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:

Music Video of the Day: Ed Wood by Howard Shore (1994, dir by Tim Burton and Toni Basil)


Hi, everyone!  Lisa here, filling in for Val.

In 1994, Tim Burton released Ed Wood, a film that I consider to be his best.  (In fact, it’s one of the few Tim Burton films that I feel actually improves with repeat viewings.  Don’t start yelling at me about Beetlejuice.)  The score, which so evocative of Wood’s style of filmmaking, was composed by Howard Shore.  This video features the actress Lisa Marie (who played Vampira in Ed Wood) dancing to Shore’s theme music.

Before anyone says it, I did not pick this video just because it features a dancer named Lisa Marie.  I’m not the egocentric … well, actually, I am.  In fact, I’m so egocentric that I’m shocked that I have yet to dedicate an entire post to just listing words that rhyme with Lisa.  (Sadly, there’s not many.  Visa is a good one.)  But still, I did have other reasons for picking this video than just the fact that I am also named Lisa Marie and I also enjoy dancing in cemeteries.  Those reasons will hopefully become obvious as the day develops here on the Shattered Lens.

Anyway, both Tim Burton and Toni Basil are credited with directing this video.  I’m going to assume that Burton’s directorial credit is largely due to all of the scene of Ed Wood that are spliced into the footage of Lisa Marie dancing.  Toni Basil, who also did the choreographed this video, is one of our favorite people here at the Shattered Lens.  Just check out my review of Head and Val’s review of Slaughterhouse Rock.

Enjoy!

Music Video of the Day: It’s Tricky by RUN-DMC (1987, dir. Jon Small)


When I picked out this music video to feature today, I thought it would just be a catchy song that happens to feature Penn & Teller. I had no idea that the song It’s Tricky is actually an amalgamation of My Sharona by The Knack and Mickey by Toni Basil. The site Who Sampled has a great comparison here for Toni Basil and here for The Knack. They took a small bit of the guitar riff from My Sharona which got them sued in 2006, and was settled out of court. The vocal structure for the song was taken from Mickey. I would have never put that together had I not stumbled upon it on Wikipedia.

As for the music video, I’m a little confused. She gets her chain taken by Penn & Teller, the cops show up, they chase after them, she calls RUN-DMC as you do, and suddenly they are instantly doing three card monte again all in the span of a few minutes in front of the same theater. That’s tricky. Actually I wouldn’t be surprised if director Jon Small meant people to think of it that way.

This music video apparently aired for the first time in May of 1987 while Beastie Boys’ music video for No Sleep Till Brooklyn first aired in April of 1987. I only bring it up because of the similarities between the last scenes where RUN-DMC shows up at their scheduled concert to find that Penn & Teller have taken their place. Beastie Boys do the same kind of thing in No Sleep For Brooklyn, which seems to have borrowed elements from RUN-DMC’s music video for Walk This Way that aired the previous year in 1986. IMVDb says that It’s Tricky first aired in 1986, but 1987 makes more sense, and is in mvdbase that always seems to be the more accurate source for older music videos. Regardless, I find it funny how these things all interconnect whether intentionally via sampling, or what seemed like two different groups who had similar music videos right around the same time.

Director Jon Small seems to have worked on about 50 music videos as well as some concert films.

That seems to be all there is about this simple and fun music video, so enjoy!

In Case You Missed It…


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Remember Toni Basil? She had a mega-hit record back in the 80’s with the infectious pop song “Mickey”. The multi-talented Miss Basil’s been around forever, known for her choreography on TV’s SHINDIG, the films THE TAMI SHOW and The Monkees’ HEAD (where she shared the spotlight with Davy Jones). She choreographed two David Bowie tours (Diamond Dogs and Glass Spider), directed videos with Talking Heads’ David Byrne (“Once in a Lifetime”), and has appeared as an actress in VILLAGE OF THE GIANTS, PAJAMA PARTY, EASY RIDER, and FIVE EASY PIECES, among others.

