Spring Break On The Lens: Shag (dir by Zelda Barron)


Welcome to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, the setting of the 1989 film, Shag: The Movie!

We know that we’re in South Carolina because everyone is speaking with the type of overbaked Southern accents that you only hear in the movies.  And you know it’s the beach because of all the sand, the bathing suits, and the spring breakers.  Everyone’s listening to that rock and roll music.  Everyone’s dancing.  There’s a lot of Confederate flags around, mostly because the movie was made in the 80s and it’s taking place in the South.  If the movie were made today, it would probably take place in New Jersey and everyone would be debating whether or not Christopher Columbus was a hero or not.

Though the movie was made in 1989, it takes place in 1963.  We know that the movie takes place in 1963 because everyone in the movie keeps mentioning how it’s 1963.  One character mentions having sexual fantasies about President Kennedy, which scandalizes all of her friends.  Another character won’t stop talking about how much he enjoyed Paul Newman’s performance in The Hustler.  (The Hustler came out in 1961, though, so I think the dude needs to get with the times and watch Tom Jones.)  Everyone’s dancing the Shag.  Of course, since this is a film about how innocent the world was in 1963, there’s no talk of the growing American presence in Vietnam or anything like that.  This is the 1963 of the popular imagination, the 1963 that one visualizes after watching a hundred movies about spring break in the early 60s.

Anyway, Shag follows four friends as they have a wild week in Myrtle Beach.  They’re recent high school graduates.  Melaina (Bridget Fonda) is the wild preacher’s daughter.  Louanne (Paige Hannah) is the responsible one, who wears horn-rimmed glasses.  Pudge (Annabeth Gish) is the friend who needs better friends or, at the very least, friends who won’t give her a cruel nickname.  Carson (Phoebe Cates) is the responsible girl who is about to marry the level-headed Harley (Tyrone Power, Jr.)  After telling their parents that their going to Ft. Sumter to learn about the Civil War, they instead head down to Myrtle Beach.  Melania enters a beauty contest.  Pudge enters a shag contest with Chip (Scott Coffey).  Carson finds herself tempted by Chip’s friend, the Yale-bound Buzz (Robert Rusler).  And Louanne is tempted by Harley, who eventually comes to Myrtle Beach himself to try to understand why Carson is being so irresponsible.

There aren’t really many surprising moments to be found in Shag.  From the minute that we first see Carson trying on her wedding dress, we know that there’s no way she’s still going to be engaged by the time the movie comes to its conclusion.  By that same token, we also know that Melaina is not going to be as wild as she tries to present herself as being and that Pudge is going to find her confidence and that Louanne is eventually going to let her hair down, if just for a few minutes.  It’s a predictable movie but the cast is likable and there’s a lot of dancing, which is always a plus as far as I’m concerned.  Admittedly, Cates and Rusler are a bit bland as the main couple.  Instead, Annabeth Gish and Scott Coffey are the cast stand-outs.  I also have to say that I really liked the performance of Tyrone Power, Jr.  Harley is kind of a thankless role but Power manages to make him at least a little sympathetic.  At the very least, Carson doesn’t come across like a fool for considering him as a possible husband.

Shag is a likeable film, even if it’s not exactly groundbreaking.  And did I mention that there’s dancing?

TV Review: The X-Files 11.1 “My Struggle III” (dir by Chris Carter)


Well, let’s get this over with…

(Seriously, if I ever get tired of “Stay supple!,” that’ll probably be my new catch phrase…)

As you my remember, way back in 2016, I reviewed the 10th season of The X-Files.  With the exception of the episode that featured Rhys Darby, I didn’t care much for it.   In fact, the episode that was set in Texas almost drove me to throw a shoe at the TV.  However, the 10th season did end with a big cliffhanger and, since I hate the idea of a story going unfinished, I knew I would have to watch the 11th season whenever it premiered.  And I also knew that I’d have to review it because that’s what I do.

Well, tonight, the 11th season premiered.  Armed with as much knowledge as one can hope to gain from scanning Wikipedia, I twice watched My Struggle III.

The episode began with a lengthy monologue from the Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis), in which he talked about how, if the American people knew about what was truly going on in the darkest corners of the government, there would be riots in the streets.  Personally, I love conspiracy theories and I’m generally opposed to all forms of controlling legal authority so I enjoyed that part of the show.   The episode managed to work footage of every U.S. President except for Obama into the opening conspiracy montage.  Personally, if I had edited the show, I would snuck Obama in there just to mess with people and their expectations.  But that’s just me!

