Back to School Part II #52: Nerve (dir by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman)


For the past three weeks, Lisa Marie has been in the process of reviewing 56 back to school films!  She’s promised the rest of the TSL staff that this project will finally wrap up by the end of today, so that she can devote her time to helping to prepare the site for its annual October horrorthon!  Will she make it or will she fail, lose her administrator privileges, and end up writing listicles for Buzzfeed?  Keep reading the site to find out!)

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Recently, I came across someone on twitter wondering if Emma Roberts is ever actually going to play an adult role.  Personally, I think the question is a bit unfair (just because you’re playing a teenager, that doesn’t mean that you’re not dealing with “adult” issues) but I understand the logic behind it.  Emma Roberts is a Hollywood veteran who made her film debut 15 years ago.  She’s currently 25 years old but, more often that not, she’s still cast as a high school student.  (At the most, she might occasionally get to be a college student.)  Going solely by her film and television roles, Emma Roberts has been a high school student for 12 years now.

But you know what?

I say more power to Emma Roberts.  Being a teenager is a lot more fun than being an adult and she should stay in high school for as long as she can pull it off!

Anyway, this year’s Emma-Roberts-In-High-School film was a thriller called Nerve.  Actually, very little of the film takes place in high school though a running theme through the film is the desire of a senior named Vee (short for Venus and played by Roberts) to attend the California Institute of the Arts after she graduates.  Unfortunately, it costs money to go to a good school and Vee’s mother (Juliette Lewis) doesn’t have any.  As well, both Vee and her mother are still struggling to accept the recent death of Vee’s brother.

However, there may be a way for Vee to raise the money.  Vee learns that her friend, Sydney (Emily Meade), has become an online star by playing Nerve.  Nerve is a game where you can either volunteer to be a player or you can pay to be a viewer.  (There’s a third role that you can play in Nerve but it’s not a good role and we don’t learn about it until later in the film.)  The watchers dare the players to do something.  If the players do it, they win money.  If the players fail … well, there are consequences for everything.

Though initially reluctant, Vee agrees to be a player.  At first, it’s a lot of fun.  The normally cautious Vee gets to experience the exhilaration of taking a risk.  She even meets another Nerve player, Ian (Dave Franco) and soon the two of them are a team, partners and perhaps something more.  But, as the game progresses, the dares become more dangerous and the stakes get higher.  And, of course, Ian has a secret of his own..

The great thing about Nerve is that it tells a story about what’s is pretty much happening right now.  It’s easy to imagine a real-life version of Nerve going on right now.  As I watched Vee and Ian play Nerve, I was actually reminded of how much fun twitter used to be.  And then, just as happens in Nerve, more and more people got involved and things quickly went downhill.  The more popular both twitter and Nerve became, the less pleasant the experience.  The same is true for just about everything that’s ever happened online.  It always starts out as fun until the trolls arrive.  (And trolls, of course, have the magic ability to use their mere presence to transform former non-trolls into trolls as well.)  Nerve answers the age-old question of why we can’t have nice things.

Beyond that, it’s an entertaining film.  Emma Roberts and Dave Franco make for an exceptionally likable couple, the film is quickly paced, and Michael Simmonds’s cinematography gives the film an appealing and slickly flamboyant look.  Nerve didn’t really get as much attention as it deserved when it was originally released but I have a feeling that it is a film that will be rediscovered and appreciated by viewers in the future.

 

Film Review: Mother, May I Sleep With Danger (dir by Melanie Aitkenhead)


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Earlier tonight, I turned over to Lifetime and I watched the much hyped remake of Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?  Having watched, what can I say about it?

*sigh*

Seriously, I had such high hopes.  My hopes for this film were almost as high as I was the day I graduated from high school.  That’s pretty freaking high!

And really, can you blame me?  First off, the film was a remake of one of my favorite Lifetime films.  And, while I usually hate remakes, the original Mother, May I Sleep With Danger was so over-the-top and melodramatic that it practically demanded a Deadly Adoption-style remake.  The idea of mixing the original’s stalker plot with lesbian vampires just sounded so promising!  And, on top of that, James Franco was involved!

