Thursday, July 29, 2010

Film Review: STRIPTEASE (1996, Andrew Bergman)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 117 minutes.
Tag-line: "Some People Get Into Trouble No Matter What They WEAR."
Notable Cast or Crew: Demi Moore, Ving Rhames, Robert Patrick, Armand Assante, Burt Reynolds, Rumer Willis, Pandora Peaks. Cinematography by Stephen Goldblatt (THE HUNGER, THE COTTON CLUB, LETHAL WEAPON). Music by Howard Shore (AFTER HOURS, VIDEODROME, THE LORD OF THE RINGS).
Best one-liner: "I don't need no stripper to telling me how to live!"
Best eerily Hawksian exchange: "So we're it? A cop and a bouncer?" –"Plus two strippers and a kid. We're in great shape." Compare to RIO BRAVO: "A game-legged old man and a drunk. That's all you got?" –"That's WHAT I got."

Now here's a crowded, chinwagging tableau that would make Howard Hawks proud: "Creamed corn wrestling!" "-Corn?" "-Corn wrestling?" "-That's disgusting!" "-No chance that I'm gonna roll naked in creamed corn with a bunch of drunken yahoos trying to stick niblets up my hoo-ha!" Yep, that really just happened.

Note Fabio poster.

Playing out like an unholy second-generation love-child of Elmore Leonard and Menahem Golan, STRIPTEASE helped me come to grips with the fact that magic could still exist in a world where the 80's were no longer happening. The set-up is this: Judge awards custody of Rumer Willis to deadbeat dad Robert Patrick, and FBI employee Demi Moore must strip for her daughter's love. Kinda like the female OVER THE TOP, in a way.




The film takes this already mind-blowing premise and piles on more and more inspired lunacy at a breakneck pace: Bouncer Ving Rhames has a tiny monkey sidekick and imbues his performance with a genuine artistry that certainly isn't called for:

Armand Assante is wondering how the hell he got here (hint- this was his follow-up to JUDGE DREDD):

there's a Jewish stripper named 'Ariel Sharon' who has a crush on Steven Spielberg, Demi strips with a moody intensity that tells me she thought she had a shot at Oscar gold, and it all kind of somehow turns into a searing exposé of Big Sugar!

The courtroom tableaux are worth the price of admission alone:


"Your honor, my ex-husband is a THIEF. That hardly qualifies him to raise a seven-year old CHILD."


"Neithah does bein' a mothuh without a JOB!" [bangs gavel]


There's the obligatory post-shower towel dance, and I have to give points to STRIPTEASE for including it, because I think it only was actually obligatory from about 1982-1994.



Oh...and how could I forget: Burt Reynolds.

Reynolds plays Congressman Dilbeck (or, Congressman 'Dildo,' as he so eloquently states in one exchange) as if he is constantly drunk and/or mentally disabled. Kind of a 'chicken or the egg' question here is: 'Was Dilbeck written as a psychotic rummy, or did Reynolds just show up drunk and they took it from there?'

Don't answer that. He's even involved in a barfight, which I think must've been part of his contract since HOOPER. Reynolds is doddering around, covered in Vaseline, muttering things like "We can talk about anything you want, as long as you're nekkid."

As time has told, Reynolds is not your garden variety pervert (i.e., see my scholarly papers on the topics of goosing, necrophilia, et al. as presented in STROKER ACE and RENT-A-COP), yet STRIPTEASE kinda seeks to reduce and simplify his myriad depravities to level of a Saturday morning cartoon villain:

He likes having sexy ladies around.

He likes seizing sexy ladies.

He likes dancing with sexy ladies in his boxers, which may as well have big hearts on them.

I posit that this reductive, superficial view of Burt Reynolds perversion is dangerous and, on behalf of Liza Minnelli goosage, I daresay irresponsible. Though the Vaseline scene is pretty goddamned loopy, so I'll let it slide this time.

And speaking of Saturday morning cartoons, the finale involves slow-motion leaping and a denouement that has absolutely zero deviation from that of a SCOOBY-DOO episode.


