Before I launch into a long overdue defense of the critically savaged “Lemon Sisters” (in which Elliott Gould plays a small but key role), I want to devote a little space to its director, Joyce Chopra, whom I interviewed over the phone in July and who has been sadly out of the public eye for the past 20 or so years.
She is best known for the 1986 drama “Smooth Talk,” a Joyce Carol Oates adaptation that helped put then-teenager Laura Dern on the map. Despite some debut film jitters (some of the cuts and fade-outs are sloppy, and the score is a little overwrought), “Smooth Talk” is an alternately funny and scary take on the consequences of youthful flirtation. Dern is a gawky, giggly marvel in the lead role as an outwardly rebellious, inwardly frightened girl who gets touchy-feely with random older men in malls but clams up when they reciprocate. The first half indicates that Dern is coming into her own, butting heads with her overbearing mother (Mary Kay Place) and establishing her independence. But in the second half we realize she’s still in way over her head, as the menacing greaser she met at a drive-thru (Treat Williams) ends up trapping her at her house until she agrees to take a ride with him. What happens on that “ride” is left eerily off-camera and never explained. Subtle touches like these won over the critics, and “Smooth Talk” became one of the most talked-about 1980s films.
Fresh off the success of “Smooth Talk,” Chopra was called in–along with her late screenwriter husband and collaborator, Tom Cole–to shoot the Sydney Pollack-produced adaptation of Jay McInerney’s 1984 ode to the New York cocaine-and-clubbing scene, “Bright Lights, Big City.” The film had been in production for almost two years, with Tom Cruise and Joel Schumacher respectively slated to star and direct, but that arrangement fell through. United Artists appointed Pollack, who brought in Chopra and Cole, who quickly hired Michael J. Fox for a lightning-fast 10-week shoot (he had to return to “Family Ties.”) What followed is one of the more mysterious, ugly stories to come out of Hollywood in the past 25 years.
According to a 1988 New York Times magazine article by Caryn James, Chopra was fired, after only a month or so of shooting, for devoting too much time to “shoe leather,” the Hollywood term for shots of walking extras, and for general indecision when it came to directing. (James Bridges ultimately replaced her). Precious little of Chopra’s perspective is presented in the article. It’s still a sore subject for Chopra, but she was kind enough to share some thoughts on it.
“The film was produced right at the time of Nancy Reagan’s ‘Just Say No’ [slogan] and I think the studios were scared shitless,” said Chopra. “I think the producers had a book they were sorry they were doing. Sydney said he didn’t like the book, he didn’t approve of it. So you get a mess, yeah.”
Chopra gasped when I mentioned the Times article. “These are the things that stay with me,” she said. “My favorite part was–they were so afraid of having fired me because I was the first woman director to get a big Hollywood film. What amazed me was, they were boasting that after I left, they were wearing a shirt with a shoe on it! They said that I spent a month doing nothing but filming Michael walking, which was so insane. I was flabbergasted that the producers would print a t-shirt to step on me. What kind of people are these?”
According to Chopra, these “shoe leather” scenes were shot in adherence to the studio’s schedule. “It was set up so that we would do all the exterior shots first. There was a concern about the trees. I don’t remember what season it was, but if there were shots of Michael going from A to B, you try to do all his scenes on days with a lot of daylight.”
Sadly, Chopra’s overall experience on “The Lemon Sisters,” while more pleasant on a day-to-day level, was almost as disappointing. Shot on location in Atlantic City, it was slated for a summer 1989 theatrical run but not actually released until September 1990 (due to post-production additions of voice-overs and flashback scenes). As with many films that sit on the shelf awhile, the critics showed no mercy, dismissing it as amateurish and embarrassing.
Watch it today, though, and the furor seems a tad unfair. “The Lemon Sisters” has its sappy moments, but it’s an often poignant comedy about three lifelong friends who aspire, despite a glaring lack of talent, to be a professional singing trio. The main actresses (Diane Keaton, Kathryn Grody and Carol Kane) are real-life friends and it shows; they have fine chemistry.
