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MORIARTY On QT QUATTRO: Heist Thriller Night!!

Hey, everyone.

"Moriarty" here with some rumblings from the Lab.

By the third night of the festival, things were starting to feel familiar. There were certain faces I’d seen each night, many of them in the same place, and I’d gotten used to my spot, second row, just to the right of center. When Rebecca Campbell plugged the corporate sponsors for the fest, we were able to recite them with her. She was gracious as always, of course, as she introduced Quentin Tarantino to kick off the evening.

"Tonight is all about my new lenses," he started, reinforcing my impression of him as a hardcore geek, one of us. His GAMBIT print is 16mm scope, IB Technicolor, which gave him an opportunity to use the first of the lenses, while MASTER’S TOUCH is a letterboxed 16mm print, allowing him to use his conversion lens, which he promised would make the film look like a 1.85:1 35mm print.

In setting up GAMBIT, QT mainly talked about the script, written by the legendary Alvin Sargent, a guy who has worked on endless numbers of big pictures over the years. He’s one of the few writers who has actively bucked the idea of obsolescence in the business, still writing several films a year. When GAMBIT was released, Hollywood was twist-ending crazy thanks to the success of PSYCHO. GAMBIT’s one-sheet put a spin on the idea, though: "Go ahead and tell the ending. JUST DON’T TELL THE BEGINNING!" The odd thing is, that’s not just an ad line. They mean it.

As an example of the wonderful way QT can digress while introducing a film, let me show you how derailed one train of thought became. He started with a discussion of Michael Caine that became an analysis of Shirley McLaine and the stylization of her work in this film, which then rolled over into a breakdown of the filmography of Ronald Eames, which led to METEOR, which led to a comparison between that and the recent wave of "big-rock-hitting-the-Earth" films, followed by a discussion of the particular pleasures of HOPSCOTCH, which inevitably brought up CHARLEY VARRICK, which spurred QT to promise us that we’d be seeing those two Matthau pictures together at a double feature night at one of the future QT fests.

I’ll hold you to that, man.

The evening got underway with a trailer ring made up of THE ISLAND, $ILVER BEAR$ (a caper film with Tommy Smothers, Michael Caine, Cybil Shepard, and a very young Jay Leno with a very large white-man’s-afro), A MAN, A WOMAN & A BANK (a surprisingly funny trailer with Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Paul Mazursky, billed as "The movie that proves that making love is like robbing a bank"), and DIAMONDS. Fun ring all the way around, and it totally set the mood for the evening’s first film.

I’ve never seen GAMBIT before. In fact, I’ve never heard of it. No matter. I’ve seen it now, and I’m totally taken with it. It’s one of the most consistently clever heist films I’ve seen, and there’s a wonderful balance between the plan the way it should work and the way it finally does work. Herbert Lom and Michael Caine are both excellent in the film, delivering wry comic work, fully engaged by the whole cat and mouse of being thief and target. I have to reserve special praise for McLaine, though. When I was a kid, she was already starring in TERMS OF ENDEARMENT, so that’s the image of her I had first. It’s hard to reconcile the wicked funny fuck bunny of THE APARTMENT and this film with her New Age grandmotherly self, but there’s no denying her appeal in this film. She’s such a confident comedian, so knowing, so in command of herself physically, that she energizes the first 20 minutes of the film without saying a single word.

It’s funny what can distract you from a picture. For me, the one thing that jarred me (pun fully intended) in GAMBIT was the score, written by the wonderful Maurice Jarre. The main theme of the film is quoted directly from his own LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. It’s a major quote, and it would pull me out of the movie for a moment each and every time it happened. That’s a minor quibble, though, not even a real complaint. The day I complain about watching a great film while listening to Maurice Jarre music, you should remind me to quit doing this. This film is a long con from the moment it starts, and not just for the characters. Sargent and Neames work with confidence and poise to hoodwink the audience, and when we all realized exactly how we were being played, the audience went nuts, cheering wildly at the sheer skill. From that moment on, the film had a blank check of goodwill from me. Thankfully, it’s much more than just one clever moment. It keeps working overtime to the very last frame, which should leave you smiling from ear to ear if you have any affection at all for the genre.

