U Turn (1997)

I never had much interest in Oliver Stone as a filmmaker, but I have plenty lingering fascination with Jennifer Lopez as an actor.  Besides her career-making role portraying pop idol Selena in an eponymous biopic and her music video performances of her own dance club hits, Lopez is most often thought of as a romcom actor – the kind of beautiful but relatable sweetheart archetype usually played by Julia Roberts & Sandra Bullock.  Maybe I’ve just happened to see one too many TV broadcasts of titles like The Wedding Planner, Monster-in-Law, and Maid in Manhattan, but I always feel like Lopez’s filmography as an actor is culturally misremembered for being lighter & breezier than it actually is.  Early in her career, Lopez worked on some fairly daring, hard-edged thrillers, most notably Soderbergh’s Out of Sight, Tarsem’s The Cell, and Stone’s sunlit neo-noir U Turn.  Maybe the wide cultural revulsion towards her gangster hangout comedy Gigli (which admittedly deserves the scorn) made Lopez a lot more careful in choosing daring, divisive projects.  Or maybe Hollywood producers foolishly overlooked her enduring sex appeal as she aged, redistributing her early sex-symbol thriller roles to the next hungry twentysomething down the line and, in the case of Hustlers, roping her in as their mentor.  I don’t have a firm handle on how or why Jennifer Lopez slowly softened the overall tone of her filmography, but I do know that it was exciting to pick up a DVD copy of 1997’s U Turn at a local thrift store, my ambivalence towards its director be damned.  It felt like a lost dispatch from JLo’s grittier, thrillier past, one that thankfully did not repeat the intensely sour notes of my recent, ill-advised thrift store purchase of Gigli.

The overbearing Oliver Stoneness of U Turn is impossible to ignore.  Stone shoots its American desert setting with the same hyperactive, multimedia style that he pushed past its limits in Natural Born Killers, violently alternating between handheld music video angles, flashes of black & white film grain, and the drunken fish-eye perspective of a 1990s breakfast cereal commercial.  Fortunately, it’s an improved revision of that distinctive NBK excess, slowing down and spacing out each stylistic flourish so that the intentionally bumpy ride isn’t so unintentionally shrill.  Sean Penn stars opposite JLo as the doomed lovers on this particular crime spree, except the spree is a nonstarter and the romance is a con job.  While smuggling a duffel bag stuffed with overdue loan money to the impatient Vegas gangsters he owes, Penn blows his muscle car engine in rural Arizona, forcing the self-described big city “slimy bastard” to spend a sunburnt eternity with small-town hicks he openly despises.  Juaquin Phoenix, Billy Bob Thornton, Jon Voight, Claire Danes, and Powers Booth put in over-the-top caricature performances as the local lunatics who torment Penn as the universe at large seemingly conspires to block his exit.  Only Jennifer Lopez & Nick Nolte matter much to the narrative, though, playing Penn’s femme fatale seductress and her abusive, “slimy bastard” husband.  Both spouses attempt to seduce Penn into killing each other for a cut of the insurance money, but only one is nuclear-hot enough to win him over to her side.  Penn & Lopez’s murderous “romance” is mostly a nonstop back & forth of double-triple-quadruple crossings as they repeatedly backstab each other in their selfish attempts to escape their respective prisons: Penn’s small-town purgatory and Lopez’s abusive marriage.  It’s basically Oliver Stone’s 90s-era update to the classic Poverty Row noir Detour, which Stone makes glaringly obvious by including multiple shots of “DETOUR” road signs framed from zany music video angles.

