The Eric Roberts Collection: Top Gunner (dir by Daniel Lusko)

In this 2020 film from The Asylum, Eric Roberts stars as Col. Herring.

Herring is in charge of an Air Force training base that sits off the coast of Baja California.  He’s tough and he’s no-nonsense but he also truly loves the pilots that are training under his guidance.  Sparrow (Carol Anne Watts), Cowboy (Ignacyo Matynia), and Spielman (Julian Cavett) might just be recent graduates from the Academy who have never actually served in combat but Herring is convinced that they can be amongst the best of the best.  As he puts it, they can be …. Top Gunner!

They get a chance to prove themselves when an advanced airplane carrying a U.S. black ops group makes an emergency landing at the base.  As Lassen (Reavis Dorsey) explains it, he and his people have just stolen a chemical weapon from the Russians and now, the Russians are desperate to get it back.  The weapon is continually referred to as being the CRISPR.  The word “CRISPR” is used about a hundred times over the course of this movie.  “We have to get the CRISPR!” various characters say.  The problem is that CRISPR sounds more like a name for a hamburger grill than a dangerous chemical weapon.  Seriously, who wouldn’t want to use the CRISPR to prepare dinner?  The CRISPR grills up the best burgers!

With the Russians heading towards the base, it falls on the untested pilots to take to the air and fight them off.  At first, no one has much confidence in the pilots.  Even the pilots themselves aren’t sure that they can defeat the Russians.  But you know who never loses faith?  Colonel Herring.  The Colonel may be a stern taskmaster but he believes in his pilots!

As you’ve probably already guessed, Top Gunner was meant to be a mockbuster of Top Gun: Maverick.  However, because the release of Top Gun: Maverick was continually delayed by the COVID lockdowns, Top Gunner was actually released on video a full two years before Maverick made it into theaters.  That makes it all the more interesting that Top Gunner is all about preventing an enemy nation from using a chemical weapon that, we’re told, could cause a pandemic if released upon humanity.  In a world where COVID didn’t (allegedly) escape from that lab and cause the world to come to a halt, Top Gunner‘s story would probably be described as being implausible.  However, in our current pandemic culture, it’s tempting to look at the pilots in a film like Top Gunner and say, “Where were you when we needed you?”

As you’ve probably already guessed, the budget of Top Gunner was nowhere close to the budget for Top Gun or Top Gun: Maverick.  As opposed to those two films, one never gets the feeling that the pilots in Top Gunner are actually flying their planes or risking their lives to get the shot.  The film’s plot also never makes a whole lot of sense.  But the action moves quickly and, as always, Eric Roberts is fun to watch.  His hair is perhaps a bit too long for an Air Force colonel and there are a few times when he seems to be struggling to hide his amusement at some of his dialogue.  But, for the most part, Roberts delivers his lines with the proper amount of authority.  At last count, Eric Roberts has over 700 credits to his name.  Top Gunner is certainly not the best film that Roberts has ever appeared in but it’s not the worst either.  Mostly, it’s a film just makes you happy that, no matter what else happens, Eric Roberts endures.

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. Miss Atomic Bomb (2012)
  17. Lovelace (2013)
  18. Self-Storage (2013)
  19. Inherent Vice (2014)
  20. Rumors of War (2014)
  21. A Fatal Obsession (2015)
  22. Stalked By My Doctor (2015)
  23. Stalked By My Doctor: The Return (2016)
  24. The Wrong Roommate (2016)
  25. Stalked By My Doctor: Patient’s Revenge (2018)
  26. Monster Island (2019)
  27. Seven Deadly Sins (2019)
  28. Stalked By My Doctor: A Sleepwalker’s Nightmare (2019)
  29. The Wrong Mommy (2019)
  30. Her Deadly Groom (2020)
  31. Just What The Doctor Ordered (2021)
  32. Killer Advice (2021)
  33. The Poltergeist Diaries (2021)
  34. My Dinner With Eric (2022)

Film Review: My Dinner With Eric (dir by Eliza Roberts and Darryl Marshak)

One day, in Hollywood, actor Eric Roberts has dinner with Rico Simonini, who is both a fellow actor and a cardiologist to the stars.  They proceed to have a long and somewhat meandering conversation about …. well, just about everything.

