The Imperial Reviews: Volume 25


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It's almost a month now since I promised PT to review his own "Companion" and compare it with the oldie but Goldie "8 to 4". I do apologise for the delay but asm is -unfortunately- not my job and, as you understand, I have to justify my salary now and then.

Our subject for tonight is "Movies With High Aspirations" or "Aim High and Fall a Looong Way Back to Earth".

It's almost a month now since I promised PT to review his own "Companion" and compare it with the oldie but Goldie "8 to 4". I do apologise for the delay but asm is -unfortunately- not my job and, as you understand, I have to justify my salary now and then. Our subject for tonight is "Movies With High Aspirations" or "Aim High and Fall a Looong Way Back to Earth".

Companion

This flick is subtitled "Aroused, part 2". Despite its several merits, this Paul Thomas effort, as expected, fails to arouse. It does entertain at parts and it's certainly a very honest effort to be a "proper" movie, but arousing it is not.

Let's take things from the start. PT claimed that the cast is as good as one can get nowadays in terms of sheer talent. Personally, I wouldn't go as far out on a limb as this, but I'll admit that it is quite good. Ashlyn Gere is as usual a delight to watch, though her performances tend to be rather subdued of late; Asia Carrera is one of the prettiest natural ladies of recent vintage; of the fellas, the combination of Randy West and Steve Drake (sadly not featured prominently enough) is solid to say the least, and the director's considerable thespian talent is employed in their aid (PT's is, of course, an non-sex part) and the movie's benefit. The rest of the cast is average: I am not impressed -to put it mildly-by Nick East, and there are way too many facsimile plastic starlets (e.g Tera Heart, Dallas) to make the supporting cast exciting from a sexual point of view.

I have noticed a trend in recent PT features in attempting to tackle the "Dramatic Porn" field. I'm unsure whether this has been a wise decision. It certainly worked fine in "Justine", but that was IMHO mainly due to the chemistry of the Blaze-Horner-Tianna combination, as well as the genuinely interesting plot premise. It has since decidedly NOT worked. Paul, my advice -for what it's worth- is to go back to the style that has made you produce memorable films: the rule of the thumb is, the simpler the premise, the better the movie. I'll not go back to your older efforts; let's compare "Trouble Maker" and "Companion" to the very hot "Steamy Windows". Sex aside, "SW" is a great success because of the simplicity and -I'll insist- wit of the premise. You can relate what is going on in that movie in three short sentences; it's compact, crisp and interesting -and the tremendously hot sex makes it riveting. In contrast, "Companion" lumbers around, laden with good ideas, nice photography and certainly a lot of courage in showing explicit violence, but the parts don't make a whole I'm sorry to say. Like Cameron Grant's recent "Dinner Party", "Companion" suffers from an acute case of featuritis.

The plot centers around emotionally troubled millionaire Randy West and the women that enter and disturb his life: cynical wife Dallas, obsessive secretary Asia and, most delightfully for us viewers, con artist Ashlyn. Wifey conveniently kicks the bucket at the start of the flick after a very indifferent sex scene with Guy DeSilva that includes anal. For me this would normally be FF material, but I had promised to watch the film as a whole so I locked the remote in my desk drawer :-). Enter the police, in the person of PT himself and an aid, to check whether there was any foul play in Ms. Dallas' demise. It's always fun to watch PT play his "Detective/private dick" role (most memorable in the 1982 "Trashi"), but this movie could easily exist without these scenes. They do not add to the movie at all, and they barely escape becoming pointless and annoying.

