Four Rooms

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Via Vision;
Comedy;
Australian Import;
AUD$34.95 (≈$22.37 U.S.);
Rated ‘R’ for pervasive strong language, sexuality and some drug use.
Stars Tim Roth, Antonio Banderas, Valeria Golino, Madonna, Ione Skye, Lili Taylor, Alicia Witt, Sammi Davis, Amanda De Cadenet, Jennifer Beals, David Proval, Lana McKissack, Danny Verduzco, Tamlyn Tomita, Paul Calderon, Quentin Tarantino, Bruce Willis, Marisa Tomei Kathy Griffin, Marc Lawrence.

After encountering each other on the 1992 festival circuit, four up-and-coming indie filmmakers hit upon an idea for a collaboration. Each would write and direct a segment of an anthology film tied together by the framing device of a hotel bellhop dealing with eccentric guests on a wild New Year’s Eve.

Those directors were Allison Anders (Gas Food Lodging), Alexandre Rockwell (In the Soup), Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi) and Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs), and resulting film was 1995’s Four Rooms.

While each could have conceivably written anything for their vignette, they all tried their hands at comedy, which alleviated any potential tonal problems. Tim Roth was cast as Ted the bellhop to serve as the one constant running through each sketch. Ultimately, however, the clash in filmmaking styles did not make for a smooth cinematic experience, resulting in Roth’s oddball performance being somewhat off-putting, and the film was not generally well received by critics or audiences at the time.

The first segment, by Anders, focuses on a coven of witches (Valeria Golino, Madonna, Ione Skye, Lili Taylor, Alicia Witt, Sammi Davis) trying to resurrect their idol, leading one of them to seduce Ted to gain the final ingredient needed to complete their spell.

The second, by Rockwell, finds Ted stumbling into the room of a crazy man (David Proval) with a gun who accuses Ted of being the man with whom his wife (Jennifer Beals) is having an affair.

In the third, by Rodriguez, a couple (Antonio Banderas and Tamlyn Tomita) head out for a New Year’s party, leaving their young children in Ted’s care to disastrous results.

The fourth, by Tarantino, finds Ted roped into a bet between a Hollywood director (played by Tarantino himself) and one of his pals (Paul Calderon). This is essentially an adaptation of the “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” episode Man From the South, which itself is based on the Roald Dahl short story of the same name. With its grounding in a hyper-specific pop culture reference and its free-flowing dialogue, this is raw, unfiltered Tarantino.

In addition to various interstitials that find Ted called to each room, there’s also what is essentially a fifth segment (taking place between rooms three and four) in which Ted tries calling his boss (Kathy Griffin) to complain about the guests, only to have a strange conversation with her roommate (Marisa Tomei).

Unsurprisingly, the effectiveness of the segments more or less corresponds with the career trajectory of whomever made it.

Anders devoting her segment to a supernatural theme doesn’t get the film started off on the strongest note. Ironically enough, it’s the lone female director of the group who resorts to gratuitous nudity, with several of the witches performing the spell topless. That at least gives it an edge over Rockwell’s segment, which is the least memorable.

The film is probably best known for the contributions by Rodriguez and Tarantino, who have gone on to have much more visible careers in the 28 years since. And since Roth was pretty much Tarantino’s go-to guy at the time (having featured roles in both Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction), the film is generally more associated with them than the other two. The pair would even collaborate again the next year on From Dusk till Dawn and in 2007 on Grindhouse (apart from various other cameos in each other’s films).

In contrast, Anders would go on to become mostly a television director, while Rockwell (Beals’ husband at the time) made a few more obscure indie films before going into teaching at NYU’s film school.

Among some other tidbits: The film’s producer, Lawrence Bender, appears as a partygoer in between the first and second segments; Bruce Willis, who appears in Tarantino’s segment as a favor to the director, went uncredited due to allegedly violating SAG rules by taking no payment for the role; and the bikini-clad dancer seen from the neck down on the TV in Rodriguez’s segment is none other than Salma Hayek, who would basically perform a similar role (but with her face visible) in From Dusk till Dawn.

The film’s home video history as far as the U.S. is concerned has been mostly confined to VHS and a handful of DVD releases over the years, making it Tarantino’s only film not yet on Blu-ray aside from a handful of region-locked European releases (even the “CSI” episode he directed is on Blu-ray). This region-free edition from Australian distributor Via Vision should allow many a Tarantino and Rodriguez collector to fill in that HD content hole.

The transfer looks great, pretty much exactly what one would expect a 1990s film from four different indie directors using different cinematographers and editors to look like. The main title animated sequence looks a bit soft but that likely owes more to compositing techniques at the time than any fault of the transfer.

The Blu-ray includes the film’s trailer, which contains snippets of footage that was apparently cut from the final version. There are also two vintage featurettes: a six-minute making-of, and a 21-minute deeper dive into the individual directors.

Lionsgate Releasing ‘Con Is On’ July 24

Lionsgate will release the caper comedy The Con Is On on Blu-ray, DVD and digital July 24.

The film stars Uma Thurman and Tim Roth as a con-artist couple cooking up a jewel-theft scam in L.A. to pay off a deadly gangster (Maggie Q). The cast also includes Parker Posey and Sofia Vergara.