Eric asks Rico how he balances being both an observant Catholic and, as a doctor, a man science.  Rico asks if Eric ever met Marlon Brando, which leads to an amusing story about the morning that Eric mistook Brando for being Jack Nicholson’s gardener.  They discuss how the movies have changed over the years, with Eric announcing that, with the exception of Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, there are no more movie stars left.  Eric talks about how movies today are made quickly and cheaply and how the fact that we can now watch a movie anywhere has effectively ended the idea of movies being big events.  Rico talks about seeing Frank Sinatra being brought to the hospital for the final time.  They talk about their mutual love of Harry Dean Stanton and Burt Young.  Eric says that, before he became a star, Bruce Willis was the best bartender New York had ever seen.  Eric also talks about getting high with actor Sterling Hayden.

Oddly enough, the film skips around in time.  We seem some snippets of conversation that were apparently shot at a different dinner between the two men.  It’s during this second dinner that Eric is approached by a woman named Sandra who excitedly tells him that she loves his sister.  “Your sister blows my panties off!” she exclaims before walking away.  “Wow,” Rico says as an “OMG” thought balloon suddenly appears over Eric’s head.

The film sets itself up to make us believe that we’ll be eavesdropping on a casual, everyday conversation between the two men but, throughout the film, the men also acknowledge that they are being filmed.  Two women who interrupt the conversation to ask for an autograph also smile straight at the camera.  Are we watching a documentary or are we watching a fictionalized portrait of Eric and Rico’s friendship?  On the one hand, the film’s opening credits specifically credits Rico and Eric Roberts as co-writing the screenplay, which would seem to suggest that we’re watching a scripted conversation.  At the same time, Eric also gets a few details mixed up when he’s telling his stories.  For instance, he says that Jack Nicholson was Oscar-nominated for Terms of Endearment the same year that Eric was nominated for Runaway Train.  Actually, that year, Nicholson was nominated for Ironweed.  It’s not a huge mistake and, indeed, there’s actually something undeniably charming about the fact that Roberts has been doing this for so long that he occasionally has a difficult time keeping his dates straight.  But it’s the type of mistake that one makes while speaking off-the-top of one’s head as opposed to reciting lines from a script.  Are we watching a true conversation or are we watching a recreation of a conversation?  The film leaves it up to us to decide, a reminder that films can reflect reality while also being totally fictional.

When My Dinner With Eric started, the image was grainy and the hand-held camerawork was distracting.  However, as soon as Eric complains that most films made today look like they were shot on someone’s phone, the image suddenly becomes crisper, the camerawork settles down, and even the film’s soundtrack becomes significantly less muddy.  It’s as if, by calling out the poor visuals and sound quality of most low-budget films, Eric Roberts magically fixed this film.  When Eric complains about the service at the restaurant, we get a De Palma-style split screen.  When Eric talks about Rod Steiger, the film slips in a clip from On The Waterfront.  Later, the film finds time to feature a clip from Kubrick’s The Killing.  Even as we listen to the conversation between the two men, the directors make sure that we know that we’re watching a movie, once again tasking us with determining what is real and what is just being said for the cameras.

And yes, it’s all a bit self-indulgent and one could probably argue that this film is a vanity project for both Eric Roberts and Rico Simonini.  But I have to admit that, after a rough start, I actually grew to like this film.  Eric Roberts is a good conversationalist and, as you might expect from someone who has been working in the movies since the late 70s, he’s got a story for every occasion.  There’s an unexpected and earnest sincerity to Eric Roberts in this film and, even more importantly, an undeniable love of acting.  When the film starts, Eric seems awkward and a bit nervous.  But once he starts talking about his technique and the roles that he loved and the ones that he lost out on, he seems to come alive and, before our eyes, he transforms into the quirky performer who has appeared in everything from tough crime films to straight-to-video thrillers to Lifetime melodramas to micro-budget faith movies.  It’s interesting to watch and he and Rico seem to be having a good time talking to each other.  Though Rico may not be as a famous as his friend, he still manages to hold his own in their conversation.

Do I recommend this film?  If you’re a fan of Eric Roberts and if you have the patience necessary to stick with the film despite a somewhat rough beginning, then yes.  It’s currently on Tubi.

The Unnominated: Star 80 (dir by Bob Fosse)

Though the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences claim that the Oscars honor the best of the year, we all know that there are always worthy films and performances that end up getting overlooked.  Sometimes, it’s because the competition too fierce.  Sometimes, it’s because the film itself was too controversial.  Often, it’s just a case of a film’s quality not being fully recognized until years after its initial released.  This series of reviews takes a look at the films and performances that should have been nominated but were,for whatever reason, overlooked.  These are the Unnominated.

