Ghosts of Christmas Past #21: Ghosts of Degrassi Past

Today’s ghost of Christmas past comes to us from my favorite country in the whole entire world, Canada!

Admit it, longtime readers — you knew that I was eventually going to have to find an excuse to include an episode of Degrassi in my holiday series, didn’t you?

Ghosts of Degrassi Past is a mini-episode from 2009.  Holly J is, as usual, stressing out so the ghost of J.T. appears and teachers her a lesson about Christmas spirit.

It’s Degrassi at its best!


Ghosts of Christmas Past #14: Dave Foley’s The True Meaning of Christmas Specials

I came across tonight’s Ghost of Christmas Past while I was doing a search on Christmas specials that have been posted to YouTube.  Apparently, this is a Canadian show that aired way back in 2002.

And, watching it, I could really tell that was the truth.  This show is not only very Canadian but it’s very 2002 and as well.  Fortunately, while I can pretty much do without 2002, I happen to love Canada.

Ten Years #41: Our Lady Peace

Decade of scrobbling countdown:
41. Our Lady Peace (765 plays)
Top track (30 plays): Angels Losing Sleep, from Healthy in Paranoid Times (2005)

We are all entitled to a guilty pleasure or two. I would humor calling Our Lady Peace mine, but only if we agree to restrict their cause for lameness to the lyrics. Their popularity, especially as those “Canadian softies” emerging amidst much heavier U.S. trends, overshadows the fact that they are absolutely amazing. Raine Maida’s voice is capable of making anything sound great, and capable of making me not give a shit about singing a falsetto at the top of my lungs at traffic lights with my windows down. Even as I was signing the final divorce papers with my radio in the late 90s and letting my affair with Napster and heavy metal be known, I was probably listening to 1999′s Happiness…is Not a Fish That You Can Catch more than any other album on the market. I’ve definitely listened to it more than most other 1990s albums–even the grunge greats–in my more informed years to follow.

How people have experienced OLP over the years probably varies drastically depending on where you’re from. The late 1990s and early 2000s marked the final days of musical segregation, with Americans barely having a clue who Radiohead, Blur, and Muse were. (Didn’t one of them do that “woo-hoo” song?) The U.S. and Canada were a bit more in sync, but Our Lady Peace was definitely not the overhyped megaband down here that my Canadian friends recall. They were just “that band that did Clumsy and Superman’s Dead”. The singles on Happiness received minimal air time, and the only song since that I’ve really heard extensively here was “Somewhere Out There” (Gravity, 2002). (I can’t honestly speak for their last three albums of course. Maybe “Angels Losing Sleep” was huge–it deserves to be–but I hadn’t listened to mainstream radio in years by then.) My main point here is that, while OLP might have been played to the point of annoyance in Canada, down here they were presented modestly enough to not face serious media pollution. I had a better opportunity to engage them by choice–and choose which songs I liked best.

Our Lady Peace are a band that has definitely catered to the radio single. Even on their first album, Naveed (1994), a few tracks stood out as decisively more catchy than the status quo. Their albums by and large are never perfect; there are plenty of second-rate tracks in their discography. What they have really accomplished throughout their career is a consistency of top-notch quality among the handful of main focus tracks they produce for a given album. They are a band better set to a playlist, and even as recently as Burn Burn in 2009 they’ve pumped out new material worthy of that mix. (“Signs of Life”, “Paper Moon”–featured above) Happiness…is Not a Fish That You Can Catch remains, I think, their best album by far, because it is the only one for which I can safely say there are no downer tracks. Every song on that album could be a single. But I really do enjoy the full discography, and I have a tendency to queue it up from start to finish when I’ve got a long project to work on at home. Something about the more ho-hum tracks projects a sort of humility on the big picture–the sense that these guys are down to earth, not supernaturally brilliant in the sense of contemporaries like Smashing Pumpkins and Pearl Jam. Their lyrics are frequently incredibly lame, but that’s the only major fault I hear in a band that was perhaps a bit too successful to be appreciated for their real worth.

Our Lady Peace: a guilty pleasure? Maybe, but I’ll keep singing along.

Before I Abandon America For Canada, Here’s 6 Trailers To Remember Me By.

Hi everyone!  Yesterday was election day here in the United States and what can I say other than that I’m taking my cute ass to Canada!  That may sound extreme but earlier this month, I promised that if Hello Kitty and Tuxedo Sam did not win this election, I was heading up north.