Part of what makes QT so entertaining when he introduces the films is the off-the-cuff quality to what he says. That includes mistakes, one of which he corrected when he came up to intro the second film. Turns out he had it backwards as to which film went with which lens. Talking about the lenses led neatly to talking about gadgets, an emerging theme in the festival. The spy films, the Japanese monster movies, and Herbert Lom in GAMBIT are all united by a fetish for gadgets. Lom even comments on it in the film. QT promised us that the evening’s next film would continue the trend, with a whole workshop full of gadgets owned by Kirk Douglas, star of the film. He made it at a time when a lot of older Hollywood stars were going to Europe to work, having found themselves out of favor in the United States. He mentioned that the film had the same director and star as one of the films we would see later in the week, ARIZONA COLT, part of spaghetti Western night. He wrapped up his intro by talking a bit about why he loves heist movies. "A friend of mine was talking about how there’s no such thing as a bad heist movie," he said. "Even if it’s like TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS, you know, they manage to suck you in. It’s like ‘oh, no, don’t cross the beam!!’ You can’t help yourself." I agree with him wholeheartedly. The last twenty minutes of McTiernan’s THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR won me over completely to the film, no matter what I think of its soggy second act.

We had a great trailer ring before the show. BRASS TARGET was up first, a caper picture involving a batch of gold and the death of Patton, featuring an international cast like Sophia Loren, John Cassavetes, George Kennedy, Bruce Davison, and Max Von Sydow. "Kill the brass and get the gold." How much fun is that as a tag line? LAS VEGAS LADY was convincingly skanky, a couple of strippers on a crime spree, out to even things up. THE SPIKES GANG is something I’ve never heard of, but I’m surprised. It’s a western starring Lee Marvin as the mentor to a bunch of young gunslinger wannabes including Ron Howard, Charles Martin Smith, and Gary Grimes. The trailer definitely sold the Howard/Smith post-AMERICAN GRAFITTI connection. I didn’t know they’d done other films together, much less a Western about a gang of bank robbers. THE BLACK MARBLE, a trailer as oddball as the film itself, was the last one we saw before the film finally kicked in.

Consider me a fan. UN UOMO DA RISPETTARE, known in America as THE MASTER TOUCH (no apostrophe s on the opening titles) as well as A MAN TO RESPECT starts with Kirk Douglas being released from jail after a long stretch served. The cops drop him off, and before he can even get into his house and see his wife, he’s whisked away by three guys. They take him to talk to the boss he was working for before he went away, and he’s offered a job. Douglas turns it down, and right away, we get an idea that this is a hard boiled world, full of hard boiled men.

It’s great to watch Kirk as he tries to slip back into his life. There’s something about watching great movie stars as they get older and they come back to the types of roles they played younger. It’s what gives that extra added kick to UNFORGIVEN, and this is definitely in that same genre. When Guiliano Gemma shows up, the film really comes to life. He’s a circus performer who runs into Douglas, literally. The scene where he’s introduced sets up a running rivalry between Gemma and the henchman of the guy who wants Douglas to come back to work. It’s entertaining stuff, but it’s a hell of a digression, all things considered. I wouldn’t cut it, since it is ultimately responsible for the greatest car chase of the entire QT Quattro festival, a frenzied grudge match through the streets of a small Italian town. It’s pretty amazing, out of control. It starts in a wine shop, then escalates to the henchman evidently ends up dead on a drawbridge. Outstanding, and it got a heated ovation from the audience. The movie plays out like HEAT, old guys who are at the point where they want out, but who know the job too well to just walk away without one last major score. Kirk’s wife has lost her taste for waiting and tells him, "I can’t stand loving you," setting up one of the film’s many twists as it nears its conclusion. I like the way the plot keeps doubling back on itself, and I like the way Kirk is a real stone cold bastard in the film. You end up loving and hating him in equal measure, and I like that there’s no easy answers for him. The Ennio Morricone score here is a killer, all jazzy and mournful, perfect for the film. It’s a bitter ending, too. Kirk’s face is great when he realizes exactly what’s gone down, and just what role he’s played in all of it. Michele Lupo’s lean, economical direction is the perfect way to tell this brutal, stark story, and it’s a neglected gem that is worth your time to find.

