Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Esoterica XVI: Unintentional Hilarity and Shameless Opportunism

Given the treasure trove to be found in this post, this will be a longer Esoterica post than usual. It's worth it though, trust me. This time, we're looking at some shameless opportunism at its finest as the 70's series I've been working on intermittently returns.

But first, a brief yet somewhat long missive on an unintentionally hilarious piece of crap (Though some folks feel nostalgic towards it, I've found) I came across one early morning recently. The fact that I didn't watch the entire thing (I do have some standards) is all that kept this from being a separate post.

Full disclosure, I stumbled across this awful bit of maudlin poop at four in the morning and ended up alternating between flipping channels to find something better and quietly screaming with laughter into my hand. I have not seen the entire thing but what I saw was so bad I had to write about it.

Four Friends stars Craig Wasson (one of the many next big things in movies who ended up not being very big at all) who plays a young Yugoslavian immigrant named Danny whose home life can be best described as "The basketball scene in The Great Santini, minus the affection". The other three friends are a jock, the obligatory fat kid and the girl all three of them fall for. She is played (rather poorly) by Jodi Thelan who only did a few other movies after this. There is also a dying crippled kid Danny is friends with whose family plays into the second act of the movie.

His home life is a tepid, unpleasant shambles but his love life is in even worse shape as the girl he has the hots for ends up with two of his other pals before finally getting together with him after the requisite "Oh god, the 70's nearly killed me with the drugs and all" routine these types of movies tend to trot out. He also has a wedding to a rich girl whose father kills her and maims him after the wedding before shooting himself (there are one or two other rather tasteless details I won't go into for the sake of brevity).

Lois Smith plays the mother of the bride (and the crippled dying kid who kicks off while Danny is recuperating after the shooting) and has one moment after the shooting that was supposed to be dramatic but ends up being one of the funniest things I've ever seen in an ostensibly serious movie. Loud wails of grief work just fine when there is a build. When it comes out of left field in an otherwise quiet scene, not so much. I'm also not sure she was supposed to be blind for the entire movie but she sure as hell is in her last scene.

The film is set against the backdrop of the 60's/70's turmoil and there have been many movies that dealt with that era and the troubles between the older and younger generations quite well. This is not one of them (how the hell it got good reviews when it first came out is beyond me). The characters alternate between ridiculous (Wasson's father in this movie comes off like a cross between DeNiro in Raging Bull and Robert Duvall in The Great Santini, hence the reference above) and repulsively unlikable (the audience would feel for Wasson if he wasn't such a mopey bore all the damn time). The fact that the performances are laughably terrible (some of the actors here are good in other things, must have been something in the water) doesn't help matters much.

Four Friends is one of those films that feels content to be a simple series of vignettes that show a tapestry of the lives of its characters which can work under the right circumstances. Unfortunately, nothing good happens to them at any point and the few small rays of light are quickly dimmed by ridiculous circumstances poorly written and played out. The last scene of the movie takes place at a nighttime bonfire on the beach and with the way the film played out to that point, I'm shocked the huge gust of wind that kicks up at the end didn't incinerate the rest of the cast, small children included, as the credits rolled.

Arthur Penn directed this movie and it is a far cry from the quality of Bonnie and Clyde. Hell, the film he did previous to this, The Missouri Breaks worked better and that was a rather tepid western pitting Jack Nicholson against a very bored (but admittedly entertaining) Marlon Brando.

As noted, the film plays out in the early 60's and ends up in the late 70's. For a better microcosm of that period of time, you could just listen to Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire". It's about 112 minutes shorter and a hell of a lot better written. That's not a perfect analogy, I'll grant you but it makes more sense than most of the film.

 Jeez, that was so bad I need an aspirin...

Funny, Prism Video. Very funny. Going by the tagline, I'd say that four out of five doctors are going to be secretly killed by the AMA once they get to that desert island.  Actually, this is one of the many bizarre short tapes that came out during the big home video boom of the 80's and 90's. This is a bizarre 18 minute relaxation tape intended as a cure for headaches. You know, because Tylenol and Advil are the work of the man-goat or something. It's typically silly self-help crap complete with a cheesy mantra.

And with that prologue done (I know, it's like Lord of the Rings minus the budget, story, and effects but we do have an all-star cast), we can now move onto the main event.

One of the things you acquire being a movie junkie is a certain sixth sense when it comes to certain things. You know that old saying "Never judge a book by its cover"? Same goes for movies. One of the amusing/frustrating things video companies will do (and still do to this day) is take an early film of a well known actor and splash their name on the cover nice and big in order to boost hypothetical sales. Sometimes it turns out to be the actor has a leading role and the film just dropped off the radar, sometimes it's a minor supporting role and sometimes it's just complete crap. What this is a long way of saying is that this may be the most star-studded post I've done in a while.

