Cleaning Out The DVR: Get Over It (dir by Tommy O’Haver)


“I wouldn’t play with that, Kelly,” Berke Landers (Ben Foster) says as Kelly Woods (Kirsten Dunst) playfully aims a crossbow at him.

Kelly laughs and tells him that it’s just a prop.

Berke suggests again that she should probably stop aiming it at him.

Kelly laughs and proceeds to fire an arrow straight into Berke’s arm.

The next scene, of course, is Berke in the back of an ambulance, groaning in terrible pain while Kelly apologizes and a paramedic repeatedly warns Berke not to look at his arm.  In most movies, that would seem like a pretty dramatic plot development and, at the very least, you would expect that Berke would try to avoid Kelly and perhaps have his arm in a sling for the rest of the film.  In the 2001 film, Get Over it, Berke recovers rather quickly, he and Kelly fall in love, and the film ends with Kelly making a joke about how she thought the crossbow was a prop.

That’s just the type of film that Get Over It is.  This is a film from the age when all teen comedies were very loosely based on Shakespeare and they usually had a three word name like She’s All That or Drive Me Crazy or …. well, Get Over It.  Ben Foster has the type of role that would usually go to Freddie Prinze, Jr.  Sisqo has the Usher rule of the supercool sidekick who raps over the end credits.  Shane West speaks with a British accent and steps into the Matthew Lillard role of the obnoxious teen celebrity.  Melissa Sagemiller is the girl who the main guy thinks he’s in love with while Martin Short plays the eccentric and overdramatic theater teacher.  And finally, Kirsten Dunst gets to play another version of her Bring It On role as the quirky and perky girl who wants to do the right thing.  Meanwhile, Zoe Saldana, Mila Kunis, Colin Hanks, Swoosie Kurtz, and Ed Begley, Jr. all have small parts.  It’s a good cast, if nothing else.

Get Over It centers around a high school production of a musical version of A Midsummer’s Night Dream.  Basketball star Berke auditions for the play because he thinks that it will convince his ex-girlfriend, Alison (Sagemiller) to take him back.  Instead, Alison ends up falling for the duplicitous Striker Scrumfeld (West), who has the exact type of personality that you would expect someone named Striker Scrumfeld to have.  Meanwhile, Berke is falling in love with Kelly, who is the sister of his friend, Felix (Colin Hanks).

It’s all very predictable but, at the same time, the cast is absolutely charming and there’s enough quirky humor to make it memorable.  I’ve watched Get Over It several times and, every time that I rewatch it, I’m always a little bit surprised to rediscover just how funny it actually is.  For instance, as Berke leaves Alison’s house after being dumped by her, Vitamin C and a marching band suddenly appear behind him and start to perform Love Will Keep Us Together until Berke finally loses it and starts screaming.  The musical production of A Midsummer’s Night Dream is the perfect parody of every pretentious high school play ever produced and Martin Short cheerfully throws himself into being the director for Hell.  Ben Foster is a bit too intense to be a romantic or, for that matter, comedic leading man but the rest of the cast is enjoyably laid back and fully embrace their quirky roles.

Get Over It may not be a classic but it is a fun 90 minutes.

Film Review: Streets of Fire (dir by Walter Hill)


File this one under your mileage may vary…

Okay, so here’s the deal.  I know that this 1984 film has a strong cult following.  A few months ago, I was at the Alamo Drafthouse when they played the trailer and announced a one-night showing and the people sitting in front of me got so excited that it was kind of creepy.  I mean, I understand that there are people who absolutely love Streets of Fire but I just watched it and it didn’t really do much for me.

Now, that may not sound like a big deal because, obviously, not everyone is going to love the same movies as everyone else.  I love Black Swan but I have friends who absolutely hate it.  Arleigh and I still argue about Avatar.  Leonard and I still yell at each other about Aaron Sorkin.  Erin makes fun of me for watching The Bachelorette.  Jedadiah Leland doesn’t share my appreciation for Big Brother and the Trashfilm Guru and I may agree about Twin Peaks but we don’t necessarily agree about whether or not socialism is a good idea.  And that’s okay.  There’s nothing wrong with healthy and respectful disagreement!

But the thing is — Streets of Fire seems like the sort of film that I should love.

It’s a musical.  I love musicals!

It’s highly stylized!  I love stylish movies!

