Film Review: The Butterfly Effect (dir by Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber)


How many different ways can Ashton Kutcher fuck up time and space?

That’s the question asked in the gloriously silly The Butterfly Effect, a film that was a minor hit back in 2004.  Ashton plays Evan Treborn, a disheveled college student who is studying how memory works.  All through his life, Evan has suffered from seizures that are triggered by stress.  Evan has a lot of stress because apparently, there’s not a single bad thing that didn’t happen to him when he was a child.

Crazy father who tried to strangle Evan before being gunned down in front of his son’s terrified eyes?  Yep.

Sexual molestation at the hands of a suburban drunk?  Yep.

A best friend who blew up not only a mailbox but also a mother and a baby?  Yep.

A dog that was set on fire by a neighborhood bully?  Yep.

Another friend who was driven into a catatonic state by all the madness around him?  Yep.

A girlfriend who, due to family tragedy, had to move away?  Yep.

However, things seem to be getting better for Evan.  Now, he’s a psychology major with a bright future.  His professors love him.  He’s even got a roommate named Thumper (played, somewhat inevitably, by Ethan Suplee).   And, as he’s soon to discover, he possesses a special power.  All he has to do is read his old journals and, for a limited time, he can go into the past and change his history.

Of course, it turns out that changing history is a lot more complicated than it looks.  Evan goes back into the past and confronts the pervy suburban drunk.  He then goes back to the present and discovers that he’s now a shallow frat boy who is hated by both his professors and Thumper!  Even worse, he eventually ends up in prison for killing a man.  Going back into the past and saving his dog leads to his friend Lenny (Elden Hansen) spending the rest of his life imprisoned.  Another trip to the past results in Evan waking up as a double amputee.  Depending on what Evan does, his friend Kayleigh (Amy Smart) either becomes a shallow sorority princess or a drug-addicted prostitute.  Meanwhile, Kayleigh’s brother (William Lee Scott) goes from being a psychotic murderer to a clean-cut religious guy.

Thumper never changers, though.  Thumper endures.

This, of course, is a lot of pressure to put on any character played by Ashton Kutcher and soon, Evan is having nosebleeds and migraines.  Every time he changes the past, his brain is flooded with 20 years worth of new memories.  His brain might explode before he can fix all the damage that he’s done….

Watching The Butterfly Effect is an odd experience because, on the one hand, the premise is genuinely intriguing but, on the other hand, the film stars the reliably goofy Ashton Kutcher.  Ashton grows a beard and doesn’t wash his hair for the first half of the movie, which is the film’s way of letting us know that we’re meant to take him seriously but it doesn’t change the fact that he’s still Ashton Kutcher.  Even when playing the most dramatic of scenes, Ashton tends to deliver every line as if it’s the set up for a punch line.  It’s not surprising that the best part of The Butterfly Effect is when Ashton wakes up and discovers that he’s now a frat boy.  Those scenes are intentionally funny and they take advantage of what Ashton Kutcher is actually good at.

At the same time, it’s hard not to get into The Butterfly Effect.  It’s a mess but it’s a likable mess and it’s undeniably enjoyable to see how everyone’s life changes as a result of Ashton’s constant meddling.  (William Lee Scott especially has fun, switching between being full-blown psycho and full-blown religious.)  The Butterfly Effect may be dumb but it’s fun.  It’s a film that’s best watched with your snarkiest friends.

Horror Film Review: Anaconda (dir by Luis Llosa)


In many ways, the 1997 monster film Anaconda is an incredibly dumb movie but let’s give credit where credit is for.  Whoever was in charge of casting this movie managed to assemble the most unlikely group of co-stars that you would ever expect to see in a movie about a documentary crew who run into a giant snake while sailing down the Amazon River.

I mean, let’s just consider the most familiar names in the cast.  Jennifer Lopez.  Ice Cube.  Jon Voight.  Owen freakin Wilson.  I mean, it’s not just that you wouldn’t expect to come across these four people all in the same movie.  It’s that they all seem to come from a totally different cinematic universe.  They’ve all got their own unique style of acting and seeing them all on the same small boat together is just bizarre.  You’ve got Jennifer Lopez, delivering her lines with a lot of conviction but not much sincerity.  And then you’ve got Ice Cube coolly looking over the Amazon and basically daring the giant snake to even think about trying to swallow him.  Owen Wilson is his usual quirky self, delivering his lines in his trademark Texas stoner drawl.  And then you’ve got Jon Voight.

