Retro Television Reviews: City Guys 4.24 “El-Brain” and 4.25 “Pier Pressure”

Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past!  On Thursdays, I will be reviewing City Guys, which ran on NBC from 1997 to 2001.  The entire show is currently streaming on YouTube!

This week, the city guys finally leave the city for a while.  Drama follows.

Episode 4.24 “El-Brain”

(Dir by Frank Bonner, originally aired on December 16th, 2000)

On Wikipedia, this episode’s plot is described as follows: “El-Train enters the Science Fair to prove that he’s smarter than everyone, including Jamal, who thinks he isn’t.”  Unfortunately, this is one of the episodes that is not streaming anywhere online so I haven’t been able to watch it.  Interestingly. the title of this episode would seem to indicated that I’ve been referring to L-Train by the wrong name all this time.

Well, he’ll always be L-Train to me.  And I hope he did well at the science fair.  I’m also going to assume that Jamal learned a lesson about judging people.

Episode 4.25 “Pier Pressure”

(Dir by Frank Bonner, originally aired on December 16th, 2000)

Chris has got access to his father’s vacation home for the weekend so the kids are going to the Hamptons!

Everyone is super excited about the idea of going out on Chris’s father’s yacht.  The only problem is that the yacht’s captain has called in sick.  Fortunately, Chris knows how to sail.  He, Cassidy, Dawn, and Al take the yacht out for a spin.  As you can probably guess, this leads to one disaster after another.  First off, Al forgets to pack the food because he’s tired of Dawn trying to micromanage his life.  Secondly, Chris and Al turn out to be not quite the expert fishermen that they claimed to be.  Third, after turning off the engine, Chris can’t figure out how to drop the anchor.  Fourth, the boat floats until it hits a sandbar.  Fifth, the boat runs out of gas.  Sixth, the boat runs out of power.  Seventh, Al announces that everyone is going to starve to death.  That does seem like a distinct possibility but at least they’ll get to experience a little bit of the yacht life before they die.  Plus, if they die, the show will be over and I can start watching something better.

Meanwhile, Jamal and L-Train invite two women up to the house, which they now claim to own.  The women make themselves comfortable in the living room.  Suddenly, Ms. Noble and Billy show up!  What are they doing there!?  It turns out that they’re spending the weekend at the Hamptons as well and they just decided to stop by.  Seriously, school’s out.  It’s the weekend!  No one wants to see their principal on the weekend!  And really, I am kind of suspicious of any principal who would decide to just drop in on their students during they’re own vacation.  That’s weird.

Fortunately, it all works out in the end.  Jamal suddenly notices that Chris, Al, Dawn, and Cassidy haven’t come home.  The coast guard is called.  Everyone lives!  Yay!  This is the type of episode that I can’t stand, where every problem is the result of people just being unbelievably stupid.  But at least it only lasted 30 minutes or so.

Next week, season 4 ends!

The Eric Roberts Collection: Joker’s Poltergeist (dir by Christopher S. Lind)

In 2020’s Joker’s Poltergeist (also known as Joker’s Wild), Eric Roberts plays James Jennings.  Jennings was a part-owner of the Palace Theater Chain until his partner, Rand Place (Martin Kove), forced him out and gave the business to his daughter, Aurora Place (Lacie Marie Meyer).  After apparently filming himself discussing how he is going to be starting a movement and how no one is ever going to forget him, James dresses up like a clown, goes down to the theater, and guns down the audience of a film called Joker’s Wild.  He also kills Rand before being shot himself by another theatergoer, William Remmington (Ari Boyland).

Clips of James’s final message are shown throughout Joker’s Poltergeist but we never actually see Roberts interacting with the rest of the cast.  (When James starts shooting people at the theater, he does so under a mask that he never removes and the end credits indicate that an actor other than Roberts played James in those scenes.)  This is obviously one of those films where Roberts filmed his scenes over the course of an hour or two, probably in his own office.  He certainly wasn’t on the set.  The same can be said of Martin Kove, who only appears as a part of a video message that Rand taped for Aurora before the shooting.  For that matter, Dustin Diamond appears for a few brief seconds and again, only as a part of a filmed message that Aurora watches.

