Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Five Easy Pieces (dir by Bob Rafelson)


First released in 1970, Five Easy Pieces tells the story of a lost man named Bobby Dupea (Jack Nicholson).

When we first meet Bobby, he’s working at a California oil field.  He likes to go bowling.  He has a girlfriend named Rayette (Karen Black), who is a country music-obsessed waitress.  His best friend is Elton (Billy “Green” Bush), a friendly redneck with a memorable laugh.  Bobby may have a girlfriend and Elton may be married but that doesn’t stop either one of them from going out at night, getting drunk, and trying to pick up women.

Bobby seems to be just another blue-collar guy with a grudge against the bosses but it doesn’t take long to realize that there’s something different about him.  Bobby may be friends with Elton but it’s obvious that the two of them come from very different background.  No matter how much he tries to hide it, Bobby is smarter than everyone else around him.  When he and Elton get stuck in a traffic jam, Bobby spots a piano sitting on the back of a pickup truck.  Getting out of his car, Bobby yells at everyone who is honking and then climbs up to the piano.  He sits down, he puts his fingers to the keys and he starts to play.  Knowing Bobby, you’re expecting him to just bang the keys and make noise.  Instead, he plays beautiful music.

Later, Bobby steps into a recording studio.  Paritia (Lois Smith), a neurotic woman, is playing the piano.  The recording engineers joke about her lack of talent.  Bobby glares at them, annoyed.  It quickly becomes apparent why Bobby is so protective.  Paritia is Bobby’s sister.

Bobby, it turns out, comes from a wealthy family of musicians.  Everyone in the family has dealt with the pressure to succeed differently.  Paritia continues to play, despite not having much talent.  Bobby’s older brother, the buffoonish Carl (Ralph Waite), plays violin and has staid home with their father (William Challee).  Bobby, on the other hand, ran away from home.  He’s spent his entire life trying to escape from both his talent and his family.  However, when Paritia explains that their father has suffered from two strokes and might not live much longer, Bobby reluctantly decides to return home and try to make some sort of peace with his father.

It’s not as easy a journey as Bobby would have liked.  For one thing, Rayette demands to go with him.  On the drive up to Washington, they pick up two hitchhikers (Helena Kallionetes and Toni Basil), one of whom is obsessed with filth.  In the film’s most famous scene, an attempt to get a simple lunch order modified leads to Bobby losing control.

See, that’s the thing with Bobby.  In many ways, he’s a jerk.  He treats Rayette terribly.  While his family is hardly perfect, the film doesn’t hide from the fact that Bobby isn’t always the easiest person to deal with.  And yet, you can’t help but sympathize with Bobby.  If he seems permanently annoyed with the world … well, that’s because the world’s annoying.  And, to Bobby’s credit, he’s a bit more self-aware than the typical rebel without a cause.  When one of the hitchhikers praises his temper tantrum at the diner, Bobby points out that, after all of that, he still didn’t get the order that he wanted.

In Washington, Bobby tells Rayette to stay at a motel and then goes to see his family.  Bobby seems as out-of-place among his wealthy family as he did hanging out in the oil fields with Elton.  He ends up cheating on Rayette with Carl’s fiancee, a pianist named Catherine van Oost (Susan Anspach).

And then Rayette shows up for dinner…

Five Easy Pieces is a sometimes funny and often poignant character study of a man who seems to be destined to always feel lost in the world.  Bobby spends the whole movie trying to find a place where he can find happiness and every time, reality interferes with his plans.  Nicholson gives a brilliant performance, playing Bobby as a talented guy who doesn’t really like himself that much.  Bobby’s search for happiness leads to a rather haunting ending, one that suggests that some people are just meant to spend their entire life wandering.

Five Easy Pieces was nominated for Best Picture but lost to Patton.

Scenes that I Love: Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper Do Mardi Gras and Drop Acid in Easy Rider!


Today, a lot of people have traveled to New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras.  Here’s hoping that they have a better time in the city than Billy (Dennis Hopper) and Wyatt (Peter Fonda) had in the 1969 film, Easy Rider.

The scenes below, featuring Hopper, Fonda, Karen Black, and the legendary Toni Basil were actually filmed at Mardi Gras in 1968.  These were among the first scenes that Hopper (making his directorial debut) shot for the film and reportedly, filming was so chaotic that they were also nearly the last scenes to be filmed.  As those who have seen Easy Rider know, Billy and Wyatt spend the entire movie trying to get to New Orleans so that they can visit a famous brothel.  Once they get there, they discover that absolutely nothing lives up to the legend.  The brothel is a sleazy mess.  Mardi Gras is full of bad vibes.  Wyatt has an amazingly bad LSD trip.  (Hopper convinced Fonda to really drop acid before filming the scene, which led some harrowing footage.)  After they leave New Orleans, Fonda and Hopper cross the border into Texas and promptly end up getting blown away by two rednecks in a pickup truck.

Welcome to the sixties!

