Music Video of the Day: Casino Queen by Jackie Lynn (2020, dir by Haley Fohr and Krzys Piotrowski)


One minute, you’re running through the desert.

The next minute, you’re winning everyone’s money.

Such is life, when you’re a Casino Queen.

Actually, I don’t know if that interpretation is correct or not.  This seems to be a video that’s open to multiple interpretations.  I guess a lot of how you react to it will depend on how you feel about casinos in general.  I find casinos to be depressing places, where people inevitably gamble away their futures while the local Elvis impersonator begs someone to drop a quarter in his guitar case.  Other people tend to see casinos as being a place where anyone can strike it big, if they just have the right combination of luck and skill.  I’m not sure if this video depicts someone getting lucky or cheating.  Maybe it’s a little of both.

Myself, I’ve never been much of a gambler.  For instance, I would never be able to do well at poker because I would constantly be asking the person sitting next to me if I had a good hand or not.  Blackjack is a lot more easier to play since all you have to do is just try not to go over 21.  Actually, if I ever did go on a gambling spree, I’d probably just hit the slot machines.  Or maybe the roulette wheel.

To be honest, whenever I hear the word “casino,” I think about Robert De Niro critiquing the blueberry muffins in the Martin Scorsese film of the same name.  The Ace Rothstein Dancers were my favorite part of that movie and I think they would appreciate this song because you can dance to it.

This video has a 70s-version-of-the-future feel to it, which I like.  If Logan’s Run had taken place in a casino, it probably would have looked a lot like Casino Queen.

Enjoy!

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Romeo and Juliet (dir by George Cukor)


You know the story that’s told in this 1936 film already, don’t you?

In the city of Verona, Romeo Montague (Leslie Howard) has fallen in love with Juliet Capulet (Norma Shearer).  Normally, this would be cause for celebration because, as we all know, love is a wonderful thing.  However, the House of Capulet and the House of Montague have long been rivals.  When we first meet them all, they’re in the process of having a brawl in the middle of the street.  There’s no way that Lord Capulet (C. Aubrey Smith) will ever accept the idea of Juliet marrying a Montague, especially when he’s already decided that she is to marry Paris (Ralph Forbes).  Things get even more complicated with Juliet’s cousin, Tybalt (Basil Rathbone), kills Romeo’s best friend, Mercutio (John Barrymore).  Romeo then kills Tybalt and things only grow more tragic from there.

It’s hard to keep track of the number of films that have been made out of William Shakespeare’s tale of star-crossed lovers and tragedy.  The plot is so universally known that “Romeo and Juliet” has become shorthand for any story of lovers who come from different social sects.  Personally, I’ve always felt that Romeo and Juliet was less about love and more about how the rivalry between the Montagues and the Capulets forces the young lovers into making hasty decisions.  If not for Lord Capulet throwing a fit over his daughter’s new boyfriend, she and Romeo probably would have split up after a month or two.  Seriously, I’ve lost track of how many losers I went out with in high school just because my family told me that I shouldn’t.

Producer Irving Thalberg spent five years trying to get MGM’s Louis B. Mayer to agree to greenlight a film version of Romeo and Juliet.  Mayer thought that most audiences felt that Shakespeare was above them and that they wouldn’t spend money to see an adaptation of one of his plays.  Thalberg, on the other hand, thought that the story would be a perfect opportunity to highlight the talents of his wife, Norma Shearer.  It was only after Warner Bros. produced a financially successful version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that Mayer gave Romeo and Juliet the go ahead.

Of course, by the time the film went into production, Norma Shearer was 34 years old and a little bit too mature to be playing one of the most famous teenagers in literary history.  Perhaps seeking to make Shearer seem younger, Thalberg cast 43 year-old Leslie Howard as Romeo, 44 year-old Basil Rathbone as Tybalt, and 54 year-old John Barrymore as Mercutio,  (In Barrymore’s defense, to me, Mercutio always has come across as being Verona’s equivalent of the guy who goes to college for ten years and then keeps hanging out on the campus even after dropping out.)

In short, this is the middle-aged Romeo and Juliet and, despite all of the good actors in the cast, it’s impossible not to notice.  There were few Golden Age actors who fell in love with the authenticity of Leslie Howard and Basil Rathbone is a wonderfully arrogant and sinister Tybalt.  Norma Shearer occasionally struggles with some of the Shakespearean dialogue but, for the most part, she does a good job of making Juliet’s emotions feel credible.  As for Barrymore — well, he’s John Barrymore.  He’s flamboyant, theatrical, and a lot of fun to watch if not always totally convincing as anything other than a veteran stage actor hamming it up.  The film is gorgeous to look at and George Cukor embraces the melodrama without going overboard.  But, everyone in the movie is just too old and it does prove to be a bit distracting.  A heart-broken teenager screaming out, “I am fortune’s fool!” is emotionally powerful.  A 43 year-old man doing the same thing is just not as effective.

