A Pair of Aces: Laurel & Hardy in SONS OF THE DESERT (MGM 1933)


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Laurel and Hardy are still beloved by film fans today for their marvelous contributions to movie comedy. Rooted firmly in the knockabout visual style of the silent screen, the team adapted to talking pictures with ease, and won the Best Short Subject Oscar for 1932’s THE MUSIC BOX. The next year the duo made what’s undoubtably their best feature film SONS OF THE DESERT, a perfect blend of slapstick, verbal humor, and situation comedy benefitting from a fine supporting cast and the undeniable chemistry between Stan and Ollie .

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The boys are at a meeting of their lodge The Sons of the Desert when it’s announced all members must swear a sacred oath to attend the annual convention in Chicago. Timid Stanley is afraid his wife won’t let him go, but blustery Ollie insists, boasting about who wears the pants in his family. Of course, Ollie’s just as henpecked as Stan, and his…

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Back to School Part II #47: The Diary of a Teenage Girl (dir by Marielle Heller)


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Sometimes, the best way to defend a controversial film is to take a look at some of the people who have criticized it.  That’s certainly the case with 2015’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl.

First off, you have so-called critic and professional troll Jeff Wells, who landed in some hot water when he complained that the star of the film, Bel Powley, wasn’t attractive enough for him.  Never mind that he thought the rest of the film was intriguing, he simply could not get over the fact that Powley was not conventionally attractive.  Never mind, of course, that Powley (who was 23 at the time) was supposed to be playing a 15 year-old and that she gave one of the best and most honest performances of the year or that the film itself was about much more than just sex.  Jeff Wells wasn’t turned on and therefore, by his logic, the film failed.

And then you have Sasha Stone, the editor of Awards Daily.  Sasha claims to be a feminist and uses her site to regularly scold any actress who she thinks isn’t living up to Sasha’s idea of what a feminist should be.  Sasha is the same blogger who announced that her life mission was to “educate” Shailene Woodley and who threatened to never again report on any of Susan Sarandon’s movies because Sarandon was critical of Hillary Clinton.  Oddly enough, Sasha is also the online film community’s number one enabler of Jeff Wells, regularly providing cover for him whenever he makes one of his patented misogynistic remarks.

Anyway, Sasha absolutely hated The Diary of a Teenage Girl.  In fact, she hated it to such an extent that she’s probably still cursing about it on twitter.  Oddly enough, Sasha has never really stated why she hates Diary with such a passion.  I mean, here we have an honest film about coming-of-age, one that ends on a note of empowerment.  It’s a film that was both written and directed by a woman and it’s based on a graphic novel by Phoebe Gloeckner.  This is an important film.  As far as I can tell, it appears that Sasha’s hatred was linked to the fact that apparently, she saw the film in a theater that was full of men and she felt that this film was specifically designed to appeal to “dirty old men.”

Which is bullshit.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m sure there are dirty old men who went to see The Diary of a Teenage Girl.  That’s just a fact of life.  When you have a film about a sexually active 15 year-old, it is going to attract certain people.  That, however, is not the film’s fault.  In fact, the film’s straight-forward approach to sexuality was probably the exact opposite of what most of those pervs were looking for.

The film’s protagonist is Minnie Goetze (played, as previously stated, by Bel Powley).  In 1976, she is 15 years old and living in San Francisco with her irresponsible (and, as becomes apparent as the film plays out, rather unstable) mother (Kristin Wiig).  Minnie is an aspiring cartoonist, an independent and intelligent teenager who often feels as if she’s separated from the rest of the world.  (The film makes good use of animation to visualize Minnie’s isolation.)  After losing her virginity to him, Minnie ends up having an affair with her mother’s handsome loser of a boyfriend (played by Alexander Skarsgard)….

When The Diary of a Teenage Girl was first released, so much attention was paid to the fact that 15 year-old Minnie was sexually active and frequently seen using drugs that many reviewers missed the fact that the film ultimately celebrates Minnie’s intelligence, independence, and her imagination.  Speaking for myself, after sitting through a countless number of teen films which either idealized virginity or insisted on punishing any sexually active teen with either pregnancy or an STD, The Diary of a Teenage Girl was actually a welcome change of pace.