Keaton was a frequent visitor to and admirer of Atlantic City, and it was her that initially dreamed up the story. She wanted at first to direct the picture, but Chopra ended up with the job. Elliott Gould, a long-time friend of Keaton’s, was called in to play the role of Grody’s husband/business partner, a struggling taffy shop entrepreneur; he gets angered whenever she favors her music over the job. Ruben Blades is a wisecracking taxi driver that romances Keaton, Aidan Quinn is Kane’s slimy agent, and Nathan Lane is a slightly nicer agent. (If you watch closely, you can also spot an uncredited Matthew Modine and a blink-and-you-missed-it appearance from then-unknown character actor Kevin Corrigan).
Keaton plays the quirkiest role (and the one critics jumped all over): a cat lover allergic to cats, a collector of junk, a relentlessly high-strung woman frantically trying to keep her late father’s TV memorabilia store afloat. Kane is the shrewdest performer here, less defined by facial tics, though she ably strains her vocal pipes. She’s funniest when lashing out (as many bad singers do) at her detractors; she smashes a hot dog in Quinn’s face after a cheeky remark. Grody isn’t given much in the comedy department–she’s more or less the sweet, loyal friend, the one that watches over Keaton’s cats after she has her allergy attack–but she manages a triumphantly exasperated outburst when she catches Keaton trying to steal the cats back.
There are some truly whacky lines and bits of slapstick thrown in. The sight of Keaton splattered by the contents of an open food processor is a hoot. The narration–always a desperate tool–is clunky for the most part, but occasionally Grody’s voice-overs are a wry mixture of sarcastic and admiring (as when she expresses her awe at Keaton’s becoming “a collector of Atlantic City Greco-Roman trash.”)
To be sure, “Lemon Sisters” is a long way from “Smooth Talk.” It lacks that film’s unnerving silences; it’s even set in a decidedly louder place, amid the tacky neons of Atlantic City vs. the sparseness of the lower-class California valley. Unlike in “Smooth Talk,” there’s no unsettling character developments left off-camera; everything’s out in the open. And because the film has a sentimental, Arthur Miller-esque take on the futility of old-school salesmanship in an increasingly uncaring world, I can see why the critics found it to be cloying and maudlin.
But what saves “Lemon Sisters” for me is that Keaton, Chopra and crew are laughing while they sympathize with their characters’ failures. The hangdog look on Gould’s face when he and Brody open their taffy shop Tabbits–its mascot is a giant animatronic bunny–could break your heart, but then the camera cuts to the stupid clanky pink rabbit and you laugh in spite of the somber feel of the scene. (It’s equally funny later on when Keaton finds the rabbit at the local dump). Gems like this should have boosted “Lemon Sisters'” reputation.
“There’s lots of really lovely things in it, but overall I wasn’t too pleased,” Chopra recalled. “It was made in a period with several other films lumped together as ‘Women’s Films.’ Bette Midler had a film then [“Beaches”]. It went through a lot of ups and downs during production.”
Chopra seems to have blocked out most of the downs, and I didn’t want to beat a dead horse. Among the ups: besides Atlantic City, “Lemon Sisters” was also shot in Chopra’s native Coney Island, which was fun for her to return to. And the cast, including Gould, was a delight to work with.
Chopra has not made a feature film since, though she occasionally works on short films shot near her home in Connecticut, or on student-led projects through the non-profit group ByKids.com.
Gould only shared one memory from his brief work on the film.
“When the girls were singing ‘Under the Boardwalk,’ they asked me to watch them rehearse. It was just breathtakingly talented and so beautiful.”
“The Lemon Sisters” is available on DVD and VHS.
