The Cost of Being a Cowboy

Drugstore Cowboy and the Junkie Lifestyle

There is no shortage of movies that feature drugs and drug use. Most have an agenda regarding their portrayal of drugs and those who use drugs. Most movies either attempt to glamorize drugs or intend to demonize them. I usually find that these movies try too hard with their message or loose the through line somewhere in the second act, but there are a few movies out there that don’t romanticize, idealize, or patronize when it comes to drugs and drug use. Gus Van Sant’s Drugstore Cowboy is on of these few movies.

Drugstore Cowboy

There are a couple concessions I want to make before I recommend this movie. First, the movie is set in 1971, and it was released in 1989 so it does feel dated at points. Second, there are a few moments early in the movie when Matt Dillon’s character, Bob, waxes poetic about drug use. I don’t view this as romanticizing drug use especially when we hear what Bob has to say later in the movie (hope that isn’t too much of a spoiler for you). With these too minor points aside this is a sound movie that takes an honest look at drugs and drug use (as honest as you can get in the weird world of Hollywood). Drugstore Cowboy is an insight into the world and daily lives of four junkies, but Van Sant does not pass any sort of explicit judgement on their lifestyles (he leaves judgement to the viewer).

If you are in the mood for a well written movie with sound acting and solid directing that features drugs and drug use in a realistic sense then Drugstore Cowboy is worth a watch. Hell, you may want to watch it just to see William S. Burroughs acting.

-K-

Drugstore Cowboy (1989) with Matt Dillon, Kelly Lynch, James Le Gros, and Heather Graham. Directed by Gus Van Sant.

Unanswered Questions and Obsession

The Allure of Wicker Park

Have you ever had a girlfriend or boyfriend leave you without any warning? She or he just vanished without a handwritten note, a text, or a pair of burnt boots on the front steps? The end of a relationship is a difficult time but not knowing why your girlfriend or boyfriend left can play with one’s psyche (it’s like failing a test but not being told what questions you got wrong). The movie Wicker Park may have a few flaws but it does a fine job capturing the feeling and fall out of a relationship that ends unexpectedly when a love interest vanishes.

Wicker Park #2
Wicker Park

Wicker Park may have a few flaws concerning plot and structure but overall it is a solid movie with fine performances by Josh Hartnett and Diane Kruger. Harnett and Kruger play a couple that splits after one of them vanishes without an explanation. The movie, presented in both present day and in flashbacks, is a story of obsession, of needing to know why somebody would leave without a word, a reason, or a clue. The movie shows us that we may believe we have moved on after a relationship ends but not knowing why it ended has a way of pulling us back in time.

When there is no word, no message, no final gesture before somebody vanishes from a relationship the resulting feelings and fall out can weigh heavily on the mind and heart. Wicker Park shows how such an event can follow us even after we feel we’ve moved on. A person may vanish quickly, but feelings don’t fade as fast.

-K-

Wicker Park (2004) with Josh Hartnett and Diane Kruger. Directed by Paul McGuigan.

A Puzzle Box and Foreboding Places

Hellraiser and the Doors to Heaven and Hell

“What’s your pleasure?” That’s about as loaded as a question as you are going to get, and it’s the beginning of Clive Barker’s Hellraiser. This is the movie that introduced me and many of my friends to the Cenobites, Pinhead, and the Lament Puzzle Bob. The box serves as a key/door to other dimensions offering both pleasure and pain. Barker’s movie, based on his novella, addresses the idea of being careful of going through doorways that promise something better or different than what you already have (an idea we began with Neil Gaiman’s Coraline).

Hellraiser Movie Cover v2
Hellraiser

I remember the first time I watched Hellraiser. I was with a group of friends, each of us brought a horror tape (oh, how I do get sentimental about VHS on occasion), and we had a Saturday night horror movie marathon. I noticed then, over thirty years ago, that Barker’s movie was different from many of the horror movies of the time. There are many great horror movies from the 1980s but most of them don’t have the depth of Hellraiser. The antagonists of many horror movies of the time are one dimensional, as are the protagonists. The world the characters inhabit are also relatively underdeveloped. The characters of Hellraiser are interesting. They have believable motivations and desires for their actions. They inhabit a world like our own but would be wary to inhabit. It is a world of with doorways that can be unlocked with a Lament Puzzle Box. These doorways appear to offer a better world, a world of pleasure, but there is something lurking beyond the doorway, Pinhead.

Most of the horror movies of the 1980s can be viewed as cautionary tales, modern twists on the old tales of foreboding and magical places with their possible dangers. Clive Barker’s Hellraiser is a more developed tale. Barker isn’t telling us to avoid those foreboding places, to not go through those doors. He is telling us to be aware of what is on the other side.