Oh my God, Jon Voight.

Voight plays Paul Serone, a Paraguayan who says that he can help the documentary crew find an isolated Amazon tribe but who, once he gets on the boat, basically takes over and announces that he’s actually a snake hunter and he’s planning on capturing the biggest anaconda in existence.  It takes a while for the snake to show up.  When it finally does, it’s actually a pretty impressive throw-back to the type of cheesy by entertaining monsters that used to show up in drive-in movies back in the 50s and the 60s.  But really, the biggest special effect in the movie is Jon Voight.  Wisely, Voight doesn’t waste any time trying to be subtle or in anyway believable in the role of Serone.  Instead, Voight gives a performance that seems to be channeling the spirit of the infamous Klaus Kinski.  Voight growls, snarls, and glares as if the fate of the world depended upon it and he rips into his Paraguayan accent with all the ferocity of a character actor who understands the importance of being memorable in an otherwise forgettable movie.  It’s as if Voight showed up on set and looked at what was going and then said to himself, “Well, Jon, it’s all up to you.”  Serone is really a pretty vicious character.  I mean, he literally strangles a character to death with his legs!  But, thanks to Voight’s crazed energy he’s still the most compelling character in the movie.  It’s really scary to think about what the film would have been like without Voight shaking things up.  Along amongst the cast, Voight seems to understand just how silly Anaconda truly is.  Voight takes a rather middling monster movie and, through sheer force of will, manages to make it at least somewhat entertaining.

Personally, I’d like to see a remake of Anaconda, one that would feature the same cast but would be directed by Werner Herzog.  Just imagine if Herzog had told the story of that trip down the Amazon.  Gone would be the bland dialogue and rudimentary character motivations.  Instead, we’d have Jennifer Lopez slowly going insane while hundreds of monkey lay siege to the boat and Ice Cube musing on the never ending conflict between man and nature.  Herzog’s Anaconda would probably be just crazy enough to keep up with Jon Voight’s performance.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #101: Harvard Man (dir by James Toback)


Oh please, Harvard Man sucks.

I watched this 2002 film for one reason and one reason only.  It stars Sarah Michelle Gellar and I used love Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  In fact, now that I think about it, my love for Buffy the Vampire Slayer has led to me watching a lot of really bad movies.  Seriously, somebody give Nichols Brendon a role in a good movie and do it now!  I’m tired of reading about him getting arrested at conventions.

But anyway, in Harvard Man, Sarah plays Cindy Bandolini, a student at Harvard.  Her father is a gangster and he’s played Gianni Russo, who is best known for playing Carlo Rizzi in The Godfather.  Cindy is also dating the star of Harvard’s basketball team, Alan Jenson (Adrian Grenier).  Cindy knows that Alan’s parents have just lost their farm to a tornado.  She tells Alan that if he’ll throw an upcoming basketball game, her father will pay him $100,000.  However, Mr. Bandolini isn’t really in on the deal.  Instead, Cindy has set it up herself with the help of two of her father’s associates, Teddy (Eric Stoltz) and Teddy’s girlfriend, Kelly (Rebecca Gayheart).

But what Cindy doesn’t know is that both Teddy and Kelly work for the FBI.  She also doesn’t know that Teddy and Kelly are engaging in threesomes with a philosophy professor, Chesney Cort (Joey Lauren Adams) and that Chesney is also having an affair with Alan.

Got all that?

Good.  Of course, it doesn’t really make that much of a difference because Alan is such a passive character that you get the feeling that he really doesn’t care what happens one way or another.  About halfway through the film, he takes a massive dose of LSD and he spends the rest of the film tripping while all of the various characters chase him across Boston.

And then Al Franken shows up, playing himself.  As Alan wanders across campus, Al Franken walks up to him and says, “Hi, I’m Al Franken.”  It turns out that the future senator is showing his daughter around Harvard and wants to ask Alan what the campus is like nowadays.  As future President Franken speaks in his nasal tones, we get all sorts of fun distortion effects so, if you’ve ever wanted to see Al Franken with a big googly face, Harvard Man is the film for you.  Al Franken’s scenes are, however, partially redeemed by the way that the actress playing his daughter rolls her eyes at her desperately uncool dad.