“Tolgo il Disturbo” (translation: “Sorry to Disturb You,” or “I’ll Be Going Now”) is a warm, gently funny Italian film starring Vittorio Gassman as a just-released mental patient. Alternately neglected and mocked by his snobbish relatives, he nonetheless bonds with his button-cute, precocious granddaughter. “Tolgo” is sappy enough to carry that familiar message about so-called crazy people being just misunderstood children deep down, but it has enough ribald moments to compensate. Gould appears as Gassman’s manic, panic-prone former hospital inmate, now living with a prostitute. I downloaded a pretty shoddy English subtitles file to guide me through the film, and out of all the badly translated dialogue, I understood Gould’s the least (I couldn’t comprehend exactly what his character is so paranoid about). But the shot of him firing a gun at some authority figures as they drive off (not to mention hearing the word “Puta!” numerous times from Gould’s mouth) is pretty damn funny. This one is only available in Italian, on Region 2 DVD.
Oh, if “Dead Men Don’t Die” were only as funny as that poster (and willfully idiotic title)! Unless you want to see Mark Moses (who plays Duck on “Mad Men”) in an early role as a fabulously inept cop (he holds a finger gun to a real gunman’s head), this botched zombie comedy is probably one to miss.
Not that there wasn’t potential for a dark satire on the media here, a la “Network”; would America even notice if a real zombie replaced the near-zombies delivering the news? No such luck. “Dead Men” is lazy, cheap and sluggish. Most of it was shot in an underlit office building, and its torpor can make you a little angry.
During a commercial break, a callow newscaster with slicked-back hair stumbles upon a stash of cocaine in his station’s utility closet; “Scoop time!” he exclaims, smirking. Before he can broadcast his discovery, though, he’s shot dead by drug dealers. Soon, he’s resuscitated by a Caribbean voodoo janitor (the first of several shameless ethnic stereotypes to come). He goes back on the air, but–gasp–he’s a zombie!
How do we know he’s a zombie? Certainly not because of the special effects. Gould’s once slicked hairdo is now an Afro; his skin is a little pale; and he grins deliriously while growling like an upset stomach. When a transformation like this is neither funny nor scary, desperation ensues. And so we get many gunfights and car chases, dumb Mexican hoods, disappearing corpses. There’s only one real laugh, and it’s not a fresh one: Gould, on-air, reads everything on the teleprompter.
Last year, I interviewed writer/director Malcolm Marmorstein, an early “Dark Shadows” writer, for a Movieline story about “Shadows,” as well as for this blog (Marmorstein penned the scripts for two 1970s Gould vehicles, “S*P*Y*S” and “Whiffs”; you can read his thoughts on “Whiffs” in the earlier Gould entry). He told me that it was his friend André De Toth–the legendary Hungarian cinematographer whom many believe is responsible for the most majestic desert shot in “Lawrence of Arabia”–who advised him to make “Dead Men.”
“He told me, ‘Write a horror film, in ten days. We’ll shoot it. It’s not gonna cost anything.’ So that’s how it was,” Marmorstein explained. “He was doing it the old Hollywood way, where you could write a piece of shit and shoot it and have it go out as a B-picture. So he was there for some of the shots but he didn’t want to be on the set much, because if André would whisper something in my ear, they’d say, ‘He’s telling him what to shoot.'”
Indifferent as Marmorstein was about the content, he still worked overtime during the 18-day shoot. “I would set up a shot with one crew, they’d light it, and while they were doing that, I’d run down the hall, set up another shot, rehearse it, and run back to the other one and shoot it. I must have done 48 to 50 setups a day for three days. It was quite an experience. The problem is, when you do your first picture, you should do something you really care about. And that wasn’t there. That was tough.”
Marmorstein went on to direct “Love Bites,” a vampire comedy starring Adam Ant, inspired by the beloved vampire Barnabas that Marmorstein dreamed up for “Dark Shadows.”
