“Please, God – Help Me Be Normal!” Will Make You Glad John Trubee Is Anything But

Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

A lot of great art, regardless of medium, comes from a place of deep personal anguish. It only stands to reason, of course — profoundly disturbing imagery, writing, films, etc. are most authentically communicated by profoundly disturbed minds. But does that mean the artist in question can’t be having a good time making it, and that you as a reader or viewer can’t have fun experiencing it?

I ask this because, as the contents of the long-overdue career retrospective Please, God – Help Me Be Normal! (Mucus House Publications, 2021) make abundantly clear, something is up with John Trubee. the very title of his book is a cry for help, and it’s tough to blame the guy for having a constant urge to scream into the abyss. I mean, he sees things in a way that most of us simply don’t — hell, maybe he just sees things that most…

View original post 870 more words

Scenes That I Love: Tony Soprano Dreams Of A House In The Sopranos

Since this weekend is going to see both the release of The Many Saints of Newark and the start of our annual October Horrorthon, I thought that this would be an appropriate time to share a creepy scene that I love from The Sopranos.

The Sopranos was well-known for its dream sequences. For me, this dream from the season 4’s Calling All Cars is one of the best of the series. It’s full of menace and ominous atmosphere, from the minute we see Tony being led to the house by the deceased Ralphie. And then, when that mysterious shadow appears on the staircase — AGCK!

I’ve read online speculation that the woman in the shadows was meant to represent Tony’s mother, who will be played by Vera Farmiga in The Many Saints of Newark. Young Tony Soprano, meanwhile, will be played by Michael Gandolfini, the son of the late (and missed) James Gandolfini.

I look forward to watching (and, hopefully, reviewing) The Many Saints of Newark on October 1st!

4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Arthur Penn Edition

4 (or more) Shots From 4 (or more) Films is just what it says it is, 4 (or more) shots from 4 (or more) of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 (or more) Shots From 4 (or more) Films lets the visuals do the talking.

99 years ago today, Arthur Penn was born in Philadelphia.  In the 50s, Penn was one of the new crop of directors who made a name for themselves directing for television.  Like most of his colleagues, he transitioned into film.  Unlike many of his colleagues, he remained a fiercely iconoclastic director, one who was willing to challenge the conventions of Hollywood.  While his early films often struggled at the box office, he was respected by actors and hailed as a visionary by the directors of the French New Wave.

In 1967, he and Warren Beatty changed the course of American cinema with Bonnie and Clyde.  Penn followed up that classic film with movies like Alice’s Restaurant, Little Big Man, Night Moves, and a handful of others.  When he died in 2010, Penn was hailed as one of the most influential (if sometimes underrated) directors of all time.

Today, in honor of the anniversary of his birth, the Shattered Lens offers up….

4 Shots From 4 Arthur Penn Films

Mickey One (1965, dir by Arthur Penn, DP: Ghislain Cloquet)

Bonnie and Clyde (1967, dir by Arthur Penn, DP: Burnett Guffey)

Little Big Man (1970, dir by Arthur Penn, DP: Harry Stradling Jr)

Night Moves (1975, dir by Arthur Penn, DP: Bruce Surtees)

Film Review: Out of Bounds (dir by Richard Tuggle)

Just a country boy

Born and raised in South Des Moines

He took the midnight bus to anywhere….

That’s the story of Darryl Cage, the protagonist of the 1986 film, Out of Bounds.  Played by Anthony Michael Hall, Darryl is an Iowa farm boy who goes to Los Angeles to live with his brother.  Unfortunately, when his flight lands, Darryl’s suitcase is switched with another one that’s full of cocaine!  Darryl becomes an accidental drug mule and end up getting his brother killed!  WHAT A DUMBASS!

So now, Darryl is on the run.  He’s a small town farmer in the big city, trying to avoid bad guy Roy (Jeff Kober) and the police, led by Lt. Delgado (Glynn Turman).  Fortunately, Darryl meets an aspiring actress named Dizz (Jenny Wright).  Dizz gives him a makeover and introduces him to the Los Angeles club scene.  Siouxsie and the Banshees make a cameo appearance at one club.  They perform one song and fortunately, it’s Cities in the Dust.  Unfortunately, they don’t actually get involved in the plot of the film.  I would have liked to have seen Siouxsie beat up Jeff Kober.  But it doesn’t happen.

