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.

 

Film Review: Psych-Out (dir by Richard Rush)


There’s a scene in the 1968 film, Psych-Out, in which a group of hippies are talking to be a liberal-minded minister, asking him if a mysterious figure known as “The Seeker” has even come by his church.  The minister tells them that he has not seen the Seeker, though he has heard of him.  As the hippies politely leave the church, one of them accidentally brushes past a middle-aged woman.  Though the hippie politely apologizes, the woman is still obviously disgusted by his presence in the church.  She asks her companion how the minister can possibly allow people who “dress like that” into the church.

As the woman complains, the camera focuses in on the stained glass window directly over her shadow.  There’s Jesus and the disciples.  They’ve all got beards.  They all have long hair.  They’re all wearing simple clothing …. oh my God, they’re hippies!

That’s actually one of the more subtle moments to be found in Psych-Out, an entertainingly heavy-handed film about hippies and wanderers in California.  Psych-Out was made at the height of the counter culture.  It was filmed on location in the San Francisco neighborhood of Haight-Ashbury, where both the love and the clothes are free and no one is about judging anyone else’s thing.  Into this neighborhood comes Jenny Davis (Susan Strasberg), who has run away from home and who is looking for her brother, Steve (Bruce Dern).  Jenny may have been raised in a conservative household but she’s eager to embrace the counter-culture.  Jenny is also deaf but she can read lips.  She also has the police looking for her but fear not!  The residents of Haight-Ashbury look after one another!  They have to, considering that there are still cops and even a few rednecks hanging out around the neighborhood.

No sooner has Jenny arrived in San Francisco than she falls in with a 30-something hippie named Stoney (Jack Nicholson, with a pony tail).  Stoney is a member of a band, along with Elwood (Max Julien) and Ben (Adam Roarke).  Even though Stoney says that he doesn’t care about material goods, he’s still eager to become a rock star.  Stoney also says that he doesn’t want to get tied down by any commitments.  He wants to do his own thing.  He may sleep with Jenny but that doesn’t mean that either one belongs to the other.  Stoney may say that but he certainly gets jealous when he sees Jenny talking to the local guru, Dave (Dean Stockwell).  Dave calls Stoney for being a phony.  “You may be righteous but you’re not hip,” Dave tells him.   Can Stoney become both righteous and hip before the film ends?  Can Jenny find her brother?  Will the band get signed to a recording contract and will the menacing junkyard rednecks ever see the errors of their fascist ways?

Today, of course, Jack Nicholson is probably the main reason why most people would want to see Psych-Out.  Ironically, for a figure who is so identified with the counter-culture, Jack Nicholson did not make for a very convincing hippie.  A lot of that is because Nicholson’s trademark sarcasm (which is on full display in Psych-Out, as this is a far more typical Nicholson performance than the one that would make him a star a year later in Easy Rider) owed more to the beats than to the hippies.  Nicolson’s persona always had more in common with Jack Kerouac than Abbie Hoffman.  In Psych-Out, he comes across as being too much of a natural skeptic to fit in with the free-spirited hippies all around him.  Nicholson is fun to watch because he’s Jack Nicholson but you never buy him as someone who would really want to live in a commune where no one has any possessions and money is frowned upon.

Dean Stockwell, on the other hand, is a totally believable hippie guru though, to his credit, his still brings some welcome wit to his role.  The script may call for him to recite some fairly shallow platitudes but he does so with just enough of a smile to let use know that not even Dave takes himself that seriously.  As for the rest of the cast, Bruce Dern gets to do his spaced-out routine and Henry Jaglom, who would later become an insufferably self-important director, plays an artist with huge sideburns who tries to chop off his hand while having a bad trip.  Jenny is horrified but everyone tells her not to judge.  Susan Strasberg is sympathetic as Jenny and is convincing as a deaf character.  Unfortunately, the film doesn’t give her much to do other than walk around San Francisco with a dazed expression on her face and stare lovingly up at Jack Nicholson.

Psych-Out‘s greatest value is probably as a time capsule.  It was filmed on location and it features actual hippies.  Watching it is like getting a chance to step into a time machine and go back to San Francisco in 1968.  Of course, judging from this film, San Francisco in 1968 wasn’t that appealing of a place but still, Psych-Out remains an entertainingly silly historical document.  Just a year after the release of Psych-Out, Charles Manson and his followers would come out of the canyons and the Altamont Free Concert would end in murder and the 60s would come to an abrupt end.  Watching Psych-Out, it’s hard to believe all of that was right around the corner.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Coming Home (dir by Hal Ashby)


Well, here we are!  It’s January 1st.  In just a few days, the Oscar nominations will be announced and then, on February 9th, the winners will be revealed!  From now until the day of the ceremony, I will be taking a look at some of the films that were nominated for and won Oscars in the past.  As of this writing, 556 films have been nominated for best picture.  I hope that, some day, I will be able to say that I have seen and reviewed every single one of them.

