|by Peter Sobczynski
In which your faithful scribe takes a fond look back at the good old days of late-night smut-watching, revisits the fine art of cat-juggling and once again relishes the crushing defeat of the Yankees at the hands of the Boston Red Sox.
The kids today have it so easy. Take one of the cornerstone experiences of everyone’s youth–the extraordinary lengths that 12-year-old boys would go through in order to get even a glimpse of nudity in a movie. Back in the day, if your parents weren’t that permissive, you would have to quietly sneak out in the middle of the night into the living room in the hopes that the likes of “Chained Heat” or “Private Lessons” would be on cable instead of “Ice Castles” or “Chu Chu and the Philly Flash.” If you had a VCR, you would have to do the same thing while hoping that no one would notice the excessive wear and tear on the pause and fast-forward buttons–that is, if you were able to get your hands on the likes of “Porky’s” or “Emmanuelle” in the first place. For those who didn’t have access to cable or a VCR, even more desperate measures were called for–the saddest usually involved staring intently at the scrambled picture of a pay-TV service like “ON-TV” in the hopes of spotting something that looked vaguely like a nipple. (And no, such behavior was not an exclusive male trait–I am betting that plenty of young girls around this time did the same with titles such as “All the Right Moves” and “The Blue Lagoon.”)
Nowadays, of course, little punks have many ways of getting a hold of cinematic smut to watch over and over to their hearts content. DVD, in particular, has been a boon for such activities. For starters, the players seem to be everywhere–including videogame consoles and computers–which makes the actual viewing a lot more convenient. More importantly, while earlier generations had to contend with fuzzy videotapes that would break or wear out from repeated use and where the paused image would usually result in a jittery picture, DVDs are cheap to buy, have a crystal-clear picture, don’t wear out and, best of all, offer easy access to what could be called “the good parts”–unless, of course, the title in question has been directed by David Lynch.
In a strange tribute to the good old days of 80's-era skin flicks, MGM has decidedly to jump-start puberty in a new generation of youngsters with this week’s release of five vintage examples of celluloid smut from their archives. Some people may howl over the relative lack of extras–no commentaries, no deleted scenes, no nothing, aside from the occasional trailer. Purists, I suspect, will hardly notice the bare-bones treatment as they concentrate on watching the other bare body parts on display.
The titles include:
BOLERO (1984): The “Showgirls” of its day, this legendary bomb, a glorified home movie from pseudo-auteur John Derek, was derided as one of the worst films ever made and essentially brought the once-promising film career of Bo Derek to a screeching halt. Alas, it lacks any of the wit or intriguing subtext of the likes of “Showgirls”. Set in the 1920's, Bo plays a timid virgin (ha-ha!) who travels the world in search of the perfect man to introduce her to the pleasures of the flesh. After a few false starts (notably a sheik who does some intriguing things with milk and honey but spends too much time with his hookah to do much more), she finds her perfect man in a bullfighter. Tragically, he is gored in the ring in the worst possible place and Bo does everything in her power to ensure that he will one day rise again. Yes, it really is as dumb as it sounds–a movie so bad that it actually gives nudie films a bad name.
LADY CHATTERLEY’S LOVER (1981): This soft-core adaptation of the scandalous novel by D.H. Lawrence, in which a beautiful and lonely woman of privilege takes up with a rough and randy gardener after a war injury prevents her husband from giving her the satisfaction she requires, reunited director Just Jaeckin and actress Sylvia Kristel for the first time since their 1974 classic “Emmanuelle.” Not a particularly good film by any means but it has a nice visual style and Kristel is charming and sexy enough to overcome the fact that she isn’t really the strongest of actresses.
MATA HARI (1985): Kristel returns, this time under the direction of cult filmmaker Curtis Harrington, for this loose–hell, promiscuous–recounting of the life of the infamous German spy. Pretty boring and not even the requisite good parts are enough to warrant a glance from anyone other than confirmed Kristel fanatics.
WARM SUMMER RAIN (1991): A very strange and hallucinatory film about a would-be suicide who escapes from a hospital and somehow finds herself married to an equally mysterious stranger that she apparently met in a bar–she tries to piece together the mystery of her life in a way that requires her to remove her clothes a lot. Since the woman in question is played by Kelly Lynch, whose career sadly never lived up to the promise indicated by “Road House” and “Drugstore Cowboy,” I doubt that many viewers will be complaining.