And in honor of my future life in the land of Degrassi and Ryan Gosling, here’s another edition of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse and Exploitation Film trailers.  And guess what?  This edition is dedicated to Canadian films!

1) Abraxas: Guardian of the Universe (1990)

This is less of a trailer and more of an advertisement designed to entice retailers to keep Abraxas in stock.  But, what’s really important here is that it’s Canadian.

2) Expect No Mercy (1996)

With a title like Expect No Mercy, it has to be good!  Plus, it was made in Canada.

3) Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter (2001)

Who needs Abraham Lincoln?

4) The Playgirl Killer (1966)

“The Playgirl Killer … in color!”  I think the Playgirl Killer looks like he might be distantly related to Steve Buscemi.

5) Starship Invasions (1977)

I think this film might involved starships invading something.  It’s hard to tell from the trailer.

6) Rolling Vengeance (1987)

It’s out for revenge!  And it’s … rolling, apparently.

What do you think, Trailer Kitty?

Don’t Blame Doc! (Photogapher: Erin Nicole. Model: Doc Bowman)

What Lisa Marie Watched Last Night: Degrassi: The Next Generation (ep. 0611, Rock This Town)

So last night, as I fought insomnia and planned my upcoming road trip, I happened to watch an infamous episode of Degrassi: The Next Generation, Rock This Town.  This was the 11th episode of the 6th season and it’s probably inspired more YouTube music videos than any other episode of the show.

Why Was I Watching It?

Okay, so I’ll just be honest here.  Degrassi: The Next Generation has been one of my guilty pleasures ever since it first started airing here in the states.  And when I say guilty, that’s not necessarily a slam on the show.  As far as shows about teenagers dealing with every social issue under the sun are concerned, none can come close to Degrassi.  When I was younger, the pleasure of this show came from the fact that the characters were actually doing the same stupid stuff that I was doing in school.   Then, in college, Degrassi was the show that you’d get high and then watch.  And now that I’m technically an adult, this show just makes me nostalgic.  Either way, it serves a good purpose.  Or at least it did.  I hear that the more recent episodes kinda sorta suck but I only catch the reruns anyway.

What Was It About?

In this episode, Emma’s parents went out of town so every high school student in Canada showed up at her house to party.  She had been planning on having sex with her boyfriend Sean that night but unfortunately, she ended up getting so drunk that she instead ended up spending the whole night vomiting in a trash can.  (Been there, done that — no, you can’t quite recover from it but you can just get a new boyfriend.) 

Meanwhile, reformed class clown J.T. realized — while at the party — that he was still in love with his boring ex-girlfriend Liberty, despite the fact that Liberty’s kind of a pill and was always my least favorite character on the show.  J.T. went looking for Liberty to tell her that he loved her but before he found her, he ended up getting stabbed in the back by a kid from the rival high school.  Liberty comes across J.T. who dies without ever letting her know that he loves her. 

Seriously, that’s what happens.


What Worked

The thing I loved about this show is the way it always managed to embrace the principle of the worst possible thing that can happen will happen.  For all the controversy over the fact that the show regularly dealt with issues like teen sex and teen violence, few commentators seemed to notice just how reactionary this show usually is.  In the world of Degrassi, if you have unprotected sex, you will get pregnant.  If you try drugs, you will end up getting addicted and having a psychotic breakdown in front of someone who could have been very important to your future.  If you drink and drive, you’re going to total the car.  If you bully another student, you better believe that student is going to attempt suicide by the end of the episode.  And here, we learn that if you throw a party while your parents are away, the funniest, most likable student at school will end up getting murdered by a complete stranger.

Seriously, whenever I start to get annoyed with all of my Catholic guilt, I watch this show and realize that I’m right.  I am doomed.

What Didn’t Work?

Liberty was such an annoying character and the fact that J.T. died because he was looking for her didn’t serve to make her any less annoying.

“Oh my God!  Just like me!” Moments

As I already mentioned, I couldn’t help but relate to Emma as her night of passion was ruined by the fact that she was busy throwing up in a trash can.  Luckily, she had someone there to hold back her hair.  Seriously guys, there’s an art to doing that.  I speak as someone who has had her hair manhandled by far-too-many clumsy good Samaritans.  I mean, don’t get me wrong — I love you guys but ouch!  Holding my hair back does not mean ripping it out by the roots.

