From Dusk Till Dawn

From Dusk Till Dawn is currently available on instant Netflix.

From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) – Rated R

“Robbers-on-the-lam Seth and Richard Gecko take an ex-preacher and his kids hostage. On a race to the Mexican border, they rendezvous at a cantina, not knowing the owners and clientele are bloodthirsty vampires in this ode to 1960s horror movies.”

“I’m not gonna drain you completely. You’re gonna turn for me. You’ll be my slave. You’ll live for me. You’ll eat bugs because I order it. Why? Because I don’t think you’re worthy of human blood. You’ll feed on the blood of stray dogs. You’ll be my foot stool.”

Director and editor Robert Rodriguez makes two separate movies here. The first is a criminals on the run saga which takes up quite a bit of screentime but then it morphs into a vampire survival tale. Although much of it is unprintable, Tarantino’s script has a lot of punch and great characters.

George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino play the outlaw Gecko Brothers. Clooney is firm, loyal and desperate as bank robber Seth but Tarantino is off-the-wall as his crazy brother Richard. They take a family hostage on their way to Mexico. The father is an embittered ex-priest, Jacob Fuller, played by Harvey Keitel. His children are Kate and Scott Fuller played by Juliette Lewis and Ernest Liu.

Rodriguez packs the movie with guest stars. Before the bar, John Saxon cameos as FBI Agent Chase. John Hawkes, Oscar-nominated for Winter’s Bone, has an early role as Pete the store clerk. Kelly Preston (Mrs. John Travolta) is a newscaster.

At the bar, makeup artist Tom Savini plays Sex Machine. Makeup artists Greg (Walking Dead) Nicotero plays Sex Machine’s friend. Director Robert Rodriguez pops up as a bandmember. Fred “The Hammer” Williamson plays Frost. The lovely Salma Hayek plays Santanico Pandemonium (and dances with a snake for you fetishists). Cheech Marin plays three roles: a border guard, Chet, and Carlos.

The criminals on the run saga is pretty good, mainly due to Tarantino’s funny script. It takes awhile to get to the vampire portion of the movie but once there, Rodriguez makes it a non-stop roller coaster ride of vampire destruction. Special effects are good and fun, with the vampires perishing in a myriad of ways. They use a lot of green blood to get some of the killings past the ratings board (an old trick).

People Watch: The wonderful Michael Parks plays Texas Ranger Earl McGraw. He would reprise that character again in Kill Bill parts one and two as well as both segments of Grindhouse (Planet Terror and Death Proof). He also plays writer Ambrose Bierce in From Dusk Till Dawn 3.

Sequel-itis: What happens when you take a franchise and get rid of director Robert Rodriguez, writer Quentin Tarantino, and actors Harvey Keitel, George Clooney, Salma Hayek, and Juliette Lewis? The straight to video back-to-back sequels – From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money (1999) with Robert Patrick and Bo Hopkins and From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter (1999) with Michael Parks. The only connecting thread is Danny Trejo but the sequels are not very good.

Christine – The King of Horror

This is the King of Horror week. That is right – all of the films this week will be based on works by noted horror author Stephen King. Christine is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: Christine (1983) – Rated R for adult content, adult language, and violence.

“Geeky student Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon) falls for Christine, a rusty 1958 Plymouth Fury, and becomes obsessed with restoring the classic automobile to her former glory. As the car changes, so does Arnie, whose newfound confidence turns to arrogance behind the wheel of his exotic beauty. Arnies girlfriend Leigh and best friend Dennis reach out to him, only to be met by a Fury like no other. Based on the chilling novel by Stephen King.”

“Let me tell you a little something about love, Dennis. It has a voracious appetite. It eats everything. Friendship. Family. It kills me how much it eats. But I will tell you something else. You feed it right, and it can be a beautiful thing, and thats what we have.”

John Carpenter begins the movie wonderfully as Christine rolls off the assembly line to the immortal strains of “Bad to the Bone”. This scene, one of the best in the movie, is not in the novel. The rest of the music choices in the film are quite inspired – Tarantino-esque before Tarantino.

This is a Stephen King love story. Make no mistake – this story may be about a murderous car but at heart, it is a love story of tragic proportions. As in Shakespeare, it is love at first sight.

While I did not notice any particular liberties taken with the book (other than cutting out several subplots), the focus is quite different. I remember the book being essentially a love story between friends Arnie and Dennis and what happens when Arnie buys the aforementioned car.

John Carpenter puts the focus more squarely on the relationship between Arnie and Christine. This is probably necessary to keep the film under two hours but at times it does seem a bit too streamlined.

The actors are serviceable. Strangely none of the regular actors that Carpenter uses make an appearance here.

Keith Gordon made a career out of playing the nerdy kid (Home Movies, Dressed to Kill) and as such plays Arnie, our lovable nerd who is transformed just as he transforms Christine.

John Stockwell (Cougar in Top Gun) plays Dennis, the jock friend to Arnie. Alexandra Paul plays Cabot, the human love interest they both share. William Ostrander plays the head bully, Buddy Repperton. Part of the problem is that the actors are all in their 20s and they look it as do many of the other high school “kids”.