Instead, the majority of the film takes place a year after the shooting.  Aurora is fighting to not only re-open her theater but to also keep concealed carry legal in her state.  She is now dating William and is a part of a support group made up of other survivors of the massacre.  From the moment Aurora reenters the old theater, she starts to have strange visions of killer clowns, demonic doctors, and sleazy politicians.  “You shouldn’t like guns….” the evil doctors chant at her.  At one point, she and her friends are trapped in the theater and being taunted by the spirits of the dead and, at another point, Aurora is suddenly in a hospital and being menaced by killer nurses.  Aurora struggles to figure out what is real and what is a dream, with the film suggesting that theater itself has become a separate dimension that is populated by James’s victims.  At its best, the film plays out like an unsettling nightmare, the type that doesn’t necessarily cause you to wake up screaming but which still remains fresh in your mind throughout the day.

On the one hand, the film is obviously based on the 2012 Dark Knight Rises shooting that it feels more than a little distasteful.  On the other hand, the film is intriguingly surreal and Lacie Marie Meyer gives a really good performance as Aurora.  (Yes, it would appear that she was named after Aurora, Colorado, which is one reason why the film feels so distasteful even though it has a handful of effective moments.)  The film does attempt to say something about guns, with Aurora being a proponent of the 2nd amendment and the gun-grabbing mayor and his wife being behind the efforts to tear down the theater.  It’s hard to really say which side the film comes down on, though I think it’s ultimately more pro-gun control than anything else.  That said, the film’s portrayal of the mayor and his wife as being vapid politicians who want to keep their own guns while taking away everyone else’s felt true to life.

Joker’s Poltergeist is ultimately a bit too icky and exploitive to really work but it still has its moments.  It’s a movie that keeps you guessing, if nothing else.

Previous Eric Roberts Films That We Have Reviewed:

  1. Star 80 (1983)
  2. Blood Red (1989)
  3. The Ambulance (1990)
  4. The Lost Capone (1990)
  5. Love, Cheat, & Steal (1993)
  6. Love Is A Gun (1994)
  7. Sensation (1994)
  8. Doctor Who (1996)
  9. Most Wanted (1997)
  10. Mr. Brightside (2004)
  11. Six: The Mark Unleased (2004)
  12. Hey You (2006)
  13. In The Blink of an Eye (2009)
  14. The Expendables (2010) 
  15. Sharktopus (2010)
  16. Deadline (2012)
  17. Miss Atomic Bomb (2012)
  18. Lovelace (2013)
  19. Self-Storage (2013)
  20. This Is Our Time (2013)
  21. Inherent Vice (2014)
  22. Road to the Open (2014)
  23. Rumors of War (2014)
  24. A Fatal Obsession (2015)
  25. Stalked By My Doctor (2015)
  26. Stalked By My Doctor: The Return (2016)
  27. The Wrong Roommate (2016)
  28. Stalked By My Doctor: Patient’s Revenge (2018)
  29. Monster Island (2019)
  30. Seven Deadly Sins (2019)
  31. Stalked By My Doctor: A Sleepwalker’s Nightmare (2019)
  32. The Wrong Mommy (2019)
  33. Free Lunch Express (2020)
  34. Her Deadly Groom (2020)
  35. Top Gunner (2020)
  36. Just What The Doctor Ordered (2021)
  37. Killer Advice (2021)
  38. The Poltergeist Diaries (2021)
  39. My Dinner With Eric (2022)

Can You Find The Wolves In This Picture? Here’s The Trailer for Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon!

There’s been a lot of controversy about the length of Martin Scorsese’s upcoming film, Killers of the Flower Moon, with many of the same people who regularly praise 150-minute comic book films complaining that Scorsese shouldn’t be allowed to devote over 3 hours and 26 minutes to telling the story of the Osage murders.  You can probably already guess from my tone that I have no problem with the idea of watching a 206-minute Martin Scorsese film.

