Goin’ South (1978, directed by Jack Nicholson)


Jack Nicholson was not an overnight success.

Nicholson was 17 years old when he first came to Hollywood in 1954.  Looking to become an actor, Nicholson toiled as an office worker at the MGM cartoon studio, took acting classes, and went to auditions.  It would be four years before he even landed his first role, the lead in the Roger Corman-produced The Cry Baby Killer.  When that film failed to become a hit, Nicholson spent the next ten years doing minor roles and occasionally starring in a B-picture.  He auditioned for some big parts, like Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate, Buck Barrow in Bonnie and Clyde, and Guy Woodhouse in Rosemary’s Baby, but his big break continued to allude him.  By 1969, Nicholson was so disillusioned with acting that he was planning to instead pursue a career as a director.  However, before Nicholson officially retired from the acting game, he received a call from the set of Easy Rider.  Depending on who you ask, Rip Torn, who had previously been cast in the role of alcoholic George Hanson, had either quit or been fired.  Bruce Dern, the first choice to replace Torn, was busy filming They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Nicholson agreed to step into the role and the rest is history.

Easy Rider may have made Jack Nicholson one of the world’s biggest film stars but he never lost his ambition to direct.  In 1971, he made his directorial debut with Drive, He Said, a film about campus unrest.  At the time, the film flopped at both the box office and with critics and quickly sunk into obscurity.  (It has subsequently been rediscovered and, in some cases, positively reevaluated.)  After the failure of Drive, He Said, it would be another seven years before Nicholson again got a chance to direct.

Nicholson’s second film as a director, Goin’ South, is a comedic western.  Nicholson plays Henry Lloyd Moon, an unsuccessful outlaw who used to ride with Quantrill’s Raiders.  When Moon is captured in Longhorn, Texas, he is sentenced to be hanged.  Fortunately, for Moon, Longhorn has a special ordinance.  Any man condemned for any crime other than murder can be saved from the gallows if a local woman agrees to marry him and take responsibility for his good behavior.  As a result of this ordinance, Longhorn is populated almost exclusively by single women and reformed outlaws.

While standing on the gallows, the cocky Moon is stunned to discover that none of the women want to marry him.  Finally, an old woman emerges from the crowd and announces that she’ll become Moon’s wife.  When Moon hops off the gallows and thanks her, the woman drops dead.  Fortunately, another, younger woman, Julia Tate (Mary Steenburgen, making her film debut), steps forward.

Once they’re married, the lecherous Moon discovers that Julia is a virgin and that the only reason she married him was so she could force him to work in the secret gold mine that’s hidden underneath her property.  The railroad will soon be taking over the land and Julia wants to get all of the gold before she leaves town for Philadelphia.  Though Julia, at first, wants nothing to do with Moon, he eventually wears her down through sheer persistence and the two fall in love.

Complicating matters is Deputy Towfield (Christopher Lloyd), who is upset because he feels that Julia was meant to be his wife.  Also, the members of Moon’s former gang (including Danny DeVito and Veronica Cartwright) show up at Julia’s house and discover the truth about the mine.

Goin’ South gets off to a good start.  The scene on the gallows, where Moon waits for someone to marry him and save his life, is genuinely funny and Nicholson and Steenburgen have a playful chemistry for the first hour of the movie.  Nicholson leers even more than usual in this film but the script is written so that the joke is always on Moon.  Much of the film’s humor comes from Moon always overestimating both his charm and his cleverness.  However, once Moon and Julia finally consummate their marriage, the movie loses whatever narrative momentum it may have had and gets bogged down with the subplots about Towfield and Moon’s gang.  There are funny moments throughout but the story gets away from Nicholson and the film is reduced to a series of set pieces, none of which build up to much.

Not surprisingly, Nicholson gets good performances from his cast, which is largely made up by the members of his 1970s entourage.  Along with Danny DeVito and Christopher Lloyd, longtime Nicholson associates like Tracey Walter, Ed Begley Jr., Richard Bradford, Jeff Morris, and Luana Anders all appear in small roles.  John Belushi plays the tiny role of Deputy Hector.  (Goin’ South was actually the first film in which Belushi was cast, though production didn’t actually begin until after Belushi had finished working on National Lampoon’s Animal House.)  Unfortunately, despite all of the good performances, the script doesn’t do much to develop any of the characters.  Belushi especially feels underused.  (Because Belushi had moved on to Animal House by the time the film went into post-production, Nicholson ended up dubbing several of Belushi’s lines himself.)