There’s a lot of poorly aged, Oliver Stoney bullshit to wade through here, from the long list of shitheel contributors (Penn chief among them) to their casual cross-racial casting, to the post-Tarantino antihero crassness of the “slimy bastard” gangsters at the forefront.  I was most bothered by the lengthy, onscreen depictions of misogynist violence that Lopez suffers, both because it’s frustratingly common to what young Hollywood actress are offered (before they become chipper romcom darlings) and because it feels sleazily, unforgivably eroticized.  A more thematically focused, purposeful version of U Turn would only allow bad things to happen to Penn, since its sense of cosmic menace is built entirely on his impossible, Exterminating Angel style mission to speed away from rural Arizona.  Lopez makes the most of her role as the horned-up victim turned manipulative seductress, but it’s all in service of a tired misogynist trope.  Luckily, Stone makes up for the scatterbrained, unfocused themes of his writing (alongside screenwriter & source material novelist John Ridley) in the scatterbrained, unfocused visuals of his direction.  He shoots roadside buzzards from the low angles & wide lenses of a Beastie Boys video.  He shamelessly lifts Spike Lee’s signature double-dolly shot, scores the small-towners’ grotesque bullying of Penn with cartoonish mouth-harp boings, and just generally bounces around the desert sand with nothing but expensive camera equipment and a prankster’s spirit guiding the way.  As nastily blackhearted as U Turn can be, its visual style is buoyantly playful and excitingly volatile, somehow smoothing out the jagged annoyance of Natural Born Killers into something genuinely entertaining.  It’s both a major red-flag indicator of why Jennifer Lopez might have abandoned her early collaborations with high-style auteurs and a nostalgia stoker for the more exciting, challenging work she was doing in that era. 

-Brandon Ledet

Podcast #180: Gentlemen Prefer Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) to Blonde (2022)

Welcome to Episode #180 of The Swampflix Podcast.  For this episode, Brandon, James, Britnee, and Hanna discuss the classic films and lasting legacy of Marilyn Monroe, from her beloved comedies like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) to her post-modern post mortem Blonde (2022).

00:00 Welcome

2:00 Krewe Divine
3:30 Divine Trash (1998)
4:36 Attachment (2023)
8:35 SexWorld (1978)
12:15 Bijou (1972)
15:58 The Red Shoes (1948)
18:10 A Matter of Life and Death (1946)
20:35 Chan is Missing (1982)
21:51 Caravaggio (1986)

26:04 Blonde (2022)
44:30 Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
58:56 Some Like It Hot (1959)
1:16:23 Niagara (1953)
12:25:25 Don’t Bother to Knock (1952)

You can stay up to date with our podcast through SoundCloudSpotifyiTunesStitcherTuneIn, or by following the links on this page.

-The Podcast Crew

Lost Highway (1997)

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how noir antiheroes are mostly just sad sack losers who make their own shit luck by feeling sorry for themselves, by which I mean I recently rewatched Edward G. Ulmer’s Detour.  Noir always looks different after watching Detour.  The Poverty Row production values look dreamlike & otherworldly instead of limited & cheap; the femmes fatales seem more deliberately, deliciously vicious in their misandry; and, most glaringly, the tough-guy alcoholics at the genre’s center start looking like whiny babies instead of macho lone wolves. Apparently, David Lynch sees the genre through those same grubby Detour lenses.  At the very least, his 1990s neo-noir Lost Highway turns the interchangeability of the genre’s drunken mopes into a kind of existential crisis. A Lynchian nightmare, if you will.  He tells two loosely connected noir stories about two unremarkable, pouty men, then gradually makes it clear they’re just same story repeated.  They’re all the same story, with the same miserable sad sacks circling the same drains.

Bill Pullman stars as a mopey saxophonist frustrated by his loosening grip on his straying LA hipster girlfriend (not unlike the down-and-out pianist who loses his girlfriend to her own Hollywood starlet ambitions in Detour).  Until he doesn’t.  Pullman disappears after the first act, inexplicably transforming into a young-dumb-and-full-of-cum teen mechanic played by Balthazar Getty, who quickly gets into his own girlfriend troubles when he falls for a gangster’s moll.  With Lost Highway, Lynch twists himself in knots trying to make the James from Twin Peaks archetype genuinely compelling in a second draft . . . and he eventually gets there, even if the slack-jawed, leather-jacketed drip needs a little supernatural help from a legit movie star like Pullman to pull it off.  Of course, neither of these parallel losers are as compelling as the femmes fatales that get them in lethal, cosmic trouble—both played by Patricia Arquette—but then again they never are. 

Because this is a David Lynch film, I’m zapping some of its magic just by “explaining” what happens and how it relates to larger genre filmmaking traditions.  So much of Lost Highway is composed of hypnotizing highway lines, Skinimarinkian hallways, and UFO-landing strobe lights that reducing it to a loose collection of noir tropes is somewhat insulting and very much beside the point.  Still, you don’t really need to hear that Lynch uses red velvet drapes to mark the boundary between reality & the dream world, or that the dream-logic procession of the plot(s) defies rational explanation; you’ve seen a David Lynch movie, you get it.  The only vivid deviations from his go-to formula are the temporal markers of when it was made: a Trent Reznor-supervised soundtrack, a Marilyn Manson cameo in a stag night porno, a mid-film spoof of road safety PSAs, etc.  On that front, real-life monster Robert Blake might outshine Arquette as the film’s MVP, dressed in the usual ghoulish make-up as one of Lynch’s trademark specters of Death, except this time armed with a menacing camcorder that updates the usual formula with some weirdo 90s video art.  It’s all very eerie, off-putting, frustrating, and strangely compelling, which is to say that it is a David Lynch film.

