Wednesday, 28 December 2011

“LORAYNE ASHTON” AND HER “PARK AVENUE”

 

Here’s another author I discovered recently. Her name is Lorayne Ashton but she is really Ted Gottfried—and not the other bogus biographical Rita Picker pseudonym at the end of the novel. He has written a dozen of trashy best-sellers under two women’s names. From Ashton to Kathleen Fuller (no relation to the historical romance writer of the same name), his tales revolve around the super rich in a Dynasty-esque setting—which comes as no surprise since the TV series was still drawing enough viewers back then. The novel I was introduced to is the first of a seven book series. Written in 1987, it focuses on many characters living at 777 Park Avenue. Now, I know what you’re all thinking, and I agree. You can definitely smell the influence of Harold Robbins in the title, but rest assured the plot is completely different. In fact, in PARK AVENUE (yes, without the numbers) nothing reminds of Robbins, except perhaps the narrative, which, come to think of it, is a lot stronger. However, the overall effect fails to be up to par.
 
 
Like I said, this one offers a slew of unhappy New Yorkers living the big life in one of the most sought-after building in the city, from the unfulfilled Scandinavian who yearns to be touched by whomever to the reclusive Howard Hughes-like millionaire Mafioso who may or may not be involved in the death of his female neighbor. In other words, all desperately yearn to take the happy pill but just can’t seem to grasp it. Gottfried does fairly well in keeping everyone and everything in check with short chapters but the overall presentation ends up being a bit bland once the going gets tough, and even though the novel is rather short (340 pages) you can clearly feel the lack of total dedication underneath the scandals and sins.
 
 
Still as a whole it’s never boring. You may not find yourself flipping pages quickly to see what happens next but you won’t skip parts either. Furthermore, Gottfried does a pretty good job on his characterization, making some of his people interesting underneath their tame adventures. As for the book ‘80s feel, you can clearly feel the author’s flair for the era, not to mention the sometimes saucy dialogue. But I got to admit that it’s the strong climax that really hooked me. You’ll definitely be left with wanting more, and in the end that’s all one asks for, isn’t it?
 
 
Working on a serial like PARK AVENUE must have been a challenge for Gottfried, just to keep everything in check while satisfying his readers. It involves time and energy in all the right places. Just ask King or Collins who did it later on (and successfully, I might add). But based on this first outing, the PARK AVENUE saga might not fare as well but the author has to be patted on the back for having had the gall to do it before any others. Just for that reason, I recommend PARK AVENUE. I will definitely come back to this address, if not in a hurry then in between sure-fire best-sellers. Who knows what the future holds. Maybe the second book will be the slam dunk one expects it to be. Well, at least from this end.

 
 
 
Until next post—Martin
French edition

Sunday, 11 December 2011

“FAME” BY TILLY BAGSHAWE




While spending a few days in Barcelona for a well-deserved vacation around Europe, I got ahold of Tilly Bagshawe’s latest, FAME (yes, in English). You can imagine how thrilled I was finding this one. You see, in Montreal, most of her books are released much later, sometimes not at all (thank Heaven for online shopping), and coming across FAME (and J.J. Salem UK edition of THE STRIP for that matter) that easily was like finding gold. Suffice to say, I wasted little time in starting this one up since anything from Bagshawe has become a must over the years—and again she delivers.
 

FAME revolves around a few characters, Sabrina being the major one. She’s sort of a Lindsay Lohan-type who does not give a rat ass about her wild rep. In fact, at the start of the book she’s so out of it that she’s forced to work for zilch on a movie project (the remake of WUTHERING HEIGHTS) just to get her name back in lights. In comes newcomer and hunk extraordinaire Jake who, contrary to Miss Thing, gets millions for his part in the film, since he’s the current flavor of the month. Of course, this does not go well with Sabrina, who, before you know it, butt heads with her co-star (and with everyone else); but, surprisingly, a friendship soon evolves, one that may actually develop into something else—but divulging anything more will spoil it for you completely. Oh yeah, there’s also a rather obstinate single young mother named Letitia who leases her England estate for the film shoot. Her story line is as vital as it involves an irresponsible brother, a mom from hell, and a less than stellar environment at her work place over in Romania. Other characters include a down on his luck director who just can’t keep his buxom ex-starlet wife, now middle-aged, happy. His mission, to finish his film no matter what, makes for more troubling waters in his love life.

