Film Review: Savage Beach (dir by Andy Sidaris)


1989’s Savage Beach is yet another Andy Sidaris film that doesn’t make a damn bit of sense.

This time, Donna (Dona Speir) and Taryn (Hope Marie Carlton) have been hired to perform a very important mission.  You may remember that Donna works for a super secret government agency while, at one point, Taryn was in the witness protection program.  As a part of their cover, they fly a plane in Hawaii, making deliveries and giving tours.

(To be honest, you would think that, after everything that happened in Hard Ticket To Hawaii and Picasso Trigger, their cover would have blown but apparently not.)

Anyway, this time, they’ve been hired to fly a very important vaccine to a nearby island.  They manage to deliver the vaccine but a huge storm has come up.  As soon as they get back in their plane and start back towards Hawaii, Donna says, “Shouldn’t we get out of these wet clothes?”  While usually I roll my eyes at all of the nudity in Sidaris’s films, I have to admit that line made me laugh out loud.  Maybe it was just the sincerity with which Dona Speir delivered it.  Or maybe it’s just the fact that Andy Sidaris actually sat down, thought up that line, wrote it down, and then directed someone saying it.  One thing that can definitely be said for Andy Sidaris: as a filmmaker, he was totally without shame.

Anyway, the storm gets really bad and Donna and Taryn end up crashing on what they think is a deserted island.  Neither of them appear to be too upset about being stranded on that island, perhaps because Savage Beach was filmed nearly two decade before Lost.  Make no doubt about it, Donna and Taryn are optimists!

It turns out that they’re not alone.  Apparently, there’s treasure buried on the island and, as a result, all sorts of people are showing up.  Most of them are villainous.  Some of them are heroic.  There’s even another Abilene cousin, Shane Abilene (Michael J. Shane).  Everyone wants that treasure.  Everyone except for … THE WARRIOR!

Who is the Warrior (Michael Mikasa)?  He was a soldier in the Japanese army during World War II.  Left behind on the island, he’s still fighting the war.  Or something.  Actually, it’s not always easy to understand what the Warrior or anyone else is doing on the island.  The Warrior does decide to protect Donna and Taryn and both of them try to keep his existence a secret from the rest of the people on the island but that doesn’t really work out.

Honestly, Savage Beach should not have been as complicated as it was.  It should have been a simple story where Donna and Taryn outwitted a bunch of pirates on a desert island.  Instead, more and more people just keep showing up on that beach.  Good luck trying to keep them all straight.

It’s probably unnecessary to say that Savage Beach was a mess.  I think “mess” is probably one of the words most commonly used in any review of an Andy Sidaris film.  However, like most Sidaris films, the whole thing is too good-natured to really dislike.  In fact, the plot is so incoherent that it actually becomes strangely fascinating.

Add to that, as a result of watching Savage Beach, I now know that you can safely undress and fly a plane at the same time.  If I ever get my pilot’s license, I’ll be sure to remember that!

Film Review: Picasso Trigger (dir by Andy Sidaris)


Just from hearing the plot description, you would probably think that Picasso Trigger is a fairly straight forward film.

Basically, Picasso Trigger (John Aprea) is an international criminal mastermind and a lover of the arts.  After he drops a painting of a Picasso Trigger (the fish, not the character) off at the Louvre,  he is promptly blown up by an assassin.  The assassin was sent by one of his rivals, the evil Miguel Ortiz (Robert Obergon).  So now, Picasso is dead and Ortiz is now even more powerful than he was before.

Make sense so far?

It turns out that Picasso Trigger was not the only person that Ortiz hates.  Ortiz also has a vendetta against the secret American law enforcement agency that Ortiz blames for the death of his brother.  So, Ortiz decides that the time is right to start assassinating all of the members of that agency.  The surviving members of the agency have to stop Ortiz before he kills them all.

That wasn’t hard to follow, right?

Now, just try watching the movie.

Seriously, even by the standards of Andy Sidaris, Picasso Trigger is a total mess.  It’s a follow-up to Malibu Express and Hard Ticket To Hawaii, which means that Dona Speir and Hope Marie Carlton are back and flying around Hawaii in their airplane.  There’s also two more Abilenes to deal with, L.G. Abilene (Guich Kook) and his nephew, Travis (Steve Bond).

For some reason, L.G. sends Travis on a mission to Dallas.  It has something to do with what’s going on with Picasso Trigger and Miguel Ortiz but I was never sure what.  But the important thing is that Picasso Trigger‘s Dallas scenes were actually shot in Dallas.  (I always like seeing my hometown in the movies.)  Once Travis arrives in Dallas, he meets another agent named Pantera (Roberta Vasquez).  Apparently, Travis and Pantera went to high school together.  The mission in Dallas leads to Travis stealing a boat.  I’m not sure why.

