Posts Tagged ‘Alex Cox


Walker (1987)

A few lives lost in the name of manifest destiny is nothing, right?

A few lives lost in the name of manifest destiny is nothing, right?

The more Alex Cox I watch, the more I believe Straight to Hell was the anomaly; the one unbelievably crappy movie in a filmography of interesting, worthy stuff, rather than the other way around. I’ve long been a huge fan of Repo Man and Sid & Nancy, and just recently watched Death and the Compass, which, to this day, I’m still not sure how I feel about, but it’s certainly far from terrible.

My Alex Cox study continues with Walker, a biopic about a little-known American… um… “adventurer” who declared himself president of Nicaragua in 1856. A firm believer in Manifest Destiny, William

Walker meets Vanderbilt.

Walker meets Vanderbilt.

Walker (Ed Harris) believed it his God-given right, perhaps even duty, to spread the power of the United States as far as possible. So, after Cornelius Vanderbilt (Peter Boyle) approaches him to take some buddies down South to “stabilize” the country and make it more trade-friendly, Walker goes forth, taking this duty very seriously indeed.

Once there, Walker rides a serious power-trip, names himself president, and declares the answer to the upcoming economic crisis is slavery, and does a whole lot of other despicable Colonialist-type

things that you can read about on Wikipedia. The point is, he’s just another in a long line of nasty, power-hungry racists who think America should stick their nose in everyone else’s business. It’s no coincidence this film was shot in Nicaragua in 1987, amidst the civil war there and the scandal over America’s intervention.



The movie itself is riddled with anachronisms – men riding in carriages are reading Times and Newsweek; everyone’s smoking Marlboros, there are even scenes with cars and helicopters! When this film was released, I guess people were really turned off by that, but I think it’s absolutely brilliant. Walker isn’t really a film about Nicaragua in the 1850’s; instead it’s a film about America’s long, dirty history of influence and intervention in places where it really doesn’t belong. Cox manages to make this painfully clear, and Harris’s deadpan, wide-eyed optimism and faith in America the Beautiful heaps it on pretty thick, too.

Walker beholds as everything crumbles...

Walker beholds as everything crumbles…

You wouldn’t think a movie about such a heavy topic could pull off funny, but it really does. I wouldn’t say laugh-out-loud funny, though there were a few barks and chuckles at the Newsweek. Through Cox’s lens, the swaggering American, swooping in and “saving” the natives seems so absurdly ridiculous, one can’t help but think it’s a joke. But, then you realize not only that it’s not a joke, but a terrible truth that’s still rampant and rotten to this very day. And that’s what’s so gosh darn brilliant about this movie.



Death and the Compass (1992)

Lonnrot poring over a giant book.

Lonnrot poring over a giant book.

I sometimes wonder why Alex Cox isn’t a more prominent cult figure. Q believes it’s because Straight to Hell was such a devastating mess, cult fans must have assumed Repo Man was a fluke; the only good thing Cox is capable of. I suppose that’s possible. After all, I had to turn off Straight to Hell after about 30 minutes; how one can mess up a psychedelic western with Joe Strummer still remains a mystery to me. Even so, it never turned me off from the rest of Cox’s films, and I’m glad it hasn’t. Which brings me to Cox’s interpretation of Jorge Luis Borges’s Death and the Compass.

I’ve never read any Jorge Luis Borges. People tell me I’m missing out, and I’m inclined to believe them. So, when we set down to watch Death and the Compass, we started off by watching a short film from 1977 included on the dvd, Spiderweb. I’m told this is a relatively faithful, straight adaptation of

Red Scharlach

Red Scharlach

the Borges story. I’m definitely glad we watched this first, otherwise, as Q knew beforehand, I would have been all worried about plot mechanics and I would have missed all the interesting stuff in Cox’s version. That should be an indication that this film is sort of all over the place.

Peter Boyle plays Erik Lonnrot, a quirky detective working in a dystopian future. The regime is totalitarian, his city is poor, and there’s a crazed madman named Red Scharlach on the loose. When a rabbi is murdered in his hotel room, they put

Treviranus, our narrator.

Treviranus, our narrator.

Lonnrot on the case. His boss, Treviranus (Miguel Sandoval), thinks this case should be pretty open-and-shut, but Lonnrot is convinced there’s something larger at play here. Some cryptic words on the Rabbi’s typewriter launch Lonnrot into the world of Jewish mysticism, believing this to be the key to solving the crime. 

Honestly, I am not sure exactly what I think of this movie. At times the low budget was painfully visible and did detract a little bit from the overall feel of the film. Still, I think Boyle and Sandoval are both a lot of fun to watch, and it’s fun to watch this movie and say “oh, that’s so Alex Cox.” Do I think this movie will convert folks into giant Alex Cox fans? Probably not, but it’s definitely worth watching; I’m glad I did. In fact, I think this is one of those movies I need to watch over again, because I know a second viewing would open my eyes to a lot of things I missed the first time around. But next time, I’ll make sure to have read the short story first!