Just like in her previous work, expect to be enthralled with FAME. Bagshawe tries her best to keep the pace going, and succeeds at it—mostly, as the obvious sometimes resurfaces. But this shouldn’t let you stray away from enjoying the novel completely. Sex, sin, Hollywood hunchos, divas with claws, and, of course, romance—all manage to shake their respective bonbon pretty well throughout the book fast-paced thread. The author even incorporates a sub-plot involving forgotten institutionalized children in Romania, a cause that is dear to her heart (to learn more, click here). No doubt about it, the way she manages to churn out another best-seller despite “a rough year”, as stated on the acknowledgement page, just go to show you how talented (and thick skinned) she really is. So kudos to her for having delivered another firecracker beach read (or winter read), and long live her reign.



Until next post—Martin








Monday, 28 November 2011

JACQUELINE SUSANN AND HER “VALLEY OF THE DOLLS”



"You’ve got to climb mount Everest to reach the valley of the dolls.” Aw, such sweet words from a movie that is definitely the best of the genre. I was around 10 years old when I first saw it, seated comfortably in my parents living room, unaware that the film was about to be pivotal in my growing up. No, not in a draggish way, mind you, but as an introduction to—how I would later describe films such as this one—bad movies heaven. It was right after THE BRADY BUNCH series ended and right before Travolta’s SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER began. I was knee deep in Archie Comic books and, alas, the unfortunate victim of gay bashing. The sad part is that I wasn’t even aware of my own sexuality back then. But, for some strange reason, they sure were.

Anyhow, if it hadn’t been for Jacqueline Susann and her VALLEY OF THE DOLLS I would never have been as easily lured into the trashy world. One thing I have to say before continuing: just like my then-up and coming alternative lifestyle, I didn’t know the film had been harshly criticized by moviegoers at that time. To me, VALLEY was just the greatest thing that ever existed. It would take me years to finally get it and see the film as the epiphany of bad taste in a high gloss production value. But back then, I, the kid educated to the screen world of Esther Williams and Elvis Presley, was mesmerized by everything that was going on, and with good reasons.


For those two people still unaware of the film, VALLEY OF THE DOLLS centers around three unfortunate gals (or dolls, if you prefer) who take on the showbiz world and are quickly tramped upon by success, failure and pill popping (referred to as dolls as well). There’s Neely, the gifted but auto-destructive singer/actress whose low self-esteem takes her to loony bins and darken gutters; Jennifer, the bombshell with nothing to offer but her tighten by exercise boobies; then there’s Ann, the good girl with her naive ways who suffers greatly in the name of love, so much so that the Dionne Warwick theme song follows her wherever she goes. Almost two hours are spent watching these aspiring women loving, hating, back stabbing, and best of all, wig pulling one another for the sole benefit of sheer entertainment ‘60s style (an era so in right now that there’s even talk of bringing the film to TV, à la MAD MEN series). It’s like watching every episodes of the JERRY SRINGER SHOW all rolled up into one—but with classier broads.



Ann was my favorite character. She was the strongest of the trio; positive (when doll free), supportive; a true friend. I can still see her on that train heading to New York, so sure that her world was about to rock once there. And without knowing it, I, too, had found my niche somewhere else, embarking on a cheesy journey that would change the way I see movies forever. And yes, I did develop a strong dependence on trashy films afterwards. In fact, I’m still riding on the same high. Not that I don’t appreciate a good old fashioned movie once in awhile. Like everyone else, I have my own limits. But there’s nothing better than watching a high or a low-budget train wreck in action. That is, what is considered to be a train wreck. Because you know the old saying: one man’s celluloid trash is another man’s celluloid treasure. It just depends on what tickles your fancy, and for me, this film does it aplenty.


If you have yet to savor the VALLEY OF THE DOLLS special DVD edition, I suggest that you do it pronto. There’s everything in it, from never-before-seen supplements—like the Judy Garland wardrobe test shots before she was replaced by Susan Hayward as queen bee Helen Lawson—to the actual movie soundtrack that includes the ever-famous theme song belted by co-creator Dory Previn (Warwick could not contractually appear). Now, all we need, to die very very happy, is the official 1981 mini-series remake released on DVD. Wouldn’t that be a kick if it ever came to be?! In the meantime watch this blog for my eventual take on it (reviewed here).




Until next post—Martin




 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Monday, 14 November 2011

"LACE", THE BOOK



A few years ago I wrote a lukewarm Amazon review regarding Shirley Conran’s LACE. I titled it “More Like Cotton”, referring to the degree of smoothness this tale of revenge on mama lacked overall. The novel, far from being perfect, failed to stir any warm feelings on my part, like the adapted mini-series did when it first aired in 1984. Someone replied to my less than enthusiastic comment about the book, labeling it rubbish on account of my gender. That bothered me. I replied by saying that I'm sure a man's perspective wouldn't have mattered had this been a rave review, which I still believe today. Frankly, a novel is as good as its author makes it out to be.
 
