Limbo, and six more movies

The Ballad of Jack and Rose (2005)

Jack is an aging and ill hippie who lives on grounds that used to be a commune. Rose is his daughter, who's had little contact with the real world. Kathleen is Jack's lover and maybe girlfriend, and she moves to the commune with her two teenage sons.

With these five characters bouncing around on the commune, the movie held my attention all the way through. It doesn't unfold the way I'd expected, which is a good thing, but some of the plot developments annoyed and disappointed me, which is also a good thing — it means I cared about the characters. Like real people in real life, they're never what you want them to be.

I'd lose one or two Bob Dylan tunes off the soundtrack, in exchange for more dialogue from and between these characters. And I'd trade any of a dozen other actors for Daniel Day-Lewis — he doesn't make many movies, they're usually 'prestige' flicks and he's great and all, but I never warmed to him here, and I wish he hadn't been Jack.

That's me complaining that the movie isn't as good as I wanted it to be, but it's still a heck of a movie.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

The Neverending
Film Festival

Behind the Green Door (1972)

In the 1970s, porn was almost as degrading for the audience as for the actors, so I rarely bought tickets to the sticky spooge-floor cinema. This was one of the era's biggest porn hits, but I never saw BTGD until now.

It surprising how much of it is fully clothed — 25% of the movie has passed before there's anything that's wouldn't pass for PG-13. There's only one sex scene, though it lasts about an hour. By 21st century porn standards, it's mild, and more artistic than graphic. Nobody gets punched or called a slut, nobody gets facialized or belly-squirted, the women seem to be having a good time, and instead of switching positions every two minutes, they just keep boinking until they're done boinking.

Marilyn Chambers' character is kidnapped, but there's no use of force after the moment she's whisked into a passing station wagon. Instead she's immediately (and unbelievably) willing, curious, and horny, so both plot-wise and ethically, why bother with the abduction at all? Write her as willing, curious, horny, and not kidnapped, and you'd have the same movie, only it would be thirty seconds shorter and carry no icky subtext.

It's also mildly racist. Ms Chambers can't merely be fucked by a big black stud; he has to be wearing faux African war paint and a dangling bone-tooth necklace.

On the plus side, some of the aerobic sex is staged quite imaginatively, and all the women have pubic hair, which I found charmingly nostalgic. Fat women are shown getting off, which would now be considered an outrageous kink for some reason.

Can't give it a YES, though, because it's a porno that never got me hot. Maybe that's because I'm an old-fashioned gentleman, so even watching, I prefer sex that's one-on-one. Everything in BTGD is five-on-two and nine-on-three, etc.

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦

Furlough (2018)

One of my favorite character actresses, Melissa Leo, plays a hardened convict who's been given a 36-hour furlough from prison to visit her dying mother. Tessa Thompson (never heard of her) plays a newbie prison guard assigned to escort her. I am skeptical that there are many or any real-life prison guards as gorgeous as Thompson, but OK.

Leo and Thompson are terrific together, and it's been too long since Whoopi Goldberg has been in anything I've seen, but here she is, in a small role where she's supposed to be annoying as hell, and she delivers — she's annoying as hell. 

A lot of what happens in Furlough is what you'd expect to happen, but there are some surprises, some laughs, and a few impossible moments, but hey, it's a movie. The hurt and healing feels real, and in the end, it works. It was written by Barry Strugatz, who also wrote the very good From Other Worlds, and I'm becoming a fan.

"Thank you for the electricity."

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Limbo (1999)

Most movies are mostly about two people, maybe three, but John Sayles has a more sprawling vision. He makes movies about lots of characters ricocheting off each other. 'Ensemble pieces,' they're called, and my favorites include City of Hope, Lone Star, and Matewan.

This one is set in a sad version of Alaska, where the primary industry is tourism, and one of several outside investors says, "Think of Alaska as one big theme park."

The camera swoops all around town, and we meet a singer who belts out "Better Off without You" at a wedding, her daughter who cuts herself, a fisherman who's lost his boat, another fisherman who's lost his nerve, a pair of lawyer/investor lesbians from Seattle, a bush pilot, some bar-hoppers and cannery workers, a local boy who's been chasing out-of-town money...

I thought this was going to continue being a wide-angle take on this big crowd of characters, but Mr Sayles can surprise you, so midway through, the film zooms in on three of these people. Only on a second viewing did I figure out that even the first half is mostly about those three — the lounge singer, the daughter, and the nerveless fisherman.

