Tag Archives: James Coco

Last of the Red Hot Lovers (1972)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Married man wants fling.

Barney (Alan Arkin) is a middle-aged man, who after 22-years of marriage, has decided he’d like to fool-around for the first time. He doesn’t want an actual affair, just a quickie sex fling with indiscriminate women while inside his elderly mother’s apartment, which he has access to during the day while she’s away. The problem is that while he’s able to get attractive women into the place he can’t quite get any action leaving him feeling more sexually frustrated than when it began.

The film is based on the Neil Simon play that opened on Broadway in 1969 and ran for 706 performances. The play starred James Coco in the pivotal role who I felt was much better suited for the part than Arkin. Arkin is okay, but his comedic style can be quite frantic in tone that can sometimes border on creepy. He also had a full head of hair at the time even though the role called for a balding man, so he shaved the top of his head to appear semi-bald, but it looks tacky. Coco on the other-hand had a lovable loser quality that made you want to like him even when he did naughty things and he was naturally bald, so his appearance wouldn’t have looked as fake as Arkin’s. I can only presume that because Arkin was at the time an established film star and Coco was still just considered a fledgling character actor that’s why he got the offer while Coco didn’t, but it’s one of the main reasons the story doesn’t translate as well on film as it did onstage.

The directing by Gene Saks isn’t bad particularly the opening sequence where we things entirely from the point-of-view of Barney as he wakes-up and gets out of bed and starts his daily routine, which I found rather inventive cinematically. In fact it’s these moments where we hear the thoughts going on inside Barney’s head as he tries to get the nerve to break-the-ice with other women that he meets, which are the funniest. Unfortunately the scenes done inside the apartment don’t work as well as the place is too cramped and appearing more like a jail cell, which becomes visually static.

The three rendezvous that Barney has with three different women aren’t as clever or creative as they could’ve been. The first segment has Sally Kellermen, who is excellent, playing an Italian women, who comes up to his place, but then just proceeds to argue with him before leaving. My main problem with this scene was the motivation as she spots Barney working inside his restaurant, which precipitates the meet-up, but why would this incredibly hot woman get turned-on by this dopey looking guy to the point that she’d want to have casual sex with him? There were plenty of other men in the place, so why does Barney excite her over the others? The conversation that the two have inside the restaurant is never shown, which I found to be a cop-out and hurt the character development. Had she been portrayed as being a prostitute then it would’ve made more sense, but this is never confirmed, which makes this whole first segment quite weak.

The second segment deals with Paula Prentis as a struggling actress who Barney meets in a park. She borrows some money from him and then agrees to pay him back later at the apartment. However, when she arrives she seems like a completely different person. At the park she came-off as quiet and shy, but at the apartment she’s a babbling idiot that seems to be on acid. The dialogue during this sequence in which the characters basically talk-over each other the whole time quickly becomes annoying. The scene fades-out with the two getting high off of marijuana, but it never shows her leaving the place, so we don’t know for sure if they ended-up having sex or not.

The third and final segment has Renee Taylor playing a middle-aged woman, who is also married, coming-up to Barney’s mother’s place, but immediately getting cold-feet, which kills the intrigue as we know right from the start how it’s going to go. This scene also has a rapey vibe to it as Barney, now feeling frustrated at having struck out twice before, behaves in a much more aggressive manner by blocking her from leaving and then while half-naked jumping on top of her and pinning her to the bed while she yells for him to get off, which is cringy and not funny.

Having a film deal with all the strike-outs a person may face when it comes to having sex with others is an interesting idea. Too many other movies just show the ones that work-out, but in reality, especially with average looking people, there can be more misses than hits, so I appreciated the story in that regard. However, random sex with strangers where the women goes to a strange man’s place without worry or concern has become a thing of the past in this day and age of stalkers and self-protection making the theme here quite dated and out-of-touch.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 17, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Gene Saks

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, PlutoTV, YouTube

The Wild Party (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Slumming actor stages comeback.

The year is 1929 and Jolly Grimm (James Coco) the once successful silent film star now finds himself, with the advent of talking pictures, to be in low demand. Although his movies once made a killing his style of humor is now considered cliched and with no studio willing to fund his latest pic he’s forced to use his own money to get it made. He holds a lavish party in his mansion inviting many Hollywood elites who he hopes will show an interest in his movie once he screens it to everyone, but instead his guests are more into each other as the party quickly devolves into a wild sex orgy with even Jolly’s faithful girlfriend Queenie (Raquel Welch) cheating on him with a much younger and better looking actor (Perry King).

