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"Would you die for Christina?" Naah, not particularly
The pop-artish U.S. one-sheet for this film promises great things -- a treacherous protagonist, a house on fire, somebody wearing leather fetish gear before BDSM was a widely known activity. Well, all those elements can be found, but unfortunately, they're integrated into a plodding mystery that a viewer would swear was a '70's TV movie-of-the-week except the film is in Panavision and the pacing is even slower.
The premise initially offers hope for intrigue. A long-unemployed man gets a too-good-to-be-true offer from a mysterious lady who appears to know everything about his situation except what TV shows he watches while atrophying at home: agree to a paper marriage so she can avoid immigration hassles, and collect a tidy sum. And like many thriller heroes of a bygone era, he does not have the benefit of the collected works of David Mamet to alert him to when he's being set up for a Spanish Prisoner, so of course he plays along. And before you can say Charlie Lampert, he receives his money, but she vanishes. Most men would be content to have the cash and the absentee wife, but no, the sap loves this woman he's barely known, and insists on tracking her down.
Thus follows the requisite journey among mercenary investigators, cynical cops, know-nothing butlers, hit men, porn dealers, transvestites, phony mediums, and an oh-so-helpful Girl Friday, as our hero finds out Christina is Not Who She Seemed! By the time we arrive at the climax that involves one of the most long-winded instances of the inveterate Myth of the Talking Killer, conveniently explaining the whole sordid plan to a minor character we've known for only ten minutes, The Big Reveal is just not that big a deal anymore.
Writer/Producer Trevor Wallace apparently was connected to several convoluted thrillers of the '70's, the best received being THE GROUNDSTAR CONSPIRACY with George Peppard, on which he served as producer only. He can twist the plot around fine, but he can't put any real sense of urgency into the matter. Nor does star Peter Haskell makes us believe it is paramount for him to find his elusive beloved.
Barbara Parkins meanwhile is a gorgeous, reasonably interesting, and somewhat campy vamp, particularly when she shows up, in soft focus, in the previously mentioned bondage gear. One wonders if there was more exploration of this character's deviant personality trait filmed, but omitted to secure the film's PG rating. But she's also such a cold fish that any other man would have taken a page from Bunuel's THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE and just dumped a bucket of water on her head and walked away.
And thus so should you if you have opportunity to view this poor potboiler. Some films stay obscure for a reason. But if you find a copy of the poster, go ahead and get it: it will be a lot more entertaining on your wall than the movie will be on your television.
Let's Do It! (1982)
If only Mr. B.I.G. worried about satisfaction as much as his protagonist.
Very early '80's and very politically incorrect, LET'S DO IT! has a really terrific and timely premise: the poor hero is so concerned about making sure he pleases his girlfriend sexually, he can't perform at all, much to her constant annoyance. His attempts to work out his problems elsewhere with other women turn out no better, because, well shucks, he likes these other girls too and doesn't want to let them down either. Forget about the old saw that nice guys finish last, he can't even get started! There's lots of genuinely funny moments in here, almost all involving the hero's botched encounters and the extremely accommodating women who put up with him, as well as his girlfriend's increasingly surreal bedroom fantasies as she waits for him to settle his hash. This is one of those glorious fantasy worlds where all hookers are pretty, affluent, and will even fix you coffee and dinner while they casually talk of their checkered pasts, ridiculous but rather sweet compared to the snarky oversexualized Maxim mercenarianism of modern low-budget sex comedies.
The problem here is that multitasker Bert I. Gordon, much more suited to giant monster romps like EMPIRE OF THE ANTS and FOOD OF THE GODS, lets the pace drag and the laughs become distant memories, while not providing any interesting characters or developing them, something that the filmmakers behind THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN and the American PIE films figured out to their success. I am reminded of apocryphal stories of how writers on "YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS" would submit sketches to Sid Caesar, and in turn he would go to their office with the script, lift up their desks and slam them down, bellowing "FUNNIER!" Gordon clearly could have used another punch-up on this otherwise solid material.
If every piece of '80's nostalgia has to get remade, this is something that should get optioned and redone the right way.
By Hook or by Crook (2001)
Remember those names
A good and trusted friend asked me to watch this with her, and I am very glad she asked me and that I did. Now that's going to sound funny when I go on to say that I don't think this movie really works, but stay with me. And keep in mind I'm an essentially straight male watching a film geared almost exclusively to butch lesbians, so my opinion may seem worthless anyway.
I'll start with the faults. It's crudely cut, paced too leisurely, and it's basically insular and a little too in love with itself; it's coasting on the charisma of it's lead characters to make up for the fact that there is little real meat to this movie. The story lines involving lost fathers and petty crime seem underdeveloped and tacked-on for the sake of having something, anything to drive what little plot there is.
