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Worst Picture/Best Picture: Showgirls and Braveheart (1995)

Showgirls – “From the deer in the headlights performance of Elizabeth Berkley, to the so far over the top that you need a telescope to look down at it dialogue, this film is a camp masterpiece. Never before have so many cliches and ridiculous scenarios been gathered in one film.” (khia213, IMDb.com)

Braveheart – “With breathtaking skill, Gibson captures the exhilaration and horror of combat in some of the most vivid battle scenes ever filmed.” (Peter Travers, Rolling Stone)

Tits & Arse

In the year of our Lord, 1995, there were many films released with important subject matters and social issues. Dead Man Walking focused on whether the death penalty is wrong or right, Safe dealt with paranoia and social estrangement, and Casper taught us that ghosts can be friendly. But two films in particular tackled the immense topic of what it means to want to be free. After his work on The Man Without a Face, Mel Gibson decided to follow it up by making a movie about a man with a blue face. Directed by and starring Gibson, Braveheart follows the 13th century Scottish warrior William Wallace who fought to free his countrymen from English tyranny. After his work on a Total Recall about a 3-breasted alien and Basic Instinct about a pantyless killer, Paul Verhoeven decided to follow it up by making a movie about a 2-breasted, pantyless woman. Starring Elizabeth Berkley, Showgirls follows the 20th century different places ball kicker Nomi Malone who fought to free her bra and G-string.

I know, it’s been a very long time since my last entry in this series. Perhaps it is because of the important and difficult subject matter the two films deal with. Perhaps it is because since my last entry the massive unraveling of sexual harassment in Hollywood was revealed and may alter the discussion of these two films. Or perhaps it is because I’ve just been really, really lazy. Whatever the reason for the delay, it is here now, so be ready to read about filthy individuals who do horrible things late at night, as well as Showgirls.

I shall tell you of Nomi Malone. Historians from Cheetah’s Topless Lounge will call me a liar, but history is written by those who have stolen the suitcases of heroes. It is 1995 AD and while some were leaving Las Vegas, the traveling heroine Nomi walks down the freeway in hopes to make a better life in the city of sin. A truck driver Jeff picks her up and the two are off to the new land. Nomi is a very protective character, cross her once and she’ll whip out her switchblade, cross her twice and she’ll kick you in the balls. And don’t even think about playing any Garth Brooks.

Nomi and Jeff arrive at Vegas, and while Nomi goes over to play some slots, Jeff steals her suitcase and drives off. With the hopes of becoming a dancer and making it, her dreams are quickly shattered the moment she first arrives. Crying outside the casino, Nomi is comforted by the good-hearted Molly Abrams, who decides to look after her and teach her the ropes.

Like the poetic opening to Showgirls, the fellow epic Braveheart begins without opening credits. It begins in 1280 AD in the Scottish Highlands where a young William Wallace lives. He stays home with his pal Hamish while his dad and the rest of the adults go to deal with King Longshanks of England who’s trying to take over their land. Unfortunately, while the locals return, William’s father has been killed. With his parents gone and no one else to turn to, William’s uncle Argyle decides to look after him and teach him the ropes.

Six weeks have passed in Vegas and Nomi is finally starting to settle in. Staying at Molly’s apartment, it’s not quite clear if she has been paying rent, but she’s certainly been helping around the place by eating chips and watching TV. Molly works behind the scenes at the Stardust as a costume designer for the show Goddess. There aren’t many costumes to design for the show, but hey, it’s a living. One day she invites Nomi to the show to see her dress the naked dancers before they undress onstage. As it begins, the star of the show Cristal Conners (Gina Gershon) emerges from her volcano – the naked Goddess spreads her gospel and her disciples shed their clothing and dance around passionately to her seductive psalms. Or something like that. Meanwhile, Nomi watches and finds her calling, she must join the chorus and eventually become the new Goddess.

After the show, which has been getting international acclaim and flooded with press after every show (like a typical topless performance in Vegas), Nomi returns backstage and Molly introduces her to the immaculate Cristal, sitting topless in her private dressing room. While at first Cristal brushes away the two lessers, especially Nomi, who only dances exotically at the little Cheetah rather than dancing exotically at the Stardust, she gazes upon Nomi’s fascinating fingernails and reconsiders her first impression of Miss Malone. She tells her boyfriend and Stardust entertainment director Zack (Kyle MacLachlan) about her encounter with feisty and potentially talented Nomi.

