Reflections of Evil,
and a few more movies

#207  [archive]
NOV. 5, 2023

Reflections of Evil (2002)
Streaming free

A fat psychotic named Bob eats far too much, and never anything healthy. He argues with people on the sidewalk, has a knack for missing his bus, sells watches nobody wants to buy, and gets hassled by cops and attacked by dogs. He lives with his grandmother, who often nags that he'll die if he doesn't eat less and drop some weight.

That's a synopsis, best I can do, but it's only a start, and everything's augmented by whatever writer-director-star Damon Packard can add — scraps from 1970s TV, random uncomfortabalia, and sampled snippets on the soundtrack, all clearly in violation of copyright, trademark, and general movie decorum.

Everything flickers between fascinating, hilarious, and disgusting, but even the disgusting parts are fabulous and hilarious.

What the film is really about is Packard's passion for and hatred of mainstream movies and moviemakers, advertising, and anything to do with pop culture. The story's big payoff was filmed at Universal Studios Hollywood, where Bob's sister died of a PCP overdose years earlier, and filmmaker Steven Spielberg may have been involved.

Tonight I watched the two hour and 18 minute "special edition" of Reflections of Evil, but there's another version almost an hour shorter. I've seen both, and recommend the longer version, for its deeper, more subtle characterization of Bob the Slob. 

Verdict: BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment (1966)
Streaming free

David Warner, younger than you've ever seen him, plays Morgan, an artist of no renown who's wacky, and often daydreams of large primates prancing about, free and hairy as he is. His upper-crest wife Leonie (Vanessa Redgrave) is divorcing him, weary of his overbearing manners, failed magic tricks, and his hammer-and-sickle communism, but... she still kinda likes him. 

He threatens her new fiancé, repeatedly, wires their house for sound to intrude on any escapades, and places a small bomb under their bed. Morgan has already 'joked' that since they're still married, raping Leonie wouldn't be rape, so he decides kidnapping her wouldn't be kidnapping, and steals her away to some island hoping to win back her affections.

"Where has love got me? Where has gentleness got me? You know violence has a kind of dignity in a loving man. And I'm full of love."

The setup is dated and implausible, but it was the '60s, and done right this might've been a fluffy slice of a stale time. Warner and Redgrave are game, but the comedy bits bring only slight laughs, with music to exaggerate every punchline, or the film speeds up to further nudge your funny bone.

It grows tiresome, and I didn't make it to the end.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦

Popeye (1980)

Robert Altman directs. Screenplay by Jules Fieffer. Music and lyrics by Harry Nilsson. Robin Williams stars as Popeye, with Shelley Duvall as Olive Oyl. And the whole thing is set-designed so marvelously it looks like it was filmed in a fairy tale.

But nothing interesting happens. 

Popeye is looking for his long-lost father. He's new in town, and every single soul who lives there is a zany character.

Williams captures the arg arg arg voice, and everyone talks like their cartoon characters talked, but Max Fleischer's cartoons ran six minutes. This is almost two hours — two hours of people talking in weird voices, while nothing interesting happens.

Nilsson's songs are not his best work, and intentionally sung off-key, presumably because Altman told the cast the songs would be funnier that way.

Arg arg arg, it's all I kin stands, 'cause I kin't stands it no moah!

Verdict: NO.


• • • Coming attractions • • •

Sons of the Desert (1933)
Truck Turner (1974)
Who's That Girl? (1987)

... plus occasional schlock and surprises 

    • • • And then • • •

A Gnome Named Gnorm (1990)
Alexander Nevsky (1938)
The Bat People (1974)
The Beatles: Get Back (2021)
Berkeley in the Sixties (1990)
Brainwaves (1983)
The Card Counter (2021)
Cellular (2004) 
The Dark Glow of the Mountains (1985)
Dark Star (1974)
The Day My Parents Became Cool (2009)
The Decline of Western Civilization (1980)
Downsizing (2017)
Frankenhooker (1990)
The General (1926)
Get Shorty (1995)
Hugo (2011)
The Importance of Being Earnest (1952)
The Internet's Own Boy (2014)
Kids in the Hall (debut episode; 1988) 
Kids in the Hall (reunion debut episode; 2022)
The Killing of America (1981)
The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) 
Line of Duty (debut episode; 2012)
Love Happy (1950)
The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)
The Man Who Thought Life (1969)
The Man with Nine Lives (1940)
The Manhattan Project (1996)
Not Wanted (1949)
Nothing But a Man (1964)
Phone Booth (2002)
PickAxe (1999)
Poison (1990)
Revelations (1993)
Ride in the Whirlwind (1966)
Romper Stomper (1992)
Room Service (1938)
Same Kind of Different as Me (2017)
Saved! (2004)
Scared to Death (1947)
Secret Weapons (1985)
The Shooting (1966)
The Soloist (2009)
Street of Crocodiles (1986)
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)
Taken for a Ride (1996)
The Train (1964)
Welcome to New Orleans (2006)
Who Farted? (2019)
Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006)

There are so many good movies out there — old movies, odd or artsy, foreign or forgotten movies, or do-it-yourself movies made just for the joy of making them — that if you only watch whatever's on Netflix or playing at the twenty-plex, you're missing out.