But, the strengths begin front and center with Harry Dodge. You can't take your eyes off when Dodge is on screen, the presence is that magnetic. And the dialogue that's been created in tandem with partner Silas gets you interested in them. And yes, while I criticized the lack of solid ground for a story, the characters kept my interest throughout.
What I am saying here is that I felt a sizzle in the same manner that I felt when I saw the first works of Alison Maclean or Katja von Garnier, or what critics in the '50's felt watching the first Cassavettes or Godard. Like those early debuts, this film by itself is not accessible to a 'regular' audience, but the talent and potential is obvious and exciting, and as a viewer I become quite interested in seeing their next film. In fact, I think if I were a producer watching this, I would want to bankroll their next film the same way Mel Brooks took a gamble on David Lynch.
So yes, by my friend corralling me into watching this, I got to walk in on the ground floor of what should be an exciting film-making team. With the right balance of impulse and discipline, I think Silas Howard and Harry Dodge are going to create something big in the future.
Hollywood 90028 (1973)
A missed opportunity for a budding '70's female director
There are occasions when I watch a movie and decide that while the film itself is not working, the person who made it has genuine talent and I get quite curious about them and want to see what else they can do. And this was what happened when I watched Hollywood 90028.
First off, do not be fooled by the many retitlings (INSANITY, TWISTED THROATS, THE Hollywood HILLSIDE STRANGLER) that sell this movie as a slasher film. The film is ultimately a screed against Hollywood in general, and pornography in particular. Even if you do not see the credits up front that identify the director as female, you can see a feminist point-of-view permeate the story.
The main character, Mark, shoots porn loops to make a living, a job he performs with a minimum of enthusiasm. He came to L.A. to be a real cameraman, after all. And he has held this job too long. He is impatient with his oafish boss. He tries to get a legit assignment but lies about his reels being in another city, knowing he'll never be taken seriously if he admits his work in porn. And most importantly, his ability to deal with women is in trouble. The clever still-photo credits hint at him being the youngest of an otherwise all-girl family, which is likely feeding his problem. But it becomes full trouble when a winsome model from one of his shoots takes a liking to him. He has already seen her naked and seductive, so he grows impatient when, on an impulsive date with her, she won't engage in anything physical.
As the opening reel played, I strongly suspected that this likely began as a student film. It had some pacing troubles, some amateurish acting, and it went from being dialogue-less at its opening to very dialogue-heavy later on. But it also had some very nice visual touches to it, the kinds of experiments one is encouraged to try in what was the adventurous climate of what film schools were like in the '70's (as opposed to the mini-job factory/fiefdoms they are today). And I could see that there was an agenda at work, something that a first-time filmmaker often attempts because they figure this is their one time at bat to get it across. It seems to me that much like John Carpenter and Dan O'Bannon lucked out with DARK STAR, some enterprising producer saw a rough version of Hornisher and Hansen's project and offered to pick it up and release it if they could make it feature length. Only in their case, sadly, unlike the story of DARK STAR, this did not lead to greater things for director Hornisher and writer Hansen.
Something that hurts the movie right away is it's current false presentation as a horror film. The print I saw opens with a heavy petting session that becomes a strangulation -- creatively done, mind you -- and then no other violence occurs for nearly forty minutes. The audience I was with was enraged. In retrospect, I sense this opening murder was tacked on by the distributor to pad the film and make it more violent. The languid story evolution that follows suggests that it is supposed to be a shock to us when Mark does in fact become a violent killer of women, no doubt due to the dehumanizing influence of his environment. Maybe in the '70's this bait-and-switch put more bums in seats, but if they were anything like the folks I was with tonight, they were not gonna stay there long. Frankly, I felt bad for Hornisher, who was clearly trying to make NOT A LOVE STORY, only to see it sold like the infamous Hustler magazine meat-grinder cover.
However, to give lumps to the filmmakers, since it's a polemic, it's too preachy. There are long, Long, LONG conversations all through the movie. To Hornisher's credit, they are juxtaposed with and against on screen action, much like Godard before and Soderbergh later on, so at least it's not just watching a pair of talking heads. A monologue by the wan model about how she succumbs to the lure of porn work, intercut with still photos depicting the descent, is quite good. But even patient me began to want all the philosophizing to stop and for someone to take a definitive step, for good or for ill.
Let me say that the movie wraps up with a great finish, one that even managed to win over the cynical loudmouths in the crowd and keep them talking about it long after it ended. It satisfies both the gorehounds waiting for death while fully in keeping with Hornisher and Hansen's downer portrayal of "the business."
In short, while I can't recommend this to a casual viewer, I was rather impressed with this debut, and I'm very sorry Christina Hornisher and Craig Hansen did not make another film. With better supervision, they could have been on a par with the other scrappy unwashed talents of the '70's.
"What are we going to film about The Other Generation?"