First released in 1983, Star 80 is an examination of fame, obsession, misogyny, and finally madness.  All four of those qualities are exemplified in the character of Paul Snider (Eric Roberts), a man with a charming smile, a ludicrous wardrobe, and the personality of a pimp.  When we first see Paul Snider, he’s naked and he’s covered in blood and he’s ranting about how the world is trying to destroy him.  Even if he wasn’t holding a rifle, he would be terrifying.  Suddenly, we flash back to a few years earlier.  Snider is being dangled out a window by two men.  Snider pathetically begs to be pulled back into the room.  The men laugh at him before pulling him up.  Snider, looking fairly ridiculous in a cheap suit that he probably thinks makes him look like a celebrity, fights off tears as he says he deserves to be treated with dignity.

Star 80 is based on a true story.  Mariel Hemingway plays Dorothy Stratten, the actress and Playboy playmate who was murdered by Paul Snider.  Snider, who often claimed credit for having “made” Dorothy, was married to her at the time, though Dorothy had filed for divorce and was dating director Peter Bogdanovich.  Unwilling to let her go and return to being a small-time hustler, Snider shot Dorothy and then himself.  Director Bob Fosse, who was best known for directing musicals like Cabaret and All That Jazz, was attracted to the story because he understood that type of world that produces sleazes like Paul Snider.  According to Eric Robets, Fosse even said that he probably would have ended up like Paul Snider if not for his talent.

Snider, the film quickly establishes, really doesn’t have any talent beyond the ability to manipulate people who are too naïve to see through his bullshit.  Snider wants to be a star.  He wants to be rich.  He wants people to kiss his ass.  When he meets Dorothy, he sees her as his ticket.  Dorothy’s mother (a poignant performance from Carroll Baker) sees straight through him from the start.  Tragically, Dorothy doesn’t realize the truth abut who he is until they’re already in Hollywood.  As Dorothy tries to break away from him, Paul desperately tries to find some sort of success, all the while complaining that the world is conspiring to keep him from being a man. 

Eric Roberts dominates the film and it’s one of the scariest performances that I’ve ever seen.  Roberts is convincing when he’s ranting and raving against the world that he feels is against him but what’s even more disturbing is that he’s convincing when he’s turning on the charm.  Paul Snider may not be smart.  Paul Snider may not be talented.  But he know how to gaslight.  He knows how to destroy someone’s fragile confidence, largely because his own confidence has been shattered so many times that he’s become an expert in exploiting insecurity.  Snider is a tacky dresser and nowhere near as smooth as he thinks but, intentionally or not, he uses that to his advantage.  He tries so hard to impress that it’s easy to see how someone could feel sorry for him and want to help him.  However, because Fosse lets us know from the start what Snider is really going on inside of Sinder’s head, we never make the mistake of trusting him.  We know who Paul Snider is because we’ve all known a Paul Snider.

Eric Roberts’s performance is so intense that it’s unfortunate but not surprising that it was overlooked at the 1983 Oscars.  He was playing a truly repellent character and he did it so convincingly that I imagine many viewers had a hard time realizing that Eric Roberts was not Paul Snider but was instead an actor playing a terrible character.  Some probably said, “Why should we honor such a loathsome character?” and again, the answer is because there are many Paul Sniders out there.  Roberts captured much more than just one man’s breakdown.  He captured a sickness at the heart of a fame-driven culture.

Of course, Paul Snider was not the only symptom of that sickness to be depicted in Star 80.  Every man that Dorothy either uses her in some way or just views her as being a commodity.  Hugh Hefner (Cliff Robertson) presents himself as being a fatherly mentor but Robertson plays him as being just as manipulative and ultimately narcissistic as Paul Snider.  Director Aram Nicholas (Roger Rees, playing a character based on Peter Bogdanovich) seems to love Dorothy but their relationship still feels out-of-balance.  Aram, afterall, is the director while Dorothy is the actress.  The private detective (Josh Mosel) that Paul hires to spy on Dorothy seems to have no lingering guilty over the role he played.  Even Snider’s roommate (David Clennon) is more interested in talking about his dog and his car then about the murder/suicide of two people with whom he lived.

It’s a dark film and not one to be watched when depressed.  At the same time, it’s a portrait of obsessiveness, misogyny, and an overwhelming need to be “someone” that still feels relevant today.  Along with Sweet Charity, it was the only Bob Fosse film not to be nominated for Best Picture.  (This was back when there were only five best picture nominees.  Three of the nominated films — Terms of Endearment, Tender Mercies, and The Right Stuff — hold up well.  Two of the nominees — The Dresser and The Big Chill — are a bit more iffy.)  Eric Roberts was not nominated for the best performance of his career.  Again, it’s a shame but not a surprise.  This was a dark and disturbing film, a true Hollywood horror story.  One imagines that most members of the Academy wanted to escape it far more than they wanted to honor and be reminded of it.

