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Actress Natalie Portman showed up Friday in a see-through top to introduce a film clip at the 18th Annual American Cinematheque Awards

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"Sunset Grill"

Sunset Grill (1993) was recently covered by Scoopy, and you should read his review before mine, as I am not going to cover the same ground, and differ with him in my reactions. You can find it at here. While the improbability of a drunken small statured leading man who didn't like to shoot real guns beating the entire world's compliment of bad guys bothered Scoopy, I bought into the character. He didn't like shooting real guns, preferring a B B gun because it was quiet. If I woke up every with a huge hangover, I might feel the same way. It wasn't that he couldn't shoot a real gun, and he in fact did a few times, and was a master marksman. At one time, he was a competent detective, and lots of people saved his tail frequently in the film.

His motivation, of course, was the murder of the only thing her still cared about, his wife. IN short, I loved his character, and liked the fact that he was mainly fighting corrupt establishment types. See Scoops review for the nudity summary. I agree with the C- rating. While I enjoyed the film, not everyone will react the way I did to it. C-.

Scoop's note: actually I liked it. I wrote "Lame, laughable premise, but once you get past that, it's a watchable film for Grade-B noir afficionados, because it is sexy and has some good performances and good moments to help patch over the weak spots. The extra DVD footage and decent widescreen transfer make it a must-own for celebrity nudity buffs." I'd watch it again. In fact, I've watched it twice in the past three years. Having written that, however, I wouldn't watch it if it didn't have any nudity.

Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy)

The Last Tycoon (1976)

"It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

- Shakespeare-

Well, ol' Billy Shakes might have been watching this very movie when he wrote that line, except that this lifeless film could have used a lot more of that fury he was talkin' 'bout.

What's wrong with this sentence?

"The Last Tycoon is based on an unfinished novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald".

Several things. The most obvious is that the novel was unfinished, and Fitzgerald was changing his mind about how to end it, even thinking about changing what he had already written, so the movie begins by basing itself on an unresolved storyline. That was the least of Hollywood's problems with Fitzgerald's book. The greater issues are as follows:

1) To say that The Love of the Last Tycoon is unfinished is to employ extreme litotes.  It isn't just unfinished. It was barely begun. The Fitzgerald "novel" is really just a collection of snippets. The final thirteen chapters simply consist of notes, and the seventeen early chapters are unpolished rough drafts. Based upon Fitzgerald's most recent notes, even the early chapters would have been rewritten extensively to correspond to his changing vision of the plot's central dynamic.

2) Scotty wasn't exactly on the top of his game when he died. In all his years in Hollywood, he got exactly one screenwriting credit, and he hadn't written anything worth reading in the previous six years. He tried and failed to sell the Last Tycoon to Collier's Magazine for serialization. Even if he had lived, there is no reason to believe that he would have produced a final work on a level with The Great Gatsby, a novel he had written sixteen years earlier. In those intervening years, Scotty went through lot of booze, and a lot of despair. His wife was institutionalized, as you probably know, causing him to write, "I left my capacity for hoping on the little roads that led to Zelda's sanitariums". By the time he began Last Tycoon he was, to use his own term from Tender is the Night, un homme épuisé ("a used-up man"). Before he met his last love, Sheilah Graham, he was a hopeless alcoholic. He was making a minor comeback in the last three years, working in Hollywood again, and living with Graham in relative quiet, except for an occasional drunken binge in which he became angry and violent in public.

Given the fragmentary nature of the source, Hollywood could have used it to make any number of different movies, depending on the focus. The film they chose to make was a confusing love story, or at least that's what it was most of the time.

Fitzgerald's version of the story was basically a roman a clef about the legendary Hollywood producer Irving Thalberg, who was running Universal at 20, moved on to head up the operations at MGM by the time he was 25, and was dead of a heart attack by age 37, presumably brought on by overwork. He had been raised in a working-class Jewish family in Brooklyn, had dropped out of high school, and had worked a succession of unimportant secretarial positions before being hired at Universal as a personal secretary. A few weeks later, he was running the show. Obviously, Thalberg had to have been an interesting and overwhelmingly talented guy to rise so fast at Universal. He was a hands-on manager who could be ruthless in firing directors and writers, but was generally considered to be friendly to artists who had their acts together. Despite his workaholic nature, he held on to his marriage with glamorous actress Norma Shearer and was greatly admired by the Marx Brothers, especially Groucho, so he couldn't have been a totally humorless bottom-line man. If you believe his legend, he had the soul of an artist and the mind of a businessman.