Randy's friends try to entertain the despondent widower (who, inexplicably, was rather fond of his plasticised -not to mention cheating- wife). Steve Drake brings along Sandy Beach and Tera, and on rolls the second sex scene. No dice, once again. Despite the genuine effort on the part of the camera work, the action is lukewarm even by Vivid standards. I attribute a lot of it to the recently very fashionable fast cuts in the action. This is no Ninn lameness by any means, but it's no DeRenzy mounting crescendo of lust either. It is my belief that continuity is one of the highest merits of a sex scene. In real life, people do not suddenly stop screwing and declare "enough with this doggy thing, let's try cowgirl"; or, if they do, it's a lousy lay. I'm sure you all know from personal experience that when such position changes do happen it's because of the action getting REALLY hot. You fuck in the missionary, you get real hot, you ROLL OVER to cowgirl -no acrobatics, no "fuck protocol", as I call it. Anal scenes particularly suffer from such rigidity and the European wall-to-wallers are the worst of all. Of course, we don't want a static fuck either. As in real life, this is a terrible lay too. The happy medium is admittedly hard to achieve and there have been more misses than hits over the last 25 years. But it *has* been done and the evidence is out there. Since examples are better than abstract theories, let me just mention the absolutely superb scene between Annette Haven and John Leslie in "A Coming of Angels" (1977); the brilliant Leslie-Jessie St. James scene from "Talk Dirty to Me"; more recently, the smoldering Rocco-Ashlyn pairing in "Chameleons"; and if Blake were not Blake, the Rocco-Gere and Rocco-Zara pairings in "Secrets" would have been prime examples of such mounting heat as well.

The same problem occurs in what should have been the movie's crowining mercy: the East-Carrera-Gere threesome later on in the film. As it is, the result is disappointing though certainly not FF material. The idea is great: the two ladies sort of show off their sexual skills -they don't like each other according to the storyline- and the action has quite a bit of variation in position as well as location. But the impatient editing spoils it. The camera never lingers on a shot for more than seconds with drustrating results. I don't know if this impatience the director's or the editor's fault and I really do not care. All I remember is this same director giving us long, hot and interesting scenes in "Beauty and the Beast" (a video release mind you). What happened?

By far the best sex scene in the movie is the one that is curiously not credited in the end: a fella with red hair and beard -looking a bit like Eric Stoltz- and a natural brunette at the back of a pickup truck. This unfortunately only goes up to cunnilingus (no penetration) but it does have this continuity I've been talking about. Pity that the scene is not "consummated" :-) and that we are not told who the hell this busty actress is.

As I mentioned earlier, there is lots of good photography. Sadly, it's once again presented in the way of a greengrocer, i.e. all tossed in front of us as if we are expected to make a pick. That is particularly true for the black-and-white slo-mo bits. I understand using them for flashbacks, but what's the point of showing Asia doing something as mundane as opening the bleeding door with a dramatic BW shot? We Greeks have a nice proverb about such overuse of resources; I don't know if the joke carries in English, but it goes "He who has a lot of pepper, in the end garnishes cabbage as well" (that harkens back to the days were pepper was a luxury, back in the 16th century -we're an old country after all :-)).

I also mentioned the presence of violence. That's the second occassion that a PT film has essentially declared "Screw Ms. MacKinnon and the self-censorship principle" :-). I can't complain of course for this rather gutsy decision, but please, please, PLEASE, use a more realistic prop next time you show a severed ear (echoes of "Reservoir Dogs" I suppose). Once again, I'm all for ditching self-censorship; this particular movie did not have to be the battling ground for this issue however. It would be fine even with all ears as God intended :-).

The Imperial Verdict: Shame. Shame because of the obvious effort exerted. Shame, because there are many good ideas in this flick, particularly in Ashlyn's manipulation of the docile West, that are unfortunately left mostly undeveloped so that the totally redundant murder sub-plot be addressed. If PT ditched this sub-plot and just concentrated on the Asia-Gere rivalry with the sexual battleground being an increasingly unstable West, he might very well be on the path for something memorable. As it is, the film is a mess. Not a particularly repulsive one to be sure, but a mess nevertheless.

Rating: 2.40 out of the canonical 4.00.

For Mr. Thomas' information I must say that this rating translates to "Almost a good rental. Avoid unless an ardent fan of the star/genre". Since I am steadfastly an Ashlyn fan (who isn't?), this is rentable solely on the basis of her drawing appeal.

It's not a particularly good rating however. About 65-70% of the movies I review crack 2.50, but that's because I review a disproportionate number of classics and I'm a wise renter in general. Even so I have been burnt sometimes.