-K-

Hellraiser (1987) with Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins, Ashley Laurence, and Doug Bradley. Written and Directed by Clive Barker.

A McQueen-Newman Daily Double

The Cincinnati Kid/The Hustler Double Feature

If you are in the same situation as me, which is the same situation as most people these days, you are staying home more often than usual. Staying home does give us the opportunity to watch more movies. Since the focus of this month is gambling I would like to suggest a pair of outstanding gambling movies from the 1960s, The Cincinnati Kid and The Hustler.

The Cincinnati Kid Cover v2
The Cincinnati Kid

The Cincinnati Kid and The Hustler are as much about gambling as Field of Dreams is just about baseball. If your interests are cards and pool then these movies are worth a watch, but they are so much more that their titles and subject matter would suggest. These movies are about card sharks, pool hustlers, high stakes games, and the lives of two upstart gamblers. These are also detailed characters studies of hubris and the frailty of human relationships.

Steve McQueen’s Eric “The Kid” Stoner and Paul Newman’s “Fast” Eddie Felson are young men at the top of their respective games of poker and pool. Both men display a singular drive and determination in their quests to defeat the reigning champions, Edward G. Robinson’s “The Man” and Jackie Gleason’s Minnesota Fats, in order to be recognized as the best players of stud poker and straight pool.  The hubris each man displays while seeking this recognition impacts not only himself but also each man’s friends and lovers.  These movies are more than stories of poker and pool.  These are stories in the tradition of Greek tragedy.

The Hustler Movie Cover
The Hustler

If you find that you have more free time than usual to watch some movies then The Cincinnati Kid and The Hustler will make for a great double feature. These are much more than two great gambling movies. They serve as two insightful character studies of the impact of hubris.

-K-

The Cincinnati Kid (1965) with Steve McQueen, Ann Margaret, Tuesday Weld, and Edward G. Robinson. Directed by Norman Jewison

The Hustler (1961) with Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason, Piper Laurie, and George C. Scott. Directed by Robert Rossen.

When the Clocks Strike 13

Movies with Interesting Uses of Time and Narrative

  • Pulp Fiction (1994)
  • Groundhog Day (1998)
  • Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
Memento Movie Cover
Memento (2000)
  • The Jacket (2005)
  • Clue (1985)
  • High Noon (1952)
  • Sunset Blvd. (1950)
Irreversible Movie Cover
Irreversible (2002)
  • 12 Monkeys (1995)
  • Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
  • Tape (2001)
Run Lola Run Movie Cover
Run Lola Run (1998)

-K-

Kevin Smith’s Relationship Advice

Chasing Amy as Romance for Realists

This post isn’t about Clerks. Someday there will be a post about Kevin Smith’s Clerks but today is not that day, but if I didn’t watch Clerks then I probably wouldn’t have sought out Chasing Amy. February is drawing to a close this week so now is the time to have a brief discussion about Chasing Amy, the first ‘relationship’ movie I saw that I could really identify with (although there is some interesting relationship advice in Clerks worth discussing at a later date). Some elements of Smith’s 1997 movie may be a bit dated but the core message of the movie holds true today and is worth a viewing.

Chasing Amy 2
Chasing Amy

Much like Clerks which has the ability to speak to those of us who have worked in retail Chasing Amy speaks to those of us who have been in complicated relationships (complicated is a cliché word but using a word like problematic is putting a dime word in a penny sentence). You don’t need to be in the same romantic relationship as Ben Affleck’s Holden McNeil to empathize with his situation. If you have ever allowed friends, or those who call themselves friends, to guide your relationship decisions then you can relate to Chasing Amy. If you have ever allowed preconceived notions and feelings of inadequacy whisper in your ear then you can relate to Chasing Amy. If you never allowed these things to sway your relationship decisions then this movie can give you an idea of how the rest of us muddle through life love.

Chasing Amy is a realistic portrayal of two people trying to work through their issues and develop a meaningful relationship. It is a movie that speaks to any of us who have struggled with similar issues. The movie may have some 90s vibes in it but Smith’s story is still relevant and worth a view.

-K-

Chasing Amy (1997) with Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams, and Jason Lee. Written and directed by Kevin Smith.

What’s Worse Than Shape Shifting Aliens?

Shape Shifting Aliens in the Snow.

Imagine fighting a shape shifting alien while not knowing whether the people around you were friends or foes. Now imagine experiencing this life or death struggle in the snow. This is what John Carpenter’s The Thing presents to the audience.

