Friday, January 8, 2010

A Very Verhoeven Viernes

There have certainly been lows (the mean-spirited Hollow Man which doesn't even make the concept of nude Kevin Bacon watchable) and, well, films I've yet to see (Black Book, one day), but for today's underlooked director spotlight, let's raise a Pilsner to one of the Netherlands’ finest--and underrated--imports of the past century.

1. Flesh + Blood

How do you make a period movie inherently interesting? When in doubt, inject a hearty dose of sex and violence or, if you’re stuck the 16th century, Flesh + Blood. Starring a young, oddly Americanized Rutger Hauer as Europe’s premiere mercenary, this superbloody epic follows a band of criminals as they travel the countryside looting  and raping most anything in their path. There for the ride is a fresh-faced Jennifer Jason Leigh turning in a naughtily playful performance as an engaged noblewoman taken hostage and quickly learning the art of manipulating the male sex. Not quite as grand or classy as higher profile fare like the Lord of the Rings or Excalibur, but an overall blast that, if nothing else, deserves unmeasurable bonus points for featuring a climactic battle determined by the catapulting of plague-ridden dog meat. Eat that, Spielberg

2. Robocop

Few blockbusters combine action, character, and memorable dialog quite as well as the 1987 cop drama/sci-fi action shootout/Frankenstein tale of corporate power weaseling its way into public policy. In the age of Blackwater scandals and questionable presidential financial investments, the basic premise of Robocop is surprisingly more relevant 20 years after its inception, while the human drama continues to tug at even the most jaded Transformers-weary heartstrings. Some of the stop motion may aged about as well as Belial’s hotel room rampage in Basket Case, but Robocop remains an engrossing and intelligent piece of damn fine, damn fun cinema.

3. Total Recall

Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s best work (I know, that doesn’t say THAT much) but it’s a quite a feat that the Hercules of NY can almost pull off the role of an everyday blue collar construction worker slowly discovering the life he has isn’t real (or IS it?). If the concept of Ahhnold emoting is too much, sit back and enjoy watching a current government official stick a futuristic needle up his own nose, beat up Sharon Stone, turn down a tri-breasted Martian hooker, and use a dying civilian as armor in a shooting spree. A ripe story from the mind of Philip K. Dick goes far, but it’s Verhoeven’s all-out intergalactic party-hard attitude that makes this one of the 90s’ best science fiction extravaganzas. 

4. Showgirls

Everybody has dreams, but few pursue them with such aggressive thrusting as Nomi “I’m a dancer!” Malone, as energetically (and insanely) played by Jessie Spano with a tan. When we look back at 1995’s NC-17 rated Showgirls, it’s hard to believe people were hesitant to see what’s become the greatest film ever to emphasize the importance of hamburgers that don’t suck, brown rice with vegetables, and ice cubes at auditions. Showgirls may very well be the trashiest studio film ever released with so much fanfare, and unless your sense of humor is A-cup size, I dare anyone to watch the film without cracking  a smile, or, let's face it, breaking into hysterical laughter and resisting the urge to schedule weekly Cheetah parties catered with lots of Cristal and chips. What was Verhoeven actually going for with this Cinderella story for trailer grown ingenues? There's nothing actually sexy about seeing Elizabeth Berkely writhe like an epileptic dolphin in a pool, dry hump Kyle MacLachlan in a dimly lit strip club, or end a romantic evening by proving that it is indeed her time of the month (yes, that's in there), but I like to believe Showgirls is a far more satirical and self-aware cautionary tale about stardom than its Razzie record would contend. Whether Verhoeven knew what he was doing or not, this is one film ridiculously worthy of the cult status it has slowly been building and will still be entertaining well after Vers-ayce is out of style.

5. Starship Troopers

Audiences ignored this 1997 sci-fi actionfest based on Robert Heinlein’s Nazi homaging tale of a future war with ginormous plasma-shooting, limb-tearing bugs occupying a planet in travel distance from earth. Thankfully, it eventually found its audience and spawned two sequels of its own (one lame, one awesome), but it’s this R-Rated theatrical shoulda-been blockbuster that remains one of the most joyously gruesome two hours one can have with Caspar Van Dien. Some quibble with the 45 minute 90210esque opening melodrama, but I’d argue all the coupling of pretty/wooden actors serves to whet your thirst for their impending doom. When the praying mantis-ish warrior bugs start biting their way through soldier’s body parts, we care enough to recognize the bloody victims, but feel rather ambivalent about their personalities to crave their less-than-comfortable fates. Sure, some of the CGI battles are starting to show their age, but all’s forgiven when Michael Ironside gets a chance to be badass. I didn’t even mention the brain bug, tongue-in-cheek newsreels (featuring none other than 90210’s own Principal Teasely) and the fact that Verhoeven cast Neil Patrick Harris years before the rest of the world caught on to just how cool he was.

So there you have my vote for most watchable director of extreme cinema. While I wait for the world to officially recognize the greatness of pasties and the effects of Mars’ atmosphere on human flesh, let’s hope this oft overlooked maestro of nutritious popcorn flicks keeps delivering his joy.


  1. YES Showgirls is the best. The BEST.

  2. You will get no argument from me on that matter.

  3. I watched this Verhoeven flick recently on one of my beloved Mill Creek 50 movie sets, which is more of a period piece/poverty sucks drama, but also has that Verhoeven sex touch and Rutger Hauer as a moustachioed dandy. Don't know if I'd recommend it, but it was interesting in its way.

  4. I totally have this on my 50 pack (okay, one of my 4 Mill Creek packs) and have oft considered watching it but had NO IDEA it was Verhoeven! Toss in Hauer as a mustachioed dandy and it's totally getting dirty with my DVD player this weekend, especially since I've been meaning to get back to my New Year's resolution of watching one Mill Creek disc a month (my interpretation of New Year's is not quite celebrated by all). Thanks for the sort-of recommendation!

  5. What ever happened to the 'hoev? Is he still making films? Obviously I've lost that 'hoevin' feeling.

  6. Bring back that 'hoevin feeling!

    His last film was Black Book in 2006, which was fairly well received. He's been oddly quiet on the film front since then, especially when you consider that huge run of big buck studio movies from the late '80s to '90s. There's a few titles listed as 'in development' on IMDB, but nothing seems anywhere near happening at the moment. Odd, but I'll have to look him up to see if he's been putting his energies elsewhere (fingers crossed for Showgirls Broadway musical). A gal can dream...

  7. I was on my way to post a comment when I read the phase 'Showgirls Broadway musical' and literally blacked out as my brain overloaded on imagining such sleazy cheesy goodness live on the stage in front of me.

  8. Sigh. The joy an entire song-and-dance number titled Thrust It! would bring me would make my heart explode.

  9. Love the Voehr--'cept Showgirls blows. I don't even agree that it's so bad it's good.

    But Robo, Starship, Total Recall, and Basic Instinct are all good flicks.

  10. Whaaaaaa? I literally just inserted my Showgirls DVD into my TV so that I could fall asleep to the oddly paced shouting of Elizabeth Berkley and greasy smooth charm of Kyle Kyle Maclachlan. So here I am all excited to dream in loose crystal beading when I get even MORE amped to see a new comment from the likes of one Mr. Kangas, only to have all that starry-eyed wonder crumble like a bag of chips in a trailer park when I learn that you disapprove of Verhoeven's Las Vegas masterpiece. Not even so bad it's good??? What, you only support toplessness when sported by male clowns?