Lessons Learned

None.  I’ve never been good at learning my lesson.

Film Review: Hobo With a Shotgun (dir. by Jason Eisener)

It’s been brought to my attention that I’ve been going off on Canada a lot lately, which is odd since some of my favorite Twitter  friends happen to live up in Canada.  Unfortunately, so does my one twitter enemy.  I’m not going to give out his name (though I call him Monsieur Petit Pénis) or go in to all the gory details but oh my God,  I hate him so much it’s not even funny.  Seriously.  Hate him.  Forever and ever.

But anyway, just in case I have been tarring an entire nation based on one freaking lewser, I want to take some time to acknowledge the greatest thing to come out of Canada since Ryan Gosling, Hobo With A Shotgun.

Rutger Hauer plays the title character and hero of this nicely demented little film.  When we first meet Hobo, he doesn’t have a shotgun.  He’s just a vagabond, a proverbial man with no name who finds himself in the most run-down slum of a town ever.  Hope Town appears to be located in one of the lesser known rings of Hell and  basically seems to consist almost exclusively of burned-out storefronts, trash-strewn alleys, and seedy amusement parks.  Seriously, the New York City of Taxi Driver hasn’t got a thing on Hope Town.

As soon as the Hobo arrives, the first thing he witnesses is the town’s local crime boss, the Drake (Brian Downey), decapitating a man in broad daylight while the citizens of the town apathetically watch.  The Drake looks a lot like Peter Popoff (a preacher who comes on TV around 2 in the morning around these parts; he sells magic holy water) and he has two equally sadistic sons, Slick (Gregory Smith, who looks like Tom Cruise on extasy) and the idiotic Ivan (Nick Bateman).  It soon becomes obvious that the Drake and his sons control the town because nobody has ever previously considered grabbing a shotgun and gunning them down.  Nobody until the Hobo that is.

Originally, of course, the Hobo had different plans.  He was attempting to raise the money necessary to buy a used lawn mower sitting in the local pawn shop, the idea being that he could use that mower to start a lawn care business.  (The joke here, of course, is that nobody in Hope City appears to have a lawn.  Seriously, they should have called it Cement City.)  However, right when the Hobo is preparing to buy the lawn mower, the pawn shop is held up by two thugs.  Luckily, along with the lawn mower, there’s also a shotgun — which happens to cost the exact same amount as the lawn mower — in the sales window.  The Hobo purchases the shotgun and soon, with the help of a sympathetic prostitute named Abby (Molly Dunsworth) he sets out to clean up Hope City, one criminal at a time.

Now, it might sound like I’m making fun of the film’s plot but nothing could be further from the truth.  This film is perfectly aware of how ludicrous all of this is and director Eisener quite wisely never apologizes for the story he tells or the way he tells it.  From the start, Hobo With A Shotgun shows that it is a film without shame and therefore, one that you can watch without shame.

It’s also follows Robert Rodriguez’s Machete as the second film to be based on a fake trailer made for the Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino collaborative film Grindhouse.  Here’s the original “fake” trailer that led to a very real movie:

Though it’s gotten nowhere as much hype, I actually think Hobo With A Shotgun is superior to Machete.  Grindhouse films may have been excessive but they were still films being made by filmmakers and, as Quentin Tarantino has always seemed to understand, the truly great grindhouse films (the ones that we eagerly wait to see released on DVD) never used the art of excess as just an excuse to do whatever they wanted.  The best grindhouse films created their own unique worlds with their own unique rules but once those rules had been set, they weren’t broken.  (That, of course, wasn’t true of all grindhouse films.  Just the good ones.)  That is where Hobo With A Shotgun truly triumphs.  You believe in this odd, over-the-top world that the film creates.  Everything from the graffiti-covered walls to the garish cinematography to even the overacting of most of the supporting cast; it all comes together to create its own unique world.  And once you surrender to that the film’s odd “reality,” the film becomes, in its own warped way, quite compelling.