Unfortunately, many critics have made the mistake of assuming that just because The Diary of a Teenage Girl does not judge, it therefore supports all of Minnie’s decisions.  Despite what some critics claim, Diary of a Teenage Girl does not glamorize anything that Minnie does.  (Many of the film’s sex scenes are deliberately filmed to be as unerotic as possible.)  At the same time, the film doesn’t feel the need to dispense out any sort of karmic punishment, either.  Instead, it’s a film that suggests that Minnie, like everyone else, is exploring and trying to discover what’s right for her.  In the end, the message of this film is that the most important thing is to love yourself and to find your own happiness.  And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl is an engrossing and well-made coming-of-age story.  I can’t wait to see what director Marielle Heller does next.

 

Back to School Part II #46: Dog Pound (dir by Kim Chapiron)


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The 2010 film Dog Pound is a disturbing and rather sad film but that really shouldn’t be a surprise, since it deals with the American justice system.  Even more specifically, it deals with the juvenile justice system and portrays, in exacting detail, how a mere juvenile delinquent can be transformed into a hardened criminal.

The film opens with three teenagers being either sentenced or transferred to the (fictional) Enola Vale Juvenile Detention Center in Montana.  Enola Vale is the type of place where the walls are covered with inspiring but ultimately empty-headed slogans.  It’s the type of place that claims to teach young offenders the importance of self-respect and respecting authority but ultimately, all it does is teach them how to be better criminals.  The staff is largely portrayed as being well-meaning but ineffectual.  Not only are they incapable of controlling their prisoners but they also remain oblivious to much of what is going on inside the prison.  The real power is held by the prisoners who have managed to reach the rank of trustee.  If you stay out of trouble long enough, you can become a trustee.  And then, of course, you can do whatever you want to whomever you want…

The three newest prisoners are a mixed bunch.  One can take one look at 15 year-old Angel (Mateo Morales) and 16 year-old Davis (Shane Kippel, best known for playing Spinner Mason on Degrassi) and tell immediately that neither one of them is tough enough to survive inside.  Angel is a non-violent car thief.  Davis is a drug dealer and something of a momma’s boy.

And then there’s Butch (Adam Butcher).  Butch is 17 years-old and he’s been transferred to Enola Vale from another facility.  Butch attacked an officer at the previous facility, gouging out the man’s eyes.  The angry Butch may be dangerous but he’s also the best friend that Angel and Davis could hope for.  When the three of them find themselves being targeted by a sadistic trustee named Banks (Taylor Poulin), Butch is the one who eventually ends up beating Banks nearly to death.  With Butch now the most feared prisoner at Enola Vale, Davis and Angel are safe.

Or, at least, they are until Butch witnesses a frustrated guard kill a prisoner.  While the death is being investigated, Butch is put into solitary confinement, leaving his friends at the mercy of the other prisoners…

Dog Pound is a dark and harrowing look at the juvenile justice system, one that challenges the popular belief that incarceration is always the best (and only) solution.  In fact, Dog Pound makes the argument that maybe — just maybe — automatically tossing non-violent offenders in with violent offenders may not be the ideal way to deal with delinquency.  That may sound like simple common sense but this is America and we love the idea of “lockin’ people up and throwin’ away the key.”  If the film’s plot occasionally seems to wander without any clear direction, that’s because these are characters who literally have nowhere to go.  They may only be teenagers but their lives are pretty much over.  The film’s episodic nature captures the pitiless randomness of their own existence.  The few scenes in which they actually get to behave like regular teenagers are poignant precisely because they are so rare.

