Sunday, January 22, 2017

An Inconvenient Sequel & Reservoir Dogs - Another Look

Film review: Is Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Sequel worthwhile?

Al Gore’s follow-up to his acclaimed climate change documentary shows how difficult it is even to have a conversation about the topic, writes critic Sam Adams.

BBC  by Sam Adams  January 2017 

Is it possible for a movie to be too timely? With the earth’s temperature hitting a record high for the third year in a row, a sequel to Al Gore’s Oscar-winning climate change documentary An Inconvenient Truth couldn’t be more relevant. But watching it open the Sundance Film Festial the night before Donald Trump’s inauguration, it was difficult to come away with the message Gore relayed to the crowd from the stage after the lights came up: “We are going to win this.”

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, directed by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk, offers glimpses of the Keynote presentation made famous by its Oscar-winning predecessor, updated with freshly alarming statistics and footage from the intervening decade. One graph, showing the proportion of days per year in five different temperature categories, starts out as a comforting bell curve, with an even distribution of cooler- and hotter-than-average days on either side. But as Gore progresses through the years, the central hump lurches toward the hot end of the scale like a drunken porcupine. Sundance has a strong midnight movies section, but that slouching form is more terrifying than the Babadook. (There are feel-good slides, too, showing the growth of renewable energy sources in scattered spots around the world, but they don’t hit with the same force.)

Gore has always approached the fight for climate change as a political actor, calculating the precise dosages of hope and despair to shock his audience’s conscience without short-circuiting their minds. But there are people whom no jolt can move, including the man who will be president of the US by the time this review is published, and who turns up periodically in An Inconvenient Sequel as a televised image or a disembodied voice suggesting that Obama’s focus on climate change is a dereliction of his duty, that he should “get back to work” and “solve the Isis problem.”

Heated argument

Although it has fierce competition, climate policy may be the best illustration of how poisonously partisan US political culture has become. Gore tells the story of Dscovr, a satellite developed during Bill Clinton’s presidency that would have provided detailed images showing precisely how the earth’s climate was shifting. When George W Bush took over the White House, the project was scrapped, until the energy companies who were counting on the satellite’s sensors to help them guard against the damages caused by solar storms protested. The Bush administration then agreed to launch Dscovr, but only after all the devices pertaining to measuring earth’s climate had been stripped away. And then, after all that, they failed to launch it at all.

Gore, this sequel shows us, has been building an army, training thousands of climate advocates to deliver his presentation all over the world. But while ordinary people can encourage their leaders to act, only those leaders can make the kinds of widespread changes necessary. So after following Gore around the world, where he surveys melting ice sheets and slogs through the flooded streets of Miami, the movie ends up at the 2015 climate conference in Paris. The mood in the weeks beforehand is cautiously optimistic, until it’s shattered by the terrorist attacks that left 130 dead.  But in the wake of that tragedy, the nations of the world came together – with a little help from Al Gore – and signed a historic agreement. It’s a heartwarming story of humanity’s disparate factions coming together in the wake of something terrible and rising above it.

In much of An Inconvenient Sequel, Gore is in his familiar professorial mode, calmly lecturing audiences in a voice that drifts between reassuring and soporific. But on a few occasions, his emotions get the better of him, and that voice develops an exasperated rasp. Gore apologizes for getting carried away, but his anger, rare as it is, is the most galvanising thing in the movie, suggesting that, on some level, Gore knows there are times when you have to stop trying to persuade everyone and simply fight those you feel are on the wrong side of history. At a rally, Gore quotes Martin Luther King Jr’s famous statement that “the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” In truth, though, that arc only bends if we bend it.

An Inconvenient Sequel comes close to sanctifying Gore; while he says he sometimes views the lack of global progress on climate change as “a personal failure,” the film never encourages us to agree with him. The most important figure in the movie isn’t Al Gore, but the mayor of Georgetown, Texas, a midsized town that is in the process of shifting all of its energy to renewable source. The mayor is a self-proclaimed conservative Republican, the elected leader of “the reddest city in the reddest county” in the state. He frames the shift as a simple matter of dollars and cents, but it’s also clear that he believes a person should leave the earth in better shape than they found it – an idea that ought to be simple enough to transcend the differences between political parties. A small town in Texas isn’t where you’d expect to find hope for the future of the planet, but with a storm this menacing, any port will do.

Live from the Sundance Film Festival 2017
official FIRST LOOK clip from An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power
An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power is in theaters July 28, 2017
Why Reservoir Dogs is really an anti-violence film

Quentin Tarantino’s debut is remembered for its style, its soundtrack, and most of all, its graphic violence. Looking back 25 years on, Nicholas Barber takes a fresh look.

BBC  by Nicholas Barber  18 January 2017

When Reservoir Dogs premiered 25 years ago, audiences at the Sundance Film Festival saw a low-budget indie movie about some men arguing in a warehouse, with no big stars and an unknown writer-director. And yet Quentin Tarantino’s bravura debut had the impact of a zillion-dollar blockbuster. Film fans everywhere were soon debating its back-and-forth chronology, its zinging banter, its ultra-cool 1970s soundtrack, and, most of all, its supposedly excessive violence. After Wes Craven, the director of A Nightmare on Elm Street, walked out of one festival screening in disgust, Reservoir Dogs became a byword for cinematic gore. 

“Strong violence is Tarantino’s passion,” wrote Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times, “and he embraces it with gleeful, almost religious, fervor. An energetic macho stunt, Reservoir Dogs glories in its excesses of blood and profanity, delighting, in classic Grand Guignol fashion, in going as far over the top as the man’s imagination will take it.”

