Film Reviews


After a modest first try last year, Arizona Film Society has taken the next step toward the elusive goal of bringing a regular annual film festival to the Valley--it's come back for a second year. Saguaro Film Festival II will be held Thursday through Sunday at AMC Town & Country 6 theatres with the screening of 17 films. That's more than twice the number of films shown last year, enthuses festival director Durrie Parks, and many will be screened with the filmmakers in attendance.

Selections this year include the Academy Award-nominated documentary Complaints of a Dutiful Daughter, a Canadian comedy titled Tokyo Cowboy and two anthologies of three shorts each, one named American Erotic Tales (with works by Susan Seidelman, Melvin Van Peebles and Bob Rafelson) and the other International Erotic Tales (with works by Mani Kaul, Paul Cox and good ol' Ken Russell). There's also a documentary about Beach Boy Brian Wilson, I Just Wasn't Made for These Times, and The Silence of Neto, a 1994 Guatemalan drama.

But the festival's most unique events, perhaps, are two screenings, one a world premiäre and the other a 20th-anniversary showing, of films that depict, in very different ways, the underbelly of the movie business in Hollywood. The premiäre is writer/director Dan Bell's The Shot, which screens at 10:30 p.m. Friday, 6:30 p.m. Saturday and 4:15 p.m. Sunday; it's an unrated black comedy about the misadventures of two out-of-work film actors. The revival is Mark Haggard's and Bruce Kimmel's cult favorite The First Nudie Musical (R), about the down-on-his-luck head of a porno studio struggling to produce the title extravaganza; it screens at 11:30 p.m. Friday.

The Shot concerns an emotion familiar to all actors: professional jealousy. Outraged at what they see as the great injustice of their failure to make any headway in their careers, two unemployed, utterly destitute actors (Michael Rivkin and Bell) decide to steal the only print of a new film by a director they hate, starring an actor they hate even more (Michael DeLuise).

The film's "caper" side is a little unsteadily directed--it's the first film that Bell, a playwright and actor, has helmed. But The Shot does generate, through its dialogue and its oddly harsh, bitter story line, a strong sense of the bile and spite of the frustrated, desperate side of Hollywood. There are some funny performances--criminally neglected talent Mo Gaffney plays a wisecracking studio exec into whose hands the lads unwittingly play, and Vincent Ward does well as a young screenwriter who's been plagiarized. Most refreshing, however, is that Rivkin and Bell don't try to make their characters all that lovable. This is a slacker comedy with a guiding theme other than "We're bantering slackers. Ain't we cute?" That, in itself, is a distinction.

Although it, too, deals with the seamier side of Hollywood, The First Nudie Musical has a much cheerier outlook. This engagingly silly, sophomoric spoof, with its production numbers featuring giant dancing dildos, stars Cindy Williams as the Tess Trueheart heroine and such then-up-and-coming faces as Diana Canova. Even Williams' American Graffiti co-star Ron Howard has a quick cameo. Co-director Mark Haggard, who now lives in Scottsdale--he fled L.A. after the last big quake--recalls over drinks how the film came into being. "It wasn't a real personal project, although I had the idea for it. I'd done a few R-rated, drive-in, exploitation-type movies, like All-American Girl, which Andrew Sarris loved," he says, referring to the well-known auteurist critic. "You can read his references to it in Cinema and Politics.

"So then I got the idea, gee, I'd love to do a musical comedy about the skin business. I told several people, and they knew Kimmel, who was already working on one. So they introduced us, and I heard some of his songs and said, 'This is pretty good. You want to do this together?' He'd never made a movie before, except as an actor.

"The real challenge was, how do you make a full-fledged musical comedy with, like, 12 numbers, for no money? We really didn't have any money; the budget was $120,000. The real key was prerecording all the numbers. Then the actors practiced with the playback at home. When they hit the set, all they needed was the blocking. We shot it in three weeks. The challenge was to do this picture cheap, and we thought, well, the subject lends itself, it won't violate anything, so we'll make it cheesy."

Haggard has done little directing since Nudie Musical. "In a way, I was too sensitive for that business. I was exhausted for a long time after Nudie Musical; my ass was draggin'. That's why you have to be careful what you make, because the price of any movie is agony." Haggard's payoff came a few years later, when he was a production executive on Alien. From that lucrative experience, he grinningly offers another tidbit of show-biz advice: "If you can, get yourself a piece of a big hit movie." Jot that one down in your notebooks, class.--M. V. Moorhead

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
M.V. Moorhead
Contact: M.V. Moorhead