Fish-Flavored Baseball Bat

It's a John Cleese reference.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

VHS Vednesday: Hot Child in the City

HOT CHILD IN THE CITY (1987). Directed by John Florea. Starring Leah Ayres, Shari Shattuck, and Antony Alda.

And we bring Shari Shattuck month to a close with another of her B-movie offerings: The 1987 thriller Hot Child in the City.
A time capsule of '80s decadence, Hot Child in the City takes a look at the glamorous yet seedy world of the music industry--a look which, we may safely assume, bears no resemblance to the actual music industry. It begins with successful record executive Abby Wagner (Shari Shattuck) telling off washed-up rocker Charon (Antony Alda, Alan's younger half-brother) over his disappointing video. The tense scene is interrupted by the arrival of Abby's sister Rachel (Leah Ayres), the prototypical wide-eyed innocent small-town girl. After dismissing Charon, Abby brings her sister home and introduces her to the high-living ways of L.A., taking her out for a night on the town to a flashy nightclub. Later on, however, the fun and games come to an end when Abby turns up murdered. Determined to find her sister's killer, Rachel delves into the seamy underside of Abby's world, while simultaneously becoming close to the investigating detective (Geof Pryssir).
As a mystery, Hot Child in the City isn't terribly effective--the small cast has only three real suspects, one of whom is the classic "so suspicious he couldn't possibly be the killer" red herring. It's best appreciated for its dated interpretation of '80s glitz--director John Florea, over 70 at the time, didn't really seem to get the new wave/disco scene, but his visual sense (he was best known as a photographer before establishing himself as a television director) is strong enough to carry it off. And the soundtrack (as touted on the poster and video box cover) is filled with great tunes--in addition to the Nick Gilder track from which it takes its title, there's also Billy Idol's "Eyes Without a Face" and "Flesh for Fantasy," Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side," and Fun Boy Three's cover of "Our Lips Are Sealed," among others.
Who's Leaving This Off Their Resume?
The performances are generally good (even when some of the dialogue becomes laughable). Leah Ayres is convincing in both the "naive innocent" and "determined avenger" aspects of her role, and the sisterly camaraderie between Ayres and Shattuck is believable. The weakest portrayal comes from Antony Alda as the stereotypical flashy, bisexual rocker--he frequently goes WAY over the top. Shattuck's party-girl characterization also occasionally falls prey to exaggeration, but she manages to counteract it with quieter, truer moments.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

VHS Vednesday: A Man of Passion

A MAN OF PASSION (1989). Directed by Jose Antonio de la Loma. Starring Anthony Quinn, Maud Adams, and R.J. Williams.

As Shari Shattuck Month continues, it's important to note that Shari Shattuck didn't just work in exploitive B-movies...she's also appeared in acclaimed science-fiction TV series (Babylon 5), popular nighttime soaps (Dallas), big-budget summer action movies (On Deadly Ground), and some things that defy categorization. A Man of Passion falls more-or-less into that last group.
For the most part, this movie is a nostalgic coming-of-age tale concerning the relationship of the 12-year-old narrator George (R.J. Williams) and his grandfather Mauricio (Anthony Quinn), a celebrated artist living in a picturesque Spanish village. Dropped off by his actress mother (Elizabeth Ashley) while she's on tour with a play, George spends the summer getting to know his eccentric relative and other colorful characters, such as the cranky caretaker Basilio (Ray Walston). Encouraging the musically gifted George to pursue his talents, Mauricio makes a deal with a wealthy patron, painting his portrait (the one artistic motif Mauricio hates painting) in exchange for a piano.
It's difficult to say what audience the film was aimed at; the general life-affirming storyline and George's narration suggest a family-oriented picture, but the occasional instances of nudity and adult themes (embodied by Shari Shattuck as Mauricio's model/mistress) take the movie to an "R" rating and away from a potentially wider circle of viewers. It seems neither fish nor fowl; too racy for the viewers who might be drawn to the family-bonding/art-appreciation themes, too tame for those that might be drawn in by the promise of titillation.
Who's Leaving This Off Their Resume?
Anthony Quinn delivers the kind of "lusty man as life-force" characterization that became his trademark in Zorba the Greek; on the one hand, you might feel as though you've seen him do it all before, but on the other, he embodies it so well that it's hard to fault him for it. Ray Walston's cantankerous performance is likewise familiar but enjoyable. Young R.J. Williams manages to hold his own alongside his potentially overwhelming co-stars, though he sometimes falls victim to over-precious dialogue/narration. The weakest performance comes from Maud Adams as Mauricio's potential love interest; director Jose Antonio de la Loma may have been trying for a contrast between Adams' icy sophistication and Quinn's raw energy, but she simply comes across as bland and colorless by comparison. In her smaller part, Shari Shattuck is much more interesting and has better chemistry with both Quinn and Williams, gradually warming up to the boy after her initial surprise and resentment over the disruption of her routine.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

VHS Vednesday: Tainted

TAINTED (1988). Directed by Orestes Matacena. Starring Shari Shattuck, Park Overall, and Gene Tootle.

