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A Time To Die

tn_timetodieI found A TIME TO DIE in the action section, and it looks like an action vehicle for Traci Lords. On the cover she’s holding a gun in front of some burning vehicles and she looks awesome. But that’s not exactly what this is, there’s not alot of action. I’m gonna go ahead and classify it as “crime” to be less misleading. A few people get shot, and there’s a car chase where an unrelated car crashes and blows up. And the one part at the beginning where she crushes a dude’s balls (pictured left). But you’re not gonna see Traci Lords doing karate or anything. It’s more of a suspense-drama I guess.

But I kinda liked it. It has all the hallmarks of a generic and at times amateurish thriller, but it keeps surprising with extra bits of personality. Take for example the opening scene, where an arms deal is going on on the roof of a building, and one of the dealers gets mad ’cause a kid sets off the alarm on his car in the alley below. He yells at the kid, and the kid gets offended and lays on top of the car just to fuck with him. The dealer loses his temper and shoots the kid, fucking up the whole deal.

This is not the introduction of the bad guys, and the kid is not a brother or friend of Jackie (Lords) who needs to get avenged. It’s just a weird incident that she reports to as a crime scene photographer.

mp_timetodieOr so it seems. I like how the movie parcels out the information about what’s going on, so you can skip this paragraph if you’re gonna watch it. Although she’s taking pictures of bodies (and people getting shot) she’s actually supposed to be taking happy photos for the police department to use in their PR. And this is not her job – she’s actually an arty fashion photographer or something – but she has to do it as community service after being busted for cocaine possession.

Okay, so she’s had some dark times, that’s why she lost her son, but she’s trying to get better, right? She let’s us believe that at first, but actually that’s not quite it either. We find out she’s never been a cokehead at all, she got set up, and it caused her to lose her kid. This is all about her trying to get him back.

Her relationship with her ex-husband Sam (Bradford Bancroft, UNIVERSAL SOLDIER) is interesting too. You can see why he’s frustrated with her, but he’s definitely a dick about their joint custody. You’d expect his new wife Sheila (Nitchie Barrett) to be a jealous bitch who doesn’t want him talking to his ex, but actually she’s always defending Jackie when he bad mouths her.

“You always stick up for her.”

“I am not sticking up for anyone. I just happen to think she’s right all the time.”

And eventually he starts to sympathize with her too. Trying to work things out.

Jeff Conaway plays Frank, a burnout cop who starts aggressively pursuing Jackie after they meet on the job, and she’s reluctantly charmed by him as she goes on calls with him trying to fulfill her service. He also takes her to the gun range and teaches her how to shoot. This might be the most notable scene in the movie because not only is it setup for if she has to shoot somebody later, it’s also the cop movie version of the pottery scene in GHOST.

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It cuts straight from her firing the gun to her apartment with lit candles, a fire in the fireplace, wine glasses and them fucking. (Normal not-very-graphic late night cable softcore, by the way. Don’t expect more out of Lords because of her previous work.)

One night when they go out to a night club she sees Lieutenant Eddie Martin (Robert Miano, DONNIE BRASCO, TODAY YOU DIE, BLOOD OF REDEMPTION, uncredited DEATH WISH mugger) and recognizes him as the dirty cop who planted the coke on her. So she calls the date off to follow him with her camera, and succeeds in taking incriminating photos of him.

This is another scene that has more layers to it than you expect in a movie like this. Martin is out partying with a whore, coking and driving, which could be enough to bust him on. But the money shot she gets is of him killing this prostitute’s abusive pimp. He’s a total sleazeball dirtbag but his big crime that he could go down for is something that a good guy might do. Or at least Christian Slater in TRUE ROMANCE.

Jackie intends to use the photos to bust him, or blackmail him to recant his phony testimony against her. But of course she realizes she can’t trust anybody, so it turns into her just trying not to get killed for having the photos. Maybe she shoulda just stayed at the club and had another drink.

Lords is actually pretty good. There are a few emoting scenes where she’s a little awkward, but for the most part she’s a natural. Of course she had done several non-porn movies already by this point, but still. This mostly feels like a legit movie.

