Drugstore Cowboy, Straight Time, and Misery: Jim Hemphill’s Home Video Recommendations


Pharmacy Cowboy

Gus Van Sant’s masterpiece from 1989 Pharmacy Cowboy is one of the flagship films of its time, a film that is both timeless and totally of It’s time; like the black images of the 1940s it echoes and expands, it’s a weariness reaction to its moment (in this case the age of Reagan and the first Bush) that taps into enduring truths about marginalized and desperate people , but with surprising humor and vitality. Matt Dillon gives one of the best performances of his career as the main character, an addict who feeds his habit not by buying or stealing drugs on the streets but by knocking down pharmacies with an efficient but not particularly brilliant team. comrade junkies which includes his wife (Kelly Lynch) and a protégé and his young girlfriend (James Le Gros and Heather Graham). While the four protagonists engage in heists of varying success while being pursued by a relentless investigator (James Remar), Van Sant finds a unique balance between realism and expressionism (alternating naturalistic drama and hallucinatory flights induced by drugs) and creates a film that is both disciplined (with its precise compositions and elegant camera movements) and freewheeling (thanks to episodic structure and a seemingly improvised acting style). A jaded cry of cinematic disillusion set in 1971, like all great period movies Pharmacy Cowboy also speaks effectively at three different time periods: the time it takes place, the time it was performed and whatever time you watch it; it also occupies a unique moment in the history of cinema as a return not only to the film noir of the 40s (with its monochromatic color palette, rapid pace and sociological resonance) but to the golden age of the years 70 which gave similar films like Who’ll Stop the Rain and Wild lands. Pharmacy Cowboy serves as a bridge between these films and the independent cinema boom of the 90s that Hal Hartley The unbelievable truth, and that of Steven Soderbergh sex, lies and video debuted in 1989. The film is first available on Blu-ray from Imprint with a range of additional new and vintage features, including an outspoken documentary, commentary by Van Sant and Dillon, and an incisive visual essay by Chris O’Neill who breaks down the film’s style, themes and context in the history of American independent cinema.


One of Pharmacy Cowboybest aesthetic history of, the 1978 crime drama Right time, is also new to Blu-ray through the Warner Archive label. Adapted from the novel by ex-convict Eddie Bunker No beast so fierce by a parade of renowned screenwriters including Alvin Sargent, Jeffrey Boam and an uncredited Michael Mann, Right time is an unusually tense and tragic character study of a parolee (Dustin Hoffman) whose sincere efforts to leave his criminal past behind are sorely thwarted by a mean and abusive probation officer (Mr. Emmett Walsh). Watching Hoffman’s character struggle against the forces that oppose him even as he falls in love with a sympathetic and devoted young woman of the “straight” life (Theresa Russell) is so agonizing that the film is at times difficult to understand. watch, but it’s also fascinating from start to finish thanks not only to the ever-increasing tension, but also to a gallery of spectacular supporting players chosen by Hoffman when he planned to direct the film. Kathy Bates, Gary Busey, Harry Dean Stanton and Bunker himself (who will return to play for Quentin Tarantino in the Right time-affecting Tank dogs) each creates characters so fully realized that one imagines entire functionalities that could be made on them, while Hoffman gives one of the best performances of his career as a ball of nervous energy trying – and failing – to stay the course. Director Ulu Grosbard (who took over the directing duties a week after filming began after Hoffman laid off as a director) and cinematographer Owen Roizman apply a no-frills visual style to the material in which each composition and cut serves the performance, letting the scenes unfold with minimal manipulation in a way that sucks the viewer all the more intensely. Hoffman spent years researching the project, spending time with Bunker and other criminals in an attempt to get into their heads and replicate their physique, and his thoroughness was clearly contagious – his fellow performers as well as his collaborators behind the camera (especially production designer Stephen Grimes) all demonstrate an eye for detail that makes Right time a classic of the genre. The Warner Archive Blu-ray includes an audio commentary by Hoffman and Grosbard that is packed with interesting information about the history and techniques of the film.

Right time marked the on-screen debut of Kathy Bates (not to mention a cameo appearance in the Milos Forman film To take off, where she was credited as “Bobo” Bates), but the film that made her a star 12 years later, Misery, is also available in a new home video edition – a pristine 4K UHD upgrade from Kino Lorber. Essentially a two-player game between James Caan as an incapacitated novelist and Bates as his psychotic “number one fan.” Misery is an extremely elaborate suspenseful exercise that draws a lot of personal investment from everyone involved, starting with the film’s source writer, Stephen King. The story plays out like the author’s riff on Stardust memories, a poisoned pen letter to his most obsessive fans, and the acid at the center of the story is beautifully expressed by Caan’s constipated and frustrated performance; he was Reiner’s last choice after William Hurt, Harrison Ford, Warren Beatty and others turned down the role, but he couldn’t be more perfect given his usual athleticism – you can feel his angst of being trapped in one room in each picture. The film is also clearly autobiographical for Reiner; as he notes in his audio commentary, Caan’s character’s desperate desire to break out of the romance rut he was cataloged into reflects Reiner’s struggle for years to be seen as someone more. serious and varied in his talents as the “meathead” of All in the family. Combine all of that with Bates seizing the opportunity to finally show the world what she could do and Barry Sonnenfeld saying goodbye to his filmmaking career with a big Hitchcockian bloom, and you’ve got a thriller that’s pure blast from start to finish. the end. Speaking of Sonnenfeld, Kino has also released a beautiful new Blu-ray from his second directorial effort, the charming 1993 comedy. For love or money. Michael J. Fox and Gabrielle Anwar are at their best in this sweet and hilarious romance that’s as visually inventive as it is verbally right (Mark Rosenthal and Lawrence Konner’s screenplay is reminiscent of Howard Hawks’ wacky comedies in its speed and wit), and which deserves to be better known and admired. The Kino Blu-ray features a full audio commentary from entertainment reporter Bryan Reeseman, who runs through an abundance of interesting facts about the film and its creators throughout For love or moneythe fast operating time of 95 minutes.

Jim Hemphill is a Los Angeles-based filmmaker and film historian. Its website is www.jimhemphillfilms.com.



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