Cleaning Out The DVR: The Star Chamber (dir by Peter Hyams)


Here’s a good example of why I need to clean out my DVR more regularly:

I recorded the 1983 legal thriller, The Star Chamber, off of Starz on March 14th.  I know what you’re saying.  “Big deal!  That wasn’t that long ago.”  Well, did I mention that it was March 14th, 2017?

That’s right!  The Star Chamber sat on my DVR for over a year before I finally got around to watching it last night.  You’d be justified in asking why it took me so long and I’m afraid that I really couldn’t give you a definite answer.  I can, however, tell you the four main reasons why I recorded it in the first place:

  1. I’m always intrigued whenever I come across a movie of which I haven’t previously heard.
  2. The movie was described as being about a conflicted judge and I just happen to love legal films.
  3. I really, really liked the title.  The Star Chamber?  Did that mean it took place in a room full of stars?
  4. Before I recorded The Star Chamber, I only had 55 films on the DVR.  Since I don’t like odd numbers, recording The Star Chamber took care of that problem.

As for the film itself, The Star Chamber is another one of those movies where a group of vigilantes end up getting pissed off because liberal California judges are letting too many murderers go free because of pesky, constitutional technicalities.  The twist here is that the vigilantes are the same judges who keep tossing out evidence and ruling that confessions are inadmissible in court.  After spending their day setting free the dregs of society, the judges all gather in a nearby house and review the evidence before voting on whether or not they believe the accused was actually guilty.  If the verdict is guilty, the judges promptly hire a hit man who proceeds to clean up the streets.

The newest member of this tribunal is Judge Steven R. Hardin (Michael Douglas).  Hardin is haunted by the technicalities that forced him to toss out a case against two accused of child murderers.  (Making things even worse, the child’s father commits suicide afterward.)  Despite his initial reservations, Judge Hardin signs off on hiring an assassin to take the two men out.  But, when it becomes apparent that the two men actually were innocent, Judge Hardin is horrified to discover that there’s no way to call off the hit…

The Star Chamber is an oddly constructed movie.  When the movie starts, it feels like a typical police procedural.  From there, the movie turns into a rather talky examination of the U.S. legal system, with Judge Hardin trying to balance his idealism with the often frustrating reality of what it takes to uphold the law.  The movie then briefly turns into a conspiracy film, featuring middle-aged men in suits holding secret meetings and debating whether or not they’re serving the greater good.  And then, towards the end of the movie, it turns into an action film, with Judge Hardin being chased by two drug dealers, a contract killer, and a suspicious police detective (Yaphet Kotto).  Judge Hardin may start the movie as a conflicted liberal but he ends at someone who can blow up the entire second floor of a drug lab.  In many ways, The Star Chamber is a deeply silly film but, as directed and co-written by Peter Hyams, it’s also just pulpy enough to be entertaining.  The dialogue may be over-the-top but so is Michael Douglas’s performance so it all evens out in the end.

It may have taken me a while to get around to watching The Star Chamber but I’m glad that I finally did.  It’s a ludicrous film and all the more entertaining as a result.

Lisa Cleans Out Her DVR: Boston Strangler: The Untold Story (dir by Michael Fiefer)


(Lisa is currently in the process of cleaning out her DVR. It’s going to take a while.  She recorded this true crime thriller off of Showtime on June 1st.)

I have to admit that the main reason that I recorded Boston Strangler: The Untold Story off of Showtime was because I thought it was going to be one of Ulli Lommel’s infamously terrible true crime movies.  I had so much fun reviewing Curse of the Zodiac a few years ago that I always keep an eye out for anything that could possibly have been directed by the infamous Mr. Lommel.

Well, it turns out I was wrong.  This is not one of Lommel’s films.  Instead, Boston Strangler: The Untold Story is a fairly serious-minded examination of the enduring mystery of the Boston Strangler.

Now, the Boston Strangler isn’t exactly a household name anymore.  He committed his murders in the 60s, before the term serial killer had even been invented.  He is thought to have strangled at least 13 women in the Boston area, ranging in age from 85 to 19.  Eventually, a man named Albert DeSalvo was arrested for committing a series of rapes.  While he was awaiting trial on those charges, DeSalvo announced that he was also the Boston Strangler.