The story is loosely based on the 1926 poem of the same name by Joseph Moncure March while the Jolly character was inspired by Fatty Arbuckle a famous silent film comic who was accused and the later acquitted of the rape and manslaughter of actress Virginia Rappe in 1921. The script though by Walter Marks doesn’t seem to know what tone it wants to take as at times it seems like a trenchant drama while at other moments it comes off as a surreal comedy. The original intent was to turn it into a musical, which would’ve been a better idea as the lack of cohesion causes the pacing to be completely off and never allows the film to build any tension or momentum.

The party scenes are not interesting or provocative and in many ways it’s a poorman’s version of Day of the Locust which came out at the same time and had a similar theme, but a far stronger impact. The sex is stagy and mechanical and seeing all the guests sprawled in a symmetric way on the floor the next day throughout the mansion looks too surreal-like to be even remotely believable. The party’s only interesting moment is when Jolly has a meltdown by going on a long angry rant that reveals his ugly side to his guests, but the filmmakers botch this sequence by focusing solely on Coco instead of cutting away to show the shocked reactions of the party-goers.

Coco, in his only starring vehicle, does quite well in a role I didn’t think he was equipped for. Welch gives an equally strong performance, possibly the best of her career, but the relationship of their two characters made no sense. Director James Ivory tries to flesh them out by having the two at different moments go on long soliloquys explaining what attracted them to the other, but in both cases it rings hollow. So what if Coco treated Welch with respect and asked her ‘deep questions’ when they first meet, which is apparently why she fell for him, he’s no longer doing that now, so why stick with him? Coco’s statement, that he couldn’t ‘live without her’ comes off as equally absurd since every time he talks to her he’s abusive.

The relationship angle should’ve been scrapped as it’s Jolly’s mental deterioration that is more interesting.  A far better and more realistic scenario would’ve had Coco coming onto a young starlet such as Queenie at the party but she would reject his advances and then later when he saw her with a younger actor it would set off his already shaky ego, which would then precipitate the violence.

Spoiler Alert!

The shooting that occurs at the end isn’t effective. The film is filled with so many lulls that by the time it finally gets to it you really don’t care who dies and who doesn’t. Having it occur the next morning after the party is already over seems anti-climactic and something that should’ve been witnessed by all the guests. It’s also a bit frustrating to have it end so abruptly without any aftermath or denouncement given.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Tiffany Bolling and Perry King add some zest in support especially with their facial expressions and the sultry dance done by Chris Gilmore (who gets billed here as Annette Ferra) adds a weird sensual vibe. However, having David Dukes’ character break the fourth wall and begin speaking directly to the camera as he describes the party guests is a distraction, which only  further cements this as a misguided misfire that needed better focus.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: March 4, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 47 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Director: James Ivory

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Only When I Laugh (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Actress is an alcoholic.

Georgia Hines (Marsha Mason) has just been released from a 12-week alcohol rehab program and returns to her Manhattan apartment looking to readjust to civilian life with the help of her two friends; Jimmy (James Coco) a gay unemployed actor and Toby (Joan Hackett) a woman unhappy at turning middle-aged. To Georgia’s surprise Polly (Kristy McNichol) her 17 year-old-daughter shows up wanting to move in with her and ‘patch things up’ from their tumultuous past. Georgia isn’t sure she’s emotionally ready, but forges ahead and things start out okay, but then the demons from the past rear their ugly head forcing mother and daughter to face some harsh realities both about themselves and each other.

The film is based on Neil Simon’s Broadway play ‘The Gingerbread Lady’ that starred Maureen Stapleton and ran for 193 performances. It was not considered a success and when adapted to a film Simon made changes to the story, but to me it all seemed like every other Neil Simon dramedy that he’s done before. Both this film and The Goodbye Girl that also starred Mason featured male characters that were struggling to become professional actors. Both this film and Chapter Two, which again starred Mason, had characters who were playwrights going through writer’s block. His films always take place in New York and have characters who see analysts, and can apparently make enough to afford them. I realize there’s the old adage ‘write what you know’ and that’s exactly what Simon is doing, but it would be nice if he’d get a little bit out of his comfort zone as nothing that gets shown here seems fresh or original.