I do find it helpful to have some kind of a contextual anchor to help appreciate Lynch’s work.  I don’t want to be the guy who “maps out” the identity shifts, time loops, and dreamworld symbolism of Lost Highway as if it were a puzzle to be solved, but I also find very little enjoyment in the late-career formlessness of projects like Inland Empire and Twin Peaks: The Return, so it helps to seek a little guiding structure under the heavy layers of nightmare logic.  It’s the Philistine position to take, but I truly believe Lynch was at his best in his early career, when his most far-out, for-their-own-sake impulses were still somewhat tempered by Hollywood storytelling conventions.  With Wild at Heart and Lost Highway in the 90s, there was still just enough recognizable genre structure beneath Lynch’s loopy surface aesthetics that he hadn’t yet completely lost me. Hell, I’d even rank Wild at Heart high among his very best.  He was already pushing his subliminal anti-logic to its late-career extremes, but I detect enough familiar noir DNA in Lost Highway‘s bones to not feel totally abandoned.  And a lot of that has to do with how mopey & ineffectual its two parallel leads are at center stage, and how much fun Patricia Arquette has crushing them under her heels (when she’s not getting crushed herself by even more vicious bullies further up the Hollywood food chain).

-Brandon Ledet

Podcast #179: A Detour into 1940s Noir

Welcome to Episode #179 of The Swampflix Podcast. For this episode, Brandon, James, Britnee, and Hanna discuss a grab bag of 1940s noir classics, starting with Edgar G. Ulmer’s Poverty Row cheapie Detour (1945).

00:00 Welcome

01:04 Infinity Pool (2023)
06:12 Liz: The Elizabeth Taylor Story (1995)
08:53 The Big Chill (1983)
13:51 Deep End (1970)
19:10 The 4th Man (1983)

26:23 Detour (1945)
46:44 The Letter (1940)
1:07:45 Laura (1944)
1:17:25 The Lady from Shanghai (1947)

You can stay up to date with our podcast through SoundCloudSpotifyiTunesStitcherTuneIn, or by following the links on this page.

-The Podcast Crew

Decision to Broker

There are two new high-profile, Korean-set detective dramas currently making the rounds, directed by Park Chan-wook and Hirokazu Kore-Eda.  Anyone familiar with the beloved auteurs’ past work would expect their latest films to be incomparable outside some light genre overlap and a shared national setting. They’d be right. Broker and Decision to Leave are tonally & narratively distinct enough that I’m likely doing them a disservice by lumping them together here, but as a pair I do think they indicate an interesting, mirrored career shift for their respective auteurs.  I know Park Chan-wook as an over-the-top sensationalist, one who pushes the boundaries of good taste & genre tropes within the confines of finely tuned, exquisitely staged chamber dramas.  By contrast, I know Hirokazu Kore-Eda as a restrained, observational dramatist who finds grand emotion & political importance in small, subtle gestures.  What makes their dual 2022 detective stories interesting as a pair is the way the two directors are both reaching towards a middle ground between those extremes.  Decision to Leave finds the usually more prankish Park working on his best behavior, while Broker finds Kore-Eda shaking up his typically underplayed docu-dramas with some more traditional, genre-minded payoffs.

That’s not to say that either director has compromised their personal stylistic touches or thematic obsessions.  In its broadest strokes, Broker is a very similar movie to Kore-Eda’s previous film, Shoplifters, which in turn was a more accessible version of his earlier triumph Nobody Knows.  A story about an illegal, D.I.Y. adoption agency who broker the sale of babies to families outside the foster system, Broker clearly continues Kore-Eda’s auteurist fascination with how unconventional parentage takes shape below the poverty line.  It just perks up that story with more entertainment-minded genre tropes and a more pronounced, devious sense of humor than I remember seeing in his previous work.  This is basically Shoplifters as a road trip movie where detectives are on the makeshift family’s tail, staking them out so they can be busted at the point of sale.  It’s a subtle introduction of accessible genre entertainment into Kore-Eda’s usual low-key dramas, a shift was seemingly influenced by the international success of Parasite – given it’s the Japanese director’s first film set in Korea, he anchors it to the charisma of Bong muse Song Kang-ho (as the lead broker), and he borrows its opening image from Parasite‘s iconic flood sequence.  Whatever the inspiration, Broker manages to feel much livelier that Kore-eda’s past work without sacrificing any of his usual emotional or political heft.

