Retro Television Reviews: The Love Boat 2.1 and 2.2 Marooned / The Search / Issac’s Holiday: Parts 1 & 2

Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past!  On Wednesdays, I will be reviewing the original Love Boat, which aired on ABC from 1977 to 1986!  The series can be streamed on Paramount Plus!

This week, the second season begins with a super-sized episode!

Episodes 2.1 & 2.2 “Marooned / The Search / Issac’s Holiday”

(Dir by Paul Stanley, originally aired on September 16th, 1978)

The second season of The Love Boat started with double-sized episode, promising twice the romance, twice the comedy, and twice the running time!

(Subsequently, this episode was split in two for syndication, hence the double numbering.)

Among the passengers on this cruise is none other than Isaac Washington (Ted Lange)!  The Love Boat’s iconic bartender has decided to spend his vacation where he works and he’s bought a ticket to sail on the Pacific Princess.  It might seem strange to want to spend your vacation at the office but in Isaac’s case, I can see the appeal.  As we saw during the first season, no one works harder than Isaac.  He somehow always manages to be behind every single bar on the ship and it often appears that he’s the only bartender on the boat!  To top it off, he’s always on call.  He’s earned a vacation and he’s earned the right to be served for once.  From the minute Isaac boards the boat, he’s playfully asking the crew to do things for him and none of them mind because he’s their friend Isaac.  One of the key reasons why The Love Boat worked was that the friendships between the members of the crew felt very real.  As such, there’s never any doubt that Isaac would want to spend his vacation with Gopher, Doc, and Julie.

(Interestingly enough, the Captain doesn’t seem to realize that Isaac’s on the boat until Isaac takes his seat at the captain’s table.)

Of course, there are some problems with Isaac’s vacation.  Isaac quickly notices that the substitute bartender, Wally (played by Norm Crosby), is a bit sullen and not very knowledgeable about his drinks.  As well, Isaac has lied to a passenger named Mara (Lola Falana), telling her that he’s a wealthy race car driver.  Bitter old Wally just can’t wait to tell Mara the truth.

Even worse, when Captain Stubing goes to visit a nearby island, Deputy Captain Cunningham (Dick Martin) is left in charge and he quickly proves himself to be thoroughly incompetent.  (The show makes a point of assuring viewers that Cunningham actually works for a different cruise line and is just training on the Pacific Princess.)  Cunningham ignores the news that a hurricane is on the way.  When the hurricane hits, it’s falls on Isaac to take charge and make sure the passengers are safe.  Of course, to do this, he has to admit that he’s not a race car driver.  He’s just a bartender who, in a just world, would probably be a captain.

Meanwhile, Stubing, Doc, Gopher, Julie, and a group of passengers (Avery Schreiber, Barbi Benton, Edie Adams, and Audra Lindley) are all being held captive on that nearby island.  Their captor is an eccentric hermit named David Crothers (played by John Astin, who was often cast as eccentric hermits).  David has a gun, one that later turns out to be full of not bullets but dirt.  Unfortunately, the hurricane that threatens the Pacific Princess also maroons everyone else on the island and they have to wait for someone to rescue them.  Injured by a falling tree, Gopher spends his time deliriously speaking to imaginary women in foreign accents.  Doc, for once, actually gets to do some medical stuff and assures everyone that Gopher will be fine.  Interestingly enough, no one seems to be that worried about being captured by a crazed hermit.  Perhaps that’s because John Astin is just too naturally friendly to be viewed as a threat.

Finally, Jeannie Carter (Donna Mills) is on the boat because she’s been told that one of the passengers is her long-lost mother.  Soap opera actor Mike Adler (David Birney) offers Jeannie the moral and emotional (and romantic) support to confront the woman but the woman (Laraine Day) turns out to be Mike’s mother as well!  Agck!

