Sunday, December 30, 2007


A thoughtful but anonymous reader wrote to suggest that my examination of erotic thriller queens must include the estimable Shannon Whirry. Sadly, the star of the Animal Instincts series is not as prolific as Shannon Tweed nor the Shannonesque Tane McClure, so we will have to wait until AI3 for a full appraisal. But thanks for asking.

What is striking about the "erotic thriller" genre is that these are just the kinds of films that Jack Horner--the Burt Reynolds character in Boogie Nights--dreamed of making: smut with stories and characters we care for. Current product reveals what a sad dream that was, a confused denial of the purpose of porn. All the talking gets in the way of the nudity, which in the cases at hand doesn't fully deliver. The eroticism is presented in quick-cut montages that seem assembled from the same list: she on top, rollover, he on top, hint of orality, giddyup cowboy, dissolve to morning, argument. The wah-wah funk score has been replaced with New Age lite jazz. In satisfying the market for hedonistic, amoral fantasies, real pornography is the more honest form. Maybe you don't feel as slimy watching Red Shoe Diaries as Debbie Does Dallas, but you'll be bored more often.

I invited my friend Jeff to help me with this month's careful scientific evaluation. Jeff is the editor of the electronic Witzelsucht Memorandum, and founder of the Delphine Zentout Appreciation Society. In other words, a connoisseur. He also brought some interesting beer.

Slogan: Looks CAN Kill

"She still looks fantastic," a character says of Shannon Tweed, who as a pioneer of the erotic thriller has filmed more nude scenes than even Harvey Keitel. And she does look great, though she's playing "executive" rolls these days, leaving most of the "love interludes" to younger gals. Tweed is clearly a smart cookie, having worked up to executive status herself--she's associate producer of this murder mystery about scheming models. Ironically, her status demands higher production value and more involved plots, which in turn merely makes the intermittent nakedness seem that much sillier. Almost as silly as the actor playing the David Sanborn-as-Hef character. Continuing a trend for women-directed erotica, this is An Ellen Earnshaw Film, which also means that a man will cry. That crybaby is an unshaven PI, who mopes, "I made myself a promise--no more of the rough stuff. My life is simple now. The worst I see is a few broken hearts and some dirty pictures." Hey, that's my life! FREEZE-FRAME.

Slogan: Play now. Pay later.

This A Gary Graver Film is Indecent Proposal in reverse, which may sound high concept but answer me this: If a woman offers a man $40 grand to spend the night with her--and his wife doesn't have to know--what guy wouldn't jump at the deal? Even when the woman is the equinely-intimidating Tane McClure. A leading contender for Tweed's crown, McClure seems more eager than Tweed to doff the lingerie, but appears more a creation of science than study. The real question is why a supposed erotic thriller has such a downbeat ending? Isn't the purpose to thrill you, erotically? "I know words don't mean a damn thing at a time like this," Tane declared while seducing hubby in her penthouse lair. This one does: EJECT.

New Horizons
Slogan: Politicians all have their weaknesses. She's one.

"Let me get this straight," asked Jeff after several inexplicable nude scenes had dulled our senses. "She was going to blackmail him by showing that video to her father. But he's blackmailing her by threatening to send it to...her father?" Jeff's perplexion perceptively sums up the confusion at the heart of this story about a politician's daughter who is mistaken for a prostitute and decides to cash in on the error. But even that faulty logic gives way to much ugliness and a bloody conclusion. "What about the taut political thriller?" Jeff demanded, another victim of cover-art hype. Have another beer. That everything ends tragically is appropriate since there is absolutely no one to root for. EJECT.