Not that it’s without its goofy moments. Anything with the kid is pretty laughable. No offense to the young man, it’s not his fault at all but he’s this saccharine little bowl cut kid with a “cute” speech impediment and every scene he has involves him asking about his mommy or calling to tell her he loves her or something. And the music even turns real corny in these scenes, almost like the composer was making fun of them.

There are weird bits where you’re not entirely sure they knew what they were doing. For example the most graphic sex scene in the movie is not with Traci Lords, it’s the ex-husband and the new wife, and it keeps weirdly intercutting with the son in the other room making himself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a glass of chocolate milk with cartoons blaring on the TV. And there’s a laughable cheat where they clearly show Traci Lords carrying some dry cleaning over her shoulder, then she seems to come into her apartment and get shot, but it turns out to be a friend that was never mentioned before who had a key to her apartment and looked like her from behind and also had dry cleaning.

Also there are some amateurish uses of cliche. Any time we need to know that Jackie’s having a hard time she produces a bottle of liquor and takes a swig. And when she’s worried that she might die she calls her husband and says “We had some good times, didn’t we?”

On the other hand there are a couple storytelling moves that impressed me, most notably a pitch perfect execution of the ol’ “character gets shot and seems to be dead but it turns out is wearing a bullet proof vest under the clothes” routine. They do it in two subtle moves.

1. Early in the movie Jackie gets chewed out by the captain (Richard Roundtree) for her grim photos. Almost as an after thought he pulls a vest out of his desk and hands it to her.

“If you find yourself in a danger zone, you put this on, you get the hell out of sight.”

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She takes it, and we don’t see it again until the end, so we forget about it.

2. The reveal is not treated as a shock. She’s in her bathrobe, she gets shot, she plays dead, then shoots her attacker. As she frantically tries to call and warn Sam she’s pulling off her bathrobe and that’s when we see the vest, but it’s not even the focus of the shot.

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Beautiful.

Another piece of story construction I like is how early on she notices a feather falling out of her son’s stuffed animal and makes some cutesy comment about it, it almost seems like an improvised moment. I didn’t expect that at the end falling fathers would reveal his whereabouts to a bad guy. Get those stuffed animals fixed, people!

Writer/director Charles T. Kanganis followed this up with another Traci Lords vehicle called INTENT TO KILL. Later he did 3 NINJAS KICK BACK, DENNIS THE MENACE STRIKES AGAIN! and K-911 (No, not K-19 THE WIDOWMAKER. I’m talking James Belushi returns for the sequel to K-9.)

In loving memory of Jackie’s friend

This entry was posted on Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014 at 12:27 pm and is filed under Crime, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

15 Responses to “A Time To Die”

  1. The Original Paul

    July 22nd, 2014 at 2:35 pm

    I did a double-take when I saw Richard Roundtree’s name on the video cover. (Yes, I checked that out before reading the review itself. Bad priorities, I know.) I’m sad to say that I know Traci Lords only by reputation (I should probably remedy this, but vintage pornography is not something I’m “into”) so seeing her in the lead role in a movie that also has Shaft in it kinda threw me.

    I can’t say I’ll ever go out of my way to check this one out, but it’s kinda nice to know it exists.

  2. Don’t try to get any of her “vintage” work, Paul, if you don’t want to get into big trouble. It was discovered that she was actually underage when she did most of her porn work, and is considered child pornography. I think she only made one movie as an adult. There was a big crackdown on the porn industry because of her, plus that was also when HIV hit big, both of which did a lot of damage to the industry. I saw all of that in a documentary, by the way. Just so you all don’t get the wrong idea about me.

  3. Speaking of porn ‘documentaries’ (c’mon Maggie, you’re talking to us boys now, haha), the most disturbing expose of that world I have seen was the story of one woman’s journey to break the world record for getting shagged by the most men on film over 24 hours – SEX: THE ANNABELLE CHONG STORY.

    Picture this slice of fuckedupness. A private conference centre booked out for this Guiness Book Of World Records occasion. Major ads taken out to attract men willing to ‘contribute’ by participating in this event. Ron ‘Long Dong Silver’ Jeremy on MC duties. A couple hundred guys show up and have to join the queue. Let the fun begin.

    Needless to say she did break the world record, as well as what was left of her poor soul. Never seen anything more tragic. And guess who the last guy was – that’s right, to add injury to insult, the guy with the biggest schlong, Ron Jeremy, Mr MC dives in for sloppy 192nd’s.

