September 27, 2005 – Quentin Tarantino (“Pulp Fiction”, “Kill Bill: Vol. 1”) came to Austin recently to host his sixth Quentin Tarantino Film Festival, during which he shows films from his personal collection. I was lucky enough to be able to attend a couple of screenings during the nine night event, which was held at the Alamo Drafthouse (www.drafthouse.com), the hands down coolest theater chain in the world.
Each night of QT Fest has a theme. The first night I attended, the theme was Italian Crime Films of the ’70s. There were three films shown that night, but I only made the last one, a midnight showing of a film entitled “The Sell-Out”.
One of the coolest features of many of the Drafthouse cinemas is that they are restaurants slash movie theaters. You can order and are served food and beverages throughout the film. I had some quesadillas, which were very tasty, and which I washed down with my equally tasty beverage of choice, iced tea. And as I did so, I couldn’t help but notice a few notable faces amongst the crowd, most notably:
WARNING! GRATUITOUS NAME-DROPPING PORTION OF THE BLOG AHEAD! PLEASE PROCEED WITH CAUTION!
RZA of Wu-Tang Clan (scored “Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai”, “Kill Bill: Vol. 1”, “Kill Bill: Vol. 2”, and acted alongside GZA and Bill Murray in Jim Jarmusch’s “Coffee and Cigarettes”)
Richard Linklater (directed “The School of Rock”, “Before Sunrise”, and “Slackers”)
John Pierson (subject of documentary “Reel Paradise”, the book “Spike, Mike, Slackers & Dykes” chronicles how he helped directors Spike Lee, Richard Linklater, Michael Moore, and Kevin Smith get started)
Nicky Katt (actor, “Boston Public”, “Dazed and Confused”)
Robert Rodriguez (directed the “El Mariachi” series, “Spy Kids” series, and “Sin City”)
Harry Knowles of “Ain’t It Cool News” (www.aintitcool.com)
THIS HAS BEEN AN UNNECESSARY NAME-DROPPING SEGMENT. HAD THIS BEEN A NECESSARY NAME-DROPPING SEGMENT, IT WOULD’VE APPEARED IN A MUCH MORE WIDELY READ BLOG. WE NOW RETURN YOU TO YOUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED BLOG, ALREADY IN PROGRESS.
Quentin introduces each film, discussing how he acquired the print, the principle players involved (director, cast members, etc…), and a lot of peripheral (read: off topic, but interesting) subjects as well. One of the things he mentioned about his cut of “The Sell-Out” was that it was missing a scene, which without it we don’t know whether two characters sleep with one another or not. So, it’s pretty much left up to you to decide whether they did the deed or not. Honestly, there are so many double and triple crosses throughout the film that it ultimately doesn’t even really matter whether they did or didn’t.
I enjoyed parts of “The Sell-Out”, especially the end car chase, but overall was not that impressed by it. What or rather who I was very impressed by, however, were its two leads, Richard Widmark (“The Alamo”, “Against All Odds”, “Bear Island”) and Oliver Reed (“Gladiator”, “Oliver!”). In the film they play Gabriel Lee (Reed) and Sam Lucas (Widmark), two former friends and fellow CIA operatives. A rift developed between them, however, when Lee switched to the other side, the Soviets. Lucas went on to retire with his old lady, Deborah (Gayle Hunnicutt), who, incidentally, happened to be Lee’s former lover, taking up residence in Israel. Problems arise when the top brass from both sides, U.S. and U.S.S.R., join forces to “downsize” each of their respective operations one operative at a time, and Lee becomes the next target on their list. He is sent on a mission to Israel that turns out to be a setup, which he escapes, taking up refuge with his old “buddy” and colleague and his ex, both of whom may be part of the setup or being setup themselves. As the story unfolds, a quote from “The Godfather” seems to be the driving force behind it (“It’s not personal. It’s strictly business.”), and an old adage the ultimate lesson of it: “All’s fair in love and war.”
“The Sell-Out” seems to be a precursor to “The Bourne Identity” and “Ronin” type espionage thrillers. It’s action is dated, but its performances, especially the gritty and charismatic turn by Reed, and the grizzle-filled, righteous, reckless abandon infused one by Widmark, sizzle, hitting every right note. The locations are breathtaking. Every ounce of Israel’s awe, majesty, and beauty ooze from the screen. And as previously mentioned, the end car chase is one for the books. Basically, the parts of “The Sell-Out” are worth the price of admission, even if, as a whole, it doesn’t quite live up to their charms.