Film Review: Easy Rider (1969)

Also known as: The Loners (working title), Sem Destino (Brazil)
Release Date: May 12th, 1969 (Cannes)
Directed by: Dennis Hopper
Written by: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Terry Southern
Music by: The Band, The Byrds, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Roger McGuinn, Steppenwolf
Cast: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson, Karen Black, Toni Basil, Bridget Fonda (uncredited)

Raybert Productions, Pando Company, Columbia Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

“[giving Capt America some LSD] When you get to the right place, with the right people, quarter this. You know, this could be the right place. The time’s running out.” – Stranger on the Highway

In an effort to rectify the injustice of not seeing every American classic ever made, I watched Easy Rider. I know, I know… there are countless American classics, at this point, but there are many I haven’t seen, this being one of them. Every year since film was invented there have been at least a handful of great pictures, if not more. So I don’t think anyone, other than Roger Ebert, has seen them all.

I’m not quite sure why I haven’t seen Easy Rider until now. I’ve known about it pretty much my entire life but it’s never really been something I felt like buying and it hasn’t really streamed anywhere until it popped up on FilmStruck. But having seen other classic biker films, I wanted to check this out before it was cycled out of streaming circulation.

I’ve been a massive fan of Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson for decades. Seeing the three of them come together for this motion picture, which forever altered filmmaking, was quite a treat.

However, even though this is credited as being a movie that changed everything going forward, it wasn’t the first of its kind. Peter Fonda starred in two films, which were produced by B-movie king Roger Corman. Those films were The Wild Angels and The Trip. Both dealt with the two main things that are intertwined in this film, biker culture and hallucinogenic drugs.

Now Easy Rider is superior to its two predecessors but I don’t think that this movie could have existed without Roger Corman having the foresight to make those other counterculture pictures and paving the way for Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda to write, direct and star in this movie.

The film is a reflection of the time it was in. A time where America was in a state of flux: politically, socially, culturally and artistically. The film really carries a sense of aimlessness and hopelessness with it. It’s a clash of cultures, ideas and displays an American spirit that is tired, lost and without direction or any real inspiration. This is the artistic antithesis of American Exceptionalism.

Now I don’t agree with it but within the context of its time and setting, I understand the sentiment. Frankly, I don’t know where my head would be at in 1969, but I know I’d share some of the same feelings and emotions, especially in regards to the political landscape and the emotional exhaustion caused by the Vietnam War.

I really liked this movie, though. It was magnificently shot. All the scenes of these guys riding cross country were nothing less than beautiful and majestic. I can see why this made people want to sort of adopt the free spirited biker culture into their lives.

And that’s the thing, this film does a fine job romanticizing the freedom of the road but it also shows the side effects of that lifestyle with a heavy handed fist to the head.

My only real issue with the film is the ending. I understand why they did this to end the movie but ultimately, it felt pointless and a bit nonsensical. It came off as edgy just to be edgy. These guys could have met a similar fate without it being some random ass situation that was just thrown in to shock people. For me, it kind of cheapened the overall film. I felt that Hopper was leading towards some sort of larger message but the movie kind of just shits on your emotions and spirit and then just says, “Fuck you!”

Easy Rider is a depressing film. That doesn’t mean it isn’t good or worth your time. It’s a solid piece of filmmaking with a few hiccups I wasn’t too keen on but those hiccups didn’t really detract from the overall sentiment of the picture.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: A couple earlier films that lead to this one even being possible: The Wild Angels and The Trip. Both of those also star Peter Fonda.

Film Review: BlacKkKlansman (2018)

Also known as: Black Klansman (working title)
Release Date: May 14th, 2018 (Cannes)
Directed by: Spike Lee
Written by: Spike Lee, David Rabinowitz, Charlie Wachtel, Kevin Willmott
Based on: Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth
Music by: Terence Blanchard
Cast: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Topher Grace, Corey Hawkins, Robert John Burke, Nicholas Turturro, Alec Baldwin, Harry Belafonte

Blumhouse Productions, Monkeypaw Productions, 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, QC Entertainment, Legendary Entertainment, Focus Features, 135 Minutes

Review:

“Darn tootin'” – David Duke

For the most part, I enjoyed this movie. I have to get that out of the way because it’s probably going to sound like I’m overly critical of it, as I continue on in this review.

First and foremost, it was a solid, interesting story with actors that I thought handled the material well. In regards to Adam Driver, this was the first thing that I have seen him in where he wasn’t Kylo Ren or that stupid Logan Lucky movie that made me want to burn the theater down. I really got to see his legit acting chops on full display and I was impressed. He lived up to what other people have told me about him. Well, mostly girls that wanted me to watch Girls. No thanks.

