Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

In the period just after WW2, the staple of legitimate theater in the United States was "the dysfunctional family drama which shows the pain lurking behind the facade of post-war prosperity." Arthur Miller won a Pulitzer Prize for A Death of a Salesman in 1949, and Eugene O'Neill won the same prize posthumously for A Long Day's Journey into Night in 1957. The major plays of Tennessee Williams come from this same period. This sort of play seemed to represent about 100% of the "serious" content of television when I was a kid, in the form of ensemble drama shows like Kraft Television Theater, The Alcoa Hour, The United States Steel Hour, Studio One, and Playhouse 90. These dramas always confused me because the chronically depressed  people in these plays never acted anything like any adults I had ever met. I didn't know anyone who made flowery, tearful speeches about how they should have been better fathers or sons or whatever. As a child I took away a lesson from the confusion I felt: it is the artist's responsibility to present the other side of life that we never experience on our own. Like many of our childhood illusions, this one was eventually crushed. After having lived in a half dozen different countries and four different states in the USA, and having worked in about fifty different countries in my life, after having spend six decades in contact with people on all parts of the spectra of wealth and education, after having known real junkies and hookers and mobsters, I have yet to meet anyone who acts like the unsmiling characters in those plays and teleplays. My jaded conclusion is that the artist's real responsibility in those days was to spew out insincere, high-falutin' bullshit.

And THAT I understand. I took an undergraduate degree in English Literature, a field which is planted exclusively with the seeds of insincere high-falutin' bullshit, analysis that sounds profound and original but is really indefensible blather disguised by literary tropes which serve to make it ambiguous and confusing enough that it can't really be refuted, even in the unlikely case that somebody actually figures out what it means. I have done my own fair share of such spewing over the years, and consider myself fairly good at it, and able to recognize it when I see it.

Well, here it is. Right here in this film.

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead was directed by Sidney Lumet, who cut his directorial teeth on the TV shows I mentioned above and others like them in the early fifties. There is really no difference between this film and one of those shows except that this decade is different from the fifties. There are more people doing drugs and carrying guns these days than back then, so this new improved version of Death of a Salesman has the Lomans packing heat and shooting horse.

"But ... but ... I thought it was supposed to be a thriller."

Yeah, that's what I thought before I watched it, but it is not. Not really. It is a Playhouse 90 drama about dysfunctional father-son relationships. In order to develop its themes it uses a bungled crime, and there are some other elements you might find in a thriller, but there are no real twists and turns to navigate. The film begins with the bungled robbery. That is followed by a series of flashbacks in which we discover almost immediately that the two brothers planned to rob their parents' suburban jewelry store on a Saturday morning. Flawless idea. They know where everything is. They know what time the store opens on Saturday, and that the old lady who works the weekend shift presents no threat. They plan to carry only a toy gun, so nobody can get hurt, not even accidentally. They know that the insurance company will reimburse the full value of the store's loss.

Yes, they have a great idea. Unfortunately, they don't know how to pull off crimes. How many of us would? They rent a getaway car with a real license and credit card. They talk to a fence about the stolen goods before they even have the jewels in their possession. They bring in a professional bad-ass to accompany the younger brother on the actual robbery, and the dim-witted, cowardly younger brother picks the guy up at his house, so that his wife sees them both head off to commit crimes together. The bad-ass brings a real gun. The woman who was supposed to work the shift has called in sick and the boys' mother is on duty. The younger brother is too much of a chickenshit to go in the store for the robbery, so the bad-ass ends up going it alone, unaware that he's robbing his partner's mom. Mom turns out to be a lot more courageous than the weekend fill-in lady, and everything that could go wrong does go wrong ...

Am I spoiling the film you? No hardly. That all happens right away. It's not the plot. It's the set-up. The only real plot elements this film has in common with a thriller is that the police don't know of the brothers' involvement. For all they know, the bad-ass tried to rob mom, and it didn't work out. But the wheels of justice do grind. The boys have left behind a messy trail. The wife of the bad-ass knows the score. The fence knows the score.

And then the rest of the movie is Death of a Salesman. Hands wring. Brothers abuse brothers. Fathers abuse sons. Sons hate fathers. Both brothers are having sex with the same woman, and one of them is married to her. The father begins to realize what happened in the robbery. All the while, people make ever more flowery and depressing speeches. Things start to close in on the brothers. As the noose becomes ever tighter, their desperation is exacerbated by the fact that the older brother is also a junkie and also has both his company and the IRS closing in on him for embezzlement, while the panic-stricken younger brother is a weak person in general and ... well ... not the brightest bulb on the tree. The scenario gets ever more depressing until the audience realizes that it is only a matter of time until some grandiose larger-than-life tragedy must occur.

As I said earlier, imagine Willy Loman packin' heat.

If I were to get a magic wish list with this film, it would be to make some of the melodrama go away. Do they have to check off the entire litany of possible soap opera plots? The brothers sleep with the same woman. They both have dysfunctional families of their own. One is embezzling from his firm, the other is far behind on his child support. The older brother is a junkie, maybe a closeted homosexual as well. They committed matricide (they planned a crime which resulted in the death of their mother, which would be treated as a homocide). The mother is on life support and the father has to decide whether to pull the plug. The older brother's comment on the death of his mother is, "If only it had been him (his dad) instead." The parents preferred one of the sons. And so forth. After a while it felt like piling on.

And I haven't even spoiled the larger-than-life family tragedies at the end.

