Category Archives: Film log

Poor Pretty Eddie

IMDB

(Richard Robinson, 1975)

2.0/5.0

With this entry, I’m proud to participate again in the 6th Annual White Elephant Blogathon, hosted by Silly Hats Only, in time for April Fool’s Day. Last year, I got to analyze another “forgotten gem” of the 1970s, featuring Joe Don mother-loving Baker. This year, it’s backwoods blaxploitation with Shelley Winters, Slim Pickens, Lurch from The Addams Family, and an Elvis Presley wannabe. Remind me, why do I do this to myself?

“I don’t care if she farts Shah-nel Number 5. Now I want her outta here, right now, understand?”

That’s a line from two-time Oscar winner Shelley Winters in this low-low-budget film of rape, revenge and sleaze. To say it’s not worthy of Winters’ pedigree to be uttering Chanel as “Shah-nel” is an understatement. But it’s also consistent with  the recurring quandary in which I viewed this film. On one hand, it’s forgettable trash. On the other hand, to borrow a phrase, there’s just something about Eddie. 

Winters portrays an ex-stripper who fears she’s losing her boyfriend, the titular Eddie (Michael Christian), to a young, beautiful singer (Leslie Uggams) who had the poor luck to (1) have her car break down in the middle of a straight-outta-Deliverance burg and (2) be African-American in same. Fact #2 plays an important part in this flick, as Uggams is certainly the smartest and classiest human depicted, but is treated the worst, and it all starts with poor, pretty Eddie.

You see, Winters’ boyfriend, the titular Eddie (Michael Christian), is also a bit of a crooner himself.

To say that he resembles Elvis is one thing, but this film makes no bones about the fact that Eddie is essentially aping Elvis (2 years before his death) and perhaps even going so far as to indicate that those that appreciate his style of music are rednecked and backward. At the time, the former King was slowly spiralling down into what may be called “full Vegas.” And yet, his origins lay in the small-town South, in towns not unlike the one in this film.

The fact that Eddie/Elvis then proceeds to take a shine to the lovely Liz (Uggams) and decides to show his appreciation by forcibly raping her speaks even louder volumes. Oh, we’re not talking graphic, I Spit on Your Grave-level rape, but consider if you will how the scene is presented for the audience – via slow-motion and regularly intercut with a pair of dogs doggy-styling to the amusement of a group of hicks.

What exactly am I watching here?

Is this a terribly racist and/or sexist depiction of non-consensual sex? Or is it filled with dark humor? Should I mention that the song playing over the scene has a repeated refrain of “You don’t have to say/You’ll love me in the morning”?

This is a twisted flick from the get-go, and I haven’t even mentioned Slim Pickens and Dub Taylor, who portray two corrupt officials of hillbilly truth and justice. Pickens, the local sheriff, doubts that Liz was even raped, but asks all sorts of lurid, leading questions such as “Would you like to suck on a tomato?” or more directly, “Did he bite you on the t*tties?”  Unswayed, Liz takes her case before Justice of the Peace Floyd (Taylor) in the only appropriate place – the local dance hall. Floyd demands that he see the presumed love bites on Liz’s naughty bits right then and there, as several local boobs and the house band leers on. When she refuses and smacks him across the face, the Justice of the Peace tears off her blouse completely, and compliments her on her impressive bits of evidence.

It’s disturbingly trashy, but also certainly has much to do with race, violence and power. Would I equate this flick’s impact with those of Shaft and Super Fly or the films of Pam Grier? Not on your life. But the message is there.

However Poor Pretty Eddie is intended, I can’t help but find it inflammatory and shocking for the sake of shock. It’s never truly a horror movie, nor is it satisfying as a rape revenge drama.

And yet…. this cast is so very talented. Winters has a heartbreaking scene in which she discusses why she needs Eddie, mostly because she’s past her prime and he’s so young and beautiful and actually cares for her. Pickens and Taylor are crudely funny and Uggams holds her own in a thankless role.

And yet…. director Richard Robinson took some grade-Z material and added a few shocks of his own, as well as some tricky camerawork pulled off with a paltry budget.

And yet…. Ted Cassidy (Lurch from TV’s The Addams Family) is quietly affecting as a local who bucks the local authority in a effort to do right but unfortunately ends up getting shot, but not before Eddie feeds him his own free-loving dog:

Again, I would never say Poor Pretty Eddie is worth your time, and certainly not your money, but after viewing it a second time, I’m still conflicted, and not ready to dismiss it either. There’s just enough going for Eddie to make a viewer think twice. What I guess I’m saying is that your mileage may vary, but it left its hooks in me, and that can’t be all bad.

