Deep Cover, and six more movies

The Adjuster (1991)

Atom Egoyan makes odd stuff, and this one is an overload of odd. Scene after scene makes no sense, but he tells the story his way. You should've known that, coming in.

The Neverending
Film Festival

There's a home insurance claims adjuster who takes extraordinary interest in claimants' lives, not from suspicion, but from compassion. His hobbies include archery, and fucking. All the people who've filed claims seem to stay at the same hotel, waiting for their claims to be settled, their homes rebuilt and lives restored to normal, but it might as well be called the Hotel Purgatory, because claims are never settled, normalcy never restored.

There's a woman who's a film censor, and she works with several other film censors, and they attend screenings together and share a complex scoring system. The woman sneaks a video camera into the screening room and discreetly films the X-rated movies she's screening, and she has nightmares.

There's a nymphomaniac who picks up a homeless guy on the subway and brings him home with her, and later she makes out with a high school football team.

The homeless guy plucks hairs from his hand, then starts wearing nice suits.

There are half a dozen other characters who are all esoteric, and it's possible that one of them may have held the secret code to making The Adjuster make sense, but I couldn't crack it.

Verdict: NO, but it's kooky and I still love Atom Egoyan.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The American Sector (2020)

This is a documentary about the myriad chunks of the Berlin Wall displayed in public spaces across America — and there are a lot of them. Berlin Wall fragments can be found at real museums, and fake museums like Ripley's Believe It or Not, at the United Nations Building in New York, a restaurant in Georgia, the Society for Creative Anachronism in Philadelphia, in Seattle's famously funky Fremont neighborhood, alongside Interstate 85 in South Carolina, at a "corporate retreat" in Pennsylvania, an office park in California, Microsoft's headquarters, at the private homes of very rich people, at a bus stop in Chicago, outside the Hard Rock Café at Universal Studios in Orlando, and at many other places.

Early on in the film, a spokesperson for the US State Department stands in front of a Wall display in Washington DC that's been signed by numerous diplomats and heads of state. She says, "It's a testament to the work of diplomacy in ending the Cold War era and reaching freedom." I'm skeptical, though. I remember the Berlin Wall coming down, but I don't remember it having much to do with diplomacy. My recollection is that diplomacy led to the Wall being built — diplomats split Berlin into two jurisdictions after World War II, one side capitalist, one side communist.

If you're younger than 50 or so, you might not truly understand what the Berlin Wall was about, so midway through the movie, we're shown a few minutes of video from when the Wall was splitting Berlin — reinforced concrete topped with barbed wire and guard towers. Toward the end, more footage shows two men trying to escape from East Berlin by swimming the moat beyond the Wall.

At most of the Berlin Wall displays, the Wall is ignored or glanced at by passers-by. At some, garish modern murals have been painted onto the Wall. At Central Intelligence Agency headquarters in Langely VA, permission to film the Wall was denied.

This is an excellent film, and its message is left for the viewer to decide. For me, the takeaway is that an iconic barrier to freedom, a wall that made millions miserable, has been turned into a hundred tourist attractions. With a few exceptions, like the Wall on display at the Mason-Dixon Line in Cincinnati, and the Walls housed in real museums, most of America's many standing sections of the Berlin Wall have been shipped across the Atlantic Ocean at great expense, to be repurposed as oversized kitsch.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Death Watch (1979)

Harvey Keitel has cameras embedded in his eyeballs. Harry Dean Stanton runs the network (NTV, but it's impossible not to hear it as MTV) that owns the cameras. It's all for a reality show called Death Watch, which follows Romy Schneider's day-to-day life after she's received a fatal diagnosis.

"37% find it offensive, and stay with us," Stanton's character explains, proudly.

This is a European film, so expect slow, smart, and cynical instead of quick, stupid, and predictable. It's based on a novel called The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe, which would've been a better title. What could sound blander and less interesting than something called Death Watch? The movie's title pisses me off, actually, because I had a chance to see it decades ago, and skipped it because of the title.

