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Making the Grade (1989)
Actors turn auteurs with unscintillating results
The upfront credit for Direction listing Miss Sharon Mitchell & Billy Dee puts unfortunate pressure on MAKING THE GRADE to deliver, and it doesn't. It's not terrible, like the earlier Judd Nelson film with that name, but it's still a nothing feature,.
Uninviting genre of schoolgirls' sex lives while boning up for exams (pun intended) has a rather poorly chosen lineup of Lynn LeMay (way too mature looking, more likely to be cast as a teacher), opposite Tara Collins and Tabatha Fox, neither of them of star quality.
Sasha Gabor with a very bad grey rinse in his hair plays the kids' professor, while our directorial duo get things off to a very bad start by having the femme trio hanging out with Raven Richards, who emerges (if the viewer can fill in a lot of blanks) as sort of their den mother. I thought at first that she was just an overage student to make a quartet -but she does fill the bill doing her typecast stint as a motherly lesbian (actually switch-hitter, getting a hump scene with Buck Adams as almost a script-afterthought).
Buck, who can be exasperating if the director allows (see him overact miserably in Patti Rhodes' crummy LOTTERY LUST) was apparently sat on heavily by Miss Mitchell & Billy, as he underplays his role of handyman whose dick is always at the ready.
The video's theme has to do with integrity, as the girls quarrel over cheating on their psych exam, ultimately giving in to temptation. The show ends on a morally questionable note, the auteurs evidently assuming that just since it's porn then who cares? Given Mitch's well- known humanitarian philosophy (in an odd way she's the Bono of porn, and I don't mean Sonny), I found this lapse extremely disappointing.
Well-done very minor porn drama
Michael Raven's XXX output is highly variable, but he impressed me with this less pretentious than usual adult drama, ADRENALINE. The title's a bit misleading, because this variation on the NATURAL BORN KILLERS genre is more thoughtful than violent or high-pitched.
Director's interview on the DVD helpfully indicates he was inspired to write the script after visiting the location, a tiny California town used for shooting films, not unlike those simple Western sets that used to be in constant demand. It gives the feature (a video release shot on film) a nice timeless feel, as the director intended.
Simplicity is the key, with runaway thrill-seekers Evan Stone and Ava Vincent blowing into town in his red sports car, killing the local gas station/convenience store attendant for no reason after lifting a few bucks from his cash register,. Since it's a non-sex bit role, the gas jockey is played by the crew's electrician, Ric Rodney.
Though Vincent is more than a handful, Stone also dallies with local waitress Jessica Drake, who gets star billing and is the selling point for the video. (I was surprised that Vincent, who IMDb insists on calling by her more real name Jewel, has the larger role.) That's pretty much the entire plot of a concise feature that in the pre-porn days would have made a compelling 1-hour anthology drama on TV (I'm thinking of my fave, the Altman-driected "Bus Stop" episode memorably starring Fabian).
Dillion Day is well-cast as the local sheriff in this tiny cast, with Julie Meadows thrown into the mix in the final reels almost as an after-thought as an FBI agent so that another sex scene can bring the video up to porn quota. Even so, fans of the latter-day wall-to-wall sex persuasion will likely be disappointed by Raven's tilting of the balance to more acting, less sex in this opus. Speaking of acting, I could see why Stone won an industry acting award for his Brando-inspired (but more subtle) performance as the leather-jacketed killer.
I liked the ending which went completely against the clichés of various genres by having the thrill killers go out in an OFF-SCREEN "Butch & Sundance" blaze of glory -no blood, no guts, just inevitability. This set up the proper mood of helplessness for protagonist Drake, left behind seemingly sans exit in her 1-horse town.
Erotica Jones (1985)
Throwaway vehicle strictly for Christy fanatics
I'm glad to see Christy Canyon, who I liked immediately back in 1984 via ON GOLDEN BLONDE, has maintained a fan base over the decades, but EROTICA JONES strictly massages the fans rather than trying to be a good video. Clearly auteurs Scotty Fox and Raven Touchstone were merely meeting their monthly porn quota.
Christy's in the title role as a stroke book author, unbeknownst to her hubby, old Harry Reems, a professor of literature no less. As she types at her pleasantly old-fashioned typewriter, the "literature" which resembles stag-movie premises, is illustrated for us by come-to-life vignettes starring Christy. That's the entire video, using a gimmick normally conjured up to string old loops together for re-use, but this time a lazy way of creating vignette porn from scratch.