The first hour is way too serene and I would’ve expected much more of a frosty relationship between mother and daughter, but instead for the most part they get along great, at least initially. There are some passing references to previous drama, but I felt this should’ve been shown and not just talked about. The second half improves significantly with some strong scenes, but I’m afraid that with such a lifeless beginning most viewers will have fallen asleep before it even gets there.

McNichol is excellent and every bit Mason’s equal, but this exposes another of Simon’s weaknesses, which is that although he’s good at writing character parts for adults he seems unable to do so for anyone younger. In The Goodbye Girl the Quinn Cummings character seemed too infantile for a 10-year-old and here McNichol is more like a 20-something and the intended mother-daughter drama more like just two girlfriends rooming together.

Coco and Hackett are excellent and help hold things together and the movie does manage to deliver, at least in the second-half, but I couldn’t help but feel that Simon had gone to this well too often and was starting to lose his edge. You can also spot young Kevin Bacon as a college dude trying to pick and Mason and McNichol as they eat at a café.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 25, 1981

Runtime: 2Hours

Rated R

Director: Glenn Jordan

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available:  DVD-R, Amazon Video, YouTube

Such Good Friends (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Her husband fools around.

Julie (Dyan Cannon) is a well-off New York Housewife living in a swanky Manhattan apartment with her husband Richard (Laurence Luckinbill) who is the successful editor of a New York fashion magazine. Her life seems fulfilled and happy until Richard goes into the hospital for routine surgery, which has unexpected complications that sends him into a coma. While going through some of his personal belongings she comes upon his little black book that lists all sorts of sexual conquests he has had with her friends, which first leads the devastated Julie into considering suicide, but then ultimately into revenge.

This film can be considered Otto Preminger’s swan song as the two movies he made after this weren’t worth watching. This movie also proves to be a giant improvement from the awful Skidoo that he did just three years before where he tried unsuccessfully to get with the ‘hip generation’, but failed miserably. It has the same irreverence and satire as that one, but it is much more disciplined and sophisticated and makes its point without going overboard. It also shows that despite his renowned cantankerous nature behind-the-scenes he was still a gifted director who managed to span five decades with movies that had vastly different styles and themes and he deserves to be labeled a filmmaking legend.

I loved the way the camera spins around in a circle during a scene inside a New York art museum as well as some breathtaking shots of the New York skyline while on top of Jennifer’s and Richard’s condominium. The fractured narrative that deals heavily with flashback sequences is also nicely handled though the scenes showing a middle-aged Cannon trying to look like she is an adolescent while wearing pigtails looks tacky and should’ve been scrapped.

The film is based on the Lois Gould novel of the same name and while that book had a much more serious tone the movie gives the material more of a satirical spin much like Diary of a Mad Housewife, which Preminger had scriptwriter Elaine May (who gets credited as Ester Dale) watch before writing this one. The result is endlessly witty dialogue and some near brilliant conversational exchanges between the characters. Some of the best bits are Jennifer’s discussions with Richard’s doctors who seem reluctant to take responsibility for their medical blundering as well as Jennifer’s awkward sexual encounter with her friend Cal (Ken Howard) when he is unable to ‘rise to the occasion’.

Although she has a face that can show pain and sadness well Cannon may not have been the best choice and some other actresses would’ve been more interesting in the part. Apparently Preminger had her in tears already on the first day and she has in subsequent interviews called him a ‘horrible man’. The scene showing her naked in a snapshot is actually that of another nude model with Cannon’s face cropped on it.

James Coco is great in support and I was genuinely shocked that it didn’t get him nominated for best supporting actor. The scene where Cannon is undressing him for some sex and he tries desperately to distract her while he takes off a corset that he is wearing underneath is frickin’ hilarious. Burgess Meredith has an outrageous moment where he is seen nude while attending a posh party and only his genitals are covered by a book hung from a belt that he is wearing.

The only real negative is the ending that is too serious and somber and deflates the energy from the film’s otherwise snarky tone. Some of the music used doesn’t work with the scenes either including the O.C. Smith song played over the closing credits. Otherwise it’s as fresh, original and timely as it was when it first came out and ripe to be rediscovered by the right audience. The title sequence created by Saul Bass that is used to open the film is diverting and I wished it had been extended.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 16, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Rated R

Director: Otto Preminger

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video