Drive, He Said was largely considered to have failed at the box office because Nicholson remained behind the camera so he took the opposite approach with Goin’ South.  Nicholson is in nearly every scene and he gives one of his broadest performances.  It works for the first half of the film, when Moon is constantly trying to get laid and failing every time.  But, during the second half of the movie, Nicholson’s failure to reign in his performance works to the film’s detriment.  When the movie needs Nicholson to be romantic, he’s still behaving like a horny cartoon. Whenever he looks at Mary Steenburgen, it seems as if his eyes should be popping out of his head, Tex Avery-style.  He’s an entertaining cartoon, but a cartoon nonetheless.  As a result, Goin’ South is often funny but it still feels very inconsequential.

Like Drive, He Said, Goin’ South was both a critical and a box office flop and it temporarily turned Nicholson off of directing.  It would be another 12 years before he would once again step behind the camera.  In 1990, Nicholson directed The Two Jakes, the sequel to one of his best films, Chinatown That would be Nicholson’s last film as a director.  Nicholson acted for another 20 years, following the release of The Two Jakes.  To date, he made his final screen appearance in 2010, with a supporting role in James L. Brooks’s How Do You Know.  Nicholson has disputed claims that he’s officially retired, saying that he’s instead just being more selective about his roles.  Even though it’s been ten years since we last saw him on screen, Jack Nicholson remains an American icon and a living legend.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Alibi (dir by Roland West)


1929 was a transitional year for Hollywood.

On the one hand, more people were going to the movies than ever.  The studio moguls were getting rich and directors, many of whom were influenced by German expressionism, were experimenting with new ways to visually tell their stories.  The days when an motionless camera would just be planted on the floor so that it could record actors moving in and out of the frame were over.

At the same time, Hollywood was also struggling to adjust to the arrival of sound.  Though many assumed that sound would just be a fad, it quickly turned out that audiences preferred sound pictures to the old silent melodramas.  Films that had been originally conceived as being silent were reshot with sound and the results were often mixed as Hollywood technicians struggled to figure out how to get the best and clearest recording possible.  Even harder hit were the actors, who had spent decades giving silent performances but who were now expected to adapt, overnight, to an entirely new style of acting.  Some actors saw their career abruptly end because their voice didn’t match their appearance or because they simply couldn’t memorize the dialogue that they were now required to actually speak.  Even the actors who could handle delivering their dialogue often struggled to find the right balance between acting too much and acting too little.

Take Alibi, for instance.  This crime film was released in 1929 and visually, it’s often a marvel.  But whenever the actors open their mouths and start to recite their dialogue …. yeesh!

Based on a Broadway play, Alibi tells the story of Chick Williams (Chester Morris, whose brooding good looks go a long way towards making up for his awkward screen presence).  Chick is a career criminal who has just been released from prison.  Because he’s a “jailbird,” (as they used to put it in 1929), Sgt. Pete Manning (Purnell Pratt) is convinced that Chick has hooked back up with his old gang and that he’s responsible for a recent robbery that left one policeman dead.  However, Chick has an alibi.  It turns out that, after getting out of prison, one of the first that Chick did was get married.  Chick’s new wife is Pete’s daughter, Joan (Eleanor Griffith)!  And Joan swears that, on the night of the crime, Chick was with her at the theater.

Despite his alibi, Pete is convinced that Chick had something to do with both the robbery and the murder.  Pete decides to send in an undercover cop, Danny McGann (Regis Toomey).  Pretending to be a permanently drunk businessman, Danny works his way into Chick’s mob.  But can Danny find the proof needed to take Chick down?