Out of Bounds is one of the many films that came out in the mid-to-late-80s in which the actors who were (somewhat unfairly) considered to be Brat Packers attempted to prove that they were capable of doing more than just projecting teen angst.  Judd Nelson and Ally Sheedy, for instance, starred in a forgettable neo-noir called Blue City.  Andrew McCarthy starred in an interesting but ultimately uneven film called Kansas.  Emilio Estevez not only starred in Wisdom but he directed it too.  And Anthony Michael Hall starred in Out of Bounds.

Anthony Michael Hall was best-known for playing nerdy characters in Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club and it’s probable that he was attempting to escape being typecast when he took his role in Out of Bounds.  This was Anthony Michael Hall’s chance to play an action hero!  Unfortunately, Anthony Michael Hall made the same mistake that many of his peers made while trying to give the performance that would allow them to break free of the Brat Pack label.  He tried too hard.  While Glynn Turman, Jeff Kober and Jenny Wright obviously understood the type of  rather silly movie that Out of Bounds was going to be and they modified their performances accordingly, Anthony Michael Hall apparently tried to duplicate the method intensity of Marlon Brando or James Dean.  In other words, Hall took the film far more seriously than it deserved to be taken.

Out of Bounds get off to a bad start as soon as it opens with Anthony Michael Hall on the farm in Iowa.  There’s absolutely nothing about the young Anthony Michael Hall that leaves on with the impression that he’s ever spent any time on a farm.  Everything about him screams Hollywood before he even lands in Los Angeles.  Hence, it gets difficult to really buy him as being the wide-eyed innocent that everyone else views him as being.  Since a good deal of the film’s plot is dependent upon Hall being naïve, that’s a problem.  He may be a farm boy but he certainly doesn’t freak out after shooting someone.  He’s also somehow learned how to throw a knife straight into someone’s gut.  Out of Bound‘s director, Richard Tuggle, directed two films for Clint Eastwood so he obviously knew how to frame a fight scene but Hall is so miscast that it’s impossible to really get into the movie.

The film is pretty much stolen by Jenny Wright and Jeff Kober.  Kober is properly menacing and, just as she did in Near Dark and I, Madman, Jenny Wright works wonders with a role that could have just been formulaic.  Jenny Wright has apparently retired from acting.  Jeff Kober still shows up in movies and on television, usually playing villains.  (Earlier this year, he played yet another drug trafficker on General Hospital.)  Watching them give compelling performance in a film like Out of Bounds, it’s hard not to feel that both of them deserved bigger career than they had (or, in Kober’s case, still have).

The film is also stolen by its soundtrack, which is very 80s but in the best possible way.  Adam Ant, The Smiths, the aforementioned Souixsie and the Banshees, they all make an appearance and provide the film with a bit of narrative momentum that it would otherwise lack.  Watching the film, 80s Los Angeles comes across like a fun place.  No wonder Darryl Cage wanted to stay even though everyone was trying to kill him.

Out of Bounds is ultimately pretty forgettable and it didn’t make Anthony Michael Hall into an action star.  But, that’s okay.  Like a lot of former Brat Packers, he’s proven himself to be a reliable character actor.  There is life after high school.  Even more importantly, there’s also life after Iowa.

Cleaning Out The DVR: Psycho Intern (dir by Ann Forry)

Here at the Shattered Lens, we have a very simple but very important rule.


Of course, we also don’t have any interns so I’ve never really had to go out of my way to enforce that rule but still, if we did have interns, the rule would definitely be to not sleep with them.  Seriously, I’ve seen enough Lifetime films to know better.  Anytime you see a Lifetime film with the word “Intern” in the title, you know that the intern is going to be attractive, you know that the boss is going to be dealing with a difficult divorce or some other personal issue, and you know that one night of passion is going to leave to at least 40 minutes of trouble.

That’s certainly the case when it comes to Alex Prescott (Madison Smith), the handsome young man who works as an intern for Maya (Emmanuelle Vaugier).  At first, Alex just seems like an overly earnest college student who is oddly eager about making coffee.  But then, after Maya’s assistant is injured in a mysterious accident, Alex becomes an indispensable part of the office.  In fact, Alex is so helpful and so supportive and so handsome that it doesn’t seem to matter that he never brought in the information necessary for the company to run a background check for him.  And when he’s asked to offer up some proof that he actually is a college student, he claims that university’s server has gone down and it’ll be a while before he can get that proof.  

That all sounds pretty suspicious to me but one can’t really blame Maya for not paying to much attention.  She’s got a lot to deal with.  Not only is her daughter coming by for a visit but Maya also has a big presentation coming up.  Unfortunately, she also has to deal with a misogynistic coworker.  Fortunately, that coworker is sent to the hospital, the result of another mysterious accident!  There certainly do seem to be a lot of mysterious accidents and incidents whenever Alex is around.  Maya would probably notice that if she wasn’t busy having a one night stand with him in the office.

