Robotic Vengeance: Steel and Lace (1991, directed by Ernest Farino)


On trial for raping concert pianist Gally Morton (Clare Wren), evil businessman Daniel Emerson (Michael Cerveris) gets four of his sleazy buddies to provide a fake alibi for him.  After Emerson is acquitted, Gally goes to the roof of the courthouse and leaps to her death.

Five years later, Daniel and his four friends have made a fortune by illegally foreclosing on people’s houses.  They may think that they’ve gotten away with their crimes but what they don’t know is that Gally’s brother, Albert (Bruce Davison), has been building a robot version of his sister.  Soon, Robot Gally is killing off all of Emerson’s friends while a courtroom sketch artist named Alison (Stacy Haiduk) and a detective named Dunn (David Naughton) attempt to figure out what’s going on.

A mix of The Terminator and I Spit On Your Grave, Steel and Lace is a classic of its kind.  While the deaths are inventive and, considering who Robot Gally is killing, deserved, what really sets the film apart is the strong cast and the inventive direction.  Director Ernest Farino wastes no time getting down to business and he inventively opens the film by cutting back and forth between Emerson assaulting Gally and the jury acquitting him of the crime that we just saw him commit.  Davison is not in the film as much as you might expect but he still makes an impression as the fanatical Albert and Naughton and Haiduk are likable even if their scenes sometimes feel like padding.  Best of all is Clare Wren, an actress who deserved to be a bigger star and who is convincing both as the fragile Gally and as the vengeance-driven robot.  Robot Gally eventually comes to question whether justice is truly be served by all of the killings and Wren sells it.  Also be sure to keep an eye out for David L. Lander, playing the prerequisite eccentric coronor.  (Has there ever been a movie coroner who wasn’t an eccentric?)  Finally, Brian Backer — who will be forever known for playing nice guy Mark Ratner in Fast Times At Ridgemont High — is effectively cast against type as one of Emerson’s stooges.

Steel and Lace is one of the best low-budget films to come out of the early 90s, a deeply satisfying tale of robotics and vengeance.

Film Review: Insidious: The Last Key (dir by Adam Robitel)


Traditionally, good films are not released in January.

With most filmgoers more interested in catching up with the probable Oscar nominees and no one wanting to spend too much money after Christmas, January has become the month when the studios release all of the low-budget films that they’re hoping they can make a few bucks off before everyone forgets about them.  January is the month that sees sequels to the franchises that have a small but loyal fan base.  Just as last January saw the release of a new Underworld and a new Resident Evil, this January sees the release of Insidious: The Last Key.

Though it would subsequently be overshadowed by The Conjuring and its sequel, the Insidious franchise got off to a good start with the first film in the series.  Released in 2010, the first Insidious was a genuinely scary movie, one that can still give your nightmares if you watch it on a stormy night.  There are so many moments from that film that have stuck with me: the dancing ghost, the red demon suddenly appearing over Patrick Wilson’s shoulder, and the franchise’s first trip to the Further.  Of course, the thing that really elevated Insidious was the performance of Lin Shaye, in the role of demonologist Elise Rainier.  Lin Shaye played Elise with a combination of eccentricity and quiet authority and, from the minute she first showed up, you wanted to know more about Elise’s paranormal career.  Elise was the most popular character in the movie, which made it unfortunate that she was dead by the end of it.

Despite Elise’s death, she’s continued to be at the center of the Insidious franchise.  The first sequel dealt with her death by having her appear as a spirit, leading the hero through the Further.  The third film in the franchise was actually a prequel, dealing with one of Elise’s earlier investigations and showing how she first met her two comedy relief assistants, Tucker (Angus Sampson) and Specs (Leigh Whannell).  The Last Key is another prequel, revealing the details of Elise’s childhood and following her all the way through 2010.  The Last Key ends with a call back to the first Insidious movie, suggesting that the franchise has now come full circle.

The Last Key is another haunted house movie.  This time, the house in question is the one where Elise and her brother (played, as an adult, by Bruce Davison) grew up with their horribly abusive (and possibly demon-possessed) father.  In 2010, the house has been purchased by Ted (Kirk Acevedo).  No sooner has Ted bought the place then it becomes obvious that it’s haunted.  However, Ted can’t just abandon the place because he’s sunk all of his money into this house, which he was hoping to be able to then sell to someone else.  Apparently, you can’t get much money for a haunted house.

