(Not Quite A) Mardi Gras Film Review: The Big Easy (dir by Jim McBride)


One of the more surprising things about the 1987 film, The Big Easy, is that there aren’t any big Mardi Gras scenes.

Don’t get me wrong.  Several characters in the film mention Mardi Gras, usually in a semi-mocking way.  And there is a scene in a warehouse where Ellen Barkin and Ned Beatty walk past some fearsome looking floats which Beatty says are being stored there until Mardi Gras.  But that’s pretty much it.

Despite not having any huge Mardi Gras scenes, The Big Easy is essentially a cinematic love letter to New Orleans.  (In fact, one could probably argue that the film is so in love with New Orleans that, by not including any big Mardi Gras scenes, the film is saying, “There’s more to this wonderful city than just beads, boobs, and people throwing up i the streets!”)  While the film does have a plot — technically, it’s both a romantic comedy and a crime drama — the plot is ultimately less important than the city where it takes place.  The Big Easy was shot on location in New Orleans and the camera loves every single street, building, and bridge to be found in the Crescent City.  The Big Easy loves the distinctive music and dialect of New Orleans.  Even more importantly, The Big Easy loves the attitude of New Orleans.  This is perhaps one of the most laid back and nonjudgmental crime films to have ever been made.

Dennis Quaid plays Remy McSwain, a Cajun police detective with a nonstop grin and a cheerfully corrupt nature.  Today, we tend to associate Dennis Quaid with playing grim-faced authority figures and serving as the commercial spokesman for Esurance so it’s interesting to see him here, playing a lovable, charismatic, and undeniably sexy rogue.  Remy may be corrupt but he doesn’t mean any harm.  For the most part, he just takes the occasional bribe and sometimes looks the other way when it comes to certain crimes.  He used at least some of the money to put his younger brother through college so really, how can you hold his lack of ethics against him?

Ellen Barkin plays Anne Osborne, a state district attorney who has been sent to New Orleans to investigate allegations of police corruption.  Anne is serious about doing her job and exposing corruption.  At the same time, she also finds herself falling for Remy, even when she has to prosecute him on charges of taking bribes.  It doesn’t take them long to become lovers.

Together, they have great sex and solve crimes!

Actually, in this case, they really do.  The film opens with the murder of a local mafia boss.  (“We call them wise guys,” Remy says, at one point.)  When more drug dealers start to turn up dead, Remy’s boss, Captain Kellom (Ned Beatty), suspects that a gang war has broken out.  (Two of the drug dealers are found with their hearts missing from their bodies, which leads to a lot of talk about how one of the city’s biggest drug kingpins is into voodoo.  It’s not a New Orleans films without a little voodoo.)  Remy, however, has reason to believe that the murderers could be cops!

As I said before, the film’s plot is less important than the city where it takes place and the people who live in that city.  Director Jim McBride and screenwriter Daniel Petrie, Jr. do a good enough job with the crime plot but it’s obvious that they’re most interested in taking Remy and Anne and surrounding them with a host of eccentric, identifiable New Orleans characters.  As a result, the film is full of memorable performances from character performers like Ned Beatty, John Goodman, Lisa Jane Persky, and Grace Zabriskie.  Even Jim Garrison, the former New Orleans district attorney whose attempt to frame an innocent man for the murder of John F. Kennedy inspired Oliver Stone’s JFK, makes an appearance as himself.

Even without any big Mardi Gras scenes, The Big Easy is an entertainingly laid back tribute to New Orleans.

The Baron and the Kid (1984, directed by Gary Nelson)


Ever wonder what The Color of Money would have been like if it starred Johnny Cash and featured less Eric Clapton but more country and western on the soundtrack?  The Baron and the Kid is here to satisfy your curiosity.

