Wednesday, January 30, 2013
I finally saw: From Dusk Till Dawn
Who knows why it took me 17 years to finally see From Dusk Till Dawn.
Actually, I do. It came out during that phase when I looked down my nose at Quentin Tarantino for really wanting to be an actor. "Yeah, I'm a director, but what I really want to do is act." It could have been the derailment of his career, if he'd let it. I assumed that FDTD was some massive ego stroke on his part, and that the self-deception would permeate the project.
In fact, Tarantino is pretty darn good at playing a demented psycho. The surprising part is that he actually underplays being a demented psycho. I figured he'd at least chew the scenery, but he doesn't even do that. There's nothing he does that's at the same ill-advised intensity level of the "dead ni**er storage" scene in Pulp Fiction.
Tarantino's work was just one of many pleasant surprises in this movie.
For example, how good is that first half? How nice is it to see George Clooney (who was not yet GEORGE CLOONEY) playing "a bastard, but not a fucking bastard"? (Great line -- actually, his last of the movie.) He really commits to being a bad person, but he's also not chewing scenery -- in fact, what I really admired about his work was the couple throwaway facial tics he employs to subtly underscore the significance of certain moments. He delivers the best of Tarantino's sharp dialogue, but Tarantino also saves plenty of that for the opening conversation between a Texas cop (Michael Parks, so great years later in Red State) and a liquor store cashier (John Hawkes, so great years later in ... everything), the main thrust of which is whether mentally challenged people should be allowed to work in food preparation. The scene walks that Tarantino fine line of poor taste and walks it well. I love the way the scene devolves, and how Hawkes' character really was trying to do the bidding of Seth and Richie Gecko when they gave him specific instructions on how to behave with the cop -- specific instructions that he followed to the letter, to no avail as far as psycho Richie was concerned.
And how good are Harvey Keitel and the members of his family, not only the professional actor (Juliette Lewis), but the novice (Ernest Liu)? Okay, Liu isn't great, but he holds his own. And I'd never seen Keitel in a role like this before: bearded, subdued, that familiar trope of the pastor who's lost his faith in God, but seeming new-ish here. Lewis also goes way under-the-top, something she's been accused of very few times in her career. In fact, she's got some priceless, low-key facial reactions, like when she's trying to figure out what the hell Tarantino's talking about when he tries a clumsy innuendo, referencing a moment in which he imagined her asking him to give her cunnilingus.
And how good is that second half? Maybe not as good as the first half, but totally different, and to some people, probably better than the first half. Like, maybe to Peter Jackson or Sam Raimi. That's some straight-up Raimi-Jackson monster stuff in the second half, and some incredibly imaginative weapons with which to kill them. Few settings encapsulate that wild west spirit we believe exists in "lawless" Mexico than the Titty Twister -- even before you know it's a vampire hive. And as good as all that vampire-killin' is, the movie's most enduring moment for me may be Salma Hayek's exotic dance with a large yellow snake. I don't usually like to speak too much about my male heterosexual desires on this blog, but -- hubba hubba.
So yeah, I liked From Dusk Till Dawn. I liked it a heckuva lot.
When I wrote my first in this "series" called I Finally Saw last October (A Nightmare on Elm Street), I set out to determine if the film still holds up -- though "holds up" is a phrase you usually use about films you've already seen, but not in many years. So I'm really trying to figure out if I could still see the movie through the eyes of the people who saw it (and loved it) when it was brand new.
I didn't think it was possible to return to that mid-1990s moment when ultra-violence seemed fresh and new, and "Tarantino-esque" was only starting to become a made-up word.
But there I was, watching this movie, feeling like a giddy 23-year-old again.