Film Review: Short Eyes (dir by Robert M. Young)

Last night, fully intent on just viewing one movie before going to bed, I decided to watch the 1977 film, Short Eyes.

Why I thought that was a good idea, I’m not sure. Even though I didn’t know much about the film, I did know that it was a gritty prison drama that was written by an ex-con, filmed in an actual New York prison, and that a few prisoners appeared in small roles in the film. So, I really can’t claim that I didn’t realize that I was about to watch something that probably wasn’t going to be deal with particularly pleasant subject matter. I think my main reason for watching it, to be honest, was just that it had been sitting there on my Prime watchlist for nearly a year. My main motivation can be summed up as “If not now, when?” Of course, if I had know that “Short Eyes’ was apparently prison slang for someone who is a pedophile, I might have thought twice about watching.

The Short Eyes of the title is Clark Davis (Bruce Davison), a young man from a vaguely wealthy background who is being held on charges of raping a young girl. Clark is one of only three white men being housed in his cell block. As Clark soon discovers, everything in prison is determined by your race and what you’re accused of doing. As a white man, he’s already in the minority and, because he’s a “short eyes,” he soon discovers that not even the other whites are willing to watch his back. The only person who is vaguely sympathetic to Clark is Juan (Jose Perez), a longtime prisoner who is determined to not allow prison to turn him into an animal. Juan tells Clark that he needs to get a transfer to protective custody but it soon becomes apparent that’s not going to happen. The prison guards feel no obligation to protect Clark and Clark himself almost seems to have a death wish.

As Clark explains to Juan, he’s not sure whether he’s guilty or not. He says that he blacks out and sometimes, he’s not sure what he did. Clark thinks he’s innocent but, at the same time, he also confessed to Juan that he has molested other girls. Juan knows that Clark’s a dead man if he doesn’t get out of prison but he also know that, even if Clark is innocent this time, he won’t be in the future. When the other prisoners decide to kill Clark, Juan has to decide whether to let it happen or to risk his safety by trying to stop it.

Short Eyes is one of the most thoroughly unpleasant films that I’ve ever watched but that obviously was the point. This is a film about the reality of prison, that it’s a dirty, brutal, and inhumane place where the weak are targeted and anyone who goes against the system — whether it’s the system enforced by the guards or the even more important system created by the prisoners — will be punished. It’s not at all fun to watch but, if anyone wants to know why incarceration tends to just create hardened criminals as opposed to rehabilitating them, they should find some answers in the film’s portrait of prison life.

The film is based on a play and, in many scenes, it’s a bit too theatrical for its own good. Clark delivers a lengthy monologue about his previous actions and, while it’s well-delivered by Davison, it also goes on and on and you never quite understand why he’s opening up to Juan in the first place. (Juan, himself, angrily responds that he never asked to be Clark’s father confessor.) The scenes of the prisoners just hanging out and talking are also well-acted but again, they tend to drag on for a bit too long. Musicians Curtis Mayfield and Freddy Fender both appear as anonymous prisoners and both sing songs, which brings the film’s already uneven narrative momentum to a complete halt. Just as the inmates will never be able to escape prison, the film never escapes its theatrical origins. While the decision to film Short Eyes in an actual operating prison brings a good deal of authenticity to the production, the production’s staginess ultimately works against it.

At its best, this is a well-acted portrait of people trapped in a man-made Hell. Jose Perez gives an excellent performance and Bruce Davison will make your skin crawl as Clark, a character about whom most viewers will have very mixed feelings. Nathan George and Joseph Carberry are both properly intimidating as the heads of, respectively, the black prisoners and the whites.

This is definitely not a film to watch late at night, unless you’re actively trying to generate nightmares. (Of course, if that’s your goal, have it!) As for me, I stayed up an extra two and a half hours just so I could watch another movie after Short Eyes. As a result, I spent all of Saturday tired but I still think I made the right decision.

Here’s The Final Trailer For A Quiet Place Part II!

After countless pandemic-related delays, A Quiet Place II will finally be released on May 28th. Here’s the final trailer, which was released yesterday. As you can tell, it appears that John Krasinski will at least briefly appear in the film, despite the death of his character at the end of the previous film. (It appears that Krasinski’s scene is a flashback to the beginning of the alien invasion.) Krasinski, of course, will also be returning to direct. Also returning to star in the film is my personal role model, Emily Blunt!

Here’s the trailer:

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 (or more) shots from 4 (or more) of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 (or more) Shots From 4 (or more) Films lets the visuals do the talking.

As I mentioned previously, the great Orson Welles was born 106 years ago today. And that means that it’s time for….