In the scene below, we get actual footage of 1968’s Mardi Gras.  Just watch all the celebrants who stop to stare at the  camera.

And here is the infamous cemetery scene.  Fonda resisted doing it and the end result is not easy to watch but it’s also one of the most powerful moments in the entire film:

A Movie A Day #272: Mirror Mirror (1990, directed by Marina Sargenti)


Following the death of her husband, Susan Gordon (Karen Black) relocates to Los Angeles with her teenage daughter, Megan (Rainbow Harvest).  An angry goth girl who always wears black and bears a superficial resemblance to Winona Ryder in Beetlejuice, Megan struggles to fit in at her new school and quickly attracts the unwanted attention of the school’s main mean girl, Charlene Kane (Charlie Spradling).  Fortunately, Megan has an old and haunted mirror in her room that can not only bring her rotting father back to life but which Megan can also use to kill all of her tormentors.

Of the many rip-offs of Carrie, Mirror Mirror is one of the best and I am surprised that it is not better known.  The plot, with a teenage girl using paranormal powers to get revenge on all of the bullies at her school, may be familiar but Mirror Mirror is better executed than most of the other films of its ilk.  The script is full of snappy dialogue and, despite the low budget, the special effects are effectively grisly.  There’s a scene that does for garbage disposals what Jaws did for the water.  One thing that sets Mirror Mirror apart from similar films is that Megan is sometimes not a very sympathetic character.  Unlike Carrie, who was scared of her powers and only used them once she was pushed over the edge, Megan is initially very enthusiastic about using the mirror to get revenge for every slight, real and perceived.

The cast also does a good job, with Karen Black giving one of her least restrained performances.  Keep an eye out for Yvonne DeCarlo playing a realtor and William Sanderson as Susan’s strange new boyfriend.  The best performance comes from Rainbow Harvest, a talented actress who appeared in a handful of movies in the 80s and 90s and then appears to have vanished from the face of the Earth.  Believe it or not, Rainbow Harvest was her real name.

A Movie A Day #251: Cisco Pike (1972, directed by Bill L. Norton)


Yesterday, the great character actor Harry Dean Stanton passed away at the age of 91.   Cisco Pike is not one of Stanton’s best films but it is a film that highlight why Stanton was such a compelling actor and why his unique presence will be missed.

Cisco Pike (Kris Kristofferson) is a musician who has fallen on hard time.  After having been busted several times for dealing drugs, Cisco now just wants to spend time with his “old lady” (Karen Black) and plot his comeback as a musician.  However, a corrupt narcotics detective, Leo Holland (Gene Hackman), approaches Cisco with an offer that he cannot refuse.  Holland has come into possession of 100 kilos of marijuana.  He wants Cisco to sell it for him and then Leo plans to take the money and retire.  Cisco has the weekend to sell all of the weed.  If he doesn’t, Holland will arrest him for dealing and sent him back to prison,

About halfway through this loose and improvisational look at dealers, hippies, and squares in 1970s Los Angeles, Harry Dean Stanton shows up in the role of Jesse Dupree, an old friend and former bandmate of Cisco’s.  Jesse is a free-living wanderer, too old to be a hippie but too unconventional to be a member of the establishment.  Unfortunately, Jesse also has a nasty heroin habit.  Jesse Dupree is a prototypical Harry Dean Stanton role.  Like many of Stanton’s best roles, Jesse may be sad and full of regrets but he is not going to let that keep him from enjoying life.  Stanton may not appear in much of the film but he still takes over every scene in which he appears.

Stanton is, by far, the best thing about Cisco Pike.  As always, Gene Hackman is entertaining, playing the inverse of The French Connection‘s Popeye Doyle and Karen Black is her usual mix of sexy and weird.  The weakest part of the movie is Kris Kristofferson, who was still a few years away from becoming a good actor when he starred in Cisco Pike.  It is interesting to consider how different Cisco Pike would have been if Stanton and Kristofferson had switched roles.  Stanton may not have had Kristofferon’s movie star looks but, unlike Kristofferson, he feels real in everything that he does.  With his air of resignation and his non-Hollywood persona, Stanton brought authenticity to not only Cisco Pike but to every film in which he appeared.

Along with Stanton, several other familiar faces appear in Cisco Pike.  Keep an eye out for Roscoe Lee Browne, Howard Hesseman, Viva, Allan Arbus, and everyone’s favorite spaced-out hippie chick, the one and only Joy Bang.

Lisa Cleans Out Her DVR: Homer and Eddie (dir by Andrei Konchalovsky)


(Lisa is currently in the process of cleaning out her DVR.  It’s taking her such a long time that she’s running out of cutesy ways to talk about how long it’s taking.  She recorded this 1989 comedy off of Starz on May 10th.)

This is another strange one.

Homer and Eddie opens with Homer (James Belushi) standing on the corner of an isolated stretch of desert road.  He is hitchhiking.  When a car finally stops to pick him up, Homer is so excited!  He gets in the back seat, gives the two men in the front seat a really wide smile, and innocently asks them how they’re doing.