It’s still chilling to see the psychopathic Mr Blonde (Michael Madsen) slashing a policeman’s face and severing his ear (Credit: Moviestore Collection Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo)

This response isn’t entirely unjustified. After a quarter of a century, it’s still chilling to see the psychopathic Mr Blonde (Michael Madsen) slashing a policeman’s face and severing his ear, shimmying all the while to Stealers Wheel’s Stuck in the Middle with You. But, minute by minute, Reservoir Dogs is hardly a violent film: it has a lot more talking than ear-lopping. Nor is the violence particularly explicit.

As Tarantino said to Rolling Stone magazine, “Go to a video store and nine out of 10 films in the action-adventure section are more graphic than mine.” When Mr Blonde gives the unfortunate policeman the Vincent van Gogh treatment, for instance, the camera tilts away, leaving the viewer to swear that they’ve seen a razor blade hacking through flesh even though - as with Psycho three decades earlier - the butchery is all in their own imagination. 

Reservoir Dogs isn’t just more restrained than a standard Hollywood thriller, though. It’s also far more moral. Whereas most hold-up capers let their protagonists get away with murder, this is one in which crime doesn’t pay, violence doesn’t solve nothing, and the cockiest crooks are revealed to be cowardly bunglers. It even insists that anyone who kills someone should end up being killed themselves. There are Sunday school sermons that are more ambiguous about the wages of sin.

The whiny and weaselly Mr Pink (Steve Buscemi) turns out to be the most competent of the group (Credit: Moviestore Collection Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo)

The film’s high-mindedness is apparent in its opening scenes. First, we see a group of sharp-suited career criminals sitting around a diner table and chatting about everything except the diamond robbery they’re planning to commit: an old address book; the etiquette of tipping; the meaning of Madonna’s Like a Virgin. After seven minutes of this repartee, we see the criminals strolling in slow-motion through the Los Angeles sunshine, while The George Baker Selection’s finger-clicking Little Green Bag sets the mood. With an iconic sequence that has inspired the dress code of a million stag nights, Tarantino persuades us that we’re about to see a heist being pulled off to perfection by the coolest dudes since the Rat Pack starred in Ocean’s Eleven.

Arrested development

But it’s all a trick. Even before Little Green Bag has finished, we start to hear agonised gasps and whimpers, and the next thing we see is a terrified Mr Orange (Tim Roth) bleeding all over the back seat of a car driven by his panicky colleague, Mr White (Harvey Keitel). 

Tarantino doesn’t glamourise his anti-heroes’ profession by showing them swaggering in and out of the jewellery store they’re sticking-up; he only shows us the messy, painful and humiliating aftermath of their botched job. Black suits and snappy dialogue notwithstanding, Reservoir Dogs wastes no time in establishing that its characters are losers, one and all. The rest of the film bears this out. 

Tarantino opens the film with the characters around a diner table – juvenile, volatile and afraid of women (Credit: Moviestore Collection Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo)

The laidback Mr Blonde is so unstable that he goes on a rampage at the first sign of trouble. The intrepid Mr Orange mewls about how scared he is after being shot in the stomach. Mr White, a supposedly hardened veteran, is so easily fooled by an undercover cop that he tells him his name and his home city. The film’s wittiest inversion is that the whiny, weaselly and altogether Steve Buscemi-ish Mr Pink (Steve Buscemi) turns out to be the most competent of the lot. He is the one who keeps hold of a bag of diamonds, who realises that one of his colleagues must be working with the police, and who breaks up a fight between Messrs White and Blonde. “What, are we in the playground here?” he demands, the answer being, yes, that’s exactly where they are. With their silly code-names and matching outfits, their puerile insults and their giggly wrestling matches, the Reservoir Dogs are nothing but big kids.

For better or worse, one of the most influential aspects of the film is the way its characters wax lyrical about their favourite films, TV shows and songs. You’re never more than a minute away from a crack about Lee Marvin, Pam Grier or the Fantastic Four - and even the grizzled Mr Blue (Eddie Bunker) has an opinion about Madonna. But while Tarantino’s many imitators resort to pop-cultural chit-chat because they can’t think of anything else for their characters to talk about, Tarantino uses it for a reason: to remind us that we are watching a bunch of arrested adolescents. 

That could be why Reservoir Dogs is so cherished by nerdy music-and-movie obsessives (me included). It isn’t really a film about cops and robbers. It’s really a film about geeks.

More specifically, it’s a film about male geeks. Tarantino would go onto write substantial roles for Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill, and for Pam Grier in Jackie Brown, but in Reservoir Dogs there isn’t a single line of dialogue spoken by a woman. And whenever women are mentioned - as in a sniggering anecdote about a waitress who glued her abusive husband’s penis to his stomach - it sounds like the misogynistic locker-room gossip of boys who have never plucked up the courage to speak to a real live girl. It’s true that Mr White reminisces about a female associate called Alabama (presumably the Alabama played by Patricia Arquette in the Tarantino-scripted True Romance), but he claims that their partnership couldn’t last: “You push that woman-man thing too long and it gets to you after a while.” That sums it up. The characters like to view themselves as fearless gangsters. But at heart they are teenagers stuck in their parents’ basements. None of them is mature enough to handle “that woman-man thing”.

Perhaps that’s why Tarantino chose to open the film with his riff on Madonna’s Like a Virgin; the men around the diner table - juvenile, volatile, afraid of women - might as well be hormonal virgins themselves. And perhaps that’s why, when Mr Orange recites a story about his stint as a drug dealer, his main complaint is that people kept ringing him while he was trying to watch The Lost Boys. 

Consciously or not, Tarantino may have chosen this title because that is what the characters are. His Reservoir Dogs aren’t goodfellas or wise guys, but boys who never grew up.

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