CUTTHROAT ISLAND (1995)

There’s been a lot of discussion lately on how women are criminally underrepresented at the box office. Men seem to have all the fun when it comes to action hero parts, superhero parts, serial killers, etc, but every now and then, there’s a rush of sort of “girl power” movies that tend to be either hit or miss. Which means in the same year we got Clueless, we also got Cutthroat Island.

I had never seen it before. Like the rest of the Earth’s population, I had missed it, well…much like a ship in the night. but now that almost 20 years has gone by, it still gets talked about. Mostly just about killed a studio (combined efforts with Showgirls, another “girl power” film, if you will). A quick search on Wikipedia will tell you that Geena Davis was married to the director at the time, that it cost hundreds of millions of dollars and only took in $11 million while in theaters. It will also tell you that no one wanted to be in it.

So, the prospect for adventure is very high indeed.

The plot is extremely complicated. Its a two hour plus extravaganza that seems to go on for at least a week. Morgan (Davis) has a stellar pirating legacy led by her father but is just waiting for the opportunity to prove her mettle, which she gets when she needs to find a place called Cutthroat Island (whoever named it was not thinking of the tourism industry or possible real estate development for families). There’s treasure, blah blah blah and also one third of a map.

I should mention that this portion of the map she does have was originally tattooed on her father’s head. He dies at the beginning so she scalps him for it and wanders around the rest of the movie carrying it around casually like its a set of keys.

I’d like to back up and just point out that the first major plot point of this film is Geena Davis scalping her father and carrying it around.  Even that would warrant a squeamish look from Quentin Tarantino.

Morgan’s foe is a bad pirate named Dawg.  Yes, you read that right. His name is Dawg and he’s played by classically trained and long respected actor Frank Langella, who also brought Skeletor to life in 1985’s live action spectacle, He-Man: Masters of the Universe. If you haven’t seen that, do yourself a favor, stop reading this and attend to that.  He’s got Map #2, which is carved on a piece of wood, proving that even he has his limits when it comes to using human skin from a loved one.

Lastly is our male romantic lead, played by Matthew Modine. I have chosen to not remember his name. His character is bland that tries really hard to have a personality. He smirks and says cutely sarcastic things, but he doesn’t bring any special skills to the table. Yet, Geena Davis will fall in love with him.

This movie cost over $100 million back in 1995, but you’d never know it. Everything in this film looks like it was done on the cheap. Except for the wigs. Those looked totally legit.

For a movie that boasts a lot of money, this is the cheapest looking treasure I’ve ever seen.

The other highlight of this movie is the ridiculously complicated missions to get simple things. For example – Geena needs to find someone who speaks Latin. So here’s the process…

Dress up like a fancy lady and go to prison.

Instead of having Matthew Modine just translate Dad’s scalp right there in prison, they break him out and cause a town riot which most likely destroys everything.

She also manages to get shot and Modine swoops in for a romantic subplot that comes in out of nowhere.

But hey, they found a Latin translator. So that’s all that matters.

Geena is leading a pirate ship to Cutthroat Island in search of treasure, which is a feel good idea for 20th century feminist America. Before we cheer too loudly, I’d like to point out that she’s a terrible leader.

She consistently leads her team into dangerous situations with no real strategy. There’s always at least one kid involved.

She makes decisions based on conversations with Matthew Modine, who she doesn’t really know all that well.

Matthew Modine’s life skills (as demonstrated by what he does and not what he says) are telling lies, kind of knowing Latin and wearing leather tank tops. Also jabbing Geena Davis with a fake needle.

He just sort of stumbles into getting caught here and there. And yet, Geena Davis’ literal right hand man.

The lesson here is that if you’re looking for adventure, just hire really incompetant people – sit back and let the drama begin. 

Dawg on the other hand has a loyal team of pirates that he treats well, listens to their ideas, unifies forces and does not carry around his father’s scalp. One might argue, he could be the hero of this movie.

Despite all that, Geena and Co. win the day, the treasure, overall life itself and sail into the horizon willing to make all the mistakes all over again.

Not the studio though – they shut down shortly after this movie was released.

However, if you still crave more Geena Davis action, you can play her as a video game…

Anybody got a Super Nintendo and $9.95 I can borrow?