One major thing about this film is that it is based on a true story, the biographical account of these events by the real Ron Stallworth, the main character in the film. The problem, which happens with many Spike Lee movies, is that the director takes some tremendous liberties and sort of uses the real story as a basis to weave his films the way he sees fit, whether honest, accurate or not.

One major moment in this film is the big jab at the end where Stallworth calls David Duke to reveal that he was a black man the entire time. This never happened and Duke wasn’t ever privy to Stallworth being black until it was revealed to him in an interview in 2006.

Another issue I have with the film is that it works perfectly as its own tale but once you get to the end, it immediately switches to real world footage of the 2017 Charlottesville incident. I understand the parallels, everyone does, this film does a great job of painting the picture that Spike Lee needs to get his message across but the switch to modern real world footage is jarring. I know that it is supposed to be jarring but it isn’t jarring because of the incident itself, which is still very fresh in the public’s mind, but because it cheapens the film from an artistic standpoint. It’s heavy handed and forcibly shoehorned into the film in a way that cheapens the effect of Spike’s own picture, basically saying, “Hey, if you don’t get the message after this 135 minute beautiful film I did, than here’s a hammer to the face just to make sure you got it.” Spike Lee is talented enough to make films that speak for themselves and can lead his audience where he needs to without the hammer to the face. And this also looks like he has a lack of confidence in his own storytelling abilities; he shouldn’t. This worked without the exclamation point.

Additionally, this movie was released almost on the one year anniversary of the incident, which means it was already being made and Lee decided to tie it into Charlottesville after the fact or that it was made as a response to it and rushed out, which gets into some of the technical problems the film had.

Most of the film flowed well but there are some key points where I noticed clunky editing and transitions as well as bad audio management. Sometimes it felt as if something got cut from the film, it jumped to the scene after and the transitions were already done so they didn’t really bother to smooth out and polish the later cuts from the film.

Another thing that bothered me was Lee’s apparent lack of environmental awareness. I’ll give two examples.

One, when Stallworth is following the Klansman on a dark country road at night, the Klansman is able to see that a black man is behind him. I’ve driven on dark country roads. You can’t see the face of the person behind you, all you can see is their headlights. It wouldn’t be such a big deal if it weren’t made into a somewhat important plot point that had an effect on three different scenes.

Two, when Stallworth is watching the Klan meeting towards the end of the movie, he’s watching from a second story window overlooking the meeting room. He is in direct view of David Duke, who is on the stage giving a speech. Every time they show the back wall with the windows you can see the silhouette of Stallworth’s head with it’s large afro. There’s no way that Duke wouldn’t see this while pontificating out to the crowd and while probably paying attention to his surroundings, as he has had threats and is under police protection.

I’m not sure if Spike Lee just doesn’t care about these details, as just telling the story is most important, or if he just didn’t think these scenes through. Again, maybe the film was rushed to try and get it out on the anniversary of Charlottesville.

Another thing that I disliked and it isn’t just in this film, it’s in a lot of films, is that it portrays the vast majority of KKK members (and general bigots) as buffoons. I’m certainly not defending those scumbags but I think in doing that, it dumbs them down in a situation where you need to show how much of a threat they actually are to all people and society as a whole. Are many of them dumb rednecks? Most likely, but playing some of them up for comedic value just makes them bumbling idiots and doesn’t really display them as beacons of pure evil. Granted, I thought Topher Grace did a good job in the role of David Duke and the local president of the KKK also played the role straight but they were the only two.

However, why the hell did Spike Lee cast Nicholas Turturro as a KKK member? Turturro is Italian as fuck and I am also part Italian and I’m pretty sure the Klan didn’t like us either. I guess Spike always needs a Turturro in a movie but this wasn’t the right spot for him and he stuck out like a sore thumb talking and jiving like a Little Italy gelato shop owner.

But enough griping.

I really enjoyed John David Washington as the star of this film. He hasn’t done much but he proved that he is an actor more deserving of bigger roles. Also, Laura Harrier was fantastic and the only other thing I’ve seen her in is Spider-Man: Homecoming. This role was a big jump for her but she knocked it out of the park and hopefully, gets more prominent roles after this film. I also might be crushing hard on her after this.

Back to Adam Driver, he was the focal point of the most challenging scenes in the film and he really steals the picture when he’s present. A lot of the material had to have been difficult but he nails it and carries the bulk of the film on his back.