(Well, whatever.  I’d pay good money to buy a haunted house and then I would open it to the paying public every October.  I would make a fortune, assuming everyone didn’t get killed.)

Anyway, it all pretty much leads to everything you would expect to happen in an Insidious movie.  Doors open and close.  Malevolent beings appear in the shadows.  Everyone goes to the Further.  Lin Shaye gives another entertaining and fully committed performance, obviously enjoying the chance to be the star of the film.  Nothing about the film is particularly surprising but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t often effective.  Watching this film is a lot like listening to a skilled storyteller tell the story about the girl, her boyfriend, and the escaped mental patient who has a hook for a hand.  You know exactly what’s going to happen.  You know that it none of it really happened.  You know the story is borderline ludicrous.  But you still find yourself jumping at every unexpected sound.  You still find yourself staring into the shadows, wondering if you really saw something moving or if it was just your imagination.

Needless to say, The Last Key is never as effective or as scary as the first Insidious or either of The Conjuring films.  There were a few moments — mostly dealing with Elise’s childhood — where The Last Key showed the potential to be something a little deeper than what I was expecting but those moments were rarely followed up on.  In the end The Last Key is a rather modest and workmanlike horror film, the type that makes you jump while you’re watching it but which you will also probably end up forgetting about a day or two after seeing it. However, for a January horror film, it’s good enough.

Creepy Crawlies: WILLARD (Cinerama 1971)


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Rats are not cute’n’cuddly little creatures. They’re disgusting, disease-infested vermin that should be avoided at all costs. But don’t tell that to WILLARD, title character in this 1971 chiller that started a regular revolution of “animals run amok” horror movies. Bruce Davison, later to become one of his generation’s finest actors (SHORT EYES, THE LATHE OF HEAVEN, LONGTIME COMPANION), is a regular rodent Dr. Doolittle here, not only talking to the animals, but handling them fondly while he trains them to kill his enemies. Rats – yuck!

Willard Stiles is a lonely loser who shares a rambling, decrepit manse with his  domineering mother (Elsa Lanchester) and works for bullying boss Martin (Ernest Borgnine ), who stole the family business from Willard’s late father. Office temp Joan (Sondra Locke) feels sorry for Willard, but the socially awkward nerd is uncomfortable around people, preferring instead to spend time with the rats in…

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A Movie A Day #336: The Bronx Bull (2017, directed by Martin Guigui)


New York in the 1930s.  Jake LaMotta (Morean Aria) is a tough street kid who is pushed into fighting by his abusive father (Paul Sorvino) and who is taught how to box by a sympathetic priest (Ray Wise).  When Jake finally escapes from his Hellish home life, it is so he can pursue a career as a professional boxer.  Ironically, the same violent nature that nearly destroyed him as a youth will now be the key to his future success.

In the late 60s, a middle-aged Jake LaMotta (William Forsythe) testifies before a government panel that is investigating that influence of the Mafia in professional boxing.  LaMotta testifies that, during his professional career, he did take a dive in one of his most famous matches.  LaMotta goes on to pursue an entertainment career which, despite starring in Cauliflower Ears with Jane Russell, never amounts too much.  He drinks too much, fights too much, and gets into arguments with a ghost (Robert Davi).  He also gets married several times, to women played by everyone from Penelope Ann Miller to Alicia Witt.  The movie ends with Jake happily walking down a snowy street and a title card announcing that Jake is now 95 years old and married to his seventh wife.  (The real Jake LaMotta died on September, 9 months after the release of The Bronx Bull.)

The Bronx Bull is a largely pointless movie about the later life of the antisocial boxer who was previously immortalized in Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull.  In fact, The Bronx Bull was originally announced and went into production as Raging Bull II.  Then the producers of the original Raging Bull found out, filed a lawsuit, and the film became The Bronx Bull.  Because of the lawsuit, The Bronx Bull could cover every aspect of Jake’s life, except for what was already covered in Raging Bull.  In fact, Scorsese’s film (which undoubtedly had a huge impact on LaMotta’s later life) is not even mentioned in The Bronx Bull.

William Forsythe does what he can with the role but, for the most part, Jake just seems to be a lout with anger issues.  With a cast that includes everyone from Tom Sizemore to Cloris Leachman to Bruce Davison, the movie is full of familiar faces but none of them get too much of a chance to make an impression.  Joe Mantegna comes the closest, playing Jake’s best friend.  The Bronx Bull was not only shot on the cheap but it looks even cheaper, with studio backlots unconvincingly filling in for 1930s Bronx.  The film’s director, Martin Guigui, occasionally tries to throw in a Scorsesesque camera movement and there are a few black-and-white flashbacks but, for the most part, this is the mockbuster version of Raging Bull.

