DC’s “Convergence” Might Just Be The Lamest Crossover Event Yet


Trash Film Guru

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Let’s be brutally honest — company-wide crossover events from the “Big Two” always suck. The last good one was probably Crisis On Infinite Earths and that was, what? Thirty years ago? Since then, what have we gotten from Marvel and DC? War Of The GodsZero HourEclipsoInfinityAxisOriginal SinForever Evil?

Of course, all of these “events” were promised to be “game changers” that “forever altered the Marvel/DC Universe,” but whatever “changes” they ushered in were always both purely cosmetic and quickly “retconned” back out of existence. In the end, we  invariably find ourselves right back where we started — just 40 of 50 bucks poorer.

Well,  with their latest supposed “event,” DC are being even more brazen and shameless than usual, since Convergence is basically just filler material to crank out onto comic shop shelves while their main titles…

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Embracing the Melodrama Part II #24: The Diary of a High School Bride (dir by Burt Topper)


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I always enjoy it when a film opens with a message statement that announces that it was made to shine the light on one of “today’s most controversial subjects.”  Even better is when that message statement states that the film could be my story or that it could serve as a warning to people like me about what might happen.

Of course, it’s too late for me to be warned.  I’m not in high school anymore.  I’ve already made my decisions and had to deal with the consequences of my mistakes and all the other melodrama that makes life interesting.  But I can watch a film like 1959’s The Diary Of A High School Bride and I can read the message statement at the beginning and I can think to myself, “If only I had seen this movie before I decided to sneak out that night and drink alcohol or smoke weed or let my boyfriend take pictures of me naked or have sex with a married man or rob a convenience store or read that forbidden book or become a bride of Cthulhu or agree to spy for the communists or whatever the Hell it was that I did that night!”  If only…

Actually, it probably wouldn’t have made much of a difference.  Life doesn’t come with a message statement and whenever I see one at the beginning of a film, it usually makes me less likely to take that film seriously.  In fact, I tend to seek out films the open with message statements because they’re usually a lot of fun.

Take The Diary of a High School Bride, which is silly in a way that only an American International Pictures youth film could be.  The film opens with 25 year-old law student Steve (Ron Foster) driving home from Las Vegas with his new wife, 17 year-old Judy (Anita Sands).  When Steve gets pulled over by a police officer, Judy starts to tremble in terror.  When the cops asks Judy how old she is, she lies that she’s 21 and then starts to cry.  When the police officer asks if she’s really married to Steve, she wails, “Yes, and this record proves it!”  At this point, she holds up a vinyl record.

However, a vinyl record is not the only thing that Judy has.  She also has a teddy bear and oh my God, she literally carries that teddy bear with her everywhere!  When she and Steve tell her parents, she has the teddy bear.  When she wails at them, “AND NO — I’M NOT PREGNANT!,” she has the teddy bear.  When she and Steve go out to a coffeehouse and listen to some pretty good flamenco music, Judy has that teddy bear.  When they get back to Steve’s apartment and Judy finally see Steve with his shirt unbuttoned, Judy drops the teddy bear on the floor.

Why are Steve and Judy married?  That’s never really made clear.  They have absolutely nothing in common and Judy is so naive and so innocent that she spends most of the movie struggling to speak in coherent sentences.  (And, of course, she also won’t let go of her teddy bear.)  Steve, meanwhile — well, listen, when you’re 17, any man in his 20s is automatically attractive.  But still, there’s something undeniably (and, judging from the film’s script, unintentionally) creepy about Steve’s marriage to Judy.

Anyway, when Judy goes back to school, she has to deal with people singing Here Comes The Bride at her.  She also has to deal with her ex-boyfriend, Chuck (Chris Robinson).  Chuck wants her back and soon, he’s harassing the newly married couple and making such a menace out of himself that the whole “She’s only 17!” thing gets forgotten about…

So, that’s Diary of a High School Bride.  It’s a film that, if I had seen it when I was an out-of-control teenager, would have made absolutely no difference whatsoever.  But, if you’re a fan of 1950s B-movies (and who isn’t!) and if you have a group of friends who like to be snarky while watching old movies (and who doesn’t!), you’ll probably enjoy The Diary of a High School Bride.  At the very least, it features a fun little theme song from someone named Tony Casanova.

The Diary of a High School Bride was directed by Burt Topper and written by the poet Robert Lowell.  (Okay, it was probably a different Robert Lowell…)  It’s currently available on Netflix and it’s a lot of fun if you’re in the right snarky mood.

