Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
Actors: John Voldstad, Barry Cutler, Nikoletta Skarlatos, Pedro Aldana, Donna Pieroni
Director: Les Bernstien
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Horror, Mystery & Suspense
In this dark and dangerous Film Noir-meets-German Expressionism directorial debut from veteran visual effects man Les Bernstien, paunchy ex-con Joe Butcher heads South of the Border, tumbling head first into the boiling va... more »
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Wearing its heart on its sleaze...
LGwriter | Astoria, N.Y. United States | 09/02/2003
(3 out of 5 stars)
"The guy who made this film, Les Bernstein, achieved great success as a visual effects cinematographer (Fight Club being one of his major triumphs in that role) and his visual expertise shows here--as well as his familiarity with a number of older films. The older films he pays homage to are a motley group and include Orson Welles' Touch of Evil, Herschel Gordon Lewis' gorefests, and a slew of German Expressionist works (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari chief among them).Bernstein has concocted a sleazy neo-noir (although neo-noir is not quite the right term; sleazo-noir is more like it) in which an overweight California slob hears his brother's been killed in Tijuana and goes down to investigate. Once there he meets an odd assortment of characters, all of whom either knew his brother or in some way were involved with him. The slob, Joe, and his brother Zack were both bank robbers; Joe's just been released from the hoosegow and that's when he goes down south of the border to check things out.What Joe finds are: news about a snuff film ring, a Mexican-American stripper who's suffered a family tragedy, a nasty dwarf who loves to torture people, and a big woman who can't stand dirty clothes. He also finds Sam, a sympathetic transplanted American drunk who keeps telling him to leave Tijuana because it's the same as being in Hell.Bernstein makes generous use of Expressionist-styled cinematography, even going so far as to, later in the film, have Joe made up to look like a corpulent Dr. Caligari--with dark circles around his eyes. Here also are frequent dream sequences, or, more accurately, hallucinatory sequences produced from Joe's frequent imbibing of ultra-cheap wine called, interestingly, Night Train. The visual imagery on display during these surreal passages is definitely impressive.The actors talk EMED, a term I use to refer to a certain manner of speaking in indiependent films. EMED is European Metaphoric English Dialogue. What does that mean? This refers to the use of the English language in a simplified format, making it easy for video distributors in other countries to translate the English into whatever native language is spoken where the distributors are. This is not necessarily a bad thing; in this film, because of the obviously exaggerated nature of the story, the characters, and the events, EMED works very well. (For a bad example of EMED at work, see the last Samuel Fuller film, Street of No Return). Though short, Night Train carries with it the feel of a full-length film because of its heady imagery and archetypal characters. There's enough visual intelligence on display here, in fact, to make the characters archetypal rather than stereotypical. The director's heart is in the right place; he knows not to completely overload the viewer with the gore and sleaze that would otherwise drag this down to a much lower level. There is heart here, too; we feel sorry for Joe because of his half-naive, all-drunk wandering around, not knowing exactly where he is or what he's doing, but knowing he needs sex and booze and, maybe, to find out about who killed his brother.While not a complete success, this is an interesting film and worth viewing, especially for those who have an interest in down and dirty noir..."
Get out of Tijuana. It's a bad place.
Steven Hellerstedt | 07/31/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Joe Butcher is the unlikeliest of heroes. He's overweight, none too bright and on a seemingly endless bender. Joe Butcher is in Tijuana trying to discover what happened to his brother Zack. They say he was killed when a car ran him over, but Joe ain't buying that story.
John Volstad, the other brother Daryl on the Newhart Show, plays Butcher. As drawn by first-time director Les Bernstein and splendidly played by Volstad, Butcher is a bull in the ring, surrounded by matadors and picadors, stained and blooded and fearless.
NIGHT TRAIN has a noirish, realistic feeling to it. On the commentary track Bernstein mentions that critics have compared it to Welles' TOUCH OF EVIL, and that seems about right. Bernstein's Tijuana is raw and red-lit, or at least as red-lit as a black and white movie can be. For economic reasons almost all of this low budget film was shot in Tijuana. The action takes place on the real streets and bars and junk yards of the city. Bernstein, a special effects photographer whose credits include FIGHT CLUB and THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, deftly captures and delivers Tijuana in all its shabby glory. One of the drawbacks of the process, though, is capturing sound. The characters dubbed their lines after the shots were filmed and canned. Considering the way the filmmakers are able to get deep under Tijuana's skin, it seems a fair compromise.
I liked NIGHT TRAIN a lot. I like the idea of strapping a story onto the back of a portly, drunk and dirty character and putting him into a rough and run-down environment. The little known and little used actors are surprisingly good. Barry Cutler plays Sam, the rail-thin `resident American drunk' who befriends Butler and sometimes guides him through the dangerous ways and byways of Tijuana. Nikoletta Skarlatos, who has more credits as a make-up artist than as an actor, plays stripper and sometimes prostitute Bobby with a level of skill that belies her resume.
NIGHT TRAIN uses some visual tricks, not surprising considering Bernstein's background, that are unusual for a movie with a modest budget. The most innovative is a flashback seen from the bottom of a toilet bowl Butcher is retching into. There are a number of montage, flashback sequences. A few too many, perhaps. The one that is the most grating occurs near the end of the movie. It's incorporated into a torch song sung by Bobby. Why show a series of clips from a movie we've just seen? In the commentary Bernstein says it's a device used in Spanish and Mexican movies, but it feels intrusive and braking here. The final showdown is a bit of a letdown as well. It feels a little artificial in a movie that is relentlessly realistic.
NIGHT TRAIN's special features include:
- Text biographies of John Volstad and Les Bernstein.
- Music video prequel. Five minute Bernstein directed music video exploring some of the themes that would be developed in NIGHT TRAIN, i.e., claustrophobia, etc.
- A twenty-two minute short film that was produced in the early `90s and shopped around while the filmmakers were trying to get financing for NIGHT TRAIN. This is interesting in that it shows the evolution of the movie. The original score was quite bluesy and jazzy, and the short film has a more polished, traditional film noir style. The full length feature would have a gritty, documentary look to it, and the score would feature the surf guitar stylings of Marco Aldaco.
- A storyboard for a night dream sequence montage consisting of a number of still line drawings.
- Publicity. Reprinted text reviews of NIGHT TRAIN.
- How to Make a Caesar Salad. A color, shot on video, 11-minute documentary showing a waiter preparing a Caesar Salad in the restaurant of the hotel in Tijuana where the dish was created.
- Welcome to Tijuana - A 13-minute video on the making of NIGHT TRAIN.