THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL:
TERRIBLE MOVIES VIEWED FOR THE BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE IN THEM
But in a funny way, that confirms Night of the Running Man and Diplomatic Immunity as my True Answers to this question. I deeply enjoyed the experience of suffering through both. I have treasured bad memories. Night of the Running Man stars solidly post-fame Andrew McCarthy as a cab driver with a silly little black goatee who gets entangled in a web of intrigue when some hitmen (under the command of Scott Glenn) leave a briefcase full of money in the back of his cab during a shootout. It's directed by Mark L. Lester, who you might mistake for a person of interest because he directed Commando and Firestarter but for whom Night of the Running Man will cure you of any respect. The set-up is so beautifully ridiculous; the premise is that the hitmen kill a guy in possession of said briefcase full of money, but run away without the briefcase because the cops are coming. The thing is, they're mere feet from the briefcase when the decide to run away. They have the back door of the cab open and are standing right there. In the time it takes for them to have the ol' "The cops are coming, let’s get the hell out of here!" "Grab the briefcase!" "There’s no time!" exchange they could have taken the briefcase, opened it, checked to make sure the money was there and then run off. They get the number of McCarthy's cab, though, so he's in trouble after he decides to keep the money for himself.
The best aspect of the film is that early on, they get McCarthy and torture him to give up the money and they boil his feet. So, he spends the rest of the film hobbling around, staying off his feet whenever possible and being tended to by sexy, sexy nurse Janet Gunn. That’s right: Night of the Running Man features a man who cannot run, nor even walk at a normal pace. The sex scene rules, though. Gunn really goes to town on him and it's implied that she's really turned on by the idea of the money, even though she's a lovely woman with a heart of gold that we are supposed to take as a completely average love interest, not some gold-digging whore who will betray him. Like many boys (and alternative lifestyle girls) who came of age in the mid-90's, Janet Gunn came to my attention on Silk Stockings, a cable-t.v. softcore show with the same basic approach to sensualism as Baywatch: side-boob, low-cut shirts and a conspicuous absence of brassieres. Night of the Running Man is Janet Gunn's Snapdragon or Blown Away (no, the Corey Haim one.) I appreciate its existence and commend everyone involved for doing their cultural duty for taking the concept of Janet Gunn, sexpot, down to the end of the line, where she outta be. As an Eagles fan, I can never forgive her for being a Dallas Cowboys' cheerleader, though. There are some things that naked boobies and passionate licks of Andrew McCarthy's goatee cannot transcend. A failure like this, the failure of my otherwise pure love of Janet Gunn, might cause some men to question the existence of God. I myself think it proves a higher plan of existence, a more powerful calling above the sins of the flesh. Football is the embodiment of that calling.
Diplomatic Immunity, however, is essentially Satanic. As far as I know, it is the only film to feature the lovely, lovely Fabiana Udenio naked. In the biggest rip-off of all time, she's not even naked in a horny college kid 80's comedy called Hardbodies 2.* If you want to see her naked, you must sit through a shitty action movie clearly inspired by the plot of Lethal Weapon 2 and then suffer through an extended, genuinely unpleasant rape scene where she is sexually menaced with a knife while bound at her wrists. You will have to confront, in your soul, whether it was worth it to see her naked while being assaulted by the lizard-like personification of creepiness known as Billy Drago. There are only wrong answers. Consult your clergyman for guidance. If you know Udenio at all, you know her as the smokin' hot foreign exchange student from Summer School who is spared at the last moment by a concerned classmate from taking off her bikini top at the beach. You might know her as Alotta Fagina from the first Austin Powers film, but that's a late career move – she's a little out of her prime by then; still a beautiful lady, but no longer the one who brought the great Dean Cameron to the edge of ecstasy. Other roles include...I honestly can’t even tell you what the hell else she was in and I would know. Anway Cribbs and I, being big fans of Summer School, went on an Udenio kick and that's when we sought out Diplomatic Immunity. Otherwise, the journey into the heart of Udenio's career was a big fucking waste of time. Hardbodies 2, for instance. Can you believe it? It's called Hardbodies 2! And it's about college dudes trying to get laid! It sullies the good name of the Hardbodies franchise. I wish I could have performed whatever selective memory trick worked for John: years later, we were talking about Diplomatic Immunity and he remembered it as Billy Drago saving Udenio in that scene. A nightmare becomes a dream.
