2016/07/30

Mediocre: Savage Streets

Savage Streets (1984)
Directed by Danny Steinmann
Written by Danny Steinmann, Norman Yonemoto
Produced by John Strong, John L. Chambliss, Michael Franzese, Cleve Landsberg
Starring Linda Blair, Robert Dryer, Johnny Venocur, Debra Blee, Scott Mayer, Marcia Karr, Luisa Leschin, Sal Landi, Linnea Quigley, John Vernon, Lisa Freeman
A trashy high school coterie in filthy Hollywood trifles with a slaughterous trio of drug dealers to their terminal peril until the baddest (Blair) among them snaps, gussies herself up and exacts her requital with bear traps and a crossbow. Nary a single silly shot of Steinmann's late exploitation thriller doesn't divert -- not the derision, pranks, catfights or combat -- and all present are serviceably typecast as confiding rape victim (Quigley), meshuga malefactor (Dryer), rugged yet ineffectual authority figure (Vernon), et al. Blair's coked to her tingling teeth, consonant with her castmates, and consequently unable to render her role with the deportment of a sane human, yet she nails the frenzied furor of her character's vigilantist break with fantastic panache, spouting cheesy, deliciously dynamic dialogue. Yonemoto and Steinmann imparted to their script meager logic but liberal requisites of its genre, blazoned with lascivious nudity and equally gratuitous gore. For all its inane engagement, Streets still can't prompt a moment's boredom, but it might've been bettered by less ribbing in interchange for more action; howbeit, ladies are never so delightfully daffy in B-fare as when so patently scripted by men!
Recommended for a double feature paired with The Warriors.

2016/07/28

Palatable: Cash McCall

Cash McCall (1960)
Directed by Joseph Pevney
Written by Cameron Hawley, Lenore J. Coffee, Marion Hargrove
Produced by Henry Blanke
Starring James Garner, Natalie Wood, Dean Jagger, Henry Jones, Nina Foch, E.G. Marshall, Roland Winters, Edward Platt, Otto Kruger
Of the plenteous polished, peremptory alpha males who dominated lead roles in the postwar era, few were so versatile as Garner, who's as becoming to the part of a suave financier as it he. When the aging, harried proprietor (Jagger) of a plastics manufacturer wearies of the clout abused by the administrator (Winters) of his largest client, he divests himself by sale to the vulpine raider, whose extravagant emption is as much a means to pursue the hand of his vendor's beauteous daughter (Wood) with whom he's enamored as a legitimate transaction. A succession of misunderstandings arising from incessant machinations, the intrigues of an embittered and infatuated assistant hotel manager (Foch) and the tainted reputation of his trade threaten to stymie McCall's romantic and financial prospects, but by scheme and sincerity, he prevails; don't they always? In conceivably the most satisfying of all his theatrical vehicles, the charismatic star neither overplays nor disappoints in practice of guile and reposed confession of heartsick vulnerability. None among the supporting players constitute a weak link, either: Marshall's in fine, typecast form as McCall's humorless lawyer, Foch metes charm and pathos to lend plausibility to her inane divorcee and Jones renders comic relief as a scrupulous yet ambitious efficiency consultant whose moral permutation underscores the narrative's principle theme. However, this cast's jewel is the indispensable love interest: ever a paragon of filmic femininity, Wood's loveliness nearly exceeds her expressive elan as the lively, lovelorn lass. This time capsule from the close of the '50s is irrefutably dated: Wood's screen mother advises her to marry in lieu of a frivolous career in illustration, and Garner mentions the fugacious potential of a military contract (ha!) in an obiter dictum. Its fun -- and an unexpected depth of characterization revealed by copious exposition -- is no less certain.