“Oh my God!” Gould gasped when I mentioned “Dead Men” to him. “Great title, huh? He [Marmorstein] certainly shouldn’t have directed that. That was a really good script. He could write. It wanted some transitional stuff. It wanted somebody to be able to transpose the promise of that script and story, and do it in a way that might have been more interesting than just the obvious slapstick comedy. Either be totally slapstick, or be serious, like Abbott and Costello. If he was happy, though, that makes me happy.”
Needless to say, reviewers were not kind during the film’s mercifully brief theatrical run in September 1991. “Comes virtually embalmed on arrival, ready for the video shelves where the undead fleetingly live,” the LA Times wrote.
“Dead Men” can be purchased on DVD.
It’s hard to attack “Wet and Wild Summer!” (AKA “Exchange Lifeguards”) because it’s aiming for mindless fun. It’s just that it’s rather lethargic for a randy beach party movie, with the lackluster Christopher Atkins (of “Blue Lagoon” fame) sleepwalking through an assortment of not-so-zany misadventures on a (mostly) topless Australian beach. He’s in the family real estate business (headed by ailing father Gould, whose greedy second wife is after his money), and he’s sent to Mullet Beach to pose as a lifeguard, endear himself to the whacky community and then stealthily tear down their huts and dive bars to put up condos. Of course he gets put up in a ramshackle cabin crawling with every expected Outback critter. Of course he gets won over by the eccentric locals (led by Julian McMahon, later on “Nip/Tuck”) and the sexy motorcycle chick that owns the beach. Of course he has a crisis of conscience, as does Gould. Of course there are nude snorkeling scenes, and endless shots of ghostly white asses, and boat races, and hidden plugs for Fosters.
When I asked Gould to share his memories of making the film, his answer was, as expected, brimming with subsidiary details.
“I enjoyed going to Australia,” he said. “I remember the book that I was reading. It was called ‘A Midnight Clear’ by William Wharton. They made a movie of it. He’s a wonderful writer, my daughter introduced his work to me. That may have been around 1988. I went again [to Australia] to do a miniseries where I played a professional killer, ‘Act of Betrayal.'”
I followed up by asking Gould how he approaches work that “clearly isn’t that serious,” to which he responded, with slight annoyance:
“What do you mean, ‘not that serious’? What are you talking about?! There are so many people dependent on our work for employment. Every piece of work, no matter how people act, or what people say, is serious, where people are doing it to make a living, supporting their families through this profession. There’s no one that’s bigger than any other one, there’s no one that’s better than any other one. And don’t fucking forget it!”
Why, then, has Gould often candidly owned up, in interviews, to having made lots of lesser films? (In 1991, for instance, he told the Toronto Star, “I’ve made some great movies, and I’ve made a lot of shit.”
“I didn’t say ‘shit,'” Gould assured me. “I said ‘I’ve made a great many movies, some are better, some aren’t,’ and that’s the truth. But I don’t want to be an asshole about one thing being more important than another. If a picture is a big hit, does that make it more important? It’s just business.”
“Wet and Wild Summer” is only available on VHS.
Cold, watery-blue-eyed Rutger Hauer, who oozes menace from every pore, plays the hero in “Beyond Justice.” If that sentence doesn’t put you right to sleep, by all means check out this lame 1992 straight-to-video thriller, which can be seen on Amazon Instant.
“Beyond Justice” is terrible from the start. First, we’re asked to sympathize with a snotty 10-year bully, who, in front of his principal and mother, beats up the schoolmate who got him in trouble. Then, we’re supposed to relate to his rich mother (the model Carol Alt), who bribes the principal to look the other way. Actually, it’s hard to care when the little punk visits his Emir grandfather (Omar Sharif) in Morocco and (as in so many Islam-baiting movies of this time period) is not allowed to leave. Alt and her smirky lawyer boyfriend (Gould) embark on the son’s rescue, flanked by ex-CIA agent Hauer.
The Morocco chase sequences are dull and poorly lit; the explosions are wimpy and tinny; the gunfire sounds fake and the actors can’t hold their guns properly. “Beyond Justice” isn’t just xenophobic and stupid, it’s gutless. In the last reel, Sharif’s character inexplicably turns kind-hearted, likely so the film can’t be accused of the racism it seems to tout for half its running time.