WILD ORCHID 2: TWO SHADES OF BLUE (1992): In this in-name-only sequel to the sexy camp classic, a 1950's teen (Nina Siemaszko, whose career was helped by this film almost as much as Carre Otis’s was by the original) supports herself after her beloved father’s death by working in a brothel. Eventually, she decides to leave and become an ordinary high-school student but her past catches up with her with sexy results. Very silly and with too much plot (none of it interesting) getting in the way of the good stuff.
BOLERO: Written and directed by John Derek. Starring Bo Derek, George Kennedy, Andrea Occhipinti, Ana Obregon and Olivia D’Abo. 1984. 105 minutes. Rated R $14.95
LADY CHATTERLEY’S LOVER: Written by Just Jaeckin and Christopher Wicking. Starring Just Jaeckin. Starring Sylvia Kristel, Shane Briant, Ncholas Clay and Ann Mitchell. 1981. 104 minutes. Rated R. $14.95
MATA HARI: Written by Joel Ziskin. Directed by Curtis Harrington. Starring Sylvia Kristel, Christopher Cazenove, Oliver Tobias, and Gaye Brown. 1985. 103 minutes. Rated R. $14.95.
WARM SUMMER RAIN: Written and directed by Joe Gayton. Starring Kelly Lynch, Barry Tubb, Ron Sloan and Barry Poindexter. 1991.82 minutes. Rated R $14.95
WILD ORCHID 2: TWO SHADES OF BLUE: Written and directed by Zalman King. Starring Nina Siemaszko, Wendy Hughes, Tom Skerritt, Christopher McDonald and Joe Dallesandro. 1992. 111 minutes. Rated R. $14.95
NEW AND NOTABLE
THE AMATEUR (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $14.95): After his girlfriend is killed in a terrorist attack, CIA numbers cruncher John Savage blackmails his superiors into putting him through assassin training so that he can get revenge on her killers. Although it never made much of a splash when released in theaters in 1982, this was a pretty taut and efficient thriller–one of those things that you stumble upon on cable and wonder why you’ve never heard of it before–and it holds up pretty well today.
THE BOSTON RED SOX 2004 WORLD SERIES COLLECTION (A&E Home Video. $129.95): 12 discs containing every ALCS and World Series game of the Red Sox’s improbable 2004 championship season (not to mention various bonus materials)–$129.95. Being able to watch the humiliating collapse of both the New York Yankees and the St. Louis Cardinals in perfect digital clarity over and over–priceless.
THE ERROL MORRIS COLLECTION (MGM Home Entertainment. $49.95): Although it took 2003's “The Fog of War” to finally expose his work to a larger audience, documentarian Errol Morris has been making fascinating and challenging works that have pushed the boundaries of the genre for a couple of decades and this box set comprises three of his most startling efforts. 1978's “Gates of Heaven” is his masterpiece, a funny, sad, lyrical and utterly hypnotic look at the working of a couple of California pet cemeteries. 1980's “Vernon, Florida,” one of his lesser-known works, is zn intriguing look at the oddball denizens of a small Florida town. As for “The Thin Blue Line,” his 1988 examination of the circumstances surrounding the 1976 murder of a Texas state trooper, is probably most famous today for the fact that the publicity surrounding Morris’s investigation led to the exoneration and release of Randall Adams, the innocent man who found himself on Death Row for the crime. (This week also marks the release of “Errol Morris’ First Person,” the complete collection of the short-lived television series in which featured interviews with any number of curious characters.)
GATES OF FLESH (The Criterion Collection. $29.95): From iconoclastic Japanese director Seijun Suzuki (who went on to make such legendarily weird films as “Branded to Kill” and “Pistol Opera”) comes this startling bit of pulp fiction about a group of prostitutes in post-war Japan whose camaraderie comes under fire when a strange ex-soldier falls into their mist. If you dig this 1964 film (and I hope that you do), Criterion is also releasing Suzuki’s equally harrowing 1965 follow-up “The Story of a Prostitute,” in which a “comfort woman” in Manchuria becomes the virtual property of a brutal lieutenant, only to fall for his more sensitive subordinate officer.
HOTEL (MGM Home Entertainment. $24.98): Although this 2002 effort, vaguely involving a troubled Venice-based film production and a hotel apparently run by cannibals, was easily the least interesting and coherent of Mike Figgis’s exercises in free-form digital-video cinema (which he explored more fruitfully in “The Loss of Sexual Innocence” and “Timecode”), I would take it, for all of its failings, over the likes of a blander and more conventional Figgis effort like “Cold Creek Manor” any day of the week.
