Lisa Reviews A Palme d’Or Winner: Barton Fink (dir by Joel and Ethan Coen)


With the Cannes Film Festival underway in France, I decided that I would spend the next few days watching and reviewing some of the previous winners of the Palme d’Or.  Today, I got things started with the 1991 winner, Barton Fink.

Directed by the Coen Brothers and taking place in the mythological Hollywood of 1941, Barton Fink tells the story of a writer.  Played by John Turturro, Barton Fink is a playwright who has just had a big hit on Broadway.  We don’t see much of the play.  In fact, we only hear the final few lines.  “No,” one the actors says, in exaggerated “common man” accent, “it’s early.”  From what we hear of the reviews and from Barton himself, it seems obvious that the play is one of those dreary, social realist plays that were apparently all the rage in the late 30s.  Think Waiting for Lefty.  Think Hand That Rocks The Cradle.  Think of the Group Theater and all of the people that Elia Kazan would later name as having been communists.  These plays claimed to tell the stories of the people who couldn’t afford to see a Broadway production.

Barton considers himself to be the voice of the common man, an advocate for the working class.  He grandly brags that he doesn’t write for the money or the adulation.  He writes to give a voice to the voiceless.  When his agent tells him that Capitol Pictures wants to put Barton under contract, Barton resists.  His agent assures Barton that the common man will still be around when Barton returns from Hollywood.  There might even be a few common people in California!  “That’s a rationalization,” Barton argues.  “Barton,” his agent replies with very real concern, “it was a joke.”  Barton, we quickly realize, does not have a sense of humor and that’s always a huge problem for anyone who finds themselves in a Coen Brothers film.

In Hollywood, Barton meets the hilariously crass Jack Lipnik (Oscar-nominated Michael Lerner).  Lipnik is the head of Capitol Pictures and he is sure that Barton can bring that “Barton Fink feeling” to a Wallace Beery wrestling picture.  Barton has never wrestled.  He’s never even seen a film.  The great toast of Broadway finds himself sitting in a decrepit hotel room with peeling wallpaper.  He stares at his typewriter.  He writes three or four lines and then …. nothing.  He meets his idol, Faulknerish writer W.P. Mayhew (John Mahoney), and discovers that Mayhew is a violent drunk and that most his recent work was actually written by his “secretary,” Audrey (Judy Davis).  He seeks help from producer Ben Geisler (Tony Shalhoub), who cannot understand why Barton is having such a difficult time writing what should be a very simple movie.  Barton sits in his hotel room and waits for inspiration that refuses to come.

He also gets to know Charlie Meadow (John Goodman).  Charlie is Barton’s neighbor.  Charlie explains that he’s an insurance agent but he really sells is “peace of mind.”  At first, Barton seems to be annoyed with Charlie but soon, Barton finds himself looking forward to Charlie’s visits.  Charlie always brings a little bottle of whiskey and a lot of encouragement.  Charlie assures Barton that he’ll get the script written.  Barton tells Charlie that he wants to write movies and plays about “people like you.”  Charlie shows Barton a wrestling move.  Barton tells Charlie to visit his family if he’s ever in New York.  Charlie tells Barton, “I could tell you some stories” but he never really gets the chance because Barton is usually too busy talking about his ambitions to listen.  Charlie tells Barton, “Where there’s a head, there’s hope,” a phrase that takes on a disturbing double meaning as the film progresses.  Just as Barton isn’t quite the class warrior that he believes himself to be, Charlie isn’t quite what he presents himself to be either.  Still, in the end, Charlie is far more honest about who he is than Barton could ever hope to be.