Thoughts? Feel free to discuss in the comments or on our Facebook page. Geena Davis bland face impressions with me on Twitter

THE PIRATE MOVIE (1982)

Who else had the desire to see this today? Just me then?

Given the absolute magic that was Xanadu and The Apple its understandable the appeal to create fantastical ’80s musicals meshing fashion and sound, cartoon humor with knowing winks to the audience. So some filmmakers in Australia decided to try their hand at something everyone in the 80s was begging for – a big splashy rendition of the Pirates of Penzance.

The obvious observation out of the gate is giving this film the award for laziest title ever.  We couldn’t name it Pirates of Penzance?  How did that producers meeting go?

Producer 1: Its called Pirates of Penzance and its a musical. People like both of those things, right?

Producer 2: People won’t know what they’re getting! We need to give it a more hip, more contemporary title! We’re calling it The Pirate Movie until we think of something else.”

At this point in my blog I give a quick recap of the plot. To this one, I say, if you have to ask, then this movie just isn’t for you.  You walk in blind and let it dress your brain up in ruffles.

How much sense does this movie make? Absolutely none. None at all.

I had to link the 80s-tastic opening credits. Somewhere Gilbert and Sullivan are shaking their heads and saying, “Don’t put our names on this.”

 

The film doesn’t try for seriousness, in fact it tries for lightheartedness in the way that surgeons try to save patients lives after near fatal car accidents.   Basically, if you’re not making a goofy face on frame, then you’re not doing your job…

“Okay, we wanted this scene to show you’ve got muscles, but how will the audience know we’re being funny?”

Maybe its just this movie was made in a different time, but there was some weirdly sexual scenes included that were played up for laughs.  The ’80s synth music just made it more upsetting.
 The scenes start out innocently enough…

But what you’re missing is the weird grunty sex noises Kristy McNichol makes while Pirate John Tesh flexes his muscles.

This scene also got the Ick Medal…

(shifts uncomfortably, looks down at phone….)

“We’ve got a big goofy song and dance number going on…but the audience might not understand its funny. Get me a silly face!”

This is our villain. He’s hilarious. At least according to the director who kept making him do these faces. Espescially during song and dance numbers.

Maybe you’re asking yourself, “So much dignity left at the door. How low could they go?”

Oh, they went low. Low, like the bottom of the sea.

Literally.

Kristy McNichol sings a song called “Pumpin’ and Blowin…”

…while the guy from Blue Lagoon did a weird awkward dance with animated fish.

No one asked for this, but they gave it to us anyway.

(shifts uncomfortably in my chair, stares at phone)

“Chris, this scene is funny and all but you know what would take it to the next level? Make that funny face!”

I guess an important part of the plot is that our hero can’t go out on his own and be independent from the Pirates of Penzance because he was born on a leap year and is therefore only 5 years old. I’ve filed this story twist away in THINGS TO NEVER USE IN A SCRIPT.

There’s a lot of music that is used in this. Some of it is from the original opera, some of it from a songwriter based in LA that had a “lost weekend*” style writing session when coming up with these songs.

*This infers that there’s a songwriter who did a lot of illegal substances in hopes of touching the mind of God while creating these songs. This is never the way to do it.

During this 90 minute music video, there was a music video that had this romantic montage…

…with scenes that couldn’t have possibly happened, because there was no time in this film’s timeline. Perhaps I am a stickler for the rules of space and time.

“Kristy, you clearly understand the hilarious undertones of hiding out in a knight costume are all dependent on your goofy face. You’ll have to teach Chris…”

Have you discovered your movie is funny, but could be funnier? Gather together the largest group of Keystone Cops possible and watch things really take off.

This is not photoshop. During a swordfight, our hero picks up a lightsaber and waved it around. Clearly our movie was not expecting people to sit this far into it.

The big finale was a high school production of Pirates of Penzance set in one of the chaperone’s yard.

People are playing along, but you can tell everyone who went to Julliard in this lineup is regretting everything espescially not going to that networking meeting where all those Broadway producers showed up.

But none of this matters. You know why?

Because it was all a dream.

OR WAS IT?

Happy endings all around.

And well done to the casting directors who picked the love interests to look like fraternal twins.
(uncomfortably shifts, stares at phone when realizes the implications of that reality).