It doesn’t make me feel any better to say that I rewatched a film prominently featuring dog-on-dog love, but I’m trying to keep an open mind. I hate you, White Elephant, for the things you make me admit publicly.

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Fresh Distractions: Feb 5-12, 2012

image by cr103 - stockarch.com

I’m just a normal guy with a family, a full-time job, and a seemingly chronic pile of media I’m trying to consume. But, like 95% of Internet denizens, sometimes I feel the need to overshare. Here are some things on my mind from the past week in convenient list-y form:

1. PODCAST: WTF with Marc Maron #251 – Guest: Matt Graham
In this episode, Marc interviews Matt Graham, an old friend who left an influential career in comedy – from standup to writing for SNL and Conan O’Brien – to become a world-class Scrabble player, among other pursuits. He has also battled depression, and while he is shockingly frank about many uncomfortable aspects of his struggle, Graham hesitates to expound on suicidal thoughts until Maron approaches him a few weeks later for a second interview (also included in this episode). Maron pokes again at that tender topic and Graham lashes out – stating that perhaps this is the only reason he’s warranted a revisit – because he’s got a juicy, private story to tell. After some initial hesitancy, Graham shares the tale with the same frankness and squirm-inducing detail as before.

It’s hard to say what conversation occurred off-mike to spur either recorded conversation, but it’s more harrowing than other like-minded WTF share-all episodes, which feature those in Marc’s world unburdening themselves of intimate demons. For instance, comedian Todd Glass came out of the closet a few episodes back, and former Onion writer/editor Todd Hanson explored his painful suicide attempt over two interviews. To his credit, Maron has never shied away from delving into dark territory (especially his own) for public consumption. While heartfelt, Glass’ and Hanson’s admissions involved very little prompting—as if the subjects felt compelled to discuss them.

This installment, however, gets rather muddy. Given the venomous reaction from Graham, it appears Maron coaxed his friend back in front of a microphone a second time and into some gut-wrenching waters because he didn’t get the story he wanted. Yet, almost certainly, there was an agreed-upon agenda at some point, and while Maron’s intentions may seem questionable, Graham delivers without much hesitation. To quote Aretha: Who’s zoomin’ who? The audible rawness throughout the conversation makes this episode naggingly memorable, and Maron presents it simply to let the listener decide.

2. WEB: Acute Otitis Media
That’s the proper term for an ear infection. Not the type of media I’d like to think about, but there you go. Our youngest has had several of these in the first 17 months of life, and 4 in the past 5 months. A recent visit to the pediatrician resulted in a recommendation to see an ENT about the potential for ear tubes in order to stave off hearing loss and developmental stagnation.

As a modern parent, you’re constantly concerned and/or reminded that you’re screwing up your offspring. And a simple Google search unearths all sorts of controversy about the need for ear tubes as well as risk factors, not to mention the guilt and worry associated with such a decision. Pick a door, and damnation awaits.

Sure enough, the ENT tested our kid and he’s got signs of some short-term hearing loss thanks to the fluid in his ears from the latest infection. So – over the next few weeks – we’ve got some lovely decisions to make, and hopefully, we won’t break the kid further in the process.

3. FILM: PROJECT NIM (2011, Dir: James Marsh)
Speaking of broken children, PROJECT NIM features a chimp ripped from his mother’s arms in order to raise it as a human. As a character in this documentary attests with a shrug, it was the Seventies.

As a result, Nim Chimpsky (his actual moniker, obviously provided by elitist punk-ass book jockeys) bounces from human to human in an attempt to nurture him out of his natural chimpness in the name of scientific research – to the detriment of all involved. The chimp proves to be too much of an animal, and those of the Me Generation are too ready to bail on the problem they essentially initiated.

Animal activists will eat it up, but may choke on their granola when they realize it’s structurally solid storytelling about hippie backlash, and good intentions going awry.

Welcome Home, Soldier Boys

IMDB

(Richard Compton, 1972)

2.5/5.0

An entry for the 5th Annual White Elephant Blogathon, hosted by Silly Hats Only. Read the rest of this year’s entries here.

The subject of damaged soldiers returning from war has been the basis for many a film.

