What Lisa Watched Last Night #195: Long Lost Daughter (dir by Christopher James Lang)


On Friday night, I watched the latest Lifetime premiere, Long Lost Daughter!

Why Was I Watching It?

First off, let me just say that, considering what the folks on the East Coast have had to deal with over the past two weeks, I feel really guilty about complaining about getting a little bit of rain in Texas.  (And it’s not really a complaint because, to be honest, I love stormy weather!)

That said, it rained all day Friday and it’s supposed to continue to rain through the weekend.  When I was driving home from work, the rain was so bad that I actually had to limit myself to 30 mph.  We’re under flash flood warning right now.  What better way to pass the time when you’re trapped inside by a storm than be watching a Lifetime movie?

What Was It About?

Cathy Rhodes (Molly Hagan) is a successful and acclaimed author of children’s books.  She’s written hundreds of stories about Mr. Poppins, a rabbit who can’t find his way home.  It’s made her a beloved figure in her small town but there are some who find Cathy and her husband (Bates Wilder) to be a little bit strange.  They whisper about how, 20 years earlier, Cathy’s 7 year-old daughter, Michelle, vanished.

Meanwhile, two new arrivals have come to town.  Jonathan (Richard Brancatisano) is an aspiring science fiction writer.  And his wife (Sofia Mattson) is going to help run the education center that Cathy has helped to fund.  It turns out that Jonathan’s wife is 27 years old and has no memory of her mother or her childhood.  And her name is …. Michelle!

Could Michelle be Cathy’s daughter?  That’s certainly what Cathy thinks and she’s willing to do anything to make sure that both her daughter and Mr. Poppins find their way home…

What Worked?

Molly Hagan may not be a household name but I can guarantee you that you would recognize her if you saw her.  She’s been in a countless number of films over the years and she is a truly great character actress.  She’s played so many different characters and she’s been totally convincing every time.  (I think her best-known recent film might be Sully, where she played one of the flight attendants who chanted, “Brace!  Brace!  Head down!  Stay down!”)  Anyway, Hagan does a great job as the Cathy Rhodes, making her both frightening and sympathetic.

Also giving a good performance was Bates Wilder, who played Cathy’s somewhat creepy husband.  Both he and Hagan keep you guessing.

Speaking of keeping you guessing, this film had an ambiguous ending that I absolutely loved.  I won’t spoil it but it was handled very well.  It’s the type of ending that I wish Lifetime would try more often.  Sometime, it’s not necessary to spell everything out.

What Did Not Work?

Could Michelle and Jonathan have been anymore unlikable?  Michelle acted like moving from the city to a small town was the equivalent of moving to a different country.  When Cathy mentioned she was making a casserole, Michelle’s smug response of, “Casserole!” was enough to make me decided that I wouldn’t ever want to know someone like Michelle in real life.

As for Jonathan … well, I lost all sympathy for him when he announced that, for him, being a writer was about business and not art.  “No one ever reads Proust anymore,” he said, at one point.  What a jerk!  Michelle, at least, kinda redeemed herself as the film progressed.  But Jonathan …. well, once a jerk, always a jerk.

“Oh my God!  Just like me!” Moments

Whenever Michelle got annoyed with Jonathan, I was like, “Oh my God!  I feel the exact same way!”

Lessons Learned

Don’t insult Proust.

Film Review: Life Itself (dir by Dan Fogelman)


Watching Life Itself is like getting a Hallmark card from a serial killer.  Even if you appreciate the sentiment, you still don’t feel good about it.

Written and directed by This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman, Life Itself attempts to juggle several different themes, so much so that it can sometimes be difficult to understand just what exactly the film is attempting to say.  That said, I think the main lesson of the film is that you should always look both ways before stepping out into the middle of the street.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve got a horrific backstory, involving a decapitated father, a pervy uncle, and a gun.  It doesn’t matter if you love Pulp Fiction or if you think Bob Dylan’s more recent work is underrated.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve got a dog and husband who is so in love with you that he’s practically a stalker.  It doesn’t even matter that your pregnant and looking forward to naming your firstborn after your favorite musician.  If you don’t look both ways before stepping out into the middle of the street, you’re going to get hit by a big damn bus.

That’s the lesson that Abby (Olivia Wilde) does not learn and, as a result, she not only gets run over by a bus but we, the viewers, are subjected to seeing her repeatedly getting run over by that bus.  As temtping as it is to feel bad for Abby, my sympathy was limited by the fact that she and her husband (Oscar Isaac) named their dog Fuckface.  I mean, seriously, who does that?  Not only is it cruel to the dog but it’s also inconsiderate to the people who have to listen to you shouting, “Fuckface!” whenever the dog gets loose.  For whatever reason, the movie doesn’t seem to get how annoying this is.  That’s because Life Itself is another one of those movies that mistakes quirkiness for humanity.

The other annoying thing about Abby is that she’s an English major who somehow thinks that the use of the unreliable narrator is an understudied literary phenonema.  In fact, she’s writing her thesis on unreliable narrators.  Her argument is that life itself is the ultimate unreliable narrator because life is tricky and surprising, which doesn’t make one bit of sense.

