A Movie A Day #119: Dead Solid Perfect (1988, directed by Bobby Roth)

Based on a novel by veteran sports writer Dan Jenkins, Dead Solid Perfect takes an episodic look at a year on the PGA tour.  Kenny Lee (Randy Quaid) is a good but aging golfer who wants to finally have his time in the spotlight.  His sponsor (Jack Warden) is an eccentric old racist.  His girlfriend (Corinne Bohrer, who has a lengthy scene where she walks naked down hotel hallway while carrying an ice bucket) isn’t looking for a commitment while his wife (Kathryn Harrold) is getting sick of his emotional immaturity.  Kenny Lee just wants to hit the perfect shot.

An early HBO production, Dead Solid Perfect is one of the best movies ever made about pro golfers, not that there is really much competition.  Eschewing the pretentious blathering that has marred other golf films (like The Legend of Bagger Vance), Dead Solid Perfect focuses on the day-to-day life of aging athletes who have never had to grow up.  This was Dan Jenkins’s specialty and Dead Solid Perfect feels authentic in a way that many other sports film, like Bagger Vance, do not.  Randy Quaid, long before he had his widely publicized breakdown and started making videos about the “star whackers,” is perfectly cast as Kenny.  Sadly, Dead Solid Perfect has never been released on DVD or Blu-ray but it will entertain any golf fan who owns an operational VCR.

Of course, the best movie about golf is still Caddyshack.


Horror on TV: Tales From The Crypt 1.4 “Only Sin Deep” (dir by Howard Deutch)

You may remember, from previous horrorthons, that I like to end each day in October by sharing a classic example of televised horror.  Over the previous two years, I shared several episodes of The Twilight Zone and everyone seemed to enjoy them.  I know I certainly did.

Unfortunately, I can’t do that anymore.

All of the episodes of the Twilight Zone that were on YouTube have been taken down.  Copyright infringement, they say.  And, unfortunately, Hulu is no longer allowing people to watch The Twilight Zone for free.  I can still embed Hulu videos on this site but unless you’re a subscriber, you wouldn’t be able to watch them.

Which sucks, by the way!  Seriously, I was soooooo mad when I discovered what had happened…

However, fear not!  While I may not be able to share any Twilight Zone episodes this October, it turns out that every episode of HBO’s Tales From The Crypt has been uploaded to YouTube!  And what could be more appropriate for Halloween than a little trip to the crypt?

So, with all that in mind, here’s the fourth episode of Tales From The Crypt.  It’s called Only Sin Deep and it originally aired on June 14th, 1989.  It tells the story of a prostitute named Sylvia Vane (played by Lea Thompson) who agrees to sell her beauty for $10,000 and the chance to marry a rich man.  Sylvia doesn’t take the deal seriously.  You won’t be surprised to learn that was a mistake.  Only Sin Deep is an entertaining little morality tale.  Don’t mess with karma.

(As well, I’m going to assume that the name Sylvia Vane is meant to be an homage to the name of Angela Lansbury’s character in The Picture of Dorian Gray.)

Only Sin Deep was directed by Howard Deutch, who also directed Lea Thompson in Some Kind of Wonderful.  (And, of course, he also married her.)  It was written by Fred Dekker, who directed the classic Night of the Creeps.

And yes, the story is introduced by the infamous Cryptkeeper.



Film Review: The Shallows (dir by Jaume Collet-Serra)


Have you seen The Shallows yet?

The Shallows was released last week, to strong box office and surprisingly good reviews.  Ever since it came out, people have been telling me, “You have got to see The Shallows!”  Well, I finally did see it earlier today and you know what?  I should have seen it earlier.  The Shallows is one of the best films of the year so far.

Now, I have to admit that, even before I saw the film, I was pretty sure that I was going to like it.  Just from watching the trailer, The Shallows looked like a big-budget Asylum film or maybe a mainstream version of Shark Exorcist.  After all, here we had a movie about a blonde in bikini being menaced by a giant shark while stranded on a rock in the middle of the ocean.  It looked like it would be one of those big, over-the-top nature-gone-crazy movies that I always enjoy watching on SyFy.

