#3. The Phantom of the Opera (1989)
Nature of Shame:
Hooptober Challenge Checklist:
I didn’t realize I owned this until I was sifting through some multi-movie releases. This particular DVD set, “MGM Movie Collection – 4 Musicals” featured The Phantom of the Opera, Absolute Beginners, The Saddest Music in the World, and Sandra Bernhardt in Without You I’m Nothing. Just because a movie title contains the words “opera” or “music” does not make it a musical. I’m hoping just one person tossed on this version of The Phantom of the Opera expecting classy production values and Andrew Lloyd Webber soundscapes.
The Phantom of the Opera Elevator Pitch
In modern day Manhattan, Molly Shannon hands young opera singer Christine Day (Jill Shoelen) a mysterious piece to perform for her audition. Having never heard of the composer, Eric Gessler, the two do some digging and discover that he may or may not have been a mass murderer. Fun! As Christine performs the piece during her audition a sandbag falls from the scaffolding and knocks her unconscious. She awakes in 1885 London, the understudy to the diva of an opera company. She develops a secret admirer who may or may not be killing anyone who stands in the way of Christine’s success.
If You Sing It, He Will Kill (And Try to Marry You)
Originally a Cannon release, the film changed directors and shifted to Menahem Golan’s 21st Century Film Corporation when Cannon went bankrupt. During the transition, the screenplay gained the modern framework and the expectation of a sequel called A Phantom of the Opera 2: Terror in Manhattan, which feels a little too close to a real-life Hamlet 2 for comfort. Fortunately (or unfortunately?) the sequel never came to pass and all that we’re left with is this surprisingly competent adaptation of Gaston Leroux’s novel.
I say “surprising” because my expectations were based on Menahem Golan. As if Globus was the steady head in that legendary film production duo. I threw this in immediately after Etoile because thematics. Ballet to opera — a can’t miss double feature of mediocrity and missed opportunity. Sometimes I just can’t with you, #Watch1989.
Like Etoile, this Phantom adaptation fails to go for the jugular. If I expected anything out of this film, I expected layers of grotesqueries on top of kitsch laced with tackiness. In an ideal world, of course. Instead of all that, this Dwight H. Little (Rapid Fire, Free Willy 2) directed film settled for a couple moments of legitimate shock alongside some fine (and squishy) Phantom prosthetic effects. Fine production values set a mood that have welcomed a more gonzo performance from Robert Englund as the Phantom and a few more creative kills. The movie sets expectations when the Phantom takes on a few naysayers in the alley and bowls a severed head at their feet. In that moment I thought I’d discovered something glorious. Unfortunately Freddy at the Opera this was not to be.
Phantom of the Opera settles into a Hammer Horror gothic-lite complacency. Everything looks great (all things considered — it is a Menahem Golan production after all), but Little fails to establish the underlying mood that carries the Hammer films, making those British productions more than what appears on the page. Without much humor to prop up this plodding and routine film, it falls just on the right side of watchable but short of “worth gushing about on Twitter.”
Final ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ Thoughts
When I go Golan, I’m expecting to be bewildered by some facet of the production. Golan assembled the necessary pieces, but like Robert Englund’s patchwork face in The Phantom of the Opera, it’s all just a teeny bit limp and sticky. Gore fans will find some practical effects to admire, Englund fans will find a cautiously subdued version of Freddy Krueger (though he does show his real face for a good portion of the film), and the rest of us can appreciate a good bowling-with-heads scene and a rampaging Bill Nighy and then bugger off to our next #Watch1989 and.or #Hootober feature.
The Phantom of the Opera is available on MGM DVD.
2019 @CinemaShame / #Hooptober Progress
- Shocker (1989) // 2. Etoile (1989) // 3. The Phantom of the Opera (1989)
#2. Etoile (1989)
Nature of Shame:
Unopened Scorpion Blu-ray purchased because Etoile was Black Swan before Black Swan was Black Swan. And I don’t care who you are — it’s good to see 1989 Jennifer Connelly.
Hooptober Challenge Checklist:
I kicked Hooptober up a notch by watching a horror movie that wasn’t really a horror movie at all, despite the imagery of a black swan beak-stabbing a ballerina on the gorgeous poster art.