Spike Lee crafted a pretty good movie, the running time was a bit long but he tends to do that. Initially, it wasn’t as preachy as I thought it would be. Well, at least until the blunt instrument to the face in the last few minutes, but the film made its point very well without him needing to spell it out in all caps like an angry twelve year-old girl tweeting about a breakup.

But, in the end, this was refreshing in a summer full of blockbuster duds.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Other Spike Lee movies: Do the Right ThingMalcolm X and Bamboozled.

Film Review: Rififi (1955)

Also known as: Du rififi chez les hommes (original French title)
Release Date: April 13th, 1955 (France)
Directed by: Jules Dassin
Written by: Auguste Le Breton, Jules Dassin, Rene Wheeler
Music by: Georges Auric
Cast: Jean Servais, Robert Hossein, Magali Noël, Janine Darcey, Pierre Grasset, Marcel Lupovici, Robert Manuel, Carl Möhner, Marie Sabouret, Claude Sylvain, Jules Dassin (credited as Perlo Vita)

Pathé, 118 Minutes

Review:

“[to Tony about Cesar] For a job with you he’ll come. Cesar! There’s not a safe that can resist Cesar and not a woman that Cesar can resist.” – Mario Ferrati

Jules Dassin, a maestro of film-noir, was blacklisted from Hollywood. So he took his talents to France and made Du rififi chez les hommes or just Rififi.

Other Dassin fans have told me to watch this for quite a while now but I just got around to it because I have a giant laundry list of stuff that I need to watch. But I am glad that I did as this is now my favorite of Dassin’s crime pictures.

I think that this benefited from Dassin not being under the controlling eye of Hollywood execs. It felt more personal, much more gritty and allowed Dassin some creative freedom in an era where it didn’t really exist, at least in the United States.

The big heist sequence in this film was fantastic and one of the best I’ve ever seen. It takes up a big chunk of the second act of the picture but each shot was well crafted and every moment served a purpose and was interesting.

Seeing heists in film is really common nowadays but back in the mid-’50s it wasn’t. Dassin put great detail into this sequence and what makes it cool, seeing it all these years later, is that it isn’t high tech, it is much more hands on and displayed real cunning, as opposed to just some boffin on a laptop hacking cameras, lasers and safe codes.

I also thought that the acting in this was really good. All of the key players were able to express themselves without a lot of dialogue. You could read things on their face, which also made the experience more effective for English speaking audiences that have to see this film with subtitles.

The cinematography was top notch and a lot of that can be credited to the lighting. But ultimately, it was Dassin’s directorial prowess that brought all the pieces together in the right way, visually.

Between this film and Le Samouraï, I’m really digging French film-noir. For other fans of noir out there, or just Jules Dassin fans, this is certainly not a waste of your time and is pretty close to being a film-noir masterpiece.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Other noir pictures by Jules Dassin: The Naked CityNight and the CityThieves’ Highway and Brute Force. Also, the French neo-noir Le Samouraï.

Documentary Review: Red Army (2014)

Release Date: May 16th, 2014 (Cannes)
Directed by: Gabe Polsky
Written by: Gabe Polsky
Music by: Christophe Beck, Leo Birenberg
Cast: Viacheslav Fetisov, Vladislav Tretiak, Scotty Bowman, Vladimir Pozner

Gabriel Polsky Productions, Sony Pictures Classics, 84 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2015.

Gabe Polsky and Werner Herzog, now regular collaborators, worked together on this documentary. Polsky directed and conducted the interviews, where Herzog produced it.

This film follows the story of the Soviet Union’s last great hockey team, as told through their point of view. It follows them through their early days as kids in the system, through international competition, the Olympics, political and social turmoil, as well as their journey to North America and the NHL.

The bulk of the story is told through the eyes of legendary player Viacheslav Fetisov. He is dynamic, charismatic and, at times, an abrasive cantankerous jerk. But he does seem to tell an honest story and expresses his feelings and his tale pretty thoroughly. He’s straightforward and comes with a no nonsense approach, other than poking fun at the director here and there.

The most important thing about this film, is how intimately it portrays these young players relationship with the Soviet Union’s sports system and the hardship and challenges they faced. It also displays their loyalty to their country and the pride they had for playing on the national team but it evolves into their inability to trust their coach and that same system, as it holds them prisoner and doesn’t allow for them to have lives.

Through the broken promises and mistreatment over the years, many of these players eventually left the crumbling Soviet Union for the greener pastures of the National Hockey League in the United States and Canada. It then follows their struggles in the NHL and how these Russians adapted and then changed the game at it’s highest professional level.