I re-visited LACE last week, keeping in mind that person’s unfavorable comment. And I can see why she wrote it. Clearly, LACE is a woman’s book. You can swing a “Duh” here if you want, but what I mean is that, contrary to many offerings in the same category, this one makes a point in elevating its female characters even higher to reach that I am woman hear my roar pedestal. In my opinion, no other novels besides Marilyn French’s THE WOMEN’S ROOM ever did that. Sure, LACE is a ‘80s genre book, meaning opulence takes center stage, but its theme is still the ever strong bond these women share while moving mountains to fulfill their individual needs.

But, alas, this discovery does not make LACE a better read a second time around. Yes, the main story line about sex symbol Lili wanting to find her real mom is as intriguing as it can be, but besides that, everything else is a struggle. Conran’s narrative is wordy and, let’s not mince words, almost dull. You barely come out feeling anything for these career gals. Moreover, the men in their lives are the bad guys. The author makes sure we, the readers, know it over and over as we go along.
 
This never really annoyed me before, since I’m from (and all for) the Jackie Collins school of get away from me bad men as I conquer the world and look stunning while doing so. It’s just that in this novel, no one with a schlong is friendly, and while it usually still makes for swift reading in any other work, Conran’s LACE ends up irking more than pleasing. Perhaps I would have enjoyed it better had it been a bit more pro-male. So, yes, I guess that Amazon person was right all along. You shouldn’t give credence to my point of view regarding novels for women about women such as LACE. I'd much rather watch the sensational TV adaptation, anyway.




 
Until next post—Martin







Thursday, 3 November 2011

MARGAUX HEMINGWAY'S "LIPSTICK"



I always had a soft spot for Margaux Hemingway, especially after sitting through the delectable awfulness that is LIPSTICK. Here is the then-million dollar contract model for Babe perfume trying to succeed as an actress and failing miserably (according to many insiders, but more on that later). I’m sure her entourage had something to do with this, not only encouraging her for the sake of money; but making sure that she turns a deaf ear to any true criticism (or self ill-feelings) toward her onscreen performance. But whatever the cause, LIPSTICK bombed at the box office in 1976 and her career in films soon fizzled after that. In 1996 Margaux died supposedly of a massive epileptic seizure; some say of a suicide. Who knows? What’s sure, however, is that she died all alone in her house in Bel Air. She was in her early 40s and her days of making it in Hollywood long gone. Oh, she did continue to work, mostly in B-grade films  like KILLER FISH or INNER SANCTUM but she never reached the A-list sphere so much expected with the release of LIPSTICK.
 


In it she plays, what else, a famous fashion model who, urged by her younger sister (played by real life sis Mariel in her screen debut), meets the little one’s music teacher (an effective Chris Sarandon). The guy turns out to be one sick puppy, raping her in every which way possible, and, when arrested and on trial, yells consenting hook up. Because it’s a movie, and there’s some form of lack of evidence involving sex and the selling of the body (don’t ask), Margaux looses the trial. However, she later reclaims her spot when little sis gets a shot at the teacher’s sick talent and he ends up pumped full of bullets by a red-clad Margaux holding one mean rifle.



There’s no doubt in my mind that LIPSTICK is a flawed film. Scenes of unintentional laughter mixed with cringed-induced moments are plentiful, not to mention demeaning to women. But that’s what makes LIPSTICK such a fascinating viewing experience, witnessing the degree with which director Lamont Johnson degrades himself, and ultimately others, for the sake of his art. And it is art we’re seeing here; not an easy breezy art form, perhaps, but one that connects with those into sexploitation cinema. I’ll go even further and declare that LIPSTICK is mostly a total joy because it does revive the sleazy days of pulp movies (now in an upswing, thanks to Tarantino’s Grindhouse style filmmaking and also to the folks behind the Mill Creek Entertainment DVD label who have been releasing their load of shlock titles). Of course, Russ Meyer first comes to mind when focussing on this subject, with his keen handle of onscreen sexual exploits and cinema de vérité approach of the late ‘60s; though LIPSTICK is more subdued in that department (if this can be believed) choosing instead a higher gloss and budget to counterbalance its harsh theme.



Legendary Anne Bancroft, who co-stars in the film portraying Margaux’s feisty attorney, has nothing to worry about, acting-wise. Clearly, her talent is miles ahead over Margaux’s. Still, when sharing the screen with others but Bancroft, Margaux does manage to hold her own. You can clearly see some evidence of sparks in her performance, despite the many negative criticisms over it. But clearly it is Mariel, her little sis, who steals her thunder. She delivers some of the sweetest and finely-tuned moments in the film. She single-handedly saves LIPSTICK from becoming a total disaster (should we really thank her for that?). Every nuance of her emotional face shows the making of a great actress, and she did become one for a while, as her older sister stumbled and stumbled into even more forgettable Z flicks.