Anyway, eventually, we get back to Ortiz trying to kill agents and the question of whether Picasso Trigger was actually blown up or not.  To be honest, so many people get blown up over the course of the movie that I’m not surprised that even a super secret government agency had a hard time keeping up with who was still around.  It turns out that there’s a double agent within the agency.  Who could it be!?

One thing that about Picasso Trigger that made a huge impression on me was just how nonchalant everyone was about being targeted for assassination. No one seemed to be too upset about any of it.  Travis, for his part, just seemed to be hanging out.

The other interesting thing about Picasso Trigger is that it featured an explosive boomerang.  Here’s the thing, though,  What if you threw the boomerang and it missed its target?  Wouldn’t it come flying back and blow you up?  Seriously, I don’t think the government really thought that weapon through.

Anyway, Picasso Trigger is a total mess but it’s likable in its silly way.  The film doesn’t take itself seriously, which helps.  And hey, it’s a chance to see what Dallas looked like in 1988!

So You Want To Be A Rock’n’Roll Star: The Idolmaker, Breaking Glass, That’ll Be The Day, Stardust


So, you want to be a rock and roll star?  Then listen now to what I say: just get an electric guitar and take some time and learn how to play.  And when your hair’s combed right and your pants fit tight, it’s gonna be all right.

If you need any more help, try watching these four films:

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The Idolmaker (1980, directed by Taylor Hackford)

The Idolmaker is a movie that asks the question, “What does it take to be a star?  Who is more interesting, the Svengalis or the Trilbys?”  The year is 1959 and Vinny Vacari (Ray Sharkey, who won a Golden Globe for his performance but don’t let that dissuade you from seeing the movie) is a local kid from New Jersey who dreams of being a star.  He has got the talent.  He has got the ambition and he has got the media savvy.  He also has a receding hairline and a face like a porcupine.

Realizing that someone who looks like him is never going to make hundreds of teenage girls all scream at once, Vinny instead becomes a starmaker.  With the help of his girlfriend, teen mag editor Brenda (Tovah Feldshuh) and a little payola, he turns saxophone player Tomaso DeLorussa into teen idol Tommy Dee.  When Tommy Dee becomes a star and leaves his mentor, Vinny takes a shy waiter named Guido (Peter Gallagher) and turns him into a Neil Diamond-style crooner named Cesare.  Destined to always be  abandoned by the stars that he creates, Vinny continually ends up back in the same Jersey dive, performing his own songs with piano accompaniment.

The Idolmaker is a nostalgic look at rock and roll in the years between Elvis’s induction into the Army and the British invasion.  The Idolmaker has some slow spots but Ray Sharkey is great in the role of Vinny and the film’s look at what goes on behind the scenes of stardom is always interesting.  In the movie’s best scene, Tommy performs in front of an audience of screaming teenagers while Vinny mimics his exact moments backstage.

Vinny was based on real-life rock promoter and manager, Bob Marcucci.  Marcucci was responsible for launching the careers of both Frankie Avalon and Fabian Forte.  Marcucci served as an executive producer on The Idolmaker, which probably explains why this is the rare rock film in which the manager is more sympathetic than the musicians.

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Breaking Glass (1980, directed by Brian Gibson)

At the same time that The Idolmaker was providing American audiences with a look at life behind-the-scenes of music stardom, Breaking Glass was doing the same thing for British audiences.

In Breaking Glass, the idolmaker is Danny (Phil Daniels, who also starred in Quadrophenia) and his star is an angry New Wave singer named Kate (Hazel O’Connor).  Danny first spots Kate while she is putting up flyers promoting herself and her band and talks her into allowing him to mange her.  At first, Kate refuses to compromise either her beliefs or her lyrics but that is before she starts to get famous.  The bigger a star she becomes, the more distant she becomes from Danny and her old life and the less control she has over what her music says.  While her new fans scare her by all trying to dress and look like her, Kate’s old fans accuse her of selling out.

As a performer, Hazel O’Connor can be an acquired taste and how you feel about Breaking Glass will depend on how much tolerance you have for her and her music.  (She wrote and composed all of the songs here.)  Breaking Glass does provide an interesting look at post-punk London and Jonathan Pryce gives a good performance as a sax player with a heroin addiction.

