Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Hollywood Vice Squad

Your only opportunity to see milquetoast character actor Marvin Kaplan waving a dildo with his face on it. Director Penelope Spheeris, best known for her DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION rock documentaries (or maybe WAYNE’S WORLD!), took to the streets of Hollywood for this black comic cop flick with an all-star exploitation cast. Producer Sandy Howard also made VICE SQUAD, but this isn’t a sequel, despite its similar episodic structure.

The main throughline is a gender-switched HARDCORE with Trish Van Devere — wife of HARDCORE star George C. Scott — playing a Midwestern mother roaming Hollywood Boulevard in search of her runaway daughter. She doesn’t know her innocent little girl (Robin Wright in her film debut) is a coked-out whore under the thumb of pimp Frank Gorshin!

Meanwhile, Carrie Fisher (three years after RETURN OF THE JEDI) tries to bust some porno filmmakers, Evan Kim (KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE) and Joey Travolta (CAR CRASH) fight a drag queen and a guy on angel dust, Ben Frank (DON’T ANSWER THE PHONE) and H.B. “Tigerman” Haggerty chase mob boss Robert Miano (DONNIE BRASCO), and Leon Isaac Kennedy (BODY AND SOUL) goes undercover as a white slaver. Top-billed Ronny Cox, probably wearing his BEVERLY HILLS COP wardrobe, is their captain.

HOLLYWOOD VICE SQUAD isn’t a straight comedy, though many of its chases and fight scenes are played for humor. Child pornography and white slavery aren’t naturally compatible with slapstick, and neither Spheeris nor writer James Docherty (T.J. HOOKER) have the confidence or experience to pull off the combination. Considering the ragged structure and Fisher’s diminished screen time, it’s likely Spheeris left a lot of footage behind in the editing room. Marquees for ROCKY IV, CLUE, and YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES seen along Hollywood Boulevard indicate HOLLYWOOD VICE SQUAD was still shooting less than three months before it was in theaters!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Silent Fall

SILENT FALL, a thriller about an autistic boy who witnesses his parents’ bloody murders, is based around the most ridiculous, stupidest, straight out most insane gimmick I think I’ve ever seen in a studio feature set in the real world. It’s unimaginable that anyone involved with this movie, much less director Bruce Beresford, whose work includes DRIVING MISS DAISY and TENDER MERCIES, thought the audience would believe it.

While not giving away the mystery, I’ll tell you what I’m talking about. It turns out that the little boy, Tim Warden (Ben Faulkner), only speaks in impressions. Not like the guy in your dorm who pulled back his hair and did a lame Jack Nicholson, but an absolutely perfect impression that would make Kevin Pollak weep with jealousy. Of course, it isn’t the young actor speaking the lines. Tim’s impressions are the work of talented sound editors, whom I hope had the good sense to crack up while putting words into Faulkner’s mouth.

SILENT FALL is about a murder case in a bucolic Maryland town. A couple is found slaughtered in their bedroom and survived by their teenage daughter Sylvie (Liv Tyler) and son Tim. The local sheriff (J.T. Walsh) calls in a reluctant psychiatrist, Jake Reiner (Richard Dreyfuss), to find out from Tim who the killer is. Reiner gave up treating kids a few years earlier after a boy died in his care and he was tried on a manslaughter charge, of which he was acquitted.

Reiner’s past actually has nothing to do with the story, just one of many misfires in the screenplay by the perpetually tonedeaf Akiva Goldsman (BATMAN & ROBIN). The plot culminates in one of the dumbest, most laughable climaxes ever, which has Dreyfuss both escape a ludicrous death trap and re-enact the murders with convenient narration by Tim. SILENT FALL is terrible, and that’s even before mentioning that it wastes both Linda Hamilton (THE TERMINATOR) and John Lithgow (THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP) in nothing roles. Yes, it’s terrible, but I promise you will get a few bellylaughs out of it.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Random Comic Book Splash Page: Four Color #994


The great Dan Spiegle drew the splash of "Danger Dive," the second story in this SEA HUNT issue of Dell's FOUR COLOR. While it isn't the most exciting page in the world, Spiegle captures star Lloyd Bridges' likeness well, and it does (the writer is unidentified) tie into the hit television series well. It seems like most episodes started with Bridges' frogman Mike Nelson minding his own business just before trouble came calling.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Sweet Sugar

“Her machete isn’t her only weapon!” Movies about sexy women in jungle prisons were big biz in 1972, and Dimension Pictures’ first reaction to New World’s THE BIG DOLL HOUSE and THE BIG BIRD CAGE was SWEET SUGAR. Filmed in Costa Rica by director Michel Levesque (WEREWOLVES ON WHEELS) from a script by THE BIG DOLL HOUSE’s Don Spencer, SWEET SUGAR has a real ace in the hole in the shapely form of star Phyllis Davis, who later became well known for her three seasons backing up private eye Robert Urich on ABC’s VEGA$.