Sixteen years have passed in Scotland and William Wallace has returned home. A wedding is taking place, so William has the perfect chance to reconnect with his old community, including his pal Hamish and his long lost love Murron. While the dancing isn’t topless and the music isn’t Pamela Anderson, the locals seem to be having a fun time anyway, so it’s all good. Unfortunately, during the celebration, the law King Longshanks had set, Prima Noctae, is carried out. The English knights ride into the town so that one of them can have their way with the bride on the first night of her wedding.

After the unfortunate conclusion to the wedding celebration, William tries to settle back into his hometown. Courting Murron and being as polite and respectful to woman as Mel Gibson, excuse me, William Wallace always is, the two decided to finally wed in secret to avoid the Prima Noctae. While it worked for a bit, soon some of the English knights notice something funny is going on between the two of them. No, Murron didn’t do anything as obvious as romantically kicking William in the nuts while they danced, but there were enough messages to make one of the knights pounce on Murron and lick her face as he attempts to rape her. Ugh, that’s an image I hope I’ll never see again.

Back in Vegas, Nomi is pissed. Goddess Cristal shunned her and made fun of her career at the Cheetah Lounge, and without a bag of chips, burgers, or enormous fountain drinks nearby to help ease her pain, Molly suggests Nomi stop worrying about dancing career and instead go out and dace at the nightclub. She gleefully accepts and they two are off. At the club, Nomi catches the eye of the one of the bouncers, James Smith, and the two start dancing together. While dancing with her, though he doesn’t woo Nomi by speaking French like William Wallace did to Murron, James does manage to romantically tell her that she’s teasing his dick, resulting in a kick to the crotch. The two obviously hit it off.

One night at the Cheetah, a new dancer joins the club so the owner Al walks her through. Fifty dollars for a private dance, the clients can’t touch the dancers, but the dancers can touch the clients, and, with a little Prima Noctae at the end, new dancers have to give Al a dance and a little something special or they’re fired.

Speaking of Prima Noctae, while William attempted to stop the assault on Murron, he was unfortunately too late. Because of Murron’s resistance, she was killed by the English troops. Well, William and his Scottish pals had finally had enough. Defeating the soldiers who had invaded their homes, the resistance against the English had begun.

Word had soon spread to the fellow Scottish clans in the area, and an alliance was quickly formed. King Longshanks is understandably not pleased by all the news that’s going on in Scotland. It also doesn’t help that his son Prince Edward, who is supposed to be dancing around with his new wife Princess Isabelle of France, is instead getting his dick teased by his “friend” Philip. Let’s just say that Prince Edward were alive today he’d be a great male addition to the Stardust’s Goddess. So, having to pretty much deal with everything himself, the King prepares for the upcoming battles against Wallace.

Back at the Cheetah, Cristal and Zack decide to pay Nomi a visit and see the show. Finally we are introduced to Nomi’s incredible dancing abilities on stage. After a very impressive display of twirls and thrusts and licks, Nomi is asked to give the Goddess and her companion a private dance. Or rather, Cristal’s gonna watch while Nomi gives a Zack Attack. In the Red Room, she shows off her twin peaks to Zack and he’s so excited he nearly lets out a screech. With the dance finished, Nomi goes backstage to dry off her sweat, and throws the towel to Al. Al is not amused and throws the towel back at Nomi. Unlike the hankies in Braveheart, I guess men just don’t like being given pieces of cloth as tokens in Vegas.

Nomi decided to stop by James’s place to see the new dance he wrote specifically for her. James must’ve spent all his money on that Jaguar that Keanu ruined in Speed because his place isn’t that great, I guess he doesn’t have a roommate who will pay all the rent like Nomi does. As they dance around, Nomi has to stop because, well, let’s say that it was just her time of the month. Forty-five minutes in and this movie is already bloodier than Braveheart.

Back at Stirling Bridge, the Scottish army awaits to battle the English. Many of the fighters are doubtful of their chances, after all, the English outnumber them by nearly 3,000 men. But soon William Wallace appears in all his glory in amazing blue makeup and braided hair. While it’s not quite painted fingernails, the appearance and the speech was enough to rile up the men and prepare them for the fight. Before the attack, the Scots took time to intimidate the English by whipping up their kilts and flashing their Brian Cox and Gerard Butlers. It probably would have been more intimidating if they stuck the long pointed poles into the ground and danced around them naked to some Prince songs, but hey, they didn’t want to give away their secret weapons so soon.