Fitzgerald's contribution to the basic Thalberg story was a flight of imagination. Suppose the fictional Thalberg (called Monroe Stahr) had lost Norma Shearer some time before, and had spent the rest of his life seeking to recapture what he had with her. Logically enough, he would notice a young woman who looked exactly like his lost love. He noticed her, pursued her, and when he finally got her to agree to meet him, they fell in love. Unfortunately for Stahr, the beautiful woman was already promised to someone else. She resisted his advances at first, but she was overwhelmed by the closeness they developed during the courtship ritual. The relationship developed behind the back of her fiancé, and her relationship with the fiancé continued behind Stahr's back. Eventually she had to face the music and sent Stahr a short telegram saying "I was married at noon today".

The ironic part of the Fitzgerald story is that Stahr could have gotten the girl if he had been as aggressive and decisive with her as he was in his business dealings, but by letting his softer side through and acting passively, he lost his opportunity.

The saddest portion of the Fitzgerald narrative is not that Monroe Stahr lost the woman, but that he also lost his studio at the same time. The workaholic had previously been able to stay focused on his job when there was no reason to do otherwise, but he started to miss appointments and make business mistakes when he was concentrating on finding his dream-girl. When it started to appear that the romance was going to turn out tragically for him, and he became obsessed by that, he really started to lose his grasp on the operation of the studio.

In other words, to put it bluntly, Fitzgerald wondered what Irving Thalberg would have been like if he were not like Irving Thalberg at all, but like F. Scott Fitzgerald. There was a good reason for Scotty to make that kind of projection. Like Thalberg, Fitzgerald had been a boy wonder who was highly successful at age 20 (when he wrote Tender is the Night). Like Thalberg, Fitzgerald reached the complete zenith of his profession at 25, when he published The Great Gatsby, one of the most acclaimed novels ever written in the English Language. Like Thalberg, Fitzgerald was born just before the new century began. Like Thalberg, the boy geniuses Fitzgerald was destined to became a boy corpse as well. Thalberg died in 1937, Fitzgerald followed in 1940.

Beyond that basic comparison, Fitzgerald's life ceased to be like that of the real Irving Thalberg, and started to be like that of the fictional Monroe Stahr. Like Stahr, Fitzgerald had thrown his life into a doomed romantic relationship. Like Stahr, he lost the girl, and also lost his genius and happiness by pursuing the girl. The film barely touched upon all of that. It seemed to catch it only in passing.

I really liked the first thirty minutes of the film, which basically consisted of a look into the movie business. Robert DeNiro is a great actor, and he also looked the part completely. (See the page for pictures of DeNiro and Nicholson in this film, as well as a pic of the real Thalberg) If you look at him quickly, you won't even know who it is. He did another one of his weight-altering preps for this film. Gaunt, maybe 130-140  pounds, aloof, elegant, spare of gestures and precise of speech, he looked and sounded the spitting image of George Gershwin or Zeppo Marx or any of those many other handsome and intelligent Jewish New Yorkers who became society's darlings in the Jazz Age. DeNiro seemed to disappear, and Monroe Stahr appeared, the completely competent little bantam who seemed to understand every detail of every film on his studio.

Once the love story came into the film, however, the movie's energy disappeared. DeNiro has never been an especially charming lover, but his stiff discomfort worked fine in the character. DeNiro's seduction method was exactly the way that the nerdy Monroe Stahr would have conducted a seduction. Unfortunately, his ability was not matched by the woman he was seducing, nor the words they used. Ingrid Boulting was a round-faced model who made her film debut here, and pretty much her swan song as well. I hope she was smart enough to keep her day job, because acting was just not her calling. The character was supposed to be a bit daft, like Zelda Fitzgerald herself, but Boulting just seemed very lost and confused and her only facial expression was "deer in the headlights". The lines they gave her were no better than her ability to deliver them. She is attractive enough that a viewer can understand why Monroe was attracted to her, especially given the resemblance to his dead wife, but it is impossible for the audience to understand why Monroe Stahr still liked her once he talked to her. (Interestingly, Hemingway made similar comments about Zelda Fitzgerald, and many people have made similar comments about Fitzgerald's insubstantial female characters in his other works, so Scotty was apparently not able to look much beyond a woman's appearance.)

Miss Boulting was so untalented that she couldn't stay in the industry despite both beauty and connections. (Her father and his twin brother were both prominent producers and directors.) She didn't work in another film for nine years after The Last Tycoon, and her performance in that second film ended her career permanently. That movie, Deadly Passion, was described by a wag at IMDb as "Body Heat with the bodies but without the heat".

