Posts Tagged ‘George Clooney’

30. From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

Director: Robert Rodriguez

Starring: Harvey Keitel, George Clooney, Quentin Tarantino, Juliette Lewis, Ernest Liu, Salma Hayek, Cheech Marin, Danny Trejo, Tom Savini, Fred Williamson, Michael Parks

It really doesn’t feel like it’s been 20 years since “From Dusk Till Dawn” was unleashed upon the world. In fact, it almost feels like it could have happened yesterday… or even overnight. The thing that best serves to keep this movie fresh in the mind is how effortlessly it is able to combine two completely different genres into one beautiful package. Add to that the fact that the script was written by Quentin Tarantino (as his first paid Hollywood writing gig) and an excellent cast of characters, and you have a classic modern horror movie on your hands.

Bank robbing brothers Seth (George Clooney) and Richie Gecko (Quentin Tarantino) are on the run, both from the FBI and law enforcement of the State of Texas. They’ve already killed a few cops, feds and civilians, and two more casualties soon follow at a liquor store. On top of it all, they’ve also kidnapped a bank clerk, to whom Seth has promised she will live as long as she does all that they ask of her. Unfortunately, Richie has a bit of an impulse control problem. He rapes and murders the woman while Seth has stepped out of their motel room to pick up some hamburgers.

Meanwhile, a family of three driving an RV fatefully stops to rest at the very same motel. Jacob Fuller (Harvey Keitel) is a former preacher who lately has questioned his faith following the death by auto accident of his wife. Jacob and his children, Kate (Juliette Lewis) and Scott (Ernest Liu), are to be the Gecko brothers’ next hostages. Forcing Jacob to drive past the Mexican border, the Gecko brothers’ destination is a strip club called the Titty Twister, where are supposed to rendezvous at dawn with a man named Carlos. Until that time, they intend to enjoy themselves, and encourage the Fullers to do the same.

The fun only lasts a short while. After a very sexy show from the featured attraction, Santanico Pandemonium (Salma Hayek), the truth of this place is revealed: All of the employees (the girls, the bartender, the band, Santanico and others) are in fact vampires! Most of the truckers and bikers who’ve shown up to eat, drink and get their rocks off are killed within minutes. Richie himself is bitten and killed by Santanico. When Richie turns, Seth is forced to drive a wooden stake through his heart. By the end of the initial assault, the only ones who still have a pulse are Seth, Jacob, Kate, Scott, Sex Machine (Tom Savini) and Frost (Fred Williamson).

As the survivors commit to dealing with the dead bodies so as to prevent them from rising up again, one of them bites Sex Machine on the arm. Gradually, he turns into a vampire. When he does, Sex Machine bites both Frost and Jacob. As Frost becomes a vampire, he tosses Sex Machine through a door, allowing a second wave of vampire to fly in as bats. Retreating to a storage room, Seth, Kate and Scott and an injured Jacob (wielding a shotgun) make the most out of what they can find to create weapons to be used against the vampire horde. This includes a Super Soaker with holy water (for Scott), a crossbow (for Kate), and a rather phallic pneumatic drill with an attached wooden stake (for Seth).

Going back out into the crowd of vampires, the group begins to fight back. Jacob doesn’t last long before he changes and bites Scott. Kate is forced to kill her father, and then her brother as well. Having lost their weapons in the fracas, Seth and Kate are down to one gun with a scant amount of ammunition. Daybreak arrives, and the sunlight starts to peek through the holes in the walls, made by earlier gunfire. Seth instructs Kate to create more holes, but it’s only partially effective, as the vampires continue to close in on them. Just then, Carlos (Cheech Marin) and his men show up outside. Seth hollers at him to shoot down the doors, which then exposes all the vampires inside to sunlight, killing them in a fiery explosion. Expressing anger at Carlos’s ignorance of just what kind of establishment that the Titty Twister turned out to have been, Seth makes their planned exchange, and give some of the money to Kate. Afterwards, Seth sends Kate on her way back home, while he departs for El Rey, Mexico.

The second-best movie I’ve watched all month (behind only “Psycho”), I have long considered “From Dusk Till Dawn” to be a fantastic movie in every conceivable way. It’s horrific (thanks to wonderful makeup effects from KNB), it’s well-acted… George Clooney in particular is just superb… and expertly written. I love the fact that it’s essentially two movies for the price of one, starting off as a action-crime getaway movie before transforming into a vampire flick at the sixty-minute mark.

