Guilty Pleasure No. 9: The Principal (dir by Christopher Cain)


A confession:

I have a weakness for films about idealistic educators who try to teach and change lives in the inner city.  You know which films I’m talking about.  These are the films that always take place in a decaying high school and there’s usually at least one scene where the teacher is warned not to care too much about their hopeless students and then the teacher goes, “Someone has to care!”

Why do these films fascinate me so?

To a large extent, it’s because they take place in a world that is so extremely outside of my high school experience.  I was recently doing a search on my school and I came across a video on YouTube that was made by some students from my alma mater:

As I watched this video, I realized that neither the students, the campus, nor the neighborhood had really changed in the 9 years since I graduated.

I also realized that, even though I didn’t realize it at the time, I went to one of the most suburban, white bread high schools in the DFW metroplex.  At the time, of course, a lot of my classmates thought they were tough.  They would make a big deal about blasting Jay-Z and 50 Cent while they were driving down to Starbucks during lunch.  For the most part, though, we put the suburb in suburban.

That, I think, is why I’m fascinated by inner city high school films.  It’s even better when those films are totally over-the-top and feature a hero who not only teaches but who kicks some ass as well.

Perhaps that’s why I recently enjoyed watching The Principal.

Originally released way back in 1987, The Principal is one of those films that seems to regularly show up on the lesser known television networks.  A few weeks ago, I saw that it was going to be broadcast on Ion Television so I set the DVR to record it and I finally ended up watching it this weekend.

In The Principal, James Belushi plays Rick Lattimore.  (You can tell that this movie was released quite some time ago because Belushi has a lot more hair and lot less chins than he does now.)  Rick’s a teacher with an anger problem.  When he sees his ex-wife out on a date with his divorce lawyer, Rick loses it and physically assaults the lawyer.  The next morning, Rick is called into a meeting with the school board.  He’s expecting to get fired.  Instead, he’s promoted.  Rick is now principal of Brandel High.

Brandel High, it turns out, is the most troubled high school ever!  Drugs are sold and used openly in the hallways.  Few students bother to attend class (but yet they still come to the school).  The teachers spend most of their time hiding in either their classroom or the teacher’s lounge.  The school’s head of security, Jake (Lou Gossett, Jr.), spends most of his time making sarcastic comments.  When Rick pulls up on his motorcycle, the first thing he sees is a fight between rival drug dealers.

Rick responds to all of this by holding a school assembly.  As every student at Brandel jeers him, Rick announces that he has only one policy: “NO MORE!”  It’s at this point that the school drug lord Victor Duncan (played by Michael Wright) stands up and announces, “You talk too much!”

Things continue to build up from there as Rick divides his time between educating and getting beaten up by resentful students, Jake starts to actually care about his job again, and Victor wanders through the school hallways, dressed like he’s in one of the Underworld films and saying stuff like, “Try to reach me and I’ll just cut off your hand…”

The Principal is such an over-the-top, silly, yet heart-felt film that it’s impossible not to enjoy it in much the same way that you might enjoy eating junk food.  As I watched this film, I found myself wondering what had happened to James Belushi in the years since it was originally released because, in The Principal, he’s actually likable.  However, the film really belongs to Michael Wright.  Seriously, as played by Wright, Victor Duncan is the most evil student in the history of high school cinema.  When he tells Rick that he’s willing to cut off his outstretched hand, you believe him.

The Principal is a thoroughly predictable film that promotes a dubious educational policy of zero tolerance.  However, it’s also a lot of fun.

In other words, it’s the epitome of a guilty pleasure.

Belushi

Trailer: Ghost Shark


PCAS

So, I was recently talking to someone on twitter and he essentially said, “Nice blog but enough with Sharknado.”  I have to say that I agreed with him.  We do have a pretty nice blog here and Sharknado has been the overhyped, overrated film of 2013.

