Someone, somewhere at Amazon Prime, with over a century of cinematic history to choose from, is coming up with Sextette as their new release on their streaming service. With Disney, Apple and Warners all launching their own platforms, it’s pretty odd that this legendary 1978 clunker should be the plastic jewel in Amazon’s Fall 2019 line-up. Sextette had been a stage vehicle for Mae West from 1961, and it’s clear that the most, or only remarkable thing about it was the star. A film version was announced in 1970, but by the time it got in front of the camera in 1978, West was in her eighties and somewhat less that the sin-sational broad promised on the posters. West certainly had presence, but she moves like a parking hovercraft and delivers her lines as if she’s never formed a sentence before, a phenomena that has inspired a number of urban legends. But there’s many a film in which an aged male actor froths over young women, so Sextette’s notion of having West meet six of her previous young husbands while staying at a London hotel isn’t necessarily awful. But Sextette is awful, and the contents read like a crime sheet. How about Mae West and Timothy Dalton performing Love Will Keep Us Together? Or West directing a flirtatious performance of Happy Birthday Sweet Twenty-One to the entire US Athletics team? Tony Curtis as a diplomat called Sexy Alexi? How about random cameos from Dom Deluise, Ringo Starr, Walter Pigeon, Keith Moon, Alice Cooper and George Raft? Perhaps to compensate for the star’s immobility, all concerned give inhibited performances that must now be the subject of some regret. Hughes’s shambolic film switches gears with ease, balancing casual racism with tremendous homophobia while the cast pick their way through such mind-numbing innuendos as ‘Have you seen Big Ben? / I hardly know the man!’ Sextette is a car-crash of a film that has to be seen to be believed, filmed in a process which should be called Awful-o-Vision which makes everything look like its filmed through a screen door. After ninety minutes, you’ll feel like you’ve been trapped in Mae West’s boudoir with an assortment of 70’s glitterati; not pleasant, but an experience that you’ll never forget. Like the Mae-Goes-Disco version of Baby Face that climaxes the film, it burns it way into your consciousness, leaving you changed inside forever.
Terry Marcel is an unheralded figure, but his unique comic book sensibilities seemed probably out of step with both the 70’s and 80’s. He went from first and second AD on projects as diverse as Straw Dogs and Pink Panther films to taking the directorial reigns on cult classic Hawk the Slayer and comic-strip revival Jane and the Lost City. He’s got a certain swashbuckling style that was never matched by his budgets; together with producer and musical maestro Harry Robertson, they wrote the script for Prisoners of the Universe, a very 1982 project involving time-travelling portals; HG Wells’ The Time Machine, or at least George Pal’s version, seems to be a jumping-off point. And what a jump; Battlestar Galactica’s Richard Hatch is Dan, a man in a truck involved in a highway crash with Carrie (Kay Lenz) during a series of earth tremors. She visits the home of Dr Hartmann (Kenneth Hendel) a scientist who has constructed a portal to another dimension, and doesn’t see any reason by an earthquake might hinder his experiment, The three of them are transported a lost universe that looks exactly like a South African scrubland with some trees with paper plates attached, ruled with an iron fist by Kleel (John Saxon), who makes General Zod look like a social worker. There’s a giant who looks a lot like the late Greek singer Demis Roussos, talking geese, a midget thief and a number of the oddities which marked Hawk the Slayer, plus the kind of chat that grabs the attention; ‘This may only work on snakes who like music’ and ‘What am I supposed to do with a mad scientist for an hour?’ both rack up the points on the bad dialogue scoreboard in the first five minutes. Saxon, looking like Sean Connery’s stunt double and enjoying himself as usual, is something of a blast here, with plentiful catch-phrases and uncertain horse-manship; the actor had his fans in the US, but in the UK, John Saxon’s popularity dictates that his face appears on coins and stamps, and lucrative government grants are available to film theorists who can prove they’ve seen over fifty of his films. That’s not actually true, but it should be; meanwhile in a parallel universe that looks at lot like ours, Marcel’s daughter Rosie wrote the screenplay for Fifty Shades of Grey; fans of bad movie dialogue can connect the dots themselves.
A musical folly of the highest order, Can’t Stop the Music is a loving tribute to the Village People, who surfed the disco wave of the late 70’s with hit songs like YMCA and Go West. Of course, being gay, and it’s no secret that the Village People were super-off-the-charts gay, was considered to be something of an commercial issue in 1980, so the Village People somehow get side-lined in their own movie to allow centre-stage to a solid heterosexual pairing of Police Academy’s Steve Guttenberg and Superman’s Valerie Perrine. He’s a song-writer, she’s a model, they share a NYC flat and the Village People are their ticket to stardom. Rhoda’s mother from the popular sitcom, Nancy Walker is a random choice to direct, and producer Alan Carr’s promise that co-star Bruce Jenner would become a household name as the “Robert Redford of the 1980’s seems somewhat wide-of-the-mark seen from today’s perspective. With surprisingly vivacious but non-sexual bursts of male and female nudity, lashings of strange scenes including milk promotion and Leatherman from the Village People singing Danny Boy, Can’t Stop The Music is an oddity for the ages, destined to play in the background of all the best parties until the music finally stops.
