Lisa Cleans Out The DVR: Road Gang (dir by Louis King)

I was going to start this review with a quote from Gandhi: “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its prisoners.”  That was something that I first heard from a perpetually stoned ex-seminarian who used to live in a trailer park in Lake Dallas.  I always figured that, being as stoned as he usually was, he probably knew what he was talking about but, upon doing research for this review, I have discovered that Gandhi actually didn’t say that.  What Gandhi said was, “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.”  Fortunately, it’s the same basic idea and, regardless of how you phrase it, it’s a quote that perfectly encapsulates the message of the 1936 film, Road Gang.

Road Gang tells the story of Jim (Donald Woods) and Bob (Carlyle Moore, Jr.).  Bob is fun-loving.  Jim is more serious and engaged to marry heiress Barbara Winston (Kay Linaker).  Jim and Bob live in an unnamed Southern state (though I’m going to assume that the state is supposed to be Georgia, just because).  Jim has just written an article that exposes the corruption of political boss, J.W. Moett (Joe King).  The article is so good that both Jim and Bob have been offered jobs in Chicago!  There’s a lot of corrupt political figures who can be exposed in Chicago!

However, while driving up north, Jim and Bob are arrested on trumped-up charges.  At first, Jim and Bob laugh off Moett’s desperation but, unfortunately, another criminal happens to be breaking out of jail at the same time that Jim and Bob arrives for booking.  That criminal kills the arresting officer and then forces Jim and Bob to drive him across the state.  Eventually, the police recapture the three of them.  However, the escaping criminal is killed and Jim and Bob are arrested as accessories.  Under the advice of their lawyer, Mr. Dudley (Edward Van Sloan), they plead guilty and accept a deal.  What they don’t know is that Dudley works for Moett and that, as a result of pleading guilty, they are going to be sentenced to five years in a prison camp.

Okay, so the film gets off to a pretty melodramatic start.  And, to be honest, the entire film is extremely melodramatic.  A lot of time is devoted to Barbara trying find evidence that Jim and Bob were set up, something that is made difficult by the fact that Barbara’s father, like Mr. Dudley, works for Moett.  Fast-paced and not-always-logical, this is a B-movie, in every sense of the term.

And yet, as melodramatic as it is, Road Gang is deadly serious when it comes to portraying the brutality of the prison camp.  From the minute that Bob and Jim arrive, they find themselves at the mercy of the corrupt warden and his sadistic guards.  The prisoners are largely used as slave labor and subjected to punishments that are often arbitrary and extreme.

Road Gang doesn’t flinch when it comes to portraying why prison often not only fails to rehabilitate but also helps to transform minor offenders into hardened criminals.  There’s a disturbing scene in which Jim, Bob, and the other prisoners are forced to listen as another prisoner is whipped.  The crack of the whip and his howls of agony explode across the soundtrack in a symphony of pain and sadism.  Jim and Bob have two very different reactions to being in prison.  One survives.  One allows himself to be killed rather than take one more day in confinement.

Road Gang is often compared to I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang.  Actually, beyond the theme of a fatally compromised justice system, there is no comparison.  The angry and fact-based I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang is a hundred times better and, quite frankly, Donald Woods was no Paul Muni.  However, Road Gang still has its moments of power.  Decades after it was made, the issues it raises continue to be relevant.  Do we send people to prison to rehabilitate them or to punish them and are the two goals mutually exclusive?  And how can we say that someone has “paid his debt to society” when, even after a prisoner serves his time, the stigma of having been imprisoned closes and locks most doors of opportunity?

Road Gang shows up occasionally on TCM.  There’s where I recorded it on January 23rd of this year.

Here’s The First Trailer for Destiny 2!

And finally, here’s the first trailer for Destiny 2.  I’m going to be honest and admit that I don’t know much about any of this but I do know that there was more than a little excitement here at the TSL Bunker when this was released.

Is it just me or can Lance Reddick make almost anything sound noble?

Destiny 2 will be released, for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, on September 8th.

A Movie A Day #82: Sweetgrass (2009, directed by Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor)

101 minutes of sheep and mountains.

That’s the best description that I can give of Sweetgrass.  Sweetgrass is a documentary about shepherds in Montana who take a herd of sheep across the Beartooth Mountains.  There is no real plot.  The shepherds are not interviewed and very little is revealed about who they are.  They are men of few words so mostly the only sound heard is the constant baas of the sheep.  One of the shepherds does yell at the sheep, usually to curse at them for wandering off.  It is only at the end of the documentary that it is revealed that this was the last time that the shepherds herded their sheep and that their ranch, after 104 years of operation, closed the following year.

The scenery is often amazing and the documentary works as a record of and a tribute to a dying way of life.  Sweetgrass does not attempt to explain why these men do the work that they do or why the ranch is finally having to close.  It is a pure documentary, with no outside commentary, making it both enlightening and frustrating.  How much you enjoy Sweetgrass will depend on how much patience you have for baaing sheep.