4 Shots From 4 Orson Welles Films

Citizen Kane (1941, dir by Orson Welles, DP: Gregg Toland)
The Stranger (1946, dir by Orson Welles, DP: Russell Metty)
Touch of Evil (1958, dir by Orson Welles, DP: Russell Metty)
The Trial (1962, dir by Orson Welles, DP: Edmond Richard)

Scenes That I Love: Falstaff at Price Hal’s Coronation from Chimes At Midnight

The great Orson Welles was born 106 years ago today, in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Orson Welles was one of the greatest directors of all time, a showman and an artist who changed the way that people watched and thought about films. He was the visionary who helped to usher in the era of modern filmmaking and who proved that movies could be art and Hollywood never forgave him for it. Merely seven years after the release of Citizen Kane, Orson Welles found himself as such a pariah in the American film industry that he relocated to Europe. There, he made some of his best films though few of them would be fully appreciated when first released.

(Indeed, there still seems to be the strange need among some to try to diminish Orson Welles’s talents and achievements. Just last year, Mank tried to deny him the credit that he most certainly deserved for Citizen Kane. Interestingly enough, David Fincher claimed that his father’s original script portrayed Welles even more negatively than Welles came across in the finished film. One has to wonder about the motives of anyone who would slander Orson Welles while deifying Upton Sinclair.)

1965’s Chimes At Midnight is one of Welles’s best. Filmed in Spain, Chimes at Midnight is combination of five of Shakespeare’s plays, primarily Henry IV, Part 1 and Henry IV, Part 2, but also Richard II, Henry V, and The Merry Wives of Windsor. Welles cast himself in the role of Falstaff, enjoying life while educating the young Prince Hal in the ways of the world. When Prince Hal becomes Henry V, Falstaff attends his coronation, just to be rejected. The new king has new place in his court for someone like Falstaff. Was Prince Hal perhaps a stand-in for the many filmmakers who claimed to have been inspired by Welles’s work but who still refused to help Welles when he later came to them for help? Perhaps.

In the scene below, Falstaff is rejected by the new king. It’s a heart-breaking moment and one that features some of Welles’s best work as both an actor and a director.

Film Review: Night Terror (dir by E.W. Swackhamer)

“There’s a killer on the road.

His brain is squirming like a toad.”

So sang Jim Morrison in the song Riders on the Storm. Now, whatever you may think of Jim Morrison and the Doors (personally, I think the music was good, Jim was pretentious as Hell, and I look cute in my Doors t-shirt), this is a perfect description of the character who is at the center of the 1977 film, Night Terror. He’s played by Richard Romanus and, in the credits, he’s simply called The Killer. The Killer spends his times driving up and down the highway, killing people seemingly at random. We never learn why exactly the Killer does what he does, though the film does offer up a few hints. For one thing, he has no voice. He carries an electrolarynx with him and holds it up to his throat whenever he wants to speak. Of course, he only does this two times in the film and, both times, it’s to basically howl with rage. In another scene, he can clearly be seen to be wearing military-style dog tags. Given when this film was made and the unfortunate popularity of the “deranged Vietnam vet” trope in the 70s and 80s, it’s easy to pick up on what exactly the film is implying.

Night Terror follows one night in the life of both The Killer and Carol Turner (Valerie Harper). Carol is just trying to get to Denver, where her son is in the hospital. When she sees a police officer pulling over a sports car for speeding, Carol decides to ask the cop for directions. Unfortunately, the sports car belong to The Killer and, as soon as the cop turns his back on him, out comes the shotgun. Carol slams down on the accelerator and speeds off, with the Killer pursuing her in own his vehicle. Unfortunately, Carol’s station wagon (which comes with wood paneling because, again, this is a movie from 1977) is nearly out of gas. What follows is a fairly tense game of cat-and-mouse, as Carol tries to hide from the Killer while the Killer stalks the highway, relentlessly searching for her. Along the way, a few familiar character actors pop up. John Quade is a homeless man living in a gas station. The great Nicholas Pryor is another motorist, one who proves to be not much help. Making things all the more dangerous for Carol is that the Killer knows what she looks like but she has no idea what the Killer looks like.

Night Terror owes an obvious debt to Steven Spielberg’s Duel and a host of other 70s car chase films. While Night Terror really can’t compare to the Duel, it does do a good job of creating and maintaining suspense. Fortunately, the film never makes the mistake of tying to turn Carol into some sort of badass action girl. She’s just an average person who has found herself in a terrifying situation and, as played by Valerie Harper, she’s never less than relatable. Richard Romanus, meanwhile, makes for a terrifying killer. The fact that he occasionally flashes a rather child-like smile only serves to make his single-minded pursuit of Carol all the more frightening. We never learn much about what’s led The Killer to becoming what he is but Romanus gives such an intense performance that we don’t need to understand him in order to be scared of him. He’s a nightmare come to life.