All of this, naturally, contributes to the film receiving high marks from me. (Also see: DR. JEKYLL AND MS. HYDE).

In the end, STRIPTEASE is a serious drama with a smattering of light-hearted social satire. Er, allow me to submit a revision to that statement: Demi Moore thinks STRIPTEASE is a serious drama, and that ensures that its heart is, somehow, in the right place. It is her performance that gives it that patented Golan-Globus level of sincerity. I guess that's why it works. My only caveat– instead of $12.5 million, they probably should have paid Demi, say, whatever they gave Mario van Peebles for RAPPIN' or Lucinda Dickey for NINJA III...

-Sean Gill

Television Review: THE HITCHHIKER- 'Striptease' (1985, Jerry Ciccoritti)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 24 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: John Glover (52 PICK-UP, GREMLINS 2, IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS), Donna Goodhand (X-MEN), Jill Hennessy (CROSSING JORDAN, ROBOCOP 3), Victor Ertmanis (BRAINSCAN, STORM OF THE CENTURY), Frank Adamson (SHORT CIRCUIT 2, DOLORES CLAIBORNE), Lawrence Bayne (BLACK ROBE, GETTING GOTTI).

In my continuing series of HITCHHIKER reviews of episodes featuring some of my favorite people- I submit to you: STRIPTEASE, starring the inimitable John Glover.

A lot of these HITCHHIKER episodes abandon the 'horror' or 'thriller' setup entirely, settling for a straight-up character study, which, since John Glover is involved, is a real good thing. I'm not sure what the title refers to, unless it's a metaphorical 'striptease of the soul' that Glover is performing for us. It's certainly within the realm of possibility.

Playing a full-time troublemaker and semi-public recluse, Glover's Miles Duchet wanders through this episode, first clashing with whomever he can, and then backtracking and wallowing in self pity. It's a stunning portrayal of an artist at war with himself and the world, a sort of diary of a misanthrope. I really have no idea why this is a HITCHHIKER episode. ... Oh yeah!– it's so that the tale could be enhanced by the astute, nuanced musings of the Hitchhiker himself!

"Miles Duchet is a man steeped in the anger and bitterness of a life spent too alone. At some point in every life, someone will appear to crack our armor of loneliness. The trouble is, that person may be hard to recognize and the moment is often fleeting..."

Oh, you hitchhikin' sonofabitch. I'll bet this episode hit close to home for you. Solitude, loneliness, all that jazz. But I think all that highway wanderin' has rattled your brain– instead of listening to you, why don't I look at the face of John Glover, which renders everything you've said reductive and redundant:

Also- nice Confederate flag patch, Hitchhiker. Classy.

Anyway, the episode proceeds to show us Glover- rejecting the world and being rejected by it: a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Glover: despondent.


The boss: a real shitbag.

We see him berated by his boss ("Maybe that's from using that brain too much," "thinking isn't what you're paid to do," "we're runnin' a business here!," etc., etc.) and immediately spurning the nearest sympathetic ear.

Next, Glover calls up an ex and theatrically threatens suicide.

Failing in that noble endeavor, and not for the first time, he hits the mean streets and meaner dives, picking fights with brawny strangers and spitting repugnant, self-righteous venom.

"YOU LOOKING FOR A FIGHT?! TAKE YOUR BEST SHOT, SCUMFACE!"

Then, in a self-pitying 180-degree turn, he searches for companionship in the form of some old art buddies who know his asshole tendencies all too well. They allow him to accompany them because, well, they're assholes, too. And why pass up front-row seats to the most pathetic spectacle in town?

The most pathetic spectacle in town.

They're headed for drinks with the newest flavor-of-the-month-toast-of-the-art-world who happens to be involved with Glover's ex (Jill Hennessy). Yeah, his former buddies have a pretty good idea what'll happen. It starts off with the wounded puppy routine:

but ends, predictably, with an inappropriate makeout session between the smarmy new lovers


and a bitter outburst from Glover which ends with him, literally, on the floor, choking on his own bile. In a final humiliation, the grotesque extravaganza ends with Glover begging the ex for fifty dollars- which he actually gets- though, I suppose the subtext is something along the lines of 'this fifty dollar bill carries with it the unspoken promise that I never again have to see your raggedy ass.'

