Tue. Apr 7th, 2020

Worst Picture/Best Picture: Striptease and The English Patient (1996)

Striptease – “However the entire thing ended up being a mess, and I can only hope I can erase the image of Burt Reynolds in his boxers, smothered with petroleum jelly from head to toe, from my mind.” – Boyo-2, IMDb.com

The English Patient – “With The English Patient, Minghella proves that a movie love story can be smart, principled and provoking, and still sweep you away.” – Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

Show Me Some Skin

It’s back! The return of Jeff Beachnau’s infamous/famous Worst Picture/Best Picture cross-examination of the year’s Razzie winner for Worst Picture and the Oscar’s choice for Best Picture.

After a very long absence, one could say it had to do with relocating and a new job, or one could say being lazy and procrastinating, I have finally returned to comparing the year’s top winning film for the Razzies and the Oscars. The last article was 1995 involving a three hour epic and a sexy stripper showing off her talent. That was a tough one to compare, but at least with 1996 it’s gonna be easier. One film involves a complex storyline with many intricate plot points and numerous characters traveling vast and exotic locations, all the while the love between two people is the heart of the tale. And the other film is The English Patient. So, let’s sit back, relax, and see what these two really hot protagonists have in common.

Competing with his fellow brit Ben Kingsley for who can be in the most Best Picture winners, Schindler’s List star Ralph Fiennes returns in another WWII film The English Patient as Hungarian cartographer Count Laszlo de Almasy. At the start of the film, the Count is flying over the Sahara desert and is shot down by the Germans. Though he survives the crash, his entire body is burnt to a crisp and he has lost most of his memory. Rescued by the Allies, the Count is taken to a monastery in Italy to be looked after by a nurse. After her boyfriend was killed in action and her best friend blown up by a bomb, the nurse Hana (Juliette Binoche) hopes that perhaps she can redeem herself by looking after the new patient, even though he’s probably gonna die too. Though if he does survive, he could get a job as Boris Karloff’s stunt double.

Competing with her husband Bruce Willis for who can be in the most Worst Picture winners, Indecent Proposal star Demi Moore returns in another money for women film Striptease as former FBI secretary and current exotic dancer Erin Grant. At the start of the film, Erin is in a Florida court having just lost custody of her 8-year old daughter to her drunken thief of an ex-husband Darrell (Robert Patrick). For the rest of the film, while dancing at the Eager Beaver at nights, she spends the rest of the time trying to get the child from Darrell. Let’s see how the T-1000 handles this when the tables are turned.

Back at the monastery, Hana and the Count quickly grow fond of each other. She reads from his book he had on him filled with photos and letters pasted throughout, while he entertains her by knowing the title and artist of pretty much any song (granted, it’s the early 1940s, so that’s not extremely impressive, but his friends seem to enjoy it). But soon they start getting visitors. Caravaggio (Willem Dafoe), a mysterious thief with missing thumbs, introduces himself as their neighbor and he stops by from time to time to keep them company. Along with him, Sikh soldier Kip (Naveen Andrews) stops by to help clear mines and defuse bombs that have been left around the area. All they need is a couple teenage kids and this would make for a great pilot for a WWII sitcom.

The monastery isn’t the only place that’s hopping, back at the Eager Beaver we’re introduced to some of the friendly folk. Bouncer and patriarch of the hustler household is Shad (Ving Rhames) equipped with this trusty monkey. He takes care of all the girls: Monique Jr, Sabrina Hepburn, Lorelei and her python Monty, and Urbanna Sprawl. Shad has been there for so long and has seen so many of the girls come and go, hell, he was even there when Meryl Streep first started dancing, but back then she was known as Chesty Le France. He’s a tough guy, if the patrons get too frisky with the dancers, you can be sure he’ll be on them faster than you can say Don King. And you better pray there’s a copy of Free Willy available at the local Blockbuster Video, otherwise there’s gonna be hell to pay. But Shad’s not the only one who takes care of the ladies, Jerry is a frequent guest of the club and likes to shower the dancers with both money and flowers, especially Erin. He’s a big fan of Erin’s, or maybe he’s just a big fan of Annie Lennox because that’s all she ever strips to. Maybe the Count could give her some pointers on other songs she could dance to.

Just when you thought this 3 hour film had too many people in it, the Count starts remembering things and we go to his flashbacks. It turns out in the 1930s he was mapmaker assigned to look for a hidden cave near Cairo. He had been given a tip to look for a mountain in the shape of a woman’s back. Whereas if you’re in Miami you’ll probably get a lot of tips on where to find women’s backs. To help him in his search he is accompanied by his good British friend Madox, and the recently married husband and wife team Geoffrey and Katharine Clifton (Colin Firth and Kristen Scott Thomas) who have supplied them with the plane for the aerial views. I guess Bo Derek and her Arab sheik were busy.

