Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Bonnie and Clyde Go to War

A biographer I know, Charles J. Shields, posted a memorable entry on his “Writing Kurt Vonnegut” blog. It vividly details what happened when he approached several elderly combat veterans who, like Vonnegut himself, survived World War II’s Battle of the Bulge. Shields’ goal was to ferret out personal details that would help make Vonnegut’s wartime experience come alive. What he discovered was men who, more than sixty years later, were still traumatized by what they had seen and done on the field of battle.

A few years back, while researching the films of the landmark year 1967, I too found myself talking about the Battle of the Bulge. Director Arthur Penn, who set Hollywood on its ear with his brilliant work on Bonnie and Clyde, told me that he had served in the infantry in World War II, and that his experience at the Bulge was one he’d never forget: ““It was not glorious, not organized, nothing, nobody knew what the hell they were doing, it was just save your life and chaos.”

From Penn’s perspective, the turbulence of the Sixties sprang from the complacency of the post-war period: “After the war, there was this great wave of self-satisfaction, with America, the American family, everything was wonderful. And then some time passed, and there were the family troubles. Veteran father and the kids, and they begin acting out. And that was the beginning of the next phase.” That next phase turned up in such generation-gap movies as The Wild One and Rebel Without a Cause. And then, of course, Bonnie and Clyde, which made the life of a young outlaw seem (for a while, at least) like fun.

In its day, Bonnie and Clyde was most notorious for its scenes of explicit violence, including a climactic slow-motion bullet barrage that in the words of Pauline Kael “put the sting back into death.” Penn’s handling of bloodshed in this movie came directly out of his World War II memories. He told me, “I had decided not to mollycoddle the audience about shooting and death. This, after all, was wartime. “ Penn was referring here to the fact that while Bonnie and Clyde was in production, the conflict in Vietnam was dramatically ratcheting up. The young people who championed the film—the same young people who had recently mourned the assassination of John F. Kennedy and other political heroes—were in many cases facing the military draft. Penn felt that they, and the American public as a whole, needed to see violence for what it was, up close and personal.

The notoriety of Bonnie and Clyde has faded, as other films have far surpassed it in terms of on-screen carnage. Only two years later came Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, which seemed to revel in its blood-spewing finale. Down the road there were George Romero’s zombie fantasies, the brilliantly lurid films of Quentin Tarantino, and gross-out horror flicks like the Saw franchise. This trend was anticipated back in 1980 by film scholar Robert Phillip Kolker who insisted in The Cinema of Loneliness that “Penn showed the way. Bonnie and Clyde opened the bloodgates, and our cinema has barely stopped bleeding since.”

He’s right, of course. Today even the posters for the last Harry Potter film seem to foretell graphic violence. In widely-seen images, Harry, Ron, and Hermione look battered, bruised, and not in the least kid-friendly, letting potential viewers know that there will be blood.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Peter Falk: Leading Man/ Everyman

I interviewed the late Peter Falk many years ago, backstage after an L.A. production of David Mamet’s outrageous Glengarry Glen Ross. What I most remember is the rest of the cast ragging Falk about plans for the closing night festivities. To them it was obvious: “The guy with the big house should throw the party.” But Falk, the owner of that big house, gave as good as he got. When I left, the venue for the cast party was still an open question.

Reading Falk’s obits, I learned a good deal about him. I hadn’t known that he got his first glass eye at age three, following the removal of a malignant tumor. I hadn’t known that he worked as a certified public accountant (we had several of those in my family too) before the acting bug bit. I certainly didn’t know that early in his career he roomed with Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman. Since at one point Hoffman and Hackman also shared quarters with a very young Robert Duvall, I’d say there was a lot of acting talent packed into some tiny New York flats.

When these unknowns hit Hollywood, all four moved into leading roles without being conventionally handsome. Their ascendancy reveals how much the movie industry had changed in the late Sixties. The key film in this regard was The Graduate, a romantic comedy whose young leading man might have been played in another era by a tall, blond Robert Redford type. In fact, when Mike Nichols began casting The Graduate, Redford himself came very close to landing the role of Benjamin Braddock. Problem was: Redford seemed much too attractive to be believable as the hapless, clueless Ben that Nichols had in mind. So the part was won by Off-Broadway actor Dustin Hoffman, who approached his audition in a state of panic, firmly convinced that he was all wrong for a romantic lead.