Dog Pound is a well-directed and acted film, featuring especially strong work from Adam Butcher and Shane Kippel.  Reportedly, many of the smaller roles were played by actual inmates and they add a disturbing and, at times, heart-breaking authenticity to this film.  Show Dog Pound to anyone who is fond of saying that “bad kids” need to be “scared straight” and taught to “respect authority.”  At a time when many people seem to be increasingly comfortable with the idea of a police state, Dog Pound is a film that needs to be seen.

Back to School Part II #45: The Final (dir by Joey Stewart)


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As we continue with this series of Back to School reviews (only 11 left to go!), we now go from Degrassi to something much, much darker.  A horror thriller from 2010, The Final takes a look at what happens when a bunch of teenage outcasts decide to get revenge on the students who have spent the past few years tormenting them.

And let’s just say that revenge is not pretty.

One day, a bunch of affluent high school students all receive an invitation to a costume party that will be held at an isolated and long-deserted mansion.  These students are your typical collection of jocks and cheerleaders.  They’re popular but they’re not exactly smart, which may explain why they all show up for the party and drink from a punch bowl that’s been laced with a drug.  Everyone falls unconscious and, when they wake up, they discover that they have all been chained together.

Among the prisoners is one uninvited guest.  Kurtis (Jascha Washington) is one of the popular kids but he wasn’t invited to the party.  Why?  Well, as we see at the beginning of the film, Kurtis is literally the only nice guy at the entire school.  He’s the only popular kid who is willing to treat the school’s “outcasts” with kindness.

And, as you’ve probably guessed already, the outcasts are the ones who set up the party.  As they announce to their prisoners, they are going to spend the rest of the night torturing them.  They’re not planning on killing anyone.  Instead, they just want to ruin everyone’s perfect future.  They didn’t want to torture Kurtis but then he decided to come to the party.

Seriously, what can you do?

The rest of the film is basically a combination of nonstop torture and talk.  The prisoners spend a lot of time begging and screaming.  Significantly, they don’t do much apologizing.  In fact, a few of them continue to try to act like bullies even though they’re in chains.  As for the outcasts, their leader proves to be surprisingly talkative.  In fact, there were a few times when I really wanted him to shut up.  Why are movie torturers always so verbose?

That said, it quickly becomes obvious that some of the outcasts are more enthusiastic than others.  And their leader, Dane, is quickly revealed to be so crazy that he’s just as willing to kill his friends as he is to torture his bullies.  Dane is played by an actor named Marc Donato.  Interestingly enough, before making The Final, Donato was best known for playing a bully on Degrassi.  And before getting his role on Degrassi, Donato had a tiny but important role as a bullied child in a terrible film called Pay It Forward.  So, when it comes cinematic bullying, Donato has seen every possible angle.

The Final is really an unpleasant film, though I imagine it was meant to make the audience uncomfortable.  I love horror films but I tend to get bored pretty quickly with films where the majority of the running time is taken up with people being tortured.  There’s only so many times you can listen to someone scream in pain before you tune out.  That said, The Final is also a well-made and atmospherically creepy film and all the popular kids are so unlikable that you really don’t mind seeing them lose limbs and get disfigured.  Considering that we’re still hearing daily stories about children being bullied to the point of suicide, maybe The Final should be required viewing in certain classrooms.

Back to School Part II #44: Degrassi Takes Manhattan (dir by Stefan Brogren)


Cassie Steele, Mike Lobel, Miriam McDonald, and Shane Kippel in Degrassi Takes Manhattan

Cassie Steele, Mike Lobel, Miriam McDonald, and Shane Kippel in Degrassi Takes Manhattan

(Much as with my previous post, this review probably will not much sense to you unless you’re a longtime Degrassi fan like me.  Sorry!)

One year after Degrassi Goes Hollywoodthe third Degrassi movie was released.  Degrassi Takes Manhattan was broadcast on July 9th, 2010 and, ratings-wise, it was a huge success.  Not only did it bring TeenNick its highest ratings ever, it was the number one show viewed by teens that summer.

Why was it such a huge success?

