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Four Rooms DVD Review (2011 Echo Bridge Edition)

Four Rooms (1995) movie poster Four Rooms

Theatrical Release: December 22, 1995 / Running Time: 98 Minutes / Rating: R / Songs List

Writers/Directors: Allison Anders, Alexandre Rockwell, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino

Cast: Tim Roth (Ted the Bellhop), Antonio Banderas (Man), Jennifer Beals (Angela), Paul Calderon (Norman), Sammi Davis (Jezebel), Amanda de Cadenet (Diana), Valeria Golino (Athena), Kathy Griffin (Betty), Marc Lawrence (Sam the Bellhop), Madonna (Elspeth), David Proval (Sigfried), Ione Skye (Eva), Quentin Tarantino (Chester Rush), Lili Taylor (Raven), Marisa Tomei (Margaret), Tamlyn Tomita (Wife), Alicia Witt (Kiva), Lana McKissack (Sarah), Danny Verduzco (Juancho), Patricia Vonne Rodriguez (Corpse), Salma Hayek (TV Dancing Girl), Lawrence Bender (Long Hair Yuppie Scum), Quinn Thomas Hellerman (Baby Bellhop), Unruly Julie McClean (Left Redhead), Laura Rush (Right Redhead), Paul Skemp (Real Theodore), Bruce Willis (Leo - uncredited)

Buy Four Rooms on DVD from Amazon.com

Think you know all of Quentin Tarantino's movies? Sure, you can probably quote Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction extensively. I'm certain you've seen Inglourious Basterds. It wouldn't surprise me if you were more familiar than I am with his two Kill Bill movies, his scene in Sin City, and his half of Grindhouse. Bonus points if you appreciate Jackie Brown and if you recognize True Romance as Tarantino's second produced feature screenplay.
Aside from an episode of "ER", a "CSI" two-parter, the vampire horror movie From Dusk Till Dawn, a short, and an unfinished film, that nearly covers Tarantino's entire writing and directing filmography. You can probably guess the one credit I left out. It's Four Rooms.

Tarantino's follow-up to his career-defining, Oscar-winning Pulp Fiction, 1995's Four Rooms is an anthology film giving around twenty minutes each to Tarantino, his From Dusk Till Dawn, Sin City and Grindhouse collaborator Robert Rodriguez, and less accomplished auteurs Allison Anders and Alexandre Rockwell. Though generally forgotten and far less loved than any of Tarantino's other works, Four Rooms stands as an interesting time capsule of the 1990s independent film boom. Hollywood was excited by the arrival of up-and-coming filmmakers and none more than Tarantino, who famously rose not from film school or apprenticeship but from a Manhattan Beach video rental shop, where he developed an extensive knowledge and appreciaton of cinema on the giving and accepting of customer recommendations.

"The Missing Ingredient" is semen and Eva (Ione Skye), from the Honeymoon Suite coven of witches, intends to get it from Ted the Bellhop (Tim Roth). In "The Wrong Man", Sigfried (David Proval) is in a jealous rage over the supposed infidelities of his wife Angela (Jennifer Beals).

Four Rooms establishes its premise in its opening scene. It's New Year's Eve at the Hotel Mon Signor, one of Hollywood's hottest haunts in the 1930s through early 1950s. Times have changed, though, and the hotel is now a mere shadow of its past glory. Once just one of fifty employees, Sam (Marc Lawrence) is now the hotel's only staff member and after fifty years of service, he hands his bellhop hat over to Ted (Tim Roth, in his third and, to date, final performance for Tarantino). Ted's first day on the job is sure an eventful one. After an animated titles sequence, on which legendary Looney Tunes animator Chuck Jones served as creative consultant, the film begins in earnest.

First up is The Missing Ingredient, a segment written/directed by Allison Anders, who helmed a couple of smaller films in the '90s and has since worked exclusively and scarcely in television. This weak opening finds a coven of witches claiming the Honeymoon Suite, where they conspire to resurrect their goddess, a starlet who disappeared decades earlier. Each of the women (played by the likes of Lili Taylor, Rain Man's Valeria Golino, and a Razzie-winning Madonna) add an essential item to the group's cauldron: virgin's blood, sweat from men's thighs, and so on. One witch, Eva (Say Anything...'s Ione Skye), has failed to acquire her component (semen). The others give her an hour and Ted the bellhop $50 to provide the missing link. This plays as oddly as it sounds and it would feel chauvinist and exploitative (breasts are liberally bared) if not directed by a woman otherwise most known for a feminist film (Gas Food Lodging, also starring Skye). You can call this titillative, but few would call it good.