And, of course, while this is going on, we get random scenes of Joey Lauren Adams giving an endless lecture about ethics.  Why, exactly?  I imagine it has something to do with fooling critics like me and making us mistake Harvard Man for a movie with a brain.

Harvard Man is a pretentious mess of a film but it’s a fascinating example of what happens when every single role in a movie is miscast.  Eric Stoltz and Rebecca Gayheart are the least believable FBI agents ever.  You don’t believe for a second that short and scrawny Adrian Grenier could be a basketball star.  Joey Lauren Adams comes across like she’d be lucky to teach at Greendale Community College, much less Harvard.  Al Franken makes for a remarkably unconvincing Al Franken.  And, as much as I loved her in Buffy, Cruel Intentions, and Ringer, I do have to say Sarah Michelle Geller is one of the least convincing Italians that I have ever seen on-screen.

Harvard Man is an incredibly bad film but at least you get to see Al Franken with a googly face,

HARVARDMAN

Back to School #45: Say Anything… (dir by Cameron Crowe)


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For the past two and a half weeks, we’ve been taking a chronological look at some of the best, worst, most memorable, and most forgettable teens films ever made.  We started with two films from 1946 and now, 43 films later, we’ve reached the end of the 80s.  And what better way to close out the decade that is often considered to be the golden age of teen films than by taking a look at two films from 1989 that both paid homage to the films that came before them and also served to influence the many films that would come after.

When people talk about Say Anything…, they usually seem to talk about the fact that it was the directorial debut of Cameron Crowe (who, it must be said, launched the golden age of teen films by writing Fast Time At Ridgemont High) and that it features what may be John Cusack’s best performance.  Famously, Cusack apparently felt that — after performances in Class, Sixteen Candles, and Better Off Dead — he was through playing teenagers.  But then he read Crowe’s script and was so impressed by it that he agreed he would play a student one last time.

It may, however, have helped that the character Cusack plays, a likable and easy-going kickboxing enthusiast named Lloyd Dobler — is only briefly seen as a student.  He graduates from high school early on in the movie.  That majority of Say Anything… deals with the summer right after high school.*  Lloyd has an unlikely but heartbreakingly real romance with Diane Court (Ione Skye), the valedictorian.

Cusack is so charming as Lloyd (and, needless to say, he gets all of the best lines) that I think people tend to overlook the fact that Ione Skye is equally as good.  Diane is actually a far more challenging role than Lloyd.  Whereas Lloyd is distinguished by his confidence and his friendly manner, Diane is neurotic, shy, and unsure of herself.  She’s won a scholarship to study in England and is scheduled to leave at the end of the summer but she’s scared of flying.  Even worse, her father, Jim Court (John Mahoney), is being investigated by the IRS.  As the summer progresses, Diane is forced to deal with the fact that not only has her seemingly perfect father broken the law but, when he’s confronted with his crimes, he uses his daughter as his excuse.  Yes, Jim seems to be saying, I stole money but I only did it to give you the best life possible.

Everyone seems to remember Say Anything… as the film that has that scene where Lloyd serenades Diane by holding that radio over his head.  And yes, that’s a wonderfully romantic scene, even if it’s been parodied so many times that it’s probably no longer as effective as it was when the film was first released.  But for me, Say Anything… is truly about Diane growing up and realizing that her father is not the saint that she thought he was.  (Making this realization especially upsetting is the fact that, initially, Mahoney is so likable in the role.)  You’re happy that Lloyd is there for her and you truly do come to love him because he is the perfect boyfriend, but ultimately, Say Anything… is Diane’s story.

(That said, though, I have to admit that some of my favorite scenes are just Lloyd talking to his friends.  Lili Taylor gives a great performance and how can you not laugh at Jeremy Piven hanging out at the convenience store?)

Ultimately, of course, the film works because both Lloyd and Diane come across as real human beings.  They’re not just boyfriend and girlfriend.  Instead, they’re two very likable characters who have been lucky enough to find each other.  In the end, you love Lloyd not because he’s funny or quirky but because he loves Diane for who she is.

Of course, it also helps that Say Anything has the perfect ending.

