Horror Film Review: Eyes of Laura Mars (dir by Irvin Kershner)


The Eyes of Laura Mars opens with Barbra Streisand singing the theme song, letting us know that we’re about to see one of the most 70s films ever made.

Laura Mars (played by a super intense Faye Dunaway) is a fashion photographer who is known for the way that her work mixes sex with violence.  Some people say that she’s a genius and those people have arranged for the publication of a book of her work.  (The book, naturally, is called The Eyes of Laura Mars.)  Some people think that Laura’s work is going to lead to the downfall of civilization.  And then one person thinks that anyone associated with Laura should die.

And that’s exactly what starts to happen.

Laura has visions of her friends being murdered.  Some people believe that makes her a suspect.  Some people think that she’s just going crazy from the pressure.  John Neville (Tommy Lee Jones), the detective assigned to her case, thinks that Laura is a damaged soul, just like him.  Neville and Laura soon find themselves falling in love, which would be more believable if Dunaway and Jones had even the least amount of chemistry.  Watching them kiss is like watching two bricks being smashed together.

There’s plenty of suspects, each one of them more a 70s cliché than the other.  There’s Donald (Rene Auberjonois), Laura’s flamboyant friend.  There’s Michael (Raul Julia), Laura’s sleazy ex-husband who is having an affair with the gallery of the manager that’s showing Laura’s photographs.  And then there’s Laura’s shift-eyed driver, Tommy.  Tommy has a criminal record and carries a switchblade and he always seem to be hiding something but, to be honest, the main reason Tommy might be the murderer is because he’s played by Brad Dourif.

If there’s one huge flaw with the film, it’s that the film never explains why Laura is suddenly having visions.  Obviously, the film is trying to suggest that Laura and the murderer share some sort of psychic connection but why?  (I was hoping the film would reveal that Dunaway had an evil twin or something like that but no.)  The other huge problem that I had is that one of the more likable characters in the film is murdered while dressed as Laura, specifically as a way to distract the killer.  So, that kind of makes that murder all Laura’s fault but no one ever points that out.

Personally, I think this film missed a huge opportunity by not having Andy Warhol play one of the suspects.  I mean, how can you make a movie about a pretentious fashion photographer in the 70s without arranging for a cameo from Andy Warhol?

The other missed opportunity is that the script was written by John Carpenter but he wasn’t invited to direct the movie.  I suppose that makes sense when you consider that Carpenter actually sold his script before he was hired to direct Halloween.  (Both Halloween and The Eyes of Laura Mars came out in the same year, 1978.)  That said, Carpenter would have directed with more of a sense of humor.  Director Irvin Kershner takes a plodding and humorless approach to the material.  When you’ve got a film featuring Faye Dunaway flaring her nostrils and Tommy Lee Jones talking about how sad his childhood was, you need a director who is going to fully embrace the insanity of it all.

With the glamorous background and the unseen killer, The Eyes of Laura Mars was obviously meant to be an American giallo.  Occasionally, it succeeds but again, it’s hard not to feel that an Italian director would have had a bit more fun with the material.  In the end The Eyes of Laura Mars is an interesting misfire but a misfire nonetheless.

A Movie A Day #263: Running Scared (1986, directed by Peter Hyams)


Running Scared is weird but good.

Ray Hughes (Gregory Hines!) and Danny Costanzo (Billy Crystal!!!) are two tough detectives in Chicago.  All they want to do is three things: retire, open a bar in Florida, and bust Chicago’s most ruthless drug dealer, Julio Gonzalez (Jimmy Smits).  Their captain (Dan Hedaya) wants them to leave for Florida as soon as possible but they are determined to take down Julio first.’

There are two strange things about this otherwise formulaic crime film.  First off, the two tough cops are played by Gregory Hines and Billy Crystal.  According to the film’s Wikipedia page, director Peter Hyams realized that Running Scared‘s plot was nothing special so he decided that the only way to make the movie stand out was by doing it “with two actors you would not normally expect to see in an action movie.”  The other strange thing is that Hyams’s gambit worked.  Gregory Hines may have been best known as a dancer and Billy Crystal as a comedian but both of them were surprisingly believable as Chicago cops.  Running Scared is actually one of Billy Crystal’s best performances.  For once, he’s believable as being someone other than a version of himself.  Even his frequent one liners seem like something that a detective would say instead of Crystal recycling punch lines from his act.  Whether they are chasing down perps and firing their guns at a moving vehicle, Hines and Crystal are never less than credible as action stars.  Lorenzo Lamas has got nothing on the team of Hines and Crystal.

Predictable though it may be, Running Scared is one of the better late 80s cop films.  The action scenes are exciting and Hyams does a good job capturing the grittiness of Chicago.  Jimmy Smits is a good villain and Joe Pantoliano, Steven Bauer, and Jon Gries all shine in supporting roles.  Keep an eye out for the always underrated Darlanne Fluegel, playing Danny’s ex-wife.

