The TSL’s Grindhouse: The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson (dir by Daniel Farrands)


Last year, I was one of the few people willing to defend The Haunting of Sharon Tate, which I felt was an effective film despite its rather icky premise.  I thought that the film managed to maintain a compelling atmosphere of dread and I also thought that, though somewhat miscast, Hilary Duff gave a good performance in the lead role.  Finally, I felt that, despite the exploitative nature of the film, the film was firmly on the side of Sharon Tate and the other victims of the Manson Family.  Though the title may have been offensive, the film itself was better than it had any right to be.

I really can’t say the same for The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson, which is from the same production team as The Haunting of Sharon Tate and which imagines the final days in the life of another famous homicide victim.  Mena Suvari stars as Nicole Brown Simpson, the ex-wife of football player OJ Simpson (played, in a hyperactive manner, by Gene Freeman).  The film follows Nicole as she deals not only with her abusive ex-husband but also with shady friends like Faye Resnick (Taryn Manning) and slightly less-disreputable friends like Kris Jenner (Agnes Bruckner).

In the film, Nicole also has a short-lived affair with a handsome but unstable drifter named Glen Rogers (Nick Stahl).  In real life, Glen Rogers is currently incarcerated in Florida, where he awaits execution for a series of murders.  Rogers has confessed to killing people all across the country, though there’s some doubt as to whether or not Rogers was being honest when he did so.  (Rogers later recanted the confession.)  Rogers’s brother has claimed that Glen confessed to murdering Nicole Simpson and Adam Goldman, saying that he was actually hired to do so by OJ Simpson.  (Technically, Glen Rogers said that Simpson hired him to steal some jewelry but also gave him permission to kill Nicole if he felt that it was necessary.)  The film presents Rogers’s story as being fact, complete with a scene of OJ meeting with Glen shortly before the murders occur.

Other than making the case that Glen Rogers murdered Nicole and Ron, the majority of the film is just Mena Suvari walking around Los Angeles and talking to her friends about how she has a feeling that something terrible is going to happen.  Whereas The Haunting of Sharon Tate was willing to challenge the audience’s expectations by, at least briefly, changing history and presenting an alternate version of what could have happened that day in 1969, The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson is pretty much a grim march towards death, with each scene bringing the audience closer and close to the night of the actual murderers.  If the film actually presented Nicole as being a fully-realized character as opposed to just a doomed victim, the story’s fatalistic atmosphere would work on an existential level but since the film doesn’t seem to care about who Nicole was before she died, it all just feels very sleazy.

Towards the end of the film, there’s an odd scene where an unseen force suddenly starts to violently throw Nicole across her bedroom, sending her against the walls and, at one point, pinning her to the ceiling.  It’s a weird scene because it comes out of nowhere and it’s never explained whether it really happened or if Nicole was imagining being attacked.  It doesn’t belong in this film and yet, it’s also the only moment when this film feels in any way unpredictable.  Is the film trying to suggest that death, as a paranormal entity, was stalking her even before the night of her murder or was the scene just tossed in to liven up what is otherwise a rather slowly paced movie?  Who knows?  Again, if the film had really explored the issue of whether or not fate is predetermined and inevitable, it would have made for a far more interesting story than the rush job that this film appears to have been.

Mena Suvari and Nick Stahl are two actors who probably deserve better than this.  Stahl is especially effective as the creepy but handsome Glen Rogers.  Visually, the film is full of Hollywood glamour and ominous shadows.  It’s not a bad-looking film, at all.  Technically, The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson is well-made but, at the same time, it’s all just so astoundingly pointless.  The memory of Nicole Simpson deserved better.

 

An Offer You Can’t Refuse #18: The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (dir by Roger Corman)


On February 14th, 1929, seven men were murdered in a garage in Chicago, Illinois.  Five of the seven men were known to be associates of gangster George “Bugs” Moran.  The other two men were considered to be innocent bystanders, a mechanic and a dry cleaner who just happened to enjoy hanging out with gangsters.  Though no one was ever convicted of the crime, it was well-known that the murders were carried out on the orders of Al Capone.

In many ways, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre was a turning point in America’s relationship with organized crime.  Before the massacre, Capone had become a bit of a folk hero.  He knew how to talk to the press and he was viewed as merely breaking a law (in this case, prohibition) that most people opposed in the first place.  However, after the murders, public opinion soured on Capone.

Some of it was the brutality of the crime.  It’s been said that over five hundred bullets were fired in that garage, all to kill seven defenseless men who were lined up against a wall.  Grisly pictures of the victims were released to the press.  Perhaps if the seven men had been carrying weapons and had been involved in a shootout with their murderers, the public’s reaction would have been different.  But this was a cold-blooded execution.