When it comes to what Barton Fink is actually about, it’s easy to read too much into it.  The Coens themselves have said as much, saying that some of the film’s most debated elements don’t actually have any deeper meaning beyond the fact that they found them to be amusing at the time.  At its simplest, Barton Fink is a film about writer’s block.  Anyone who has ever found themselves struggling to come up with an opening line will be able to relate to Barton staring at that nearly blank page and they will also understand why Barton comes to look forward to Charlie visiting and giving him an excuse not to write.  It’s a film about the search for inspiration and the fear of what that inspiration could lead to.  Towards the end of the film, Barton finds himself entrusted with a box that could contain his worst fears or which could cpntain nothing at all.  There’s nothing to stop Barton from opening the box but he doesn’t and it’s easy to understand why.  To quote another Coen Brothers film, “Embrace the mystery.”

There’s plenty of other theories about what exactly is going on in Barton Fink but, as I said before, I think it’s easy to overthink things.  The Coens have always been stylists and sometimes, the style is the point.  That said, I do think that it can be argued that Barton Fink’s mistake was that he allowed himself to think that he was important than he actually was.  Self-importance is perhaps the one unforgivable sin in the world of the Coen Brothers.  Like most Coen films, Barton Fink takes place in a universe that is ruled by chaos and the random whims of fate.  Barton’s mistake was thinking that he could understand or tame that chaos through his art or his politics.  Barton’s mistake is that he tries to rationalize and understand a universe that is irrational and incapable of being explained.  He’s a self-declared storyteller who refuses to listen to the stories around him because those stories might challenge what he considers to be the “life of the mind.”

Barton Fink is a film that people either seem to love or they seem to hate.  Barton, himself, is not always a  particularly likable character and the Coens seem to take a very definite joy in finding ways to humiliate him.  Fortunately, Barton is played by John Turturro, an actor who has the ability to find humanity in even the most obnoxious of characters.  (As obnoxious as Barton can be, it’s hard not to want to embrace him when he awkwardly but energetically dances at a USO club.)  Turturro has great chemistry with John Goodman, who gives one of his best performances as Charlie.  It’s putting it lightly to say that most viewers will have mixed feelings about Charlie but the film makes such great use of Goodman’s natural likability that it’s only on a second or third viewing that you realize that all of Charlie’s secrets were pretty much out in the open from the start.  Michael Lerner deserved his Oscar nomination but certainly Goodman deserved one as well.  The rest of the cast is full of Coen Brothers regulars, including Jon Polito as Lerner’s obsequies assistant and Steve Buscemi as Chet, the very friendly front deskman.  And finally, I have to mention Christopher Murney and Richard Portnow, who play two of the worst cops ever and who deliver their hardboiled dialogue with just the right mix of menace and parody.

Barton Fink won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, defeating such films as Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever and Lars Von Trier’s Europa.  It also won awards for the Coens and for John Turturro.  It’s perhaps not a film for everyone but it’s one that holds up well and which continues to intiruge.  Don’t just watch it once.  This isn’t a film that can fully appreciated by just one viewing.  This isn’t a Wallace Beery wrestling picture.  This is Barton Fink!

6 Classic Trailers For May 13th, 2022 (RIP, Fred Ward)


Originally, I was going to devote this latest edition of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse Trailers to all of the Friday the 13th films but then I heard the sad news that the great character actor Fred Ward had passed away at the age of 79.  Needless to say, I changed my plans.  There will be many Friday the 13ths but there was only one Fred Ward.

Fred Ward lived a life that could have been a movie.  He ran away from home at a young age.  He spent three years in the Air Force.  He spent some time as a boxer.  He worked as a lumberjack in Alaska.  He worked as a cook.  He worked as a janitor.  He spent some time in Rome, dubbing Italian films for the American market.  Much like Lance Henriksen, someone from Fred Ward’s tough background may have seemed like an unlikely actor but he proved himself to be one of our most memorable.  Ward brought an authenticity to even the wildest of parts.  He was a smart actor who could play dumb and, by most accounts, a down-to-Earth nice guy who could be totally intimidating on screen.  He was one of the best.  Here are 6 Fred Ward trailers.

