Friday, September 26, 2014

Watch Madonna (And Hubby #2) Get "Swept Away" As They Stuff A Turkey Together

Madonna's best acting in "Swept Away" is confined to the movie's promotional poster.

Long, long ago, when the force of nature called Madonna first burst onto the pop culture radar, many pundits thought she had the makings of a movie star. This rosy assessment was based on the success of the Material Girl's early music videos and her appearance in the low-budget comedy "Desperately Seeking Susan."

To the surprise of no one, Madonna also believed she was movie star material. Thus, starting in the mid-1980's, she set sail on the cinematic high seas, searching for the right vehicle to showcase her "unique talents."

Unfortunately, Madonna's journey for Hollywood glory often resembled a voyage of the damned. From "Shanghai Surprise" to "Who's That Girl?" to "Bloodhounds of Broadway" to "Dangerous Games" to "Body of Evidence" to "The Next Best Thing", Madonna stuffed so many turkeys she threatened to put the Butter Ball people out of business.

Those with lesser mettle would have quit. But not Madonna. Instead, the Material Girl continued in the best Captain Ahab tradition, until she finally harpooned--with the help of her second husband-- the Great White Turkey that would finish off her film aspirations for good: 2002's "Swept Away."

Lovingly written and directed by Guy Ritchie, "Swept Away" was a remake/reboot of Lina Wertmuller's controversial art-house hit "Swept Away...By An Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August"(1974). That movie was the tale of a rich (capitalist) shrew and a poor (commie) deck hand stranded together on a deserted island. Earlier, the rich shrew had mistreated the poor deck hand, so when they are shipwrecked, he gleefully turns the tables on her--which she finds she enjoys, along with the kinky sex.

The demanding Amber (Madonna) makes life hell for deck hand Pepe (Adrino Giannini)...and the audience.

Such a film seems ideal for the gal who made that coffee table book Sex  and recorded a ditty about the joys of spanking, right?

Wrong. Very, very wrong.

Ritchie's remake ignores the original's philosophical and sexual politics and merely casts Madonna as a rich, bored, mean, jet-set trophy wife named Amber. She, along with her shallow hubby (Bruce Greenwood) and their jerk friends, are cruising around Greece in a private yacht. As rich, bored, mean jet set trophy wives often do, Amber spouts off about every subject under the sun.  ("I'll say one thing about capitalism," Amber pontificates at one point. "It's better than communism.") She also feels entitled to mock, insult and belittle the studly deck hand Pepe (Adrino Giannini). After all, she's rich, he's poor and her wealth and social position ensure that Pepe will have to silently suck-up Amber's entitled nastiness, right?

Wrong. Very, very wrong.

Late one afternoon, Amber commands Pepe (whom she calls "Peepee") to take her out in the yacht's dinghy. He says the current isn't right. Amber insists. Pepe says it's too late in the day. Amber insists even more. So Pepe takes Amber out. Then the dinghy's motor conks out. "I can't believe you went out in the middle of the ocean without a cell phone!" Amber rages as they bob around the Mediterranean.  Then a storm hits. After Amber fights Pepe for the flare gun, the dinghy springs a leak. Eventually the duo wash up on a deserted island, just like in "Gilligan's Island."

It's a collision course to wackiness! Amber and Pepe are lost at sea.

With no phone, no lights, no motor car, not a single luxury, like Robinson's Crusoe, it's primitive as can be--which means rich, mean, bored jet set trophy wife Amber is out of her league and over her head. Pepe, on the other hand, is in his element: he can fish, find shelter, locate clean water, make tools, build a fire. He also remembers Amber's past mistreatment of him, so he's more than ready for some payback.

What does Pepe make Amber do? He has her calling him "master", for one thing. He makes her wash his clothes. He has her collecting firewood. Later, Amber is tenderizing his octopus, rubbing his feet and serving him dinner. At different times, Amber rebels and Pepe slaps her. Amber rebels again and Pepe nearly rapes her. She tries running off and he goes after her. ("Run, my little vixen, run!" Pepe cackles as he gives chase). They tussle in the sand. Pepe reminds Amber that HE is in charge now and SHE better like it.