Up until I saw the movie tonight, I was under the assumption that James Franco would actually be directing the remake.  Well, he didn’t.  Mother, May I Sleep With Danger was directed by Melanie Aitkenhead and, considering that this was her feature debut, she actually did a pretty good job.  The film is full of atmospheric shots and Aitkenhead gets a surprising amount of mileage out of simply showing the movie’s vampires moving across the screen in slow motion.

Instead of direcing, James Franco served as executive producer and is credited with coming up with the film’s “original story.”  (The actual screenplay is credited to Amber Coney, who also plays one of the vampires.)  Franco also plays a theater professor who directs a production of Macbeth.  In his production, Macbeth is played by a woman and you know what?  That’s a great idea!  In fact, there were times that I found myself thinking that, if I had to choose between watching Mother, May I Sleep With Danger? and James Franco’s Macbeth, I would definitely pick Macbeth.

As for the rest of the film — well, it actually has absolutely nothing in common with the original Mother, May I Sleep With Danger.  The original film’s stars — Tori Spelling and Ivan Sergei — both show up in different roles but it would have been a lot more interesting if they had been playing the same roles.  What if Sergei’s psycho stalker actually didn’t drown at the end of the original and ended up teaching a college class on Victorian literature?  And what if his favorite student just happened to be the daughter of his former obsession (played, of course, by Tori Spelling)?  That would have been interesting!  Instead, Sergei is playing just any professor and Spelling is playing just any mother.

The majority of the film deals with Spelling’s daughter, Leah (Leila George), attempting to work up the courage to tell her mom that 1) she’s a lesbian and 2) she has a new girlfriend, named Pearl (Emily Meade).  What Leah doesn’t know is that Pearl is actually a vampire and is being pressured by her blood-sucking friends to turn Leah into a vampire too.  As well, nerdy and creepy Bob (Nick Eversman) has an unrequited crush on Leah.  When Bob discovers that Leah has a girlfriend, he starts plotting to break them up.

And there’s a lot that I liked about Mother, May I Sleep With Danger.  I liked that the film, unlike a few other Lifetime films that I’ve seen, was unapologetic about being sex positive.  I liked that the film presented an unambigiously positive portrayal of a same-sex couple.  I liked that the vampires were all stylish and enjoyed hanging out in cemeteries.  The film’s best scenes featured the vampires infiltrating frat parties and feeding on the date rapists within.  These were hugely satisfying scenes and I would have been happy if the entire movie had just been scene after scene of vampires attacking Brock Turner.

But despite all that worked about the movie, Mother, May I Sleep With Danger left me feeling disappointed.  After all the hype and the raised expectations and the commercials promising us a masterpiece from “the twisted mind of James Franco,” there was really no way not to be disappointed by the final product.  Unlike last year’s A Deadly Adoption, Mother, May I Sleep With Danger never managed to establish a consistent tone.  It didn’t seem to be sure whether it wanted to be a comedy, a drama, a horror film, or an elaborate send-up of the Lifetime aesthetic.  Whereas A Deadly Adoption was clearly a labor of snarky love, I couldn’t help but feel that Mother, May I Sleep With Danger had probably been made by people who don’t particularly like Lifetime films.  As such, it worked as neither an homage nor a parody.  Instead, it was just another movie about vampires and not a particularly original one at that.

And, hey, I like movies about vampires!  I’ve seen a few hundred of them.  I’ve certainly seen enough to know that Mother, May I Sleep With Danger didn’t bring anything new to the genre.

That said, I still love James Franco!  Seriously, how can’t I?

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Film Review: Money Monster (dir by Jodie Foster)


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In a perfect world, the new film Money Monster would feature a monster that was literally made out of money.  Its name would be Monblar and it would shamble down Wall Street and breathe coins made of fire.