While the mapmakers are looking for some lost caves, Erin is looking for her lost daughter Angela (played by her real life daughter Rumer Willis). Though the other dancers seem to have fun shaking it to the 80s hits, she has more pressing issues to take care of. Darrell ditched Miami and took Angela with him, using her to help him with an ingenious scheme. He poses as a doctor, using Angela as a fake patient, and he rolls her out of the hospitals so he can steal the wheelchairs. Hey, unlike Hana, at least Darrell’s patients don’t die.

Sitting around the campfire in the middle of the Sahara, the group have a little bit of a talent competition. Geoffrey dances, which I’m sure would make Erin insanely jealous, while singing Yes! We Have No Bananas, which I’m sure would make Shad’s monkey extremely jealous. Next up, Katharine tells a tale of King Candaules and his beautiful queen. The King tells his bodyguard Gyges that his wife the Queen is the most beautiful woman on Earth, and to prove it, he tells Gyges that every night she undresses in her bedroom and that he should hide there that night to see. He accepts, and that night he sees the Queen strip naked, agrees she’s incredible, so he kills the king and marries her and they spend the rest of their life together.

Back at the Eager Beaver, Congressman David Dilbeck (played by the late great Burt Reynolds), wearing a hat and sunglass to conceal his political identity, sits in the audience and see Erin strip nude as she does every night. He sees her and believes her to be the most beautiful woman on Earth and decides she must have her. Unfortunately this isn’t Asia in the 7th century BC, so he can’t kill everyone around her to claim her his own, but that doesn’t mean he can’t pounce on her in a drunken stupor. The congressman tells Erin “I worship your essence. If you were a nurse or a schoolteacher I’d feel the same way.” Well, as we’ve learned from Hana, good thing Erin’s not a nurse because the Congressman would probably get shot or blown up by the end of the next scene. After a fight with some of the other fans, Dilbeck runs out, but not before getting recognized by Jerry the club’s biggest fan. Thankfully, things go back to normal and the next stripper comes out to dance, dressed in her full cat outfit, because as we all know, women dressed up as cats who sing and dance are sure to be a big hit.

Back at the present day, or rather, present day 1945, everything’s going pretty fine for the most part at the monastery. Hana starts to fall in love with Kip, mainly because she can’t fall in love with a piece of burnt toast and a guy without thumbs who looks like Willem Dafoe. Meanwhile, Caravaggio starts to slowly reveal himself. It turns out he was actually a Canadian Intelligence agent, code named Moose, who was helping the allies catch the Germans, and it turns out he knows quite a bit about the Count.

The Congressman isn’t doing so great, at least according to his advisor. It’s only a couple weeks before the elections and someone’s got dirt on him getting in a scuffle at a strip club. But Dillbeck doesn’t seem to mind, he’s seen Erin and is convinced she was an angel from heaven and that he must have her. His advisor manages to take care of things for a time by having Jerry “drown” in a lake nearby. Unfortunately, police lieutenant Garcia (Armand Assante) is the one who finds Jerry. “Of all the lakes in all the counties in all the world, you got to float up in mine.” So, Garcia packs up his bags and goes to Miami to round up the usual suspects.

While in Cairo, the Count and Katharine began a passionate love affair. Sure, a count is a downgrade from a Prince, but Katharine will take what she can get. In one particular instance on Christmas Eve, they sneak off into a room while her husband Geoffrey is dressed as Santa Claus entertaining the people at the party. Luckily Armand Assante won’t be born for a few more years, so Santa won’t need to worry about getting him any presents. Though they managed to keep their affair hidden for a little bit, Geoffrey catches the two of them wandering off together and he figures it out.

Meanwhile in Miami, the Lieutenant finds his way to the Eager Beaver and has a talk with Erin. He tells her that Jerry died and that it probably had something to do with Dilbeck dropping by the club a few days ago. But while he tells her all this, she had been doing some detective work of her own and managed find out where Darrell and her daughter were. After she snatched Angela, she decided soon she’s gotta stop dancing and make a fresh new start for the benefit of her daughter. But in the meantime she’s gotta bring her daughter to work so the fellow strippers can babysit her while she dances to the Eurythmics.

Since we can never get enough romance in a sweeping epic, they threw in some more romance and Hana and Kip start to fling around a bit. So while they’re off dangling in empty churches looking at paintings, the Count and Caravaggio are given some time bond. Caravaggio tells the crispy slab of meat who he really is and that he’s been searching for him for the longest time because he’s the reason he lost his thumbs. It turns out that, after a few tips and betrayals from some people, including a certain mapmaker who gave them a bunch of his recent finished works, the Germans managed to capture a bunch of the allies, including Caravaggio. In a disturbing segment, the prisoner Caravaggio gets his thumbs cut off by the Germans. And coincidentally, the exact same thing happens in the director’s cut of Striptease when Shad finally gets a hold of the guy who hasn’t returned his copy of Free Willy.