A Movie A Day #127: Brass Target (1978, directed by John Hough)


Everything’s a conspiracy!

At least, that is the claim made by Brass Target, a twisty and unnecessarily complicated thriller that argues that General George S. Patton (played here by George Kennedy, who is even more blustery than usual in the role) did not, as widely believed, die as the result of a car accident but was actually killed by an assassin using rubber bullets.  Why was Patton targeted for assassination?  Was he targeted by Nazis angered by Germany’s defeat or maybe Russians who knew that Patton had argued in favor of invading the Soviet Union towards the end of the war?  Would you believe it was all because Patton was investigating the theft of Nazi gold and his subordinates, the flamboyantly gay Colonel Donald Rogers (Robert Vaughn) and Rogers’s always worried lover, Colonel Walter Gilchrist (Edward Herrmann), were fearful that he was getting too close to discovering the truth?

John Cassevetes, who hopefully used part of his paycheck to fund either The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, Opening Night, or Gloria, plays Joe De Lucca, the burned out OSS colonel who is assigned to track down the Nazi gold but who really just wants to go back home to New York.  Patrick McGoohan, sporting an accent that is supposed to be American, plays De Lucca’s former friend and colleague, Colonel Mike McCauley, who now lives in a German castle.  Max von Sydow is the assassin, who also has a day job as the chairman of a refugee relocation committee.  Sophia Loren plays Mara, a Polish war refugee who, by pure coincidence, has slept with not just De Lucca but almost everyone involved with the conspiracy.  Bruce Davison is the young colonel who acts as Du Lucca’s supervisor.  Even Charles “Lucky” Luciano (played by the very British Lee Montague) is featured as a minor part of the conspiracy.

That is an impressive cast for a less than impressive movie.  Brass Target never provides a convincing reason as to why the conspirators would decide that killing Patton was their only option and, once the conspiracy gets underway and the movie starts to follow around Von Sydow for some Day of the Jackal/Black Sunday-style preparation scenes, the search for the Nazi gold is forgotten.  For some reason, though, I have a soft spot for this frequently ridiculous movie.  There are enough weird moments and details, like Vaughn’s twitchy performance, McGoohan’s accent, the way Kennedy blusters about the Russians being rude to him, and glamorous Sophia Loren’s miscasting, that Brass Target is always watchable even if it is never exactly good.

Insomnia File #11: Summer Catch (dir by Mike Tollin)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

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Whenever I look at my cable guide, I always notice that channel 834 is listed as being “MorMax.”  For some reason, I always assume that MorMax stands for Morman Max and I’m always expecting that it’s going to show movies about Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.  But actually, MorMax stands for More Cinemax.

Anyway, last night, if you were having a hard time sleeping around midnight (though why anyone would ever try to go to sleep before midnight is beyond me), you could have turned on MorMax and watched the 2001 romantic comedy Summer Catch!

Though it may be hard to believe today, there was a time when Freddie Prinze, Jr. was a pretty big deal.  From 1997 to 2001, Prinze appeared in 179 movies.  Well, actually, he only appeared in 10 but since they were all aimed at teenage girls and played on cable constantly, it felt like 179.  (Seriously, there was a time when I could not get through an entire day without seeing at least a few minutes of She’s All That.)  For the most part, all of these films were pretty much the same.  Freddie Prinze, Jr. plays a kind of dumb guy who falls in love with a girl.  Prinze’s character was usually from a working class family and had at least one wacky friend.  The girl was usually from a rich family and had one bitchy friend who would be an ex-friend by the end of the movie.  There was usually at least one scene set on the beach or at a swimming pool, the better for Freddie to remove his shirt and his costar to chastely strip down to her underwear.  There was usually a falling in love montage and at least one big misunderstanding.  Freddie would always flash the same goofy smile whenever the misunderstanding was cleared up.  Even at the time that the films were being released, nobody was ever under the impression that Freddie Prinze, Jr. was a particularly good actor.  But he was likable, unthreatening, and hot in an oddly bland sort of way.

(Speaking of oddly bland, check out the titles of some of Prinze’s films: She’s All That, Down To You, Boys and Girls, Head over Heels, and, of course, Summer Catch.)