Personally, I think the fact that the killers disguised themselves as cops also played a role in the public’s outrage.  It was a very calculated move on the part of the killers and it highlighted just how much planning went into the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.  As well, it undoubtedly made people paranoid.  If a bunch of killer could dress up like cops, who knew who else they could dress up as?

Finally, I think that Capone’s biggest mistake was carrying out the crime on Valentine’s Day.  You don’t murder people on a holiday.  Anyone should know that.  If Capone had waited until February 20th, he probably could have gotten away with it.

The 1967 film, The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, details the rivalry between Capone and Moran, starting with them fighting for control over the Chicago rackets and ending with the title event.  Moran is played by Ralph Meeker while Jason Robards plays Capone.

Now I know what you’re probably thinking.  Perennial WASP Jason Robards as Al Capone?  That may sound like odd casting and, let’s just be honest here, it is.  However, it actually kind of works.  Robards may not be convincingly Italian but he is convincingly ruthless.  Add to that, one of the major subplots of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre is that, even as the head of the Chicago Outfit, Capone still feels like an outsider in the world of organized crime because, while he is Italian, he isn’t Sicilian.  Capone feels as if Lucky Luciano and all of the major New York crime bosses look down on him and one reason why he’s so ruthless about taking over Chicago is that wants to show Luciano that he can be just as effective a crime lord as any Sicilian.  Capone feeling out of place in the Mafia is reflected by Robards initially seeming to be out of place in a gangster film.  By the end of the movie, of course, Capone has proven himself and so has Jason Robards.

Robards isn’t the only familiar face to be found in The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.  Though this film was released by 20th Century Fox, it was directed by Roger Corman and Corman fills the production with members of his stock company.  Dick Miller, Jonathan Haze, and Jack Nicholson all have small roles as gunmen.  Bruce Dern plays the unlucky mechanic who enjoys hanging out with gangsters.  Buck Taylor, Leo Gordon, and Joe Turkel all have small roles.  John Agar plays Dion O’Bannon and is gunned down in his flower store.  Though not members of the Corman stock company, George Segal and David Canary plays brothers who work for Moran.  There’s a lot of characters wandering through this film but Corman makes sure that everyone gets a chance to make an impression.

It’s a good gangster film.  Though he was working with a larger budget than usual, Corman still brought his exploitation film aesthetic to the material and the end result is a violent, melodramatic gangster film that looks really impressive.  The film’s recreation of 1920s Chicago is a visual delight and looking at the well-dressed and stylish gangsters walking and driving down the vibrant city streets, you can understand why organized crime would have such a draw for some people.

The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre is a classic gangster film and a classic Corman film.  It’s an offer you can’t refuse.

Previous Offers You Can’t (or Can) Refuse:

  1. The Public Enemy
  2. Scarface
  3. The Purple Gang
  4. The Gang That Could’t Shoot Straight
  5. The Happening
  6. King of the Roaring Twenties: The Story of Arnold Rothstein 
  7. The Roaring Twenties
  8. Force of Evil
  9. Rob the Mob
  10. Gambling House
  11. Race Street
  12. Racket Girls
  13. Hoffa
  14. Contraband
  15. Bugsy Malone
  16. Love Me or Leave Me
  17. Murder, Inc.

 

The Late Shift (1996, directed by Betty Thomas)


Want to relive the public battle over whether David Letterman or Jay Leno would be Johnny Carson’s successor?

Then The Late Shift is the film for you!

Though it pales when compared to the subsequent battle between Leno and Conan O’Brien, the competition between Letterman and Leno to succeed Johnny Carson as host of The Tonight Show riveted America in the early 90s.  Most media critics (and, reportedly, Carson himself) felt that Letterman had not only earned the right to host The Tonight Show but that he represented the future of late night comedy.  The NBC network execs, however, preferred Leno, who had served for years as Carson’s permanent guest host and who was viewed as being more of a team player than Letterman.  The end result, of course, was that Leno got The Tonight Show, Letterman switched networks, and for years the country was separated into Leno people and Letterman people.  (Letterman got the critical acclaim but Leno got the ratings.)

The Late Shift opens with the unexpected retirement of Johnny Carson (played, as an enigma, by Rich Little) and then follows Letterman (John Michael Higgins) and Leno (Daniel Roebuck) as they maneuver their way to become his successor.  Unfortunately, neither Higgins nor Roebuck are particularly believable in their roles, though Roebuck does get to wear a truly impressive fake chin.  Far more impressive are Kathy Bates as Leno’s manager and Treat Williams as Mike Ovitz.  Bates rips through her scenes, destroying anyone standing in the way of Jay Leno while Williams is cool, calm, and menacing as the agent who was, at the time the film was made, the most powerful man in Hollywood.