Or, if not featuring a literal Money Monster, the film would at least open with the angry spirit of Andrew Jackson springing out of a twenty and seeking vengeance over being replaced by Harriet Tubman.  In order to defeat the bitter old president, it would be necessary to summon the spirits of both Tubman and currency hottie Alexander Hamilton.  Seriously, that would be a great movie!

Unfortunately, Money Monster is just another boring recession thriller.  I’ve lost track of how many bad movies have been released since 2008, all featuring saintly blue collar workers who are forced to resort to extreme measures as a result of losing all of their money due to corporate greed.  While they seek revenge by either pulling off a tower heist or an assault on wall street, villainous CEOs sit in their offices, smoke cigars, and laugh at the evil of it all.  In between the inevitable gunshots and the collapsing families and the evictions, there’s always time for a didactic speech or two.  And don’t get me wrong.  I’m not fan of Wall Street but I’m also not a fan of preachy movies.

George Clooney plays Lee Gates, who has a show called Money Monster where he tells people where they should invest their money.  Lee is charming.  Lee is glib.  Lee’s show features backup dancers, clips from old movies, and a rap theme song that is just so 2002.  At the start of the show, Lee even dances as Money Monster tries to convince us that Lee’s a hyperactive showman despite the fact that he’s being played one of the most laid back actors of all time.  Lee is totally unaware and/or unconcerned about the people who have occasionally lost their life savings due to his advice.

One of those people is a deliveryman named Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) and we know he’s a good, honest guy because his name is Kyle Budwell as opposed to Kyle Evilguy.  Kyle follows Lee’s advice to invest his family’s savings in IBIS Global Capital.  (At first, I thought that the company was called ISIS Global Capital and I was like, “Hey, you betray your country, you pay the consequences…”)  One week later, the IBIS stock crashes, Kyle is suddenly dead broke, The Big Short only manages to win one Oscar, and Hillary Clinton defeats Bernie Sanders in the New York primary.  What other choice does Kyle have other than to go on Lee’s show, force Lee to wear a bomb vest, and demand answers!

Yawn.

There’s not a single surprising moment in Money Monster.  I was going to say that you immediately know that IBIS’s CEO is evil because he’s played by Dominic West but actually, you know he’s evil because he’s a CEO and he’s appearing in a movie called Money Monster.  Meanwhile, you know that Kyle isn’t really a bad guy because he looks like likable, clean-cut, and handsome Jack O’Connell.  If Money Monster had any guts, it would have cast some fat 60 year-old slob with bad teeth in the role of Kyle Budwell.  Money Monster ends with a twist that you’ll guess within the first few minutes of film.  It’s an annoying twist, if just because it seems to assume that the audiences can’t handle moral ambiguity.

(Then again, there’s really no reason to assume that audiences can handle moral ambiguity so maybe Money Monster has a point…)

I suppose I should mention that Julia Roberts is also in the movie but there’s really no reason for her to be there.  She plays Lee’s producer, Patty, and there’s nothing about the role that demands it be played by a star.  There is a subplot about how, up until the Kyle takes Lee hostage, Patty had been planning on quitting her job but … well, who cares?  Whenever Patty and Lee talked, I found myself cringing and thinking, “Do we really have to sit through this conversation?”

(In all fairness to Money Monster, that’s actually my reaction to most conversations…)

Money Monster was directed by Jodie Foster.  It’s funny how we always assume that just because someone is a good actor that they’ll also be a good director.  For instance, Angelina Jolie has directed three mediocre films and yet, with the announcement of each new Jolie-directed movie, we still continue to assume that she’s eventually going to win an Oscar for her work behind the camera.  (Remember when Unbroken and By The Sea were being touted as guaranteed Oscar nominees?)  George Clooney has directed five films and none of them are really that good.  (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind only works because of Sam Rockwell’s performance.  Goodnight and Good Luck is overrated.  Leatherheads is boring.  The Ides of March is tedious and The Monuments Men is one of the worst movies that I’ve ever seen.)  Money Monster is Foster’s fourth film as a director and it’s almost as much of a tonal mess as The Beaver.  Then again, The Beaver was at least weird.  Money Monster was just boring.  Foster is an incredibly compelling actress and an incredibly blah director.