What’s distressing is that a lot of people think that Sharknado is the epitome of a good, silly SyFy film.  By SyFy standards, Sharknado was nothing special.  Certainly, it could in no way compare to previous SyFy films like 2-headed Shark AttackEnd of the World and Flying Monkeys.  The only thing that set Sharknado apart was the fact that it was watched by a bunch of celebs who proceeded to tweet some the lamest film commentary ever seen on twitter.

Myself, I’m much more looking forward to August 22nd of this year.  That’s the day that Ghost Shark will premiere on SyFy.  Not only was Ghost Shark directed by the great Griff Furst (director of such classic SyFy films as Arachnoquake and Swamp Shark) but, judging from the trailer below, Ghost Shark appears to deliver exactly what it promises: a shark that’s also ghost which eats a lot of fat people.

What more could you possibly need?

Artist Profile: Ed Valigursky (1926 — 2009)


The son of Czech immigrants, Ed Valigursky was born in Pennsylvania and served in the U.S. Navy during World War II.  He studied at the Art Institute of Chicago on the G.I. Bill and started doing freelance pulp work while he was still a student.  Until his retirement in 1990, Valigursky painted hundreds of science fiction-themed images.  He also produced several paintings that celebrated the history of aviation.

A small sampling of his work can be found below.

Valigursky1Valigursky2Valigursky3Valigursky4Valigursky5Valigursky6Valigursky7Valigursky8Valigursky9Valigursky10

Review: True Blood 6.7 “In The Evening”


Bill_embraces_lilith

Poor Eric!

Going into tonight’s episode of True Blood, I knew that another major character was expected to die but I was really hoping that it wouldn’t be Nora.  Not only did I feel that the character (and Lucy Griffiths) has never quite been used to her potential (not an uncommon occurrence on a show that has a huge ensemble, like True Blood) but it also seems like Eric is always losing the vampires who are most important to him.

However, I also knew that, story-wise, Nora had to die if just so we could understand how dangerous Hep-V truly is.

And so, after bringing Nora to Bill’s mansion and even going so far as to pray for her recovery, Eric ended up holding Nora while she literally melted in his arms.  Adding to the pathos of the situation, we were treated to a flashback to 1666 where we saw how Eric originally turned Nora into a vampire in order to save her from falling victim to the Great Plague.

It was a highly effective moment in an otherwise average episode of True Blood.  If the show often struggled to figure out what exactly to do with Nora, it at least allowed her to make a powerful exit.

Tonight’s episode was all about death.  While Eric watched Nora die, the rest of Bon Temps struggled to deal with the demise of Terry.  Sookie abandoned the post-coital bliss of Warlow so that she could comfort the grief-stricken (and quite drunk) Arlene.

Sookie’s return allowed Bill to track her down and, in a wonderfully tense scene that was very well-acted by real-life husband and wife Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer, Bill told Sookie that if she doesn’t lead Bill to Warlow than all the other vampires will die.  I imagine that Bill’s plan is for all the other vampires to drink Warlow’s blood.  Once they, like Bill, are immune to the sunlight, the LAVDF will no longer be able to burn all the vampires to death.

Back at Vamp Camp, Jessica, Pam, and WIlla are aware that the new tru blood is tainted with Hep-V but, as Pam explained, they can’t say anything because, if all the vampires refuse to drink the tru blood, then the authorities will know that the secret is out.  That said, Jessica still asked Jason to arrange a meeting between her and the surprisingly sensitive vampire James (Jake Grimes).   Jessica informed James about the tainted tru blood and then proceeded to lose her vampire virginity to him.  And good for her because James is seriously superhot!

Meanwhile, Sarah Newlin discovered the massacre at the Governor’s mansion and, after kissing the Governor’s severed head, she took command of his plan to destroy all of the vampires.  She returned to the Vamp Camp where she tracked down Jason, cut his wrist, and then tossed him into a cell full of female vampires.  Tara jumped up to defend him but then, a vampire named Violet announced that Jason was hers.

