Monday, June 25, 2012

(30) Stars of Summer - Day 25: Jack Nicholson

Today's entry is not going to hurt you. He just going to bash your brains in.

You've got it by now, but once again here are the rules. Check out this list of all the month's actors with links to what's available on Netflix Instant. If you're not a Netflix subscriber, maybe this will help.

Day 1: Jimmy Stewart
Day 2: Catherine Deneuve
Day 3: Christopher Lee
Day 4: Bette Davis
Day 5: Nicolas Cage
Day 6: Diane Keaton 
Day 7: Orson Welles 
Day 8: Catherine Keener 
Day 9: Kurt Russell
Day 10: Pam Grier
Day 11: Clint Eastwood
Day 12: Susan Sarandon 
Day 13: Cary Grant 
Day 14: Barbara Stanwyck 
Day 15: Keith David 
Day 16: Frances McDormand 
Day 17: Gary Oldman 
Day 18: Marilyn Monroe 
Day 19: Dick Miller 
Day 20: Jennifer Jason Leigh 
Day 21: Laurence Fishburne 
Day 22: Whoopi Goldberg
Day 23: Kevin Bacon
Day 24: Christina Ricci


  1. Five Easy Pieces (1970)

    Finally, a movie I've always wanted to see and an excuse to watch it. This is the kind of movie that used to be made a lot in the '70s, which is why so many people consider it the best decade for film EVER. The movie is basically just a character study of Jack Nicholson, who was never better than he was during this streak (which also includes The Last Detail and Carnal Knowledge). It was great. Depressing, but great. Jack Nicholson rules, and it makes me sad that he's kind been kind of a cartoon since the '80s.

    1. I'm starting to wonder if a reliable indicator for a respected actor jumping the shark is when he plays The Devil. For Nicholson, it was The Witches of Eastwick. For Pacino, it was The Devil's Advocate. Maybe once you've hammed it up as the prince of darkness, there's no going back.

      On the other hand, de Niro had some good roles in him after Angel Heart. He underplayed, however.

  2. The Terror (1963)

    Early leading role for Nicholson has him playing a French soldier who stumbles upon eerie goings on involving a witch and a guilt-ridden baron. Roger Corman film is not that good, although Boris Karloff does his usual classy job. Jack’s performance is so understated it’s practically nonexistent, although to a certain extent he’s hamstrung by the script (“Hear my words,” and all that). Fans of The Shining will be amused by an early sequence where Jack thinks he sees a beautiful young woman, only to see her face replaced by a homely old woman – and also a late sequence, where a tender kiss turns to something horrifying. The movie earns bonus points for Jack NOT attempting a French accent.

    1. SPOILERS for those of you yet to see this 50-year old B-movie:

      The ending sequence where the castle is flooded out actually gave Boris Karloff a nasty case of pneumonia that he never really recovered from, and he held it against Roger Corman for the rest of his life.

  3. The Little Shop of Horrors

    Fun Corman cheapie, reportedly filmed in only two days on the same sets as A Bucket of Blood. Consistently funny, and the cast is very engaging (particularly Dick Miller in a small role as a man who eats flowers and Mel Welles as flower shop owner Gravis Mushnik). Nicholson has a very brief appearance as a masochistic dental patient, and his voice sounds uncannily like a drunk person doing a terrible Nicholson impression. It's short, it's funny, and it's in the public domain so it's easy to find. Worth a look!

  4. THE SHOOTING (1966) for the first time.

    Saw this in 35mm back-to-back with "Five Easy Pieces" (which, indeed, rules as one of Jack's finest cinematic moments) Sunday night at NYC's Anthology Film Archive. As with Monte Hellman's "Two-Lane Blacktop" this movie is an exercise in genre de-constructon, this time a revenge western. We're denied so many details about the plot we're watching (name of the main characters doing the chasing and being chased, prior relationships, reason for doing what they're doing, etc.) we are forced to pick apart to pieces the structure of the movie we're watching. Warren Oattes makes his put-upon Gashade character compelling (he seems to be as confused about the movie as the audience) but mostly beause Will Hutchins' Coley is such an ass. Millie Perkins (whose presence makes one realize how women's roles in westerns are limited and rarely get to be bad-ass action characters) and a still-shaping-his-screen-persona Jack Nicholson as her hired psycho right hand with a personal story between them ('Boy, I'll shoot you right in the face') keep the movie interesting longer than the story itself does. The ending is a clusterfuck for audiences wanting the story neatly tied up (though it kind-of does) but as a fimmakers' film this is a fascinating-and-dull-in-equal-measure anti-western western. Better than 1971's "The Hunting Party" with Gene Hackman, which it clearly inspired.

  5. ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOOS NEST. Would you believe I've never seen this one before? Gut reaction: The Simpsons spoofed this movie a lot. Beyond that, I really liked it. Equal parts funny and terrifying. Nicholson almost steals the show, but the supporting cast, with a ton of familiar faces, backs him up excellently. I bet this is one of those movie that you can watch over and over and notice new things each time.

    1. Yep, you got it: welcome to the rest of your life! :-) Seriously though, on repeat viewings I tend to focus on one of the actors/characters each viewing and fully enjoy both his/her supporting bits while watching the ever-present duel of wits between McMurphy and Nurse Ratched. Personally Brad Dourif's Billy has grown on me, but that may be just me realizing that Brad is awesome.

    2. Dourif IS awesome we want him on next years 30 stars of summer!

  6. Chinatown (1974): Excellent film. Again, I can't believe I hadn't seen it in its entirety before. The ending is a little confusing, which I suppose is the point. I heard The Two Jakes isn't that great, but I'd be curious to see Polanski/Towne's original trilogy vision. Alas, rape. Thankfully, Who Framed Roger Rabbit picked up the slack.

  7. Sorry to be behind, but nevertheless...

    Hoffa (1992)

    Biopic of notorious labor leader Jimmy Hoffa showcases Nicholson and co-star/director Danny DeVito well and makes potentially very dry material riveting. However, it's bias as hell for Hoffa and certainly not to be taken as a history lesson. Probably the last really good film DeVito has directed.

    1. I haven't seen it since the theater, but I remember being really impressed by the transitions in that movie. Am I remembering that wrong?

      Also, WHERE is the Death to Smoochy love?

    2. The transitions are exceptionally good, and the film is gorgeous to look at.

      I did actually watch "Death To Smoochy" for Catherine Keener Day. I look back on that day now and smile wistfully. It was all ahead for me then.