There's nothing quite so amusing and yet so sad as filmmakers trying to depict characters and lifestyles that they have no more than a cursory knowledge about. And so it is with this terribly earnest drama about youthful discontent, where stereotypes abound.
Paul Richards plays a frustrated novelist in his mid-'20's who glumly decides to accept a teaching job from his wealthy aunt, who runs a well-heeled girls' school in Southern California. And the story keeps on hitting the late '60's hot button issues from there. His aunt (Dana Wynter, who gets top billing yet really has no more than 20 minutes screen time) struggles with trying to reconcile her position of respectability while engaged in a sexual relationship with the school psychiatrist -- you see, neither of them are married, which would be a complete non-issue now, but was obviously SCANDALOUS back then. His most problem student (Tiffany Bolling in her first starring role) is a mouthy troublemaker compensating for being ignored by her jet-setting parents. And his best friend and writing mentor is another professor (Ray Danton) who is so ultra-cynical and with-it he ultimately up and quits the place just after his younger friend's arrival.
The original shooting title of the movie was FACADE, which is ultimately much more apropos to the filmmakers' intentions, because all the characters are engaged in a performance of "Two Faces Have I": Todd Pearson is the teacher but he really knows nothing, matronly Olive Millikan wants to enjoy sex as much as the students she keeps in line, student Sharon McClure just plays at being a bad girl and really wants to be loved, and Professor Di Fermi...well, he's keeping a bunch of secrets. TRIANGLE may have been the sexier sounding title to get the pruriently curious in the door, but it's false advertising: only until the last third of the movie is there even a whiff of some sort of relationship triangle, and it's not even isosceles.
TRIANGLE is not an effective drama. As much as it wants to be depicting "edgy" sexual behavior, it's all too tame -- even a wine party sequence likely inspired by John Frankenheimer's SECONDS doesn't deliver any kind of turn-on. Unfortunately, it's not even good for camp value, because all the performances are reasonably well-acted and quite restrained; there's nothing over the top to ridicule. You can laugh at Paul Richards' perpetual sullenness or Tiffany's bravado, or the portrayals of the "big issues" of the time, but those titters dissipate into general boredom over the course of viewing.
What is interesting to watch in this movie though is Tiffany Bolling. She's compelling, pretty, and definitely makes an impression as a good actress. It wouldn't be later, until her unofficial drive-in trilogy (THE CANDY SNATCHERS, BONNIE'S KIDS, THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS), where she would get to fully display her range and become a cult movie icon.
This is a very hard movie to get a hold of, but as much as I hate to say it, you're not missing much from its absence.
Country Blue (1973)
The perfect necking-at-the-drive-in movie
Alright, stripping down to the essence, this is standard "southern discomfort" storytelling - poverty, crime, sex, corruption, and retribution. There's nothing inherently clever in the individual elements: we've seen 'em all before, and mostly done better. It does have the strength of atmospheric authenticity: it was shot in the South, and it feels real. The locations are appropriately weatherbeaten and lived-in, the character's behaviors don't feel over-the-top stereotypical; you get the notion real Southerners put this together. And of course, who doesn't love Dub Taylor? What I find most effective and interesting is that this movie has the perfect pace for a drive-in date. Whenever things get boring or a scene with the hero and his girl goes a little too long, you suspect this is when people in their cars would in turn focus on their beloved and start with the midnight baseball. You know how on the old Letterman show he'd sometimes say, "When you see me enjoy a delicious beverage, feel free to enjoy one at home"? The kissin' n' huggin' scenes seem to be giving the same signal to the viewer: it's follow-the-leader time. And sure enough, it puts all the really important plot detail and high-speed action at the end, just in time for when the average lover would have depleted their personal energies and would turn their attention back to the movie. Don't believe me? Try it at home sometime. It's much more fun than playing one of those sitcom drinking games.
The Roommates (1973)
Serial killing makes summer vacation so exciting
Okay, right off the bat, this is not one of the better exploitation movies, even by the reliable standards of Arthur Marks as director. (See DETROIT 9000 or BONNIE'S KIDS or his numerous TV show episodes for evidence of his good work) But it's strangely endearing, despite the fact that it takes nearly half an hour for the actual plot of the movie to begin. Four very lovely, vivacious, and unrealistically loquacious college girls (five, if you count the visiting cousin) are off to their summer jobs. Despite the title, we rarely see any actual footage of any of these girls co-habitating. Then again, Bette Davis loved to point out that there were no whales in THE WHALES OF AUGUST, so what's in a title? And naturally, since this is the swingin' '70's, all those jobs put them in the vicinity of eligible men. So for the first half hour, it plays like a reasonably harmless, fluffy, "what I did last summer" romp. Then, two reels in, things take a curve, because people start getting killed. And by the rigid movie law governing murder mysteries, somebody, be it one of the babes or one of the beaus, is responsible. Of course, that little detail doesn't get in the way of the girls' continuing drive to party. In short, by our standards of irony, this movie is review-proof: you're going to be watching this for hot girls and archaic sexual mores, and you'll get 'em. I kinda wonder if Quentin Tarantino has seen this film and is a fan of it. He did acquire Marks' DETROIT 9000 for reissue, and his script for FROM DUSK TILL DAWN also starts out as one kind of movie and changes into another. I wouldn't be surprised if my hunch turned out correct.