Let’s start things off with the 1978 Best Picture nominee, Coming Home!

Coming Home takes place in California in 1968.  While hippies stand on street corners and flash peace signs, teenagers are being drafted and career military men are leaving for Vietnam and people continue to tell themselves that America is doing the right thing in Indochina, even though no one’s really sure just what exactly it is that’s going on over there.  At the local VA hospital, the wounded and the bitter try to recover from their wartime experiences while struggling with an often heartless bureaucracy and feelings of having been abandoned by their country.

When Marine Corps. Capt. Bob Hyde (Bruce Dern) is deployed to Vietnam, he leaves behind his wife, Sally (Jane Fonda).  Told that she can no longer live on the base while her husband is overseas, Sally gets an apartment, a new car, and eventually a new hairdo.  She also gets a new friend, Vi Munson (Penelope Milford).  Vi smokes weed and is critical of the war in Vietnam.  It doesn’t take long for Sally to start to enjoy the idea of being free and not having to cater to Bob’s every whim.  Sally even ends up volunteering at the local VA hospital.

That’s where she meets Luke (Jon Voight, looking youngish and incredibly sexy), a bitter but sensitive vet who, having gone to Vietnam and returned to the U.S. as a paraplegic, is now outspoken in his opposition to the war.  Luke is also friends with Billy (Robert Carradine), who is Vi’s shell-shocked brother.  When Luke and Sally first meet, they collide in a hallway and Sally gets a bag full of urine spilled on her.  It’s only later that Luke and Sally realize that they knew each other in high school and soon, they’re having an affair.  Luke, who is as gentle a lover as Bob is brutish, brings Sally to her first orgasm in a sensitively-directed scene that should be studied by any and all aspiring filmmakers.

Unfortunately, the problem with having an affair while your husband is away is that, eventually, your husband’s going to come back.  Bob returns from Vietnam and he’s no longer the confident and gung ho officer that he was at the start of the film.  He now walks with a pronounced limp and, like Luke, he’s angry.  However, whereas Luke has channeled his anger in to activism, Bob tries to keep his emotions bottled up.  (He does take the time to give the finger to a few protesters and, considering how obnoxious most of the protesters in this film are, you can’t help but feel that Bob may have had a point.)  When Bob discovers that Luke and Sally have been having an affair, he snaps….

Meanwhile, Billy is having a hard time readjusting to life, Vi is getting picked up by sleazy men in bars, and there’s a ventriloquist who shows up a few times.  There’s a lot going on in Coming Home and, at times, it feels like the film’s trying to cram in too much.  The film often seems a bit disjointed, with semi-documentary footage of Voight hanging out with real paraplegic vets awkwardly mixed in with didactic scenes of Sally turning against the war.

That the love story between Sally and Luke is so effective has far more to do with the performances of Jane Fonda and especially Jon Voight, than it does with anything in the film’s script.  Indeed, the script itself doesn’t seem to be too concerned with who Luke and Sally were before they collided in that hallway and it also doesn’t seem to be all that interested in who they’ll be after the end credits role.  As written, they’re just plot devices, specifically created and manipulated to express the film’s antiwar message.  But then you see Jon Voight’s haunted eyes while he’s listening to a group of vets discuss their experience or you hear the pain in his voice while he talks to a bunch of high school students and it’s those little moments and details that tell you who Luke is.  By that same token, Jane Fonda does a good job of showing each stage in Sally’s liberation, even if you can’t help but feel that the main reason Sally becomes an anti-war feminist is because she’s played by Jane Fonda.

Of course, in the end, the entire film is stolen by Bruce Dern.  You actually end up feeling very sorry for Bob Hyde (and, to the film’s credit, you’re meant to).  It would have been very easy to just portray Bob as being a close-minded pig but the film respects his pain just as much as it respects Luke’s anti-war activism and Sally’s need to be free.  In the end, you actually feel worse for Bob than you do for either Luke or Sally.  Bob is as much a victim of the war as anyone else in the film.

Coming Home was one of the first films about Vietnam to ever be nominated for best picture.  Jane Fonda and Jon Voight both won Oscars but the film itself lost to a far different look at the war in Vietnam, The Deer Hunter.

Boulevard of Broken Dreams: Quentin Tarantino’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD (Sony/Columbia 2019)


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If you’re as much of a movie/television/pop culture fanatic as I am (and if you weren’t, you probably wouldn’t be reading this blog!), I’m here to tell you you’re gonna ABSOLUTELY FUCKING LOVE this latest Quentin Tarantino epic!

ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD takes place in 1969, at the tail end of Tinseltown’s Glory Days, and the tail end of TV actor Rick Dalton’s career. Dalton (splendidly played by Leonardo DiCaprio) was the star of the late 50s/early 60s TV Western BOUNTY LAW (modeled after Steve McQueen’s WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE), whose drinking problem has led him on the road to nowheresville, grabbing quick paychecks by guest starring as bad guys on episodic TV. He’s offered the chance to make some low-budget Spaghetti Westerns by producer Marvin Schwarsz (a bloated looking Al Pacino), bottom of the barrel stuff that’ll keep Rick’s name above the title.

Rick’s best bud Cliff…

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Alfred Hitchcock’s Last Ride: FAMILY PLOT (Universal 1976)


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Critics in 1976 were divided over Alfred Hitchcock’s FAMILY PLOT, which turned out to be his final film. Some gave it faint praise, in an “it’s okay” kinda way; others decried it as too old-fashioned, saying the Master of Suspense had lost his touch – and was out of touch far as contemporary filmmaking goes. Having recently viewed the film for the first time, I’m blessed with the gift of hindsight, and can tell you it’s more than “okay”. FAMILY PLOT is a return to form, and while it may not be Top Shelf Hitchcock, it certainly holds up better than efforts made that same year by Hitch’s contemporaries George Cukor (THE BLUE BIRD), Elia Kazan (THE LAST TYCOON), and Vincente Minnelli (A MATTER OF TIME).

Hitchcock reunited with screenwriter Ernest Lehman (NORTH BY NORTHWEST) to concoct a devilishly clever black comedy about phony psychic Blanche Tyler who, along with…

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Film Review: White Boy Rick (dir by Yann Demange)


Last night, as a part of my attempt to get caught up with the films of 2018, I watched White Boy Rick.

As you might guess from the title, this film is about a white boy named Rick.  It’s based on the true story of Richard Wershe, Jr., who grew up on the streets of Detroit.  His father sold guns out of the trunk of his car and, by the time he turned 14, Rick was running with drug dealers and street gangs.  (The fact that he was white while all of his friends were black is what led to him getting his nickname.)  Rick became an informant for the FBI and, according to Wershe, the government helped him build up his reputation by supplying him with the drugs that he would then sell on the streets.  When the FBI eventually decided that Wershe was no longer a useful asset, he was arrested for dealing and sentenced to life in prison.

The story seems like one that has the potential to say a lot that needs to be said about not only the economic realities of life in a dying city but also about the role that race plays in America’s often misdirected “war on drugs.”  Unfortunately, the film falls flat because, with the exception of a few scenes, it never really convinces us that Rick was really worthy of being the subject of a film.  While the film surrounds him with interesting supporting characters, Rick himself remains something of a cipher.  Rick is played by a young actor named Richie Merritt.  Merritt’s has the right look for the character but you never get the feeling that there’s anything going on underneath the surface.  Rick comes across as just being a moron who got lucky and then, eventually, not so lucky.

The supporting cast fares a bit better.  For instance, Matthew McConaughey plays Rick’s father with just the right amount of manic energy and Bel Powley has a few harrowing scenes as Rick’s drug addicted sister.  Bruce Dern and Piper Laurie don’t get to do much as Rick’s grandparents but it doesn’t matter because they’re Bruce Dern and Piper Laurie.  (All Bruce Dern has to do to make a character interesting is look at the camera.)  Jennifer Jason Leigh plays one of Rick’s FBI handlers with the perfect hint of subversiveness.  You’re never quite sure whether she’s messing with Rick’s life because she’s incompetent or because she’s enjoying it.  Unfortunately, the supporting characters are often so interesting that Rick often gets overshadowed.  He’s a bystander in his own story, which may have been the film’s point but, from a storytelling point of view, it hardly makes for compelling viewing.

Admittedly, there are a few memorable scenes to be found in White Boy Rick.  At one point, Rick goes to a wedding at the mayor’s mansion and he’s a sight to behold in his blue tuxedo.  In another scene, it’s explained to Rick why, when it comes to being arrested, charged, and incarcerated, the stakes are very different when you’re black than when you’re white.  In scenes like that, you kind of get a hint of White Boy Rick could have been if it had been centered around a more compelling character.

As it is, though, White Boy Rick is well-made but kind of dull.  It’s definitely a missed opportunity.

 

Here’s The Trailer For White Boy Rick!


Here’s the trailer for White Boy Rick!

Now, White Boy Rick is based on a true story that’s actually pretty interesting.  At the age of 14, Richard Wershe, Jr. was the youngest criminal to ever become an informant for the FBI.  Of course, once the FBI got what they wanted from him, Wershe was left on his own and, when he was 17, he was arrested for selling cocaine and sentenced to life in prison.  Wershe, who was finally paroled in 2017, claims that the harsh sentence was politically motivated and that he basically learned how to become a successful drug dealer through his work for the government.