Recently the 72 year old, who co-founded the street dance group The Lockers way back in 1971, strutted her stuff at a Los Angeles dance workshop, and the crowd of young kids went nuts! The video has gone viral and in case you missed it, I’d like to share it with you now:

Yeah! You’ve still got the…

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Horror Film Review: Slaughterhouse Rock (1988, dir. Dimitri Logothetis)


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Earlier this month Lisa posted a scene from Slaughterhouse Rock that she likes, but she said she hadn’t actually seen the movie. She might as well have slapped me across the face with a steel gauntlet. Well, I’ve seen Slaughterhouse Rock now. Twice in fact. Probably three if you count all the rewatching of segments I had to do while writing this review because I was still confused. I can assure you that scene is the most entertaining thing about this movie. Lisa is right, that scene does show parts from earlier in the film. I love that it even flashes back to pointless scenes like when one of the kids slips while climbing up onto Alcatraz Island. Or a quick shot of one of the girls talking in a restaurant. It’s like they reached that part of the film and ran out of money because they blew it on effects from earlier in the film. That, and it was probably in Toni Basil’s contract that they let her dance a little in this movie. Oh, by the way, this is one of two rock horror films that star Toni Basil. I already reviewed Rockula. Why are there two of these?

So let’s get this review over with so I can subject myself to more films of questionable quality. The film starts out with some dreamlike scary scenes that end with someone’s hand getting chopped off. Then a guy wakes up to find his hand missing. Of course he wakes up again because he was still in a dream. Cut to the opening title card. We find out that not only Toni Basil was involved in this, but Devo too. And then we find out that the cinematographer on this movie is Nicholas Von Sternberg. The son of famed director Josef Von Sternberg. I bring that up because the first film he is credited with shooting is Dolemite (1975). That film is famous for numerous reasons including the boom mic popping in from the top of the frame.

I mention it since I’m pretty sure there is a scene in this movie where the boom mic pops in on the left hand side of the shot. I wish I had watched a higher quality copy of this movie, but here’s the shot anyways.

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But back to the story. That kid is Alex Gardner (Nicholas Celozzi) who has been having some weird dreams lately. Cut to the outside of a college building and we learn that Alcatraz has been closed down temporarily because of a tragic incident. A rock band called Body Bag broke off from the tour group and was later found dead. That’s Sammy Mitchell’s (Toni Basil) band. Since his dreams seem like they are taking place in a prison, his friends think there must be a connection. The next group of scenes are either stupid 1980’s teenagers in a horror movie stuff, creepy unreal stuff, or one of the very few shots in this movie that are actually of Alcatraz.

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In here is one of the dumbest scenes in the movie. They obviously thought it was really cool and built atmosphere, but it’s actually just really frustrating and confusing like most of this movie. It takes place in a restaurant where the scene starts with this person picking up some food to take to a table. The camera moves in slow motion around this restaurant for what feels like an eternity. Then a voice kicks in. Who is saying it? Is it the people we are looking at? The camera is still moving so I guess it can’t be. It takes close to another 10 seconds before the camera slow motion moves some more and finally settles on a girl and Alex talking at a table. My god! Was it so hard to cut that shorter? This is especially frustrating because the rest of the scene is actually done rather well. It uses close ups of his eyes and other peoples faces combined with angles and playing with the sound to build up to a hand breaking through the wall behind him. None of which required that unnecessarily confusing roam through the restaurant. Likely, that stuff was padding. There’s a lot of stuff that feels like padding in this movie.

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Now apparently these kids are taking some sort of class on the metaphysical in college because of course we can’t just have the kids go to Alcatraz of their own volition. No, Alex’s teacher finds out about his dreams after he freaks out in class. It’s her and this Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) scene that finally push them to take a small boat out to the island.

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Once we arrive on the island then the film really starts to have issues. The problem is since this was obviously not shot on the island, what you are seeing are small separate sets. In a well directed movie, this wouldn’t necessarily be an issue, but here it is. You never really have a sense of space. How long is that hallway? Where is this exactly? Where is it in relation to the other sets? All of these problems are what make the film feel like a lot of just people walking and talking. To where? Who knows? And who cares.

