cutter

Review by the Trylon’s grizzled war veteran Ben Schmidt

Over the course of the Trylon’s “Jeff Bridges Abides” series, the Bridges I’ve grown to know and love is not the Jeff Bridges that showed up for work on the set of Cutter’s Way. Here, playing low-rent playboy Richard Bone, Bridges displays little of the naive, charming troublemaker from The Last Picture Show. And there’s nary a wisp of the blissed out, impish drifter from Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. No. If Bridges to this point has been our lovable, shaggy, golden retriever, that which begins this film by easing itself from a married woman’s hotel bed to slink off into the night is nothing short of a mongrel.

What happened, Jeff Bridges? Acting? Perhaps. The need to sink into the dark script and sometimes bizarre world of Cutter’s Way could have posed quite a challenge for the young actor. And If it was a challenge he sought, Bridges rises admirably to it. His natural charisma completely inverted, Bone presents as a mottled former golden boy, worn hollow, or worse, at the core. It’s a performance that feels oddly similar to his Jack of The Fisher King, a character that charms you despite having fallen quite far from grace.

Here, as Cutter’s Way begins, Richard Bone may not yet have fallen, but he’s certainly on the way down. Leaving the aforementioned hotel, he edges his old car out into a dark, rain-soaked evening. Taking a shortcut through a back alley, his car stalls on him. Stepping out to assess the situation, he narrowly avoids being run over as another car races past, refusing to stop.

Alive but soaked, he curses his luck (and the Lord above for good measure) and runs off towards his destination. But in his rush and confusion, he fails to notice that tucked off nearby in the darkness the legs of a dead young woman hang plainly exposed over the edge of a garbage can.

Bone arrives at a (the) bar to find his friend Cutter, drunk and perhaps also insane (most certainly angry), doing his best to pick a fight with everyone around him. Cutter, we learn, is a Vietnam vet, who came back badly damaged from the war. Though they claim friendship, Cutter makes his old friend uneasy, and in a rage drives Bone away.

Bone returns home, to Cutter’s home actually, where he’s greeted by Cutter’s girl, Mo. There is some tension here. We gather, also, there’s some history here. And the fact that, despite the late hour, Mo sips directly from a (her second?) bottle of vodka suggests the history these three share is most likely complicated.

Around dawn, Cutter makes it home with the help of family friend Richard. But before he can pass out in the morning light, two detectives arrive at the door of this happy home. They’ve found the girl in the alley, along with Bone’s car. And Bone is hauled in to tell the cops what he knows.

Like the character it’s named for, Cutter’s Way seems obsessed with grit and a certain, oddly fierce cynical worldview. But this film does capture seemingly random moments of beauty.

One occurs here at the police station, where Bone stands in dismay as a police lieutenant, skeptical of both Bone’s story and alibi, sinks back into the chair behind his desk. The air hangs heavy. It’s silent for a moment as we lose sight of the policeman, obscured by the haze of smoke in the room and the sunlight glowing through the window blinds behind him. It’s a moment that wouldn’t be entirely out of place in the polished noir of Blade Runner.

Cinematic moments like this are rare in Cutter’s Way. Though it’s worth noting that this film and Blade Runner, released only a year apart, do coincidentally tie a white horse to the fates of their heroes.

In Ridley Scott’s film, the white horse is used symbolically, suggesting that a man may be realizing that he is, in fact, not one at all. This moment causes him to confront his path of violence. Has all this, we wonder alongside Deckard, been right?

However, in Cutter’s Way, a white horse delivers what’s left of a man violently and rather directly through a large mansion window. This moment causes Bone, our poor mongrel Bone, to confront his friend’s path of violence. Has all this, we wonder alongside Bone, been right?

Both films build to an ending where the viewer is left to wonder if one last life will be taken. And in what way (if any) that taking will matter.

Sure, between these two friends it may have always been Cutter’s way, fueled as much by injustice as alcohol. But in the end it’s our poor mongrel who is left with the final decision to make.

