Film Review: Repo Man (1984)

Release Date: February, 1984 (Berlin Film Festival)
Directed by: Alex Cox
Written by: Alex Cox
Music by: Tito Larriva, Steven Hufsteter, Iggy Pop (theme)
Cast: Harry Dean Stanton, Emilio Estevez, Tracey Walter, Olivia Barash, Sy Richardson, Susan Barnes, Fox Harris, Miguel Sandoval, Vonetta McGee, Helen Martin, The Circle Jerks

Edge City, Universal Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

“Some weird fuckin’ shit, eh, Bud?” – Otto

I don’t know what it is about this movie that makes it so f’n cool but it is unequivocally, one of the coolest movies ever made.

I mean, it has Harry Dean Stanton in it, who is one of the coolest actors that ever lived. It also has Emilio Estevez entering the height of his career during his years in the Brat Pack. It’s also a unique film that when looking at it within the context of the time it came out, had to have been a real artistic curveball. Frankly, I can see where many films that came out after this got some of their inspiration or just outright thievery.

It feels like it could be a David Lynch picture but it makes more sense and doesn’t get lost in its weirdness like many of Lynch’s pictures do. It also isn’t relying on its surreal dreamlike quality to propel the picture forward. It has a pretty easy to follow story where the strange bits just enhance the experience and don’t distract from the narrative.

Emilio Estevez put in a good performance as a punk rock kid fired from his menial job only to stumble into the repo man profession. His mentor is played by Stanton and the two immediately have a great chemistry that makes you care about their developing friendship. 1984 was a great year for Stanton between this and Paris, Texas.

The film also has small roles for Tracey Walter, who is a damn fine character actor that always brings something special to every role, and Vonetta McGee, best known for her roles in blaxploitation films in the 1970s.

Repo Man is a sort of punk rock fairy tale that feels like it is in a post-apocalyptic dystopian future but it really just takes place in what was modern Los Angeles in 1984. It’s a surrealist, absurdist fantasy that sees a bunch of strange people chasing after an old Chevy Malibu that has some really bizarre cargo in its trunk. The car changes hands a lot and and as the story progresses Estevez’s Otto gets in deeper and deeper where he is fending off his old punk rock gang and a government agency led by a woman with a metal hand.

If you were able to take punk rock and a science fiction B-movie, add in some comedy and smash them together, you’d get this film but even then, this is much better than the sum of its parts. This is a film that many have tried to knock off and failed and at first glance, Repo Man might be a turn off due to the shoddy nature of most of its imitators. But this is the real deal original and this is the reason why a legion of young filmmakers started making similar works in tone and style.

In truth, this is a hard film to describe and even to review. It’s unique and I don’t say that lightly. But it’s a beautiful picture in how it’s orchestrated, acted and directed. The cinematography and lighting are pretty stellar too and certain scenes almost remind me of some of Wim Wenders’ work from that same era. That makes sense though, as the cinematographer was Robby Müller, who worked with Wenders a lot and his work on The American Friend and Paris, Texas have a similar color palate to this picture.

If you’ve never seen Repo Man, you’ve done yourself a disservice. It’s cool, badass and colorful in all the right ways. Plus, it kicks off with a theme song by Iggy Pop.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: Any early David Lynch films, as well as Sid and Nancy or any other Alex Cox movie.

Film Review: Do The Right Thing (1989)

Release Date: May 19th, 1989 (Cannes)
Directed by: Spike Lee
Written by: Spike Lee
Music by: Bill Lee, Public Enemy
Cast: Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Richard Edson, Giancarlo Esposito, Spike Lee, Bill Nunn, John Turturro, John Savage, Roger Guenveur Smith, Rosie Perez, Joie Lee, Steve White, Martin Lawrence, Robin Harris, Paul Benjamin, Frankie Faison, Samuel L. Jackson, Steve Park, Frank Vincent, Nicholas Turturro, Miguel Sandoval

40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, Universal Pictures, 120 Minutes

Review:

In the summer of 1989 I was in Brooklyn visiting family for a few weeks. Being a big film buff, even at ten years-old, I had already seen every big summer movie that year. My cousin was driving us around and he asked if I wanted to see a movie. I did. He asked what I wanted to see. Thinking he would say “no”, I still replied “Do The Right Thing.” Being the cool nineteen year-old kid that he was, he smirked and said, “Well, alright.”

