Thursday, July 28, 2011

Higher Learning

Yeah college.  We’re gonna change the world and discover ourselves at the same time.  We’re gonna party till the cops come and break it up and also chain ourselves to a building/tree/monument/other and fight for its existence until cops come and break it up.  Let’s see, what else do we do in college.  Oh, we’re all gonna become neo-Nazis and threaten our fellow colligates at gun point.  What, you guys never did that?  Well I guess I had a bit of a different college experience than you.  Or I could just be remembering that last part from Higher Learning.  Either way college is pretty wild huh?

So this is the story about some college freshmen and how their lives change.  We have the jock played by Omar Epps (The Program), the well-to-do white girl played by Kristy Swanson (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), the small town guy that tries to fit in played by Michael Rapaport (Deep Blue Sea) and the super senior played by Ice Cube (Ghosts of Mars).  Now these are all cookie cutter characters but probably the most stereotypical person in this is the college professor played by Laurence Fishburne.  He’s got the beard, the pipe, the glasses, the accent, the bowtie and everything.  He teaches a political science class and he tries to get the students to think outside the box.  He doesn’t want his students to waste his time.  He tries to get them to come up with something of their own opinion.

The professor is just one of the many reasons that made this such an enjoyable film.  It’s like they made College: The Movie.  Just about anything that you can think of that happens in college they put in this thing.  All of the freshmen are excited at first but soon feel lost and aren’t sure who they are or what they want.  Their lives get thrown into a blender and what comes out is a mix of ideas and personalities.

I guess you could call Omar Epps the main character and he’s at Columbus University (not an actual college located in California by the way) on a partial scholarship because he runs for the track team.  He’s a hotshot high school superstar runner so he thinks he’s the coolest motherfucker you’ve ever seen.  Don’t worry though he gets his slice of humble pie soon enough and by the end it’s force fed to him with a gun.  He wants to get along with everyone but Michael Rapaport becomes a neo-Nazi and now Epps only wants to associate with his own race.

Kristy Swanson’s shtick is that she’s confused about her sexuality.  She’s not sure if she’s in love with Jennifer Connelly and after being raped by some scumbag she’s become a little turned off on men.  She also has a problem thinking for herself and is instructed by professor Fishburne to come up with her own idea for a term paper.  Swanson needs to come to her own conclusions not only for this essay that she has to write but also if she wants to reject what she’s been told all her life about men and women being together.  

Ice Cube is the wise old sage in all of this and is by far the best character.  He does whatever he wants to like play music as loud as he wants and throw a party as late as he wants.  Cube is also a philosopher and looks at everything as a plot or device used against black people.  He also has a problem with authority and when campus security asks to see his ID Cube refuses and asks for their ID instead.  Even though he may appear to be a thug and not care about his education we find out that he really has a heart of gold and takes it upon himself to learn what he thinks is important.  For instance he’s read Frederick Douglass’ autobiography and when Epps wants to borrow it for a class Cube scolds him saying that he should read the book because he wants to read it, not because he has to for some course. 

This is John Singleton’s (Boyz n the Hood) third film and the perfect setup for his usual commentary on race.  It’s great to see all of these characters (as typical and somewhat bland as they may be) interact with each other.  Everyone’s college experience is different so it’s funny to see them all happen at the same time.  What’s even better is that with all of the changes and emotions that these characters go through it feels like the movie should span at least the first year of college but it all happens during the first semester. 

I really liked this one and think it might be the best “college experience” film that I’ve seen so far.  This is mostly due to Busta Rhymes being in this though.     

And I have to say that this trailer is amazing.  I mean the movie's cool 'n all but whoever put this thing together is a genius.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Sexy Thrillers Project Wrap Up

Just because this project is officially over doesn’t mean that I’m going to stop watching and talking about sexy thrillers.  I just need to draw a line in the sand so that I can get back to my usual movie watching routine.  But let’s reflect a little on what we’ve been through.