Well, John, is this what you wanted? I think this has to be the low point of anything I've ever written. I don't even know what I'm writing or why. Philadelphia Eagles' football, Silk Stockings, Alotta Fagina. It's like a catalogue of everything that I wish nobody knew about me. Right now, in this moment, I wish I could read Herman Broch’s answers to this question; it's the only thing that could make me feel better. He was Austrian, he had to be a perv, right?
I guess, Funderburg, that there's really no wrong response to this. Whether we wade through movies we normally wouldn't touch with a ten foot clown pole in the name of Alia Shawkat's freckles, Kristin Kruek's "odd braided knot thing on top of her head" or Ewan MacGregor's big fish, I wanted to try and figure out how our affection for certain actors/actresses relates to our love of movies in general. For example, you watched Night of the Running Man from beginning to end when you could have simply used fast forward technology to skip to Janet Gunn's big scene at the 071:19 minute mark. I may not have watched a second of Dennis Hopper's The Hot Spot other than the part with Jennifer Connelly on the beach (except maybe brief stops at one or two Virginia Madsen moments), yet I've sat through entire Isabella Rossellini movies (White Nights, The Innocent, Wyatt Earp) with no promise of nudity** and certainly no assurance of any kind of quality. I cringed through Palmetto, winced all the way to the end of The Year of the Gun (another Andrew McCarthy-starring wreck which just happens to feature the lovely Valeria Golino) and have set aside blocks of my limited screening time at the Toronto Film Festival to take in the latest crapfest Eva Green has agreed to lend her marvelous visage to. And don't get me started on the countless titles I've thrown into the player solely to catch a glimpse of the ravenous Mercedes Ruehl. Anything with Mercedes Ruehl! I've lusted after her since her triumphant appearance as a cop in Central Park in The Warriors to her Radio Days days. The audience may have been Lost in Yonkers, but I was lost in her eyes. And Nora Dunn! Gimme that no-nonsense stare, you sultry sister of Kevin Dunn you! And give me Blythe Danner any day of the week. (Just for the record, the self-mocking started immediately after Eva Green and does not include the admittedly aged Rossellini, who is still a genuine goddess.)
I'll preface what follows with this: the visual emblem for cinematic beauty, for me, has always been Vanessa Angel emerging from her tent wearing white bra and panties to match the glaring snow of the Pamir Mountains as anonymous "Russian Rocket Crewperson" in Spies Like Us. But I never pursued Angel to any of her other films - I still haven't even seen Kingpin, or Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2 (even though I saw the original.) I watched Weird Science on USA as fervently as Funderburg watched Silk Stalkings, but to paraphrase Paul Rudd that was just a good show. I guess subconsciously I knew that no image of her from any other movie could possibly top that moment of her exiting the tent. But other actresses don't have that image to live up to. So I'll start with a childhood crush...Tamlyn Tomita.
You know, Tamlyn Tomita? Ralph Macchio's Japanese girlfriend from The Karate Kid Part II? She and Macchio enact such a wholesome romance in that film: every time they try to kiss or hold hands, something interrupts them (usually the bully, played by the Howard Cosell-imitating Asian fella who races Lane Meyer in Better Off Dead.) So it's all longing glances between them, and Tomita strikes such a calculated balance between playful and seductive that when a silent tea ceremony for two bristling with wholesomeness reaches the furthest possible quantum of its restrained eroticism, they are interrupted again...by a torrid hurricane that suddenly rages outside! Their PG-rated passion is so intensely muzzled, the very fabric of nature literally explodes into chaos. I've managed to trace my hopeless pursuit of beautiful Asian girls when I was in high school to memories of Tamlyn's shy glances and ethereal features. She's so vulnerable in that movie, like she needs to be protected! And I wanted to be the man who would fight for her honor...her knight in shining armor from a long time ago...all for the glory of love!
