Worth Putting in Your Netflix Queue, Vol. 1



The King of Marvin Gardens (1972)

Silly twentysomething videophiles! And you thought that the Coen Brothers and Wes Anderson had invented quirky, elliptical dramas about complicated family relationships and/or hustles gone bad? Check out Bob Rafaelson's follow-up to Five Easy Pieces, with Jack Nicholson in the kind of understated role of which he became physically incapable later in his career: as a morose monologist on some kind of public access radio who's summoned to Atlantic City when his brother ends up in jail. (The movie opens with a fascinating, if disorienting, soliloquy that begins with Nicholson sighing heavily into his microphone, "Did I ever tell you why I don't eat fish?") Bruce Dern is an excellent foil as the gregarious sibling, the Misstra-Know-It-All with some kind of sketchy real estate plan in mind. Add, too, Scatman Crothers as an enigmatic crime boss and Ellen Burstyn as a mentally unstable lover, competing for Dern's affections with her stepdaughter. The story doesn't move according to any kind of recognizable narrative schematic, and--if you believe Roger Ebert's review anyway--there's maybe a bit too much heavy-handed symbolism drawn from the game Monopoly, but if you're looking for something different, this it it.


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MICHAEL BORSHUK is Associate Professor of African American Literature at Texas Tech University. He is the author of SWINGING THE VERNACULAR: JAZZ AND AFRICAN AMERICAN MODERNIST LITERATURE (Routledge, 2006), and numerous essays, reviews, and encyclopedia entries on African American literature, American modernism, and music. For ten years, from 1999 to 2009, he wrote on jazz regularly for CODA MAGAZINE. His fiction has appeared in ANTIGONISH REVIEW, DALHOUSIE REVIEW, ELYSIAN FIELDS QUARTERLY, SHORT STORY, and 34TH PARALLEL.

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