Paul Thomas uses the occasion to ham it up wildly as a blind salesman who knocks on Christy's door. I couldn't tell if he was simply doing a lousy job or attempting to inject in very bad taste some of the mannerisms (think: cocking the head backward suddenly) of Ray Charles or Jose Feliciano, artists who I assume P.T. really admires (though his musical career was stillborn after so promising a start as Jesus Christ SUPERSTAR). He uses a specialty of "Braille of Anatomy" to feel up and then hump Christy, later appearing in a troilism segment with her and gal pal Pat Manning
Manning also pops up to give CC a massage and lesbian loving, while a silly skit by Marc Wallice and Dino Alexander has the temerity to ape CYRANO DE BERGERAC, sort of. Cheri Janvier and Jessica Hunter/Mannfield tag team at CC's door as an unlikely team: jewelry saleslady and political pollster, just as an excuse for a lesbian 3-way.
Reems, who at this point in his career was lending his name to guest shot walk-throughs, doesn't try very hard in his non-reaction to the revelation that wifey is really EJ, and dutifully humps his wife per his contract with AVC. After a pointless further revelation that CC's mom was a famous erotic novelist herself, video mercifully ends with a particularly pointless R- rated curtain call as imaginary cast magically climbs naked onto the bed with our couple.
Unfortunately Christy came along just as video was replacing 35mm film in the adult biz, and was never accorded a quality production to showcase her beauty & talent. Instead fans have a string of excuses for f&s filler like this to remember her by.
Amanda by Night 2 (1988)
Not bad, but definitely redundant porn sequel
There's no point railing against movie sequels: they were probably invented by Thomas Edison, Georges Melies or D.W. Griffith and are with us to stay. AMANDA BY NIGHT 2 is a belated (copyright 1987, six years later) followup that basically imitates rather than extends the classic original.
Veronica Hart is back but just in two scenes (well-acted of course) as Amanda, now running a counseling center for prostitutes current and ex-. We find out late in the film that her cop husband passed away (a reference to the romantic finish of the first film opposite cop R. Bolla).
Taking over center stage is a favorite of mine Krista Lane, quite good in a substantial role for a change, though obviously in Hart's shadow. She's Melissa, an upwardly mobile whore who is put in exactly the same situation as Amanda was: presumed witness who might identify the killer of a her roommate & fellow whore Bridget. Adult Video News gave writer/producer Harold Lime best screenplay kudos for his retread of the earlier script - as if anyone takes (or took for that matter) such accolades seriously in the first place.
Taking over Bolla's slot is Robert Bullock, way too earnest as the cop who falls for Krista and is incorruptible. Villainesses of the piece are Ona Z (I was amused at her billing as Ona Zimmerman, rarely used instead of her trademark Z or Zee), a prostie wrangler who's deeply involved with evil pimp/club owner Billy Zee (in the Jamie Gillis role), plus a busty version of Tracey Adams as evil Madam George.
The bad guys are Eric Edwards as a corrupt guy (similar to John Alderman's role in the original) and Herschel Savage, who had a bit part in the original but is upgraded to primary involvement this time. A new wrinkle, which eats up screen time but was considered necessary to up the sexual content, is Nina Hartley as an undercover cop seducing both Savage and Billy Dee.
Pace lags terribly in the final reels, with the movie only saved by Hart's return to tie together key dangling plot threads. Even so, a vast amount of exposition is recited in the final three minutes as Bullock and Hartley discuss the case ad nauseum, prior to a final Bullock/Lane smooch to mirror the end of Part 1.
Jack Remy takes over as director/cinematographer from Gary Graver and does a workmanlike job. I could see where if the first film didn't exist, this Part 2 would be laudable, but like the many U.S. remakes of French films (or Fincher's recent dull re-do of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO) the original is so much better it renders #2 as extraneous and ho-hum.
Pier Groups (1979)
Gay porn packs a subtle emotional message
Gay porn director Arch Brown delivers a surprisingly effective statement slipped into the otherwise routine XXX movie PIER GROUPS. Even hetero viewers, with fast-forward button at the ready to speed through ho-hum sex footage, will get the message, a haunting one at that.
Rich Anthoni, who was also effective in SUBWAY years later, portrays Rik, a gay guy who gets a phone call from his boss giving him the day off and decides to go cruising at the west-side piers (south of what is now the thriving Chelsea Piers) in search of transitory love.