This is a thought provoking and fast-paced documentary. It has something for everyone, whether you are into sports, politics or both. Truthfully, it is one of the best hockey documentaries that I have seen in quite some time.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: Of Miracles and MenMiracle and The Nagano Tapes: Rewound, Replayed & Reviewed.

Film Review: Logorama (2009)

Also known as: Logorama©
Release Date: May 20th, 2009 (Cannes)
Directed by: François Alaux, Hervé de Crécy, Ludovic Houplain
Written by: François Alaux, Hervé de Crécy, Ludovic Houplain, Gregory J. Pruss
Music by: Bryan Ray Turcotte, Dayna Turcotte
Cast: Bob Stephenson, Sherman Augustus, Aja Evans

H5, Autour de Minuit Productions, Little Minx Films, Cinéma Public Films, 16 Minutes

Review:

“[after getting berated by his boss] Captain Douchebag.” – Michelinman Mike

This was brilliant. And I don’t mean that the concept was brilliant but the execution of the concept was. Granted, the concept was cool but seeing it come together and how it came together far exceeded what I anticipated.

I thought, “Oh, this is a short film about logos coming to life. They’ll probably sing and dance and do some boring shit I won’t much care for.” But this was more like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas coming to life with Ronald McDonald as a madman and a police force full of gung ho Michelinmen. Then there was Mr. Clean, the Green Giant, Big Boy, the Haribo kid and a bunch of other famous branding icons interacting in a world completely constructed in logos.

This was a quick watch but it was fun, thoroughly entertaining and I instantly became a fan of it and had to send it out to several friends that were unaware of its existence.

I don’t want to ruin the plot for anyone, even though it’s just a couple simple stories that overlap.

But this is pretty hilarious and it will be hard to not get mesmerized by it on a first viewing.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Other animated short films: The Lost ThingHarvie KrumpetRyan and The Lady and the Reaper.

Film Review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

Also known as: Indiana Jones 4, Fourth Installment of the Indiana Jones Adventures, Indiana Jones and the City of the Gods, Raiders of the Lost Ark Sequel, The Untitled Genre Project (working titles)
Release Date: May 18th, 2008 (Cannes Film Festival)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: George Lucas, Jeff Nathanson, David Koepp
Based on: characters by George Lucas, Philip Kaufman
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Cate Blanchett, Ray Winstone, John Hurt, Jim Broadbent, Shia LaBeouf

Lucasfilm Ltd., Paramount Pictures, 122 Minutes

Review:

“Leave it to Ox to write a riddle in a dead language.” – Indiana Jones

After this film came out, people seemingly hated it. Well, I hate those people because the hate for this film is pretty silly.

Okay, I get it, there are some really goofy things in this picture and you could argue about the stupidity of a few bits but ultimately, this was still a great adventure and a lot of fun. Yes, this is the worst of the Indiana Jones movies but that’s like saying sirloin is the worst cut of steak. It’s still friggin’ steak, man.

I like the fact that the film’s setting was in line with Harrison Ford’s increased age since last being seen as Indiana Jones in 1989’s The Last Crusade. Sure, you want to see Indy punch Nazis in the face but the Soviets were a good replacement as were the Cold War fears of the time.

I enjoyed Cate Blanchett’s Colonel Dr. Irina Spalko as the villain. She wasn’t as good as René Belloq from Raiders of the Lost Ark or Mola Ram from Temple of Doom but I thought she definitely had the edge over Walter Donovan from The Last CrusadeIndiana Jones movies have always had great villains though and Blanchett lived up to that task, being one of the absolute high points of this movie.

I also loved that the older Indy wasn’t focused so much on chasing tail and that he, for the first time on the big screen, was reunited with a love from the past. Marion Ravenwood was nearly everyone’s favorite “Indy Girl” of them all and it was really cool seeing them reunited and there being a romantic happy ending for both characters. I’ve always loved Karen Allen and her return makes almost all of the bad shit in this movie worth it, especially since we got to see her and Indy ride off into the sunset.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the Shia LeBeouf addition to the cast and the whole bit about him being Indy’s kid but he did okay with the material and really, I don’t think another actor could have salvaged some of his poor dialogue anyway. But I am glad that he wasn’t given the reins of the franchise.

I guess the hardest pill for me to swallow as a fan is that Sean Connery, Denholm Elliot and John Rhys-Davies aren’t in the picture. I get that Connery didn’t want to do it and that Elliot had passed away since The Last Crusade but even a cameo by Rhys-Davies would have been awesome. Especially, for the wedding of Indy and Marion, as he was good friends with them both.