I wonder, could the younger, more optimistic Bridges have sold how this film resolves? — Ben Schmidt

 

CUTTER’S WAY screens Friday and Saturday, August 21 and 22 at 7:00 and 9:15, and Sunday, August 23 at 5:00 and 7:15. Advance tickets are $8.00, and you can purchase them here.

 

 

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Cool World is Ralph Bakshi’s attempt to reverse-engineer Who Framed Roger Rabbit into something that fits the seedy urban environments that were on display in Heavy Traffic and Fritz the Cat. At the same time he takes the opportunity to indulge in his own pet obsessions. It won’t surprise anyone familiar with Bakshi’s work just what those obsessions are; and in fact the possibilities — and potential pitfalls — of sex between “noids” (humans) and “doodles” (cartoons) becomes a central concern of the movie.

Bump-and-grind doodle sexpot Holli Would (Kim Basinger) is determined to break free of Cool World, a cartoon universe created by a jailbird artist named Jack Deebs (though perhaps Deebs didn’t create it, but simply tapped into an alternate universe that already existed; this point isn’t entirely clear). Holli pulls Deebs into Cool World with the aim of seducing him and thereby getting him to aid her escape into the human realm.  Meanwhile, detective Frank Harris, a noid who had been pulled accidentally into Cool World and who has been living there as a human expatriate for many years, suspects that Holli is up to no good and plans to stop her from becoming a doodle in the noid world, or perhaps a noid outside the doodle world.

Bakshi attempts to raise the stakes by introducing a magical spike atop a Las Vegas casino that Holli is trying to acquire; if she succeeds it will hurl the noid and doodle worlds together, with presumably disastrous consequences. But really, the focus here is on Cool World and its flipped-out, funhouse-mirror versions of familiar cartoon tropes.  Well, the focus is also on the idea of gettin’ it on with hot and improbably-proportioned cartoon characters, but you already guessed that, right?

Like many of Bakshi’s films Cool World seems a bit ragged around the edges, as though he just didn’t have enough time and money to see his vision through; and the script itself demonstrates that plotting was never the man’s strong suit. In spite of the film’s obvious attempt to create a more salacious Roger Rabbit pitched to adults, Paramount apparently couldn’t bring itself to release it with an “R” rating and toned it down to “PG-13”, which might explain some of the plot holes and apparent gaps between scenes. Nevertheless, Bakshi is one of the most interesting animators of the 20th century, and this intriguing misfire — his last film — was perhaps his most mainstream project.

Gabriel Byrne plays Deebs, a part originally intended for a young Brad Pitt, whose star was quickly rising thanks to his turn in Thelma and Louise the previous year; but Pitt was handed the Frank Harris role instead. Kim Basinger tries to make the human version of Holli move with the same cat-like slinkiness as her cartoon counterpart, but her human skeleton and musculature don’t quite allow her to pull it off. — Michael Popham

 

COOL WORLD screens Monday and Tuesday, August 17 and 18, at 7:00 and 9:00 at the Trylon. Advance tickets are $8.00, and you can purchase them here.

 

thunderbolt2

Review by Trylon safecracker Ben Schmidt

A preacher (Clint Eastwood) runs through a vast Montana wheat field. Behind him another man in dark glasses gives chase, trying to kill the preacher with a pistol. This goes on for a while until the preacher reaches a road and tries to flag down an approaching car. The car, recently stolen by a drifter (Jeff Bridges) and approaching at an unsafe speed, swerves around the preacher and into the field, right into the man with the pistol. This random and sudden impact dissuades the man with pistol from continuing his pursuit.

As the drifter maneuvers the car back onto the road, the preacher jumps into the window and manages to work his way into the passenger seat. The drifter is amused at what’s just happened. The preacher is anything but. Brought together by screenwriter fate, they drive off into the mountains to begin an adventure together.