Previous entries in The Unnominated:

  1. Auto Focus 

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Sharktopus (dir by Declan O’Brien)

Half Shark….

Half Octopus….

All Man!

No, wait a minute.  That’s not right.  Let’s try that again.

Half Shark….

Half Octopus….

All Killer!

There, that’s it!  That’s our Sharktopus!

Produced by the legendary Roger Corman, Sharktopus originally aired on the SyFy channel in 2010.  It tells the story of S-11, a creature that is half-shark and half-octopus.  How exactly did S-11 come to exist?  Well, blame the government!  The government wanted a new weapon and apparently, it didn’t bother them that the weapon would have no practical use beyond going rogue and killing civilians.  Dr. Nathan Sands (Eric Roberts, the one and only) created the sharktopus with the help of his daughter, Nicole (Sara Malakul Lane).  When S-11 swims off on its own and starts eating human beachgoers, Nicole teams up with mercenary Andy Flynn (Kerem Bursin).  Nicole and Andy think that they’ve been sent to destroy S-11 but it turns out that Nathan has other plans.

Let’s just state the obvious.  This is the greatest film ever made.  Okay, well …. maybe it’s not the greatest.  Some people would probably say that it’s not even that good but I think they’re overthinking things.  What it comes down to is that there really aren’t as many films out there about shark/octopus hybrids as you might think.  When it comes to this very specific genre of horror films, Sharktopus is the best.

This is a film that understands why the audience is watching.  We’re watching because we want to see Sharktopus action!  So, while the film does contain its fair share of scenes of Nicole and Andy searching the ocean, the majority of the film is still made up of Sharktopus attacks.  You don’t really get to know any of the victims, though I did feel bad for the gentleman who shouted, “Oh no!  Not like this!” as he was pulled down to the ocean by S-11’s tentacles, but that’s okay.  It’s all about the Sharktopus, a creature that is so ludicrous that it’s impossible not to like it.

Another thing that’s impossible not to like is the fact that Eric Roberts is in this film.  The last time I checked, Roberts had a total of 641 acting credits listed on the imdb.  He’s appeared in every type of films — from Oscar-nominated prestige films to low-budget faith-based films to Lifetime films to …. well, films like Sharktopus.  But regardless of the film, Roberts always seems to be trying his best or, at the very least, he comes across like he’s genuinely amused by the absurdity of it all.  Roberts has a lot of fun in Sharktopus, playing his mad scientist character with a twinkle in his eye and a barely suppressed evil smile.  Dr. Sands takes genuine pride in his creation and it’s kind of hard not to get caught up in his enthusiasm.

Sharktopus is a fun movie.  It’s a low-budget and deeply silly epic and it you can’t enjoy the sight of shark/octopus hybrid creeping across the beach than I don’t know what to tell you.  In fact, Sharktopus was popular enough with SyFy audiences that it would return for a whole series of films in which it battled hybrid monsters.  Go Sharktopus!

On a final note, keep an eye out for Roger Corman while watching this film.  He plays a man on the beach who watches as a treasure seeker is dragged off to the ocean.  When he realizes that she dropped a valuable coin while being taken away, Corman walks out on the beach and grabs it for himself.  Hopefully, he sold that coin and used the money to go on a nice vacation.  If anyone’s earned it, it’s Roger Corman!


Lifetime Film Review: Just What The Doctor Ordered (dir by Jeff Hare)

Dr. Albert Beck is back!

Albert Beck is the character at the center of one of Lifetime’s most successful franchises, the Stalked By My Doctor films. First introduced six years ago in the original Stalked By My Doctor, Albert Beck is a brilliant surgeon who also has a bad habit of growing obsessed with his patients, especially if they’re teenage girls. Dr. Beck tends to fantasize that his patients are in love with him and then he goes out of his way to “protect” them. This usually means kidnapping them and attempting to murder everyone else in their life. Since his first appearance, Dr. Beck has gone from being a world-renowned surgeon to being a fugitive from justice to being a patient in a mental hospital. Just as surely as you can depend on Dr. Beck to fall in love with any teenage girl with a heart murmur, you can also depend on him to always manage to escape confinement. Along the way, Dr. Beck has also developed an alter ego — Laid Back Beck. Laid Back Beck wears Hawaiian shirts, sips tropical drinks, and is always taunting Dr. Beck about his lack of success when it comes to finding love. Of course, only Dr. Beck can see and hear Laid Back Beck.

