Thursday, October 09, 2008

Watch-A-Thon flicks 16 to 18: TRUCK TURNER, PSYCHO FROM TEXAS, & SNAKES

It's pretty late and I'm pretty beat. A cumulative beat, from a week of pretty relentless moviegoing. I'm expecting to lose a lot of "free" time in the second half of the month, so I'm attempting to heavily frontload my Watch-A-Thon progress. Between that and the allure of the "Return To The Grindhouse" programming at the Brattle, well, I haven't gotten a ton of sleep of late.

So, I'm gonna try and knock off some poor excuses of synopses with random commentary for each of the three gems I caught tonight. Beware that I will not be guarding against spoilers in these write-ups, but frankly, if you're into seeing any of these flicks, story will likely not be the most compelling reason. =)

"Anyone ask you what happened, you tell 'em you got hit by a truck... Mac Truck Turner!"
trailer | Brattle listing
Isaac Hayes plays the unbeatable bounty hunter Truck Turner. He and his partner Jerry are assigned to bring in LAs premier pimp, Gator. When he proves more than a little uncooperative, taking shots at both of them, Turner has to put him down, creating a power vacuum that every other big pimp in town wants to fill. Nichelle "Lt. Uhura" Nichols, gives an amazing performance as Dorinda, Mama to Gator's stable of bitches. In a ploy to preserve her control and her piece of the action, she challenges the rival pimps to kill Turner, offering them the whole of Gator's stable and herself as madame. The most ambitious of the parade of pimps is Harvard Blue, cold-bloodedly played by Yaphet Kotto. He aims to work everything so that he's the last pimp standing, and over Turner's bullet-riddled corpse. Of course, Turner isn't gonna go quietly. He fends and kills off multiple assassins, and ultimately faces down Blue himself, in a reckless cat-and-mouse gunfight in a hospital!

The dialogue is brilliant. Here are a few probably inaccurate recollections...

Turner busts in on one of the pimps (who sports a diamond studded eye patch) in his mansion home...
Turner: A pimp and all these whores, but I'M the one who's getting fucked!

Turner is hours late to pick up his girlfriend, just released from 30 days in jail for thieving...
Annie: You could've at least brought me flowers!
Turner: I've got some beer...~

When Dorinda offers her stable reward to the council of pimps...
Pimp: Dorinda, you're trying to piss standing up... A lot of people are gonna get wet...

A couple of story turns and action set-ups are slyly ingenious. One happens when Gator's on the run from Truck and Jerry. He ducks into a bar and throws $50 at everyone there to shut down the two punks who are chasing him. The brawl is messy, but ends with Turner and partner walking out and their would-be attackers standing at the bar with their pants around their ankles. Another takes place in a department store, after Turner learns that there's a price on his head, which puts his kleptomaniac girlfriend in mortal danger. In order to keep her safe, he sets her to take a fall as a shoplifter in the store. Cruel to be kind. That's Truck Turner!

The soundtrack, by Isaac Hayes, kicks some funky ass. I will hafta track down some Isaac Hayes soundtrack action.

FARGO & NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN wrapped in hicks and country fried.
Brattle listing
John King III plays Wheeler, the titular lead, a professional killer who's hired by the town's good ol' boy, Steve, to kidnap and ransom William Philips, a rich old retiree. Steve teams Wheeler up with a local sidekick named Slick, and the two of them manage to spirit away Mr. Philips without too much trouble.

"Yesterday Was A Long Time Ago..." That's the first line of every verse of a sad and wistful theme song that plays during every one of Wheeler's flashbacks to his childhood trauma of spying on his whoring mom getting it on with some traveling salesman John. And he doesn't, like, briefly peek. He is like, standing in the open doorway, mouth agape, then twisting, then aghast, watching, and long enough that he's seeing his mom and the guy change positions! Of course, for his improper behavior, he is punished, beat down by his moms, and and hard. No slaps, or backhand, cuz we're talking knocked down to the ground, opening him up to repeated kicks to the stomach. Yesterday was a long time ago, but unfortunately for everyone Wheeler meets, it's neurotically fresh in his memory.

Yeah, so, Wheeler's got some problems with women. Seems like every one he meets reminds him of his mother, and apparently, all he wants to do when he meets his mother is strip her, abuse her, and usually, kill her. Yeah, he's got issues. But then, he's NOT the well-adjusted fellow from Texas, is he?

The plot really is kinda FARGO, with a live action Hank Hill playing the ransom victim, and the trappings really are kinda NO COUNTRY, y'know, if Chigurrh was played by Larry, of Larry, Daryl, and Daryl from NEWHART instead of Javier Bardem. And you sorta distribute Bardem's haircut over Wheeler and Steve's heads. It's amazingly nuts.

When Wheeler leaves Slick in charge of their prisoner, Mr. Philips manages to slip away while Slick catches some drunken Zs. Unfortunately for Mr. P, Slick snaps out of it in time to spot him running and then give chase across some Texas mudflat and marshland. And when I say chase, I mean, like, a ridiculous, 40-some minute chase. On foot. Mr. P, aged retiree, bobbing and weaving thru the woods and slogging thru sucking mud, with Slick mostly just twenty, maybe thirty, paces behind him. And when he closes on his quarry, crying, "I gotchore ass now!" he's downed by some natural obstacle, or Mr. Philips manages to pull a fast one, like whacking him with a branch, and regain his lead. This extended chase scenario is nonsensically intercut with the random drama unfolding back in town, with the local police piecing it all together and bringing Steve in for questioning at just about the end of the chase, which finds Mr. P giving a statement down at the precinct and Slick most likely feeding the fishes.