That said, you would think that Foster would at least be able to get good performances out of the cast.  As good as they often are, both George Clooney and Julia Roberts have actorly tics that they tend to fall back on whenever they’re working in the absence of a strong directorial vision and let’s just say that this is a very tic-filled film.  Meanwhile, poor Jack O’Connell is running the risk of turning into Taylor Kitsch.

Amazingly enough, Money Monster was this week’s “big” release.  Personally, I would recommend seeing Captain America: Civil War for a second or third time.  Now that was a good movie!

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A Quickie With Lisa Marie: Twelve (directed by Joel Schumacher)


I’ve seen a lot of reviews for the just-released Twelve that have referred to this movie as just being an extended episode of Gossip Girl, largely because the movie deals with spoiled, rich teenagers and it stars Chace Crawford.  I’m going to venture a guess that the majority of these reviewers have never actually seen an episode of Gossip Girl, which is actually entertaining and self-aware in a way that the ploddingly obvious Twelve could never hope to match.

Crawford plays White Mike.  He’s a recent high school drop out who now makes his living selling drugs — mostly marijuana — to his former classmates.  However, his classmates — not to mention his cousin, Charlie — are more interested in sampling a new designer drug known as twelve.  We’re told that twelve feels like a combination of cocaine and ecstasy.  As this movie struggled to reach its apocalyptic conclusion, I found myself thinking, “That doesn’t sound too bad.  I wonder if I can get some twelve after the movie…”

Anyway, Twelve charts out four days in the life of Crawford and his former classmates.  It starts with Crawford ignoring a pathetic phone call from his junkie cousin and it ends with a shooting rampage at a party that leaves the majority — but not all — of the cast dead.  It’s supposed to be an anti-drug film but, like far too many anti-drug films, it can’t disguise the fact that the characters are a lot more fun to watch when they’re on drugs than when they aren’t.  (For instance, we’re told early on that White Mike doesn’t do drugs, smoke, or drink and just look how miserable he is.)  Director Joel Schumacher gives us a lot of really pretty images but there’s nothing below the surface and as a result, the film’s massacre doesn’t so much feel tragic as it just feels like a poorly planned fashion spread in Elle

(As opposed to Nick McDonnell’s original novel, the film Twelve is mainstream enough to only allow unlikable characters to die at the end.)

The cast is almost achingly pretty but, at the same time, largely forgettable, with two major exceptions.  Poor Rory Culkin (who I worry about because he always seems so sad every time he shows up in a movie) brings a lot of pathos to his role as the geeky kid who happens to have the perfect party house, permissive parents, and a psychotic older brother.  Emily Meade is memorable playing a character who, in many ways, is a female version of Culkin’s.  Playing a bipolar girl who discovers a love for twelve, Meade actually manages to overcome the generic plot (the type that demands that she go from being an honor’s student to selling her body to Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson in little over 24 hours) and makes her character compelling.  Plus, she has a fun scene where her teddy bears encourage her to kill people.

Still, the movie ultimately belongs to Keifer Sutherland who never appears on-screen but who gets more dialogue than anyone else in the entire film.  Sutherland plays the narrator.  That’s right, as simplistic as the movie is, Schumacher apparently felt that the movie needed a narrator to tell us what we’ve just seen onscreen.  For instance, we see Crawford selling drugs.  Suddenly, Sutherland’s voice informs us, “White Mike is a drug dealer.”  “Oh,” we say in the audience, “so that’s why he’s exchanging marijuana for money…” 

Even though the narrator is essentially just quoting large chunks of prose from McDonnell’s novel, the use here is technically a mistake.  I say “technically” because it cannot be denied that Sutherland has probably got the sexiest narrator voice around.  Regardless of whether the movie needed it, I needed it.  If nothing else, I will always remember seeing Twleve as the time I heard Keifer Sutherland say, in his purring growl of a voice, “I want to tap that ass,” and I thought, “Well, okay…”