Ingrid is now long out of show business, still beautiful in her mid 50s, into art and yoga. Here is her personal web site.

Ingrid wasn't the only reason the film bombed. Individual scenes seemed to end in the middle, often failing to connect with other scenes. The script was written by the avant-garde minimalist playwright Harold Pinter. Mysterious, ominous, understatement is Pinter's oeuvre, but it doesn't belong in a story which should be firmly grounded in reality. If Monroe Stahr could have come to life to read this script, he would have fired Harold Pinter and hired two writers, one to give the characters flesh and blood, the other to make the scenes complete and connected to one another.

Pinter came up with some loony ideas.

At one point, an aging leading man (Tony Curtis) comes into Stahr's office to talk about his impotence. This scene goes on forever, and includes dialogue like this:

  • Actor: I didn't know what to do, so I came to you.
  • Monroe Stahr: Yes, you did.
  • Actor: So then I decided to tell you, and now I'm telling you.
  • Monroe Stahr: I can see that.

Ol' Monroe really offered some insights there, eh? The dialogue wasn't the worst thing about the scene, nor was the length. The completely frustrating thing was that the editor cut from the conversation to waiting room, where people were queued up to talk to Monroe. Monroe and the actor emerged from the office, shaking hands and laughing, and we had no idea how the situation got resolved. It was never mentioned again.

In another scene, the head of the studio (Bob Mitchum, playing the Louis B Mayer character) got a visit from his daughter (Theresa Russell in her screen debut). She remarked that it room was stuff, and that he should open some windows. At that moment, he was opening some windows, so he said that he was opening some windows. Pretty exciting so far, eh? She invited him for a walk, he declined, she insisted. He went to the bathroom to change his shirt, whereupon she snooped around and found a naked woman in his closet. He came out of the bathroom. She said, "cover her up". He was paralyzed. She covered the woman. The naked woman never spoke a single word.

This scene has nothing to do with anything that came before or after it in the movie.

Other characters besides the naked woman remained completely undefined. In Pinter's best plays, the source of menace comes from characters who remain undefined. Pinter is the anti-Tarantino. His thugs don't talk about Big Macs or religion or what they will have for dinner. We don't know where they are from, or what their girlfriends think of them, or when they need to get home. They are there only to provide menace. Their vary lack of specificity makes them psychologically terrifying to the victims. That technique works beautifully for Pinter in an abstract, minimalist drama, but in this kind of character-based period drama, we look for characters who should either be real people or who should be written out altogether. Tige Andrews played a Greek character. I have no idea what his job was in that studio, I just know he was Greek and he didn't like Communists. Ray Milland played a lawyer who always followed Mitchum around. He had no personality other than the personality of Ray Milland, bland though that is. He didn't like Communists either. We don't know why those characters and many others are in the story, and the film would not have lost one thing if they were written out. The same quality of disposability was true of several scenes, including the two described above.

It just doesn't add up to much. The love scenes occurred between a great actor playing an aloof, stiff guy and a non-actress for whom stiffness would have been an upgrade from her natural rigor mortis, so those moments had no energy or passion. The non-love scenes, especially everything that occurred after the first twenty minutes, seemed to consist of unconnected and/or unfinished anecdotes.

Amazingly enough, the director of this film was the formerly brilliant Elia Kazan, one of the most influential people in the development of  performance art in the 20th century, a man who directed many great films and plays, and was also the co-founder of the legendary actor's studio.

The Last Tycoon was the last film Kazan ever directed, even though he would live another 27 years.

There are positives.

  • The film looks excellent and the DVD transfer is beautiful.

  • The acting roster must be one of the most impressive ever assembled. For example, I think this is the only film in which DeNiro and Jack Nicholson have a scene together. Jeanne Moreau and Anjelica Huston complement the other leading performers already mentioned, and several noted character actors top off the cast.

Based on our system, this is a C. It is a failed attempt to create a masterpiece centered around the movie industry itself. It has some superlatives, and some equally grand failings. DeNiro, Nicholson, Kazan, Pinter, Fitzgerald: a vast reservoir of talent, which resulted in an empty, lifeless, aloof movie.

  • Ingrid Boulting (1,2,3,4)
  • Naked woman in closet  (1, 2)



Made in America (1993)


Ostensibly, Made in America is about a girl's search for her father. A brilliant young black woman finds out quite by accident that she is not her father's biological daughter, but the result of artificial insemination from an anonymous sperm donor. When she uses her guile to break the sperm bank's cloak of anonymity, she finds out that her dad is not only a stranger, but a white guy! Specifically, it is Sam Malone from Cheers, playing a Southern Bohunk version of Sammy this time, as an Oakland car dealer who relies on outrageous animal stunts in his obnoxious TV commercials.

