Thursday, May 26, 2011

Pornonomy Reviews: Foxtrot

Foxtrot (1982)

Directed by:
Cecil Howard

Linda Vale
Marilyn Gee
Marlene Willoughby
Merle Michaels
Samantha Fox
Sandra Hillman
Sharon Mitchell
Tiffany Clark
Vanessa del Rio
Veronica Hart
Alan Adrian
Bobby Astyr
David Morris
Jack Silver
Jack Teague
R. Bolla
Ron Jeremy

It's New Year's Eve day, and a lot of people are having sex.

Similar to Babylon Pink, Foxtrot has an Altman-esque "six degrees of separation" feel. Unlike Babylon Pink, there wasn't a familiar thread running through the scenes (BP's being - mostly - a series of fantasies). And the film doesn't quite stitch all of the characters together.

About 62 of the 77 minutes are fairly strong, moving between the various characters and slowly showing how they fit together. Jack Teague is throwing a New Year's Eve party that will be staffed by his maid (Tiffany Clark) and catered by Vanessa del Rio, who's musician boyfriend (Morris) will be playing a club that's also headlined by a showgirl/dancer (Fox), who is able to go work after her babysitter (Hillman) arrives, after she makes arrangements to have her boyfriend (Silver) come over later.

On the other side of town, Veronica Hart and R. Bolla seem to be in a loveless marriage. She seems to be having an affair, while he fantasizes about the sex-crazed woman across the street (Willoughby) whom he peeps on with his field glasses. After a fight, Hart seduces a sailor (Jeremy) who has just stumbled upon his girlfriend (Michaels) in bed with another woman (Mitchell). Unless I'm missing something, the two groups don't have a common character, although I suppose in theory Hart could have been having an affair with Jack Teague....

With the exception of the ultimate scene stock footage of the NYE ball drop and the penultimate scene at the party Teague is throwing, other than the characters mentioning it every five minutes, it doesn't seem all that important what day of the year the film took place on.

So about those last 15 minutes. Whereas the lead up was competent - if not great - the end, the party, sort of fell off the rails. In a tonal shift from the rest of the film, things got a lot looser and seemed to hint at getting a lot more mad cap (for example, a woman at the party announces that she feels like taking her clothes off), which would have been fine if it had actually followed through with going crazy. Instead, there was a brief non sequitur scene that was a not-so-thinly-veiled crack at Roman Polanski (Astyr as a film director who spends most of his time in Europe as certain jailbait proclivities have gotten him in hot water). Then...well, that's it.

I have to admit that I'm generally pretty lukewarm on the film. Perhaps I'm judging it overly harshly consider the only other Howard film I've seen is Neon Nights, which is an all-timer, in my opinion. But, I guess the positives outweigh the negatives soooooo...B-

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Pornonomy Reviews: The Jade Pussycat and China Cat

The Jade Pussycat (1977)

Directed by:
Bob Chinn

Bonnie Holiday
Paula Wain
Georgina Spelvin
Jessica Temple-Smith
Linda Wong
Yvonne Green
Jimi Lee
John Holmes
Jon Martin

China Cat (1978)

Directed by:
Bob Chinn

Paula Wain
Desiree Cousteau
Eileen Wells
Jennifer Richards
Kyoto Sun
Cris Cassidy
John Holmes
John Seeman

The Jade Pussycat and its sequel, China Cat, find private investigator Johnny Wadd drawn into the world of illicit artifact trade by way of the mysterious and valuable Jade Pussycat. The statue is of great value as it was made of a piece of jade imbued with power...or something. In the first film, the statue is coveted by a German collector, in the second, by a Japanese man who was in possession of the statue until it was stolen from him during World War II. In order to recover the statue, the man enlists the aid of a group of beautiful women (the Devils) instructed by a faceless man named Charlie. (So, "Charlie's Devils" for those not particularly quick on the uptake.)

The interesting thing about watching the Wadd films more or less in order is seeing the artistic development of Bob Chinn. The progress between Tropic of Passion and Tell Them Johnny Wadd is Here is nothing compared to the technical leap between TTJWiH and The Jade Pussycat (which, in turn, is surpassed by the skill of China Cat; in full disclosure, I haven't yet seen Liquid Lips, the bridge between Tell Them and Jade, although with LL apparently made immediately after Tell Them, I'd imagine they are pretty similar, formally).

Voiceovers are a staple of the Wadd series, but while in earlier films the exist largely as expository development between scenes, in China Cat, they're placed within the scenes and flesh out the story in a much more organic fashion. Additionally, China Cat featured a sex scene that was cut against the scheming Devils lending the hardcore scenes a degree of integration far beyond those earlier in the series.

The Jade Pussycat successfully created the feel of the seedy "Oriental" underbelly of San Francisco - in my opinion, a better use of location shooting than Tropic of Passion's Hawaii or Tell Them's Mexico - and utilized the crossing and double-crossing you'd expect from a genre picture of its era. China Cat built on the cliffhanger nature of its predecessor's ending, foregoing the sense of place and balancing a simpler narrative (Wadd vs. the Devils) with a higher degree of technical craftsmanship.

The grading of the films brings up an interesting challenge. Viewed together, I'd give the first a B+, the second an A-, however the second's grade is largely based on having had the first as a narrative lead in, so.... Ah, fuck it, B+ and A-.