Afterwards, Maya is all like, “We have to transfer you to another office!”  But Alex …. well, the title of the movie is Psycho Intern, afterall!

This is hardly the first movie about a psycho to air on Lifetime, nor will it be the last.  Hell, it’s not even the first Lifetime movie about a psycho intern!  For whatever reason, interns are always bad news on Lifetime, which leads me to wonder what life is like at corporate headquarters.  One of the main themes of Lifetime movies that take place in the corporate world is that executives should never trust anyone who makes less money than them because those people will always end up trying to kill them.  That’s certainly the case here but, what the film lacks in originality, it makes up for in entertaining melodrama.  Madison Smith does a good job of switching back and forth from being charming to being batshit insane.  Emmanuelle Vaugier is a veteran of these type of films and she bring her usual flair to the role.  It’s a Lifetime movie that promises a psycho intern and it keeps its promise.


Cleaning Out The DVR: Driven to Kill (dir by Doug Campbell)

Ever since she was little, Brittany Green (Shelby Yardley) has wanted to become a professional race car driver.  She just loves cars and who can blame her?  Her fiancé, Kevin (Devante Winfrey), wants her to help him run his family’s hotel, despite the fact that a hotel is nowhere near as exciting as the Indy 500.  And Andrew James (Phillip Boyd) …. well, he just wants Brittany.

Andrew used to be a hotshot race car driver, until a serious accident left him with vision problems and a slightly obsessive personality.  Andrew now makes his living by teaching other people how to race cars.  Guess who his latest student is?  It’s Brittany!  Unfortunately, Andrew has a former former rival named Mario (Justin Berti), and he also wants to teach Brittany and he’ll do everything in his power to pull her away.  (He’ll even point out that he actually won his race, something that Andrew rarely did.)  Unfortunately, what Mario doesn’t realize, is that Andrew will do anything to keep Brittany as a student.

That’s something that Kevin discovers as well.  When a sudden death (once that Andrew had a little something to do with) forces Kevin to spend more and more time working at the hotel, he starts to pressure Brittany to give up her dream.  Soon, it’s not just a question of whether or not Kevin and Brittany’s relationship will survive.  It’s a question of whether or not Kevin and Brittany will survive as well!

Driven to Kill is a classic Lifetime film, an entertaining movie about obsession, fast cars, and a time bomb.  (Listen, it’s just not a car movie without a time bomb.)  Philip Boyd is convincingly unhinged as Andrew while Shelby Yardley is likable in the role of Brittany and even manages to make you care a little about whether or not she’s ever going to get to hit the NASCAR circuit.  Justin Berti is enjoyable eccentric in the role of Mario and provides some nice comedic relief to all the melodrama.

The key to understanding a film like Driven to Kill is that it’s not a film that you’re meant to take seriously.  It’s a film that celebrates everything that we love about Lifetime — i.e., the melodrama, the obsessiveness, and the message that you can have both do what you love and love the one you’re with.  Yes, Andrew is obviously unhinged but that’s what makes a film like this fun!  We know that Brittany’s in danger long before she knows it.  This is the type of movie that you watch with a group of friend who enjoy talking back to the screen.  It’s a fun movie and it features a lot of race track action and really that is what’s important.  It’s a film that delivers exactly what it promises.

Driven to Kill was directed by Doug Campbell, who is responsible for many of my favorite Lifetime films.  Some will undoubtedly notice that Driven to Kill feels a bit like a companion piece to Campbell’s previous film, Deadly Mile High Club, but so what?  I enjoyed that movie too.

Cleaning Out The DVR: Malicious Motives (dir by Mike Hoy)

How far would you go to be popular?

Would you take a volunteer job at the hospital in an attempt to show everyone that you actually are a good person?

Would you lie about the terrible circumstances of your home life?

Would you try to become best friends with the most popular girl in school?

Would you donate an organ?

Would you….

Wait, what?  Yes, you read that correctly.  I did say, “Donate an organ.”  I realize that may sound somewhat extreme but that’s exactly what happens in the Lifetime film, Malicious Motives!  When Katie (Juliana Destefano) learns that the most popular girl in school, Ashley (Revell Carpenter), desperately needs a live transplant and that they share the same blood type, Katie agrees to be the donor!  They only problem is that, since Katie is a minor, she needs to get the permission of a parent or a legal guardian.  Unfortunately, her legal guardian is her trashy sister, Sasha (Briana Femia).  Knowing that Sasha will never agree, Katie forges Sasha’s name.

