Call Me Lucky,
and a few more films

Call Her Savage (1932)

Streaming free at YouTube

Nasa Springer is out for a good time, but fiery-tempered when anyone does her wrong. In an early scene, she whips a rattlesnake into retreat, and when her companion — a 'half-breed' Indian — laughs, she turns the whip onto him.

Despite this, he's clearly smitten, and who wouldn't be? In addition to being played by the lovely Clara Bow in one of her few talkie roles, she's wearing a flimsy silky low-cut thing in that scene, even ripping some of it off, threatening to reveal boobage every time she whirls and twirls non-stop, until Ms Bow's nipples are nearly poking through the fabric. It's a scene I've clipped and saved, for research purposes.

This was certainly made before the Hays Code enforced 'decency' on the movies, and might well have been one of the key films motivating the code. It's a giggle to imagine a prudish audience shocked by some of this, including a startlingly modern scene in a gay bar, with waiters dancing in drag. 

In its subtext and even on the surface, Call Her Savage deals with issues of with sex, gender, class, and race, and it's quite outspoken about it. Plenty of sin and exploitation, and Clara gets into enough brawls you could call it an action movie.

It lurches from comedy to melodrama to tragedy, and ends with a plot twist that's very of its time. 90+ years later, what works best are the laughs and the tragedy, and Ms Bow's enormous screen presence. 

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Call Me Lucky (2015)

Streaming free at Tubi

This is Bobcat Goldthwait's love letter to his lifelong friend and fellow funny man Barry Crimmins, a face you probably wouldn't recognize. He never earned widespread fame, never had a sit-com or specials on cable, because he didn't have an agent, never much trusted people, and he specialized in completely unrestrained political comedy, in a time when none of the networks and not many nightclubs wanted to go there, or anywhere close to there. 

"I'm whatever threatens you. I'm a communist with AIDS, and I bite."

Crimmins started two comedy clubs in the Boston area, and mentored a generation of comedians, many of whom are in this film — Margaret Cho, David Cross, Jonathan Katz, Tom Kenny, Marc Maron, Patton Oswalt, Steven Wright, Goldthwait of course, and a dozen others unfamiliar to me.

Two hours ago, I knew the name Barry Crimmins only vaguely, and as a writer, not a comedian. Watching his stand-up here, he's only occasionally funny, but more often jarringly blunt and angry. In clips from the 1980s and '90s, he does anti-consumerist, anti-Reagan, anti-authoritarian bits that made me say "Holy shit" right out loud.

The film takes a deep, dark turn midway through, when Crimmins reveals — on stage, naturally — that he was sexually abused in his childhood. It gets darker and deeper still when clips show him going after America OnLine in the early years of the internet, for providing unmoderated chatrooms for child pornography and kiddie rapists. There's footage of his testimony in Congress, and his meeting with local cops, trying to explain what was going on to people who'd never touched a computer, and never imagined the kind of crimes possible when pervs swap files.

If the movie sounds depressing, guess what? It's not. It's invigorating, even inspiring to see so much giving a damn from one man. Crimmins was a firecracker on stage, and Call Me Lucky is an amazing documentary.

"Well, there's a couple of things I really still feel that I have to accomplish, and if I do, I think I'll be able to put my little tile in the grand mosaic of life. Those two things are, of course, I'd like to overthrow the government of the United States, and I'd like to close the Catholic Church."

Verdict: BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Cape Canaveral Monsters (1960)

Streaming free at Internet Archive

#248  [archive]
FEB. 27, 2024

Space aliens, stock footage, bad acting, dumb dialogue. Old-style schlock can be fun, but this is too stupid to be enjoyable on any level. 

Verdict: BIG NO.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Carnosaur (1993)

Streaming free at Internet Archive

Roger Corman presents his Jurassic Park ripoff. The mad scientist is a woman (Diane Ladd, mother of Jurassic Park's Laura Dern), who puts dinosaur embryos into chicken eggs, which ruins breakfast at the diner.

The movie's kinda lame, even by Corman standards.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Casa Susanna (2022) 

In the 1950s and '60s in the Catskills of New York, Casa Susanna was a small resort for drag shows and cross-dressers. This was long before Stonewall, in a time when LGBTQ would've meant five separate crimes. Reputations could be destroyed, people could be blackmailed, arrested or jailed for crossdressing, but Casa Susanna was a safe haven, welcoming trans performers and guests.

The trailblazer and namesake of Casa Susanna was Tito Arriagada, a Chilean immigrant who'd always wanted to crossdress, and in women's clothing became Susanna. Tito/Susanna is gone, though, and the crux of this film is interviews with two of the long-ago-guests, and a few people who grew up in their families.

One of them is the daughter of Donald A. Wollheim, a noted author of science fiction novels and crossdresser. She describes him with great pain, and my impression is that he was a monster, but she says Casa Susanna was the only place where he was truly happy.

