Five Easy Pieces
and (500) Days of Summer,
and a few more films

The Five Deadly Venoms (1975)
a/k/a The Five Venoms
Streaming free at YouTube

The Venom martial arts school has had only five students, and each has renamed himself after a venomous reptile — Centipede has impossibly quick fists and feet; Snake has fingers trained to stab through almost anything; Lizard can climb walls; Scorpion has muscular super-kicks; and Toad has skin that's virtually impenetrable.

Sadly, some of the Venom school's graduates have used their powers for evil. To make up for this, the dying master sends his youngest student, Yang, to find the others, judge them virtuous or vile, and kill them if they deserve it. (Every school should be so thoughtful.)

The five Venoms all wear what's basically superhero/supervillain garb, and the fights against and between them are jolly marvelous. It's not entirely kung fu, though. The film is almost as much about the mystery of tracking down the five well-hidden Venoms, which is less exciting but still kinda cool.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Five Easy Pieces (1970)
Streaming free at YouTube

This is a character study of a guy who's not like most movie characters. It's a movie that's not like most movies.

Bobby (Jack Nicholson) is an oil worker, with a sorta seedy apartment and life. Maybe things could've been different, but for reasons unstated, maybe unknown, he's settled into a life he's not too happy with. As do most of us.

Bobby's girlfriend is Rayette (Karen Black), and she's nice, but not terribly bright. Bobby is impatient with her, and with anyone who can't keep up with him. It doesn't help that he's gotten Rayette pregnant. When he gets that news, his response is to find a woman he'd flirted with a few days earlier, and bang her.

Bobby finds out his father is dying, so he heads home to see him, one of very few times in the film when he does what society says you're 'supposed to do'. He's trying to be a decent dude, but it's not easy and he's not trying too hard and he's tired of trying at all. He knows what he doesn't want, much more clearly than he knows what he wants.

#269  [archive]
MAR. 31, 2024

Five Easy Pieces is a bleak view inside this guy's head, with an ending that's perfectly optimistic and pessimistic at the same time.

Anyone who wants a popcorn movie should run the other way, same as Bobby's running away from his past, present, and future. 

Me, I love it. Every time Bobby snaps at someone or walks off, it feels like an echo of my own life, which has usually been about distancing myself from everything, everyone.

Verdict: BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Five Elements Ninjas (1981)
Streaming free at Daily Motion

Two kung fu schools battle to the death to decide which is better. Seriously, that's what this is about. No time is wasted on giving the battles any bigger motivation than pride and testosterone.

Everyone in the good guys' dojo wears white flowing gowns, so you'll know they're the good guys. Good guys always win, but like the NBA playoffs, winning only means facing the next team.

Each team wears matching uniforms, which makes following the fights easy. There's the baby blues, the golden gang, the reds, a team of burlap-clad ninjas, etc.

In the middle of the movie there's a lull, but otherwise it's just non-stop fights, using everything from hook swords to spears to poles to Wolverine-esque claws. The battles are bloody ridiculous, and bloody, but a good time is had by all who survive (which aren't many).

Leading man Cheng Tien Chi has very long hair that you'd think might get in the way during flips and jabs, but it never does. Never even gets mussed up.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

(500) Days of Summer (2009)
Streaming free at Internet Archive

Ah, to be young and in love. 

Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is crazy about Summer (Zooey Deschanel), though she's told him in so many words that she's not looking for anything serious.

Exactly this happened to me in my 20s, and to a friend of mine in his 20s, so maybe it's a universal experience of being young?

When Tom and Summer first meet, they're amazed that they both like The Smiths. There's not much more to their relationship than that, but again, that's the way of love at that age.

500 Days beautifully captures the experience of drowning in shallow love, and first heartbreak. It makes for a fresh-feeling spin on romantic comedy. 

Tom is so clueless he never figures out that he was the bad guy in all this. It sucks when someone you love doesn't feel the same, but she said she wasn't looking for anything serious.

It's an excellent flick, but told entirely from the male perspective, and some time I'd like to see this story from the woman's point of view. 

"You're still my best friend."


Verdict: BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Five on the Black Hand Side (1973)
Streaming free at Vimeo

John Henry Brooks owns the barber shop, and runs both the business and his household as if he's the Pharaoh, with overbearing rules and edicts for everyone. His wife Gladys has had enough, and with their daughter's wedding in a few days, she decides it's time to get a haircut and makeover — without John Henry's permission.