    This doco went some ways to turning me off porn, I can tell you that.

  4. Darren, was that in the 70s at some sex club in New York? The documentary I saw talked about that and showed a bit of an interview with the woman. They asked her why she was doing it and she said she just really loved sex and giggled, but she was so vacant in her delivery that it was soul crushing just watching her speak. If there was more than one woman who set out to break that record…man, I don’t even know how to end that sentence.

  5. Maggie, this gangbang took place in 1995 so she must have been trying to beat the previous world record from the 70’s.

    According to this profile ….

    http://www.nndb.com/people/562/000026484/

    …. she didn’t hold the title very long, losing out a year later to Jasmin St Clair who took on an almighty 300 dongs!

    So yeah, there’s quite a few starlets out there selling their souls for infamy.

  6. I would like to challenge the idea that having a couple hundred dongs in her “ruins” a woman. Yes, it sounds unsanitary and unpleasant. But we don’t know what’s going on in her soul and we don’t have a right to judge. People have weird kinks and desires. It doesn’t make them damaged goods. That’s the same kind of patriarchal thinking that places so much value on a woman’s “purity” that it makes them afraid of their own bodies.

  7. For me, it wasn’t the quantity of dongs (not a sentence I ever thought I’d write) as much as it was the woman’s affect. It was off. It didn’t say I’m tantalized & titillated, but rather, I’m sad & broken.

  8. No moral judgement coming from me either, just an observation of what the doco presents. It affected me in a moral way, for sure. The spectacle presented in 300 DONGS: RISE OF A GANG-BANG was this – several hundred men queued up like they were waiting in line at the deli to dip their wicks in a woman who wanted to break a world record. As the men in line got closer to the front they would drop their pants and start jerking off to prepare for entry. At about dong number 220 Annabelle Chong (real person name Grace Quek) had to call a time out because she began to tear. Under great physical pain she continued to guy 251 (Ron Jeremy) before she called it a day, taking home the world record.

    I kinda feel sick thinking and writing about that. Patriarchal thinking has it’s place when it values the essence (the feminine qualities of beauty, tenderness, vulnerability) of a woman and serves to protect them emotionally, spiritually and physically as best they can. As I write this I’m thinking perhaps I’m more angry with and disturbed by the men who facilitated and participated in this event than I am judgmental of Grace. Guilty then, but so be it.

  9. Woah woah woah, stop the clock. There’s a sequel to K-9???

  10. The Original Paul

    July 24th, 2014 at 3:41 am

    Wow, this talkback got very depressing very quickly.

    I’m firmly of the opinion that sex can be whatever you want it to be, as long as the other girl / guy is of the same mindset. But just the notion of a “world record” – for that?! – makes me kinda depressed. The whole physical aspect of it as well… her “tearing”… uuugh.

    Yeah, I’m with Darren on that one. Thinking about it makes me feel kinda ill.

  11. Yeah sorry about the downer topic, been carrying that one for a while. My feelings remain the same, but will save it for my shrink (when I get one).

    KingNewbs – there is a total of 3 sequels to K9. The latest one stars Luke Perry and is called K9 – LEGEND OF THE LOST GOLD. Jim Belushi does not return. Keep your pants on guys, this could be K9’s Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull.

  12. Also, DRY-HUMP: THE K9 STORY is coming soon, about a porn-star dog who attempts to break the world record for dry-humping the most legs in a…..(slaps own face, re-composes self).

  13. I rented Marlowe last night. James Garner (TANK, RIP) played the coolest gumshoe on earth and is a fantastic basses. But the real revelation in this one is a young Bruce Lee as the baddies number one henchman! It is an explosive performance, even if his SPOILER death is hilariously weak.
    I love that in two Marlowe movies you have henchmen who will go on to become the biggest action stars in the world. The Dragon in this one and Arnold in Altmans The Long Goodbye.

  14. Darth,

    Yeah, but Garner’s hand gesture after his showdown with Bruce is the funniest part of the movie!

    Here’s my review, from back when it was only on VHS:

    http://www.outlawvern.com/2010/04/15/marlowe/

  15. To the boss! That’s a great move. It was so good he didn’t even need to do the whistle when he did it.

    Thanks for the review link.

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