The eleven films that made up this project were (in order):

As you can clearly see I didn’t totally stick to chronological order like I intended.  The reason why I wanted to watch them in chronological order is because I thought I might see a pattern or changing attitudes or some other noticeable aspect.  When I realized that I wasn’t picking up on anything significant I decided it was ok to go out of order.  But one thing that I did notice is how awesome the supporting casts are in most of these flicks.  A bunch even have some of the all time greats like Keith David in Final Analysis and J.T. Walsh in The Last Seduction.  That was a pleasant surprise.

Something else I want to mention that I originally brought up in the Final Analysis review is that I saw a couple of pictures that I thought were going to be prime sexy thrillers but had problems and I decided against talking about them.  The extra ones I saw were Body Double, White Palace, Poison Ivy and Wolf which I remember being fairly sexy but I was wrong.  White Palace was just flat out not thrilling in the least and Body Double was trying to be a Hitchcock type homage that wasn’t terribly sexy.  Poison Ivy is a sexy thriller at heart but it doesn’t have a full on sex scene and it was very boring.  That one I was the most excited for and was therefore the most disappointing.

Now it’s time to hand out the awards: 

The movie with the most sex scenes: Crash with seven.  Goddamn, that’s enough for a regular porno.  The next closest is Basic Instinct with a not too shabby four.

The movie with the most after sex scenes: Body Heat with eight.  It’s so weird that they keep showing William Hurt and Kathleen Turner lying naked somewhere like they didn’t think the audience was getting the message that they were having lots of sex.  The runner up once again is Basic Instinct with five.

Most interesting place where sex was had: Probably in the car going through a car wash in Crash.  Having sex in a car isn’t anything new and something they do plenty in this movie but to put a twist on it and have the car roll through a car wash was a stroke of genius.  The rest of the scenes in these movies were mostly on beds or at least in houses.  The only other one that was different was when Peter Berg and Linda Fiorentino do it against a chain link fence behind a bar in The Last Seduction.

The movie with the most amount of recognizable faces (cameos): Basic Instinct with six.  This movie has so many tiny but important roles and they’re all filled with great character actors.  But by far the coolest supporting cast between these films goes to Final Analysis.  It has both Eric fucking Roberts and Keith fucking David.     

Most absurd plot: Gotta be Crash.  I mean most of these movies have far-fetched plots that rely on everything going perfectly to plan but people getting off on car crashes is a pretty zany idea.

Best title: I think Body Heat would be a fucking fantastic title for any movie but it works especially well if that film is a sexy thriller.  It’s funny (both interesting and haha in this case) that the title doesn’t tell you anything about the movie.  I guess the filmmakers knew that it sounded so good and they couldn’t pass it up.  For second place I would say Original Sin.  It just sounds so naughty.  

Sexiest movie: This is a matter of personal taste of course but for me I think Basic Instinct is the sexiest.  Sharron Stone looks great in that movie and she exudes so much confidence in knowing that she’s sexy.  She likes to let her body do some talking and it’s just enough to get you very interested.  In Basic Instinct 2 Sharron Stone let her body blab constantly and it was definitely less sexy.  She was trying to make up for her age in that one by showing more skin all the time and it actually became more of a turnoff.

Most thrilling movie: This is also a matter of opinion based on what gets you going.  I think Showgirls is really thrilling in a non traditional sense because the movie builds with each new success that Elizabeth Berkley achieves.  Final Analysis got pretty exciting too.  But I think I’m gonna go with Basic Instinct again.  There are two car chases in that movie as well as the constant threat of an ice pick killer.  Even the interrogation scenes are thrilling.

Best sexy thriller of this bunch here: Well since I thought Basic Instinct was the sexiest and the most thrilling then I guess I gotta go with that.  It could be my personal favorite amongst all sexy thrillers as well.  Actually Fatal Attraction is pretty good.  Anyway, I think Basic Instinct balances sexy and thrilling pretty perfectly.  I mean it’s got a bunch of sex scenes, murders, a great cast, a great director, it’s got that neo-noir thing going for it and it does it all with a straight face.  It’s a classic.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


So this is the one that I decided to end this project with.  Why?  Well because…alright I don’t have a reason.  I just thought this would make a nice period at the end of the sentence.  So without further ado: Showgirls.

