Cleaning Out The DVR: Women of San Quentin (dir by William A. Graham)


(Lisa is currently in the process of cleaning out her DVR!  She’s got over 170 films to watch before the end of 2017!  Will she make it?  Who knows?  She recorded 1983’s Women of San Quentin off of Retroplex on January 25th.)

For some reason, back in January, I felt the need to record several prison movies off of cable.  I’m not sure where my mind was at that I would see a title like Women of San Quentin listed in the guide and think to myself, “That’s something I definitely need to record.”  Maybe I was thinking of pursuing a career as a prison guard.  That seems to be the easiest way to get a show on A&E nowadays.

Anyway, I imagine that anyone reading this review is looking that title and considering the VHS cover art and they’re probably assuming that Women of San Quentin is some sort of Ciro Santiago-directed women in prison film.  And then consider the film’s cast: Amy Steel is best known for Friday the 13th Part II and April Fool’s Day.  Stella Stevens is an exploitation film vet.  One of the prisoners is played by Rockne Tarkington, who starred in a handful of blaxploitation films.  William Sanderson, star of the infamous Fight For Your Life, has a small role.  Yaphet Kotto plays a prison guard here but he’s best known for playing the villain in Live and Let Die.  Gregg Henry plays a sociopath.  Hector Elizondo and Debbie Allen play sympathetic guards.  Even Ernie Hudson, a now-respectable actor with several less-than-savory films on his resume, shows up.  Finally, consider this: Women of San Quentin was written by Larry Cohen, the man who directed both Black Caesar and It’s Alive.

However, despite all of that, Women of San Quentin is not an exploitation film.  Instead, it’s a made-for-TV movie.  (Director William A. Graham has over a hundred TV shows and made-for-TV movies to his credit.)  It follows several storylines.  Lt. Janet Alexander (Stella Stevens) is the tough-but-fair captain who is in charge of one of San Quentin’s most intimidating cell blocks.  She’s great at her job and she has a vaguely romantic relationship with Hector Elizondo but she’s also tempted to find a new career.  Charles Wilson (Ernie Hudson) steps up to lead the prison’s black inmates after another activist is assassinated.  Meanwhile, the leader of the Mexican Mafia plots a prison riot and Yaphet Kotto and Debbie Allen use any means necessary to discover what’s going to happen.

And then there’s Liz Larson (Amy Steel), the newest prison guard who struggles to prove that she belongs in San Quentin.  Sexist colleagues play cruel pranks on her.  The prisoners shout at her whenever she walks past their cells.  When she has to use a gun to break up a fight, she hesitates just a second too long.  Will she be able to step up when real trouble breaks out?  Among horror fans, Amy Steel is remembered for “surviving” several slasher films.  (Her performance as Ginny in Friday the 13th Part 2 largely set the standard for which all final girls are judged.)  Steel does a pretty good job as Liz but, actually, the entire movie is well-acted.  The script is frequently rudimentary but the cast is full of unique talent and it’s always fun to watch so many good actors playing opposite each other.

I assume that the Women of San Quentin was meant to be a pilot for a TV show or something.  It just has that feel to it.  If just for the cast alone, I would recommend watching Women of San Quentin if you get a chance.  I’m as surprised as anyone but, after all, where else are going to get a chance to watch Hector Elizondo, Yaphet Kotto, Stella Stevens, and Amy Steel all hanging out in a bar together?  There are certain opportunities that you just don’t miss.

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Cleaning out the DVR: Disgraced (dir by Pat Kondelis)


(Lisa is currently in the process of cleaning out her DVR!  She’s got over 170 movies recorded and she’s hoping to have them all watched by the new year!  Wish her luck!  She recorded the 2017 documentary, Disgraced, off of Showtime on July 10th.)

To be honest, Disgraced is not the type of documentary that I would usually watch.

After all, it’s a documentary about basketball and a college athletics program, two things about which I have next to no interest.  I will admit that, like everyone in Dallas, I watched the Marvericks when they were playing for the NBA championship but, even then, I spent most of the games with my hands over my ears.  Seriously, all those squeaky shoes!  I just couldn’t take it.

However, with all that in mind, there was no way that I was going to miss Disgraced.  As soon as I found out what the documentary was specifically about, I set the DVR to record it.  Disgraced is about more than just basketball.  It tells the story of Patrick Dennehy, a Baylor basketball player who, in 2003, vanished.  I can still remember when Dennehy disappeared.  It was big news down here in Texas and, for a few days, it was all anyone was talking about.  Even back then, I was fascinated by missing person cases and I wondered if Dennehy had been kidnapped, developed amnesia, or perhaps voluntarily gone into hiding.  Who knows?  Maybe he didn’t want to be a big basketball star.

