These days, Quentin Tarantino is apparently too busy being a phenomenon to write or direct, although he’s always available to play some swaggering lowlife in his friends’ films. Fortunately, the auteur of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction has some moldy scripts for those friends to direct, thus both expanding his screenwriting credits and providing him with more swaggering-lowlife parts. Just such a script is From Dusk Till Dawn, written in 1990 from a story by special-effects-makeup executive Robert Kurtzman (whose firm ended up doing those effects). A bloody, tedious frolic through various direct-to-video genres, it was directed by Tarantino pal Robert Rodriguez (whose work includes El Mariachi, Desperado, and the segment that precedes Tarantino’s in the dingy Four Rooms) and features its scripter as bank robber and sex murderer Richie Gecko.

Richie and his older, somewhat more lucid older brother, Seth (George Clooney), have robbed a bank, killed a bunch of people, and are heading for the Mexican border. We meet them at a liquor store, where a robbery turns ultraviolent in a manner that recalls Natural Born Killers. (This scene is one of many elements that closely resemble ones from other Tarantino scripts.) Then it’s on to a seedy motel, where Seth decides that the best conveyance across the border would be an RV driven by Jacob Fuller (Pulp and Dogs star Harvey Keitel), a mild-mannered minister who’s lost his calling since the death of his wife. So the brothers kidnap Jacob and his kids, Scott and Kate (Ernest Liu and Killers star Juliette Lewis), and head for a rendezvous with the Mexican fixer who’s going to provide them safe haven.

The Geckos are supposed to meet their contact at the Titty Twister, a bacchanalian juke-joint that appears to be one-tenth roadhouse, nine-tenths snake-cult temple. The bar’s proprietors and staff (including an exotic dancer played by Salma Hayek and a barker played by Cheech Marin, both seen in Desperado) turn out to be vampires, so the Geckos, the Fullers, and various other not-yet-undead patrons (including former blaxploitation star Fred Williamson and Night of the Living Dead director Tom Savini) must unite to battle the bloodsuckers. After reducing the villains to various forms of special-effects goo, the premise certainly seems to have run its course. In fact, though, there’s another vampire assault in the offing.

Watching the antics of Tarantino, Rodriguez, and their pals—even Kelly Preston, wife of Pulp star John Travolta, has a cameo—I recalled rock’s supergroup and supersession era, when newly rich and successful musicians indulged themselves making half-baked albums that entirely lost the qualities that had made them stars. Dawn must have been such a party for the filmmakers that they lost all thought of the audience; potentially interesting notions and some decent gags are overwhelmed by monomaniacal relentlessness and narcissistic in-jokes. (I assume Tarantino thinks his tiresome turn as a smirky, homicidal foot fetishist is funny.) Rodriguez, who cuts his own films, is a wizard in the editing room, but if Desperado didn’t already make the point, Dusk makes it utterly clear that there’s more to filmmaking than quick cuts.

Informed that its December AFI screenings would be Washingtonians’ last chance to see writer/director Steven M. Martin’s Theremin, I reviewed the film two months ago. Now the Biograph is giving local filmgoers another opportunity, and those interested in any aspect of this kaleidoscopic documentary—which ranges from Lenin to Brian Wilson, bug-eyed-monster flicks to trippy pop-rock, American racism to Soviet totalitarianism—should take it. This terse thriller recounts the life and work (and wide-ranging ramifications thereof) of Leon Theremin, who invented the pioneering synthesizer heard on the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” and the soundtracks of such ’50s Cold War parables as The Day the Earth Stood Still. Martin has structured his film like a mystery, judiciously unveiling each detail of Theremin’s life for maximum surprise, and what he’s managed to reconstruct is wilder in its way than most Hollywood thrillers.CP

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