What we see is a subculture of gay men hanging around the Hudson River having anonymous sex with all comers. It is a silent and seemingly melancholy world, though of course the film presents it matter-of-factly in the documentary fashion of vintage porn features.
Setting SUBWAY (which is mostly shot MOS and plays effectively like a silent movie) apart from the norm is Brown's setting up a parallel story of Rik's neighbor in his West Village apartment building named Joe, who is introduced sleeping next to his wife. We see both men leave on the stairs, one to go to work surveying the piers for a reclamation project, and the other cruising. The film ends with the two returning home at the same time, and final shot is Rik's wistful gaze in the hallway at Joe smooching with his wife, just home herself with the groceries. The simplicity of this truly moving final shot is what makes watching random, unknown films (as I like to do) worth the time and trouble.
Highly atmospheric gay porn
Watching as objectively as possible from a hetero p-o-v I found the XXX sex scenes in SUBWAY to be routine and boring, but the film generated a palpable NYC atmosphere that was very impressive. Too bad filmmaker Ian McGraw couldn't have been making a non-sex movie instead.
What we have is a guy (knowns as Leather Vest Man), who vaguely looks like Jake Gyllenhaal, latter's BROKEBACK assignment 2 decades later a pure coincidence) haunting the IRT stations in search of brothers to love. Midway through the film he answers a phone ringing in a phone booth near Penn Station (there's a plot ploy hardly used again until the current "Person of Interest" TV series) and a guy named Rolf tells him to meet him one stop south (28th Street) to be introduced to a literally underground club of anonymous sex-seekers.
The orgy that ensues is guys mechanically doing the f&s routine, with even the novelty of a cock poking through a hole in the wall being familiar from many other adult movies. McGraw delivers the requisite quantity of sex for an adult movie house denizen to watch, but it's dull.
Where SUBWAY excels is its practical locations on Manhattan's West Side. The density of graffiti drawn on all the walls and especially on the subway cars is a tangible reminder of what was, and a good corrective to the cult of nostalgia that has cropped up in recent years for "pre-Disney" NYC.
The musical accompaniment is jazz, beginning naturally enough with "Take the 'A' Train" but mostly Chick Corea in his electric band days. Finale packed a wallop for me, as the movie ends with a mournful shot of a train departing the 23rd Street station - right near where I live so I've been in there 10,000 times, though never standing around late at night.
Office Fantasies (1984)
Its cast list and age can fool you, but OFFICE FANTASIES is merely video filler with more in common with the junk ground out in recent years that its Golden Age contemporaries. Avoid at all costs.
Premise of this shot-on-video quickie is Honey Wilder in charge of the typing pool (how quaint) at Lawrence Industries, writing a book about her experiences. We watch basically unedited, real-time sex scenes taking place in the offices, and that's about it. Such luminaries as Eric Edwards and Sharon Kane probably fit this one in during a lunch hour between their more prestigious assignments.
A performer I'm not familiar with, slim blonde Karen Jeffries, made an okay impression but has no other credits -perhaps she is Cassandra Leigh who has been added to the cast list by an eagle-eyed IMDb-er?
Silliest moment is when the camera zooms out a window (location seems to be an office on Times Square) to focus on a huge Calvin Klein Jeans sign during a sex scene - viva Product Placement!
Dinner with Samantha (1983)
Video so bad it explains why Sam left the business
Opening scene set in a restaurant with Samantha Fox shooting the breeze with Frank James frightened me into thinking I'd be watching a porn retread of Louis Malle's DINNER WITH ANDRE. What followed was far worse, a slipshod shot-on-video hour of filler.
It's video junk like this which undoubtedly drove Fox and many others out of the adult cinema biz, the quality they were used to in the '70s (when shooting on film with decent schedules) having evaporated. There's no director credit on DINNER, for good reason.
Slim and often contradictory plot line has Sam hankering to buy and run a restaurant of her own, while callous hubby Bobby Astyr rejects the idea, citing previous stillborn brainstorms of hers. Little does she know that he's plotting to take all their money and split (by bus, it is emphasized) with girl friend Gina Martell. A later plot twist was botched and didn't fly, with the video ending quite abruptly (on a cum shot) with any still-awake viewer left hanging.
Production elements, including the videography and sound recording, are unprofessional, and the cast is clearly bored. Even from an archival completeness point-of-view this junker might as well be destroyed with zero loss to anyone.
