Visually and performatively stylized melodrama, slangy and retro and dreamily lit, like a much better Grease, or a nonmusical West Side Story. Rusty James (Matt Dillon in his third S.E. Hinton movie in a row) mopes around with his tough friend Smokey (Nicolas Cage, his second year in the movies) and his nerdy David Cronenberg-looking friend Steve (Vincent Spano of City of Hope) and Nice Guy Eddie, speaking wistfully about Rusty’s long-missing older brother, local-legend gangster The Motorcycle Boy. Rusty James has a hot girlfriend Patty (Diane Lane) who’s into him, but he cheats and disappears and flakes around. Rusty James is trying to keep alive the gang wars he barely remembers from his brother’s day, and just as he’s losing a fight, The Motorcycle Boy dramatically reappears. This is the earliest I’ve seen Mickey Rourke, four years before Angel Heart, doing his gentle/tough handsome-zen thing – everyone in town agrees he’s crazy, but we don’t see him acting crazy, except maybe when he liberates every animal in the pet store.

It’s clear from the tone of the thing that somebody is doomed – probably Rourke (and yup, sure enough). The cops aren’t happy to see him back, but a heroin-addict substitute teacher starts hanging around, and old rivalries start simmering. It’s kind of a hangout movie where not much happens, but it feels tense most of the time. Dillon’s character is kind of an idiot, and his idol brother’s return blows up his worldview that things were better in the tough old days. In the end Rourke has died, Cage has stolen the girl and said he’d take over the gang if there even was a gang, Rusty James rides his brother’s motorcycle to the ocean, and it sounds like Wall of Voodoo over the credits but I guess it was that guy from The Police.

I keep meaning to watch the four hours of extras on the Criterion disc, but haven’t found the time. The Outsiders was also a Coppola-shot S.E. Hinton-written gang movie made the same year, and I should have double-featured these. The cast in this film is impressive – the brothers’ shitty alcoholic dad is Dennis Hopper, Laurence Fishburne is a gang go-between, Tom Waits a bartender. William Smith, who starred in the real David Cronenberg’s Fast Company, is the mustache cop who uses inappropriate force to kill Rourke after the pet store incident.

Rumble brothers with grudge cop:

Feature film directors (and Meryl Streep) tell the tales of American feature film directors in the 1930’s and 40’s who were sent to war to make documentaries for the homefront… with one of the best motion-graphics-meets-stock-footage opening title sequences. If you’re interested in filmmakers and/or war, the whole thing’s just fascinating.

William Wyler, fresh off the inspirational Mrs. Miniver, rages against racism while Frank Capra is producing Private Snafu cartoons. Working (mostly) under Capra, John Ford and George Stevens are sent to film D-Day. John Huston makes the gritty San Pietro, using mostly reenacted fight footage but real dead bodies. And Citizen Kane cinematographer Gregg Toland proves himself a poor director. Stevens went on to film the liberation of concentration camps, while Wyler snuck a trip home and found the holocaust had killed his family and all their neighbors. In the end, Huston’s final work about emotionally wounded soldiers was censored for decades, Ford returned to make They Were Expendable, and Capra/Wyler/Stevens founded their own Liberty Studio, which immediately went broke on the flop It’s a Wonderful Life.

I’d love to watch a bunch of the original documentaries themselves, all available on netflix: Battle of Midway, Report from the Aleutians, San Pietro, Let There Be Light, The Negro Soldier, The Battle of Russia, Nazi Concentration Camps and Memphis Belle. But that’s six hours of WWII docs, and it’s Cannes Month now, and six movies I want to see opened in theaters this week, and a new season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 just came out, and it’s baseball season…

“There’s only room for one genius in this family.”

Were I not charmed by the excellent black-and-white cinematography, the performances of Vincent Gallo (year before Essential Killing) and his girl Maribel Verdu (lead actress in Y Tu Mama Tambien) and the movie’s quick bursts of entertaining craziness, I might’ve found more time to be annoyed by the story of family rivalry and Alden Ehrenreich’s lead character of Bennie. And it’s a very annoying story, taking inspiration from Coppola’s own family and a million boring novels, of a family of rich geniuses and how they each deal with their gifts and emotional problems. Talented Uncle Alfie wastes away from regret while his brother Carlo (both of them Klaus Maria Brandauer, star of István Szabó’s Mephisto) becomes a famous composer/conductor and steals his own son’s pregnant girlfriend. Son Angelo (Tetro) escapes to Argentina, hiding the fact that young Bennie is his son and not his younger brother.