Moving on to the next bar (and the next bleary-eyed confrontation), Glover strikes up a conversation with a barfly (Donna Goodhand) who seems to find her current existence just as intolerable as Glover does his. In a rare moment of self-reflection, Glover explains his true outlook on life: he is the a dog who snaps at you when you try to pet him- an unfortunate specimen who inspires in others something of a 'reverse food chain' of regurgitation and contempt- truly the gift which keeps on giving.


But somewhere behind that mutual self-hatred is a kind of magnetism- and they end up connecting-

-until the next morning when Glover says "Thanks for a really hot night- leave your number and I'll pass it around."

While that in and of itself would have been a fine ending, there's still more- as she leaves the apartment, he has a change of heart and realizes, I suppose, that he is a human being after all. But it's too late- and, shall we say... tragedy strikes...


And now with the rebuttal- The Hitchhiker:

"Deep down, Miles Duchet longed for a connection. But he was so accustomed to pushing people away that he didn't understand when love had penetrated his defense and, sadly for him, fragile feelings treated once with scorn never allow for a second chance."

I have a hard time getting it up to be that angry at you today, Hitchhiker, but you're totallly killin' my buzz. I think I pity you. Or maybe I'm still just confused as to why this episode was entitled STRIPTEASE.

In closing, it's a fine character study and one which overcomes any weaknesses in the writing through John Glover's tour de force performance of anguished sleaze and oily discontent. He is the man who pounds his head against the wall... and then wonders 'from where does this sanguinary ooze flow?' I can't praise Glover enough- if an actor ever shared a complete connection to the material at hand, it's him.

-Sean Gill

Today is 'Striptease Thursday'

What does that mean? Come back later and find out.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

LAURIE DEACON AND THE NIGHT CALLER nominated for two Planet Connections Awards

I'm pleased to announce that my newest play, LAURIE DEACON AND THE NIGHT CALLER (a reading of which went up as part of the Planet Connections Festivity in June) has been nominated by PCF for 'Outstanding Overall Production of a Reading' as well as 'Outstanding Actress in a Reading' (Jillaine Gill in the role of 'Jane Emerson'). The Awards Ceremony takes place August 1, 2010 at the Players Theatre.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Carpenter Week Wrap-up

Well- it's been fun delving into the annals of Carpenter eclectica. There will be several more Carpenter weeks in the future, whereupon I'll get to key achievements in his filmography from ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 to STARMAN to DARK STAR to VAMPIRES; movies that he wrote but didn't direct, like EL DIABLO, EYES OF LAURA MARS, and SILENT PREDATORS; and random bizarro stuff like the album WAITING OUT THE 80's, films by Carpenter cronies, and perhaps some novelizations of his canon films. Below are pasted links to every Carpenter article on this site thus far, but right before- I thought I'd share one last exciting Carpenter factoid: Carpenter was at one time involved with CLUE?!:

From the Hollywood Reporter: Oct. 23, 1980:

Carpenter, Hill plan 'Clue' after N.Y. 'Escape'
Principal photography was completed here yesterday a week ahead of schedule on the third and highest-budgeted feature thus far made by the team of horror master John Carpenter and producer Debra Hill.
Hill told The Hollywood Reprter that she hoped thisproduction would lead both herself and Carpenter away from the horror genre. "Even THE FOG was supposed to be simply a ghost story, but our critics wanted us to compete with HALLOWEEN," she said. HALLOWEEN, coauthored by the team, was shot in only 20 days on a $300,000 budget.
Hill said she would like to move on to the production of westerns and musicals in addition to terror films. To this end, she has bought the rights to CLUE, a Parker Brothers game, and she plans to make a whodunit for Polygram and Universal.
"We are going to use the characters from the game and invent a new character, Detective Parker, who will solve the crime. I want it to go along the route of suspense with comic relief. I don't want to make another Neil Simon or Agatha Christie mystery," she said.