Laid Back Beck

Of course, what truly sets Dr. Beck apart from other Lifetime obsessive stalker-types is that he’s played by Eric Roberts. In fact, Eric Roberts has become, late in his career, quite a popular figure with Lifetime movie fans, largely due to his performances as Dr. Beck and his appearances in a number of other Lifetime films. (Most of those non-Dr. Beck appearances have only been cameos but still, any film with Eric Roberts is going to be better than a film without Eric Roberts.) From the very first film, Roberts has been wonderfully over-the-top as Dr. Beck, playing him with just the right combination of mad sincerity, overwhelming self-pity, and self-awareness. Everything about Roberts’s performance, from his nervous smile to the rushed way he starts to speak whenever he meets someone who he feels need to be protected, comes together to make Dr. Beck into one of the most memorable and dangerous villains to ever appear in a Lifetime film. And yet, because he is so painfully needy and so convinced that he’s doing the right thing, it’s hard not to occasionally feel a little bit of sympathy for Dr. Beck. He may be a murderer but, in his mind, he’s only trying to fix a broken heart. Several broken hearts, as a matter of fact!

Just What The Doctor Ordered, the fifth film to feature the good doctor, finds Beck escaping from yet another mental institution. This time, he hides out in what he thinks is an abandoned house. However, it turns out that the house has recently been bought by Maggie Newell (Carrie Schroeder) and soon, Dr. Beck has fallen in love with Maggie’s teenage daughter, Alexa (Grace Patterson). And wouldn’t you know it — Alexa needs a heart transplant! Soon, Dr. Beck is disguising himself as a nurse and taking a very active interest in tracking down the perfect heart donor for Alexa.

And, you know what? It’s fun. Yes, you’ll be able to guess what’s going to happen but, as I’ve said before, that’s actually one of the fun things about watching a Lifetime film. As with the previous Stalked By My Doctor films, the main attraction here is Eric Roberts, chewing up the scenery and having violent fantasies about killing Alexa’s boyfriend while Alexa sweetly smiles and thanks him for protecting her. His search for a proper heart donor takes him to some unexpected places, particularly when he meets a police detective who appears to use her handcuffs for more than just arresting perps. Dr. Beck has been through a lot and he spends a good deal of Just What The Doctor Ordered looking a bit worse for wear. (Setting fire to a mental institution and then hiding in an attic for several weeks will do that to you.) But still, Eric Roberts’s unique charisma shines through. By the end of the film, you’ll eagerly be waiting to see what future adventures Albert Beck and his laid back alter ego have ahead of them!

Lifetime Film Review: Killer Advice (dir by Jared Cohn)

Beth (Kate Watson) is not having an easy time dealing with her seemingly perfect life.

She’s worried about whether or not her teenage daughter, Jess (Gigi Gustin), is going to be able to get into a good college. She’s worried about whether or not her husband, Nick (Steve Richard Harris), is going to be able to hold onto his job. She’s also overworked at her own job. That’s a lot of stress to deal with. Of course, what’s really causing Beth the most trouble is the fact that she was recently the victim of a terrifying attack. In an underground parking garage, a man in a mask tried to attack her and chased her all the way to her car. Beth is having trouble recovering from the trauma. Eventually, she ends up seeing a highly praised therapist named Marsha (Meredith Thomas).

At first, Marsha seems like the perfect therapist. She listens to what Beth has to say. She gives good advice. She seems to genuinely care about Beth’s well-being. Then, one night, Nick announces that his firm has a rich new client and that this new client specifically asked to work with him. He goes on to explain that the client is coming to dinner and that it’s very important that everything go perfectly because, otherwise, the client might go to another firm. Beth works all day, preparing the perfect meal. When the client shows up, it turns out to be …. MARSHA!

Marsha claims to be shocked to discover that Nick and Beth are married. Why, Marsha just had no idea! What a coincidence! Later, Marsha hears Beth’s best friend, Simone (Gina Hiraizumi), saying that Marsha should be reported for violating her professional ethics by hiring a patient’s husband. Marsha, needless to say, isn’t happy to hear that and promptly looks for a rock that she can use to bash in Simone’s head….

That’s right! This is one of those type of films! Airing on Lifetime, Killer Advice is another film in which a woman with a perfect family finds herself being stalked by someone who is obsessed with her. This a frequent Lifetime genre and it’s one that centers around a fear that we all have, that fear that our new best friend might actually be a knife-wielding psycho. If you’re not paranoid after watching a Lifetime film, then you’re just not paying attention.