With the exception of Rutger Hauer in the title role, the cast of Hobo With A Shotgun is largely made up of unknowns and that’s quite a contrast to Machete.  However, and I may be in the minority here, I actually felt that all the famous faces in Machete actually had a detrimental effect on the overall film.  Too many of them seemed to be slumming or treating Machete as a lark and true grindhouse is never a lark.  If there’s one thing you can say for sure about Rutger Hauer’s performance here, it’s that he’s definitely not slumming.  Hauer seems to understand that a film like this needs an anchor, something steady that the audience can grab on to whenever the film itself threatens to spin out of control.  Wisely, Hauer chooses to underplay his character and, as a result, he dominates the entire film.  It’s really a performance that all aspiring actors should watch.  Hauer might be playing a hobo with a shotgun but that doesn’t keep him from being the most compelling and believable hobo with a shotgun possible.  Out of the rest of the cast, Molly Dunsworth does a good job and manages to be believable whether she’s mourning her lost innocence or stabbing a bad guy to death with a fragment of bone.

Hobo With A Shotgun is currently in limited release here in the United States.  What does that mean?  Well, that means that if you’re living on the West or East coast you’re in luck.  However, if you’re like me and you actually live in a city that’s not going to be targeted by terrorists in the near future, things are a bit more problematic.  Luckily, for us, Hobo With Shotgun is available OnDemand which is how I ended up seeing it. 

In conclusion, allow me to say, “Canada, you rock!”

What Lisa Marie Watched Last Night: Confessions of a Go-Go Girl (dir. by Grant Harvey)

So, late, late last night, I was laying in bed, trying to get to sleep when I suddenly remembered that I had earlier recorded a movie called Confessions of a Go-Go Girl off of the Lifetime Movie Network.  So I turned on the TV and I started watching, hoping that the movie would simply calm my racing mind and help me get to sleep.  Instead, I found myself sitting up in bed for the next two hours, totally enraptured with this film. 

After the first few minutes, I started to scream until my sister Erin woke up and rushed into my room.  “What’s going on!?” she asked.  “Erin,” I replied, “you have to watch this movie with me!”  Erin stared at me for a few minutes before replying, “Oh my God, Lisa,” and then walking out of the room.  So, after that, I started to call random friends, telling them about this movie.  Unfortunately, most of them were already asleep since it was like 3 in the morning.

Anyway, long story short — I am really, really tired today!  But enough about me.  Let’s talk about Confessions of a Go-Go Girl.

Why Was I Watching It?

Okay, my friend Evelyn asked me this same question when I called her up last night at 3 in the morning and tried to convince her to come over and watch this with me.  So, as I told her, “Oh.  My.  God.  Are you like kidding me!?  Confessions of a Go-Go Girl?  How can you not watch it!?”

If I’ve learned anything, it’s that if “Confessions” appears in the title of a movie, there’s about a 75% chance that it’s going to be a lot of fun.  And if that “Confessions” movie happens to be a Lifetime movie, than those chances increase to 99%. 

Add to that, these aren’t just the confessions of a go-go dancer.  No, they are the confessions of a go-go girl.  In other words, the whole go-go thing isn’t just a job in this movie.  It’s a lifestyle.

What’s It About?

It’s yet another Canadian film that’s found a home on the Lifetime Movie Network.  In this one, Jane McCoy (played by Chelsea Hobbs) is a sweet and innocent aspiring actress who, in order to make some extra money, secretly takes a job as a “go-go dancer” at a sleazy bar.  Under the influence of an older, cocaine-addicted dancer (played by Sarah Carter), Janet quickly starts a downward spiral of drugs, decadence, and alienation.  As her new identity as a go-go girl starts to dominate her life, Jane soon finds herself growing distant from her wealthy family, her boring boyfriend, and her stridently scary drama teacher.

What Worked?

Oh my God, this is like the ultimate Lifetime movie.  Over-the-top, melodramatic, awkwardly moralistic, and amazingly silly, Confessions of a Go-Go Girl is a camp masterpiece that simply has to be seen to be believed.

Nothing happens in this movie that you couldn’t predict within the first few minutes.  The film’s genius is not that it does anything unexpected.  Instead, it’s that it takes the expected to such an extreme.  Listen, we all know, from the minute that Jane first dances, that she’s going to eventually end up becoming jaded and cynical.  What we could never guess is that it’s pretty much going to happen right after the first dance.  It’s kinda like one of those old anti-drug films where all it took was one puff off of a “marijuana cigarette.”  One puff and you’re a giggling psycho.  One dance and suddenly, your soul fades away.  This is the type of film where we know that Jane has become a bad girl because she starts to part her hair down the middle and grow out her bangs.