THE JERK-26th ANNIVERSARY EDITION (Universal Home Video. $19.98): With the possible exceptions of “The Mask” and “Innerspace,” this could well be the funniest Jerry Lewis movie that Lewis never made–a side-splitting look at an ordinary American idiot (Steve Martin in his first film lead) as he rises from his humble beginnings as a poor black sharecropper to earn and lose both millions of dollars and the girl of his dreams (Bernadette Peters). Although Martin would go on to make far more intelligent films such as “Roxanne” and “All of Me” (before becoming the family-friendly buffoon in junk like “Bringing Down the House” and “Cheaper by the Dozen”), this may be, with the possible exception of his underrated “The Man With Two Brains,” the flat-out funniest work of his entire career. Although the extras are slim–a ukelele lessons and some of the Lost Filmstrips of Father, the mere fact that this release marks the film’s first appearance in its original screen ratio makes it worth celebrating.
MISS CAST AWAY AND THE ISLAND GIRLS (Vanguard Cinema. $19.95): Colleague David Cornelius has already waxed about this bizarro spoof on this very website to such a degree that I feel that I have nothing to add to the proceedings. However, I am stunned that while his review highlights the presence of such luminaries as Michael Jackson, Stuart Pankin and Charlie Schlatter, he neglects to mention that it also features, according to IMDB, the likes of Lou Ferrigno, Bernie Kopell, Anna Nicole Smith and Eric Roberts.
NOT ANOTHER TEEN MOVIE-UNRATED EXTENDED DIRECTOR’S CUT (Columbia/Tri-Star Home Entertainment. $19.95): Considering the fact that the original version of this weak spoof of teen-oriented films was already one of the most vulgar and grotesque comedies of recent years, it is impossible to imagine what images could possibly be included in the 11 new minutes added here. You’ll have to tell me because even if those scenes consisted entirely of Mia Kirshner strutting around in her sexy school outift (in a spoof of Sarah Michelle Gellar’s character in “Cruel Intentions,” a film that didn’t exactly take itself seriously in the first place), it still wouldn’t be enough to induce me to sit through it again.
SLAVES OF NEW YORK (Columbia/Tri-Star Home Entertainment. $24.96): As horrifying as it sounds, “Le Divorce” was not the worst item from the Merchant-Ivory production line. That booby prize would have to go to this 1987 misfire, a grotesque adaptation of Tama Janowitz’s best-seller about the lives and loves of a number of thoroughly obnoxious and unlikable New Yorkers. Already horribly date when it was released, I can’t imagine how dreadful it must seem nowadays.
STEAMBOY (Columbia/Tri-Star Home Entertainment. $26.96): The latest stunner from Katsuhiro Otomo, his first film since the landmark “Akira,” was a fascinating Industrial Revolution-era epic about a steam-powered ball with unimaginable powers and the young boy trying to keep it from falling into the wrong hands. Visually stunning and thought-provoking, this is the kind of animated film that will dazzle audiences of all ages equally.
THE UPSIDE OF ANGER (New Line Home Entertainment): The upside of watching this sleeper about a woman trying to hold her family together while coping with the sudden disappearance of he husband is that you get to see a quartet of good performances from Alicia Witt, Keri Russell, Evan Rachel Wood and Erika Christensen as the daughters caught in the middle, a very good performance from Kevin Costner as the friendly neighborhood alcoholic ex-ballplayer and a great performance from Joan Allen in the lead. The downside is that you have to put up with some sloppy plotting and direction from writer-director Mike Binder, a go-nowhere subplot about an older man (Binder, not surprisingly) trying to hit it off with Christensen and a truly unspeakable ending that tries to wrap things up in a clever and ironic way that only serves to enrage anyone who has made an emotional investment in the story or the characters.
XXX-STATE OF THE UNION (Columbia/Tri-Star Home Entertainment. $29.98): Now you can relive the Box-Office Slump of Summer ‘05 in the privacy of your own home with this fairly tenuous and thoroughly useless continuation of the 2002 Vin Diesel vehicle. Even sillier than the original (which at least got a little life from the spiky presence of Asia Argento), the best thing that you can say about this nonsense, in which Ice Cube somehow prevents a military coup of the White House by keeping it real and blowing a lot of stuff up, is that it doesn’t have anyone running around while clad in a man-fur.
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originally posted: 07/29/05 13:53:10
last updated: 08/21/05 02:29:57