LIPSTICK was indeed the apogee of Margaux's career. Far from being Academy award worthy, it is definitely a fave among cult cinema lovers. Suffice to say, had the film been perfect in every way, this blog would probably have dismissed it as total waste of time. That’s how grand it really is. So, here’s to you LIPSTICK for giving us 90 minutes of pure joy every time we pop our disc in. But most especially to Margaux Hemingway, for having had no choice but to rise above the film bashing and move on. You are dearly missed.


 


Until next post—Martin


 
 
 

Friday, 16 September 2011

“SINS” AND THE JUDITH GOULD SHOW




For the longest time Judith Gould was churning out one best-seller after the other, the last being 2008 GREEK WINDS OF FURY, which I  plan to read then review on this blog. Unless she now uses a pseudonym, it seems like she’s just disappeared from the face of the earth. Blame this mostly on the arrival of e-books which have revolutionized the publishing industry but at the same time have put many contracted authors aside. Authors like Michael Prescott and Scott Nicholson have all suffered from the consequences of books going digital but have somehow found a way to stay afloat. Which seems not to be the case with Judith Gould. Now, unless you’ve been straying from the computer until recently, you must know by now that Judith Gould is really the penname of two guys who, since the release of the mega-hit SINS in 1982, have been going at it incognito until about a decade ago when they finally decided to come out of the closet and announce their true colors, so to speak.



I’ve been a fan of their work because of SINS. Like many of you, I came to know the novel by watching the mini-series starring the legendary Joan Collins (now on region 1 DVD by Olive Films and on Region 2 by Pegasus Entertainment).  Yes, I was again present when the CBS seven hour television event took place in 1986. Joan Collins was already a superstar by then, having been on DYNASTY for quite a few seasons. Besides Collins, SINS had a powerhouse of big names: Gene Kelly, Timothy Dalton, LACE Arielle Dombasle, Lauren Hutton, and that awful rich fellow who wanted so much to bed Diana Ross in MAHOGANY, Jean Pierre Aumont. In fact, in SINS, he plays… well… a rich fellow who wants so much to bed Joan. What was also interesting is the fact that Catherine Mary Stewart played a younger Joan. You see, fifty-something Collins couldn’t fool anyone with her age, so she wisely hired Stewart to play her character from a teen to a young woman in her 20s. Then in a move only Hollywood could make, Collins fills in Stewart shoes much too early, thus looking still too old for the part. But it’s her mini-series and it’s already highly engrossing by then. So we forgive her.


Anyway, to get back to Judith Gould, the duo authors made it big indeed with SINS and continued so with many other lively titles. TOO DAMN RICH is one of their latter and better work, I believe. It even surpasses SINS as the book to read if you want to savor the authors sheer ability as co-dependent writers. It focuses on the art trade world and delivers a punchy plot with a colorful cast of characters. Of course, one does not read a Judith Gould for its true-to-life drama. One savors its beach read flare like fine wine. Okay, enough with the cliched comparison and let me say this: like you, it took me years to find out who Judith Gould really was. And when I did, I was more than pleased. In fact, I was ecstatic. Explanation: two men wrote these so-called women books. Men. Not any female Judith Krantz–wannabe. But two guys who, for the benefit of selling more books, have used a woman’s name as a front—one that turned out to be as catchy and profitable as… well… the Judith Krantz name.
 

Then it got me thinking, if two guys could easily fool readers, surely others have done the same. Interestingly enough, this is where horror great Charles L. Grant comes in. Before making a name for himself in the horror genre, this talented fellow penned many historical romances as Felicia Andrews. As well as gothic writer Tom Huff, who hid behind the Jennifer Wilde name (and others) for many years. Those are only a few who have used opposite sex pseudonyms as their alter ego. I’m sure many have done the same or are doing it as we speak (Andrew Neiderman as V.C. Andrews comes to mind). I guess what I’m trying to say is that judging a book by its author nowadays is a big faux pas. Because you never know who you could be embracing or—if it comes to that—dissing.


One thing’s for sure, though. Let’s just hope that a new Judith Gould is already in the works. For I really miss those guys and their multifaceted talent, both of which I have come to cherish over the years. In fact, like many other fans, I’ve had the privilege of corresponding with them for a while. They even had the graciousness of sending me a signed copy of DREAMBOAT, which I am ashamed to say that I have yet to read. You may have noticed that I have failed to name them. The reason is that I wanted to wait at the end of this entry before revealing who they are. Why? For the simple reason that I want their name in lights. I want fireworks and confetti and the jolly sound of a bandstand when they’re announced—for if not for them and their wonderful books, part of me would have probably stayed in the dark and never acknowledged the fact that I also love “women’s fiction”. So it is with great pride that I take my hat off and say a heartfelt thanks to Nicholas Peter "Nick" Bienes and Rhea Gallaher for being who they are, and in return, letting me, in a way, be who I am. You deserve the love and more.
 
 
 
 
 

Until next post—Martin





Thursday, 25 August 2011

MIXED BAG: The Baby, The Anniversary At Shallow Creek, Pia Zadora




The first reviewed film is the 1972 cult classic THE BABY, starring STRANGERS ON A TRAIN Ruth Roman. It is well-made and totally fascinating as it deals with the premise of a grown-up male forced to be a toddler by his family, all females.  It also stars NIGHT OF A 1000 CATS Anjanette Comer as the social worker who wants to help him—or so we think.  Some scenes are on the wacky side, but some are truly eye-catching. The climactic sequence is worth the viewing experience alone. For more on my review click here.





The other reviewed film is 2010 THE ANNIVERSARY AT SHALLOW CREEK, a low budget indie who borrows ideas from many horror films, such as THE STRANGERS and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. It is not a bad film but not a good one either. The first half is rather slow and predictable. The last half does pick up but is overall barely involving, except for the last 15 minutes which, I got to say, are truly disturbing. The co-scripters for this film are also the main stars. Here’s the link for the full review.






Last but not least, here is the link that takes you to a recently made one-on-one interview Pia Zadora gave to Backstageaxxess.com (just scroll down a little once you get to the page) during her one night only singing gig in Niagara Falls. She talks about her comeback performing the standards, her thoughts about sharing the screen with Orson Welles and Leslie Nielson in BUTTERFLY and NAKED GUN 33⅓, respectively. She also talks about her kids, Jermaine Jackson and, last but not least, Frank Sinatra with whom she toured as the opening act. No words on THE LONELY LADY though. But you can feel the interviewer David "Gus" Griesinger wanting to go there. Thanks for trying, Gus.





Until next post—Martin



Monday, 15 August 2011

MIXED BAG: 1980 Nightmares, Hanna D. The Girl From Vondel Park



 
Here's an 1980 slasher flick from down under called NIGHTMARES, aka STAGE FRIGHT.  It is watchable mostly for the attractive leading lady and the giallo handle the director uses to tell the story of a post-traumatic victim of a double murder who may or may not be the killer herself.  It is done stylishly but the script falls flat, alas. But HELL NIGHT alum Jenny Neumann, who plays the central character, makes the film more enjoyable as her performance verges often on the unintentionally funny.   So If you dig this sort of entertainment, then by no means check the film out.  In the meantime, click this link for the full review. 







The last entry is 1984 HANNA D. THE GIRL FROM VONDEL PARK.  Directed by sleaze master Rino Di Silvestro, this Italy and France GO ASK ALICE is cheesy at its best.  Everything's cliched but the film is never boring.  If you guys have seen 1981 CHRISTINANE F. - WIR KINDER VOM BAHNHOF ZOO, you got a pretty idea what to expect. Those who have not seen this German flick, well, I got three words for you:  drugs, sex, prostitution.  Oh, imagine what Pia Zadora could have done with this part...  Anyway,  here again is the link for the full review.
 
 



Until next post—Martin




Tuesday, 9 August 2011

“THE GIRLS OF THE WHITE ORCHID” OR “DEATH RIDE TO OSAKA”?



"Based on a true story” THE GIRLS OF THE WHITE ORCHID first premiered as a TV movie during the fall of 1983 on NBC. I was already aware of Jennifer Jason Leigh, having seen her as an anorexia victim in THE BEST LITTLE GIRL IN THE WORLD two years prior, not to mention having witnessed her losing her onscreen virginity in the 1982 super hit FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH, that also featured LACE Phoebe Cates in that infamous shedding of a bikini scene. Needless to say, I was intrigued by this tale of an aspiring singer who goes to Japan thinking that she could be the next big thing but ends up being a singing prostitute and prisoner instead. THE GIRLS OF THE WHITE ORCHID had all the right ingredients for sleazy viewing: sex, hookers, debauchery… Little did I know that I would like it so much as to wind up talking about it almost three decades later on a blog such as this one.


