Saturday, August 12, 2017

197. Blue Money

197. Blue Money (1972)
Director: Alain Patrick
Writers: Nick Boretz from a story by Alain Patrick
From: Cult Cinema

Jim is an underground porno producer/director trying to make enough money to pay off his boat so he and his family can leave the industry. However challenges from crooked distributors to police busts keep pushing him deeper.

How does Wikipedia describe this movie? “Blue Money is a 1972 American soft core porn film written and directed by Alain Patrick as Alain-Patrick Chappuis and based upon a story by Nick Boretz.” Hoo boy. And let’s note that Patrick is also the star of the movie. So it’s a porno written, directed, and starring one guy. I’m sure it’s going to be a measured character study.

Oh wait, no, this is going to be on The Room spectrum. My patience for this flick is right near zero from jump street. First thing I notice, Patrick’s delivery is just a step above Tommy Wiseau’s. This bites.

The story, in brief. Jim is a porno director/producer. The cops are monitoring him because they’re trying to bust all the distributors and producers. Distributors are screwing Jim and his partner over, always shorting them by exactly $1,000, and Jim is starting to face marital problems from the stress of his job. He loves his wife and kid and is constantly working on finishing the houseboat they’ve been building so they can get away from it all, but, as his wife notes, he’s become more distant and depressed the longer he’s been working in the industry.

Jim becomes infatuated with a new actress which makes him resistant to casting her, but she begs and he relents. Then he has an affair with her. Which doesn’t come to much until the very end when his wife sees the two of them together, ironically right after he’s told the mistress he’s not going to cheat on his wife anymore, which leads to a big fight.

At the same time as the fight, the cops are cracking down on every level of the industry and Jim’s partner bails because he’s obtained funding for an independent film. Jim, desperate to make one last movie and finally pay off the boat, shoots in his own house (after his wife has left him, temporarily). The cops raid the house, arrest everyone, which leads to a discussion between Jim and the cop about how the courts will let him off because of free speech, but they arrested him just to inconvenience him and cost him money. The cop specifically says it’s to bring Jim down to everyone else’s level. Jim responds that all the “normal” people the cop wants him to be like are the ones buying the films and it’s not up to the cop how he lives.

The movie closes with Jim and his family relaxing on their boat.

God, this sucked. It’s slow, joyless, and self-important. It’s a nudie flick with a message. What that message is, though, I couldn’t tell you because it doesn’t seem to be particularly on the pornographer’s side. So how are we supposed to read his argument against the cop at the end? Is he right to be pushing back against this authoritarianism or is he just offering shallow self-justification? On the other hand, can you honestly draw an anti-porn message from a softcore porn flick?

One big thing holding the movie back is just how joyless it is. This is a porno film that’s slow, dim, and miserable. No one’s having any fun—are you turned on yet? You could tell an interesting story about porn as a business, how it’s work, and, in being work, how it can be dehumanizing, and that movie is Boogie Nights. This movie’s trying to have its cake and eat it too—being a softcore porno, existing exclusively to showcase female nudity and simulated sex acts, but offering up criticisms of pornography. It’s a movie that’s trying to sneer at the very thing it is.

So a big ol’ skip recommended here. It’s a nudie flick without any fun that thinks it’s being bold. Let it sit in the corner smelling its own farts while you do something more fun with your time.

Friday, August 11, 2017

196. Savage Journey

196. Savage Journey (1983)
Director: Tom McGowan
Writer: Philip Yordan
From: Cult Cinema; Drive-In

The story of the rise of the Mormon church and it’s eventual settlement in Utah.

We open with a scene of Joseph Smith being kidnapped from his home. He’s about to be lynched when a local preacher stops the mob, noting there are too many of them present to get away with it. So they tar and feather him instead, leaving him tied up. The preacher’s wife shows up and cuts him loose because what’s been done to him is wrong, and the movie is off and running!

Or generally limping along.

I’m not going to go through the plot of this movie because there isn’t one. It’s about Joseph Smith meeting Brigham Young and how the latter ends up developing the church into what it is today. Only it doesn’t communicate that story. There’s no sense of drama, tension, or focus. Rather than focus on a particularly dramatic moment in the development of the Mormon church, it tends to gloss the entire history, never focusing much on any one thing.

If there’s a narrative throughline, it’s the story of Samuel. Brigham Young, during his first mission trip, encounters Samuel and his wife Claire. They’ve immigrated from Europe and Samuel has become an atheist or at least an agnostic due to his rejection of aristocratic corruption. His position is, “How can God be good when He allows such suffering?” Basically it’s the question of theodicy which has never been satisfactorily answered. Claire, though, becomes a member of the church and the couple follow Smith and Young across the country as the church is routinely driven from their homes.

