Welcome to Monsoon-a-day
Where I watch and review a movie a day. Or whenever I fucking feel like it.
“In this life, there are two kinds of people: mountain climbers and scuba divers. One risks their life to conquer an insurmountable task that few have ever overcome and the other chooses the mystery of the unknown. The tallest and most dangerous mountain offers instant gratification to those who even talk about vanquishing it because the dangers are readily apparent. You don’t have to be an expert to understand the gravity of the accomplishment but scuba divers will never get the same adulation because their goal is invisible. We only see the ocean and not….”
And it was at this point in the story, when the stranger next to me on the bus stopped talking and then proceeded to throw up on himself. His name was Gary and he was a white man dressed like an down-on-his-luck Native American realtor. Although Gary has probably never been correct about much (I’m going to go out on a limb and say his house was filled with dreamcatchers and wolf related tchotchkes), he was at least on to something before he threw up what looked and smelled like two servings of Applebee’s appetizer platters all over his mauve suit jacket. Apropos of nothing, he wasn’t wearing a suit.
What I gleaned from his drunken ramblings is that we choose to give adulation to those who choose seemingly harder tasks that have been completed before over those who choose the unknown. And even though I agree, the metaphor makes absolutely no sense considering the ocean is filled with man eating sharks and gigantic Japanese squids. It’s scary as shit.
Plus, there are far more than just those two kinds of people. There are people who will never climb a mountain or will ever step foot in the ocean. I know I’m over thinking Gary and his faux Native American wisdom but sometimes, when you’re wrong, you’re really wrong.
I’m going to salvage the metaphor by reducing it to its essentials: there are people who want to be original and there are people who are original. Everyone thinks they walk to the beat of their own drum but the reality is, it’s a very select few who are truly original. Those who create their own style and their own rhythm.
No place is this more readily apparent than in film. Hollywood is a business built on unoriginality. It’s bread and butter is sequels and remakes but every once in awhile, we get a director that becomes their own commodity. Certain directors have cultivated such a distinct style, they’re name alone is shorthand for a particular technique.
Lynch, Hitchcock, Burton, (Wes) Anderson, Kaufman and Lubitsch all have such distinct visual styles or unique ways of storytelling that have inspired a genre of rip offs and homages but I’d argue no director has generated as many copy cat clones than Tarantino.
For the better part of fifteen years or so, you couldn’t avoid films involving cool criminals spouting pop culture laden monologues in hyperlinked films with nonlinear structures. Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction ushered in a new wave of cool but the thieves only raided the sweets section of the buffet. They didn’t take any of the meat.
Films like (big breath) Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead, American Strays, The Big Hit, 2 Days in The Valley, Suicide Kings, 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag, Reindeer Games, Love and a .45, Killing Zoe, Phoenix, Thursday, Mad Dog Time, Albino Alligator, Truth or Consequences, N.M, Destiny Turns on the Radio and The Boondock Saints (stop loving this movie, it’s terrible) all took the style without any of the substance. They’re cinematic bingo sheets with Tarantino hallmarks in replace of letter and numbers but barely any of them have more than just the free space blotted.
Tarantino himself realized that borrowing isn’t enough. You have to recontextualize your influences. Build upon what you love, instead of pointing the camera at references that serve no purpose to the narrative *cough* Ready Player One *cough*. Some of the clones understood that like The Way of the Gun, Go and Snatch (and Lucky Number Slevin and Sushi Girl to a lesser degree) but for the most part, they’re all dollar store chocolate Easter bunnies– hollow and unappealing.
Which brings us to Lowlife.
Imagine the show Clone High but instead of a school made up of the clones of historical figures, it’s a class consisting of nothing but Tarantino rip offs, with Lowlife sitting in the middle of all of them, peeking at their papers. It obviously owes its entire existence to Tarantino and although it’s occasionally fun, it nevertheless feels a good ten years too late.
The story is, as most of them are, divided up into three parts, with characters flowing in and out of all of them until they all coverage in the third act. There’s a gangster that kidnaps illegals and sells their organs on the black market, a pregnant hotel clerk who’s made a grave mistake, an Eminem looking motherfucker with a swastika face tattoo and overly violent luchador who suffers from rage induced blackouts. They’re all interesting for the most part and although you can pretty much guess where the film is going to end up by the halfway point, it still has enough to keep you engaged.
But I feel as though the Pulp Fiction-esque structure was ultimately a mistake because it sidelines the luchador for long stretches of time and he’s by far the most entertaining aspect of the film. His blackouts are a clever way to progress the narrative by keeping the character (and by extension the audience) in the literal dark. There’s a high pitched scream, the screen goes black and when he wakes up, he’s in the middle of a violent murder and/or chaos. It’s a clever storytelling device which unfortunately nothing else in the film comes close to. Outside of the luchador, everything is either cliche or was done better years ago.
Lowlife is exactly like Gary: They get some things right but even in the face of some truly terrible choices, they have such a strong conviction, you give them a pass for even trying.