Despite being a box office failure (it turned out that Mayer was right about Depression-era audiences considering Shakespeare to be too “arty”), Romeo and Juliet was nominated for Best Picture of the year, the second Shakespearean adaptation to be so honored.  However, the award that year went to another big production, The Great Ziegfeld.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Sounder (dir by Martin Ritt)


The 1972 film Sounder follows the Morgans, a family of black sharecroppers living in 1930s Louisiana.

When we first see Nathan Lee Morgan (Paul Winfield) and his young son, David Lee (Kevin Hooks), they’re hunting.  Accompanying them is their loyal dog, Sounder.  As they hunt, two things become very obvious.  Number one, David Lee is a good father who is doing his best to provide for his family under the most difficult circumstances possible.  Number two, the family is desperately poor.  When Nathan finally gives in to temptation and steals a ham to feed his family, the local Sheriff (James Best) shows up at the farmhouse the next day and arrests him.  Nathan is taken away to prison and one of the deputies even shoots Sounder.

Fortunately, Sounder survives and so do the Morgans.  Under the stern but loving leadership of their mother, Rebecca (Cicely Tyson), the Morgan children manage to bring in the season’s crops.  Unfortunately, having to work out in the fields doesn’t leave much time for David Lee to get an education.  When he does go to school, he and the other students listen as a middle-aged, white teacher reads to them from Huckleberry FInn.

After the wounded Sounder finally returns to the Morgan family and recovers from his wounds, David Lee decides that he wants to go to the prison and see his father.  Unfortunately, the sheriff refuses to even tell the family where Nathan has been incarcerated.  None of the white authority figures in town care that the Morgans are struggling or that they’ve managed to bring in the crops themselves.  None of them cares or seems to even understand that David Lee is missing his father.  The sheriff presents himself as being a reasonable man and is never heard to the use the n-word.  Instead, he and every other white person in town refers to David Lee as being “boy,” diminishing everything that he’s done since his father was arrested.

David Lee finally figures out the location of a prison that might (or might not) currently be housing his father.  It’s several miles away.  Accompanied by Sounder, David Lee sets out to make the long journey to the prison.  Along the way, he discovers another school and a far more empathetic teacher named Camille (Janet MacLachlan).  David Lee is forced to make a decision that will effect not only his future but also the future of his family.

Sounder is a heartfelt film.  It’s a film that’s less interested in telling a story with a traditional beginning and end as opposed to just sharing scenes of everyday life.  In this case, it’s the life of family that manages to survive despite it often seeming as if the entire world is arrayed against them.  The film was based on a book that pretty much centered around the dog.  The movie, on the other hand, is more about the family and, despite the fact that the film is still named after him, the dog is pretty much superfluous to the plot.  That said, Sounder still plays an important role because, just as Sounder survives being shot at and remains loyal to the people that he loves, the Morgans survive whatever adversity is tossed at them.  Watching the film, the viewer is very much aware that life is never going to be easy for the Morgans but, at the same time, it’s impossible not take some comfort in the fact that they have each other.  Paul Winfield and Cicely Tyson both give strong performances as the resilient Nathan Lee and Rebecca and the entire film is the type of movie that’ll inspire tears even as it inspires happiness.

At the Oscars, Sounder was nominated for Best Picture, where it provided a gentle contrast to the other nominees, Cabaret, Deliverance, The Emigrants, and The Godfather.  Paul Winfield and Cicely Tyson were nominated for Best Actor and Best Actress, making 1972 the first year in which black performers were nominated in both of the lead categories.  (It was also the first year in which more than one black actress was nominated for Best Actress as Tyson ended up competing with Lady Sings The Blues‘s Diana Ross.)  In the end, Tyson lost to Cabaret‘s Liza Minnelli while Winfield lost to The Godfather‘s Marlon Brando.  And, of course, The Godfather also went on to deservedly win the award for Best Picture.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Tender Mercies (dir by Bruce Beresford)


The other day, on this very site, I mentioned that the 1983 film Tender Mercies was one of the films that David Lynch turned down.  

