Popatopolis Movie Review
Written by Steve Pattee
What are these fuckers doing? - Jim Wynorski
Written and directed by Clay Westervelt
2009, 75 minutes, Not Rated
DVD released on May 30th, 2010
Julie K. Smith
Jim Wynorski, one of Hollywood's prolific filmmakers, has directed over 80 movies in the last 25 years…yet the average filmgoer would not recognize his name. With titles like Busty Cops, Body Chemistry 4: Full Exposure and Scream Queen Hot Tub Party, Wynorski makes the ridiculously fun movies that teenage boys brag about seeing and adult men call guilty pleasures. If you were a teenage male from 1985 to today and had any sort of access to Skin-emax (particularly in the '80s and early '90s), chances are almost 100% that you've seen a Jim Wynorski movie or three. And, if you did, chances are you enjoyed it because his films deliver what men (and women who like women) want: boobs.
As if he didn't sling out movies fast enough, in 2005 Wynorski decided to try something new: make a movie in three days. Using a cast of four and a crew of three, he set out on that mission and Popatopolis documents the journey, following Wynorski around for the entire experience, from pre-production to the last day of shooting. The movie Wynorski was making was The Witches of Breastwick.
At first glance, Popatopolis appears to be an overly-long and slightly more developed behind-the-scenes piece found on any given DVD worth its salt. However, a deeper look at the documentary shows that it's a much more honest look at what really goes on a low-budget set and it doesn't bother with sugar coating.
In addition to those directly involved with The Witches of Breastwick, writer/director Clay Westervelt got some pretty good interviews for the movie, including genre heroes Lloyd Kaufman, Andy Sidaris and Roger Corman. And while not in Breastwick, Julie Strain pops in throughout the documentary to share her experiences with Wynorski, as the two have worked together on numerous occasions. Westervelt even talks to Wynorski's mother, a really sweet lady who enjoyed her son's Chopping Mall, but felt the nudity was too much.
Yet, even with those names and as fantastic as it was to see them talk about Wynorski, easily the best interviewee in the film is Julie K. Smith. Star of such movies as The Bare Wench Project, Cheerleader Massacre and The Da Vinci Coed, Smith is brutally honest about Wynorski, the movie he is shooting now compared to past films and the state of the B-movie industry. At first she appears to be somewhat bitter, but that impression dissipates the more you hear from her and you realize that if she is bitter, she has right to be because of the direction of the once great B-movie. Smith pulls no punches when she talks about her disgust of the hiring of porn actresses in Wynorski's films (in Breastwick's case, it was Stormy Daniels) to the ridiculousness of shooting a film in three days. It's obvious she has a lot of respect and adoration for Wynorski, but it's just as clear that she is disheartened with where she thinks the business is heading.
Another great thing about Popatopolis is Wynorski himself. While he isn't readily available for a traditional sit-down interview (he was trying to make a movie in three days, after all), it is an absolute treat to watch him work. Often times when watching footage of directors on set, you can immediately tell who's playing for the (behind-the-scenes/documentary) camera and who isn't. Wynorski most definitely isn't. Wynorski is not an "actor's director" by any stretch of the imagination, as his disgust with his actors is barely contained — shown by either mumbling to himself or flat out telling the stars what they are doing wrong. However, that doesn't mean he is heartless. A day after a torturous scene in which a frustrated Julie K. Smith had trouble getting a line correct, Wynorski approaches her and tells her how great she's doing, in an attempt to smooth things over. Tensions are high on the set, and as much as a hard-ass as Wynorski is, it's obvious he cares about Smith, because the moment is surprisingly tender.
If there is one frustrating thing with this documentary, it is that it leaves you wanting so much more. Jim Wynorski has made enough films, worked with enough actors and seen enough of the trials and tribulations of making a B-movie, so he is deserving of more than a 75 minute piece centering around one weekend. He is a perfect documentary subject — crass, funny, honest and likeable — and he definitely has the resume and fans to be worthy of a two hour film covering his entire career. That is not a slam on Popatopolis, however, but rather a credit to Westervelt for making me want more.
As mentioned above, it's very easy to call Popatopolis an extended behind-the-scenes of The Witches of Breastwick, but that would be doing a disservice to the documentary. Most behind-the-scenes are nothing more than fluff pieces, where Popatopolis delves much deeper into not just what's going on with Breastwick, but also the attitudes of Wynorski, the film's stars and people he's worked with in the past. This is a must buy for fans of filmmaking, low-budget cinema or Wynorski himself. It's a solid documentary that shows the burdens of making a movie on a dime, as well as follow around one of the most profitable (and relatively unknown to the masses) directors working today. Buy it.
Video, Audio and Special Features:
While this was a screener and video and audio will not be graded. However, it did include the special features that are on the final disc:
- Filmmaker Commentary
- Actor Commentary
- Deleted Scenes
- Killbot Jr. Bonus Video
The filmmaker commentary with Clay Westervelt is a bit of a disappointment due to the copious amount of silence. It's a huge missed opportunity to talk about Wynorski, the filming and those he has worked with and for.
The actor commentary with Antonia Dorian and Monique Parent can be skipped entirely as they spend the time watching the movie instead of talking about it. There is huge gaps of silence, and when they do speak it's generally "I like this part" or "This is funny, I forgot that."
The Killbot Jr. video is a cool little piece on the killer robot from Chopping Mall.