I kinda wish we’d seen a little more from Tom Savini’s Sex Machine, as he’s just hilarious. Cheech Marin, a veteran of Robert Rodriguez’s films, plays three roles: in addition to Carlos, he also shows up as a border patrol officer and as one of the vampires. Greg Nicotero (best known today for his directing and supervision of the makeup effects on TV’s “The Walking Dead”), in addition to working on the makeup effects for “From Dusk Till Dawn,” also cameos as a biker from whom Sex Machine steals a beer. Although Nicotero’s character dies off-screen in the final cut of the film, a deleted scene shows that his head is bitten off by Santanico Pandemonium.

If you love the work of Quentin Tarantino but never have bothered with “From Dusk Till Dawn,” you’re missing a lot! Everything that makes a Tarantino script great is present here. If you’re a “Walking Dead” fan and love the gore that the show provides… same answer, except that it probably would have been even better before cuts were made to bring the movie down to an R-rating. Basically, you can’t go wrong. As fresh now as it was in 1996. Two decades from now, you’ll doubtless be able to say the same thing, because “From Dusk Till Dawn,” like the creatures of the night that it depicts, is immortal.

Return of the Killer Tomatoes (1988)

Director: John DeBello

Starring: Anthony Starke, George Clooney, Karen Mistal, Steve Lundquist, John Astin

I’ve seen post-apocalyptic movies where killer robots from the future are hellbent on wiping out mankind. I’ve seen movies where people were hunted for sport. I’ve seen movies where an oppressive government controls everything and there’s just no stopping it. Hell, I’ve seen movies with endings so bleak that I feel as though I’ve been somehow altered by the experience. But a world where tomatoes have been outlawed, which then changes the don’t-screw-with-it recipe for pizza forever, and everyone seems okay with it? This, ladies and gentlemen, is madness! It’s also the first of many good jokes to be found in “Return of the Killer Tomatoes.”

We finally have an answer as to the true cause of the Great Tomato War from “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes,” and no it’s not a bad acid trip. That would be Professor Gangreen (John Astin), who is still smarting from his defeat ten years later. The professor has decided that music, which was his downfall last time, shall be the source of his triumph this time around. After dipping regular tomatoes into a chemical formula, Professor Gangreen places the tomatoes into a transformation chamber. Depending on what kind of music he puts on next, the tomatoes can be changed into any kind of human that the professor so chooses. Most often, he uses rock music to create a group of soldiers. Music of a more seductive variety will result in tomatoes changing into beautiful women. To that end, the professor has created an assistant named Tina (Karen Mistal), who remains loyal until the professor casts out an improperly mutated tomato which Tina dubs Fuzzy Tomato, or “F.T.” for short.

Tina looks for shelter with Chad Finletter (Anthony Starke), nephew of Great Tomato War hero Wilbur Finletter. Chad works as a delivery boy for his uncle’s tomato-less pizzeria, which is how Tina has become familiar with him. While Chad is decidedly much smarter than his uncle, is still completely oblivious to the fact that there’s something odd about Tina. To be fair, Chad’s not the only one. Chad’s roommate Matt (George Clooney), who prides himself on being a ladies’ man, has no more of a clue that Tina’s affinity for cooking, cleaning and extensive knowledge of sexual positions aren’t merely the characteristics of what Matt considers the “perfect woman.” Tina does have her hangups, such as a complete dislike of all forms of music… and, oh yes, there’s also the fact that she bathes in fertilizer. That’s bound to cause a misunderstanding or two between Chad and Tina, which it does.

When Tina goes and gets herself captured by Professor Gangreen and his henchman Igor (Steve Lundquist), it’s up to Chad and Matt to help save her. Well, actually, it’s up to them to get caught themselves and require the assistance of F.T., Wilbur and others. From there,  they rescue Tina and foil the plans of Professor Gangreen. Another adventure is teased, this time in France, although that’s not exactly how things ended up. The next entry in the franchise is “Killer Tomatoes Strike Back,” which is only then followed by “Killer Tomatoes Eat France.” I’ve never seen either one, and I’m not sure I want to. I do fondly remember the short-lived “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” cartoon, whose characters and situations were based on the events of “Return,” though it’s all-together possible that nostalgia could be getting the best of me there.