(Note: this particular adventure goes on to involve grand theft auto, old angry war buddies, ice cream scooters, betrayal, beers, bank vaults, school(s), the fleeting importance of social security numbers, dressing up in drag, bloodthirsty security dogs, landscaping, nudity and young Gary Busey.)

Our young drifter goes by Lightfoot. I’m not certain we ever find out why. As played by Bridges, he certainly isn’t a good guy. But he’s so dang likable it’s hard to describe him as bad. He even manages to charm Eastwood’s grizzled, hardened, Thunderbolt, so nicknamed (we eventually learn) for having once cracked a safe with the help of a large piece of military firepower. A big-ass gun.

The entire first half of the film takes its time moseying towards this latter revelation. Sure, everywhere these two go someone is trying to kill Thunderbolt. But these attempted assassinations are handled so casually that one begins to get the sense that Thunderbolt has simply accepted people trying to murder him as one of his many daily annoyances. It’s nothing that anyone gets too excited about. You can’t kill Clint Eastwood, so this kind of makes sense.

It’s here that things take a turn. Two new characters are added to the mix and we begin to focus exclusively on the elaborate preparation for a (one last?) big score. Interesting, yes. But this shift in story threatens at times to channel us away from the kooky charm at the heart of this film. A charm anchored by the odd energy Eastwood and Bridges share on screen.

Was Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (the film) trying to be kooky? Does any film aspire to be kooky? Is it, instead, off-kilter? Perhaps first-time director Michael Cimino (who would go on to direct The Deer Hunter) was outbalanced by Eastwood’s stature as star? (One who by this point had directed three of his own films?)

Or is the pairing of Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (the characters) simply unique? Is it less a buddy/road/caper movie and more a vessel that happened to capture the contradictory intentions of Eastwood and Bridges?

Most likely accidental, this odd alchemy alone makes for great viewing. Take, for instance, the moment where both men wait along the side of the road to hitch a ride. The camera is at ground level, angled up towards an expanse of blue Montana sky. Eastwood in the middle-distance shifts his gaze from one part of the horizon to the next, anxious to move on to bigger and better things.

Bridges though, plops down right at our level, seated as if to meditate. Knees out, pulling his ankles tight, he closes his eyes and settles into the scene, content in soaking up the joy of being alive.

This one moment, like all, doesn’t last. And considering what happens next, trunk cargo and all, this moment almost seems like an afterthought.

But therein lies the lesson to tapping into the mania of Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. Come for the plot points Iconic Eastwood and Young Bridges bob and weave their way through. But make sure you’re plopped down and present for the points between plot where this funky little monkey of a film truly enjoys coming alive, flaws and Gary Busey and all. — Ben Schmidt

THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT screens Friday and Saturday, August 14 and 15 at 7:00 and 9:15, and Sunday, August 16 at 5:00 and 7:15. Advance tickets are $8.00, and you can purchase them here.

 

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Review by Trylon rotoscopist Maria Gomez

Ralph Bakshi’s 1981 cult classic film American Pop a timeless story of one Russian family and their history of  American music told through four generations. The story begins with Zalmie coming to America with his mother in the late 19th century as Russian immigrants. They are looking for a better life than what they had in war-torn Russia. Through an unfortunate event, Zalmie finds himself living the life of a stage performer.  As the story continues we see Zalmie grow and live through societal and political changes but we also see the growth of his musical family; his sons, his grandson, his great grandson, and so on.  We see how each generation changes from the last and we see each character grow with the times, the wars, the fashion trends, and the music….always the music.

If you walk away from this film remembering two things, it will be the animation and the music.  Bakshi implemented some of the most famous American music of the 20th Century and he did not exclude any musical genre. We even hear the Vaudevillian music that was popular at the start of the 20th century to the Big Band era of the 1940’s all the way to the punk scene when it reached America in the late 1970’s.  Bakshi really throws the progression of musical evolution and styles together so eloquently that it flows naturally and only adds to the story that is being told. In a brilliant sequence in the film, Bakshi attempts to show us the tragic contrast of that time by presenting various couples swing dancing to Benny Goodman’s Sing Sing Sing while alternating with scenes that take us through the violence of World War II.