8 to 4

The comparison to "8 to 4" (1981) is therefore bound to leave the recent film wanting. "8 to 4" is not a masterpiece by any consideration, but it certainly is a memorable movie. A lot of this is due to the all star cast: much as I like Ashlyn, she really can't compete with Annette Haven. And the supporting cast in the oldie is stupendous: Veronica Hart, Lisa DeLeeuw, Loni Sanders, Juliette Anderson, PT, Mike Horner, Herschel Savage. Need I go on? These people were as a rule good actors (I would include Veronica, Annette and yes, PT, in the category of "great" actors), and look REAL. Excluding Annette, whose looks are unsurpassed by any of the present crop, the appeal of the other women is mostly of a "charismatic" nature. I explain: if one is shown a portrait of Loni Sanders, he'll probably say "hmm, cute". However if he sees her moving, talking and smiling he'll probably say "holy fuck" (at least I did). Veronica Hart is certainly not a flawless beauty -the nose in particular has drawn much criticism (am I lying, Brad? :-)), but her *sex appeal* is unsurpassed. Of the modern talent, only Ashlyn IMHO qualifies for a similar analysis.

The plot is a simple but effective spinoff of the mainstream "9 to 5". Perhaps it's unfair to compare a spinoff to an original storyline like "Companion", but the fact is that the one breezes through effortlessly while the other stumbles along. My opinion is that the spinoff is one of porn's most successful formats when done rightly. Porn movies are in the distinct disadvantage, compared with mainstream, of having to dedicate at least 3/4 of their runtime to sex, a device that does not allow plot development as a rule. 99% of "plot" porn movies are crippled by this difficulty of finding a correct balance between story and plumbing; they either strip down the plot so much it ends up cheesy and inane or, as in the case of most recent PT endeavours, they pursue the plot and forget the sex altogether. The spinoff is a good way to circumvent this problem: the viewer already knows what happened in the mainstream, so the director only needs to draw an outline in the plot of the pornie - the viewer's imagination instinctively deduces the rest. Of course there have been more spinoff disasters than not as we all know well; yet, there have been many brilliant ones too, for example PT's own "Beauty and the Beast".

"8 to 4" is thus superior in the areas of plot and casting. It is far inferior in the technical domain. The sets are cheesy; the film quality and the photography poor; the sound leaves a lot to be desired; the music is DUMB (the worst music by far is reserved for the only Annette scene, a mmff with Juliette and two fellas). If the budget is comparable to that of the recent Vivid release as PT claims, then I can't understand where the money went. Actors' fees perhaps? ;-)

Another problem with this particular classic is that none of the performers is featured enough for my tastes. Annette and Veronica are only in one scene each (a frequent gripe about Annie's later works :-()

In any case, despite the techincal flaws, the cast and sexual heat carry this particular film to a 3.35 rating, translated as "Great rental and perhaps marginal purchase if you can really, really spare the bucks". This admittedly includes some personal bias (it's an Annette film after all), but personal bias is what partially carried "Companion" to its own rating.

Here is my original review of "8 to 4", archived in Volume 9 at Jeff's site: Since we're at this site already, just follow this link!

Layover

Since I have delayed my review for so long, I'll throw in another PT movie for a bonus. "Layover" starring Janine, Asia Carrera, Tami Ann (she of the overactive behind :-)), Steve Drake, Jonathan Morgan, Guy DiSilva and several others. Once again there are several uncredited people in the movie - I guess that Vivid is trying to atone for those old cases of crediting people on the box that were not in the movie ;-). This occassion is particularly baffling since one of these uncredited people is Alex Jordan! Certainly not your average unknown starlet. Morevoer she's in one of the Janine scenes. i.e. the whole raison d'etre of the movie. What gives?

Like "Companion", "Layover" includes several good ideas and some REALLY lame ones. Technically it's very well made -nice lighting, nice sets, decent wardrobe -a bit too gaudy at parts; one gripe is that the ladies are virtually PLASTERED with makeup. The plot is a mess once again; it's not bad admittedly, but it both drags and confuses at parts. The sex is rather mild and uninteresting. Gee, haven't I just described the archetypal Vivid movie (post-Jamie S. at least)?

