Back to School Part II #40: Crossroads (dir by Tamra Davis)


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Last year, I started a new blog called Lisa Marie’s Song of the Day.  It’s nothing big.  It’s just a place where, on a daily basis, I share music that I happen to like.  Ever since I started the site, certain people have been giving me a hard time over the fact that they have discovered that I am a total Britney Spears fangirl.

Well, I’m not ashamed to admit it.  I love Britney Spears.  I always have.  Even when I was going through my whole “wearing black and writing dark poetry” phase, I still loved Britney.  Her songs are great to dance to and they’re even more fun to sing off-key and at the top of your lungs when you’re taking a shower or driving to or from work.  Even better is when you have a family member in the car and she has no choice but to listen as you sing Work Bitch in your thickest rural accent.

(Whenever I sing, I unleash my inner country girl.)

Of course, it’s never just been Britney’s music to which I’ve paid attention.  I was jealous of her when she dated Justin Timberlake.  I was worried for her when she married Kevin Federline.  I was scared for her when she went through her period of public instability.  When she shaved her head, lost custody of her children, and was placed under the conservatorship of her father and attorney, it angered me to watch as the media treated her pain as entertainment.  When she was diagnosed as being bipolar, I related to her because I knew exactly what she was going through.  I even still use the #FreeBritney hashtag on twitter.

So, in short, I’m definitely a fan.  But I have to admit that I prefer Later Britney, the one who uses bitch as a term of empowerment, to Early Britney, the one who used to lie about being a virgin.

The 2002 film Crossroads is definitely all about Early Britney.

Crossroads was Britney’s feature film debut and it was also pretty much her exit.  The film did well at the box office (and I’ll admit that I paid money to see it … well, actually, I got someone else to pay for me to see it but you get the point…) but the critics absolutely hated it and it still regularly appears on lists of the worst films ever made.  For the record, I do not think that Crossroads is one of the worst films ever made.  Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not exactly a good film but it’s definitely something of a guilty pleasure.  Whenever I watch it, I go on a nostalgia trip and that’s always a little bit fun.

In Crossroads, Britney plays Lucy.  Lucy has just graduated from high school.  Lucy is supersmart and, the film is quick to tell us, a super virgin as well.  (There’s something rather icky about how much media emphasis was put on Britney’s claimed virginity.  Especially since even her biggest fans suspected there was no way she was still a virgin if she was dating Justin Timerblake…)  Lucy was her school’s valedictorian and now her father is looking forward to Lucy going to medical school and becoming a doctor.  Lucy’s father is played by Dan Aykroyd.  Though Aykroyd is playing a Georgia auto mechanic, he makes no attempt to hide his thick Canadian accent.  Good for you, Dan!

Anyway, Lucy is preparing to do what her father wants but then she gets an opportunity to drive across the country with two childhood friends and a complete stranger.  In high school, Lucy had little to do with snobby Kit (Zoe Saldana) and pregnant Mimi (Taryn Manning) but, when they were all 10 years-old, they were all BFFs.  In fact, they were so close that they even buried a time capsule.  Digging up the capsule inspires these three frenemies to hop into a car with Ben (Anson Mount) and hit the road!

Ben, it turns out, has just gotten out of prison but he’s hot and he’s musically talented.  The girls are a little bit scared because they think Ben might have been in prison for murder but seriously, Ben is way too cute to be a murderer.  Plus, when he reads Lucy’s poetry, he sets it to music.

AND SERIOUSLY, HOW CAN YOU NOT LOVE THAT!?  I mean, c’mon — every girl who has ever written a poem has, at some point, fantasized about a boy who would put that poem to music and tell her that her words were almost as beautiful as she was.

I mean, there’s a lot of negative things that could be said about Crossroads.  I’m not a fan of the way Mimi was portrayed and, towards the end of the film, it almost feels as if the movie is suggesting that she’s being karmically punished for getting pregnant without being married.  The film’s emphasis on Lucy’s (and, by implication, Britney’s) chastity feels dangerously reactionary.  And, while Britney doesn’t really give a bad performance, she’s still not quite believable as someone who was so busy studying that she didn’t even go to one single party during high school.

But ultimately, this will always be the film where a hot guy took a girl’s poem and spontaneously set it to music.

There’s something to be said for that!

