Embracing the Melodrama Part II #67: Split Image (dir by Ted Kotcheff)

Split_Image_VHS_coverUnlike Desperate Lives, the 1982 melodrama Split Image is available to be viewed on YouTube.  In fact, you can watch it below and I suggest that you do so.  It’s a pretty good film and, apparently, it’s never been released on DVD or Blu-ray and it’ll probably never be available on Netflix either. So, if you’ve ever wanted to see Peter Fonda play a cult leader, your best bet is to watch the video below.

But before you watch the video, here’s a little information on Split Image, one of the best films that you’ve never heard of.

Essentially, the film follows the same plot as the Canadian film Ticket To Heaven.  A college athlete (played by Michael O’Keefe) starts dating a girl (Karen Allen) who is a member of a sinister religious cult.  Soon, O’Keefe is a brainwashed member of the cult and only answering to the name of Joshua.  (The head of the cult is played, in an appropriately spaced-out manner, by Peter Fonda.)  His parents (Brian Dennehy and Elizabeth Ashley) hire a cult deprogrammer (James Woods) to kidnap their son and break Fonda’s hold on him.  However, it turns out that Woods’ methods are almost as psychologically destructive as Fonda’s manipulation.

Even if it’s not quite as memorably creepy as Ticket To Heaven, Split Image is still a well-made film, featuring excellent performances from Dennehy, Woods, O’Keefe, and Fonda.  However, for me, the most interesting thing about Split Image is that it was largely filmed and set down here in Dallas.  Just watch the scene where Woods and his men attempt to kidnap Michael O’Keefe.  It was shot on the campus of Richland Community College, which is one of the places where I regularly go to run.

(Interestingly enough, 33 years after the release of Split Image, Richland still looks exactly the same!)

You can watch Split Image below!


The Players Should Never Be a Major

Rickie Fowler’s performance in the fourth round of The 2015 Players Championship today was definitely one for the ages. He shot six under on the final six holes and beat out Sergio Garcia and Kevin Kisner in a playoff, sealing the deal with a beautiful shot off the tee and a short putt on the most iconic hole on the PGA tour: the 17th at TPC Sawgrass. The sports commentators immediately started to speculate whether this might be the performance that finally launched The Players into Major Championship status, and I cringed.

The obvious argument against a fifth major is that it would dilute the significance of the other four. Four is a sort of magic number long accepted in individual sports as the amount of events that are allowed to matter most. Five would mean that no one Major Championship is as important as a Grand Slam tournament in tennis. Five would make career grand slams even more difficult to obtain. Five would forever taint the man who finally breaks Jack’s 18.

But besides that, being golf’s fifth best tournament is part of what makes The Players special. Sports history is important in golf. You get a vision in your head of how you want that history to unfold, and it gives you an emotional connection to how individual players perform. I want to see Tiger get his game back. I want to see Phil and Rory thrive. I want to see Lee Westwood and Henrik Stenson claim that elusive first major before their careers dwindle to a close. I get a sense of satisfaction watching Jim Furyk and knowing that he did pull it off. Everything ties back to those four majors. Once you win, you’re in the club of legends. I mean, no one is ever going to suggest that Shaun Micheel had a better career than Colin Montgomerie, but his feels more complete in a sense.

And that’s where The Players comes in. It’s the tournament that is almost a major. It is almost complete, but something is missing. It needs more, and the right names in the winners’ circle give it more… but never quite enough. If the majors make legends, legends make The Players. It’s one of the only tournaments where the event and the player can both benefit from each other’s prestige.

Saturday night, I had all but lost interest. In terms of seeing the tournament thrive, the top 10 was a ghost town. I felt a distant glimmer of hope that Sergio Garcia could pull something off (he nearly did). Otherwise, uh, go Bill Haas I guess. Then, Rickie Fowler surged up the leaderboard in the ultimate aura of almost. A nearly major champion who should have five or six wins on tour, his biggest career highlight was his streak of not quite winning scores in majors in 2014. He won the almost major championship in style, proving that he’s just as good as we didn’t quite believe he was. And he beat Kevin Kisner, a guy most of us were rooting against because this was the last tournament we wanted a no-name to win.

Everything about the 2015 Players Championship felt really good. A tournament in eternal need of more big name winners got one. A big name in need of career highlights got one. A guy with no highlights to speak of is now on our radar without having ultimately spoiled our fun. And Fowler’s performance was thrilling to watch besides all that. It’s no wonder the announcers were all talking Major Championship status, but it is exactly why The Players needs to stay right where it is. This year serves once again to show how well The Players fulfills its role as a “to be continued” event leading into the U.S. Open. If we made them equals, we might diminish them both.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #66: Desperate Lives (dir by Robert Michael Lewis)

DL-cov2YouTube, my old friend, you have failed me.

For the longest time, the 1982 anti-drug melodrama Desperate Lives has been available for viewing on YouTube.  I first watched it two years ago, after I read an online article about a scene in which a teenage Helen Hunt takes PCP and jumps through a window.  And, when I watched it, I was stunned.  I knew that the film was going to be over-the-top and silly, largely because it’s hard to imagine how a film featuring a teenage Helen Hunt taking PCP could be anything other than that.  But, even with my experience of watching over the top message movies, nothing could have quite prepared me for Desperate Lives.

So, I figured, for this review, that I’d say a few snarky words about Desperate Lives and then I’d just add something like, “And you can watch it below!”  And then I would embed the entire movie and all of y’all could just click on play and watch a movie on the Lens.

Unfortunately, Desperate Lives has been taken off of YouTube.  I assume the upload violated some sort of copyright thing.  And really, it’s kinda stupid because seriously, Desperate Lives is one of those films that really deserves to be seen for free on YouTube.