Speaking of narrators, Life Itself has three, which is three too many.  Two of the narrators are unreliable but I get the feeling that the third one is meant to be taken literally, which is a shame because the film would have made a lot more sense if it had ended with a Life of Pi-style revelation that none of what we just watched actually happened.

Anyway, Abby getting hit by a bus has repercussions that reverberate across the globe and across time.  Not only does it lead to her husband writing a bad screenplay but it also leads to him committing suicide in a psychiatrist’s office.  Abby’s daughter, Dylan (Olivia Cooke), grows up to be what this film believes to be a punk rocker, which means that she angrily covers Bob Dylan songs and stuffs a peanut butter and jelly sandwich down another girl’s throat.  Meanwhile, in Spain….

What?  Oh yeah, this film jumps from New York to Spain.  In fact, it’s almost like another film suddenly starts after an hour of the first one.  You go from Olivia Cooke sobbing on a park bench to Antonio Banderas talking about his childhood.  Banderas is playing a landowner named Vincent Saccione.  Saccione wants to be best friends with his foreman, Javier (Sergio Peris-Mencheta) but Javier suspects that Saccione just wants to steal away his saintly wife, Isabel (Laia Costa) and maybe Javier’s right!

Javier has a son named Rodrigo (who is played by five different actors over the course of the film before eventually growing up to be Alex Monner).  When Saccione gives Rodrigo a globe, Javier decides to one-up him by taking his wife and child on a vacation to New York City.  Rodrigo has a great time in New York, or at least he does until he distracts a bus driver, which leads to a bus running down a pregnant woman…

…and the movie’s not over yet!  It just keeps on going and believe it or not, there’s stuff that I haven’t even mentioned.  Life Itself has a running time of only two hours.  (For comparison, it’s shorter than almost every comic book film that’s come out over the past few years.)  This is one of the rare cases where the film might have been improved with a longer running time because Fogelman crams so much tragedy and melodrama into that running time that it literally leaves you feeling as if you’re being bludgeoned.  This is one of those films that gets in your face and screams, “You will cry!  You will cry!”  Even if you are inclined to cry at movies (and I certainly am), it’s impossible not to resent just how manipulative the film gets.  You get the feeling that if you spend too much time wondering about the plot holes or the on-the-nose dialogue, the third narrator might start yelling at you for not getting with the program.

Life Itself is full of twists that are designed to leave you considering how everything in life is connected but, for something like this to work, the twists have to be surprising.  They have to catch you off-guard.  They have to make you want to see the movie again so that you can look for clues.  The twists in Life Itself are not surprising.  Anyone who has ever seen a movie before will be able to guess what’s going to happen.  For that matter, anyone who has ever sat through an episode of This is Us should be able to figure it all out.  Life Itself is not as a clever as it thinks it is.

Also, for a film like this work, you have to actually care about the characters.  You have to be invested in who they are.  But nobody in the film ever seems to be real and neither do any of their stories.  (To the film’s credit, it actually does point out that one narrator is idealizing the past but that’s an intriguing idea that’s abandoned.)  Everyone is just a collection of quirks.  We know what type of music they like but we never understand why.  Background info, like Abby being molested by her uncle or Isabel being the fourth prettiest of six sisters, is randomly dropped and then quickly forgotten about.  Almost ever woman has a tragic backstory and, for the most part, a tragic destiny.  (Except, of course, for Rodrigo’s first American girlfriend, who is dismissed as being “loud.”)  Every man is soulful and passionate.  But who are they?  The film’s narrators say a lot but they never get around to answering that question.  This is a film that insists it has something to say about life itself but it never quite comes alive.

Some critics are saying that Life Itself is the worst film of 2018.  Maybe.  I don’t know for sure.  The Happytime Murders left me feeling so icky that I haven’t even been able to bring myself to review it yet.  Life Itself, on the other hand, is such a huge misfire that I couldn’t wait to tell everyone about it.  There’s something to be said for that.

One Hit Wonders #21: “Seasons in the Sun” by Terry Jacks (Bell Records 1974)


cracked rear viewer

Terry Jacks’ “Seasons in the Sun”, perhaps the most maudlin hit of all time, reached #1 on the charts in March 1974 and stubbornly stayed there for three long weeks:

This schmaltzy little ditty about a man saying goodbye to his loved ones as he’s preparing for death was based on Belgian chanteur Jacques Brel’s 1961 European hit “Le Moribond”, with English lyrics provided by that most sickeningly saccharine of 60’s poets, the Godfather of New Age, Rod McKuen (ATTENTION DIABETICS: better take your shot of insulin before clicking on the next video!):

Terry Jacks was no stranger to the Top 40. He and his wife Susan performed under the name The Poppy Family (how cute!), and reached #2 in 1970 with the single “Which Way You Goin’, Billy?”:

ARRGH! All this sweetness has given me a sugar rush! Think I’ll go run around the block six or seven times….

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Music Video of the Day: Blue Fear by Armin van Buuren (2009, dir by Ciro Ayala)


To be honest, this music video freaks me out a little bit.  I think that’s understandable, though.  When you see a big disembodied head chasing someone through a maze, it just makes sense that you’re going to get a little bit freaked!

That’s actress Calina Chen being chased through the maze.  She also appeared in the video for Matt Darey’s Follow You, which was directed by the same director who did Blue Fear, Ciro Ayala.

Enjoy!