And a star was born, though not immediately. Lawrence Turman, producer of The Graduate, remembers being told at an early screening that his movie would have been a huge hit, if not for the miscasting of the male lead. A photo spread in Life magazine just prior to the film’s release describes the new star in terms that verge on the anti-semitic. It starts with an introductory teaser--“A homely non-hero, Dustin Hoffman, gets an unlikely role in Mike Nichols’ The Graduate” –and goes from there. According to Life, Hoffman is short, scrawny, has “skittish black-beady eyes,” and “a schnoz that looks like a directional signal.” The article bears the off-putting title “A Swarthy Pinocchio Makes a Wooden Role Real.” Somehow, though, the youth of America quickly took Hoffman’s Ben Braddock to their hearts, paving the way for such later unlikely Romeos as Ben Stiller and Seth Rogen.

Ironically, Hoffman’s buddy Gene Hackman once had a role in The Graduate too. He was cast as Mr. Robinson, oblivious spouse of the predatory Anne Bancroft character, but lost the part during the film’s rehearsal period. Not to worry: he was Oscar-nominated for playing Buck Barrow in another 1967 film, Bonnie and Clyde., Three years later he brought his Everyman quality to the Oscar-winning role of Popeye Doyle in The French Connection.

Peter Falk was an Everyman too. As TV’s Columbo, he was a blue-collar fellow, rumpled, down to earth, but remarkably shrewd. A guy, in other words, who reflected the way Americans like to see themselves. He will be missed.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Disneyland, Revisited

There are times when nostalgia gets the better of me. One such moment occurred when I read side-by-side obits for singer Betty Taylor and comedian Wally Boag. Taylor and Boag were mainstays at Disneyland’s Golden Horseshoe Café, an old-time saloon that is still a Frontierland attraction. For thirty years, she (gussied up as Sluefoot Sue) sang “Bill Bailey,” while he (dressed as a traveling salesman) made balloon animals and generally acted goofy. I can’t begin to guess how often I saw the two of them strut their stuff.

As a Southern California child, I couldn’t wait for the Magic Kingdom to open its gates. Every kid I knew was mesmerized by the promos Uncle Walt managed to incorporate into his popular TV show. There was even a TV “special” (remember those?) showing celebrities enjoying the park before we ordinary mortals were allowed in. We all knew there’d be flying pirate ships in Fantasyland, and in Tomorrowland a genuine (well, almost) rocket to the moon. The only question was: whose parents would be the first to spring for a Disneyland visit?

Lucky me—my best friend’s dad liked to try new things. Early in that first Disneyland year we got up at dawn for the trek to the wilds of Orange County, where Walt’s wonderland had arisen out of a grove of citrus trees. There was so much to see and do. Marching bands on Main Street! A Wild West shoot-out! An automobile an eight-year-old could drive on a simulated freeway! Sleeping Beauty’s castle in all its splendor! Many of the now-classic thrill rides (The Matterhorn, Pirates of the Caribbean, Space Mountain) didn’t exist yet. For early visitors, the height of excitement was riding a miniature mine car into the darkness to follow the adventures of Snow White and the wicked Queen who envied her beauty. The marquee attraction was the Jungle River Boat Cruise, full of lunging animatronic beasties who today are starting to look, well, a little tired.

Disneyland has meant a lot to me over the years. I’ve been there on family excursions, on a wild and wacky trip with my high school senior class, and on date-nights. I’ve been accompanied by foreign visitors, and years later by my very young son, who celebrated his second birthday surrounded by giant Disney characters and doting grandparents. On a very special day last January, my 92-year-old mom was our guest of honor, and I learned how graciously the Disneyland personnel treat those who can’t get around on their own two feet.

On that same January trip, I stopped in at the Golden Horseshoe. It just wasn’t the same. Back in the day, family visits to Disneyland were built around the Golden Horseshoe Revue. Because it barely changed from year to year, we knew all the songs, and we hotly debated which of the costumes we’d like to hang in our own closets. Above all, we adored the loose-limbed, hilarious Wally Boag. My sister and I knew exactly where to sit to ensure being called up on stage for one of his balloon creations. Though we saw his sight-gags many times over, we always laughed.