FInally, Sam found out about Terry’s death and is now planning on returning to Bon Temps, despite the fact that he promised Alcide that he wouldn’t.  Alcide, it turns out, lied to the rest of the pack and told them that he had killed both Sam and Nicole.  As tonight’s episode ended, Alcide discovered that Nicole and her mother had been captured by the pack and his lie had been exposed…

(Seriously, I can understand why Alcide didn’t want to be packmaster.  The werewolves are way too much drama!)

As I said, this was an average episode of True Blood.  It featured a few memorable moments (Nora’s death, Arlene getting drunk, and the James/Jessica sex scene) but, for the most part, it felt like the main purpose of this episode was to set things up for the season finale.  There’s only 3 more episodes left before the end of season 6 and there are rumors that at least one more major character might be leaving before the end of the season.

Here’s hoping it’s not Eric!

Random Thoughts and Observations:

  • Tonight’s unofficial scene count: 49
  • I noticed that Todd Lowe is still listed in the opening credits.  Was Arliss Howard listed as well?
  • Willa really does look a lot like Nora.   It’s a bit distracting.
  • In my notes, I wrote: “Ewwwwwww!” when Sarah Newlin kissed the Governor’s head.
  • The attempts to provide therapy for the vampires are a pretty obvious comment on the whole “ex-gay” movement.
  • Alexander Skarsgard made me cry tonight.
  • During tonight’s show, I tweeted the following: “When Sheriff Andy is the voice of reason, you know bad things are going to happen in Bon Temps. #TrueBlood”  As of this writing, it’s been retweeted 77 times and favorited by 52 people.  That’s a personal best for me so yay!
  • “How deep do you want to go?”

What Lisa and the Snarkalecs Watched Last Night #86: The Nightmare Nanny (dir by Michael Fiefer)


Last night, I persuaded my friends, the Snarkalecs. to watch a movie on Lifetime with me.  That movie was The Nightmare Nanny.

Why Were We Watching It?

I have to take the blame on this one.  Usually, the Snarkalecs and I watch and live tweet a SyFy film on Saturday but last night, SyFy was showing Sharknado for the 100th time.  So, some of us were meeting up on twitter and trying to decide what we were going to watch.  Since I’m always trying to get more people addicted to watching Lifetime movies, I suggested that we all watch The Nightmare Nanny.  To my surprise and delight, everyone agreed.

What Was It About?

Creepy Anne (Ashley Scott) and her girly husband Ben (Kip Pardue) need to find a nanny to look after Jenny, their ennui-stricken 3 year-old daughter.  After an extensive search, they hire Julie (Makenna Melvin).  Julie is great with Jenny and, as Anne starts to realize, Jenny would actually much rather be Julie’s daughter.  However, little do they suspect that Julie is actually Amber and she and her white trash boyfriend are planning to kidnap Jenny so that they can raise her as their own.

What Worked?

The Snarkalecs were on fire last night!  Seriously, we may not have been watching a SyFy film but we snarked it like we were.  Hopefully, this will lead to the Snarkalecs watching even more Lifetime films.  I’m praying that I can get them to all watch Confessions of a Go Go Girl sometime soon.  Seriously, that’s the greatest Lifetime film ever!

As for The Nightmare Nanny itself… well…

What Did Not Work?

To be honest, The Nightmare Nanny was probably one of the worst Lifetime films that I’ve ever seen.

As played by Makenna Melvin, the nanny was so obviously unstable that you had a hard time believing that anyone would actually be stupid enough to hire her in the first place.

Meanwhile, the nightmare nanny’s victims (played by Kip Pardue and Ashley Scott) were both so unlikable that you found yourself hoping that they somehow wouldn’t be able to rescue their daughter because you simply couldn’t accept that these two would ever be able to conceive and take care of a child.  You found yourself suspecting that maybe they themselves had previously kidnapped Jenny from her natural parents.  Pardue was incredibly wimpy and Ashley Scott had perhaps the scariest eyebrows ever seen on television.  Is it any surprise that Jenny didn’t seem to be all that upset over being kidnapped, perhaps for the second time?