The Thing works well as a horror movie with its shape shifting alien that inhabits the bodies of its victims. The sense of fear that runs through the movie is due, in large part, to the paranoia caused by not knowing who the alien has infected. But Carpenter’s use of the snowy landscape of Antarctica adds a visceral element to the horror story. The hostile environment created by the snow and cold adds a level of conflict (man v. nature) that any viewer who has experienced a harsh winter can relate to. Viewers have never faced off against a shape shifting alien but many have experienced snowy days when temperatures dipped into negative digits.

The snow and the cold of The Thing intensify the harsh experiences the characters endure while fighting a shape shifting alien. Carpenter’s use of snow and cold also provide a visceral connection for viewers who have experienced harsh winters. We may have to imagine shape shifting aliens but harsh winters are all too real (especially for those of us in the Midwest).

-K-

The Thing (1982) starring Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, and Keith David. Directed by John Carpenter.

Zombies, Zombies, and Yep…More Zombies

Three Views of the Zombie Phenomenon

I’m about done with zombies. There are too damn many zombie movies, zombie TV shows, zombie video games, zombie bumper stickers, and zombie fuck all else these days. I have avoided zombie inspired movies and such this Halloween season for that very reason. When I saw the movie White Zombie on one of my channels last night I glossed over it. It wasn’t until I noticed that it was released in 1932 that I became moderately interested. I decided to give it a view simply because nothing else seemed more appealing (I know that’s not a sound reason to watch a movie but there it is).

I watched White Zombie with no specific expectations. All I did was try to put myself in the mindset to appreciate a movie from that time period. I must say that after one viewing (and it is a movie that I intend to view again) it is a solid movie. What I found most interesting about the movie is it got me thinking about my view of zombies. I grew up with George A. Romero zombies and to this day I will argue that his zombie movies are some of the best. But White Zombie is not in the style of a Romero movie. This movie is more in the style of a Wes Craven movie inspired by Wade Davis’ book, The Serpent and the Rainbow.

The Serpent and the Rainbow, both movie and book share the same name, focuses on the zombie phenomenon. I saw the movie first and it put a serious scare on me (Wes Craven usually does). It also left enough of an impact that I picked up a used copy of Davis’ book a few years later. Davis’ book is an engaging text that addresses the concept of zombies from both cultural and scientific viewpoints. Craven’s movie can best be described as an artistic interpretation that obviously lends itself more to horror than science, but Craven doesn’t exclude science in the attempt to scare the viewer. Victor Halperin’s White Zombie does the same. It has the elements of a classic horror movie (it is a must view if you are a fan of Bela Lugosi), and it also has a few scenes that attempt to provide a scientific reason, albeit thin, for the existence of zombies. This scientific element provides a perspective that makes both movies and the book worth your time.

Zombies are so commonplace in the horror genre today that they are bordering on cliché. In order to find some scary zombies it may be best to travel back to the 1980s for The Serpent and the Rainbow and the 1930s for White Zombie. What makes these selections scary is the sense of what could possibly happen no matter how improbable it seems, and this is what a good scare is.

-K-

White Zombie (1932) directed by Victor Halerpin starring Bela Lugosi and Madge Bellamy

The Serpent and the Rainbow (1985) by Wade Davis

The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988) directed by Wes Craven starring Bill Pullman and Cathy Tyson

Vietnam and Reliving History

Reenactment and Catharsis

John Steinbeck explains why veterans often do not discuss their combat experiences in “Why Soldiers Won’t Talk.” Mike Attie and Meghan O’Hara explore a similar topic in the film In Country. Attie and O’Hara follow a group of men over the course of a weekend as the reenact Vietnam War era patrols, ambushes, and fire fights. The documentary isn’t as much a look into the world of reenacting as it is a look into the mind of the combat veteran.

Several of the participants in the reenactment are veterans of the wars in Vietnam and Iraq. The audience is given some insights as to why these men who have experienced war first hand would want to reenact combat. One reenactor, a former soldier of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, states that he feels “whole” and “stronger” when he is with his fellow reenactors. Another reenactor, a veteran of the war in Iraq, discusses how the military philosophy of adapt and overcome desensitized him to feeling core emotions. The audience is left to infer that by reenacting with fellow veterans he is seeking to find part of what he left on the battlefield.  All of veterans who reenact give varied reasons why they participate but each man is searching for something.

One of more poignant moments of the film is a piece of archival footage from Vietnam. A reporter asks a soldier, “You think you will ever be able to forget it?” The soldier replies, “No, I won’t.” This may be at the heart of the reason why these men chose to reenact. Steinbeck states that some men experience a form of amnesia that causes them to forget combat and this is why they won’t talk about it. Mike Attie and Meghan O’Hara show us many veterans remember combat all too well and that reenacting may be a way to address and cope with those memories.

-K-

In Country (2015) directed by Mike Attie and Meghan O’Hara.

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