Film Review: Cocaine and Blue Eyes (1983, directed by E.W. Swackhamer)


When San Francisco-based private investigator Michael Brennen (O.J. Simpson) gives a ride to Joey Crawford (John Spencer) on Christmas Eve, he doesn’t know that it’s going to lead to the biggest case of his career.  When Joey asks Michael to help him track down his ex-girlfriend, Michael assumes that Joey would never be able to pay for his investigative services.  But one week later, Michael gets something in the mail from Joey.  Inside the envelope, there’s a picture of both Joey’s ex and a thousand dollar bill.  Ever after he discovers that Joey was mysteriously killed the night before, Michael decides to take on the case.  His investigation will take him not only to Joey’s ex but it will also lead to him uncovering a drug ring that involves one of San Francisco’s most prominent families.

Simpson not only starred in this made-for-TV movie but he also served as executive producer.  Watching the movie, it’s obvious that it was meant to serve as a pilot for a Michael Brennen TV series and it’s also just as obvious why that series never happened.  O.J. Simpson was not a terrible actor but, ironically for someone who set records as an NFL player, there was nothing tough about him.  Simpson may be playing a two-fisted, cash-strapped P.I. but, in every scene, he comes across like he can’t wait to hit the golf course.  Simpson’s pleasant demeanor may have served him well in other areas of his life but it didn’t help him with this role.  Whenever Simpson has to share a scene with John Spencer, Candy Clark, Cliff Gorman, or any of the other members of this film’s surprisingly talented supporting cast, Simpson’s bland screen presence and lack of gravitas becomes all the more apparent.

Of course, when seen today, the main problem with Cocaine and Blue Eyes is that it’s impossible to watch without thinking, “Hey, didn’t the star of this movie get away with killing his wife and an innocent bystander?”  Even the most innocuous  of lines take on a double meaning when they’re uttered by O.J. Simpson.  It doesn’t help that the movie opens with Michael visiting his estranged wife and their children on Christmas Eve and getting chased around the neighborhood by a guard dog.  When the movie was made, this scene was probably included so that O.J. could show off some of the moves that made him a star at UCLA and with the Bills.  Seen today, the scene takes on a whole different meaning.

Without O.J. Simpson, Cocaine and Blue Eyes could easily pass for being an extended episode of Magnum P.I., Simon and Simon, or any other detective show from the 80s.  With Simpson, it becomes a pop cultural relic.  I don’t think it’s ever been released on DVD but it is available on YouTube, where it can be viewed by O.J. Simpson completists everywhere.

Lisa Cleans Out Her DVR: Monsignor (dir by Frank Perry)


(Lisa is currently in the process of cleaning out her DVR!  It’s taking her longer than it took Saint Malachy to transcribe The Prophecy of the Popes!  She recorded the 1982 film, Monsignor, off of Retroplex on March 8th!)

Maybe it’s because I’m a fourth Italian and I was raised Catholic but Monsignor amused the Hell out of me.

See, Monsignor is a big, sprawling epic about the Church and the Mafia.  I don’t know much about the production of this film but, having watched it, I’m going to guess that it was made by people who were neither Catholic nor Italian.  This is one of those films that is so full of clichés and inaccuracies and yet so self-important that it becomes oddly fascinating to watch.

It tells the story of Father John Flaherty (Christopher Reeve, an Episcopalian who gives a performance so wooden that one worries about getting splinters just from watching it).  When we first meet Father Flaherty, he’s just taken his orders.  He’s a good Irish kid from Brooklyn.  The neighborhood’s proud of him, because he has volunteered to serve as a chaplain in the army.  (The film opens during World War II.)  The neighborhood is even prouder when he performs a Mafia wedding.  Don Appolini (Jason Miller), who may be a mobster but who still loves the Church, is especially impressed.  He expects big things from Father Flaherty.

(The father of the bride, incidentally, is played by Joe Spinell, who played Willy Chicci in Godfathers One and Two and who achieved a certain infamy when he starred in Maniac.)

Father Flaherty goes to war and discovers that it’s not easy to be a man of God in a war zone.  Everywhere around him, soldiers are either dying or losing their faith.  (Perhaps it would help if Father Flaherty knew how to properly conduct a Requiem Mass but the movie screws that up, with Flaherty saying, “”Requiescat in pace” when he clearly should have said, “Requiescant in pace.”)   After trying, in vain, to comfort a mortally wounded man, Flaherty snaps, picks up a machine gun, and starts blowing away Germans.

