Cinema Penitentiary Diaries October 1-7, 2015

  1. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders This 1970 Czech comedy is a psychedelic fairy tale, a pre-adolescent “Juliet of the Spirits,” as the flowering of puberty introduces a strange and colorful dimension to the life of a thirteen year old girl.

The Godsend Mediocre if entertaining tale of an adopted child of dubious lineage who wins the unconditional love of her adoptive mother by killing off all those attached to her through blood or marital ties.

  1. La Dolce Vita REVIEWED

  1. Black Mass REVIEWED

  1. Burying the Ex Zombie comedy is one of the most obnoxious of the crossover genres. I have been avoiding them for over a decade now, ever since having the misfortune of seeing the execrable “Shaun of the Dead.” But for some reason, this one sat pretty well with me, perhaps because the acting was decent and the characters somewhat endearing. Or, more likely, Joe Dante’s retro directing took me back to an era when such hybridization was still fresh. This was not in the same league as such comedy-horror classics as  Dante’s “Gremlins” and John Landis’ “American Werewolf in London,” but it was sure better than “Warm Bodies.”


  1. Heaven’s Gate REVIEWED

Fiona Nasty and sad look at drug hookers in NYC.  I could hardly bear to look at these shriveled skeletons. Neither could I bear to listen to their pathetically hip anecdotes. Nor could I stand their death-masked smugness. But I did like the scene in which Fiona murdered a bunch of cops in a diner.  That moron Tarantino would sell his soul for a scene like that.  Oh, wait a minute.  Tarantino has no soul.

  1. Mississippi Grind A real treat for those who get the equation Mississippi Grind = California Split. At the very least, writing-directing team Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck prove that it is possible, even now in 2015, to make a road movie that can stand with the classics of the seventies. As the opposite gambling personalities who join forces, Ryan Reynolds and Ben Mendelsohn give high-powered performances that never flag. They are every bit as fascinating and charismatic as George Segal and Elliot Gould were in Robert Altman’s “California Split,” maybe more so.  The script is certainly better than the slight thing television actor Joseph Walsh wrote for Altman, but isn’t nearly as good as James Toback’s ‘The Gambler.”  Incidentally, Toback appears in a cameo towards the end of the movie.  “Mississippi Grind” ends with a twist that inventively illuminates  the loser syndrome that plagues Mendelsohn’s character with a surprising variation on the “betting everything and losing it all” cliché that generically follows a winning streak in movies about gamblers.   Mendelsohn’s subtle acting takes us to another level of addiction psychology that reminds us that starting over can be more harrowing than continuing on a downward spiral.

The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane I didn’t believe a thing.  I didn’t believe Martin Sheen was a pedophile,  I didn’t believe Jodie Foster killed everyone who discovered she lived alone.  I didn’t believe in the boyfriend, the mother, or even the teller at the bank.  I didn’t buy one note of this phony symphony.

Paper Towns This movie needs Jason.  The only thing that might save it would be the systematic elimination of its characters.  But then there is the horrible possibility of final girl survival.  Terminal disease might be a better option.  That way the innocent bystanders could be spared.  But something should be done about this Margo thing, and the perpetuation of the myth that there is anything at all attractive about these sociopathic girls who float through suburban streets on the power of their self-love.  You could feel sorry for the poor schmuck who was best friends with this creature in her pre-adolescence, then was spurned when she blossomed into a spider flower.   You could feel sorry for him were it not for the scorn you feel for his blind stupidity.   Thinking that aiding and abetting a budding felon on her night of bratty vandalism was the thrilling rebirth of love between soul partners.  And even worse than the character  is the monstrosity playing her.  This hideous Cara Delevigne with her porcupine eyebrows and twisted face.   And her acting is more Neanderthal than her primitive looks.  And what about this Nat Wolff guy? Who invited him in?  Big dumb bell  looking dog-faced geek.  What is happening to the movies?  They used to be so glamourous.  Now they are the last refuge for the missing link offspring of Bigfoot and the monsters of the Spiny Hills.

  1. Deep Cover When a movie opens with a crane shot of a typical American street, especially when the trees are hung with snow on Christmas eve, the last way you expect the scene to end is with a father who has just bungled a small time robbery dying in the arms of his child. But this isn’t Frank Capra or even Douglas Sirk. This is Bill Duke, and he’s not dicking around. Fresh off his snappy adaptation of Chester Himes’ A Rage In Harlem,” this is one director who doesn’t fall black on Blaxploitation clichés. He is out to flip the stereotypes on their backsides and show you who is who in the business of crime, with Laurence Fishburne kicking some ass as the cop who pretends to be a dope dealer, only to find he has been suckered into being a dope dealer who thinks he is a cop.  Jeff Goldblum plays the tall white guy as another incarnation of the fly, enjoying the deformity of cutting his genes with an insect, but dying of the rot such genetic splicing brings on.  So bring it on, Bill Duke. This is one tough and funny movie.  it’s a shame you couldn’t keep it up.  It was 1992 and you made one more killer movie, “Hoodlum,” in 1997, before returning to the shit dump of television, where you had already spent the first ten years of your career.

It: The Terror From Beyond Space  Picture this now if you can.  A retired man surfs the web, browsing amazon for blurays of his favorite movies. And there it is.  “It: the Terror From Beyond Space”  for $14.99 on Amazon Prime. Out of the dozens of science fiction movies he saw in 1958, this is one of the few he remembers.  Or at least he remembers the title. When it arrives in the mail, he puts wastes no time in putting it on his bluray player. The title pops out at him, and he thinks he remembers the movie being in 3D, but isn’t sure.   Ten minutes later, he is wondering what it was he might have liked about the movie when he saw it as a boy.  Like most science fiction and horror of the period, most of its running time was taken up with military and/or scientific explanations of something happening that made no sense to the kids, who sat patiently in their seats for the monster to appear.  And so this retired man, sitting in front of his television set fifty years later, sat waiting for the monster to appear, and when it did, it looked stupid.  Then it chased the astronauts around the spaceship, killing as many of them as he could, but there was no suspense to it.  The whole thing was boring, and he wondered why he had loved these movies so much when he was a boy.  Maybe the ideas that were going through his head while he was watching the movie were more interesting than the movie itself. and now, retired and sitting in front of the television screen, the ideas were gone but the move had returned, maybe to tell him he had been a sucker, that the whole thing was a con, and the movies he had loved as a child were no stinking good, and he should quit buying the blurays, quit watching them over and over again, and go out into the back yard, like he used to do, and watch the skies.

Night and the City  This was the last movie Jules Dassin made in Hollywood before he was blacklisted, and boy did he pack it with all the  anti-Capitalist subtext he could muster.  Early in the story, nice guy Adam Dunn (Hugh Marlowe) describes Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark) as “an artist without an art.” The truth is, he is a capitalist without any capital.  He has a lot of money-making schemes, but nobody will back him because he is not one of the players.  Fabian is not a criminal, but his ambition has criminalized him in the eyes of those who control the flow of money.   The business world, which is in itself nothing more than a cesspool of pedigreed swindlers, has painted him as a con man,  a cheap hustler, and the only way he can fight such labels is to become a success and cut himself a piece of the pie.  But he who has nothing shall get nothing.  This is a searing, bitter diatribe against Capitalism, and Dassin’s fiercest movie. Widmark is fantastic, but when is he not? One of Hollywood’s most under-rated actors, he has left us with a gallery of desperate characters that is without equal. Kiss of Death, No Way Out, Don’t Bother to Knock, Pickup on South Street, and Night and the City  are just a few of his must-see pictures.


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