Unlike with Kore-Eda, I’m not sure that “measured restraint” is the first quality I look for in a Park Chan-wook film, but it does make Decision to Leave an interesting addition to his oeuvre.  You would expect his throwback crime story about an insomniac detective who falls disastrously in love with a femme fatale he suspects to be a murderer would land closer to Basic Instinct than to Hitchcock, but it seems he already got those erotic thriller indulgences out of his system with The Handmaiden.  It’s not any less thrilling than the lewder, more explosive payoffs of The Handmaiden, though.  There’s an exciting tension in watching Park push his more perverse impulses just below the surface of this traditionalist noir . . . for about an hour; then he starts more openly playing around with the detective-suspect eroticism of the genre.  Park holds himself together just long enough to tell the full classic Hollywood version of this detective story, then he stretches it a half-hour past its breaking point to search for the kinkier aspects of the detective-murderess dynamic.  It’s a relatively tame movie by his standards, but there are scenes where he lingers on the femme fatale displaying her domestic abuse wounds as an act of flirtation or becoming visibly aroused by her assigned-detective using brutal force against other perps.  It’s almost like watching Hitchcock make the subversively kinky Vertigo after he made the more explicitly perverse Frenzy, pulling back instead of leaning into his darkest impulses.

Maybe there’s an indication that these two distinct, disparate directors are gradually meeting in the middle – one softening their perversion stories’ sharpest edges and the other spicing up their intimate family dramas with some crime-world thrills.  More likely, they just happen to be pushing themselves to try new things instead of remaking the same picture over and over again, something that should be an auteur’s biggest fear.  Even if they both fully committed to these new directions in their work, it would take dozens of films for them to meet on common ground.  I just find it interesting that these deviations from their respective personal norms both happened to take the shape of detective stories set in the same country, released at the same time of year.

-Brandon Ledet

Podcast #166: The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981) & Remakes

Welcome to Episode #166 of The Swampflix Podcast. For this episode, Brandon, James, Britnee, and Hanna discuss a grab bag of movie remakes, starting with the 1981 erotic thriller version of the classic noir The Postman Always Rings Twice.

00:00 Welcome

01:31 Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris (2022)
07:17 Menace II Society (1993)
12:45 Mad God (2022)
18:25 Gigli (2003)

25:25 The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981)
47:05 Scarface (1983)
1:05:00 Father of the Bride (2022)
1:28:00 The Blob (1988)

You can stay up to date with our podcast by subscribing on SoundCloudSpotifyiTunesStitcher, or TuneIn.

– The Podcast Crew

Lagniappe Podcast: Diabolique (1955)

For this lagniappe episode of the podcast, Boomer, Brandon, and Alli discuss H.G. Clouzot’s widely influential horror-noir Diabolique (1955).

00:00 Welcome

01:58 The Matrix Resurrections (2021)
03:50 The Blair Witch Project (1999)
07:55 Firestarter (1984)
12:32 The Dark and the Wicked (2020)
14:25 Candyman (2021)
16:50 RRR (2022)
21:00 Blood Simple (1984)
25:37 Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
32:00 Men (2022)
40:11 Turning Red (2022)
43:35 Petite Maman (2022)
44:45 Vortex (2022)

49:10 Diabolique (1955)

You can stay up to date with our podcast through SoundCloudSpotifyiTunesStitcherTuneIn, or by following the links on this page.

– The Lagniappe Podcast Crew

Reminiscence (2021)

I watched Reminiscence on the Friday night before Hurricane Ida hit Louisiana, knocking out our power & internet service for weeks.  In any other context, the film might have landed as low-key escapist entertainment, but that particular weekend afforded it an eerie magnetic pull on my attention.  A sci-fi noir starring Hugh Jackman & Rebecca Ferguson as its incongruously gorgeous leads, Reminiscence splits its time between near-future Miami & New Orleans.  Both fictionalized versions of those cities are decorated with constant street flooding, like a modernized urban version of Vienna.  It’s like a Gulf South remake of Chinatown where there’s too much water instead of too little, a stomach-turning preview of what Climate Change will inevitably do to my beloved home city, likely within my lifetime. 