One of the men (played by director John Waters) holds up a gun and demands all of Homer’s money.  After Homer hands the money over, he is kicked out of the car.  As the car drives away, Homer pulls a few dollars out of his sock and loudly yells that he fooled them and that they didn’t get all of his money.

The car abruptly stops and, going in reverse, pulls back up to Homer.  Homer gives up his money and the car speeds off.

In short, Homer probably shouldn’t be hitchhiking on his own.  Homer, you see, was hit in the head by a baseball when he was younger.  He has the mind and the innocent outlook of a child.  He is cheerful, he is religious, and he is totally unprepared to deal with real world.

Fortunately, Homer won’t be alone for too long.  Homer comes across an apparently deserted car and, without money or a place to stay, he decides to use the car as shelter.  However, it turns out that the car isn’t as abandoned as it looks!  No, the car is being used by Eddie (Whoopi Goldberg).  Eddie stole the car when she escaped from a mental institution.  Why was Eddie in the mental institution?  She’s a paranoid schizophrenic and she occasionally kills people.  Eddie and Homer are soon taking a very strange road trip, heading up north so that Homer can see his dying father.

It’s a very disjointed film, one that switches tone from scene to scene.  The two stars seem to be acting in totally different movies.  Belushi gives a very broad performance, one that often crosses the line into pure goofiness.  Eddie, meanwhile, is continually and constantly full of rage.  You never know when she’s going to snap and kill someone.  I spent a good deal of the movie waiting for her to kill Homer.  Maybe that was the point but it’s still hard to laugh at scenes of Homer and Eddie waving at a school bus full of cheerleaders when you’re also waiting for Whoopi Goldberg to beat and dismember Jim Belushi.

Homer and Eddie can  summed up by one lengthy sequence.  Eddie takes Homer to a brothel so that he can lose his virginity.  While Homer is dancing around in his underwear, Eddie is at a convenience store, shooting the clerk (played by Pruitt Taylor Vince).  The clerk, who was perfectly nice to Eddie before getting shot, looks at his wound and feebly says, “Why did you do that?” before dying.

It’s a weird little movie.  Usually, I love weird moves but this one is too much of a mess for even me.  As I watched it, I couldn’t help but think of how much more interesting the movie would be if it was the child-like Homer killing people and schizophrenic Eddie trying to keep him calm.  On a positive note, this was decades before Whoopi Goldberg gave up her edginess to co-host The View and she gives shockingly good performance.  When Eddie loses control, she’s actually frightening.  But, unfortunately, the film itself just doesn’t work.

A Movie A Day #52: Overexposed (1990, directed by Larry Brand)


overexposedSomeone is stalking soap opera star, Kristin (Catherine Oxenberg).  She is receiving frightening notes and her coworkers are dying.  Who is after her and what does it have to do with a tragic fire at a birthday party?  Is it one of her jealous co-stars?  Is it her duplicitous boyfriend (David Naughton)?  Is it the stranger (William Bumiller) that she’s having an affair with?  Or is it the obsessed fan (Karen Black)?  Detective Morrison (Larry Brand) is on the case!

The return of Detective Morrison (played, again, by the film’s director) makes Overexposed a sequel to The Drifter.  (Both films were directed by Brand and executive produced by Roger Corman).  Morrison has much more to do in Overexposed than he did in The Drifter so maybe the plan was to launch a low-budget franchise of Detective Morrison movies.  It didn’t happen, because Overexposed is much less interesting than The Drifter.  The spoiled and rich Kristin is never a likable character and the movie’s real star was Oxenberg’s busy body double, Shelley Michelle.

Overexposed does have a few good scenes, including death-by-acidic-facial-cream.  The best thing about movie is Karen Black, who brilliantly delivered a monologue about why she loves television.  It doesn’t have much to do with the rest of the movie but Karen Black knocked it out of the park.  The monologue ends with Karen Black paying homage to The Mod Squad by shouting out, “Solid!”

Overexposed was forgettable but Karen Black?

Karen Black was solid.

Growing Pains: YOU’RE A BIG BOY NOW (Warner Brothers 1966)


cracked rear viewer

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Francis Ford Coppola  was still a UCLA film student when he made YOU’RE A BIG BOY NOW, the 1966 coming of age comedy he used as his MFA thesis. The young Coppola was 27, and had gained experience working for Roger Corman ; indeed, Corman gave him his first break when he hired Coppola to write and direct the horror quickie DEMENTIA 13. But YOU’RE A BIG BOY NOW was his first major studio release, and put him on the map as a talent to keep an eye on.

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Bernard Chanticleer is a 19 year old nerd with a way-overprotective mother and disinterested, authoritarian father. He works for Dad at a New York City library, and is constantly goofing up on the job. Dad thinks it’s time for Bernard to spread his wings and move on his own, much to Mom’s displeasure. She finds him a room at a house owned by Miss Thing, who’s tenants include conservative…

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