This is the second offering from writer Joe Eszterhas and director Paul Verhoeven and what they immediately followed up Basic Instinct with.  I think this thing becomes a bunch more interesting if you approach it from the view that this helped to bankrupt Carolco Pictures.  After this Cutthroat Island came out and then it was totally over.  So if you go into this thinking that this picture made a little bit of history and was one half of the straw that broke the camel’s back then it might change your view a little bit.  It’s also interesting to note that Verhoeven never recovered from this one.  He didn’t have huge success with Starship Troopers or Hollow Man and never enjoyed Basic Instinct status in the States again.  He decided to go back to his native Netherlands and make films there.

But anyway this one is a story about a runaway/drifter named Nomi Malone (Elizabeth Berkley (Saved by the Bell, Any Given Sunday)) who hitchhikes her way to Las Vegas.  When she arrives she gets ripped off by her ride and meets Molly (Gina Ravera (Kiss the Girls, TV shit)).  The two hit it off and Molly offers to put Nomi up for a while until she can get a job.  What Nomi wants more than anything is to be a dancer and so she takes a job at The Cheetah strip club but still lives with Molly because they’ve become friends.  Molly works as a dress maker for a major Vegas show at the Stardust called “Goddess”.  She allows Nomi to tag along one day and this is how Nomi and Cristal Conners (Gina Gershon (Out for Justice, Face/Off)) meet.  Cristal is the lead dancer for the show and is a total bitch.  But she likes Nomi’s nails and seeks her out the next night at The Cheetah.  Through various circumstances and events Nomi shoots to stardom.  So it’s a “makin’ it big in showbiz despite the odds” story like That Thing You Do! or Selena.

Sure everyone knows about Showgirls but I don’t know how many have actually seen it or have watched the whole thing.  It has a notoriously bad reputation for being campy, poorly acted, over the top, showing lots of bare boobies and for also being just plain weird.  But I don’t agree with any of that except the over the top part.  Well, and they do show a ton of topless women but the rest of it I don’t quite see.  Now I know I’m in the minority on this but I wouldn’t say that it’s campy because when I think of something being campy I think of The Rocky Horror Picture Show or Gremlins (both 1 and 2).  Camp has a light hearted touch to it that winks at the camera and knows what it is and what it’s doing.  This film is dead serious.  The whole thing is done with a straight face and that’s the best thing that these filmmakers could’ve possibly done.  Not nearly as many people would have paid attention to this thing if it was a dramedy or pulled the audience off to the side every once in a while to say, “now wasn’t that fun?”  I’ll get back to the seriousness of this piece a little later so for now let’s move on to the poorly acted accusation.

Yes, it’s strange and funny that Jessie from Saved by the Bell goes around stripping for two hours.  Let’s get that out of the way right now.  I certainly don’t disagree with that.  But no one (and I do mean no one) gives her credit for doing a good job in this role.  Everything that Nomi does makes sense with who she is and if you don’t like the character then that’s different from thinking Elizabeth Berkley is a bad actress.  Nomi is basically a child.  When things go her way she giggles and bounces around and seems like the happiest person in the world.  But when someone insults her or pisses her off then she goes from 0 to 100 in a split second.  There’s not a whole lot in between.  It’s like when a young teen doesn’t get their way and they throw a tantrum.  Nomi gets angered easily and doesn’t know how to control her emotions so when she’s confronted with a situation where she feels threatened then her instinct is to run away.  She’s not very smart but she’s not totally stupid either.  I mean just because she doesn’t know how to pronounce Versace doesn’t make her the stupidest person on the planet.  Nomi knows how to use her sex appeal to get what she wants and when that doesn’t work then she uses opportunity to advance herself.  We also practically don’t know anything about her past but I still felt like there was a lot of depth to the character.  I feel like I got a good grasp on who this person is and what she wants.  Berkley handles the frequent and extreme emotional swings quite well.  She grabbed me and made Nomi believable as a street tough young broad who’s not gonna take shit from anybody.

