The 2005 Project continues. This time, I decided to do something a little different, as my research on the popular critical opinions of ten years ago landed on Quentin Tarantino’s list of his favorite movies of 2005. QT’s favorite movie was Sin City, which I’ve already written about (shocking that his favorite movie was the one in which he was a guest-director, isn’t it?), but here is a look at his other three favorites. I can’t find the original source of this information, so a little part of me thinks these may not be his real favorites, especially since, once put together, they look like a very obvious list of “movies Tarantino would like”. Anyway, here are my thoughts…
Domino (Directed by Tony Scott)
It took a lot of people -myself included- way too long to realize that, out of the two Scott brothers, Tony was the more interesting auteur. While Ridley has made a career out of coasting on the goodwill of ‘Alien’ and ‘Blade Runner’, Tony was at the forefront of pushing a certain filmmaking style to its limits. And ‘Domino’ seems to be the culmination of said push.
If you thought Michael Bay movies couldn’t be more chaotic and mindless, it’s because you haven’t seen this movie. Based on the true story (“sort of”) of bounty hunter Domino Harvey (who Tony Scott was friends with), ‘Domino’ is a piss-yellow pastiche of schizophrenic editing, unnecessarily complicated plot, and hyperactive cinematography. Judging from this film, Scott doesn’t believe there is a scene that wouldn’t benefit from more shots, more cutting, more sound effects, more everything. If it sounds like too much, it’s because it is. Watching ‘Domino’ is exhausting.
I kind of admire Scott going all-in on such an aggressive aesthetic, but there is practically no way of defending ‘Domino’ as a good movie. Personally, I can’t handle its suffocating style, and the content of the movie doesn’t help. Supposedly, Scott hired screenwriter Richard Kelly (of Donnie Darko fame) to pen the movie after reading his script for ‘Southland Tales’. Those who have seen ‘Southland Tales’ will know it to be one of the most incoherent movies ever made. ‘Domino’ has very little to envy ‘Southland Tales’ as far as incoherence is concerned.
The story of a badass female bounty-hunter sounds like the premise for a movie with at least attempts at some feminist undertones, but ‘Domino’ seems too interested in giving male audience members a boner (be it through “tits”, or be it through violence), that I can’t really find an alternative reading. But believe me when I say that ‘Domino’ is such a bonkers movie that I tried to like it. At the end of the day, though, I couldn’t.
Hustle & Flow (Directed by Craig Brewer)
I’m conflicted about ‘Hustle & Flow’. On the one hand, director Craig Brewer does a pretty fantastic job of immersing us in the world of these characters and the poorer parts of town during an unbearably warm Memphis summer. Brewer is a longtime Memphis resident, so that might have something to do with this. He crafts a movie that is almost always entertaining, and very committed to its main character and its themes of redemption on the face of impossibility.
The most memorable part of the movie, for me, is Taraji P. Henson’s performance. She has become a huge star playing a smart music executive in Fox’s ‘Empire’, but in her breakthrough role, she plays a shy pregnant prostitute who gets a small glimpse of a more fulfilling life. The expression on Henson’s face is priceless, as if the character were feeling these feelings for the first time in her life.
It’s a moving performance, that is nonetheless undercut by the blatant misogyny of the piece. The story of Henson’s characters (and the other prostitutes, if I’m being honest) is much more interesting to me than DJay’s. Terrence Howard was nominated for this role, but it’s hard for me to sympathize with a character and a movie that seem to think (at least on one level) that this man can’t achieve his dream because all these women are keeping him down.
The refrain of the song that is supposed to be DJay’s masterpiece basically says that “It’s hard out here for a pimp” because his money situation will result in a “whole lot of bitches jumping ship”. There are a couple of moments when we see the true ugliness of the relationship between this pimp and his women, but for the most part, he is sacrificing himself for his makeshift family. It’s a well made and well acted movie that nonetheless rubs the wrong way.
The Devil’s Rejects (Directed by Rob Zombie)
Rob Zombie’s ‘The Devil’s Rejects’ is a movie that is simply not made for me. Despite having a very dark and very stupid sense of humor that I really appreciate (the scene with the film critic is fabulously absurd), the movie doesn’t really apply that funny bone to its thrills and its carnage.
Sure, this is a movie about despicable people being despicable to one another (and I have to commend a movie so boldly twisted that it asks us, without any irony or redemptive arch, to sympathize with a group of serial killers), but the problem here is that Zombie pays too close a tribute to the exploitation movies of his youth. The obvious comparison when talking about homages to the 70s is Tarantino, who is a guy that, for all his flaws, knows how to create interesting characters and good stories within the stylistic frames of the B-movies he likes. Zombie skews so close to his inspirations, that his movie is similarly limited.
Limited in what way? Well, horror movies are not known for having good characters, and this one is no exception. Why lose time developing personalities when the characters are going to be killed off? It makes sense, in a practical way, and thus ‘The Devil’s Rejects’ ends up being a particularly gross movie with much appreciated touches of dark comedy. Which isn’t too bad, but it’s a pity, when you consider how much more interesting it would be if Zombie’s sense of humor and his thirst for extreme violence were better integrated. There are moments in this movie that made me laugh, and moments that made me quiver, but there were no moments that made me do both.