I can also remember the day when it was announced that Dennehy’s teammate and friend, Carlton Dotson, had confessed to shooting and killing Dennehy.  At the time, it was reported that Dotson had said that he heard a voice telling him to kill Patrick.  That was pretty scary stuff and everyone was shocked.  In retrospect, I think a lot of the surprise had to do with the fact that Dotson killed his own teammate.  We’re big on team sports down here in Texas.  For many, being a teammate is almost as sacred a relationship as being someone’s cousin.

Topping it all off, of course, was the fact that this all happened at Baylor University.  Baylor may be the world’s biggest Baptist University but it’s also a Texas institution.  Down here, we all know the Baylor stereotype.  Baylor students are both religious and wild.  For those who like to think of Baylor as being full of hypocrites, the murder of Patrick Dennehy was viewed as vindication.  For me, as a high school student, the murder made me wonder if all colleges were as messed up as Baylor apparently was.

(When I was a later a student at the University of North Texas, I ran into some Baylor students who were visiting a friend.  They were drunk off their asses and begged me and my BFF to come back to their place with them.  “You can trust us,” one of them said, “we’re good Baptist boys from Baylor…”  I informed them that I was a “bad Catholic girl from Dallas,” which just seemed to make them like me more.  Fortunately, I not only had another party to go to but I also had a BFF who had no fear about telling drunk dudes to fuck off.)

What I did not know, at the time, is that the investigation into Dennehy’s death also led to the discovery that the Baylor basketball program was apparently violating all sorts of regulations when it came to recruiting players.  Baylor’s respected coach, Dave Bliss, lost his job as a result of the violations that were discovered and, in the opinion of many, his attempts to cover up all of his actions actually impeded the police investigation into Dennehy’s disappearance.

All of this is detailed in Disgraced, though I have to admit that the details of Dave Bliss’s downfall were of far less interest to me than the details of what led to Carlton Dotson murdering Patrick Dennehy.  Featuring extensive interviews with the people who were there — including an occasionally contrite Dave Bliss — Disgraced traces the steps that eventually led to Dennehy’s murder.  It was fascinating and rather distressing to hear about the days leading up to Dennehy and Dotson going off together to shoot guns.  Dotson’s motives remains as unknowable in the documentary as they are in real life but Patrick Dennehy comes across as being a good guy who deserved better than to be reduced to a sordid headline.  For fans of true crime, Disgraced is a must see and I imagine basketball lovers will get something out of it too.

Cleaning Out The DVR: This Is My Life (dir by Nora Ephron)


(Lisa is currently in the process of trying to clean out her DVR.  She has over 170 movies recorded and she’s trying to get them all watched before the beginning of the new year!  Will she make it?  Keep checking the Shattered Lens to find out!  She recorded the 1992 dramedy This Is My Life off of Indieplex on March 20th.)

This Is My Life tells the story of Dottie Ingels (Julie Kavner).  Dottie may be stuck working in a dead end job at a cosmetics counter but she dreams of becoming a successful comedienne.  She even entertains her customers, who all seem to be delighted to put off making their purchases so that they can listen to an aspiring star tell corny jokes that were probably considered to be dated even at the height of vaudeville.  Most of Dottie’s jokes deal with raising her daughters — Erica (Samantha Mathis) and Opal (Gabby Hoffman) — on her own.  Times may not be easy but … well, actually, as portrayed in this movie, times are remarkably easy for a single mom with a job in retail.  It’s certainly easier for Dottie than it ever was for my mom.

Anyway, Dottie’s aunt dies and leaves her some money, so Dottie moves herself and her daughters to New York City so that she can pursue her comedy career.  With the help of an eccentric agent (Dan Aykroyd) and his assistant (Carrie Fisher), Dottie starts to find success as a performer but her daughters also start to resent the fact that their mother is no longer around as much as she used to be.  While Dottie is getting invitations to appear on late night talk shows, Erica and Opal are feeling neglected.  Finally, they decide to run away from home and head upstate to see their father, little realizing that he may not have room for them in his new life.

