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With the crummy new Frank Oz take on Stepford clogging up theaters, it's rather surprising that nobody's decided to run a marathon of the three made-for-TV journeys into everyone's favorite little Connecticut suburb. Okay, so they're all allegedly pretty bad, but you'd think they'd be at least worth some curiosity value.
THE STEPFORD HUSBANDS is the most recent made-for-the-tube Stepford pic, and the only one I had on tape, so I figured I'd give it a look, having been unable to remember a damn thing about it. As you can probably guess, the premise involves a young couple (Donna Mills and Michael Ontkean) moving into Stepford to get away from it all. Just like the original (and the previous two telesequels) except this time.... THE MEN ARE ALL STEPFORDIZED!
Wow! Bet you didn't see that one coming.
Jodi (Mills) is a successful woman. Hubby Mick (Ontkean) is an author whose latest book has gone nowhere. He's also a sullen jerk who never smiles, so it's not really surprising that he's to be the victim of the Stepfordization process--this time via being diagnosed as having a psychological condition, sent to a hospital and made to take lots and lots of pills. (This was in the late-'90s, when everyone was getting all up in arms about giving Ritalin to kids. Now we just take it and shut up.)
What is surprising is that Jodi's opposed to it at first, only agreeing to it after Mick is drugged by their friend Caroline (Cindy Williams) and making a fool of himself at an important social function. Mick comes back from the clinic a good, subservient male uninterested in sports and no longer moping about the house, yet Jodi thinks this is a problem. Stupid lady.
THE STEPFORD HUSBANDS takes the plot of the original WIVES (peppering it with the drug themes of REVENGE) and strips it of all humor or social context. Without the undercurrent of dark comedy that ran through the original (or even the often-terrible screwball comedy that runs through the remake), what's left is a paint-by-numbers body snatchers plot, with ladies' club leader Louise Fletcher and clinic doctor Sarah Douglas nothing to do but look like fifth-rate super villains.
There's not even anything really creepy about it--the whole thing tries to go for a realistic vibe (entirely missing the point of the story in the first place), so when Mick comes back, he just seems like a nice guy, not the creepy drone that Stepford is known for. In fact, he's so much better of a person than the unsmiling, bitter dickweed that he begins the picture as, you wonder why the hell Jodi even has second thoughts, much less goes through the trouble of confronting the bad guys for an awful "love-conquers-all" ending. (An ending, by the way, similar to the remake of WIVES. Will they never learn?)
I wish THE STEPFORD HUSBANDS had been just a cheap knock-off of WIVES with its' cheeked tongue left intact and at least some creepiness, but it's not. It's a social satire with nothing to say and no humor--a nearly complete waste of time.
But you do get to see Cindy Williams gets bashed with a frying pan, so that's worth something.
(Useless fact: This is the only STEPFORD flick that Ira Levin doesn't receive any "based on a story by" credit for.)
This isn't just a question for those among my audience who choose, however sinfully, to lie with a man as they do with a woman. (Or vice versa, I s'poose, though as far as I can tell, the bible's okay with dyking out.) This is really for anyone. And I don't mean in jest, by a friend, like you're looking at some bath oils and commenting on how fabulous they are and they call you a "homo." No, I'm asking, "Has a complete stranger ever come up to you and said, 'homo,' as though that was a complete sentence?"
See, it's never happened to me, and it just sounds odd that it's happened to anyone. It's not that I'm surprised at the homophobia--someone yelled "faggot" at me once from the inside of a moving car. Or at least I think it was "faggot." It may have been "pancakes," but by the time I thought to explain the Doppler Effect to them and ask them what exactly they meant, they were long gone. The "faggot" didn't even make any sense in context, as I was neither having any sort of gay moment nor dressed as a cigarrette.
No, I'm talking about being specifically called "homo." See, "faggot" I can see, or the more informal "fag," as they sound like proper insults. I myself prefer "shirtlifter" for its' classiness or "cocksucker" for its' accuracy, but "faggot" would seem to be the go-to phrase for inferring someone has an alternative sexual orientation. "Homo" sounds too vague, as it could stand for anything--"homo sapien," which we all are, "homo erectus," which we once were, "homogenized," which my milk is, "homonucleus," which--well, you get the point. Just calling someone "homo" out loud, and not in jest, comes off as silly, and matters are not helped by the two rhyming "o" sounds that give the thing a downright jovial, bumbling Fatty Arbucklesque tone.
No, the only time I've ever heard "homo" uttered in a homophobic sense is in gay-themed movies where gay writers are writing one-dimensional straight characters as total 'phobes. Or '80s teen comedies, but they exist in their own universe and were never meant as representations of reality. It seems like every time a character in a gay-themed film is supposed to come off as a jerk, it's all "homo" this and "homo" that. C'mon, guys, give it up and break out the "fag"s already.