Directed by THE ACCUSED Jonathan Kaplan, THE GIRLS OF THE WHITE ORCHID takes its time to get to the action, and that’s okay since the quiet scenes are wisely intermingled with the raunchy ones from Japan. Jennifer Jason Leigh plays good girl Carol who, in between her waitressing job, goes to auditions in the hopes of being discovered. She’s a singer/ songwriter, you see, and though she has little talent in both areas, the film wants you to believe that she does. Numerous times we hear praises like “You’re such a good singer”, “She’s great, isn’t she?” as we beg to differ. Sort of like Bette Midler’s over-praised beauty in the tearjerker STELLA. Anyway, to make a long story shorter, Carol hits the jackpot when answering an ad for wanted performers in Japan. We all know she’s getting screwed just by the way the promoter behind the ad looks and acts—sort of like a dollar store pimp who thinks he’s more than that—but especially when she agrees to sign the contract written in Japanese (!) without batting an eye.


So out goes little Jennifer to East Asia where she meets Ann Jillian who’s the main attraction at the club where our heroine will “perform”. For those clueless of who Miss Jillian is, Ann was sort of a mini sex symbol in the ‘80s, having made a name for herself in TV hits such as IT’S A LIVING and later on in the ANN JILLIAN STORY in which she chronicles her true battle with cancer. In THE GIRLS OF THE WHITE ORCHID, however, she battles a series of sex-starved oriental males and a madam from hell (the great Carolyn Seymour shown above) while stripping and befriending little Jennifer.


In films such as this one, there is always a secondary character who comes to be known as the sacrificial lamb. You know, the one to whom everything will not come up rosy; whether it’s the recently departed Jeff Conaway in THE MAKING OF A MALE MODEL as an over-the-hill model; or Mark Singer in FOR LADIES ONLY as an over-the-hill male stripper; or more recently Sandra Bullock’s auto-destructive rehab roommate Azura Skye in 28 DAYS. In THE GIRLS OF THE WHITE ORCHID Jillian is it, the main sufferer to little Jennifer’s plight. But thanks to her unfavorable outcome and the help of an on and off American boyfriend of little Jennifer who flies all the way to Japan to rescue her (that’s how much he loves her, people), our heroine will have an happily ever after ending after all, one that does not even involve singing.


THE GIRLS OF THE WHITE ORCHID became DEATH RIDE TO OSAKA for the VHS and, later on, DVD editions, with added scenes featuring nudity and topless dancing. Those yearning to see Jennifer or Ann in the nude, however, will be slightly disappointed as Ann only ends up making one PG rated striptease in the film first half. But viewers with plenty of exploitative flair will certainly have an eye full, as long as they can bare Jennifer’s off-key singing throughout. But rest assured, her vocals are much better here than they were in the gripping but deaf-toned 1995 GEORGIA. So that’s another big plus.




 

Until next post—Martin



 
 
 

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

HERBERT KASTLE AND "THE MOVIE MAKER"



VALLEY OF THE DOLLS did breed a ton of carbon copy bestsellers during its hectic heyday, like this surprisingly effective Hollywood novel about the pre-production stage of an epic movie (think GONE WITH THE WIND but way bolder) and the sexually-starved people gravitating over it. THE MOVIE MAKER is very raw in terms of character development and action sequences, a pop-culture must-have for the 1960s fiction. In fact, Herbert Kastle is an old pro at the wheel, having already penned a couple of well-received potboilers during the late ‘50s. Suffice to say, his attempt at writing à la Susann comes easy enough for him, or so it seems.


THE MOVIE MAKER centers around an unhappy bunch lusting for the good life. We have the down on his luck central character, a writer, who yearns to prove his worth via a commercial script while his long distance relationship with wife and kid is hanging by a thread. We have a pair of swinging sisters torn by success and jealousy. One is a sought-after starlet while the other struggles in her shadow. We also have a bunch of secondary characters who, as the main ones proclaim, wish to follow the yellow brick road, but with little success.

 
Of course, what they really need is one good therapist to bring them out of their funk (and they should go at a group rate), but that’s what’s so cool about this novel. The way the author refuses to rose-tint his characters in spite of their gloomy ways. Because we, the readers, all want to jump off a bridge when done with this book. Believe me. That’s how depressing it sometimes gets. But, the fact remains that THE MOVIE MAKER is one heck of a fascinating read. Especially for the way Herbert approaches things through his strong and catchy narrative. Indeed, not only does his tale of lost souls brings forth a string of well-executed characters in a sexually-charged setting, but it also manages to pull the heart strings every now and then; something rare in this so-called superficial genre.