The 2nd season premiers, with its mix of melodrama, broad comedy, romance, and hurricane-strength winds, is pretty much exactly what most viewers would want out of a show like The Love Boat.  Isaac gets to save the day while John Astin hams it up and David Birney, Donna Milles, and Laraine Day wring every emotion that they can out of their soap opera-style storyline.  It’s a fun and undemanding show, one that gets by on its breezy style and the likable chemistry between the cast.

This episode is also important because it was the second episode (after the first season’s supersized episode) in which the opening credits featured video images of the guest stars as well as their names.  This would continue in every subsequent episode and eventually become of the show’s trademarks.

Next week: Julie’s parents board the boat!

Retro Television Reviews: Haunts of the Very Rich (dir by Paul Wendkos)

Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past!  On Sundays, I will be reviewing the made-for-television movies that used to be a primetime mainstay.  Today’s film is 1972’s Haunt of the Very Rich!  It  can be viewed on YouTube!

The 1972 made-for-TV movie Haunts of the Very Rich opens with a lengthy shot of Lyle (Tony Bill) and Laurie (Donna Mills) sharing a very long kiss.  Obviously, they’re very happy and why shouldn’t they be?  They’re young.  They’re beautiful.  They’re in love.  They’re newly married.  And …. they’re on an airplane!

It’s a private plane, one that’s heading towards a resort called The Portals of Eden.  There’s only a few other people on the plane.  David Woodrough (Lloyd Bridges) is a businessman who is looking forward to spend some time away from his wife, especially if it means a chance to get to know one of the other passengers, Ellen Blunt (Cloris Leachman).  Annette Larner (Anne Francis) is also traveling alone and is hoping she might finally be able to get some sleep without having to take a handful of pills beforehand.  Rev. Fellows (Robert Reed) appears to have lost his faith.  And then there’s Al Hunsicker (Ed Asner).  Hunsicker’s a little bit confused about how he ended up on the airplane.  As far as he knows, he’s supposed to be on his way to a business meeting in Dallas.  Portals of Eden?  Al’s never heard of the place!  Of course, nobody on the plane really seems to be sure where they’re going or how they even got on the plane in the first place.  Strangely, Al appears to be the only one who finds any of this to be strange.

When the plane lands, they discover that the Portals of Eden is a large hotel sitting at the edge of a tropical wilderness.  Their host, the always polite Mr. Seacrist (Moses Gunn), welcomes them but avoids answering anyone’s questions.  Seacrist tells them to enjoy their stay.

For the first day, that’s exactly what everyone does.  They relax.  They indulge in a little pampering.  David gets to know Ellen.  Al is still worried about getting to his business meeting but he is assured that he can always fly out to Dallas the following day.

The night, a violent storm hits.  The next day, everyone wakes up to discover that the resort is nearly deserted.  There’s no electricity.  There’s no way to call out.  There’s not much food.  Seacrist tells them not to worry.  He assures them that help is on the way.  As the guests wait to be rescued, they finally start to wonder just how exactly the ended up at the resort in the first place.  They realize that they’ve almost all had a recent brush with death.  David swears to Ellen that he’ll file for divorce as soon as they get back home but what if they don’t have a home to which to return?  Occasionally, the guests hear a plane flying overhead.  At one point, they even see one land.  But every time, just when it seems like they’re on the verge of finally being rescued, the plane vanishes.

And things just get stranger from there.

If Jean-Paul Sartre had ended up in the United States, writing for The Bold and the Beautiful, the end result would probably look a lot like Haunts of the Very Rich.  Considering that this is a made-for-TV movie from the early 70s, Haunts of the Very Rich is a surprisingly effective and atmospheric little horror film.  The story itself won’t exactly win any points for originality.  You’ll guess the secret of Portals of Eden long before any of the characters in the film.  But still, it’s a well-directed and nicely acted film, one that’s topped off with a suitably surreal (if somewhat abrupt) finale.

Haunts of the Very Rich can currently be found on YouTube and I recommend it for anyone who likes their melodrama served with a side of existential dread.

Retro Television Reviews: The Love Boat 1.11 “Lonely at the Top/Silent Night/Divorce Me, Please”

Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past!  On Wednesdays, I will be reviewing the original Love Boat, which aired on ABC from 1977 to 1986!  The series can be streamed on Paramount Plus!

It’s time to spend the holidays on the big seas!

Episode 1.11 “Lonely at the Top/Silent Night/Divorce Me, Please”

(Dir by Alan Baron, originally aired on December 10th, 1977)

Yay!  It’s a Christmas cruise!

Every season, The Love Boat did a special Christmas episode.  Last year, MeTV presented a marathon on Love Boat Christmases and what I discovered is that every Christmas episode featured the crew working through the holidays and missing their families.  Nearly every Christmas episode also featured someone dressing up as Santa Claus and at least one veteran of the Golden Age of Hollywood.

The very first Christmas episode opens with the Julie, Isaac, Gopher, and Doc talking about how much they miss their families.  We find out that Gopher’s family lives on a farm.  Julie is from Oregon.  Doc is from Las Vegas.  (The show always tried to portray Doc as being some sort of Sinatra-style swinger, despite the fact that he was played by the very even-tempered Bernie Kopell.)  Their conversation is interrupted by Captain Stubing who explains that 1) he’s divorced and 2) he’s a middle-aged man who doesn’t get along with his stepmother.  Not only does he not have a family but the sea is his home and he has more to worry about than everyone’s holiday spirit.

Much as with Doc being a swinger, Captain Stubing being a stern taskmaster was a recurring theme during the first season of The Love Boat.  The crew was always talking about how Stubing had a reputation for demanding perfection for those working under him and being quick to fire anyone who failed to live up to his standards.  And yet, we never really see anything that would back up Stubing’s fearsome reputation.  Just as how Bernie Kopell was a bit too even-tempered to be believable as a legendary playboy, Gavin MacLeod was a bit too naturally pleasant to be believable as someone who would strike fear in the hearts of his crew.  While I have no idea what Gavin MacLeod was like offscreen, when he’s onscreen he comes across as being likable and friendly.  Whenever Captain Stubing is meant to be upset or disappointed with his crew, he comes across as being more petulant than fearsome.  That’s certainly the case in this episode.  Captain Stubing may say that he’s not into the holidays but you never believe him.

Of course, that works to this episode’s advantage.  Realizing that he’s failing to bond with his crew and that his lack of holiday spirit is rubbing everyone the wrong way, Stubing turns to Father Mike (Dick Sargent) for advice.  Father Mike is escorting a group of children to an orphanage in Mexico but he still takes time to give Stubing some counseling.  Let the crew know that you care about them, Father Mike says.  Stubing attempts to do so but his attempts at small talk are so awkward that the crew just becomes more frightened of him.  Finally, Stubing resorts to dressing up like Santa Claus.  The crew may be scared of him but Father Mike’s orphans love him.  Anyway, it all works out in the end and believe it or not, I actually did find myself getting invested in this very silly storyline.  Gavin MacLeod may not have been believable as a stern captain but he was likable enough that it’s hard not to feel bad about him having a bad holiday.

While this is going on, Dan Barton (John Gavin) and his wife, Lila (Donna Mills), attempt to enjoy the holiday cruise.  The only problem is that Dan has just been released from prison and he is struggling to adjust to being on the outside.  No soon has Dan boarded the ship then he spots his former law partner, Walter (Dean Santoro).  Walter committed the crime that Dan went to prison for and Dan becomes obsessed with getting revenge on him.  Lila, meanwhile, wonders if Dan will ever give up his anger.  There’s something a bit jarring about going from Captain Stubing dressing up like Santa Claus to Dan Barton plotting to murder someone.  John Gavin gave a good performance but the shift in tone between his story and the rest of the episode was almost too extreme.  It’d be like if they had made an episode of The Office where Pam suddenly found herself tempted to cheat on Jim with a member of the documentary crew.  Tonally, it just felt out of place.