Most people didn’t like the alien twist and I get that. However, looking at what Indiana Jones is supposed to be, which is a modernization of the old school cheesy movie serials of the 1940s, it sort of fits the style. Sure, I would have rather gotten those long rumored Bermuda Triangle or Atlantis plots but I didn’t hate the premise of this film. It did feel strange and somewhat out of place at first glance but hey, there was a vampire story in The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles and that show is canon.

I, like almost everyone I’ve talked to about this movie, rolled my eyes at the refrigerator scene, the Tarzan homage and the giant ants. But looking beyond those weird bits, this film still has a lot more good stuff than bad or cringe inducing stuff. And none of it was as bad as dancing Emo Spidey from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3.

Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was the best summer blockbuster of 2008 after The Dark Knight and Iron Man. There weren’t many films that were more fun than this one was that year.

Harrison Ford was still great and his chemistry with Karen Allen was perfect. I also thought that John Williams did a fine job with the score and the tone of the film was just right.

The first three Indiana Jones films were all given a perfect score here at Cinespiria. Obviously, this isn’t a perfect ten but all things considered, I’d say it’s a solid eight. But I also really love Indiana Jones.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: The other Indiana Jones films.

Film Review: Clerks (1994)

Also known as: Inconvenience, Rude Clerks (working title)
Release Date: January, 1994 (Sundance)
Directed by: Kevin Smith
Written by: Kevin Smith
Music by: Benjie Gordon (music supervisor)
Cast: Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Marilyn Ghigliotti, Lisa Spoonauer, Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith, Scott Mosier, Walt Flanagan, Joey Lauren Adams (voice)

View Askew Productions, Miramax Films, 92 Minutes, 87 Minutes (TV cut), 102 Minutes (extended cut)

Review:

“This job would be great if it wasn’t for the fucking customers.” – Randal Graves

I’m that asshole that doesn’t love Clerks.

Yes, I do like Kevin Smith’s older work and I do appreciate this film and what it led to for Smith and his characters. However, out of the Viewaskewniverse stuff, this is my least favorite chapter. Still, it opened the door into a world that I came to love and it serves as a sort of prototype to what would become the norm for Kevin Smith, at least for a half dozen of his films.

I think that my biggest problem with the film is that Dante is such a fucking whiner. I like Brian O’Halloran but his Dante character is such a tense ball of angsty shit that it is extremely hard to give a shit about his shitty day. Jeff Anderson’s Randal is a total dick but at least he’s amusing and he isn’t a basket case like Dante.

What does make the film work though, is the chemistry of Dante and Randal. Neither are likable but their banter is funny and amusing, even if it does sound overly manufactured and they don’t talk like real people. But that was a trope of ’90s Gen-X slacker movies: characters that talk super witty, super sarcastic and think that everything sucks while somehow espousing some sort of nonsensical philosophy with every breath. In fact, one review of the film said, “…a script so full of words that it probably rivals the telephone book in size.” I can’t argue against that.

The film also only works as an absurdist comedy. There are too many scenes that just seem to be completely outside of reality. While everything in this film could happen, there is just too much weird shit going on for this to actually all happen in a single day. And the plot doesn’t seem to matter, as it is just scene after scene of random, strange things happening.

Now it may sound like I am harping on the film but I’m really not. I like the weird bits but it’s kind of unclear if the film is supposed to be absurdist or realistic. And you can’t really find that answer by comparing it to Smith’s other Viewaskewniverse films because they all have a different tone. Personally, I have to view this as an absurdist, almost surreal comedy.

I’m sure that a lot of these ideas came from Smith’s experience working Dante’s job at the same store in real life. And because of that, the film does capture a sense of realism in its critique of menial retail jobs. I’ve worked these jobs too but I wasn’t as much of a crybaby as Dante or as much of a dick as Randal. Although, I was pretty sarcastic and hated the sight of customers.

But that’s what makes this a hard film to process for me. There is a bit of realism and a lot of absurdism. The opening scene with the gum sales rep trying to create an in-store uprising just to sell more gum is ridiculous. I would’ve tossed that guy out on his ass in two seconds. Some of these characters just don’t act like real people. Okay, most of these characters.

Although, this was probably the most authentic version of Jay & Silent Bob ever captured on film.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: Ther other films set within Kevin Smith’s Viewaskewniverse titles: MallratsChasing AmyDogmaJay & Silent Bob Strike Back and Clerks II. Also, the Clerks animated series.