Watch The Trailer For The Book of Henry!

The thing I like about this trailer is that it starts out looking like the type of cutesy bullshit that I usually hate (just check out my review of Pay It Forward) and then suddenly, it gets all weird and twisted and stuff.

Naomi Watts and Jacob Tremblay star in The Book of Henry, which is due to released in June.  Most films released in June suck but hopefully, The Book of Henry will be an exception.

(By the way, if the bald guy is actually abusing his daughter, I’ll be disappointed.  This film will work far better if Henry really is just a manipulative little sociopath.)

Music Video of the Day: Young Turks by Rod Stewart (1981, dir. Russell Mulcahy)

There is a little bit of a complex story leading up to why I chose to do this music video, so let me try and walk you through it. I wanted to do Oh Sherrie by Steve Perry. I went to my trusty source of background on the first ten years of MTV–I Want My MTV by Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum. I figured there might be some background as to why Oh Sherrie is such a great early example of the early anti-video. I certainly found that information in the form of “discussion” about the music video for Separate Ways (Worlds Apart). In particular, Adam Rubin–after going on a rant involving calling for the execution of the director of the video and the band’s manager–said, “But this is my point, there really wasn’t a music-video aesthetic yet.” Really? I read that, and I wanted to started laughing. That’s right up there with people saying The Jazz Singer (1927) was the first sound film. Maybe if he had said there wasn’t an established way to make videos for any artist, rather than the select few who were onboard with making them prior to 1983 like ABBA; Bee Gees; Earth, Wind & Fire; Funkadelic; Van Halen; Rainbow; Judas Priest; and many more, then I could buy it. However, let’s have some fun at his expense by doing as many music videos prior to 1983 that I can find to continue to break up the ABBA retrospective so that it is not everyday.

Up to this video, we have already covered 75 pre-1983 music videos. These are videos such as the many beautifully constructed ABBA music videos of all types (which you’ll find a lot of Separate Ways comprised of), the stage performances of Meat Loaf and Van Halen, the special effects laden video for Let’s Groove by Earth, Wind & Fire, the video filled with visual tie-ins to the the title for Goody Two Shoes by Adam Ant, Run To Hills by Iron Maiden that broke un otherwise static stage performance video with relevant stock footage, the metaphor-laden Pressure by Billy Joel, and many more. Oh, and that little video for Rio by Duran Duran that went under everyone’s radar, which is why even early Def Leppard was shot like they were Duran Duran. I would include Michael Anthony as a samurai in Oh, Pretty Woman, but I haven’t done that video yet.

With that in mind, here is Young Turks by Rod Stewart, brought to us by the infamous Russell Mulcahy. As far as MTV goes, Rod Stewart was an early darling of there’s. He came prepackaged with so many music videos that he dominated the first day of MTV. The stories about him in I Want My MTV range from crazy dinners to stumbling upon jars of cocaine in his home. It’s interesting, but would you expect anything less from Rod Stewart. It’s not exactly shocking as it is, “That’s my Stewart!”

This song is probably burned into the memories of most people around my age (33). It was included on the Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas soundtrack. For whatever reason, this song would play again and again every time I had to repeat a mission that involved flying a plane. I don’t recall why I kept failing or what it kept playing this song instead of another; I just remember this song playing on an endless loop. However, it is a good song. Hearing it as many times as I did, didn’t change that fact.

Young Turks is a slang term referring to rebellious youth. According to the description on the YouTube video, this was the first video to feature break dancing.

I know I say it a lot, but it is a simple video. Two young lovers encounter dancers choreographed by Kenny Ortega and they are lead to Rod Stewart who is having a concert on a slab of concrete. In between, we get cuts to the young lovers trying to make it on their own. The restaurant that Billy emerges from is the Licha’s Santa Fe Girll at the northeast corner of 7th and Santa Fe streets in Los Angeles. The Hotel Hayward also shows up in the video. One of the things that sticks out at me the most in the video is the use of the split screen.

You may or may not recognize Patti who was played by Elizabeth Dailey. She has down mostly voice-work, but has appeared in numerous films over the years. She’s probably best-known for playing Dottie in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985). But that’s only one of 185 acting credits.

Dale Pauley played by Billy. I couldn’t find any information about him except a shot of him kissing Holly Penfield. That’s it.

There is a second music video for this that is bland stage performance that Wikipedia says was aired one-third of the way through Dick Clark’s three-hour American Bandstand 30th Anniversary Special Episode on October 30th, 1981.

I’ll probably do that one in a couple of days, just so you can contrast the two.

Paul Flattery produced the video who we’ve already talked about.

Peter Lippman was the production manager who we’ve also already talked about.

They are prolific as both directors and producers.