Rose McGowan

The Black Dahlia (2006, Brian De Palma)

The Black Dahlia really ought to be a lot better. The film’s problems vary from the slight to the significant, but for some reason, the James Ellroy plot keeps things going. The film ends on a problem too, which makes writing about it immediately following a pea in the bed–and the last act is a rush to the finish (a longer running time would have helped a lot) filled with conveniences… but it’s hard to be disappointed in the film.

I remember the trailer–The Black Dahlia being one of those long-delayed, both in development hell and then getting its actual release (Universal only released it, didn’t produce it), I hadn’t seen anything until the trailer–having some awful narration from Josh Hartnett. The narration, ranging from bad to decent–apparently straight from the source novel–is in the film, but not omnipresent. It actually makes a lot of the film work, since Dahlia has those wonderful Ellroy cops–the one who thinks he’s smart who actually isn’t and the one who isn’t smart who occasionally does smart things (the corrupt cop gets mixed into one of the others)–and Hartnett plays the dumb cop really well. In fact, Hartnett’s so good, he makes Aaron Eckhart background. The problem lies with their acting styles–both give unaffected performances, but Eckhart’s character needs something more since he’s not the protagonist and Eckhart doesn’t bring anything. At times, it’s hard to remember there’s supposed to be two of them.

Before getting to the other actors, I need to get the production end out of the way. De Palma’s got Vilmos Zsigmond shooting this one. It’s some of Zsigmond’s least impressive work–partially due to the Bulgarian sets (though, oddly, the alleys are great) and mostly due to De Palma’s framing style here. In the age of 16:9 HD, De Palma shoots Dahlia for pan and scan, just like he did with his other famous period crime film, The Untouchables. When De Palma and Zsigmond get together, they can make visual feasts like Blow Out, but apparently De Palma’s lost the sense for visual storytelling. Dahlia isn’t boring–except during the revelation scenes (which comprise the last act)–but it has an obviously disinterested director. Even when De Palma tries to shock, he fails… unless one counts k.d. lang’s idiotic cameo, but I doubt De Palma was going for being neon cheap.

On to the acting… I’ll get Scarlett Johansson out of the way first. Johansson’s performance in The Black Dahlia should be the end of her career. It ought to whoever cast her’s career too, but whatever. Johansson is awful. She can’t even manage to sit still well. Luckily, she’s absent for the majority of the second act and when she does come in, when it’s important, Hartnett’s carrying to scenes well enough. Hilary Swank is okay as a ludicrous, overdone Ellroy femme fatale. She has a really affected tone going, which is irritating, so it’s surprising she doesn’t completely fail. She’s fine. The real surprise is Mia Kirshner, playing the titular victim in screen tests. She’s excellent. The supporting cast varies–Mike Starr and John Kavanagh are both good, but Fiona Shaw (in a crucial role) is cartoony. Gregg Henry’s got a really small part at the beginning (The Black Dahlia begs for a longer version) and I kept hoping he’d show up again, but he never did. Kevin Dunn’s got an uncredited cameo and he’s great.

So, in general, The Black Dahlia is a passable attempt (though I could have given a paragraph to Mark Isham’s awful score). It ends better than one would think at the beginning, it keeps interest up throughout, and it does develop a character. But the most interesting details are only inferred, maybe mentioned in dialogue or narration. Even without technical or script changes though, Johansson’s terrible performance keeps the potential down. Hartnett’s performance is excellent (but only surprising given that awful trailer) and the character’s arc is excellent, but there’s such a disconnect with between the actors and the script (some of them anyway), the script and the director and the director and the actors, I wonder if De Palma even read Ellroy’s novel. Actually, given the film’s focus at the beginning–regardless of his oeuvre’s quality and his place in the film medium, De Palma knows something about how to make a movie by now–and the plot developments and the end, I wonder if De Palma even read the script in its entirety before filming.



Directed by Brian De Palma; written by Josh Friedman, based on the novel by James Ellroy; director of photography, Vilmos Zsigmond; edited by Bill Pankow; music by Mark Isham; production designer, Dante Ferretti; produced by Art Linson, Avi Lerner, Moshe Diamant and Rudy Cohen; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Josh Hartnett (Bucky Bleichert), Scarlett Johansson (Kay Lake), Aaron Eckhart (Lee Blanchard), Hilary Swank (Madeleine Linscott), Mia Kirshner (Elizabeth Short), Mike Starr (Det. Russ Millard), Fiona Shaw (Ramona Linscott), Patrick Fischler (Deputy DA Ellis Loew), James Otis (Dolph Bleichert), John Kavanagh (Emmett Linscott), Troy Evans (Chief Ted Green), Anthony Russell (Morrie Friedman), Pepe Serna (Tomas Dos Santos), Angus MacInnes (Capt. John Tierney), Rachel Miner (Martha Linscott), Victor McGuire (Sgt. Bill Koenig), Gregg Henry (Pete Lukins), Jemima Rooper (Lorna Mertz), Rose McGowan (Sheryl Saddon) and Kevin Dunn (Mr. Short).

Death Proof (2007, Quentin Tarantino), the extended version

The funny thing about Death Proof is the first half is excellent. With the exception of Sydney Poitier, who is awful, it’s a fantastic hour. Tarantino’s got great editing, great shots, great mood, great conversations, great everything. I had planned on going on and on about it–like, for example, how charming and scary Kurt Russell’s performance is–it’s kind of like he’s playing Elvis again. Or Vanessa Ferlito, who’s excellent. Even how Tarantino really made the retro concept work, with the music and the sound design. When he uses the love theme from Blow Out–even if it’s on a scene with Poitier–it’s real movie magic….

