Redemption scene from “The Mission” (1986) dir. Roland Joffe

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At one point during the mid-1980s, Roland Joffe was considered one of the world’s best film directors. His first two films: “The Killing Fields” (1984) and “The Mission” were nominated for multiple Academy Awards, with a “work-in-progress” version of “The Mission” winning the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1986.

Nowadays, Ennio Morricone’s stellar soundtrack for “The Mission” is better remembered than the film itself. Mainly because Joffe’s post “Mission” film career has not lived up to the promise of his first two films. I have mixed feelings about “The Mission,” but this scene never ceases to bring me to tears.

Robert DeNiro’s character is a South American slave-trader who kills his brother in a duel after he catches him in bed with his fiance. While DeNiro’s character is acquitted of legal wrong-doing, his guilt overwhelms him. A priest, played by Jeremy Irons, challenges him to undertake a suitable penance. The penance is to carry a heavy bundle, including his armor and sword, across many miles into the territory where he captured slaves. The people who he used to enslave recognize him, are ready to kill him, but under the guidance of Irons’ priest, cut him loose. DeNiro’s character’s acknowledgement of the grace of a people who were ready to slit his throat is heartbreaking.

You may recognize a young Liam Neeson in the background … approximately 20 years before he became our generation’s version of Charles Bronson.

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“Pulp Fiction” (1994) dir. /scr. Quentin Tarantino

In honor of this year’s Cannes Film Festival (taking place as we speak), here’s one of the best-known and most beloved of all the Palme D’Or winners, 1994’s “Pulp Fiction.” There’s not much more I can say about the “Star Wars” of the 1990s that hasn’t already been said. I had seen Quentin Tarantino’s first film “Reservoir Dogs” on its opening weekend at an upscale Arlington, VA art theater in the fall of 1992, after reading about it nearly a year before in the magazine “Film Threat.”  After seeing “Dogs,” I obnoxiously demanded that everyone I knew at the time see this film, carrying a VHS copy of the film to practically every gathering I went to for the next year and a half.  A year later, I saw the Tarantino-scripted “True Romance” twice on its opening weekend in 1993 and became an even more annoying (and mouth-breathing) Tarantino disciple.  Needless to say, by the fall of 1994, especially after it won the Palme D’Or at Cannes and had so many major critics vehemently raving about it (or condemning it), I could barely contain my excitement when “Pulp Fiction” finally made its US debut.  This time, I saw it at a Tuscaloosa, AL mall multiplex, which was a real sign that the underground planets had aligned and Tarantino’s blend of violence and comedy had become VERY chic by this point.

Mark Seal recently composed a very lengthy, but immensely entertaining article about the making of “Pulp Fiction” for Vanity Fair’s March 2013 Hollywood issue, which you can read at the link below:

http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2013/03/making-of-pulp-fiction-oral-history

Nearly 20 years later, “Pulp Fiction” still packs a wallop.

“Jungle Fever” (1991) dir. Spike Lee

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Many people would argue that Samuel L. Jackson’s turn in Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” was his breakout role. I would argue it came 3 years earlier in Spike Lee’s “Jungle Fever” playing Wesley Snipe’s crackhead brother Gator. Jackson’s performance was BEYOND f–king intense and earned an unprecedented Best Supporting Actor nod at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival. “Jungle Fever” is flawed (Spike Lee’s subsequent films “Malcolm X, “Get on the Bus,” “Summer of Sam,” “Bamboozled,” and “The 25th Hour” are arguably much better), but it has a lot of terrific virtues. This scene never fails to put a chill up my spine.

“Out of the Blue” (1980) dir. Dennis Hopper

Dennis Hopper had an interesting, but extremely spotty career as a filmmaker.  His biggest hit was the 1969 cultural zeitgeist “Easy Rider.”  But in my opinion, the best film that Hopper had any involvement with (aside from “Blue Velvet,” “True Romance” and “Apocalypse Now”) was 1980s “Out of the Blue.”  Hopper was originally hired on just to act, but when the first-time director wasn’t delivering the goods during the first couple of weeks in production, Hopper rewrote the script and took over as director.

“Blue” is an ultra-bleak look at the collateral damage that alcoholism and drug abuse can have on a family.  The lead character CeBe, brilliantly played by Linda Manz, is a lonely 14-year old girl with a chip on her shoulder and an obsession with Elvis and punk rock.  Her father, played by Hopper, has been in prison for killing multiple children on a school bus in a drunk driving accident five years prior.  Her mother, played by Sharon Farrell, is a waitress and heroin addict.  Hopper’s character gets out of prison and for a brief moment, it looks like CeBe will finally have the normal life she has craved.  But it’s not to be and the film gets increasingly dark and bleak, leading to a really horrific ending.

Needless to say, “Out of the Blue” is not a film you’d want to watch in a foul or depressed mood.  It is THE definition of a “feel-bad” movie.  However, the movie is brilliantly directed by Hopper, who really conveys the desolation of these characters and the world they inhabit.  And the performances by Manz, Hopper, Farrell, and Don Gordon are all frighteningly real.  Especially Manz.  She plays a very angry character, an anger that masks a desperation for a normal family.  The hopeful look in her eyes when she thinks things are going to work out is heartbreaking.  “Blue” was in competition for the Palme d’Or at the 1980 Cannes Film Festival and Manz was talked about as a strong contender for the Best Actress prize that year (she lost to Anouk Aimee).

The trailer above gives a very strong flavor of what this movie is about. However, it’s definitely not safe for work given the subject matter.