Pretty much deleted from the memory banks and One Hard To Find Movie, Kurt Wimmer’s debut feature is a fondly remembered slice of red-blooded American Macho. The star is Brian Bosworth, who plays John North, a straight-shooter drill sergeant tormented by his inability to prevent the murder of his wife and children; North emerges from a coma keen to find out who is responsible. It’s not a huge intellectual leap to figure out that the baddie here is Karl Savak, a long-haired, trench-coat afficionado with a nose-ring, a crooked FBI-man who barks out quite the most extraordinary deranged dialogue ever heard in an action movie. One notable scene has him drawing up to To Do list with the words ‘Kill Marcus’ on it; a possible sequel would do well to explore what else Karl Savak was planning that day. ‘You may have the gun, but I have the GUNS’ Savak screams while leaping around with all kinds of armoury; as if Nicolas Cage was encourages to try touching the sides of acting while playing General Zod, it’s a knowingly over the top villainous performance that cements Payne’s position at the most sainted of cult actors. It’s a measure of the insanity here that MC Hammer’s drug lord barely makes an impression; this is the finest hour of Payne’s storied career, and he dutifully gives One Tough Bastard an energising kick to the Boz.
You don’t have to be a racist to think that Idris Elba would be an awful James Bond; it’s pretty much only people who haven’t seen him in much since The Wire 15 years ago that genuinely believe this. If anything it would be helpful to have large-scale public screenings of his unexceptional performances in films like Bastille Day, Molly’s Game or The Dark Tower to remind audiences that he’s not only too old for a reboot, but just doesn’t have the chops for the big screen. Daniel Kaluuya would be a better fit for the role of Bond, and it’s embarrassing to hear Elba trotting out this same sad story every time he’s got something to promote. In The Dark Tower, a misbegotten Stephen King adaptation, Elba’s lumpen performance as gunslinger Roland Deschain is buried amongst a slew of chaotic elements; a massive novel reduced to 95 paltry minutes, a PG -13 certificate, the focus switched from Deschain to an 11 year old boy Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) who discovers a parallel universe behind NYC exteriors, constant references to other texts in the King multiverse that go for nothing. Producer Ron Howard has noted that The Dark Tower should have been a tv show rather than a film, and he’s right; what tips Nicolaj Arcel’s adaption into unfortunate legend is the truly awful performance of Matthew McConaughey as Walter Padick, supposedly the embodiment of evil but plays with such misguided elan that his every appearance provokes mirth. The Dark Tower is a good/bad classic, an unwieldy adventure that never lands a coherent idea, making fools of the high-priced talents involved.
Gerry Butler’s name is so synonymous with so-bad-it’s good films that he’s likely to gain a cult status alongside his status as a box office draw. Dean Devlin’s Geostorm made over $220 million at the box-office worldwide, despite being identified by pretty much everyone as a turkey. But what a greased and freshly basted turkey it is; Butler plays Jake Lawson a satellite designer who has created ‘Dutch Boy’, a climate control system which protects the world from the potential ravages of climate change. A farcical exposition dump establishing this unlikely scenario ends with Jake being hauled before the U.S. Senate and getting his knuckles rapped for his fly-by-the-seat-of your-pants attitude. But Jake has no chance to sulk, because his brother Max (bad movie eminence grise Jim Sturgess) gets wind that someone is sabotaging Dutch Boy, creating abnormal weather conditions. Jake heads straight to the International Space Station to sort things out in a whodunit scenario, while Max stays on earth to wrestle with his boss (Ed Harris) and the President (Andy Garcia). Geostorm bears evidence of multiple reshoots, rewrites and a general lack of confidence in paper-thin material; an Independence Day-style spectacle is the intention, but Devlin’s film works best as a comedy, which several notably silly scenes particularly the risible limo vs rocket launcher action scene and Jake and Max creating secret school-boy conversational codes to avoid surveillance-camera attention. Geostorm feels more like a parody than a real movie; all concerned would rather you forgot it, but it finally crept out on DVD and VOD last year.
Matthew McConaughey’s attempts to destroy his own considerable reputation as an Oscar-winning actor reach Nicolas Cage levels with writer/director Steven Knight’s Serenity, a twisty-turny sea-bound thriller that jumps the shark in brain-bending style. The trailers promise a straightforward Dead Calm murder-mystery, with the star as Baker Dill, a sea-captain eeking out a living on his boat Serenity in and around the posh resort of Plymouth Island. Femme fatale Karen (Anne Hathaway) seems to be luring him into something, but what? When Karen’s boorish husband Frank (Jason Clarke) turns up, Baker Dill sees a chance to set Karen free, but is she all that she seems? Once the final twist of Serenity has unspooled, audiences are likely to feel that none of the characters are what they seem, and not in a good way. Without giving the game away, Baker Dill’s discovery that not only he nor the world he lives in are real creates far more questions that it answers. Films like The Magus or Jacob’s Ladder have toyed with the nature of reality, but the over-heated melodrama in Serenity gives way to abstract cosmic ruminations in a glib, silly way that should provoke mirth in all those unlucky enough to set sail in with her crew.