Sid and Nancy (1986)

The Sex PIstols play... Texas?

The Sex PIstols play… Texas?

The perfect combination for a high-school aged Schlockwave? Gary Oldman in a movie about Sid Vicious. Ooh, boy oh boy did that make me one tingly teenager. As an adult, it makes me a little less tingly, but for the most part, Alex Cox’s Sid and Nancy stood up to my adoring memory.

Let me start off by saying, yes, this movie is controversial and yes, this movie makes certain assumptions about what happened between Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen. But for a minute,

Toe-sucking is definitely a signature of true love, if you ask me.

Toe-sucking is definitely a signature of true love, if you ask me.

suspend your concern with reality and remember 1) you’re watching a movie and 2) you’re watching an Alex Cox movie.

Now that I’ve got that out of the way, I’m sure you know what this movie sets out to depict: the rise and fall of one of punk rock’s most infamous couples. Sid Vicious meets a down-and-out Nancy Spungen. They fall in love and drug addiction and spiral downward rather quickly amidst the unforgiving London punk scene and a dreadful Sex Pistols

Chloe as Nancy. Also awesome.

Chloe as Nancy. Awesome.

American tour, bottoming out at the famous Chelsea Hotel in New York City, where Nancy Spungen meets a bloody end at the young age of twenty.

The story is sad, and Alex Cox tells it well. It’s easy to forget just how young Sid and Nancy were, as well as the rest of the punk kids that made up the London scene in the late 70’s, but it’s plastered all over Sid and Nancy. Gary Oldman’s Sid Vicious is unable to make decisions for himself. He’s timid and in a strange way, kind and

Sid and Nancy do Paris.

Sid and Nancy do Paris.

loving, too. Chloe Webb’s Nancy Spungen is loud, immature and needy. Both performances are very, very good, and together they paint a very grim picture of addiction indeed.

The movie is not without humor, though, and if you’re familiar at all with the punk rock story, it’s interesting to see Alex Cox’s take on it. There is just enough of Cox’s “out there” imagination to remind the audience that this is an interpretation of someone’s story, not a documentary of it. If you can stand Chloe Webb’s whiny scream, I definitely recommend this. It kinda rules.


Repo Man (1984)

rearviewPunk Rock, Extra-terrestrials, a radioactive Chevy Malibu and Harry Dean Stanton. If that’s not enough to send you running towards Repo Man, you’re a lost cause. Repo Man is, simply put, one of the best movies out there. When folks ask me for recommendations, it’s always on the list. The film itself is chaotic, disjointed, dangling by a thread – and that is what makes it so exciting; you really never know where it’s going. It could fall into the ocean at any moment. And so what if it did?

Otto (Emilio Estevez) is tired of his shitty supermarket job, tired of his girlfriend, tired of being broke. His generic world of “beer” and “food” has educationbored him to tears, but excitement finds him at just the right moment. Bud (Harry Dean Stanton) swindles Otto into his first car repossession by telling him he needs help getting his wife’s car out of a “bad area.” While Otto’s “principles” at first keep him from accepting a permanent position with the “Helping Hand Acceptance Corporation” it isn’t long before the bleak world of Los Angeles presents itself to Otto. With nothing else to do, Otto gives in and starts training under Bud to become a Repo Man.

Otto quickly learns “the life of a repo man’s always intense.” Each one has their own set of principles, and they play by their own rules. Otto, a true punk, has no time for rules and attempts to carve out his own little repo niche. The surrounding cast of characters all help shape IntenseOtto’s new world: the garbage man philosopher Miller, the knitting rent-a-cop, the Dioretix-touting repo man Lite, and the rival repo men The Rodriguez Brothers.

Along the way, Otto falls in with a strange girl named Leila, who claims the Feds are after her because she knows a little too much about a Chevy Malibu with some very dangerous cargo. When Otto finds out the Malibu’s on the repo wire with a ransom of $20,000 he and every other repo man are on the hunt for the strange, elusive vehicle and its mad scientist driver.

WildnwackstreetsRepo Man is one of the most unique movies I’ve ever seen. It’s thoughtful, funny, unpredictable and smart. It’s set in some sort of apocalyptic Los Angeles, a world we recognize but is also alien. A world where you’re always witnessing the tail-end of a robbery; where there’s the constant threat of nuclear fallout. Kids are desperately looking for money, and their best bets are shitty jobs, liquor-store cash registers or dead-beat car owners. What’s brought Los Angeles to these dire straits? The commies? The bomb? Seedy televangelists? The greatest achievement of Repo Man is its ability to maintain a constant, strong thread of humor while portraying the destitute, desperate nature of a society in shambles.


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