Dear Lord, it's a topless MARNIE!!!
It never ceases to amuse me that once upon a time, films such as these were actually attended by "the raincoat contingent" looking for visual stimulation. Naturally, today, this would look really tame, seeing as how the adult content consists primarily of naked breasts and simulated undulating.
On the surface, this plays like a standard, dry plot that would easily serve as a letter to Penthouse forum: a woman visits a psychiatrist regularly to determine the cause of her conflicting feelings of nymphomania vs. sexual panic. There's cursory backstory about her one true love who was lost in Vietnam and how it would seem she merely flings with men to fill that void. And naturally, every "hot button" issue of the era -- lesbianism, sadomasochism, group orgies, even cross-dressing -- comes into play as the frustrated Norma goes into one flashback after another.
But 3/4 of the way in, after jarring uses of insert shots from the opening scene to punctuate her fear of sex, it finally hit me: this film is one huge MARNIE ripoff! Woman who runs hot and cold, teasing men then backing away from them, flirting with the man determined to "cure" her, clues that only make sense in the "hypnosis" finale -- there's even an agitated horse and a repressive mother. The only thing that's missing is the color red -- but on the print I saw, the whole movie had faded to a shade of red, so that's cosmic justice too.
So if you gather friends together to watch this for some cheap irony, those of you who are film literate may get a few extra kicks. Gotta give credit to the ersatz skinflick creators for hacking from Hitchcock.
La donna invisibile (1969)
If Harold Pinter wrote a RED SHOE DIARIES episode
This film had long been a subject of curiosity for me due to the very good score by Ennio Morricone which is available on CD. That music is basically the best thing the movie has to offer. Like many would-be "adult" dramas from overseas made in the late '60's to early '80's, it's very slow and static, especially in the dubbed version which I saw.
The slim plot involves Laura, a woman married to a respected college professor, who feels herself becoming so marginalized in her marriage as to be, as the Italian title states, invisible. Of course, it isn't helped that there's a quasi-predatory redhead with a pixie living in their stately home, ostensibly a cousin, but really just trying to have her way with the husband and wife. Or that's what she thinks anyway; the underlying theme is that her perceptions are often at odds with the reality of the situation. (Hence the alternate U.S. title of THE FANTASIES OF A SENSUOUS WOMAN)
As implied by the above summary, there are lots and LOTS of silences that I suppose are for dramatic tension, but just play badly. All of the characters are appropriately affluent, elegant, and bored; there is an even slimmer subplot about student rioting against the bourgeouisie, represented by Laura's professor husband, and how intrigued by the rebellion, she has an afternoon quickie with one such rebel. Maybe there was more to this that got cut by the American distributor, but ultimately, it gets abandoned. You could say this movie dramatizes the lives of the people who were at the EYES WIDE SHUT orgy outside of that castle. Unfortunately, those lives are not terribly interesting.
But do buy the soundtrack. You can't go wrong with the great Morricone.
Uneven but still fascinating capsule on early '70's
John G. Avildsen, before becoming the respectable director of uplifting "climb to victory" tales like ROCKY and 8 SECONDS, made this scattershot counterculture comedy about sex and suburbia. Like many movies of this period, including Brian DePalma's GREETINGS and Aram Avakian's END OF THE ROAD, the movie clumsily copies the jump-cutting, "fourth wall" breaking, and blackout staging of Jean-Luc Godard's inflential films previous to this, which may have seemed daring but serves now only to alienate the initial viewer of today. While there is the hint of a plot -- a community's resistence to sex education -- ultimately this is a clothesline to hang running gags: a too-vigilant vice cop, a suburban mom who talks in TV commercial jargon, a sheltered teen attracted to his babysitter, etc. Some gags are effective, others tedious. What does hold up in this movie is the actual sex education advice provided by the would-be visiting educator. It is honest, direct, and still relevant today. It stands out amid the ham-handed comedy antics. However, the message loses some effectiveness among the easy stereotyping of the middle-aged "squares." One cannot ask everything to be written as dryly and facutal as the average ABC Afterschool Special, but a little more realism and a little less condescending caricature would have given this the kind of longetivity that would make it better known, instead of the curious video obscurity it is now. Recommended primarily to those either nostalgic or curious about the early '70's.