Category Archives: Movies

Becoming square: Alex Cox’s Repo Man

Alex Cox is all about turning things on their head; his debut, the sublimely silly Repo Man is a masterclass of this. The movie is about a young dissatisfied punk, Otto, who gets a job and discovers he quite likes it. He gets a girlfriend and quite likes that too. This is a film made by a punk about a punk who becomes a square. His friends who turn to sticking up stores get killed, much to Otto’s disdain. His favourite bands turn crappy. He learns a lot, starts dressing in white shirts and becomes a well-rounded person (more or less).

Sounds fairly dull doesn’t it? Well it might be if there wasn’t another movie slammed into it. The other movie is a conspiracy thriller to find the mysterious glowing contents of the trunk of a car before Tarantino can plagiarise it. As the car is on the repo list, it comes into Otto’s orbit.

Meanwhile, Alex’s world building proclivities are already in full sway, shelves populated with products that simply bear the name of what they are being the most obvious, and most successful illustration. Otto’s folks give money to TV evangelists and the feds crush those who get in their way. Right from the start of his career, Alex shapes characters who live in worlds he shapes. This is why his movies feel so rounded and complete. Straight To Hell features coffee addicted cowboys who populate their Spaghetti Western township. Death & The Compass‘ array of cops and crim’s live in the nooks and crannies of it’s Dick Tracy inspired primary coloured noir. Cox starts with a world, drops characters into it and worries about story later, when all the hard work is done.

Repo Man stands as the perfect example of Cox’s punk art… and it’s about a kid getting a job.

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A wild and stupid ride: To Live And Die In LA

To Live And Die In LA wears its stupidity proudly. It flaunts it’s love of cliches while it turns them on their head.

–SPOILERS — if you ain’t seen it, watch it and come back, sport.

William Freidkin invented most of the damn cliches in the first place with The French Connection. Cops who don’t play by the rules! Car chases in dirty city back streets! Gun fights! Here he basks in his own glory, turning up every dial, taking it up an 80s coke notch or two.

But Friedkin is a man who wants to have his coke and snort it. He wants the car chases, the cop who gets killed just before his retirement, the revenge story. He wants you to settle in for a night with the old tropes.

But then he keeps pulling the rug out from under you. The good guy is blackmailing a woman into having sex with him. The good guy gets an FBI agent killed. The good guy gets himself shot in the face. Imagine if Lethal Weapon killed off Martin Riggs before the final reel. This is what we’re talking about here. The viewer spits out his pizza in shock.

Life flows in aftermath… the good guy’s squeaky clean partner winds up dressing like his idol, eager for some blackmail sex of his own. The story can start again. Lethal Weapon can set itself up, but over there the good guy will never get shot in the face with a shot gun.

To Live And Die In LA: a wild and stupid ride where not everyone gets out alive.

Bones of the art form: Michael Mann’s Miami Vice

Miami Vice is an action movie with no interest in action. It’s a thriller with no interest in character or plot.  Miami Vice is a distillation of everything that made Michael Mann an auteur. A movie that takes the elements and boils them down to the point where nothing exists any more, then looks through the bones to see what is left over.

Miami Vice understands it’s plot. It doesn’t care if you understand it or not. Cops spout acronyms. Cops speak jargon. They understand each other, they’re cops. We are not cops, so we do not understand. Therefore there is no exposition. They’re cops, we’re observers.

In Heat they stripped Vincent Hanna of his coke habit, here the ‘heroes’ are stripped of any vestige of personality. They’re truly soulless individuals, as empty as the world they populate. Here, cops are cops and they have no other life.

& this world is M.Mann personified. Pastel colours and icy music while vehicles glide past. The heroes look longingly into the oceanic middle distance. Speed boats and planes soar. Cars zip by.

The action scenes are jumbled collages, make of them what you will.

Miami Vice takes the meaningless and turns it into an art form. Here Michael Mann reached the point where making his art is his only interest, regardless of if anyone digs it.

Michael Mann’s art got higher. Or lower.