It's not too bad in [i]Hate Crime[/i], as there's enough of interest elsewhere to forgive the occasional tresspass. "Homo"-spouting jerkwad Chris Boyd (Chad Donella) moves next door to nice, well-to-do gay couple Robbie and Trey (Seth Peterson and Brian J. Smith) in the suburbs. After Chris scowls a lot and stalks them a little, Trey goes for a walk in the park and finds himself beaten and put into a coma. Everyone suspects Chris, but nobody can prove it, and the detective on the case (Giancarlo Esposito) seems to actually think Robbie did it for the insurance money.
From here the film becomes kind of a low-rent, queer [i]Death Wish[/i], as Robbie and Trey's mom (ex-[i]Ferris Bueller [/i]mom Cindy Pickett) team up to get revenge. Still, it's a film more intent on dealing with emotional reaction to crimes like this than becoming an outright exploitation film, so the plot twists are kept to a minimum and the bazookas are kept in the closet.
That said, the film's major plot twist can be seen nearly an hour before it happens, just because it becomes obvious when the gay bashing isn't shown that there is, in fact, a plot twist to come and there's a limited number of other characters to accuse. It also relies on that old standby of [i]American Beauty[/i] syndrome--those that come off as the most homophobic are, in fact, closet cases--that sounds a lot better in dramatic context than it's ever been proven to be in reality. (If anyone can show me different, send me a link--I'm not talking about some anti-gay politician cruising gay web sites, I'm talking about actual, scientific, statistical proof that homophobia is [i]likely[/i] to cover up for homosexuality.)
Still, the cast is very good, and the relationship at the film's center is convincing enough for the act of violence to have a real emotional impact. Strong support from the likes of Lin Shaye (as a neighbor), Bruce Davison (as Chris' pastor father) and Susan Blakely (as his mom) help quite a bit, as does Esposito's detective, who presents a more genuine portrayal of the subtle homophobia that's more prevelent than the aggressive hatred on display in most films of this sort. [i]Hate Crime[/i] isn't a perfect film, but it's a step in the right direction, and I'd like to see more like it.
As [i]Hate Crime[/i] is to the vigilante revenge film, [i]Hard[/i] tries to be to the serial killer film, but it fails almost so spectacularly that it made my head hurt. The plot concerns a closeted police detecive (Noel Palomaria) who ends up meeting up with a serial killer (Malcolm Moorman) that ties him to a bed, steals his badge, and gets away, leaving the badge in the mouth of his next victim and, yep, causing the detecive to become a suspect and forced to out himself to prove his innocence.
Getting back to the "homo" rant, Hard sets itself up as a statement on how gay cops are treated by the force but soon belabors the point to where it defies all rational reasoning. Watch as the detective finds "FAG" painted on the back of his car--the first day he's outed. Did someone actually take the effort to go to the store and buy paint just to desecrate his car? This seems like an awful lot of effort to take, especially by characters who have been kind of set up to not really give a shit about what other people do.
Meanwhile, the serial killer sub-plot manages to get sillier and sillier in a valiant attempt to outrage the audience. The killer stalks and kills "teenagers" (or at least overage actors playing teenagers) in his abandoned warehouse (!) after raping them, all while living with his married lover (likable Michael Waite, in the film's best performance), whose 11-year-old kid he molests. He also puts a staple gun to the cat's head for no particular reason. While this does lead to the insanely horrific line, "At least I loved you enough that I didn't kill your son after I raped him," which caused me to burst into a giggle-fit (I am [i]so[/i] going to hell.), it doesn't really make any sense at all, especially at the end of the movie where the killer tries to explain himself.
See, whenever a serial killer tries to explain his actions, the writer has to be very careful. The explanation doesn't have to make sense from a rational standpoint, but it does have to make sense from a logistical standpoint through the killer's eyes. If the killer doesn't have a logistical reason to kill, just make him a generic crazy guy and have him shot.
The killer here explains that he is "saving [the victims] from a life on the streets," which I suppose would make sense if he only killed street kids. He doesn't. He kills random hicthhikers, he molests kids, he staples cats, he torments cops. He could have said, "I saw their head-flesh as the gateway to the planet Zssonytnx and I knew I had to destroy it with my super-Earth sperm by jamming it into their skulls," and it would have made [i]perfect sense[/i], at least from his point of view. The actual reasoning? No sense at all.