When Steve spots his ransom victim waiting for him at the police station, he panics. Getting his hands on a policeman's firearm, he runs for it, leading us on another tiring, but at least less distant chase. This time a police officer stalking Steve in an ice factory. There are minutes spent on each of them cautiously traversing the same ten feet of factory floor. Long story short, the chase ends badly for fancy lad Steve.

Wheeler, meanwhile, has been cooling his heels in a deserted roadside bar, tormenting the girl bartender by having her "dance" to jukebox tunes, and then re-enact his mother's trauma-inducing behavior with an unconscious customer. This goes on about ten minutes too long before Wheeler departs. The local sheriff happens upon him on the side of the road. Wheeler has pulled over to replace a tire, the very tire that this sheriff warned him to replace earlier. Oh, did I mention that Wheeler assaulted the daughter of this sheriff while delivering ransom instructions? No? Whoops.

Well, the sheriff seizes the opportunity to introduce Wheeler to, as one Brattle patron put it, "due process in the state of Texas." Wheeler's end is delivered by three shotgun blasts and comes free with flashbacks from childhood trauma to the last 24 hours of violent crime.

Gotta say, this flick is chock full of dedicated talent. Sure, Wheeler takes himself way too seriously, and his monologues stretch on, beginning as odd, pushes on thru funny, and runs into just plain unpleasant and uncomfortable territory. Still, for most of his screen time, he's damn entertaining to watch. And Slick! He kinda rules. I'm not sure he knew there were cameras on him. He was like Wilfred Brimley in HARD TARGET, y'know? Just happened to be there and basically played himself. And himself happened to be a squirrelly third-rate hick for hire with a lot of enthusiasm for whatever job you put to him.

Don't you dare come between Snakey Bender and his snakes... or his Sousa marches!
Brattle listing
That's Lars Nilsen, of Austin's notorious Alamo Drafthouse theater, introducing SNAKES. He helped program the "Return To The Grindhouse" series I've been hitting for the past week. He gets the credit and the blame. =)

Allright I'm fading now, so I'm gonna rattle off some stuff that might be more for my remembrance than anything resembling a review or summary.

Crotchety old dude, Jim Snakey Bender, is this John Philip Sousa march-loving guy who's squatting on his friend's ranchland, raising hundreds of snakes. Every Wednesday he comes into town to meet up with the local grade school kids, who trap small animals for him to feed to his snakes. The local minister, Brother Joy—played by some dude I recognized from an 80s sitcom postman role, ALICE, I think—frowns on this, telling Snakey that he is somehow corrupting the children into murdering God's creations. Snakey argues back that his snakes are also created by God. Joy hits him with some remark about how serpents are of the devil.


Wednesdays are special cuz it's the one day a week that Snakey spends with his one friend, Burt, the guy who owns the ranch. Together they hang out at Burt's place and listen to Sousa marches on his suped up hi-fi system. They LOVE Sousa together.

Wednesday are also special cuz after marching w Burt, Snakey, along with his pet, Lucifer, pay local teacher Cynthia a visit. Cynthia has a thing for snakes, y'see.

Over the course of the story, one-by-one, everyone he knows in town ends up crossing Snakey. Brother Joy preaches against his snakey ways. Miss Cynthia, blackmailed by the brother and sister proprieters of the town market (the sissy half of the siblings is someone I *know* I've seen play the female warden in something or other. SWITCHBLADE SISTERS, maybe?), persuades her students to stop feeding his snakes, and she herself puts an end to his and Lucifer's naughty nocturnal visitations. Even Burt turns on him. Disowning his Sousa enthusiasm when his new young wife moves in.

And, one by one, Snakey makes each of them pay, in almost exactly the same way. That is, he draws them out to the ranch, manufactures a scenario which results in their death by snake, and then disposes of their bodies, along with their cars, at the top of a precarious cliff somewhere on the ranch property. And he is consistent. I mean, at the end of it all, when you look at the base of that cliff, you see a stack of crushed cars, a collection of his victims. And at the end of it all, we find that the police have arrived at explanations for each victim's disappearance that suggest noting suspicious at all. Who'd've thunk that old man Snakey would turn out to be a perfect murderous mastermind?

Good for old Snakey!

Random, I remember from the credits that Burt's young wife is played by a woman named Janet Wood, who shares the name with Jack Tripper's roommate on THREE'S COMPANY.

Gotta give it up for a notable performance here. The guy what played Snakey is like the Ian McKellan of southern fried cinema. A frickin master, who actually manages to sell his mania for marches, and his... whatever-it-is that he feels when watching Miss Cynthia engage in her snakey congress.

There were two great Brokeback moments tonight, scenes where if you just dropped in the love theme from MOUNTAIN, you'd change the tone and expectations completely. In PSYCHO, when Wheeler first meets Slick, Slick sorta scoots in beside him at a corner both in a bar. They get to talkin, and during their friendly convo, Slick slides in closer. In SNAKES, there are a couple exchanges between Snakey and Burt, his march-loving partner. But in particular, there's the one where Burt drives out to the ranch to explain to him how they can't be together in that way any more. He's married now, and a young wife needs a lot of attention. Their special Wednesday nights are a thing of the past.

Sad, that. Even without the music.

Keep on keepin on~

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