Like a Virgin 2 (1986)
Lousy retread recycling original's footage
Sequels have a bad connotation and this followup explains why. At least a dozen "flashbacks" of old footage from the original LIKE A VIRGIN are inserted at regular Pavlovian intervals with most of the screen covered in a white oval haze as a lame attempt to cash in twice.
New footage and storyline have no relationship to the title but rather represent Peter North telling us he's taken over his firm, fired everyone and hired a brand-new staff who will meet each other at a party at his home. That's the entire back-of-an-envelope screenplay, but masochists will be able to see degraded "highlights" of Christy Canyon and pals breaking up the continuity. Irony is that this stinker is in circulation as part of a Canyon 3-fer from Alpha Blue Archives when obviously Part 1 would have been the logical archival choice.
Bunny Bleu is the nominal lead here, though all the gals have sexual assignments. Biggest surprise is that some of them, like Keli Richards and Patti Petite, are known for their anal specialty but do not indulge in this cut-rate loser.
Main set-piece is an orgy in which folks pair off, or go for troilism, with North ending up being serviced by 3 women at once when good ole Sharon Mitchell shows up via a credit Jodie Foster would love: "as The Beaver". Miss Mitch is done up with weird eye makeup, a flimsy cellophane outfit and no dialog in this lame guest appearance. She also ends the video on a strange note, literally slithering out the door, more reptilian than of the buck-toothed rodent persuasion.
The randomly inserted archive footage is blamed on North's mental state where (for the purpose of video cheapness) he constantly is reminiscing at the viewer's expense. Even the least competent editor would have to concede that VIRGIN II would play better with all these old snippets removed.
Most incompetent new scene has North interrupted in his 4-some by Scott Irish entering the room and demanding that Buffy Davis come with him for some 1-on-1 action, as awkward a transition as I've seen in ages. It merely demonstrates that director Roy Karch couldn't care less about the quality of this desultory assignment.
The Red Robin (2013)
Beware the hype for a morbid failure
I caught this pretentious, wearying film last Saturday and was surprised to read this morning the hyperbolic praise on IMDb so far. Here's my minority report and warning, with the reasons I hated it intensely.
1. Wrong genre: Film is a psychological thriller, but the filmmaker adopts the trappings, many of them over- used and counterproductive, of the supernatural horror film. We have the time-honored cliché "return of the repressed", a spooky house replete with light bulbs flickering and later candlelight, gathering of a family with secrets, relatives with suspicious behavior, loud sound effects and even cornball spooky music. It doesn't fit the filmmaker's supposedly serious message in the Edward Snowden government paranoia vein.
2. Bad technique: Besides the poor choices mentioned above, film was shot with digital Red camera rather than 35mm, immediately apparent with its ugly metallic color scheme, lack of "warmth" always a telltale of TV vs. cinema (watch any cheap Syfy Channel show). This evidently monetary decision gives the film a limited visual palate and one-note look throughout.
3. Poor acting: While name talent like Judd Hirsch and Caroline Lagerfelt provide adequate characterizations, the key red herring character, their natural son who is automatically at odds with the adopted siblings, is incompetently played. I thought this was on purpose (that sounds silly and it is) to make him the Prime Suspect, but it was more likely poor casting and bad direction/acting.
4. Deus ex machina: The entire solution to the film's mystery after endless clues pointing in a different direction is the sudden appearance (via flashbacks) of the story's key missing character, responsible for the key chain of events that are the spine of the story. There is a crudely inserted setup scene early in the film that fails to prepare the viewer for the springing of this key figure on us late in the day and it is a terrible, to be avoided at all costs dramatic element of screen writing 101.
5 Pretentiousness: Right from his opening credit "Produced, Written and Directed by" auteur Michael was suspect because the usual ordering is W, P and D. By listing Written second he betrayed perhaps subconsciously a diminution of that role's importance, almost admitting that "getting the damn thing made" took over from creativity. The fact that it's been in the can since 2013 is a very bad sign, apart from the sycophantic showings at "film festivals" (an anachronistic aspect of the industry that still thrives worldwide for no good reason).
6. Signs of the amateur: Endless end credits betray the pernicious modern trend of "thank yous" according screen credit to hundreds of peripheral figures. The fact that beyond having Hirsch as first choice the director also considered Albert Finney and Maximilian Schell (latter would have really taken the film to an "evil bogeyman" precipice) doesn't mean they should get thank yous at film's end alongside James Earl Jones and even Dr. J - this is patently silly. The only end credit I found amusing is a theme song sung by a group named Hands Off My Sister.