Anyway, as much fun as that little conspiracy monologue may have been, I was more concerned with how the show was going to deal with the fact that the world literally ended at the end of season 10.  Well, it was quickly revealed that nothing that happened during My Struggle II actually happened.  Instead, it was all just a vision that Scully had.  Apparently, it’s a premonition of what will happen unless Mulder … does something.

Does what exactly?  I’m not sure and, to be honest, I’m not really sure that the show does either.  I understand that this episode is meant to be part of a bigger mythology and, as a result, it was supposed to be a bit open-ended.  However, as I watched My Struggle III, I got the feeling that the episode was mostly just something that was hastily whipped up so that the show could do away with season 10’s disastrous finale.  And it was hard not to feel that, narratively, the show took the easy way out.

The majority of the episode was made up of Mulder driving his car from location to location, searching for the Cigarette Smoking Man.  This led to Mulder breaking into a mansion and having a conversation with Mr. Y (Alexandre Campion) and Erika Price (Barbara Hershey) about aliens and the secret history of the world.  To be honest, it was kind of boring and it didn’t really hold my attention.

Meanwhile, the Cigarette Smoking Man and Agent Reyes (Annabeth Gish) were having a conversation with Skinner (Mitch Pileggi).  During the conversation, the Cigarette Smoking Man revealed that he, and not Mulder, is the true father of Scully’s son, William.

And twitter exploded in rage.

Don’t fear, twitter!  There’s always a good chance that next week’s episode will open with the Cigarette Smoking Man revealing that he actually isn’t the father or maybe it’ll just turn out that someone else was having a vision.  By dismissing season 10’s cliffhanger as just being a dream (or a vision or premonition or whatever), The X-Files has reminded us that nothing on the show actually means anything.  Who needs to maintain continuity or narrative integrity when you can just shrug and say, “Well, y’see, it’s all a part of the conspiracy…”

(As I watched tonight’s episode, I found myself thinking about Twin Peaks: The Return.  No matter how weird or convoluted Twin Peaks got, I still never doubted that David Lynch did have a definite destination in mind.  That’s not a feeling that I got from tonight’s episode of The X-Files.)

Now, here’s the good news!  I have heard, from people who I trust, that the upcoming episodes are nothing like the premiere.  Apparently, the premiere was one of those “we have to do it” things.  The upcoming episode will be stand-alone episodes, much like the one where Mulder met the Were-Monster.

So, with that in mind, I will tune in next week to see if episode 2 is any better than episode 1.

Will you?

A Movie A Day #342: Hiding Out (1987, directed by Bob Giraldi)


Andrew Morenski (Jon Cryer) is a stockbroker in the 1980s.  What could be better than handling large amount of money during the decade of excess, right?  The only problem is that Andrew and two of his colleagues have gotten involved with Mafia.  And now, the Mafia wants them all dead.  On the run from both the FBI and the Mob, Andrew tries to change his appearance.  He shaves off his beard.  He gives himself a bad dye job.  No sooner has Andrew traded clothes with a homeless person than he is mistaken for a high school student.

What better place could there be for Andrew to hide than a high school?  Despite being 29 years old, Andrew fits right in and soon becomes one of the most popular students at the school.  Andrew not only gets a girlfriend (Annabeth Gish) but he is even nominated to run for student body president.  As Andrew discovers, the mob may be ruthless but they’re nothing compared to the student council.

Hiding Out may begin like a violent action thriller but it quickly reveals itself to be yet another John Hughes-influenced high school movie.  Andrew starts out as a sleazy stockbroker but, by the end of the movie, he has transformed himself into Ferris Bueller.  After spending his teenage years as a self-described “short, horny, hopeless dork,” Andrew is finally getting his chance to be cool.  (“Well, I’m not short,” Andrew says.)  The best scenes are the ones where Andrew occasionally forgets that he’s just supposed to be an apathetic teenager, like when he gets into a fierce argument with his history teacher over whether Richard Nixon should have been forced out of office or when he meets his girlfriend’s father and ends up giving him stock advice.  There’s no denying that the plot is frequently dumb and features some massive plot holes but, largely due to Jon Cryer’s likable and energetic performance, Hiding Out is also a breezy and enjoyable movie.

A Movie A Day #217: Wyatt Earp (1994, directed by Lawrence Kasdan)


Once upon a time, there were two movies about the legendary Western lawman (or outlaw, depending on who is telling the story) Wyatt Earp.  One came out in 1993 and the other came out in 1994.

The 1993 movie was called Tombstone.  That is the one that starred Kurt Russell was Wyatt, with Sam Elliott and Bill Paxton in the roles of his brothers and Val Kilmer playing Doc Holliday.  Tombstone deals with the circumstances that led to the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.  “I’m your huckleberry,” Doc Holliday says right before his gunfight with Michael Biehn’s Johnny Ringo.  Tombstone is the movie that everyone remembers.