Samuel, narratively, is supposed to be the point-of-view character, the outsider who’s eventually won over to the faith thereby communicating the righteousness of Mormonism. The movie doesn’t spend enough time with him to do that, though, only checking in with him in each town for him to say, “I ain’t a Mormon yet,” and, “What? We’re moving again? Oh, c’mon!” At the end, of course, he converts. If that’s the story you want to tell, fine, even my unbelieving heart likes stories of faith journeys, but actually tell it.

Instead, we generally follow Young (Smith is killed by a mob halfway through) and there’s no real character there. He’s deeply dedicated to the faith and that’s about it. Various things happen, but I’m not Mormon so their importance or significance don’t register, and the movie is counting on you having that context. This isn’t a dramatization of the early Mormon church, it’s an illustration. You have to plug in the details yourself. “Oh, this is that moment. So that’s what it looked like. Oh, the Governor is lying to Smith right now! This is tense.” You have to come with that knowledge. The movie doesn’t give you any of these cues itself.

Initially, I thought this was going to be propaganda or a proselytizing work, but it doesn’t even reach those levels. It’s very much addressing an audience with a shared context and not making a great effort to talk to anyone else. There are nods to outsiders—the church’s stance on race (officially anti-slavery, but fails to mention their belief that non-white people are marked as cursed by God) and polygamy—but they feel incidental, like literal asterisks. Regarding polygamy, Young finds out about Smith’s declaration of it, tells his wife he’s not interested in having a second wife, then she picks a young widow for him to marry. The way it’s played up is, instead of having a harem, it fills Young’s house with a gaggle of gossiping women. Later, when representatives from the government ask Young about the church’s stance on polygamy, he plays it up as a mercy, as widows and spinsters being taken in and given a home—it’s not some creepy sex thing, it’s like an animal shelter, for women!

The movie’s kind of just nothing. If it focused in more on a specific moment, it’d be more interesting, but that’s not its goal. This is a movie for Mormons, part of that genre of Christian media whose primary purpose is to fill time to prevent secular media from having a space. It’s not being held to the standard of being good, it’s being held to the standard of being ideologically correct. As long as it reinforces the central message of “keep thinking about the church,” it passes. Unsurprisingly, the pair behind this movie did another one just called Brigham. I imagine it’s a very similar script.

McGowan and Yordan themselves are an interesting pair, though. Yordan wrote the script for the hallucinogenically bad Cry Wilderness, episode 2 of Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return and the two of them did Night Train to Terror (forthcoming on this blog) and Cataclysm aka The Nightmare Never Ends. In other words, they’re exploitation hacks. Here they’re just exploiting an audience that’s willing to be pandered to. It’s neither offensive nor dramatic and just kind of meanders along. I don’t particularly recommend it, but it’s not hard to find if you’re curious.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

195. Primal Impulse

195. Primal Impulse aka Le Orme (1975)
Directors: Luigi Bazzoni and Mario Fanelli
Writers: Luigi Bazzoni and Mario Fanelli from a novel by Mario Fanelli
From: Sci-Fi Invasion

A woman awakens to discover she’s lost three days. She starts to follow little clues scattered through her life that lead her to a small seaside town. Only, once she arrives, the mystery deepens.

We open with a man being stranded on the moon as part of an experiment. Who he is, why he’s being left behind, and what the experiment is aren’t revealed. It turns out this is all a recurring dream of Alice, an international translator.

And while that would normally be a red flag in a movie—opening with a dream sequence—it kind of works here. There is an overriding dream-logic to this movie. Grindhouse Review describes it as “Lynchian,” which is apt, and I think there are tonal elements that hearken back to Argento. There are layers of reality and performance at work here. Alice’s dream, for instance, is of a movie she saw as a child called Footsteps On the Moon (an alternative title for this movie) that terrified her so much that she never saw the end of it.

Alice is awoken from the dream by a friend asking to be picked up from the airport, but Alice had forgotten she was coming to town. She sits down to finish up transcribing and translating a tape and then goes to work. It’s Monday. Before she leaves the house, she finds a postcard for the Hotel Garma torn into four pieces laying on her floor.

When she gets to work, though, she learns that it’s actually Thursday and another person had been brought in to do her job. She tries to figure out what happened over the course of those missing days and eventually goes to Garma since she has some vague memories of the place.

Once she arrives, she meets a child who recognizes her as “Nicole” and says she’d been there the previous week. She starts to find more clues that fill in the gap of her lost days, but also starts to wonder if there isn’t something else afoot.