Finally, everyone thinks that Paul (Shecky Greene) and Audrey Baynes (Florence Henderson) are the perfect couple but actually, they’re both sick of each other and they spend most of their time thinking about getting a divorce.  The gimmick here is that we hear their thoughts.  So, Paul will tell Audrey how much he loves her and then we’ll hear him think something like, “Yeah, I’d love to toss you overboard.”  It’s a one joke premise that gets old pretty quickly.  Also, needless to say, this is The Love Boat and not The Divorce Boat.  Things work out.

My reaction to this episode was a bit mixed but, to be honest, I like Christmas shows.  Even if they’re not perfect, I still like them.  And it was hard for me not to smile at the Christmas tree in the ship’s lounge or at all the decorations hanging on the ship’s walls.  The Captain’s story had a lot of Christmas spirit and I enjoyed that.  If you can’t spend the holidays at home, The Love Boat seems like a good substitute.

Who Is The Black Dahlia? (1975, directed by Joseph Pevney)

In 1947 Los Angeles, the body of 22 year-old Elizabeth Short is discovered in an empty lot.  Short, who was nicknamed The Black Dahlia because she always wore black, was an aspiring actress who was violently tortured before being chopped in half.  Her murder remains one of Hollywood’s most infamous unsolved crimes.

In this made-for-television movie, Ronny Cox and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. play the two detectives who are assigned to investigate Short’s murder.  Though they struggle to find any clues identifying who could have killed Short, they do learn about her life and how she went from being a naïve innocent who came to Hollywood with stars in her eyes to being a hardened and cynical woman who may have been supporting herself through sex work when she was murdered.  The film makes use of frequent flashbacks, in which Elizabeth Short is played by Lucie Arnaz.  Her friends and acquaintances are played by familiar television faces like Henry Jones, Mercedes McCambridge, June Lockhart, Brooke Adams, Donna Mills, and Tom Bosley.  Also be sure to keep an eye out for Sid Haig, playing a tattoo artist.

What Elizabeth Short went through over the course of her short time in Hollywood was probably too graphic to be put on television in the 70s but this movie still does a good job of recounting the basic facts of her life and murder.  Because the film is based on fact, no one is ever arrested for Short’s murder.  The only suspect is a doctor who turns out to have an alibi.  The movie instead focuses on Short trying make it in Hollywood and discovering that it’s a cruel town.  Lucie Arnaz was far better than I was expecting in the role of Elizabeth and brought a lot of vulnerability to the role.  The film ended with a title card, asking anyone who had information about the murder of Elizabeth Short to call the LAPD.  The case remains open to this day.

Hanging By A Thread (1979, directed by Georg Fenady)

A group of old friend who call themselves the Uptowners’ Club (yes, really) want to go on a picnic on top of a remote mountain.  The only problem is that they have to ride a cable car up to the mountain and there are reports of potentially bad weather.  It’s not safe to ride in a cable car during a thunderstorm.  Drunken ne’er-do-well Alan (Bert Convy) doesn’t care and, since his family owns both the mountain and the tramway, his demands that he and his friends be allowed to ride the cable car are met.  One lightning strike later and the members of the Uptowners’ Club are stranded in a cable car that is perilously suspended, by only a frayed wire, over treacherous mountain valley.

With no place to go, there’s not much left for the members of the Uptowners’ Club to do but bicker amongst themselves and have lengthy flashbacks that reveal every detail of their own sordid history.  Paul (Sam Groom) is angry with Alan because Alan is now engaged to his ex-wife (Donna Mills).  Sue Grainger (Patty Duke) is angry with everyone else because they don’t want to admit how their old friend Bobby Graham (Doug Llewellyn) actually died.  The other members of the Uptowners’ Club are angry because there’s not much for them to do other than watch Duke and Convy chew on the scenery.  Because of the supposedly fierce winds, someone is going to have to climb out on top of the cable car and repair it themselves.  Will it be Paul or will it be cowardly drunk Alan?  On top of everything else, Paul is set to enter the witness protection program and has got hitmen who want to kill him.