Summer Catch opens with Ryan Dunne (Freddie!) explaining that he’s just a working class kid from Massachusetts but this summer, he’s going to be playing amateur baseball in Cap Cod and hopefully, he’ll get signed to a professional contract as result.  (Freddie adopts an inconsistent “pahk ya cah by the bah” accent and its kind of endearing to see him trying so hard.)  Ryan, of course, is just a local guy who mows lawns for a living but he’s determined to succeed.  He just has to stay focused.

However, that’s going to be difficult because he’s just met Tenley Parrish (Jessica Biel).  The Parrishes own a vacation home on Cape Cod and they are so rich that they can afford to name their oldest daughter Tenley.  Soon, Tenley and Ryan are a couple but Tenley’s father wants Tenley to marry a rich boy and Ryan’s father is too busy being all surly and working class to appreciate Ryan’s dreams.

(Tenley’s father, incidentally, is played by Bruce Davison because all snobbish WASPs of a certain age are played by Bruce Davison.  Ryan’s father is played by Fred Ward because Summer Catch was made in 2001.)

Because every Freddie Prinze, Jr. movie needs a hyperactive and wacky sidekick, Ryan’s best friend on the team is a catcher named Billy Brubaker (Matthew Lillard.)  Billy is known as “Bru.”  There’s a lot of scenes of people saying stuff like “Yo, Bru,” and “Come on, Bru!”  After a while, I found myself hoping for a scene where Bru went crazy and started shouting, “My name is Billy, dammit!  BILLY!  DAMN YOU ALL TO HELL!”  Instead, however, we get a subplot about how Billy can’t get any hits until he has sex with and wears the thong underwear of a local baseball fan.

Anyway, Summer Catch is an extremely predictable film.  It’s not surprising that this was one of Freddie’s final star vehicles because, other than his heroic effort to maintain a Massachusetts accent, even he seems to be bored with it all.  Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Summer Catch is that there’s next to no actual conflict in the film.  Oh sure, Ryan and Tenley have a few misunderstandings but it’s never anything serious.

If there’s an unheralded hero to Summer Catch, it’s the uncredited guy who we hear providing commentary during the games.  Seriously, I would have been so lost if not for him constantly saying stuff like, “This is Ryan Dunne’s chance to show what he can do,” and “Billy Brubaker needs to get a hit here…”  They should have made the entire movie about him and his efforts to remain up-to-date on all the players.

Because Summer Catch was a baseball film, I begged my sister Erin to watch it with me so that she could explain all the baseball stuff to me.  For the record, Erin says that the game scenes were okay (and I personally liked all of the totally gratuitous slow motion) but that the film wasn’t really a deep examination of baseball.  To be honest, I really wasn’t expecting that it would be.  I just wanted to make my sister stay up late and watch a movie with me.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye

 

 

Because anything this divisive gets my attention. So, I also watched The Leisure Class…


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First off, I have never watched that TV Show, and based off of Lisa’s description in her review of this film, I’m glad I don’t. It sounds like a seasons worth of footage of that dog from Godard’s Goodbye To Language (2014) pooping. In other words, I had no vested interest in this movie developed by watching the show. I just wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

The movie opens with that title card which would make you think you’re about to watch something like Last Year At Marienbad (1961). Then we cut to a party and meet some of our characters.

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That’s William (Ed Weeks) and Fiona (Bridget Regan). One thing that stuck with me from Lisa’s review about the production of this is that it was shot on film, and it shows. I don’t know if it comes through in that screen shot, but it feels like it’s trying to remind me of Merchant Ivory Productions from the 70s and 80s.

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That’s Edward (Bruce Davison) and Charlotte (Brenda Strong). This is a party the family is having to celebrate the wedding of William and Fiona that is going to take place the next day. William is marrying into this wealthy political family.

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This is Carolyn (Melanie Zanetti) who is Fiona’s sister. She’s the short horny sister whose character is abandoned rather quickly and seems to exist only to give the next character who shows up a foothold in this whole setup.

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Then this guy shows up at the party. He is William’s brother and is about to throw a wrench into William’s plan to marry into this family. William is actually a conman. A lousy conman cause this movie already starts telegraphing the ending of the film to you at this point. Now the brother does have a name in the movie, but let’s call him what he is. He’s Withnail (Tom Bell), minus any lines people will be quoting decades from now. William tells Withnail to leave the party, but of course he doesn’t even for money. He latches on to Carolyn and generally begins acting like a jackass.

