Cinemax Friday: Fever Lake (1997, directed by Ralph Portillo)


I’ve seen my share of bad slasher films but Fever Lake is definitely one of the worst.

The plot is a familiar one.  Six college students (including Corey Haim, Mario Lopez, and Lauren Parker) head to the lake for the weekend.  The lake has a bad reputation and they’ll be staying at a house where a terrible murderer occurred ten years earlier.  The sheriff (Bo Hopkins) doesn’t want any foolishness.  The local Native American medicine man (stiffly played by Michael Wise) says that there is a demon in the lake and that it’s about to reawaken.  The students go to the lakehouse anyway.  Can you guess what happens?  It’s a 93 minute film where the killer doesn’t show up for 70 minutes. There’s not much gore and zero nudity and it has a twist that anyone will be able to see from a mile away.  Haim alternates between sleepwalking his way through the film and screeching unintelligibly and Mario Lopez comes across like he’s playing A.C. Slater on speed.  It’s thoroughly inept in almost every way that a film can be and, even worse, it’s boring.

Fever Lake is the type of film that, in the 90s, you always hated coming across on late night Cinemax.  Because you were watching 2 in the morning, you would expect something extreme and instead you ended up with an hour of Corey Haim and Mario Lopez driving up to the lake.   Late night connoisseurs held films like this in a special kind of contempt.  For the most part, we never asked much from more late night Cinemax offerings and when a movie like this couldn’t even deliver what little we did ask for, it was hard not to take it personally.  (To be honest, the PG-13 rating should have given the game away.  I’m not sure what the film did to rate the addition of that 13, though.  This film is a solid PG, all the way through.)

Today, of course, we can enjoy Fever Lake because of RiffTrax.  Mike, Kevin, and Jim ripped Fever Lake apart in 2015.  The film, with their commentary, is available on Prime.  It’s the best way to watch Fever Lake.

 

Demolition University (1997, directed by Kevin Tenney)


Terrorists have taken over the local power and water plant and are threatening to poison the water supply if their demands are not meant.  Among those that they are holding hostage is a group of college students who were on what would have otherwise been the most boring field trip of their lives.  While Colonel Gentry (Robert Forster) tries to negotiate with the terrorists, one college student, Lenny Slater (Corey Haim), takes matters into his own deadly hands.  Lenny also finds time to ask track star Jenny (Ami Dolenz) to go to the homecoming dance with him.

How many times can the exact same thing happen to the same person?  That’s what you might expect Lenny Slater to ask as he finds himself sneaking around and taking out terrorists one-by-one.  Demolition University is a sequel to Demolition High, with Lenny Slater now in college and a member of the school’s football team.  What’s strange is that, even though Haim is playing the same character from the first film, no one mentions the events of Demolition High.  No one mentions that Lenny not only blew up his old school but he saved the entire midwest from being bombed into a nuclear ash heap.  When Lenny tries to tell Prof. Harris (Laraine Newman!) that it’s obvious that terrorists have taken over the power plant, she ignores him because he has a history of playing pranks.  But he also has a history of tracking down and killing terrorists!  I would listen to him.

Demolition High wasn’t good but it was watchable.  Demolition University is just dull.  Haim actually gives a better performance here than he did in the first film, if just because it’s easier to buy him as a college student instead of as a high school student.  But he’s actually barely in the film.  Most of the running time is taken up with Robert Forster trying to negotiate with the leader of the terrorists.  That’s kind of cool because Robert Forster was the man but the movie still seems like what Die Hard would have been if it had just been two hours of Paul Gleason standing outside the tower while Bruce Willis killed people offscreen.  Even when we do get Lenny fighting the the terrorists, the action scenes feel flat and interchangeable.  There’s nothing to really distinguish them from every other 90s action film that you’ve ever seen.

Demolition University has higher production values than Demolition High and it actually looks like a real movie but it’s just not much fun.  I’m not surprised that there was never a Demolition Grad School.

Cinemax Friday: Demolition High (1996, directed by Jim Wynorski)


A group of terrorists take over a high school and announce that, unless their demands are met, they will launch a nuclear missile at a nuclear power plant which I guess will cause double the nuclear destruction.  Since they already have a nuclear missile, it feels like also threatening to blow up the power plant is definite overkill.  With the school now full of terrorists and explosives, it’s up to one student to kill the terrorists one-by-one and save his classmates.  It’s Die Hard in a High School (cool!), with the Bruce Willis role being taken on by … COREY HAIM!