This made-for-TV disaster movie was produced by Irwin Allen.  Are you surprised?  It’s also three hours long and amazingly, Leslie Nielsen is not in it.  It’s hard to understand how anyone could have produced a cable car disaster film and not given a role to Leslie Nielsen.  Cameron Mitchell’s in the film but he’s not actually in the cable car so it’s a missed opportunity.  Any film that features Patty Duke detailing how her friends got so drunk that they ended up killing the future host of The People’s Court is going to at least have some curiosity value but, for the most part, Hanging By A Thread gets bogged down by its own excessive runtime and lack of convincing effects.  Hanging By A Thread came out at the tail end of the 70s disaster boom and it shows why the boom didn’t continue into the 80s.

Smash-Up On Interstate 5 (1976, directed by John Llewellyn Moxey)

Smash-Up On Interstate 5 begins with ominous shots of a crowded California interstate.  It’s the 4th of July weekend and old people are returning home, young people are looking for a party, and Sergeant Sam Marcum (Robert Conrad) of the California Highway Patrol is looking for a killer.  When one car swerves into the next lane and hits another, it leads to a chain reaction as hundreds of cars, trucks, and one motorcycle crash into each other.  While the vehicles crash, we see the people inside of them.  There’s Buddy Ebsen!  There’s Vera Miles!  There’s Sue Lyon (of Lolita fame) on the back of a motorcycle!  In a voice-over, Sam tells us that the accident will be classified as being due to “mechanical failure” and that 14 people are going to die as a result.  He might be one of them.

Smash-Up On Interstate 5 is a 70s disaster film so, after the pile-up, the movie flashed back 48 hours and we get to know everyone whose lives are going to eventually collide on Interstate 5.  Erica (Vera Miles) is recently divorced and trying to get back into the dating scene.  Albert (Buddy Ebsen) is trying to bring some joy to his terminally ill wife’s final days.  Lee (Scott Jacoby) and Penny (Bonnie Ebsen) are the hippies who are trying to get to Big Sur without getting arrested.  Burnsey (Sue Lyon) loves her biker boyfriend.  Some of them will survive the pile-up.  Some of them will not.

Smash-Up On Interstate 5 is an above average made-for-TV movie.  It’s got a notable cast and the movie does a good job of mixing together’s everyone’s subplots.  For instance, Burnsey and a group of bikers show up in the background of several scenes and harass Erica at one point long before the crash on the interstate.  It’s only a 100-minute film so the film doesn’t go into too much detail about everyone’s past but we learn just enough to make everyone stand out.  The crash itself is intense, even when seen today.  Made before the days of CGI, this is a film where the stunt crew definitely earned their paycheck.

Tommy Lee Jones plays a patrolman who is also Sam’s brother-in-law.  I was surprised when I first saw him but as soon as I saw the strained smile and heard the accent, I knew it was him.  Jones’s role is small and probably could have been played by anyone but the mere presence of Tommy Lee Jones definitely makes this film cooler than it would have been otherwise.

One final note: This film was directed by the made-for-TV horror specialist, John Llewellyn Moxey.  Be sure to read Gary Loggins’s tribute to this often underrated director.

Horror on the Lens: Haunts of the Very Rich (dir by Paul Wendkos)

Today’s horror on the lens is a 1972 made-for-TV movie, Haunts of the Very Rich!

What happens when a bunch of rich people find themselves on an airplane with no memory of how they got there?  Well, first off, they land at a luxury resort!  But what happens when the resort suddenly turns out to be deserted and the guests discover that there’s no apparent way out!?