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After getting grabbed by a hand and pulled somewhere else, we meet Sammy Mitchell. She starts to tells us the story behind all of this and that she has been reaching out to him in order to bring him to the island. Expect there to be a reason she reached out to him specifically? Only in your dreams. We now learn about her fascination with the occult and that she let some demon out. Apparently, all the people who have died on the island are the source of his power and are trapped on the island by his power. She then explains how this guy allowed in something more evil than the guy could have imagined. Then it cuts away to someone else for a bit. We then come back to her, and he asks why she chose him. Her answer is that she needs a living being to open a door at the end of a tunnel in order to release all the souls trapped on the island. Now comes the stock footage dance that Lisa posted.

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While all this is going on, we have the other kids wandering around the island. One of them includes Alex’s brother Richard (Tom Reilly). Richard becomes possessed by this demon. I love the scene with this one girl that he has shortly after getting taken over. It’s like that ridiculous dry hump sexual assault scene from the game Phantasmagoria. Only this scene actually makes some sense since the bad guy did have a history of that sort of thing whereas in the game it’s really random.

With Alex out of his body, the movie now has an excuse for how it can show us, and him, scenes from the past really explaining things. Okay, what’s going on is that apparently Alcatraz was a military outpost before it became a prison. And of course there was a really nasty guy who liked to hire girls, then eat them. After he couldn’t hire hookers and eat them anymore, he fed off the locals. The Native Americans finally got fed up with him and burned him. Unfortunately, he apparently had learned enough about magic that this didn’t do him in really. He had made a pact with the devil according to Sammy. I love the dialogue from the ghosts that almost sound like Sean Connery’s famous opening credits lines from Highlander (1986) that were recorded in a bathroom. Also, I love the quick anti-drug line they threw in with Basil’s exposition dump.

After Basil finally shuts up, although she keeps popping in from now on, the movie basically comes down to a D.W. Griffith cross cutting sequence. On one end you have people fighting the demon and on the other you have Alex (out of body) walking down the tunnel to open the door. Just as the camera seemed to take forever to move through the restaurant, Alex takes his sweet time walking through this tunnel. Almost like they shot all the other scenes of the kids fighting the demon, figured out how long they ran, then shot enough of Alex walking down the tunnel so they could keep cutting back to it. During this is where this lack of a sense of space really comes into play. The demon keeps pounding against a wall in some place and that somehow has an effect on Alex in the tunnel. The demon is hitting his hand against the wall, and then it cuts to Alex’s body to show his hand twist, which then seems to have an affect on his soul moving through the tunnel. It’s all very confusing, and since it’s the climax, it really damages the movie.

At the end, as far as I can tell, Basil joins souls with Alex in some fashion. There’s something there because he can suddenly play the piano at the end. I don’t care.

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This film was disappointing. I wasn’t a fan of the opening stuff, but they should have stuck with it all the way through. Yes, they could have improved on the sense of space issue, but I could have forgiven that if I felt trapped and held in a suspenseful atmosphere. Instead, they had to explain things, bring in Toni Basil, the dance number, the ridiculous outfits on her, and comedy bits from other dead people.

In other words, you can skip this one. If you must have Toni Basil in a rock related horror film, then go with Rockula. It’s not great, but it’s better than this. Plus you also get Thomas Dolby and Bo Diddley in that one.

Horror Scenes That I Love: Slaughterhouse Rock


I’ve never actually seen the 1987 film Slaughterhouse Rock.  I’ve just seen the trailer included in a few compilations and, thanks to YouTube, I’ve seen the scene below.  The only context that I can give for this scene is what I read on Wikipedia.

Apparently, in this scene, a ghost played by the great choreographer Toni Basil does a dance that gives the main character’s spirit the ability to roam free of his physical body.  And, during the dance, we see a lot of earlier scenes from the movie.  Or something like that.  I don’t know.  I just like the scene because of the music and Toni Basil.

I’ve always felt that dancing can take you into a spiritual realm of existence.  This scene proves my point.