We were hardly Boag’s only fans. Steve Martin, an Orange County boy who once worked at Disneyland, counts Boag as his comic inspiration. Upon learning of Boag’s death, Martin described him as “my hero, the first comedian I ever saw live, my influence, a man to whom I aspired.” It’s nice knowing who was the original wild and crazy guy. Too bad he’s taken his last pratfall. May he rest in peace.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

This Old House, or The Father of Our Country Slept Here (Really!)

I’ve just returned to the west coast from an overnight stay at Mount Lubentia, a 250-year-old historic home in Prince George’s County, Maryland.  It’s been lovingly restored by my good friends Andy and Sondra Wallace, who’ve verified through old diary entries that George Washington really had two sleepovers on the premises.

It’s made me think about movies in which a house plays a central role. There’s Roger Corman’s House of Usher, of course, based on the Poe story. (Roger himself once told me the reason for one of the film’s odder lines: “The house lives. The house breathes.” It seems the good folks at American International Pictures were worried about producing a horror flick that lacked a conventional monster. Roger had promised that his monster would be the house itself, and he asked Vincent Price to deliver the line convincingly enough to make them buy this notion. Price, of course, obliged.) Like Corman, most filmmakers love confining themselves to a creepy old house as a set, because it’s both economical—no running around to far-flung locations—and dramatically effective. Think of, for instance, The Haunting, The Shining, Sleuth.

The British, with their long history of stately homes, seem particularly drawn to making movies in which a house is a major character. Along with Hitchcock’s Rebecca (with its focus on identifying the true mistress of the Manderley estate), I can think of several movies in this category. The Merchant Ivory classic Howards End, based on E.M. Forster’s novel of Edwardian England, uses the ownership of a well-loved country estate to symbolize the nation’s social evolution. Making his first film in England, Robert Altman gave us one of his best, Gosford Park, an intricate murder mystery which explores the upstairs-downstairs relationships of rather helpless aristocrats and their always resourceful servants. Then, of course there are all those lovable Jane Austen adaptations, in which spunky young ladies, after much romantic tribulation, find themselves ensconced in a suitable house at last.

An Englishman’s home may be his castle, but American moviemakers seem especially fond of showing the love someone can feel for a particular piece of real estate. A good part of Scarlett O’Hara’s motivation in Gone With the Wind stems, of course, from her attachment to Tara, her family’s ancestral plantation. More modest homes, too, arouse deep-seated emotions. In It’s a Wonderful Life, James Stewart’s world is circumscribed by the small town—Bedford Falls—in which he was born. At the center of that town is the drafty but endearing old house wherein his beloved Mary has always hoped to dwell. He may resent that house and that town at times, but by the film’s happy, Christmasy ending, he is safely back where he has always belonged.

It’s a Wonderful Life may date from the late 1940s, an era when Home Sweet Home was a national obsession, but some very recent movies teach something of the same lesson. Here’s a quick salute to Pixar’s wonderful Up, in which a quest for adventure coexists with a love for home and family. This story, in which a battered but still charming old house soars through the sky, powered by a cluster of balloons, ends with a twist: though the house itself is ultimately left behind, a strong new family unit (informal but genuine) is formed. Now that I think of it, this is a great film for Fathers’ Day!

Friday, June 17, 2011

From the Earth to the Moon . . . and Beyond

Along with an international group of engineers and space scientists (don’t ask!), I’ve just survived an insider’s tour of NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. An earnest engineering type, showing us around a large hangar full of futuristic space equipment, quipped, “By the way, this is where they filmed the moon landing.” Later, explaining an elaborate contraption that had once helped astronauts practice landing a spacecraft on a simulated lunar surface, a different guide warned that we’d spot clips of the place on the Internet: “This facility is all over those conspiracy sites.”

Some people will never accept that Neil Armstrong and colleagues actually left their footprints on the moon. They’re quick to assume it was merely Hollywood-style razzle-dazzle. And why not? We all know that the special-effects wizards of movieland can convince us of practically anything.

Of course low-budget filmmakers of the Roger Corman ilk have never worried much about depicting space travel realistically. For Roger in his heyday, timing was all. Shooting War of the Satellites a mere three weeks after the Russians launched Sputnik, he was so keen to capitalize on the public’s new interest in outer space that his visuals approached the preposterous. Example: the Corman astronauts, wearing cute little jump suits with lots of zippers, blasted into the stratosphere while sitting comfortably on what look like lawn chairs equipped with seatbelts. Just prior to liftoff, they solemnly adjusted their chairs so that their legs extended into a reclining position. Not exactly convincing, but since there’d been no man in space at that point, who knew different?