For the most part, it was assumed that DeSalvo was telling the truth when he confessed.  In 1967, a movie, perhaps the first ever made about serial murder, was released.  It was called The Boston Strangler and it starred Tony Curtis in the title role.  It still shows up on TCM and, from the start, it assumes that DeSalvo was guilty of the murders to which he confessed.

However, what was often overlooked was that DeSalvo was never actually put on trial for any of the murders.  (In fact, before he confessed, DeSalvo wasn’t even considered to be a suspect.)  In those days, before the discovery of DNA, there was no concrete physical evidence linking DeSalvo to the crime and his confessions were often so inconsistent that many detectives continued to have their doubts about whether or not DeSalvo was telling the truth.  He received a life sentence for a series of rapes and robberies that he had committed but he was never charged with a single murder.  DeSalvo later retracted his confession and then, a few years after the Tony Curtis film came out, DeSalvo was murdered in his cell.

(I should note that, in 2013, Boston authorities announced that DNA evidence had linked DeSalvo to the final murder, that of 19 year-old Mary Sullivan.  However, there are some who argue that the Mary Sullivan murder had so little in common with the other murders that she was probably not a victim of the original Boston Strangler.  Who knows?)

Making this story even more intriguing is that, while DeSalvo was being held for trial, his cellmate was George Nasser who, unlike DeSalvo, actually was considered to be a suspect in the murders.  There is a popular theory that DeSalvo, already facing a life sentence, agreed to confess to Nasser’s murders so that his family would be financially taken care of.

That’s certainly the theory that’s presented in Boston Strangler: The Untold Story.  In this film, DeSalvo (played by David Faustino) is just a loser who ends up being manipulated by his cellmate (Kostas Sommer).  The lead detective (Andrew Divoff) doubts DeSalvo’s confessions but everyone else just wants to be able to close the book on the murders that have gripped Boston in fear.  Boston Strangler: The Untold Story is a strange mismash of styles, veering from docudrama to horror.  It makes for a somewhat jarring viewing experience but the film does create and maintain a properly ominous atmosphere.  Though the film argues that DeSalvo was not a murderer, it still portrays him as being an empty man with no conscience and, even if he wasn’t a murderer, his very existence still left me feeling unsettled.  David Faustino is odd casting as DeSalvo and it takes a while to get used to him.  However, Kostas Sommer is chilling in the Nasser role and SyFy fans will be interested to know that Corin Nemec plays F. Lee Bailey.  If you’re into true crime, I’d say give the film a chance.

Let’s Talk About Sharknado 4!


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Last Sunday night saw the premiere of Sharknado: The Fourth Awakens!

For the fourth year in a row, SyFy and the Asylum allowed us to take a peak into the shark-filled life of Finn Shepherd (Ian Ziering) and his family.  Also for the fourth year in a row, the premiere of the latest Sharknado film was practically a national holiday.  Long before the film even started, #Sharknado4 was the number one trending topic on twitter.  I actually live tweeted the film twice, once for the east coast and then a second time for my friends on the west coast.  That’s right — I sent out over 300 tweets about Sharknado 4 on Sunday and I’ve never been more proud of myself.  Live tweeting the latest Sharknado is a lot like wishing someone you barely know a happy birthday on Facebook. It’s a part of the ritual of social media.  It’s like the Internet’s version of a Thanksgiving parade or a 4th of July fireworks show.

After four films, it’s easy to forget that Sharknado started out like almost any other SyFy film.  The first Sharknado film featured no celebrity cameos and very little of the self-referential comedy that has come to define the series.  In fact, I didn’t even see Sharknado when it first aired because it premiered, opposite a Big Brother eviction show, on a Thursday.  It was only on Friday morning that I discovered that Sharknado had become a phenomena, largely due to the fact that celebrities like Mia Farrow had decided to live tweet it.

After all this time, it’s easy to forget just how much we veteran live tweeters resented that attention that was paid to celebrities like Farrow, the majority of whom were virgins as far as live tweeting SyFy was concerned.  (The fact that the majority of Farrow’s Sharknado tweets weren’t that good only added insult to injury.)  The media acted as if those celebs had invented live tweeting.  They also acted as if Sharknado was the first entertaining and over-the-top film to ever premiere on SyFy.  Among those of us who had been live tweeting SyFy film long before the premiere of Sharknado and who had loved pre-Sharknado movies like Jersey Shore Shark Attack and Shark Week, there was more than a little resentment.

