Black Rain,
and a few more films

Ben & Arthur (2002) 

Streaming free at YouTube

Here's an earnest but painfully amateur movie, about the many travails of a man who's booted out of the Catholic church, not because he's gay, but because his brother is gay. The congregation worries that having a gay man's brother in the church could contaminate the children.

Honestly, that's a rock 'em sock 'em idea for a comedy, but this movie goes nowhere with the idea, nor with other storylines sprouting in eight different directions, all unresolved.

Which is frustrating, because there's the kernel of something worthwhile here, and a few of the moments work. It's told from a gay perspective, sympathetically but incompetently, with everything that makes a movie done wrong — script, direction, acting, etc.

#246  [archive]
FEB. 25, 2024

Someone named Sam Mraovich made this, almost alone. He wrote it, directed it, stars in it, produced it, and he's also credited on the music, cinematography, casting, editing, makeup, sound, etc.

Movies are a collaboration, in which many people add their expertise, but if one guy's doing it alone, and doing some or all of it badly, there's nobody to tap him on the shoulder and tell him when he's fucking things up.

Mr Mraovich needed a thousand taps on the shoulder, but got none or not enough.

Verdict: YES, for laughs.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956)

Tom Garrett (Dana Andrews) is a writer, looking for an idea for his second book. Austin Spencer (Sidney Blackmer) is his ex-boss and future father-in-law, a newspaper publisher who's opposed to capital punishment, so Spencer offers Garrett an idea:

Let's plant enough evidence to convict you of murder, and after you're found guilty but before you fry in the electric chair, we'll reveal that it was all a ruse. Spencer thinks this will convince the state to end capital punishment, and Garrett thinks it'll make for a best-seller, so it's a win-win situation, but — who'd be stupid enough to play this game?

The only question in my mind was whether Spencer would somehow die before revealing the truth, or whether he'd simply smirk and let Garrett go to the chair. The big triple-twist at the end is something else, though, and surprisingly, even less believable than what came before.

This is from Fritz Lang, one of the great moviemakers — Metropolis, M, Scarlet Street, The Big Heat — but it is not a great movie. None of the characters are given any personality, the entire plotline is (obviously) dimwitted, and Dana Andrews was always a lousy actor, but he reaches peak lousy here.

Verdict: BIG NO.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Big Sur (2013)

At the Kerouac age I had the Kerouac urge, and visited all of the city's used book stores, but his name was nowhere on the shelves. I was told that's because Kerouac is so terrific, nobody brings his books to a second-hand shop.

There was a waiting list at the library, too, but by then the Kerouac urge had passed. Over the years I've read a few of his poems and letters and excerpts, and they're fine, and there's no doubt he was a wow writer, but so far as his books, I'm still a Kerouac virgin.

This movie is based on his novel of writer's block and heavy drinking and the beach, Big Sur, and it's boring. Kerouac gets drunk. He's displeased with his newfound fame after writing On the Road. He's never solitary — which is the only way I know how to write. Instead he's surrounded seemingly 'round the clock by friends and other famous beats we're supposed to already know, and Keruoac's readers probably would.

There are other actors, but they're secondary to Jean-Marc Barr as Jack Kerouac, who's often making thoughtful and painful faces, and narrates the film with text from Big Sur the novel, then more narrated text, while nothing much happens. By 2/3 of the way through this, I had grown weary of the actor's voice, and of the actor's face and the shape of the actor's head.

I'm not critiquing Kerouac, of course, only Barr's Kerouac. He's bored and unhappy, famous but unfulfilled, successful but unsure he deserves it, and on and on. I don't know the best way to convey such ennui on film, but the worst way is having Jean-Marc Barr read long stretches of the book while making pained, thoughtful faces.

After the movie, I remain haunted by the memory of bland narration and Jean-Marc Barr making faces. And I remain a Kerouac virgin, for this flick is not a reminder to seek out and read some Kerouac.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦

Black Moon Rising (1984)

Tommy Lee Jones and Linda Hamilton star, both quite young, with Robert Vaughn, Richard Jaeckel, Lee Ving, William Sanderson, Keenan Wynn. The story and script credits John Carpenter, but it's directed by Harley Cokeliss, whose name is unfortunately misspelled in the credits as Harley Cokliss.