Having broken the Thou Shalt Not Kill Commandment and indulged in one of the seven deadly sins, Father Flaherty apparently decides to commit every other sin as well.  Or, at least, it seems like that’s his plan.  The thing is, Christopher Reeve’s performance is bland that it’s difficult to guess what could possibly be going on inside of Flaherty’s head.  Is he disillusioned with the church or does he still have faith?  When he says that he feels guilty over his transgressions, is he being sincere or is he lying?  It’s impossible to tell because, when it comes to Father Flaherty, there’s no there there.  He’s literally an empty vessel.

That, of course, doesn’t stop him from becoming a powerful man in the Church.  Through his Mafia connections, he makes a fortune on the black market and launders money for the church.  He also has sex with a cynical, nymphomaniac postulant nun, who is something of a stock figure in films like this.  In this case, the role is played by Genevieve Bujold.  Despite the stereotypical nature of her character, Bujold comes the closest of anyone in the cast to giving a nuanced performance but her character abruptly vanishes from the film.  One can literally hear the producers in the background saying, “Okay, we’ve indulged in the sexy nun thing.  Send her home now.”

Towards the end of the film, there’s a flash forward that is so abrupt that I didn’t even realize it had happened until I noticed that Christopher Reeve and Jason Miller now had a little gray in their hair.  The flash forward doesn’t really accomplish much.  Father Flaherty has lost a lot of the Mafia’s family and the Mafia’s not happy about it.  It’s kinda like the Vatican subplot in The Godfather Part III, just with less interesting actors.

Anyway, Monsignor obviously thinks that it has something to say about both the Church and the Mafia but it’s actually remarkably empty-headed.  Strangely enough, for an epic film that cost 10 million dollars to make (that’s in 1982 money), the whole film looks remarkably cheap.  If a community theater decided to put on a production of Otto Preminger’s The Cardinal, the end result would probably end up looking a lot like Monsignor.

And yet, I really can’t hate Monsignor.  It’s so bad that, as I said earlier, it’s also oddly fascinating.  You watch and you ask yourself, How many details can one film about Catholicism get wrong?  How many Italian stereotypes can be forced into a movie with a Mafia subplot?  Now, I should point out that, at no point, does Don Appolini say, “Mama mia!” but, if he had, I wouldn’t have been surprised.  It’s just that type of film.

Anyway, Monsignor is so sordid and stupid that it becomes entertaining for all the wrong reasons.  If you’re into that, you’ll enjoy Monsignor.

The TSL’s Daily Horror Grindhouse: Amityville II: The Possession (dir by Damiano Damiani)


amityville_ii_the_possession

Agck!

The 1982 “prequel” Amityville II: The Possession is a film that is so grimy and icky and yucky and disgusting that you’ll want to take a shower right after you watch it.  And then you’ll probably end up taking two more showers, just to be sure that you’ve washed the film away.

Seriously, this is an amazingly disturbing film.

Claiming to show how that infamous house in Amityville, New York came to be haunted in the first place, this film opens with The Montelli Family moves into a big house with quarter moon windows.  The family patriarch is Anthony (Burt Young), a former cop who walks with a cane.  Anthony is an angry monster, an abusive husband, and a terrible father.  His wife, Dolores (Rutanya Alda), lives her life in denial, insisting that a new house means a new beginning and continually praying that her family will find peace.  Anthony and Dolores have four children.  The two youngest are at the mercy of their angry father.  Teenagers Patricia (Diane Franklin) and Sonny (Jack Magner) are both looking forward to the day that they can escape their family.

As soon as the Montellis move in, strange things start to happen.  It turns out that there’s a strange tunnel in the basement, one that appears to lead to nowhere.  When obscene messages appear on the walls of the house, Anthony starts to beat the youngest children but, fortunately, Sonny grabs a rifle and points it at his father’s head.  When the local priest, Father Adamsky (James Olson), shows up to bless the house, he ends up getting so disgusted at Anthony that he leaves without finishing.