Everyone else in the movie gave great performances as well.  The next best part after Nomi is Zack played by Kyle MacLachlan (Blue Velvet, The Trigger Effect).  He’s the entertainment director for the Stardust and if Nomi is the Jessie in this twist on Saved by the Bell then Zack would be well, Zack.  He’s a rich white preppy smooth talker and gets what he wants.  He thinks Nomi’s got “heat” so he wants her in the show.  MacLachlan is one of our most underrated actors of our time and he’s perfect in this role.  He was born to play guys that seem nice on the surface and can charm your pants off but you can totally tell that he’s kinda scummy underneath.  Even though you know he’s gonna be trouble or turn into an asshole at some point you can’t help but get sucked into his gazing eyes or protruding chin. 

Gina Gershon as Cristal is also pretty good.  I love how evil she plays it in this like she’s not even human.  She’s this force to be reckoned with throughout the picture and won’t let people who are gunnin’ for her spot come that close.  Cristal is an older, more journeyed and farther-down-the-path version of Nomi.  It’s not necessarily the personality that Nomi wants but it’s her success, fame, money and power that she craves.  Nomi’s following the same route that Cristal took years ago (at one point Cristal mentions that she hasn’t missed a show in 8 years so she could’ve rolled into Vegas a long time ago).  They both did what they had to do, including working at sleazy strip clubs and sleeping with the entertainment director, to get what they want.  There’s also this gay overtone between Cristal and Nomi that’s pretty interesting.  Cristal finds Nomi sexy but she also knows that she’s a threat to her job so there’s a conflict there.  Zack is keyed into this and decides to cut Cristal off and sleep with Nomi first and brag about it to her.  There’s also the impression that Nomi is sexually attracted to Molly because Molly seems to be the only person that Nomi doesn’t get mad at.  The two support each other and stick out for one another.  In fact the finale has to do with Nomi righting a wrong that was done against Molly.  I can’t see her doing that for anyone else in this movie.  Look if any of this doesn’t sway you into thinking that Nomi and Cristal are the same well they even say it in the movie.  Over lunch Cristal tells Nomi that they’re exactly the same.  Nomi denies it but the audience can already see signs that this is true and also Cristal has been around a while so you want to believe that she knows what she’s talking about and has the wisdom to spot these kinds of things.  I’m sure Nomi isn’t the first person to come along in 8 years that’s similar to Cristal and that’s tried to steal her job.

So let’s get back to the whole seriousness of this thing.  I love the way this movie treats dancing.  All of the characters are blown away by Nomi’s dancing chops and think she’s a natural.  Actually the casting guy thinks that she learned it from somewhere but they “don’t teach it in any class”…whatever that means.  But literally everyone that sees Nomi dance treats it like they witnessed someone who’s never played the piano before hammering out Beethoven.  The dancing that they do for “Goddess” looks pretty difficult and obviously requires lots of practice but because it’s all done topless everyone laughs it off.  Yes, the stripping in The Cheetah and the lap dance that Nomi gives Zack is over the top and spastic but think about how much work went into formulating all of that.

Aside from the dancing, Nomi’s harsh attitude and quick rise to the top are taken just as seriously.   Like how she’s chastised during the “Goddess” audition.  The casting guy insults woman after woman as he checks out the eager turnouts.  Nomi’s insult doesn’t come until the end when the guy demands to see her breasts and then asks why her nipples aren’t hard.  He brings her a handful of ice and suggests using that to help.  Nomi then gets upset and runs away because that’s her trademark.  But all of this stuff is presented to us in a serious manner.  There’s no chuckling when the casting guy does the insults.  This is a cutthroat audition so you better be good and be ready to take some callous criticism.  There’s another instance later in the film where in order to make some extra cash one of the guys from the Stardust asks Nomi to do her dance routine at a convention for some potential clients.  She agrees but when she gets there she realizes that they’re really paying her to be a hooker and have sex with foreign businessmen.  Of course she gets upset, etc.  But this whole renting the showgirls out to clients thing is even more serious than the audition scene.  What really sells it is that there’s another girl that goes with Nomi and she agrees to have sex with the guys.  But she looks like someone just told her she has cancer.  She obviously doesn’t want to do it but can’t turn down the money.  That’s some sad shit man.