Anyway, it occurred to me several years and multiple viewings after being exposed to the second Karate Kid that Miss Tomita might have appeared in something I wouldn't be embarrassed to admit I watch on a regular basis. So I pulled out my massive Video Movie Guide, flipped to the index under "Actresses" and found only one additional title listed under her name: Alan Parker's Come See the Paradise. Now understand, kids...it's the early 90's. We're dealing with the Alan Parker of Midnight Express, Angel Heart and The Commitments. Not the Alan Parker of The Road to Wellville, Evita and The Life of David Gale. At that point in his career, his name still vaguely hinted at prestige, so there was every reason to believe that a movie about a mixed-race couple separated by her relocation to the massive Japanese internment camp at Manzanar during WWII from the man who made Mississippi Burning had the potential to be both epic and sexy. There was a spring in my step as I exited the Blockbuster with the video in hand. I went to my friend's house to watch the movie.***
Five minutes into the film I knew I had deceived myself into believing there was any reason to rent it other than Tamlyn Tomita. The only thing more joyless and prosaic than the story of Come See the Paradise is the way it's shot: long scenes of people in rooms talking about boring crap. The handful of contrived historical set pieces in which characters champion the common man or the Japanese citizen feel like they were written by Barton Fink. Dennis Quaid, as an indignant, closeted commie ("indignant" really feels like the right adjective to describe most of the lead roles Quaid would play late in his career), doesn't convincingly fall in love with Tomita so much as he fetishizes her features. He even describes her as having "cheeks like a bowl of dumplings." Ugh! They start up a Romeo & Juliet-type forbidden romance but soon find that everybody hates Japanese people. Even Santa is a racist - American imperialism reaches all the way to the North Pole! Parker piles on the "totally uncool prejudice seen through the eyes of a white guy" even more than KKPII director John G. Avildsen in The Power of One, his movie from the same year. Just scene after scene of anonymous intolerance. At one point my friend came into the room and looked blankly at the tv for a few minutes before saying "What are you watching??" He was used to me bringing over Hong Kong action movies with high body counts or gory horror flicks where piles of dislodged intestines nearly block the view of the camera. But not this offensive garbage!
The real disappointment is that Tomita looks completely different than she did in KKPII. She's lost her chubby cheeks, she's wearing too much makeup and her period hair-do, although undoubtedly authentic, is not a good look for her. And she clearly had some work done...it's just a real shame. For his part, Quaid - Tuck Pendleton himself - comes off as charmless, so this unremarkable movie marks the the downfall of not one, but two gorgeous actors from the 80's. It was Quaid's first film after the gigantic failure Great Balls of Fire! and the beginning of his famous career nosedive in the 90's. Between having to appear in this dreck and being married to Meg Ryan, it's no wonder he became an anorexic cokehead. Watching him slobber over Tamlyn's stupid hair quickly became off-putting and, when I realized I was only about 40 minutes into the movie, I gave up and shut the thing off.
Which leads to the tragic epilogue of this pointless story. I had the tape in my car, ready to return to the video store (un-rewound, fuck you Blockbuster!), when I went to a concert at the 930 Club in DC. When I came out, my window had been smashed in and everything in my car was gone. This was the era of the retail-priced VHS, so the tab on that misappropriated movie was $79.99. I don't think I ever paid it, but the whole experience was one annoying itch up my crawl. I took comfort, at least, in the thought of some jittery crack-addicted car-vandalizing freaks having to sit through that goddamn movie. I like to think that one of them, despite being fried out his mind, got really involved in the story, his bloodshot eyes glued to the images of this romantic ballad set during a particularly dark splotch on American history. Maybe he even cried like a little bitch at whatever the inevitable tear-jerking ending might have been, then went out to the hallway and hugged his Japanese landlady while sobbing uncontrollably into her shoulder. Prompting her to call the cops.
