May Positivity: One Church (dir by Bill Rahn)

Originally released in 2016, this low-budget political/religious thriller opens with a rather unsettling scene.  An obviously disturbed woman wanders down a suburban street, loudly singing This Little Light of Mine.  She stops in front of one house and starts to screech the lyrics, like a banshee predicting future doom.

The house is the home of Congressman Neil Barlow (Don Brooks) and both he and his wife Catherine (Kera O’Bryan) are about to discover that their teenage daughter has been taken away.  She has left home and she is now living with a religious communal cult.  When the FBI approaches the cult’s headquarters, all of the members drink poison in a mass suicide.  Neil Barlow becomes determined to one day become President so that he can stamp out the scourge of religious extremism.

18 years later, Neil Barlow is president and he’s just announced the creation of the Department of Religious Freedom.  Televangelist Randy Mason (Tim Ross) is put in charge of the Department but it turns out that this is just the beginning of Barlow’s plan to change America.  Barlow soon announces that all religions are going to come together under the umbrella of one state-run church.  Across America, people watch the press conference and say things like, “This will cut down on division,” and “We all believe the same thing anyways.”  The Department of Religious Freedom proceeds to outlaw all of the old religious texts and requires that all religious leaders preach the same pre-approved sermon.  Failure to do so can lead to being sent to a reeducation camp.

Randy’s brother, Jake Mason (Jason Frederick), knows a little about what has happened but not everything.  He’s been down in Mexico, ministering to a small village.  When Jake returns to America, he discovers that it’s no longer the country that he once thought it was.  Along with his girlfriend, Beth Barlow (Jessica Lynch), Jake tries to stand up against the One Church.  Beth also happens to be the President’s daughter and she, more than anyone, understands the anger that is fueling Neil Barlow’s actions.

I have an admitted weakness for low-budget, conspiracy-themed movies and One Church is definitely qualifies.  Say what you will about the film’s plot and themes, it’s hard not to appreciate a film in which the President gives a major, history-changing press conference in what appears to be a high school auditorium.  The offices of a major news network are represented by a small room that has several televisions propped up against the wall.  The White House dining room is about the same size as my dining room.  The future president of the United States lives in a house that’s about the size of the house where I live.  Suddenly, I’m feeling very important!

As for the film itself, it actually makes the perfect case for maintaining the separation of Church and State.  As soon as the State gets involved in religion, it starts using the Church as a way to control the citizens and to make itself more powerful.  Preachers like Randy Mason are easily corrupted once they’re in partnership with the government.  As for the citizens, they’re portrayed as being eager to be ordered about, which is perhaps the most realistic thing about One Church.  Beth is played by the same Jessica Lynch who was, in 2003, captured by and subsequently rescued from the Taliban.  She has appeared in a few films over the past few years, usually in small roles.  She’s actually a surprisingly good actress and she certainly gives the best performance in One Church.

Lisa Marie’s Week In Television: 5/7/23 — 5/13/23

Accused (Tuesday Night, FOX)

The season finale of Accused started out strong but, towards the end, it felt like propaganda for euthanasia.  Plus, the big twist — i.e., the accused taking the blame for a crime that was actually committed by a loved one — was one that the show had already done before.  It’s a bit early for this show to be repeating itself.  That’s one reason why I think Accused would be well-served by having a regular set of writers and a regular set of directors as opposed to bringing in new people for each episode.  That said, Keith Carradine gave a powerful performance as the man on trial.  The first season of Accused was extremely uneven but hopefully, they’ll work out the kinks by the time the second season begins.

Barry (Sunday Night, HBO)

The rumors were true!  There has indeed been a time jump and Barry and Sally are now living in the middle of nowhere and raising their son, John.  Sally, who now wears a dark wig and works as a waitress, is miserable and, on Sunday’s show, nearly strangled a guy.  Barry is oddly obsessed with Abraham Lincoln.  Barry spends a lot of time with John and obviously considers himself to be a good father but, ultimately, Barry is just as manipulative towards his son as Monroe Fuches was towards him.  When Sally came across a news story about Gene Cusineau coming out of hiding to consult on a Barry Berkman biopic, Barry replied, without hesitation, “I have to kill Gene Cusineau.”  That’s where this week’s unsettling episode of Barry ended.

As I watched this week’s episode, it occurred to me that if someone ever did decide to do a new version of The Shining, Bill Hader would be an ideal Jack Torrance.

