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Month: February 2020

Goodbye, New York (1985)

Goodbye, New York (1985)

“I thought I’d change my life.”

Synopsis:
When a woman (Julie Hagerty) finds her husband (Christopher Goutman) cheating on her, she leaves New York and heads to Paris, only to find herself in Israel without luggage or money when she sleeps through her landing. Once there, she befriends her new roommate (Aviva Ger) on a kibbutz as well as a lonely soldier (Amos Kollek) hoping for romance.

Genres:

  • Middle East
  • Strong Females

Review:
There’s little to recommend about this well-meaning but dull, contrived, and poorly acted Israeli flick about a suddenly-single woman determined to have the adventure of her life abroad. As Kevin Thomas wrote in his review of the film for the L.A. Times: “Writer-producer-director (and co-star) Amos Kollek… fails to develop Hagerty’s predicament with either wit or credibility, only a plentitude of tedious complications. Hagerty, though game, comes off as a tiresome dimwit.” The primary novelty of the film is its Israeli setting, though there have since been many other worthier titles to check out.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • An interesting glimpse of an Israeli kibbutz in the 1980s

Must See?
No; feel free to skip this one. Listed as a Sleeper and Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

National Lampoon’s Animal House / Animal House (1978)

National Lampoon’s Animal House / Animal House (1978)

“If the whole fraternity system is guilty, then isn’t this an indictment of our educational institutions in general?”

Synopsis:
During pledge week in 1962, two young college students (Tom Hulce and Stephen Furst) find themselves joining a raucous fraternity — whose members include a “smooth-talking, skirt-chasing president” (Tim Matheson), a student (Peter Riegert) whose girlfriend (Karen Allen) tries to convince him to “settle down”, and two “resident wild men” (John Belushi and Bruce McGill) — which the strait-laced dean (John Vernon) is determined to shut down.

Genres:

  • College
  • Comedy
  • Donald Sutherland Films
  • Misfits

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “influential”, “raucous, raunchy film that became the highest-grossing comedy of all time” — directed by John Landis — “still inspires films that can’t compare to it”. He notes that there “is a lot of destruction” as “the fraternity fights back” against Dean Wormer’s (Vernon’s) attempts to “close down Delta House and expel all the members”, and points out that this “uninhibited film is often hilarious; like his characters, director Landis exhibits inspired lunacy”. Meanwhile, “the characters are so likable that we aren’t turned off when Belushi peeps into sorority girls’ windows while they undress (he gives us a great devilish smile); when Belushi, McGill, and Furst are responsible for the death of a horse in Vernon’s office; when Belushi spits food all over obnoxious students; … or when Matheson manipulates a girl to make love to him by pretending he is the grieving former boyfriend of her recently deceased roommate.” While Peary argues that the “finale is too wild, and hackneyed”, he writes that “before this there are numerous funny moments and scenes” — though he points out it’s “not for all tastes”. Most distressing are the scenes positing non-whites as perennial outsiders, and/or — in the case of a visit to a black music joint — menacing threats; but I suppose it could be argued that this simply highlights the white characters’ inanity, paranoia, and unfounded prejudices.

Note: Watch for Donald Sutherland in a small role as a hip, grass-smoking professor, and Kevin Bacon in his debut role as new pledge “Chip Diller”.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • John Belushi as Bluto
  • John Vernon as Dean Vernon Wormer

Must See?
Yes, as a cult classic.

Categories

Links:

Caged Heat (1974)

Caged Heat (1974)

“You’re in a house of desperate women here — and a long, long way from home.”

Synopsis:
A new inmate (Erica Gavin) in a women’s prison run by a sadistic, wheelchair-bound warden (Barbara Steele) and a perverse doctor (Warren Miller) soon joins forces with other prisoners in rebelling against their dire situation.

Genres:

  • Barbara Steele Films
  • Jonathan Demme Films
  • Mad Doctors and Scientists
  • Prisoners
  • Rebellion
  • Strong Females

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary argues that this “New World picture”, written and directed by Jonathan Demme, was the “best sexploitation film of [the] era, completely overcoming stringent dictates of [the] inherently misogynist women-in-prison genre.” He adds that “Demme deliberately reverses [a] formula which had sex and nudity being supplemented by action, and — with the exception of one scene — refuses to equate violence, or the threat of violence, toward women with sex, or to use female-in-peril/agony scenes to titillate male viewers.” He notes that “much is praiseworthy” about this film, including “the strong, intelligent women” and “the authentic depiction of U.S. prisons as cruel, dehumanizing institutions where prisoners lack privacy … , where some hostile prisoners are given shock treatments or lobotomies, [and] where drugged prisoners are tricked into signing forms that allow doctors to perform hideous, permanently debilitating operations on them.” (Much of this remains all-too-true about modern-day prisons in the United States.)

Peary adds that “Demme did away with the disproportionate use of white and black characters which typically has only one black in a lead role, and the objectionable emphasis on female breasts”, instead often “deglamoriz[ing] the women, showing them on the toilet and looking ill, or with food in their mouths, or even dressed up like baggy-pants male comics, mustache and all.” He writes that the “film has great pacing and [an] exciting escape finale”, as well as a “well chosen” cast — including Barbara “Steele, in a part Demme wrote with her in mind” performing “the strongest role of her strange career”; “beautiful and talented sexploitation vet Roberta Collins do[ing] some comedy; Gavin, whose eyes grow tougher as the film progresses, and adorable Rainbeaux Smith handl[ing] non-dialogue moments especially well; and [Juanita] Brown and Ella Reid exhibit[ing] command and confidence.”

Peary elaborates upon all these ideas in his first Cult Movies book, where he notes:

“While most films of the genre seem to have been created in a cinematic vacuum by directors who had never seen a movie in their lives, Caged Heat makes Demme’s cinematic roots quite evident. Several prison sequences remind one of Raoul Walsh’s White Heat (1949). Demme’s use of John Cale’s fine blues score (with harmonica whining during outdoor sequences) is similar to Arthur Penn’s playing of Flatt and Scruggs’s “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” during the speeding-car sequences in Bonnie and Clyde (1967). When Jackie [Gavin], Maggie [Juanita Brown], and Crazy [Lynda Gold] go to rob a bank and find another group of bankrobbers already there, we might easily flash back to the bungled bank robbery in Woody Allen’s Take the Money and Run (1969), when two gangs simultaneously pull out their guns. When we are presented with a close shot of a wall in the prison mess hall which has on it the writing ‘Don’t Throw Food’ and the wall is immediately struck by flying food, [one recalls] the opening of Mark Robson’s Youth Runs Wild (1944) with its street sign reading “Drive Slowly — We Love Our Children” immediately knocked over by a carelessly driven truck.”

With all that said, Peary adds he “doesn’t want to give the impression that the style or content of Caged Heat is not singular to Demme”, given that overall it’s “like few other films.” I agree with Peary’s overall positive assessment. Caged Heat — while most certainly a women-in-prison exploitation film — is surprisingly intelligent, well-acted, creatively shot, and exciting. It’s held up well, and remains worth a look as a justified cult favorite.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Strong direction, cinematography, and editing
  • John Cale’s score

Must See?
Yes, as a cult favorite.

Categories

Links: