Lifetime Film Review: Stressed to Death (dir by Jared Cohn)

Stressed to death?

Hey, I hear you, sister.  We live in a stressful world.  I mean, it’s the holidays.  Not only do I have to make sure that all the members of my family have a merry gift-giving season but I also have to make sure that they know exactly what to buy me.  On top of that, I’ve got a hundred movies that I still need to see, I’ve got Oscar season to keep up with, and I’ve got to keep this site updated with interesting information.  Seriously, I can understand how you can get stressed to death….

Of course, the lead character in the Lifetime film, Stressed to Death, is suffering from maybe a little bit more stress than even I am.  Having served in the middle east, Maggie (Gina Holden) has finally returned home and is now working as an EMT.  She’s still haunted by flashbacks to one particularly harrowing firefight but she’s determined to get on with her life.  She’s got a loving husband, Jason (Jason Gerhardt), and a daughter and a job that allows her to help people.  But then, one night, she comes across a robbery taking place in a convenience store.  An obviously deranged man has shot one man and is pointing his gun at a pregnant woman.  When Maggie enters the store, she explains that she’s just an EMT and she’s here to save lives.  She says that she just wants to take the man and the woman out of the store and get them medical attention.  The gunman replies that she can only take one of them out of the store and he demands that she choose which one.  Maggie chooses to save the pregnant woman.  The robber than shoots the man to death.

Ten years later, Maggie is still haunted by that night.  Her husband has a good job and they now live in a big house.  Her daughter, Jane (Taylor Blackwell), is now a teenager and, while she’s somewhat of an outcast at school, she’s also extremely intelligent and appears to have a great future ahead of her.  Maggie thinks that she’s ready to return to work as an EMT but, as her supervisor tells her, PTSD is nothing to take chances with.

Jason’s boss, Victoria (Sarah Aldrich), often complains that Jason isn’t ruthless enough.  While Jason always wants to be a nice guy, Victoria insists that Jason should take no prisoners when it comes to making money.  As critical as Victoria is, she also says that she appreciates the fact that Jane is tutoring her son.  Of course, what neither Jason nor Maggie know is that Victoria is the widow of the man who was murdered in that convenience store.  Victoria has waited ten years for vengeance and now, she’s determined to get it….

Stressed to Death starts with an interesting idea but then it eventually becomes a standard Lifetime abduction film, as two hitmen kidnap Jane and Maggie tries to rescue her daughter.  The PTSD angle is never explored as much as the film’s title might lead you to expect.  I mean, yes, Maggie is stressed but I imagine that even someone who has never served in the military would be equally stressed if their daughter was kidnapped by two hired killers.   That said, Gina Holden did a good job in the role of Maggie and I liked that the character of Jane wasn’t just another typically perfect daughter.  Instead, she was kind of quirky and easy to root for.  As played by Sarah Aldrich, Victoria was an interesting villain.  Though her plans were evil, you could sympathize with her pain and that’s an important thing.  She wasn’t just a cardboard evil person.  Instead, she was someone who was suffering just as much Maggie, Jason, and Jane.

It’s hard not to feel that Stressed to Death missed a few opportunities but it was still a diverting Lifetime film.

Lifetime Film Review: Instakiller (dir by Craig Goldstein)

In a Lifetime film, the value of social media often depends on what time of year the film is taking place.

If it’s a Christmas film, social media is an amazingly helpful tool that helps single young women meet handsome carpenters and which also allows them to keep tabs on whether or not their hometown is going to be able to afford to put on the annual nativity pageant.  Want to find the perfect Santa Claus?  Well, just hop on Facebook and look up Kris Kringle!  Want to discover that, because of a snow storm, you’re going to have to spend the Holidays in a Christmas-themed inn?  Just check on twitter!

Of course, any other time of year, social media is portrayed as being the tool of the Devil.  Social media is how con artists steal identities and how psychotic children track down their birth mothers.  Social media is how lies are spread and how revenge porn pics are sent to everyone on Sunday morning and how stalkers can keep track of your every move.  With the exception of the films that air during Christmas, Lifetime spends most of the year telling us that we all need to get off the grid and consider learning more about the Luddites.  Perhaps we should all go to a religious retreat in the French wine country.  That’s something that my sister Erin and I have often discussed doing.  I don’t drink wine but I do speak French.  She doesn’t speak French but she does drink wine.  A year living offline, we’d make it work and, by the standards of Lifetime, we would both be a lot safer.

Take Instakiller, for instance.  Harper (Lizze Broadway) is an aspiring fashion designer and influencer and her account on …. wait for it …. Instapixer (!) has suddenly become very popular.  (One thing that I always enjoy about these Lifetime films is seeing the names that they come up with for the movie’s version of real-life social media companies.  Degrassi featured two of my favorites, Facerange and MyRoom.)  Unfortunately, Harper also has a stalker.  He sends her creepy messages.  He follows her as she walks home from school and takes pictures.  (When confronted by a bystander, he smashes the man’s face into a car hood.)  When Harper’s mom, Layla (Kelly Sullivan), forces Harper to delete her account, the stalker sits in his car and screams.  Soon, the stalker is attacking people with golf clubs and strangling them with jumper cables.