After several defeats, King Longshanks is extremely pissed because little Willy Wallace won’t go home. I’m sure not even eating the universal comfort food of chips and fajitas could make the King happy. When the Prince and his “friend” Philip come into the room, likely to dry off after having some of their own fun together in the private room, the King expresses his rage. Philip tries to assure the King that Wallace will be stopped, but he won’t have any of it and hurls Phillip out the window to his death. Well, the Prince pulls a Nomi and whips out his knife, but he isn’t as threatening as the menacing Malone and the King pulls a Nomi and kicks him in the nuts.

Because she left such a big impression on Cristal with her fingernails and left such a big stain on Zack’s pants, Nomi was given the chance for the Goddess show tryouts. On stage, the show’s producer walks down the line, insulting and degrading all the women you’d think he was being pulled over for drunk driving. But if you think that stopped Nomi, you’ve been watching the wrong movie. Impressing the drill sergeant with her thrusts and bends and snaps, she joins the Goddess troupe, dancing alongside Cristal and her monkeys. Though now she has to stick to brown rice and vegetables, they may take her chips and fajitas, but they’ll never take her freedom.

But soon Nomi realizes that dancing at the Stardust isn’t as easy as dancing with a pole. The women are so competitive and ruthless to each other, while Nomi received a basket of flowers backstage, it would be no surprise if one day she received a basket with one of her co-dancer’s head inside. One of the dancers even throws some marbles on the ground causing another dancer to crack a bone. Man, when they say break a leg in Vegas, they’re not kidding. And, well, after having some nasty encounters with Cristal, Nomi takes note of the Stardust civil war and plans on doing something about it. Before the next show, as the performers head down the stairs to get on stage, Nomi pushes Cristal from behind, causing her to fall and break her leg. Not even William Wallace is that barbaric. Successfully taking Cristal out, Nomi is made the new star of Goddess, her dream finally realized.

Meanwhile, back in Scotland, things are looking up for Wallace as well. Though not as cunning as Nomi’s victories, Wallace and his countrymen are doing a pretty good job beating the Englishmen, even if the Scottish nobleman are bickering like typical politicians about what to do when they finally defeat Longshanks. But, sporting some very nice Zack hair, Robert the Bruce tries to keep the peace and catches the eye of William Wallace (no, not that kind of way, what kind of movie do you think Braveheart’s trying to be?).

With Cristal crippled and the new star blossoming, things start to be looking up for Nomi in more ways than one. Though elsewhere in Vegas a Mr. Dougie Jones has his eyes set on Naomi, at the Stardust Zack has his eyes on Nomi. Now he was getting more than just a private dancing seizure from the dancing dame, he was getting a swimming seizure in the middle of a waterfall while spitting dolphin statues watch in envy. Man, I haven’t seen a pool scene this hot in, well, the year before with Color of Night.

Running into a few hurdles in the beginning, the man in the skirt and the woman in the Versayce both seemed to finally be hitting their stride. But of course, what comes up must come down. After a few defeats on the battlefield, Wallace is in quite a rut. Sure, in the middle of it all the French Princess gives him a private dance of her own, but that’s not enough to help the long haired hero get back into the swing of things. And after Robert the Bruce’s festering father turns Wallace over to the Brits to get his son in good company with the annoying nobleman, well, it’s not looking so hot for Willy.

The same could be said for Nomi. Sure, she’s got her star turn in Goddess and she’s got Zack all to herself, but things are about to change. Nomi invites Molly to a party being held to celebrate Nomi’s new success, which Molly agrees to because her celebrity crush on the actor and singer Andrew Carver is gonna be there. After all, Andrew has long, flowing hair and manly stubble, if you just walked into the movie when Andrew is on screen you’d think you were watching Braveheart. And when Nomi and Molly arrive to the party, things start to look up, but of course, it was not meant to be. Introducing Molly to Andrew, it looks as though the two are gonna hit it off. But then, when Andrew takes Molly back to his room, he performs a little Prima Noctae on her and, dammit, he licks her face. I thought we were done with that. Well thank god he didn’t take a garden hose and use it on her, I don’t think I could go through that again. But seriously, I thought a man who looked like Mel Gibson was going to treat women with respect, such a twist.