Beavis and Butt-Head (Paramount Plus)

Episodes that feature both the young and the old Beavis and Butt-Head are so depressing.  It’s so easy to laugh at them when they’re young and they’re trying to plant cigarettes and destroying the community garden.  But then you see what the future has waiting for them.  Butt-Head’s a fat alcoholic and Beavis looks like he’s about 70 years old when he should just be in his 40s.  It’s sad but it’s also funny.  I do take some comfort in the fact that Beavis and Butt-Head always seem to be blissfully unaware of how terrible their lives truly are.  Beavis never seems to give up hope.

Bubblegum Crisis (YouTube)

I watched an episode on Saturday morning but, to be honest, I was half asleep.  All I know for sure is that a lot of stuff blew up.

Forgive or Forget (YouTube)

On Sunday, I sat through three episodes of this old 90s talk show on YouTube.  A son demanded that his mother apologize for robbing him.  (She didn’t.)  A man told his fiancée that he was an exotic dancer just for her to then reveal that she was a stripper.  (The audience went crazy.)  A woman demanded that her friend apologize for “sleeping with my first love.”  (“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” the friend replied.)  Mother Love said to never forget the power of forgiveness.

On Friday, I watched one more episode.  A woman begged another woman to forgive her for backing out of an adoption arrangement.  No one was forgiven.  Mother Love started to cry.

Jury Duty (Freevee)

I absolutely loved this 8-hour, semi-improvised comedy about jury duty.  Essentially, the series followed one guy as he took part in a very strange court case and got to know his fellow jurors (including James Marsden, who played a comedic version of himself).  The catch was that everyone else in the court room was an actor and our hero was being filmed without even knowing it.  It was wonderfully weird, funny, and ultimately rather sweet.  It helped that the main guy, Ronald Gladden, came across as being incredibly likable and nice, even when James Marsden went out of his way to annoy him.  Give Marsden an Emmy!

Law & Order (Thursday Night, NBC)

This was a pretty dumb episode this week.  Cosgrove got shot by this week’s suspect after the suspect got out on bail.  Because he was captured at the scene, everyone knew who shot Cosgrove but, at the trial, no one brought up the fact that the suspect had shot a cop and, unless I missed it, I don’t think he was ever charged with shooting Cosgrove either.  Instead, Price was worried he wouldn’t be able to get a conviction on the crime that the guy was originally accused of and I was just like, “Uhmm, he shot a cop while trying to kill the state’s main witness against him.  Isn’t that pretty good evidence that the cops were onto something when they arrested him?”

Cosgrove considered retiring and going to Florida but, at the end of the episode, it appeared that he was planning on staying in New York.  I got the feeling that entire storyline was just included as some sort of “That that!” to Florida.  But, honestly, Cosgrove is 50 years old and politically and culturally conservative.  Why wouldn’t he want to move to Florida?

The Love Boat (Paramount Plus)

I wrote about this week’s episode here!

The Master (Tubi)

Since Freddy’s Nightmares is no longer available on Tubi, I decided to watch and review all 13 episodes of this 80s ninja show instead.  You can read my review of episode 1 here!

Mystery Science Theater 3000 (Tubi)

Apparently, after the show went off the air, NBC edited the first two episodes of The Master together and they released the result theatrically under the name Master Ninja One.  And then, years later, the guys at Mystery Science Theater 3000 watched Master Ninja One and spent a lot of time pointing out Lee Van Cleef’s stunt double.  Anyway, I watched the Mystery Science Theater version on Thursday, after I finished writing up my review of The Master.  It made me laugh!

Night Court (Tuesday Night, NBC)

The season came to an end much as I predicted it would.  Abbi and Rand broke up.  Dan went to Louisiana and became a judge but I imagine he’ll be back whenever season 2 starts because, if there was anything that was consistent about the first season, it’s that the action always grinds to a halt whenever John Larroquette isn’t onscreen.

Sally Jessy Raphael (YouTube)

I watched an episode on Monday night.  Sally talked to parents who had out-of-control children.  The kids were forced to take part in the Scared Straight program.  Did it do any good?  Probably not.

Survivor (Wednesday Night, CBS)

I wrote about this week’s episode over at Reality TV Chat Blog!

The Traitors (Peacock)

I binged this enjoyably silly reality show over the course of the week.  Basically, a combination of newbies and reality TV vets moved into a Scottish castle and tried to figure out which of the three of them had been designated as “traitors” by host Alan Cumming.  The traitors could “kill” a guest every night.  (Well, not literally.)  I was happy to see Survivor’s Cirie Fields do well and outlast Big Brother‘s Rachel Reilly.  “I’m an icon!” Rachel exclaimed at one point.  (Truth be told, I may complain about Rachel whenever she shows up on yet another reality show but she knows exactly what the audience wants from her and she plays her role well so good for her!)