It’s from the 80s!  I love the 80s films!  (Well, most 80s films… if the opening credits are in pink neon, chances are I’ll end up liking the film…)

It takes place in a city where it never seems to stop raining.  Even though the neon-decorated sets give the location a futuristic feel, everyone in the city seems to have escaped from the 50s.  It’s the type of city where people drive vintage cars and you can tell that one guy is supposed to be a badass because he owns a convertible.  All of the bad guys ride motorcycles, wear leather jackets, and look like they should be appearing in a community theater production of Grease.

Singer Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) has been kidnapped by the Bombers, a biker gang led by Raven (Willem DaFoe).  Ellen’s manager and lover, Billy Fish (Rick Moranis), hires Tom Cody (Michael Pare) to rescue Ellen.  Little does Billy know that Cody and Ellen used to be lovers.  Cody is apparently a legendary figure in the city.  As soon as he drives into town, people starting talking about how “he’s back.”  The police see Cody and automatically tell him not to start any trouble.  Raven says that he’s not scared of Cody and everyone rolls their eyes!

It’s up to Cody to track Ellen down and rescue her from Raven and … well, that’s pretty much what he does.  I think that was part of the problem.  After all of the build-up, it’s all a bit anti-climatic.  It doesn’t take much effort for Cody to find Ellen.  After Cody escapes with Ellen, it doesn’t take Raven much effort to track down Cody.  It all leads to a fist fight but who cares?  As a viewer, you spend the entire film waiting for some sort of big scene or exciting action sequence and it never arrives.  The film was so busy being stylish that it forgot to actually come up with a compelling story.

I think it also would have helped if Tom Cody had been played by an actor who had a bit more charisma than Michael Pare.  Pare is too young and too stiff for the role.  It doesn’t help to have everyone talking about what a badass Tom Cody is when the actor playing him doesn’t seem to be quite sure what the movie’s about.  Also miscast is Diane Lane, who tries to be headstrong but just comes across as being petulant.  When Cody and Ellen get together, they all the chemistry of laundry drying on a clothesline.

On the positive side, Willem DaFoe is believably dangerous as Raven and Amy Madigan gets to play an ass-kicking mercenary named McCoy.  In fact, if McCoy had been the main character, Streets of Fire probably would have been a lot more interesting.

I guess Streets of Fire is just going to have to be one of those cult films that I just don’t get.

A Movie A Day #322: CHiPs (2017, directed by Dax Shepard)


Based on the campy 70s cop show that will live on forever in syndication, CHiPs is about two unlikely partners who, after a rough beginning, work together to catch a cop’s killer and capture a gang of armed robbers.

Officer Jon Baker (Dax Shepherd) is a flaky former motocross champion who joins the California Highway Patrol to try to impress his estranged wife (Kristen Bell).  Baker pops painkillers like candy, throws up whenever he enters an unfamiliar house, and has a knee that randomly goes out.  Baker can’t shoot, fight, or think but he sure can ride a bike.

Officer Francis Llewelyn “Ponch” Poncherello (Michael Pena) is actually an FBI agent named Castillo who has been assigned to work undercover to investigate corruption in the CHP.  Ponch is a sex addict who is obsessed with yoga pants and who keeps accidentally shooting his former partner (Adam Brody).

Both Baker and Ponch are given one identifying characteristic.  Baker’s thing is that he always says the wrong thing and then apologizes.  Ponch’s thing is that he always says the wrong thing and then doesn’t apologize.  That is about as deep as things get.

I’m not really sure who this movie is supposed to appeal to.  Michael Pena and Dax Shepard have been good in other productions but they’re both awful here, let down by a script that does not have much to offer beyond tepid bromance and dick jokes.  The humor is too deliberately lowbrow and raunchy to appeal to the people who were fans of the quaintly innocent TV show but it’s also neither meta nor clever enough to appeal to the audience that made hits out of 21 and 22 Jump Street.  I guess the ideal audience for this film would be people who still find gay panic jokes to be hilarious because CHiPs is full of them.  If the last movie you saw was made in 1999 and starred Adam Sandler and David Spade, CHiPs might be right up your alley.

CHiPs is a terrible fucking movie but what really distinguishes it from other terrible movies is the amount of contempt that it seems to have for its source material.  The Jump Street movies might have poked fun at the TV series that inspired them but it was still obvious that the films were being made by fans.  CHiPs can’t even be bothered to use the original’s theme music as anything other than a way to punctuate a few cheap jokes.  Erik Estrada, the original Ponch, does have a cameo but only so he and the new Ponch can talk about eating ass in Spanish.  Otherwise, there is nothing that links the movie to the TV show.  A more accurate title would have been Two Assholes On Motorcycles, except the motorcycles really are not that important to the film.  So, I guess the title would actually just have to be Two Assholes.  That sounds about right to me.