That bit of casting tells you both why Demolition High doesn’t work and also why anyone would be watching this direct-to-video “action” film in the first place.  The 25 year-old Haim plays Lenny Slater, a high school student who knows Kung Fu because he grew up in the Bronx.  His father (played by Alan Thicke!) moves to a small town, both to become a police chief and to hopefully keep Lenny from getting into any more trouble.  Lenny’s all trouble, though, and terrorist leader Luther (the great Jef Kober) is about to discover that he’s invaded the wrong high school.

If I had watched this film in the 90s or even the early aughts, I would have laughed at how bad Corey Haim is as an action hero but today, knowing all we know about his life and how Hollywood essentially enabled his worst tendencies and then abandoned him when he become too self-destructive to work, it’s not as easy to watch an obviously troubled actor who has gone from being a big star to appearing in a direct-to-video Die Hard rip-off.  Trying to disguise the fact that he’s too old to be playing a high school student, Haim wears a flannel shirt and an earring and has a bowl cut.  Whenever he talks to his classmates, you expect him to say, “How do you do, fellow kids?”  As heavily edited as the fight scenes are, it’s still obvious that Haim had no idea how to throw a punch.  On the plus side, even while obviously addled by drug abuse, Corey Haim was still a better actor than Stephen Seagal.

Demolition High is pretty dumb but it was directed by Jim Wynorski so at least there’s some inside jokes.  Gerrit Graham and Dick Van Patten both have small roles and Alan Thicke gets to tell an FBI agent to “Think with your heart, not with your badge.”  Wynorski also cast Melissa Brasselle as Tayna, a sexy terrorist who wears black leather.  He deserves some credit for that.  (When the film was released on video, Brasselle was featured on the cover, not Haim.)  Some of the techniques that Lenny uses to take out the terrorists are creative, if never really plausible.  In this case, Lenny is helped by the stupidity of the terrorists.  It’s not every evil terrorist who is clumsy enough to stumble head first into a table saw.

Demolition High was apparently successful enough to be followed by a sequel, Demolition U.  I’ll look at the movie tomorrow.

Cinemax Friday: Blown Away (1993, directed by Brenton Spencer)


Rich Gardner (Corey Haim) and his brother, Wes (Corey Feldman) both work at a ski resort in Canada.  When Rich rescues the wealthy Megan (Nicole Eggert) from being trampled by a horse, she invites him to attend her 17th birthday party.  Despite the fact that he’s already dating Darla (Kathleen Robertson), Rich goes to Nicole’s party.  Nicole greets him in her underwear and soon, the two of them are having softcore, late night Cinemax-style sex.  It’s only in the morning that Rich discovers that Megan is the daughter of his boss, Cy (Jean LeClerc).

With Wes’s encouragement, Rich continues the affair, even after Cy demands that Rich never see his daughter again.  Megan eventually tells Rich that she believes that Cy was responsible for the death of her mother and that she thinks they should kill Cy and, after Megan has gotten her inheritance, run off together.  At first, Rich is hesitant but when Megan turns up bruised and claiming that her father beat her up, Rich reconsiders Megan’s proposition.

In many ways, Blown Away is typical of the neo-noirs that used to dominate late night Cinemax in the 90s.  Take a faded TV or a film star.  Toss in an up-and-coming starlet who is willing to do nudity.  Add a dimly lit sex scene or two and a surprise twist at the end.  In this case, the surprise twist was actually a good one, the faded stars were the Two Coreys, and the up-and-coming starlet was Nicole Eggert.

Before they become direct-to-video mainstays in the 90s, both Corey Haim and Corey Feldman had a good, if brief, run as legitimate film stars.  With their subsequent notoriety, it’s easy to forget that they were two of the busiest and most critically acclaimed child actors of the 80s.  Corey Haim appeared in movies like Murphy’s Romance and Lucas while Corey Feldman did The Goonies and Stand By Me.  They co-starred in films like The Lost Boys and License to Drive.  Unfortunately, neither one of them was able to make the transition from being child stars to adult actors.  (It didn’t help that both of them had very public struggles with substance abuse and that the 90s saw both of them developing a unique talent for tracking down the worst projects possible and agreeing to star in them.)  Blown Away was one of the first of their post-stardom films and, whatever else you may say about it, it’s definitely better than the majority of the films that the pair made afterwards.  (Just try sitting through Dream A Little Dream 2.)  After years of playing best friends, Blown Away cast them as brothers who always seem to be on the verge of throwing a punch at each other.  When Rich and Wes say that they secretly hate each other, it feels less like a movie and more like real-life couples therapy.