An interesting little flick that’s diminished by a cheap translation. There are long periods without background music and, what music there is, tends to be one piano cue over and over. However, the central story, that central mystery, really carries the piece. A detail here, a detail there, all start pointing to something. Unfortunately, the mystery is more interesting than the revelation. That may well be a challenge of having a good mystery, though. Few things could satisfactorily answer the questions of Alice’s situation, but, even keeping that in mind, the end still felt like a bit of a cop-out. Because I did find the mystery so compelling, though, I haven’t revealed the end here and won’t. Also, Rotten Tomatoes notes that there are various versions of this movie so a different cut may have a better ending. The description they have there doesn’t follow the order of events on my copy and they offer run times ranging from 88 to 110 minutes (my copy is 92 minutes).

I’d call this a light recommend. Because of the flat colors and so-so ending, it’s not as good as it could be. However, it’s not bad and manages to be naturally compelling. I was constantly asking, “What’s going on?” but not in the way I do with most of these movies. Every new detail, every revelation just drew me deeper into the story, and that’s an accomplishment. However, it might be worth hunting down the original Italian version and watching that.

Friday, August 04, 2017

194. Rattlers

194. Rattlers (1976)
Director: John McCauley
Writers: Jerry Golding, John McCauley
From: Cult Cinema; Drive-In
Watch: archive.org

A herpetologist investigating unusual rattlesnake attacks starts to uncover a military conspiracy.

We open with two shitty kids going to play in a canyon. They fall into a snake pit, get all kinds of bit, and die. Frankly, great start, really great start. Until the credits are done, I’m convinced this movie has its heart in the right place.

Then we get to the main character, Tom. His names important because it’s what distinguishes him from Dick and Harry, you know, the trio of uninteresting, indistinguishable men. Tom is a herpetologist and a college professor—think Indiana Jones, but without the charisma, charm, or excitement. He’s asked by the local sheriff to come down and inspect the bodies in case there’s anything unusual. He looks, says, “Them’s snakebites,” and collects his check.

Only more people start dying from snake attacks. A kid is attacked in a barn and his mom is overwhelmed by snakes in her house. A plumber gets bit and the snakes attack the woman in the house by crawling through the pipes. I think there are others, but I can’t remember or care. The deaths aren’t given any weight whatsoever in the movie so each scene of a new character just becomes a dull countdown to their inevitable death by snake.

Tom returns at the sheriff’s request and is paired with a photographer, Ann. Tom is very upset that Ann’s a woman since there’s no way she can handle the work ahead—some light hiking and overnight camping. She’s just back from two years in the Vietnam press pool, by the way, but, yeah, sure, this will be too much for her delicate feminine sensibilities.

This isn’t me being PC, the movie makes a special point, several times, to complain about “women’s lib” and Ann not being willing to know her place. All this despite her being more than capable of doing the work. And the movie actively takes a stand against her. She calls Tom out for there not being enough women in various fields and says he has the power to change that. He brushes her off, but this is literally right after he’s fought with the sheriff over having her assigned as his partner—he’s actively preventing a woman from doing work she’s capable of, but she’s the crazy one.

Anyway, they eventually realize there’s a military base nearby all the attacks and go there. They learn from doctor in the lab who specializes in biological materials that a soldier died from particularly aggressive snakebites a few months prior. Then a helicopter pilot tells Tom about depositing a container of something in an abandoned mine.

Tom and Ann investigate the mine, find a massive nest of snakes, and go have a romantic weekend in Vegas. No, that’s literally how the story progresses. They’re looking for the source of all these snake attacks, find it, then bounce to Vegas without telling anyone about the nest.

They return to their tent where they’re attacked by snakes but saved at the last minute by the military. Two soldiers have been killed by snakebite and the doctor isn’t willing to keep quiet anymore. Twist! They were working on chemical weapons at the base and disposed of a leaking canister of something that makes animals hyper-violent. The base Colonel was the mastermind, kills the doctor, and runs to the abandoned mine for one last standoff for reasons. The whys of any of this will constantly elude you. He shoots at some cops, cops shoot back, he trips while holding a grenade and falls into a snake pit where he blows up, sealing the mine once again. Tom and Ann drive off together to settle back down near the college. THE END.

The movie is just so much nothing. No tension, no mystery, no humor. It’s just stagnant from the word “go.” Even the riffing from the Cinematic Titanic version I watched couldn’t energize this sodden lump. The movie has plenty to make fun of and vast stretches of silence, but it seemed like even the riffers were drawn into the fetid languor of the whole thing and half-dozed through their jokes. And I say this as a fan of Cinematic Titanic. I was lucky enough to see them riff a total of six movies live. Rattlers sapped any energy they had.

So, obviously I’m not recommending it. The movie is, at least, in the public domain so you can find a copy at archive.org. I can’t add a new copy because Mill Creek wiped themselves on both copies I have. Not a great loss, though. Like I said, there’s not much here to watch.