#FreeBritney

Back to School Part II #39: The Glass House (dir by Daniel Sackheim)


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Originally, I was planning on using the 2001 thriller The Glass House as one of my guilty pleasure reviews.  Because, seriously, this film truly is one of the guiltiest of all guilty pleasures.  I mean, there’s so much that you can criticize about the movie but it’s so much fun that I always feel rather bad for doing so.  However, after giving it some thought, I decided to use The Glass House as one of my Back to School reviews.  Seeing as how I just totally trashed a Leelee Sobieski film called Here On Earth, it only seems fair to now recommend one of her films.

In The Glass House, Leelee plays Ruby Baker, a 16 year-old whose parents are killed in a car accident.  Though their uncle (Chris Noth) wants to adopt them, the will states that Ruby and her nine year-old brother (Trevor Morgan) will instead be looked after by their parents’ best friends, Erin (Diane Lane) and Terry (Stellan Skarsgard).

Now, here’s the thing.  This is going to blow your mind.  Guess where Erin and Terry live?  They live in a big mansion in Malibu and the entire house is made out of … GLASS!  We have a title, right!?  But wait, there’s more!  Guess what Terry and Erin’s last name is?  That’s right — GLASS!  So, the house is not only literally a glass house but it’s also the Glass house as well!  And beyond that, there’s that old saying that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones and … well, that really doesn’t apply to this film.

Anyway, I’m making such a big deal about the title because it pretty much tells you everything that you need to know about The Glass House.  There is not a single subtle moment to be found in this entire film. And really, this is not a film that requires or rewards subtlety.  We know that Terry Glass is up to no good from the minute we meet him, largely because he’s played by Stellan Skarsgard and when was the last time Stellan Skarsgard played a trustworthy character?  Skarsgard pretty much gives the same performance here that he’s given in almost every thriller that he’s ever appeared in (including David Fincher’s rehash of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo — which I’m still ticked off about, by the way) but it works wonderfully because there’s not a hint of pretension to The Glass House.  It just wants to entertain and it does just that.  There’s little that can match the entertainment value of watching Stellan Skarsgard go totally over the top.

Sure, the film has all sorts of flaws.  Ruby’s intelligence changes from scene to scene, depending on what the film’s story needs her to do.  (For that matter, the same thing can be said about every character in the film.)  But the film’s a lot of fun and Leelee Sobieski gives one of the best and most sympathetic performances of her career.  Ruby may be an inconsistent character but she’s so well-played that you like her anyway.  In a film that often threatens to go just a little bit too crazy, Leelee gives a performance of both believable grief and believable inner strength.  She keeps the film grounded just enough that you’ll continue to watch even when the narrative hits a rough patch.  As well, Bruce Dern is hilariously sleazy as a possibly duplicitous attorney.  The only thing more entertaining than watching Stellan Skarsgard go over the top is watching Bruce Dern do the same thing in the same film.

The Glass House is one of those films that seems to show up on cable constantly.  And, 9 times out of 10, I’ll at least watch at least a little bit of it.  It’s just a fun movie.

Back to School Part II #38: Here On Earth (dir by Mark Piznarski)


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Here on Earth is a wannabe melodrama from 2000.  When I first started watching it on Netflix, I was convinced that I had never seen it before.  Sure, the name sounded familiar but I figured that was just because Here On Earth is such a generic name that it could have been used for any number of different films.  In fact, even as I sit here typing this, there’s a part of me that keeps wanting to call the film either Back On Earth or Heaven On Earth.

But then as I watched the film, I realized to my horror that I had seen Here On Earth before.  I watched it on cable back when I was in high school and, as much as I may not want to admit it, I think I actually cried at the end of it.

I didn’t cry this time, though.  In fact, I laughed.  Here on Earth is such a stereotypically melodramatic romance that it actually feels like a parody.  It didn’t help that the film starred Chris Klein, who goes through almost the entire film with this sort of steely look in his eyes.  No matter what emotion he’s supposed to be showing, Chris Klein’s impassive face remains frozen.  In fact, it’s tempting to wonder if his character was supposed to be a robot sent from the future.  Maybe Here On Earth was originally meant to be a Terminator film.

Here On Earth takes place in one of those little towns in Massachusetts where all of the poor townies resent the rich kids who go to a nearby boarding school.  (Judging from the movies I’ve seen, it appears that every small town in Massachusetts is also home to an exclusive boarding school.  A part of me suspects that this might not actually be the case.  Fortunately, several TSL writers are from Massachusetts so, the next time I get a chance, I’ll just ask Gary, Leon, or Pantsu if any of them grew up near a boarding school.)