CHiPs proves that not every stupid cop show needs a movie version.  Now, excuse me while I get back to work on my T.J. Hooker spec script…

A Movie A Day #172: Sensation (1994, directed by Brian Grant)


Doctor Ian Burton (Eric Roberts) is a college professor who believes that objects retain impressions of the past.  To prove his theory (and hopefully, not lose tenure), Burton recruits one of his students, Lila Reed (Kari Wuhrer), who has shown that she may have psychic abilities.  Lila holds objects and she sees the past.  At first, she is intrigued but then she realizes that she keeps seeing the same woman in her visions.  The woman was a former student of Burton’s.  She was murdered and the good Doctor Burton is the number one suspect.  Can Lila use her power to solve the crime and clear Burton’s name?  Or is Burton guilty and using her for something more sinister than just testing a thesis?

Sensation is one of the many softcore neo-noirs that used to regularly appear, “after hours,” on HBO and Cinemax in the 1990s.  Sensation has a tagline (“An experience in terror”) that it never lives up to but it is still watchable because of the combination of the sexiness of Kari Wuhrer and the strangeness of Eric Roberts.  The tawdry mystery will not fool anyone and Wuhrer’s visions were all done better in The Dead Zone but Sensation deserves some credit for at least trying to be a little more creative than the average 1990s straight-to-video release.

Keep an eye out for Ron Pearlman, as the lead detective on the case.  He does not get to do much but he’s still Ron Pearlman!

 

A Movie A Day #153: Blue Collar (1978, directed by Paul Schrader)


Three Detroit auto workers (played by Harvey Keitel, Yaphet Kotto, and Richard Pryor) are fed up.

It’s not just that management is constantly overworking them and trying to cheat them out of their money.  That’s what management does, after all.  What really upsets them is that their union is not doing anything to help.  While the head of the union is getting rich off of their dues and spending time at the White House, Keitel is struggling to pay for his daughter’s braces, Kotto is in debt to a loan shark, and Pryor is lying to the IRS about the number of children that he has.  (When a social worker shows up unexpectedly, Pryor’s wife recruits neighborhood children to pretend to be their’s.)  Kotto, Pryor, and Keitel plot to rob the union but instead, they just discover evidence of the union’s ties to the mob.  The union bosses will do anything to keep that information from being revealed, from trying to turn the friends against one another to committing murder.

Blue Collar was the directorial debut of screenwriter Paul Schrader.  Schrader has said that the three main cast members did not get along during the filming, with Richard Pryor apparently bringing a gun to the set and announcing that there was no way he was going to do more than three takes of any scene.  The tension between the lead actors is visible in the film, with all three of them giving edgy and angry performances.  That anger is appropriate because Blue Collar is one of the few films to try to honestly tackle what it’s like to be a member of the “working class” in America.  While management is presented as being a bunch of clowns, Blue Collar reserves its greatest fury for the corrupt union bosses who claim to represent the workers but who, instead, are just exploiting them.  The characters in Blue Collar are pissed off because they know that nobody’s got their back.  To both management and the union, the workers are worth less than the cars that they spend all day putting together and the money that can be subtracted from all their already meager pay checks.

Since it’s a Paul Schrader film from 1978, the action in Blue Collar does come to a halt, 40 minutes in, for a cocaine-fueled orgy that feels out of place.  While Keitel and especially Kotto give believable performances, Pryor sometimes seems to be struggling to keep up.  Still, flaws and all, Blue Collar has a raw and authentic feel to it, something that few other movies about the working class have been able to capture.  Perhaps because it never sentimentalizes its characters or their situation, Blue Collar was not a box office success but it has stood the test of time better than many of the other films that were released that same year.  Sadly overlooked, Blue Collar is a classic American movie.

 

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: The Accidental Tourist (dir by Lawrence Kasdan)


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I have to admit that I was tempted to be a little bit snarky in my review of the 1988 Best Picture nominee, The Accidental Tourist.  I was going to say that The Accidental Tourist was a perfect example of a genre of film that has always been oddly popular with the Academy, the emotionally stunted man in New England learns to love again genre.