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Embracing the Melodrama Part II #23: The Defiant Ones (dir by Stanley Kramer)


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Stanley Kramer is one of those old school filmmakers who directed several films that were acclaimed when they were originally released but who tends to be dismissed by contemporary film critics.  Kramer specialized in making films about social issues and he deserves to be applauded for attempting to look at issues that Hollywood, at that time, would have preferred to ignore.  However, as Mark Harris points out in his excellent book Pictures At A Revolution, Kramer started out as a producer and, even after he started directing, he never lost his producer sensibility.  As a result, a Kramer film would typically address issues that were guaranteed to generate a lot of free publicity but, at the same time, Kramer would never run the risk of truly alienating his audience by digging too deeply into those issues.  As a result, Kramer’s films have come to represent a very safe and middlebrow version of 50s and early 60s style liberalism.

Now, I have previously reviewed 4 Stanley Kramer films on this site and I have to admit that I was somewhat dismissive of most of them.  I felt that Ship of Fools was shallow.  I thought that Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner collapsed under the combined weight of a self-satisfied script and Kramer’s refusal to let Sidney Poitier’s character be anything other than idealized perfection.  R.P.M. is a guilty pleasure, specifically because Kramer was so out-of-touch with the film’s subject matter.  I did give Judgment at Nuremberg a good review, describing it as one of Kramer’s rare films that still holds up today.

And now, I’m going to give another Kramer film a good review.

Kramer’s 1958 film The Defiant Ones features a classic Kramer situation.  White Joker (Tony Curtis) and black Noah (Sidney Poitier) are both prisoners in the deep south.  Joker is an unrepentant and violent racist while Noah … well, Noah is Sidney Poitier.  He’s determined, he’s not afraid to speak his mind, and most of all, he’s dignified.  That’s not meant to be a complaint about Poitier’s performance in The Defiant Ones.  In the role of Noah, Poitier has a great screen presence and it’s impossible not to root for him.  Whereas Curtis tends to chew up every piece of scenery that he gets nears (and, again, that’s not really a complaint because Curtis’s overacting is totally appropriate for his character), Poitier keeps the film grounded.

When the prison bus that is transporting them crashes, Joker and Noah are able to escape.  Fleeing on foot, they make their way through the wilderness and attempt to hide from the police.  As quickly becomes obvious, Joker and Noah hate each other but, because the sheriff had a sense of humor, they have also been chained together.  In other words, they’re stuck with each other and, in order to survive, they’re going to have to learn to coexist.

No, it’s not exactly subtle but it works.

As a filmmaker, Kramer was never known for being visually inventive and, as a result, his films often had to resort to heavy-handed monologues to make their point.  But, in The Defiant Ones, the chains act as a great visual symbol for race relations in America.  Joker and Noah literally can’t escape from each other and they have to work together if they’re going to survive.  The chains make that obvious and, as a result, this is the rare Kramer film where nobody has to give a big speech to get across Kramer’s message.  As a result, The Defiant Ones preaches without ever getting preachy.

Though the film is dominated by Poitier and Curtis, it also features some excellent supporting work.  Lon Chaney, Jr, for instance, has a great cameo as world-weary man who helps the two convicts in their flight.  Cara Williams is surprisingly poignant as a lonely, unnamed woman who tries to both protect Joker and get rid of Noah.  And finally, there’s Theodore Bikel, playing the role of Sheriff Max Muller.  Max is the most surprising character in the film, the head of a posse that’s set out to recapture Noah and Joker.  As opposed to most of his men, Max is a humane and caring man who struggles to control the more bloodthirsty men who are serving under him.

Message films tend to get dated rather quickly but The Defiant Ones holds up surprisingly well.

Fork It Over For “The Tithe”


Trash Film Guru

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Megachurches. I absolutely hate ’em. Stadium-sized suburban shrines to decadence that rake in millions every month tax-free which their pastors squander on lavish McMansions, plastic surgery, teeth whitening, hookers, and blow. A completely legal swindle that is so transparently phony that some of them now even embrace something called the “prosperity gospel, ” a rather forced interpretation (or deliberate misinterpretation, take your pick) which posits that a) the more money you give to the church, the more you’ll magically get in return from God in surprising and unexpected ways; and b) the richer you are the more God obviously loves you because he’s showering you with favors. So much for that “blessed are the poor” stuff, I guess — according to this latest twist on the supposedly “good” book, the wealthy are, quite literally, God’s chosen people.

Well, fuck all that. Fuck every single TV evangelist. Fuck every single megachurch…

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Embracing the Melodrama Part II #22: The Cry Baby Killer (dir by Joe Addis)


That's Jack Nicholson with the gun.

That’s Jack Nicholson with the gun.

Two years ago, there was a rumor that Jack Nicholson had announced his retirement from acting because he was starting to suffer from memory loss.  Even though Nicholson’s people later claimed that this was false and that Jack was actively reading scripts, that rumor still left me feeling very depressed.  Jack Nicholson is such an iconic actor that it’s difficult to think that there will be a time when he’ll no longer be arching his eyebrows and delivering sarcastic dialogue in that signature voice of his.  When you look at a list of his films, you find yourself looking at some of the best and most memorable films ever made.  Chinatown, The Shining, The Departed, The Shooting, Easy Rider, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; Nicholson has appeared in some truly great films.