By contrast, when Ron Howard shot Apollo 13, dramatizing Commander Jim Lovell’s account of the one U.S. lunar mission that nearly ended in tragedy, he wanted to keep as close to the truth as possible. This mindset was reinforced by NASA’s hope for a factual record of a mission that, though it failed to achieve its original goal, could be seen as a victory of American brainpower against tremendous odds. Astronaut Dave Scott, who served as one of the film’s technical advisors, made the compelling case that human beings would probably not return to the moon for a hundred years. Given that the existing documentary footage of the Apollo 13 mission was far from complete, Scott argued that Howard’s film must preserve for future generations an important episode in the history of manned space flight. So Howard took on the burden of historic correctness, scrutinizing every set detail and every snippet of dialogue for accuracy.

The greatest challenge was conveying a sense of weightlessness within a space capsule. For the first time in movie history, cast and crew were allowed abroad NASA’s zero-gravity simulator, the KC-135. This high-flying Boeing 707, once used for the training of astronauts, could be guided by an expert pilot into a series of parabolic arcs. At the height of each parabola the plane’s occupants would float weightlessly for several blissful seconds, before slamming to the floor when gravity hit them with double its usual force. Filming occurred in 23-second bursts over a grueling series of three-day stretches. Though the KC-135 is known as the "Vomit Comet" for a reason, Howard and his team quickly showed that they were not Hollywood wusses. Howard himself eventually announced a new goal: to be the first director to shoot a movie on the moon. Needless to say, he’s still waiting.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Peter Fonda—A Long, Strange Trip

So they’re honoring Peter Fonda at the American Cinematheque. What a long, strange career it’s been! A famous father, a famous sister, and a Hollywood life that’s taken him from romcom (Yes, I saw Tammy and the Doctor) to Easy Rider to an Oscar nomination for Ulee’s Gold. And who helped him transform from a standard-issue leading man into a counterculture hero? Why, Roger Corman, of course.

Roger originally wanted Fonda for the sidekick role in his seminal biker flick, The Wild Angels. But (as Roger himself once told me) star George Chakiris, fresh off an Oscar of his own for West Side Story, demanded a stunt double to do his motorcycle riding for him. Fonda had no such qualms, and Roger moved him up to the leading role of Heavenly Blues, with Bruce Dern taking over Fonda’s slot. The raw and raucous film was, of course, a hit among young moviegoers, spawning at least two dozen additional biker quickies between 1967 and 1972. Roger was delighted to make the move from gothic horror into topics that touched the lives of young Sixties rebels, and it wasn’t long before Fonda was acting as his guide into the drug culture.

Before they worked together on The Trip, Fonda insisted that the fundamentally strait-laced Roger drop acid as a way of proving his connection to the material. In his usual methodical way, Roger researched LSD, and then arranged to sample it himself. At a New York press conference, he claimed his experiment had taken place under strict medical supervision, with a stenographer on hand to record the episode. In fact, Roger’s grand adventure occurred on a picturesque seaside cliff in Big Sur, California. There was no doctor in sight, and the “stenographer” was my good friend Frances Doel, a loyal Corman assistant, who had been told to prepare for the big moment by boning up on the Tibetan Book of the Dead. This famous one-time-only Corman exposure to mind-bending substances is vividly described in his memoirs. Suffice it to say that a script on the subject, currently called The Man with Kaleidoscope Eyes, has been floating around Hollywood for some years. Joe Dante, who badly wants to direct it, is still looking for financing, even though none other than Colin Firth has committed to playing Roger in his close encounter of the psychedelic kind.

As for Fonda, he has Roger to thank for the genesis of his biggest film ever. While lodging at a Canadian hotel for a motion-picture exhibitors’ convention, he happened upon publicity shot of himself and Bruce Dern riding their choppers in The Wild Angels. Staring at the iconographic photo, Fonda got an idea: “Man, yeah, that’s the image . . . a dude who rides a silver bike and turns everybody on and rides right off again.” As the movie’s plot evolved in his head, he decided, “Let’s get to Mardi Gras in the film, great time, we’ll have a lot of free costumes and shit like that, a real Roger Corman number where we don’t have to pay.” The rest, as they say, is history.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

An Election on the Amazon

Well, the Peruvian voters have spoken. This past Sunday they held a run-off to choose a new president. The losing candidate, Keiko Fujimori, was notable not only because she stood to become Peru’s first female president but also because she’s the daughter (and political heir) of Alberto Fujimori, who ruled Peru for ten years (1990-2000), then was ousted in the wake of a massive scandal involving both corruption and human rights abuse. Today he’s serving twenty-five years in a Peruvian prison.

