Reflections of the Third Eye
3 April 2013
Drive, He Said (1970)
Now Playing: Tourniquet on RPC
Topic: D
For no obvious reason, local TV decided to show Jack Nicholson's half-forgotten and generally un-loved directorial debut Drive, He Said (1970) the other night. This one has been hard to find (not out on DVD until 2010) and I happily crossed another obscure New Hollywood title from my viewing list.

This joy over-shadows the actual watching experience, as this isn't a very good movie, even if it has all the vital bits present (BBS production, Bruce Dern, realistic settings, Karen Black, jump cuts, shakey-cam, context-less shots, the whole French '60s shit). The poor casting is a major problem, which seems curious with JACK directing, but the main guy is a pretty terrible actor, lacking both talent and experience. The actor portraying the increasingly psychotic best friend makes a scenery-chewing effort that doesn't really work but at least keeps you awake. The others range from annoying to OK, but except for Dern and Black basically no one went on to a real acting career... which confirms the poor casting. The only exception is Mike Warren who became a major TV name with Hill Street Blues, and he does well here.

Anyway, some scenes are terrible, some are confusing, and in a few rare cases things work. The story isn't a story as much as a mood, but that is basically what one expects with these early '70s New Hollywood outings. The main character is torn between following his counterculture buddies quest for freedom and revolution, and to pursue his basketball career and turn pro. The End. Well, almost, there's a jumbled love story involving Karen Black also. I predict that people who aren't used to watching these type of dated period movies will find Drive, He Said a boring chaos. Even with the spirit of anarchy at the time, the movie proved too untogether for both audiences and critics. Nicholson soon realized he'd made a mistake, and bought out the rights and all copies in order to bury it. 5/10

Posted by Patrick at Lysergia at 4:36 PM MEST
Updated: 10 August 2013 12:36 AM MEST
Timothy Leary's Last Trip (1997)
Topic: T

The first half of this 55-minute documentary is a recap of the early/mid-1960s LSD scene, when both Timothy Leary & Ken Kesey rose to prominence. There is lots of Merry Prankster '60s archive footage, some of which I didn't immediately recognize, and which may be unique to this feature. There's also some interesting old Leary footage, the bulk of it from the circa 1974 interview also seen in Timothy Leary's Dead. Some minor errors occur in the chronology and presentation of events, the most amusing (possibly a Prank?) assigning Wavy Gravy's name to a photo of Tiny Tim!

The second half of the movie concerns Leary's last 'trip', which turns out to be two trips -- one to a Hog Farm commune get-together in 1995, with some historically important footage of Kesey and Leary hanging out together. Contemporary interviews include original Pranksters George Walker and Wavy Gravy (looking great, like an old Polynesian tribe chief), and Kesey & Leary. Interspersed throughout is an interview with Leary from a studio (or his home), which I think is unique to this movie. There's some on-stage footage with Grateful Dead type music and Pranksters in costumes, and Leary giving the event his benediction.

Leary's 'second last trip' is a meeting on Internet between himself and Kesey, shortly before he died. It's pretty amusing to see the funky connection and very old-skool Netscape browsers this many years later. Not much of importance is said, it's mainly an exchange of greetings done in accordance with a technology shift that Leary, always the futurist, understood and embraced.

The director O B Babbs (Merry Prankster legend Ken Babbs' son) appears as a narrator here and there, and does a good job; and his handsome male-model looks are no drawback. There's a certain student film feel to this, but those familiar with what's been coming out of the revived Prankster nexus in Oregon will recognize and enjoy the home-made charm. Sentimentality is present, and may have been given a boost by the passing away of Jerry Garcia around this time, but considering who we are dealing with, there's certainly room for, and a need for, documentation.

Like Timothy Leary's Dead this movie has some specific, minor flaws, but combining these two fan-oriented DVD features you get a terrific view of Leary, the modern (post-1960) history of LSD, and a substantial dose of the equally important Merry Pranksters. A certain interest in the subject and personages is required, which I have no lack of. For those demanding a more refined cinematic coverage of some of the same topics, the more recent Magic Trip documentary should be the first stop. 7/10

Posted by Patrick at Lysergia at 12:26 AM MEST
Updated: 10 August 2013 12:36 AM MEST
The Fury (1978)
Topic: F
One of Brian De Palma's lesser known works, at least around where I live, I recently watched The Fury for the first time in 25 years. I had forgotten that I had actually seen it before, but as the movie progressed, I began recognizing certain scenes, while a lot of the rest seemed completely unfamiliar.

This is I think typical of this movie, and a lot of De Palma's films -- there will be long sequences with dull dialogue where you wonder why they weren't edited down, and some dubious acting and bizarre plot twists, and then suddenly there will be a sequence of 5 or 10 minutes that is just dazzling. De Palma here had a finalized story-line to work with (from a novel), and didn't script himself, which is good news for those familiar with some of his auteur derailments.

At the same time, the script of The Fury shows some of the director's typical weaknesses (lack of logic, inconsistent characters, etc), and it's too bad that a third party wasn't brought in to tighten up the narrative flow, strengthen the logic, and remove weak dialogue. So, ultimately, it looks very much like a typical De Palma work, a B-movie with some dazzling cinematography and a few quite powerful scenes.

The good news is that the basic premise of the story is pretty interesting and at least to me in 2007, one of the assets of the movie. The notion of the two young psychics, both victims rather than masters of their powers, is an arresting idea, and while the terrorist angle is unnecessary, I could imagine someone turning The Fury into a pretty good movie today.

The second asset is, to my mild surprise, Amy Irving, who delivers a terrific performance, and actually seems a little too good for this occasionally hokey movie. She's believable, convincing, and often moving. I read some snide comment about her over-preparing for B-movies, but for The Fury at least, I am grateful for this commitment. Her shock at her own uncontrollable powers is brilliantly performed, and makes for those sudden jumps in your attention, when the movie has dragged on for too long. Very nice work.

The other actors seem to work on routine; Kirk Douglas acts as if he's in a B-movie about spies, and has some bad dialogue to deal with. Andrew Stevens looks right for the part, and while not a convincing actor, his creepy hunk presence seems appropriate, especially towards the end of the movie. Cassavetes is OK, but not more, and looks somewhat uncomfortable with his black suit and busted-up arm.

Some of the camera-work is excellent, and as always with De Palma, there are a few show-off pieces where he goes into long complex montages that aren't really motivated by the context or narrative development, but are nevertheless exciting too watch. The feeling is, as often, that a lot of the other stuff in the movie he doesn't really care for, as long as he can deliver these 5-minute masterpieces of cinema craft here and there.

Ultimately, thanks to the arresting basic premise, the occasionally masterful direction, and the performance of Amy Irving, I enjoyed The Fury a little more than I expected to. I can see how it may appear ludicrous or bizarre to others, but that wide range of responses is what you get most of the time when the director is Mr De Palma. 7/10

Posted by Patrick at Lysergia at 12:02 AM MEST
Updated: 10 August 2013 12:35 AM MEST
2 April 2013
Sherlock Holmes (2009)
Topic: S

I didn't get to see Sherlock Holmes until now, but its rather favorable reception upon release had me curious, along with the surprising casting choices. It marks Guy ‘Snatch’ Ritchie's return to A-list movies after a long slump that involved serial career-killer Madonna among other things. Ritchie's direction here is full of self-confidence, although some might feel that the Tarantino school of kinetic action and playful meta-cinema is getting old.

I wanted to like this movie, and for the first 15 minutes or so, I felt that its bold take on the Sherlock Holmes mythology worked well. But then, just like with Prometheus, false notes began to appear here and there, and they seemed to grow louder with each re-occurrence. Casting a very American method actor like Robert Downey in a role whose outward appearance has been defined by the artistocratic features of Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett is a daring choice that borders on the bizarre but, again, for a while it seemed to work. Downey has earned a reputation of being a very gifted actor, and even when he's in deep water he remains watchable. But his take on the role seems almost like an understudy variant of his 'Tony Stark' (Iron Man) character. He expresses at least two different simultaneous emotions in every shot, which is useful in psychological dramas or to inject depth into airhead Marvel movies, but is not something you would link with Victorian Britain and its ritualized use of outward control and the stiff upper lip, nor does it conform in any way to the way Sherlock Holmes has been portrayed in the past, least of all in Conan Doyle's stories.

It is billed as a Sherlock Holmes movie, and makes extensive use of details from the Holmes myth, but neither the protagonist nor the basic plot bear much resemblance to the stories that made Holmes world famous. To begin with, there should be a distinct crime and an associated mystery, which form the riddle for Holmes' logic to disentangle. Everything else should be secondary to the carefully constructed problem which the great detective is to solve with his deductive reasoning. This movie isnt't like that; it's more like a Jason Bourne film set in 1890 London. Some of this is clearly on the director's wishes, but too much of the most recognizable elements of Holmes are sacrificed. The jarring feeling is amplified by a narrative that confuses intelligence with arcane knowledge, as if Holmes was in line for a sequel to The Da Vinci Code. Deductive logic, the type of intelligence championed by Doyle and incarnated in Holmes, is hardly ever put on display in the film. The type of audience participation that comes with classic murder puzzles, where the reader/viewer can try to match his wits with the detective is made near-impossible by the confused, uncomprehending way Ritchie & co deals with Holmes’ methods of logic and objectivity.

Instead of delighting in the man’s brain power, we are treated to a number of overlong fistfights and slow-motion explosions that seem targetted at a bonehead audience who liked Ritchie’s Brit gangster flicks for the wrong reasons, and have never heard of Conan Doyle. At its worst, Sherlock Holmes feels as if someone who owned the movie rights to the character name used it to cash in by making a movie that drew on several recent successes and whose hero just happens to be named Sherlock Holmes. It is so removed from the Holmes universe that the hero and film could have claimed to be 100% original and named something else, 'Reginald Clark, Victorian Superhero' or whatever, but of course many more people will go to see a 'Sherlock Holmes' movie.

I wasn't particularly impressed with the script; the plot was overwraught and its fake magic too similar to recent successes The Prestige and The Illusionist. It is historically accurate to depict magick activity within English society during the fin de siecle era; the problem is that this theme of magick rarely or maybe even never entered Doyle's Sherlock Holmes canon. So even in its subject matter, the movie manages to distance itself from the canonical source. The classic Holmes stories are often eerie and ghostly, but this is due to the seemingly inexplicable mystery that Holmes is to solve, combined with a clever use of gothic or exotic details. 'The Sign Of Four' is masterful in this respect, and the fine TV series with Jeremy Brett captured this eerie suspense well. This movie, however, is not about creepy atmospheres and spooky details; it's loud and brash whereever it goes. For someone like me, who grew up with Doyle's stories, this film is more an insult than anything else; Downey's drastic reinterpretation of the role is one thing, but the scripts' attempts to replace deductive intelligence with obscure knowledge lacks all justification.

On the upside, Jude Law seems comfortable with his rather young Dr Watson, and he goes some way to keep the movie on an identifiable stylistic track. Rachel MacAdam is pretty and likable, but hardly ideally cast for an international jewel thief, with her high school girl demeanor. Mark Strong is good as the main villain, and the minor roles are generally well executed. Except for some mediocre CGI, Victorian London is convincingly rebuilt and the movie makes excellent use of both muddy streets and landmarks new (London Bridge is shown under construction) and old. Similarly the costume work is impressive, offering lots of variation in fabric, patterns and styles, despite the supposed uniform dress codes of the era. The clothes look used and worn, for an additional nice detail. The only dubious note is a bizarre Gary Numan-like jacket worn by 'Dr Watson' in a restaurant scene.