This isn't much — two thieves in a formulaic game of cat-and-mouse over a stolen super-car made with NASA technology. The movie delivers, though — the fights are tough, the stunts are cool, the cars go fast, tires screech, and Tommy Lee squints a lot. It's a satisfactory action flick.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Black Rain (1989) 

Streaming free at Internet Archive

The biggest war crime of the 20th century — America's atomic bombing of two Japanese cities — starts this movie, and the title's "black rain" refers to the toxic mix of ash and radioactive fallout that contaminated even the rainfall in the immediate aftermath. But that's not really what the film is about.

As soon as the immediate agony and destruction has been shown, the story jumps forward five years, and becomes a painful indictment of how Japanese society reacted to the deaths and sicknesses of so many. As friends and neighbors die from the lingering radiation sickness, some people internalize the horrors, other try to pretend it never happened. The sick are looked down on, avoided.

The central character is Yasuko, a young woman thought un-marriageable and widely shunned because, though she seems healthy, she'd been drenched by the original black rains.

There's not much worse in Japanese society, apparently, than being an unmarried woman, and most men want nothing to do with her. The only suitor she's at all interested in is a man mentally damaged by the war, who collapses in panic attacks whenever he hears a motor running.

The film is a strong critique of Japanese culture, beautifully realized by Shôhei Imamura (The Pornographers, Vengeance Is Mine), and it has more humor to it than you'd expect. In the midst of al this misery, the movie made me laugh out loud twice! 

Gotta say, though, as troubling as the family and societal drama is, there's an ocean between me and Japan that's not just water. Some of the drama is unavoidably lost between the subtitles, and can't hit an American white guy as hard as it would hit a Japanese audience.

It's harrowing, certainly, but what I'll remember of Black Rain is the mushroom cloud, the flashbacks of the aftermath, and the agonized deaths of loved ones, even years after.

"Human beings learn nothing. They strangle themselves. Unjust peace is better than a war of justice. Why can't they see?"  

Verdict: YES.


• • • Coming attractions • • •     

Brady's Bargain (1983)
Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017)
Bride of Re-Animator (1989)
British Sounds (1969)
The Brothers Bloom (2008)

... plus schlock and surprises

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. They keep making Beatnik movies and they all suck. There was one shot in the '90s called "Beat," Kiefer Sutherland played William S Burroughs and Courtney Love played his wife, who placed a shotglass on her head for him to shoot and he missed. There are endless hilarious stories about it, at one point a producer became obsessed with Sutherland and began sleeping in the hallway outside his door and the crew in Mexico seized the film in protest of how shitty Courtney treated them or something.

    1. I've have to be more stoned than I've ever been to shoot at a glass on someone's head. Always had my doubts about that story. Also, I have my doubts about Kiefer Sutherland as William S Burroughs. Courtney Love playing crazy, though, got no doubts about that.

    2. https://www.beatdom.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/13456881764_26a42b7974_b-487x640.jpg

    3. Several things I'd never known in that coverage, thanks.

      Whatever really happened, Burroughs sure seemed to forgive himself exponentially more than I could, for shooting a hole in his wife's forehead. I still hate myself for not getting my wife to the hospital a few days quicker than I did, the week she died.

      And I may have known but had somehow forgotten, Burroughs came from Big Money via the Burroughs Corporation. There might be half a dozen famously 'successful' people in the world who didn't come from Big Money.

    4. "There are algorithms at play that determine the highest profit margin according to the lowest amount of struggle."

    5. Capitalism distilled to one sentence. Who are you quoting though?

    6. I wish I knew - just some random comment I saw on a youtube video, haha

  2. My favorite Kerouac book is *Desolation Angels*. . .it captures the futility of trying to find a way to live in this world.

    1. I think my Kerouac curiosity has passed permanently, but if it strikes again I'll go with Desolation Angels, just on your say-so plus I've never heard of it, so no preconceptions and it can't disappoint me as much as On the Road might.


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