This oddity is an offbeat sketch comedy film from 1971 presented by Richard Pryor that mainly focuses on the peace movement and other issues of the time with such 70's figures as Pryor (even when not firing on all cylinders, the man had an amazing comic mind), Joan Baez, Allen Ginsberg and even John Lennon and Yoko Ono among others appearing. It's a pretty solid snapshot of early 70's culture with some interesting bits here and there and the 76 minute running time means it doesn't overstay its welcome. Doesn't make it good or anything, but as a curiosity piece it's okay.

 It wouldn't be a piece on shameless opportunism without a little something from Simitar Video. Known for horrible transfers and cheesy covers, what you see above is a double feature of two early John Candy comedies. It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time is a 1975 Canadian comedy that has Candy in a small role as an inept detective (his partner is played by fellow Canadian Lawrence Dane). He reprises the role in Find the Lady from the following year. They're... Ugh. I pity the poor sucker who bought this. I really do, because both of these are nearly perfect laugh-free zones.

 Shot in 1979 but not released until 1985 when a certain Material Girl hit it big, this is Madonna's first movie. It's a 60 minute indie film about a rape victim who kills her attacker in a Satanic ritual. Madonna isn't a fan of this one, sounds horrible from what I've read anyhow.

This is an obscure mockumentary "hosted" by Tony Randall who relays the history of a bad movie production company that strived for mediocrity. Insert joke about Cannon Films or your B-movie studio of choice here. Couldn't find anything but a trailer but if that's anything to go by, the film title might be a case of truth in advertising. And I'm being very generous with that assessment. Actually, I'd kind of like to see it for myself.

Around the same time she was about to become a moderately big movie star, Goldie Hawn made this little seen comedy in Italy in which she plays an American tourist who falls for her friend's lover who also happens to be married. That's all I got for this one, not really my cup of tea.

 Danny DeVito has a supporting role as the lead character's boss in this 1977 comedy about a young man who gets a van in order to get laid. It was the 70's, folks. What can I say? Lots of crude humor results including some really unfunny rape material (the lead character tries to rape a girl and is raped himself later) as well as a van race between the lead and his rival. DeVito is okay, though not really all that funny.

And now for the Kevin Costner portion of our show. Good old Kev just happened to hit the big time at the same time the VHS boom was really going into overdrive and as a result, his early work ended up being shoved down the throats of the consumers. Much like his contemporary stuff at the time, now that I think about it.

 Wasn't able to find much on this one but at the risk of pulling a wild guess out of my ass, I'd say it's about baseball. The film came out in 1982, six years before Bull Durham. Looks like he's barely in this which more than qualifies it for this post. The next two actually have the man in a significant role, however.

Kevin has a role in this as a poker player helping out the female lead cheat to win. His murder sets the revenge plot in motion as the young woman and a team of players she recruits look to take a ton of money off the casino that had him killed. Yeah. What really sells this for me is the bit at the top of the box touting the film as "from the producers and writers of Dances with Wolves". Now while Michael Blake did write both this and that bastard exercise in vanity that stole the Best Picture Oscar away from Goodfellas*, and Jim Wilson did direct and produce the thing, there is something wonderfully cheesy about throwing that quote up top.

*I like the film and all but Best Picture? Really?

Lastly for Costner is this one. Shot in the late seventies but not released until 1986 by Troma (after another run in 1981, apparently), Sizzle Beach, U.S.A. is about three young woman who move to Malibu in search of guys. Kevin is one of the guys they find and he's not too bad as a cowboy. Lots of nudity in this rather mild, very 70's flick.

To wrap things up, we take a look at two early works with none other than Robert DeNiro.

First off is this dark comedy from 1971 that stars George Segal as a junkie pressured by two cops (one of whom is Bobby) to rat out his fellow junkies. DeNiro is in maybe ten minutes of the film altogether but give the distributor credit, they used a shot of the guy from the 70's. I've seen DVD cases with a still from him in Cape Fear which would come out twenty years after this one. The film itself is just okay, in spite of the good cast.

Lastly is this early... thing from Cannon Films that takes footage from a dull 1969 drama called Sam's Song with DeNiro and edits it into this film, also known as Line of Fire. The end result was released in 1979 and dear lord does it ever fit into this post perfectly. In the original film, DeNiro was a documentary filmmaker who gets drawn into the inner circle of a bunch of shallow rich folks. In this re-cut version, he's a porno filmmaker who gets knocked out during the opening credits and by the time the credits are done, it's ten years later and his brother is looking into the cause of his death after being released from prison while we get flashbacks from the original film as well. Needless to say, DeNiro was less than pleased and Cannon nearly got sued over this. Both versions are pretty dire.

And with that, this epic comes to a close. Catch ya' later!

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About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.