What Lisa Watched Last Night #115: Kept Woman (dir by Michel Poulette)


Earlier, I watched the latest Lifetime original film, Kept Woman!

Kept Woman

Why Was I Watching It?

Well, why not?  First off, it was on Lifetime.  Secondly, the commercials made it look really creepy.  Third, I checked on the imdb and I discovered that this film was made in Canada and everyone knows how much I love Canada.  And finally, I read a very misleading article on Bustle that insinuated that this film was based on the Ariel Castro case.

What Was It About?

One night, after an evening at the theater, Jessica (Courtney Ford) and her fiancée Evan (Andrew W. Walker) return to their apartment and discover that they’re being robbed by a guy who looks like Jack Black’s younger, thinner brother.

Jessica says, “Enough of this city living!  We’re moving to the suburbs!”  Evan agrees to use his life savings to purchase a house in the suburbs.  It’s here that Jessica will work on her book while skyping with her true crime-obsessed friend Oscar (Jesse Camacho).

From the minute he first shows up and offers them a bottle of wine as a welcoming gift, it’s obvious that there is something off about their new neighbor, Simon (Shaun Benson).  For one thing, he dresses like he’s in a community theater production of The Music Man.  He’s a professor of Men’s Studies at the local university and, when he comes over for dinner, he’s clearly both offended and aroused by the sight of Jessica’s visible bra straps.  Also, he’s likes to wear bowties and we all know that, in a Lifetime movie, bowties often equal evil.

Of course, the main clue that there’s something wrong with Simon comes when he kidnaps Jessica and locks her in his basement.  There’s another woman already living in the basement.  Her name is Robin (Rachel Wilson) and she’s been down in the basement for so long that she’s now in love with Simon.

And did I mention that the basement is specifically made up to look like the 1950s?

Because it so totally is!

What Worked?

Oh my God!  Shaun Benson was sooooo creepy!  Seriously, he gave a great over-the-top psycho performance in this film.  Rachel Wilson did a good job too, poignantly portraying just how brainwashed her character had become.  As well, whoever designed and decorated that basement deserves some sort of award.  It was truly a creepy location.

What Did Not Work?

This is one of those films that should have been an insane masterpiece but, somehow, it never worked quite as well as I wanted it to.  The film could never seem to quite decide whether it wanted to be an over-the-top melodrama or a serious look at abduction, abuse, and brainwashing.  Courtney Ford and Andrew W. Walker did not have much chemistry as the endangered couple and, for the film to work, characters often had to behave in the stupidest way possible.  Even the film’s ending, which was obviously meant to be a big “You go, girl!” moment, felt forced.

“Oh my God!  Just like me!” Moments

Much like Jessica, I am totally obsessed with true crime and I enjoy trying to solve real-life unsolved mysteries.  I also imagine that, much like Jessica, I would probably break into my neighbor’s house to investigate whether he was a potential murderer.

Lessons Learned

Creepy neighbors should be handled with extreme caution.

Lisa Watches An Oscar Winner: Chariots of Fire (dir by Hugh Hudson)


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It took me two viewings to really appreciate the film Chariot of Fire.

First released in 1981, Chariots of Fire won the Oscar for best picture.  It’s also one of the few British productions to take the top award.  (British films are regularly nominated but the winner is usually an American production.)  A few nights ago, it was broadcast on TCM and I watched it for the first time.  And I have to admit that I struggled to follow the film.

It’s not that the film’s story was exceptionally complicated.  At heart, it’s an inspirational sports film and it features all of the clichés that one usually associates with inspirational sports films — i.e., come-from-behind victories, eccentric trainers, athletes who are determined to compete under their own terms, training montages, and a memorable score.  (The score for Chariots of Fire was so effective that it’s still used as the background music for countless Olympic specials.)

No, I struggled to follow the film because it really was just so extremely British, featuring everything from Cambridge to Gilbert and Sullivan to a rigidly enforced class system to casual anti-Semitism,  This may have been a sports film but it was a very reserved sports film.  If Chariots of Fire had been an American film, we would have gotten countless shots of people screaming, “YESSSSS!  GO! GO! GO! GO!” Instead, the characters in Chariots of Fire are far more likely to say, “Good show, old boy.”  Whereas an American sports film would have scored a montage of competition to the sound of “Eye of the Tiger,” Chariots of Fire features a men’s chorus singing, “For he is an Englishman….”

It takes a bit of getting used to and perhaps I knew that because, even as I was watching Chariots of Fire, I still set the DVR to record it.  The first time I watched the film, I was overwhelmed by the culture shock and the resolute Britishness of it all.  My reaction was to think that, much like The Big Chill, Chariots of Fire was a “you just had to be there” type of film, the type of film that was once impressive but now just inspires you to go “meh.”

And I was prepared to write a review stating just that.  But, somehow, in the back of my mind, I knew that I should give Chariots of Fire another chance before I dismissed it.  Maybe it was the fact that I couldn’t get the damn music out of my head.  Who knows?  But I couldn’t think about the film’s opening — with all those men running on the beach and getting mud all over their white uniforms — without smiling.