The 1994 movies was called Wyatt Earp.  This was a big budget extravaganza that was directed by Lawrence Kasdan and starred Kevin Costner as Wyatt.  Dennis Quaid played Doc Holliday and supporting roles were played by almost everyone who was an active SAG member in 1994.  If they were not in Tombstone, they were probably in Wyatt Earp.  Gene Hackman, Michael Madsen, Tom Sizemore, Jeff Fahey, Mark Harmon, Annabeth Gish, Gene Hackman, Bill Pullman, Isabella Rossellini, JoBeth Williams, Mare Winningham, and many others all appeared as supporting characters in the (very) long story of Wyatt Earp’s life.

Of course, Wyatt Earp features the famous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral but it also deals with every other chapter of Earp’s life, including his multiple marriages, his career as a buffalo hunter, and his time as a gold prospector.  With a three-hour running time, there is little about Wyatt Earp’s life that is not included.  Unfortunately, with the exception of his time in Tomstone, Wyatt Earp’s life was not that interesting.  Neither was Kevin Costner’s performance.  Costner tried to channel Gary Cooper in his performance but Cooper would have known better than to have starred in a slowly paced, three-hour movie.  The film is so centered around Costner and his all-American persona that, with the exception of Dennis Quaid, the impressive cast is wasted in glorified cameos.  Wyatt Earp the movie tries to be an elegy for the old west but neither Wyatt Earp as a character nor Kevin Costner’s performance was strong enough to carry such heavy symbolism.  A good western should never be boring and that is a rule that Wyatt Earp breaks from the minute that Costner delivers his first line.

Costner was originally cast in Tombstone, just to leave the project so he could produce his own Wyatt Earp film.  As a big, Oscar-winnng star, Costner went as far as to try to have production of Tombstone canceled.  Ironically, Tombstone turned out to be the film that everyone remember while Wyatt Earp is the film that most people want to forget.

Cleaning Out The DVR Yet Again #36: Term Life (dir by Peter Billingsley)


(Lisa recently discovered that she only has about 8 hours of space left on her DVR!  It turns out that she’s been recording movies from July and she just hasn’t gotten around to watching and reviewing them yet.  So, once again, Lisa is cleaning out her DVR!  She is going to try to watch and review 52 movies by the end of Thursday, December 8th!  Will she make it?  Keep checking the site to find out!)

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I recorded Term Life off one of the Starz channels on November 13th.

Vince Vaughn co-starred in two movies in 2016 and both of them were a little bit different from the fratty comedies for which he is best known.  One of the movies was Hacksaw Ridge, in which Vaughn was cast against type as a tough drill sergeant.  Hacksaw Ridge is one of the best films of the year and it features Vaughn’s best work since he appeared in 2007’s Into The Wild.  The other film was Term Life, which had a very limited released in April and is now popping up on cable.

In Term Life, Vaughn plays Nick Barrow.  Nick is a thief but he doesn’t actually steal anything.  Instead, he plots heists and then sells his plans to the highest bidder.  However, Nick has somehow managed to get in trouble with the mob, with a corrupt cop (Bill Paxton), and with … well, with everyone.  I say somehow because it wasn’t always clear why everyone was so obsessed with killing Nick.  They just were.

Knowing that his days are probably numbered, Nick takes out a life insurance policy on himself.  He names, as the sole beneficiary, his estranged daughter, Cate (Hailee Steinfeld).  With his reluctant daughter accompanying him, he goes on the run.  While Nick and Cate finally start to bond and repair their damaged relationship, the very bad men searching for Nick kill a lot of people.

So, this is a weird one.  At times, this film is a typical generation gap comedy, with Vaughn playing the former-cool-guy-turned-befuddled-dad who freaks out when he sees Cate’s bra hanging from a shower rod.  This part of the film is actually kinda likable.  Vaughn and Steinfeld are believable as father-and-daughter and their scenes together are sweet if predictable.

But then you’ve got the rest of the film, which is basically Bill Paxton brutally murdering people.  The violence comes on so strong that it feels totally out-of-place when mixed in with scenes of Nick and Cate bonding.  It’s such an abrupt tonal shift that it makes it impossible to get into the film.

Term Life has a cobbled together feel to it and it doesn’t help that it features the type of heavy-handed narration that feels as if it was added at the last minute in a desperate attempt to bring some sort of coherent structure to a messy film.  On the plus side, both Vaughn and Steinfeld are believable and you occasionally care about their father-daughter relationship.  On the negative side, likable characters keep dying.