The main problem with The Late Shift is that, when it went into production, Letterman was ahead in the ratings and the film is clearly sympathetic to him.  Leno comes across as a weasel while Letterman is portrayed as being neurotic but brilliant.  But, shortly before the film made its debut on HBO, Leno landed the first interview with Hugh Grant after the latter’s arrest with a prostitute.  Leno not only won that night in the ratings but he won every subsequent night and soon, Letterman was the one who was forever stuck in second place.  A title card was added to the end of  The Late Shift, admitting that Leno was now winning the war for the late night.  Since every minute of the film was designed to make Letterman appear to the winner, it’s hard not to be let down by the ending.

Despite the disappointing ending, The Late Shift is an entertaining look at network politics.  (Seinfeld fans will note that, after playing a version of Warren Littlefield during the show’s 4th season, Bob Balaban was cast as the real thing in The Late Shift.)  After watching the movie, be sure to read the Bill Carter book on which it’s based.

4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Kevin Bacon 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 the birthday of everyone’s favorite, hard-working character actor, Kevin Bacon!  And that means that it’s time for….

4 Shots From 4 Films

Friday the 13th (1980, dir by Sean S. Cunningham)

Quicksilver (1986, dir by Thomas Michael Donnelly)

JFK (1991, dir by Oliver Stone)

X-Men: First Class (2011, dir by Matthew Vaughn)

 

Song of the Day: Come Un Mardigale by Ennio Morricone


Today, we continue our tribute to Ennio Morricone with Come Un Madrigale, which he composed for Dario Arengto’s 1971 giallo, Four Flies on Grey Velvet!  Morricone scored Argento’s first three films and his atmospheric music was as important to their success as Goblin would be to the success of later Argento films like Suspiria and Deep Red.

Previous Entries In Our Tribute To Morricone:

  1. Deborah’s Theme (Once Upon A Time In America)
  2. Violaznioe Violenza (Hitch-Hike)

The Covers of Science Wonder Stories


The first issue of Science Wonder Stories appeared in 1929.  It was published by Luxembourg-born businessman, Hugo Gernsback.  Along with publishing magazines, Gernsback also owned a radio station and was an amateur inventor.  He was also a tireless supporter of science fiction, arguing that his pulp magazines should be read by students in school because science fiction was educational as well as being entertaining.

Science Wonder Stories was one of the many magazines that Gernsbeck founded.  The first issue was published in 1929 and featured stories and artwork from several pioneers of the science fiction genre.  In 1930, Gernsbeck merged Science Wonder Stories with another magazine, Air Wonder Stories.  The new magazine was called Wonder Stories and ran until 1964.

Below are some of the covers of Science Wonder Stories.  All of these covers were done by Frank R. Paul.

Music Video of the Day: Try by Michael Penn (1997, dir by Paul Thomas Anderson)


I was going to do one of the videos that Paul Thomas Anderson directed for Haim today but I changed my mind at the last minute.  That’s nothing against Haim or the video.  Haim’s great and their videos — particularly the ones directed by Anderson — are frequently brilliant.  It’s just, for whatever reason, I knew that today was not the day to write about their video for The Steps.  That day will come soon.

Instead, I wrote about the video for Michael Penn’s Try.

Try was the very first music video to be directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.  He directed it while he was editing Boogie Nights.  Michael Penn, of course, did the score for both Boogie Nights and Anderson’s earlier Hard Eight.  He can also be spotted in Boogie Nights, playing Nick in the recording studio and incredulously reacting to the efforts of Dirk Diggler and Reed Rothschild to record their own album.

When watching this video, pay attention to the blonde gentleman wearing the Planet of the Apes t-shirt.  He shows up twice and, at one point, holds the microphone into which Penn is singing.  If he looks familiar, that’s because he’s actor Philip Seymour Hoffman!  When I first saw the video, I honestly didn’t recognize him.  I just thought he was some random crew person who got the job because he could run fast enough to keep up with Penn.  Of course, once I learned that Hoffman was in the video and I rewatched it, I immediately spotted him.  I think it says something about what a good actor Hoffman was that, even in something like this, he could be so convincing that, despite being one of the most recognizable actors in the world, he still became somewhat anonymous.  He disappeared into the role.

Thomas Jane and Melora Waters (who played Todd and Jessie St. Vincent in Boogie Nights) are also in this video, standing at the end of a a long line of exhausted dancers.  (This was meant to be a reference to the film, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?)  There’s one other Boogie Nights reference, which is kind of interesting considering the fact that he and Anderson supposedly didn’t get along during filming.  Keep an eye out for door with a purple 9 on it.  That’s a reference to Burt Reynolds, who wore the number 9 when he played college football.

Enjoy!