The irrational script is the major reason [i]Hard[/i] is so awful, but it's not as though it would be great even if David Mamet had stopped by to do a rewrite. You'd still have to put up with the mediocre acting, lack of genuine suspense and a completely unsympathetic lead character. In the end, Hard is worthwhile only as a curiosity with its' desperate attempts to shock that end in snickers rather than gasps. It's not even as fascinatingly bizarre as [i]Cruising[/i] or as nihilistically depraved as [i]Frisk[/i], so even among the limited genre of gay-themed serial killer films, [i]Hard[/i] just isn't worth a look.
I'm all for making more exploitation films with gay themes, but unless there's something behind them other than, "gay people are good and homophobia is bad," it's probably better that they shy away from the commentary and go straight for the jugular. We homos deserve a good slasher film eventually, after all.
Okay, so I've got literally hundreds of hours worth of movies around that I haven't watched. So what do I do on Friday night when I'm in the mood for something new? An old classic I've always meant to see? A newer oddball horror flick? A '70s eurotrash thriller? A documentary I taped off of the Sundance Channel?
I couldn't help it. You see, I just picked up[i] Cobra[/i] on DVD earlier that day as part of a Sylvester Stallone double feature with [i]Tango & Cash[/i] for a mere $7 at Wal-Mart. (Yes, I've stooped to buying Stallone movies at Wal-Mart. How "red state" of me!) I was in the mood for trash, and[i] Cobra[/i] delivers high quality trash in spades.
Stallone plays Police Lieutenant Marion "Cobra" Cobretti, a cop who plays by his own set of rules (tm). While other cops do silly things like read perps their rights and arrest them, Cobra just blows them away while making seventh-rate wisecracks like, "You're the disease. And I'm the cure." in a bored, dumbstruck monotone while chewing on a match. His fellow cops, including detective Andy Robinson, don't care for his style much, nor does the media, but his tactics are the only way to stop a vicious cult of axe-wielding madmen bent on starting a "new world order" for some reason or another.
Look, just don't ask. It's better that way. It's clear the filmmakers never bothered to ask Stallone, who changed the script completely from its' origins in a Paula Gosling novel*, how an axe-wielding cult that kills people at random is supposed to produce a new world order. They don't know why, the detectives don't know why, and their major representative in the film, a psycho played by buff character vet Brian Thompson, doesn't know why either. You'll get no answers, so it's best to just let it go.
Anyway, we're firmly in Reagan-era fascist action film territory by the time the opening credits start, as alarmist statitics and a bullet that fries DIRECTLY FROM A GUN INTO YOUR FACE** signals the coming for a new kind of hero. That is, the kind that first came a decade an a half earlier in [i]Dirty Harry[/i]***, but never mind. This one has reflecting sunglasses and less memorable mumbling, so it's completely different.
The opening sequence of the film features Cobra doing away with a violent miscreant on a shooting spree in a grocery store, dispaching the guy with a bullet after drinking a beer, looking sullen and mean and making lots of vague threats. It's actually a well-made, well-edited sequence, which makes things seem really exciting even though very little is going on.
In fact, it's pretty much like that through the rest of the film. Director George P. Cosmatos (who made the fine [i][url="http://www.rottentomatoes.com/vine/journal_view.php?journalid=13186&entryid=156618&view=public"]Of Unknown Origin[/url][/i] and later [i]Tombstone[/i]) gives things a great '80s colorfulness and stylization that could easily be taken for Michael Mann lite. Okay, so the music is corny and the sequence where fashion model Brigitte Nielson, the sole witness that Cobra has to protect, poses with a bunch of shiny robots, is pure camp, but dammit, this thing moves. It almost moves so fast you don't get a chance to realize how insipid it is.
Inevitably, of course, you'll catch on, usually during the quieter scenes. Cobra has a few of these with his sidekick Reni Santoni****, who introduces himself as a detective a half-hour into the film, which is good, because with his newsboy cap, vest, passion for junk food and "aw, shucks" attitude, I'd mistaken him for a middle-aged Dead End Kid. The less said about the romantic scenes between Stallone and Nielson the better, and, for some reason, there's no scene where police chief Art La Fluer***** yells "You're off the force, Cobretti!" at our hero.
But the action sequences are as entertaining as they are illogical. Cars go crashing through unlikely things, psychos go slashing with improbable weapons, and people get crushed and slaughtered with such regularity that you'd think you were watching ten slasher films in one. It's a bit like [i][url="http://www.rottentomatoes.com/vine/journal_view.php?journalid=13186&entryid=156618&view=public"]Death Wish 3[/url][/i], only without all that meddlesome character development and motivation, though, like that film, the bad guys are such one-dimentional psychos that any chance for moral gray area is virtually impossible. (The fact that their plan makes no sense helps as well.)