2016/07/26

Sublime: Hotel des Amériques

Hotel des Amériques (1981)
Directed by André Téchiné
Written by André Téchiné, Gilles Taurand
Produced by Alain Sarde
Starring Catherine Deneuve, Patrick Dewaere, Etienne Chicot, Sabine Haudepin, Dominique Lavanant, François Perrot, Josiane Balasko
Desolation's the commonality that binds an anesthesiologist (Deneuve) whose addiction to barbiturates stanches the grief attending her inamorato's recent death, and the erratically unbalanced son (Dewaere) of a hotel manager when she nearly runs him down in the wee hours; their untenable yet persisting romance provokes a constellation of acquaintances, especially his guarded yet ardent sister (Haudepin) and intolerably ignoble best friend (Chicot, as usual). Their first of seven collaborations to date finds Téchiné and Deneuve alike enkindling the best in one another as he explores his protagonists' fervor and heartbreak, skirting elegiac conventions to relate the durability of a love buckled beneath the weight of derangement and insecurity. Through Téchiné's lenses, Biarritz brims with forlorn poignancy and his single, elegantly exposed augury consorts with the yearning emanative in every surpassing personation, attesting the Gallic conviction that all solitude either bespeaks or occasions misery.

2016/07/24

Favorites: F for Fake

F for Fake (1973)
Directed by Orson Welles
Written by Orson Welles, Oja Kodar
Produced by François Reichenbach, Dominique Antoine, Richard Drewitt
Starring Orson Welles, Oja Kodar, Elmyr de Hory, Clifford Irving, François Reichenbach, Laurence Harvey
This tribute to frauds and chicanery by American cinema's rotund doyen disbosomed his enduring innovation with idiomatic economy by expanding the breadth of documentary form and style. Welles profiles a trio of impostors: embattled, consummate art forger Elmyr de Hory, his biographer Clifford Irving (himself notorious for inditing the sham Howard Hughes autobiography) and himself, the guileful stage magician who'd famously illuded a credulous interwar radio audience to the conviction that Martians had invaded New Jersey. With a profusion of often specious interviews and anecdotes, facetious speculation, convivial discourse, edited artifice and the allure of his leggy trophy wife Oja Kodar, Welles plumbs the mythoi of his subjects with relative indifference to veracity, knowingly betraying the fine (if extant) line delineating art and entertainment from skulduggery. Natheless, his excursive narrative is neither nugatory nor exclusively preoccupied with matters duplicitous: from one brilliantly cut sequence in which Hory and Irving (shot individually) appear tensely discordant as the former struggles to extenuate, Welles deftly segues to a profound meditation on the universal transience of life and attainment alike. Few filmmakers have showcased themselves with such indulgence or substance, surpassing most of his contemporaries and rivalling the visionary New Hollywood successors who esteemed him in veneration. Never mind what's authentic or counterfeit herein; for every ball in each of the obese master's dexterous hands, he's three lofted, and the assiduous craft evident in his intriguing disquisition, painstaking conjoint editing and prestidigitation verify the playful prowess of an interdisciplinary veteran prone to draw the curtain back, as likely as not to disclose what may be another illusion.
Recommended for a double feature paired with A Man Vanishes.

2016/07/22

Execrable: The Last Slumber Party

The Last Slumber Party (1988)
Directed by Stephen Tyler
Written by Stephen Tyler, Jim Taylor
Produced by Jill Clark, Bill F. Blair, Betty S. Scott
Starring Jan Jenson, Nancy Mayer, Joann Whitley, Rick Polizi, David Whitley, Danny David, Lance Descourez
One can only speculate from its uniquely categorical inferiority that this choice contender for the coveted title of World's Worst Slasher was less directed than wrangled over a weekend's duration. Flagrant flubs, erratic continuity and cretinous characterizations abound, proving more memorable than some premise involving a serial murderer's escape from a hospital where he's scheduled for a lobotomy, and subsequent massacre of his physician's unaccountably licentious nurse, obnoxious daughter, her halfwitted friends, their oafish prospective boyfriends, etc. Only thematically hackneyed, its sheer schlock is almost visionary: the acting's arrantly atrocious, audio is muffled, editing wildly irregular, its jejune dialogue reads like that scripted by an outraged adolescent and murky photography seems to have been achieved with a beclouding, lenticular application of petroleum jelly, and the soundtrack might have been derived from a recording of a Casio keyboard abused by a toddler. Its final thirty-odd minutes degenerate into a laggard, somniferous slog that may represent some attempt to simulate surrealism. It's best tolerated as a backdrop to amusing RiffTrax zingers, but for cinematic horror completists, the unsurpassed incompetence palpable in its every property is a wonder to watch.