This Is My Life is one of those films that could only have been made by someone totally in love with the concept (as opposed to the reality) of show business.  While Dottie does have to sacrifice to find success, the film has no doubt that the sacrifices are worth it.  As played by Dan Aykroyd, Dottie’s agent is a big lovable eccentric who just wants the best for all of his clients.  In fact, everyone in this movie just wants the best for Dottie.  As a result, the film is so good-natured that you kind of feel guilty if you don’t force yourself to love it.  At the same time, it’s such an unabashedly sentimental movie that it’s difficult to take any of its conflicts seriously.  It’s like a fantasy of what it’s like to be an aspiring star in New York.  Making her directorial debut, the famous writer Nora Ephron laid on the schmaltz so thick that, for the majority of the film, there’s not even a hint of a rough edge or a ragged corner.  This is a film that really could have used a little more profanity.  And while Julie Kavner is undoubtedly a funny actress, she’s never believable as a stand-up comedienne.  (At least not a successful one…)

That said, there were a few things that I did like about This Is My Life.  Mathis and Hoffman are believable as sisters and there’s a natural poignancy to the scenes where they manage to track down their father.  I related to those scenes and they brought tears to my mismatched eyes, not that it’s particularly hard to do that.  Otherwise, This Is My Life felt like a typical directorial debut: heartfelt, uneven, well-intentioned, and just a little too heavy-handed.

Cleaning Out The DVR: O (dir by Tim Blake Nelson)


(Lisa is currently in the process of cleaning out her DVR!  This could take a while.  She recorded the 2001 high school film O off of Cinemax on July 6th.)

Tell me if this sounds familiar.

O (Mekhi Phifer) is one of the only black students attending an exclusive high school in South Carolina.  Despite a past that involves petty crime and drugs, O appears to have his life on the right track.  As the captain of school’s basketball team, O is the most popular student at his school.  Everyone looks up to him.  Everyone wants to be him.  He’s even dating Desi (Julia Stiles), the very white daughter of the school’s very white headmaster (John Heard).  At a school assembly, Coach Duke Goulding (Martin Sheen) describes O as being like a son to him.  When O is awarded the MVP trophy, he shares it with his teammate, Michael Cassio (Andrew Keegan).

Watching all of this with seething jealousy is Hugo Gaumont (Josh Hartnett).  Hugo is a teammate of O’s.  In fact, he even thought that he was O’s best friend.  That was before O shared his award with Michael.  Making Hugo even more jealous is that he happens to be the son of the coach.  For every kind word that Duke has for O, he has a hundred petty criticisms for Hugo.  Whereas O has overcome drug addiction and is proclaimed as a hero for doing so, Hugo is secretly doing steroids, trying to do anything to improve himself as a player and hopefully win everyone’s love.

So, Hugo decides to get revenge.  Working with a nerdy outcast named Roger Calhoun (Elden Hansen), he manipulates O into thinking that Desi is cheating on him with Cassio.  He also tricks Cassio into getting into a fight with Roger, leading to Cassio getting suspended from the team.  To top it all off, Hugo gets O hooked on drugs, once again.  Finding himself consumed by a violent rage that he thought he had under control, O starts to obsess on determining whether or not Desi has been faithful to him…

If that sounds familiar, that’s because O is basically Othello, transported to modern times and involving privileged teenagers.  Even though the whole modernized Shakespeare thing has become a bit of a cliché, it actually works pretty well in O.  Hugo’s obsessive jealousy of the “cool kids” feels right at home in a high school setting and director Tim Blake Nelson and writer Brad Kaaya do a fairly good job of transporting Shakespeare’s Elizabethan melodrama to the early aughts.

(Actually, O was filmed in 1999 but it sat on the shelf for two years.  After a spate of school shootings, distributors were weary about releasing a film about high school students trying to destroy each other.)

Admittedly, O has its share of uneven moments.  Martin Sheen, playing the type of role that always seems to bring out his worst instincts as an actor, goes so overboard as the coach that he threatens to sink almost every scene in which he appears and Rain Phoenix is miscast as Hugo’s girlfriend.  Even Julia Stiles struggles a bit in the role of Desi.  However, both Mekhi Phifer and Josh Hartnett are perfectly cast as O and Hugo.  Phifer brings just the right amount of arrogant swagger to the role while Hartnett is a sociopathic marvel as Hugo.  Tim Blake Nelson’s direction is occasionally overwrought, relying a bit too heavily on a groan-inducing metaphor about taking flight and claiming the spotlight.  However, both Nelson and the film deserve some credit for not shying away from directly confronting and portraying the source material’s cultural and racial subtext.

O is hardly perfect but it is always watchable and, at its best, thought-provoking.

Cleaning out the DVR: Burn Motherf**ker, Burn! (dir by Sacha Jenkins)


(Lisa is currently in the process of cleaning out her DVR!  She has got over 170 movies to watch and she is determined to get it all done by the end of the year!  She recorded the 2017 documentary Burn Motherfucker, Burn! off of Showtime on April 22nd!)