It’s a great story and, with more and more people questioning both drug prohibition and national law enforcement, a timely one.  The film’s got a good cast, with Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bel Powley, Rory Cochrane, Piper Laurie, and Bruce Dern all in supporting roles.  The director, Yann Demange, previously directed the great ’71 and is definitely an up-and-coming filmmaker.  Rick is played by a Richie Merritt, who will be making his film debut in the leading role.

As for the trailer itself, it’s effective.  I had a hard time understanding some of the dialogue and it’s hard to really judge Merritt’s performance based on what’s present here.  But I like the look of the trailer and the music is damn near perfect.

Some are saying this movie might be an Oscar contender.  We’ll have to see!

Lisa’s Way Too Early Oscar Predictions for January!


How early can one predict the Oscars?

Well, it depends on how you look at it.  You can predict the Oscars at any time during the year.  However, predicting them correctly is next to impossible before October.  That said, I’m going to give it a shot!

Now, to be clear, this is not an attempt to predict who and what will be nominated later this month.  Instead, these are my predictions for what will be nominated next year at this time!  I’ll be updating my predictions every month of this year.

So, with all that in mind, here are my way too early predictions for what will be nominated in January of 2019!  As of right now, these predictions are a collection of instinct and random guesses.  For all we know, some of these films might not even get released in 2018.  In all probability, we’ll look back at this list in December and laugh.

 

Best Picture

Chappaquiddick

First Man

Lizzie

Mary Queen of Scots

The Miseducation of Cameron Post

Mortal Engines

A Star is Born

Widows

Wildfire

The Women of Marwen

 

Best Director

Desiree Akhavon for The Miseducation of Cameron Post

Damien Chazelle for First Man

Paul Dano for Wildfire

Steve McQueen for Widows

Robert Zemeckis for The Women of Marwen

 

Best Actor

Steve Carell in The Women of Marwen

Jason Clarke in Chappaquiddick

Ryan Gosling in First Man

Jake Gyllenhaal in Wildfire

Joaquin Phoenx in Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot

 

Best Actress

Viola Davis in Widows

Chloe Grace Moretz in The Miseducation of Cameron Post

Carey Mulligan in Wildfire

Saoirse Ronan in Mary Queen of Scots

Chloe Sevigny in Lizzie

 

Best Supporting Actor

Jeff Daniels in The Catcher Was A Spy

Bruce Dern in Chappaquiddick

Sam Elliott in A Star is Born

Robert Duvall in Widows

Hugo Weaving in Mortal Engines

 

Best Supporting Actress

Elizabeth Debicki in Widows

Claire Foy in First Man

Leslie Mann in The Women of Marwen

Kate Mara in Chappaquiddick

Kristen Stewart in Lizzie

 

Get Your Motor Runnin’ with THE WILD ANGELS (AIP 1966)


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Roger Corman  kicked off the outlaw biker film genre with THE WILD ANGELS, setting the template for all biker flicks to come. Sure, there had been motorcycle movies before: Marlon Brando in THE WILD ONE and the low-budget MOTORCYCLE GANG spring to mind. But THE WILD ANGELS busted open box offices on the Grindhouse and Drive-In circuits, and soon an army of outlaw bikers roared into a theater near you! There was BORN LOSERS , DEVIL’S ANGELS, THE GLORY STOMPERS , REBEL ROUSERS, ANGELS FROM HELL, and dozens more straight into the mid-70’s, when the cycle cycle revved its last rev. But Corman’s saga of the freewheeling Angels  was there first; as always, Rapid Roger was the leader of the pack.

Our movie begins with the classic fuzz-tone guitar sound of Davie Allen, as Angels president Heavenly Blues (Peter Fonda ) rolls down the road to pick up club…

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Young Frontier: John Wayne in THE COWBOYS (Warner Brothers 1972)


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THE COWBOYS is not just another ‘John Wayne Movie’ from the latter part of his career. Not by a long shot. Duke had read the script and coveted the part of Wil Andersen, who’s forced to hire a bunch of wet behind the ears adolescents for a 400 mile cattle drive across the rugged Montana territory. Director Mark Rydell wanted George C. Scott for the role, but when John Wayne set his sights on something, he usually got what he wanted. The two men were at polar opposites of the political spectrum, and the Sanford Meisner-trained Rydell and Old Hollywood Wayne were expected to clash. They didn’t; putting their differences aside, they collaborated and cooperated  to make one of the best Westerns of the 70’s.

Andersen’s regular hands have all deserted him when gold is discovered nearby, leaving the aging rancher in the lurch. He heads for Boseman to look…

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