Cinemax Friday: School Spirit (1985, directed by Alan Holleb)


Though he’s clearly in his late 30s and doesn’t have much of a personality, Billy Batson (Tom Nolan) was the most popular student at Lavatoire University.  Not only did all of the ladies love him but Billy was also Hogmeister, the king of school’s annual Hog Day.  Everyone at the university loved Billy except for crusty old President Grimshaw (Larry Linville).  Sadly, Billy was killed in a traffic accident that was entirely his fault.  He had gone down to the local roadhouse to use their condom machine and he was so excited afterward that he dropped the condom while driving.  When he reached down to grab it, he took his eyes off the road and one thing led to another.  The lesson?  Safe sex kills.  That’s not a great lesson today and it was an even worse one in the 80s but what are you going to do?

Billy’s dead.

Or is he?

No, don’t worry, he’s dead.  At the hospital, his spirit rises out of his body and he’s greeted by his deceased Uncle Pinky (John Finnegan).  Pinky says that it’s time to go to Heaven but Billy wants just one more day so that he can oversee Hog Day and get laid.  Pinky says no way but then he gets distracted by a comely nurse.  Billy escapes from the hospital and returns to the campus.

Even though he’s dead, Billy still appears in corporeal form and everyone can talk to him.  The only special power that Billy has is that he can wave his hand over his head and turn invisible.  Billy uses his powers once or twice and there’s the expected trip to the girl’s shower but that’s really the extent of School Spirit‘s supernatural angle.  The movie doesn’t really seem to be committed to the idea of Billy being dead.  Also, at no point in the film does Billy Batson say “Shazam!,” and that really is unforgivable.

Billy wants to sleep with snooty Judith Hightower (Elizabeth Foxx) but then he gets distracted by Grimshaw’s wild daughter (Marta Kober) and also by Madeleine Lavatoire (Daniele Arnaud), who is visiting from France.  It doesn’t take long for Billy to realize that Madeleine is the one for him but how can he fall in love with anyone when he’s going to have to go to the afterlife at midnight.  Appropriately, it all ends with a case of deus ex machina.  The ending makes no sense but neither does the rest of the movie so give School Spirit some credit for being consistent.

School Spirit is a stupid movie and, with the exception of Larry Linville and Marta Kober, the cast is a forgettable.  This is the type of comedy that used to show up regularly on late night Cinemax.  What it lacked in laughs, it made up for in boobs and that was really what the majority of its audience was watching for.  People who stayed up late to watch Cinemax were not the most demanding viewers in the world.  Today, the film will mostly appeal to people nostalgic for 80s sex comedies.  Why they would watch School Spirit instead of something like Risky Business, I don’t know.  Maybe they needed a movie to review for a blog.

Tomorrow, I finish off my Police Academy reviews by taking a look at Mission to Moscow!

SXSW 2020 Review: Dieorama (dir by Kevin Staake)


“Lisa, I think you misspelled the title of the film….”

No, I didn’t!  For once, I have not misspelled anything.  This film is about dieoramas, which are dioramas that put an extra amount of emphasis on “die.”  Dieorama is also a ten minute profile of Abigail Goldman, who is an investigator for a public defender’s office in Washington and who spends her spare time making miniature crime scenes.

It may be a macabre habit but it’s hard not to admire the amount of effort and detail that Abigail puts into each grotesque little scene.  The dark humor of those involved in law enforcement is often commented upon and while it can sometimes seem insensitive to outsiders, it makes total sense when you consider that these are people who, on a daily basis, are regularly confronted with the worst that humanity has to offer.  Often times, that streak of morbid humor is a defense against giving into the darkness that’s all around them.

I mean, let’s face it.  We all have our ways of dealing with the bad things in the world.  Myself, I watch horror movies and I read true crime books.  When I was much younger, I used to regularly play dead and while everyone thought that was a strange habit, it was actually my way of laughing at my own mortality.  If you can mock death, then there’s no reason to fear it, right?  (That said, I grew out of the habit as I got older.)  My point is that we all deal with the grotesque in different ways.  Some people pretend not to see the darkness.  Some embrace the darkness.  And then others deal with the darkness by acknowledging, personalizing, and then conquering it.

Dieorama also features some interviews with the people who have collected Abigail’s work.  Some of them seem to be a bit apologetic for hanging a miniature crime scene on their wall but you know what?  Never apologize for your decorating tastes!  There’s no need to feel shame for appreciating the macabre.  In fact, in a crazy time, it may be the most sane thing that you can do.

Dieorama can currently be viewed on Prime.

 

SXSW 2020 Short Film Review: Basic (dir by Chelsea Devantez)


In the introduction that plays before the start of Basic, director and actress Chelsea Devantez describes her film as being a “very, very, very short film” and indeed it is.  It’s only 4 minutes long, which means that this is about to a very, very, very short review.

Anyway, Basic is a film about “the insecure lil’ ho in all of us.”  It open with Gloria (Chelsea Devantez) looking at Kailynn’s (Georgia Mischak) Instagram and talking about how much she hates her.  Why does Gloria hate Kailynn?  Could it be because Kailynn appears to have a perfect and glamorous life?  Or could it be because of the fact that Nick (Nelson Franklin) is in several of the pictures with her.  “Oh, look,” Gloria says, “we go shopping together.”

I’m probably not doing justice to the film but it’s a laugh-out loud hilarious comedy and it’s got a clever little twist at the end and dammit, what else can you really ask from a four-minute comedy?  Many of the laughs comes from Gloria’s snarky comments about Kailynn’s life but even more of the laughs come from the fact that it’s obvious that Gloria would love to be Kailynn.  Finally, this film gives us a lot of Nelson Franklin, who was hilarious on Veep and who deserves to be in many more films and shows.  Nelson Franklin is one of those actors who can make just about any line laugh out loud hilarious.