I already discussed “Hitz” (AKA “Judgement”) in a previous post profiling its writer/director, William Sachs, so I won’t go into too much detail. It was intended to be a dark comedy about corrupt judges in the juvenile court system, but according to Sachs the studio meddled with it and added plenty of sanctimonious twaddle. It’s an often hilariously overwrought film, though, and lovers of camp will enjoy the courtroom gun fights, taser attacks and lame double entendres (such as a sassy defense lawyer’s rejoinder to a sleazy judge: “I bet there’s a Freudian reason you polish that rod of yours!”)
The highlight is an early scene wherein Gould hypnotizes a fellow judge (Karen Black, who died last month) so that he can make a move on her.
“It’s possibly one of the worst characters I’ve ever played,” said Gould. “I played a very corrupt judge and I’m sure I got my comeuppance. I thought it was interesting. Having Karen Black in the picture was a great bonus.”
“Hitz” is exclusively available on VHS.
This shameless promotional ad for the 1993 romantic comedy “Amore!” is more interesting than anything that happens in the film. Even Gould, who plays a sleazy agent (rounding out his repertoire of sleazy doctors, lawyers and judges), completely forgot about it. When I asked him what it was like to work with then-top model Kathy Ireland, he said, “What was she in with me?”
“Oh my God, I always had a crush on Kathy Ireland!” he exclaimed, when I reminded him. He then noted that one of the financiers behind “Amore!” was also involved with Francis Ford Coppola’s mega-million-dollar flop “The Cotton Club.”
I asked him what he thought of the movie.
“I like working, you know what I mean?” he replied. “I don’t have to see it. Sometimes I would want to see just about everything and sometimes I’m just working.”
I tried reaching out to director Lorenzo Doumani, who made a few other B-pictures before becoming the CEO of real estate development group Majestic Resorts. Two years ago, the Hilton hotel chain sued Majestic for $1.1 million, which Majestic allegedly owed Hilton after the two groups’ condominium development deal fell through. Doumani currently heads up Clubhouse Children’s News Network. He did not return my e-mails.
“Amore!” stars Jack Scalia as an unhappily married investment banker (he was pressured into the business by his dad) who has a midlife crisis after his 40th birthday. Having always dreamed of being a swashbuckling movie star, he decides to become an actor. He divorces his shrewish wife, gets a makeover and, through the advice of his agent, changes his bland name to the more marketable Salvatore Guiliano III. But despite his new dashing looks, times have changed in the movie business, and the film auditioners only want–yuk, yuk–a “Woody Allen-type” for their lead. So he gets cast in a demeaning B-picture role as a whipped slave. He also tries to romance screenwriter Kathy Ireland. You can probably guess how this one ends up.
“Amore!” is only available on VHS.
“The Dangerous” is so desperate to please every variety of action movie viewer that you can practically hear the initial sales pitch behind it: “Cops vs. Samurai vs. Voodoo Drug Dealers…in New Orleans!” And that’s pretty much what you get. Michael Paré is a cop whose partner gets nailed alive to a cross during at a standoff at a voodoo funeral. He teams up with a samurai swordsman whose sister was butchered by the same drug dealers. What follows is a staggering onslaught of slit throats, severed limbs, stabbing and shootings as the duo pursue the badguys. The standout sequence is a sword fight in a movie theater (which, oddly enough, is showing “Alexander Nevsky.”) Gould appears briefly as a projectionist; for reasons never explained, he wears a fishnet stocking on his head in his sole scene. “The Dangerous” is very run-of-the-mill stuff. It’s available only on VHS.
