Cinemax Friday: Lipstick Camera (1994, directed by Mike Bonifer)

Omy Clark (Ele Keats) is an aspiring journalist who wants to work with the world famous videographer, Flynn Dailey (Brian Wimmer).  When she shows up at Flynn’s studio and marvels at how much power the filmed image can wield, Flynn blows her off.  While Flynn is busy ignoring Omy, Lily Miller (Sandahl Bergman) drops by and tries to hire Flynn to film her and her husband, Raymond (Terry O’Quinn), making love.  When Flynn heads out to the Miller residence, Omy tags along as an uninvited guest.  She happens to have a tiny camera that she stole from her best friend, Joule (Corey Feldman, sporting a beard and a beret).  Omy plants the camera in Lily’s bedroom.  Later, when Flynn, Omy, and Joule all return to the Miller house to retrieve the tiny camera, they discover that Lily has been murdered and that Raymond is a communist war criminal who fled East Germany following the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

Lipstick Camera has an intriguing premise and, even in 1994, it was trying to say something about media manipulation and what is today referred to as being “fake news.”  You could say that it was a film that was ahead of its time.  You could also say that it’s a complete mess or that it’s an erotic thriller that is neither erotic nor thrilling and you would be just as correct.  The main problem with the film is that almost every plot development is set in motion by Omy being either extremely self-absorbed or extremely stupid.  When she’s not manipulating Joule (who is not too secretly in love with her), she’s stalking Flynn and carelessly losing an expensive camera that didn’t even belong to her in the first place.  And she, of course, is meant to be our hero!

In the 90s, former teen idol Corey Feldman was one of the mainstays of late night Cinemax.  Even during his Cinemax years, Feldman would occasionally give a good performance.  Lipstick Camera was not one of those occasions.  In Lipstick Camera, Feldman wears a beard and a beret and spends a lot of time in a room that’s full of computer monitors and TV screens and that’s the extent of his characterization.  He does get a dramatic death scene, in which Joule appears to be determined to stave off the grim reaper by giving a monologue of Shakespearean proportions but otherwise, this is Corey Feldman at his worst.  Faring slightly better is Terry O’Quinn, who, at least, gets to deliver his lines in a light German accent.

With its focus on the media and communist war criminals, Lipstick Camera is an example of a direct-to-video film that tried to be about something more than just sex and murder.  (Though, this being a DTV film, there is one brief sex scene that takes place in front of a TV that’s showing a video of a fireplace.)  Unfortunately, nobody involved seems to know what that something was supposed to be.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Romeo and Juliet (dir by George Cukor)

You know the story that’s told in this 1936 film already, don’t you?

In the city of Verona, Romeo Montague (Leslie Howard) has fallen in love with Juliet Capulet (Norma Shearer).  Normally, this would be cause for celebration because, as we all know, love is a wonderful thing.  However, the House of Capulet and the House of Montague have long been rivals.  When we first meet them all, they’re in the process of having a brawl in the middle of the street.  There’s no way that Lord Capulet (C. Aubrey Smith) will ever accept the idea of Juliet marrying a Montague, especially when he’s already decided that she is to marry Paris (Ralph Forbes).  Things get even more complicated with Juliet’s cousin, Tybalt (Basil Rathbone), kills Romeo’s best friend, Mercutio (John Barrymore).  Romeo then kills Tybalt and things only grow more tragic from there.

It’s hard to keep track of the number of films that have been made out of William Shakespeare’s tale of star-crossed lovers and tragedy.  The plot is so universally known that “Romeo and Juliet” has become shorthand for any story of lovers who come from different social sects.  Personally, I’ve always felt that Romeo and Juliet was less about love and more about how the rivalry between the Montagues and the Capulets forces the young lovers into making hasty decisions.  If not for Lord Capulet throwing a fit over his daughter’s new boyfriend, she and Romeo probably would have split up after a month or two.  Seriously, I’ve lost track of how many losers I went out with in high school just because my family told me that I shouldn’t.

Producer Irving Thalberg spent five years trying to get MGM’s Louis B. Mayer to agree to greenlight a film version of Romeo and Juliet.  Mayer thought that most audiences felt that Shakespeare was above them and that they wouldn’t spend money to see an adaptation of one of his plays.  Thalberg, on the other hand, thought that the story would be a perfect opportunity to highlight the talents of his wife, Norma Shearer.  It was only after Warner Bros. produced a financially successful version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that Mayer gave Romeo and Juliet the go ahead.

Of course, by the time the film went into production, Norma Shearer was 34 years old and a little bit too mature to be playing one of the most famous teenagers in literary history.  Perhaps seeking to make Shearer seem younger, Thalberg cast 43 year-old Leslie Howard as Romeo, 44 year-old Basil Rathbone as Tybalt, and 54 year-old John Barrymore as Mercutio,  (In Barrymore’s defense, to me, Mercutio always has come across as being Verona’s equivalent of the guy who goes to college for ten years and then keeps hanging out on the campus even after dropping out.)

In short, this is the middle-aged Romeo and Juliet and, despite all of the good actors in the cast, it’s impossible not to notice.  There were few Golden Age actors who fell in love with the authenticity of Leslie Howard and Basil Rathbone is a wonderfully arrogant and sinister Tybalt.  Norma Shearer occasionally struggles with some of the Shakespearean dialogue but, for the most part, she does a good job of making Juliet’s emotions feel credible.  As for Barrymore — well, he’s John Barrymore.  He’s flamboyant, theatrical, and a lot of fun to watch if not always totally convincing as anything other than a veteran stage actor hamming it up.  The film is gorgeous to look at and George Cukor embraces the melodrama without going overboard.  But, everyone in the movie is just too old and it does prove to be a bit distracting.  A heart-broken teenager screaming out, “I am fortune’s fool!” is emotionally powerful.  A 43 year-old man doing the same thing is just not as effective.

Despite being a box office failure (it turned out that Mayer was right about Depression-era audiences considering Shakespeare to be too “arty”), Romeo and Juliet was nominated for Best Picture of the year, the second Shakespearean adaptation to be so honored.  However, the award that year went to another big production, The Great Ziegfeld.

Music Video of the Day: Sure Shot by The Beastie Boys (1994, directed by Spike Jonze)

First things first, Lisa has asked me to apologize to everyone.  She’s currently under the weather and has been ordered to get a lot of rest, which is why she didn’t post anything yesterday.  She will be back and regularly posting soon.

As for today’s music video of the day, what can you say about Sure Shot and the Beastie Boys?  This is the song and the video that I think made everyone want to be the fourth beastie boy.  If I remember correctly, it came out directly after Sabotage and it provides quite a contrast to that earlier video.  Interestingly enough, both videos were directed by Spike Jonze.

This is the rare rap song to feature a flute.  The flute was sampled from the 1970 song, Howling For Judy, by Jeremy Steig.  Steig, who has released twenty albums, has said that he made more money off the royalties to that sample than he has from all of his previous work.