The film's best scene by far is a Tammi-Asia g-g/strip act that eventually develops in two side-by-side b-g's. The buildup is actually quite good; it caters quite well to our voyeuristic instincts (the whole thing is performed in front of an audience which eventually participates) and some of the g-g is really hot, particularly the kissing. But the direction unfortunately completely spoils it by chopping the action to bits, interleaving it with another b-g going on at the same part somewhere else in that room and, more annoyingly, by including a TON of idiotic "crowd response shots". Yep, the plague of "Blonde Justice" strikes again. What's the point in showing the crowd? Yeah, they love it -they would be idiots if they didn't. Do we care how they feel however? Oh well [shrug].

By far the worst, dumbest, most insulting scene in the movie is Janine masturbating in the middle of a circle of 4-5 lamers jerking off (at a safe distance). I guess PT thought that this constitutes a gang-bang of some sorts (admittedly these movies are little better than circle jerk-offs :-)). But WHY did we have to suffer through this lameness? Janine won't do men. Fine. We know it. We don't care. If and when she does a guy, it's gonna be entirely her decision. Great. CAN YOU PLEASE STOP TREATING US LIKE IDIOTS UNTIL THAT MOMENT? Heavens.

The Imperial Verdict: Paul, I genuinely believe that you have a lot of nice ideas and your share of talent. I KNOW that you can make a scorcher since I have seen several. Can you please go back to your "Justine" and "Beauty and the Beast" form and stop emulating Bud Lee? Let me put it this way. He sucks. The jury is still out on you; you have lots and lots of extenuating circumstances (good directing efforts in the past, awesome acting expoloits in the Golden Age), but you are currently making it very difficult for people who genuinely want to say good things about you.

Rating: 2.15. Avoid.

(Art of) Desire

On to the original Lamer (yes, even before Bud Lee and Ninn), the highly touted Andre Blake. His "Desire" (aka "Art of Desire" in the European version) is a showcase of his drawbacks as a porn creator. Bad sound, TREMENDOUS waste of resources, sex scenes that look as if they are tableux vivants, fast cuts, discontinuous action, mindnumbingly lame "plot" premises. It's bad. It's little very similar to those lame "Playboy Fantasy" videos (i.e. THAT bad), only with penetration (and not a lot of that either). Playboy-type videos are insultingly inane; a bit of penetration will certainly not save them.

I guess that the late Savannah was the ideal Blake object; cold and disinterested, though certainly spectacular to look at. Pity that the elegant Zara Whites is forced to glide around this sorry excuse for a porn movie.

As usual, Blake's techincal direction is unimpeachable. The lighting is once again superb. It is so annoying to see those deliciously warm yellows being wasted in showing icy beauties going through the motions under the accompaniement of the cheesiest music imaginable. In his better efforts Blake at least managed to capture the visual magic that is the female body; here, he could well be filming giraffes galloping in the savannah or flamingos taking off from the glassy surface of a lake, rather than documenting the primeval heat that is sex. Never Blake's primary concern, "it" has now become an appendage he grudgingly accomodates.

I will not go into each individual scene or the cast. Jeff has written a very nice review of his own covering that aspect. The Imperial position is that if one wants to watch sex, Blake is not the answer. There is a multitude of choices out there, ranging from Borsky all-plumbing extravanganzas to real movies with real plot and real sex; in beds, not staircases. If one wants to watch pretty pictures, PBS/Discovery Channel are full of appropriate documentaries. Documenting the artistic glories of the female body are a multitude of paintings, sculptures and photographic compositions; the better among these manage to excite our hearts without having to bring in the gonads to confuse our senses. Personally I fail to see where Blake supposedly fits. I can't call it art; and it certainly isn't erotic. And it's not original either - Rinse Dream would have a lot to say on this matter.

Rating: 1.50. Don't bother.


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Created: Saturday, November 04, 1995, 11:23:28 AM