A brassy mixture of intelligence, confidence, and rarely equalled sex appeal, Davis was the Mae West of 1970s exploitation. She played plenty of bit parts in television series like ADAM-12 and THE WILD WILD WEST and movies like THE BIG BOUNCE and Russ Meyer’s BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (testing the sexploitation waters?), but her best roles by far were in SWEET SUGAR and another Dimension WIP (women-in-prison movie), TERMINAL ISLAND. The gloriously perverse SWEET SUGAR gives her the title role: Sugar Bowman, a stacked smartass hooker busted on a trumped-up pot charge who forgoes prison for a two-year stint cutting sugar cane on a Central American plantation.

Sugar not only runs afoul of rival inmate Simone (DETROIT 9000’s Ella Edwards) and brutal guard Burgos (pockmarked Cliff Osmond, memorable in THE FORTUNE COOKIE), but especially the psychotic warden, Doctor John (Angus Duncan), a perverted ascot-wearing physician who performs medical experiments on the prisoners. Of course, Sugar eventually leads a climactic revolt against authorities in a blizzard of bullets and explosions — these pictures generally stuck to a formula — but not before the requisite torture scenes, catfighting scenes, rape scenes, lesbian love scenes (scored with ‘60s lounge music), voodoo scenes (!) and, of course, shower scenes.

Though Spencer’s plot is standard as these things go, its dialogue (“I hope somebody hacks off your hambone!”) and tone are decidedly weird, which works to the film’s benefit. For instance, Doctor John sits on a throne sipping brandy while a woman dangles before him in a bamboo cage over a roaring fire. He hooks up female inmates to a cheap-looking machine (like a car battery charger) that measures their sex drive, and he punishes misbehavers with an army of horny pussycats! With the drive-in market glutted with WIPs, making SWEET SUGAR a bit goofy also makes it one of the genre’s most memorable vehicles. SWEET SUGAR was produced by Dimension’s husband-and-wife team of Charles S. Swartz and Stephanie Rothman, who directed Davis (and Tom Selleck) in TERMINAL ISLAND a year later.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Wonder Woman

DC Comics’ most famous female superhero, Wonder Woman, comes to the big screen in this mediocre adventure directed by MONSTER’s Patty Jenkins. Created by psychologist William Moulton Marston in 1941 and continuously published by DC since, Wonder Woman has previously been depicted on television — most notably by Lynda Carter in a 1970s series — and direct-to-video animated features. Technically, star Gal Gadot (FURIOUS SEVEN) cameoed as Wonder Woman in 2016’s BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE, but this WONDER WOMAN is all her own.

Written by Allan Heinberg, a veteran of television soaps (PARTY OF FIVE, GREY’S ANATOMY), the plot plops Princess Diana into World War I, where she hooks up with dashing spy Steve Trevor (STAR TREK’s Chris Pine, game as the sidekick) and his flustery secretary Etta Candy (Lucy Davis as Hermione Baddeley) to fight the Germans. The plot is something something about poison gas developed by dull German villains Ludendorff (Danny Huston, likely the ninth or tenth name on the list of potential hires) and scarred scientist Dr. Poison (Elena Anaya, doing her best with an undercooked role).

Because the action scenes are completely concocted by Dew-doing dudes with keyboards and mice, it’s impossible to say how well Gadot performs in them, but she looks great in the suit (an important first step for these pictures) and presents a believable, sincere, likable hero for which to root. Likewise Pine, turning in career best work in a period haircut few stars of his generation could pull off. He and Gadot are a charming couple that provide WONDER WOMAN with enough goodwill to partially forgive the dull parts, which is basically everything comic-booky. The climax is a confusing melange of cartoons shooting electricity at each other without explaining why or how.

