. The Paramount Vault releases make up the majority of this month’s first time watches: Grim Prairie Tales, The Sender, Shanks and Beneath.
Grim Prairie Tales (Wayne Coe – 1990)
An odd anthology film that spends more time with its wrap-around story than the 4 tales spun from it. Granted, when your wrap-around has James Earl Jones and Brad Dourif, I could see why you might want to give them the lion’s share – unless of course what they are given is 1) a fractured and weirdly paced arc and 2) really crappy direction for their line readings. Dourif plays a man riding back to Jacksonville Florida to see his wife (by horse across the prairies – the time period is likely late 1800s) when he encounters Jones after bunking down for the night in the great wide open. After much wide-eyed yelling at each other, they begin to swap stories. The stories – each one being more of a morality/immorality tale rather than anything horrific – are both interesting and kinda dull. Even though the individual tales are no longer than 10-15 minutes each, the pace is glacial…There’s a dryness to them that simply didn’t engage me. And yet, upon reflection, each one tackles its subject (intolerance, lust, hatred/fear, pride) in a fairly unique and non-obvious way. I have to give the film credit for a different approach. If only it were more entertaining…
In this age of 3D glasses, product placement, and an abundance of needless special effects, I sometimes forget what it is that has always made me love movies so much. For me, I’m reminded during those rare moments when the actors completely take over a scene, where everyone and everything just clicks, and I become so engrossed in the moment that I am no longer aware that I am sitting on the couch in my living room in podunk Pennsylvania munching on reheated pizza. It’s those times when my analytical eye goes blind, when I forget that I’m watching people act, where I’m no longer examining the camerawork and mentally tearing apart the story for inconsistencies, and imagining the directors orchestrating the scene during production.
There are some scenes (and entire movies) that are just so perfect, that when I watch them or think about them, my mind pulsates with elation to the point where I think that one of these days when I watch it, my brain very well may explode from an overload of sheer awesomeness. This is one of those scenes. This is one of those movies. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is not a movie that is a stranger to critical and commercial praise – it won five Oscars after all, including Best Picture – but sometimes the praise it has received makes me take for granted how great of a movie it really is. It is a showcase of brilliant acting, a “how-to” for any aspiring young actor out there, and a delicious treat for anyone who, like myself, watches films first and foremost for interesting characters and deeply layered performances.
This scene should be viewed in all Acting 101 classes.
p.s. Does anyone else find Brad Dourif grossly underrated as an actor?
If you’re a good little soldier in the RowThree army, you’ll be off to check out Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans this weekend as it opens yet wider across America. If you’ve already seen it, go check it out again – I think it’s worth it!
At any rate, while you’re watching Nicolas Cage unleash the pig til the break of dawn, be on the lookout for Cinecast favorite and Herzog usual, Mr. Brad Dourif. Yeah it’s a small role but it brings about Dourif’s always fun talent for eccentricity.
But wait! Enter Fading of the Cries (official site). A weird, low-budget, fantasy film in which Dourif gets to play the villain and probably the most wickedest trailer I’ve seen in ’09. Pan’s Labyrinth meets In the Name of the King meets Children of the Corn… with Brad frickin’ Douriff. If this makes an appearance at Fantasia fest next year, I can officially declare that TIFF can suck it. I’ll be in Montreal.
“Return it! I will dispatch the very essence nightmares are fabricating from, until it pried from your decaying flesh.”
John Huston often directed films about mad, lonely men (from fierce Captain Ahab in Moby Dick to the Humphrey Borgart twofer of The Treasure of Sierra Madre and The Maltese Falcon) while moonlighting as an actor playing monsters on screen (none greater than Noah Cross is Chinatown). Strange that the combination of those two things seems to be crazily overlooked in the case of Wise Blood (God bless Janus/Criterion for digging out this little cult gem), especially considering that the lonely and disturbed young man at the center of the film is brilliant character actor Brad Dourif.
Dourif plays Hazel Motes, a WWII veteran returned home with a few dollars in his pocket, no prospects and no family. All that remains of his childhood is the haunting scar tissue of his fire and brimstone preaching grandfather (yes, a villain of sorts played by the director) and a shriveled and abandoned piece of property in the middle of nowhere. With not a lot of intelligence, but a boatload of determination, Hazel is determined to “do something he never did before.” Dourif is a force of nature in this film, who at a young age (only a couple years past his Oscar Nomination for One Flew over The Cuckoo’s Nest) was not quite on the path of the character actor who would play super-creeps in such varied films as David Lynch’s Dune, Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and HBO’s Deadwood (or Voice Chucky the maniacal puppet in the Child’s Play films). Nevertheless, he more than holds his own against three other character actor greats here: Ned Beatty, Harry Dean Stanton and Amy Wright as they attempt to force his naive determined (yet lost) soul from his forward and somewhat nutty trajectory (forming the Church of Christ Without Christ) into compromise with their particular (and petty) religious huckster schemes.
This particular scene requires the above paragraph to set it up, as Motes’ impulsiveness, faith (of sorts) and determination (and eventual frustration) are all summed up in how he purchases a rotting Ford Fairlane from a crusty used car dealer. I love the way that the dealer simply picks up his son and throws him out of the way after the son tries to ‘play dad.’ Another eventual theme that comes out in the film. Motes makes two ‘escape attempts’ to get away from his strange life as a preacher in the Church of Christ without Christ, and John Ford (well really Flannery O’Connor, the author of the book Wise Blood is adapted from) uses the ‘open road,’ a common metaphor for freedom and re-invention in American Cinema (and literature, I suppose) as an ironic bit of fatalism. The final ‘breakdown’ of the car rests on the incline of a steep hill whereupon a hellfire passage of Jesus graffiti further suggests that Motes is not getting away from either religion or his fathers legacy. Oh, did I mention that it is funny? That’s Southern humour for y’all.
Kurt and Andrew finally face to face at the same table. We cover a lot of highlights from the Toronto International Film Festival but specifically the much anticipated John Hillcoat film, The Road and Werner Herzog’s whacky remake of Bad Lieutenant starring Nicolas Cage. Sleep deprived but hopped up on espresso and instant noodles, we forge on through the 4am hour.