Why am I so interested? Because in 1990, when Alberto Fujimori first sought the presidency, his opponent was the wonderful writer (and future Nobel laureate) Mario Vargas Llosa. And Vargas Llosa just happens to be the cousin of Luis Llosa, a filmmaker fondly known as Lucho by all of us at Roger Corman’s Concorde-New Horizons Pictures. The story of how Lucho came into the Corman fold is a classic. In the late 1980s, Roger was flying to Buenos Aires to check on a co-production when his plane was forced down in Lima, Peru by bad weather. Never one to waste a moment, he took a taxi into town, flipped open the yellow pages, and made a few calls to movie production companies, asking who was the best filmmaker in Lima. Everyone agreed on Luis Llosa. Roger contacted Lucho, made a quick deal, and zipped off to Argentina a few hours later.

As a result of this brief encounter, Concorde began churning out Peru-based movies. Peru, fortuitously, offers a wealth of scenic possibilities: towering mountains, grasslands, jungle, the Amazon River, and picturesquely crumbling South American colonial cities. With Lucho acting as local producer and sometimes director, Roger used Peru as a backdrop for urban action flicks (Hour of the Assassin), Vietnam battle dramas (Heroes Stand Alone), tales of futuristic squalor (Crime Zone), and even a Jules Verne adventure saga (Eight Hundred Leagues Down the Amazon). I have a screenplay credit on Fire on the Amazon, an environmental thriller still watched today because of a steamy jungle tryst in which a very young Sandra Bullock takes her clothes off. But avoiding mosquito bites during nude scenes was not the only challenge faced by Corman people. This was the era when Shining Path guerrillas were on a rampage, and film crews sometimes found themselves detained at gunpoint.

Lucho briefly went Hollywood, directing big-budget, star-driven studio movies like The Specialist (uniting Sylvester Stallone and Sharon Stone) and Anaconda (uniting Jennifer Lopez and a large snake), before he returned to Lima to stay. What’s special is that his daughter Claudia has taken up where he left off. As a writer-director, she uses her Peruvian heritage to magical effect. I saw her debut film, Madeinusa, at the Palm Springs International Film Festival circa 2006, and have never forgotten it. Her second feature, The Milk of Sorrow, became Peru’s first-ever Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Film. I’m thrilled for her and for Lucho. Sadly, I’ve lost touch with him. If anyone out there has a Peruvian connection, please offer him felicitaciones on my behalf.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Screen Tests and Testimonials: Garbo Smiles!

Not long ago, I was in the Motion Picture and Television reading room at the Library of Congress, visiting my books (what a thrill!), and getting expert advice on how to do research in this fabulous archive. The LOC, I learned, does not merely collect films and books about filmmaking. Its vast holdings include scripts, one-sheets, lobby cards, and a wide array of memorabilia. By way of illustration, reference librarian Josie Walters-Johnston pulled out a vintage scrapbook in which a movie buff from the 1930s had lovingly pasted photos of her screen idols. Greta Garbo was this fan’s special favorite, and her enigmatic beauty shown forth on almost every page.

Josie had also prepared a treat: she had cued up some rare footage of Garbo from the late Forties. In that era, Garbo’s great films (Anna Christie, Queen Christina, Camille, Ninotchka) were long behind her. She was attempting a comeback, and an Italian company was interested, but wanted to be sure of its investment. That’s why the legendary Swedish actress had to stoop to the indignity of a screen test. The soundtrack is lost, but I watched her (in a variety of outfits) silently emote for the camera, smiling, looking grave, turning her head in response to some director whose voice I couldn’t hear. As she moved through this humiliating exercise, a faint look of distaste seemed to flicker across her lovely features. A postscript: the financing fell through, and Garbo’s comeback was not to be.