Largely, it was because Degrassi Takes Manhattan served as not only the conclusion to season 9 but it was also the finale of Degrassi: The Next Generation.  By the end of Degrassi Takes Manhattan, all of the original Degrassi: TNG plotlines had been resolved.  Emma Nelson, who was the show’s main character for 6 seasons, married Spinner Mason.  When the series returned for season 10, it would drop The Next Generation from its title and it would simply be known as Degrassi.  All of the original characters would be gone, replaced with new students.  Degrassi Takes Manhattan was a chance to celebrate what had been and a chance to say goodbye.

And yet, Degrassi Takes Manhattan remains very controversial among the Degrassi fandom.  To be honest, a lot of people can’t stand it.  My feelings on it are mixed, though I tend to like it more than some.

One of the big problems with Degrassi Takes Manhattan is that none of the original characters actually go to Manhattan.  Emma, Manny, Spinner, and Jay all remain in Canada.  Instead, the Manhattan portion of the film features Holly J. Sinclair (Charlotte Arnold), Fiona Coyne (Annie Clark), Jane (Paul Brancati), and Fiona’s creepy twin brother, Declan (Landon Liboiron).   The New York portion of the film deals with Fiona, Holly J, Declan, and Jane all staying in a Manhattan penthouse and having various adventures in New York.  As seems to happen to at least one Degrassi student ever semester, Jane launches a singing career.  Holly J interns and falls in love with Declan.  Fiona get jealous.  It’s nothing all that interesting though it does feature the classic line, “This is New York Holly J, bitch!”

(Say what you will about the character she was playing, Charlotte Arnold was always great at delivering angry one-liners.)

Instead, the part of the film that everyone remembers is Emma (Miriam McDonald) falling in love with Spinner (Shane Kippel) and drunkenly marrying him at Niagara Falls.  After Spinner and Emma first look into getting an annulment, they suddenly realize that they really do want to spend the rest of their lives together and they have a recommitment ceremony at the beach!

And it’s actually a pretty sweet scene.  As someone who has watched every season of Degrassi, I liked the scene at the beach.  It provided closures for a lot of characters.  But, that doesn’t change the fact that it didn’t make any sense!  In the 9 seasons that led up to Degrassi Takes Manhattan, Spinner and Emma interacted with each other a few times during the first season but, otherwise, they never had much to do with each other.  The two of them falling in love came out of nowhere and, at the risk of being dramatic, it almost felt like a betrayal.  Anyone who has ever watched Degrassi (and those would be the only people who would really have a reason to watch Manhattan), knows that Emma’s soul mate was Sean Cameron.  As for Spinner — well, he dated pretty much everyone on the show at some point, with the notable exception of his future wife, Emma.  I always thought he and Darcy made a good couple but, by the time Manhattan went into production, Shenae Grimes was starring on 90210 and presumably wasn’t available to return so that Darcy could get married.

(One thing I did like about the ceremony is that it was conducted by Jay Hogart — played, of course, by Mike Lobel.  Jay, of course, was once responsible for Emma getting gonorrhea so it’s nice to see that she’s so forgiving.  That said, Jay did look pretty hot all dressed up…)

In the years since this movie aired, snarky fans like me have been joking about how Spinner and Emma probably got divorced a week after the beach ceremony.  But, as we all learned from watching the recent reunion episode on Netflix, Spinner and Emma are apparently still married!  Well, good for them.

Anyway, controversy aside, I still liked Degrassi Takes Manhattan but, then again, I like anything related to Degrassi.  As opposed to School’s Out and Degrassi Goes Hollywood, Degrassi Takes Manhattan is for hardcore Degrassi fans only.

Back to School Part II #43: Degrassi Goes Hollywood (dir by Stefan Brogren)


Before I get around to actually reviewing the 2009 made-for-Canadian-TV Degrassi Goes Hollywood, I should start out by admitting that if you’re not a Degrassi fanatic like I am, this review probably won’t make any sense.  Then again, if you’re not a Degrassi fan, you probably wouldn’t be reading this review in the first place.