So, seeing as how I am currently snowed in for the weekend, I spent this morning watching Chariots of Fire for a second time and I’m glad that I did.  Because you know what?  Chariots of Fire is actually a pretty good film.  It tells the story of Eric Lidell (Ian Charleson) and Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross), two British runners who competed at the 1924 Olympics.  Harold is a student at Cambridge.  He’s an angry young man who is running to prove all of the anti-Semites wrong.  (Of course, Harold is angry in a very sort of upper class British way).  Eric is the son of missionaries who views running as a mission from God and who refuses to run on a Sunday.  The film looks gorgeous, Charleson and Cross both give good performances, and that music demands an emotional response.  While Chariots of Fire may not be a great film, it’s definitely a likable film and there’s something to be said for that.

Plus, did I mention that the music’s great?

 

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: The Big Chill (dir by Lawrence Kasdan)


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There are certain films that truly are “You just had to be there” films.  These are the movies that were apparently loved by contemporary audiences but, when viewed today, it’s difficult to see just what exactly everyone was getting so excited about.  Sometimes, this is because the film itself was so influential and has been copied by so many other films that the original has had its power diluted.  And then, sometimes, it’s just a case that the film was never that good to begin with.

I’m guessing that The Big Chill must be one of those “you just had to be there” type of films.  First released in 1983, The Big Chill was nominated for best picture.  If you look the film up over at the imdb, you’ll find lots of comments from people who absolutely adore this film.  However, when I watched the film as a part of TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar, I have to admit that my reaction can be best summed in one word.

Meh.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying that The Big Chill was a bad film.  To be honest, it was neither memorably bad nor remarkably good.  Instead, it just was.  Overall, the performances were good, the direction was shallow, and the screenplay was occasionally good and occasionally shallow but mostly, it was the epitome of serviceable.

At the start of The Big Chill, Alex is dead.  With the exception of a scene where his corpse is being prepared for burial, Alex never actually appears on screen.  (Originally, Kevin Costner was cast to play the role in a flashback but director Lawrence Kasdan cut the scene.)  What little we learn about Alex, we learn from listening to the other characters in the film talk about him.  For instance, Alex was apparently brilliant but troubled.  He attended the University of Michigan in the 1960s and was close to 7 other politically radical students.  While everyone else was busy selling out their ideals, Alex stayed true to his and, as a result, he ended up spending his life depressed and poor.  Alex ultimately ended up committing suicide, an act that leads to his 7 friends reuniting for his funeral.

Opening with Alex’s funeral and taking place over one long weekend, The Big Chill follows Alex’s friends as they try to figure out why Alex committed suicide and debate whether or not they’ve sold out their college ideals.  They also spend a lot of time listening to the music of the youth, getting high, watching a football game, and washing dishes.

(Interestingly enough, they spend the weekend in the exact same house where Alex committed suicide.  Which, to be honest, I would think would be kind of creepy.)

There’s Harold (Kevin Kline) and Sarah (Glenn Close), who are the unofficial grown ups of the group.  It was at their vacation home that Alex committed suicide and, over the course of the film, we find out that Alex and Sarah had a brief affair.  Harold owns a company that makes running shoes and, to at least one friend’s horror, is now good friends with the local police.  Sarah, meanwhile, splits her time between crying in the shower and smiling beatifically at her friends.

(Incidentally, throughout the film, Kevin Kline speaks in one of the least convincing southern accents that I’ve ever heard…)

Meg (Mary Kay Place) is a former public defender who, after deciding that all of her poverty-stricken clients really were scum, has now become a real estate attorney.  Meg wants a baby and is hoping that one of the men at the funeral might be willing to impregnate her.  Meg is a chain smoker so good luck, unborn child.  Before Alex killed himself, she had an argument with him.  (“That’s probably why he killed himself,” someone suggests.)

I liked Karen (JoBeth Williams) because she’s prettier than Meg and less condescending than Sarah.  She’s unhappily married to an advertising executive named Richard (Dan Galloway).  As they drive to the cemetery, Richard tells Karen that he can’t believe her famous friends all turned out to be so boring.  Karen is unhappy in her marriage and, after Richard returns home and leaves her in South Carolina for the weekend, decides that she wants a divorce.

That’s good news for Sam (Tom Berenger), an actor who is best known for playing private detective J.T. Lancer on television.  Sam is upset that nobody takes him or his career seriously.  Meg was hoping that Sam would be the father of her baby but, instead, Sam is more interested in Karen.

And then there’s Nick (William Hurt), who is a former radio psychologist-turned-drug dealer.  Nick was wounded in Vietnam and is impotent as a result.  In case you somehow forget that fact, don’t worry.  Nick brings it up every few minutes.

Michael (Jeff Goldblum) was my favorite among the men because he’s at least willing to admit that he’s a self-centered jerk.  Michael is a former underground journalist who now works for People Magazine.  Nobody seems to like Michael and yet, he’s still invited to stay over the weekend.  Personally, I like to think that he does so just to get on everyone’s nerves.  Good for him.

And finally, there’s Chloe (Meg Tillis), who was Alex’s much younger girlfriend and who doesn’t seem to be impressed with any of Alex’s friends (with the exception, of course, of impotent old Nick).

I have to admit that I probably would have responded more to The Big Chill if it was actually about my generation, as opposed to being about my grandparents. Someday, someone my age will make a movie about a bunch of college friends reunited for a funeral and it will be filled with my music and my cultural references and I’ll think it’s brilliant.  And then, a 30 years later, some snotty little film reviewer will watch and probably say, “Meh.  Old people.”

Such is life.