Friday, July 01, 2016

077. Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe and 078. Almost Hollywood

Jump to Almost Hollywood (1994)

077. Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940)
Directors: Ford Beebe and Ray Taylor
Writers: George H. Plympton, Basil Dickey, and Barry Shipman based on the Alex Raymond comic strip
From: Cult Cinema
Watch: serial on (ep1)

A compilation of the serial by the same name featuring Flash facing off against the evil Emperor Ming who is attacking the Earth with his evil “death dust.”

Like many of these movies cut together from serials, this one is full of incident, but moves slowly. Imagine whittling an entire season of a TV show into 90 minutes and you have a pretty good sense of what this feels like. On top of that, this is the 2nd or 3rd one of these so there's no character development or explanation of the setting at all. Since I don't know the Flash Gordon story, I was really confused. Apparently there are multiple planets or Ming is the evil ruler of one country on another planet?

The inciting incident is a disease called “the Purple Death” is striking Earth and it's caused by Ming. So Flash faces off with Ming's forces several times, ends up in, and then escaping, Ming's fortress, and eventually saves the day. I'd say more, but every mini-arc within the movie is a variation of that.

This might be more compelling if watched as the actual serials. Each of those is 15-30 minutes long, so there's probably more going on. Also, it's interesting if you think of it as a structure for a D&D game—you have a constantly escalating series of encounters with the big bad that ends in a crescendo of action. Pretty fun as a game. Not so great as a movie.

I don't think this is actually PD. It's a moot point since my copy has the Mill Creek bug on it, but this is a Universal serial, and I think the studios were pretty careful with not letting their products fall into the public domain. That said, the entire serial is available on starting here, so you might be able to see a more entertaining version than I did.

078. Almost Hollywood (1994)
Director: Michael Weaver
Writer: Michael Weaver
From: Cult Cinema

A producer at Straight-to-Video productions starts finding his comfortable world under attack as his financers want to up the production value and people who have been crossing him start ending up dead.

Two years after The Player skewered Hollywood pomposity and self-importance, we get Almost Hollywood, a movie that strives to do the same for the world of low-budget filmmaking. If only it were that smart.

We open with a man tied to a bed, a woman in lingerie, and a bad synth score. This may well be a Skinimax production, especially since she’s topless before 2:10. She approaches the bed, pulls out an ice pick, and the guy gives the best line read of the movie. “No. Not you. You’re the one who killed my brother and his boyfriend.” Read it in the flattest, most affectless voice you can and you’ll be close to how gloriously bad the delivery is.

Then someone yells, “Cut,” and it’s revealed that this is all a movie-within-a-movie and we’re on the set of Straight To Video productions, a company that releases low-budget softcore films that it’s head producer insists on calling “erotic thrillers.” The director is a guy in brownface doing a really bad Indian stereotype, which is also his character. I mean, his character is literally a guy from Cleveland who is doing brownface and a bad Indian stereotype so he can get ahead in Hollywood.

And there we have the central problem of the film. Is that clever, or crap? It’s not pulled off at all, I’m not trying to imply that it is, but is the gag there because this isn’t too far from the reality of the straight-to-video scene, or is it just supposed to be its own joke? It’s the question you can ask about every part of this movie.

So the producer steps in, he’s a scumbag cheating on his wife with the lead actress who he’s just stringing along, and no one likes him. The financers want to class up their productions so they’ve signed a multi-picture deal with a former Playboy Playmate to star in films written and directed by her idiot boyfriend. Around the same time, the lead actress, angry at being screwed out of yet another role, tells the producer’s wife about the affair. He’s kicked out of the house, moves back with his mother, and the actress is murdered on set.

This, by the way, is forty minutes into the movie. The producer is the obvious suspect, but there’s no evidence linking him to the crime, so things continue. The Playmate takes over the role in the mid-production film, her boyfriend takes over directing, but he doesn’t know what he’s doing so everything’s going over-schedule and over-budget. Now the financers are breathing down the producer’s neck to sort things out. Then the idiot boyfriend gets murdered.

Again, the producer is the suspect, but the show must go on so his assistant, who’s been gunning for a directing job throughout the movie, takes over the role of director. Because the producer has become a lightning-rod for controversy, the financers fire him and replace him with his assistant. Then the assistant reveals to the producer that, big surprise, he’s the real killer, and has framed the producer. At the last moment, a cop barges in and shoots the producer whose last words are, “I like my movies.”

We close with an extended epilogue on set of everything going great for the killer, then a credit sequence of the killer and the Playmate in a hot tub together. That credit sequence, though, is another meta gag, repeating the trope of it being a movie-within-a-movie.

This is an “edgy” satire without the comic timing or bite of satire, which is a real shame. The Player in the softcore industry would actually make an interesting film. American Movie demonstrates just how weird independent production can get and I’m sure the straight-to-video realm has its own particular quirks. This doesn’t explore that, though. There’s ultimately no wit to it nor any understanding of what makes these low-budget pieces unique. It’s just a bunch of unlikeable people being dicks, and somehow that’s supposed to be enough. That it fails to suffice probably isn’t surprising. Too dull and uninspired to recommend, even as a bad movie. I do recommend, though, the user review on the film’s IMDB page from Wizard-8 who has a glorious hate-on for this film. Having watched it, I will say he is too kind.

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