Maybe I wouldn’t have watched Reminiscence in the lead-up to a hurricane had I known about that submerged urban setting, but I’m glad I did.  It’s a surprisingly solid movie, especially considering its ice-cold reception in theaters.  Jackman stars as the owner & operator of a machine that tricks the human brain into reliving & re-experiencing memory in full sensory detail.  It was created as an interrogation tactic for police investigations, but over time became a commercial form of therapy for post-apocalypse urbanites, then a form of dwelling-on-the-past addiction.  His business gets by okay until he is hired by a mysterious femme fatale (Ferguson), who hires him to help remember where she lost her keys . . . which of course leads him to becoming entangled in a larger, lethal political conspiracy.  Luckily his partner in time (Thandiwe Newton) has his back, since he’s in way over his head, especially once he falls in love with his mysterious client . . . or at least his selective memory of her.

The biggest hurdle for most audiences to enjoy Reminiscence is going to be its shamelessness in collecting every possible trope of classic noir in its modern action sci-fi shell.  You pretty much know exactly where the film is going at all times, even if its scrambled timeline & false-memory rug-pulls confuses the path it takes to get there.  Beyond that predictability, its broad-strokes noir homage overextends itself to the point of parody in Jackman’s constant, overbearing narration, where he gruffly whispers things like “Time is no longer a one-way stream.  Memory is the boat that sails against the current,” and “Memories are just beads on the necklace of time.”  I’m going to choose to believe that the film knows how funny & outdated these overwritten turns of phrase are, the same way that a lot of classic noir could be darkly hilarious & absurdly wordy in its own day.  I half-expected Jackman to complain, “Of all the memory joints in all of Sunken City, this dame walks into mine”, but that sadly never came to be.  I wonder if the film might’ve been more immediately popular if its humor was more readily recognizable & self-aware, but I’m glad it plays it straight.  It’s funnier that way, intentional or not.

If Reminiscence feels overly familiar, it’s not necessarily because it’s paying homage to vintage 1930s noir; it’s because its exact style of homage was already hammered to death in big-budget sci-fi of the late 1990s.  Titles like Strange Days, Dark City, The Matrix, The Thirteenth Floor, and Gattaca have already tread this exact ground before, although maybe not with as much (suspiciously clear) water flooding their urban settings.  And even all of those movies owe a recognizable debt to Blade Runner‘s visionary estimation of sci-fi noir in the 1980s, putting yet another been-there-seen-that barrier between this genre-mashup and its 1930s source of inspiration.  Luckily, genre movies don’t have to be The First or The Best to be worthwhile; they just have to be memorably entertaining on their own terms.  I can pretty confidently say I’ll remember the experience of watching Reminiscence for a long time coming, if not only because the hurricane flooding that hit Louisiana that weekend echoed a lot of the imagery of the submerged New Orleans onscreen.

-Brandon Ledet

Leave Her to Heaven (1945)

In recent months I’ve been enjoying floating round in the grey area between classic noir & melodrama with a few Joan Crawford classics like Mildred Pierce and The Damned Don’t Cry.  While I still have a few more titles to visit before I abandon that track (I particularly look forward to traveling down Flamingo Road), the Gene Tierney psych-thriller Leave Her to Heaven was an excellent detour on the journey.  I don’t want to suggest that anyone but Tierney should’ve been cast in the film’s central, villainous role, but Leave Her To Heaven is the exact kind of sinister romantic obsession story that Crawford excelled at in the best of her melodramatic noirs.  The difference is that Joan would’ve gobbled up the scenery with a fiery passion, hurling cocktail glasses at the wall and clawing at her victims like a wild animal.  By contrast, Tierney is ice cold in her own femme fatale villainy – passionate in her romantic obsession, yet inhumanly ruthless in eliminating that romance’s minor obstacles.  Her red Technicolor lipstick is louder than she ever raises her voice, yet she leaves behind a shocking trail of dead as she inevitably gets her way.  It’s an entirely different mode of femme villainy than I’m used to from the genre’s more animated, expressive titans like Crawford & Stanwyck, but it’s just as stunning to watch.