Yay!  The operation is a success!  Ashley is going to live and it looks like Katie has a new best friend!  However, when Sasha finds out that Katie donated part of her liver to someone else, Sasha is livid.  Katie lies and says that Ashley’s family is going to pay them for the transplant but that it’s going to take a few months for the money to go through because it’s like super illegal.  Sasha’s like, “Fine, just get the money!”  Katie starts to make plans to become a part of Ashley’s family….

Seriously, poor Katie!  I mean, Katie is technically the obsessive danger in this particular film but it’s still hard not to feel that life just hasn’t given her a fair chance.  She has absolutely the worst sister on the planet!  Not only does Sasha refuses to pick Katie up from the hospital but she also sells all of Katie’s pain killers!  Imagine trying to recover from a major surgery with no pain killers.  Making it even worse is that Sasha’s boyfriend, Brett (Conner Floyd), is a total perv who thinks that organ donation scars are totally hot.  AGCK!  You really can’t blame Katie for going a little bit overboard in her attempts to escape from that situation.

Still, donating an organ does seem like an extreme solution.  But, then again, this is a Lifetime film and a part of the fun of Lifetime is that everything’s extreme.  No one does the sensible thing, like calling the police.  Instead, they donate an organ and then try to force their way into someone else’s family.  The implausibility of it all is a part of the fun.  If you can’t embrace the melodrama, these films will never be for you,

Ultimately, what matters is that Juliana Destefano gives a good performance as the sympathetic but unhinged Katie while Briana Femia goes wonderfully over-the-top as the sister from Hell.  As I watched the film, I found myself appreciating my own sisters. They would never have treated me as badly as Sasha treated Katie.  I will always be thankful that, because of them, I made it through high school with all of my organs intact.

Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza Has A Trailer and A Poster

After weeks of hearing about the trailer for Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza, I finally got to see it for myself earlier today.

Just a few thoughts:

  1. The film is obviously a return to the 70s mileu of Anderson’s pervious films, Boogie Nights and Inherent Vice.
  2. Bradley Cooper does appear to be playing the legendary Hollywood producer Jon Peters.
  3. So much of the pre-publicity has centered on Cooper Hoffman that it’s interesting to see that the trailer is pretty much dominated by Alana Haim.
  4. Of course, there’s a scene of Alana walking in Los Angeles.
  5. Licorice Pizza was apparently the name of an actual record store. I prefer the title to Soggy Bottom.
  6. I’m always excited for a new Paul Thomas Anderson movie!
  7. Life on Mars is the perfect soundtrack for the trailer.
  8. I have to wonder if Bradley Cooper, Sean Penn, Tom Waits, and Benny Safdie have large roles or if they’re basically just doing cameos in this film. We’ll find out soon!

Along with the trailer, the film’s poster was also released. Here it is:

Cleaning Out The DVR: Imperfect High (dir by Siobhan Devine)

What do you do when the pills your popping only give you an imperfect high?

Take more!

That’s the philosophy followed by the majority of the characters in Imperfect High, a Lifetime film that serves as a follow-up to Perfect High. In Imperfect High, Nia Sioux of Dance Moms fame plays Hannah, a teenager who wants to be an illustrator. When her mother (Sherri Shepherd) gets a new job in Chicago, Hannah suddenly finds herself going to a new school (the same school from Perfect High) and struggling to fit in with her new classmates. Fortunately, the school has an arts program. Hannah works on her graphic novel and becomes friends with Rob (Anthony Timpano), an artist with a rebellious attitude who compares social media to Chernobyl. (Rob was previously in Perfect High, though he was played by actor Ryan Grantham.) She also meets Dylan (Gabriel Darku), who helps out when Hannah has a panic attack during an active shooter drill.

Rob tries to get Hannah hooked on art but Dylan and his wealthy friends get her hooked on Xanax. Xanax, they assure her, is a great high, it helps out with anxiety, and it’s totally legal. Ever better, if you’re in a hurry, you can smash the pill into a power and just snort it! (They’re not wrong, of course. In college, I once did a line of Xanax in the back booth of the local IHOP. The person I was with kept saying, “I love Zan,” which I found really funny at the time. Of course, snorting drugs at IHOP is not something I would even consider doing today but college was a time for trying new things.) Soon, Hannah has got a prescription of her own and she also has a drug problem! Well, we knew that was coming….