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That’ll Be The Day (1973, directed by Claude Whatham)

Real-life teen idol David Essex plays Jim MacClaine, a teenager in 1958 who blows off his university exams and runs away to the Isle of Wright.  He goes from renting deckchairs at a resort to being a barman to working as a carny.  He lives in squalor, has lots of sex, and constantly listens to rock and roll.  Eventually, when he has no other choice, he does return home and works in his mother’s shop.  He gets married and has a son but still finds himself tempted to abandon his family (just as his father previously abandoned him) and pursue his dreams of stardom.

David Essex and Ringo Starr

Based loosely on the early life of John Lennon, the tough and gritty That’ll Be The Day is more of a British kitchen sink character study than a traditional rock and roll film but rock fans will still find the film interesting because of its great soundtrack of late 50s rock and roll and a cast that is full of musical luminaries who actually lived through and survived the era.  Billy Fury and the Who’s Keith Moon both appear in small roles.  Mike, Jim’s mentor and best friend, is played by Ringo Starr who, of all the Beatles, was always the best actor.

That’ll Be The Day ends on a downbeat note but it does leave the story open for a sequel.

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Stardust (1974, directed by Michael Apted)

Stardust continues the story of Jim MacClaine.  Jim hires his old friend Mike (Adam Faith, replacing Ringo Starr) to manage a band that he is in, The Straycats (which includes Keith Moon, playing a far more prominent role here than in That’ll Be the Day).  With the help of Mike’s business savvy, The Stray Cats find early success and are signed to a record deal by eccentric Texas millionaire, Porter Lee Austin (Larry Hagman, playing an early version of J.R. Ewing).

When he becomes the breakout star of the group, Jim starts to overindulge in drugs, groupies, and everything that goes with being a superstar.  Having alienated both Mike and the rest of the group, Jim ends up as a recluse living in a Spanish castle.  Even worse, he gives into his own ego and writes a rock opera, Dea Sancta, which is reminiscent of the absolute worst of progressive rock.  Watching Jim perform Dea Sancta, you understand why, just a few years later, Johnny Rotten would be wearing a homemade “Pink Floyd Sucks” t-shirt.

Stardust works best as a sad-eyed look back at the lost promise of the 1960s and its music.  Watch the movie and then ask yourself, “So, do you really want to be a rock and roll star?”

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Embracing the Melodrama Part II #78: American Anthem (dir by Albert Magnoli)


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“He’s thrown a tripus!  Steve Tevere has thrown a tripus!  The most outstanding dismount tonight, or any night!” 

— Really Excited Announcer In American Anthem (1986)

Way back in March, I dvr’d a movie called American Anthem off of Encore.  I did this for two reasons.  First off, the film was described as having something to do with gymnastics and that’s always been my favorite part of the Summer Olympics.  Secondly, any film from the 1980s that has the word “American” in the title is sure to be fun or, at the very least, achingly sincere.

When I finally got around to watching American Anthem, I wasn’t expecting much.  The film turned out to be largely what I expected it would be: the story of gymnasts hoping to qualify for the Olympics and find some personal redemption along the way.  All of the stock characters were present.  We had Steve Tevere (Mitch Gaylord), the brooding rebel who had to decide between pursuing his Olympic dreams or working in a garage for the rest of his life.  We had Steve’s girlfriend, Julie (Janet Jones), who had to learn to be humble before she could be great.  We had Kirk (Stacy Maloney), Steve’s best friend and fellow gymnast.  We had kinda bitchy Becky Cameron (Maria Anz), who was Julie’s friend and rival.  And then there was Arthur (Andrew White), Julie’s crippled, musician cousin.  And let’s not forget Tracy Prescott (Jenny Ester), the 12 year-old gymnast with the impressive afro.  And, of course, there was Coach Sarnoff (Michael Pataki) who was tough, compassionate, and Russian.  The majority of the cast was made up of real-life gymnasts and, with the exception of the genuinely charismatic Stacy Maloney, they all gave performances that suggested that they should stick with gymnastics.

And yet, despite all of that, I absolutely loved American Anthem.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  For the most part, I loved it for all the wrong reasons.  My love for the film is not the type of love that would lead to me being quoted on the back of a Blu-ray case.  American Anthem is a thoroughly bad film but it’s also compulsively watchable.  From the minute that I started watching it, I became obsessed with American Anthem‘s bizarre ineptness.  Since that first night in March, I’ve rewatched American Anthem a few dozen times.  I’ve lost track of how many times that I have grimaced at the cutesy music that Sarnoff tried to force Julie to use for her floor routine.  I can imitate Becky’s squeal of pain when she’s tries to compete with an injured knee.  Whenever Julie and the girls start to chant, “Kirk!  Kirk!  Kirk!,” I chant with them.  And don’t even get me started on how much I love hearing, “He’s thrown a tripus!”