 
And what’s even more engaging about THE MOVIE MAKER is that, despite its cliché-ridden front, the author pulls off quite a unique story. Which to my way of thinking is quite a celebrated affair, since it involves ability and a unique sense of style on his part. It took me years to finally settle down with this book, believing it to be just another pale copy of DOLLS. So imagine my surprise finding out it that it is actually more than that. Sure, this unexpected trait may be one of the reasons why I praise the novel so much, but, trust me on this, THE MOVIE MAKER is definitely the real deal. If you have yet to try a trashy novel, do it the right way and grab this one up first. You’ll thank me later.




Until next post—Martin
 

US hardcover edition
 
 
 
 

Monday, 1 August 2011

MIXED BAG: Alien From The Deep, Dead Snow, 13Teen, Pia Zadora



This week I give you 1989 ALIEN FROM THE DEEP, a schlock entry into the ALIEN clone. It’s all about this monstrous form wrecking havoc on a island compound somewhere. Directed by master of sleaze Antonio Margheriti, the film focuses on three unlikely partners (two men and a woman) who try to infiltrate the bad guys’ turf with deadly result, of course. The film is nothing to shout about but enjoyable if you dig low-budgeters that include wet-t-shirt boobies, substandard FX, and a plot worthy of the recycle bin. Click here for the full review.



The second film is Norwegian 2009 DEAD SNOW. Now, this one is worth the price of admission. If you like zombies, especially those of the WW2 kind, then get ready for some kick ass action sequences and in your face gore. The film takes no time involving us into the plot, and though it does tend to verge on the teen angst shtick every now and again, the end result is still very appealing. No wonder it ended up being the crowd pleaser two years ago at Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal. Go check it out if you haven’t already. The full review is right here.


The third film is an indie called 13TEEN. It’s a psychological horror film à la… Well, I’m trying to compare it to something else but can’t at the moment. Though the people behind the film proudly proclaims it to be “SEVEN meets PARANORMAL ACTIVITY”. To that I say, no way hosey, but I got to admit that the film is no lost cause. Okay, it isn’t the best horror flick out there but if you like whodunits with supernatural undertones, than you are in for a good time. Again, here is the link for the full review.




Last but not least, if you’re in the Niagara Falls area on the weekend of August 6th 2011, why not attend a Pia Zadora concert at the Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel. To my knowledge there are still some tickets left. She will be singing her little heart out (perhaps in the vein of something like this?) while being accompanied by conductor Vinnie Falcone and his orchestra. I would have loved to go but am working that weekend. But I promise myself that if she ever performs in Toronto, I will be first in line. So c’mon Pia, head there soon, will ya?!



Until next post—Martin



Sunday, 24 July 2011

“MOMMIE DEAREST” OR THE POSSESSION OF FAYE DUNAWAY



What to add to this high camp gem that has not been said before… My two cents, of course, but where do I begin? What can I tell you that would completely hook you? That I was an extra on the film? That I know the star personally? Or better yet, that I heard through the rumor mill that a sequel is at the planning stage? Oh, how I wish it was all true, but one thing’s for sure: you’ll end up having a ball reading this post anyway, for if you’re still here, it means you’re as hooked on this film as I am. So sit back, unwind and be prepared to be taken back in time. Here it goes:
 
I actually went to the movie theater to catch MOMMIE DEAREST. I was there when the film opened wide in North America on September 18th, 1981. The same year that my mid-teen angst went into overdrive. You know, when I was so sure I had it all figured out. Suffice to say I knew zilch about life, just as I knew nothing about the film star. Not La Faye; I had seen her before in the wonderful gangster flick BONNIE AND CLYDE and in that other bad but so chic-looking movie THE EYES OF LAURA MARS. I mean the other one, that Joan person. I had never heard of Joan Crawford before. In fact, my friend and I thought she was actually an ice skater queen, on account that MOMMIE DEAREST begins with her getting her skates laced up by some bit player. Of course, it was all for the benefit of a film being shot within a film. It had nothing to do with Olympic legends. Oh, she was a queen all right, but a different kind of a queen, one that I would soon learn could rival any foul-tempered diva on and off screen.
 

You have to understand something here. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. All of that Christina Crawford rant over mom’s lack of maternal skills was unknown to us at the time, as was the book on which the film was based. Call us clueless, but we were just a couple of pimply-faced kids out on a Friday night, nothing more nothing less. The only thing we were sure of, besides being familiar with the film star Dunaway, was that MOMMIE DEAREST had all the right ingredients to be very dark, horror like dark. I mean look at that poster sheet alone. Dunaway in a scary getup looking like the ice queen that she is, and with that torn corner signed pic … It’s enough to hail it as one of the scariest teasers of all time. Sure, it’s hardly FRIDAY THE 13TH with that shadow defined killer roaming a campsite. But, in some ways, it is far worse. To me that poster represented the real deal. The day-to-day sicko who could probably handle anyone, including Pamela Voorhees.