In other words, see Hacksaw Ridge.

A Few Thoughts On The X-Files 10.6 “My Struggle II”


x_files-fox

(WARNING: This review will contain spoilers.)

I have to admit that, after I finished watching the finale of The X-Files “revival,” I felt totally and completely confused.  I wasn’t really sure what I had just seen and I don’t mean that in a good way.  I wondered if maybe, as a relatively new viewer of The X-Files, I simply did not have the necessary background information to follow the episode’s plot.  And then I wondered if maybe I just had not been paying enough attention while I was watching.  Maybe I was too ADD to follow an episode of The X-Files…

So, I rewatched the episode.  I made sure to sit right in front of the TV and to turn on the closed captioning so that I would be able to understand what everyone was mumbling about.  During the second viewing, I came to understand just why exactly I had been so confused.  To say that the editing of My Struggle II was ragged would be an understatement.  It was often difficult to figure out how much time had passed between scenes or where the characters were in relation to one another.  The whole episode felt as if it had been haphazardly constructed, with scenes randomly tossed together.  But then again, that’s been true of the entire season.  Even the better episodes have shared that ragged quality.  The parts, as good as they have occasionally been, have rarely added up to a coherent whole.  I imagine that, if you were a fan of The X-Files before the revival, you might have enough of an emotional commitment, in Mulder and Scully as characters, that you can overlook the revival’s weaker moments.  But for a new viewer, like me, it can get frustrating.

This has been a very uneven season.  Season 10 was made up of 6 episodes, each of which seemed to have a totally different tone and outlook from the other.  There’s been one great episode (Mulder & Scully Meet The Weremonster), one terrible episode (My Struggle), one mediocre episode (Babylon), and two episodes that were above average but nothing special (Founder’s Mutation, Home Again).  For the first 40 minutes or so, I thought that My Struggle II would be another mediocre episode.  But, towards the very end, things started to get better.  After spending most of the episode separated from each other, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson finally got to share a scene.  (The only time that Duchovny and Anderson seem truly invested in their roles is when they’re playing off of each other.  Each brings out the best in the other.)  And the scene ended with a cliffhanger that was so batshit crazy that, almost despite my better instincts, I found myself saying, “Yes, give us a season 11 because I have to know what just happened!”

And really, thank God for that cliffhanger.  A good final scene can make up for so much.  My Struggle II opens with Mulder missing and, it’s a sign of that ragged editing that I mentioned earlier, that I wasn’t sure how long he had been missing or who exactly was aware that he was missing.  It turns out that Mulder’s missing because he’s busy driving to South Carolina so he can confront the Cigarette-Smoking Man (William B. Davis), the big villain from the show’s original run.  Apparently, the CSM is aware that humanity is about to be wiped out by an alien plague but he has a cure and he wants Mulder to join him and a few others that he has judged worthy of survival.

Meanwhile, Tad O’Malley (Joel McHale) is back!  When we last heard, Tad had vanished and his web site had been shut down.  And yet, at the start of this episode, Tad has suddenly returned and his web site is once again active.  No mention is made of where O’Malley has been and nobody — not even Scully — seems to be curious about the details.  Maybe O’Malley was never really missing in the first place.  It’s hard to tell with this show.

Anyway, the main reason that Tad shows up is so that he can announce, during his podcast, that humanity’s DNA has been corrupted with alien DNA and, as a result, everyone is essentially a walking time bomb.  This, of course, leads to rioting in the streets which is … odd.  I mean, let’s be honest.  He may look like Joel McHale and his show may be surprisingly well-produced but, ultimately, Tad is just a guy with a podcast.  As I watched the original world react to Tad’s podcast, it occurred to me that Season 10 may be airing in 2016 but it still has a 2002 sensibility.

Working with Agent Einstein (Lauren Ambrose), Scully is able to use her DNA to create a cure for the virus.  I’m not sure how that works but, in all fairness to The X-Files, this may be one of those plot points that would make more sense to me if I had watched more of the previous seasons of the show.  By this point, Mulder has returned from confronting the CSM and is on the verge of dying from the virus.  Scully announces that, in order to cure Mulder, they have to get DNA from their son William but she’s not sure where he is and…

AND THAT’S WHEN A BIG OLD FLYING SAUCER APPEARS IN THE SKY ABOVE!

And, as frustrated as I had been with My Struggle II, I cheered a little when that UFO showed up.  Ever since this revival started, I have been predicting that William would return.  Now, I don’t know for sure who is in that flying saucer but seriously, it has to be William, doesn’t it?  I mean, who else would it be?  As frustrated as I have often been with The X-Files, I ended My Struggle II wanting a season 11 because I want to know who is in that flying saucer.