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Since night is upon them, they move inside. Then what I can only assume is the boom mic pops in from the upper left hand corner.

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But enough of that little technical goof because we need more characters. We have the parents who seem to be basically oblivious at this point. Fiona is basically the same way at this point. Carolyn wants With to Nail her. And of course there’s our conman William. Naturally that’s why the movie needs a detective character. That comes in the form of another sister named Allison (Scottie Thompson). She tends to stay away from the family and is a lawyer.

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And you can tell she doesn’t like him because of that I just met you, but I already know your kind very well look on her face.

Well, after William tries to get some.

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And so does take me now Carolyn.

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Withnail decides to round up some booze and people to go off to a party!

IMG_4247Now take a good look at Fiona’s hair here. I’ll bring that up later. Now a couple of them, including Fiona jump in a pool.

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Oh, did I say a pool. I meant a plot device to clearly establish that Carolyn is drunk, Fiona is her own woman, and William is in over his head. Well, seeing as Carolyn is drunk and something needs to bring things to a head, we get a car accident.

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You see the look on Fiona’s face. That’s the look of the audience when they realize this scene only works if William has never seen a movie where rich people get away with things like car accidents they are at fault for. I hate when movies depend on their characters existing in a world where movies don’t exist that have covered situations they’re in. But again, they are trying to foreshadow the ending of this movie some more here.

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This is when you need to take another look at Fiona’s hair. I have taken physics before so I’m aware of how hair works when it comes to hydrogen and disulfide bonds, but something tells me being in a pool for all of a couple of minutes doesn’t transform hair from looking perfectly straight to looking like you just had it curled at a salon. I’ll have to ask the lady who does my hair, but this struck me as a continuity error. A minor error like the boom mic, but my only guess is that it was left in to make her character appear more vulnerable and less hoity toity so that we would see her come full circle back to the way she was at the beginning, but worse.

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Anyways, this is when Edward decides to give William a good talking to. So he pulls out a report that apparently shows all sorts of inconsistencies in William’s story. Hmmm…and why he didn’t pull this report out I don’t know… prior to the night before the wedding? The movie never really says. The best explanation we are given is in a scene coming up when Edward makes it clear that he wanted a son to carry on his name, but he only seems to produce girls. Perhaps we are expected to believe that Edward was willing to turn a blind eye to this report that he clearly had before because it meant he would have a son-in-law. Fiona also gets a talking to about how the wedding could affect his and her political careers. But who cares about that because we need another character…apparently…for reasons?

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This is Carla the prostitute played by Christine Lakin. I actually know who she is since she played Jackie on Melissa & Joey. The girl who wanted Joey’s sperm to impregnate her one way or another. Here she plays a pointless character thrown in so that Withnail won’t leave the movie alone. At least I hope that’s the reason because otherwise she’s just a character who brings Fifty Shades Of Grey (2015) into this movie by bringing up nipple clamps. I know what you are thinking. This movie needs a scene that looks like it belongs in a Tarantino movie or something like Funny Games. And it comes next.

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This is when Edward just flips out on the boys and his family. He pulls out a gun, he strips and whips Withnail, and probably give the best performance in this whole movie. Even if it is a bit much.

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Cut to the next morning and Edward with two penises drawn on his face makes his daughter and Withnail offers they can’t refuse. Much to the dismay of William who at this point probably figured he and Fiona would be riding off into the sunset having told her the truth about himself and that he truly does love her. At least Carla leaves the bride with a wedding present.

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Then a little wedding stuff before the movie ends on this shot.

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And that’s The Leisure Class. Why did this movie stir up so much crap over Lisa’s review? It’s a movie with it’s fair share of problems, but those are a dime a dozen. Director Jason Mann tried something probably a little too ambitious for the conditions he was working under, and it never really came together. It happens. It’s his first film. What were people hoping for here? I don’t know. I just know what the finished product is. A forgettable movie that amounts to Withnail Crashes A Wedding.

As for some of the nasty comments that came Lisa’s way. I don’t mind the down votes. That’s what they’re for, but if you only want to hear what you have to think about something then don’t read other people’s reviews of things. You don’t need anyone else’s validation to have an opinion about something.

Well, I’m moving on with my life now.

So, I watched The Leisure Class…


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Well, it had to happen sometime.