So, here’s what’s good about Alibi.  First off, it’s a pre-code film, which means that the characters are allowed to occasionally curse and that the gangsters all spend their time at a nightclub, watching the floor show.  It also means that Joan is allowed to openly discuss why she distrusts the police and the film shows the police being brutal in a way that would never be allowed during the production code years.  Secondly, from the very first scene, director Roland West creates an almost dream-like atmosphere, full of looming shadows and art deco sets and close-ups of menacing faces.  West’s camera prowls through the streets and clubs with a restless energy.

But then, as I mentioned earlier, someone will open their mouth and start to speak and the entire film comes to a halt.  The cast — some of whom went on to have long and successful careers — was obviously still struggling to figure out how to act in a sound film and the results are definitely mixed.  Eleanor Griffith delivers all of her lines in the same angry tone while Purnell Pratt stiffly defends the police force.  Regis Toomey, meanwhile, goes so overboard as Danny that you find yourself hoping that he’ll blow his cover and be forced out of the film.  Though he’s occasionally awkward, Chester Morris probably does the best out of the entire cast.  At the very least, he manages to communicate some genuine menace.

Seen today, Alibi is mostly interesting as a historical document.  It represents both the best and the worst of the early sound era.  When it was first released, Alibi was a hit at the box office.  Though no official nominees were announced for the 2nd Academy Awards, notes from the era indicate the Alibi was among the films considered for Best Picture and it’s usually listed as being a nominee.  The award itself was given to Broadway Melody.

7 Films That David Lynch Turned Down


Let us take a moment to consider the career of David Lynch.

As we all know, David Lynch is one of America’s most unique and idiosyncratic directors, an unapologetic surrealist whose films always seem to come from a very dark and very personal place.  He began his career with Eraserhead and was then brought to Hollywood by Mel Brooks so that he could direct The Elephant Man.  Following the huge success of The Elephant Man, Lynch signed a contract with Dino De Laurentiis and directed Dune (a movie that Lynch later said was as close as he ever came to “selling out”) and the far better received Blue Velvet.

After the success of Blue Velvet, Lynch turned to television.  Twin Peaks was, in its way, Blue Velvet adapted for network television.  While people across the world were debating who killed Laura Palmer, Lynch won the 1990 Palme d’Or with Wild At Heart.  Frustrated with ABC’s attempts to interfere with the direction of Twin Peaks, Lynch became less involved with the televisions series and it was canceled after its second season.  Lynch’s cinematic prequel, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, was released an initially tepid response, though — like much of Lynch’s work — it has since been positively reevaluated.

In 1997, Lynch directed his most surreal film yet, Lost Highway.  He then shocked critics by directing the G-rated The Straight Story and proving that his surreal vision could be heart-warming as well as frightening.  When Lynch couldn’t get a network to commit to his proposed second televisions series, Lynch filmed some more footage and released the pilot as a feature film.  Mulholland Drive has gone on to be recognized as one of the greatest films of all time and it also earned Lynch his third Oscar nomination for Best Director.

Despite the success of Mulholland Drive, Lynch still struggled to find the financial backing for the films that he wanted to make.  In 2006, he directed Inland Empire, a film that’s as surreal as any that he’s ever directed and also, in its way, one of the most emotionally powerful films ever made.  Again, much like Fire Walk With Me and Lost Highway, Inland Empire was initially dismissed by critics but it has since been rediscovered.

Eat My Fer by David Lynch

Following Inland Empire, Lynch focused on painting, music, and promoting meditation and it was feared that he had retired from filmmaking.  In 2017, he brought Twin Peaks: The Return to Showtime and, for a few brief months, we were again enraptured by his genius.

David Lynch has directed ten feature films.  (Eleven, if you count Twin Peaks: The Return.  I do.)  He has one of the greatest filmographies of any living director.  But what about the films that David Lynch didn’t make?  In his memoir, Room to Dream, Lynch wrote about not only the projects for which he couldn’t find backing but also about several films that he was offered but turned down.

Here are a few of the films David Lynch turned down:

  1. Frances (1982)

Frances Farmer was a Golden Age actress who was famous for her refusal to conform to the demands of 1940s society.  She was outspoken in her political views.  She drank heavily.  She was open about her drug use.  Following the end of her affair with playwright Clifford Odets, Farmer had a nervous breakdown and was sent to a draconian mental hospital where she was horrifically abused, suffered through electroshock treatments, and was eventually lobotomized before being released in 1950.