They're black, but their eldest son is dating a white lady, their second son doesn't approve, and their bride-to-be daughter just wants the family arguments to blow over before the wedding. They've all had enough of Dad, and it's not the '60s any more but revolution is in the air. There's even picketing on the sidewalk in front of the family home.

Leonard Jackson (The Color Purple) as Mr Brooks is hilariously stone-faced, and as Mrs Brooks, everyone should have a mother so sweet as Clarice Taylor (The Cosby Show).

From the movie's title I was expecting kickass action, so it took a while to warm up to this, but it's a lighthearted and sometimes funny episode of Black Happy Days

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

It's Quieter in the Twilight (2022)
Streaming free at Tubi

In 1965, scientists at NASA came up with an idea that boggled the mind, and still does. Using the slingshot effect, where passing close to a planet could use its gravity to add to the vessel's forward thrust, America's brainiest brains predicted that if they did the math right, the sky's the limit. 

This became the Voyager mission. Launched in 1977, two small, unmanned spacecraft were sent from Earth to Jupiter, where the slingshot sent them onward to Saturn. With different launch dates and different trajectories, Voyager 1 then went onward into deep space, while Voyager 2 was propelled to Uranus, then Neptune, and then far, far beyond…

When this documentary was made, it had been 45 years since launch, and both craft have had technical issues, but they continue exploring the unknown universe and making it the known universe, sending data back to Earth from about 14-billion miles away, and 'a little' farther every day.

It's not an automated process, though. A crew of aging NASA scientists still work on the Voyager project, but there are fewer of them every year — attrition through retirement, as the decades roll along.

It's profound to think about it. In distance at least, Voyager is the biggest concept humans have ever pursued, and these few men and women have spent their entire professional lives tracking and tinkering and kick-starting what's now almost ancient technology, to keep it running. But which will flicker out first — the Voyager vessels, or the handful of now gray-haired people who understand its intricacies and keep it putt-puttering along?

Verdict: YES.


• • • Coming attractions • • •     

The Flame of New Orleans (1941)
Flap (1970)

Flash Gordon (1936)

Flesh (1932)

Flesh and the Devil (1926)

... plus schlock, shorts, and surprises

— — —
'Movie reviews' that that simply recount the plot, paragraph after paragraph, suck. My pledge to you: I'll only give the basics of a movie's premise, with no spoilers after that.  
— — —

Illustration by Jeff Meyer. 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. Doug, thanks for the review of "It's Quieter . . ." out of alphabetical order on Monday. I've watched the damn thing three times and maybe if it's about anything it's about people doing something in their 60s and 70s that people in their 40s can't (or won't) do that extends the longest journey humankind has ever undertaken. If you proposed funding this project today you'd be laughed out of congress. Instead, the original chief project scientist attends weekly staff meetings without pay and understands and adds perspective to the journey. He's 87 and hasn't slowed down mentally since he was 40 on launch day. Two decaying human contraptions keep him young. It's rare that a doc can be so sad and so uplifting at the same time. Again, thanks.


    1. It was a once-in-two-lifetimes shot, and I'm glad the USA spent the money. Beats spending the money on bombs and bullets.

      I was gonna say, ask that 87-year-old if he hasn't slowed down even a little, but maybe that's just a cliché. I don't feel that I'm mentally any less at 65 than I was 25 years ago. The decay is all physical, not mental. And of course, my mental acuity wasn't all that wild even when the world was new.

  2. *Five Easy Pieces* is my favorite Nicholson movie other than *The Last Detail.* No actor ever had a greater decade of performances than Nicholson in the 70s. Unbelievable string of great performances. *Five Easy Pieces,* *Carnal Knowledge,* the fantastic *King of Marvin Gardens,* *Last Detail,* *Chinatown,* the criminally under-rated *The Passenger,* *Cuckoo's Nest.*

    1. The Passenger is extraordinary. Nicholson's a genuinely intelligent guy, and radiates that intelligence on screen, unlike, say, DeNiro or Pacino - both brilliant in the 70s - who are quite stupid in real life. Nicholson's upbringing is also real interesting (and kind of fucked up).

      Although as much as I love Jack, I think the best male performance of the 70s is Pacino as Michael Corleone.

    2. Mostly agreed, but The Passenger, really?

      I tried watching Carnal Knowledge a few years ago, and it wasn't bad but I fell asleep. And it was a theater so no rewinding. Part of being old, I can't sleep when I want to but dim the lights in a warn, crowded room, and hear me snore. I'll give Carnal Knowledge another look, thanks.

