. Once he finally does so, we learn that he suffers from amnesia, often having difficulty putting pieces of his memories back together. He has been missing for four years after he got up and left behind his wife and toddler son without them knowing. He has a penchant for the town of Paris, Texas, which puzzles his brother. There are a lot of question marks surrounding this startling development, and the film follows Travis as he begins to re-connect with his past.

Paris, Texas [1986]

Paris, Texas is a slow and brooding film that places a heavy emphasis on dialogue and character development. Some may take issue with the methodical pacing, but it’s hard to look away from the beautiful cinematography, and to also focus on the incredible acting from all involved. Many claim this to be Harry Dean Stanton’s finest performance, and this is not a point I will argue. The child actor who plays Travis’s son, Hunter (Hunter Carson), does remarkably well at showcasing the uncertainties of developing a relationship with a father he doesn’t remember. Still, special mention must be made of Nastassja Kinski, who plays Travis’s long-lost wife, Jane. The scenes where the former lovers finally confront each other, behind a one-sided mirror, are among the most heartbreaking I have seen.

Paris, Texas won the Palme d’Or at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival, and it has developed a bit of a cult following since then. It’s hard to promote the irrational behavior of someone such as the character of Travis Henderson, but the film does a tremendous job of keeping us interested anyway. I can’t say I connected to the film as much as some of its more vocal supporters have, but this tale is one I will certainly not be forgetting.


Interesting bit of trivia: This was the favorite movie of both Kurt Cobain and Elliott Smith. It was also a major influence on U2’s seminal album, The Joshua Tree.

Movie Project #15: Cool Hand Luke [1967]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

Cool Hand Luke [1967]

Cool Hand Luke [1967]
Directors: Stuart Rosenberg
Genre: Crime/Drama
Language: English
Country: USA

What we got here is… failure to communicate.

Watching The Hustler made me appreciate the awesomeness that is Paul Newman, and I was eager to check out Cool Hand Luke, another well-regarded movie of his. I had heard this titled as the “ultimate guy’s movie”, and everyone spoke volumes about Paul Newman’s character. I couldn’t help but be intrigued.

Cool Hand Luke tells the story of Lucas Jackson (Newman), a guy who lives by his own rules and doesn’t back down from anything or anyone. After getting arrested for cutting heads off parking meters (while heavily drinking at the same time), Luke is sent off to prison for two years. At the prison, he keeps to himself yet somehow ends up in a boxing match with the much larger “Dragline” (George Kennedy), who is the leader of the chain gang. Despite getting his ass kicked, Luke keeps getting back up after every punch before finally his adversary walks away. This single act of courage (or just plain recklessness) earns Luke respect from his fellow prisoners, and many begin to look up to him.

Cool Hand Luke [1967]

This is the beginning of a recurring theme, as Luke continually stands up to others, especially the law, and attempts to do things his own way. What makes him so likeable is that he is just a laidback dude who is always up for a challenge — whether that is trying to eat 50 eggs in one sitting or attempting to escape prison. He is a real “cool hand”, as Dragline affectionately labels him.

One thing that has surprised me in reading about Cool Hand Luke is that not many articles mention the significant amount of Christ imagery present in the movie. The most obvious example is after the egg-eating scene when Luke collapses on top of a table, spread out like Jesus on the cross. Another major comparison between the two is in the form of Luke’s name combined with his prisoner number: 37. Hence, Bible verse Luke 1:37, “For with God nothing shall be impossible.” It is interesting to think of things this way, and the comparisons are not far-fetched, as both were nonconformists who developed followers through their actions.

Cool Hand Luke [1967]

I can’t think of anyone else that could have played the role of Luke other than Paul Newman. He just oozes charisma here, making it real hard not to root for the guy. He is aided by an outstanding supporting cast led by Kennedy as his strong righthand man. There are a lot of bit roles here, including spots from Harry Dean Stanton and a young Dennis Hopper, with everyone performing well. There are not many women in the movie, which gives credence to the whole “guy’s movie” reputation, but the passing role of Jo Van Fleet as Luke’s mother creates one of the most emotional scenes of the film.

While a little slow by today’s standards, Cool Hand Luke is still a fascinating study of one of Hollywood’s great characters. Paul Newman’s performance is incredible, and it’s baffling that he didn’t win the Oscar for this. With a lot of great quotes (such as the one at the beginning of the review) and some truly unforgettable scenes, this is well worth seeing.


Movie Review: Rango [2011]

Rango [2011]

Rango [2011]
Director: Gore Verbinski
Genre: Animation/Adventure/Comedy
Language: English
Country: USA

When I first saw the trailer for Rango, I immediately thought it was going to be another run-of-the-mill animated movie for children. Slowly, details started to trickle out and I heard about references to Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas and the Dollars Trilogy, among others. My interest was piqued, and it turns out that my initial notion was dead wrong.

Rango is a smart movie, one that caters toward adults and film buffs. Sure, kids will love its stylish and unbelievably detailed visuals, as well as Johnny Depp’s charming rendition of the title character, but many of the film references and “adult” level jokes will go over their poor little heads. I think that’s what made Rango so appealing for me — it isn’t “dumbed down” at all.

Rango [2011]

So yeah, Johnny Depp is the voice of Rango, a pet chameleon who accidentally becomes stranded in the Mojave Desert. Scared shitless by being alone amongst red-tailed hawks and other predators, Rango wanders aimlessly and eventually meets a desert iguana named Beans, who takes him into an Old West town called Dirt. It is here where the ever-imaginative chameleon develops his persona of Rango, posing as a tough outlaw who once killed all seven Jenkins brothers with one bullet. One bullet! The townsfolk eat this up, and after Rango accidentally kills a terrorizing red-tailed hawk, he is appointed as the town’s sheriff.

What ultimately unveils itself is a clever homage to the classic Chinatown, with the town trying to figure out what the hell happened to their disappearing water supply. Nods to old Westerns are also frequent, and the movie itself is nothing more than an animated spoof/tribute to the genre.

Not enough can be said of the movie’s visuals. This is one of the best-looking animated features I have ever seen, and it is clear that Pixar now has some competition in the form of Industrial Light & Magic. Do yourself a favor and see this on Blu-ray. It is mind-bogglingly sharp.

Rango [2011]

The voice acting is also quite impressive with Johnny Depp leading the way. Whereas other big name actors have been known to phone in their performances, Depp is on top of the game here and is clearly having a great time. Ned Beatty, Bill Nighy, Abigail Breslin, Stephen Root and Harry Dean Stanton also lend their talent, to name a few, and the casting overall is quite flawless.

I liked Rango and its eccentricities quite a bit, particularly the beginning and end sequences. The middle portion, while entertaining, dragged on a bit too long, and the overall feature suffers a little as a result. Still, there is a lot to like here. Kids will be pleased with the characters and the stunning visuals, and adults will love all of the references and gags related to other films. A spicier middle segment would have made this one of the top films this year, but it’s still a fun way to spend two hours.