Shattered Politics #50: Once Upon A Time In America (dir by Sergio Leone)


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Before I start this review of Sergio Leone’s 1984 gangster epic, Once Upon A Time In America, I want to issue two warnings.

First off, this review is going to have spoilers.  I’ve thought long and hard about it.  Usually, I try to avoid giving out spoilers but, in this case, there’s no way I can write about this movie without giving away a few very important plot points.  So, for those of you who don’t want to deal with spoilers, I’ll just say now that Once Upon A Time In America is a great film and it’s one that anyone who is serious about film must see.

Secondly, I’m not going to be able to do justice to this film.  There’s too much to praise and too much going on in the film for one simple blog post to tell you everything that you need to know.  Once Upon A Time In America is the type of film that books should be written about, not just mere blog posts.  Any words that I type are not going to be able to match the experience of watching this film.

For instance, I can tell you that, much as he did with his classic Spaghetti westerns, Sergio Leone uses the conventions of a familiar genre to tell an epic story about what it means to be poor and to be rich in America.  But you’ll never truly understand just how good a job Leone does until you actually see the film, with its haunting images of the poverty-stricken Jewish ghetto in 1920s New York and it’s surreal climax outside the mansion of a very rich and very corrupt man.

I can tell you that Ennio Morricone’s score is one of his best but you won’t truly know that until you hear it while gazing at Robert De Niro’s blissfully stoned face while the final credits roll up the screen.

I can tell you that the film’s cast is amazing but you probably already guessed that when you saw that it featured Robert De Niro, James Woods, Treat Williams, Danny Aiello, Joe Pesci, Burt Young, Tuesday Weld, Elizabeth McGovern, and Jennifer Connelly.  But, again, it’s only after you’ve seen the film that you truly understand just how perfectly cast it actually is.  Given the politics of Hollywood and the fact that he’s unapologetically critical of Barack Obama, it’s entirely possible that James Woods might never appear in another major motion picture.  A film like Once Upon A Time in America makes you realize what a loss that truly is.

So, if you haven’t seen it yet, I encourage you to see it.  Order it off of Amazon.  Do the one day shipping thing.  Pay the extra money, the film is worth it.

Much like The Godfather, Part II (and Cloud Atlas, for that matter), Once Upon A Time In America tells several different stories at once, jumping back and forth from the past to the present and onto to the future.

The film’s “past” is 1920.  Noodles (Scott Tiler) is a street kid who lives in New York’s ghetto.  He makes a living by doing small jobs for a local gangster and occasionally mugging a drunk.  He’s also the head of his own gang, made up of Patsy (Brian Bloom), Cockeye (Adrian Curry), and Dominic (Noah Moazezi).  Despite his rough edges, Noodles has a crush on Deborah (Jennifer Connelly), a refined girl who practices ballet in the back of her family’s store.  When Nooldes meets Max (Rusty Jacobs), the two of them become quick friends.  However, their criminal activities are noticed by the demonic Bugsy (James Russo), who demands any money that they make.

The film’s “present” is 1932.  Noodles (Robert De Niro) has spent twelve years in prison and, when he’s released, he discovers that some things have changed but some have remained the same.  Max (James Woods), Cockeye (William Forsythe), and Patsy (James Hayden) are still criminals but they’ve prospered as bootleggers.  Occasionally, they do jobs for a local gangster named Frankie (Joe Pesci) and sometimes, they just rob banks on their own.  During one such robbery, they meet a sado-masochistic woman named Carol (Tuesday Weld), who quickly becomes Max’s girlfriend.

As for Noodles, he continues to love Deborah (Elizabeth McGovern). But, when he discovers that she’s leaving New York to pursue a career as an actress, he reveals his true nature and rapes her.  It’s a devastating scene — both because all rape scenes are (or, at the very least, should be) devastating but also because it forces us to ask why we expected Noodles to somehow be better than the men who surround him.  After spending nearly two hours telling ourselves that Noodles is somehow better than his friends and his activities, the movie shows us that he’s even worse.  And, when we look back, we see that there was no reason for us to believe that Noodles was a good man.  It’s just what we, as an audience, wanted to believe.  After all, we all love the idea of the romanticized gangster, the dangerous man with a good heart who has been forced into a life of crime by his circumstances and who can be saved by love.  In that scene, Once Upon A Time In America asks us why audiences continue to romanticize men like Noodles and Max.