Night Terror ends on a somewhat awkward note, as if the filmmakers suddenly remembered that they were making a made-for-TV movie as opposed to a feature film. But, that said, Night Terror is an effectively scary and suspenseful road film. It can currently be viewed on YouTube.

4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Wes Anderson and Robert Yeoman Edition

4 (or more) Shots From 4 (or more) Films is just what it says it is, 4 (or more) shots from 4 (or more) of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 (or more) Shots From 4 (or more) Films lets the visuals do the talking.

Wes Anderson celebrated a birthday on May 1st. Unfortunately, on that date, I was still recovering from my post-Oscar exhaustion (and I also had a few live tweet events that I was preparing to host that night) and I let the day slip past without proper observation. I apologize for that because Wes Anderson is one of my favorite directors. Visually, no one makes films like Wes Anderson and his frequent cinematographer, Robert Yeoman.

So, belatedly, here are….

4 Shots From 4 Films Directed by Wes Anderson and Shot by Robert Yeoman

Rushmore (1998, dir by Wes Anderson, DP: Robert Yeoman)
The Darjeeling Limited (2007, dir by Wes Anderson, DP: Robert Yeoman)
Moonrise Kingdom (2012, dir by Wes Anderson, DP: Robert Yeoman)
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014, dir by Wes Anderson, DP: Robert Yeoman)

Film Review: Godzilla vs. Kong (dir by Adam Wingard)

From the minute Godzilla vs. Kong was announced, I’ve been rooting for Godzilla.

I’m probably not alone in this. I mean, let’s just be honest. King Kong seems like he means well and certainly, he’s had to deal with enough dumbass humans that it’s impossible not to feel some sympathy for him. But, in the end, King Kong is just a big monkey whereas Godzilla is an atomic, fire-breathing lizard who only protects Earth because he can’t stand the thought of anyone else destroying it before he gets the chance. King Kong is cool but Godzilla is a freaking badass. (It’s not a coincidence that literally everyone hates the fact that the original, Japanese-produced King Kong vs. Godzilla ended with King Kong winning.) One of my main hopes when it came to Godzilla vs Kong was that Godzilla would be declared the rightful winner of this battle of the Titans.

Obviously, I can’t tell you whether or not my hope came true, not without spoiling the film. (That said, it’s probably debatable just how much you can really spoil a film like Godzilla vs. Kong.) I can tell you that the title of the film is accurate. Kong and Godzilla meet and they fight, a total of three times. Buildings are climbed and destroyed. Radioactive fire is spewed across the Earth. The monkey and the lizard do not team up to conquer climate change. The climatic battle takes place in a city and many people are undoubtedly killed as a result but no one ever mentions anything about any of them so you’re free not to worry about them. Though the film doesn’t quite have the same charm as the sight of two men in rubber monster suits tossing miniature trees at each other, the CGI and the fight scenes are all undeniably well-done. As far as the film’s actual story goes, it’s all pretty dumb and it has none of the subversive bite of director Adam Wingard’s pervious films but Godzilla vs Kong is still undeniably entertaining. Those who have commented that there’s not much subtext to Godzilla vs Kong have a point but that’s actually a huge part of the film’s appeal. After a year of pop culture that was marinated in doom and gloom, there’s something undeniably appealing about a film that says, “Sit back, enjoy, and don’t worry about a thing.”

(I saw one negative review of Godzilla vs Kong that complained that the film didn’t have a strong environmental message, as if the filmmakers should have stopped the action so that Greta Thunberg could show up and shout “How dare you!?” at the two monsters.)

Of the two stars, Kong gets the most screentime, despite the fact that Godzilla is the more interesting of the two monsters. There are also humans in the film, played by recognizable performers like Alexandar Skarsgard, Rebecca Hall, Kyle Chandler, Millie Bobby Brown, Demian Bichir, Julian Dennison, and Brian Tyree Henry. All of the humans have their own reasons for being concerned about Kong’s fight with Godzilla but, to be honest, you really won’t care. Regardless of the talent of the individuals playing them, the human characters really aren’t important and the film is at its weakest when it tries to convince us that they are. This is a film you watch because of the monsters and it works best when it focuses on them.

As I sit here writing this, Godzilla vs Kong is on the verge of leaving HBOMax. However, it’s still playing in theaters, which is the idea way to watch an effects-driven film like this one. It’s the first true blockbuster of the post-pandemic era. Hopefully, it’ll be the first of many.