Ding!

Say-Anything_199

—-

* On a personal note, the summer after I graduated high school was the best summer of my life because I spent most of it in Italy!  Viva Iatalia!

Back to School #44: Some Kind of Wonderful (dir by Howard Deutch)


some_kind_of_wonderful

For the past two and a half weeks, I’ve been reviewing, in chronological order, some of the best, worst, most memorable, and most forgettable teen films ever made.  We started with two films from 1946 and now, we find ourselves coming to the close of the decade that is often considered to be the Golden Age of teen films, the 1980s.  For our 44th entry in Back to School, we take a quick look at 1987’s Some Kind of Wonderful.

Why a quick look?

Because, quite frankly, there’s not that much to say about it.

Some Kind of Wonderful is a story about an artistic, lower-class misfit who has a crush on one of the popular kids.  The only problem is that the popular kid is being cruelly manipulated by one of the richest students in school.  The misft also has a best friend who is totally in love with the misfit but the misft has somehow failed to notice this.  Eventually, the misfit does get to date the popular kid.  Both the popular kid and the misft are given a hard time by the members of their collective clique but they still manage to go on one truly amazing date.  Finally, the film ends with a big show down at a party and two people kissing outside.

Sound familiar?

If it does, that probably means that you’ve seen Pretty In Pink.  Some Kind of Wonderful is basically a remake of Pretty In Pink, the only difference being that the genders have been reversed and that the film is a lot more heavy-handed (and predictable) when it comes to examining class differences.   (Not coincidentally, both films were written by John Hughes and directed by Howard Deutch and it must be said that when it comes to Some Kind of Wonderful, it’s easy to feel that both of them were simply going through the motions.)  The misfit is an aspiring painted named Keith (Eric Soltz).  His best friend is a drummer named Watts (Mary Stuart Masterson).  The object of Keith’s affection is Amanda (Lea Thompson).  Unfortunately, even though she lives in the same poor neighborhood as Keith and Watts, Amanda is dating the rich (and therefore, evil) Hardy (Craig Sheffer).

Some-Kind-of-Wonderful-some-kind-of-wonderful-2841626-1024-768

When Keith finally works up the nerve to ask out Amanda, he doesn’t realize that she’s just broken up with Hardy and is on the rebound.  Watts is skeptical, telling Keith, “Don’t go mistaking paradise for a pair of long legs,” and I’m just going to admit that, as the proud owner of a pair of long legs, that line really annoyed me.  I guess it’s because I’ve known people like Watts, who always act like there’s something wrong with wanting to look good.

Shut up, Watts.

Shut up, Watts.

With the help of Watts and Duncan (Elias Koteas), the school bully that Keith managed to befriend in detention, Keith takes Amanda out on an amazing date and shows her a wonderful portrait that he’s painted of her.  At the same time, Hardy — angry because someone from a lower class is now dating his ex-girlfriend — starts to plot his own revenge…

There are some positive things about Some Kind of Wonderful.  There are two really good and memorable scenes that, momentarily, manage to elevate the entire film.  There’s the moment when Keith shows Amanda the painting.  And then there’s the erotically charged scene in which Keith and Watts practice how to kiss.  Koteas, Thompson, and Masterson all gives good performances.  Eric Stoltz is, at times, a bit too intense to sell some of the film’s more comedic moments but overall, he’s well-cast here.  (In fact, the only performance that I really didn’t care for was Craig Sheffer’s.  Sheffer one-dimensional villain only served to remind me of how good James Spader was in Pretty In Pink.)

That's no James Spader

That’s no James Spader

And yet, there’s just something missing from Some Kind of Wonderful, something that keeps this film from being … well, wonderful.  I have to wonder if I had never seen Pretty In Pink, would I have thought more of Some Kind of Wonderful?  Perhaps.  Whereas Pretty In Pink was full of the type of small details and clever moments that make it a joy to watch and rewatch, Some Kind of Wonderful is one of those films that you can watch once and enjoy it without ever necessarily feeling the need to ever watch it again.

Eric Stoltz is going to kill someone

Back to School #27: Fast Times At Ridgemont High (dir by Amy Heckerling)


Mike Damone

Mike Damone

Mike Damone, you little prick.