  1. Time Rider (1983)

After appearing in a few supporting roles (most memorably as a trigger-happy redneck in Southern Comfort), Fred Ward had his first starring role in Time Rider.  In this film, Ward plays a dirt bike rider who travels through time.

2. Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins (1985)

After playing tragic astronaut Gus Grissom in 1983’s The Right Stuff, Ward was cast as Remo Williams in Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins.  Ward performed all of his own stunts and, if the film had been a success, he would have had a chance to be an American James Bond.  Unfortunately, Remo Williams bombed at the box office and was only later appreciated by fans of action cinema.

3. Tremors (1990)

Perhaps the most beloved of all of Fred Ward’s films, this horror comedy featured Ward, Kevin Bacon, and a bunch of killer worms.  What could have been a standard B-movie was elevated by a witty script, energetic direction, and Bacon and Ward’s playful performances.  The way that Ward and Bacon bounced dialogue off of each other was almost as fun as all the monster mayhem.

4. Miami Blues (1990)

The same year that Tremors came out, Ward co-starred with Alec Baldwin and Jennifer Jason Leigh in Miami Blues, a film that showed all three of those performers at their best.

5. Cast a Deadly Spell (1991)

In this film, which was made for HBO, Fred Ward plays a role that was perfect for him.  He’s a tough, hard-boiled P.I. working the mean streets of Los Angeles in 1948.  The catch?  In this version of 1948, everyone uses magic!  This is a fun movie and I recommend it to everyone.

6.  Full Disclosure (2001)

Even though Ward’s career as a leading man slowed down a bit in recent years, he still appeared in movies and often, he was the best (any maybe only) reason to watch them.  I’ve never seen Full Disclosure but if I ever do track it down, it will be because of Fred Ward.

Fred Ward, R.I.P.

 

Happy Friday the 13th From The Shattered Lens


Happy Friday the 13th, y’all!

Usually, I am inevitably seem to end up spending Friday the 13th up at the Lake, sitting out on the deck of the lake house and suspiciously looking over at the nearby woods for movement.  This week, however, I’m spending Friday the 13th at home so I should be safe!

(For the record, the Lake is next week.)

Anyway, everyone knows that Tuesday the 13th is a far more dangerous day than Friday the 13th but, for whatever reason, Friday the 13th is what gets all the attention.  In fact, I’ve written several posts all about Friday the 13th.  Here they are, for your reading enjoyment:

Friday the 13th

Friday the 13th Part 2

Friday the 13th Part 3

Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter

Friday the 13th: A New Beginning

Friday the 13th: Jason Lives

Friday the 13th Part VII: A New Blood

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan

Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday

Jason X

Freddy vs Jason

Friday the 13th: The Pointless Remake

12 Thing You May Not Have Known About Friday the 13th

My review of Camp Crystal Lake Memories!

Anyway, have a good Friday the 13th!  I would tell you to stay out of the woods but …. you know what?  We, as a society, need to be willing to take more chances.  So, go into the woods.  Skinny dip in the lake.  Ignore the signs that say stay out.  Make love in a deserted cabin.  Smoke weed at the deserted summer camp.  Laugh at the camp fire stories about Jason.  Strip down to your underwear and then wander around in the rain as if that’s the most sensible thing that you’ve ever done.  Yes, Jason might get you.  But you also might have a lot of fun.  It’s worth the risk.

Here’s The Trailer for Cha Cha Real Smooth!


Earlier this year, Cha Cha Real Smooth was one of the biggest hits on the Sundance Film Festival.  I have to admit that my main reaction to hearing about the film was to think that Cha Cha Real Smooth is one of the worst titles that I’ve ever come across.  Either call the movie “Cha Cha” or call it “Real Smooth” but stringing all four of those words together …. ugh.

That said, the critics loved it and there’s been some talk that it could duplicate CODA’s success as an early streaming Oscar contender.  The film will be released in June and here’s the trailer!