And, ultimately, I guess that has to be counted as a point in the show’s favor.  When a show can be as flawed as The X-Files has been this season and still leave the viewer hoping for more, that has to be considered a success of some sort.

So, my final verdict on My Struggle II: Uneven but intriguing when it mattered.  I think the same can be said of Season 10 as a whole.

Will The X-Files return for an 11th season?  Well, if it doesn’t, there will be a lot of disappointed people on twitter.  Assuming the show does return and that William is on that flying saucer, can we all start calling him “Sculder?”

Seriously, I’ve been trying to make Sculder a thing for a while now…

44 Days of Paranoia #30: Nixon (dir by Oliver Stone)


For our latest entry in the 44 Days of Paranoia, we take a look at Oliver Stone’s 1995 presidential biopic, Nixon.

Nixon tells the life story of our 37th President, Richard Nixon.  The only President to ever resign in order to avoid being impeached, Nixon remains a controversial figure to this day.  As portrayed in this film, Nixon (played by Anthony Hopkins) was an insecure, friendless child who was dominated by his ultra religious mother (Mary Steenburgen) and who lived in the shadow of his charismatic older brother (Tony Goldwyn).  After he graduated college, Nixon married Pat (Joan Allen), entered politics, made a name for himself as an anti-communist, and eventually ended up winning the U.S. presidency.  The film tells us that, regardless of his success, Nixon remained a paranoid and desperately lonely man who eventually allowed the sycophants on his staff (including James Woods) to break the law in an attempt to destroy enemies both real and imagined.  Along the way, Nixon deals with a shady businessman (Larry Hagman), who expects to be rewarded for supporting Nixon’s political career, and has an odd confrontation with a young anti-war protester who has figured out that Nixon doesn’t have half the power that everyone assumes he does.

Considering that his last few films have been W., Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, and SavagesI think it’s understandable that I’m often stunned to discover that, at one point in the distant past, Oliver Stone actually was a worthwhile director.  JFK, for instance, is effective propaganda.  Nixon, which feels a lot like an unofficial sequel to JFK, is a much messier film than JFK but — as opposed to something like Savages — it’s still watchable and occasionally even thought-provoking.  Thanks to Hopkins’ performance and, it must be admitted, Stone’s surprisingly even-handed approach to the character, Nixon challenges our assumptions about one of the most infamous and villified figures in American history.  It forces us to decide for ourselves whether Nixon was a monster or a victim of circumstances that spiraled out of his control.  If you need proof of the effectiveness of the film’s approach, just compare Stone’s work on Nixon with his work on his next Presidential biography, the far less effective W.

(I should admit, however, that I’m a political history nerd and therefore, this film was specifically designed to appeal to me.  For me, half the fun of Nixon was being able to go, “Oh, that’s supposed to be Nelson Rockefeller!”)

If I had to compare the experience of watching Nixon to anything, I would compare it to taking 10 capsules of Dexedrine and then staying up for five days straight without eating.  The film zooms from scene-to-scene, switching film stocks almost at random while jumping in and out of time, and not worrying too much about establishing any sort of narrative consistency.  Surprisingly nuanced domestic scenes between Anthony Hopkins and Joan Allen are followed by over-the-top scenes where Bob Hoskins lustily stares at a White House guard or Sam Waterston’s eyes briefly turn completely black as he discusses the existence of evil.  When Nixon gives his acceptance speech to the Republican Convention, the Republican delegates are briefly replaced by images of a world on fire.  Familiar actors wander through the film, most of them only popping up for a scene or two and then vanishing.  The end result is a film that both engages and exhausts the viewer, a hallucinatory journey through Stone’s version of American history.

Nixon is a mess but it’s a fascinating mess.

Other Entries In The 44 Days of Paranoia 

  1. Clonus
  2. Executive Action
  3. Winter Kills
  4. Interview With The Assassin
  5. The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
  6. JFK
  7. Beyond The Doors
  8. Three Days of the Condor
  9. They Saved Hitler’s Brain
  10. The Intruder
  11. Police, Adjective
  12. Burn After Reading
  13. Quiz Show
  14. Flying Blind
  15. God Told Me To
  16. Wag the Dog
  17. Cheaters
  18. Scream and Scream Again
  19. Capricorn One
  20. Seven Days In May
  21. Broken City
  22. Suddenly
  23. Pickup on South Street
  24. The Informer
  25. Chinatown
  26. Compliance
  27. The Lives of Others
  28. The Departed
  29. A Face In The Crowd