Etoile Elevator Pitch
Claire, an American ballerina (Connelly), enrolls in a prestigious Hungarian ballet school. Meanwhile, Jason (Gary McCleery), a young man assisting his uncle (Charles Durning) in a quest for antique clocks, falls in love with the beautiful ballerina. As their relationship blossoms, Claire becomes inexplicably obsessed with Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Strange happenings intervene and Jason becomes determined to unravel the mysterious powers behind it all.
‘Etoile’ Means Star
Etoile toiled in obscurity until the release Black Swan — at which point it toiled in near obscurity as a few seen-everythings lauded Peter Del Monte’s film as a clear source of inspiration for Aronofksy’s Black Swan. Certainly thematic connections exist. The experience of playing the lead in Swan Lake causing fractures in personality. The dancers’ connections to the ballet approximating religious zealotry. Aronofsky also incorporated elements of The Red Shoes (1948) and The Fly (1986). It’s not exactly the 1:1 parallel that some have suggested.
Del Monte’s film feels more like a toothless Suspiria (1977) than Black Swan feels like Etoile. If this were an SAT question, the answer would have been Etoile : Suspiria :: Black Swan : The Red Shoe Fly (Don’t Bother Me).
From the opening scene where Claire arrives at the Hungarian ballet school, Etoile invokes Suspiria‘s alienation and importunate old world mysteries. Both stories depict the attempted corruption of the ballerina by apparent supernatural forces. This narrative easily integrates into the obsessive and often torturous world of ballet. That the act of training for ballet takes the form of torture permits the co-mingling of high art and horror — something that Luca Guadagnino’s 2018 Suspiria re-imagining made far more than subtext.
Etoile pumps the breaks as it approaches and dabbles in genre motifs. The story downplays witchcraft and the ghostly presence that invades Claire’s life. Though Del Monte doesn’t play a smoke and mirror game with regard to the explanation for the ballerina’s obsession, he doesn’t at all sensationalize Claire’s descent into “madness.” Argento goes full tilt on the grotesquerie of witches, and Aronofsky mines Natalie Portman’s psychological and physical trauma. Etoile just is and while that makes for a mostly pleasant experience, it’s also forgettable in light of the other far more successful films in this unsettling cinema of ballet.
Final ‘Etoile’ Thoughts
Connelly gives an engaging performance in a film that doesn’t really provide her with the meaty bits that allowed Jessica Harper and Natalie Portman to engage the audience beyond the face-value substance of the part. As Connelly’s Claire becomes consumed by her “upcoming performance,” Gary McCleery becomes a leading stiff. He’s not bad, but he’s an American that looks the part of a B-grade actor who’d star in a lesser Lucio Fulci film. For what it’s worth, he’s worked with Peter Yates and Paul Mazursky, and I’m certain he was also wallpaper in The Friends of Eddie Coyle and Harry & Tonto.
Etoile‘s chockablock full of gothic imagery and Del Monte’s final climax contains some memorable cross-cutting between the Swan Lake production and Jason’s struggle to free Claire’s soul from the tormented production. In the end, however, it’s all a rather bloodless and tepid psychological thriller without much bite and a total waste of the clock-obsessed millionaire played by Charles Durning. In the on-disc interview with director Peter Del Monte, he expresses regret about the swan “special effects.” The production ran out of money, but the demonic swan show must go on. He might not be pleased to hear this, but after Etoile rolls its credits — that swan is the one piece of the film you’ll remember. It’s not a bad film, and in fact I’d suggest Etoile‘s worth a watch just for some visuals alone, but it just fails to establish a consistent and memorable tenor.
Etoile is available on Scorpion Blu-ray and DVD.
2019 @CinemaShame / #Hooptober Progress
- Shocker (1989) // 2. Etoile (1989)
For the last few months I’ve been writing and researching a topic near and dear to my heart. The year of 1989 looms large in my moviegoing history and I wanted to put this year into intense focus in a longer format. I began working on this book called, tentatively, The Summer of 1989: The Last, Greatest Hollywood Summer in March and I’m just getting to the chapters on individual movies. The following post contains a portion of what I’m calling “The Preamble.” The opening chapters that set the 1989 stage, focusing on the state of the industry and discuss some of the films that don’t technically fall under the auspices of “Summer” but certainly inform the movies to come.