Here’s The Trailer For Georgetown

Georgetown, which is based on an actual Washington, D.C. murder, is one of those films that’s been out there for a while. Filming was completed in 2019 and it played at the Tribeca Film Festival that year. However, the film’s general release was held up by the both the pandemic and the fact that critics who saw it were fairly indifferent to it. Now, two years later, Georgetown will finally be getting a May 14th release before going to VOD a week later.

The main reason I’m curious about Georgetown is that it both stars and was directed by Christoph Waltz, an actor who sometimes seems to have kind of disappeared despite winning two Oscars and playing a Bond villain. Of course, Waltz hasn’t really disappeared. It’s just been a while since he appeared in a film that really captured the popular imagination. Along with Georgetown, he’ll be appearing in both The French Dispatch and No Time To Die in 2021.

Here’s the trailer for Georgetown, which co-stars Vanessa Redgrave and Annette Bening.

Lifetime Film Review: Just What The Doctor Ordered (dir by Jeff Hare)

Dr. Albert Beck is back!

Albert Beck is the character at the center of one of Lifetime’s most successful franchises, the Stalked By My Doctor films. First introduced six years ago in the original Stalked By My Doctor, Albert Beck is a brilliant surgeon who also has a bad habit of growing obsessed with his patients, especially if they’re teenage girls. Dr. Beck tends to fantasize that his patients are in love with him and then he goes out of his way to “protect” them. This usually means kidnapping them and attempting to murder everyone else in their life. Since his first appearance, Dr. Beck has gone from being a world-renowned surgeon to being a fugitive from justice to being a patient in a mental hospital. Just as surely as you can depend on Dr. Beck to fall in love with any teenage girl with a heart murmur, you can also depend on him to always manage to escape confinement. Along the way, Dr. Beck has also developed an alter ego — Laid Back Beck. Laid Back Beck wears Hawaiian shirts, sips tropical drinks, and is always taunting Dr. Beck about his lack of success when it comes to finding love. Of course, only Dr. Beck can see and hear Laid Back Beck.

Laid Back Beck

Of course, what truly sets Dr. Beck apart from other Lifetime obsessive stalker-types is that he’s played by Eric Roberts. In fact, Eric Roberts has become, late in his career, quite a popular figure with Lifetime movie fans, largely due to his performances as Dr. Beck and his appearances in a number of other Lifetime films. (Most of those non-Dr. Beck appearances have only been cameos but still, any film with Eric Roberts is going to be better than a film without Eric Roberts.) From the very first film, Roberts has been wonderfully over-the-top as Dr. Beck, playing him with just the right combination of mad sincerity, overwhelming self-pity, and self-awareness. Everything about Roberts’s performance, from his nervous smile to the rushed way he starts to speak whenever he meets someone who he feels need to be protected, comes together to make Dr. Beck into one of the most memorable and dangerous villains to ever appear in a Lifetime film. And yet, because he is so painfully needy and so convinced that he’s doing the right thing, it’s hard not to occasionally feel a little bit of sympathy for Dr. Beck. He may be a murderer but, in his mind, he’s only trying to fix a broken heart. Several broken hearts, as a matter of fact!

Just What The Doctor Ordered, the fifth film to feature the good doctor, finds Beck escaping from yet another mental institution. This time, he hides out in what he thinks is an abandoned house. However, it turns out that the house has recently been bought by Maggie Newell (Carrie Schroeder) and soon, Dr. Beck has fallen in love with Maggie’s teenage daughter, Alexa (Grace Patterson). And wouldn’t you know it — Alexa needs a heart transplant! Soon, Dr. Beck is disguising himself as a nurse and taking a very active interest in tracking down the perfect heart donor for Alexa.

And, you know what? It’s fun. Yes, you’ll be able to guess what’s going to happen but, as I’ve said before, that’s actually one of the fun things about watching a Lifetime film. As with the previous Stalked By My Doctor films, the main attraction here is Eric Roberts, chewing up the scenery and having violent fantasies about killing Alexa’s boyfriend while Alexa sweetly smiles and thanks him for protecting her. His search for a proper heart donor takes him to some unexpected places, particularly when he meets a police detective who appears to use her handcuffs for more than just arresting perps. Dr. Beck has been through a lot and he spends a good deal of Just What The Doctor Ordered looking a bit worse for wear. (Setting fire to a mental institution and then hiding in an attic for several weeks will do that to you.) But still, Eric Roberts’s unique charisma shines through. By the end of the film, you’ll eagerly be waiting to see what future adventures Albert Beck and his laid back alter ego have ahead of them!