Movie Review ~ You Don’t Nomi


The Facts
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Synopsis: Showgirls was met by critics and audiences with near universal derision and this documentary traces the film’s redemptive journey from notorious flop to cult classic, and maybe even masterpiece.

Stars: Elizabeth Berkley, Joe Eszterhas, Gina Gershon, Joshua Grannell, April Kidwell, Kyle MacLachlan, Haley Mlotek, Adam Nayman, David Schmader, Paul Verhoeven

Director: Jeffrey McHale

Rated: NR

Running Length: 92 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Arriving with a storm of controversy and the dreaded NC-17 rating, Showgirls was released in theaters across the country on Friday, September 22 1995. That was 25 years ago now but I remember exactly the new movie I saw in cinemas that opening weekend: Seven.  That’s right, The MN Movie Man was underage so he could see Seven with his dad (who let me see a whole bunch of movies I shouldn’t have) but wasn’t old enough to catch the movie he really had his eye on.  Oh, it killed me not to be able to know what was going on inside Screen 4 at the Edina Theater when I was right next door seeing Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman hunt down a devious serial killer.

Alas, my exposure to Showgirls came later on VHS when I was allowed (again, yay permissive parents) to see it after much negotiating.  To say it met all expectations was an understatement and over the last two decades I’ve been an ardent support of its merits.  Sure, it’s camp and trashy but it’s essential viewing at the same time – and aside from a gruesome scene of sexual violence near the end, a fairly entertaining watch, too.  Thrashed by critics and bombing out at the box office, Showgirls seemed destined to go down as another turkey, a trivia factoid game shows would use as a 400-dollar question.  Yet its home video release caught fire and once its creators began to embrace its ridiculousness, the studio leaned into the growing popularity and the movie earned back its budget (and more) after the fact.

In the new documentary You Don’t Nomi, director Jeffrey McHale cleverly examines Showgirls, using fans, critics, archival interviews with the stars, and the career of its director Paul Verhoeven to show how the film has rose from the ashes.  Evolving from a disaster no one wanted to talk about to a calling card of pride, you can’t change the cold fact the film is problematic from the jump and struggles with its own identity throughout but in hindsight…was it really THAT bad?  Aside from just talking about it’s place in halls of camp cinema (which the soon to be released Time Warp: The Greatest Cult Films of All-Time: Volume 3 Comedy and Camp does quite nicely) this is a slightly more serious take on a film you can hardly ever take seriously.

It would be easy just to chart the creation of Showgirls from the beginning, when top Hollywood screenwriter Joe Eszterhas decided to put his own spin on the big MGM musicals that had gone out of fashion.  However, anyone watching this documentary likely is coming to it with some working knowledge of the film and doesn’t need this refresher course in specific detail.  Instead, McHale weaves in this origin story alongside Verhoeven’s ascent from Oscar-nominated filmmaking in the Netherlands to infamous director of provocative properties in tinsel town.  This helps form a picture of Verhoeven’s more European approach to sex and violence in his films and how it influenced numerous aspects of Showgirls.

The production of the film is covered as are the critical reactions and original box office run that left star Elizabeth Berkley as the unfortunate scapegoat.  Where the doc gets really interesting is anytime it’s exploring the after effects of Showgirls and how it has had an impact, positive and negative, on people’s lives.  There’s Berkley, whose movie career was ended before it ever began, given a small but overdue reprieve at a 20th anniversary celebration of the film.  In the same segment, we meet the performer that spearheaded the Showgirls musical, a popular stage show who entered into the production as a way to reclaim power after a personal setback.  These moments (a deep dive cinematographic breakdown of a scene between Berkley and Gina Gershon is revelatory and fun) and more aren’t just straws grasped at to illustrate why the movie is relevant…they’re engaging examples of how the film has come to justly earn its cult status.

For a movie that’s chock full of sex and nudity, Showgirls is widely regarded as one of the least sexy movies ever and it’s hard to argue with that.  Still, in the same breath you also can’t say it’s not well made or incorrectly put together.  In a most respectful way, You Don’t Nomi invites us to take another look at the film and see it for more than just its sordid history, restricted rating, and critical consensus.

Down From the Shelf ~ RoboCop (1987)

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robocop
The Facts
:

Synopsis: In a dystopic and crime-ridden Detroit, a terminally wounded cop returns to the force as a powerful cyborg haunted by submerged memories.

Stars: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Ronny Cox, Kurtwood Smith, Miguel Ferrer, Ray Wise, Paul McCrane

Director: Paul Verhoeven

Rated: R

Running Length: 102 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Released in the summer of 1987 on the same day as Jaws: The Revenge and a re-issue of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, RoboCop was a unique package that landed at the right time amongst the larger studio fare being offered.  Keep in mind that this was also the summer of The Untouchables, Predator, The Witches of Eastwick, Spaceballs, and Dirty Dancing (are you nostalgic yet?) and if you comb through the other films released that year you’d be able to tell why Paul Verhoeven’s dark comedy sci-fi was able to make its way to the fifteenth highest grossing picture of the year.