A large part of Leave Her to Heaven‘s novelty within its genre is in seeing the femme fatale archetype interpreted as a Too-Dutiful Housewife, as opposed to a Sultry Seductress.  Tierney’s major crime is that she wants to spend too much time with her husband.  Well, that and the murders.  Her main crime is probably the murders.  The first act of the film is a slow-moving courtship ritual in which a bestselling author (Cornel Wilde) is allured by the charms of a fiercely independent socialite (Tierney) whose family is quietly terrified of her.  The doomed author feels compelled to position himself as her macho protector, but it’s clear from her family’s unease with the courtship that he should be protecting himself.  It isn’t until their inevitable marriage that the exact nature of that threat becomes clear.  Ferociously possessive of her husband’s time and attention, Tierney takes her newfound role as a housewife far too seriously.  She announces early on, “I have no intention of hiring a cook, or a housekeeper, or any other servants, ever.  I don’t know want anyone else but me to do anything for you.”  The husband finds this proclamation sweet, but she really means it.  Any possible distraction to their alone time—whether family, visitors, his writing, or their baby—is in danger of being obliterated by her possessive jealousy.  In becoming The Dream Wife, she’s a total fucking nightmare.

There’s a pervasive, harmful myth in modern Western culture that your romantic partner must be your Everything, that no other relationship matters once you make that all-encompassing monogamous commitment.  Leave Her To Heaven turns that expectation into something incredibly sinister, thanks largely to Tierney’s ice-queen ruthlessness.  Even when she suffers her unavoidable punishment for her transgressions under the dictums of The Hays Code, she still finds a way to weaponize that punishment and continue her campaign of preemptive revenge upon her marriage’s potential distractions.  Between its Academy Ratio framing and lush Technicolor sheen (something that was especially eye-searing on my shiny new Criterion Blu-ray), Leave Her to Heaven is dressed up in some remarkably classy Old Hollywood packaging.  Meanwhile, Tierney’s femme fatale housewife feels like she stepped out of a trashy novel from Ira Levin or Gillian Flynn.  She’s one of cinema’s greatest, most delectable monsters, and she achieves that all-timer status by dutifully following the basic tenets of modern monogamy.  As much of a sucker I am for Joan Crawford’s explosive fury in her own melodrama-noirs, I was totally won over by Tierney’s more reserved, slow-simmering resentment here.  I need to make a point to watch more of her own 1940s crime melodramas once I’m done chasing down all of Joan’s.

-Brandon Ledet

Movie of the Month: Trouble in Mind (1985)

Every month one of us makes the rest of the crew watch a movie they’ve never seen before and we discuss it afterwards. This month Britnee made BrandonBoomer, and Hanna watch Trouble in Mind (1985).

Britnee: Director Alan Rudolph’s 1985 film Trouble in Mind is truly a one-of-a-kind classic. It’s a neo-noir that blends in 80s new wave kitsch, creating its own genre that I like to call New Wave Noir. I’m not sure there are any other movies that would fall into that genre. Maybe Cool World or Who Framed Roger Rabbit? could qualify, but they’re way more on the fantasy side. I didn’t get around to watching Trouble in Mind until a few years ago when I was obsessing over Marianne Faithfull. After reading Faithfull: An Autobiography, I was constantly listening to her music, and that’s when I came across her rendition of the blues classic “Trouble in Mind”. I discovered that it was used in a film with the same title starring Kris Kristofferson, Lori Singer, and an out-of-drag Divine. That was more than enough to draw me to the movie, and it turned out to be such a hidden gem.

In the fictional Rain City (it’s basically Seattle), an ex-cop/ex-con with the most neo-noir name ever, Hawk (Kris Kristofferson), becomes entangled in the lives of a young couple from out in the country. Coop (Keith Carradine) and Georgia (Lori Singer) drive into Rain City in their beat-up camper to build a better life for themselves and their baby named Spike. Hawk, Coop, and Georgia are all brought together by a diner owned by Hawk’s ex-lover Wanda (Geneviève Bujold). Coop gets involved in selling knockoff watches and quickly gets pulled into Rain City’s criminal underworld, run by Hilly Blue (Divine). Coop’s fashion choices become progressively more cartoonish as he sinks deeper and deeper into the world of crime. His hair becomes a growing new wave pompadour, his face becomes paler, his outfits get wilder, and his makeup becomes increasingly intense. It’s my favorite thing about this movie. He literally becomes a new wave monster. While Coop is out and about being a criminal, Hawk sets his eyes on Georgia. He gets the hots for her and becomes her “protector”, even though I find him to be pretty creepy when it comes to how he forces himself into her life.