Watching that brief film clip, I remembered an audition tape that had recently thrilled me to the marrow. I was interviewing Scott Wilson, widely regarded in Hollywood as an “actor’s actor.” Which means that he’s always been better known for losing himself in a role than for becoming a star. We were discussing the films of 1967, and Wilson pulled out a forty-year-old tape of himself auditioning for the role of Dick Hickock, one of the two feckless, ruthless killers at the heart of the screen adaptation of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. For his audition, the then-unknown Wilson chose to present Danny’s monologue from Night Must Fall, a thriller by playwright Emlyn Williams in which a charming drifter is gradually revealed to be a psychopath. Speaking quietly in a midwestern drawl rather than in Danny’s traditional Irish brogue, breaking into a chuckle at the oddest moments, Scott was both fascinating and terrifying. No wonder he got the part.

Scott Wilson’s audition for director Richard Brooks is a rare example of Hollywood at its kindest. When the casting process for In Cold Blood began, Scott was acting in his very first movie, In the Heat of the Night. As a small-town Southern kid arrested for a murder he didn’t commit, he played key scenes opposite the movie’s stars, Rod Steiger and Sidney Poitier. It was Poitier who first alerted him that the role of Dick Hickock might be a good fit. He and Quincy Jones ( who was to write memorable jazz scores for both films) personally lobbied Brooks on Scott’s behalf. Next, director Norman Jewison gave Brooks a peek at dailies from In the Heat of the Night to help validate Scott’s acting creds. Perhaps most valuable to Scott was the pep talk from Poitier just before his big moment: “After he left I was like Godzilla, and I walked into that meeting with Brooks feeling very confident, having no self-doubt.” And nailed the audition. How refreshing to hear about show people looking after one of their own.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Blue Crush 2: The Girls of Summer

I admit it: I’m old enough to remember the sensation caused by Gidget, the Sandra Dee movie about a pert teenager who takes up surfing and finds love on the beach at Malibu. Not that I was ever fond of big waves myself. (A snooty male cousin from New York City—discovering that I neither surfed nor rode a motor scooter—immediately wrote me off as a poor excuse for a California girl.) Nonetheless, Gidget and all those beach party movies that followed gave me vicarious golden memories of sun and sand.

Today’s beach movies roam farther afield. I’ve just returned from a preview screening of the direct-to-video Blue Crush 2, which goes all the way to South Africa to show surfers in their native habitat. The predictable but endearing story involves a troubled Beverly Hills teen who flies to Durban, South Africa to visit the old surfing haunts of her free-spirited mother. She stumbles into a friendly group of local surf bums, and things (mostly good things) start happening.

Blue Crush 2 is, surprisingly, a bit of a throwback to the Sixties: a paean to the joys of communal living. The residents of the film’s surfside shantytown—a ragtag collection of joyous young people—could have come from the cast of Hair, but without the politics. There’s even an old bus painted in rainbow colors that rolls out on a surfer’s version of the Magical Mystery Tour. Another surprise is the use the film makes of its South African setting. In the world of Blue Crush 2, racial tensions and social inequities are virtually nil. But our glimpses of local sights are a feast for the eyes. (Kids playing exotic instruments! Elephants lumbering past our California girl as she heads for the beach! Fantastically gorgeous shorelines and waterfalls!) Moreover, these surfers come in all shapes and colors, with our blonde heroine quickly becoming Best Friends Forever with a black African surfer chick who easily matches her in beauty and charm. The South African tourist board must surely be pleased.

Like the original Blue Crush, this is a female empowerment movie with an obvious appeal for young girls. When Gidget discovered surfing, she was breaking into a man’s world: the guys at the beach ultimately accepted her as a cute and talented mascot. Here, however, the ladies truly rock the waves, and no one questions their right to be there. It’s also refreshing to see a hardbodies-in-bikinis flick in which sexual attraction is not the main point. The wisps of romance here don’t go beyond a few soulful kisses. Surf’s up—that’s the real point.

Blue Crush 2 was produced and directed by the indefatigable Mike Elliott, who as Concorde-New Horizons head of production in the Nineties made scores of genre films with titles like Body Chemistry II and Bloodfist IV. (He also played many a cameo role. I’ll never forget him as the driver of a chicken truck who falls prey to the monster in Carnosaur. Those twitching cowboy boots sticking out from under the disabled truck—-Oscar material, for sure.) Blue Crush 2 is certainly a change of pace. Instead of bloodshed and gratuitous sex, it’s got ocean spray and enormous curling waves. It’s so cool and refreshing that I wanted to towel off after the final fadeout.