Bakshi also makes use of visual imagery in the film and not only with his animation. He truly creates an emotional backdrop of the time by inserting photographic images, as well as live action video footage of pinnacle moments in time. Iconic images that we have all seen before but here, are cleverly used in a way to tell the story with impact-to take us back to that time that we can experience for just a brief moment but one that will never happen again.  From the infamous image of a woman horrified at the Kent State College shooting to the gruesome image of a Vietnamese man being executed by a militant on the street, Bakshi charges the film chock-full of emotion that is difficult to deny.  One reason that this film may feel so emotional is Bakshi’s style of animation. Bakshi used a technique called Rotoscoping in which his illustrators would draw over live actors; through this technique he was able to give the impression of realism in a way that brought the character’s facial expressions and body movements to life.

In this way that he gave “life” to his subjects through his filming style and animation technique, Bakshi gives us a cinematic painting of a slice in time. Although some critics may disapprove of this style, there is no denying that, combined with the music soundtrack and stunning visual imagery,  American Pop is one of Bakshi’s most stunning films to date. — Maria Gomez

 AMERICAN POP screens Monday and Tuesday, August 10 and 11 at 7:00 and 9:00 at the Trylon. Advance tickets are $8.00, and you can purchase them here.

fatcity5

Review by Trylon southpaw Ben Schmidt

It’s late after fight night. The crowds and most of the staff of this VFW (or dilapidated theater or wherever we’re at) have all gone home. Four young boxers sit around a table, mere feet from the ring where hours before they each took a beating. Surprising, because each arrived that evening bursting with pride, sure they’d come here to win.

Such is the fat of Fat City, flesh that’s gotta burn so the rest of the system can function. But that being said, if young, athletic, fresh-faced Ernie (Jeff Bridges) is the fat, then what to make of broken, raw, rough-around-the-edges Tully (Stacey Keach)?

Gristle perhaps. Because by its very definition, all gristle was once cartilage, a healthy, productive material found on the surface of joints. A thing that helped other, more important things move. But by the time we’ve caught up to it, something significant enough has happened to warrant a change in label. What once was cartilage is now nothing more than gray, indigestible tissue that gets forked over to the side of the plate.

John Huston’s Fat City opens on Tully, forked by way of an umpteenth hangover to the side life’s plate. And if there’s one thing this film does both right and wrong, it allows us to chew on the gristle for a while.

Tully rouses himself in no particular hurry. Finds his way downstairs to the street to dance a little jig. Then retreats back inside. But there’s a method to this madness, as the long-take (one of many in this film) allows us to gnaw on this particular piece of gristle, surprisingly charming in its own right.

Soon we’re at the YMCA, where Tully runs into young Ernie, who’s throwing punches against a heavy bag. Tully just happens to have a couple sets of boxing gloves with him, and is able to cajole Ernie into some light sparring.

The kid isn’t bad? Maybe? We’ll never know, because Tully quickly claims a pulled muscle and sends Ernie towards the guys who used to train him. Good guys. The guys who will soon sit around Ernie and the other suckers (or up and comers?) feeding them more of what they need or want to hear.

It’s tough to know what to make of most of Fat City. The deeper we’re drawn into Tully’s story and all its messy edges, the harder he is to follow.

But perhaps that’s the point. By the time Tully and Ernie cross paths for the first time in a long time, and perhaps for the last time, late into the film, it’s surprising the two agree to share some time over a cup of coffee. But here all along, we’ve been wondering what to make of fat and gristle. And at the end of this story, they surprise us, by openly questioning what’s to be made of them. –Ben Schmidt

 

FAT CITY screens Friday and Saturday, August 7 and 8 at 7:00 and 9:00, and Sunday, August 9 at 5:00 and 7:00 at the Trylon. Advance tickets are $8.00, and you can purchase them here.