After 8 weeks of showing us how the film was made, HBO finally had to broadcast the latest Project Greenlight film.  Over the course of the series, we’ve watched the seemingly humorless director Jason Mann struggle to maintain his “artistic vision” while directing his first feature film, The Leisure Class.  We watched as he fought for and won the right to shoot on film.  We wondered if Jason would be able to pull off the film’s big stunt.  Even more importantly, we watched because we were hooked on the hostility between Jason and the film’s producer, Effie Brown.  Jason resented having to answer to Effie.  Effie resented having to work on something like The Leisure Class.  For 8 weeks, viewers were either Team Jason or Team Effie.

And through it all, we wondered — was The Leisure Class any good?

From the minute that Jason was named as The Leisure Class‘s director, I had my doubts.  A comedic sensibility is something that you either have or you don’t.  At first glance, there was nothing about Jason that suggested he even had a sense of humor.  Once filming started, nothing that we were shown looked all that promising.  The film’s trailer felt more frantic than anything else and I slowly found myself dreading the prospect of sitting through The Leisure Class.

But sit through it I did and … well, it was bad.  Unfortunately, it really wasn’t bad enough to be enjoyable.  Instead, it was just a bland misfire.  If the film was interesting, it was because I related each scene to what I had previously seen on Project Greenlight.  Wow, I thought, Effie sure was mad when they were shooting this scene.  A few minutes later: Is this the scene that Jason was worried would be underlit?  And then later: This is the scene where Bruce Davison wasn’t sure whether he should say pricks or dicks!  I’m glad they were able to make a final decision…

As for the film itself — well, how do you describe the plot of a film that really didn’t seem to have a storyline?  Charles (Ed Weeks) is actually William, a British con artist.  He is about to marry Fiona (Bridget Regan), the daughter of Sen. Langston (Bruce Davison).  At first, Charles was just planning on stealing Langston’s money but now he’s fallen in love with Fiona.  The day before the wedding, Charles’s alcoholic brother, Leonard (Tom Bell), shows up at the Langston estate.  He pretends to be Charles’s best friend.  And then, Leonard gets drunk and encourages a bunch of teenagers to skinny dip.  And then there’s the car accident.  (This is the big stunt that Jason was so concerned with.)  And then Sen. Langston gets drunk and there’s this amazingly ugly scene where he says a lot of nasty things to his wife and his daughters.  And then Langston nearly murders Charles and Leonard but Fiona ends up pulling a gun on him.  And then the next morning, Leonard draws on Langston’s face.  There’s also a prostitute, named Carla (Christina Lakin), who shows up for no reason but at least she gets a few funny lines.  The film doesn’t add up too much, with none of the characters or their actions making much sense.  The script feels like a first draft and, even at only 80 minutes, the movie seems to be way too long.

The overriding theme of Project Greenlight‘s fourth season has been that Jason has gotten nearly everything that he wanted while shooting his film.  Personally, it wouldn’t surprise me to discover that this season was pretty much edited to cast Jason in as negative a light as possible.  (Otherwise, the HBO execs would have to take responsibility of the train wreck that is The Leisure Class.)  Still, it’s impossible to deny that Jason fought a lot of battles and that none of them seem to have made much difference as far as the end product is concerned.

Jason fought to shoot The Leisure Class on film, as opposed to going digital.  He even turned down extra shooting days so that he could get film.  But visually, The Leisure Class is flat and boring.  It may have been shot on film but it still looks like a single camera sitcom.  (In fact, it’s hard not to feel that the film could have been improved if it had taken an Office or Modern Family mockumentary approach.  At least that way, the characters could have explained their often confusing motivation.)

Jason got the cast that he wanted but that cast is let down by a poorly conceived script.  All of the characters are so one-dimensional that it’s doubtful that there’s much anyone in the cast could have done to make them interesting.  I like both Ed Weeks and Tom Bell but the film let both of them down.  Meanwhile, Bruce Davison is reduced to bellowing out his lines.

Jason fought to find the perfect location and spent a lot of time talking about how the Langston estate was almost as important as the characters.  The house looks gorgeous but the film is directed in such a haphazard manner that you never really get to appreciate it.  For a director who spent so much time obsessing over minutiae, Jason’s film is unique for its total lack of interesting detail.

Let’s not forget — when the season began, Jason was selected to direct a broad comedy called Not Another Pretty Woman.  Jason is the one who suggested making The Leisure Class instead.  That said, I have a hard time believing, as some have suggested on twitter, that Not Another Pretty Woman would have been much of an improvement.