Western Cyclone (1943, directed by Sam Newfield)

Feeling that the old west has become a dangerous place, law-abiding gunslinger Billy the Kid (Buster Crabbe) fakes a stagecoach robbery and pretends to kidnap the governor’s daughter, all to show him that the west needs more law enforcers.  The governor is so impressed by Billy’s ruse that he agrees to stand tough on crime.  This upsets Dirk Randall (Glenn Strange, who also played Frankenstein’s monster is some of the later Universal horror films), a businessman who has been funding the criminals in order to make the governor look weak so that Randall could defeat him in the next election.

Randall orders one of his men to pull a gun on Billy while Billy is leaving the local saloon.  Billy pulls and fires his own gun in self-defense but it’s Randall who actually kills the man by shooting him in the back and then running off in the confusion.  Because the man was shot in the back, Billy is accused of murder, arrested, and sentenced to death in record time.  With Billy in jail, it falls to his comic relief sidekick, Fuzzy Jones (Al St. John), to prove that Billy didn’t actually fire the shot that killed the man.

By most accounts, Billy the Kid was a nasty piece of work who would kill anyone who look at him in the wrong way but, in the 30s, the character was the hero of a series of 42 Westerns that all featured him as a hero and a valued member of the community.  (Originally, Bob Steele played Billy.  Buster Crabbe took over the role with the seventh film.)  Western Cyclone was the 17th Billy the Kid film and, as long as you’re not a stickler for historical accuracy, it’s an entertaining B-western.  The plot is formulaic but Crabbe was a good hero, Strange was a diabolical villain, and, for once, Al St. John got to play an important role in resolving the film’s story.  Fuzzy Jones did some impressive detective work.  The real Billy the Kid probably could have used someone like Fuzzy in his corner.

Retro Television Reviews: California Dreams 5.10 “Babewatch” and 5.11 “Love Letters”

Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past!  On Saturdays, I will be reviewing California Dreams, which ran on NBC from 1992 to 1996.  The entire show is currently streaming on YouTube!

This week, Sam gets cast on the world’s number one TV show and Lorena and Sly finally get together!

Episode 5.10 “Babewatch”

(Dir by Patrick Maloney, originally aired on November 9th, 1996)

Babewatch has come to Pacific Coast High School!

Babewatch, we’re told, is the world’s most popular television show.  It’s all about attractive people running on the beach and defusing bombs.  Hmmmmm, I wonder what show this is based on.  All of the Dreams are really excited about the prospect of being on the show!  Mark, Sly, and Lorena get lessons from Tiffani on how to be believable as surfers.  Meanwhile, Tony performs “Next Big Thing” (a.k.a. He’s So Funky!) for the Babewatch producers, hoping that they’ll give him a role on the episode.  However, the producers are far more impressed with Sam.  I guess they really liked the way she shouted, “He’s so funky!” during the song.

Tony freaks out over the prospect of Sam having to kiss the star of the show but he needn’t worry.  Sam rejects the TV star’s advances and says that she loves only Tony.  Personally, I’m not sure if she made the right choice.  Tony is a nice guy but he’s just a drummer in a garage band that has an out-of-date sound.  This other guy is the star of Babewatch!

This was a pretty standard episode, one that felt a bit more like a Saved By The Bell story than an episode of California Dreams.  But any episode that features “He’s so funky!” is worth watching and rewatching.

Episode 5.11 “Love Letters”

(Dir by Don Barnhart, originally aired on November 16th, 1996)

Graduation is approaching and the Dreams are thinking about the things that they regret having never done.  (They’re only 17.  Just wait until they hit 30!)

Sam and Tony regret that they didn’t enter a dance marathon.

Mark regrets that he never stood up to the coach that’s always making him run extra laps.

Tiffani regrets being rude to a boy who wouldn’t stop asking her out.

Jake regrets not playing the bagpipes.

Lorena regrets …. nothing.  Good for her!

And Sly regrets never telling Lorena how he feels about her.

So, they all decide to do something about those regrets.  Jake learns to play the bagpipes.  Tiffani apologizes to her former admirer and quickly comes to regret it as he goes out of his way to remind her of why she was rude in the first place.  Sam and Tony dance everywhere and look adorable while doing it.  And Sly starts sending Lorena unsigned love notes.  Lorena falls in love with her secret admirer but Sly worries that she’ll still hate him even if he reveals the truth.

However, when another guy tells Lorena that he’s the one who sent the notes, Sly realizes he has to tell her the truth.  Unfortunately, Lorena doesn’t believe him.  However, when the other guy can’t think of anything impressive to say about Jake’s bagpipe performance, Lorena realizes that Sly was telling the truth.  The episode ends with them sharing their first kiss and the audience going wild.  Yay!