It’s a short film.  It’s 4 minutes.  Who doesn’t have 4 minutes to spare?  Seriously, you’re going to tell me you don’t have 4 minutes?  Shut up, you’ve got 4 minutes.  Watch it on Prime while you can.

SXSW 2020 Review: Figurant (dir by Jan Vejnar)


Clocking in at just 14 minutes, the French/Czech co-production, Figurant, is about as unsettling of a film as I’ve recently seen.

Trying to explain just what exactly happens in the film is not easy.  It’s not just that I don’t want to spoil the film.  It’s also that the film itself is a bit of a mystery.  It’s a riddle.  It’s an enigma.  It’s a dream of dark and disturbing things and the story doesn’t always lead to the destination that you may be expecting.

It’s the story of a man who is played by Denis Lavant.  We never learn the man’s name, nor do we learn much about his past.  He may be homeless, he may not.  He’s a quiet and withdrawn man, one who mostly communicates in apologetic grunts.  When he sees a group of younger men walking into a warehouse, he follows them.  When two men sitting behind a table give him a scornful look and ask if they’re even supposed to take men like him, he keeps quiet.  He accepts every insult with the quiet resignation of a man who is used to being on the outside looking in.

In a backroom, two women take Lavant’s clothes from him and place them in a garbage bag.  They gave him a military uniform to wear.  Lavant doesn’t seem to know why he’s being asked to dress like a soldier but he does so anyway.  When the other men march down a hallway, he follows.  When they enter a trailer, he follows.  When he’s told to sit in a chair in front of a mirror, he does just that….

Throughout it all, everyone except for Lavant seems to understand what’s going on.  Lavant simply follows along and goes where he is told.  No matter how weird or violent things become around him, Lavant continues to follow….

There are multiple twists towards the end of the film.  I would say that I correctly predicted 50% of the twists and that the other twists took me totally by surprise.  In fact, I’m still fully working out the film in my head.  Figurant is one of those wonderfully surreal and dream-like films that just sticks with you.  It may only be 14 minutes long but you’ll be thinking about it for hours afterwards.

Lavant does a great job and is sympathetic in the lead role.  Director Jan Vejnar creates a perfectly ominous atmosphere, filling the film with images that are sometimes threatening and occasionally surprisingly peaceful.  Figurant is one that will stick with you and. through May 6th, it can be viewed for free on Prime.

SXSW 2020 Review: Lions in the Corner (dir by Paul Hairston)


Lions in the Corner is a 9-minute documentary about a Virginia man who, for most of his life, has been called Scarface.

His physical scars, which he’s carried with him for the majority of his life, are the result of a house fire.  As he explains it, he had to have over a hundred surgeries when he was growing up.  That left him with an addiction to opioids.  Growing up in a poor neighborhood, Scarface fell into a criminal lifestyle.  He ran with gangs.  He did time in prison.  At one point, he nearly died after he was shot.  Scarface says that he’s one of the few men who can tell anyone firsthand what it feels like to die.

After getting out of prison, Scarface turned his life around.  He got married.  He had two children.  And, in his backyard, he set up something that he calls Street Beefs, a boxing ring where people — mostly, judging from the documentary, young men — can settle their disagreements with their fists instead of out on the streets with a gun or a knife.  (At one point, the documentary shows us a pair of boxing gloves, across which has been written, “Glove up or Shut Up.”)

However, it’s about more than just boxing.  Whether they win or lose, each fighter is treated like a champion when they step into the ring and each fighter has people in the audience cheering him on.  That’s not something that a lot of the men who fight in Scarface’s backyard get to experience in their everyday life.

Lions in the Corner is an effective and, ultimately, moving documentary.  It focuses as much on Scarface’s story as it does on the punches being thrown in the ring and, fortunately, the guy is a charismatic storyteller.  By the end of this short documentary, you can’t help but wish the best for not only him but also for everyone who steps into the ring.

Lions in the Corner is currently available on Prime.

SXSW 2020 Review: Still Wylde (dir by Ingrid Haas)


Still Wylde is an 11-minute film about a long-time couple, Gertie (Ingrid Haas) and Sam (Barry Rothbart), and what happens when Gertie gets pregnant with the child that they hope to name Wylde.

It’s a film that, if I may be allowed to indulge in a cliche, made me laugh and then made me cry.  And then it made me briefly laugh again and then it made me cry a lot.  It’s an emotional roller coaster and it’s also a good example of why the short film format can be so powerful.  A lot of time passes in just 11 minutes and you truly feel like you come to know Gertie and Sam over the course of the film.  Because it is a short film, every moment counts.  There is no filler.  Instead, every minute of the film is about getting to know Gerite and Sam and following them on their journey.  You come to care about them.  You share their joy and you share their heartbreak and, in the end, you’re happy that they have one another.

From the minute you see Gertie buying every single pregnancy test at the local convenience store and then pacing in front of a dead plant after getting the results, you feel as if you know who she is.  From the minute that Sam starts stuttering as he tries to figure out the right way to respond to Gertie’s news, you know who Sam is.  It’s kind of impossible not to love Sam and Gertie and to get caught up in their story.

And all it took was 11 minutes!

Through May 6th, Still Wylde and several other films that would have been featured at this year’s SXSW are currently available for free on Prime.  Definitely check them all out.  Let’s do what we can to support brave and honest filmmakers like Ingrid Haas and so many others during this difficult time.

Now, I’m going to go cry for a little bit more….