QT was all wound up when he took the stage for the evening’s final intro. He seems to feed off the audience at this event, and when they love one of the movies he shows, it’s like he couldn’t be more pleased. He began to talk about Filipino exploitation films, a genre I didn’t even know existed. Neither did he, it turns out, until he began collecting prints. Of that decidedly lesser known genre, QT swore that the night’s final film was among the very best. As he began to geek out on various Filipino directors and their work, I felt myself being outgeeked. For once, I got the idea what it must be like for someone who doesn’t know movies to listen to me when I get going on a rant. I put my pen down, sat back, and just waited for the film. Of all the moments of the festival, I think it was this one that I remember most vividly. I just handed myself over to someone else as a filmgoer. It’s not a sense of control I relinquish easily or often, but in this case, it was a wonderful feeling.

I’ve seen all the trailers that played before the final film, but how hard am I going to complain about CAR WASH, SUPERFLY, BLACK BELT JONES, SHAFT, and LET’S DO IT AGAIN? Besides, they set a great tone for THE MUTHERS, which is absolutely the greatest Filipino action pirate women in prison exploitation film I’ve ever seen. Jeannie Bell’s tan t-shirt in the film should get a special mention as Best Supporting Garment in the festival. I’m not sure if I’d nominate "FUCK Serena" or "Just like ever other snake I ever met... can’t leave my tits alone" for best line of the film. I can honestly say that because of the presence of the sense-numbing Jayne Kennedy, I don’t care about anything else in this film. It is a sterling moment in the history of cinema, and I would watch it again and again. Fuck Serena, indeed.

I’ll save all my lascivious thoughts and comments, though. I knew I’d need them if I was going to make it through the next night... Sex Night. More on that, pardon the pun, to come.


Readers Talkback
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  • Sept. 9, 2000, 2:39 p.m. CST

    dang...i'm first!

    by split_finger21

    wow!, i'd like to thank my family first of all, um, my producers stanley and steven, i'd like to thank pat bateman, for helpin me through the tough times, showing me how to carry out my aggression, um, um, ed gein back in wisconsin...

  • Sept. 9, 2000, 6:17 p.m. CST

    Old Time Thrillers and Fillipino Action Flicks Not Included In T

    by Buzz Maverik

    My favorite of the evening was the one starring George Preppard, George Kennedy, Lee Marvin, Faye Dunaway, Charlton Heston, Katherine Ross, a pre-Partridge Family Danny Bonaduce and Leon Issac Kennedy "The Tiparari Passage". Quentin promised that at next years Fillipino action night he would show "Beaten With Sticks" by Tommy Tang and Charro Davilla's "Hooker With A Tail" as well as the Fillipino attempt at children's anime "Manilla Gorilla". Afterwards, it was great to be part of a community of film fans without better things to do with their money and argue about the things true cinema lovers debate after movies, like "Should we go to Denny's or Carrows?"

  • Sept. 10, 2000, 1:45 a.m. CST

    I Stand Corrected By The Thousands Of Talkbackers Who Have E-Mai

    by Buzz Maverik

    The real title of the Tony Tang Fillipino action films Q showed that night were Stick Fighter, Sticker Fighter Fights Back, and Stick Fighter's Girlfriend. Sorry.