Saturday, August 8, 2020

Update: "Of Whitesnakes and Witchboards... a Tawny Kitaen Retrospective"

Only now does it occur to me... you're all gonna have to wait just a little bit longer for the sixth and final installment of the Tawny Kitaen retrospective, given that my VCR ate the copy of WHITE HOT which I had so carefully obtained. 

I could probably splice it, but at what cost to the runtime? Rest assured, another copy of WHITE HOT is on the way, but it could be a couple of weeks.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Only now does it occur to me... GLORY YEARS (1987)

Only now does it occur to me... that GLORY YEARS is an exercise in abject mediocrity. An HBO "five-part comedy-adventure series" following the Las Vegas-centric antics of three extremely mediocre dudes––played by George Dzundza (THE DEER HUNTER, BASIC INSTINCT), Archie Hahn (PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE, GREMLINS 2), and Full Moon's own Tim Thomerson (TRANCERS, DOLLMAN)––

who gamble away the alumni fund from their twenty-year high school reunion and thereby launch a full two and a half hours' worth of half-baked Vegas shenanigans in the proto-HANGOVER vein. It's stale, it's lame, and it's peppered with weird, washed-up 80s cameos, like Mamie Van Doren as a madam

and Engelbert Humperdinck, Al Bernstein, and Joyce Brothers as themselves:

It's what the people want

When I made a heartfelt plea for Tim Thomerson to have larger, non-Charles Band-related roles in my review of NEAR DARK a decade (!) ago, I didn't mean this.

He does his best

However, the only reason we're here today is the "Of Whitesnakes and Witchboards... a Tawny Kitaen Retrospective."

And I've got the rootin-tootin zebra print to prove it!

As Thomerson's girlfriend, "Melinda,"

Kitaen is on screen for about 1/3 of the film, sometimes chiding Thomerson for being a sleaze, sometimes enacting wacky con-woman/gambler antics, sometimes just going around in statement bows, as is her wont.

At the very least, GLORY YEARS continues to establish two major trends in the Tawny canon. One is statement bows (see also: WITCHBOARD and CRYSTAL HEART). The other is getting married to a dopey dick at the climax (see also: BACHELOR PARTY).

Though, as you can see here, Tawny has combined her interest in weddings with her interest in statement bows. It's truly one of the Tawniest tableaux imaginable.

Generally speaking, her character is underused. She does get to sink her teeth into some comedy bits and a few dramatic scenes, however, so I'm sorry to report that a film this mediocre contains the role which might actually afford her the most performative range since she was possessed by a Depression-era axe murderer in WITCHBOARD. At the very least, GLORY YEARS demonstrates that Tawny deserved to play a supporting role in one of the sprawling Robert Altman Americana-mosaics, like SHORT CUTS or H.E.A.L.T.H. or A WEDDING; I just get the sense that she would have been a perfect fit for such an endeavor.

There are a shocking amount of Beatles tracks and classic Oldies tunes on the soundtrack which demonstrate that it was made during the sweet spot for music licensing, apparently. (Or else HBO dumped way too much money into this mess.) We also get a young Chazz Palminteri (THE USUAL SUSPECTS, A BRONX TALE) as a mafia hitman:

And the inimitable "Tiny" Lister (EXTREME PREJUDICE, NO HOLDS BARRED) as a hired goon who gets to make some delightfully over-the-top acting choices.

In the end, I would warn you to skip GLORY YEARS, but it would be difficult enough to stumble upon it in the course of a normal existence that I don't think it even requires such a warning. Can we let the Tawny retrospective end on such a note of mediocrity? I think not: stay tuned.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Film Review: CRYSTAL HEART (1986, Gil Bettman)

Crystal Hearts: At least one, I guess.
Running Time: 103 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Tawny Kitaen (THE PERILS OF GWENDOLINE IN THE LAND OF THE YIK-YAK, WITCHBOARD), Lee Curreri ("Bruno" from FAME the movie, "Bruno" from FAME the TV series), Lloyd Bochner (POINT BLANK, THE MAN IN THE GLASS BOOTH), May Heatherly (Juan Piquer Simón's PIECES, GOYA'S GHOSTS), Simón Andreu (DIE ANOTHER DAY, THE BLOOD-SPATTERED BRIDE). Music by Joel Goldsmith, Jerry Goldsmith's son.
Tag-line: "A girl who has a dream. A boy who needs a miracle. The music brought them together."
Best one-liner: "I'll never be the icing on your cake!"