In his memoir, Room to Dream, Lynch wrote that he was sent the film’s script while he was looking for a project to serve as his follow-up to The Elephant Man.  Lynch wrote that he liked the script, which was written by Horton Foote (who had previously won an Oscar for adapted To Kill A Mockingbird), but that Lynch also felt that it just wasn’t the right project for him at the time.  Tender Mercies was eventually directed by Bruce Beresford and Lynch mentioned that he felt that Beresford did a “brilliant” job.

After I posted the article, it occurred to me that Tender Mercies is not a film that’s as well-known as it deserves to be.  It received five Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture.  Robert Duvall won his first (and, to date, only) Oscar for playing the lead role.  It’s an acclaimed film but it also plays it in a rather low-key style, particularly when compared to some of the other films that were released in the early 80s.  (1983 may have been the year of Tender Mercies but it was also the year of Scarface, Flashdance, Return of the Jedi, and Risky Business.)  As such, it’s a film that’s been a bit overshadowed over the years.

Tender Mercies takes place in rural Texas.  Mac Sledge (Robert Duvall) is a former country-western star whose career has collapsed due to his alcoholism and his own self-destructive behavior.  One morning, a hungover Mac wakes up in a roadside motel.  Not having any money on him, Mac asks the motel’s owner — Rosa Lee (Tess Harper), who lost her husband in Vietnam — if he can work at the motel in return for a room.  Rosa Lee agrees, on the condition that Mac not drink while he’s working.

As the days pass, Mac and Rosa Lee grow closer and Mac becomes a surrogate father to Rosa Lee’s young son, Sonny (Allan Hubbard).  Eventually, Mac and Rosa Lee marry and Mac becomes an accepted member of the community.  However, Mac remains troubled.  His ex-wife, Dixie (Betty Buckley), has built a career on singing the songs that he wrote for her but she refuses to consider anything new that he’s written.  His teenage daughter (Ellen Barkin) stops by the motel and announces that she’s running away to get married.  There’s tragedy but there’s also hope and forgiveness.

Tender Mercies is a simple but affecting film about a good man who is struggling to deal with the fact that he was once a very bad man.  What makes Tender Mercies interesting is what doesn’t happen.  The first time I saw it, I spent the entire movie expecting Mac to fall off the wagon and break everyone’s heart.  Instead, Mac manages to keep his promise to his new family but what he discovers is that being sober doesn’t automatically exempt one from pain or guilt.  He still has to deal with sadness and disappointment but now, he has to do it without using alcohol as a crutch.  Instead of getting his strength from booze, he now gets it from love.

It’s a wonderfully sweet movie, featuring naturalistic performances from Harper, Hubbard, and especially Robert Duvall.  It seem appropriate that, after making his film debut as Boo Radley in a film written by Horton Foote, Duvall would win his first Oscar for another film written by Foote.  Duvall plays Mac as a plain-spoken and weary soul who is still just enough of a romantic to find some sort of redemption in the world.  It’s a great performance and it’s a good film and I’d suggest checking it out if you ever need a good cry.

Music Video Of The Day: Psych Ward by Okay Kaya (2020, dir by Kaya Wilkins & Adinah Dancyger)


When I first watched this video, it took me a while to figure what it was reminding me of.  I finally realized that the film was making me think of an 80s zombie film called The Dead Pit, in which an amnesia victim finds herself locked up in a mental hospital that is so overrun by zombies.

Visually, the video really does have a retro feel to it.  With the grainy cinematography and the relatively small group of patients, it’s easy to imagine that this video could be an old Italian or French horror film from the early 80s.  One could easily imagine bits and pieces of the video appearing in one of Lucio Fulci’s post-Zombi, pre-Manhattan Baby films or perhaps one of the films that Jean Rollin did around the time that he directed The Night of the Hunted.  For a while there, psych wards were a very popular film setting.  I imagine that had something to do with the success of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.

Enjoy!

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Alibi (dir by Roland West)


1929 was a transitional year for Hollywood.

On the one hand, more people were going to the movies than ever.  The studio moguls were getting rich and directors, many of whom were influenced by German expressionism, were experimenting with new ways to visually tell their stories.  The days when an motionless camera would just be planted on the floor so that it could record actors moving in and out of the frame were over.