Who is Harper’s stalker?  Could it be one of the customers at her family’s coffee shop?  Could it be one of Harper’s coworkers or even one of her friends?  There’s one obvious suspect but he’s so obvious that you know from the minute he shows that he’s going to turn out to be geeky but not dangerous.  To be honest, the identity of Harper’s stalker is not that shocking, just because there aren’t that many suspects.  Once you dismiss all of the obvious red herrings, there’s really only one possible suspect left.

But no matter!  Instakiller is an entertaining Lifetime film, which is to say that if you enjoy Lifetime films, you’ll probably enjoy this one.  Kelly Sullivan and Lizze Broadway are believable as mother-and-daughter and I imagine that a lot of moms will watch this movie and find themselves totally relating to Sullivan’s character and her confusion as to why Harper is willing to put her life in danger just to have an Instapixer account.  Seriously, though, once you hit a thousand followers, the risks are totally worth it….

Insomnia File #45: The Pyramid (dir by Gary Kent)

What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If you were having trouble getting to sleep at one in the morning, you could have turned over to TCM and watched the TCM Underground premiere of a low-budget oddity that was first released in 1976, The Pyramid.

The Pyramid is a collection of disjointed scenes, some of which are unsettling, some of which are rather amateurish, and some of which are oddly poignant.  It’s perhaps as strange a film as a film about hippies in Dallas could be.  The film opens in North Dallas, with a disturbing scene of an old man having a heart attack while driving his car and crashing into a school bus.  (As far as school bus crashes go, it was almost as disturbing as the one that would later open Dennis Hopper’s Out of the Blue.)  Two reporters show up to cover the carnage — supercool L.A. Ray (Ira Hawkins) and his cameraman, Chris Lowe (C.B. Brown).  In the style of Medium Cool, they’re both detached from the tragedy and the carnage around them.

The film moves on from the school bus crash, which is never again mentioned once L.A. and Chris file their story.  We get a series of scenes that may or may not be connected.  L.A. argues with a woman who might be his wife.  Chris wanders around Dallas and tries to film people talking about their lives.  At one point, Chris and L.A. drive through Dealey Plaza and Chris stares back at the Book Depository Building.  At a party, Chris tells a random woman that both Jesus and Richard Nixon were Capricorns.  L.A. and Chris smoke weed while driving around.  Later, they take part in a slow motion flag football game with a group of hippies.  An old man in a steam room suggests that everyone should imagine being dead.

Chris and L.A. stumble across a shoot out involving the police.  A young black man is gunned down by the cops.  L.A. spends several minutes loudly vomiting.  They go to an abandoned church that is sitting in the middle of the countryside and talk to an old man who says that he’s had religious visions.  Back at the station, Chris’s boss accuses Chris of shooting out-of-focus footage and accuses him of being pretentious.  Chris is fired.

L.A. disappears from the film for a while as Chris wanders around with his camera.  Chris interviews a hog farmer who is worried that he’s going to lose his hogs.  He covers a vacuous fashion show in the backyard of a Highland Park mansion.  In Oak Cliff, he stops to stare at a rooster.  (For the record, the Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas is famous for its roosters.)

Chris meets a “confrontational therapist” named Merleen (Tomi Barrett).  Merleen screams at a middle-aged man until the man starts screaming back, his entire body shaking as if he’s become possessed.  Chris meets with his friend Bubba and asks if this is the way that we want the world to be.  People gather underneath a makeshift pyramid.  An astronaut is interviewed about conducting ESP experiments in space.  The real-life suicide of newswoman Christine Chubbuck is crudely recreated and then not mentioned again.  The entire cast appears gathered around a pyramid and starts to sing.  Meanwhile, the sun rises over the Dallas skyline….

The Dallas skyline and the sun rising over it is a sight that’s often seen in this film.  As a Dallas native, I enjoyed that part of The Pyramid.  Even though the film was made long before I was even born, I still saw plenty of familiar sights in The Pyramid.  It’s rare that I get to watch a movie and yell out, “Hey, I’ve driven through that tunnel!”  That part of the movie was fun.

The Pyramid was an odd film.  Just from my own research, I discovered that The Pyramid was filmed over the course of at least two years.  If nothing else, this confirmed one of my main suspicions about the film.  Though production on the film started in either 1972 or 1973, it still features a recreation of Christine Chubbuck’s 1974 suicide.  That would seem to suggest that the film itself was kind of “made up” as things went along.  (It also potentially explains why the suicide is never again mentioned after it rather abruptly happens.)  That certainly explains why the film is such an episodic and disjointed experience.

What’s the film really about?  Your guess is as good as mine.  In many ways, it feels like a Texas version of Medium Cool but it’s also obvious that the filmmaker’s had grander goals in mind than just paying homage to Haskell Wexler’s classic portrait of alienation.  As you can tell by looking at the advertisement at the bottom of this review, The Pyramid was advertised as being “a positive mystical experience.”  The ad also states that “For this engagement, the theaters have been energized with pyramid power.”  The film suggests that we’re all connected to each other and that we need to seek out and embrace the positive, lest we become so consumed by all the negative and hate that we end up like Christine Chubbuck.  It’s a message that’s both naive and kind of sweet.  Whatever else can be said about this movie, it can’t be faulted for a lack of sincerity.

The Pyramid‘s a mess but I kind of liked it.  Of course, I have a weakness for low-budget passion projects.  Whatever flaws this film may have (and it has many), it’s obvious the someone really felt that they had something important to say with this film.  It’s not necessary to agree with the film’s conclusion to respect director Gary Kent’s commitment to bringing to life his own vision.  That said, it bears repeating that The Pyramid is definitely a flawed film.  The acting is frequently amateurish.  The sound quality is far from perfect.  The narrative momentum starts to seriously drag during the 2nd half of the film.  But it has its strengths too.  The shots of the Dallas skyline are impressive and there are a few cinema verite sequences that are interesting from a historical point of view.  (This film basically is a time capsule of the early 70s.)  In the end, it stays true to its own bizarre vision and there’s definitely something to be said for that.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Winning Season
  26. Rabbit Run
  27. Remember My Name
  28. The Arrangement
  29. Day of the Animals
  30. Still of The Night
  31. Arsenal
  32. Smooth Talk
  33. The Comedian
  34. The Minus Man
  35. Donnie Brasco
  36. Punchline
  37. Evita
  38. Six: The Mark Unleashed
  39. Disclosure
  40. The Spanish Prisoner
  41. Elektra
  42. Revenge
  43. Legend
  44. Cat Run

Music Video of the Day: Let’s Make Love and Listen To Death From Above by CSS (2006, dir by Cat Solen)

Now, before anyone starts in with, “Oh, Lisa’s going to talk about the end of the world, again,” I most definitely am not.  The “Death From Above” that’s referenced in this song is literally the band Death From Above.  In this video, the members of CSS even wear elephant masks as an homage from Death From Above, which is a nice gesture, I think.  So, no, this song is not about a comet or a gigantic meteor smashing down on the Earth while the members of the band make love.  Unless, of course, that’s how you really want to interpret it.  As you know, I’m a big supporter of freedom of interpretation.

This was CSS’s first international single.  It was taken off of their debut studio album, Cansei de Ser Sexy.  Sadly, the song was a hit only in the UK.  So, once again, the British got it right.


Caught In The “Loop Of The Sun”

Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

Oversized, spiral-bound, and presented in a seismic flood of lavish riso-printed colors on exceptionally sturdy paper stock, Daria Tessler’s latest offering via artisan publisher Perfectly Acceptable Press, Loop Of The Sun, is a thing of beauty in the purely physical sense, it’s true — but as a self-contained sequential (though not strictly “comics” per se) story that  nevertheless fits comfortably within its creator’s larger ouevre, it stands out for both its thematic depth and transcendent visual auteurship. In other words, it may carry a $45 price tag, but there’s no doubt it’s worth every penny of that, and then some.

Tessler’s art has always existed at a self-created intersection between archaeology and alchemy, piecing together folkloric texts and historical artifacts in order to conjure something unique from disparate elements — and in this case, the subject being a creation myth from ancient Egypt proves to be…

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Here’s The International Trailer for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker!

Y’know, I could write up a thousand words or so about this trailer but let’s be honest.  That’s not why you clicked on this link.  You want to watch the damn trailer and I don’t blame you!  Here it is:

Anyway, I’m not going to pretend that I really understand every single thing that’s excited everyone else about this trailer.  I mean, it looks like an entertaining movie and Adam Driver looks really good as Kylo Ren but, as I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m not really a huge Star Wars person.  That said, this looks like it’ll have some exciting moments and I’m looking forward to seeing it.  I’m not looking forward to all the twitter debates about whether or not the film is actually good or not but that’s just a part of life.



Music Video of the Day: Black Friday by Stray From The Path (2014, dir by ????)

Today is Black Friday!  This is the day when, all across the United States, people storm into stores and fight each other over …. well, everything.

Every year, there’s like a hundred think pieces decrying the commercialism of Black Friday and complaining that corporations are exploiting human weakness and that it’s a sad state of affairs and blah blah blah.  Listen — I love Black Friday.  Black Friday is where you prove what your worth and show just how far you’re willing to go to make sure that everyone you love has a merry Christmas.  My sisters and I are expert Black Friday shoppers and yes, we still go out and hit the stores.  We take the risk.  We don’t hide behind online shopping.  Not on Black Friday.

So, let’s hope that the Bowman sisters can summon half as much energy this Black Friday as Stray From The Path summons up in this video.  Of course, I should point out that this song is very much against the madness of Black Friday.  It attacks “American Greed” and basically taunts those of us who hit the sales.  Well, that’s their right.  I mean, I don’t think anyone can be shocked to discover that Stray From The Path is skeptical of capitalism run amok.

(Myself, I love capitalism.  It’s fun.)

Anyway, stay safe out there and enjoy!