Slowly but surely, Amber complies. In fact, Pepe's "tough love" approach begins to warm the cockles of her black heart. Before long, the duo are getting all kissy face and "Gilligan's Island" has becomes an "Island of Love." However, once the couple are inevitably rescued, will their love survive?

The heavy handed role reversal in "Swept Away" is suppose to be funny, sexy and/or provocative. Maybe in 1974 it was. But in the hands of Ritchie and Madonna, the remake is none of the above. The flick's biggest problem is, not surprisingly, Madonna herself. Even though she's been at this a while, the Material Girl still hasn't figured out that posing and/or voguing is not the same as acting. Furthermore, the Material Girl seems inexplicably drawn to unlikable characters, which is fine--as long as the unlikeable characters are interesting. Amber, however, is not interesting; she's just mean. Why is she so mean? What's her story? Was she this mean when her husband first met her? Why do people put up with her nastiness? The movie gives us no insight as to why Amber is the way she is; it just forces us to endure her hatefulness. Considering what a monster she is, it would be easy to understand if hubby, discovering Amber was lost at sea, ordered the yacht back home--pronto!--and left her to rot.

Taming of the shrew? Pepe has Amber right where he wants her.

Now let's consider the remake factor.

If a film is done right the first time, why remake it? Lighting rarely strikes in the same place twice, after all. What's more, certain flicks are so much a part of the era they were filmed in, a remake or reboot often dilutes (or obscures) the very qualities that made the film special to begin with.

Last, but not least, "Americanized" remakes of foreign films are more often than not duds. Why? Because the unique sensibility of a picture's country of origin adds to its flavor. If that is removed, the film's personality is often fatally altered.

So let's take stock: "Swept Away" has an unbearable lead character acted by an actress who can't act. The flick is a remake of a very '70's film and doesn't even attempt to tackle the political/sexual issues that made the original original. The supporting cast is made up of shallow jerks acted by colorless actors. And the director/writer of the film has no finesse with comedy, drama, romance or the eternal battle of the sexes. Put them all together and you have one big worthless hunk of steamy feta cheese.

The moral of this story? Well, there are several.

Whether she is co-starring with her ex-husband or being directed by her ex-husband, it doesn't make any difference: Madonna can't act.

Don't bother with remakes--foreign or national!

When in doubt, go for the original. As they say in Greece, "It's the older chicken that has the juice."

And save the movies!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Junk Cinema Salutes...Troy Donahue!

He's big, beautiful, blond and bland: Troy Donahue in his teen dream hey-day.

Greetings, movie lovers!

It's come to my attention that it's been a while since Junk Cinema saluted one of the many artists that put the "bad" in "bad movies."

So without further ado, let's recognize a certain tall, blond, handsome beach hunk who became--however briefly--an above the title movie star, the undisputed teen dream of the late 1950's and early 1960's. 

Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together for...Troy Donahue!

Like so many teen dreams before and since, Troy had perfect hair, deep blue eyes, classic cheekbones, a throaty voice...and the acting talent of a crash test dummy. The settings of his films might change, his female cast members might be shuffled around and Troy might play guys named "Johnny" or "Parrish" or "Hoyt", but his flicks were all cut from the same celluloid cheese cloth: over-wrought, over-acted soap operas about the temptations (and consequences) of pre-marital nooky.

While Troy's various leading ladies would shed copious tears and bemoaned their fates, Troy remained stiffer than a board, his drop dead gorgeous face as immobile as Mt. Rushmore. His standard reaction to anything was blinking his eyes or flaring his nostrils. You could say Troy under played his parts so well that you were never sure if he actually shared the same sound stage as his co-stars or if he filmed his spots miles away, in a different studio, and the editor merely spliced Troy's scenes in post-production.

Nevertheless, Troy remains the Gold Standard of teen idol movie success, a triumph of style over substance. So let's take a long, loving look at Troy and the cinematic Velveeta that made him the head Cheese of Movie Heart Throbs.