One major aspect of Trouble in Mind that really didn’t make much sense and was completely unnecessary is that Rain City is under militia patrol and some of the characters randomly go from speaking Korean to English. The state of the city is never really explained and doesn’t add much to the story. Brandon, what did you think about Rain City’s militia and random Korean lingo? Would the film be any different if that component just didn’t exist?

Brandon: If I had to guess what they were going for with the militia patrols and American/Korean cross-culture, I’d say they were borrowing a little New Wave Noir finesse from Ridley Scott’s 1982 game-changer Blade Runner.  Trouble in Mind may take production notes from Seoul instead of Hong Kong, but its retro-futurization of Seattle feels like a direct echo of Blade Runner‘s retro-future Los Angeles.  The difference is that Blade Runner is explicitly set in the future (2019, to be exact), updating the familiar tropes & fashions of noir with a sci-fi bent.  Trouble in Mind, by contrast, doesn’t really subvert the noir genre template in any overt ways.  It’s not a parody or an homage.  It’s the real deal: a noir that just happens to be made in the 1980s (which makes the influence of Blade Runner near-impossible to avoid).

Personally, I was really into the characterization of Rain City as a setting.  It’s an intricately detailed, lived-in alternate reality that makes the movie feel as if it were adapted from a long-running comic book series.  I loved the “fictional” city’s clash of 1940s nostalgia with intensely 1980s fashion trends, and I was tickled by the scene set in the Space Needle restaurant, acknowledging that we’re basically just running around present-day Seattle.  I was much less in love with the characterization of Kris Kristofferson’s gruffly macho ex-cop.  Hawk is not so much of an enigmatic anti-hero as he is a boring loser, which is maybe the film’s one miscalculation in its low-key version of 1980s noir revival.  When Divine’s degenerate mobster villain looks Kristofferson dead in the eyes to snarl, “You have nothing but bad qualities,” I couldn’t help but agree.  What a pathetic asshole.

Hanna, did Hawk’s anti-hero status lean a little too hard into “anti” territory for you as well?  If so, were the other citizens of Rain City charismatic enough to save the movie from that misstep?

Hanna: I love a good anti-hero, and I’m a cursed sucker for a gruff neo-noir cop/PI character, even when their behavior is problematic or despicable. Unfortunately, Hawk embodies all of the worst aspects of macho authority—including possessiveness and that special type of sexual aggression that somehow eludes the label of assault—and none of the appealing qualities (e.g., smoldering charisma). On top of everything, his relationship with Georgia was totally baffling and uncomfortable. I kept holding out for Hawk to develop some humility and self-reflection, but I was foiled at every turn. Will Hawk stop stalking Georgia outside of her trailer (a moment that reminded me of that scene in Smooth Talk where Arnold Friend tries to coax teenage Connie out of her house)? No? Okay, well maybe he’ll realize that he can care about a beautiful woman without having a sexual relationship with them? No again! Well, maybe he’ll care for her in a loving, non-controlling – oh, he’s demanding total ownership of her in exchange for saving her New-Wave pompadour’ed ex-thing. I guess he’s a changed man because he asks her out for dinner?

Fortunately, the world of Trouble in Mind has more than enough splendors to enjoy apart from Hawk and Georgia, especially in the vibrant criminal underground. Coop was actually one of my favorite characters; he’s a huge creep for the majority of the film, but he shows at least a semblance of self-reflection towards the end, and his transformation into an 80s glamour criminal is indeed a glorious surprise. Just when I thought his pompadour couldn’t get more delicious, a little curl would spring up at the top, or the tips would be touched with a kiss of red. Divine was totally captivating as Hilly Blue, and I even liked Nate (John Considine), the crazed criminal that Coop accidentally robs. I found myself wishing I could spend just more time amongst the various fiends of Rain City; I sighed every time the film cut from Coop slinking around in oversaturated suits to Hawk eating his dumb eggs. If nothing else, I would have loved to see a version of Trouble in Mind without Hawk where Wanda helps Georgia leave Coop while he goes off to crime it up with Solo and Hilly.