You can tell just from the title that “A Boy Called Hate” will be a grungy mid-90s dose of nihilism, and that’s just what it is, right down to the surly, taciturn youths at its center, the abrasive soundtrack and the murky backdrops. It’s noteworthy mainly because lead actor Scott Caan (who later showed far more promise in the “Ocean’s” pictures) gets some face time with his dad James, who plays the protag’s crippled father. Needless to say, the elder Caan acts his son right off the screen.
Hate is your classic James Dean type. He’s a juvenile offender who drives a motorbike, carries a gun, sulks until his lips ache, but is just a little lamb deep down (he cuts his wrists to get attention from uncaring Daddy). Of course he has no friends, just drives aimlessly around desolate stretches of the California valley. One night he stumbles upon Missy Crider, who’s being assaulted by her D.A. uncle (Gould, in his umpteenth sleazy role of that decade). He shoots Gould and rescues her and they hit the road, though she isn’t all that grateful. (She’s even sullen during their roadside bathroom tryst). Nor does he seem to care in the slightest about going back to jail, so why should we? By the time he shoots and kills a police officer and finally feels some guilt (“They can’t erase what I just did,” he says, when Crider suggests he turn himself in), it’s too late for us to wish redemption on this dull, angry blank.
The film occasionally breaks its self-important stupor with attempts at wisecracking repartee, though it rarely makes sense. (Caan to Crider: “Where you going?” Crider to Caan: “Two words: lick mine!”) The film could use more of Gould, but it instead gets bogged down in a subplot about a wild-eyed Native American youth Crider and Caan encounter.
Scott Caan himself disowned the film in a 2001 LA Times article. “It wasn’t very good,” he said, “but I just loved the whole process; I immediately wanted to do it all the way. It’s like Soderbergh told me, if he had to, he’d work as a grip on a movie just to be a part of it.”
“A Boy Called Hate” is available on Region 2 DVD and VHS.
Who says Elliott Gould can’t be in a Playboy film? (After all, they interviewed him–twice). Playboy produced “Cover Me,” an erotic thriller featuring centerfold Courtney Taylor, in 1995. Beefcake Rick Rossovich gets all the fun scenes rolling in the hay with this stunning redhead; Gould and Paul Sorvino pretty much go through the motions as senior police officers.
The cops are investigating a series of photo shoot murders, all allegedly perpetrated by a creepy transvestite (Hollywood’s favorite type of villain in the ’90s). Taylor is a disgraced cop–she shot a rapist, and the damn liberals in court want her fired–who goes undercover as a fashion model so the transvestite will be drawn to her. The plot is offensive and dumb, but the acting, given the sordidness of the whole production, is above par. “Cover Me” is available on VHS.
I would never have seen “Art & Sex” if not for the kindness of its co-director/co-writer, Florian Sachisthal, who sent me a streaming link. Originally completed in 2001, under the title “The Experience Box,” Sachisthal and her collaborator, Reid Green, later decided they didn’t like that version, their first post-film school project, even though it won Best Screenplay at the Rhode Island International Film Festival. They re-shot around 40% of the material, composed a new score and changed the title to “Art & Sex.” Info about the film can be seen here, but it has yet to be picked up by a distributor. Sachisthal and Green are again submitting the film to festivals.
I only really had one problem with the film, which is its over-reliance on the split screen effect. Otherwise I quite enjoyed the overlapping stories about lonely New Yorkers. There’s a gay unemployed guy with a sugar daddy that makes him perform in public for food money; a failed artist who gets inspired by acts of masochism; a jilted woman who devises a rather nasty scheme (involving a used condom) to get pregnant by her ex without getting back together with him. Gould plays this woman’s shrink, who is secretly in love with her. Overall this is a rather high concept premise for such a short film, but the cast is high spirited and the energy never flags. Certainly “Art & Sex” deserves more exposure.