You can probably already guess the film’s “surprise” ending but Haunts of the Very Rich is still an entertaining little film.  You can check out my more in-depth review here!


Let’s Talk About Sharknado 4!


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.


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!


Film Review: Joy (dir by David O. Russell)


Hi there and welcome to 2016!

Today was the first day of a new year so, of course, I had to go down to the Alamo Drafthouse and see a movie.  What was the title of the first movie that I saw in a theater in 2016?


Despite the fact that Joy has gotten some seriously mixed reviews, I had high hopes when I sat down in the Alamo.  After all, Joy represents the third collaboration between director David O. Russell and one of my favorite actresses, Jennifer Lawrence.  (Their previous collaborations — Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle — happen to be two of my favorite films of the past 5 years.)  Add to that, Joy has been advertised as being a tribute to a real-life, strong-willed woman and I figured that, at the very least, it would provide a nice alternative to the testosterone-crazed movies that I’ve recently sat through.  And finally, Joy had a great trailer!

Sure, there were a few less than positive signs about Joy.  As I mentioned before, the majority of the reviews had been mixed and the word of mouth was even worse.  (My friend, the sportswriter Jason Tarwater, used one word to describe the film to me: “Meh.”)  But what truly worried me was that Sasha Stone of AwardsDaily absolutely raved about the film on her site and that’s usually a bad sign.  Let’s not forget that this is the same Sasha Stone who claimed that Maps To The Stars was one of the best films ever made about Hollywood.

And, to be honest, I had much the same reaction to Joy that I had to Map To The Stars.  I really wanted to love Joy and, occasionally, there would be a clever bit of dialogue or an unexpected directorial choice and I would briefly perk up in my seat and think to myself, “Okay, this is the film that I wanted to see!”  But, for the most part, Joy is a disappointment.  It’s not so much that it’s bad as it’s just not particularly great.  For the most part, it’s just meh.

But let’s talk about what worked.  Overall, this may be one of Jennifer Lawrence’s lesser films but she gives a great performance, one that reminds us that she truly is one of the best actresses working today.  I’ve read some complaints that Lawrence was too young for the title role and, to be absolutely honest, she probably is.  She looks like she could easily go undercover at a high school and help Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum bust drug dealers.  But, at the same time, she projects the inner weariness of a survivor.  For lack of a better term, she has an old soul and it comes across in her films.

In Joy, she plays Joy Mangano, a divorced mother of two who lives in upstate New York.  Her mother (Virginia Madsen) lives with Joy and spends all of her time watching soap operas.  Joy ex-husband, a lounge singer named Tony (Edgar Ramirez), lives in the basement.  Meanwhile, her grandmother (Diane Ladd, who narrates the film) is always hovering in the background, offering Joy encouragement and optimism.  At the start of the film, Joy’s cantankerous father (Robert De Niro) has also moved into the house.  Joy, who was the valedictorian of her high school, has got a demeaning job working as a flight booker at the airport.

(“What’s your name?” one rude customer asks, “Joy?  You don’t seem very joyful to me…”)

How stressful is Joy’s life?  It’s so stressful that she has a reoccurring nightmare in which she’s trapped in her mother’s favorite soap opera and Susan Lucci (cleverly playing herself) tells her that she should just give up.

However, as difficult as life may get, Joy refuses to take Susan Lucci’s advise.  She invents a miraculous mop known as the miracle mop and eventually becomes a highly successful businesswoman.  Along the way, she makes her television debut on QVC and becomes a minor celebrity herself…

The film’s best scenes are the ones that deal with Joy and QVC.  These scenes, in which the inexperienced Joy proves herself to be a natural saleswoman, are the best in the film.  These scenes are filled with the spark that I was hoping would be present throughout the entire film.  Of course, it helps that these scenes also feature Bradley Cooper as a sympathetic television executive.  This is the third time that Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence have acted opposite each other and there’s an immediate chemistry between them.  In this case, it’s not a romantic chemistry (and one of the things that I did appreciate about Joy was that it didn’t try to force a predictable romance on the title character).  Instead, it’s the type of mutual respect that you rarely see between male and female characters in the movies.  It’s a lot of fun to watch, precisely because it is so real and unexpected.