In a familiar, darkened alleyway:

"Listen up, boyo, I have for you the perfect quarantine movie."
–"A bold claim. Weren't you doing a Tawny Kitaen retrospective, or something?"
"Indeed I am."
–"So what are we looking at here?"
"In a broad sense, let's call it THE BOY IN THE BUBBLE meets LOVE STORY meets, I don't know, a Whitesnake music video?"
"It's called CRYSTAL HEART and it really lives up to the hype. As in, 'because no one's seen it, there is no hype.'"
"So meet the 'rich boy' in a bubble, Christopher Newley (played by Lee Curreri, best known as 'Bruno' the keyboardist in FAME). Due to an immune system deficiency, which isn't really explained particularly well, he is confined to a glass-walled, pressurized chamber.

His bubble-chamber takes up the entire basement level of his Beverly Hills mansion, and his parents make sure he has every amenity. He has a live-in nurse who indulges him, full-time. When the futuristic dumbwaiter that delivers his food opens up, it has the same sound effect as the doors in STAR TREK: THE ORIGINAL SERIES. He lacks for nothing... save sweet, sweet freedom."
–"And Tawny Kitaen?"
"Hey, we're not there yet. Tawny plays the pop star 'Alley Daniels.' Imagine a woman in the Cyndi Lauper/Madonna/Debbie Gibson wheelhouse. Also, a huge fan of the 'statement bow.'"

–"Just like in WITCHBOARD!"
 "Yeah, I'm not sure if Tawny Kitaen is a big fan of statement bows, or if she just happened to play a lot of characters who were big fans of statement bows. Anyway, Tawny/Alley has a popular music video where she tells her backup dancers she'll never be the icing on their cake

and then she drags her fingers through the icing on their cakes and knocks the cakes out of their hands, because when she says 'I'll never be the icing on your cake,' by god, she means it."

–"Alright, you've got my attention."
"I have the whole video here, if you wanna see it. It's a real pip.

Anyway, so Christopher is obsessed with Tawny/Alley, and he 'summons' her. This isn't laid out particularly well by the screenplay; sometimes it's played as if they were pen pals, but in another scene Christopher seems to see her image on a TV and simply demand her presence. She has a Sonny Bono-lookin' boyfriend/manager who's kind of a jerk and almost immediately falls victim to the '80s Rule of Pools
which, as you should know by now, is 'if there is a pool or a giant sheet cake present, a character will be pushed into it, flailing, in a zany comic moment.'"
–"I know what the 80s rule of pools is. You make me watch a lot of dumb shit." 
"Just checking. We then see that pop star Tawny is also still doing a lot of commercial work. I guess this shows that despite her relative fame, she still has to hustle in this world."

–"Guess she could use a cash infusion from a certain boy in a bubble?"
"That's never said outright, but I suppose the idea of it lingers beneath the surface. Nonetheless, she never takes advantage of the bubble boy's affluence."
–"Tawny Kitaen shoulda jumped on the 80s workout video bandwagon."
"Well, she kinda did. Anyway, Tawny visits the boy in the bubble, and their chemistry is palpable, even though they're separated by a sheet of glass. Oh, did I say 'palpable?' I meant nonexistent."

–"What's going on there?"
"They're having a social distancing dance party. Again, it's unclear why Tawny is there in the first place. He's not charming, he's not sweet, he's not particularly eloquent. His primary mode is 'petulance.' Kind of an incel vibe. Tawny seems to have no interest in using his fortune, nor piggybacking onto some good 'human interest' PR. I guess she's there, flirting with him, because the screenplay says she is."
–"What do we know about Tawny's character, other than the fact that she's on TV and looks like Tawny Kitaen?"
"Not much. We know she drinks a lot of milk, though. It's kind of her primary character trait.
Drinks so much milk. Right out of a wine glass. That's classy, right there. When she meets the boy in the bubble's mother, the first thing she does is ask for some milk.

Mom––played by May Heatherly, who looks about the same age as her 'son,' and who has a memorable role in the Spanish slasher PIECES––is not a big fan of Tawny crashing her Oedipal slumber/bubble party and spills Tawny's milk."
–"That's a power move."
 "I know. Shortly thereafter, Tawny and the bubble boy have their first fight. He dives straight into his bed like a peevish toddler."