I should also address a rumor that is currently circulating around the TSL offices.  Some of my fellow contributors seem to be under the impression that the only reason I announced that I would be reviewing 56 back to school films was so I would have an excuse to review the four Degrassi films.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  The reason I started this series of reviews was so that I’d have an excuse to review Andy Warhol’s Vinyl.  The Degrassi films are just a nice side benefit.

Got it?  Okay, let’s talk about Degrassi Goes Hollywood!

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Degrassi Goes Hollywood premiered on August 14th, 2009 and it served as the finale of Degrassi‘s 8th season.  As such, it also served as the conclusion for several long-running Degrassi plot lines, which I’ll get to in a minute.  For the non-Degrassi fan, Degrassi Goes Hollywood is probably most interesting because it features Jason Mewes playing himself and coming across like a surprisingly normal human being.

To really understand Degrassi Goes Hollywood, you have to understand that Kevin Smith is a long-time and very outspoken fan of Degrassi.  In fact, he even appeared, as himself, in seasons 4 and 5 of the show.  In the world of Degrassi, Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes came to Canada so that they could film their latest film, Jay and Silent Bob Go Canadian, Eh?  They filmed the majority of the film at Degrassi Community School and used several Degrassi students as extras.  Kevin also served as the catalyst for the Joey/Caitlin break-up, which a lot of people have never forgiven him for.  Myself, I would just point out that when Craig Manning stopped taking his medication and ended up living on the streets of Toronto, Kevin was the one who went on television and asked Craig to come home.  So, Kevin wasn’t all bad!

(As I said, this review won’t make a damn bit of sense if you’ve never watched Degrassi.)

As Degrassi Goes Hollywood opens, we learn that Jason Mewes is about to make his directorial debut.  His film, Mewesical High, is an autobiographical film about his youth in New Jersey and his love for a girl named Trixie.  Jason wants to cast former Degrassi student Manny Santos (Cassie Steele) as his Trixie.  However, the studio demands that Jason cast Paige Michalchuck (Lauren Collins) in the role.  Believe it or not, Paige also went to Degrassi!  She was in charge of the Spirit Squad and she and Manny once got into a memorable fight.

(Actually, Manny got into a lot of fights when she was a student at Degrassi.  That was kind of her trademark.)

When she hears that Paige might be replaced in the film, Manny decides to go to California and fight for the role.  Fortunately, her ex-boyfriend, Jay (Mike Lobel), just happens to have a school bus.  So, he agrees to drive Manny to Hollywood.  Accompanying them on the bus are the members of the Studz, one of Degrassi’s many bands.  They want to convince Jason Mewes to use their music in the film.

Now, here’s where it is helpful to know your Degrassi history.  The lead singer of Studz is Peter Stone (Jamie Johnston).  When Peter first appeared on Degrassi, he was portrayed as being almost a sociopath.  He even got Manny drunk and sent a topless video of her to everyone at the school.  Manny spent two seasons hating on him but, oddly, in Degrassi Goes Hollywood, she has absolutely no trouble traveling from Canada to California with him.  Degrassi is all about forgiveness.

Speaking of forgiveness, what about Jay!?  In Degrassi Goes Hollywood, Jay is pretty much the hero of the film, the guy who convinces Manny to never give up on her dreams.  That’s quite a change from how Jay was portrayed when he was first introduced in season 3.  When Jay was first introduced, he was the local hoodlum who was always breaking into candy machines and who ordered his friends to steal everything from the school’s DVR to Mr. Simpson’s new laptop.  Jay was subsequently kicked out of school after he pulled a prank that led to a school shooting.  (If you’re wondering why Drake was in a wheelchair during his final few seasons on Degrassi, Jay was indirectly responsible.)  Jay was then at the center of an outbreak of gonorrhea and subsequently helped to turn another character into a drug dealer.  And, let’s not forget the time that he and Spinner nearly burned down the school…

Fortunately, Jay was played by Mike Lobel and he always played the role with an appealing sense of humor.  You never got the feeling that Jay was truly evil.  Instead, he was just a little hyperactive.  Somehow, it seems appropriate that he would go from being the most evil character on the series to being one of its most memorable anti-heroes.  He gets a lot of good scenes in Degrassi Goes Hollywood.  He and Cassie Steele made for a fun couple.

