A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 366 – Repo Man

Repo Man – March 1st, 2011

I know I mentioned it yesterday, but I still find it weird to think that we’ve been at this for a year. And what’s really great about it is that I’ve seen so many movies that I’ve always meant to see and never gotten around to. And not just stuff that we already had lying around the apartment. I mean, last night’s movie? Yes, when it came out we meant to see it. When it came out on DVD we meant to see it. We bought it and never put it in. That was the original purpose of this project, to justify owning the movies we own. And then we started buying more and collecting other movies I’d meant to see but which we didn’t own yet. Like this one. A cult classic I must have heard references to a million times and never watched myself.

Now, I’d always been told that this was a weird movie, and make no mistake, it is. It’s about a cadre of repo men, a couple of car thieves, some punks and a van full of quasi-governmental UFO chasers trying to track down a Chevy Malibu that might have aliens in the trunk. Weird is a rather inadequate word for all that. And I think part of the movie’s charm is that it could have been some slick and utterly cheesy sci-fi flick, but it’s not. It’s awkward and gritty and idiosyncratic in just the right combination. There’s something about the tone of it, with the off-hand strangeness of the world it’s set in and the characters who inhabit it, that reminds me of Buckaroo Banzai. It’s all just so matter-of-fact and yet off-kilter. I like that.

The movie follows Otto, a punk kid turned repo man. Otto starts out kind of aimless and really, despite the repo gig he remains aimless. He doesn’t seem to really enjoy the work. He gets shot at, beat up, chased. He doesn’t seem to like most of his coworkers who are, admittedly, a bunch of jerks much of the time. And his old friends are running around town holding up liquor stores and stealing drugs. His parents are stoned all the time and obsessed with some televangelist. Why should he care about anything? Why would he? And really, the same could be said about most of the people in this movie. They all seem to be looking for something to give a damn about, except Leila, a girl Otto meets while he’s driving a car back to the lot. Leila cares about aliens.

The movie bounces back and forth between the various groups involved. The Chevy Malibu changes hands several times, starting with a mysterious man wearing a pair of glasses with one blacked out frame, then the Rodriguez brothers grab it, then the punks grab it from them, then the guy gets it back from the punks, then Otto manages to get behind the wheel, then his coworker, Bud, nabs it. It goes all over, and something is very strange about that car. It’s overheated inside, and the trunk? Well. You don’t want to look in the trunk (in a similar way that you might not want to look inside Rincewind’s Luggage). The UFO chasers show up in the background over and over. Men in white hazmat suits carry off bodies. The punks are all over the place. There’s always something in the background. Someone always shows up from earlier in the movie. It’s oddly insular in the way that small towns are.

The feel of the movie is more than a little surreal, with the generic food and drink everywhere (beer just labeled Beer and the like, including a tin of Food – Beef Flavored) and all of Otto’s beer-named coworkers (Miller, Bud, Lite). It’s like everything’s just off from the center. A little out of focus. A little self-conscious about itself. So even though it’s bouncing around from faction to faction and all, it never quite loses sight of being a movie about a Chevy Malibu and aliens. You can’t make a serious movie about that. It has to have some level of awareness about itself and this movie hits that note just perfectly. It hits every note. Like a John Cage piece. Odd and not played on the instruments you expect and probably unsettling and a little gimmicky but fun all the same.

March 1, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Repo Man

March 1, 2011

Repo Man

I really wanted to watch this movie right after we reviewed Southland Tales, but at the time we didn’t own it. I had seen Repo Man many years ago – some time in the eighties – and it made an impression on me. In particular the iconic crazy ending sequence stuck in my mind and Southland Tales reminded me of it in a lot of ways.

I freely admit that I missed the entire punk scene in the eighties. I knew only the kind of distilled cliche of punk that made it to the mainstream media. Like the annoying guy on the bus in Star Trek IV that Spock does the nerve pinch on. I get the feeling that this movie is a lot closer to the real world of punk, even though it spends most of its time poking fun at the stereotypes. But the whole attitude of the movie, which is kind of a giant raised middle finger to “the man” and the notion of normality, has that rebel air to it. There’s also a kind of edgy zero budget guerrilla film feel to the movie.

It’s a movie about people living on the fringes of society. Our anti-hero “Otto” is a slacker who at the start of the movie gives up on his menial stock-boy job and doesn’t really have any plan for his life. He encounters a repo-man named Bud who believes in a code and has a work ethic, but is using every con and trick he knows to steal cars from deadbeats who are behind on their payments. Bud takes Otto under his wing and tries to show him how to make it in the edgy, fast paced, dangerous world of the professional car repossession business.

All that is fairly normal. But there’s something else going on in this movie. For one thing the world Otto inhabits is one of odd co-incidences. There are running gags like the trio of punks (led by a friend and ex-girlfriend of Otto’s) who rob every convenience store Otto goes in to. There’s Otto’s nerdy friend Kevin who seems to show up in all the oddest places. There’s the fact that all the groceries and consumer products in this world are generic items with white labels and bold blue print. Miller, the mechanic at the lot where Bud and all his repo buddies work, seems well aware of just how strange the world they live in is. He has it all figured out.

Of course the coolest, and strangest, thing in this movie is contained in the trunk of a ‘64 Chevy Malibu that everybody wants to get their hands on. There’s a group of UFO freaks that wants it. There’s a shady MiB group with geiger counters, hazmat suits and a sinister cyborg leader. And there’s a $20,000 bounty on the car so naturally every repo man in LA wants it was well.

The whole charm of this movie is that it’s so incoherent. It is far more lucid than Southland Tales of course (though I still maintain that Southland Tales was in part inspired by this film) but it revels in its own sense of farce. There’s a good deal of wry comedy to the film, but it’s not necessarily played for laughs. Instead it tries to be funny by messing with your head, which is a much cooler way to do it. There are a lot of subtle gags that you won’t necessarily catch on the first viewing, which is cool as well because when your watching this movie you don’t necessarily think of it as subtle.

I miss the drugged out head-trip sci-fi of the eighties. This movie fits right in with Videodrome and The Naked Lunch. Just with a much smaller budget. It’s an edgy, weird micro genre that I don’t think exists any more. That’s kind of too bad.

March 1, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment