Tag Archives: Jack Nicholson

The King of Marvin Gardens

The King of Marvin Gardens

Format: Cinema

Release date: 24 May 2013

Distributor: Park Circus

Director: Bob Rafelson

Writer(s): Jacob Brackman, Bob Rafelson

Cast: Jack Nicholson, Bruce Dern, Ellen Burstyn, Julia Anne Robinson

USA 1972

103 mins

The King of Marvin Gardens, Bob Rafelson’s 1972 drama about the fraught relationship between a pair of brothers, is bookended by two terrific scenes. When the film opens, we see David Staebler (Jack Nicholson) in close-up, his face in shadow as he delivers a bizarre monologue about why he doesn’t eat fish. A red light begins to flash against his skin, before the camera pulls back to reveal that his character, the host of a late-night radio show, is live on air. The film ends, back at the house that David still shares with his grandfather, with Super 8 footage of two young boys playing on a beach projected onto the walls of the home.

Jack Nicholson is excellent as the subdued and restrained, cardigan-wearing disk jockey, who is called to Atlantic City to bail his brother Jason (Bruce Dern) out of jail, after Jason has been cut loose by the mobster that he works for (the Italians and Jewish gangsters of the 1920s and 1930s have been replaced by African Americans, a subtle social commentary in the film). When David arrives in town, he finds that Jason is living with two women in a perverse love triangle and playing what turns out to be a very dangerous game. While the nature of the women’s relationship is at first a little unclear (could they be mother and daughter or sisters?), what is obvious is that Jason’s ‘girlfriend’, Sally (Ellen Burstyn), is in danger of being replaced by the much younger Jessica (Julia Anne Robinson). David soon finds himself involved in his brother’s ludicrous scheme to build a resort in Hawaii with embezzled money (the film’s title is, of course, a reference to the board game, Monopoly). Jason never stops dreaming big, but his plans to get rich and be a player are clearly never going to amount to anything.

However, it is not the film’s plot that makes The King of Marvin Gardens such an interesting film to watch, but rather László Kovács’ stunning cinematography. He does a wonderful job capturing the air of decay that pervades the once-glorious Atlantic City. The beaches are empty, the luxurious hotels are ghosts of their former selves and, at times, it seems that the four protagonists are the only people in town. The film is full of surreal moments. When David first arrives at the station he’s greeted by an out-of-tune band hired by Sally; when another marching band parades down the boardwalk, there’s no one, besides the film’s audience, to watch them perform. The foursome later takes over a crumbling art-deco theatre to stage a beauty pageant, where Jessica is the only contestant. These absurdist scenes reflect the sense of disillusionment and madness that seeps into Rafelson’s depressed and deluded characters, making a tragic ending all but inevitable.

While The King of Marvin Gardens is intriguing, and a brilliantly filmed record of early 1970s American decline, it’s not really of the same calibre as Rafelson’s (and Jack Nicholson’s) better-known film, Five Easy Pieces, released two years earlier. And although both of the male leads are fantastic, the women’s characters are sometimes overwrought (or, in Jessica’s case, a little too simpering), although Burstyn still delivers a classy performance. The film is well worth seeing, but the real attraction is the stunning depiction of Atlantic City.

Sarah Cronin

Watch a clip from The King of Marvin Gardens:

Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel

Corman's World poster

Format: DVD + Blu-ray

Release date: 26 March 2012

Distributor: Anchor Bay Entertainment

Director: Alex Stapleton

USA 2011

95 mins

Some years ago, I was invited to write a piece on a cinematic cult hero. I chose Roger Corman without hesitation. This was doubly fortuitous as I had just been lucky enough to have interviewed the misnamed ‘King of the B’s’. He was gracious, savvy, witty, charming, informed and possessed amazing recall of many of the characters who had graduated from the so-called Corman School. This was all the more noteworthy as he was already 81 and still had seven or so film projects on the go. Corman proved to be a gentleman and an inspiration, and so it is only fair to paraphrase - in this season of Shakespeare - the following line: ‘I come to praise Corman, not to bury him’. That is my caveat to readers of this review of Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel, a long-overdue documentary on this unique (now 86-year-old) maverick producer/director now released on DVD, as this is a film for savouring, leaving all critical baggage in the hallway.

This documentary’s tone is by turns witty and irreverent while keeping a proper historical and biographical eye on things. It is as controlled a piece of presentation as one could desire given the breadth - not always depth - of the Corman oeuvre. Director Alex Stapleton has come up with an exemplary documentary that respects and plays with conventions and tropes of Corman’s style - and cheesiness - in a fascinating piece of ‘other’ Hollywood history. And what a history! You want to give a first chance to young directors? How about the following list, whose sophomore efforts were overseen by Corman: Peter Bogdanovich, Martin Scorsese, Jonathan Demme, Joe Dante, Robert Altman, Ron Howard, Steven Spielberg, Robert Towne, John Sayles, Monte Hellman, Francis Ford Coppola, Paul Anderson, Paul Bartel and Richard Rush - to name a few. Young actors to play the parts? Pam Grier, William Shatner, Jack Nicholson (who breaks down and cries with his reflections), Peter Fonda, Bruce Dern, Dennis Hopper, David Carradine, Barbara Hershey, Talia Shire, Sandra Bullock and Robert De Niro - not a bad list. Many of the above still hold Corman in great esteem and offer fine insights into the man during the course of the documentary.

As part of the legendary American International Pictures, Corman directed and/or produced the terrific Edgar Allan Poe cycle and dozens of low-budget drive-in ‘classics’ with titles like The Beast with 1,000,000 Eyes, Attack of the Crab Monsters, Caged Heat, A Bucket of Blood and The Little Shop of Horrors. When he struck out on his own with New World Pictures he not only continued to make delicious drive-in fodder but commenced distribution of foreign language films that no one else would touch. It was due to Corman’s work in this field that American audiences were introduced to, among other films, Fellini’s Amarcord, Schlöndorff’s The Tin Drum and Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo. Corman seemed to move seamlessly from drive-in classic to art-house classic with an unerring sense of both. Who else can compare? Corman is a one-off, and although Hollywood ignored him - though studios were happy to poach his subject matter - they eventually saw the light and honoured him (thankfully not posthumously) with an Honorary Academy Award, which is the touching ‘money shot’ of the film.

Almost worth the price of admission alone though, are the end credits that have a high-octane, spirit-raising rendition of ‘Do You Wanna Dance’ by the Ramones from Rock and Roll High School while clips from various films and decades - he made hundreds: 10 films in 1957 alone - literally explode onto the screen. Clips which highlight the maestro’s instinctive understanding of the cultural zeitgeist and the genres he developed for a growing baby boom audience: monster movies, sci-fi, horror (especially his apogee with the Poe cycle), beach party frolics, bikers, rock n’ roll sagas, speeding car spectaculars, gritty blacksploitation flicks, counter-culture tales - you name your sub-culture and Roger Corman was there, well before Time magazine could do a cover story on it. And all on miniscule budgets and legendary production miserliness - as he himself observes: ‘You can make Lawrence of Arabia for half a million dollars - you just don’t leave the tent’.

Thankfully there has been no ‘Premature Burial’ of either Corman or his cinematic products - as his co-producer wife of many years states when commenting on Corman’s attitude to on-set or professional set-backs, ‘the dogs bark but the caravan moves on’. My only real disappointment with this DVD is that it only lasts for a mere 95 minutes (which rush by) and not for at least 180!

James B. Evans