Plus, as I’ve mentioned so many times before, I love to dance, I love to watch others dance, and if nothing else, this movie had a lot of dancing.  Watching this movie, I was surprised to discover that sordid, Canadian go-go clubs apparently are capable of providing Broadway-style dance shows.  I mean, I’m not big into strip clubs but, from my experience, most of them just seem to involve a runway, a pole, and a lot of plastic.  I mean, it’s fun to grab onto that pole and spin around and go, “Wheeee!” but it’s not exactly exciting to watch (or, at least, it’s not for me).  But in Canadian go-go clubs, the dance routines have elaborate costumes, ironic themes, and really impressive lighting.  After watching this film, I realized that I really want to move up to Canada and become a go-go dancer.  Seriously.

Eventually, Jane is approached by a rival go-go club promoter who tells her that he’s seen her perform and, “I remember you dancing in white panties.”  This line highlights the fact that this film is obsessed with underwear.  And that’s okay because, honestly, who isn’t?  Watching this film reminded me of an ongoing debate that I have going with Erin concerning whether or not fancy, pretty, colorful lingerie more sexy than boring, blah, cotton, white underwear.  This movie seemed, ultimately, to side with my sister in favor of the boring undies.  Obviously, I disagree but the film still gave me a lot to think about.  I don’t know, maybe I should start a poll or something.  Do any of our male readers have an opinion on the underwear question?  Please, use the comments section to let your voice be heard.

What Did Not Work?

When taken on its own terms, the entire film worked.  If I’m secretly a kitty cat in human disguise than the Lifetime Movie Network is my catnip and that’s largely because of silly, over-the-top movies like this. 

Actually, I do have one or two complaints.  First off, the lead character is named Jane McCoy and oh my God, is that not just one of the most bleh names in history?  Seriously, she should have been named Lisa Marie McCoy or something.  Secondly, Jane’s boyfriend (played by Travis Milne) was soooo boring.  I believe the character was named Eric but they might as have just named him “Plastic Man” because seriously, he had all the personality of one of the mannequins from those Old Navy commercials.  To me, Eric’s character was defined by the moment when, as Jane went down on him, he said, “I don’t think I know you anymore.”  Double bleh on him.

“OMG!  Just like me!” Moments

Oh.  My.  God.  There were so many of these moments that I don’t even know where to begin.  I love dancing and I love having fun while I’m dancing so watching this film was kinda like peering in to my life in an alternative, Lifetime-based universe.

Lessons Learned

Apparently, I’m incapable of not relating everything I see to my own life.  Also, I have absolutely no impulse control because I just ordered the 11 x 17 Confessions of a Go Go Girl movie poster off of Amazon.

And Then There Were Six More…

I recently came to the realization that my destiny is to list and share 666 of my favorite grindhouse and exploitation film trailers.  Previously, I’ve shared 12.  Here’s 6 more.

Part One and Part Two of my trailer survey can be found here.

1) Liquid Sky – Have you seen Liquid Sky and if the answer is no, why not?  Liquid Sky is one of the great underground films of the early 80s, an epic about drugs, aliens, bisexuality, and performance art.  Quite simply put, you must see this movie.

2) BlaculaWhen I first saw this trailer, my first thought was, “Oh, that is sooooo wrong.”  But, the movie actually isn’t that bad.  William Marshall is wonderfully dignified and haunted as the tragic title character.

3) Bio-Zombie I haven’t actually seen this movie but I love this energetic trailer (and the Hello Kitty reference, as well).

4) Martin – This trailer for George Romero’s vampire movie features the film’s star, John Amplas, speaking to the audience in character.  Martin is one of the unacknowledged great vampire movies.  Supposedly, there’s a remake in the works which, needless to say, is not necessary in the least.  The original is more than good enough.

5) Near DarkSpeaking of vampire movies, here’s Near Dark.  Before Kathryn Bigelow won an Oscar for The Hurt Locker, she made her debut with Near Dark.  Of the two, Near Dark is the better film.