But you know what?  I watched Sharknado the following Saturday and I had a great time live tweeting it.  The next year, I made sure to watch and live tweet Sharknado 2 the night that it premiered.  The same was true of Sharknado 3 and I even ended up casting a vote on the question of whether or not April should survive that film’s cliffhanger.  With its cheerful absurdity and determination to continually top the glorious absurdity of each previous entry, the Sharknado franchise won me over.  In fact, the franchise won over not only me but hundreds of thousands of other viewers.  Sharknado has become very much a part of our culture.

As I mentioned above, Sharknado 3 ended with a cliffhanger and that alone indicates just how big a deal Sharknado has become.  Sharknado 2 was made because the first Sharknado was an unexpected success.  Sharknado 3 followed because Sharknado 2 had proven that the first one was not a fluke and that there was an audience for these films.  However, by the time 3 was in production, there was never any doubt that there would be a Sharknado 4.  Sharknado 4 also ends with a rather abrupt cliffhanger, leaving little doubt that there will be a Sharknado 5.  At this point, not doing another Sharknado film would be the same as canceling summer all together.

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As for what Sharknado 4 was about … well, does it really matter?  At this point, we know that there’s going to be another sharknado and that Finn is just going to happen to be nearby when it strikes.  We know that landmarks will be destroyed (in this case, Las Vegas is thoroughly ravaged during the film’s first 30 minutes).  We know that Al Roker will show up and say stuff like, “There are reports of a Lightningnado near Kansas…”  (Both Roker and Natalie Morales apparently survived being attacked by sharks during Sharknado 3, though Morales does have an eyepatch in 4.  Matt Lauer is nowhere to be seen so I assume he wasn’t as lucky.)  We know that celebrities will appear in a cameos and that the majority of them will be promptly eaten by a flying shark.  We know that Finn and his family will eventually have to use a chainsaw to battle the sharks and we know that at least one person will be rescued from the inside of a shark’s stomach.

We don’t really watch a movie a like Sharknado 4 for the plot.  We watch it for the communal experience.  Last Sunday was Sharknado Day and it seems like the entire world was on twitter, talking about Sharknado 4.  The majority of us weren’t tweeting about the plot.  Instead, we were acknowledging that we had picked up on the in-jokes and the references to other films.  When April (Tara Reid) showed up alive and was revealed to now by a cyborg, many references were made to the Terminator — both in the film and on twitter.  When we learned that David Hasselhoff has been rescued from the moon, it was time to make jokes about The Martian.  When it was announced that a sharknado was headed towards Kansas, I made a Wizard of Oz joke on twitter.  Three minutes later, in the movie, a house fell on a character who could charitably be called a witch.  We briefly got a shot of her feet sticking out from under the house.

(I should also mention that Gary Busey shows up, playing a mad scientist.  The fact that Sharknado 4 could find prominent roles for both the Hoff and the Busey says a lot about what makes this franchise so endearingly entertaining.  Considering that Penn Jillette was in Sharknado 3, you have to wonder if the franchise will eventually feature every single person who appeared on The Celebrity Apprentice.  Who doesn’t want to see a flying shark bite off Piers Morgan’s head?)

(Actually, as long as I’m mentioning stuff — here’s my favorite inside joke.  Finn and his family are driving through North Texas.  Just judging by the hills and the mountains in the background, this scene was not actually filmed in Texas.  Anyway, they stop off at a general store where Dog Chapman — the bounty hunter — sells them a chainsaw.  When the sharks attack Texas, a chainsaw-wielding army is waiting for them.  Among that army is Caroline Williams, who starred in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.  On the one hand, everyone viewing will immediately get the chainsaw joke.  But only the dedicated horror fans will truly understand why it’s so brilliant that Caroline Williams was credited as playing a character named Stretch.)

At this point, the Sharknado franchise is no longer just a series of films.  Instead, it’s a deliriously over-the-top experience.  In these times of partisan rancor, it briefly did not matter if you were a liberal or a conservative, a Democrat or a Republican.  For two hours on Sunday night, if you were watching and live tweeting Sharkando 4, you were a part of a gigantic family, a community of people with an appreciation for over the top silliness.  Sharknado 4 brought this country together.

That’s not bad for a film about a bunch of flying sharks.

If you missed Sharknado 4 the first time, catch it when it’s shown again.  Just make sure that you watch it with a friend, someone who you can trust to make you laugh.

And, for God’s sake, enjoy yourself!

Life’s too short not to enjoy a Sharknado film!

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Let’s Talk About Atomic Shark!


In case you missed it, it is currently Shark Week on the SyFy network.  (Or, as theSnarkalecs and I like to call it, Snark Week!)  Sharknado 4 will be premiering on Sunday and, in honor of that historic event, SyFy has devoted this week to broadcasting some of their trademark original movies.  Along with showing such classics as Jersey Shore Shark Attack and Zombie Shark SyFy is also premiering several new shark films.

The first of those films premiered last night.  And its name was ….

ATOMIC SHARK!!!!

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Seriously, that’s a great name!  In a few of my Lifetime reviews, I’ve pointed out that there is an art to picking the perfect title for a Lifetime film.  Well, the same is true for a SyFy film.  A title like Atomic Shark tells the audience everything that they need to know.  On the simplest level, it lets the viewers know that the film is about a shark and that the shark is, in some way, atomic.  But even beyond that, a title like Atomic Shark announces, “This is going to be a fun movie!  Sit back, relax, and don’t worry too much about the specifics.  Just enjoy yourself.”

As I watched the movie last night, I saw a few people on twitter worrying about things like whether or not a shark could actually become atomic or whether the characters were acting like logical human beings.  Those people were missing the entire point of the film.  Seriously, you have to be the world’s biggest douchebag to actually nitpick a film that has a title like Atomic Shark.

The film takes place on the San Diego shoreline.  At first, it seems like a normal (if rather overcast) day at the beach.  Men in speedos.  Women in bikinis.  Lifeguards on duty.  Jeff Fahey steering a motor boat and barely noticing when a water skier is suddenly devoured by a glowing shark.  A kid pretending to drown, just so he can get some mouth-to-mouth.

And then there’s the drones.  There are drones flying up and down this beach.  The majority of them are lifeguard drones, which are used to deliver life vests to people drowning out in the middle of the ocean.  However, there are also a few drones being controlled by pervy little Fletcher (David Faustino), who films unsuspecting swimmers and joggers and then uploads the video to his site.  Even when confronted by an indignant lifeguard, Fletcher responds, “The beach is public domain!”

Well, the beach may be public domain but it’s about the become … atomic domain!

That’s right, there’s a glowing shark out there and it’s hungry!  Not only is it eating people but, because it’s radioactive, it’s setting them on fire too!  In fact, this shark is so radioactive that it’s causing sea food to become explosive.  When the local restaurant blows up, the authorities blame it on a gas leak but we know it was because of the radioactive plankton.

(The film also lets us know that the restaurant had four stars on Yelp before the explosion and only three stars after.)

Unfortunately, only one person truly believes in the existence of atomic shark.  Gina (Rachele Brooke Smith) is the greatest lifeguard who ever lived but, unfortunately, her superior, Reese (Adam Ambruso), is a dumbass jerk who doesn’t understand that workplace sexual harassment is no longer acceptable.  Since Gina can’t get any support from the authorities, she gathers together her own group of shark hunters and, before you cay say, “We’re going to need a bigger boat,” they set out to destroy the atomic shark!

One of those shark hunters is the boat captain played by Jeff Fahey and I have to say that I was so happy when I realized that Fahey was in this movie.  Jeff Fahey is one of those immensely likable actors who can make almost any line of dialogue memorable.  Playing the Quint role here, Fahey is a lot of fun.  Also deserving a lot of credit is Rachele Brooke Smith, who kicks so much ass as the no-nonsense Gina that I found myself thinking that, in case Gal Gadot demands too much money to reprise her role, Smith could easily take over her role in any future Wonder Woman films.

As the film’s screenwriter, Griff Furst, pointed out on twitter, Atomic Shark is a comedy.  Taking it seriously is definitely the biggest mistake that a viewer could make.  This is a movie that was meant to be watched with a group of your loudest and snarkiest friends.  It’s a lot of fun.

(That said, just because it’s comedy, that doesn’t mean that anyone’s safe.  This is the rare shark film where you’re actually shocked when a few characters fail to escape the nuclear menace of atomic shark.)

Atomic Shark is a lot of fun and it was a great way to start Shark Snark Week on SyFy!