Speaking of the daughter, there was something very odd about her.  Not only did she never talk, walk, smile, or do anything else but she also slept in a crib despite appearing to be way too old.  Between the nightmare nanny and the odd parents, somebody seriously needed to call social services because there was just something odd going on in that household.

Finally, Nightmare Nanny failed to provide us with what we expect from a good Lifetime movie.  At no point did the nightmare nanny attempts to seduce the husband by wandering around in lingerie.  The wife’s sassy best friend survived the entire film.  Nobody wore anything that looked like it could have been designed by the designers on Project Runway.  The film’s climax was almost defiantly bereft of melodrama.

I’ve seen a lot of psycho nanny films on Lifetime and let’s just say that The Nightmare Nanny was no Perfect Nanny.

“Oh my God!  Just like me!” Moments

Usually, I can find a whole lot of “Oh my God!  Just like me!” moments whenever I watch a Lifetime film.  However, that wasn’t the case with Nightmare Nanny.  Seriously, the characters in this film were just too odd.

However, I did relate to a few of the commercials that were shown during the film.  For instance, I recently had a shrieking orgasm while washing my hair with Herbal Essences.

Lessons Learned

Never hire a nanny without checking Angie’s List first.

NN

6 Trailers That Are Better Than Sharknado


Hi, everyone!  The Trailer Kitties decided to take this week off but luckily, they found a replacement to go out and put together another edition of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse and Exploitation Film trailers.  

This week, we present you with 6 trailers for 6 films that are better than Sharknado.

1) 2-Headed Shark Attack (2012)

2) Swamp Shark (2011)

3) Sharktopus (2010)

4) Dinocroc Vs. Supergator (2010)

5) Dinocroc (2004)

6) Crocodile 2 (2002)

What do you think, Trailer Amphibian?

Real Time Combat Tutorial–RPG Maker VX Ace


I mentioned back in January that I had purchased RPG Maker VX Ace, and then I never said another word about it. Well, it hasn’t been collecting dust. I decided to take a break from my current game project to make a little combat tutorial I thought might be useful.

RPG Maker is an outstanding product, but it heavily favors the classic Dragon Quest-style RPG. My project has a futuristic cyberpunk setting, so a lot of my options are limited. There are some fantastic sci-fi tile sets out there (I am eternally in debt to Celianna’s Futuristic Tiles–well worth the $19.99), but the non-fantasy battlers selection on the market was still dismal last I checked. With VX Ace’s default combat system out of the picture for me, I had to get a little creative. I’ve been trying to develop increasingly more complex in-map combat sequences, and I thought it would be a fun break to make a little demo of the Region exploitation that’s been empowering it all.

In this video, I employ Regions, Game Data variables, and the Get Location Info function to generate a map in which combat events are triggered by the player’s location in relation to a moving enemy. You might notice I overlooked a few commands in the victory sequence that will prohibit the player from winning while facing down. Simply copy and paste the previous conditional, change the direction fix from up to down, and switch the jump direction from -2 Y to +2 Y.

I noticed this video sometimes ends early for no apparent reason in its embedded form. You can view it at its proper length of 19 minutes directly on youtube if it’s not working here.

Film Review: The Conjuring (dir by James Wan)


The-Conjuring

Before I say anything else about James Wan’s latest haunted house film, allow me to say this:

The Conjuring is crazy scary.

If just for that reason, The Conjuring has to be considered a success.  In this time when the savvy filmgoer has every right to be cynical about ghost films, The Conjuring delivers exactly what it promises.  It’s a scary film that takes the time to build up a properly menacing atmosphere and the final hour is one of the most intense that I’ve ever seen.

From the very first scene, I fell in love with The Conjuring.  Set in a classroom in 1969, the opening scene features paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) delivering a lecture about a possessed doll named Annabelle.  As Ed and Lorraine speak, we see flashbacks to how the doll first came to be possessed and I really do have to say that, with her cracked face and her morbid smile, Annabelle is one of the scariest dolls that I have ever seen.  This doll is pure nightmare material but, even more importantly, this short prologue serves to remind us that director James Wan knows how to make predictable material frightening.

