Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Film Rolls, Round 17: The Girl Most LIkely To… and The Mobfathers

It doesn't happen often, because I've got a bad habit of starting a movie at 10pm, but sometimes it works out that the dice choose both ends of an evening's double feature.

In this case, Mookie rolls a 4, which brings him to The Girl Most Likely To…, a TV-movie that, at 64 minutes, seems like it would be pretty short for even a 90-minute timeslot in 1973, although seeing that it was apparently broadcast on Election Night makes me wonder if the network knew it would be interrupted and wanted something that wouldn't run into the wee hours.

Rolling an 8 gets Bruce into the most recent Hong Kong section, landing on The Mobfathers, which also isn't exactly epic-length, so there was plenty of time to watch this before lights-out.

So, do good things come in small packages?

The Girl Most Likely To…

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 7 January 2023 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Blu-ray)

It's always a bit weird to see folks one first encountered as supporting character actors in their middle age as young sex symbols, as is the case with Stockard Channing here. It's especially peculiar given that her voice didn't really change that much between this first credited role and when I started seeing her in supporting roles and on television twenty-odd years later. On top of that, the Joan Rivers dialogue she's given never really sounds like it's coming from a young person, because I suspect that even when she was in her twenties, Rivers had the soul of a veteran borscht belt comic.

As a result, there's a lot about this movie that seems kind of off from 50 years down the line, even before you get to the overt sexism that drives so much of the story (it's not that this is unrealistic, but that even people making lame excuses is more interesting to watch), or the fact that folks pushing/over 30 playing college-aged characters really defied belief in 1973. The nut of it, of course, is not bad at all - Miriam Knight (Channing), a hard-working, smart, and witty but plain-looking college girl, is tormented by her roommate (Susanne Zenor) and said roommate's boyfriend (Larry Wilcox), underestimated by her professors, and taken for granted by the family friend she's expected to marry (Warren Berlinger), until a disfiguring auto accident requires reconstructed surgery, and she's reconstructed into something quite conventionally attractive, apparently so unrecognizable that she's able to get quite close to everyone who treated her badly as she seeks revenge, with the detective on her trail (Ed Asner) expressing a certain sort of admiration.

It's maybe unfair to ask this film to be more than it is, a comedy made for American network television five years before the release of Halloween and the subsequent slasher boom (heck, Bob Clark hadn't even made Black Christmas yet); it sometimes feels as though Rivers, co-writer Agnes Gallin, and workman TV director Lee Philips are trying to put a new twist on a genre that doesn't properly exist yet. Remade today, this would have a better chance to be a vicious little horror movie where the jokes served as an extra twist of the knife, although it could still wind up as the same kind of arch thing where the jokes feel casual even if they're tied up in violence. The kills themselves are often elaborate slapstick abusrdities, ridiculous ways to die which reduces the force of their irony a bit.

It is, at least, not a bad way to be introduced to Stockard Channing; she's got the right sort of youthful optimism to start, comfortable throwing off those Rivers wisecracks in a way that shows Miriam is fun and clever but knows she can't afford to show people up with it. Of course, pre-surgery Miriam is still Stockard Channing and the make-up doesn't quite make her different enough to sell her as unrecognizable, and she's not quite at the point where one buys casually homicidal as a reaction to discovering that people are just differently awful. Amusingly, there's some "she just can't write men" going on here; while Susanne Zenor's Heidi has a ring of truth in her awfulness, the guys are boringly one-dimensional, and even Ed Asner can't do much with a fundamentally ridiculous detective.

This movie is what it is and maybe all it can be given the time and millieu. It's at least just good enough to remember, while what are surely many other attempts to do something smilar haven't even made this TV-movie's small ding in pop culture.

Suen lo chor (The Mobfathers)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 7 January 2023 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Hong Kong Blu-ray)

What an odd mix of personalities this has - Chapman To is capable of playing a ruthless gangster (he's terrifically fierce in G Affairs), but it never seems to come naturally to him here, so this film always feels like it's going to veer off into a comedic direction, while Herman Yau's direction is pure B-movie get-a-good-enough-take-and-move-on, preventing the film from having a coherent personality. It's not quirky enough to work as a spoof of Election or the like, but it's also not the sort of movie that can stand alongside those, either.

It's a familiar story: Chuck Lam (Chapman To Man-Chat) is a triad underboss just out of prison who mostly tries to get jobs done without a lot of fuss. He's the presumed heir apparent to the ailing godfather (Anthony Wong Chau-Sang), with Wulf (Gregory Wong Chung-Yiu) and "Coke" (Tony Ho Wah-Chiu) also in the mix and old friend Luke (Philip Keung Hiu-Man) counted on for support. Of course, in a situation like this, there are lots of folks looking to take advantage of a situation in flux. Meanwhile, Chuck's son is having difficulty in elementary school and it's tough for a mobster to find time to deal with that and act like a normal person in parent-teacher meetings.

There's kind of a fun movie to be made about a guy being sort of overwhelmed by his duties as both a mobster and a father, and the English-language title kind of makes me wonder if that was originally a bigger part of the movie before Yau apparently became enamored of this as a metaphor for how so much in Hong Kong organizations is opaque right up to the top, or just found the mob storylines more interesting. The trouble with that is that To is at his best, in general and in this movie, when he's playing an everyman in an off-kilter world, and when that becomes real life-and-death stakes, it becomes precarious, and Herman Yau isn't the sort of filmmaker who threads needles. He's the sort of filmmaker that cranks things out and then moves along to the next one. And, fine - there's worse things in the world than a Hong Kong crime movie descending into violence! Unfortunately, Yau and company make the decision to go with over-the-top CGI blood as stuff goes down, and it doesn't match the grounded crime storytelling mode that the film has shifted to or the type of comedy it's used to that point, between Chuck's breaking the fourth wall or juxtaposing the gangland violence with the ordinary.

Perhaps it's a more compelling gangster story, or political metaphor, if you're actually from Hong Kong; I got to the end and couldn't help but wonder what all that was about.

A quick night which lets Bruce build a bit of a lead back up:

Mookie: 61 stars
Bruce: 62 ¾ stars

Next up: More from relatively recent Hong Kong! You can tell it's relatively recent because that lean indicates there's something missing at the end.

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