The trailer for Killers of the Flower Moon was released earlier today.  (The film itself will be premiering at Cannes in just a few more days.)  The trailer looks great, with Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio appearing to be in fine form.  (Reportedly, the film’s hero is played by Jesse Plemons but he’s barely glimpsed in the trailer.  It makes sense, of course.  For a lot of people, one of the main attractions of Killers of the Flower Moon will be a chance to see Scorsese’s two regular leading men, DiCaprio and De Niro in the same film.  Yes, I know about This Boy’s Life but come on, that was Michael Caton-Jones.  This is Scorsese!)  Can you find the wolves in this picture?

Scenes That I Love: Senator Smith Tells Off The Establishment In Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes To Washington

Today is Frank Capra’s birthday!  Capra was born 126 years ago, on this date, in Sicily.

Now, if you’ve been reading this site for a while, you should know that my favorite Capra film is It’s A Wonderful Life.  However, a close second is 1939’s Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.  In today’s scene that I love, Sen. Jefferson Smith (Jimmy Stewart) holds the Senate floor as he denounces the corruption that he sees all around him in Washington.  There’s a reason why Senator Smith is still held up as the ideal public servant.  It’s just a shame that he was a fictional character.

The TSL Grindhouse: Killing American Style (dir by Amir Shervan)

Filmed in 1988 but apparently not released until 1990, Killing American Style is a low-budget variation on The Desperate Hours.

The film opens with a ruthless criminal named Tony Stone (Robert Z’Dar, of Maniac Cop fame) leading a daring robbery of an ice cream truck depot.  All of the ice cream trucks have come back for the day and, when Tony and the boys show up, the money is still being counted.  Tony quickly takes control of the situation, intimidating everyone with both his weaponry and his amazing jawline.

Unfortunately, for Tony, the robbery is not as successful as he thought.  Yes, he gets away with a lot of money but the police quickly track him down to his home, where he’s in the process of having sex with his stepmother.  Tony is arrested and, in record time, sentenced to a maximum security prison.  (Seriously, the arrest, conviction, and sentencing all seem to happen on the same day.)  Tony is put on a prison bus but then the bus itself stops to help out a stranded motorist.  The motorist turns out to be Tony’s brother, Jesse (Bret Johnston).  In the resulting shootout, all of the guards are killed but Jesse is wounded.  Tony and his associate, Lynch (John Lynch …. hey, I wonder if that’s just coincidence?), take Jesse to a nearby ranch house.

The house belongs to John Morgan (Harold Diamond), who is a long-haired kickboxing champion.  When Tony arrives, John is out of the house and beating up the dad of a kid who bulled Morgan’s son, Brandon.  John is not happy to come home and discover Tony holding his entire family hostage.  For that matter, Morgan’s son isn’t amused by it either.

Because they are being pursued by a grim and determined police detective (played by Jim Brown …. yes, the same Jim Brown who starred in countless blaxploitation films in the 70s), Tony and his men do not want to run the risk of leaving the house to retrieve the loot from the robbery themselves.  So, they send Morgan out to pick up the suitcase from Tony’s stepmother.  I guess they assume that Morgan will be able to move around inconspicuously despite the fact that Morgan is a 6’1 kick boxer with long hair.  I mean, there’s no way that Morgan is going to be able to move around without being noticed by the cops.

Of course, before Morgan can get the money, he also has to get a doctor for Jesse.  Dr. Fuji (Joselito Rescober) agrees to help, despite the fact that he never seems to be quite sure what’s actually going on with all the angry men who keep pointing guns at each other.  When Dr. Fuji mentions that he wants to kill Tony “Japanese style,” Morgan promises that he’s going to kill Tony “American style.”  It’s never really made clear what the difference is between the two styles, though the American version does seem to involve a bit more kickboxing.

Anyway, this is an incredibly cheap and dumb movie but Robert Z’Dar seems like he’s having fun as Tony and …. well, to be honest, Robert Z’Dar is really the only reason to recommend this film.  He gives an enjoyably over-the-top performance, one that certainly contrasts with the more subdued performance of Harold Diamond.  (For his part, Diamond often seems to be struggling to stay awake.)  Hostage movies usually bore me to tears and this one had a lot of slow spots but it also had shots like the one below:

Eh.  Let’s call it even.