6) RabidThis is an early David Cronenberg film and probably one of his first stabs at being a “commercial” filmmaker (I would have to ask R-Lee for sure on this as he’s the resident Cronenberg expert).  The late Marilyn Chambers plays a young woman who gets infected with rabies and proceeds to spread the disease throughout Montreal.  As you might expect with a Cronenberg film, the Canadian government quickly turns fascist and a lot of Canadians die as a result.  The movie’s not totally succesful but the trailer is.  As a sidenote: in 2004, Marilyn Chambers Taylor was the vice-presidential candidate of the Personal Choice Party.  I cast my first vote ever for her.

Review: Ticket to Heaven (dir. by Ralph L. Thomas)


At the start of 1980′s Ticket To Heaven, we’re introduced to David (Nick Mancuso), a normal young man from an upper middle class background.  David is likable enough but, when we first meet him, is still feeling depressed after breaking up with his longtime girlfriend.  He handles his loneliness by meeting up with Karl, a friend from college.  Karl, who is accompanied by an almost unbelievably positive young woman (played by a very young Kim Cattrall), invites David to come spend the weekend at a religious “retreat.”  For reasons that have more to do with Cattrall than with any interest in religion, David agrees.

The retreat turn out to be a camp where everyone is extremely friendly and extremely positive.  From the minute David arrives, everyone is smiling at him and telling him how thrilled they are to meet him.  It’s such a positive experience that David doesn’t even complain when he’s given little to eat, allowed very little sleep, and forced to endure hours of talk about the great spiritual leader who set up the camp.  When David does eventually decide that he’d like to leave, all of his friendly campmates are so wounded by his rejection that he changes his mind.  Who wouldn’t?  After all, they’re so nice and idealistic and positive.

Needless to say, David never leaves the camp.  When his best friend (played by Saul Rubinek)  happens to run into David on the street, he’s shocked to discover that David has become a blank-eyed zombie whose life now revolves around selling flowers in the street and making money for his new friends.  However, David’s old friends aren’t quite ready to give him up and the rest of the film details the battle between the two groups for David’s mind and soul.

Ticket to Heaven is a genuinely unsettling film.  As directed by Ralph Thomas, the entire film seem to ooze a very real creepiness that stays with you even after the end credits have rolled.  The film is at its best when it shows, in painfully believable detail, just how easy it is for someone to become brainwashed and to set aside everything that makes them unique in the name of a “greater good.”

The film’s cast is made up of a talented group of mostly Canadian character actors and, down to the smallest role, they’re all disturbingly believable.  Kim Cattrall is probably the most recognizable face in the cast, though Michael Wincott (he of the sexy, gravelly voice) also shows up in a tiny role.  Nick Mancuso and Saul Rubinek are believable as best friends and Mancuso is such a likeable presence that it makes his transformation into soulless zombie all the more disturbing.  Meg Foster — who looks like a thin, somewhat stable version of Kirstie Alley — gives an excellent and chilling performance as one of the cult’s leaders.

However, for me, the film’s best performance was given by an actor named R.H. Thomson.  Playing a cult deprogrammer named Linc Strunc (what a great name), Thomson is only in a handful of scenes but he dominates every one of them.  Speaking through clenched teeth and giving off an attitude of weary cynicism, Thomson takes a role that could have been a stereotype and makes it instead very compelling.  If I choose to believe Wikipedia, Thomson is still active as an actor and, after seeing his work in Ticket to Heaven, I may have to track down his other films.

Despite having won a Genie (the Canadian version of the Oscar), Ticket to Heaven is something of an obscure film.  I have to admit that I bought the DVD on something of a whim and that was mostly because I was intrigued by the words “In 1979, David joined a cult…” on the DVD’s cover.  I’ve long been fascinated by cults and just how easily some people can surrender everything the makes them a unique and individual human being.

During my first semester away at college, there used to be a small handful of students who, every night, would gather together outside the student union.  Since I’ve always been a night person, I’d often find myself walking by their little group and I always felt a little bit anxious whenever I saw them.  They all looked perfectly normal but there was still something off about them.  As my roommate Kim put it, they all looked like they had wandered out of a toothpaste commercial.  There was also the fact that they obviously considered themselves to be a part of an exclusive club that the rest of us had not been invited to join.