Many of the men from Casa Susanna eventually transitioned and became women. Some committed suicide. This film is frequently a tearjerker, but in a good way, and it certainly left me with plenty to think about.

The very first thing we notice about someone, maybe even before race, is gender. Which means it's the first prejudice. As a younger man, I was instantly uncomfortable around anyone who seemed gender-out-of-whack.

Thanks to living in San Francisco, working at Black Sheets and working the orgies, I've gotten way past that, but I'm still instantly aware. We all are, I think.

That why there's nothing more fundamentally radical than challenging sexual norms, and why I have enormous respect for people who do.

Verdict: YES. 

Casa Susanna is from PBS's American Experience, which they'll never let you forget. From beginning to end it's branded PBS American Experience in the upper-left corner of the screen, and bottom-chirons appear every several minutes, reminding you you're watching PBS's American Experience, even as the upper-left reminds you, too.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Chan is Missing (1981)

Streaming free at YouTube

"This mystery is appropriately Chinese. What's not there seems to have just as much meaning as what is there."

In San Francisco's Chinatown, two Asian-American cab drivers, a middle-aged dude and his younger nephew, look for a man named Chan, who disappeared owing them money. The movie is disguised as a mystery, and the cabbies collect clues and all, but everyone who tells them about Chan seems to be describing someone different.

Filmed entirely and extremely on location, this lets you see a slice of America white folks see only as tourists or restaurant customers fumbling with chop sticks. It's a place you've never been, even if you've been there, and writer-director Wayne Wang wants to show you what's behind every corner, and who's behind every face.

Toward the end, we see a snapshot of the otherwise never-seen Chan with one of the cab drivers, who says he can't even recognize Chan in the photo — which is perfect. The movie never finds Chan, but a solution isn't what it's about; it's about our perception of 'the other' — Chan, and immigrants in general.

Chan is Missing goes about this casually, clearly on a low budget but without ever seeming amateur. The dialogue (almost all English) sounds real, and every shot reeks of authenticity. The film is rightly considered a classic of independent film, but unlike certain 'classics', it's a joy, not a chore, watching it.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Chasing Madoff (2010)

Streaming free at YouTube

Bernie Madoff was a $50-billion swindler, well-connected to the rich and royalty, as well as to the syndicate and the underworld. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) looked the other way for years, so the real investigation into Madoff was conducted by a few of his competitors, who spent years trying to get the SEC's attention, and never did.

Even when Madoff was jailed, none of his co-conspirators were. Money and connections, baby — that's always the best way to prevent justice. It worked for Madoff for a long time.

The movie presents some of the backstory, and it's interesting. It could've been much more interesting if the movie would get out of the way, but it's a thoroughly modern documentary, so it hides the facts behind visual and musical tricks, and faked recreations of actual events.

When a good guy quits the finance industry in protest, he disappears in a puff of smoke. When Madoff's victims speak, they're drowned in a orchestra of sad violin music. The film's talking heads are filmed in shadows, with the camera fake-swooping between them to give viewers the impression they're all in the same room at the same time, waiting in the dark for their turn to talk. Which didn't happen, of course, and it's not journalism if they're showing you things that didn't happen.

I despise such 'documentary' techniques, but it's the norm now, and what happened is compelling enough to recommend the film in spite of itself — especially if you're of the quaint opinion that high finance should be regulated. 

Verdict: YES.


• • • Coming attractions • • •      

Children of Men (2007)
Chilly Scenes of Winter
Chimes at Midnight
Cinema Paradiso

 ... 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. I hate to step in the middle of anything, including movie talk, but it's Mondayish and here are this week's songs of the 47th latitude. No big deal.

    Since the last three songs are damn serious, we start with our friends from Norway, Hurra Torpedo and their melodic version of All the Things She Said.


    Followed by the man who kept serious urban country rock alive for the last thirty years of his life, John Prine, singing a song he wrote about Vietnam leftovers, Sam Stone.


    And a woman who kept all kinds of music alive for sixty years, Joan Baez, playing on the guitar that's named after her. Here's Diamonds and Rust . . .


    And lastly, from a parallel ten giant steps north of here, here are the Cowboy Junkies covering Lou Reed's Sweet Jane. Lou said this was his favourite cover and I don't see why he'd lie to us.


    Hope your week is fine.


    1. I've heard Hurra Torpedo before, and liked 'em, but this number rocks even without the novelty of the kitchen equipment.

      "Sam Stone" is among Prine's best, and Prine is among the best, so among the best of the best.

      "Diamonds and Rust" is a beautiful song.

      Mr Reed's "Sweet Jane" is one of my very gosh darn favorites, so a cover version is tricky, but that's a fine performance. I expected something lots louder and rougher from a band called Cowboy Junkies.

      My week off from work is fine, thanks, and this made it a bit better.


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