American Anthem is pure style.  This is one of the few films that I’ve seen that has absolutely no subtext.  There is literally nothing going on beneath the surface.  It’s almost as if somebody dared director Albert Magnoli to make a film that was just one big montage.  This is one of those films where the camera is always moving, the colors are always bright, and the soundtrack is always soaring.  Hardly anyone in the film can actually act but oh my God, everyone looks so good (in a 1986 sort of way, of course).

The other “great” thing about American Anthem is that there’s not a single cliché that the film doesn’t include and, as a result, you really don’t have to pay that much attention to the film to understand what’s going on.  To its credit, this film doesn’t even pretend to be anything other than a collection of clichés.  It’s almost as if the characters themselves realize that they are in a film and understand that they have no choice but to conform to what the audience has been conditioned to expect.

(Hmmm…I guess American Anthem does have a subtext.  And kind of a disturbing one at that!)

For instance, within minutes of meeting and despite having no chemistry, Steve and Julie are in love.  Why?  Because the only reason that they are in the film is to fall in love.  It has to be done.

Steve fights with his father (John Aprea) and we’re never quite sure why, beyond the fact that all brooding rebels fight with their fathers.  When his father shows up to watch his son compete, the triumphant music soars and it no longer matters that he’s been portrayed as being an abusive rageaholic up until that moment.

All of the characters tell us that Coach Sarnoff is the best, despite the fact that we don’t actually see any evidence of that fact.  But Sarnoff has to be the best because nobody ever makes a movie about athletes training under a merely adequate coach.

When Becky suddenly shows up at the final competition with a bandaged knee, it doesn’t matter that we don’t actually see her get injured beforehand or, for that matter, hear anything about it.  All that matters is that, in films like this, someone has to compete with an injury.  Becky is simply playing her part.

American Anthem.  It’s not a particularly good film but it sure is watchable.  And, as I’ve come to realize while writing this review, it’s a bit of an existential nightmare as well!

I don’t think I’m ever going to erase it from my DVR.

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Shattered Politics #36: The Godfather, Part II (dir by Francis Ford Coppola)


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Believe it or not, The Trial of Billy Jack was not the only lengthy sequel to be released in 1974.  Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part II was released as well and it went on to become the first sequel to win an Oscar for best picture.  (It was also the first, and so far, only sequel to a best picture winner to also win best picture.)  Among the films that The Godfather, Part II beat: Chinatown, Coppola’s The Conversation, and The Towering Inferno.  1974 was a good year.

Whenever I think about The Godfather, Part II, I find myself wondering what the film would have been like if Richard Castellano hadn’t demanded too much money and had actually returned in the role of Clemenza, as was originally intended.  In the first Godfather, Clemenza and Tessio (Abe Vigoda) were Don Corleone’s two lieutenants.  Tessio was the one who betrayed Michael and was killed as a result.  Meanwhile, Clemenza was the one who taught Michael how to fire a gun and who got to say, “Leave the gun.  Take the cannoli.”

Though Castellano did not return to the role, Clemenza is present in The Godfather, Part II.  The Godfather, Part II tells two separate stories: during one half of the film, young Vito Corleone comes to America, grows up to be Robert De Niro and then eventually becomes the Godfather.  In the other half of the film, Vito’s successor, Michael (Al Pacino), tries to keep the family strong in the 1950s and ultimately either loses, alienates, or kills everyone that he loves.

During Vito’s half of the film, we learn how Vito first met Clemenza (played by Bruno Kirby) and Tessio (John Aprea).  However, during Michael’s half of the story, Clemenza is nowhere to be seen.  Instead, we’re told that Clemenza died off-screen and his successor is Frankie Pentangeli (Michael V. Gazzo).  All of the characters talk about Frankie as if he’s an old friend but, as a matter of fact, Frankie was nowhere to be seen during the first film.  Nor is he present in Vito’s flashbacks.  This is because originally, Frankie was going to be Clemenza.  But Richard Castellano demanded too much money and, as a result, he was written out of the script.

And really, it doesn’t matter.  Gazzo does fine as Frankie and it’s a great film.  But, once you know that Frankie was originally meant to be Clemenza, it’s impossible to watch The Godfather Part II without thinking about how perfectly it would have worked out.