But every actor, no matter how iconic he may be, had to start somewhere.  For Jack Nicholson, that somewhere was the 1958 Roger Corman-produced film, The Cry Baby Killer.  The good news is that the 21 year-old Nicholson starred in his very first film.  The bad news is that there’s absolutely nothing about Jack’s performance that would give you any reason to believe that he would eventually become one of the best known and most-honored actors of all time.  It’s not that Jack gives a bad performance.  In fact, it’s somewhat disappointing that Jack doesn’t do a terrible job in the role.  When you’re seeing the obscure film debut of a cinematic icon, you always hope that the first performance will either be amazingly good, shockingly bad, or just embarrassingly inappropriate.  But, in Jack’s case, he’s neither good nor bad and he doesn’t really embarrass himself.  Instead, he’s just bland.

Yes, you read that right.

Jack “HEEEEEEEEEERE’S JOHNNNNNNNY!” Nicholson was bland in his debut film.

As for the film itself, Jack plays Jimmy.  We’re told that Jimmy is 17 years-old and he’s still in high school.  (Since Jack Nicholson’s hairline was already receding at 21, we automatically have a difficult believing him in the role of Jimmy.)  Jimmy’s a good kid but he’s kind of stupid.  Also, his ex-girlfriend Carole (Carolyn Mitchell) is now dating an 18 year-old gangster named Manny Cole (played by Brett Halsey, who would later have a prolific career in Italian exploitation films as well as appearing in The Godfather, Part III).  Jimmy confronts Manny.  Manny has two of his thugs beat up Jimmy.  Jimmy grabs a gun off a thug and shoots someone.  Scared of going to jail, Jimmy runs into a store and takes three hostages — a stocker and a young mother with a baby.

The rest of the 70-minute film consists of an understanding policeman (Harry Lauter) trying to convince Jimmy to surrender while the crowd of reporters and observes outside the store hope for a violent confrontation.  The film does make a still-relevant point about how the media exploits the potential for tragedy but, for the most part, it’s pretty forgettable.

As I stated above, Jack is adequate but forgettable.  If I had seen this movie when it first came out in 1958, I would have expected handsome and charismatic Brett Halsey to become a huge star while I would have predicted that Nicholson would spend the rest of his career in television.

However, we all know that didn’t happen.  Jack Nicholson became an icon.  Sadly, Jack hasn’t appeared in a film since 2010.  Hopefully, he’ll give us at least one more great performance.  Who knows?  Maybe some aspiring screenwriter will write as script for Cry Baby Killer 2: Jimmy’s Revenge.

It could happen.

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Embracing the Melodrama Part II #21: Emergency Hospital (dir by Lee Sholem)


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Right now, on Netflix, you can find Emergency Hospital, a low-budget film from 1956.  Emergency Hospital, which probably was made to be the second feature on a double bill, covers the course of one night at a hospital.  Patients come in.  Crimes are investigated.  Two doctors — one a man and one a woman and since this film was made in the 50s, that leads to all sorts of confusion — deal with all of the patients.  The film manages to stuff a lot of incidents into just 61 minutes of running time.

If you look at the poster above, you’ll see that it implores us to “STOP THE MANIAC!  He menaces women in a thrill-crowded city of violent and lust!”  I’m not really sure which of the film’s many subplots that is meant to refer to.  At one point, the son of a police detective is brought in after crashing his car.  He briefly attempts to hold a nurse hostage with a scalpel but, in the end, he doesn’t turn out to be much of a maniac.

In fact, if there’s anything that really distinguishes Emergency Hospital is just how low-key it is.  For the most part, the film emphasizes the fact that everyone at the hospital is focused on doing her or his job.  The patients all come in with their own individual melodramas but, for the most part, the doctors and the police all react calmly and rationally.  It’s interesting to compare Emergency Hospital to something like Magnificent Obsession.  Whereas Magnificent Obsession truly embraces the melodrama, Emergency Hospital invites the melodrama to pull up a chair and then tells it to calm down.

Perhaps because it was such a low-budget and obscure film, Emergency Hospital gets away with taking a look at and talking about issues that you normally wouldn’t expect to be so openly explored by a film made in the 50s.  And, interestingly enough for a film made in a culturally reserved time, the doctors and nurses at Emergency Hospital take a rather open-minded and nonjudgmental approach to their patients.  An anxious mother comes in with her bruised baby and is confronted about being an abusive parent.  A teenage girl comes in after being raped and the doctors try to convince her father (who thinks his daughter’s reputation will be ruined) to call the police.

Now, make no mistake about it: Emergency Hospital is not a secret masterpiece.  It’s an extremely low-budget movie that looks like an extremely low-budget movie.  But, taking all that into consideration, it’s still a lot better than your typical 61 minute second feature.

Emergency Hospital can currently be watched on Netflix.