And, to a certain extent, it is.  The Shallows was directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, a Spanish director whose previous work would seem to indicate an appreciation for old school grindhouse and drive-in cinema.  There’s really not a subtle moment to be found in The Shallows.  The shark is huge and whenever it finds something to eat, the ocean turns red with blood and while this grudge-holding shark may not behave like a real-life shark, it does behave like a movie shark.  When, at the start of the film, Lively is on her surfboard and blissfully unaware of the danger under the sea, girl power anthems blast on the soundtrack.  Whenever the camera briefly pans underwater for a shot from the shark’s point of view, the music suddenly becomes ominous and full of menace.  The action is nearly non-stop, pausing only occasionally for a few moments when the camera lingers on Lively either stretching on the beach or resting on the rock and yet the cinematography is so stunning and Lively’s performance is so great that these shots don’t feel exploitive but instead celebrate her both her outer and her inner strength.  Undoubtedly, a lot of people are buying tickets because Blake Lively spends most of the movie in a bikini but The Shallows is still one of the most empowering films of the summer.

That’s right, I just said that Blake Lively gives a great performance.  I have to admit that, despite loving Gossip Girl, I was never really sold on Blake Lively as an actress until I saw her in The Shallows.  I thought she was wasted in The Town and her performance in Savages left me so annoyed that I was literally screaming in the theater.  But no matter — Blake Lively proves herself to truly be a talented actress in The Shallows.  From the minute she appears onscreen, you’re on her side.  You’re happy for her when she finally gets to surf the beach that her recently deceased mother surfed when she was young.  You fear for her when the shark makes its first blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance.  And when she’s stranded on that rock, fighting for her own survival and trying to figure out a way to close a huge gash on her leg (and this was a scene that I literally watched through my fingers), you find yourself truly fearful that she’ll never be rescued.  (One of the strengths of the film is that you’re never fully convinced that Lively is going to survive her ordeal.)  Blake Lively gives a performance here that I would compare to James Franco’s breakthrough work in 127 Hours.

Actually, a lot of the scenes in The Shallows reminded me of 127 Hours.  For that matter, there were also a few scenes that reminded me of Wild and, of course, the Jaws influence was obvious as well.  The Shallows is a derivative film but, to its credit, it borrows from the best and Collet-Serra always manages to add his own individual spin to even the film’s most predictable moments.

Along with Lively’s performance and Collet-Serra’s direction, there are three other things that make The Shallows special.

Number one, it features an amazing seagull.  The seagull, which has an injured wing, spends most of the movie hanging out with Blake Lively on that rock and provides her with some much needed companionship.  The seagull also happens to be a helluva actor and, at times, I found myself even more worried about the seagull’s survival than Lively’s.  According to the credits, the seagull’s name is Sully and he better get some love from the Academy next January.

Number two, there’s a scene in which two soon-to-be-doomed surfers ask Blake Lively if she’s from California.  “No,” Lively replies, “Texas!”  From the minute she said that, all of us at the Alamo Drafthouse were on her side.  And, just in case any of you northerners have any doubts, people do surf in Texas.  Just ask anyone who has ever spent spring break in Galveston or Corpus Christi.

Finally, The Shallows is a short movie and, after sitting through so many overlong movies, it was nice to see a movie that was direct and to the point and which did not include any unnecessary padding.  The Shallows only needed 86 minutes to tell its story and not a minute more!

(Compare the 86-minute The Shallows to the 151-minute Batman v Superman and you’ll understand what film critics mean when they complain about a film being overlong.)

With its truly breathtaking shots of the ocean and it’s nonstop action, The Shallows is a film that you owe it to yourself to see on a big screen.  So get to it!



Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Apollo 13 (dir by Ron Howard)


I just finished watching the TCM premiere of the 1995 Best Picture nominee, Apollo 13.  Of course, it wasn’t the first time I had seen it.  Apollo 13 is one of those films that always seems to be playing somewhere and why not?  It’s a good movie, telling a story that is all the more remarkable and inspiring for being true.  In 1970, the Apollo 13 flight to the moon was interrupted by a sudden explosion, stranding three astronauts in space.  Fighting a desperate battle against, NASA had to figure out how to bring them home.  Apollo 13 tells the story of that accident and that rescue.

There’s a scene that happens about halfway through Apollo 13.  The heavily damaged Apollo 13 spacecraft is orbiting the moon.  Originally the plan was for Apollo 13 to land on the moon but, following that explosion on the craft, those plans have been cancelled.  Inside the spacecraft, three astronauts can only stare down at the lunar surface below them.