But then there’s the second half of the film, which doesn’t have the retro feel to it. I imagine it’s supposed to mimic Vanishing Point or some other car movie Tarantino really likes, but it’s a piece of unimaginable crap. The conversations are idiotic–the new characters are all in Hollywood and, wow, can stuntwoman Zoe Bell not act. Even forgetting some of the glaring problems–like Russell’s villain is stupid now instead of smart (and he doesn’t reinforce his car as well in the second half)–Tarantino’s casting of Zoe Bell in a speaking, significant role is the biggest flare the film fires. He does not care about making a good film. I mean, Poitier’s bad and all, but she’s at least acting. Bell isn’t. The problem with Death Proof is Tarantino gets to do whatever he wants, which obviously isn’t a situation he works well in. Thinking about it, suffering through the second half, I should have realized the second set of girls wasn’t going to die (except Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who’s left by her friends to be raped and murdered), because it’s all the Tarantino standards, with Tracie Thoms doing a bad job of impersonating Samuel L. Jackson. No way Tarantino is going to kill off Rosario Dawson because to his target audience, Dawson is gold.

Tarantino’s level of disrespect to a thinking viewer is truly amazing and quite surprising. But more so, he fails to do what he set out to do, which was make a retro film with all the film grain, missing frames, bad looping and wear and tear. He flushed the idea once it became his neo-Tarantino movie… and I say neo, because it’s not something he would have done ten years ago. It’s obviously Robert Rodriguez’s influence (Rodriguez, who had so much love for the “Grindhouse” concept, he slapped his CG Troublemaker Studios logo on the front of it, killing the retro feel before the movie even started).

If the film weren’t two hours, I think I’d be more upset… but after suffering through the pathetic second half, I’m just glad it’s over.

Dawson and Winstead are both okay in the second half at the beginning, until Bell shows up and Dawson gets obnoxious (becoming the type of person–knowing full well what’s going to occur–to leave her friend to be raped and murdered) and Winstead becomes a half-wit.

Death Proof is such an insult, I’m so agitated I didn’t even end on that great “I’m glad it’s over” line. Seriously, the person I feel worst for is Russell. The first half is career resurgence, amazing performance, yada yada yada–the second half… he should have not shown up for work and just let Tarantino call Michael Madsen.



Written, directed and photographed by Quentin Tarantino; edited by Sally Menke; production designer, Steve Joyner; produced by Elizabeth Avellan, Robert Rodriguez, Erica Steinberg and Tarantino; released by Dimension Films.

Starring Kurt Russell (Stuntman Mike), Zoe Bell (Zoë Bell), Rosario Dawson (Abernathy), Vanessa Ferlito (Arlene), Sydney Tamiia Poitier (Jungle Julia), Tracie Thoms (Kim), Rose McGowan (Pam), Jordan Ladd (Shanna) and Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Lee).

Scream (1996, Wes Craven), the director’s cut

Poor Matthew Lillard, he was already looking way too old to be a teenager in this one (he was twenty-six). I probably haven’t seen Scream since 2000 or so, sometime before the third one came out. Maybe even further back than that. What I’m trying to say is… I’d actually forgotten how bad Skeet Ulrich is. He’s incredible.

I haven’t been able to see Scream since laserdisc, because there’s an unrated cut that Disney refuses to release stateside. There’s some extra gore and a Freddy Krueger cameo–which is in bad taste if you think about it–nothing to really “enhance” the experience. Still, Nicheflix got the Japanese disc so I rented it (when I was a kid, I had a similar problem with Aliens–my dad had the director’s cut on laser, and I had the theatrical cut VHS, these problems only got worse once I understood letterboxing).

Scream‘s not bad. Wes Craven is a good director (though his cinematographer on Scream couldn’t stop lens distortion, which is kind of embarrassing, if you think about it). The performances run hot and cold. Lillard, for example, is good briefly, not when he’s being loud and obnoxious. He’s such a fantastic, sincere actor, but he never gets roles for anything but the loud prick. Jamie Kennedy–I’d forgotten I even knew who this guy was–is fairly obnoxious and shitty. Courteney Cox, David Arquette, even Rose McGowan, they’re all okay, nothing better. Henry Winkler cameos and is fantastic. The most troubling aspect of Scream isn’t the acting–not even Ulrich–but how indifferent its characters are to death around them. I hadn’t ever thought about it, but a comparison between Scream and O would probably be worthwhile. Scream puts no value on human life….

And no, I’m not going to make a comment about how awful Drew Barrymore was. I could, but I won’t.

Scream does have an important factor, however. One so important, I don’t think I can just dismiss the film. Neve Campbell is an unspeakably wonderful actor. I guess I’d forgotten or it hadn’t occurred to me that my memory of her ability was correct. She’s astoundingly good. I’ve just run through my Blockbuster Online queue and added all her films.

Wait… shit. I had something else. Neve Campbell’s great, Drew Barrymore sucks. Not another Skeet Ulrich joke–what was it….

Nope, I’ve lost it. Damn.

Oh. I remember. Never mind.



Directed by Wes Craven; written by Kevin Williamson; director of photography, Mark Irwin; edited by Patrick Lussier; music by Marco Beltrami; production designer, Bruce Alan Miller; produced by Cary Woods and Cathy Konrad; released by Dimension Films.

Starring David Arquette (Dewey Riley), Neve Campbell (Sidney Prescott), Courteney Cox (Gale Weathers), Skeet Ulrich (Billy Loomis), Rose McGowan (Tatum Riley), Matthew Lillard (Stuart Macher), Jamie Kennedy (Randy Meeks), Drew Barrymore (Casey Becker), Joseph Whipp (Sheriff Burke), Lawrence Hecht (Neil Prescott) and Liev Schreiber (Cotton Weary).

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