This movie clearly works better for those unfamiliar with the classic Sherlock Holmes universe, which it has little in common with. But the plot is too clichéd and comic book-like to turn this into a period action story that truly works, and the viewer is left with a movie that has all its best elements in the periphery, while its core is insufficiently thought-out and unsteadily built. I'm not sure why Sherlock Holmes was so enthusiastically received, but I suspect it rode on the trend of comic superhero movies, an angle which Robert Downey's presence and performance amplifies. 6/10

Posted by Patrick at Lysergia at 12:17 AM MEST
Updated: 10 August 2013 12:34 AM MEST
29 March 2013
Emperor Of The North (1973)
Topic: E

This week's obscure '70s movie is EMPEROR OF THE NORTH (1973), an archetypal tough-guy-duel set during the Great Depression. Lee Marvin is the experienced hobo vagabond who knows every trick of the road, Ernest Borgnine the sadistic train conductor who kills hobos who try to get a free ride on "his" train. It turns into a battle of wits and strength while the entire hobo community roots for Marvin's character*. Added to the basic story is a young hobo in training, an obnoxious smart-mouth played by Keith Carradine. Marvin reluctantly takes this kid on as a protege while trying to outsmart Borgnine, let alone survive. The movie is brilliantly shot by a director and cinematographer who clearly loved the challenge of shooting trains in a (Northern California) rural setting. Although not a high-budget movie the attention to detail is excellent, and the portrayal of the hobos as essentially proud men hit by hard times who maintain their special code seems convincing. Apparently Jack London's vagrant novels were an inspiration. No one can go wrong casting Marvin and Borgnine who both excel at their classic typecast best--Marvin tough as hell but a decent man, Borgnine tough but vicious and evil. The final battle between the two is a fitting ending to the movies, neatly closing the arc from an equally effective exposition.
Director Robert Aldrich (best known movie: "Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?") was no 'New Hollywood' auteur, but much like Sam Peckinpah his feel for realistic, grim action makes for a movie that has aged well--much better than, say, "Kelly's Heroes". So what is the problem? Well, Keith Carradine's part was not well-written, and he was apparently unable to improve or solve its problems. The thing to do then is to underplay the part and let the audience fillout the blanks, but unfortunately young Carradine** goes the otherway and overplays his part, with absurd and unfounded mood shifts and a general lack of conviction no matter what he does. His final scene in the movie is fitting, not just for his character, but for Carradine himself. Apart from this, a rather fine movie worth seeing. Note: there is not a single female character in the film. The IMDB rating is pretty good and I concur (7/10).

*1980s movie "Runaway Train" borrows quite a bit from this one.

**Turns out this was Keith Carradine's debut in a major feature. I guess he has enough screen presence not to have his career ruined by the bad acting here. A little later he did "The Duelists" with Harvey Keitel -- another forgotten '70s movie and in fact Ridley Scott's first movie -- and there was nothing wrong with his performance there

Posted by Patrick at Lysergia at 12:51 AM MEST
Updated: 10 August 2013 12:34 AM MEST
28 March 2013
The third eye opens
Now Playing: Robin Hood (2010)

Welcome to this movie blog, edited and maintained by Patrick, i e: me. Some of you may know me from, my long-running website devoted to psychedelic culture, or from the two books I've published on the same subject.

Reflections Of The Third Eye is a little different from those enterprises, in that it's not presented from the perspective of a devoted specialist. Rather, it is a non-expert's take on movies he has recently seen, non-scholarly but potentially informative and hopefully entertaining.

Old, new, famous and obscure movies are all featured here. I have a special love for the so-called 'New Hollywood' cinema, meaning basically American 1970s movies, and the blog will feature a lot of those. Also, with my psychedelic orientation, I take a certain interest in movies that are in some way or other related to hallucinogens or altered states.

Feel free to comment, complain and suggest. This is partly intended as a movie review repository for my own use, and will be kept alive as long as the creek don't rise and the mill ain't closing.

My favorite movies? Easy. There are four which stand head and shoulders above everything else in my world: Apocalypse Now (1979), Blade Runner (1982), Taxi Driver (1976) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

 On with the show...

Posted by Patrick at Lysergia at 11:52 PM MEST

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