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:
Friday, May 07, 2004

Gone in 60 Seconds

Psych! Like I'd ever willingly watch more than five minutes of the Nic Cage-Angelina Jolie travesty (five minutes was about all I could tolerate when I saw it on TNT); hell, I'd actually be offended if anyone thought that. No, I watched the recently released DVD of the 1974 original, the B-movie cult classic by junk yard entrepreneur/stunt driver/independent filmmaker extraordinaire H.B. "Toby" Halicki (the "King of Car Crashes"), who looks amazingly like a thinner, scruffier Aaron Eckhart, though in early 70s high style fashions (if nothing else, the clothing and wigs that the characters wear as disguises are the obvious inspiration for the Spike Jonze directed Beastie Boys' video "Sabotage"). So what is this film principally known for? Well, there is the fact that Halicki gives a mustard-yellow, Ford Mustang nicknamed "Eleanor" top billing, but more importantly from this viewer's standpoint, is the 45 minute sequence of vehicular mayhem that dominates the last half of this 98 minute long film.

Until that exercise in "pure cinema" begins, the film is a nearly plotless fetishization of expensive cars (there is one long, long tracking shot which Halicki cuts back and forth to, that luxuriates over the shiny chrome and expensive finish of ritzy stolen car after stolen car) and the cool professionals who effortlessly steal them. And I do mean effortlessly; it's almost humorous how easily the gang of thieves take these cars right from underneath their owner's noses (example, the sequence where the gang repeatedly steals limousines left idling by their drivers; they just walk nonchalantly up to a Caddy or Rolls-Royce, get in, and take off). Halicki stars in the film as Maindrian Pace, the ultra-professional leader of the car thieves who all, ironically enough, operate under the front business of insurance investigators specializing in car theft. To the chagrin of his coworkers, Pace commits to delivering 40 high-priced cars to a South American gangster with only a few days to spare. The first half of the film is taken up by the gang easily fulfilling their contract, stealing cars left and right all over Los Angeles (that and I learned how to change my car's VIN if I wanted to). These scenes are shot very economically, looking like Halicki often took his camera, crew, and actors out onto the street for a little guerilla filmmaking; hell most of the first half of the film is shot without synchronized sound, so much of the sparse, jargon-laden dialogue is delivered in voice-over. Another thing to appreciate in these early sequences is the film's sense of humor, as when Pace's Robinhood-like propensity leads him to frame-up a hard-ass insurance investigator, or when one of the thieves, attempting to steal a pimped out car, is surprised and chased away by a tiger in the backseat.

After finding a major stash of heroin in one of the stolen cars, a fight erupts between Pace, who wants nothing to do with the drugs, and one of his whiniest partners, Eugene. This fight leads to Eugene tipping off the cops to Pace's final attempt to steal "Eleanor" (all of the targeted cars are given female codenames), the famous yellow Mustang. This is where the film really picks up, as Halicki and company tears up the greater LA Basin, in the process wrecking over 150 cars. What is amazing is that all of this was actually done on the streets, freeways, and empty fields of Los Angeles (you can actually see the crowds of people gawking in the background), all done straight up, with no SFX hanky-panky. Hell at times, it looks like they just strapped a camera to the dash or car mount and went nuts. Plus, it's not just about driving really fast (though some of the forward POV shots through the windshield are vertigo inducing) or bashing a car out of the way; it involves Pace outsmarting his pursuers, using his driving skills to literally get himself out of the tightest situations again and again. And its not just cars chasing cars, Halicki laces the hair-raising stunts with many humorous vignettes (the DJ reporting on the chase which, unbeknownst to him, involves his own car; the old granny who uses her umbrella to bang furiously on the hood of the passing Mustang and cop cars as they tear through a park; the carload of pot-smoking, beer-drinking youths who haphazardly weave in and out of the chase, etc). Not only that, but Halicki does not just ignore the consequences of the car chase; some of the innocent bystanders, after getting caught up in the chase, are badly hurt and end up trapped in wrecked, sometimes burning cars. Still, the key to the film is the chase itself, which is capped off by an impressive car-jump, a clearly one-shot stunt which was captured by several different camera angles simultaneously. God, it was a lot of fun watching it on my parents' big screen TV (btw, I'm at my parents' house dog sitting). And the final car-wash switcherhoo, which allows Chase to get away scott free is such a hoot. It's something that has to be seen to be believed. Great stuff. Who needs plot, characterization, or dialogue when you have some kick ass car chases/wrecks!