It’s a pretty disturbing story and one can imagine that Lynch could have made a powerful film out of it, especially as Frances Farmer is the archetype for the troubled women who are often at the center of his films.  Mel Brooks, who also produced The Elephant Man, produced Frances and was hopeful that Lynch would direct it.  However, Lynch had already signed a contract with Dino De Laurentiis and was not available.  Frances was eventually directed by Graeme Clifford, who took a far more straight-forward approach to the material than Lynch would have.

2. Return of the Jedi (1983)

This is probably the most famous of the films that David Lynch turned down.  George Lucas was a fan of Eraserhead and, in the early 80s, Lynch was riding high as a result of having received his first Oscar nomination for The Elephant Man.  Reportedly, Lucas actually did offer the film to Lynch.  Lynch turned him down, saying that he felt that the film would ultimately have been seen as being Lucas’s film and not the film of whoever was hired to direct it.  Instead, Lynch directed another sci-fi epic, Dune.  

Lucas reportedly then offered the film to another maverick director, David Cronenberg.  After Cronenberg turned it down, Lucas settled on Richard Marquand.

3. Tender Mercies (1983)

Robert Duvall won his first Oscar for this film, in which he played an alcoholic country singer who finds redemption with a Texas widow and her son.  This rather gentle film may seem like the furthest thing one would associate with Lynch but I personally think that David Lynch could have done a good job with it.  Tender Mercies is a film that feels like it might be distantly related to The Straight Story and Lynch’s unapologetic love of Americana would have served the story well.

Lenny Von Dohlen, who played a small role in Tender Mercies, later played the shut-in who had Laura Palmer’s diary in Twin Peaks.

4. Manhunter (1986)

Also known as Red Dragon, this film was the first to feature Dr. Hannibal Lecter.  The film was offered to Lynch by Dino De Laurentiis.  Lynch turned it down so he could concentrate on Blue VelvetManhunter was instead directed by Michael Mann, who — it must be said — filled the film with surreal imagery that occasionally felt very Lynchian.  Considering that Lynch’s films are full of flamboyantly evil men, it’s hard not to be curious what Lynch would have done with characters like Hannibal Lecter and Francis Dollarhyde.

5. American Beauty (1999)

American Beauty was one of the many scripts that was sent to Lynch in the 90s.  Lynch turned the film down and it was instead made by Sam Mendes.  American Beauty went on to win Best Picture.  That said, it’s also one of the most pretentious film ever made and the fact that some people love it will never cease to amaze me.  Interestingly, one of the main problems with the film is that, as a director, Mendes often tries too hard to capture the mood and feeling that Lynch was later able to so effortlessly create in Twin Peaks: The Return.  Lynch probably could have made a decent film out of American Beauty but, fortunately for us, he devoted his attention to Mulholland Drive instead.

6. The Ring (2002)

This film was offered to Lynch but he turned it down. (Interestingly enough, when the film was made, it starred Naomi Watts, who had just appeared in Mulholland Drive and who went on to appear in both Inland Empire and Twin Peaks: The Return.)  I would have been curious to see what Lynch would have done with the killer video.

7. Motherless Brooklyn (2019)

In 1999, Lynch was among the directors who Edward Norton approached about directing a film version of the just-published detective novel, Motherless Brooklyn.  Lynch, who was working on Mulholland Drive, turned Norton down.  20 years later, Motherless Brooklyn was finally made into a film, with Norton starring and directing.

It’s hard to guess what the future holds for David Lynch.  There have been reports that Lynch will no longer make films though Lynch himself says that his disillusionment with cinema has been overstated.  There are also rumors that Lynch might give us another season of Twin Peaks.  Who knows?  Even if David Lynch spends the rest of his days promoting transcendental meditation and never again steps behind a camera, no one can deny that he’s given us some of the most amazing and important films of all time.  Happy birthday, Mr. Lynch!