Speaking of couples, the best thing about Degrassi Goes Hollywood is that, after four long seasons of heartbreak, it finally gives some closure to the Craig/Ellie storyline.  Craig Manning (Jake Epstein) was the bipolar musical genius who left school to become a big star and who subsequently returned for two episodes, in which we discovered that he had developed a cocaine addiction.  (The scene where he gets a nosebleed while performing is pure Degrassi nightmare fuel.)  Ellie (Stacey Farber) was one of my favorite characters on Degrassi, mostly because we both have red hair and like to dress in black.  Sadly, Ellie spent four seasons crushing on Craig, just to watch as he dated Manny, Ashley, and then Manny again.

In Degrassi Goes Hollywood, Ellie and Marco (Adamo Ruggero) are invited to Hollywood to hang out with Paige.  And while Ellie tries to pretend that everything’s okay at home (despite the fact that her father is in the hospital, suffering from PTSD as a result of serving in Afghanistan), she just happens to go for a walk and randomly runs into Craig!  And though they have their usual issues, the movie ends with Craig and Ellie finally kissing as something more than just friends.

AWWWWWWWWWWW!

Of course, it wouldn’t be Degrassi without drama.  Paige and Marco fight over Paige’s diva attitude.  Ellie gets drunk and walks out into the ocean.  The school bus gets stolen while Jay, Manny, and Studz are visiting a redneck bar.  It’s dangerous for Canadians in California!

But what’s important is that it all works out in the end and, even if it’s never specifically stated, I imagine that Mewesical High won all sorts of Oscars.  Listen, if you’re a Degrassi fan, you’ll enjoy Degrassi Goes Hollywood.  And, if you’re not into Degrassi, you probably stopped reading this review a while ago.

Music Video of the Day: Addicted To Love by Robert Palmer (1986, dir. Terence Donovan)


It’s obligatory to do legendary music videos like this one. The problem is finding something to write about when it comes to them.

We like things that look alike moving in unison. It’s as old as entertainment in general. You can swap them out for guys, or even toothbrushes, and it works just as well.

What seems to have some people slightly miffed is that they were stripped down to form rather than shown as a living breathing human being. According to Wikipedia, this is similar to what artist Patrick Nagel would do in his artwork. He happened to design the cover for Duran Duran’s album Rio.

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What I can do is a where-are-they-now on this music video because we actually know who all these girls are in the video.

The women go like this: Julie Pankhurst (keyboard), Patty Kelly (guitar), Mak Gilchrist (bass guitar), Julia Bolino (guitar), Kathy Davies (drums).

You can find some of them on Twitter. You can also find numerous articles on them since they appear to have been tracked down fairly recently.

Mak Gilchrist posted a reunion of four of the five girls.

There’s also an interesting video where some of the girls are interviewed. I wish I could embed said video, but it’s on Yahoo!, and WordPress.com does not allow that for security reasons, so you’ll have to follow the link. It’s worth it because it provides background information on what has happened to them since the music video.

https://uk.screen.yahoo.com/robert-palmer-girls-today-173805406.html?format=embed&player_autoplay=false

I particularly like Kathy Davies’ story about mostly watching Robert Palmer’s butt off-camera.

There’s also a humorous quote from Mak Gilchrist over on Wikipedia from Q magazine:

“I was 21 and got the part on the strength of my modeling book. We were meant to look and ‘act’ like showroom mannequins. Director Terence Donovan got us tipsy on a bottle of wine but as we were having our make-up retouched, I lost balance on my heels and knocked the top of my guitar into the back of Robert’s head, and his face then hit the microphone.”

The girls were miming five musicians that were off-camera. I agree with Mak Gilchrist in the video that they should be tracked down too because they probably have interesting stories to add about the shoot.

Enjoy!