"A Summer Place"(1959) or Burn Notice

Johnny (Troy Donahue) and Molly (Sandra Dee) enjoy a staring contest on Pine Island's beach.

It's vacation time at the scenic Pine Island Resort, where aristocratic drunk Arthur Kennedy and his long-suffering wife Dorothy McGuire hope to make enough money to send their glamour boy son Johnny (Troy) to college. Among this season's crop of guests is Dorothy's long lost love Richard Egan, now a rich research chemist, his shrewish wife Constance Ford and their daughter Molly, played by the hyper-perky Sandra Dee.

Although this is the movie that made Troy a star, the real scene stealer here is Ford. She is stone-cold bitchy, ordering her husband to dress up like a yachtsman and pretending to speak French. Ford hasn't let hubby touch her in years and is such a frigid neurotic, she bellows, "Get out the disinfectant and clean this bathroom--and don't forget the toilet set!" seconds after they have been shown their posh suite.

However, the person who really catches hell from Ford is the hapless Sandra Dee. Horrified that her teen daughter is spouting curves, mom insists Molly stuff herself into flattening foundation garments so she won't "bounce when she walks." Later, Ford will blow a gasket when she catches Dee and Troy kissing. Her obsession with keeping her daughter a vestal virgin will reach its zaniest heights, however, when Troy and Sandra are stranded alone over night. Even though the teens insist nothing happened, Ford marches Molly in their room and shrieks, "Take off every stitch and let the doctor examine you!"

Considering what a monster Ford is, you can't blame Egan for hooking up with McGuire. At least Arthur Kennedy has some fun tormenting the frigid Ford. He claims that despite Pine Island's family-friendly atmosphere, it's really " a perverted Garden of Eden where the pines and the sea air seem to act as an aphrodisiac."  Kennedy even makes Ford do a spit take when he asks if she's ever skinny-dipped.

 Sandra Dee wails in protest (and who wouldn't?) when sneering mom Constance Ford demands she under-go a virginity test after being shipwrecked over night with Troy.

When it's discovered that Egan and McGuire have been enjoying trysts at an abandoned boathouse, Pine Island society is horrified. Arthur Kennedy, who's love of the grape will soon cost him his life, let's McGuire go with little fuss. Shrewish Ford, on the other hand, egged on by her shrewish mother ("Remember dear: men only want one thing") nails Egan in a costly divorce. And just to make sure EVERYBODY is as miserable as possible, Ford locks up Dee in an ultra-strict girl's school. Later, when Troy and Dee manage to reconnect on Christmas break, ("Can I kiss you in front of God and everybody?" Troy asks) Ford goes berserk--and how! She cuffs daughter Dee right in the chops, which sends her sailing into their tinsele draped tree.

"Merry Christmas, mama," Dee whimpers.

Once Egan and McGuire are free to marry, they settle down in a cute little cottage especially designed for them by Frank Lloyd Wright. Sure, they are ex-shameless adulterers, but they are happy ex-shameless adulterers. Troy and Sandra, meanwhile, have finally given into their urges and have done the deed. Of course, Dee gets a bun in her oven. Lucky for her, Egan and McGuire pass no judgements and the young couple soon tie the knot. When we next see them, Sandra and Troy have returned to Pine Island and plan to make it their home. Cue Max Steiner's famous theme song (which has been playing incessantly through out the flick) and we are done.

Reunited love birds Richard Egan and Dorothy McGuire compare marital horror stories in "A Summer Place".

"Parrish"(1961) or Wacky Tobackie

The movie poster for "Parrish" makes plantin' tobacco seem real steamy.

Troy is the title character is this crazy quilt soap opera set in Connecticut's tobacco growing country.

Released just a few years before the Surgeon General's warning that smoking causes cancer, Troy and his widowed mother (Claudette Colbert!) arrive at Dean Jagger's estate. Jagger (once a cuddlemate of Bette Davis) wants Claudette to help police and polish up his daughter Allison (Diane McBain). That's because she's head-strong gal who proudly declares, "I'll buy whatever I want--even a lover."