Tamlyn disappointed me with that one. I have it on good authority that she has at least one spicy scene in the late 90's movie The Killing Jar. The VHS is reasonably priced on ebay, but I never got around to seeing it...I think Come See the Paradise ruined my crush, and devastated my innocence a little (the contamination of rampant American racism remains far-reaching indeed.)
At least it was just the one film. The actress responsible for my seeing more atrocious piles of dogshit than any other is hands down Madeleine Stowe. Not that I specifically sought out her movies - it's just that, if I happened to be scanning a video cover and noticed her name in the credits, I'd usually rent that title. Her presence was a sell for me. Which led to miserable viewings of The Two Jakes, Closet Land, Unlawful Entry, Blink and the elusive but boring China Moon. The reason? That fucking look she gives Daniel-Day Lewis in Last of the Mohicans when she asks him what he's looking at ("I'm looking at you, miss.")
Lit by Dante Spinotti, motivated by Michael Mann - she's the modern Mona Lisa, her face alternately registering coy and "come hither." She's super-classy in the flick, but also something of a warrior woman, firing that flintlock into the bloodthirsty Huron's face in the heat of battle. And her weird attempt at a British accent makes her voice, which has a tendency to slip into a painful pitch between husky and shrill (sorry Madeleine), sexy and subdued.
She was in another movie called Revenge, directed by Tony Scott and starring Kevin Costner? Fucking piece of shit. It's set in Mexico, so you got strike one right there. In the first five minutes, Costner immediately launches into that type of speech he does in at least one scene of all his movies (at least every other scene in Robin Hood), that "Aw shucks I know I'm gorgeous but that doesn't mean I don't care about all you extras; in fact, why don't you all join me in adoring my good looks and being charmed by my false modesty?" His badass juxtaposition is that he reads Lorca's poetry in clumsy Spanish...which I find a little too far over the "sensitive" fence. And he's a douche! He's rude to Anthony Quinn's servant. He's bored with being a fighter pilot. Oh, poor baby! You're too cool for Top Gun. Later he punches a lady in the face, then throws money at her as she lay bleeding on the ground. Who does he think he is, Mel Gibson?
Stowe is married to powerful, wrinkly Mexican Anthony Quinn, who literally has a "kick the dog" villain moment, although technically it's a "pick the dog up by the scruff and throw it in the pool" moment. Then later, he shoots another dog. See, he's the bad guy. Costner is somehow friends with Quinn (supports my "he's a douche" theory) and repays his hospitality by banging Stowe in the guest room. Stowe's wearing some pretty terrific undergarments in the scene, but it's juxtaposed with Anthony Quinn doing an old-person dance that gets the crowd riled up for some fucking reason. Stowe's slender backside hits the wall (very nice) and - oh god no - Quinn removes his shirt! Put it back on, you ancient Italian sausage! Tony Scott, I fucking hate you. (In a horrific revelation, it turns out Quinn wears the hair of the dogs he kills on his saggy old chest.)
There are two separate scenes where Costner and Stowe each call friends to ask advise about their affair. What the hell kind of action movie is this??
Nobody looks good in a Tony Scott movie, with that music video lighting, but Madeleine tries her darndest. She affects a Hispanic accent as she did in Tropical Snow (her mother's Costa Rican, her dad's from Oregon) but next to Quinn's Rod Steiger-level of hamming it just sounds dumb. Then the movie loses her entirely when Quinn dumps her off at a whorehouse where she is doped up and raped for the rest of the movie, which is even more uncomfortable to watch than Diplomatic Immunity. Her character is as weak and needy as she was tough and independent in Last of the Mohicans. I know acting is all about variety, so good work Madeleine Stowe etc, but the qualities that made her attractive in LOTM are not to be found here. To add insult to injury, once she's writhing around in a whore's bed, the film substitutes her with a busted Sally Kirkland. Unacceptable.
