Sunday, August 22, 2010

One A Week Reviews #38: Finding Bliss

Practically a sitcom about the "wonderful world of Porno", this feature reviewed for dvdsnapshot does have it's charms...


Aspiring filmmaker Jody Balaban (Leelee Sobieski) takes a job at an adult entertainment studio, planning to use the company's lush facilities to secretly film her own movie after hours. When Jody's ruse is discovered, she's forced to collaborate with infamous adult entertainment director, Jeff Drake (Matt Davis) – an initially fractious relationship that simmers into an unexpected romance.

Apple-cheeked and overly optimistic film student Jody Balaban takes a student award, one encounter with Garry Marshall, and a lot of hope and promptly moves to Los Angeles to fall on her face trying to break into the movies. Desperately taking an editing gig with an adult entertainment production company; she starts plotting, sassy scamp that she is, to make her own film with the production house's facilities after hours while imagining conversations in her head with Bliss, the porn star she can project her neuroses onto. She winds up using the cast and crew to make her own movie, “Mickey and Judy putting on a show” style, while working on editing the porn film.

Personally, I think this all just sounds rather exhausting, but the film keeps things fairly light and sunny. You'd think porn casts were the cutest group of wacky co-workers ever to spring from a sit-com style reimagining of Boogie Nights. (This was originally developed as a Showtime series, and that “Group of wacky TV characters” feel definitely still lingers.) Pretty much everyone's seen pornography, rather they admit it or not, and it's certainly nicer to picture the cast and crew as a sweetly dysfunctional family than whatever the reality might be. Jody goes on to spar romantically with Jeff Drake, the director of the dirty movie. Matt Davis and Leelee Sobieski have friendly chemistry but not romantic, however that's not that big a deal for this frothy comedy. Also, she starts out as something of a prude but we all know she'll loosen up considering the circumstances. If you don't think she won't learn, grow, and fall in love, then you've never seen a romantic comedy before.

Sobieski has grown to be both a sober and amusing lead, while Jamie Kennedy (all of him, ahem), Caroline Aaron, Denise Richards, Ron Jeremy and Kristin Johnston bring their woozy, addled comedy stylings to keep the varied characters amusing and easy to relate to. I find it hard to believe these two groups, the porn stars and the straight world, would have so much trouble with the so-called “awkward gulf” between them. Discovering common ground is part of the journey.
Finding Bliss keeps the comedy light – with silly sex toy and porn industry humor. This is comedy with adult content, but it's wholesome at heart, even if there's a big scoop of cheese at the end when there really should be whipped cream.

Finding Bliss is presented full-screen with both French and English 2.0 stereo and 5.1 Dolby Surround sound. Included are Deleted and alternate scenes, storyboards, and a musical “shake it up” montage and trailers for Adventures of Power, I Do & I Don't, and Play the Game.

A wholesome sex comedy set in the porn industry (and we should all have such nice coworkers); Finding Bliss is cute enough you could watch it on a date. I wouldn't recommend showing it to the kids, though.


One A Week Reviews #37: OSS 117: Lost In Rio

A delight reviewed for I definitely recommend this one...


The pride of French intelligence, Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath – code named OSS 117 has a new mission that takes him to the Bossa Nova Brazil of the 1960s. Teaming up with a sexy Mossad agent, he sets out to capture a Nazi blackmailer with an embarrassingly long list of World War II French collaborators. With a jubilantly retro score and production design, along with flair for the cinematic vocabulary of the 1960s, the filmmakers again have the perfect man to send up Western arrogance, French chauvinism, and bigotry in general with biting satire and scathing with.

Do you like the Swinging Sixties? Nostalgic for men in dapper suits, brylcreem and shorty robes? Do you miss Sixties spy films? Even if you haven't seen the European OSS 117 series, any fan of old James Bond, Matt Helm, or Derek Flint is going to be familiar with the flavor of OSS 117: Lost In Rio. Fans of Maxwell Smart aren't exactly left out in the cold, either.

From an opening featuring our super-spy partying with a gaggle of chippies that's interrupted by a gang of armed men, OSS 117 sets a breezy tone of girls, guns, and unflappable Sixties cool. A sequel to OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies, this second outing stands amusingly alone. An absurdist plot kicking off with a former Nazi, some microfilm, and a trip to Rio quickly gets complicated with killers with speech impediments, killer crocodiles, Mexican Wrestlers, Big Top flashbacks, silly costumes, and a general breezy, chuckling approach to the murder of henchmen and armcandy. OSS 117 has jet-setting adventures and even learns and grows a little along the way as he faces the changing world of the Sixties.

Are Americans all viewed by the world to be as bluntly vulgar as the Bill character in this film? I hope not. He's at least matched by OSS 117's offhandedly sexist when teamed with an Israeli Army Colonel in a miniskirt. The causal jabs at racism, sexism, and antisemitism add to the retro feel of the proceedings, and actually goose the humor along rather than stilt it. OSS 117 thuds thru scenarios, an oblivious caveman in a glossy world. Playing the attitudes of the past with tongue firmly in cheek, the film mocks the genre and changes in culture. Surprisingly, the humor translates for fans in any language.

OSS 117 is a pleasure to watch. The movie has that Sixties glamor down pat. The suits are great, the gals are hair-sprayed and Pucci'd, and the cars are authentic, if not flashy. The visuals play with splitting up the screen for jazzy emphasis of stylish character entrances as we jet from one exotic location to another. There should be more cocktails and cigarettes, but no film is perfect.