If you have comments, I’d love to hear them. I’ve spent enough time in the echo chamber. I just needed to poke my head out for a spell and test the air. Please enjoy this small section (that probably won’t exist in the manuscript in any form quite like this because early drafts!) while I wait for responses from publishers and agents regarding my manuscript prospectus. The fun part!
Dr. Westford: A scorpion who couldn’t swim asked the frog to carry him across the river on his back. The frog said, “Do you think I’m crazy? Halfway across the river, you’ll sting me and I’ll drown.” “That’s not reasonable,” said the scorpion. “If I sting you and you drown, I’ll drown too.” Frog thought about it, he said, “Climb on.” Halfway across the river, the scorpion stung the frog, and as the frog was drowning, he said to the scorpion, “But now you’ll drown too.” The scorpion said, “Yes. I know.” “That’s not reasonable,” said the frog, and the scorpion replied, “Reason has nothing to do with it. I’m a scorpion. It’s my character.”
Zach: You know what I feel like saying to you?
Dr. Westford: Yes. You feel like telling me to go fuck myself, and you probably will, because it’s your character.
Zach: See you next Tuesday.
Skin Deep (1989)
What is it with Blake Edwards, weird beards, and unhealthy relationships with women? Because Blake couldn’t get enough of all these things in The Man Who Loved Women (1983) with Burt Reynolds, he’s back to the grindstone with Skin Deep. John Ritter’s deeply troubling facial hair reflects the grotesque human that is Zach Hutton beneath the Jack Tripper skin.
I’m sorry. I’m not ready to move on yet. It’s just such an awkward length. No one grows a beard like that, a don’t tell me it was just “the 80’s” and shrug.
A Skin Deep Story
John Ritter plays an unrepentant alcoholic womanizer who says he wants to change but does everything he can to preserve his selfish, self-destructive ways. He compulsively chases every pretty skirt, his wife leaves him, his agent’s dying, and he gets arrested for drunk driving on the average Tuesday. It’s Clean & Sober (1988) or Leaving Las Vegas (1995) wrapped in screwball gift wrap.
John Ritter vs. Burt Reynolds
The differences in John Ritter being a huge dick and Burt Reynolds being a womanizing asshole boasts so many unsubtle nuances. While I like Ritter in most everything, he’s a little out of his element here. His travails feel utterly pathetic rather than symptomatic. Skin Deep doesn’t do enough to differentiate his legitimate metal illness from his leering, roguish tendencies. At a certain point Skin Deep can’t even highlight any of the character’s redeeming qualities.
The viewer must believe that women cannot resist Ritter’s Zach — that their attraction to him occurs at such a primal level that his face value inadequacies fail to pose obstacle to copulation or god forbid, a relationship. We don’t, and yet every single woman that crosses his path cannot help but be pulled into his black hole. He’s amiable, but he’s no Rudolph Valentino… or Burt Reynolds.
That said, the movie still has something to say about alcoholism. It’s just buried a little bit deeper than you would have liked. Blake Edwards has attempted to delve into the unrepentant mind of the alcoholic through a haze of farce and bleak humor all while serving up a puerile and unlikable anti-hero.
Skin Deep’s Redemption
The women needed more time to become human rather than brief caricatures and conquests. Even the woman that’s supposed to ultimately change his life feels like a cardboard standup that walked out of Blockbuster Video. It’s a scriptural-level problem that will cause many people to tune out before the 30-minute mark. No amount of Ritter charm could make that completely palatable.
If you can overcome a rough start, the movie offers a few base pleasures, namely one truly inspired comedic set piece. Zach overcomes his crippling erectile dysfunction by turning his penis into a lightsaber. It’s true. This happens.
The bit reminds us all that Blake Edwards had some creative demons, but we reaped the benefits of that mania though the beauty of glow-in-the-dark penile slapstick.
Get it? Slap. Stick? Oh never mind.