Oh well.  You can still watch a video of Helen Hunt jumping through that window.  The video below also features some additional elements from Desperate Lives.

For instance, you get to see Diana Scarwid playing the angriest high school guidance counselor in the world.  Scarwid knows that students like Helen Hunt are using drugs and that her fellow faculty members are turning a blind eye to everything’s that’s happening.  From the minute she first appears on screen, Scarwid is shouting at someone and she doesn’t stop screaming until the film ends.

And you also get to see Doug McKeon, playing Helen Hunt’s brother.  McKeon goes for a drive with his girlfriend, who has just taken PCP herself.  As their car goes flying off a mountain, she says, “Wheeee!”

In the video below, you also get to see that the only reason Helen Hunt used drugs was because her boyfriend begged her to.  That’s a scenario that seems to show up in a lot of high school drug films and it’s strange because it’s something that I’ve never actually seen happen or heard about happening in real life.  In fact, in real life, most users of hard drugs are actually very happy to not share their supply.

Unfortunately, the video below does not feature any scenes of Sam Bottoms as the world’s most charming drug dealer and that’s a shame because he gives the only good performance in the entire film (sorry, Helen!).

Even worse, the video doesn’t include any scenes from the film’s memorably insane conclusion, in which Scarwid searches every single locker in the school and then interrupts a pep rally so she can set everyone’s stash on fire in the middle of the gym.  Making it even better is that all the students are so moved by Scarwid’s final speech that they start tossing all of the drugs that they have on them into the fire.

Which means that the film essentially ends with the entire school getting high off of a huge marijuana bonfire.

No, that scene cannot be found in the video below.  But you can find Helen Hunt jumping through a window so enjoy.

Film Review: Stockholm, Pennsylvania (dir by Nikole Beckwith)

MV5BMTYwODA2NzA0Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjk0Mzg4MzE@._V1_SY317_CR47,0,214,317_AL_I think I’m going to start writing Stockholm, Pennsylvania fanfic.  It’s not that I’m a fan of this particular movie.  It’s just that, after watching it last night, I’m convinced that I could probably write a better version of the same story.  At the very least, I could come up with a better ending.

(And who knows?  Pennsylvania is technically close enough to Canada that I could do a Degrassi/Stockholm crossover.)

Stockholm, Pennsylvania premiered on Lifetime last night and, as a result, it will always be known as being a Lifetime movie.  However, unlike such excellent films as Babysitter’s Black Book and Fab Five: The Texas Cheerleader Scandal, Stockholm was not originally made for television.  Instead, it was meant to be the feature film directorial debut of playwright Nikole Beckwith.  Earlier this year, it played at the Sundance Film Festival, where it received some memorably mixed reviews and the film’s star, Saoirse Ronan, received more attention for her work in Brooklyn.  And while Brooklyn was picked up by Fox Searchlight and declared an early Oscar contender, Stockholm, Pennsylvania was ultimately purchased by the Lifetime network.

Unfortunately, Stockholm, Pennsylvania is not the type of film that is served well by premiering on television.  For the first 45 minutes or so, it’s a low-key film that moves at its own deliberate and moody pace.  The film doesn’t have the right rhythm to remain compelling when combined with frequent commercial interruptions.  And make no mistake about it — the interruptions were frequent!  The 99 minute film was padded out with enough commercials so that, on television, it ran for 2 hours and 30 minutes.

Or, as I put it on twitter when I discovered that the movie wasn’t as close to being finished as I had originally assumed:

The film opens with kidnapping victim Leanne (Saoirse Ronan) being returned to her parents after spending 17 years living in the basement of Ben McKay (Jason Isaac).  As we see in flashbacks, Ben kept Leanne isolated from the rest of the world and raised her as his own daughter.  Ben also renamed her Leia but, at the same time, he apparently never let her watch any movies.  (“He said I was named after a princess,” Leia cluelessly says at one point.)  Ben also taught Leia to regularly pray to the Universe (“Dear Universe…”) and … well, that’s all we really learn about Leia’s relationship with Ben.  And while I love cinematic ambiguity, the ambiguity of Stockholm, Pennsylvania just feels lazy.

Having been rescued (under circumstances that are left ambiguous because this is a lazy fucking movie), Leia is reunited with her parents, Marcy (Cynthia Nixon) and Glen (David Warshofsky).  Leia doesn’t remember either of them and resists all of Marcy’s awkward attempts to force any sort of emotional relationship.

And, for the first half of the film, it’s actually fairly interesting.  Nixon gives a good performance and Ronan proves again that she’s one of the best actresses working today.  The film is moody and properly creepy and I was really interested in seeing what would happen…

And then, out of nowhere, an entirely different movie started.  Suddenly, Marcy’s character completely and totally changed.  Nixon stopped giving a good performance and instead became shrill and one-note.  Ronan continued to give a good performance but the entire film crashed and burned around her.  It all led up to quite possibly one of the worst endings that I have ever seen.  It was seriously one of those endings that made me want to throw my high heels at the TV.

Seriously, it was terrible.  In fact, it was so terrible that it didn’t matter that the first 45 minutes of the movie were not neccesarily bad.  It did not matter that Saoirse Ronan was giving a great performance.  It did not matter … well, nothing mattered.

Once I saw that ending, all I could think of was that I had just wasted two hours and 30 minutes on a film that was apparently made by someone who studied both Martha Marcy May Marlene  and We Need To Talk About Kevin without ever understanding what made those two films worth studying in the first place.

Saoirse Ronan saved the film from being a complete disaster.  It truly says something about her talent that she can give a good performance even when appearing in something like Stockholm, Pennsylvania (or Lost River for that matter).  She’s like Meryl Streep without the condescending attitude.

I’m looking forward to seeing Saoirse Ronan’s work in Brooklyn.  But Stockholm, Pennsylvania is best forgotten.