some of my favorite things #8: patricia arquette

I almost got fired for this woman.

It was sometime during the summer of 1993 and I was working at an independent video store in Northwest Portland.  It was a great job and I worked there for years.  Of course, one of the perks was that we’d get free passes to see movies every now and then.  I lucked out and was given one for two to see True Romance at the Lloyd Center Cinemas.  The catch, though, was that I couldn’t leave work early to see it.  I got off at 7:00.  The movie started at 7:30.  I had to race out, jump on a #15 bus and ride it downtown, then bolt onto the MAX and ride that across the river to the cinema, then try to get a seat.  No way was I going to get in that screening on time and I had to see this movie.

It was based on a Quentin Tarantino script, the first release after Reservoir Dogs, and a year or so before Pulp Fiction shook the film world.  It had a great cast and it co-starred the lovely Patricia Arquette, who I’d had a crush on since seeing her in that third Nightmare on Elm Street movie.  We’re roughly the same age (I think she’s a year older) and I was smitten.  I was going to get into that fucking movie.

I left about ten minutes early.  I got in.  I loved the movie.  And I almost got fired the next day when I slunk into the store and was given a serious reprimand by the co-owner who had checked up on me.  I apologized… sincerely… and was grateful to still have my cool job.

But it was all worth it.  She was worth it.

It’s Arquette’s birthday today and she is definitely one of my favorite things when it comes to modern actors.  I don’t like everything she does–she’s woefully miscast in John Boorman’s screechingly earnest Beyond Rangoon–and she doesn’t have a lot of dramatic range.  But so what?  She made for a perfect cinematic dream girl for this movie-mad American male during the 1990s.  And she’s still lovely.

David Lynch obviously thought she made for the perfect object of unobtainable desire in his superbly creepy and sexy 1997 neo-noir Lost Highway, my favorite of his movies.  Playing duel roles in it, duel symbols of a sometimes frightening female sexual power, Arquette entered that rarefied realm of ultimate noir siren.  A siren worth risking it all for.

And like all great cinematic sirens, particularly of the noir variety, she is forever out of reach.

But that’s what repeat viewing was intended for.

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some of my favorite things #7: birth (2004)

Jonathan Glazer’s follow-up film to his wildly kinetic crime drama Sexy Beast (2000), Birth (2004), did not receive the same sort of critical love that his debut had in England and to a lesser degree here in the States.  Which is sad, since Birth is just as accomplished, if not in fact the more risk-taking venture.  It’s a chamber piece of exquisite precision, but one that acknowledges that at its core, its narrative is pure, furious operatic melodrama.  That Glazer somehow maintains the film’s dryly comedic and somber tone despite its more outlandish subject matter is  wondrous… dare I say, even masterful.  Scripted by Glazer and Buñuel co-collaborator Jean-Claude Carrière and starring Nicole Kidman, Danny Huston, Lauren Bacall, and Cameron Bright as a strange, off-putting ten-year old boy who claims to be the reincarnation of Kidman’s deceased first husband, Birth treads frequently into strange, uncomfortable waters.  One can’t help but fantasize what Buñuel may have done with the same material.  Birth received mostly mediocre to bad reviews when released theatrically and it was quickly forgotten.  But it seems to be slowly gaining some much-needed reappraisal, like this little nod from David Thomson posted today on the  Guardian site.  Let’s hope that the tide continues to turn.

This clip (weirdly subtitled) is arguably the film’s pièce de résistance.  It begins with the boy, who has been stalking Kidman, being forced by Huston (Kidman’s fiancee) to never see her again.  As the scene continues at the opera, the camera focuses on Kidman’s face as she becomes unmoored in the realization that the boy may be telling the truth about who he really is.

some of my favorite things #6: the cowboys (1972)

I’m not sure how this one slipped by me as a kid.  I’m sure it played on television when I was a youngster–local Portland station Channel 12 was obligated by law to play John Wayne movies every weekend, I think–but I don’t ever remember watching it.  If I did, I blocked it from my memory.

Oh, what a little fool I was.

Having been on a bit of a John Wayne binge of late, I rented the Blu-Ray edition of this and hoped for the best.  I don’t think I’m giving anything away by writing that the film is notorious and legendary in equal measure for being the one where Duke is shot in the back by a dastardly long-haired villain, played by the great Bruce Dern.  It was a jolt back in 1972 and plenty of kids, no doubt, were scarred by seeing the movie icon go down in such a brutal manner.  It’s still a jolt to watch today.

But how was I to know any of it was good?  Most reviews that I’d come across over the years treated it as mediocre late period Wayne.  And people I’ve spoken with who had seen it loved the film, though I suspected they were blinded by childhood nostalgia.

I have to admit it’s a really splendid film, from Mark Rydell’s assured direction to (egads!) John Williams’ appropriately majestic yet lyrical score to the performances from all the kids (half of ’em non-actor rodeo boys) to the stand-out roles by Dern and the great Roscoe Lee Browne, the latter as Nightlinger the chuck wagon man who accompanies the cattle drive.

And then there’s Wayne.

His work with John Ford will always be my favorite–primarily the Westerns–but Wayne’s performance here as rancher Wil Andersen seems the perfect culmination to his long career.  The Shootist (1976) would end up being Wayne’s final performance, of course, but I like the Duke here more.  A bit world-weary but not tainted with cynicism, Wayne seems genuinely comfortable acting opposite the gaggle of cowpokes he’s saddled with, striking just the right balance of obstinacy, fatherly protectiveness, and gentleness we want from our aging cowboy icon.  He wears his heart on his sleeve, but not with the bathetic hard-sell one would expect.  It’s quintessential classic Wayne charisma we get in The Cowboys, but tempered with the wisdom and offhandedness that only a pro can pull off effectively.  There’s insight in them eyes… and when Wayne goes down, it’s crushing.

some of my favorite things #5: the war of the worlds

waroftheworlds

Below is one of my favorite first paragraphs.  Reading it again sends a chill through me and makes me want to spend the rest of the afternoon in the book’s clutches.  Can’t think of a better way to celebrate the birthday of H.G. Wells, can you?

No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter. It is possible that the infusoria under the microscope do the same. No one gave a thought to the older worlds of space as sources of human danger, or thought of them only to dismiss the idea of life upon them as impossible or improbable. It is curious to recall some of the mental habits of those departed days. At most terrestrial men fancied there might be other men upon Mars, perhaps inferior to themselves and ready to welcome a missionary enterprise. Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us. And early in the twentieth century came the great disillusionment.