Ultimately, Jason seems to be an okay technical director.  He knows how to light a scene.  He understands the importance of moving the camera.  I imagine he could probably spend hours explaining why he chose to use a certain type of lens.  Unfortunately, there’s not a single scene in The Leisure Class that feels spontaneous.  There’s no humanity to the characters.  It’s a cold movie that feels more like a student film than anything else.

From what I’ve read, it appears that there will be at least one more season of Project Greenlight.  And I’m happy to hear that because the show makes for good drama.  I just wish that it would occasionally make for a good movie.

Shattered Politics #94: Persecuted (dir by Daniel Lusko)


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It may seem strange that I would choose to end my series of reviews of films that feature politics and politicians by reviewing Persecuted, an obscure film from 2014.  After all, Shattered Politics started out with D.W. Griffith’s Abraham Lincoln.  Over the past three weeks, I’ve reviewed everything from Mr. Smith Goes To Washington to The Phenix City Story to Dr. Strangelove to The Godfather to Nashville to Once Upon A Time In America to The Aviator.  I have been lucky enough to review some of the greatest films ever made.  And now, at the end of this series, I find myself reviewing Persecuted, a film that has a score of 0% over on Rotten Tomatoes.

Consider that for a moment.

As I sit here typing out this sentence, not a single critic has given Persecuted a good review.  And I will admit right now that I’m not going to be the first.  Persecuted is cheap-looking, heavy-handed, melodramatic, histrionic, foolish, silly, preachy, predictable, strident, and just about every other possible criticism that comes to mind.  If the film is redeemed by anything, it’s that it is full of good actors who do the best that they can with characters that are either seriously underwritten or ludicrously overwritten.

Persecuted takes place in the near future.  Sen. Donald Harrison (Bruce Davison) has written something called the Faith and Fairness Act, which would basically require churches to provide equal time to other religions and would make it illegal to suggest that only one religion has all the answers.  How exactly that would work, I’m not sure.  However, a big part of Harrison’s bill is that, in exchange for giving up any claim to having all the answers, churches will now get money from the federal government.  As a result, a lot of church leaders have sold out and announced their support for the bill.

However, evangelist John Luther (James Remar) refuses to support the bill.  As we’re told when Luther first appears, he’s a recovering alcoholic and drug addict who used to be a professional gambler.  But then he found faith and he’s now the most popular man in the country.  Or, at least, he is until he’s drugged by the government and framed for murdering a prostitute.

So now, Luther is on the run.  He has to evade capture, prove his innocence, and reveal the truth about Harrison and his shadowy backers.  Helping Luther out is his father, an Episcopalian priest who is played by former real-life Presidential candidate Fred Thompson.  (Thompson, incidentally, is a very good actor and brings a lot of conviction and authority to his role.)  Not helping Luther are the former leaders of his church, one of whom is played by character actor Dean Stockwell.

I’ll admit right now that, as familiar and talented as all four of them may be, James Remar, Bruce Davison, Fred Thompson, and Dean Stockwell are hardly big stars and you really can’t blame any of them for presumably taking a job strictly for the money.  That said, it’s still odd to see such good actors appearing in a film like Persecuted and they all deserve at least a little bit of credit for doing their best with the material that they had to work with.  However, my favorite performance came from Brad Stine, who plays glib preacher who betrays Luther.  Stine is just so sleazy and hyperactive that he’s a lot of fun to watch.

Now, while Persecuted is obviously a faith-based film, it’s plot actually has more in common with the paranoia movies of the 70s than it does with Left Behind.  John Luther is a guy who knows the truth and has been framed as a result and he spends nearly the entire film on the run.  If anything, this is a film that will probably appeal more to conspiracy theorists than to Christians.  But, judging from the film, the conspiracy that’s trying to destroy John Luther doesn’t appear to be very competent.  How else do you explain that John Luther — the most famous man in the world — manages to easily evade capture despite the fact that he spends most of the film wandering around in broad daylight with dried blood on his face.  At one point, he even calls his wife and has a conversation with her.  “Ah!” I thought, “this is where we’ll discover that the conspiracy is listening in on the conversation!”  But no, that didn’t happen.  In fact, his wife talked to him while, in the background, two cops searched their house.  “The police are looking for you,” the wife says but neither one of the police officers seems to hear her.  Apparently, it didn’t seem to occur to any of them that John Luther might call his wife.  For a paranoia film to work, you have to feel like the film’s hero is in constant danger and Persecuted never succeeded in doing that.  How can anyone be scared of a conspiracy that can’t even handle the basics?