OSS 117: Lost In Rio is presented in Anamorphic Widescreen in French with English subtitles. Included are a Making of Featurette, Blooper Reel, Deleted scenes and a set of trailers for other European films.

Nudity, violence, free love, drug humor, unenlightened attitudes on everything, OSS 117: Lost in Rio is a retro delight with humor that crosses language barriers to delight fans of Sixties Spy films everywhere. The look, tone, and cast are perfect while things get sublimely zany towards the end. Give it a spin and you won't be disappointed.


Thursday, August 12, 2010

One A Week Reviews #36: Galaxy of Terror

Now THIS is a movie that starts out quick and dirty. A sci-fi mash-up of Battlestar Galactica, Forbidden Planet, and Alien, (and evidently a heavy influence on Event Horizon) Galaxy of Terror hits the ground running with a deadly prologue that rolls right into the launch of a mission to a strange planet. I assume it's ostensibly to check out what happened to the people who died in the prologue but frankly there's so little plot development you'll be damned if you can follow what's going on. It doesn't matter though. Our dispatched B-movie crew does some of the fastest space travel ever put to film before starting to drop like flies while facing a monster of the id channeling their nightmares. Not only will they die, they'll go mad while they do it.

I think Event Horizon lifted a lot from this film, and I'm gonna have to watch it again to compare. I do mean "drop like flies," too. I don't think I caught more than 2 character names through the whole she-bang. Character development? No thanks.

This is a Roger Corman quickie and it wrings fairly high production values out of a tiny budget. Deliciously good lighting, sometimes reminiscent of Italian grind-house fare (one shot of a slime-covered lass really reminds me of Lucio Fulci), and surprisingly good matte and miniature effects, it looks better than it has any right to. The cast features some real B-movie stalwarts, and they're all pros. Edward Albert and Erin Moran (as the Universe's least-empathetic psychic) get top billing, but you'll find Grace Zabriskie (playing what seems to be her current age), Ray Walston, Robert Englund, a slient-but-deadly Sid Haig (seriously, he makes frequent faces that look like he's passing serious gas), future soft-core porn auteur (and terrible actor) Zalman King, and Taaffe O'Connell, in an evidently notorious rape-by-giant-maggot-with-LOTS-of-goop scene. I say "evidently" because this is just now hitting DVD and has been out of print on VHS for years.  This one is also known for having pre-fame James Cameron and Bill Paxton working behind the scenes on effects. Beisdes the lighting and matte paintings, there are some great puppet creatures, terrific backpacks that seem to be made of car headlights, and supposedly old styrofoam clam-shell boxes for burgers lining the spaceship walls. One shot has some of the most seamless split-screen I've ever seen in a movie.

A neglected, VERY nasty 1981 Sci-Fi trash classic, and definitely worth a watch. Don't wait - go buy it, now, lovers of sci-fi sleaze!

Monday, August 9, 2010

One A Week Review #35 - Skyjacked

Your boy is back after a couple weeks (okay, a couple months, really) hiatus and he's got a gem to kick off a new round of One A Week reviews.

Skyjacked is an odd, "A Picture" rip off of Airport that has all the Seventies "disaster film" tropes you know I love. It even has that terrific head shot poster practically required for this kind of movie. It's as luxe as Airport  but has the slightly trashier storyline more apropos to Murder on Flight 502. You have an "all star cast" headlined by Charlton Heston (did he carry this character on to Airport 1975? I choose to think so.) and Yvette Mimieux at her Breck Girl best (seriously, there's a killer "romantic flashback" that'd make a perfect shampoo commerical).

A dashing, pipe-smoking-in-the-cockpit Airline pilot and his head Stew ex-girlfriend are on a flight to Minneapolis that gets "skyjacked" with threatening notes to Anchorage. Thankfully it's a plane right out of the works of Arthur Hailey populated with a bomber, pregnant gal about to pop, mysterious Senator with a son romancing a hippie gal in first class, and Claude Atkins as George Kennedy.

They're supported capably by an overacting James Brolin, Walter Pidgeon at his Walter-Pidgeon-iest, plot point pregnant lady Mariette Hartley (you see her belly before you see her), and cast against-type-as-a-Cellist Rosie Grier. Susan Dey, Jeanne Crain, and Leslie Uggams (even classy in a rainstorm on an inflatable emergency slide) show up to decorate the airplane set with their (ahem) star-wattage.

Most impressive is the totally set-bound interiors (you see the wrinkles in the "sky" background at one point) and the sequences featuring one or more planes in flight. This was a time before CGI, after all. They're flying real planes, sometimes in what looks to be very close formation. There's a nice 1972 sheen to the whole thing with fantastic fabrics, a conservatism hungover from an older day of film-making, and stewardesses who bother to learn every passengers name and whip out the occasional Bloody Mary at the request of a woman eight months pregnant. Did I mention the captain smokes a pipe in the cockpit?

I don't know how I had never heard of this film prior to a couple of weeks ago, when I accidentally stumbled on it on Netflix.  It's really just Airport 1.5 and pleases the palate well enough for any lover of plane dramas and disaster films. In the end, it suffers what so many Hollywood pictures of the time are afflicted with. With a bomb, birth, the threat of a midair collision, unconvincing Judo, the Cold War, and more, it's still not trashy and melodramatic enough. (Lord knows they try with some truly awful flashbacks.) There's tension, soap opera, barely there subplots, and an impossibly lovely set of actresses. That's a crime, but this is still a decent way to kill a couple hours with an old-fashioned time capsule of a movie.

I just wish at some point the Stewardess got to fly the plane...