I should note that the title of this film actually doesn’t contain any asterisks.  Burn, Motherf**ker Burn! may be how it was listed in the guide but the opening credits proudly and loudly proclaim: BURN MOTHERFUCKER, BURN!

It’s an appropriate title because there’s actually not a subtle moment to be found in Burn, Motherfucker, Burn!  Burn, Motherfucker Burn probably will not change anyone’s opinion about anything but that doesn’t really seem to be the film’s goal.  This is an angry and outspoken documentary, one that deals with the long history of conflict between the LAPD and the black community of Los Angeles.  Starting with cell phone footage of the 2015 killing of Charley Keunang before flashing back to the 1965 Watts riot and ending with the 1992 Los Angeles uprising, Burn, Motherfucker, Burn! is pure agitprop.

How you react to the documentary will largely depend on how you view race in America.  If you go into this film thinking that issues of police brutality and systemic racism are overstated, you’ll probably think Burn, Motherfucker Burn is one-sided propaganda.  If you go into the film thinking that America is still struggling to overcome the effects of systemic racism and that the police unfairly target minorities, Burn, Motherfucker Burn will confirm your every suspicion and might even inspire you to take a stand.  If the viewer doesn’t already agree with Burn, Motherfucker Burn‘s outlook, then Burn, Motherfucker Burn doesn’t have much use for that viewer.

I have to admit that I probably would have had a stronger reaction to Burn, Motherfucker Burn! if I hadn’t finally watched O.J.: Made In America a few weeks ago.  Quite a bit of the more infuriating footage used in Burn, Motherfucker Burn! — such as Bill Parker, the chief of the LAPD in the 60s, casually dismissing the concerns of the black community on a talk show — also appeared in O.J.: Made in America.  In fact, there’s very little in Burn, Motherfucker Burn! that wasn’t previously dealt with in the first two parts of the O.J. documentary.

That said, speaking as a self-confessed history nerd, there are a few interesting things to be learned from Burn, Motherfucker Burn.  For instance, before watching this documentary, I didn’t know that the infamous gangs of Los Angeles — which have been the subject of so many movies and tv shows — were started largely to provide neighborhoods with protection from the police.  The film shows how a vibrant artistic and cultural movement came about as a result of people rebelling against endless oppression.  For me, those were the most interesting parts of the film.

Charlie Beck, the current LAPD chief, is also interviewed.  He suggests that, as long as everyone does what they’re told to do, no one should worry about a thing.  He doesn’t bother to mention what Charley Keunang did to get gunned down at the start of the documentary.

Lisa Cleans Out Her DVR: The Carey Treatment (dir by Blake Edwards)


(Lisa is currently in the process of cleaning out her DVR!  She has got over 170 movies on the DVR to watch and she’s trying to get it done before the start of the new year!  Can she get it done?  Probably not, but she’s going to try!  1972’s The Carey Treatment was recorded off of TCM on July 23rd.)

Dr. Peter Carey (James Coburn) is the epitome of 1970s cool.  He’s got hair long enough to cover the top half of ears.  He’s got a fast car.  He’s got a rebellious attitude and a girlfriend (Jennifer O’Neill) who rarely questions his decisions.  Though you don’t see it in the movie, Dr. Carey probably smokes weed when he’s back at his fashionably decorated apartment.  How do I know this?  Well, he’s played by James Coburn.  Even if some of them are nearly 50 years old, you can still get a contact high from watching any movie featuring James Coburn.

Anyway, what the Hell is The Carey Treatment about?  Dr. Carey has just recently moved to Boston, where he’s taken a job at a stodgy old hospital.  The hospital’s chief doctor, J.D. Randall (Dan O’Herlihy, of Halloween III: Season of The Witch fame), might want Dr. Carey to tone down his free-livin’, free-lovin’ California ways but no one tells Peter Carey what to do.  In fact, the entire city of Boston might be too stodgy and conventional for Dr. Carey.  You see, Dr. Carey not only heals people.  He also beats up people who try to stand in his way.  Peter Carey is a doctor who cares but he’s also a doctor who can kick ass.

And he’s going to have to kick a lot of ass because Dr. Randall’s daughter has just turned up dead.  The police say that she died as the result of a botched abortion and they’ve arrested Carey’s best friend, Dr. David Tao (James Hong).  (The Carey Treatment, it should be noted, was filmed before Roe v. Wade legalized abortion.)  The Boston establishment is determined to use Dr. Tao as a scapegoat but Dr. Carey is convinced that his friend is innocent.  In fact, he doesn’t think that the death was the result of an abortion at all.  Carey sets out to solve the case … HIS WAY!