Worried about propriety and stuff,  Jagger won't let Troy room in the main house with his ma. Instead, Troy gets a job as a field hand and bunks with a local farm family, which includes daughter Lucy (Connie Stevens). Gussied-up to resemble Ellie-Mae Clampett, Lucy pounces on Troy right away, announcing, "When it gets hot, I sleep raw."

 After a full day of pulling weeds and fighting Blue Mold (don't ask), Parrish and Lucy become an item--sort of. See, Connie is seeing someone else, but she won't say who. Meanwhile, ma Colbert warns her son that Lucy is the sort of girl who drops her knickers way too easily and he should beware.

"Oh, hell, it's 5 o'clock somewhere!" Spoiled rich girl Allison (Diane McBain) downs another cold one in "Parrish".

To complicate things even more, Claudette has struck up an attachment with cut-throat tobacco baron Karl Malden. Troy doesn't like it that folks are snickering about this coupling, especially since Maldon is Jagger's chief rival and Claudette is Jagger's employee. Like a lot of rich men, Karl sees no reason to get married. Colbert, a widow of longstanding, gives Malden a read-between-the-lines speech about how she's not that kind of a girl. While all of this is going on, Troy has finally hooked up with the randy Allison--and the sexual sparks her father fretted about indeed happen. Slinking into Troy's bedroom after dark, Allison purrs, "As Eve said to Adam, 'Do you want a bite of my apple?"

Back toiling in the fields, Troy learns that Lucy's preggers. He offers to marry her, but Connie declines, because the child isn't his. Refusing to name the father, Lucy does accept Parrish's offer to attend the local barn dance. That makes McBain hit the roof; after all, why would Troy want to be seen on the town with a poor tramp when he can be seen with a rich one? Meanwhile, hovering around the edges of the flick is nice girl Paige (Susan Hugoney). She's not only Karl Malden's daughter, but a budding feminist. She huffily informs Troy that she's studying agriculture in school, and, what's more,"I'm the only girl in the class!" Troy files this information away for further use.

Tobacco farmer Parrish (Trot Donahue) beats the tar (ha, ha, ha) out of his bad news stepbrother Edgar.

As if the plot of this tobacco-scented turkey wasn't stuffed enough, "Parrish" adds on even more subplots! There is Malden and Claudette getting married. There is Malden's snooty sons being mean Claudette. There is Troy telling off his stepbrother Edgar and threatening to tattle that he fathered Lucy's baby. There is Malden hiring Troy and then working him like a punch press. There is Troy getting fed-up and joining the navy for two years--are you keeping up with me? Then Troy returns home to grow tobacco with Jagger, which drives Malden batty. When Troy can't find enough hands to harvest his crop, nice girl Paige rounds up her classmates to help. Finally, Malden's snooty son Edgar tries to burn Troy's field and Troy beats the tar (no pun intended) out of him.

Oh, yes, and ma Claudette up and leaves Karl because he's mean and Allison marries Malden's other son and becomes an embittered lush and nice girl Paige and Troy get all kissy face, the end.


"Susan Slade" (1961) or Who's Your Baby Mama?

Even the movie poster for "Susan Slade" over acts.

No, Troy does not have the lead in this melodramatic soaper. That (dis)honor belongs to Connie Stevens, who plays the heavily bouffant-ed daughter of Lloyd Nolan and Dorothy McGuire. Dad is a super engineer, mom is a former super model and the family has spent the last 10 years in Chile. Unfortunately, life south of the border has left poor Susan with the social skills of a dung beetle. Mom McGuire frets that Susan has "so much love to give" that she may start passing out free samples...if you catch my drift.

Mom was right to worry. On the boat back to America, Susan hooks up with rich boy/mountain climber Grant Williams (best remembered for "The Incredible Shrinking Man"). Susan blushes and stammers when Grant flirts with her, but soon enough they are Deeply In Love. Later, the couple does the deed and Susan sighs, "We've been sinful."