And for the record, Debra Hill did end up co-producing, but- as far as I know- Carpenter had no involvement.
Annnyway–
Past Carpenter appreciations at Junta Juleil:

BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986, John Carpenter)
"BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA" (1986, The Coupe de Villes)
BLACK MOON RISING (1986, Harley Cokliss)
ESCAPE FROM L.A. (1996, John Carpenter)
ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981, John Carpenter)
THE FOG (1980, John Carpenter)
THE GHOST MAKER: A HALLOWEEN TALE (1988, John Carpenter)
HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982, Tommy Lee Wallace)
IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS (1994, John Carpenter)
PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1987, John Carpenter)
THE RESURRECTION OF BRONCHO BILLY (1970, James R. Rokos)
THEY LIVE (1988, John Carpenter)
THE THING (1982, John Carpenter)

Friday, July 23, 2010

Film Review: HALLOWEEN III- SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982, Tommy Lee Wallace)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 98 minutes.
Tag-line: "..and now the earth will run with blood again!"
Notable Cast or Crew: Tom Atkins (THE FOG, NIGHT OF THE CREEPS, LETHAL WEAPON), Dan O'Herlihy (TWIN PEAKS SEASON 2, ROBOCOP), Stacey Nelkin (THE JERK TOO, BULLETS OVER BROADWAY), Michael Currie (THE DEAD POOL, DEAD & BURIED), Ralph Strait (THE BEASTMASTER), Joshua John Miller (TEEN WITCH, RIVER'S EDGE), Essex Smith (CUTTER'S WAY, STIR CRAZY), and a vocal cameo by Jamie Lee Curtis. Music by John Carpenter and Alan Howarth. Produced by John Carpenter, Debra Hill, and Moustapha Akkad. Cinematography by Dean Cundey (THE THING, JURASSIC PARK). Special Effects by Jon G. Belyeu (EXTERMINATOR 2, THE GOONIES, TANGO & CASH).
Best one-liner: "I do love a good joke and this is the best ever: a joke on the children."

Judging this movie as a legitimate sequel to HALLOWEEN would be like judging FRANKENFISH as a sequel to JAWS. That being said, HALLOWEEN III is a surprisingly enjoyable dollop of Carpenter-Lite. Though collaborator Tommy Lee Wallace is credited as writer/director, even the non-fan can see Carpenter all over the place here. Now, I don't mean to presume anything about Mr. Wallace's authorship of the film, but, let's look at the facts- Carpenter produced. Carpenter did the music. Carpenter did an uncredited rewrite of the script. The cast and crew are populated with Carpenter cronies (and was even directed by one), including cinematographer Dean Cundey, who had already worked alongside Carpenter on five separate occasions. As such, calling this a "Carpenter film" is not exactly a stretch, and I'd go as far as to say it's essential viewing for not only Carpenter fans, but fans of 80's horror in general.

In terms of the backlash, clearly it revolves around the lack of Michael Myers; and, if you believe the urban legends, it resulted in crazed fans attacking the screen and demanding refunds, the likes of which hadn't been seen since the day Buñuel and Dali unveiled UN CHIEN ANDALOU. But you can't really blame Carpenter for trying to shake things up- he was disillusioned by the looming shadow of sequelitis, and, instead of endless riffs on the same, already tired, in fact, deceased (Michael Myers) motif, he envisioned a series of films which he could outsource/return to when he pleased, the only common link being that they took place on Halloween. Unfortunately, this didn't quite work out for him– HALLOWEEN III was a critical and financial failure. But allow me to present to you now twelve reasons why HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH is worth watching:

#1. Carpy's synthesized scare-twangs. Used to great effect in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, there's so many of them here, it's as if a 5-year old hopped-up on smack was let loose at the sound board during post. The word 'insane' doesn't even begin to describe it.