Persecuted is not a good film but, in its own unfortunate way, it is a relevant one.  Much as how the first film I reviewed for Shattered Politics, D.W. Griffith’s Abraham Lincoln, told us a lot about America in the 1930s, Persecuted tells us a lot about how America is viewed by its citizens in the 21st Century.  Persecuted is a film that insists that our leaders can’t be trusted, that your friends will betray you if ordered to do so by those in authority, and that everything bad will come disguised as something good.  It’s not exactly an optimistic view of politics or America but then again, these are the times that we live in.  It’s been a long time since Billy Jack went to Washington.  It’s been even longer since Mr. Smith first showed up.

Now, instead, all we have is Bruce Davison telling us, “You thought you were bigger than the system and you’re not!”

And, on that note, Shattered Politics comes to an end!  I’ve had a lot of fun writing this series of 94 reviews and I hope that you’ve enjoyed reading them!  If there’s any conclusion that I think can be drawn from these 94 films, it’s that politicians will always betray you and politics will always depress you but movies will always be there to lift you back up.

If I had to choose between voting and watching a movie, I would pick a movie every time.  Fortunately enough, I live in a country where I am allowed to do both.

Back to School #60: Crazy/Beautiful (dir by John Stockwell)


Oh, memories!

I don’t know if I can describe how much my girlfriends and I loved Crazy/Beautiful when it first came out in 2001.  We saw it in the theaters, we rewatched it when it came on cable, and after I bought it on DVD, we watched it at my house.  We loved the movie because we all dreamed of having a sensitive, hot boyfriend like Carlos Nunez (played by Jay Hernandez), who would love us no matter how obnoxious or bratty we may have been.  Even if we sometimes got annoyed with her, we still all related to out-of-control Nicole (Kirsten Dunst), who everyone in the world had given up on but who ultimately just wanted her father to pay as much attention to her as he did to his new wife and his new baby.  We liked the film because we wanted to be both crazy and beautiful.

And, of course, there was all the sex, all of it filmed in beautiful soft-focus with the camera always suggesting that it was showing more than it actually was.  Crazy/Beautiful was one of those films that made you feel grown up while still being very careful not to lose its PG-13 rating.

Yes, back in the day, I loved Crazy/Beautiful.

And you know what?

It may just be the nostalgia talking but I still love it.  I recently rewatched Crazy/Beautiful and, despite the fact that I was now watching as a “critic” as opposed to a 15 year-old with issues, I quickly fell under the film’s spell.  There’s just something about Crazy/Beautiful that I simply cannot resist.

It’s a beautiful film.  Director John Stockwell has made a career out of making movies about pretty people hanging out on pretty beaches and Crazy/Beautiful has a lot of both.  When Carlos, a responsible high school senior who lives in East Los Angeles and who is hoping to attend the U.S. Navy Academy, first meets Nicole, she’s doing community service by picking up trash on the beach.  What Carlos doesn’t find out until later is that Nicole is the daughter of U.S. Rep. Tom Oakley (played, somewhat inevitably, by Bruce Davison).  Nicole is haunted by her mother’s death and feels that her well-meaning but ineffectual father has abandoned her.  At first, her relationship with Carlos seems to be yet another part of her rebellion but soon, both she and Carlos are madly in love.

Can Carlos save Nicole from herself?  Can Nicole love Carlos without leading him down the path of self-destruction?  Will Nicole and her father ever reconnect?  Will … oh, who cares?  You already know the answers.  Crazy/Beautiful is less about the story and more about how the story is told.  Stockwell keeps the story moving along and fills the screen with colorful and romantic images that make Crazy/Beautiful into the perfect teenage daydream.  He also makes perfect use of the undeniable chemistry between Jay Hernandez and Kirsten Dunst.  Both of the stars give such good performances that you really do come to care about the characters that they are playing and hope that things work out for them.  Kirsten Dunst, in particular, gives a brave performance and doesn’t shy away from playing up Nicole’s abrasiveness.  It takes courage to play a character who can be unlikable.  It takes talent to make that unlikable character sympathetic and, fortunately, Kirsten Dunst shows a lot of both in Crazy/Beautiful.

CrazyBeautiful