Johnny Cash is Will Addington, better known as The Baron.  Back in the day, The Baron was the meanest and the most ruthless pool hustler around.  He’d cheat people out of their money without even giving it a second thought.  He drank.  He doped.  He womanized.  He abused his wife, Dee Dee (June Carter Cash).  After the Baron became the 9-ball world champion, Dee Dee left him and the Baron changed his ways.  Now, years later, he only plays exhibition games for charity and the strongest thing that he drinks is grapefruit juice.

When a young hustler who calls himself the Cajun Kid (Greg Webb) challenges the Baron to a game, the Baron wins easily but he still recognizes that the Kid has a natural talent.  When the Cajun Kid attempts to put up his mother’s wedding ring as stakes for another game, the Baron recognizes the ring as the one that Dee Dee used to wear on her finger.  After talking to Dee Dee, the Baron discovers that the Kid is actually his son.

The Baron takes the Kid under his wing, hoping to train him to become a champion while, at the same time, getting to know his son.  The Kid proves to be a difficult student.  He’s cocky and, like the Baron did in his youth, he has a temper.  He also has a manager, a good-for-nothing con artist named Jack Steamer (Darren McGavin).  Steamer doesn’t want to lose the money that the Kid brings in and he plots to to keep him away from his father.  The Baron, though, is determined to prevent the Kid from making the same mistakes that he made.  However, when the Baron and the Kid both find themselves competing in the same championship, the Baron finds himself being tempted by his old demons.

The Baron and the Kid is okay for a made-for-tv movie.  It’s predictable but Johnny Cash has such a formidable screen presence that it doesn’t matter that he was sometimes a stiff actor.  The Baron’s past of booze and drugs mirrors Cash’s own past and when Cash, as the Baron, talks about how he’s trying to keep the Kid from making the sames mistakes, there’s little doubt that he knows what he’s talking about.  Some of the pool sequences are creatively shot and Richard Roundtree has a great cameo as a cocaine dealer named Frosty.  There’s nothing surprising about The Baron and the Kid but fans of Cash and the game of pool should enjoy it.

Love on the Shattered Lens: Brief Encounter (dir by David Lean)


Flames of Passion is a British film from 1938.  I’ve seen the trailer but I’ve never actually seen the film and that’s kind of a shame because it’s a really good trailer.  Not only does it feature romance and adventure but it’s apparently based on a novel called Gentle Summer.  As someone who is fascinated by the power of a good title, I have to give credit to whoever changed that one.  Flames of Passion is far more intriguing than Gentle Summer.

Another reason that I want to see Flames of Passion is because it was apparently “Epoch-Making!!!”  In fact, they say so right in the trailer:

Unfortunately, I’ll never get a chance to actually see Flames of Passion.  As you probably already guessed, it’s a fictional film.  (I’m going to guess that “Epoch-Making” gave it away.)  It’s a fake film that plays a very important role in real film, the 1945 classic Brief Encounter.

Taking place in Britain shortly before the start of World War II, Brief Encounter tells the story of two people.  Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson) is respectable, middle class, and middle aged.  Every Thursday, she takes the train into a nearby town where she does the shopping and catches a matinee.  Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard) is a doctor who rides the train every Thursday so that he can help out at a local hospital.  Dr. Harvey volunteers at the hospital because that’s the type of person that he is.  He also volunteers, one Thursday, to help Laura get a piece of dirt out of her eye.

The next Thursday, Laura and Alec run into each other again.  They have coffee.  A week later, they have lunch.  A week after that, they go to the movies and they see the trailer for Flames of Passion.  Laura and Alec enjoy each other’s company and they quickly find themselves growing very close to one another.  The only problem is that, occasionally, Laura’s friends see the two of them together.  Laura knows how quickly gossip can be spread.

Actually, that’s not the only problem.  There’s actually an even bigger problem that neither Laura nor Alec know how to deal with.  Both of them are married and both of them have children.  In fact, Laura would appear to have the type of life that a lot of people would envy.  She has a nice home.  She has wonderful children.  She has a husband named Fred (Cyril Raymond) and there’s no doubt that Fred loves her.  Fred’s a good man but he’s boring, safe, and set-in-his-ways.  He’s the type who, when Laura mentions that she’s made a male friend and that she goes to the movies with him, barely looks up from the newspaper.