As Commander Jim Lovell stares out the craft’s window, we suddenly see him fantasizing about what it would be like if the explosion hadn’t happened and if he actually could fulfill his dream of walking on the moon.  We watch as Lovell (and, while we know the character is Jim Lovell, we are also very much aware that he’s being played by beloved cinematic icon Tom Hanks) leaves his foot print on the lunar surface.  Lovell opens up his visor and, for a few seconds, stands there and takes in the with the vastness of space before him and making the scene all the more poignant is knowing that Tom Hanks, before he became an award-winning actor, wanted to be a astronaut just like Jim Lovell.  Then, suddenly, we snap back to the film’s reality.  Back inside the spacecraft, Lovell takes one final look at the moon and accepts that he will never get to walk upon its surface.  “I’d like to go home,” he announces.

It’s a totally earnest and unabashedly sentimental moment, one that epitomizes the film as a whole.  There is not a hint of cynicism to be found in Apollo 13.  Instead, it’s a big, old-fashioned epic, a story about a crisis and how a bunch of determined, no-nonsense professionals came together to save the day.  “Houston,” Lovell famously says at one point, “we have a problem.”  It’s a celebrated line but Apollo 13 is less about the problem and more about celebrating the men who, through their own ingenuity, solved that problem.

That Apollo 13 is a crowd-pleaser should come as no surprise.  It was directed by Ron Howard and I don’t know that Howard has ever directed a film that wasn’t designed to make audiences break into applause during the end credits.  When Howard fails, the results can be maudlin and heavy-handed.  But when he succeeds, as he does with Apollo 13, he proves that there’s nothing wrong with old-fashioned, inspirational entertainment.

Of course, since Apollo 13 is a Ron Howard film, that means that Clint Howard gets a small role.  In Apollo 13, Clint shows up as a bespectacled flight engineer.  When astronaut Jack Swiggert (Kevin Bacon) mentions having forgotten to pay his taxes before going into space, Clint says, “He shouldn’t joke about that, they’ll get him.”  It’s a great line and Clint does a great job delivering it.

Apollo 13 is usually thought of as being a Tom Hanks film but actually, it’s an ensemble piece.  Every role, from the smallest to the biggest, is perfectly cast.  Not surprisingly, Bacon, Bill Paxton, Gary Sinise, Kathleen Quinlan, and Ed Harris all turn in excellent performances.  But, even beyond the marquee names, Apollo 13 is full of memorable performances.  Watching it tonight, I especially noticed an actor named Loren Dean, who played a NASA engineer named John Aaron.  Dean didn’t get many lines but he was totally believable in his role.  You looked at him and you thought, “If I’m ever trapped in space, this is the guy who I want working to bring me home.”

Apollo 13 was nominated for best picture but it lost to Mel Gibson’s film Braveheart.  Personally, out of the nominees, I probably would have picked Sense and Sensibility but Apollo 13 more than deserved the nomination.

Trailer: The Dark Knight Rises (Nokia Exclusive)

Marvel Studios’ The Avengers has been the runaway, blockbuster hit of 2012’s summer film season. The film has also become the film which detractors of Christopher Nolan’s third and final entry in his Dark Knight trilogy put up as the film to beat this summer. I like the fanboy enthusiasm that always comes out of the shadows whenever comic book films battle it out during the summer blockbuster season year in and year out, but I will say that instead of pitting the two mega-hits against each other fans of the comic book genre should embrace both because just around the corner will be the average to awful comic book films.

With just a month to go before the film’s release we get a new trailer (this one a Nokia Exclusive) for The Dark Knight Rises which looks to emphasis the action of the film where the previous trailers and teasers concentrated more on keeping the film’s story a secret. I’ve looked at these series’ of trailers and ads for the film like another of Nolan’s previous films with The Prestige. The first trailers and ads I see as the “The Pledge” from the film’s creators that hints at the grandiose event we’re going to be witness to. This latest trailer acts like “The Turn” as we see the magician performing the trick of this latest film giving the audience a bit more flash and pizzazz (maybe some misdirection as well to keep the story secret until the film’s release). For The Dark Knight Rises it will be on opening weekend when we finally see “The Prestige” that closes out (hopefully with critical-acclaim) Nolan’s turn as the caretaker of the Batman film franchise.

The Dark Knight Rises is set for a July 20, 2012 release date.