That at least explains why Tetro doesn’t kick out Bennie, who pretty much ruins everything while visiting for a few days, giving away Tetro’s true identity and stealing his life story then producing it as a play for a festival run by celebrity artist Alone (Carmen Maura, Cruz’s dead mother in Volver). It’s nice how artistic talent runs in the family, and with no training or practice, Tetro’s cruise-ship-waiter brother/son can adapt someone else’s writings into an award-winning play.

Maribel dances for Alden:

I appreciated the ending. Early in the movie Bennie finds Tetro’s gun in a desk drawer and, having seen movies before, I know it’ll reappear. But it doesn’t, and the expected blow-up fight between the “brothers” at Alone’s festival turns into a quick reconciliation, telling her to piss off so they can have some family time.

The movie is widescreen B&W and flashbacks (plus clips from Tales of Hoffmann) are cropped (or shrunk) in full-color. Supposedly a near-remake of Rumble Fish, which I also rented but didn’t find time to watch.

Tetro is a spotlight operator for the play Fausta:

A. Nayman in Cinema Scope: “Tetro is also Italian for ‘gloomy,’ and Gallo glowers accordingly. … If this sounds like an unlikely series of events (and I haven’t even mentioned Bennie’s hotel room hot tub deflowering at the hands of a gorgeous local girl and her aunt) that’s because Tetro doesn’t have any pretenses to verisimilitude: it’s more obviously an operatic fable, with Malaimare’s exquisitely shadowed cinematography sealing the characters within a hermetic, slightly unreal screen space.”

On one hand, I really want to see the G.I. Joe movie (since I used to watch all the cartoons) and Supernova (since it’s a legendarily troubled sci-fi with F.F. Coppola involvement) and many other, even worse movies. On the other hand, time is precious and I take my movie watching seriously. So I find The Last Ten Minutes to be a happy compromise – in one guilty-pleasure hour, I kill six potentially trashy time-wasting movies, at an average savings of 89%, or over 13 hours per ten movies! What a deal.

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009, Stephen Sommers)
Ah, what’s happening?! General Hawk (Dennis Quaid) looks concerned. A stealth bomber was shot with green smokey special effects and Ripcord (Marlon Wayans) escaped alive. People are referring to “joes” and their “hoo-rah” when they get excited is of course “yo joe!”. Maybe they should’ve gotten rid of those parts. Cobra Commander and Destro (I never thought of him as Scottish) are off doing creepy villain stuff and saying lines like “you and what army?” The visuals look slick as shit, though. Why is Duke (Channing Tatum of Public Enemies) so young? Mild sequel set-up, Jonathan Pryce-as-president coda, and it looks like I missed all the Storm Shadow scenes. Movie looks totally bearable overall. In a few years I look forward to G.I. Joe: The Wrath of Golobulus then G.I. Joe: Beyond Thunderdrome.

Horsemen (2009, Jonas Akerlund)
Why is General Hawk (Dennis Quaid) putting Zhang Ziyi in prison, and what does it have to do with the apocalypse? Oh of course baddies are after his family and are luring him to an abandoned building… that is way more boring than the apocalypse. Quaid’s son (Lou “Thumbsucker” Pucci) is hanging Ichi The Killer/Hellraiser style over a stage saying some boringness about neglectful parenting while Quaid is chained up watching. And every Saw sequel said the same thing. Why don’t our parents worry about us? Why don’t our parents worry about us? From the director of nothing and the writer of Doom.

Supernova (2000, Walter Hill)
James Spader in a Leviathan diving suit fought a badass white guy who I don’t recognize until rescued by Angela Bassett. The ship’s computer warns us about “ninth-dimensional matter.
Karl gets extremely blown up, but I wouldn’t call it a supernova. I don’t think Angela Basset has a shirt on. Ah there’s the supernova – neato. After going warp-speed while nude and hugging, Basset-Spader have gone all The Fly and swapped eye colors and now she’s pregnant – that never happens when people beam up together on Star Trek. Interesting pedigree, this movie – from pseudonymed director Walter “The Warriors” Hill with uncredited help by Francis Ford Coppola.

John Q (2002, Nick Cassavetes)
Denzel… shoots himself in the head! But the safety was on. Transplant heart for Denzel’s insurance-less dying child is arriving. The police arrest a False Denzel while the real one sneaks around in hospital scrubs, but Robert Duvall is on to the plot. Is this really what heart transplants look like? So simple and clean, like the Operation game. Montage of people telling us America may have a national health-care problem. A blatant message movie, then. Look, James Woods! I thought it didn’t seem terrible overall until a cringey final shot.