Having now watched both Perfect High and now Imperfect High, I think it might be time to shut down that school because, seriously, nothing good seems to happen there. If you’re artistic or shy, you’re pretty much doomed to end up getting hooked on drugs. And the teachers and the school administrators apparently can’t do anything about it. Perhaps there will be a third film — Rapidly Declining High, perhaps — that will explore whether or not the school itself is cursed. Somewhere, someone is watching these films and saying, “It’s the art program, I tell ya! Ya let these kids get involved with the artistic types and ya know what’s going to happen!”

During its first hour or so, Imperfect High feels a bit overwritten. Everyone is snarky. Everyone has a quip. Rob is perhaps the worst offender. This is one of those films that sometimes seemed to be trying too hard to capture the way that teenagers talk. Things got a little better once Hannah got hooked on pills, if just because the focus went from Hannah and her friends to Hannah and her mother and Nia Sioux and Sherri Shepherd were very believable as mother and daughter. That said, the film approached its subject with a bit of a heavy hand. I think that’s always a mistake when it comes to making movies about drug addiction. I mean, the truth of the matter is that, if you want to guarantee that someone is going to do something, just tell them not to. It’s a bit of a rule that every film about drugs has to end with an overdose but, in the real world, there are negative consequences to drug use that have nothing to do with overdosing. Sometimes, I think anti-drug films would be more effective if they would focus on those negative effects instead of just automatically jumping to a melodramatic overdose.

Obviously, my feelings on Imperfect High were mixed. They were mixed on Perfect High, as well. But Nia Sioux gives a good performance in her starring debut. I always thought she was one of the better dancers on Dance Moms (and certainly, her mother seemed to be the least insane of the moms) so it’s good to see that there’s life after the Abby Lee Dance Company.

Cleaning Out The DVR: Pom Poms and Payback (dir by Doug Campbell)

This is it! Pom Poms and Payback is quite possibly the great Lifetime cheerleader film ever!

We start with a dream-like sequence in which a teenager named Sally Crumb walks down the street while three cheerleaders stalk behind her, chanting her name and accusing her of being “a bum” and “a cheater.” Reaching her house, Sally turns on the cheerleaders and shouts at them to leave her alone. The main cheerleader laughs at her. Sally threatens to kill all of the cheerleaders. Again, the cheerleaders don’t look particularly concerned. Meanwhile, barely noticed, Sally’s little sister glares at all three of them….

Jump forward 25 years! Three new cheerleaders — Sharlene (Shaylaren Hilton), Jessie (La’Priesh Roman), and Annabelle (Jazlyn Nicolette Sward) — are all looking forward to next school dance! They’ve all got wonderful boyfriends and all the reason in the world to be happy. But something goes wrong for all three of them. Sharlene sees a picture of her boyfriend making out with another girl. Jessie discovers that her grades have been altered, apparently be the somewhat nerdy but adorable guy that she’s dating. Meanwhile, Annabelle’s boyfriend goes to college out-of-state. Despite having promised to fly home for the dance, he never shows up. He claims that his flight was cancelled but obviously, he must have been cheating!

Under Sharlene’s direction, all three of the cheerleaders get revenge on their boyfriends but then Sharlene realizes that it’s all a bit too convenient. All three of their boyfriends turned out to be jerks on the same night? And all three of them claim that they were set up? Could it be that someone is trying to destroy the happiness of the school’s cheerleaders? And could that person be the new cheerleading coach, Denise Evergreen (Emily Killian)!?

Well, I’m not going to spoil too much of the plot, other than to say that it’s full of twists and turns. It’s also full of plenty of inentionally humorous moments because Pom Poms and Payback is not a film that’s meant to be taken too seriously. It’s a film that’s meant to be fun and that means that we not only get a science experiment gone wrong (“Watch out for that rocket!”) but we also get a scene where a character is taken down by a cheerleader doing a flip in slow motion. Pom Poms and Payback is a film that was specifically made for those of us who have seen countless Lifetime cheerleader films and who know all of the usual plot points and tricks. Pom Poms and Payback pokes some affectionate fun at the genre. Consider it to be Lifetime’s gift to all of us loyal viewers.

Doug Campbell, who is responsible for some of the best films to ever air on Lifetime, directs with his customary flair and the entire film is full of enjoyably weird characters and details. Emily Killian has a lot of fun with the part of the scheming Coach Killian while Carrie Schroeder, playing the mother of one of the cheerleaders, brings a lot of conviction to her role. It’s a film that comments on the Lifetime cheerleader genre and which also finds time to include an important message of bullying. Be carful who you taunt because high school is not forever.