To get beyond the ordinary, I recommend:

AlterCineverseCriterionCultCinema ClassicsDocsVilleDustFandorFilms for ActionHooplaIHaveNoTVIndieFlixInternet ArchiveKanopyKinoCultKino LorberKorean Classic FilmChristopher R MihmMosfilmMubiNational Film Board of CanadaNew Yorker Screening RoomDamon PackardMark PirroPizzaFlixPopcornFlixPublic Domain MoviesRareFilmmScarecrow VideoShudderThoughtMaybeTimeless Classic MoviesVoleFlixWatchDocumentaries • or your local library

Some people even access films through shady methods, though of course, that would be wrong.

— — —

Illustration by Jeff Meyer. Reviews are spoiler-free, or at least spoiler-warned. Click any image to enlarge. Arguments & recommendations are welcome, but no talking once the lights dim, and only real butter on the popcorn, not that fake yellow stuff. 
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  1. "random uncomfortabalia"

    Fantastic! And accurate.

    As for this:

    "What the film is really about is Packard's passion for and hatred of mainstream movies and moviemakers, advertising, and anything to do with pop culture."

    The latter two may be true, but the first is more complex. I think he LOVES mainstream stuff up 'til about 1985, which I would agree is maybe the tipping point between magic and stupidity as far those films are concerned.

    Clearly he adores early Lucas, Spielberg, Carpenter, et al and his satirizing of them comes from a place of caring (haha) that they changed into something unacceptable.

    The making of this film is a remarkable story as well. I think he took a couple hundred thousand bucks from an inheritance and poured it all into filming and manufacturing DVDs, which he then sent out - naively? perversely? - to literally everyone in Hollywood. I guess he was also good friends with the late Sage Stallone (Sly's son) which is also interesting.

    He's very open to communication (I've exchanged emails with him, etc.) - it would fascinating to see you interview him. I bet he'd make a great Pathetic Life film. Heck, as you saw here, he's got the street vendor stuff down already.

    Popeye - I love the look and feel and sound of this flick (especially the look, the village) but it is narratively, uh, inert? Stupid? As much an expert on comics Feiffer was, and as good a cartoonist he was, I think he misunderstood the source comic somewhat - or Altman misunderstood. EC Segar's strips were utterly strange, and endlessly violent, but also charming. The film seems a watered down interpretation (needs more spinach!). Shelly Duvall, though may be the most perfect casting of all time for Olive.

    Have you seen Altman's Images? Damn what a fantastic film. Three women? Even better! Long Goodbye, Nashville, Thieves Like Us, so many great ones.

    1. If you're still in touch with Mr Packard, please tell him I'm a fan, but I'm usually more about the work than chatting with the artist (or anyone) so I won't be emailing him.) Feels intrusive.

      Packard's movies are still batting 1.000 for me, and by coincidence I have two articles about him open in other tabs, awaiting mine eyeballs.

      I'm generally a jumbo Altman fan, seen 'em all, which convinces me Popeye was either his biggest mistake or the studio fucked him over. If you're still in touch with Mr Altman, please ask him how's breakfast wherever he is.

    2. I can't remember the whole story, but Popeye was the dream of producer Robert Evans during his most coked-up phase. He tried to option the rights to "Annie" when it was still a musical, but got outbid, so he looked through Paramount's IP library and saw they owned Popeye. His idea was to turn it into a combination of Annie and the Christopher Reeve Superman movies (then in production, I think). And the first person he picked to be Popeye was Dustin Hoffman, who began taking singing lessons and working with ad hoc prosthetic forearms to learn to dance like Popeye. So apparently it could have been worse.

    3. Cocaine! That's the first plausible explanation I've heard. Hoffman would've been worse indeed. Fuck, why not go for Brando.

      Popeye isn't the dumbest idea ever for a movie, and the town set sure looks great. But no story. Someone's BSing when the credits say Jules Pfeiffer wrote that shit.

    4. Apparently Robert Evans' luggage got lost on the way to Malta and he freaked out because it contained at least a brick of cocaine for himself and his friends on the set; according to the book "Fiasco," he went as far as to call in a favor to Henry Fucking Kissinger to track it down unopened. Which is a pretty awesome way to get out of a drug bust, he had style to his madness. In the end it's just probably lucky that Popeye didn't end up with a murder trial like the other movie he was working on at the same time, The Cotton Club.

      Pfeiffer wrote the first draft, which Dustin Hoffman hated. Hoffman delivered an ultimatum, and for probably the only time in his career he lost it and they kept Pfeiffer. Apparently he was there the whole time doing rewrites. Supposedly Pfeiffer's concept was to keep the language within the limits of "cartoon bubble dialogue" but I never would have thought that by watching it.

    5. Gotta wonder what Evans might've had on Kissinger to be owed such a favor. Gotta also wonder what's the delay on Satan calling Kissinger home.

      All fascinating, and hey — I've noticed you know stuff, so I think maybe you're a megageek on movies like me. Only you really do know stuff and write it well, so possibly you're a pro? Inquiring minds want to know, but of course, your secret's safe with me and no answer is ever obligated.


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