I confess I didn’t really understand a lot of the Irish comedy “Puckoon,” possibly because I never read Spike Milligan’s 1963 comic novel of the same name, and moreso because I have at best a cursory understanding of Irish history. It’s set in 1924, the year Ireland began to be divided among the north and south. The film’s fictional town of Puckoon is right on that border; the main comic conceit is that the town pub where the characters congregate is split by the border. And what a zany lot they are–a drunk lighthouse keeper, an inept priest, an Irish-Jewish rabbi (Gould doing a rather good Irish accent) who is described as “so Semitic, even at Hebrew parties, people say, ‘Who’s that Jewish fella?'”
The humor ranges from surrealist (the narrator, Richard Attenborough, talks directly to the protagonist, who often breaks the fourth wall) to outright crude (urination, flatulence, misplaced dentures, etc). The film is busier than it is funny, but the Irish countryside is pretty, and there’s a few irreverent digs at British imperialism. This can be seen on Region 2 DVD.
There’s an unsettling number of talents sleepwalking their way through the silly Lifetime-esque Christmas film “Expecting Mary” (AKA “A Very Mary Christmas). Gould plays a kindly polka-loving truck driver who picks up the pregnant runaway Mary, takes her to a jolly casino polka show, wins the jackpot and promptly drops dead of a heart attack–all in the film’s first ten minutes. The showgirl he was in love with ends up with his winnings. Knowing Gould’s character was Jewish, the showgirl searches for funeral homes in the Yellow Pages–under “Jewish.” The funeral is presided over by Lainie Kazan, as a Yiddish-spouting restaurant owner. The showgirl takes Mary back to her pig farm, where she lives with her eccentric Mom (Cloris Leachman). Mary hates the farm, but she can’t go back to Mom (Cybill Shepherd), who wants Mary to have an abortion and lie to her classmates that she was stricken with appendicitis. Mary tries to live with her father, a touring rock musician (Gene Simmons–yes, THE Gene Simmons of Kiss is in a family movie!!) but he snubs her as well. So it’s back to the pig farm for Mary, where she learns about love and warmth and all that holiday crap.
“Expecting Mary” is shameless treacle mixed with forced down-home quirk, and it could stand to lose at least 15 of the 20 or so renditions of “Hallelujah” on the soundtrack. But if you like your yule-time parables mixed with obvious ethnic humor, the film can be ordered quite easily on DVD.
Finally, here are the few Gould films that, after a painstaking effort, I gave up on finding, or were otherwise unavailable:
-The 1998 Brazilian film “Caminho dos Sohos” (translation: “Avocado Seed”) was shot in both Portuguese and English; post-production work on the latter version has yet to be completed by director Luiz Amberg, whom I was introduced to via e-mail by the very talented owner of Site de Cinema, Marco Freitas (I must thank Marco for all his efforts and support!) Amberg and an editor contact in the UK are hoping to reach Gould so he can complete voice-over work on the film. Amberg remarked, “Working with Elliott was the best filming experience I’ve had, not only because he is a great actor but also because he made me feel secure in my first feature and because he enchanted my crew and my cast with his generosity.” Also starring Talia Shire, the film is about a Jewish immigrant who falls for a black Catholic girl.
-“Michael Kael Contre La World News Company,” a 1998 comedy in which Gould appears in a cameo role, cannot be seen outside of France. For my French readers (I know, there’s so many of you!), it can be viewed here. I was able to download a French copy of the script and GoogleTranslate it into spotty English, and the whole thing looked rather dumb.
–“Secret Scandal,” the sole directorial effort by “L’avventura” star Monica Vitti, is virtually impossible to find outside Italy, and no versions exist with English subtitles. Released, unsuccessfully, in 1990, it stars Vitti as a woman who accidentally videotapes her husband’s affair with her best friend. During our interview, Gould shared a few reflections on making the film. “Monica told me that when she showed the picture to Fellini, he said, ‘Elliott looks like he’s a nice guy,’ and I really appreciated that. She introduced me to Michelangelo Antonioni, who was her boyfriend. I remember we were shooting in Rome and it was so hot, it was 90 degrees humidity. And the apartment upstairs is where Michelangelo Antonioni lived, and she lived in the apartment below.”