Chris Klein plays Kelly Morse.  He’s a student at that boarding school.  He’s rich.  He’s snobby.  But he’s also really, really smart.  In fact, he was originally meant to be the school’s valedictorian until he got in some legal trouble.  See, Kelly was having a street race with a townie named Jasper Arnold (Josh Hartnett).  The street race led to the local gas station blowing up.  I have to admit that I started laughing as soon as that gas station went up in flames because … well, let’s just say that I imagine it’s a lot more difficult to blow up a gas station than this film makes it look.  Judging from this film, the gas station down the street from the office should be blowing up right now.

Anyway, that exploding gas station also causes a local restaurant to burn down.  Both Jasper and Kelly are sentenced to help rebuild Mable’s Table.  (That’s right, the name of the restaurant was Mable’s Table.  It’s a good thing that Mable rhymes with table.  If the place had been started by someone named Gretchen, I guess they’d call it Gretchen’s Kitchen.)  The judge literally says, “They’ll be building a restaurant but building character too!”

Okay, your honor, thanks for spelling that shit out for us!  Yay abuse of the justice system!

Anyway, Jasper has a girlfriend.  Her name is Sam Cavanaugh (Leelee Sobieski) and her father (Bruce Greenwood) is the town sheriff.  And guess what?  HER FAMILY ALSO OWNED MABLE’S TABLE!  This may seem like a lot of coincidences but these things happen when there’s only a dozen or so people living in a town.

Sam’s mother always tells her, “As long as we’re all alive, it’s nothing worse than a bad day.”  Because they’re poor but honest and that’s how poor but honest people talk, don’t you know?  Her father also tells her, every morning: “Good to be your father.”  “Good to be your daughter,” Sam replies.

BECAUSE THEY’RE POOR!

But honest…

In fact, they’re so poor but honest that they help Kelly come out of his snobby shell.  Soon, he’s opening up to Sam.  He’s telling her his secrets.  He’s revealing his inner self and probably asking her, “What is this thing you humans call pleasure?”  (Because he’s a robot from the future!)  Suddenly, they’re in a love…

But guess what?  Sam only has a few months to live…

Or I should say that she only has a few months to live here on Earth.  She’s at peace with the idea because she’s a saint and she has a pretty a good idea that heaven is going to kick serious ass!  Can she make Kelly into a better man before she dies?

Watch and find out!  Or don’t.  This is one of those extremely silly and misjudged melodramas that doesn’t really work.  The adult roles are played by dependable character actors like Bruce Greenwood, Michael Rooker, and Annette O’Toole but Chris Klein and Josh Hartnett go through the entire film looking like they’d rather be anywhere but here on Earth.  Leelee Sobieski gives the film’s best performance, bringing as much credibility as she can to an idealized role.  (She’s beautiful, she’s sassy, she’s saintly, and she’s dying!)  It’s a shame that she has since retired from acting but maybe she didn’t want to spend her entire career making movies like Here on Earth.

Anyway, Here on Earth made me laugh for all the wrong reasons.  Maybe it will do the same for you!

 

Back to School Part II #37: Can’t Hardly Wait (dir by Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont)


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Oddly enough, the late 90s and early 2000s saw a lot of movies about teenagers that all had strangely generic names.  She’s All That, Down To You, Drive Me Crazy, Head Over Heels, Get Over It, Bring It On … the list is endless.

And then you have the 1998 graduation party-themed Can’t Hardly Wait.  Can’t Hardly Wait has such a generic name that, when you first hear it, you could be forgiven for naturally assuming that it stars Freddie Prinze, Jr.  Of course, if you’ve actually seen the film, you know that it features almost everyone but Freddie Prinze, Jr.  This is one of those films where even the smallest roles are played by a recognizable face.  In fact, there’s so many familiar actors in this film that a good deal of them go uncredited.  Jenna Elfman, Breckin Meyer, Melissa Joan Hart, Jerry O’Connell, and Amber Benson may not show up in the credits but they’re all in the film.  In fact, you could argue that Melissa John Hart, playing an impossibly excited girl who is obsessed with getting everyone to sign her yearbook, and Breckin Meyer, playing an overly sensitive lead singer, provide the film with some of its comedic highlights.