2016/07/20

Mediocre: Runaway

Runaway (1984)
Directed and written by Michael Crichton
Produced by Michael I. Rachmil, Lisa Faversham, Kurt Villadsen
Starring Tom Selleck, Cynthia Rhodes, Gene Simmons, Kirstie Alley, Stan Shaw, G.W. Bailey
Robotic ubiquity in The Future of 1984 necessitates the constitution of police divisions who resolve crimes and mischances resulting from the malfunction of hacked and wayward automatons. When a domestic model wastes its proprietress, an investigating sergeant (Selleck) from one such squad paired with a brainish blonde cop (Rhodes) chance upon foul play perpetrated by a flagitious career culprit (Simmons) who exercises a rare verve for programming and tactics. Viewers oughtn't expect intrigue or depth on the order of Asimov, Gibson, Shirow, et al. from Crichton's silliest cinematic venture; novel technological innovations throughout are intended solely to occupy interest and forward plot: reconnoitering drones anticipating their contemporary equivalents, a reinforced pistol that shoots detonating tracker projectiles, wheeled, remote-controlled bombs and inexplicably sexapedal robot "spiders" armed with acidic needles are all sufficiently fun to upstage the human players. Selleck's adequate and tetchier than usual in the lead, his individual mustache immaculate even when his phiz is scathed by vitriol. Bereft of histrionic range yet far more Luciferian sans stage makeup, Simmons delightfully hams every line and crime as his truculent antagonist with facetious, stentorian delivery and a sinister visage only a Satan could love. Anyone deluded that Alley might've been at all appealing in the mid-'80s will be promptly disabused by her every guttural utterance, but she fits as a bitchy moll. Alas, Jerry Goldsmith's only wholly electronic score is also among his few truly amateurish attempts, but a few of his FM tones do tickle the ear. Ceaselessly footling and diverting, it's the class of movie that the cousins Globus would have been thrilled to produce (before stinting on its effects budget), seemingly geared to appeal to the average teenage boy. Howbeit, this feature's cult fanbase is distinguished by its worst member: Nicolae Ceausescu cited Runaway as his preferent pic, adverting frequently to Selleck and his character during the summary trial after which he and his spouse were executed. Evidently, Columbia didn't distribute in Romania during his regime.

2016/07/18

Palatable: Big Trouble

Big Trouble (1986)
Directed by Andrew Bergman, John Cassavetes
Written by Andrew Bergman
Produced by Mike Lobell
Starring Alan Arkin, Peter Falk, Beverly D'Angelo, Charles Durning, Paul Dooley, Robert Stack
Last and least ambitious of all Cassavetes' features is this amusing farce in which the stars of The In-Laws are reunited as a squirrelly insurance agent (Arkin) desperate to pay his musical triplets' prohibitive tuition and a charming, chronically fraudulent optimist (Falk) of putatively ailing health whose foxy wife (D'Angelo) solicits the former's abetment of her mariticide to bilk his firm for their mutual benefit. From a slow start, progressively outrageous contretemps and felonies throughout yield some priceless moments cunningly interpreted by seasoned players precisely apt for their respective roles. One of but a few movies helmed for hire by Cassavetes, it still bears many of his trademark conceits: oblique composition, detached wide shots, overhead close-ups, twain L cuts. The institutional modesty of this picture may portend its independent luminary's lapsing directorial fortunes, but his flair for exploiting the inelegance and quirk of a fair script in his last years is irrefutable.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Illegally Yours.