But sadly, the QVC scenes only make up a relatively small part of Joy.  The rest of the film is something of a mess, with David O. Russell never settling on a consistent tone.  At times, Joy feels like a disorganized collection of themes from his previous films.  Just as in The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, we get the quirky and dysfunctional family.  Just as in American Hustle, we get the period detail, the Scorsese-lite soundtrack, and the moments of cynical humor.  There’s a lot going on in Joy and, at time, it doesn’t seem that Russell really knows what to do with all the theme and characters that he’s mixed into the movie.  I found myself wondering if he truly understood the story that he was trying to tell.

Finally, at the end of the film, Joy visits a business rival in Dallas, Texas.  Let’s just say that the film’s version of Dallas looks nothing like the city that I know.  (The minute that the scene cut from her ex-husband discovering that Joy had left to a close-up of a Bar-B-Q sign, I let out an exasperated, “Oh, come on!”)  I suppose I should be happy that Russell didn’t have huge mountains in the background of the Dallas scenes but seriously, would it have killed anyone to do a little research or maybe hop on a plane and spend a day or two filming on location?

(After all, if Richard Linklater or Wes Anderson decided to set a movie in David O. Russell’s home state of Massachusetts, I doubt that they would film the Boston scenes in El Paso….)

Joy features great work from Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper and it tells a story that has the potential to be very empowering.  But, when it comes to the overall film … meh.

Sorry Jen

What Lisa Watched Last Night #122: Deadly Revenge (dir by Michael Feifer)

Last night, I watched Deadly Revenge on Lifetime!


Why Was I Watching It?

Not only was it on Lifetime but it had one of the most perfectly generic Lifetime titles ever.  Deadly Revenge sounds like one of the results that you’d get from a random Create-A-Lifetime-Movie-Title Generator.

What Was It About?

Harrison (Mark Hapka) appears to be the perfect guy.  He’s got a good job, a great apartment, and he’s a good cook!  However, he also has some secrets in his part, as his fiancee, Cate (Alicia Ziegler), discovers when she agrees to take care of Evelyn (Donna Mills), his sick mother.

What Worked?

Actually, this movie really wasn’t that bad.  Alicia Ziegler and Donna Mills did the best that they could possibly do.  If their characters occasionally didn’t make sense, that had more to do with the script than the performances.  As well, I enjoyed seeing where everyone lived.  Harrison had a really kickass apartment and Evelyn — oh my God, she practically lived in a freaking castle!

Plus, towards the end of the film, Cate got to wear this white dress that would look great on me.  So, there’s always that.

What Did Not Work?

Oh my God, this is such a frustrating movie to try to review!  Under the no spoiler rule, I’m not allowed to talk about the solution to the film’s mystery but, at the same time, it’s sooooooo obvious!  Seriously, you will figure it out within the first 30 minutes of the film.  (You would have figured it out earlier except for the fact that the mystery doesn’t start until about 30 minutes into the film.)  I mean, you’re supposed to be shocked when the big secret is revealed but the only shocking thing is that Cate didn’t figure it out for herself.  IT WAS SO OBVIOUS!

Like seriously.

“Oh my God!  Just like me!” Moments

I’ve actually recently had a dizzy spell/panic attack while driving so when Cate had the same thing happen to her, I was like, “Oh my God, I know exactly how scary that is!”

I do think I handled it better than Cate though.  Cate reacted by calling up her best friend and talking to her on the phone while driving!  In my case, however, I quickly pulled over to the side of the road, turned off the engine, and did my breathing exercises for panic attacks.

Lessons Learned

If it seems painfully obvious that someone is trying to kill you, they probably are.

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