Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Porky's II: The Next Day + Old Fashioned + 'I Know Where I'm Going!'

(R. 20th Century Fox, 98 mins., theatrical release date: June 24, 1983)

Beyond epitomizing the teen sex farce when it became the surprise hit of 1982, Porky's may also be the definitive prankster comedy of its decade. The problem many had at the time was that those japes were mostly at the expense of females, with the safest male target being Pee Wee, the gullible runt with the bird chest and growth chart. Making a sop to social consciousness in the presence of Jewish teen Billy and his pitiful antagonist Cavanaugh, such finger-wagging mired the hormonal momentum, especially with Lassie and the Shower Scene around the bend. In the meta-defensive Porky's II: The Next Day, the victimizing mantle shifts from Billy (Scott Colomby), who now takes greater part in the foolishness, to John Henry (Joseph Running Fox), the Seminole student on the sidelines who has been cast as Romeo for a Shakespeare-themed class project. Before you can say "Moral Majority," along comes a much wider net of deplorables (religious fanatics, graft-crazed commissioners, Klansmen), alongside bad ol' Balbricker (Nancy Parsons), for Angel Beach's resident miscreants to catch with their pants down.

Bob Clark, whose A Christmas Story was waiting for the coming winter, is somehow operating even broader than the last sty, Not only is the prejudice subplot here a nonentity, but Porky's II doesn't climax so auto-destructively, instead allowing the girl to have all the fun. She is, naturally, Wendy Williams (Kaki Hunter), the one whom the boys all say is the campus bicycle but actually takes a shine to Pee Wee Morris (Dan Monahan). Not that their consummation on the bus has done much for his incredulity, as his attempt to settle the score for that Cherry Forever incident goes very familiarly wrong. Her confessional doesn't even dissuade Pee Wee from leveling the same unfounded suspicion towards a band geek immediately afterwards. But away from their peers, Wendy does talk more sense than the interchangeable sausage party. Even Billy (Mark Herrier), cast as "big fairy" Oberon, has to play straight man to his moronic buds, although you can still count on Meat (Tony Ganios) to thrust his lower weight even while in tights.

Luckily for Clark (and his two fellow writers, including longtime collaborator Alan Ormsby), the uptick in amiability offsets the exaggerated arrogance and hypocrisy of their straw enemies, chief among them Reverend Flavel (Bill Wiley), who tests even the timid principal's (Eric Christmas) patience when they trade indecent passages from both the Bard and the Bible. It doesn't freshen the smutty humor, recycled beat for beat from its predecessor, or encourage Clark to direct with a lighter touch. But like the original, there are a few undeniable elements which escape Clark's belaboring expertise, from the abovementioned literature slam to an impromptu replacement for Billy's defective sword to Wendy's show-stopping jailbait incrimination scheme. Stirring greater havoc with gag boas and breasts in a five-star restaurant than the boys do by scalping and stripping the Kartoon Klan, Kaki Hunter obliterates the subgenre's rosy-palmed loyalty to the He-Man Womun Oglurs Club.

(PG-13, Freestyle Releasing, 115 mins., limited release date: Feb. 6, 2015)

Beware the kind of quaint romance pitched at the intellectual capacities of Reverend Flavel and the Angel Beach boors. Porky's II painted its barn-door strokes in a manner that suggested Bob Clark reeling from the critical smack downs of his earlier smash. Old Fashioned was released on Valentine's Weekend 2015 as a Christian-friendly alternative to Fifty Shades of Grey, despite the whips-and-chains eroticism in the mainstream being no less passé than the amateur pornography, sexist radio DJ and Manic Pixie Dream Girl used to spice up its spiritual contender. Whatever the opiate of the masses, Rik Swartzwelder is oblivious to the naked truth that his ideals of courtship are as toxic as the Stephenie Meyer/Marquis de Sade drivel he's rebuking. And it's not like he is witty enough to make like Wendy Williams and quote the wisdom of Groucho Marx to mitigate his autumnal frostiness.