The Best Years of Our Lives. The Deer Hunter. Taxi Driver. Coming Home. The entire Rambo franchise.

What those films lack that is prevalent in 1972’s Welcome Home, Soldier Boys can be summed up in three glorious words:

Joe. Don. Baker.

Read the rest of this entry

The Killer Inside Me

IMDB

(Michael Winterbottom, 2010)

2.5/5.0

Mumble, mumble, murder. Mumble, mumble, murder.

Sex mixed with violence mixed with misogyny, like A Clockwork Orange set in West Texas. If you took Orange‘s Alex DeLarge, added a Stetson and subtracted the window to the main character’s soul, you’d get Lou Ford as portrayed by Casey Affleck. Given the notoriety of the source material, there’s really nothing new or memorable about this film, other than the cinematography of Marcel Zyskind and the disturbing acts of violence towards women. The Killer Inside Me seems a bit patched together, and overall, a missed opportunity for director Winterbottom.

I have not read the original Jim Thompson novel, but am familiar with his cold, sparse style showcased in other Thompson adaptations such as The Grifters and After Dark, My Sweet. I wonder if it’s fair to presume that the film misses the author’s mark. There’s a noted lack of noose-tightening as the lead character descends into doom, and Affleck seems unsure in his portrayal of such a complex criminal, and choosing to do so by alternately grinning warmly, bantering without moving his lips and stewing silently. The filmmakers certainly attempt to establish just why Affleck is so emotionally scarred, involving some creepy sexual discoveries, but ultimately, he isn’t nearly as diabolical as he should be. While Affleck’s violent actions are intentionally jolting, the film stays at the character’s surface rather than digging deeply into the coldness and randomness of the killing mind.

It’s probably unfair to expect The Killer Inside Me to resemble other fictions featuring serial killers, like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer or American Psycho. Yet I can’t help but wish Winterbottom, et al, had come just a little closer to glimpsing the strength of those films in creating memorable characters as well as notorious acts of fury.

The Girl on the Train

IMDB

(André Téchiné, 2009)

3.5/5.0

The odd second-act twist about anti-Semitism that becomes the film’s focus nearly derails (har, har) a compelling tale about the struggles of a young suburban Parisian woman seeking independence and meaning in her life. Émilie Dequenne, 10 years after starring in Dardennes’ ROSETTA, has a great face for cinema. Her expressions are subtle but telling, and quite similar to that of her co-star Catherine Deneuve. Worth a watch for the lead actresses and Téchiné’s storytelling skill.

Also features a rare scene of stalking by a creepy rollerblader. What year is this again?

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze

IMDB

(Michael Pressman, 1991)

2.0/5.0

An entry for the 4th Annual White Elephant Blogathon, hosted by Silly Hats Only.

It’s sort of a cruel joke that I ended up with a movie aimed at children for the White Elephant Blogathon. With one young child and another on the way, my life is already bombarded with all things Disney, SpongeBob and Dora. As the good folks at Pixar have proven, kiddie movies don’t have to suck. But for every Wall-E, there are dozens of Space Chimps, Marmadukes and Squeakuels released each year to the chagrin of parents all over the globe destined to shell out for them.

As a child of the 70s, I can recall being on the other side of the conversation, which consisted of two words: Star Wars. There were the movies, and then there was the STUFF. There were Star Wars wearables, video games, comic books, trading cards, and fast-food tie-ins. Those little George Lucas projects introduced a generation to the collectible action figure — fun to play with, but more valuable if they were simply purchased and preserved for eternity. Of course, Star Wars merchandising set a new standard, and didn’t stop when the movies left theaters. Due to this over-saturation of product and the general crappiness of entertainment aimed at children, I’d never consumed a single Ninja Turtle-related film, cartoon or comic. So, as a Teenage Mutant Ninja virgin, were my fears realized? Or was I able to see the light?

The verdict came after the opening sequence.

Our story begins in the city of New York Only Seen in the Movies (TM), where a pizza delivery boy is dispatched to a female reporter’s apartment. Upon arriving, he witnesses some bad guys in masks in the midst of a robbery, which he attempts to thwart using his martial art skills. Unfortunately, he’s completely outnumbered and quickly overcome. However, then the Turtles arrive to save the day, and my soul started to weep. The ass-kicking reptiles proceeded to dispatch every baddie with a lame catchphrase delivered surfer-style. THUD! “Yee-ha, ninja cowboy!” POW! “Awesome!” In retrospect, Keanu Reeves could’ve sued.