Blown Away is a classic of its kind.  Though Rich is not a very sympathetic hero and there’s a few scenes where Haim’s tendency to overact gets in the way of the film, Nicole Eggert is a perfect femme fatale and Corey Feldman again shows that he had more talent than he was usually given credit for.  If you can overlook a few plot holes (and not spend too much time worrying about how a bunch of teenagers became experts in setting explosives), the film’s storyline is interesting and far darker than the usual late night Cinemax fare.  When people like me talk about being nostalgic for the old days of watching Cinemax after midnight, this is the type of film that we’re talking about.

Back to School Part II #20: Secret Admirer (dir by David Greenwalt)


Secret_admirer

After I finished watching Girls Just Want To Have Fun, it was time for the 1986 film, Secret Admirer!

Secret Admirer is a fairly good example of a film that is dependent upon the idiot plot.  Every plot complication could have been avoided by the characters not being idiots.  The entire storyline could have been resolved within five minutes if some of the characters had been willing to ask questions before jumping to assumptions.  Idiot plots tend to fun when they deal with teenagers, largely because, when you’re that age, you can get away with being an idiot.  That’s part of the charm of being a teenager and why nobody ever wants to grow up.  When you’re a teenager, you’re not expected to have any common sense or knowledge of the real world so you can get away with a lot more.  At the same time, idiot plots involving adults tend to be annoying because adults really should know better.  The idiot plot of Secret Admirer involves both teenagers and adults and, as a result, the film is half-charming and half-annoying.

Smart but shy Toni (Lori Loughlin) has a crush on her lifelong friend, the sweet but kinda stupid Michael (C. Thomas Howell).  So, Toni writes Michael an incredibly eloquent love note and slips it into his locker.  When Michael finds the note, he assumes that it was written by Debbie (Kelly Preston), who is pretty and popular but only dates college students.  When Michael attempts to write a response to Debbie, he is sabotaged by his limited vocabulary, lack of eloquence, and general dimness.  Luckily, Toni finds the note and, wanting to spare Michael any embarrassment, rewrites it for him.  Debbie is so touched by Toni’s note that she goes out on a date with Michael.  Toni is forced to stand in the background and watch while the boy she loves falls for a girl who is obsessed with shopping.  (Secret Admirer suggests that this obsession indicates that Debbie is shallow but seriously, who doesn’t love to shop?)  Will Toni tells Michael that she loves him or will she leave him so that she can spend a year studying abroad?  (Personally, I would leave and have fun exploring Europe but then again, I also love to shop so obviously, Toni and I have conflicting worldviews.)

But that’s not all!  Michael’s dad, George (Cliff DeYoung), also finds the note and assumes that it was written to him by Debbie’s mom, Elizabeth (Leigh Taylor-Young).  Of course, Debbie’s father, a police detective named Lou (the always gruff Fred Ward), also comes across the note and becomes convinced that George and Elizabeth are having an affair.  He somewhat forcibly recruits George’s wife, Connie (Dee Wallace Stone), to help him expose George and Elizabeth for being the cheaters that he believes them to be….

I got annoyed with the parents fairly quickly.  It’s always fun to watch Fred Ward grimace and glare at people but otherwise, all of the adults were way too stupid and their behavior reminded me of that terrible episode of Saved By The Bell where the exact same thing happens to Mr. Belding.  Secret Admirer works best when the adults are pushed to the background and the film concentrates on the relationship between Toni and Michael.  They’re a sweet couple and you really want to see them end up together.  Michael may be stupid but he’s still really cute and the film is perfectly charming whenever it concentrates on him and Toni.

Incidentally, Michael has several friends.  They all ride around in a van and look through old issues of Playboy together.  Most of the friends are interchangeable but I did like Ricardo (Geoffrey Blake), just because he was wearing a suit and a fedora for no particular reason.  Ricardo didn’t really get to do much but his fashion sense made a definite impression.

By the admittedly high standards of 80s teen films, Secret Admirer is a minor film.  It’ll never be mistaken for Sixteen Candles or Pretty In Pink.  That said, it’s still an entertaining and occasionally sweet film.  You’ll want to skip over the scenes involving the adults but the scenes involving C. Thomas Howell and Lori Loughlin are perfectly charming.

What Lisa Watched Last Night: The 83rd Annual Academy Awards


Last night, I watched the 83rd Annual Academy Awards.

Why Was I Watching It?

Why was I watching it?  I was watching it because I love awards shows.  I love them in all of their tacky, silly glory.  I was watching for the clothes, the celebrity meltdowns, and the infamous acceptance speeches.  I was watching because James Franco is hot and Anne Hathaway is adorable.  I was watching because I loved Black Swan and I was only mildly impressed with the Social Network.  I was watching because, as a film lover, my year starts and ends with the Oscar ceremony.  You boys have got your super bowl.  I’ve got my Academy Awards.

What Was It About

This year, the big question was would best picture be taken by the Social Network or by the King’s SpeechI predicted that the Social Network would win and I was wrong.  The Academy gave best picture to The King’s Speech which, unlike Black Swan (my personal choice for best picture), is a film that is very easy to love.  Don’t get me wrong.  I loved The King’s Speech and, seeing as how I wasn’t exactly a huge fan of The Social Network, I can’t complain about the Academy’s decision (though apparently almost everyone else can).

By the way, as far as my Oscar predictions went, I ended up going 15 for 22.  I correctly predicted all of the categories except for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Foreign Language Film, Best Editing, Best Costume Design, and Best Cinematography.  So, in other words, I correctly predicted all of the awards except for the ones that actually mattered.  However, I am proud to say that, as the broadcast started, I predicted that it would last for 3 hours and 15 minutes and by God, I was right.

So there.

What Worked

Roger Ebert called last night’s ceremony the worst he had ever seen so I guess it’s no surprise that I actually enjoyed it.  I certainly felt it was an improvement over last year’s ceremony which was pretty boring except for when Kathryn Bigelow won best director.  There weren’t any endless tributes, self-congratulatory speeches about how important the film industry is for the survival of the world, and we didn’t have to sit through any pre-scripted, awkward banter between poorly matched presenters. 

As for the hosts, James Franco appeared to have mentally checked out before the show actually started but he was nice to look at.  Anne Hathaway, meanwhile, was a bundle of nervous energy and you know what?  I would have been too.  For the first time in my history of watching the Oscars, I could actually relate on a personal level to what was happening on the stage.  I’ll take the charming awkwardness of Franco and Hathaway over Hugh Jackman any day.  Ebert disagrees.  He apparently tweeted that Kevin Spacey should host.  And, if I ever felt like spending three and a half hours watching some smug jackass singing Under the Sea, I’d agree with him.

I liked the opening film montage, which featured Hathaway and Franco going into Alec Baldwin’s dreams in order to learn how to host the show.  If nothing else, it paid tribute to just how much of a cultural phenomenon Inception actually was last year.  (At the same time, it also pointed out just how ludicrous it is that Christopher Nolan — who is hot along with being a genius, by the way — was not nominated for best director.)

Probably my favorite presenters were Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake.  Kunis looked great and Timberlake won my heart all over again by announcing that he was actually Banksy.

The In Memoriam Tribute was actually pretty touching this year and I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that the audience has finally figured out how inappropriate it is to break out into applause in the middle of it.  A lot of viewers were apparently angered that Corey Haim wasn’t included.  Personally, I was disappointed (but not surprised) to see that Jean Rollin was left out.

For me, the best acceptance speech came from David Seidler as he accepted his Oscar for writing The King’s Speech.  His speech touched me as a former stutterer but on top of that, he delivered it with just the right amount of humility and humor.  Aaron Sorkin could learn a thing or two from Mr. Seidler.

Finally, I said earlier that I was hoping for just one upset win to keep things interesting and, to my surprise, the show provided me one when Tom Hooper beat David Fincher for best director.  Even among those who expected the King’s Speech to take best picture, the general assumption seemed to be that Fincher would win best director.  Personally, I think Fincher would have won best director except for the fact that people tended to think of The Social Network as being an Aaron Sorkin film as opposed to a David Fincher film.  In all of the preliminaries leading up the Oscars (the Golden Globes, the critics awards), the emphasis was always put on Sorkin’s screenplay as opposed to Fincher’s direction.  David Fincher was almost treated as an after thought and, as a result, Tom Hooper won best director.

(Of course, personally, I was rooting for Darren Aronofsky.)

Of the nominated films, Black Swan was my favorite, followed by 127 Hours, Inception, Winter’s Bone, and the King’s Speech.  I thought The Social Network was a good film but certainly not a great film and, to be honest, I’ve come to resent being told again and again by various online, self-appointed film gurus that my refusal to unconditionally love The Social Network is somehow an indication of a character defect on my part.  Seriously, some of these Social Network partisans make the Avatar people look tolerant by comparison.  I’m sure these people have spent last night and today ranting their little hearts out about how the Academy sucks and how The Social Network is clearly the greatest film ever made.  And to them, all I can say is get over it.  If you were watching the Academy Awards because you seriously felt that the awards actually mean anything, then you’ve obviously still got a lot of growing up to do.

That said, I make no apologies for being ticked off over the award for Best Feature Documentary but more about that below.

What Didn’t Work

Well, I’ll get the big one out of the way first.  This was the only time I actually got angry while watching last night’s show.  I’m talking, of course, about Inside Job winning best documentary.  This upset me even though I had actually predicted that Inside Job would defeat Exit Through The Gift Shop.  My objection comes down to this — Inside Job was the Capt. Hindsight of documentaries this year.  Inside Job was basically a documentary that told us what we already know and then encouraged us to pat ourselves on the back for agreeing.  In a year that was actually a pretty good one for documentaries, Inside Job was the least challenging of all of the nominees and therefore, I guess it’s not a shock that it won.  Meanwhile, Exit Through The Gift Shop — a film which should have been nominated for best picture — was ignored.

Add to that, I was really hoping for a chance to see how Banksy would accept the award or if he would even show up at all (or if he would turn out to be Justin Timberlake).  Instead, I got the director of Inside Job going, “You know, nobody’s been arrested for the bad economy yet.”  Well, if that’s what you think should happen then go to talk to the people who make and enforce laws.  But you’re on an awards show, buddy.  And if you think anyone watching an awards show is going to take action just because of some comment you weakly muttered during your acceptance speech, then you really are out of touch with reality.

We were reminded one too many times that we were watching “the young and hip Oscars.”  The young and hip Oscars would not have featured Celine Dion singing.

I really wish the Oscars would stop trying to force some artificial “theme” on each year’s ceremony.  This year, they took time to celebrate “the greatest films” of Oscar Past.  The problem, of course, is that most of the greatest films of Oscar past didn’t win best picture.  Usually, they ended up losing to movies like How Green Was My Valley, The Greatest Show on Earth, and Crash.

Aaron Sorkin won best adapted screenplay as we all knew he would and, as usual, he came across as smug and condescending during his acceptance speech.  The whole, “Daddy’s an Oscar winner now…” thing would have been touching if not for the fact that it’s been used at least once at every single Oscar ceremony in history.

Trent Reznor did not say, “I want to fuck you like an animal” while accepting his award for scoring The Social Network.  However, I must say, Trent cleans up well.

Technically, yes, James Franco was not real impressive as co-host.  The general consensus on twitter was that he was stoned but I can’t say too much against him because he’s James Franco.  Even when he showed up in drag, he was still James Franco.  I know some people looked at Franco last night and thought, He’s not even trying.  I looked at Franco and thought, yum…..

“Oh my God!  Just Like Me!” Moments

There were a few and most of them had to do with Anne Hathaway.  Most of the comments on twitter concerning Hathaway’s performance as host were not kind but I don’t care.  I love her and I think her lack of polish was actually rather adorable.  If I was hosting the Oscars, I would probably take a few moments to brag about my dress as well.  I know I’d certainly probably start giggling at random moments.  I also know that I’d probably get a little bit annoyed with James Franco’s lack of commitment to the show as well but you know what?  I’d still get all sorts of naked with him after the show because he’s James Franco and he just does things to me.

(If anything, last night’s show proved that the difference between a hot guy and all other guys is that a hot guy can get away with it.)

My other big “Oh my God!  Just like me!” moment came when Melissa Leo won for best supporting actress for the Fighter and dropped the F-bomb on national TV.  I would so do that too.  I mean, it’s an Oscar!  God knows what I’d end up saying if I ever got one.

Lessons Learned:

I’ve seriously got a thing for James Franco.