The second part is even worse. From Alexandre Rockwell, the unknown maker of five of Steve Buscemi's most obscure movies, The Wrong Man brings Ted (a role actually written for Buscemi) to Room 404. Instead of the party that needed ice, he finds a tense scene: a man (Mean Streets' David Proval) wields a gun and a temper as his wife Angela (Flashdance's Jennifer Beals, Rockwell's real wife at the time) is bound and gagged. The man, Sigfried, has no doubt that the bellhop, whom he calls Theodore, has been a part of Angela's extramarital affair. It's a classic misunderstanding scenario, only it goes nowhere for minutes until Angela, now ungagged, begins talking up Theodore's endowment with a littany of slang terms. A look at IMDb's memorable quotes page reveals that almost 60 terms are uttered in succession and since "rumple foreskin" appears to be the segment's creative apex, it feels like a completely pointless piece lifted in part from a naughty seventh grader's notebook.

With a cigarette and champagne, unsupervised kids Juancho (Danny Verduzco) and Sarah (Lana McKissack) live up to the title of their Robert Rodriguez segment, "The Misbehavers." In "The Man from Hollywood", Ted the Bellhop (Tim Roth) gets a very roundabout request from director Chester Rush (Quentin Tarantino) and his drunken penthouse party (Paul Calderon, Jennifer Beals, and Bruce Willis).

Things improve over in Room 309, where we get Robert Rodriguez's The Misbehavers. Rodriguez's career is one of the most prominent and curious dichotomies in Hollywood, as he manages to make both super violent action flicks (Machete, Once Upon a Time in Mexico) and family adventures (the Spy Kids series), employing several of the same actors in both. This segment may be the one credit on his résumé that finds the middle ground between those two extremes. It's as R-rated as everything else here, but the lead characters are children and multicultural ones at that. A man (Antonio Banderas, reteaming with Rodriguez a week after wrapping Desperado)
and his wife (Tamlyn Tomita) get dressed up to celebrate the holiday on the town. At the last minute, the father decides to leave their two young kids at the hotel. Ted is paid $500 to check in on them and cater to their needs, which prove to be numerous, as Sarah (Lana McKissack) and Juancho (Danny Verduzco) smoke, drink, watch smutty TV (Salma Hayek dancing in her underwear), and play darts with a found hypodermic needle. And just wait until these siblings find the real source of the room's rank smell, which they blame on each other's feet. Telling an interesting story in a fairly compelling dark comedy fashion, this is the film's best portion.

Before getting to the final short, there is some linking material (whose writing and direction are, like the prologue, uncredited). It has Ted recapping his hellish first night in a phone call to his unknown boss Betty (Kathy Griffin), conducted primarily with crack-smoking video gamer Margaret (then-recent Oscar winner Marissa Tomei). It's a good bit that lends some needed continuity to the proceedings.

The film concludes with The Man from Hollywood, Tarantino's contribution that is every bit as identifiable as Rodriguez's piece is to him. Ted's final call is to the penthouse being occupied by hot, proud film director Chester Rush (played, of course, by Tarantino himself). The short is a venue for Tarantino to rant both as actor and as writer. Chester condemns America for not valuing Jerry Lewis, spouts out his film's domestic grosses, and accepts the assortment of items he requested from Ted, to whom this experience is as puzzling as earlier ones. Speaking fastly and feverishly in long continuous takes, Chester/Tarantino eventually comes to the point, which is that he and his equally drunk entourage (an uncredited and unpaid Bruce Willis, Beals reprising her Wrong Man role, and almost-Jules Winnfield Paul Calderon) are about to recreate a wager they saw on "Alfred Hitchcock Presents." In the episode (which they erroneously call "The Man from Rio"), a character played by Steve McQueen bets one played by Peter Lorre his pinky finger that he can successfully light his lighter ten consecutive times. Ted is hired, at high cost, to wield the hatchet and collect the debt in case of failure. It's 99% set-up and the other 1% is the segment and film's attention-grabbing closing. While this indulgent piece illustrates some of Tarantino's less desirable filmmaking qualities and stands as one of the worst features bearing his name (challenged only by From Dusk...), it still handily qualifies as Four Rooms' second best sketch.