–"Attractive. Wait, are they a couple, now?"
"CRYSTAL HEART adheres to what I call 'the Ms. Pac-Man School of Romance.' That means, though the bulk of the story is just characters eating pellets (or drinking milk, in this case), when it's time to advance the romance, we are informed of the escalation in the most basic terms possible. Act 1: They Meet. Act 2: The Chase. Then it's back to the pellets."
–"That's right! I used to play MS. PAC-MAN when I was a kid. Wait, what was Act 3 in MS. PAC-MAN?"
"Act 3 was 'Junior.'"
–"They had sex in MS. PAC-MAN?"
"Yup. And they have sex in CRYSTAL HEART, too."
–"What? How?"
"Set to the strains of some poor man's Tangerine Dream/RISKY BUSINESS music, they kiss right up on that glass. Right up on it.

Then they strip and just start mashing up against that glass. It's one of the most gloriously comic love scenes ever put to film, and it's about as erotic as Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man colliding against one another as they evade ghosts and try to eat bonus cherries."
–"Are you serious?"

"This is as serious as I get. Picture it, though: just below the frame, there are balls painfully slapping against a cold pane of glass."
–"Pardon me, but this is too much."
"Too much? How about when he goes down on the pane of glass
and Tawny must arch her head back as if orgasming. Gotta give out major props to the Foley artist doing the squeegee work."
–"This is madness. There's probably more eroticism in the SEINFELD episode 'The Bubble Boy.'"
"Yeah, and Tawny's no stranger to SEINFELD. Anyway, it's a lot for our bubble boy to take. So he breaks out."

–"Won't that kill him?"
"Well, if it didn't, that would mean that he was unnecessarily confined to a glass chamber for over twenty years."
–"He probably should have consulted a doctor first."
"The movie doesn't think so. They play it like a full CHARIOTS OF FIRE triumphal moment. Even his nurse, who knows the outside world will kill him, whispers a good luck benediction as he runs beyond the shrubbery boundaries of his property like a lunatic escaping the asylum.

It'd be like a doctor giving you a passionate thumbs-up as you lick the pole on a COVID-19-infected subway car."
–"So what does he do?"
"First things first: he rolls around on somebody else's lawn.
He plays with the dirt in said lawn.
Then he almost immediately kisses somebody's strange dog. Doesn't waste time petting, goes straight for the kiss. It's his first kiss, too, cause that pane of glass nonsense with Tawny doesn't count."

–"Well at least he's not coming into contact with other humans. I read that dogs can't get COVID, at any rate, so there's that."
"Next thing: he hitchhikes with a man delivering newspapers."
–"Oh, shit! They're definitely closer than six feet."
"This is just the start of a whirlwind day which involves a trip to a boardwalk:

kissing and tumbling with more strange dogs:
non-glass barrier sex with Tawny:

and standing in the sweaty, crowded mosh pit at Tawny's concert.
Immediately thereafter––surprise, surprise: he's not feeling well."

–"Wow, feel like we're looking at the dark consequences of a little thing called 'cause and effect.'"
"The best part is the movie plays it like it it's an unavoidable tragedy. There's a dramaturgical reason why the writers gave Ali McGraw cancer in LOVE STORY and didn't just have her playing Russian roulette or recreationally injecting herself with Drano."
–"They thought this would be a tear-jerker?" 
"Hell yes they did. We have this drawn out hospital/deathbed scene that ought to have a neon sign over it saying 'BY THE WAY THIS WAS TOTALLY PREVENTABLE.' At the funeral, Mom acts like Tawny is the long lost daughter she never had.

If she hated Tawny's guts when her son was alive, why would she suddenly love her after her son  committed suicide for the sake of rolling around with her and some strange dogs for an afternoon?"
–"You're not suggesting that the bubble boy's death is Tawny's fault?"
"Oh, most definitely not. I place more blame at the feet of the health care worker who saw him escaping and cheered him on. Though, to be fair, as the live-in nurse to this whiny mofo, maybe she figured he had it coming. Anyway, the movie ends with Tawny doing a total 'Candle in the Wind' concert/vigil. I was struck with the thought that there should have been a big reveal after the end credits: that Tawny subtly manipulated and orchestrated the bubble boy's escape and death to make her pop star seem more sympathetic."
–"That sounds like a better movie. That's officially head-canon now for CRYSTAL HEART."
"I allow it."
–"So are we done with the Tawny Kitaen retrospective?"
"We sure aren't!"