But, then I realized that I was wrong.  The Accidental Tourist does not take place in New England.  It takes place in Baltimore which may be located up north but which is technically considered to be part of the mid-Atlantic.  But, even with that in mind, it was impossible for me to watch The Accidental Tourist without thinking of other New England-set Oscar nominees, such as Mystic River and Manchester By The Sea.

As for the film itself, it’s about a man whose depressing life would be unbearable to watch if not for the fact that everyone around him is so extremely eccentric.  Macon Leary (William Hurt) is a travel writer.  He’s writes books giving people advice on how best to behave while seeing the world.  Throughout the film, we hear snippets of his prose.  Macon warns people about overpacking.  He warns them about arriving late at the airport.  He warns them about not properly planning out their trip.  He suggests that travelers bring a book to read but not too many books.  And don’t bring magazines because they get wrinkled too easily.  Now, to be honest, I liked most of Macon’s advice but then again, I’m OCD and I spend most of my time trying to make sure that everything I own is properly organized and can be equally divided.

A year ago, during a fast food robbery, Macon’s son was shot and killed.  Withdrawing from the world, Macon barely reacts when his wife, Sarah (Kathleen Turner), leaves him.  After breaking his leg while trying to convince his dog to climb down the stairs into the laundry room, Macon ends up moving in with his three siblings: autocratic Porter (David Ogden Stiers), slightly less autocratic Charles (Ed Begley, Jr.) and sweet but neurotic Rose (Amy Wright).

And so it goes.  Even when his agent, Julian (Bill Pullman), starts to date Rose, Macon can’t bring himself to open up emotionally.  Fortunately, Macon meets Muriel (Geena Davis), a quirky dog trainer.  Though it takes a while, Muriel starts to pull Macon out of his shell.  Soon, Macon is spending his nights over at her apartment and bonding with her sickly son.

(Why does every single mother in these type of movies have a sickly son?  Just for once, couldn’t a single mother be portrayed as having a child who is well-adjusted, popular, and healthy?)

But, just when everything seems to be perfect, Macon’s phone rings.  It’s Sarah and she wants to give their marriage another chance…

Just judging from the tone of this review, you’re probably thinking that I disliked The Accidental Tourist.  Actually, nothing could be further from the truth.  While the film’s mix of grim reality and relentlessly quirky supporting character can be a bit overwhelming at first, the film works if you stick with it.  That’s the thing — you have to stick with it.  When William Hurt first stares at the camera with his dead eyes and starts to drone about the importance of not spending too much money while in Paris, it’s tempting to just give up.  But, as the film progresses, it improves and so does Hurt’s performance.  By the time he finally worked up the strength to hold Muriel’s son’s hand while walking the boy home from school, I had tears in my mismatched eyes.

The Accidental Tourist is low-key but rather sweet film.  While the film centers around the performances of Hurt and Geena Davis (who won an Oscar for her work here), my favorite performances came from Bill Pullman and Amy Wright.  I honestly would happily watch a film that was just about their characters.

The Accidental Tourist was nominated for Best Picture but lost to Rain Man.

Film Review: Ghostbusters (dir by Paul Feig)


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If you need any further proof that 2016 is a screwed-up year, just consider the fact that Ghostbusters, an entertaining but ultimately rather mild-mannered and innocuous summer action/comedy, has become the center of one of the biggest controversies of the year.

It all started, of course, when the reboot was first announced.  Fanboys reacted with outrage, offended that Hollywood would even consider remaking a film that was apparently one of the defining moments of their childhood.  Then, it was announced that Ghostbusters would feature an all-female cast and it would be directed by Paul Feig, the director of Bridesmaids.  The howls of outrage grew even louder.  Then that infamous trailer was released and even I felt that trailer sucked.  I wasn not alone because the trailer quickly became one of the most disliked videos in the history of YouTube.  Reading the comments underneath that trailer was literally like finding yourself trapped in a production of Marat/Sade.

Suddenly, in the eyes of very vocal group of internet trolls, the reboot of Ghostbusters went from being simply another dubious idea to being a crime against humanity.  And the trolls were so obnoxious that they managed to turn this big-budget, studio-backed production into an underdog.  Here was a movie directed by one of Hollywood’s biggest directors and starring some of Hollywood’s hottest stars and suddenly, it had become David in a biblical showdown with the Goliaths of internet.

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And then it happened.  Earlier last week, Ghostbusters was finally screened for critics.  The first reviews started to come in and they were surprisingly positive.  In fact, they were so positive that I found myself distrusting them.  I found myself wondering if critics were reacting to the film or if they were simply trying to prove that they were better than the trolls who leave obscene comments on YouTube.