E.I. Independent Cinema

In this age of Jurassic Park, it takes nerve to make a film with stop-motion clay dinosaurs and closeups of live-action Gila Monsters pretending to be dinosaurs. The trick kinda worked very early in this century. If the filmmakers were high school kids, or even college-age, one would say, "Atta-boy!" But these are deeply middle-aged men and not so fresh starlets running around in vaudeville caveman outfits speaking cave-talk ("tooka-tooka," indeed). "If they live apart from the men and won't have anything to do with them," wondered Jeff, "why do they get themselves all dolled up?" That was the fancy beer talking. Why does the dino's claw only rip off the brassier? Why is there a sudden rock video in the middle, extolling the Alyosaurus? Why is Karen Black--last seen mouthing nonsense in Plan Ten From Outer Space--again in a role that requires no English? Why is William (Blackula) Marshall involved? Why is this the "director's cut'? Why ask why? For refreshing my faith in humankind, I give it PAUSE.

BMG Video [CC]
Slogan: Micki, Tanya, and Jasmine have 24 hours to get divorced. There's just one problem...They're still single.

After hours of intense research, Jeff exclaimed, "What I wouldn't give to see a realistic, saggy breast." The good news is that they're in this film about three almost-30 women with man troubles. The grudging good news is that Paulina Porizkova, Illeana Douglas, and Julie Warner are far too classy to put them on display. What is on display in this A Film By Dana Lustig is Paulina's surprising confidence as an actress. She gives the line, "You really should try masturbating," all of the nuance and believability that it requires--and how long have I been waiting to hear her speak to me like that? Now, if she'd only make a film with Shannon Tweed....Anyway, Douglas--the distaff Buscemi--is her usual spunky self, the sorely missed Victoria Jackson has a cameo, as does the always classy Charles Martin Smith. It's a chick flick, sure, but with laughs and very little weeping. PAUSE.

Slogan: Warning--all attempts at synopsizing the film have ended in failure and hospitalization.

All directors are frustrated or former actors, but who would have guessed that art-house filmmaker Steven Soderbergh was such a wacky nut? He expertly plays a very amusing Dilbert, slaving pointlessly in a cubicle at a Scientology-style organization pushing something called "Eventualism." If you take away all the film-school-style techniques, there is a very funny film about modern office life hiding within this bizarrely constructed pastiche. Perhaps he's remaking his own Kafka as slapstick. Appearing on a stage at the beginning, Soderbergh declares that Schizopolis is "the most important film you will ever see. See it at full price," and explained that if we didn't understand it "keep in mind that this is your fault, not ours. You will need to see the film again and again until you understand everything." I will. PLAY.

Screen Pix

The first words that Richard Norton utters in this film: "Release the head." He says this to ex-wrestler Big John Studd. Later, ex-wrestler Professor Tanaka rips a noggin loose. An auspicious start, but these scenes have almost nothing to do with HyperSpace, which takes place on an interstellar garbage scow that has run out of gas. Sadly, even Ron (Superfly) O'Neal adheres to the black-guy-dies-first rule. Lynn-Holly Johnson can barely manage lines like "It's hard to know what love is." Norton manages to work in some of his kickboxing, which only makes one hope for more--or any--action. "I'm not sure I want to know how this turns out," Jeff had mumbled. It doesn't turn out, it just sorta ends. EJECT.

Columbia/Tristar [CC]
Slogan: The path to higher education is all downhill!

If his credit were "and Joe Flaherty" or "with Joe Flaherty as...," the former SCTV great might have some deniability about showing up in a Corey Haim/Brigitte Nielsen/Jim Varney film. Just picking up a check for a quick cameo, you know. But third-billed after Stallone's second wife is in too deep. The sadness in my heart is mirrored on Flaherty's face as he tries to react to "Hey, Vern!" Varney's non-jokes and Nielsen's odd accent. The wrinkles on Varney's face are also cause for alarm. But not as alarming as the sheer bulk of Brigitte. "How does a movie like this come to be?" Jeff had asked. Well, this is A John Shepphird Film, which apparently means no nudity, no dazzling snowboarding footage, and no sense to the script. Next time, Joe, just say no. EJECT.

Next: It's alive! (If you call that living.)