Film Review: Gasoline Alley (dir by Edward Drake)


Believe it or not, Gasoline Alley is not that bad.

Don’t get me wrong.  Gasoline Alley is definitely a pulpy film.  The plot is full of twists and turns and it doesn’t always hang together.  There’s more than a few holes to be found in the story.  There’s also a few threads that are left hanging.  Much as in real life, characters appear and then disappear almost at random.  In many ways, the film plays out like a dream, a jumbled mix of concerns and ideas and images.  The viewer is often left to figure out how to fit everything together on their own.  Obviously, that type of  approach won’t appeal to everyone but, for me, it was the perfect way to tell the film’s story.  The world of Gasoline Alley often doesn’t make sense but neither does the world outside of your window.  Gasoline Alley‘s mystery often feels like a jigsaw puzzle where someone has jammed pieces randomly into each square and then pounded on them until they managed to fit in the slots.  It’s chaos but it’s an appropriate approach for a film that takes place in a chaotic world.

Gasoline Alley also one of the final films that Bruce Willis made before his retirement and, with all the rumors about whether or not Willis was pushed into spending the last few years of his career appearing in low-budget and B-movies, it’s often undeniably awkward to watch him in his final films.  As is the case with almost all of Willis’s recent films, he doesn’t get much screen time in Gasoline Alley.  He’s only in a handful of scenes and his dialogue is limited and delivered in a flat monotone.  He plays a key character but much of what the character does and says occurs off-screen and is described to us second-hand.  And yet, at the same time, Willis still has enough natural presence that his performance works as far as the basic needs of the film are concerned.  He’s playing a character who is meant to be intimidating and Willis still has enough of that tough guy energy that his performance is effective.    

Willis plays a homicide detective named Freeman.  Freeman and his partner, Vargas (Luke Wilson), are investigating the murder of four prostitutes and their number one suspect is a tattoo artist named Jimmy Jayne (Devon Sawa).  Jimmy’s father was a decorated police detective.  His mother was a prostitute.  Jimmy spent several years in prison for assault, though Jimmy claims that he was simply acting in self-defense.  (“He came at me with a screwdriver,” Jimmy says, without further elaboration.)  While he was in prison, Jimmy befriended an actor who was doing time for DUI.  Having been released, Jimmy is now the tattoo artist to the stars.  He has his own tattoo parlor, called Gasoline Alley.  Because one of the murdered women was found with one of Jimmy’s personalized lighters on her body, Jimmy is a suspect.  Jimmy, however, claims that he merely met her in a bar.

Jimmy starts to investigate the murders on his own and it quickly becomes clear that he’s a better investigator than either of the detectives who are on the case.  Though Jimmy is trying to clear his name, he’s also determined to get justice for the murdered women, all four of whom appear to him as either ghosts or drug-induced hallucinations at a key moment in the film.  Jimmy’s investigation leads him into the world of human trafficking, police corruption, and the darkest corners of the film industry.  Indeed, one of Gasoline Alley‘s major points seems to be that everyone in Hollywood is corrupt.  The actor who Jimmy saved in prison is a pretentious loser who, at one point, goes off on a rant that was obviously based on Christian Bale’s infamous Terminator meltdown.  Meanwhile, the adult film industry is represented by a sleazy director who snorts cocaine, tells bad jokes, and throws parties that are almost exclusively populated by crooked cops.  As one cop puts it, “He knows whose lives matter.”