With it’s plot of a dangerous therapist, it’s tempting to compare this film to the Stalked By My Doctor films. Making that comparison even more tempting is the fact that Eric Roberts (the doctor of the Stalked By My Doctor franchise) has a small but key role as Nick’s boss. (It’s always fun to see Eric Roberts and, personally, I like the fact that he’s reinvented himself as a Lifetime mainstay.) However, the Stalked By My Doctor films tend be almost parodies of the classic Lifetime formula. Much like A Deadly Adoption, the Stalked By My Doctor franchise comments on the Lifetime style while also celebrating it. Killer Advice is a bit less meta, content to be a straight-forward story about an unlikely but dangerous stalker.

Kate Watson, Meredith Thomas, and Gigi Gustin all give good performances. Thomas stalks with style, which is really the most important thing when it comes to a film like this. The 2nd most important thing, of course, is the house where it all takes place and Killer Advice features a beautiful one. Living in a house that nice might make being stalked by a therapist almost worth it!

Film Review: The Poltergeist Diaries (dir by József Gallai)

“They wanted me to laugh when I wanted to cry,” Jacob Taylor (András Korcsmáros) says at one point during the upcoming horror film, The Poltergeist Diaries.

Jacob is attempting to explain why he’s recently abandoned not only his job but also the closeness of his girlfriend and his family and retreated to an isolated house in the middle of the woods.  And really, who can’t relate to what Jacob’s feeling?  We’ve all been in that situation at some point.  We’ve all felt that we were expected to conform to some arbitrary standard and that our honest emotions were not welcome.  Not all of us have chosen to go off the grid and isolate ourselves but there’s probably not a single person reading this who has not, at some point, been tempted.

We learn quite a bit about Jacob over the course of The Poltergeist Diaries.  We learn that he was always something of an outsider.  He was a seeker, a brilliant student who wrote stories and made films and who always seemed to be trying to discover some sort of hidden truth.  We learn that he was also close to his mother.  In fact, it was her worsening health that apparently led to Jacob leaving the city and heading out to the country.  He got a big house for a surprisingly cheap price.  He often filmed himself as he walked around the woods that surrounded his new home.  He saw things in the woods and he heard things in the house.

Of course, the main thing that we learn about Ben is that he’s missing.  The film opens with a statistic, telling us that thousands of people disappear every year in the United States and that only 15% of them are recovered alive.  Jacob Taylor is among the missing and whether or not he’s among that lucky 15% is anyone’s guess.

The Poltergeist Diaries is set up as a documentary, featuring interviews with the people who knew Jacob along with footage that Jacob himself shot of the woods and his house.  Among those interviewed are Jacob’s girlfriend (Kata Kuna) and his brother (Péter Inoka), along with a police detective (Dávid Fecske) who has his own reasons for taking a particular interest in Jacob’s mysterious disappearance.  Eric Roberts even makes a brief appearances, playing Jacob’s apologetic stepfather.  As I’ve said many times on this very site, any film the features Eric Roberts is automatically going to be better than any film that doesn’t.

It’s an effectively creepy film, one that makes good use of the faux-documentary format.  (Jacob being a frustrated artist helps to explain why, even with things getting increasingly strange in the house, he keeps filming.)  The first half of the film is dominated by interviews with people who knew Jacob and who are haunted by his disappearance.  By the time the film switches over to showing us the footage that Jacob filmed in the house and the woods, the audience is definitely ready to discover what happened.  András Korcsmáros plays Jacob as just being unstable enough to leave some doubt as to whether or not he’s really stumbled across something supernatural or if he’s just allowing the isolation to get to him.  He’s at his best when he’s trying to articulate what he’s feeling.  His performance captures Jacob’s desperation and makes him into an intriguing protagonist, one who is both sympathetic and enigmatic.  You’re never quite comfortable Jacob but you still hope the best for him.

Visually, director József Gallai does a good job of creating and maintaining a properly ominous and threatening atmosphere.  The woods that surround Jacob’s house are creepy because they really do appear to stretch on forever and it’s very easy to imagine that they’re could be someone (or something) hiding behind every tree.  The imagery leaves you feeling uneasy and every time that Jacob went outside, I found myself anticipating an attack.  The inside of the house is just as creepy, full of dark hallways and menacing shadows.  This is a film that keep you watching for any hint of unexpected or mysterious movement.

It makes for an effectively intense and dream-like horror film, with the final 15 minutes providing a number of effective jump scares.  It’s a film that will inspire you to take a second look at every shadow and jump at every bump in the night.  It’s a seriously creepy movie.  Don’t watch alone.

Doctor Who (1996, directed by Geoffrey Sax)

Paul McGann had the potential to be a great Doctor.

