2003 Milk Plus Droogies

Best Picture
Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Director
Quentin Tarantino, Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Actor (tie)
Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean

Best Actor (tie)
Bill Murray, Lost in Translation

Best Actress
Uma Thurman, Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Supporting Actor
David Hyde Pierce, Down With Love

Best Supporting Actress
Miranda Richardson, Spider

Best Screenplay
Sofia Coppola, Lost in Translation

Best Foreign Film

Best Cinematography
Harris Savides, Gerry

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The Blog:
Thursday, October 30, 2003

Quick Notes on Recently Seen, Half-Remembered Films

Kill Bill, Vol. 1: In which Quentin Tarantino downplays his golden ear for dialogue and concentrates on exhibiting his visual talents. The end product may not be the best film ever made, but it certainly feels like one of the coolest. There's an exhilarating, let's-try-this feel to the movie; in some parts, all you can do is grin as you envision QT knocking another item off his mental list of Cool Things I've Always Wanted to Put in a Film. The acting is stellar as well, though it's hard to pick up on at first glance. In particular, I needed a second viewing to fully appreciate Lucy Liu's damn fine work as O-Ren -- it's the little things, like the way she delivers the line "I take your fuckin' head" or the small, satisfied smirk she sports while strolling down the hall accompanied by her entourage. I'm not really convinced the movie's actually "about" anything beyond its own brand of badassness, but then I'm not sure it needs to be. It's living proof that art need not be meaningful to be poetry.

Wrong Turn: Simply awful amalgam of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "The Hills Have Eyes". It's severely bland and is hampered by some generic and boring villians, as well as a script that appears to have been made up on the fly. There's one good moment involving a concerned policeman; everything else is child-safe filler.

Monkey Shines: George Romero's films have often been concerned with civilization vs. animal instinct but never quite as boldly as in this film, wherein a trained monkey acts on its quadraplegic owner's violent impulses. It's a measured and thoughtful film from a director usually defined by his acts of excess. Jason Beghe's performance as the wheelchair-confined fellow deserves commendation if only because the script requires him to dance tantalizingly close to losing our sympathy by lashing out and acting like a jerk quite often; to Beghe's credit, he keeps his character's outbursts in the realm of the understandable. Add in a stunner of a finale, and you've got one of the most underrated horror flicks of the '80s.

Skidoo: There's a reason this film never made it to home video, despite having a big-name cast -- it's a misfire so ill-judged that the proper response is to gape, as though one were passing a traffic accident. Among the stars roped into this, only Jackie Gleason and Groucho Marx escape with some dignity, possibly because they have enough professionalism and natural personality to inflate even the weakest of roles. Everyone else looks properly embarrassed, though the biggest raspberry goes to songwriter Harry Nilsson -- he penned three or four original tunes for this, yet the only bearable musical moment comes when he sings the closing credits.

Johnny Firecloud: Leave it to legendary schlock producer David F. Friedman to take a "Death Wish"-style scenario, marry it with minority politics a la African-American cinema and -- voila! -- the world's only example of Injunsploitation! The film has a reputation as one of the most vicious and violent of the "Death Wish" clones, and that may be true, but the film drowns itself in bad dialogue long before the promised retribution. Still, it's the only place you're gonna see a rape scene involving Sacheen Littlefeather, so it may be worth a look for exploitation completists.

Bummer!: Well, the title's not a misnomer, which should tell you everything you need to know. We'll move on.

Viewer Discretion Advised: My love for the scrappy output of Troma Studios has gotten me burned more than once. So it goes with this film, a mostly mirth-free resurrection of a long-dormant genre (the "Kentucky Fried Movie"-style sketch revue). In fact, the film pretty neatly sums up why the genre died in the first place -- too many films with bad improv comics starring in dismal spoofs of things that have pretty much been spoofed to death. I'll admit to heartily laughing through one of the fake commercials, and I chuckled at a couple other occasions (although the faux-tractor commercials, though amusing, aren't nearly as funny as the real thing, and I say that as a guy who grew up on Cal Worthington and his dog Spot). By the time the film wrapped with the worst slasher movie parody in existence (even worse than "Scream 3"!), I was ready to call it a day. Heed the advice of the title.

What Have They Done to Solange?: Quite possibly the most baldy sexual of any giallo, which is both a strength and a failing. It's blessed with some wonderfully overheated imagery and ideas, like a killer who's doing in young girls by stabbing them with a knife in that place you'd probably least want a knife if you were a young Catholic schoolgirl in England (or anywhere)... but it's also indicative of the film's spell-it-out methodology that the killer would do this, because, ya know, they're impure and all. This is taken to its extreme during the denouement, where we find out just what Solange has to do with the narrative -- the solutions to the film's enigmas prove queasily stunning even as the climax proper turns out to be stupid as hell. Not bad, but not the forgotten classic its champions claim it to be; still, it's way better than "The House with Laughing Windows"...