So, yes, [i]Cobra [/i]is crap. Mindless, awful, violent, repulsive, filthy, soulless, poorly-acted crap that deserved the wrath of the critics that scorned it when it was released. However, it's well-made, colorful, rapidly-paced crap that serves as a great timepiece of the age it was produced, especially for Stallone, who followed this with [i]Over the Top [/i]and [i]Rambo III[/i], making this the first of his "trilogy of man camp" that turned him from A-lister to Hollywood joke in just a few years. Irredeemable but compulsively watchable, [i]Cobra [/i]manages to work mostly because it doesn't work at all.
[size=1]* -- The novel was also the basis for the William Baldwin/Cindy Crawford classic [i]Fair Game[/i], thus making it the only novel to have been made into an awful piece of male camp[i] twice[/i]. [/size]
[size=1]** -- An effect done a few years later in the opening credits to the "Sledge Hammer!" TV series, which satirizes this kind of movie. The title role in that was played by David Rasche, who plays a photographer in [i]Cobra[/i].[/size]
[size=1]*** -- ...which features Andy Robinson in a great performance as the Scorpio killer. Robinson, as I mentioned a couple paragraphs ago, is a detective in [i]Cobra[/i].[/size]
[size=1]**** -- ...who was also in [i]Dirty Harry[/i]. Sigh.[/size]
[size=1]***** -- Art LaFluer is the character actor who looks like Mike Starr, but isn't. He wasn't in [i]Dirty Harry[/i], but he was in one of the Eastwood/orangatan movies and two [i]Trancers [/i]films.[/size]
Again, plenty of reviews out there, so I'll keep it quick.
Clive Owen [i]and [/i]Rosario Dawson. Together.
Will probably be the best comic-to-film adaptation of the year, and for once, having the creator's name as part of the title (Don't listen on RT, the on-screen title is [i]Frank Miller's Sin City[/i]) is accurate and deserved.
Judging from some other reviews, I may have to defend this one, but I hope I won't feel the need. It's a beautifully grimy near-masterpiece, as close to a cinematic adaptation of any comic you're likely to get. It also made me think that a film adaptation of [i]Stray Bullets[/i] might not me such a bad idea.
The mundanity of office labor is a subject that's always rife for comedy. There's something about the cordiality of cubicle routine that just works well for subversive little flicks like [i]Office Space, Clockwatchers[/i] and [i]Haiku Tunnel[/i], three films which wring often-painful laughs from the pleasant personas that people present to their co-workers and the darkness just underneath the surface.
At first, [i]Fear and Trembling[/i] seems not only to be this type of film but the ultimate version of this type of film as Beligan translater Amelie (Sylvie Testud) gets a job working at an office in Japan. Not only are the social office mores presented with a smirking feel of how silly they are, but they're Japanese social office mores, probably the trickiest and most cryptic of mores for a neophyte to grasp.
Amelie's first day begins with her bypassing the secretary to let her boss know she's arrived, and it's downhill from there, as virtually everything she does seems to end up getting her called into a superior's office for a minor infraction of Japanese coda. Amelie at first feels comfort in her beautiful female boss Fubuki, as Fubuki's superiors progressively demand more and more from Amelie in an effort simply to keep her busy with meaningless tasks, but soon Amelie errs and Fubuki ends up on her case as well, giving her demeaning and complicated tasks just to humiliate her.
All of this is done through the eyes of Amelie herself, a perky, cheery girl who never quite seems to be so put-upon that the movie becomes depressing. Instead, it plays like a dark comedy of Japanese manners, as our leading lady jumps through hoops just to follow orders in a society that won't fire her with a determination that she won't quit. Even when she's reduced to scrubbing toilets Amelie has an aire of dignity about her, moreso, in fact, than the superiors who blindly follow moral code believe they have.
In the finale, though, the office dark comedy that [i]Fear and Trembling [/i]most resembles is[i] Secretary[/i], a film more about power plays in relationships than a mockery of forced manners in workplace settings. Amelie finally learns that the co-existance she has with her superiors is about power rather than manners, and her final play at the job eludes to a relationship that's more S&M than S&L.
Alain Corneau, director of the overrated [i]All the Mornings of the World,[/i] envelopes the film in a steady, slightly-smirking tone that manages to turn the tables on the audience just when they think they know who they're supposed to be laughing at. Some of the characters border on stereotype, like a constantly-eating executive the size of a sumo wrestler, and Amelie's occasional meanderings into daydream do nothing to advance things, but these are more minor distractions than real complaints. [i]Fear and Trembling[/i] is an entertaining comedy of manners that's certainly worth seeing for anyone who's ever spent time under the glow of a flickering florescent lightbulb.