Connie Nielsen (THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE) and Robin Wright (THE PRINCESS BRIDE) appear as sisters Queen Hippolyta and General Antiope, respectively, who raise young Diana on Paradise Island, hidden from the world by an invisible shield that proves remarkably easy to penetrate. Early scenes of Diana training as an Amazon warrior are familiar, but well handled by Jenkins, as are all scenes between Gadot and Pine, as their characters not only fall in love, but also in mutual respect as both people and soldiers.

Monday, June 05, 2017

The Sisterhood

Another post-apocalyptic action flick by prolific Philippines director Cirio H. Santiago (WHEELS OF FIRE), THE SISTERHOOD offers Cirio’s trademark brand of cheap action, even cheaper sets, and completely senseless scripting. It opens with a pair of women in a swordfight against a handful of male warriors, which is fine, until one of the women distracts her opponent by shooting beams from her eyes (!) and causing a rockslide. I don’t know about you, but if I could fire explosive beams from my eyes, I wouldn’t dirty my hands in close combat.

The chick with the eye beams is Alee (Rebecca Holden, the redhead from KNIGHT RIDER). She and her partner Vera (Barbara Hooper), who can use her hands for healing, belong to the Sisterhood, a free-ranging female group of warriors that ride across the wilderness fighting for peace. Though there’s something relaxing about Santiago’s familiar filmmaking (I swear he must have shot twenty pictures in this same damned rock quarry), this one rambles too much. Santiago’s action movies, though frequently inept, are rarely dull, but THE SISTERHOOD presents no new ideas and features too little action. It gets amusing near the end, after the Sisterhood finds a long-buried U.S. missile silo stocked with Soviet weapons and a Filipino attack vehicle, which the two are easily able to operate.

One of approximately one zillion cheap drive-in pictures Santiago churned out for U.S. release by Roger Corman, THE SISTERHOOD features a screenplay by Thomas McKelvey Cleaver, who crapped out more scripts for Concorde, including HEROES STAND ALONE, THE TERROR WITHIN, DUNE WARRIORS, and SAIGON COMMANDOS. Taking into consideration that the difference between Santiago’s best film and his worst is very thin, THE SISTERHOOD definitely lays near the bottom of the pack. Bond girl Lynn-Holly Johnson (FOR YOUR EYES ONLY) co-stars with charisma hole Chuck Wagner (AUTOMAN) as the chief heavy.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Deadly Dreams

One of Roger Corman’s least heralded contributions to Hollywood is allowing women directors to make films just as cheap, exploitative, and dumb as male directors sometimes do. Kristine Peterson made her directing debut with this thriller released by Corman’s Concorde Pictures that focuses on the frequently sweaty bare torso of the supremely unlikable Mitchell Anderson (DOOGIE HOWSER, M.D.).

Poor chain-smoking Anderson has a lot of nightmares about a killer with a shotgun and a wolf mask chasing him through the bleak woods. That this actually sorta happened to him when he was ten years old (the killer murdered his parents right in front of him) has made Anderson understandably neurotic.

His stoner pal Thom Babbes (also the film’s screenwriter) and his older brother Xander Berkeley (24) are fairly worthless, leaving him to turn to his new girlfriend Juliette Cummins (FRIDAY THE 13TH: A NEW BEGINNING) when he needs to be talked down from another bad dream. Or are they dreams? Are Anderson’s visions of a wolf-masked killer actually real? Could somebody be trying to gaslight Anderson to get his inheritance? Is this an unimaginative direct-to-video thriller?

Anderson doesn’t seem to be into his sex scene with a topless Cummins, but maybe he’s just dizzy from Peterson spinning the bed around on a platform. That’s about as visually stylish as DEADLY DREAMS gets, despite a title that predicts fantasy. At least the dream sequences allow Peterson to kill her cast members over and over, though the gore factor barely tips into R territory. It also gives us 32 shots of Anderson sitting up in bed screaming. May as well get in all the cliches.

Frankly, there just isn’t much of a story here. With only four characters to play with — none of them likable — and a weak story, Peterson needs something to generate interest. A couple of outrageous third-act plot twists are a good start, but one is predictable (like really predictable) and the other is stupid. Cummins isn’t bad here, and she’s sexy as hell. Corman gave Peterson another chance to direct BODY CHEMISTRY, which was a major Concorde hit. Her biggest film was CRITTERS 3 for New Line.