One night, Kim and I went down to the student union to check our mail.  As we were heading back to our dorm, we passed this little group and I noticed that one of them appeared to be holding a microphone.  I guess he saw me looking because he held the microphone up to his lips and said, his voice booming, “HEY YOU, DO YOU KNOW THE LORD!?”  At the time, Kim and I both considered ourselves to be decadent Pagans so we answered by sharing a long kiss in front of them and then laughing at the dead glares that greeted our response before we then ran, hand-in-hand, back to the dorms.   In retrospect, I guess that was my invitation to join the club and I’m glad I was too busy trying to be worldly to accept it. 

 A few nights later, I found myself suffering from the insomnia that’s plagued me for as long as I can remember.  Around 3:00 a.m., I was sitting down in the dorm’s lobby, trying to write angsty poetry.  On the other side of the lobby was this guy that we’ll call “Rich.”  You’ve probably known someone like Rich.  He’s one of those guys who was always smiling a little bit too much, who was always almost desperately friendly.  Rich was someone who, for whatever reason, was obviously lost and looking at him, you got the sense that he’d never been truly happy a day in his life.  I always felt sorry for Rich but I was also a little scared of him.

That night, I was happy that he wasn’t trying to talk to me.  Instead, he was just quietly sitting in a corner with a blank stare.  Suddenly, he was approached by three men who greeted him by name and, visibly shaking, Rich stood up to greet them.  It took me a few minutes but then I recognized that two of the guys were from that same group that always gathered outside the union.  Standing in between them was a balding, bearded man who I’d never seen before or since.

The four of them sat down and they were soon leaning forward in huddled conversation.  I found myself straining to hear what they were saying but I could only pick up a few words.  I could see that Rich was still shaking and that he had started to cry.

Suddenly, the bearded man spoke in a voice that snapped through the entire lobby.  “You little shit,” he said, “You pathetic motherfucker!”

As the two others sat there impassively, the bearded man leaned forward until his face was inches in front of Rich’s.  From where I was sitting, it looked almost as if Rich’s face was being eclipsed by the back of the man’s head.  The man continued to speak but now his voice was low and I couldn’t make out the exact words.  But I could tell from his body language and his gestures that he was giving Rich more of the same.

After about an hour of this, Rich started nodding and, tears flowing down his face, he started to say, “Praise God!  Praise God!  Thank you!  Praise God!”

The four of them stood up and, as I watched in disbelief, they stood there hugging each other as Rich continued with his “Praise God!”  The three guys then headed out and Rich, smiling even though his face was still slick with tears, skipped out of the lobby.

Rich graduated at the end of that semester.  A few years later, when I was about to graduate, I heard someone say that Rich had recently committed suicide.  I don’t know if that’s true and it’s almost too obvious an ending to his story. 

I thought a good deal about Rich and that night after I finished watching Ticket to Heaven.

Admittedly, Ticket to Heaven is not a “perfect film.”  Strong as Mancuso’s performance is, David is still something of a sketchy character.  The film does a good job showing the techniques that the cult uses to brainwash David but it’s never quite clear why David was so susceptible to those techniques to begin with.  There are hints, of course.  David is shown to be upset over breaking up with his girlfriend and there are hints that his safely middle class existence has left with him with little sense of having an individual existence of his own.  That doesn’t change the fact that David ultimately comes across as less of a real person and more as a way for the film to preach its anti-cult message.

Indeed, the film’s biggest flaw is that it is essentially a message film.  As well-acted and intelligently scripted as it often is, the movie exists to deliver a message.  Fortunately, it’s a good message but that doesn’t stop the film from sometimes rather heavy-handed.  This is most obvious in the movie’s final scene in which things are tied up just a little bit too neatly. 

Still, flaws aside and despite having been made 30 years ago, Ticket to Heaven remains a relevent film.  We live in a world that, for the most part, is made up of brainwashed people and, watching the movie, I had to wonder how much difference there really was between the overbearingly positive cultist played by Kim Cattrall and the grim-faced jihadists that currently haunt our nightmares.  When you consider just how much evil is justified, on a daily basis, in the name of the greater good, its becomes obvious that the movie’s warning against becoming a living zombie is just as important today as when the film was made.

The film’s cult is based on an actual, real-life group that was apparently very active in the late 70s and who are still around today, the Unification Church.  I vaguely remember them being in the news back in 2004 when the head of the church was declared to be “the prince of peace” at a ceremony that was attended by a few congressmen.  Type “Unification Church” into google and you’ll end up with links to a lot of stories that would seem to suggest that the real cult is even more creepy than the fictionalized version in Ticket to Heaven.