Boomer, what did you think of the balance between the two worlds of Rain City (the Diner and Hilly’s criminal cabal)? Do you think there were more interesting depths to plumb in the criminal underworld? Are there aspects of Rain City do you wish had been more developed, or developed differently?

Boomer: I’m torn on this question. On the one hand, this movie felt very loooong to me, to the point where I had to research whether a runtime of this magnitude was normal for film noir. I was convinced that they must normally be shorter than Trouble in Mind‘s 111 minutes, but reviewing the classics, it looks like this is pretty standard, with The Maltese Falcon clocking in at 101 minutes, Double Indemnity at 107, and Touch of Evil matching Trouble exactly at 111. Those movies don’t feel their length to me the way that this one does, and although Geneviève Bujold is giving the performance here that I like the most and she only occupies the diner and its adjacent rooms, I would have liked to see more of the criminal underworld. By having the audience experience the seedy underbelly of not-Seattle mostly through the eyes of Coop, who is the least interesting character, it hinders our ability to fully realize both this city and its criminal element. On the other hand, part of the appeal is that Hilly Blue is a figure that exists outside of the characters’ day-to-day lives for a long time, building him up as a figure of great influence and prominence among the denizens of Rain City’s underclass, before we finally meet him. So while I want to see that world fully, I also think that seeing more would mean cherishing less, and any increase to the film’s runtime would be to its detriment as a piece of media overall. 

What I think we could have benefitted from seeing more of without the risk of diminishing returns was exactly what was going on with all of the fascist goose-steppers constantly breaking up rallies. Every time Georgia gets more than two blocks from the diner, she doesn’t actually seem to be all that imperiled, but she’s certainly overstimulated to the point of losing her mind (and her baby!) histrionically. What I liked about the film’s aspirations to be more noirpunk than it succeeds in achieving is the unspoken acceptance of all of the odd little futurisms that pop up throughout and how they go uncommented upon, but that doesn’t mean I’m not curious and wouldn’t have liked to understand more. Their iconography is clearly aping that of the fascism of the day—red and black, harsh angles—and they appear throughout and people are tolerant of (if not necessarily deferential to) them, and I think that drawing a comparison between a fascist force and Hawk’s need to be the ultimate authority in the lives of the women he seeks to dominate and control was an opportunity that was missed. I don’t need to know the whole genealogy of their rise to prominence (if not power), but a few hints would have been nice. 


Boomer: I want to make sure that it isn’t overlooked that this is our second Movie of the Month featuring Geneviève Bujold, after Last NightAlso, as always, it’s worth mentioning that although Hawk is awful, Kris Kristofferson is a real goddamn hero

Brandon: Of course, for degenerates like us the main draw of this film is going to be the novelty of seeing Divine play a male villain outside the context of one-off gags in John Waters classics like Hairspray & Female Trouble. To that end, I’ll just share a quick piece of trivia I picked up from a recent rewatch of the documentary I Am Divine . . . The gigantic diamond earring Hilly Blue rocks in this film was not provided by wardrobe but by Divine himself. He was super proud of saving up for that piece of jewelry (after a fabulously delinquent life funded mostly by shoplifting) and paraded it around in public as much as possible in his later years as a status symbol. It totally fits the mafioso character he’s playing, to the point where you might not even notice it, but I still love that Divine got to immortalize that obnoxious gem he was so proud of onscreen.

Britnee: The big shootout scene at Hilly Blue’s mansion is amazing. The Seattle Asian Art Museum was transformed into the unforgettable residence of Rain City’s big mob boss, and I find so much comfort in knowing that this wasn’t just a set build. The fact that I can someday visit Hilly Blue’s mansion (minus Divine and all the guns and stuff) lifts my spirits. I guess I have to pay a visit to the real-life Rain City soon!

Hanna: Whoever scouted locations for Trouble in Mind did a fantastic job. Every setting—Wanda’s lonely-heart diner, the Chinatown restaurant, the villainous mansion, etc. etc.—was the perfect version of itself in the cyber-noir/dystopian film landscape. Also, I was shocked to find out that this movie somehow only made $19,632 at the box office on a budget of $3 million! Thank you to Britnee for unearthing this gem of a financial flop.

Upcoming Movies of the Month
June: Hanna presents Chicken People (2016)
July: Brandon presents Starstruck (1982)
August: Boomer presents Sneakers (1992)

-The Swampflix Crew