(And don't think the revenge aspect redeems the film at all. Costner just keeps running into his revenge targets on accident! One of them walks into the pool house he's in, another checks into the motel he's at. It's insulting. He picks up a motley crew of revenge-assistants including John Leguizamo and Miguel Ferrer, who has a nice improvised moment where he ruffles up Costner's hair as he's leaving the room. Ha ha - take that, Mr. Movie Star!)
Eventually my tolerance for the kind of non-mid-eighteenth century projects Madeleine chose began to wane. I enjoyed 12 Monkeys, but that was by far her unsexiest role at the time: those giant cowl neck sweaters were just unforgivable (and this from Terry Gilliam, who gave me my first glimpse of an Uma Thurman nipple and somewhat redeemed the overall shittiness of The Brothers Grimm by putting Monica Belluci in the lowest-cut dress ever featured in a PG-13 movie.) I didn't want to accept that I was "over" her, started making excuses not to see her next movies like Bad Girls ("I don't see all-girl cowboy movies.") or Another Stakeout ("Oh, I wouldn't want to spoil the sanctity of the original film.") But she'll always be headmaster of the Karen Allen/Jessica Harper/Mia Sara****/Rachel Ward school of "tiny, un-shapely, vaguely Holocaust Victim-y" types who I nevertheless found myself strangely drawn to. Physically she's not my type, but I'll always admire her spunk.
(Also notable...she's married to Brian Benben! The guy from Dream On! They've been married 30 years! How does that happen??)
We cut to a few years later. It's the last week of my last year in college. I've discovered a mom 'n pop rental place going out of business in Yonkers across the street from where my future wife Jordanna Kalman is getting her (beautiful) hair cut. They're selling hundreds of videos which, for some reason, are all piled into towers strewn across the otherwise empty store. Since they're priced at something like a quarter each I pick up a few weird ones I'm curious enough to check out, like Renny Harlin's Born American and Robert Downey's Up the Academy! Then I come upon Date with an Angel. I recognized the cover from various past video stores, but back in my younger and more vulnerable years I never realized the hovering heavenly creature was the immaculate Emmanuelle Béart.
Béart! I had no idea she'd done a cheesy 80's movie in America. I thought she first came overseas to do Mission: Impossible in the 90's. Like all Béart fans, I was disappointed that the intense love scene from the preview was inexplicably cut from the finished film (the fuck, De Palma??) but had taken it upon myself to balance things out by burning through both tapes and all 236 interminable minutes of Jacques Rivette's La Belle Noiseuse, the American title of which was Emmanuelle Béart Hates Clothes. My reaction to her in that movie was the complete opposite of Daniel Auteuil in Un cœur en hiver, in which he inhumanly rejects the advances of her smoldering violinist. Blind, gay and dead wouldn't be excuse enough for that! (Yet in real life she married the guy. What gives?!)
Jordie came over to see what video box I was ogling. I fumbled the video and tried to sneak it back into the pile when I heard her say:
"Is that Date with an Angel? That's a great movie!!"
Of course! Jordie is an 80's movie enthusiast, one of the very few people on the planet aware of the existence of such truly weird titles as Making Mr. Right and Morgan Stewart's Coming Home. Cherry 2000? The Legend of Billie Jean? 1988's Pulse starring Cliff De Young and little Joey Lawrence? These are movies I probably never would have heard of if not for her, and even though sitting through Plain Clothes starring Arliss Howard as the most unconvincing undercover cop ever to enroll in high school to track down a murderer probably didn't make me a better person, it's always refreshing to glean my wife's textbook knowledge of such undervalued classics as Three O'Clock High and the aforementioned Summer School. And standing there with that video, I figured I could pull one over on her: pretend to care about some dopey 80's rom-com while secretly admiring the divine Mlle. Béart. Well, the tables got somewhat turned cuz I had a great time watching this stupid movie with my future wife. It's completely harmless 80's fluff that even without its lovely French import would still be more watchable than overrated shit like The Breakfast Club or Say Anything. Apart from Béart (did that rhyme?), ruining-"Motion in Stereo"-for-all-eternity specialist Phoebe Cates is cute as a spoiled rich bitch who puts her panties on the outside of her jeans and really sells the line "He kicked me in the hiney, daddy!"