As for the gang, they’re hired to serve as unofficial bodyguards for labor leader Jimmy O’Donnell (Treat Williams) and, in their way, help to found the modern American labor movement.  (“I shed some blood for the cause,” Patsy says while showing off a huge bandage on his neck.) When fascistic police chief Aiello (Danny Aiello) needs to be taken down a notch, they kidnap his newborn son and hold him for ransom.  (While pulling off this crime, they also manages to switch around all the babies and, as a result, poor babies go home with rich families and vice versa, neatly highlighting both the power of class and the randomness of fate.)  However, the good times can’t last forever and, when prohibition is repealed, the increasingly unstable Max has to find a new way to make some money.

Finally, the film’s third storyline (the “future” storyline) takes place in 1967.  Noodles has spent decades living under a false identity in Buffalo.  When he gets a letter addressed to his real name, Noodles realizes that someone knows who he is.  He returns to a much changed New York.  Carol now lives in a retirement home.  Deborah is an acclaimed Broadway actress.  Jimmy O’Donnell is the most powerful union boss in America.  Fat Moe’s Speakeasy is now Fat Moe’s Restaurant.

Once Noodles is back in town, he receives a briefcase full of money and a note that tells him that it’s an advanced payment for his next job.  He also receives an invitation to a party that’s being held at the home of Christopher Bailey, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce.

Who is Secretary Bailey?  He’s a shadowy and powerful figure and he’s also a man who is at the center of a political scandal that has turned violent.  And, when Noodles eventually arrives at the party, he also discovers that Secretary Bailey is none other than his old friend Max.

How did a very Jewish gangster named Max transform himself into being the very WASPy U.S. Secretary of Commerce?  That’s a story that the film declines to answer and it’s all the better for it.  What doesn’t matter is how Max became Bailey.  All that matters is that he did.  And now, he has one final favor to ask Noodles.

(There’s a very popular theory that all of the 1967 scenes are actually meant to be a hallucination on Noodles’s part.  And the 1967 scenes are surreal enough that they very well could be.  Though you do have to wonder how Noodles in 1932 could hallucinate the Beatles song that is heard when he returns to New York in 1967.)

Once Upon A Time In America is an amazing film, an epic look at crime, business, and politics in America.  It’s a film that left me with tears in my eyes and questions in my mind.  The greatness of the film can not necessarily be put into words.  Instead, it’s a film that everyone needs to see.

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Guilty Pleasure No. 22: Battle Beyond the Stars (dir. by Jimmy T. Murakami)


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Two of my favorite films of all-time happen to be very similar. In fact, one could say that they’re pretty much the same films. I’m talking about Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai and it’s Western-remake by John Sturges, The Magnificent Seven. Kurosawa’s film is one of the greatest films of all-time and it’s no wonder that many have taken the film’s story of the downtrodden hiring a band of misfits, rogues, but still honorable men to help them fight against huge odds.

One such film that tries to add onto Kurosawa film’s legacy was the Roger Corman-produced scifi-adventure film Battle Beyond the Stars. This 1980 film was one of Corman’s many attempts to cash-in on the Star Wars phenomena, but in his usual low-budget style.

For a low-budget scifi film, Battle Beyond the Stars happened to have quite a cast one doesn’t usually see in such productions. While it had such grindhouse and exploitation regulars as John Saxon and Sybil Danning, it also starred the wholesome Richard Thomas from The Waltons and George Peppard (who would later become famous with a new generation as Hannibal Smith of The A-Team). The film would be directed by Jimmy T. Murakami, but from watching the film one could see Corman’s fingerprints all over the production from the script which was pretty lean and cut to the basic outline of Kurosawa’s original film. There’s not much fluff to bog down the pacing of the film.

This film has always been a guilty pleasure of mine because it so resemble Seven Samurai and The Magificent Seven, but adds in it’s own unique style and look to a well-worn and well-trodden plot. It was much later that I found out that James Cameron had a major hand in the special effects work in the film. Think about that for a moment. The self-proclaimed “King of the World” who literally breaks film budget records every time he begins work on a film did FX work on battle Beyond the Stars whose effects budget probably wouldn’t buy a day’s worth of crafts table eating for his most modestly budgeted films.

Lisa Marie always loved to say that grindhouse and exploitation films are some of most honest films out there. There’s no bullshit to what we see on the screen. It’s filmmakers forced to be daring and inventive because the lack of resources forces them to think outside the box. Battle Beyond the Stars might be seen as a mediocre attempt to cash-in on a scifi cultural phenomena, but it does so with a go for broke mentality that makes it such a fun film to watch. It’s not the greatest thing Corman has ever produced and some would even call it a very bad film, but once one looked past it’s rough and flawed surface then one could see a gem in the rough hidden beneath.

Oh, this remake of the remake of the original also happened to star one Robert Vaughn who was one of original Magnificent Seven.

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class
  19. Tart
  20. King Kong vs. Godzilla
  21. Hawk the Slayer