 

 

4 Shots From 4 Films: Special David Lynch Edition


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

Today is David Lynch’s birthday!  The master of American surrealism and dream-like noir is 74 years old.  One of my fondest memories of the past ten years comes from those glorious few months in 2017 when Leonard, Ryan, Jeff and I watched and analyzed every single episode of Twin Peaks and Twin Peaks: The Return.  It was not only a chance to reacquaint ourselves with a master but it was also a lot of fun as well.  I mean, Lynch may be best known as a surrealist but he’s also a damn good director.

It’s been three years since the final episode of Twin Peaks and we’re still debating that final scream.

In honor of Lynch’s birthday, it time for 4 Shots From 4 Films!  It’s difficult to do one of these for David Lynch, not because it’s hard to find material but instead because it’s so difficult to narrow it down to just four shots.  Lynch has been making films from the 70s and, visually, every single one of them is stunning.  For this post, I’ve limited myself to the work that Lynch has released in the 21st century.

(And yes, Twin Peaks: The Return counts as a movie!)

4 Shots From 4 Films

Mulholland Drive (2000, dir by David Lynch)

Inland Empire (2006, dir by David Lynch)

Twin Peaks The Return Part Three (2017, dir by David Lynch)

Twin Peaks: The Return Part 5 (2017, dir by David Lynch)

Scenes That I Love: The Final Scene of Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita


100 years ago today, the great Federico Fellini was born in Rimini, Italy.  It seems appropriate that today’s scene of the day should come from my favorite Fellini film, 1960’s La Dolce Vita.

In this scene, which occurs at the end of the film, jaded journalist Marcello Rubini (Marcello Mastroianni) finds himself hung over on the beach, watching as a group of people pulls a dead sea serpent out of the ocean.  The serpent appears to be a giant squid of some sort.  Myself, I’ve always felt that it was the equivalent of the Biblical Leviathan and maybe the fish that swallowed Jonah.  Regardless of the fish’s history, it’s now dead but, as Marcello points out, its eyes continue to stare.  The people on the beach are less interested in what the fish is and instead more concerned with what they can do with the carcass.

Marcello looks away from them and sees a young woman named Paola (Valeria Ciangottini) standing at the other end of the beach, calling out and motioning to him.  Marcello attempts to hear what Paola is saying but he cannot hear her words over the sounds of the ocean.  For once, Marcello, the journalist and the high society insider, does not know what is being said.  Finally, Marcello walks away with another woman, leaving Paola’s message a mystery.

What was Paola saying?  Perhaps, in the end, that’s not as important as what we think she may have been saying.  (Sofia Coppola later played a sort of homage to this ending with the final scene of Lost In Translation.)  Marcello missed the message but the good life — La Dolce Vita — continues.

Music Video Of The Day: Everything Has Changed by Best Coast (2020, dir by Ryan Baxley)


Really, everything?

Well, maybe not everything.  This video, for instance, suggests that some things have changed but that it might not have been as easy a change as the lyrics suggest.  The thing I like about this video is that, even though the subject matter is change, it still has this weird retro feel.  So, it’s like, “Everything’s changed …. back!”

I do have to say, though, things have certainly changed for me over the past few years.  I was just thinking about it earlier today.  Way back in 2010, when I first started writing for this site, I was a neurotic and self-destructive and maybe just a little bit insecure.  I was one of those people who would specifically start arguments and fights with people just so I could revel in the drama.  It was my way of acting out at the world, largely because I was just in a really angry place at the time.

But the years have passed and the times have changed and I’m in a much better place today.  A lot of it, I know, had to do with just growing up and discovering that being an immature brat wasn’t as fulfilling (or as cute) as I had been led to believe.  A lot of it had to do with writing for this site and discovering that I didn’t have to act out to get attention.  I could just state my opinions and make my arguments and people would actually respond.  That was a big lesson for me and it played a big role in me gaining the confidence necessary to become a …. well, I wouldn’t say a grown-up.  I still don’t consider myself to be a grown-up.  I’ve still got a lot of maturing to do.  But I’m definitely a much happier person today than I was in 2009.

So remember!  Be supportive of the writers and film reviewers in your life because, in a way, you’re helping them become better people.

Anyway, where was I?  Oh yeah!  Good video!

Enjoy!