Obviously, after the incident, Nomi is pretty pissed, especially when Zack tells her to keep quiet about Andrew flipping up his kilt at Molly because Andrew is one of the Stardust’s clients. But the breaking point is when Zack calls Nomi by her real name, Polly, and reveals the truth about her, that her parents are both dead and she was a runaway selling herself to survive. With her best friend in the hospital and her ex-boy toy James writing dances for another girl, Nomi once again, is all alone.

Back in England’s dungeon, Wallace is awaiting to be executed. Meanwhile, King Longshanks realizes he’s too old for this shit and is about to die. After failing to get Wallace to ask for mercy so he’ll die quickly, the French Princess asks her father-in-law Longshanks to spare Wallace’s life. Of course, the dying King says no, so, a pissed off Princess tells him that while she was visiting Wallace a while back she did the deed with him. I guess what happens in Scotland doesn’t stay in Scotland. The King looked angry as hell but the Prince didn’t seem to mind too much that his wife was sleeping around.

With a couple of his pals hiding in the crowd to watch, Wallace is brought out to the public to be tortured. Man, this almost seems as bad as Jesus’s crucifixion, at least we’ll never get to know what that event was like on screen. After some racking and roping and hanging and quarreling, the magistrate realizes Wallace won’t give in, so they cut off his head, but not before he lets out a patriotic cry of “Freedom”. Too bad his friends didn’t jump in and save the day and rescue him, but oh well, we don’t need another hero.

Meanwhile, Nomi is given her chance to display her heroics. Convincing Evil Andrew that she wants to spend a night with him, she goes up to his room. Fixing up her nails, putting eyeshadow on her face, and lipstick on her nipples, her war paint is good to go. Though we saw a few kicks and threats earlier, finally we get to see Nomi really kick some ass, smacking Carver across the face with her high heeled boots and stomping on his head repeatedly. William Wallace couldn’t have done it better himself.

After telling Molly she got Carver back and then going to Cristal to confess and apologize for pushing her down the stairs, she decided to leave Las Vegas. Just as the film opened, Nomi hitchhikes, this time to leave. And, just as the beginning, our good pal Jeff picks her up. After this epic journey we took with Nomi, we know that the little switchblade threat at the start of the film is the least of Jeff’s worries. As she exits the city for good, she passes by one billboard outside Las Vegas, Nevada with her name on it. And with that, the film is over. Good thing too, I ran out of all my stripper jokes, I’m glad I don’t have to go through that again.

So while both films had a bit of a dreary final act, in the end they left on a high note. Eventually William Wallace’s fight for freedom ended in victory with Scotland gaining their independence from Britain several years alter. And while Nomi didn’t stay in Vegas as a successful dancer, she left the city on top with her dignity and her suitcase. These two epics had similar conclusion, but the same could be said for the two stars, Mel Gibson and Elizabeth Berkley.

Mel Gibson had huge success with this film, as well as other films since, but then he hit a rut when he had a bit of debacle on the side of the road one night. Since then, nobody wanted to have anything to do with him. He was the butt of all the jokes, he was despised. But recently, he had a resurgence with his film Hacksaw Ridge that got him another Oscar nomination for Best Director. Perhaps making successful films can overshadow successful anti-semitism.

Elizabeth Berkley had huge success with Saved by the Bell, but then she hit a rut when she had a bit of a debacle when she filmed the first scene on the side of the road when she hitchhiked in Vegas. Since then, nobody wanted to have anything to do with her. She was the butt of all the jokes, she was despised. But recently, she had a resurgence with this film. Showgirls has become a global phenomenon. In 2015 there was a 20th anniversary screening of the film in Los Angeles at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Thousands of people attended, in hopes to hear Nomi. Getting up to talk, Elizabeth Berkley gave a rousing and moving speech to the people, the crowd erupted into an enormous applause. The reaction was so loud and so strong, nearby Cecil B DeMille would have risen from his grave and been impressed by the event. After twenty years of being mocked for having made Showgirls, I think Elizabeth finally felt accepted. Surrounded by countless fans, Elizabeth riled them up, it was as though she had prepared a gay army to charge into battle.

Jeff Beachnau

Jeff spends too much time watching movies, but when he’s not watching them, he helps make them by working in the grip and electric department. Some would say he chose this profession because of the thrill of being on set and helping create art, but the real reason is most G&E don’t need to wear pants. Along with being a film nerd, Jeff enjoys riding his bike everywhere around the Southern California and watching his friends perform improv.

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