Shari Shattuck Month continues with another tape salvaged from Versatile Video's clearance sale: The 1988 thriller Tainted. The movie starts off very slowly (appearing more like a domestic drama than a thriller) as we're introduced to our heroine Cathy (Shattuck), a small-town schoolteacher happily married to a successful funeral director (Gene Tootle). About a half-hour into the movie, the plot finally takes a turn when a would-be rapist (Blake Fowler) breaks into her home. In the ensuing struggle, her husband kills the assailant before succumbing to a heart attack. In her panic (exacerbated by the fact that her husband blamed her for the assault just before his death), she attempts to cover up the crime by burying the rapist's body in the backyard, and arranging things so that her husband's death appears completely natural. Needless to say, that's not going to turn out well, especially after she tries to enlist her husband's sister (Park Overall) in maintaining the cover-up.
Writer/director Orestes Matacena (a familiar character actor) brings a bit of visual flair to the scenes (including a memorable shot framed through a fallen lampshade), but shows little control of pacing or mood. I'm disturbed by how the screenplay treats the husband's reaction to the attempted rape--was Matacena trying to make a comment on the "blame-the-victim" attitude, or was he unthinkingly accepting it? The optimist in me wants to think he was going for some sort of social commentary, but my cynical side tells me it's just another aspect of an exploitative B-movie. The cynic wins out.
Who's Leaving This Off Their Resume?
In spite of the screenplay's shortcomings, Shari Shattuck delivers an effective performance, lending conviction to even her character's more implausible actions. Park Overall is less successful in justifying her character's contradictory actions...she goes from barely tolerating her sister-in-law to becoming her willing accomplice in the cover-up. Quite apart from this inconsistency, Overall's characterization is annoyingly shrill and shrewish in general. Fortunately, she has gone on to better projects (The Critic, Reba, etc.) more suited to her comedic talents.

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Saturday, February 07, 2009

What I Sang 2-06

Last night at Midtown Tavern, I did my tribute to Lux Interior. There weren't any actual Cramps songs in the karaoke catalog (not that surprising, really), but they did have one song that the Cramps did a rockin' cover of:

"Green Door" by Jim Lowe.

Rest in peace, Lux...and stay sick!

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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

VHS Vednesday: The Naked Cage

THE NAKED CAGE (1986). Directed by Paul Nicholas. Starring Shari Shattuck, Christina Whitaker, and Angel Tompkins.

For no good reason other than the fact that she turned up in quite a few of the tapes I picked up during Versatile Video's liquidation sale, I hereby declare February to be Shari Shattuck Month on VHS Vednesday. And we'll start with her first leading role, in the 1986 women-in-prison movie The Naked Cage.
The Naked Cage follows the standard women-in-prison formula of a naive young woman (either wholly innocent or jailed for a minor infraction) thrown in with an assortment of hardened criminals and corrupt authority figures. That's pretty much all the plot you need; the rest is just details. All the standard characters are there: The psycho killer (Christina Whitaker), the evil lesbian warden (Angel Tompkins), the sympathetic junkie (Stacey Shaffer), the amazonian Queen Bee (Faith Minton), the weak-willed snitch (Lisa London), the rapist guard (Nick Benedict), the One Good Cop (Lucinda Crosby), and of course, the innocent heroine (Shari Shattuck). This list of stereotypes is not meant as a condemnation; the movie acknowledges its cliched nature and downright revels in it. This gleeful attitude, combined with the more outrageous elements (the warden's neon-lit love nest, and, of course, all the '80s hair), makes it difficult to take the movie seriously, muting its offensiveness (well, at least muffling it a little--it is still an '80s women-in-prison movie, after all) and making it an amusing romp, verging on parody without quite actually being one.
Who's Leaving This Off Their Resume?
Shari Shattuck delivers a believable characterization as the wrongly-imprisoned good girl, showing both vulnerability and strength depending on the requirements of the scene. However, the most memorable performance is Christina Whitaker's over-the-top turn as the ruthless killer Rita, taking great pleasure in her scenery-chewing evil deeds. Angel Tompkins tries to match her in the histrionic villainy category, but fails to pull it off quite as enjoyably.

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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Superman's Greatest Hits Continued...

I couldn't stop at just one...

Hey Superman! What are you the Man of?
He never gets to the chorus because he's too modest to name-drop himself and too nice to badmouth GL...

Of course he knows the lyrics to the Peter Gunn Theme! He's Superman!

His famous blue costume is torn at the shoulder...

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What Superman Sang

Dr. K asks: "Just what did Superman sing into the Miracle Machine in Final Crisis #7?" Well, here's my idea:

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