Which was true, I wondered.  Was Ghostbusters the worst film ever made or was it the greatest?  Or was it perhaps just possible that Ghostbusters would turn out to be a typical summer film?

With all the controversy, it’s tempting to overpraise a film like Ghostbusters.  Battle lines have been drawn and sometimes, I feel as if I’m being told that failing to declare Ghostbusters to be the greatest and most important comedy of all time is the equivalent of letting the trolls win.

Well, that’s not true.  Ghostbusters is not the greatest or the most important comedy of all time but you know what?  Ghostbusters is good.  Ghostbusters is entertaining.  Especially during the first half, it’s full of laugh out loud moments.  At times, Ghostbusters is everything that you could hope for.

No, it’s not a perfect film.  Paul Feig is a great comedy director but, in this film at least, his direction of the big action sequences often feels uninspired (especially when compared to his previous work on Spy).  The final fourth of the film gets bogged down in CGI and the film goes from being a clever comedy to being just another summer spectacle.  Even the one-liners, which flowed so naturally at the start of the film, feel forced during the final half of the film.  Ghostbusters is good but it never quite becomes great.

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Here’s what did work: the cast.  As he previously proved with Bridesmaids, Paul Feig is a director who is uniquely skilled at creating and showcasing a strong comedic ensemble.  Kristen Wiig plays Erin Gilbert, who is denied tenure at Columbia when it is discovered that a book she wrote on the paranormal has been republished and is being sold, on Amazon, by her former best friend, Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy).  When Erin goes to confront Abby, she not only meets Abby’s newest colleague, Dr. Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) but she also gets dragged into investigating an actual case of paranormal activity..  Soon, Erin, Abby, and Holtzmann are investigating hauntings and capturing ghosts, all with the secret approval of the Mayor of New York (Andy Garcia).  Of course, for PR reasons, the mayor’s office has to continually disavow the Ghostbusters and occasionally have them arrested.  Working alongside the three scientists are Patty (Leslie Jones), who apparently knows the history of every building in New York, and Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), their adorably stupid receptionist.

As written, both Patty and Kevin are fairly thin characters.  Kevin’s the handsome dumb guy.  Patty is streetwise and sassy.  But both Hemsworth and Jones give such enthusiastic and sincere performances that they transcend the stereotypical nature of their roles.  At times, Kevin runs the risk of becoming too cartoonish for even a Ghostbusters film.  But if you can’t laugh at Chris Hemsworth explaining that he took the lenses out of his glasses because they were always getting dirty, what can you laugh at?

Erin is an interesting character and Kristen Wiig deserves a lot of credit for her performance.  Erin is actually given a fairly affecting backstory, centering around how she was haunted by the ghost of the old woman who used to live next door to her.  Erin is a former believer, someone who, in order to succeed in the “real” world, gave up her beliefs and conformed to the expectations of society.  When she actually meets a ghost, it’s more than just a confirmation of the supernatural.  It’s a chance for Erin to finally embrace who she truly is and what she truly cares about.  When she and the other ghostbusters chase after evil spirits, Erin is not just doing a job.  Instead, she’s finally found somewhere where she belongs.  She no longer has to pretend to be someone that she isn’t.  Wiig plays the role with just the right touch of neurotic wonder.  She grounds the entire film.

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But the true star of the film is Kate McKinnon.  Whether she’s cheerfully smiling as a ghost vomits all over her colleagues or cheerfully explaining how easily their equipment could kill them all, Holtzmann is the greatest character in the film and McKinnon gives the best performance.  If Wiig grounds the film, McKinnon provides it with a truly demented soul.

The first half of the movie, which focuses on the relationships between the characters and features snappy and endlessly quotable dialogue, is wonderful and I was thrilled while watching it, convinced that the entire movie would be as good as the first hour.  However, the second half of the film gets bogged down in a rather predictable plot and the final action sequences could have just as easily been lifted from Pixels or one of The Avengers movies.  The surviving cast of the original Ghostbusters all show up in cameos that are, at best, inoffensive and, at worst, groan-worthy.  The end result is rather uneven.  If the film had maintained the momentum of that first hour, it would be a classic.  But that second half transforms it into just another entertaining but not quite memorable summer action film.

That said, Paul Feig is an excellent comedy director and let’s hope that he never gets so self-important that he ends up turning into Jay Roach.  Hopefully, if there is a sequel, Feig will return to direct it and Kate McKinnon will have an even bigger role.

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