“Return of the Killer Tomatoes” succeeds in areas where “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” failed, such as casting. John Astin makes for a great villain, and may be the only thing that makes the latter sequels worth a look if I ever get around to it. It also helps when you have a talent like George Clooney on hand, even if he’s not the lead. Though he frequently blasts the movie nowadays, it’s better than he’d have you believe. Execution is a big factor there. When the original film ran out of plot, it filled those holes with obvious humor and mind-numbing musical numbers. I won’t say that “Return of the Killer Tomatoes” doesn’t include its fair share of forced laughs. But at least the musical numbers are absent. Also, once the movie reaches its halfway point (give or take a few minutes), I can’t help but be impressed when suddenly the movie literally stops. The money for the picture has been used up! What to do? Product placement, Clooney suggests! Aided by Clooney’s ability to mug for the camera, this sequence where the characters shill for various food, beverage and dental hygiene products is easily my favorite part of the movie. It pokes fun at the ridiculous degree to which product placement intruded into movies in the 1980’s, and this commentary is even more relevant nearly thirty years later. Unless you become a die-hard fan, one Killer Tomato is probably more than enough for anyone. That being the case, if you only see one “Killer Tomatoes” movie, make sure it’s “Return of the Killer Tomatoes.”

Gravity

Director: Alfonso Cuarón

Starring: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney

Manned spaceflight: Still the safest way to travel. Aside from the tragic losses suffered through various training exercises, as well as the missions which encountered problems but still ended with the crew returning home to Earth safely, only four manned space missions have resulted in fatalities. That’s two Russian/Soviet missions (Soyuz 1 & 11) and two American missions (Challenger, STS-51-L and Columbia, STS-107), all of which failed at either the launch or re-entry portions of the expedition. When you consider the finite separation there is on a space vehicle between its occupants and the vacuum of outer space, it’s incredible that more terrible tragedies have not taken place. That’s a credit not only to the brave men and women who’ve climbed into these spacecraft for the last five decades, but also to the people who build the damn things (even though certain lapses in the latter have been the direct cause of at least one or two of the four disasters). So, when I say that the events of the movie “Gravity” may seem a little far-fetched, I say so only because such a sequence has not happened yet.

Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) picked a hell of a time to go on her first space shuttle mission, STS-157 on board the Space Shuttle Explorer. While outside the space vehicle on a routine spacewalk to make adjustments to the Hubble Space Telescope, Stone, soon-to-be retiring Mission Commander Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) and one other crew member are encouraged to abort their mission and return to the ship for immediate re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. It seems the Russians have accidentally destroyed one of their own satellites, and the resulting debris field is headed in the Explorer’s path. Unfortunately, the shuttle does not get out of the way in time. The Hubble Telescope and the Explorer are destroyed, and Stone and Kowalski are all that’s left of the Explorer crew.

Because the debris field has also taken out other communication satellites, all contact with Mission Control in Houston, Texas, has been lost. Stone and Kowalski truly are on their own. After about the half-hour mark, as the result of a self-sacrificial command decision made by Kowalski (one which, after you’ve seen it and thought about it, makes very little logical sense), Stone is the last surviving member of the Explorer crew. Hope for Dr. Stone lies in reaching the International Space Station, climbing aboard the remaining Soyuz capsule and using it to get home. But the capsule has been rendered unsafe for re-entry, and can only be used as a means for reaching the Chinese space station, Stone’s last option for survival. It’s pretty slim margin for error but, for someone in her position, even a small chance is better than none at all.

Watching “Gravity,” I couldn’t help but think of “Cast Away” starring Tom Hanks. Both movies are centered around characters who’ve been stranded with a slim chance of survival, and only through the merest fraction of luck do they manage to survive long enough to form a plan of escape back to civilization/Earth. Both also rely on the performance of a single actor to carry the majority of a film. Except for a very brief moment towards the end, Sandra Bullock is the only person on-screen in “Gravity” for its final sixty minutes. As in “Cast Away” with Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock proves with her compelling performance in “Gravity” that you can’t, in fact, cast just anyone in the role. The other star of this film is its special effects, which are astonishing, if sometimes dizzying. On that note, I would argue that Alfonso Cuarón more than earned his Academy Award for Best Director.

“Gravity” has earned genuine praise among many former NASA astronauts. It has also drawn the wrath of certain nitpickers in the scientific community. Based on the Kessler syndrome, a theory posited in 1978 by the NASA scientist of the same name, it presents a disaster scenario that feels much more grounded in reality than some other, similarly themed movies. Regardless of how seriously one takes the “science,” it’s a movie, first and foremost, and should be treated as such. I find myself making this same argument often, but it makes it no less true. Even as its characters’ oxygen runs desperately thin, the movie’s entertainment supply knows no bounds.