-“The Myth,” AKA “The Jungle of Jules Levine” (see preview here) is a Michael Mileham film shot in Panama in 1989 that was stopped dead in its tracks by the US invasion to capture Manuel Noriega. Mileham has still not given up, though. I contacted him via email last June and he wrote back: “Like many an artist we can never let go of certain themes. Filmed in Super35 with high production values, the film cut is currently 47 minutes and has not been released theatrically. Like an epic Orson Welles obsession, work continues on the film. A 4k digital transfer will be performed in the fall of this year. Elliott and [co-star] John Denos will continue as an integral part of the project. The film title is not set; it may be ‘The Panama Conspiracy’ or ‘The Jungle of Jules Levine.'”
A few articles in 1998 indicated that Mileham intended to recycle the jungle footage of the film, which also starred the late Peter Cook, in a new movie. As for Gould, besides generally singing Mileham’s praises (the two collaborated on other films, including “Falling in Love Again,” for which Mileham served as director of photography), he had only this to say: “At the end of the film, Michael let me write the last words: ‘Nature is more powerful than science and technology can ever hope to be.'”
-I was unable to obtain a screener for the recently completed “The Encore of Tony Duran,” about a failed performer who turns to crime out of desperation. “Duran” director Fred Sayeg said a distribution deal is still pending.
-Alright, I confess; I simply didn’t want to watch “Ira Finkelstein’s Christmas” [AKA “All I Want is Christmas”], having already endured one pretty sorry Elliott Gould Christmas movie. Since “Finkelstein,” unlike “Mary,” didn’t seem to feature anyone of interest besides Gould, I figured it was one I could miss. (I also, for the purposes of this blog, skipped over all of Gould’s television films).
NOTE: Four films from this particular time period are on Netflix but not available for shipment, designated as “Saved.” All of them only feature Gould in a minimal role. Two are quite good: “Playing Mona Lisa,” in which the equally gorgeous and goofy redhead Alicia Witt (sadly not seen much in recent years) plays a down-on-her-luck aspiring pianist who searches disastrously for love (Gould plays her whiny father); and “Camp Stories,” released to little fanfare in 1997 but repackaged, after the success of “American Pie,” as a Jason Biggs vehicle (though he gets less screen time than Gould, who appears only in the first and last scene as a grown-up version of one of the campers). It’s about a Jewish sleepaway camp in the ’50s, but is far wittier and more bittersweet than the average summer youth picture. The love story between teenaged Zachary Taylor (a commanding lead who oddly appeared in little else) and a WASP he meets during a forbidden sojourn to town (Susan Vanech) is very charming; some of the depressive/anxious teenagers are hilarious; and there’s an uncharacteristically upbeat turn from Jerry Stiller as a high-spirited baseball coach.
Worth skipping is Alfonso Arau’s woeful misfire “Picking up the Pieces,” in which a distressingly lethargic Woody Allen plays a Kosher butcher, who hacks up his unfaithful wife (Sharon Stone); when her hand resurfaces, a bunch of wearyingly dumb townsfolk think the severed limb is a totemic miracle. Woody aside, the cast is a schizoid hodgepodge of name and character actors that were never meant to work together (and never gel): Kiefer Sutherland, Cheech Marin, David Schwimmer, Andy Dick, Fran Drescher and Gould, who plays a priest. But if you want to see then-unknown Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a pseudo-suave Mexican boy named Flaco (a routine he has tapped into in various “SNL” and film appearances), help yourself.
Finally, “Johns” is a decent male prostitute drama starring David Arquette and Lukas Haas (Gould has a walk-on role as an especially forceful john, who gets his comeuppance) but it’s nowhere nearly as trenchant as either “Midnight Cowboy” or “My Own Private Idaho.”
NOTE: Recent Gould films newly added to Netfix include: “Morning” (which opened today in select NYC theaters), “Fred Won’t Move Out,” “Dorfman” and “Divorce Invitation.”