It's excellent, which is ordinary for Sayles, with a cast of familiar faces doing unfamiliar things. At no point could I believe David Strathairn was a fisherman, but I completely believed "David Strathairn as a fisherman" — a distinction that's difficult to explain, but I'm serious. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio can carry any role she's given, and she carries this, but it's a surprise she also carries several tunes.

The plotting would be hard to recap so I ain't gonna bother, but Limbo is a great place to be.

Verdict: BIG YES. 

♦ ♦ ♦

Project Shadowchaser (1992)

A military warrior android gone awry has taken over a hospital, holding several hostages, including the President's daughter (B-movie queen Meg Foster, always a favorite of mine — those eyes!). 

Expect plenty of noise, steely-eyed sneers, testosteroney wisecracking, and drum-driven action music. There's also a tough guy prisoner who's been offered a pardon if he can rescue the First Daughter.

From cast to stunts to setting and explosions, this is a second-rate Die Hard, but the script doesn't take itself too seriously, the android (Frank Zagarino as 'Romulus') is adequately creepy, and Meg Foster delightfully doesn't play 'damsel in distress'.

What kind of cheese would you like? American cheese, damn it!

Verdict: YES. 

♦ ♦ ♦

Scalps (1987)

I've always enjoyed so-called spaghetti westerns, movies set in the old American west but filmed in Italy. Most of the genre I've seen, though, were made by Sergio Leone, and/or starred Clint Eastwood. Plenty of shitty spaghetti westerns were made by far lesser talents.

Take Scalps, for example. It was written by, directed by, and stars nobody you've ever heard of, for good reason. It's the story of a sneering, savagely cruel Confederate officer who remains loyal to the Confederacy even after the Civil War has ended. He's slaughtered an entire tribe of natives, and injured and captured the sole survivor, a one-eyed woman who promptly escapes. 

The first half-hour is mean and stupid, with nothing but hooting and hollering, and even the hoots and hollers are badly acted and then poorly dubbed. Surprisingly, the movie gets somewhat better as it goes along, and by the time this 60-IQ adventure is finished, fairness compels me to assess it as merely bad, not awful.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦

Spiderhead (2022)

This was recommended to me by a 25-year-old acquaintance, so I wanted to check in and see what the new Pepsi generation enjoys. It's a sci-fi story that takes place at a research facility, where Chris Hemsworth is messing with people's minds and moods and hormones.

Much of Spiderhead is specifically designed to annoy me, and the first half is especially irritating. Every new scene begins with yet another pop standard from the 1980s, and while I like most of the tunes, I was trying to watch a movie here. Everyone who matters in the story is young and handsome or beautiful; the few actors who might be 30+ are walk-ons or sight gags. As a sight gag myself, I came close to giving up on it.

Eventually, though, the movie explains its premise, begins making sense, and gets less irritating and more involving. Hemsworth is seriously good (meaning you'll hate him) as the glib, mad scientist, and the story, while predictable, has enough original touches that it… almost works.

In the end, though, the annoyances are piled too high to be ignored, and then it's time for more pop standards on the soundtrack.

Verdict: MAYBE.

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Top illustration by Jeff Meyer. No talking once the lights dim. Real butter, not that fake crap, on the popcorn. Piracy is not a victimless crime. Click any image to enlarge. Comments & conversations invited.  


  1. Awhile back a friend passed away and I wound up with a bunch of his stuff. There were some blank CD-ROMs that it turned out had pretty much every copy of Playboy from the start through the 1990s. I had no experience with Playboy (I grew up white trash, Hustler was the mag of choice among the adults whose stash I raided; Penthouse if they were feeling up-market), but eventually took a look and...

    Man alive, people really DID read those fucking things for the articles. Certainly not for masturbation, or at least I can't imagine it. Early issues had maybe 4 to 6 nude photos, and most of them were about the size of a matchbook.

    Having the chronology in front of you is interesting, though. To Playboy, the '60s very much happened in the '70s. The issues from the '60s were all brandy snifters and pipe smoking. Kind of surprising in light of all the hagiography I'd seen about Playboy's role in "leading" culture and inadvertently believed.

  2. Interesting. No doubt your perspective is correct.

    I found a stack of Playboys and masturbated my dick off when I was 12 or so.

    Other than that, hmmm. I subscribed for a year or two, enjoyed the photos but knew they were fiction, and definitely read the articles, but never the 'lifestyle' stuff, which also struck me as fiction. I read the interviews, and the articles on things that mattered.


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