Leading up to my seeing Do The Right Thing in a movie theater in Brooklyn, not far from where the movie took place, I was mesmerized by the trailers and footage I saw on television. Living in Southwest Florida, I didn’t have a lot to do during summer days, except hang with friends, play video games or watch TV. I often times spent hours watching a cable channel called Movietime, which was actually E! Entertainment Television before it re-branded itself. On that channel, they always showed trailers, over and over again, and also went behind the scenes on films in development or coming out. It was a cool channel that taught a young film fan a lot about the industry and art he loved. But it is there, where I saw trailers and other footage for Do The Right Thing. Something about it just drew me in.

I always cherished the experience of seeing this film, so close to where it was made, at a time when I hadn’t quite experienced a real adult film in the theater. It was exciting but at the same time, it was a lot more than that. Do The Right Thing had a profound effect on me and how I saw other people. When I watch it now, much later in life, it is a reminder of that experience and the lessons I learned from it. It also is one of the first films that I saw to really cultivate my love for the art of motion pictures and filmmaking itself. This, alongside Cinema Paradiso, made me see movies differently.

Having just revisited Do The Right Thing for the first time in several years, it is kind of sad. Not because of the film itself but because it took away some of my optimism in regards to people. When I saw it was a kid, I truly believed that society was headed in the right direction. I thought that as time rolled on, the struggle of black people and the prejudices in America would improve. Yet, this film is almost thirty years old and its message is maybe even more relevant today than it was in 1989. Will it be even more relevant in another 30 years?

Spike Lee did a fantastic job with Do The Right Thing and it is, still to this day, my favorite Lee film (Malcolm X is a very close second). Maybe it is due to the experience it gave me when I should have been too young to have to see the world for what it is. But out of all his films, this one has the strongest message not just for African-Americans but for all Americans. And again, it is still a message that needs to be heard today.

The cinematography is stellar. The film really captures the people, the scenery and Brooklyn life in that era. The technique of using first-person perspective, which gets more prevalent as the film progresses and racial tensions increase, is masterfully shot and presented. The breaking of the fourth wall, as characters’ inner monologues come to life, directed at the audience, is effective in understanding their deepest inner prejudices and in helping escalate the tension from a narrative standpoint.

The use of Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power” throughout the film is perfect and really gives an anthem to the attitudes of many of the characters. It represents, what this film, at its core, is all about. The character of Radio Raheem was the perfect vessel within the film to deliver the song to the masses, as he walked up and down the street, all day, blasting the song from his radio. He wasn’t just a vessel for the message though, he was also a symbol, a physical embodiment of it. Bill Nunn did a fine job as Raheem and made him into an iconic figure for many.

There are several really standout performances in the film. I think a lot of props need to go to Giancarlo Esposito as Buggin’ Out. Most people know Esposito as the villainous Gus from Breaking Bad. It was his role in this film, that put him on the map for me. Then years later, when I did see him on Breaking Bad, playing one of the greatest villains in television history, I was ecstatic because this was a guy who I had followed since seeing him on the big screen as a ten year-old in a Brooklyn movie theater. I’ve always thought Esposito was an underutilized actor but those who regularly work with him know his talent. In Do The Right Thing, Esposito is so committed to the role that he really stands out above everyone else. And we’re talking about a movie that has Samuel Jackson, Rosie Perez, John Turturro, Robin Harris, Frankie Faison, Ossie Davis, Danny Aiello, Martin Lawrence, Frank Vincent and so many other faces that own the screen when they are on it.

Roger Guenveur Smith’s performance as Smiley is also superb. You couldn’t not feel for the guy and when he lost his shit, you were right there with him. It’s also heartbreaking to see how others in the film treat him, even his friends, due to his handicap. Smith  has played a lot of great characters over the years but Smiley is the one I most fondly remember.

There are few films that illustrate a sense of human brotherhood as much as Do The Right Thing. While it shows cultural clashes and tensions boiling over into violence, it also provides hope and displays a lot of wisdom. Most of the characters try to maintain order but the few who keep pushing each other bring the whole neighborhood to its breaking point. And then the cops show up to screw it up even more.

Do The Right Thing isn’t just a great film, it is an important film, maybe even more so today than in 1989.