Clay Walsh (Swartzwelder) is basically to his sleepy Ohio town what Johnny from the The Room was to his San Francisco burg, although he dabbles in antiques rather than accounting. And Clay's a reactionary scold with serious intimacy problems, which he tries to sermonize as an Abstinence Pledge. So when runaway eccentric Amber Hewson (Elizabeth Roberts) rents the room above his carpentry shop, the frigid Clay tests his domineering philosophies in his courtship of Amber. When her stove breaks, she is sent outside until Clay has finished maintenance. Clay consults a needling, traffic light-themed guide book to determine their compatibility during their dates. He even tests Amber's efficiency in slicing up pears into baby food. Swartzwelder wants us to believe these are gateways to true love, yet the vacant chemistry between these opposites and Clay's validated self-righteousness allows for Swartzwelder to recoil from romance as much as he does sexuality.

Drearily formulaic when it's not transparently demagogic, Old Fashioned slogs on for nearly two arduous hours on rote "boy loses girl" drama, tedious moments of solitude, lifeless side characters with no bearing on any of the plot (including Clay's elderly aunt and third banana black friend), and numerous heavy-handed, one-sided potshots against modern day impurity. Not that references to silent movies and Sleepless in Seattle in any way justify the stultifying portentousness. It's the vanity that kills: Swartzwelder writing clunky dialogue (read: worst proposal ever), deifying himself in the name of "folksiness" and looking/acting like a suicidal Jeff Daniels clone is a lousy advertisement for chivalry. I came into Old Fashioned hoping for innocent erotomania and was rewarded instead with passive-aggressive egomania, a love story whose target audience I imagine composed solely of now and future cat ladies (perky doormat Amber included) and dog dudes.

(Unrated, Universal Pictures, 91 mins., U.S. theatrical release date: August 9, 1947)

You want old fashioned? Go right to the source. 'I Know Where I'm Going!' is every pound and pence the charmer Swartzwelder's spew isn't. Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger rapturously weave folkloric imagery and local color in a wartime tonic that still plays on the heartstrings 70 years later. Having demonstrated forward motion ever since infancy, Joan Webster (Dame Wendy Hiller) takes the next leap by marrying into wealth. This means trekking out to Kiloran, an island on the Scottish Hebrides, to wed Lord Bellinger, thereby getting hitched to his Consolidated Chemical Industries in the process (a notion made even more hilarious in dreamtime). An impenetrable fog and furious gale winds sidetrack Ms. Webster from boarding the last boat to her destination, so she is stuck on the Isle of Mull in the raffish company of naval administrator and Kiloran laird Torquil MacNeil (Roger "Colonel Blimp" Livesey).

A bond develops between Webster and MacNeil as they gaze out from across-the-way windowsills, take separate places at lunch tables and eavesdrop on a Ceilidh, a Gaelic wedding anniversary jamboree. The Archers (Powell & Pressburger) are more enraptured with the scenery and its well-drawn inhabitants than setting an agenda or spelling out the unlikely union until where it counts, in a surprise finale where a curse on MacNeil's family is confronted head-on by the wary laird. Along the way are such "magical realist" touches as the phone booth nearby a crashing waterfall, the fantastical use of model trains navigating the Tartan hills to bridge Webster's journey and, most awesomely, a treacherous whirlpool nicknamed Corryvreckan.

Hiller and Livesey, both invaluable, flesh out their roles to match Erwin Hiller's singularly evocative cinematography (locations scouted by Powell himself), with Webster less of a grating stock socialite and more a wayward dreamer who can count beams on the ceiling to achieve her prayers but could stand to count her blessings. MacNeil is princely in all the right ways, too, discerning the difference between being poor and having no money. The Archers also show impeccability in casting such secondary players as Pamela Brown (as Catriona Potts, a lonely bride who shepherds goats and skins rabbits with ease), C.W.R. Knight (as Col. Barnstaple, a proud falconer who names his prize eagle after MacNeil) and George Carney as Joan's father/banker, who is about the same age as Lord Bellinger (heard briefly in the voice of Norman Shelley). There's even a wee Petula Clark as a studious girl who reflects Webster's headstrong qualities.

'I Know Where I'm Going!' got lost in the shuffle among the Archers' more ambitious productions (even Scorsese didn't get around to it until he was in the midst of Raging Bull), but it tames the wild appetite for intelligent, tactful and wistful romance in a way most of today's Hollywood pictures as well as their opportunistic faith-based indie ilk cannot. Take the highland over the low, and you'll get to paradise before thee.

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