That testifies to the film's weaknesses, which don't really lessen when considering the whole separately from the sum of the parts. A rundown hotel that thrived in Hollywood's glory days is an interesting setting, faintly reminiscent of Disney's Tower of Terror thrill ride. But only Tarantino's part touches on that angle of the building and only in a chatty referential way. There is some tonal commonality to the pieces, as each has that '90s indie cinema feel that Tarantino most clearly represents. But they're kind of all over the place and the first two feel like trashy B-movie tripe, the kind that Tarantino and Rodriguez can't seem to get over paying homage to. Roth doesn't help matters. A capable dramatic actor, he is supposed to be broadly comedic here, like a verbal Mr. Bean, but comes up short with a twitchy, unappealing performance you don't enjoy as the common thread.

Ted the Bellhop (Tim Roth) grows more frazzled as New Year's Eve, his maddening first day on the job, progresses.

Four Rooms is one of 251 titles in Miramax's library whose home video distribution rights were recently acquired by Echo Bridge Home Entertainment. The partnership was announced in February six days after Lionsgate and its international partner Studiocanal were given the rights to 550 additional Miramax titles. Lionsgate got most of the prestigious and popular films made by the studio formerly run by Harvey and Bob Weinstein, movies like Chicago, Shakespeare in Love, Pulp Fiction, and Good Will Hunting. The smaller Echo Bridge inherited the rest of the catalog, which the titles highlighted in their press release (Marvin's Room, Tsotsi, and the entire From Dusk Till Dawn trilogy) confirm as being lower profile.

You may not be very familiar with Echo Bridge. While my DVD collection numbers in the four figures, I could only find two purchases from them in my possession: some melodramatic mid-'90s TV movies (which I highly recommend for the unique entertainment value the passing of fifteen years has given them).
The studio seems to be driven by volume and value. An Amazon search yields over 2,500 results, few of which sell for over $20 (almost all of them, Marketplace titles that have gone out of print). Echo Bridge is big on bundling similar titles (one of my two discs is a Hilary Swank Double Feature co-starring a veritable cast of '90s sitcom stars) and selling them at a reasonable price.

The studio is rolling out Miramax product as fast as they can, issuing new DVD editions practically every week since starting in early April. On DVD, the movies have been given list prices of $6.99 for one movie, $9.99 for two, and $19.99 for four. Only a few Blu-rays have been released (most of them from Dimension-branded horror series like Halloween, Hellraiser, and The Crow, and the rest star-driven titles), with single movies carrying a $19.99 SRP and double features $24.99 SRP.

Four Rooms resurfaces on DVD this week, over twelve years after debuting on the format, back when Miramax was under Weinstein management and an integral part of the Disney family.

Four Rooms (1995) Echo Bridge DVD cover art -- click to buy DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: None
Not Closed Captioned
Release Date: June 28, 2011
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)
Suggested Retail Price: $6.99
Black Keepcase
Previously released on DVD by Buena Vista Home Entertainment

VIDEO and AUDIO

Since Four Rooms was not enhanced for 16:9 screens back in 1999 and is not yet receiving a Blu-ray release, it is perfectly valid to wonder if Echo Bridge has treated the film to an anamorphic presentation. The answer to that question, not found on the vague packaging, is yes. Four Rooms appears in its original 1.85:1 widescreen theatrical aspect ratio. The movie shows its age, looking like an independent movie from the mid-1990s.
Colors are a little on the drab side and there is modest detail, but the element is clean and the picture sharp enough. You may spot the occasional white speck, which would be frowned upon on a more important and more dramatically restored movie. Here, it's hardly worth mentioning and certainly no great threat to enjoyment. Knowing that Echo Bridge doesn't have the greatest of reputations with the most passionate of videophiles, I was quite pleased with Four Rooms' appearance here.

The case unhelpfully labels Four Rooms soundtrack as "Dolby Digital" and I can confirm it is a 2.0 track. Disney's DVD supposedly offered a Dolby Surround mix. One of my least favorite things about my Sony Blu-ray system is how it doesn't indicate the soundtrack configuration and doesn't seem to content to distribute it as encoded. As such, audio emanated from all my speakers during playback, but the rear channels just seemed to duplicate the front, suggesting this was a basic 2.0 stereo mix and not a true surround one. In any event, this is not a film driven by sound (particularly not by Tarantino standards). Dialogue is crisp and intelligible throughout. That makes the complete lack of both subtitles and closed captioning a tad more conscionable. But that lack of effort still distinguishes this disc from those of bigger studios.

The main menu of Echo Bridge's barebones DVD is undoubtedly more animated than the previous DVD release that Disney gave "Four Rooms." Featured here: Tim Roth, Lawrence Bender, David Proval, and topless Ione Sky.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

There is better reason for the packaging's vagueness regarding bonus features. None are provided here. In the absence of dubs and subtitles, all we find is an animated main menu and scene selection screens. The former loops clips from three different segments in a triptych
(even displaying some of Ione Skye's extended nudity up front) while both play excerpts of one of the score's many songs by lounge band Combustible Edison.

While Four Rooms apparently wasn't joined by its trailer on the Disney DVD release, I wonder if such things need to be licensed in general by Echo Bridge. Such a preview would have been welcome here. I've included a YouTube video trailer here, which notably features a moment from a Kathy Griffin scene cut from the film.

The cover art drops the widescreen banner, director names, and Pulp Fiction connection from Disney's DVD, while shrinking the twelve actors billed (and replacing Calderon's name with Tarantino's), and adding some color. The rear cover retains Roger Ebert's quote "Antonio Banderas is Hilarious", which overstates the actor's few minutes of screentime, as does the front and spine's depiction of him, Madonna, and I don't even know who (the barely seen Amanda De Cadenet?). I understand that Bruce Willis can't be advertised, since his unpaid performance (a favor to Tarantino) violated Screen Actors Guild rules and conceded credit to avoid a lawsuit. But at least show actors who make more than passing appearances, like Skye and Beals.

Naturally, there are no inserts inside the keepcase, which is an Eco-Lite, not an Eco-Box and therefore doesn't feature those protection-reducing cut-outs on front and back.

At a time when she was more active in film, Madonna played Elspeth, one of the Honeymoon Suite witches in the film's first segment. "The Misbehavers" does not end well for Room 309, but Ted (Tim Roth) still puts on a smile.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Four Rooms is something you should see, especially if you enjoy the films of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. It is not a movie many will choose to rewatch frequently, but the two more famous directors' segments are at least interesting in the context of their careers and the whole thing intrigues as a product of the 1990s' independent cinema movement. Most of these promising actors' careers have cooled off and the then-bustling indie scene has been put on life support with many studios shuttering their arthouse divisions. That this stands as a reminder of better times can only do so much to redeem the mostly off-putting Four Rooms.

Finally enhancing the film for 16:9 televisions, Echo Bridge's nice-looking DVD almost certainly bests Disney's old one in picture quality. Sound is less certain an upgrade and bonus features are absent on both. Though it may not be a high priority for you to upgrade to this edition, the low price makes the disc a no-brainer for impulse buys and qualifying for free shipping on $25 Amazon orders.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com

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Related Reviews:
New: Kiss Me Deadly (Criterion Collection Blu-ray) • Cedar Rapids • happythankyoumoreplease • Once Upon a Time in the West
1990s Movies: Bottle Rocket (Criterion) • The Usual Suspects (Blu-ray Book) • Nixon • Enchanted April • Hocus Pocus
Directed by Robert Rodriguez & Quentin Tarantino: Sin City | Produced by Quentin Tarantino: Daltry Calhoun
New York, I Love You • Fernando Di Leo Crime Collection | Produced by Robert Rodriguez: Predators

The Cast of Four Rooms:
Tim Roth: Skellig: The Owl Man | Ione Skye: Say Anything... | Jennifer Beals: Flashdance
Antonio Banderas: The Big Bang | Paul Calderon: Gun | Marisa Tomei: Cyrus | Lili Taylor: Brooklyn's Finest

Four Rooms Songs List: Combustible Edison - "Carnival of Souls", Combustible Edison - "Theme from 'The Tiki Wonder Hour'", Combustible Edison - "Breakfast at Denny's", Combustible Edison - "The Millionaire's Holiday", Combustible Edison - "Spy vs. Spy", Esquivel - "Harlem Nocturne", Esquivel - "Sentimental Journey", Combustible Edison - "Cadillac", "Auld Lang Syne", The Village People - "YMCA"

Buy Four Rooms: Music From the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack at Amazon.com

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Reviewed June 26, 2011.



Text copyright 2011 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1995 Miramax Films and 2011 Echo Bridge Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.