As Ed and Lorraine finish their lecture, we are suddenly informed (via a crawling title) that Ed and Lorraine Warren are real paranormal investigators.  Ed is the only non-clergy to be certified as an exorcist by the Vatican.  We’re told that the movie we are about to see is a true story.  Again, this isn’t surprising.  (Don’t all ghost stories claim to be based on a true story?)  However, it was such a shameless and over-the-top moment that I couldn’t help but love it.  Again, it serves as a reminder that James Wan knows how to tell a ghost story and that’s what he proceeds to do for the next two hours.

The Conjuring tells the story of Carolyn (Lili Taylor), Roger (Ron Livington), and their five daughters.  The year is 1971 and Roger and Carolyn have purchased a large but isolated farmhouse in Rhode Island.  The house needs a lot of work, Carolyn and Roger are shocked to discover a cellar hidden behind some boards in a closet, and the family dog mysteriously dies the first night after they move in.  Their youngest daughter starts talking to an invisible friend while another daughter starts to sleepwalk.  Soon, Carolyn is waking up with mysterious bruises on her body.  After a mysterious woman attacks their eldest daughter and then mysteriously vanishes, Ed and Lorraine are finally called in to figure out what’s happening in Rhode Island…

Well, we can all guess what’s happening in Rhode Island.  To anyone who has seen Insidious, Sinister, or hundreds of other haunted house movies; the plot of The Conjuring will seem very familiar.  However, that actually works in the film’s favor.  One reason that ghost stories remain so effective is because of their familiarity.  When done correctly, films like The Conjuring are scary exactly because we know what’s going to happen.  The tension comes from knowing that nothing can stop it from happening.

Much as he did with Insidious, James Wan starts things out slowly.  He devotes the first hour of the film to building up tension and atmosphere of palpable unease.  The first part of the film demands patience on the part of viewers who have been conditioned by one too many installments of Paranormal Activity.

However, this patience pays off.  About an hour into the film, a supporting character wanders around the dark house and hears a ghostly voice whispering, “Look what you made me do…” It was when he spotted a figure standing in the shadows that I realized that, in its deliberate way, the film had totally captured the darkest corners of my imagination.  From the minute that shadowy figure appears, The Conjuring becomes one of the most intense horror films that I’ve ever seen.

However, The Conjuring is a lot more than just an effective horror film.  Since making a name for himself with the first installment in the tedious Saw franchise, James Wan has grown considerably as a filmmaker.  The Conjuring is not Wan’s first horror film but it is the first where you truly care about the characters and their safety.

Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor are convincing and likable and their five daughters are all perfectly cast and believable as sisters.  Speaking as the youngest of four sisters, I couldn’t help but both relate to this haunted family and appreciate the fact that the filmmakers made the effort to make them believable as both individuals and as family.  Much of the beginning of the film is devoted to observing the daily rituals of their lives and there were so many authentic moments that it made the fright scenes all the more scary.

Playing the Warrens, Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are also well-cast.  As fictional versions of real-life paranormal investigators, the characters have the potential to be problematic but Wilson and Farmiga are both so committed to their roles and both have so much chemistry that I found myself not caring that I’m generally skeptical of ghost hunters.  On the basis of his work in this film, as well as his work in Insidious, Young Adult, and that episode of Girls where he has sex with Lena Dunham despite the fact that she spent nearly the entire episode wearing the ugliest shorts ever, I think Patrick Wilson has to be one of the most underrated actors working today.

All things considered, it’s not surprising that The Conjuring is an effective horror film.  What’s surprising is that James Wan’s latest haunted house film is also one of the best films of the year so far.

r-THE-CONJURING-large570

Trailer: You’re Next


PCAS

The trailer for You’re Next has been out since March but I’m still going to share it here because I think it’s one of the most effective horror trailers that I’ve ever seen.

As for You’re Next, it’s finally going to get a general release in August.  I’ve heard great things about it so I can’t wait to see it and judge for myself.