What is Laura to do?  She soon finds that her life is now centered around those Thursday meetings with Alec but are they worth the risk of losing her family?  And when Alec tells her that he’s been offered a job in South Africa, Laura realizes that she will soon no longer even have Thursday to which to look forward.

Brief Encounter is an interesting film.  From the minute that Alec and Laura meet, you know that they’re destined to fall for each other but nothing else about the film plays out in the way that you would expect it to.  As much as being a love story, it’s also a story about two people who have reached a point in their lives where they’ve reached the halfway mark of their lives and now they’re asking, “Is this it?”  It’s not just that Laura is attracted to Alec, though she certainly is.  It’s also that she knows that Alec represents what is probably her last chance to do something grand and romantic with her life.  Once Alec leaves, it’ll mean accepting her life as it is, with the good and the bad things that go along with it.

The film’s dialogue is as erudite and witty as you would expect from a cinematic adaptation of a Noel Coward play and David Lean keep the action moving along at a brisk pace.  Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard are absolutely perfect as the two would-be lovers, with Johnson especially giving a powerful and sympathetic performance.  (If you don’t tear up during Laura’s final scene with Alec, you may want to check to see if you have a heart.)  It helps that neither one of them was a traditionally glamorous movie star.  (Trevor Howard may have been handsome but he was no Cary Grant.)  They come across as being very real people and it’s easy to imagine them being very happy together.  They’re such decent people that they even feel guilty for walking out on Flames of Passion, which Laura apparently did not feel was a particularly good movie.  Watching Brief Encounter, you wish that Alec and Laura could have met earlier but you are happy that they at least had their Thursdays.

4 Shots From 4 Films: Happy Twin Peaks Day!


Happy Twin Peaks Day!

It was on this date in 1989 that Dale Cooper first arrived in the small town of Twin Peaks, Washington to help the authorities with their investigation into the death of Laura Palmer.  Here at the Shattered Lens, we’re all big fans of Twin Peaks.  Back in 2017, this site was literally a Twin Peaks fan site for a good couple of months.  As such, today is a big holiday around these parts and what better way to celebrate than with a special edition of 4 Shots From 4 Films?

So, in honor of Twin Peaks, here are….

4 Shots From 4 Films

Twin Peaks: The Pilot (1990, dir by David Lynch)

Twin Peaks 2.22 “Beyond Life and Death” (1991, dir by David Lynch)

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992, dir by David Lynch)

Twin Peaks: The Return Part 18 (2017, dir by David Lynch)

Happy Twin Peaks Day!

Music Video Of The Day: Jesus Built My Hotrod by Ministry (1991, directed by Paul Elledge)


Needless to say, that’s the famous Gibby Haynes providing the vocals on Ministry’s Jesus Built My Hotrod.  Gibby recorded the vocals while he was in Chicago, doing the first Lollapooloza tour.  Ministry’s Al Jourgensen told Songfacts, “Gibby came down completely drunk off his ass. He couldn’t even sit on a stool, let alone sing. I mean, he was wasted. He fell off the stool about 10 times during the recording of that vocal. He made no sense and it was just gibberish. So I spent two weeks editing tape of what he did, thinking it still was better than what I was thinking of doing with the song.”

Fortunately, Gibby’s vocals saved both the song and probably the future of the band.  Ministry had already been given an advance of $750,000 to make an album.  According to Jourgensen, the band spent all the money on drugs and ended up with only this song to show for all of their efforts.  In an attempt to at least get some of their money back, Warner Bros. released the song as a single and it quickly shot up the charts.  For a while, at least, it was Warner Bros’s top selling-single of all time.  As a result, Ministry got another advance of $750,000 and this time, they actually used the money to make an album.

As for the video, it’s all about car culture.  Paul Elledge also directed two videos for Anthrax.

Enjoy!