Man, I’m nearly finished with the three hour film and I’m only like halfway through Striptease, let’s try to speed things up. Dilbeck is getting so horny for Erin, he’s been lathering himself up in Vaseline and wearing just his underwear and a cowboy hat, much to his assistant’s dismay. “What, you’ve never covered yourself in Vaseline?” “No, not unless I have third degree burns”. So all of the Count’s torture could have been avoided by just putting out fire with Vaseline. The Congressman isn’t a presidential candidate, so he can’t afford to pay Erin $130,000, but he found out about her custody battle and offers to have a talk with the judge in exchange that she gives him a private dance. She agrees, so finally he can stop stealing her laundry lint and actually get the real thing.

Back by the Cave of Swimmers, the Count is hanging out and gathering his belongings when suddenly Geoffrey flies in on his plane of death, aiming directly for his target. The Count manages to jump out of the way just in time and avoid certain death, but the same can’t be said for Geoffrey. The plane crashes and Geoffrey dies instantly. Luckily Colin Firth will never have to deal with Fiennes having an affair with the love of his life again. Unfortunately, Geoffrey wasn’t the only one in the plane. When the Count goes to check on Geoffrey, he sees Katharine sitting in the other seat and she is badly injured. As they confess their true love to each other, the Count carries her to the cave and promises to her that he’ll return in a couple days with a doctor to save her. Too bad he had to carry her all that way to the cave, if only he had invested in stolen wheelchairs he could have saved his strength.

Erin gets ready to go see the Congressman at his private boat, bringing Shad along with her to check up on her. The Lieutenant catches on what’s going on as well, so he makes his way out to the boat as well. Also, Darrell shows up extremely drunk, trying to get his daughter back from Erin, so he follows her too. This is shaping up to be quite a party, and I haven’t even gotten to the subplot of the corrupt Cuban sugar barons who also tag along.

After an unsuccessful attempt at finding help for Katharine, the Count is mistaken as a German spy and taken away on a train as a prisoner of war. Luckily he manages to escape, and in a desperate need to return to Katharine, he gives the Germans all the maps he and his team made so he could get fuel to fly a plane back to the cave. He returns there and finds Katharine has died. So, in keeping with his promise, he takes her with him, gets back on the plane and gets the hell out of Africa faster than you can say “Chesty Le France”. Unfortunately, in the middle of the flight, the German army sees the English plane he is flying and shoots it down, bringing the entire story back to the opening scene of the film. When his burnt up body was taken to the hospital, the doctor’s saw he was in a British plane, so they labeled him as “English Patient”. Well, it only took about 150 minutes, but we finally figure out why the hell the movie got its title. At least two minutes into Striptease we didn’t have to think too much.

Back at the boat, Erin starts giving Dilbeck a dance which excites him to no end. “Just a touch of your hand sets my pecker on fire.” Makes you wonder how the Count really got burnt to a crisp. As the dance continues, suddenly the drunken Darrell shows up with a gun and demands that Erin give him back his daughter. But, since he’s so wasted, she easily takes the gun from him and she takes control of the scene. She forces Darrell to sign an agreement to give her custody of Angela. And while all this is taking place, some other random guys show up with guns as well and a big standoff takes place. Now rather than going into the very complex and exciting scene, I’ll sum it up by saying a pile of sugar gets dumped on the bad guys, Dilbeck gets arrested, and Erin wins.

Meanwhile, with the war having just ended, the Count isn’t getting any younger, and now that Kip has left to go defuse some other bombs in other towns, Hana doesn’t have much else to do. So, to make things easier for her, he asks her to give him a bunch of morphine so he can die in peace. She agrees, and as he drifts off to sleep, she reads some more from his book. With Kip and the Count gone, she’s left with the eight fingered thief, so she takes off with him into the sunset.

So, how do these two compare? Well, one’s in the Sahara, the other’s in a strip club. One’s in the 1940s, the other’s in the 1990s. One doesn’t have enough skin, the other’s got too much skin. It’s pretty slim pickings. When The English Patient was in pre-production, Demi Moore was fighting really hard to get the role of Katharine and the studio really wanted her. That probably would’ve helped me a little bit when writing this. And Bruce Willis turned down the role of Caravaggio, so once again, I was screwed over. To be honest, these movies pretty much have nothing in common. One’s a three hour WWII epic, the other, well, isn’t. To sum it up, if I took a date to see a double of feature of both movies, I wouldn’t mind if they hated The English Patient, but I don’t think I can be with someone who doesn’t like Striptease.

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