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Awesome: 22.22%
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1 review, 3 user ratings

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by Jay Seaver

"They don't make them like this anymore. There's a reason for that."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2010 BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL: The thing to realize about "Stuck!" is that, despite the exclamation point in the title and the meticulous recreation of a genre and style that has fallen out of favor, it is not a parody. Or at least, not a conventional one. Instead of playing up the salacious nature of the women-in-prison movie, it plays things completely straight, with nary a wink in the audience's direction.

Daisy (Starina Johnson) is sent to the slammer for murder. She didn't do it - she tried to wrest the gun from her suicidal mother's hands - but the neighbor who saw it through the window (Karen Black) testified against her, and now she's on death row, her crime considered so heinous that her execution has been bumped ahead of the other residents: Black widow MeMe (Susan Traylor), mentally ill Princess (Jane Wiedlin), Bible-thumper Esther (Mink Stole), butch lesbian Dutch (Pleasant Gehman). The only other contact they have is with a guard they call Amazon (Stacy Cunningham), who delights in giving the prisoners the humiliation she feels they deserve.

Another feature at BUFF, American Grindhouse, had a segment on "educational" exploitation pictures, where informative or socially relevant content was used as a smokescreen to justify the films' actual draw of sex, violence, and nudity. That's the sort of picture that Stuck! is recreating, although it seems to be doing so in reverse: Offering up the promise of shower scenes and a "riot" in order to give the audience a story of abuses of power within prison, the dangers of the death penalty, and the unreliability of eyewitness testimony. Decidedly not the campy, salacious material one might be expecting.

And that's problematic. It is a note-perfect recreation of a certain style of film from the 1950s and 1960s, with crisp black-and-white photography, a very straightforward way of telling the story, and a very dated acting style. Not hammy or theatrical, but direct and relatively affectless. And there's something very odd to watching a film that is trying to capture what is generally considered a dated style and succeeding. When watching a genuine vintage film, our brains make allowances for the period and the budget; watching this, knowing it was shot in the twenty-first century. It is, objectively, just as good or bad as its forebears, but why work so hard to recapture that, warts and all? Director Steve Bladerson must simply enjoy that style without irony. I'm not sure how many others do; why make a movie in a way that is generally seen as something to ridicule?

It's not totally unreasonable to do so. There is something actually pleasantly unaffected about many of the performances, not quite naturalistic but not hitting the right tone so precisely. Starina Johnson's character undergoes a pair of metamorphoses in personality over the course of the film, sudden enough to seem jarring (although the sort of trauma she's dealing with will do that), but she finds ways within each persona to sting the audience a little bit more than expected. Karen Black plays things somewhat broadly, but does her part to keep her parallel story interesting. And the various actresses playing the other prisoners do a fine job of making their characters sympathetic without being completely lacking in edge.

"Stuck!" has problems, both in perception (it is hard not to expect something more parodic) and internal - the whole thing is kicked off by someone doing something stupid (if only Mama hadn't waited several hours for Daisy to come home so blame could fall on her). Other bits, like occasional cut-aways to the warden, are choices that don't actually gain the film much. But if you like the sort of movie "Stuck!" comes from, legitimately and sincerely, it's not a bad example of the form, even if the form is fifty years out of vogue.

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originally posted: 04/03/10 15:03:32
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Boston Underground Film Festival For more in the 2010 Boston Underground Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

12/02/10 xc052 Great review, articulate & spot-on. 2 stars
4/04/10 millers24 Loved this movie, acting was great! 5 stars
3/15/10 dirtzoo it's amazing! 5 stars
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  N/A (NR)
  DVD: 09-Nov-2010



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