Friday, January 6, 2012

Worth Mentioning - I Want to Poop Back and Forth

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Cody and Jay's second year of mentions starts off with discussion of a classic, indie roots and oddities.


Before I start talking about how awesome this movie is, there is one negative that I have to point out. The poster and cover art the film got stuck with is terrible. Just look at it up there. Jack Nicholson wearing nothing but a sailor hat, holding a cigar while giving the camera a look, with the tagline promising that he's going to show some young man the time of his life. What a way to sell it. Despite the impression that the poster may give, this isn't the seaman precursor to Brokeback Mountain and it has nothing to do with the Village People.

The story follows Navy lifers "Badass" Buddusky and "Mule" Mulhall, who are waiting for their new orders to come in when they're chosen for temporary duty as chasers, the term for a sailor who transports a prisoner to the brig. The prisoner in this case is a young sailor named Meadows, sentenced to eight years in Naval prison for stealing $40 from a polio contribution box, and they need to transport him from their station in Norfolk, Virginia to the prison in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Buddusky and Mulhall have been given a week to do this, but they figure it should only two days, so they plan to drop Meadows off as quickly as possible and then take their time getting back to Norfolk and have some fun spending their per diem. Their plan quickly changes as they get to know Meadows on the way. Already feeling that his sentence is excessive, knowing that he's getting punished harder because the polio charity is the favorite do-gooder project of a higher-up's wife and she's responsible for the contributions, it becomes even more apparent to Buddusky and Mulhall that there's an injustice going on here when they find out that Meadows didn't even get the $40, he was busted just while attempting to lift it. Meadows is a meek, naive, not-so-bright kid and he's getting screwed over. Buddusky and Mulhall can't help him avoid prison, but what they can do is let him do some living during his last days of freedom. The good times that follow include a lot of beer drinking, food requests, fun and games, and a visit to a brothel.

The film is carried on the shoulders of the actors playing the three main characters: Jack Nicholson, in his greatest days, as Buddusky; a young Randy Quaid as Meadows; the little known but very cool Otis Young as Mulhall. Nicholson and Quaid received Academy Award nominations for their performances. Showing up in smaller roles are Clifton James (best known as Sheriff J.W. Pepper in Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun) as the man who assigns Buddusky and Mulhall to their chaser duty, Gilda Radner making her first screen appearance as a Buddhist, Carol Kane as the girl who takes Meadows' virginity (credited as "Young Whore"), and Nancy Allen in her first role as a girl named Nancy.

It's expertly directed by Hal Ashby, fresh off the then-derided, now-beloved Harold and Maude, working from a terrific, Oscar-nominated screenplay by Robert Towne. Nicholson went on to star in another Towne-scripted film the next year, Roman Polanski's Chinatown.

Great cast, directing, writing, this is an overall great film, one that I tend to end up watching around New Years Eve/Day. With its cold, wintry setting, it just feels appropriate. The film got a lot of attention at the time of release for the "shocking" amount of profanity in it, which Towne defended with the great quote, "This is the way people talk when they're powerless to act; they bitch." The sailors' potty mouths aren't so alarming these days, but this film does contain what I consider to be one of the greatest profane outbursts ever: Shore Patrol


I fell behind on movies directed by Edward Burns. In the mid-'90s, his story was one of the inspirational indie tales of the time. Like the guys who had recently become my heroes then (Kevin Smith, Richard Linklater, Robert Rodriguez), Burns was a random regular guy who had made a movie for under $30,000, caught the attention of the studio system and got a filmmaking career.

In Burns' case, his first film was The Brothers McMullen, made for around $27,000 and shot mostly in his parents' house. His second film was She's the One, a $3 million film for Fox Searchlight, produced by Robert Redford. Success. I watched those movies in '96/'97 and they were fine, well made, I just didn't connect with them personally and didn't like some of the characters and story elements. In particular, I never find guys cheating on loving spouses to be sympathetic or enjoyable to watch. I didn't avoid Burns' other movies, I just never got around to watching them.

But recently, Burns has caught my attention again, having returned to his roots and gone even cheaper. His latest movie, Newlyweds, was made for $9000. He's been sharing details on how it was made and has sort of been rallying the indie troops, giving the aspiring folks like myself reasons for why "there are no more excuses" to not make a movie. It got me thinking, this Burns is an interesting guy, it's time for me to give all of his stuff a watch.

No Looking Back was Burns' third film, and while I couldn't really relate to situations or settings in the previous two, this one was more my speed.

The main character is Claudia, a woman feeling trapped in her dead end small town. She works as a diner waitress, her mother is so severely depressed over her father leaving that her sister has to live with her, she's in a longterm relationship that she's not sure of. Claudia had dreams of getting away and seeing the world, but she's gone nowhere. Her life gets shaken up when an ex-boyfriend who did get out of town, Charlie, returns. Charlie says that he's just back for a short time to regroup before he moves on again, he wants to get back together with Claudia and take her with him... But things are very complicated.

No Looking Back was nicknamed "No One Saw It" by those involved because it only grossed $222,099 in its limited theatrical run. Since the budget was $5 million and other than salaries there's really no apparent reason for the story to have cost that much, this one was quite the opposite of Burns' current situation. But its money issues are irrelevant to the viewer, what really matters is that it's a very good small town drama.

Jay's mention:


Written and Directed by Miranda July

This strange 2005 film from Miranda July had me cracking up quite a bit for half the film and staring at the screen bewildered for the rest. July herself plays Christine Jesperson, a modern artist who also drives elderly people around in her "ElderCab" service. There's also another great performance from John Hawkes (Winter's Bone) as Richard, a newly divorced shoe salesman who has two young boys.

Quirky is a word that gets thrown around a lot, and I'm sure it's been thrown at this film upwards of a million times. There are some endearing yet "out of this world" scenes such as a freshly purchased goldfish being left atop a car as Christine and one of her elder buddies (Hector Elias) drive on in shock, desperately trying to save the poor fish, and a very uncomfortable yet somehow humorous segment revolving around Richard's co-worker (Brad William Henke) hitting on two seventeen-year-old girls by way of very sexually explicit notes taped to his window. Of course, if you've seen the film, the "poop back and forth" internet conversation between Richard's two kids and an online chatter is probably up there at the top of the list.

If any of this sounds like a good time to you then I'm sure you'll love this film. The descriptions I just gave don't even begin to mention some wonderfully heartfelt scenes that are scattered throughout this odd little gem. It's an ensemble piece and while some of it may seem like things we'd never do, it struck me as being more about things we'd never admit or actions that we'd only dream about. A lot of it is goofy in nature when it boils down to it-- but it works. I'm thinking Miranda July put a lot of her own personality into this, it's definitely unique and doesn't mind taking you from uncomfortable to smitten.

Major props to Brandon Ratcliff as Richard's youngest son, Robby. His delivery is so awkward and adorable. He really steals every scene he is in.

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