At this end of this sequence, perhaps 10 minutes into the film, the turtles were completely unfamiliar and indistinguishable to me, and more or less remained so for the duration. All I knew is they were freaking annoying.

The reptiles apparently wore out the welcome of their female reporter friend as well, saddling her with housing and feeding them pizza after pizza in her luxurious New York Only Seen in the Movies multiple-level apartment (TM). The turtles and their spiritual guru/teacher, a rat voiced by Kevin Clash (the voice of Elmo from Sesame Street), vow to find different digs in the near future.

On top of this, there’s the title ooze, shown in eerily glowing canisters, which is being unearthed and disposed of by a nerdy scientist employee, played by David Warner. Apparently, it’s the original ooze that was responsible for the Mutant part of TMNT many years ago, which produced super-strong but freakish walking, talking turtles, among other crimes of nature. Last but not least, a shrouded nemesis called Shredder is back and angry enough to seek revenge against the crew, by stealing the ooze in order to create more mutant monsters at his beck and call.

Overall, TMNT II improves after its opening, but never truly engages the viewer, because the action and dialogue are pretty danged lame. The “ninja” violence is quite tame and comic and our heroes are never really in any danger. Upon many hours of research (read: Wikipedia), I discovered that the action in TMNT II was toned down from the “darker” original film. As a result, fight scenes seem rather empty, since there’s really no logical resolution. Veteran character actor Warner carries off his scenes well, and I was pleasantly surprised by a goofy performance from Vanilla Ice, timed perfectly when my attention was flagging.

With a child entering into this very target market, I see multiplexes filled with movies like this one, disguised as entertainment and merely the origin for parental bilking. I’m tired of seeing insulting movies aimed at a family audience. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze isn’t terrible, just dull, forgettable and driven right at your wallet. Sure enough, it killed at the box office.

Finally, TMNT II is dedicated to the memory of then recently-departed Jim Henson, whose Creature Shop supplied the mutants in this film. Don’t get me started about the injustice of this. RIP Mr. Henson, not for TMNT II, but for your impact on other green creatures.


The Terminator

IMDB

(James Cameron, 1984)

4.0/5.0

Currently #259 on TSPST Top 1000.

Well, James Cameron is nothing if not ambitious. On this, my first viewing – I know! Shock! Horror! – I was struck by this ambition, as well as the tense pace. Bad 80s fashion and music prevail, and it suffers a bit from multiple-ending syndrome, but overall, worthy of its status.

But, my God, the dialogue. Given Cameron’s tin ear, it’s no wonder Arnold’s monosyllabic utterings steal the show.

Date Night

IMDB

(Shawn Levy, 2010)

3.0/5.0

Basic citylife-is-hell comedy (e.g. After Hours, The Out-of-Towners, Adventures in Babysitting) whose appeal is all in the casting.

Date Night is held aloft by the performances of Carell and Fey, who appear to have improvised the majority of their scenes together. I’m assuming this is so, since their riffing is light-years ahead of the tame script. James Franco and Mark Wahlberg also deliver consistent laughs in supporting turns.

Kick-Ass

IMDB

(Matthew Vaughn, 2010)

3.5/5.0

It’s The Greatest American Hero on film with more cussing and a**-kicking.

Kick-Ass is a dissection of the nature of heroes with creative action sequences, and a bona fide scene-stealer in Chloe Moretz. In fact, the B-story of preteen Moretz and her father (Nicolas Cage) is more interesting than that of the main character (Aaron Johnson), who is pretty dull before and after he puts on the suit. It also becomes a rather standard shoot-em-up after a while, but manages to deliver on its title.

Crimewave

IMDB

(Sam Raimi, 1985)

2.0/5.0

Similar in tone to the EVIL DEAD series, in the way that it’s inspired by Tex Avery and the Three Stooges, complete with silly voices and cartoon violence. However, you can almost taste the re-editing and re-scoring of this flick, and the main character is almost unwatchably bad.

Still, some good things: a few inspired set pieces mired in the middle, an extended Bruce Campbell cameo, and Brion James and Paul Smith eat up their villain roles. Also of interest because it’s a Coen Bros/Raimi collaboration. But both directors have done the cartoon violence/Avery tribute better (RAISING ARIZONA, EVIL DEAD series). Fans of either should tread very lightly with CRIMEWAVE, as it’s been flatly disowned by the filmmakers.