If it seems like I’m going a little bit overboard with my emphasis on the Dr. Peter Carey character, that’s because this entire movie feels more like a pilot for a weekly Dr. Carey television series as opposed to an actual feature film.  It’s easy to image that each week, James Coburn would drive from hospital to hospital, solving medical mysteries and debating social issues with stuffy members of the Boston establishment.  Henry Mancini would provide the theme music and Don Murray would guest star as Dr. Carey’s brother, a priest who encourages the young men in his parish to burn their draft cards.

It might have eventually become an interesting TV show but it falls pretty flat as a movie.  James Coburn is in nearly every scene, which would usually be a good thing.  But in The Carey Treatment, he gives an incredibly indifferent performance.  He seems to be bored by the whole thing and, as a result, Dr. Peter Carey is less a cool rebel and more of a narcissistic jerk.  The mystery itself is handled rather haphazardly.  On the positive side, Michael Blodgett gives a wonderfully creepy performance as a duplicitous masseur but otherwise, The Carey Treatment is nothing special.

If you want to see a great James Coburn film, track down The President’s Analyst.

Cleaning Out The DVR: Crime + Punishment in Suburbia (dir by Rob Schmidt)


(Lisa is once again trying to clean out her DVR!  She’s got about 182 films on her DVR and she needs to get them all watched by the end of this year!  Will she make it?  Not if she’s too busy writing cutesy introductions for her reviews to actually watch the movies!  She recorded Crime + Punishment in Suburbia off of Flix on February 25th!)

Oh, dammit.

I have seen some really pretentious movies before but Crime + Punishment in Suburbia is really something else.  As you might be able to guess from the title, the film is supposedly based on the Dosteyevsky novel but it takes place not only in modern times but in suburbia as well.  Oh, and it actually has next to nothing in common with Doteyevsky novel, beyond a murder and occasional religious symbolism.  And by occasional, I mean that there’s a scene where Vincent Kartheiser wears a Jesus t-shirt.

Kartheiser plays Vincent, a teenager who I think we’re supposed to think is dark and disturbed but instead he just comes across like a weird little poser.  I mean, honestly, it takes more than just wearing black clothes to be weird.  I had a closet full of black clothes when I was eighteen and it still never brought me any closer to enlightenment.  Anyway, Vincent is a classmate of Roseanne (Monica Keena) and Roseanne is dating a handsome but dumb jock named Jimmy (James DeBello).  Roseanne’s mother is named Maggie (Ellen Barkin) and Maggie has recently married an abusive drunk named Fred (Michael Ironside).

Fred is a total jerk so Maggie goes out with her best friend, Bella (Conchata Ferrell), to a bar.  It’s at the bar that she meets Chris (Jeffrey Wright), a handsome and charming bartender.  Soon, Chris and Maggie are having an affair and when Fred finds out, he rapes his stepdaughter.  Roseanne convinces Jimmy to help her murder Fred but, after the deed is done, Roseanne finds herself struggling with her conscience.

Now, of course, in Crime & Punishment, the whole point is that the murder itself was largely random and motiveless.  The rest of the book deals with the protagonist’s attempt to come to terms with not only his crime but also with the meaninglessness of it all.  In Crime + Punishment in Suburbia, Roseanne has a good reason for killing Fred.  Fred is such a monster that there’s no real confusion as to why Roseanne did what she did.  One could argue, quite convincingly, that if she didn’t kill Fred, he would have ended up killing her.  That makes the film’s later attempt at moral ambiguity feel rather hollow and empty.

The other problem with Crime + Punishment in Suburbia is that we don’t see the story through Roseanne’s eyes.  Instead, the entire movie is narrated by Vincent.  Now, Vincent Kartheiser is not a bad actor.  Anyone who has seen Mad Men knows that.  And, in this film, he occasionally gets to flash a cute smile that makes the character a little bit bearable.  But the character he plays, Vincent, is so weird and off-putting that you have no desire to spend 100 minutes listening to him portentously talk about his existence.  Considering that Monica Keena actually gives a pretty good performance as Roseanne, the decision to tell her story through Vincent’s eyes feels all the more mistaken.

The only thing more overwrought than Vincent’s narration is Rob Schmidt’s direction.  This is one of those films that uses every narrative trick in the book to tell its story.  Look at the wild camera angles!  Look at the sudden slow motion!  Look at the freeze frame!  This is one of those movies that you watch and you just want to shout, “Calm down!” at the director.

Crime + Punishment in Suburbia is one to avoid.