Written and directed by Bertrand Tavernier. Cast includes young Max Von Sydow and younger Robbie Coltrane.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Deep Cover (1992)

For almost all the movies I watch these days, I write these little (or sometimes too long) reviews, but I can't write diddlysquat without notes, so whenever I'm watching a movie I'm taking notes. Even if it's just an actor's name or a clever line of dialogue, there's always something written down by The End.

Not for Deep Cover. Every moment of this is so damned riveting I never once thought to hit 'pause' and write anything down.

Laurence Fishburne is a cop assigned to very long-term undercover work — it could take six months, a year, five years — pretending to be a drug dealer. The plan is to nail a couple of very big-time suppliers, but to get close to them Fishburne will have to establish himself as a low-level dealer with ambitions, and earn promotions along the way.

You might be able to guess where the story is going, because we all know the futility of the war on drugs, but chances are you'll guess wrong. The movie is mesmerizing, all too plausible, and every step in Fishburne's progression and every person he meets on the way feels real.

Fishburne is fabulous, alongside Jeff Goldblum and Charles Martin Smith and Clarence Williams III. Applause for writers Michael Tolkin and Henry Bean, and director Bill Duke.

Seriously, holy crap this is good.

Verdict: BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Frozen Scream (1975)

And holy crap, this is bad. I don't remember who recommended this movie to me, but it must've been a gag. Well, you got me.

Frozen Scream is a slasher movie, and I generally hate slasher movies, but it's worse than that. This movie is awful, just as a movie. The script is quite bad, especially the beginning, middle, and end. Virtually all the acting sounds like an awkward first read-through of a junior high school play. The editing, the direction, even the sound is simply a mess, and the fake blood is the wrong shade of red.

Guess I should mention that it's about a bunch of killers who wear black and carry needles, and inject people without first sterilizing the skin.

Verdict: BIG NO.

♦ ♦ ♦

Savage Sisters (1974)

Machine gun-totin' revolutionary women vs a brutal banana republic, and a speed-talking money man in a leisure suit, and Sid Haig as a laughing bandito who's stolen "one million in American currency." The story is too complicated for the scriptwriters to tell, so I don't know what's motivating most of these bad guys, except the often mentioned million-dollars in a briefcase. 

I never figured out why the blonde woman, after being tortured by the military dictatorship, says she's going to kill the bandito. I missed whatever motivated Gloria Hendry to switch sides midway through the story, or why she later does a show-nothing striptease in a nightclub. What's the cliché? It's on a need-to-know basis, and you don't need to know. 

Lots of stuff blows up, high-ranking military officers do domination-sex together when the door is closed, and castration as a torture technique is tastefully only implied, not depicted. In a messy gunfight, one of the banditos jumps around, left then right then left again, so an enemy ten feet away won't be able to aim his pistol and shoot him, and this strategy works.

It's stupid, with too many of its characters saying and doing too many stupid things, but Savage Sisters has its moments, and it's enjoyable trash. I liked the mood music commingled with lounge-style scratchy cymbals, composed by Bax.

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Species (1995)

I saw this when it first came out, and liked it, but forgot it. Competent mid-budget sci-fi, was all I remembered before watching it again.

Very young Michele Williams is a half-breed, a lab-grown cross between humans and Them, but she's gotten difficult and dangerous, so Ben Kingsley decides she must be euthanized. He doesn't run this past the half-breed, though, and she rejects the plan, escapes, and pretty soon morphs into Natasha Henstridge. Later on she becomes something by H R Giger, cementing my impression that Alien was talked about a lot while this movie was being plotted and written.

Ben Kingsley gets top billing, but it doesn't sound like his voice. Either he worked hard to sound different for some reason, or someone decided he didn't sound American enough and had his lines dubbed.

I wanted to see Species a second time because it was directed by Roger Donaldson, who did Sleeping Dogs. This ain't of that caliber, and it's also no Alien. It's better than I'd remembered, though, with just enough science to keep your brain engaged (if, like me, you're not too bright) and enough action and boobs and weird stuff to sell some tickets.

Verdict: YES.

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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. 'Twas not I who recommended Frozen Scream.

    1. Then all is forgiven.

      Can't imagine anyone anywhere ever buying a ticket to see Frozen Scream and then coming out of the theater pleased with the purchase.


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