(That said, perhaps the most credible cameo comes from Jerry O’Connell.  He plays a former high school jock who ruefully talks about how he can’t get laid in high school.  He’s so convincingly sleazy and full of self-pity that you find yourself wondering if maybe O’Connell was just playing himself.  Maybe he just stumbled drunkenly onto the set one day and started talking to anyone who would listen…)

Can’t Hardly Wait takes place at one huge high school graduation party, which is actually a pretty smart idea.  The best part of every teen movie is the party scene so why not make just make the entire movie about the party?  Almost every member of the graduating class is at this party and we get to see all of the usual types.  There’s the stoners, the jocks, the nerds, and the sarcastic kids who go to parties specifically so they can tell everyone how much they hate going to parties.  Eric Balfour shows up as a hippie.  Jason Segel eats a watermelon in the corner.  Sara Rue’s in the kitchen, complaining about how everyone’s a sheep.  Jamie Pressly drinks and assures her best friend that she’s at least as pretty as Gwynneth Paltrow.  (“And you’ve got way bigger boobs!” she adds, encouragingly.)  Outside, Selma Blair frowns as someone hits on her with bad line.

Of course, Mike Dexter (Peter Facinelli) and Amanda Beckett (Jennifer Love Hewitt) are the main topic of conversation at the party.  For four years, Mike and Amanda were the school’s power couple but Mike decides to dump Amanda right before they graduate.  Mike feels that he’s going to have a great time in college and he doesn’t need any old high school commitments holding him down.  His best friends all agree to dump their girlfriends too.  Mike spends the party watching, in horror, as all of his friends go back on their promise.  Amanda, meanwhile, wanders around and wonders who she is now that she’s no longer Mike Dexter’s girlfriend.

Preston Meyers (Ethan Embry) struggles to work up the courage to tell Amanda that he’s had a crush on her ever since the first day he saw her.  Meanwhile, Preston’s best friend — the reliably sarcastic Denise (Lauren Ambrose) — finds herself locked in an upstairs bathroom with Kenny “Special K” Fisher (Seth Green).  (Needless to say, Kenny is the only person who actually calls himself “Special K.”)  Kenny is obsessed with losing his virginity.  Denise, meanwhile, won’t stop talking about the sweet and dorky Kenny that she knew way back in elementary school.

And then there’s William Lichtner (Charlie Korsmo).  He’s spent his entire life being tormented by Mike and he specifically goes to the party looking for revenge.  However, he has a few beers and quickly becomes the most popular senior at the party.  He even gets a chance to bond with Mike…

Can’t Hardly Wait is a favorite of mine.  It’s one of those films that doesn’t add up too much but it’s so so damn likable that it doesn’t matter.  It’s full of smart and funny scenes and all the actors are incredibly likable.  If you’re not rooting for Preston and Amanda by the end of the movie then you have no heart.  In fact, Can’t Hardly Wait is a lot like Empire Records.  They may not be much depth to it but it’s so sincere and earnest that you can forgive it.

You can even forgive the generic name.

Music Video of the Day: Loser by Beck (1994, dir. Steve Hanft)


I’m not gonna lie. I really have no idea what they were going for by simply by watching the music video. I spot the reference to Django (1966). The coffin moving on its own reminds me of Vampyr (1932). A lot of the religious imagery makes me think of Dreyer. That, and the holiday–Day of the Dead. I’m also pretty sure Beck is wearing a Saturday Night Fever (1977) outfit at one point.

According to Wikipedia, director Steve Hanft was inspired by Stan Brakhage, Maya Deren, and 1920’s surrealist films for the moving coffin. Beck apparently said they were “fucking around” when they made the video. That sounds about right. According to IMDb, the line “I’m a driver. I’m a winner. Things are gonna change. I can feel it” was sampled from Steve Hanft’s own film called Kill the Moonlight (1994). They also used clips from the film.

Also according to Wikipedia, there is one clip in the video that was not shot by Steve Hanft. It’s the one where Jesco White dances on a bench in a white satin shirt. It is also the one part of the music video that was shot on video rather than film. It was shot by Julian Nitzberg.

There’s some more background information on the music video over on Wikipedia.

Director Steve Hanft appears to have done somewhere between 50 to 60 music videos along with other films.

Enjoy!