Yeah, I called RoboCop a dark comedy…because there’s ample amount of wink-wink-nudge-nudge references to pop culture and the changing face of news as entertainment.  Peppered in between the story of a cop killed in the line of action reborn as “Part Man, Part Machine, All Cop” are hysterically lampoon-y commercials and the kind of graphic news footage that still wouldn’t be accepted in today’s society.  Casting Entertainment Tonight television personality Leeza Gibbons as a news anchor was a nice touch in riding the line between hard hitting news and the carefully lobbed barbs at the kind of fluff stories Gibbons was accustomed to dishing on.

Comedy aside, its remarkable how ahead of its time the film was.  Though some of the effects don’t play quite as well nowadays, it’s still a very watchable action/sci-fi film thanks to Verhoeven’s gonzo direction and the sleek special effects.make-up from Rob Bottin.  Admittedly, the plot is a bit thin from screenwriters Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner, never really building upon its own original concept.  It feels half-baked and not as fully thought-out as you may remember it being.

Peter Weller makes for a nice leading man even though the top half of his face is obscured for much of the middle half of the film.  A last minute replacement to the cast, Nancy Allen would get more to do in future RoboCop installments (none of which are half as good as this) so here she’s regulated to a Girl Friday role more than anything.  As far as 80’s villains go, you couldn’t ask for smarmier candidates than Ronny Cox and Miguel Ferrer, both are scene-stealing wonders as executives that stretch their roles into high camp.

Originally given the dreaded X rating for its copious amounts of gore, the restored film is pretty graphic but given the package it’s delivered in there’s a way to laugh off some of the more squirm inducing moments.  A fun movie to revisit…especially for those of us that remember when the film was first released.

In Praise of Teasers ~ Total Recall (1990)

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I have a serious problem with movie trailers lately.  It seems like nearly every preview that’s released is about 2:30 minutes long and gives away almost every aspect of the movie, acting more like a Cliff Notes version of the movie being advertised rather than something to entice an audience into coming back and seeing the full product.

In this day and age where all aspects of a movie are fairly well known before an inch of footage is seen the subtlety of a well crafted “teaser” trailer is totally gone…and I miss it…I miss it a lot. So I decided to go back to some of the teaser trailers I fondly remember and, in a way, reintroduce them. Whether the actual movie was good or bad is neither here nor there…but pay attention to how each of these teasers work in their own special way to grab the attention of movie-goers.

Total Recall (1990)

Arriving right at the true peak of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s (The Last Stand) popularity, Total Recall was a sci-fi action pic through and through that would up being a highly profitable snazzy summer blockbuster.   It’s also the movie that really introduced Sharon Stone (Lovelace) to audiences as well as cementing director Paul Verhoeven as someone to keep your eye on (Stone and Verhoeven would team up again 2 years later for the controversial hit Basic Instinct).  A remake was released in 2012 but it couldn’t hold a candle to the original which had a style and star that couldn’t be replaced.  This teaser trailer featuring a red-tinged Schwarzenegger ominously staring at the camera was a perfect way to let everyone know that a trip to Mars was in their future.

Missed my previous teaser reviews? Check out my look at Alien, Misery, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Showgirls, Jurassic Park, Jaws 3D/Jaws: The Revenge

In Praise of Teasers ~ Showgirls (1995)

Showgirls2

I have a serious problem with movie trailers lately.  It seems like nearly every preview that’s released is about 2:30 minutes long and gives away almost every aspect of the movie, acting more like a Cliff Notes version of the movie being advertised rather than something to entice an audience into coming back and seeing the full product.

In this day and age where all aspects of a movie are fairly well known before an inch of footage is seen the subtlety of a well crafted “teaser” trailer is totally gone…and I miss it…I miss it a lot. So I decided to go back to some of the teaser trailers I fondly remember and, in a way, reintroduce them. Whether the actual movie was good or bad is neither here nor there…but pay attention to how each of these teasers work in their own special way to grab the attention of movie-goers.

Showgirls (1995)

Anyone remember the half hour show Coming Attractions in the early days of the E! Network?  Well I do and I remember seeing this teaser trailer on it and pretty much knew my life would never be the same.  Making some bold promises and ending with a small hint of why the film would be receiving the naughty NC-17 rating, all signs pointed to Showgirls being another adults-only hit for Basic Instinct collaborators director Paul Verhoeven and screenwriter Joe Eszterhas.

Though it’s now a certified camp classic, when it was released in September of 1995 (the same weekend as Seven, by the way) Showgirls was critically reviled with many of the key players raked over the coals.  All these years later I especially feel bad for its star Elizabeth Berkley who suffered the worst backlash…but I still find the movie deliriously watchable in all its fully embraced sordid glory.  And hey…Gina Gershon’s performance alone is indicative of how to rise above it all.

Miss the other teasers reviewed this week?

Check out my look at Alien, Misery, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula!