Thursday, March 3, 2011

Tarantino's March Madness Pt.1

Over the course of March the New Beverly Cinema is housing Quentin Tarantino's March Madness. The whole month is in celebration of Quentin Tarantino's birthday and will feature 37 movies selected by the master himself. Most of the films that are playing come from Tarantino's personal collection and a number of them are not available on DVD. The month long programming will feature plenty of grindhouse movies that have been influential to Tarantino and plenty of others as well. Tarantino's March Madness will also be capped off with a seven day run of the uncut version to "Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair." I will be attending fourteen nights of programming at the New Beverly Cinema and in an effort to give my readers the most in-depth experience I can I've planned to breakdown each of the events. Hope you enjoy!

Sadly I missed the kick-off night to Tarantino's March Madness. Being a father of four kids and a high school teacher I am around so many damn germs its very common for me to catch a cold here and there and of course I came down with something strong enough it prohibited me from attending the opening night of programming with "Crackhouse" and "Redneck Miller." Two films I had never seen and looks like I will have to wait a while longer to see anyways. Enough about what I didn't see, let's get to what I did see.

Last night Tarantino planned a double feature of escape. Two movies from the 1970's that focus on prisoners and there desire to escape from the prisons that hold them in. Both films had a number of similar themes within them. One obvious one being race relations, something the U.S. was still very much dealing with through the 1970's. Apart of those relations was another tone of coming together or more rather working together for a common goal.

First up was Don Siegel's "Escape From Alcatraz" a movie that is more than influential from the perspective of prison movies. One of the most critically acclaimed prison movies, "The Shawshank Redemption" which is number one on IMDb's Top 250 movies should come with a stipulation, 55% already happened in "Escape from Alcatraz." Re-watching 'Alcatraz' reminded me how much influence it had on 'Shawshank.' This is not to say 'Shawshank' isn't a great movie, its just features a ton of re-tread from what was previously covered in Siegel's 'Alcatraz.' Again, not that this is a new thing, we see movies re-tread all the time. Its part of making movies, just more people need to know what influenced Frank Darabont's acclaimed film.

"Escape from Alcatraz" is one of the those movies I think everyone should see not just for its influence but also its exceptional characters and performances. Per usual Clint Eastwood delivers another bang-up job as the quiet but sturdy type, however you also have powerful performances by Patrick McGoohan, Roberts Blossom, Paul Benjamin, Fred Ward, Frank Ronzio and Larry Hankin. Most of these characters if you've seen 'Shawshank' you'll remember or see familiarities in, but they are just as meaningful if not more so considering their imprint on film history. Some of the best character development in the film is between English (Paul Benjamin) and Frank Morris (Clint Eastwood). The black and white relationship if you will. While their relationship is minimal in the film, the advances they make are poignant to the era it came from. A time when Americans were easing the tension between races, something that seems insignificant like a handshake was actually a huge leap forward for the time.

For a prison movie about the toughest prison in the U.S. 'Escape' is not so tough. We've seen grittier accounts of prison brutality, but this film again is not so much about the prison lifestyle. It centers around escape but it  also hammers home a touching message of change. Change that our nation was struggling to cope with outside of prison let alone inside of one.

Much like 'Escape from Alcatraz' "I Escaped from Devil's Island" is loosely based on real events in history, however this film firmly places the tongue in cheek. This film is in no way trying to be serious even though it touches on some serious historical issues. This film is a laugh-a-minute. It is all kinds of camp and filled top to bottom with moments that will make you scratch your head. In the title role is Jim Brown playing Lebras. A prisoner who is hellbent on escaping the prison colony on devil's island apart of French Guiana. While trying to formulate a plan to escape the island, Lebras enlists the aid of Devert played by Christopher George. Also like 'Alcatraz' 'Escape' features one white man and one black man working together trying to gain freedom.

This is a kind of film that if you worry about particulars and specifics you will certainly be taken out of the movie. We see Lebras and 3 others flee devil's island on a makeshift raft made out of animal skin only to seem like they end back up on the same island when in fact they are not. The group escapes devil's island to later land on the continent of South America, but that is never actually clear. It would seem they land back on the same island. Regardless of plot and setting confusion, the situations Jim Brown and rest of the cast are put through are hysterical. One word, lepers. There is a awesome sequence where the fleeing prisoners are captured by natives, only to find out that one of the native's women is hot for Lebras (Jim Brown) and we are treated to a interesting sexual escapade between a native and Jim Brown.

If you are a fan of Jim Brown this movie is a must see. Repeatedly the film treats the audience to close-up's of Jim Brown and that million dollar smile of his. Not only is Brown's hammy smile worth admission, so too is the dialogue penned by Richard DeLong Adams. There are so many laugh-out-loud moments in the dialogue. Stuff that just seems ridiculous to hear, but there it is, in stereo sound for you to soak in. I guess this may be a good time to make sure I'm real clear, "I Escaped form Devil's Island" is not a good movie. It is terrible yet magical. It is one of those movies that is so bad it is actually a blast to watch.

One other aspect of 'Devil's Island' that deserves mentioning is Les Baxter's maniac score. Frenetic throughout the music reminds me of a kid playing with a straw in the top of a soda lid. Squeaks and long erratic tones that create a sense on panic as well as a comical tone carry on throughout the 89 minute romp.

Lastly I thought it important to mention some of the trailers that played during the 'Escape' double bill. All of the trailers shown were for films that are in fact programmed during Tarantino's March Madness. We saw trailers for "Pretty Maids All in a Row," "The Anderson Tapes," "Road Games," "Shame of the Jungle," "Blume in Love" and "White Lightning." Of the trailers shown "Blume in Love" and "Pretty Maids All in a Row" were my favorites. Both trailers raised my anticipation of the nights they are scheduled to play but 'Maids' looks like it is gonna be a hilarious midnight adventure with Rock Hudson as a high school teacher who seems a little too close with his students. After just watching Richard Linklater's "Dazed and Confused."

If any of this has peeked your interests take a look at New Beverly's schedule and see if you can make it down for some awesome programming scheduled by Quentin Tarantino (who know's you just may see the legend himself or at the very least meet a couple new movie enthusiasts like yourself). Unfortunately the entire seven day run of "Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair" has already sold out but you still have a chance to see a number of great grindhouse movies Quentin and the New Bev have planned in March.