The other part of the problem is Harry Dean Stanton. He has a brief role as Detective Junkins and he is so much better than the other actors that the rest seem somewhat dull in comparison.

The remaining “actor” of note is Christine herself. Carpenter makes Christine the star, her shade of red is gorgeous, and her headlights mesmerizing. The amount of damage done to her in various scenes is amazing. Every shot of Christine is lovingly framed or would be…

Annoyingly Netflix has presented this in a cropped for TV pan-and-scan format. This was actually the movie that convinced me decades ago that letterbox was preferable to full screen.

The first scene at the school lockers has Arnie in the background making fun of Roseanne while she flirts with Dennis. In the original pan-and-scan I saw on TV, Arnie is actually cut out of the frame – which completely ruins the scene.

This pan-and-scan version preserves a bit of the joke though it is cut badly. One of the strengths John Carpenter brings to the cinematic table are his lovely 2.35:1 shots. It is a real shame that this is shown “fool-screen”.

I still recommend this film from John Carpenter at the height of his career but I was tempted to rate this a pass because many of the beautiful shot compositions are ruined. This is neither the best of John Carpenter nor the best of Stephen King but is still enjoyable.

People Watch: Oh no it is the Scientology connection again. His wife Kelly Preston appears here as Roseanne.

Battlefield Earth – Solar System week

In honor of my father-in-law, a retired professor of astronomy, this week we will spend exploring our solar system in the movies. Today we will visit our home planet Earth. Battlefield Earth is currently available on instant Netflix.

AVOID: Battlefield Earth (2000) – Rated PG-13 for adult content, adult language and violence.

“In the year 2000, an alien race known as the Psychlos devastated Earth and turned it into a wasteland. In the year 3000, the aliens — led by the horrific Terl (John Travolta) — still hold the surviving human population hostage and have forced Earthlings into slavery. But when human Johnny Goodboy Tyler (Barry Pepper) discovers the aliens major weakness and leads the final fight for Earths survival, the parasitic Psychlos are in for a shock.”

“I am sorry – the gods took your father in the night.”

“I am sorry. I cannot take you Chrissy.”

I am so sorry if you had the misfortune of seeing this film.

First off the official title is Battlefield Earth – A Saga of the Year 3000. How positively generic. If you still did not get it then the first text onscreen is “Man is an endangered species”. The alien race are Psychlos so you know they are not good. Our hero is Jonny Goodboy Tyler. I understand that subtlety is not a strong suit for many but this is some serious overkill.

This film is sooooooo bad. I have not read the book by L. Ron Hubbard but this inane plot had to have come from somewhere so he definitely has to share the blame. Especially since they rejected the screenplay written by J.D. Shapiro as not being faithful enough to the book.

They have a deus ex machina in an alien device that teaches Jonny not only to speak Psychlo but also teaches him (and this had me laughing hysterically) Euclidian geometry (among other things). So apparently after Euclid, a Greek, developed geometry, he must have left the planet to teach the aliens geometry since they named theirs after Euclid as well.

There is another real head-scratcher as well. Perhaps it is better explained in the book but there is no indication that the alien device would teach Jonny how to read English (or that he would have time to do so after being shown a human repository of knowledge). Strangely Jonny knows that gold was stored a thousand years ago in Fort Knox.

Another character – a human savage – refers to something as “a piece of cake”. Really? Terl refers to the humans constantly as “man animals”. Do we refer to elephants as “elephant animals”?

Jonny teaches the other savages how to fly jets (I swear I am not making this up) by using a simulator from a thousand years ago (still not sure what power source it uses). Oh and he does this in a week – obviously our Air Force spends far too much on training. This is so they can properly use the 1,000 year old jets with 1,000 year old jet fuel in them.

Please note that these jets were completely ineffective in 2000 at the time of the Psychlo invasion. In fact, Terl states that humanity put up a fight for only nine minutes.

Battlefield Earth swept the Razzies in 2001. It won Worst Picture, Worst Director, Worst Actor – John Travolta, Worst Screenplay, and Worst Supporting Actress – Kelly Preston. The only reason Forest Whitaker did not win his Worst Supporting Actor nomination was that Barry Pepper won it by being even worse. The most amusing Razzie was that Battlefield Earth won Worst Couple – John Travolta and anyone sharing the screen with him.

In 2005 Battlefield Earth won a Razzie for Worst Drama of Our First 25 Years. It won again in 2010 for Worst Picture of the Decade and Worst Actor of the Decade – John Travolta. At the Razzies, Battlefield Earth was referred to as Plan 9 from L. Ron Hubbard.

What happened to John Travolta? He made a fabulous career comeback in 1994 with Pulp Fiction. He had some great roles right after that in Get Shorty, Broken Arrow, Phenomenon and Michael. He did an excellent nuanced Clinton impersonation in Primary Colors (1998).

Then Travolta went kablooey. He was abominable here, awful in Swordfish, dreadful in Domestic Disturbance, and cringe-worthy in the remake of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3. He even revisited (poorly) his character of Chili Palmer from Get Shorty in the sequel Be Cool.

I think I could write an entire week on just the different facets of this awful movie. AVOID at all costs!

People Watch: Kelly Preston, wife of John Travolta and fellow Scientologist, has a brief but painfully funny role as Chirk.