If Clemenza had been around for Michael’s scenes, he would have provided a direct link between Vito’s story and Michael’s story.  When Clemenza (as opposed to Frankie) betrayed Michael and went into protective custody, it would have reminded us of how much things had changed for the Corleones (and, by extension, America itself).  When Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall) talked Clemenza (as opposed to Frankie) into committing suicide, it truly would have shown that the old, “honorable” Mafia no longer existed.  It’s also interesting to note that, before Tessio was taken away and killed, the last person he talked to was Tom Hagen.  If Castellano had returned, it once again would have fallen to Tom to let another one of his adopted father’s friends know that it was time to go.

Famously, the Godfather, Part II ends with a flashback to the day after Pearl Harbor.   We watch as a young and idealistic Michael tells his family that he’s joined the army.  With the exception of Michael and Tom Hagen, every character seen in the flashback has been killed over the course of the previous two films.  We see Sonny (James Caan), Carlo (Gianni Russo), Fredo (John Cazale), and even Tessio (Abe Vigoda).  Not present: Clemenza.  (Vito doesn’t appear in the flashback either but everyone’s talking about him so he might as well be there.  Poor Clemenza doesn’t even get mentioned.)

If only Richard Castellano had been willing to return.

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Clemenza and Vito

 

But he didn’t and you know what?  You really only miss him if you know that he was originally meant to be in the film.  With or without Richard Castellano, The Godfather, Part II is a great film, probably one of the greatest of all time.  When it comes to reviewing The Godfather, Part II, the only real question is whether it’s better than the first Godfather.

Which Godfather you prefer really depends on what you’re looking for from a movie.  Even with that door getting closed in Kay’s face, the first Godfather was and is a crowd pleaser.  In the first Godfather, the Corleones may have been bad but everyone else was worse.  You couldn’t help but cheer them on.

The Godfather Part II is far different.  In the “modern” scenes, we discover that the playful and idealistic Michael of part one is gone.  Micheal is now cold and ruthless, a man who willingly orders a hit on his older brother and who has no trouble threatening Tom Hagen.  If Michael spent the first film surrounded by family, he spends the second film talking to professional killers, like Al Neri (Richard Bright) and Rocco Lampone (Tom Rosqui).  Whereas the first film ended with someone else closing the door on Kay, the second film features Michael doing it himself.  By the end of the film, Michael Corleone is alone in his compound, a tyrant isolated in his castle.

Michael’s story provides a sharp contrast to Vito’s story.  Vito’s half of the film is vibrant and colorful and fun in a way that Michael’s half is not and could never be.  But every time that you’re tempted to cheer a bit too easily for Vito, the film moves forward in time and it reminds you of what the future holds for the Corleones.

So, which of the first two Godfathers do I prefer?  I love them both.  If I need to be entertained, I’ll watch The Godfather.  If I want to watch a movie that will truly make me think and make me question all of my beliefs about morality, I’ll watch Part Two.

Finally, I can’t end this review without talking about G.D. Spradlin, the actor who plays the role of U.S. Sen. Pat Geary.  The Godfather Part II is full of great acting.  De Niro won an Oscar.  Pacino, Gazzo, Lee Strasberg, and Talia Shire were all nominated.  Diane Keaton, Robert Duvall, and John Cazale all deserved nominations.  Even Joe Spinell shows up and brilliantly delivers the line, “Yeah, we had lots of buffers.”  But, with each viewing of Godfather, Part II, I find myself more and more impressed with G.D. Spradlin.

Sen. Pat Geary doesn’t have a lot of time on-screen.  He attends a birthday party at the Corleone Family compound, where he praises Michael in public and then condescendingly insults him in private.  Later, he shows up in Cuba, where he watches a sex show with obvious interest.  And, when Michael is called before a Senate committee, Geary gives a speech defending the honor of all Italian-Americans.

G.D. Spradlin as Sen. Pat Geary

G.D. Spradlin as Sen. Pat Geary

But the scene that we all remember is the one where Tom Hagen meets Sen. Geary in a brothel.  As Geary talks about how he passed out earlier, the camera briefly catches the sight of a dead prostitute lying on the bed behind him.  What’s especially disturbing about this scene is that neither Hagen nor Geary seem to acknowledge her presence.  She’s been reduced to a prop in the Corleone Family’s scheme to blackmail Sen. Geary.  His voice shaken, Geary says that he doesn’t know what happened and we see the weakness and the cowardice behind his almost all-American facade.

It’s a disturbing scene that’s well-acted by both Duvall and Spradlin.  Of course, what is obvious (even if it’s never explicitly stated) is that Sen. Geary has been set up and that nameless prostitute was killed by the Corleones.  It’s a scene that makes us reconsider everything that we previously believed about the heroes of the Godfather.

For forcing us to reconsider and shaking us out of our complacency, The Godfather, Part II is a great film.

(Yes, it’s even better than The Trial of Billy Jack.)