At the same time, Hollywood was also struggling to adjust to the arrival of sound.  Though many assumed that sound would just be a fad, it quickly turned out that audiences preferred sound pictures to the old silent melodramas.  Films that had been originally conceived as being silent were reshot with sound and the results were often mixed as Hollywood technicians struggled to figure out how to get the best and clearest recording possible.  Even harder hit were the actors, who had spent decades giving silent performances but who were now expected to adapt, overnight, to an entirely new style of acting.  Some actors saw their career abruptly end because their voice didn’t match their appearance or because they simply couldn’t memorize the dialogue that they were now required to actually speak.  Even the actors who could handle delivering their dialogue often struggled to find the right balance between acting too much and acting too little.

Take Alibi, for instance.  This crime film was released in 1929 and visually, it’s often a marvel.  But whenever the actors open their mouths and start to recite their dialogue …. yeesh!

Based on a Broadway play, Alibi tells the story of Chick Williams (Chester Morris, whose brooding good looks go a long way towards making up for his awkward screen presence).  Chick is a career criminal who has just been released from prison.  Because he’s a “jailbird,” (as they used to put it in 1929), Sgt. Pete Manning (Purnell Pratt) is convinced that Chick has hooked back up with his old gang and that he’s responsible for a recent robbery that left one policeman dead.  However, Chick has an alibi.  It turns out that, after getting out of prison, one of the first that Chick did was get married.  Chick’s new wife is Pete’s daughter, Joan (Eleanor Griffith)!  And Joan swears that, on the night of the crime, Chick was with her at the theater.

Despite his alibi, Pete is convinced that Chick had something to do with both the robbery and the murder.  Pete decides to send in an undercover cop, Danny McGann (Regis Toomey).  Pretending to be a permanently drunk businessman, Danny works his way into Chick’s mob.  But can Danny find the proof needed to take Chick down?

So, here’s what’s good about Alibi.  First off, it’s a pre-code film, which means that the characters are allowed to occasionally curse and that the gangsters all spend their time at a nightclub, watching the floor show.  It also means that Joan is allowed to openly discuss why she distrusts the police and the film shows the police being brutal in a way that would never be allowed during the production code years.  Secondly, from the very first scene, director Roland West creates an almost dream-like atmosphere, full of looming shadows and art deco sets and close-ups of menacing faces.  West’s camera prowls through the streets and clubs with a restless energy.

But then, as I mentioned earlier, someone will open their mouth and start to speak and the entire film comes to a halt.  The cast — some of whom went on to have long and successful careers — was obviously still struggling to figure out how to act in a sound film and the results are definitely mixed.  Eleanor Griffith delivers all of her lines in the same angry tone while Purnell Pratt stiffly defends the police force.  Regis Toomey, meanwhile, goes so overboard as Danny that you find yourself hoping that he’ll blow his cover and be forced out of the film.  Though he’s occasionally awkward, Chester Morris probably does the best out of the entire cast.  At the very least, he manages to communicate some genuine menace.

Seen today, Alibi is mostly interesting as a historical document.  It represents both the best and the worst of the early sound era.  When it was first released, Alibi was a hit at the box office.  Though no official nominees were announced for the 2nd Academy Awards, notes from the era indicate the Alibi was among the films considered for Best Picture and it’s usually listed as being a nominee.  The award itself was given to Broadway Melody.

Music Video Of The Day: Everything Has Changed by Best Coast (2020, dir by Ryan Baxley)


Really, everything?

Well, maybe not everything.  This video, for instance, suggests that some things have changed but that it might not have been as easy a change as the lyrics suggest.  The thing I like about this video is that, even though the subject matter is change, it still has this weird retro feel.  So, it’s like, “Everything’s changed …. back!”

I do have to say, though, things have certainly changed for me over the past few years.  I was just thinking about it earlier today.  Way back in 2010, when I first started writing for this site, I was a neurotic and self-destructive and maybe just a little bit insecure.  I was one of those people who would specifically start arguments and fights with people just so I could revel in the drama.  It was my way of acting out at the world, largely because I was just in a really angry place at the time.

But the years have passed and the times have changed and I’m in a much better place today.  A lot of it, I know, had to do with just growing up and discovering that being an immature brat wasn’t as fulfilling (or as cute) as I had been led to believe.  A lot of it had to do with writing for this site and discovering that I didn’t have to act out to get attention.  I could just state my opinions and make my arguments and people would actually respond.  That was a big lesson for me and it played a big role in me gaining the confidence necessary to become a …. well, I wouldn’t say a grown-up.  I still don’t consider myself to be a grown-up.  I’ve still got a lot of maturing to do.  But I’m definitely a much happier person today than I was in 2009.

So remember!  Be supportive of the writers and film reviewers in your life because, in a way, you’re helping them become better people.

Anyway, where was I?  Oh yeah!  Good video!

Enjoy!