Gasoline Alley has gotten terrible reviews but I think those reviews have more to do with the fact that this is a low-budget Bruce Willis flick than the film itself.  Gasoline Alley is actually not bad at all.  It’s an entertaining work of pulp fiction, a quickly-paced film that takes a look at how life is lived and lost in the shadows of “decent” society.  Because he’s an ex-con, Jimmy is destined to be an outcast, regardless of how many stars come to him for their tattoos.  But, at the same time, it’s Jimmy’s outcast status that allows him to infiltrate and understand the dark side of Los Angeles.  It’s because Jimmy’s an outcast that he’s determined to get justice for the victims that respectable society would rather just ignore.  Director Edward Drake fills the movie with images of neon-suffused decadence.  The atmosphere may be sleazy but it’s also undeniably plausible.  Luke Wilson does a good job playing Willis’s talkative partner but the film is stolen by Devon Sawa, who brings a mix of weary dignity and righteous fury to the role of Jimmy.  Sawa has been through his own well-publicized troubles and perhaps that’s why he seems to instinctively understand why it’s so important that Jimmy not only clear his name but also get justice for those who have been victimized in the shadows.  As played by Sawa, Jimmy is cynical and often tired but he still hasn’t given up his desire to make the world a better place.

No, Gasoline Alley is not a bad film at all.  Instead, it’s a portrait of a harsh world and a look at the people who are simply trying to make it from one day to the next.  Much like Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly, Gasoline Alley is a journey through a brutal world where people get what they want at the cost of their own souls.  It’s a film that, like many of the classic B-movies and film noirs of the 40s and 50s, will be rediscovered and better appreciated in the future.

4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Orson Welles Edition


4 Or More Shots From 4 Or More 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 we celebrate what would have been the 106th birthday of the great Orson Welles!  It’s time for….

4 Shots from 4 Orson Welles Films

Citizen Kane (1941, dir by Orson Welles, DP: Gregg Toland)

Touch of Evil (1958, dir by Orson Welles, DP: Russell Metty)

F For Fake (1974, dir by Orson Welles, DP: Gary Graver)

The Other Side of the Wind (2018, dir by Orson Welles, DP: Gary Graver)

Scenes That I Love: “Halt The Flow of Time” from Starcrash


Today is apparently Star Wars Day! 

(May 4th …. may the 4th …. okay, I get it.)

So, it seems appropriate to share a scene that I love from my favorite Star Wars film, Starcrash!

Okay, technically, Starcrash is not part of the Star Wars franchise.  This 1978, Luigi Cozzi-directed film is usually considered to be one of the more blatant rip-offs of Star Wars.  But you know what?  I love Starcrash.  I’ve seen Star Wars and I’ve seen Starcrash and Starcrash is a lot more fun.  Not only does Starcrash feature Marjoe Gortner, David Hasselhoff, Joe Spinell, and Caroline Munro but it also features the one and only Christopher Plummer as the emperor of the universe.

In the scene, Hasselhoff and Munro inform Plummer that they only 45 seconds before a planet explodes.  Plummer, however, has the perfect solution and his delivery of the line “HALT …. the flow of time!” is one of the many things that makes Starcrash one of the greatest films ever made.

Here’s The Trailer For Weird!


A lot of people on Twitter were very, very excited today when the trailer for Weird dropped. 

Weird: The Al Yankovic Story is …. well, the plot is right there in the title.  It’s the Al Yankovic story.  Since Yankovic has reportedly managed to avoid drugs, alcohol, and all of the other usual rock star debauchery, one can imagine that this will be a music biopic unlike any other.

Playing the title character is Daniel Radcliffe.  Radcliffe, I have to say, has had a varied and interesting career ever since his former franchise ended.  I guess one of the advantages of having Harry Potter money is that you can afford to take a few risks when it comes to picking your films.  Good for him.  We need actors who are willing to take chances.   

Here’s the trailer.  Weird will stream on Roku later this year.

Here’s The Trailer For Don’t Worry, Darling!


Don’t Worry, Darling is one of the most anticipated films of the year.  Not only is it Olivia Wilde’s second film as a director but it also stars two of the hottest performers around right now, Florence Pugh and Harry Styles!  Set in the 1950s, Don’t Worry, Darling is described as being a psychological thriller, one in which a wife discover some dark secrets not only about her husband but also about the seemingly perfect community in which they live.

Here’s the trailer: