Lifetime Film Review: The Wrong Mommy (dir by David DeCoteau)

If there’s anything that I’ve learned from my long history of watching Lifetime films, it’s that having a real job just isn’t worth the trouble.

Just consider what Melanie (Jessica Morris) goes through in The Wrong Mommy.  She’s got a real job.  She also has a handsome husband (Jason-Shane Scott), an adorable daughter (Jillian Spitz), and a mother (Dee Wallace) who enjoys going on exotic cruises.  Melanie also has a really nice and really big house, the type of house that would probably be the “slightly more than you’re willing to pay” house on an episode of House Hunters.  But can she enjoy it?  No, of course not!  It’s all because she’s got a real job.  She can’t pick up her daughter after school.  She can’t go out at night.  She can’t do anything because she’s got a real job.

However, during the first few minutes of The Wrong Mommy, Melanie gets some good news!  She’s been promoted!  She’s now a senior executive or whatever it is that you get promoted to when you’ve got a real job.  Along with having real responsibilities, Melanie is also about to get a real assistant!

Here’s another thing that I’ve learned from my long history of watching Lifetime films, as well as from my own past experience in the administrative professional field.  Be very careful about hiring an assistant.  Especially if she only has one obscure reference on her resume.  Even if she’s willing to babysit your daughter for you, be careful.  Don’t look the other way when she flirts with your husband.  And, for the love of everything holy in this world, don’t tell her the one secret that could lead to you losing a big account!

Unfortunately, Melanie doesn’t exercise caution about any of that and, as a result, she ends up hiring Phoebe (Ashlynn Yennie).  Even before Phoebe shows up for her interview, we’ve already seen her following Melanie around town and spying on her.  In fact, even before the opening credits conclude, Phoebe is breaking into Melanie’s house and planting spy cameras.  We know better than to trust Phoebe and soon, Melanie discovers that she made a mistake hiring her.  However, it may be too late to do anything about it….

Now, to the film’s credit, Phoebe isn’t just some random psycho bitch trying to ruin someone else’s life.  It turns out that she has a backstory, one that actually does involve Melanie.  I won’t spoil anything by revealing it but it’s a pretty good backstory.  Ashley Yennie appears to be having a lot of fun in the role of Phoebe.  If you’re going to be in a Lifetime movie, you definitely want to play the villain.  They usually get all the good lines and get to wear all the pretty clothes.

Like most of Lifetime’s “Wrong” films, this one was directed by David DeCoteau, who know exactly the right tone to take for a film like this.  He plays up the melodrama while never allowing the film to take itself too seriously.  (Just check out the scene where Dee Wallace shouts out the film’s title.)  As with all the “Wrong” films, Vivica A. Fox shows up as a no-nonsense authority figure.  (This time, she plays Melanie’s boss.)  The great Eric Roberts also shows up for a few minutes, playing a sleazy client.  Roberts doesn’t have much screen time but, as usual, he makes memorable use of what he gets.

The Wrong Mommy is an enjoyably silly film.  It doesn’t take itself too seriously and neither should you.

Sundance Film Review: Alpha Dog (dir by Nick Cassavetes)

The Sundance Film Festival is currently taking place in Utah so, for this week, I’m reviewing films that either premiered, won awards at, or otherwise made a splash at Sundance!  Today, I take a look at 2006’s Alpha Dog, which premiered, out of competition, at Sundance.

Sometimes, I suspect that I may be the only person who actually likes this movie.

Alpha Dog is a film about a group of stupid people who end up doing a terrible thing.  Johnny Truelove (Emile Hirsch) is a 20 year-old living in Los Angeles.  His father, Sonny (Bruce Willis) and his godfather, Cosmo (Harry Dean Stanton), are both mob-connected and keep Johnny supplied with the drugs that Johnny then sells to his friends.  It’s a pretty good deal for Johnny.  He’s got a nice house and a group of friends who are willing to literally do anything for him.  Johnny, after all, is the one who has the money.

When Johnny’s former best friend, Jake Mazursky (Ben Foster), fails to pay a drug debt, things quickly escalate.  When Johnny refuses to accept even a partial payment, Jake responds by breaking into Johnny’s house and vandalizing the place.  (Just what exactly Jake does, I’m not going to go into because it’s nasty.  Seriously, burn that house down…)  Johnny decides that the best way to force Jake to pay up is to kidnap Jake’s younger brother, Zack (Anton Yelchin, who is heartbreakingly good in this film).

It quickly turns out that Zack doesn’t mind being kidnapped.  Everyone tells Zack not to worry about anything and that he’ll be set free as soon as Jake pays his debt.  Zack decides to just enjoy his weekend.  Since Johnny is better at ordering people to commit crimes than committing them himself, he tells his friend, Frankie (Justin Timberlake), to keep an eye on Zack.

And so it goes from there.  While Johnny leaves town, Frankie introduces Zack to all of his friends.  Everyone laughs about how Zack is “stolen boy.”  Zack’s going to parties and having a good time.  However, Johnny returns and reveals that he’s been doing some thinking, as well as talking to his lawyer.  Regardless of whether Zack’s enjoying himself, both Johnny and Frankie could go to prison for kidnapping him.  Frankie argues that Zack won’t tell anyone about what happened.  Maybe they could just pay him off.  Johnny thinks it might be easier to just have him killed.  Frankie’s not a murderer but what about Elvis Schmidt (Shawn Hatosy)?  Elvis is a loser who desperately wants to be a part of Johnny’s crew and he owes Johnny almost as much money as Jake does.  How far would Elvis be willing to go?

(While this plays out, the film keeps a running tally of everyone who witnesses Zack not only being kidnapped but also held hostage.  In the end, there were at least 32 witnesses but none of them said a word.)

Alpha Dog is based on the true story of Jesse James Hollywood and the murder of 15 year-old Nicholas Markowitz.  Hollywood spent five years as a fugitive from justice, hiding out in Brazil and reportedly being protected by his wealthy family.  He was arrested shortly before the Sundance premiere of Alpha Dog.  Since it was filmed before Hollywood’s arrest and subsequent conviction, Alpha Dog changed his name to Johnny Truelove.  Johnny Truelove is a good name but it’s nowhere near as memorable as Jesse James Hollywood.

Alpha Dog sticks close to the facts of the case, providing a disturbing portrait of a group of aimless wannabe gangsters who, insulated by money and privilege, ended up getting in over their heads and committing a terrible crime.  Emile Hirsch gives one of his best performances as the sociopathic Johnny Truelove while Ben Foster is both frightening and, at times, sympathetic as Jake.  Justin Timberlake is compelling as he wrestles with his conscience while Shawn Hatosy is properly loathsome as the type of idiot that everyone knows but wish they didn’t.  The dearly missed Anton Yelchin is heartbreaking and poignant as Zack.  And finally, there’s Harry Dean Stanton.  Stanton doesn’t say a lot in this movie.  Often times, he’s just hovering in the background.  The moment when he reveals his true self is one of the best in the movie.

As I said, I sometimes feel as if I’m the only person who likes this movie.  It got mixed reviews when it was released and, in the years since, it rarely seems to ever get mentioned in a positive context.  Personally, I think it’s a well-done portrait of privilege, stupidity, and the lengths to which people will go to avoid taking a stand.  In the end, no one escapes punishment but it’s the rich guy who, at the very least, gets to spend at least a few years enjoying his freedom in Brazil.

Previous Sundance Film Reviews:

  1. Blood Simple
  2. I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore
  3. Circle of Power
  4. Old Enough
  5. Blue Caprice
  6. The Big Sick

Film Review: The Wrong Roommate (dir by David DeCoteau)

The Wrong Roommate

It’s always interesting to me when my favorite exploitation and grindhouse filmmakers end up making a movie for Lifetime.  It happens a lot more that you might expect and it’s always undeniably fun to see how they adapt their own sensibilities to the requirements of the network.  For instance, last year, Fred Olen Ray gave Lifetime both River Raft Nightmare and The Christmas Gift.

And then, in January of this year, David DeCoteau gave us The Wrong Roommate.  As far as Lifetime films are concerned, The Wrong Roommate is pure perfection.  It gives the viewer everything that she could possibly want from a Lifetime film.  There’s melodrama.  There’s romance.  There’s an untrustworthy ex-fiance.  There’s a mysterious artist who is both hot and dangerous and who has got like the most incredible abs.  There’s a big fancy house and lots of pretty clothes and there’s even a sex-positive best friend who is eager to help her BFF rebuild her life.  I enjoyed The Wrong Roommate when I first watched it and I enjoyed it when I rewatched it earlier today.  But as I watched The Wrong Roommate, I wondered how members of the typical Lifetime viewing audience would have reacted to seeing some of DeCoteau’s other 122 films, like Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama or Bigfoot vs. D.B. Cooper.  

It’s DeCoteau’s background in B-movies that made him the perfect director for The Wrong Roommate.  Like many filmmakers, DeCoteau began his career working with Roger Corman and then later worked with Charles Band.  These are filmmakers who understood how to tell a story.  Above all else, Roger Corman and his best students all understood the importance of storytelling.  They understood the importance of keeping the audience entertained.

And, whatever else one may say about it, The Wrong Roommate is a terrifically entertaining film.

The film opens with a man getting run over by a car.  That man is Prof. Floyd and he’s played by Eric Roberts.  From the minute that I saw that Eric Roberts was going to be in The Wrong Roommate, I assumed that he would be playing another one of his trademark crazy stalker roles but instead, Roberts is one of the good guys here.  He’s actually playing a sympathetic character.  It’s clever casting because, even once it starts to become clear that he’s not going to kill anyone, you’re still uncertain about him because he’s played by Eric Roberts.  Eric Roberts as a good guy keeps the audience off-balance and tells them not to take anything for granted.

That said, Roberts only has a supporting role here.  The film is about Laurie Valentine (Jessica Morris).  Laurie has just broken up with her controlling jerk of a fiancee, Mark (William McNamara).  And now, she’s rebuilding her life.  Her best friend (Dominique Swain) has gotten her a job teaching at the local college.  And her older sister has invited Laurie to spend the summer at her mansion.  The only catch is that Laurie has to look after her rebellious 17 year-old niece, Ricki (Brianna Joy Chomer).

After moving in, Laurie discovers that there’s someone else living on the estate.  Alan (Jason-Shane Scott) is staying in the guest house.  Ricki has a huge crush on him and soon, so does Laurie.  And why not?  Alan has amazing abs, spends all of his time shirtless, and he’s an artist!  He specializes in wood work and there’s nothing sexier than a man who is good with his hands and his wood…

But, wait a minute!

If Alan’s so great, why does he stage a break-in at the house?

Why doesn’t he ever seem to be surprised when Mark drops by the mansion?

And, of course, we have to consider the fact that Alan has installed a secret webcam in Laurie’s bedroom so that he can watch her undress on his laptop.

Hmmmm…something might not be quite right….

You’ll probably be able to guess what’s going on within the first 30 minutes of the film but who cares?  This is a fun movie and David DeCoteau’s direction strikes a perfect balance between melodrama and parody.  The film looks great, the cast looks great, and I was jealous of that big house.  The Wrong Roommate is wonderful entertainment, in the best tradition of Corman, Band, and DeCoteau.


What Lisa Watched Last Night #136: Fatal Flip (dir by Maureen Bharoocha)

Last night, I watched the latest Lifetime film, Fatal Flip!


Why Was I Watching It?

With a name like Fatal Flip, I was thinking that this film might be another Lifetime cheerleader film.  And, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, one of my favorite Lifetime films of all time is Fab Five: The Texas Cheerleader Scandal.  I figured I could watch the movie and then ask Dazzling Erin whether or not Fatal Flip was an accurate portrayal of the dangerous world of cheerleading.

What Was It About?

Well, it quickly became obvious that Fatal Flip had absolutely nothing to do with cheerleading.  Instead, it turned out that Fatal Flip was about the dark side of house flipping.

Alex (Dominique Swain) and her boyfriend Jeff (Michael Steger) max out their credit cards so that they can buy a colonial house that they plan to fix up and then sell for a profit.  At first, Alex and Jeff are convinced that they can fix up the entire house on their own but then it turns out that Jeff is kind of a whiny little wimp.

Fortunately, while at the hardware store, Jeff meets Nate (Mike Faiola).  Nate knows everything about home improvement.  He also wears a lot of plaid.  Anyway, Nate agrees to help Jeff and Alex fix up the house.  And, because this is a Lifetime movie, neither Jeff nor Alex have any problem with Nate moving in with them.

However, Nate has secrets of his own.  For instance, there’s the woman who he previously sealed up in a wall.  Plus, he has a beard which, in the world of Lifetime, is always a huge red flag.

And, of course, he wears a lot of plaid…

What Worked?

The whole film was about redecorating a house so I definitely enjoyed that.  One of the fun things about watching a movie on Lifetime is that a lot of attention is always paid to the interior of everyone’s house.  Fatal Flip took that tendency to its logical extreme.

What Did Not Work?

Obviously, a movie like this always requires a certain suspension of disbelief.  But seriously, Fatal Flip took it just a little too far.  Nate was so obviously unhinged that it was impossible to believe that anyone could be stupid enough to not realize it.

Add to that, a better title for the film would have been The Plaid Killer.  Because, seriously, when it came to Nate, it was nonstop plaid.

“Oh my God!  Just like me!” Moments

Much like Alex, I also enjoy making houses look nice and salable.  (Though I do have to say that I’m kind of surprised that she never changed the wallpaper in the living room.  Seriously, that was bothering me through the entire film.)

Lessons Learned

House flipping is not as glamorous as HGTV would have you believe.

Guilty Pleasure No. 19: Tart (dir by Christina Wayne)

Dominique Swain in Tart

Dominique Swain in Tart

If you’ve watched Encore over the last few month, you may have come across a 2001 film called Tart.  I did and, despite some pretty glaring flaws, I enjoyed the film.  However, I then checked out a few of the reviews that have been posted online and I discovered that I may very well be the only person in the world who doesn’t hate this movie.

Tart is a coming-of-age story.  Teenage Cat (Dominique Swain) lives in Manhattan with her divorced mother and her bratty younger brother.  Cat attends an exclusive private school with her best friend Delilah (Bijou Phillips) and has a huge crush on William (Brad Renfro).  After Delilah is expelled from school, Cat befriends the snobby Gracie (Mischa Barton) and starts to reinvent herself as one of the popular kids.  Along with being popular comes drugs, sex, and, eventually, violence.

There’s no telling how many dirty old men were shocked to discover that DVD cover art is often misleading.

I will be the first to admit that a lot of the negative criticism of Tart is justified.

Is the film largely plotless?  It is indeed but so is life.

Are all of the film’s adults presented as being one-dimensional jerks?  Yes but then again, we are seeing them and their actions through the eyes of a teenage girl and, when you’re a teenager, most adults do seem to be jerks.

Does the film get a bit heavy-handed when it comes to dealing with casual anti-Semitism?  It sure does but then again, anyone who thinks that anti-Semitism isn’t on the rise in this country obviously hasn’t been paying attention to the news.

Does the film’s melodramatic conclusion seem to come out of nowhere?  Yes, it does.  However, when you’re a teenager, everything eventually becomes a melodrama.

Does Brad Renfro seem to spend the entire film wishing he was somewhere else?  Yes, he does.  In many ways, his performance is painful to watch,  both because his character is fighting the same battle with drugs that would ultimately cost Brad his life and the fact that he doesn’t appear to be all that invested in his performance.  Watching the film, you’re struck by just how detached Renfro is from the material.  It’s easy to criticize the lack of chemistry between Brad Renfro and Dominique Swain but then again, who hasn’t had a crush on a self-destructive bad boy?  Who hasn’t thought that she — and she alone — could see something hidden away inside a damaged soul that only she could understand?  Who hasn’t dreamed of understanding (and saving) an enigma?  Sometimes, detachment is the ultimate aphrodisiac.

Does Bijou Phillips play the same role that she seems to play every time she shows up on screen?  Yes, she is playing another wild best friend here but then again, she plays the role well and who hasn’t had a friend who refused to conform?

Does Mischa Barton give a rather broad and over-the-top performance in this film?  Yes, she does but then again …. well, sorry.  I can’t really think of any way to turn that into a positive.

Shoplifting is fun!

Shoplifting is fun!

And yet, despite all of the film’s many flaws, I couldn’t dislike Tart.  Tart is one of those films that totally misses the big picture and but manages to get so many of the small details right that I couldn’t help but relate to Dominique Swain’s character.

It was the little scenes that worked for me, like the scene where Cat shoplifts for the first time and runs out of the store knowing she’s done something wrong and yet still feeling exhilarated to have gotten away with something or the painfully (for this viewer, at least) accurate scenes of Cat waiting for her father to call on her birthday and then spitefully lashing out at her mother when he doesn’t.  I’ve had best friends like Delilah and it was impossible for me not to wince a little at the scenes where Cat and Delilah argue over Cat’s new friends because, seriously, I’ve been there.  Even the scene during the opening credits, in which Cat’s skirt is blown upward just as she happens to walk by the boy she likes, felt painfully familiar.  Who hasn’t been embarrassed in front of a crush?

It’s the little details that allowed me to relate to this massively flawed film.  It’s the little details that make Tart a guilty pleasure.

My bedroom used to look a lot like this.

My bedroom used to look a lot like this.

Previous Guilty Pleasures:

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class