I started by saying "ostensibly" because that was where the movie began, but not where it proceeded. It turned out to be a sentimental romantic comedy in which the young girl's biological parents (big Sammy Malone and Whoopi Goldberg) actually fell in love, after never having met before.

You can tell from the description and the reviews (mixed, tending toward the negative) that the film is not a work of great merit. The film tries to cook with a difficult recipe of slapstick farce and delicate romantic comedy, sautéed in sentiment and spiced with some social satire which derives from the whole black/white thing. That was much too ambitious an undertaking, and 111 minutes was about 20 minutes beyond my fanny-tolerance level for this kind of film, but I watched it all the way through without the fast forward button, so I guess it all seemed worthwhile to me on balance, but it seemed to be seeking the adolescent girl market.

Sure enough!

Here are the IMDb breakdowns:

Females: 5.3, Males: 4.4.

Under Eighteen: 6.3, 18 or older: 4.5.

After having noted that, I guess it's only fair to add that there is no reason why you should object to your daughter watching this movie, since the values espoused by it are sensible and tolerant. In fact, you could watch with her, and the film has a broad enough appeal that you won't hate it. The film has some pretty good moments. Ol' Sammy is pretty funny and even touching as the crass extrovert whose insensitive glad-handing exterior masks some loneliness and sensitivity. He did fairly well in the emotional scenes with Whoopi and the girl, but he really excelled in the funny scenes with the animals, and the screenwriter came up with some clever ways to show how his TV commercials incorporated all kinds of flubs seamlessly into the final footage, as if it had always been meant that way.

I have to tell you, though, that even though Whoopi and ol' Sammy did become an offscreen item, I had some problems with Whoopi Goldberg as a romantic lead. She's intelligent and funny, and she does have a certain charisma, but I just can't picture anyone electrified with desire for her, as Big Sammy was supposed to be in this film.

It's a C by our measuring system - it's an OK watch if you have no better choice, but don't go poring through DVD stores looking for it. The DVD is bare bones - not even a picture menu! There is no widescreen version.





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  • The yellow asterisks indicate that I wrote the review, and am deluded into thinking it includes humor.
  • If there is a white asterisk, it means that there isn't any significant humor, but I inexplicably determined there might be something else of interest.
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Dann says:

"How many Academy Award winners have come out of the Czech Republic? Well, I'm not sure, but I am sure this isn't one of them. Here's another clue: the original Czech title of this movie was "Chained Sinners: Medieval Fleshpots". Classy, eh?

Actually, it's not a terrible plot for a fantasy; a group of princess have been kidnapped by the evil sister of an imprisoned king. One is to be forced to be his bride (unwillingly, of course), meantime, let's make them slaves in the silver mines so they can crawl on hands and knees in skimpy outfits so we can get some nice side nudity.

That's all good, but the acting isn't. The Czech cast, apparently acting or at least mouthing in English, falls short. Still, lots of eye candy in this one, and an OK story if you ignore the stiffness of the cast.

Sorry, but for obvious reasons, the "Women of" collage is huge (872k). After all, what would you have left out?"

The Crimson Ghost

Bobbie Phillips (1, 2, 3)

Vanessa Angel (1, 2, 3, 4)

Beverly Johnson

Fawna Maclaren

These first four women are represented by various sexy non-nudes from The Cover Girl Murders.

Vanessa should have shown a lot more while she had the chance. She sure seemed to have the right stuff.

Cheryl Rainbeaux Smith (1, 2, 3, 4 ) in Cinderella
Jamie Lee Curtis wearing a tight jump suit in an episode of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
Sara St. James in Women of the Night
Shannon Elizabeth (1, 2) sexy non-nudes from Good vs Evil
Jennifer Rubin (1, 2) in Delusion


Cynthia Brimhall

Ava Cadell

Carolyn Liu

Roberta Vasquez

Becky Mullen

in the Andy Sidaris film Hard Hunted
Karen Elkin

Jane Heitmeyer

in Sci-Fighters
Petra Kleinert in Jackpot

Graphic Response

Anne Parillaud (1, 2) It's a twin bill today for the slim and oft-naked French star who originated the role of La Femme Nikita. #1 is from Pour la peau d'un flic. #2 is from Le Battant

Victoria Beckham

See-through. Posh Spice must be the only woman in the world who wants to be famous even more than Paris Hilton
Michelle Rodriguez sorta kinda see-through

Jacinda Barrett

here is a brief clip of her nude scene in The Human Stain