I only have one question. How could it be that none of the main characters have AIDS? I mean there are three main characters in the play, and one of them is a junkie, possibly a homosexual. Based on screenwriting standards for modern dramas, that must create about a 99% likelihood that one of the three, most likely the older brother, would have AIDS. What happened? You just know the absence of AIDS will cause this film to lose some Oscar nominations to appropriate AIDS-based drama.

Is it a good film? Yes, I suppose so. Everybody else seems to think so, so I guess I just don't really like Arthur Miller or Eugene O'Neill plays. It received 88% positive reviews and is scored 8.1 at IMDb.  But it's certainly not a good thriller. There are times when the pace drags down to a crawl, which would be fatal for a thriller, but not for a stagy morality play about a dysfunctional family. It is quite good in the sense that it is effective at dragging the audience through the emotional wringer with the wimpy younger brother.  He's not only afraid the cops will catch him, but he's afraid of the bad-ass's wife, his brother, and his father. And yet, though he is feckless and a complete wimp, he is the only character we can really sympathize with because he is the only one who seems to know the difference between right and wrong and, even if he does not always choose the right means, he usually has a good-hearted end in mind. So we feel his panic in our own throats as the noose tightens. The ability to transmit his tension to the audience is good filmmaking.

Marisa Tomei does three topless scenes as the woman shared by the brothers.

(Ethan Hawke shows his butt clearly in a well-lit scene. Phil Hoffman shows his flabby butt in a dark doggie-style scene. But I would not want it any brighter. God, no.)




  • * Yellow asterisk: funny (maybe).

  • * White asterisk: expanded format.

  • * Blue asterisk: not mine.

  • No asterisk: it probably sucks.


Catch the deluxe version of Other Crap in real time, with all the bells and whistles, here.











Irreversible is not a pleasant film except at the start, which is actually the ending, but I am getting ahead of myself. The film takes place in reverse chronological order. Further, the camera and editing work are frenetic at the beginning of the film (end of the story), and become more normal as the film progresses. The chronology, if told in forward order, would be pretty straightforward.

Monica Bellucci and her real life husband at the time, Vincent Cassel, wake up in bed after sex, and frolic naked until they have to dress for a night on the town. They meet her old lover and his best friend, Albert Dupontel, and go to a party. Cassel gets drunk and high, and Monica leaves the party. She uses an underpass to cross the street, where she is brutally raped and beaten senseless by a pimp. The two guys decide to exact revenge for the rape, track the evil pimp to a gay bar, and beat him to oblivion with a fire extinguisher, continuing long after he is dead. The rape and fire extinguisher scenes go on forever, and are very graphic. It is those that most reviewers talk about.

Ebert found the reverse chronology to be the telling aspect of the film. I read his reasoning twice, and still don't understand his point, which is something about having the violence at the end as a payoff would have made the film exploitative and pro violence. Berardinelli seems to think it is the visual style that is important, and that the film does a great job of portraying just how evil rape is. Most of the detractors dislike the reverse chronology, and/or find the rape and killing way over-done and exploitive. Nearly all reviewers opined that most people will not want to see it. An IMDb score of 7.3 certainly shows that prediction to be wrong.

I found the beginning nearly impossible to watch, not because of the rape and violence, but because of the visual style, which was dark, jerky, and shot without regard to the horizon. I became more interested in the middle scenes, at the party, and getting to the party, where we have character development, and the ending sex scene was lovely.

Monica Bellucci does full frontal and rear nudity in the post sex scene.


Monica Bellucci












Today we have B-move babe Tiffany Shepis showing off all the goods, though be warned there is a little blood in some of the scenes from this horror flick.

Then even more full frontal action as Tiffany & Carolina De Cristofaro hook up for a lesbo encounter.






Notes and collages


Amanda Pays








More clips of Wei Tang in Lust, Caution


The women of Lake Placid 2. Jasmina Toshova and Yana Marinova

 (samples right)

Lake Placid 2: VJ Benson (sample right)
Isla Fisher in Wedding Daze (no nudity, see sample right)
A gallery of one of our favs, Renee Soutendijk, doing full frontal nudity in the obscure "Van de koele meren des doods"

An unflattering topless paparazzi shot of Goldie Hawn






The Comedy Wire

Comments in yellow...

OK! magazine revealed that Britney Spears' 16-year-old sister Jamie Lynn Spears, star of the hit Nickelodeon kid show "Zoey 101," is pregnant.  Jamie said the father is her boyfriend whom she first met in church, and they plan to keep the baby.  Asked what message she's sending young fans about premarital sex, she said, "I definitely don't think it's something you should do; it's better to wait.  But I can't be judgmental because it's a position I put myself in."  Her supportive mother was shocked at first, saying, "I didn't believe it because Jamie Lynn's always been so conscientious. She's never late for her curfew."

*  It must be something about those Spears girls' genes. They're too easy to get into.

Recently, men in the UK have been prosecuted for having sex with a bicycle and a fence, and now, Steven Marshall, 18, of Selkirkshire, England, has admitted to public indecency for dropping his pants, lying down on a busy street and trying to have sex with the pavement in front of stunned motorists.  He said it was a prank, and he was drinking while on arthritis pills.  The Sun reports that he got a year's probation and was not put on the sex offenders' list because his offense "was not primarily sexually motivated."

*  He just saw a traffic sign that read "Road Hump" and misunderstood. 

*  British men are used to having sex with cold, inanimate objects. 

A court in Italy ruled that a couple can't name their son "Friday" and ordered him named "Gregory" instead because the name "Friday" would make him the butt of jokes and hinder him from developing "serene interpersonal relationships".

The parents were found to be not sufficiently famous to give their kid that stupid a name.