As it turned out, I was right on target. ‘Cause we all know how MOMMIE DEAREST fared. It is one of the most terrifying, unintentionally funny, jaw-droppingly bad but visually stunning piece of work to ever showcase a villain. It literally destroyed Faye Dunaway’s career (though with what’s been rumored about her throughout the years, it’s no wonder). Even after all this time she still refuses to discuss the film, which is really a bummer, for you feel like saying: “Hey Faye, get a grip. Have a sense of humor and embrace the love. It’s just a movie, for crying out loud!” And what about those pivotal moments of violence in the film? How can anyone keep a straight face at all the atrocities going around? So over-the-top they are that you even expect dead Joan to snap open her eyes and jump at Christina’s throat à la EVIL DEAD during that infamous funeral parlor scene.


OK, now that I got everything off my chest, let me just say that my life has never been the same since seeing MOMMIE DEAREST for the first time in ‘81. I don’t know about you guys (nor about my childhood friend, for that matter), but rarely do I forget to watch the film at least once a year. I know, I know, call me crazy, but to me MOMMIE DEAREST is the epitome of horror perfectness. It genuinely makes me want to hide my face behind my hands every time Joan gets irritated. And I would forever be grateful to La Faye if she ever agrees to star in my proposed sequel aptly named MOMMIE DEAREST: THE HIDDEN YEARS. I’d even agree to be touched by her wire hanger just to get the project off the ground (though she’ll probably think I’m too old; or worse, not worthy). In the meantime get yourself the Hollywood Royalty Edition of MOMMIE DEAREST on DVD and enjoy the film and the John Waters commentary.





 Until next post—Martin


 

 
 
 

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

'ORIGINAL SIN' BY TASMINA PERRY



ORIGINAL SIN being my first Tasmina Perry, I was pretty thrilled to finally plunge my heart and soul into this 600 plus page book. I had heard a lot of good things about this author, queen of the bonkbuster genre, brilliant writer… So imagine my excitement coming face to face with this tale of a renowned publicist who has her hands full protecting the shenanigans of a well-to-do family on the verge of a fab and tabloid-driven wedding. Two words to that: sleazy heaven. Indeed, all the elements for a great trashy read are there, a controlling matriarch, a sex-addict daughter, a substance abusive son, a disillusioned bride, and a big big secret that threatens to reveal itself. I mean, what more could I ask for, right? Well, as it turned out, a lot.

First and foremost let me say that I have yet to throw in the towel when Miss Perry is concerned. Her ORIGINAL SIN may have landed below my appreciation radar but I will definitely overlook it. Why? Simple. This writer has spunk. Lots of it. And contrary to TV’s Lou Grant, I love spunk. You can feel it in her words, her sentences, her style… She definitely got the chomps to impress. Trouble is she sometimes misses the boat. Take the character of Tess, for example. She may be an ace at her publicist job but, boy, what a dummy she is at love. It’s hard to feel any real sympathy for her when all she does his blindly tumble over her heartstrings. No, we do not want her perfect, we just want her as shrewd in her love life as she is at her job. It isn’t too much to ask. It’s what is expected.

For all the wrong approach regarding the character of Tess, the one worth mentioning, however, is Brooke, the bride-to-be. The author does a fine job leveling her sense of intelligence. This heroine has flaws but she is not stupid in her actions. We believe she would have second thoughts about her upcoming nuptials and understand her attraction to another man. We do not hate her for it; we embrace her imperfection instead.

Of course, getting into the scheme of things sometimes involves unwanted direction for the reader. In ORIGINAL SIN Perry chooses to elongate her plot and subplots to the point of boredom. A shame actually, for the first 150 pages of her book is almost done to perfection with a sure tempo and a yummy dialogue. But comes the first-half and, suddenly, I find myself loosing interest, due mostly to the characters uninspired ways. I should be having a ball up to that point, not dreading what comes next. But fortunately, the novel last third picks up and saves it from becoming just another snoozer.

There is a fine line between great and super great bonkbuster authors. Jackie Collins, J. J. Salem, Tilly Bagshawe, Jessica Ruston have all caught the nuance. That is why their work flourish while others take a turn for the recycle bin. I am far from saying that Tasmina Perry isn’t one of the super greats. But, judging by her ORIGINAL SIN, it’s truly evident that something is missing. Whether it’s a lack of connection with a male reader or a simple slip from a frothy agenda, we will never know. But one thing’s for sure: her world of sin and caviar still can generate a good buzz despite this lukewarm review. I mean, just look where she is today. Her name is on everyone’s lips. She may have yet to reach mine but she is getting there. All I need is one super great read to seal the deal.


 

Until next post—Martin