There’s a lot of negative things that can be said about the controversial 1996 attempt to reboot Doctor Who but I don’t think anyone can dispute that Paul McGann gave it his best.  Released during the period between the end of the original series and the 2005 revival, the 1996 version of Doctor Who features Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor getting gunned down by a San Francisco street gang and regenerating into Paul McGann.  McGann was a youthful Doctor, in the spirit of Peter Davison’s take on the character.  He played the role with a lot of enthusiasm and optimism.  If the 1996 film had led to the series getting revived, it’s easy to imagine Paul McGann making the role his own and becoming as identified with the Doctor as David Tennant and Matt Smith.

The presence of Sylvester McCoy was another praiseworthy aspect of the television film.  Though the TV movie is rightfully criticized for rewriting a good deal of the show’s continuity, it was still smart enough to bring back both McCoy and the TARDIS.  I wish McCoy had gotten a a more heroic death, though getting gunned down by a street gang is still more exciting than the bump on the head that led to Colin Baker turning into Sylvester McCoy in the first place.

The film features the newly regenerated Doctor trying to stop The Master (Eric Roberts) from using an artificial black hole known as the Eye of Harmony to destroy the Earth.  For some reason, the Eye of Harmony is located inside of the Doctor’s TARDIS and the Master needs to access the TARDIS so he can access the eye.  Meanwhile, the Doctor has just regenerated and doesn’t have all of his memories yet so he’s only fighting at half-strength.  Actually, the less said about the plot, the better.  The plot doesn’t make much sense.  Though Eric Roberts might seem like the perfect choice to play The Master, he doesn’t bring much to the role.  Roberts plays The Master as just being another generic villain, with none of the wit that Roger Delgado, Anthony Ainsley, or even Derek Jacobi brought to the role.

The most controversial part of the movie comes when the Master discovers that the Doctor is half-human, which is something that feels like it was forced on the production by an American television executive.  They probably thought that the audience wouldn’t be able to relate to the Doctor unless he has some human blood but it actually robs the character of the mystery that made him so popular.  Part of the Doctor’s appeal is that he’s an enigma but the television movie gives him an origin that seems like it was lifted from a comic book.  I guess we should just be happy that the people who made the film understood that Doctor Who wasn’t actually the character’s name.

Doctor Who was meant to be a pilot for a revival of the show, one that would have been an American/British co-production.  It didn’t lead to a reboot and I guess we should be happy about that because the weakest moments of the movie are the moments that were obviously designed to appeal to an American television audience, like the Doctor dealing with a very 90s street gang or sharing a kiss with an ER doctor.  It’s easy to imagine that the film would have led to a series that would have had more in common with The X-Files than the original Doctor Who.  With the film not leading to a series, Doctor Who would have to wait another 9 years before finally getting rebooted.

Still, it’s hard not to regret that Paul McGann didn’t get more opportunities to play the Doctor.  With a better script, he could have been one of the great ones.


What Lisa Watched Last Night #212: Her Deadly Groom (dir by Jared Cohn)

Last night, I turned over to Lifetime and I watched Her Deadly Groom!

Why Was I Watching It?

How couldn’t I watch it?  It was on Lifetime.

Last night, I realized that it had bee forever since I last watched and live tweeted a Lifetime film.  Some of that was due to some changes in my schedule.  On Saturday night, I now co-host the Scary Social live tweet, which means that I usually have to DVR and watch Saturday’s Lifetime movie at a later date.  And, admittedly, some of my absence from the Lifetime front just had to do with just pure exhaustion at the state of the world.  When you spend 7 days straight hearing about how the world is going to end, you often just want to spend Sunday meditating or sleeping or, at the very least, dancing.

But, regardless of what else may be happening, I love Lifetime movies and I always have.  Last night, I was determined to watch Her Deadly Groom and I’m glad that I did.

What Was It About?

Allison (Kate Watson) is divorced from George (Eric Roberts), an alcoholic and a serial philanderer.  She now lives with her daughter Nicky (Elyse Cantor) and Nicky’s boyfriend, Jake (Jacob Michael) and she has a nice specialty peanut butter business going with her friend Brenna (Kelly Erin Decker).  One thing that Allison says she doesn’t need in her life right now is another man.  Brenna, however, disagrees and creates an account for Allison on a dating site.

Soon, Allison has met Vincent Black (Michael DeVorzon), who is handsome, charming, and psychotic.  Fear not, that’s not a spoiler.  You know that Vincent is dangerous from the minute you first see him because 1) he pushes his previous girlfriend off a cliff and 2) this is a Lifetime movie.  Anyway, Vincent is soon dating Allison and it looks like they’ll soon be married.  What Allison doesn’t know is that Vincent has taken out a huge life insurance policy on her….