In fact, Father Adamsy is a remarkable ineffectual priest.  When he attempts to talk to Sonny, he simply assumes that Sonny isn’t talking because he’s rude.  What Adamsky doesn’t suspect is that Sonny’s being rude because he’s been possessed by a demon for the basement!  When Patricia confesses that she and Sonny have been having sex, Adamsky doesn’t do anything about it.  When Patricia tries to call him to let him know that her brother appears to be possessed, Adamsky refuses to answer the phone and instead goes skiing for the weekend.

And, of course, while Adamsky is gone, Sonny grabs that rifle and, in a nightmare-inducing series of scenes, kills everyone in the house…

Of course, when Father Adamsky returns, he feels guilty and he decides to perform an exorcism.  MAYBE HE SHOULD HAVE DONE THAT EARLIER!  But no … he had to go skiing…

Anyway, Amityville II: The Possession is a deeply icky film.  It’s undeniably effective and has a lot of scary moments but it’s not an easy film to sit through.  Between Anthony beating his family and Sonny walking into Patricia’s room and asking her to “play a game,” this is a film that really gets under your skin.  You’ll never forget it but, at the same time, you’ll also never want to watch it again.

Interestingly enough, Amityville II was directed by Damiano Damiani, an Italian director who is probably best known for movies like A Bullet For The General and Confessions of a Police Captain, genre films that often featured a subversive political subtext.  Though Amityvile II is not overly political, the film’s portrait of the suburban Montelli family as a ticking time bomb does definitely fit in with Damiani’s other work.  Damiani reportedly set out to make the most disturbing film that he possibly could and he succeeded.

Back to School Part II #6: Jeremy (dir by Arthur Barron)


Jeremy

After I finally finished working out my thoughts concerning A Clockwork Orange, I continued my back to school reviews by watching a 1973 teen romance called Jeremy.  I have to admit that it was kind of a shock going from Stanley Kubrick’s confrontational masterpiece to this rather gentle and sweet-natured film about two nice kids who fall in love.  But that’s one of the things that I love about reviewing movies.  You get to see all sorts of things.

As for Jeremy — it’s a film that tells a familiar story but it doesn’t quite go in the direction that you’re expecting.  15 year-old Jeremy (played by Robby Benson, who was apparently the Justin Bieber of his day) is a 15 year-old student at a private high school in New York City.  He’s a brilliant but painfully shy student.  He’s very serious about learning the cello, even though his teacher (Leonardo Cimino) tells him that he’s good but he’ll probably never be great.  He’s also really into horse racing, though he never bets himself.  Instead, he just likes to pick the winner and is content with the knowledge that he was right.  Jeremy is largely ignored by his parents and has only one friend but he seems to be okay with his largely solitary life.

That is, of course, until he spots Susan (Glynnis O’Connor) practicing ballet in a classroom.  Jeremy is instantly attracted to her and it’s obvious that she likes him as well but, because of his pathological shyness, Jeremy cannot bring himself to ask her out.  (In fact, he even forgets to ask her name the first time that they meet.)  It’s not until Susan compliments him on his cello playing that Jeremy is able to work up the courage to ask her out.  It’s not that Jeremy is arrogant or stand-offish or any of the other stuff that people regularly say about shy people.  It’s just that talking about his cello gives Jeremy the courage to be himself.  It’s rather sweet, actually.

Jeremy and Susan go out for three weeks and, in a tastefully handled scene, even end up making love for the first time.  However, Susan’s father has been transferred to another city and Susan is about to move away.  Even when Susan and Jeremy say that they’re in love, all of the adults ignore them.

At this point, I was expecting Susan and Jeremy to enter into a suicide pact but it didn’t happen.  That’s not the type of film that Jeremy is.  Jeremy is a very sweet but ultimately realistic film about first love and first heartbreak.

As for the two lead performers, they apparently dated for a while after making Jeremy and they both display a very real chemistry in the film.  Admittedly, there’s a few scenes where Benson goes a little bit overboard but, watching him, I could tell why he was a teen idol in the 70s.  There’s not a threatening or dangerous thing about him and when he’s insecure or sad, you just want give him a big hug.  Glynnis O’Connor brings a bit of an edge to Susan (there always seems to be a poignant sadness right under the surface when it comes to Susan) and it contrasts nicely with Benson’s performance.

In the end, it may not add up too much but it’s heartfelt and nicely done and I’m glad that I watched it.