Skin Deep Final Thoughts
I hadn’t caught up with Skin Deep until this #Watch1989 exercise because it’s just never seen much fanfare. It certainly wasn’t a film I caught at the Multiplex during it’s theatrical run and it’s never received a Blu-ray release. Skin Deep has its proponents, but there’s not a lot here to recommend over a dozen other movies that dare explore the effects of alcoholism on-screen.
There’s just enough that works beyond glow-in-the dark penises to warrant a watch. I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that the movie dishes out a number of quotable exchanges and enough Ritter charm to smooth out the roughest edges. It might be personally damning, but if I’d seen this movie at a more formative age, I have no doubt I’d be a Skin Deep fan.
Skin Deep is available to view on Amazon Prime Streaming.
James David Patrick is a writer. He’s written just about everything at some point or another. Add whatever this is to that list. Follow his blog at www.thirtyhertzrumble.com and find him on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
[after making the pimp named Duke swallow a diamond-encrusted watch]
Duke: I’m dying!
Lieutenant Crowe: No, you’re not… But you are gonna have to stick your head between your legs to tell the time.
Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects (1989)
I’m certainly capable of acknowledging some of the more problematic aspects of older films with regards to their treatment of gender and race. Without getting into a much broader philosophical debate about placing films in their appropriate context, some movies are merely a reflection of contemporaneous pre-evolved attitudes and some movies are just plain gross.
Welcome to Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects — where the population of Asians becomes a scourge on Los Angeles and the only man standing between your daughter and child prostitution is Charles Bronson.
Released on February 3rd, 1989, the ninth and final collaboration between Bronson and director J. Lee Thompson requires a bit more editing to make the 67-year-old Bronson a believable action hero. As part of his character makeup, Bronson’s Lieutenant Crowe is a xenophobic revenge-filled vigilante surrounded by lunatics with even more warped frames of references.
And to showcase exactly how warped this movie’s point of view is, I’d like to highlight one particular scene. Crowe confesses to his captain that he’s off his A-game because some sombitch oriental molested his daughter on a bus. The captain, straight out of the angry-for-no-reason police captain playbook, goes off his rocker. He tells Crowe about how his “nephew Stevie was touched by a priest in choir practice. NOW WHAT THE HELL’S THAT GOT TO DO WITH YOUR WORK?”
Why is that dialogue in your movie? Not even the “It was the 80’s!” defense can make that okay. That wasn’t ever okay! None of it, but then again, the movie never actually ties up that molestation thread because it doesn’t think so much of it either. Like the police captain, Kinjite suggests “Hey, this daily mistreatment of women doesn’t much matter because THERE ARE MINORS BEING KIDNAPPED AND FORCED INTO PROSTITUTION.”
Just to clarify, while we all believe that just because one is totally heinous that doesn’t absolve the relatively lesser, but still abhorrent, sin, right? I’m not insane here.
Bronson’s hot on the trail of a pimp by the name of Duke who runs a child prostitution ring. Now Duke’s not Asian (he’s reliable bad-guy character actor Juan Fernández) and Duke’s crew is mostly black so at least the movie spreads around it’s racism.
The movie’s focus on the growing Asian influence in southern California seems ancillary to the premise of the film. The movie borrows the Japanese term “kinjite” for the title. There’s also that aforementioned secondary narrative about how it’s apparently permissible to molest women on public transportation — specifically in Japan. Due to their culture of shame they won’t speak out. None of this, however, ties directly into Crowe’s vendetta against Duke.
If the kidnapping and ultimate “rescue” of a Japanese girl from Duke’s clutches intends to soften our protagonist, there’s no on-screen evidence to suggest his newfound appreciation of cultural diversity. He’s just satisfied that he’s achieved his goal of putting baddies behind bars.
Kinjite: A Verdict
Though a dud at the box office (for good reason), Kinjite offers viewers a few lasting images in exchange suffering through the gross bits and hackneyed Golan-Globus dialogue.
Charles Bronson waves around a dildo for a brief moment in the opening scene and later makes Duke swallow a massive watch. He accidentally drops a perpetrator off a balcony because he’s wearing fancy loose boots. When he gives Duke some “poetic justice” by gleefully walking the “pretty boy” into prison, Danny Trejo makes an early film appearance as one of the very hardened catcalling inmates excited to welcome their new friend.
Like I said – gross.