Grant, however, disagrees. See, he wants to marry Connie and they are "secretly engaged." He doesn't want to tell their parents because "it will look bad"(?) Besides, Grant chides Connie, is she going to call up her mom "and confess every time we make love?" Finally, Grant has this Big Important Mountain Climb coming up and he doesn't need anymore distractions. So he urges Susan to head home to Monetary, CA and begin planning their nuptials.

The Slade family settles into their dream house in Monetary and reconnects with friends Brian Aherne and Natalie "Mrs. Howell" Schaefer. The adults would like nothing better than for Susan to hook up with future "Tattle Tales" host Bert Convey, but she keeps pining for Williams. Her cards, letters and phone calls get no response, causing Connie to decide, "I'm the woman God forgot."

"I feel a sin coming on." Susan passes out some free love (samples) to the ill-fated Grant Williams.

Where does Troy fit in? Well, he's the stable boy where Susan boards her horse. He's named Hoyt and he's rather glum because 1) his dad was found guilty of embezzlement and 2) then had the nerve to hang himself. Besides mucking out the stables, Hoyt is a budding author and has even sold a few pieces. He's currently trying to find a publisher for his first book (me, too, by the way) when he befriends Connie.

However dreamy Troy is, Susan isn't interested because she's still waiting for Williams. She gets even more desperate when a trip to the family doctor reveals her to be (horror of horrors) preggers. Bravely putting on a front, Susan attends her parents' swanky party only to learn--via the telephone--that secret fiance Grant fell off the mountain and is dead and buried and nobody will ever find his body.

In other words, the wedding is off.

Absolutely devastated, Susan shrieks like a dental drill, yanks at her blond hair and rips her fancy frock off. Then she mounts her horse...stop snickering, you know what I mean...and rides like the wind straight into the ocean to drown herself. Lucky for her, faithful Troy mounts his know what I save her. Finally coming to, Susan admits there's a bun in her oven and her shocked parents turn pale.

Obviously, something must be done. So the Slades decide to move--lock, stock and barrel--to Guatemala, Guatemala! where dad will accept an engineering post. And to make sure nobody, NOBODY suspects that Susan is in the family way, mom Dorothy begins telling her fancy friends that she's expecting. Susan first doesn't want to do this, but her parents INSIST this is the only way to avoid shame and scandal, so she gives in.

"Haven't we met before?" "Parrish" co-stars Troy Donahue and Connie Stevens reunite for the equally nutty "Susan Slade".

Safely tucked away in Guatemala, Connie gives birth to a baby boy named Roger. Once she's lost the baby weight and can fit into her old clothes, the Slade family returns to the USA. Nobody catches on about Susan's "baby brother", but being forced to live a lie is wearing Susan out.

"Everyone is taking my baby from me!" she bleats at one point. "I want to take my son and go where nobody knows me!"

Mom Dorothy tells Connie that's impossible; "Rogie's" future is safe and secure and therefore she must move on and marry the very eligible Bert Convey (after all, "Tattle Tales" will run for four years).

"I can hardly walk down the aisle with a somewhat soiled gown," Susan reminds her mother. "It's suppose to stand for purity--and let's face it, I'm not."

"Let me out of this movie! Or I'll do something marry Eddie Fisher!"

However, when father Nolan unexpectedly drops dead (he was suffering from a heart condition and told no one), Susan reconsiders Bert's proposal. Then Troy reappears. He's published his first book, a runaway success, and he now declares his Deep Love For Susan. In the midst of explaining why she can't marry him, Connie's "little brother" catches himself on fire. Troy puts out the flames and they race the tyke to the hospital.

Several agonizing hours later, the doctor announces that little Roger will be "just fine". Connie wants to see her son, but the hospital rules only allow parents to visit. Despondent, Susan blurts out that she's the baby's mother, not his sister. Bert and his parents are shocked, but sympathetic. However, the wedding is off.

Troy, on the other hand, is so in love with Susan that he doesn't care that little Roger is the fruit of another man's looms. He wants to marry Susan and raise the tot as his own. To the sound of joyful strings, Connie accepts Troy's proposal and they seal their love with a kiss. And thus concludes "Susan Slade".


Troy Donahue, Junk Cinema salutes you!