It opens with Béart getting instructions from god to head down to earth. Hm...is this movie autobiographical? Some charmless dork is the audience surrogate, dumbstruck and smitten to find a long-haired blonde Béart - overlit to create that ethereal visual effect - making doe eyes at him in his bedroom. Only rather than do what any sensible man would (call the police and try to help discover her real identity of course, you pervert) the guy tries to hide her from his friends and fiance, leading to a series of guffaws and pratfall-laden misunderstandings. As it turns out, Béart is an accident-prone angel who hit a satellite on the way down from heaven (which it turns out is in space) and busted a wing - she needs the hero's help so she can heal, fly back to France, meet Jacques Rivette and fire the costume designer of La Belle Noiseuse.
Béart barely speaks in the film. She plays the part like a bird: instead of dialogue, she makes a chirping/cooing noise that sounds like a cross between a crow's caw and Beaker from the Muppets. She sounds adorable, and she's shrouded in white the entire movie, which pays off when she finally takes flight and her silhouette is gorgeously outlined by the sun (the exception is the final scene where she's in a tight-fitting nurse uniform...p.s. the movie is on Netflix Instant, fellas.) And she loves french fries! (get it, she's French*****) Other than that, she spends most of the movie being kidnapped by men who want to exploit her, which seems like another real-life parallel. Budding young actress works hard at acting, wins a French Oscar, has some dumb agent tell her "Hollywood's the next notch up the rope, baby!" Next thing she knows, she's stuck in a Splash rip-off with some charmless TV actor from the director of a Friday the 13th sequel. Thankfully, Béart - like the angel - flew back to where she was supposed to be. Then later she stuck it to her heavenly persona in this movie by appearing in not one but two films called L'Enfer.(Another weird eventuality: Madeleine Stowe is now apparently starring on a tv show called "Revenge." Is a Tamlyn Tomita appearance in the Jaden Smith-starring Karate Kid Part II such a far fetched possibility?)
* This rip-off edges out The Last Seduction 2 in which noted "constantly naked" softcore superstar Joan Severance is not naked. How can Linda Fiorentino, the legit actress star of The Last Seduction, be naked more frequently in the classy, critically-acclaimed original than Severance is in the sketchy direct-to-video sequel? She lounges around in her lingerie a lot so it's not a complete wash. That's really the deciding factor here. Anything else I can add to sound like more of a creep? Just let me know, I'm sure I can provide it.
** She did manage to single-handedly shatter the allure of the nude scene with her disturbing appearance in Blue Velvet, maybe that has something to do with it. She put her disease in me I guess.
*** This was a common practice with me in high school, dropping off at a buddy's house just to watch a movie, a routine accepted by my friends since their parents worked during the day and they were busy on the computer "learning programming" (looking back, I was pretty ignorant of the internet at that time and probably didn't suspect what they were really doing.) Looking back, I think I would do that out of geographical convenience (their houses were closer than mine to the video store) but also perhaps because I wanted my parents to think I was out in the world doing something, not just watching movies all day. That may have been it.
**** Jordie correctly guessed I would be writing about Madeleine Stowe. Her second guess was Mia Sara - a good guess, but I've actually enjoyed the crappy films I've watched for Mia. A Climate for Killing, Caroline at Midnight, Timecop, The Set-Up, Black Day Blue Night...these are all perfectly enjoyable, dumb, sexy genre flicks. And have you seen The Maddening? I love The Maddening! Remind me to tell you all about The Maddening some time.
***** Technically, she's of Greek, Maltese, Croatian, Egyptian, Spanish, Swiss and Russian descent - it took multiple nations to create someone who looks like Emmanuelle Béart.
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