      There are also several very early Nicholsons on my list.

    3. Actually, I correct my comment: the best male performance of the 70s - of all time, honestly - is Brando in Last Tango in Paris.

    4. Dude, The Passenger is great.

    5. I have little insight into which celebrities are intelligent and which just sit there, but if I had to invest a fiver in a bet, I'd bet Nicholson is smart and Pacino is lukewarm flesh.

      Well, I didn't get The Passenger at all, but I've been wrong before. You and Hank are both telling me I missed the bus, so I'll add it to the list for another look, grazi.

    6. Yes, I agree, Brando in *Last Tango* was magnificent. May well be the greatest performance of all time. Richard Burton in *Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?* ranks right up there, also.

    7. Richard Burton, but in "The Spy Who Came In From the Cold."

    8. There's a book called "My Lunches with Orson," it's a series of transcripts (mostly monologues) recorded over lunch with Welles at the Brown Derby or some such place by director Henry Jaglom. You can read it in a day or two and it's pretty entertaining. When he talks about Rita Hayworth's struggles with dementia it's heartbreaking (they meet in public in New York, she doesn't recognize him until about halfway through their conversation, when she begins to cry in awareness of how much she's lost).

      Anyway, celebrities drop by the table and exchange pleasantries, at one point Richard Burton comes by and does so, possibly with Elizabeth Taylor. As soon as he's out of earshot, Welles turns to Jaglom and starts ranting about how much he hates that asshole because Burton "wasted his talent." The idea of Orson Welles airing this criticism of another performer in Hollywood is one of the funnier parts, though Jaglom (who often interjected when Welles was being an asshole by calling him an asshole) doesn't say it. The moment passes and Welles returns to dreaming up more schemes for money nobody wants to give him and movies he'll never make.

    9. Being catty like that is shitty in youth, but marvelous in old age. I'm probably not reading the book (my booklist is not as long as my movie watchlist, but the movies are more fun) but in reading a review I caught that Welles said he hated Vertigo, and yippee. I didn't quite hate it the two times I saw it, but it's certainly subpar Hitchcock.

      Why not a movie of My Lunches with Orson, starring Vincent D'Onofrio? MacCauley Culkin can play Jaglom. CGI( can play all the celebrities dropping by the table.

      All of us "waste our talent" every time we do anything but what we absolutely want to do. I need to hurry up and waste my talent by finding a job...

    10. The talk of 'greatest performance' of the year, the century, all-time, is rather silly. Too many variables. The greatness of any performance depends on the script, the director, the actor certainly, the editor, the lighting and what the actor had for lunch, and it depends on the audience. What if the greatest performance was in some film so poorly received it's been forgotten?

      Dead seriously, it's been too long for me to have an opinion on Brando in Last Tango or Burton in Who's Afraid of Ginny Wolfe, and I've never seen The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (but it's on the list), so I would nominate Paul Reubens in Pee-wee's Big Adventure as any actor's best performance of the 20th century. No joke. Nobody else could've played that part, and he nailed it. YMMV.

      For the ladies, Ruth Gordon in Harold and Maude.

    11. "I caught that Welles said he hated Vertigo, and yippee. I didn't quite hate it the two times I saw it, but it's certainly subpar Hitchcock."


      1. Vertigo
      2. Psycho (first two acts only)
      3. The Birds
      4. The Trouble With Harry
      5. Family Plot
      6. Marnie
      7. Rear Window
      8. Notorious
      9. To Catch a Thief
      10. North by Northwest

    12. Hitchcock was almost as good as his reputation. Had a great batting average. I don't remember Marnie, Notorious, or To Catch a Thief, but I'll make sure they're on the list.

      I'm twice as old as the last time I saw Vertigo, so maybe I was a boyish fool. Whatever you and a million critics saw in it, slipped right past me. I'll give it a third look, and be pleasantly surprised if it doesn't get a lukewarm review.

    13. > The talk of 'greatest performance' of the year, the century, all-time, is rather silly. <

      A movie might contain a wonderful performance, but any dramatic presentation e.g., play, script runthrough, edited performance, final cut, is a group of actors who have to bounce their performances off one another and react to the reactions of other actors. Certainly some actors are consistently better than others, but the timing, emotional balance, implied relationship can create a great scene. An actor can steal a movie, but so can a scene. Obviously, the director sets the overall tone and the tone for each scene. And extras like laying music over or under a scene


    14. Yeah, 'zactly. So much of it depends on factors far beyond Mr Brando, Burton, or Reubens' control.


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