James Cole Clay has been working as a film critic for the better part of a decade covering new releases, blu ray reviews and the occasional drive-in cult classic. His writing is dedicated to discovering social politics through diverse voices, primarily focusing on Women In Film and LGBTQ cinema.
James Clay // Film Critic
Rated R, 100 minutes.
Director: Cooper Raiff
Cast: Cooper Raiff, Dylan Gelula, Amy Landecker and Logan Miller
Note: At FreshFiction, we love Cooper Raiff’s SHITHOUSE. It was my and Preston Barta’s favorite film of the year, so it’s not a surprise we will discuss this film every chance we get. We just posted a 30-minute long conversation with Raiff conducted by Preston, which you can find here>>
MOVIE: From the theatrical review.
Writer/director/actor Cooper Raiff’s debut feature, SHITHOUSE, makes it look and feel so natural. In short, SHITHOUSE may have an alarming title, but it’s worthy of sparking loads of excitement for what Raiff’s career will bring. His introspective sensibilities and technical proficiency are impressive while maintaining a goofy spark that’s infectious from start to finish.
For gloomy college freshman Alex (Raiff), his time away from Texas at his Los Angeles-based school has been nothing but a drag. His roommate, Sam (Logan Miller), is an obnoxious party boy you’d see on one of those news reports, raging at a beach without a mask during the pandemic. Alex knows what he needs to do to overcome his fears: stop calling mom (Amy Landecker) so often and eat in the cafeteria instead of bringing to-go boxes back to his dorm. But it’s so hard to move when you’re stuck in social quicksand.
His best buddy is a highly insightful stuffed dog that speaks to him through sad projections via subtitles. Things like: “Ask him about the party… Well, we tried,” or “What are you going to do in Dallas? That will be hard, too.” There’s no clear path — so many avenues. Sadly, there is a lack of multiple choice answers until he meets sophomore resident advisor Maggie (Gelula). She notices him lounging late at night in the common area after Sam drunkenly poops his pants. Seemingly clueless on how to flirt, yet insanely charming, Alex is invited back to Maggie’s room, or as he puts it: they can “kiss and have sex.” Alex and Maggie are at the point where they’re grasping for straws looking for a connection.
Special Features: The only thing missing is a commentary by Cooper Raiff, but the film kind of speaks for itself in many ways. Upon repeat viewings, Raiff’s dialogue and images flower into profound metaphors that aren’t obvious, or ham-fisted. Something as simple as learning how to ride the elliptical doubles for finding a new rhythm in life. It’s beautiful and the special features boost what’s going on in Raiff’s noggin.
The deleted scenes, especially “Classturbator” peel away the need for the plot to keep things moving and we just exist in this world. It’s funny, illuminating and entertaining. Also included is Raiff’s short MADELINE & COOPER that shows the primordial ooze from which SHITHOUSE came. That sentence may sound insulting, but it’s purposefully unpretentious and sets a vibe that calls back to early Duplass Brothers work. With that being said Raiff’s career is taking off as he’s furthering his voice as a filmmaker with this upcoming film CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH with Dakota Johnson.
- Deleted Scenes
- Short Film MADELINE & COOPER
RENT/BUY: BUY IT!
Rated NR, 82 minutes.
Director: Jerome Boivin
BAXTER’s heart is black; he despises humanity despite his need for what any dog wants, a warm bed and a bone. The French dark comedy comes with the voice-over perspective of a surly, if not outright, evil Bull-Terrier named Baxter searching for “the perfect owner.”
He’s judgmental and looks down upon humanity for its pathetic need for love and companionship. The film comes from the mind of Jerome Boivin and, surprisingly the acclaimed filmmaker Jacques Audiard (A PROPHET, THE SISTER’S BROTHERS), who decidedly crafted a mean-spirited film designed to make the audience squirm. While they sit in the balcony laughing like it’s some cruel joke.
It’s not that BAXTER is a bad film, but it has a point of view that can be off-putting to most people. We see Baxter get saddled with an older woman as an owner whose existence is simply unsatisfactory to this narcissistic dog. His perfect environment is a place that can handle his particular brand of toxicity. Spoilers abound where Baxter ends up finding companionship subverts every Disney trope ever thrown at audiences. The only film that equally subverts the bond between man and canine is L.Q. Jones’ A BOY AND HIS DOG starring Don Johnson.
SPECIAL FEATURES: BAXTER lacks special features, despite a commentary track from filmmaker Mark Savage. Short of digging into some archival interviews, we may never Boivin and Audiard were thinking.
RENT/BUY: Out of genuine curiosity, BAXTER is worth a blind buy. It’s not available on any streaming services to rent or buy, so Kino Lorber is your only shot at catching this off-putting piece of French cinema. Go for it; just don’t bring the kids.
Rated: R Runtime: 91 min
Directed By: Jack Hill
Cast: Robbie Lee, Joanne Nail, Don Stark
Jack Hill’s (FOXY BROWN, COFFY) exploitation film SWITCHBLADE SISTERS is not a pleasant film, and that is by design. When the film was released in 1975, Hill and company were seemingly attempting to make a film that lifted up the oppressed, abused, and hardened women that occupied its frames. Still, the result insulted the viewer and actors alike. Scenes of sexual abuse, violence against women, and choppy dialogue don’t do the narrative structure any favors. It all just feels forced and poorly calculated.
Lace (Robbie Lee) and her all-girl gang, The Dagger Debs are about to be thrown into turmoil when a new girl Maggie (Joanne Nail), comes into the neighborhood. Lace’s power is threatened when she gets thrown into an abusive juvenile center, and Maggie makes her move on the turf. The ladies go into an all-out gang war when misunderstandings and violent assaults get in the way. The plotting is deeply disturbing and offers up solutions that launch the film into a frenzy of exploitation and scrappy filmmaking. SWITCHBLADE SISTERS accomplishes exactly what it’s going for, it just wasn’t my scene at all.
Despite the issues, many film critics and genre enthusiasts will go to the mat for Jack Hill and `The Dagger Debs. Be warned reactions may very.
SPECIAL FEATURES: Like many of the Arrow releases, SWITCHBLADE SISTERS comes with a full-length documentary that chronicles the making of the film with a brutal honesty that brings to light some fascinating stories fans will swoon over. Containing many archival interviews with Robbie Lee, Jack Hill, and Joanne Nail, get the band back together to reminisce. Overall, my interest in the film waned, but there are plenty of extras to keep exploitation fans pleased.
- Audio Commentary with historian/critics Samm Deighan and Kat Ellinger
- We Are The Jezebels- Feature Length Documentary
- Revisiting The Locations of SWITCHBLADE SISTERS
- Archival Interviews
RENT/BUY: Arrow Video released a pristine product that captures the films’ moment while providing cultural context and a great looking transfer. With that being said spend your monthly Arrow budget elsewhere. Skip it.