Whatever it is that attracted Paul Verhoeven to this movie (Joe Eszterhas, dancing, topless women, other) I’m glad he made it.  He’s just a really good fucking director that really knows how to tell a story.  Showgirls doesn’t offer any mystery or action like Basic Instinct.  It’s a character study and Verhoeven put this one together perfectly.  This is NC-17 and like Cronenberg with Crash (1996) I’m glad that Verhoeven didn’t compromise his vision to get an R rating.  I think the movie would’ve needed to have changed too much in order to make it R.  Good for him for wanting to push the rating boundaries.  I mean look at the great poster they put out and tell me he wasn’t trying to push audiences.  It doesn’t tell you anything about the film other than that there’s going to be at least one naked chick in it.

What may be the most interesting aspect about this movie though is how Verhoeven treats nudity.  Sure there’s a lot of it in here but it’s not all sexy.  In fact I find most of it not to be sexy.  Verhoeven was able to make bare breasts feel like a big deal sometimes and like no big deal at others and I think that’s a testament to how well he directs.  Most of the time it’s tossed off as nothing special and that’s due to all of the dancing being so aggressive.  I always find myself focusing on that rather than the boobies.  Even though there’s stripping and a “high class” topless show in most of this picture it’s more like I can recognize that this is supposed to be sexy instead of me actually accepting that it is.  And that’s what I’m getting at here.  How can a film with this much nudity come off as being not terribly sexy?   

If you couldn’t tell after all of that, I love Showgirls.  It’s an incredibly entertaining movie that never feels like it slows down too much or stagnates.  It’s snappy and sleazy.  And it’s cool that Nomi changes and becomes a little more grown up (not much but a little) and that Cristal ends up making peace with Nomi instead of despising her for the rest of her life.  I like the way it all ends on a happy note.  I really don’t know about the whole it’s-so-bad-it’s-good thing.  I mean for any film.  But I think I’ll save that for another day and just say that Showgirls is good.  It may not be a traditional sexy thriller but it definitely belongs in that category.  No matter how you slice it, it’s a really good time.

Sex Scenes: One and a half.  Showgirls is known for being an incredibly sultry and sexy movie but it’s ironic that it only has one real sex scene.  The half is for that wild lap dance scene where Nomi and Zack are basically having sex but Zack has his clothes on.

After Sex Scenes: One to go with the sex scene.

Strange Cameos: Robert Davi (Die Hard, Predator 2) is one of the all time greatest character actors.  He’s got an unforgettable face and a very New York accent and attitude to match.  He plays the owner of The Cheetah and is arguably the slimiest person in the whole movie.  But I love the contrast between his world of stripping and Kyle MacLachlan’s world of a major Vegas dancing show.  The Cheetah is scummy and seedy but Davi is honest and upfront with what he expects out of his girls.  MacLachlan, his show and his crew are glamorous and respected but at the same time they’re all manipulative and deceptive.  So both worlds are clearly shown to have their benefits and faults.  I also love that they bring Davi back after Nomi leaves The Cheetah as if to say he was such a great boss and a true friend or something.  And by bringing him back briefly Verhoeven is also saying that maybe the big time isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be and that the small time may be unspectacular but at least you don’t have to constantly watch your back and you’re treated with more respect.

Glenn Plummer plays a dancer that befriends Nomi and wants to harness her natural abilities.  This character is completely useless and if he wasn’t in the movie then it wouldn’t have made any difference.  I don’t think he changes Nomi or that we see a side of her that we don’t see with anyone else.  Anyway, I know him as Jaguar Owner from Speed and he was also Jeriko One in Strange Days.

And finally Jack McGee, Mickey Ward’s father from The Fighter, has a small part as a stagehand.