This episode is great, largely because it’s the one where Sly and Lorena finally realize that they belong together.  They may both be greedy and self-centered but they do love one another and care about their friends.  They’re as perfect a match as Sam and Tony.  I have no regrets about loving this episode.

Film Review: Darkest of Lies (dir by Kelly Schwarze)

Travis (Christopher Brown) is a military veteran who is struggling with both PTSD and an addiction to pills.  After some unspecified troubles in New York City, Travis and Rochelle (Hailee Lipscomb) move into a new home.  The house isn’t particularly fancy and Travis isn’t really sure who Rochelle is renting it from but it does seem like a place where they can start to rebuild their lives.  Rochelle has a job at a law firm and is excited that the house has a pool.  “I’m going to swim everyday,” she says.  Travis, meanwhile, can work on his sculptures in the basement.  Travis has a show coming up and it’s important that he get his work done.  Perhaps not surprisingly, he spends most of his time sculpting replicas of heads.  Perhaps he feels that if he can create someone else’s head, he can figure out what is going on inside of his.

From almost the moment that Travis moves into the house, he starts to feel that there is something wrong with the place.  He is haunted by nightmares of finding a body in the pool and of Rochelle calling out for help.  He has sudden bursts of rage and paranoia and he soon becomes convinced that Rochelle is cheating on him.  It doesn’t help that Rochelle’s friends from college, the materialistic Linda (Sabrina Cofield) and the douchey Tom (Michael Forsch), keep coming by the house.  Rochelle is always happy to see her friends but Travis doesn’t feel that he has much in common with either of them.  As well, it’s hard not to notice that Tom seems to be obsessed with trying to get Travis, a recovering addict, to drink wine.  With Travis convinced that Rochelle is cheating on him with almost everyone that he sees, it doesn’t take much to set him off.  Even a simple card game is not a safe activity when Travis is around.

Early on, we discover that Travis and Rochelle’s house is sitting on a street called Shining Way and I imagine that was a deliberate decision on the part of the director.  The film has much in common with Stephen King’s classic novel and the subsequent Kubrick film version.  Much like Jack Torrance, Travis struggles with addiction and the dark memories of the past.  Jack Torrance tried to escape his demons through writing while Travis tries hold them at bay with his sculpting.  Much like Jack, Travis has to deal with people who seem to be intent on forcing him to drink despite the fact that they know that Travis has issues with substance abuse.  The viewer is left to wonder whether it’s the house that’s driving Travis mad or if Travis was always mad and the house just provided him with an excuse to embrace that madness.

It’s a deliberately paced film, one that occasionally feels a bit too slow for its own good.  The movie has a nearly 2-hour running time and it’s hard not to feel that some of the nights with Tom and Linda could have been trimmed down a bit.  That said, the overall film did hold my interest (which is no small accomplishment when you consider just how short my attention span actually is) and the film created a suitably ominous atmosphere of growing dread.  Travis, bearing both the physical and mental scars of his service, become a symbol of the damage that the horrors of war and addiction can do to both the individual and to society as whole.  Darkest of Lies is currently streaming on Tubi.

Live Tweet Alert: Watch The Odds with #ScarySocial

As some of our regular readers undoubtedly know, I am involved in a few weekly live tweets on twitter.  I host #FridayNightFlix every Friday, I co-host #ScarySocial on Saturday, and I am one of the five hosts of #MondayActionMovie!  Every week, we get together.  We watch a movie.  We tweet our way through it.

Tonight, for #ScarySocial, Tim Buntley will be hosting 2018’s The Odds!

If you want to join us on Saturday night, just hop onto twitter, start the film at 9 pm et, and use the #ScarySocial hashtag!  The film is available on Prime.  I’ll probably be there and I imagine some other members of the TSL Crew will be there as well.  It’s a friendly group and welcoming of newcomers so don’t be shy.

Music Video of the Day: Born In The USA by Bruce Springsteen (1984, dir by John Sayles)

I have to admit that I’m not really a huge fan of Bruce Springsteen or his working class posturing.  (At this point, the majority of the people who he sings about will never be able to actually afford to see him in concert.)  But I will acknowledge that the people who like Bruce Springsteen tend to really, really, really like him.  And there’s something to be said for that.

Anyway, I picked today’s music video of the day because I watched Air last night and I was really impressed by Jason Bateman’s monologue about how few people actually listen to Born in the USA‘s rather dark lyrics.  This video was directed by John Sayles, another person who has made a career out of claiming to be the voice of the working class.