What Worked?

Eric Roberts was in this film!  Admittedly, he had a small role but still, he’s Eric Roberts and he’s always a lot of fun to watch.  Plus, in this film, there was a neat little twist involving his character and Roberts did a great job playing it.

One thing I liked about this film is that Vincent may have been charming and lucky but he wasn’t always the most clever con artist around.  He wasn’t one of those super villains who you occasionally come across in a film like this.  Instead, he was just a con man who knew how to manipulate people but who also understood that he would only be able to successfully fool people for a limited amount of time.  As a result, he didn’t waste any time when it came to putting his plans into action and that created some suspense.  We knew he wasn’t going to wait forever to make his move.  Vincent was a wonderfully hissable villain.

The mother-daughter relationship between Nicky and Allison felt real and both Kate Watson and Elyse Cantor did a good job of bringing their characters to life.  I appreciated the fact that, even though Allison may have been naive when it came to Vincent, she wasn’t stupid.  She was just someone who got legitimately conned by a sociopath.

Finally, this was a Lifetime film so all of the house were to die for.  Seriously, never underestimate the importance of a big house in a Lifetime film.

What Did Not Work?

It all worked.  This was a fun Lifetime movie.

“Oh my God! Just Like Me” Moments

I related to Brenna, mostly because we’ve both fallen down a flight of stairs.  Of course, nobody had to push me.  I’m just a klutz when it comes to stairs.

Lessons Learned

If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.  Oh!  And always check to see if your man has taken out a life insurance policy on you.

Most Wanted (1997, directed by David Hogan)

James Dunn (Keenan Ivory Wayans) is an army sergeant with a talent for getting framed for crimes that he didn’t commit.

During the Gulf War, Dunn’s superior officer orders Dunn to shoot a shepherd boy.  Dunn refuses and, when the two men get into a fight over a gun, his commanding officer is accidentally shot and killed.  The army refuses to listen to Dunn’s explanation.  He’s convinced of murder and sentenced to death.  However, while Dunn is on his way to Leavenworth, he is rescued by Col. Casey (Jon Voight).  Casey explains that he is giving Dunn a chance to join a super secret vigilante group that targets evil doers.  Yes, Dunn will be expected to assassinate people but they’ll all be bad.  With no other options available to him, Dunn agrees to work for Casey.

Dunn’s first target is the corrupt owner of a pharmaceutical company (played by Robert Culp) but — surprise — it turns out that the target was actually the First Lady and that the entire plan was to set up Dunn as a patsy!  Now a “most wanted” fugitive, Dunn is forced to go on the run with a doctor (Jill Hennessy) who recorded the assassination with a camcorder.  (Remember, Most Wanted was made during the days of the landline phones.)  With Casey and his second-in-command (played by Wolfgang Bodison) determined to kill him and with only Paul Sorvino (as the head of the FBI) doubting the official story, Dunn has to find a way to reveal the truth.

Though he was subsequently overshadowed by his brothers, Damon and Marlon, Keenan Ivory Wayans was a really big deal in the 90s.  As the man behind In Living Color, he proved that black comedians and writers could be just as funny (and, in many cases, funnier) than their white counterparts over at Saturday Night Live.  It can be argued Jim Carrey, Jamie Foxx, David Alan Grier, and Jennifer Lopez would not have the careers that they have today if not for Keenan Ivory Wayans.  (All of them first found fame as members of the In Living Color ensemble, Carrey, Foxx, and Grier as cast members and Lopez as a “fly girl.”)  Most Wanted was Wayans attempt to transform himself into an action hero (perhaps not coincidentally, a year before Most Wanted was released, Damon Wayans had a minor hit with Bulletproof).

Keenan Ivory Wayans not only starred in Most Wanted but he also wrote the script and it’s interesting just how straight the action is played.  It would be natural to expect Wayans to turn the movie into a spoof but there’s little intentional humor to be found in Most Wanted.  Most Wanted takes itself seriously and the end result is an adequate but hardly memorable action movie, with Wayans jumping off of buildings and fighting off the bad guys.  The action scenes are well-shot if not particularly imaginative but, unfortunately, Wayans doesn’t really have the screen presence necessary to be a believable action hero.  Both the character of James Dunn and Wayans’s performance are just too bland to really be compelling.  Far more interesting are Jon Voight and Paul Sorvino, who are both entertainingly hammy in their roles.

There’s one good scene in Most Wanted, where Dunn finds himself being chased by what appears to be the entire population of Los Angeles.  Otherwise, this one is adequate but forgettable.