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Accidental Double Feature: True Romance and The Langoliers

This weekend I ended up with an accidental double feature--didn't even realize that the two movies had anything in common until we started watching the second one. Can you guess what the common thread is between True Romance and The Langoliers?

Give up?

Bronson Pinchot!

Yeah, okay, so that's not actually exciting. As a matter of fact, I have often said I find Mr. Pinchot (or as The Boyfriend calls him, "Hey-it's-Balky!") brain-splinteringly annoying. The mere sound of his voice is kind of obnoxious and gives me headaches. However, what we have here is one good solid performance from him wherein he did NOT annoy me.

I will first point out that I LOVE True Romance. It's the only movie of Quentin Tarantino's that I actually like, probably because he neither acted in nor directed it. When I first saw it several years ago, I didn't even KNOW it was a Tarantino movie (although seeing it now I can definitely point out a few spots where the Tarantino comes through: namely the conversation early on with Samuel L. Jackson talking about eating pussy, Dennis Hopper's monologue about the Sicilians and the Moors [which is an iconic scene, really--Hopper and Christopher Walken elevate that above its true content], Patricia Arquette's knock-down-drag-out with James Gandolfini, the Mexican stand-off, and the repeated use of the phrase "Bad Motherfucker.") The plot centers around Clarence and Alabama, who through a series of circumstances end up with a suitcase full of cocaine and the mob on their tails. Contrary to how it may sound, though, the movie is a romance through and through. The reasons I like it so much are as follows:

1. Christian Slater. Seriously, I will watch just about anything the guy does, even if most of it IS crap. Not only do I find him exceedingly hot, but I feel this is my way of repaying him for Heathers, Pump Up the Volume, and this.

2. Patricia Arquette's portrayal of Alabama is as both sweet and naive AND gutsy and tough is pretty great. She manages to play both vulnerable and hard as nails, sometimes within the same moment. It's an excellent performance from her, and as one of very few compelling females within the Tarantino canon (the only one who measures up in my estimation is Beatrix Kiddo, and she has the benefit of being a trained assassin--Alabama has to make do with being a former call-girl) I find her interesting. I think that is due more to Arquette's acting skills than to the script--Alabama could have come off cloying and stupid if played wrong. Which reminds me, the opening and closing monologues from her are just bad. I advise you to skip over them if possible.

3. The plot is serviceable, but doesn't necessarily dominate the movie. It just keeps things moving along in a more or less coherant way. There is never a point during the film where I find myself saying "What? What is going on? Why is this happening?" The things the characters do make sense within the context of the film, which is rarer than you'd think.

4. The acting in the movie--from Slater and Arquette all the way down to the minor roles--is top notch. There are a suprising number of recognizable faces in the film--watch for Brad Pitt's turn as a stoner, Bronson Pinchot (yes, there he is) as a nervous syncophant, and James Gandolfini (with hair!) as a mafia fixer. Also Val Kilmer (who is billed fourth in the credits, yet is only in the movie for about 5 minutes and you never actually see his face) is another bonus for me, since he's another actor I love.

5. The soundtrack--particularly Clarence and Alabama's theme, which I believe is a marimba solo--is fantastic. It adds to the movie without distracting, which should be the goal of every movie's score.

5. (SPOILER!) I am a sucker for happy endings.

I recommend True Romance for everyone--there's romance, violence, adventure, humor...everything you can ask for from a movie is here.

The Langoliers, unfortunately, did not inspire within me the same sort of devotion. There were several problems, some of which made it nearly opposite True Romance. The film is based on a Stephen King novella, the premise being that a group of ten passengers--including a pilot (David Morse), a mystery writer (Dean Stockwell), a blind--and somewhat psychic--girl, two teenagers, a school teacher, a British man of mystery, a glutton, a blue-collar gentleman, and a mad man (Bronson Pinchot! Again!)--on a cross-country flight wake up to discover they are the only people left on board the plane...or, it turns out, on earth. After landing at a rural Maine airport, they are left to try and figure out what's happened while dealing with threats they can see (the mad man) and those they can't (a mysterious munching sound from beyond the mountains).

1. The film was made as a TV mini-series in the early 90s, and it really shows. (In the words of Nina Garcia, "It looks cheap.") There are no big-name actors, and the special effects are downright TERRIBLE. Laughably terrible, in fact. Even the plane was poorly done and looked like bad CGI. Also, it's totally obvious exactly where the commercials were.

2. None of the characters were particularly memorable, except for Pinchot and his horrible HORRIBLE over-acting, which mostly consisted of a lot of eye-rolling and shrieking. The writers tried to shoehorn in subplots for everyone, but didn't bother to follow them out properly. There was no real character development at all. Characters were generally either "bravely heroic" or "gripped by hysteria and panic."

3. Contrary to True Romance, the plot in The Langoliers dominated the movie but did it very badly. Let's say that you are flexible enough to buy into the idea of the time rip, etc (after all, if you're not you should probably stay away from movies in this genre.) The problems are with the characters and their behavior. They all seem to completely ignore a man who is obviously dangerously insane. Later, the British secret agent ties up the mad man with a rope that is obviously incapble of holding him, then leaves the blind child and the school teacher (both unarmed) to keep an eye on crazy Pinchot while Mr. British Secret Service and the other good-sized men of the party go off to wander through the deserted airport. There was entirely more exposition at some points than was necessary--the audience is not stupid, you know. My ability to suspend disbelief was heartily abused.

4. Much of the acting was BAD. Morse and Stockwell did as well as they could with the material provided (they're both veterans, after all) but the rest of the cast were either over-acting or under-acting the whole way through. Half the time they were screaming, the other half mumbling miserably to themselves. As I mentioned, Pinchot was quite awful, but the woman playing the schoolteacher/love interest was quite blah, and the British apparently confused smirking with acting. In all, a rather unimpressive turnout.

It was just not very good at all, and although I'd been trying to track it down for ages (Netflix didn't have it and I was so excited to find it available OnDemand) it was a big disappointment (as many Stephen King movies tend to be...but I've posted on that subject already.) I definitely don't recommend this except to the most devoted King fan.


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