#2. The theft of Stonehenge, pixelated pumpkin graphics, black-gloved killers, eye-gouging, skull-crushing, and a man setting himself on fire. And all in the first 15 minutes! No, this wasn't made by Italians. And, believe me, the lunacy is by no means confined to the first quarter-hour:



And I like the way he wipes those gloves on the curtains.

#3. Babe magnet Tom Atkins.

In Carpenter films (i.e. this, THE FOG), eligible young ladies are drawn to Mr. Atkins like moths to a flame.


They fight being consumed with desire for his sheer perfection, but in the end, they fall like so many waifish, smitten dominoes. Umm....what?! Not to knock Tom Atkins. I mean, I like Tom Atkins. I like him A LOT. But I don't think he should reside in Plato's cave as the quintessence of the male specimen. Atkins even gets a bare ass shot here. I have two words for you, Carpy: 'MAN CRUSH?'

#4. Tom Atkins' alcoholism. Tom Atkins plays Dr. Challis, an alcoholic... I guess. I suppose he probably drinks too much, but it's not exactly a textbook case Evidently the novelization delves deeper into his dipsomania, but I've yet to read it for myself. In lieu of nuanced characterization, however, HALLOWEEN III offers a few brilliant surface elements which would seem to suggest problem drinking. For example, characters say lines like "Sierra Mesa still makin' you drink your ass off?," he requires a sixer of Miller High Life before leaving for a road trip:

Then, despite still having the sixer, upon arriving in Santa Mira, he expresses his intentions to obtain more alcohol before it gets too late (for the record, it's like 5:00 PM):

And then later, after having obtained said hooch, he sighs with disdain when a homeless man inquires whether or not he could have a sip from his bottle:


#5. And why not- in a trifecta of sheer Tom Atkins panache: the way that he emotes.


And we're not talking 'bad acting' or 'poor directing' or any of that jazz. It's a return to a more demonstrative mode of expression, and I like it. (See also: the original TWILIGHT ZONE series.)

#6. Finally a movie that villainizes the Irish as a race. And I love that in their evil little Irish town, it's just a lot of nondescript buildings with freshly painted signs that say things like "Shamrock Savings Bank" or "Dublin Inn."




Let the Irish lilts commence!

#7. In the tradition of police state announcements in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (Debra Hill) and the automated chess game in THE THING (Adrienne Barbeau), Carpy gives Jamie Lee Curtis a voice cameo as the dystopian voice of Santa Mira which encourages its residents to follow the curfew and restrict their activities to indoors after dark.


#8. The villain's motive- he really just wants Halloween to be taken SERIOUSLY again. Well, this movie is certainly the perfect vehicle for that sentiment.

ZAPPPP!

#9. Dan O'Herlihy. Maybe you remember him as the 'Old Man' in ROBOCOP, 'Grig' in THE LAST STARFIGHTER, or as 'Andrew Packard' on TWIN PEAKS. He's an unbridled, intense, exquisite Irishman and one of the best character actors of the 1980's.

When he reads a line, he's not doing it for a paycheck, or just to get to the next, more important line– his eloquence is in the moment, and as such, he lives for every last fiendish syllable.

As the final act of HALLOWEEN III slides into James Bond territory, he carefully takes us from point A to B to C with spiffy menace and practical jokery. It's solid stuff.


#10. Dean Cundey's genius cinematography. The man is talented. And even as a Carpenter apologist par excellence, I would say that he submits imagery that perhaps outshines the material, channeling a little Tonino Delli Colli here and a little Dick Bush there, to great effect.



It's fantastic.

#11. The Silver Shamrock TV ads.

You could make a drinking game of this at your own risk. Regardless, they're cloyingly asinine, set to the tune of "London Bridge is Falling Down," and, depending on how you choose to count 'em, play between 15 and 20 times throughout! Some things you just gotta see for yourself.

They even drive Tom Atkins to drink:




#12. The abrupt, nutty, 100% Carpenter-style finale that's extremely and apocalyptically satisfying.


-Sean Gill