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"2 Days In The Valley" Review

 In the wake of groundbreaking independent movies like Clerks, El Mariachi, Reservoir Dogs, and especially Quentin Tarantino's follow-up, Pulp Fiction, Hollywood went on its usual trend-chasing quest to find their own next Kevin Smith, next Robert Rodriguez, and especially next Tarantino and the result was a whole lot of really bad attempts to mimic those successes, all of which failed for the same reason buying Air Jordan's don't allow most people to slam dunk: Dressing like the original isn't the same as being the original.

One of the byproducts of this copycat phase was 1996's 2 Days in the Valley, a completely banal and forgotten-because-it's-forgettable Pulp Fiction-wannabe which squanders a crazily-deep cast on a half-baked Tarantino pastiche and whose only legacy is being the first major role for a 20-year-old South African emigre named Charlize Theron who has a pretty hellacious catfight with co-star Teri Hatcher. 

To explain the plot would spoil the surprises (such as they are), but suffice to say that same as Pulp Fiction's separate stories co-exist in the same shared world where characters intersect at points, the characters of 2 Days almost all end up in the same places by the end. While it's intended to be ironic, it just feels contrived.

From the pair of hitmen (James Spader and Danny Aiello) who murder Teri Hatcher's Olympic skier's ex-husband (Peter Horton) in the opening to the jerky British art dealer (Greg Cruttwell) who berates his poor assistant (Glenne Headly) and whose sister (Marsha Mason, who doesn't have an accent for some reason) and the suicidal TV director (Paul Mazursky) she meets at a cemetery who end up Aiello's hostages to the vice cops who discover the murder (Jeff Daniels and Eric Stoltz) to Spader's girlfriend and honey trap Charlize Theron, they all intersect while Keith Carradine and Louise Fletcher have cameos along the way.

You can't really blame the cast for leaping at what probably sold by their agents as "the next Pulp Fiction" with a modern crime noir plot with twists and turns that echoed Tarantino's masterpiece, but writer-director John Herzfeld is no QT. Primarily a TV director whose previous feature film was the 1983 John Travolta-Olivia Newton-John bomb Two of a Kind (which was airbrushed from his resume when this came out), he simply isn't up to his ambitions, either wordwise or visually. 

While the general plot has potential, it all falls flat and looks like a TV movie. Perhaps if a more talented writer punched up his outline then a better director shot it, 2 Days in the Valley would've been more memorable than Theron's star-making debut. (She's genuinely

To wit, we had wanted to watch this a few weeks ago, but my DVD, which I must've had forever yet never opened, turned out to be a non-anamorphic transfer (meaning on a modern widescreen TV, it appears as a rectangle bordered on all sides by black bars) and that was a non-starter. Only Cinemax had it streaming, but we don't have it. Then YouTube TV had a free weekend and we used it to catch the movie and though we'd seen it when it originally came out, I honestly didn't remember a damn thing about it other than Theron being hot and there being a catfight with Lois & Clark-era Hatcher. I rapidly realized why I'd forgotten it.

Score: 3/10. Skip it and look up Charlize's nude scene on the Internet. 

"Bound" Review

 The Wachowskis - formerly brothers Andy and Larry, now sisters Lily and Lana - will forever be known as "the visionary creators of The Matrix" upon which they have coasted on for two decades through the overstuffed and undercooked sequels and ever-declining levels of commercial and critical success with movies that either exist as bloated spectacles (e.g. Matrix sequels, Jupiter Ascending, Speed Racer) or oddball experiments (e.g. Cloud Atlas) or genderqueer wanks (Netflix's Sense8, whose second season I skipped). 

But mostly forgotten for some reason is their directorial debut (and only second produced screenplay, after Assassins), the 1996 lesbian-Mafia crime thriller Bound. Nothing about it other than one cast member remotely resembles anything they've done since and, frankly, considering how outlandishly overblown their post-Matrix movies have been, perhaps they should get back to basics. Bound is as stripped down a noirish chamber drama can get, yet has one of the most audacious bait-and-switch moves a movie has done while in progress. (Not as drastic as From Dusk Til Dawn where the first half was a crime drama and the back end was a bonkers vampire movie, but still...) 

 It opens with ex-con Corky (Gina Gershon, following up her breakthrough in Showgirls the previous year) arriving at her new job renovating a condo in an old Chicago building. Riding the elevator are Violet (Jennifer Tilly) and her Mafia soldier boyfriend Caesar (Joe Pantoliano) who live in the adjoining unit, whose thin walls allow the sounds of sex (and eventually violence) to penetrate. 

Violet comes over to introduce herself and flirt with Corky, but the latter has heard her and Caesar having sex, so is leery of what may be a tourist. Violet pursues Corky - hard - and it's not long before they're going at it in rather steamy scenes considering it was a quarter century ago. For a movie that was sold as a sexually explicit lesbian movie, it really delivers the goods right up front and doesn't bother teasing the audience.

 But after the "good stuff" in the first 20 minutes comes the rest of the movie: A tight caper story where the girls conspire to steal $2 million in literally laundered money. After beating and torturing a Mob guy suspected of skimming from the Mob in his apartment, Caesar comes home later covered in blood with a large bag filled with blood-soaked money. After retrieving the skimmed cash, the Mob boss's son, Johnny (Christopher Meloni), whacked the guy and it's up to Caesar to clean the currency in preparation of the father, Gino (Richard C. Sarafian), to fly in and pick up the case. Corky and Violet plot a way to get the cash and flee together and hijinks ensue.

While there are a few convenient plot lapses and people being a bit too dumb in order to keep the plot's wheels turning, the Wachowski's script overall is lean and mean, setting things up and paying them off smartly. Their direction is also stylish without being self-indulgent or distracting. 

With her pneumatic figure and baby doll voice, Tilly has generally been thought of as a less than serious actress despite garnering a previous Oscar nomination for Bullets Over Broadway, but she's a seductive gun moll who clearly has the boys (and girl) under her spell. Gershon is sizzling with her butch sneer who both wants to get laid, but also not be some dame's patsy. While a straight actress (not that there's anything wrong with that), she garnered a large lesbian fan base here, many of whom turned up at her promo concerts for 2003's Prey For Rock & Roll as documented in the series Rocked with Gina Gershon

Lost in the glare of their Matrix fame, Bound is almost a trivia question at this point and it shouldn't be. There was a time when compact dramas were viable before everything became $200M VFX extravaganzas - especially in the 1990s when Sundance darlings like Clerks, Reservoir Dogs, Sex, Lies and Videotape were hitting - and Bound is a very good movie on its terms. Come for the cheap thrills, stay for the thriller.

There apparently isn't a very well-mastered Blu-ray of it yet (paging Criterion Collection...) and I didn't want to watch my DVD (gag), so I went with Amazon Prime's version and it looked OK, though had some bad compression artifacts in dark areas in spots, which considering the noirish cinematography by Bill Pope happened several times.

Score: 8.5/10. Catch it on cable. (Currently on Amazon Prime and Hulu.)

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