Hollow Man 2 (2006, Claudio Fäh)
Was Hollow Man even successful? Invisible Christian Slater (the poor man’s Invisible Kevin Bacon) indirectly kills a suited guy who’s tracking him via infrared scanner. Oh wait, dialogue tells me that was actually Invisible Peter Facinelli of the Twilight series… Slater is now trying to murder Laura Regan until Facinelli shows up. Invisible Man fight in the rain ends with a shovel stuck into Slater. From the writer of all sorts of unnecessary sequels, from Hellraiser: Hellworld to Dracula 2000, from Pulse 3 to Prophecy 5.

Surrogates (2009, Jonathan Mostow)
Short movie. Evil James Cromwell, inventor of the surrogate system, surprises Bruce Willis with a gun. Ooh, in the future we have light-up staircases. Crom “uploaded a virus into the system” to kill all the surrogates, but a fat guy excitedly shouts some key commands at a blonde chick, then shots are fired and all the robot surrogates in the world fall down. So whoever she was (Bruce’s wife?) she saved all of humanity from a life of surrogate slavery, waking them from, one might say, the Matrix in which they lived. From the director of sad sequel Terminator 3.

I am pleased to say that the movie never quite dives into gritty, depressing realism. It seems like it will… I mean, the second scene is set in a horrible homeless shelter with our hero lying half dead on the floor, his leg smashed after a car ran over it, being dragged unconscious into the showers by the shelter’s other miserable-looking occupants. But forty minutes later he is motoring down the Seine towing Juliette Binoche on waterskiis, surrounded by fireworks in what must’ve been one of the most exuberant film sequences of the decade. When he’s sick of it, he throws away his crutch and in the next scene his cast is gone too. The movie reminds us of real-world problems but its heroes are above them… homeless, sick, injured, lonely, hungry, fighting with each other, but never so bad that the next scene can’t fix everything.

Guy with the busted leg is Alex, resourceful homeless guy who lives on the under-construction bridge with his scary mentor Hans (who dispenses whatever drug Alex needs to sleep at night). Binoche is heartbroken Michelle who was a painter before she started going blind and ran away from her treatment. After they fall in love, Alex rebels when he hears that a search is on to find and cure Michelle, preferring her to be dependent on his care. But she finds out and gets the cure, while he inadvertently lights a guy on fire and goes to jail for a couple years. Very romantic-comedy-like, they make a date to meet on Christmas on the repaired bridge and end up together. Sounds dreadfully obvious, and it does get a bit indie-film-cutesy, but the love story and the ballsy storytelling pulled me right in… loved the movie.

Binoche was nominated for a best actress Cesar, but running against Emmanuelle Beart for La Belle noiseuse and Irene Jacob for Double Life of Veronique, the “brave young actress in awesome art film” vote was split, and the award went to elder Jeanne Moreau for a comedy I’ve never heard of. But up against a completely different group of actresses, Binoche took the European Film Award that year. Denis Lavant, also star of Carax’s Bad Blood and Denis’s Beau travail, unsurprisingly (because he’s funny-lookin’) later appeared in A Very Long Engagement. Hans was Klaus-Michael Grüber, previously a director for television, who has appeared in nothing else.

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Learned some stuff on other sites. Everyone wants to talk about the movie’s huge spiraling budget as Carax, unable to use the bridge itself, built a new bridge (and the surrounding buildings!) over a lake for a movie set. And everyone wants to talk about the movie being a flop upon release in theaters. And Americans want to gripe about the nine-year-delayed release to theaters here. And everyone makes a point of mentioning that Leos Carax is a made-up name, but I only saw one mention that the character Alex is a stand-in for the director (real name Alex), who was dating Juliette Binoche while this was in production. Also found plenty of comparisons to other films:

Titanic – for the ending (“king of the world” bit on the barge), fact that it’s a super-expensive movie but plot is a simple two-person love story.

One From The Heart – for the romantic tone, but mostly for the huge, awesomely expensive artificial set created for the movie, and the subsequent damage to the director’s career after the movie was not well-received.

City Lights – blind girl, in love with a homeless man, regains her sight at the end. Clearly an influence on the story.

L’Atalante – ahh, there’s the one Carax probably had in mind. Protagonists are poor but resourceful, in love but in a rocky relationship, joined by a moody father-figure old man, end up together on a barge. Perfect.