I’ve watched the 1982 high school dramedy Fast Times At Ridgemont High a handful of times.  I’ve reached the point where, every time I watch it, I know exactly what’s going to happen.  I know when stoner Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn) is going to order pizza.  I know that Charles Jefferson (Forest Whitaker) is going to go crazy during the big game against Lincoln High.  I know that when Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) kisses the sweet but shy Mark Ratner (Brian Backer), he’s going to end up panicking and scrambling for an excuse to go home.  I know that Brad (Judge Reinhold) is going to get caught masturbating.  I even know when Anthony Edwards, Nicolas Cage, and Eric Stoltz are all going to appear in early performances.

Nicolas Cage, 30 years before he would agree to star in a remake of Left Behind.

Nicolas Cage, 30 years before he would agree to star in a remake of Left Behind.

In other words, I know exactly what’s going to happen.

But, Mike Damone (played, very well, by Robert Romanus, who is only an actor and shouldn’t be held responsible for the actions of a fictional character) — every time, I find myself hoping you’ll do the right thing and every time, you let me down.

Oh sure.  I know that you tried to raise the money to help pay for Stacy’s abortion.  I saw the scene of you on the phone in your bedroom, begging people to finally pay for the tickets that you’d sold them.  I know that you tried but when you couldn’t get the money, where were you?  When Stacy had to ask her older brother, Brad, for a ride to the clinic, where were you?  After Stacy left the clinic, she found Brad waiting for her.  Brad agreed not to ask Stacy who had gotten her pregnant.  He agreed not to tell their parents.  Brad was there for his sister.  Where were you, Mike Damone?

What really upsets me is that, up until you abandoned Stacy, you were one of the more likable characters in Fast Times At Ridgemont High.  I mean, sure — you didn’t get to deliver any classic lines like Spicoli did.  And you weren’t adorably shy like Mark.  But, Mike Damone — I believed in you!  We all believed in you!  (Imagine me doing my best Tyra Banks imitation here.)  You were a cocky guy who spent all of your time selling concert tickets at the mall but you know what?  We all assumed that, underneath all of the attitude, there secretly lurked a good guy.  I mean, we could tell that you sincerely cared about your friend Mark and, because we’re all fools apparently, we even thought that maybe Stacy could bring out the real you.  When Stacy sat there writing “Mrs. Stacy Damone” on her test paper in history class, we understood.  Because, after all, we’ve all had a Mike Damone in our life.

Rat and Mike

Rat and Mike

But then, what happened?  Well, first, you had sex with Stacy despite the fact that you knew Mark liked her.  Of course, for all your bluster and talk, it turned out that sex with Mike Damone amounted to 2 minutes of squirming followed by that classic line, “I think I came.”  And then you left, saying those words that every girl dreams of hearing from someone she’s just been with: “I’ll see you around.”  (Or maybe you said, “I’ll give you a call,” or “I’ve got to go now.”  Either way, it was a pretty shitty thing to say, Damone.)

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As you may have guessed, Fast Times At Ridgemont High is not your typical teen comedy.  In fact, over three decades since it was first released, it remains one of the best and most perceptive films about teenagers ever made.  Over on the A.V. Club, Keith Phipps refers to Fast Times as being “a Trojan horse of a teen comedy that balanced lowbrow gags with subtle humor, genuine insight .. and pathos,” and that’s such a perfect description that I’m not at all ashamed to repeat it word-for-word here.

Don’t get me wrong.  Though Fast Times At Ridgemont High has a lot more drama than you would expect from a film with the words “Fast Times” in the title, it’s also an undeniably funny film.  It’s just that, unlike so many other teen comedies, the comedy comes from a very real place.  This is one of those rare films where the characters are funnier than the situations that they find themselves in.  You laugh because you relate to the characters.  (Admitedly, you might also laugh at what some of them are wearing.  Mike Damone’s keyboard print scarf comes to mind…)

Hey I Know That Guy

Spicoli and Hand

Like many classic teen films — American Graffiti, Fame and Dazed and Confused, to cite just three obvious examples — Fast Times At Ridgemont High is an ensemble piece that follows several different students as they survive a year at Ridgemont High.  Sean Penn’s Jeff Spicoli is the character that everyone always mentions as a favorite and indeed, he does get the best lines and his battles with Mr. Hand (Ray Waltson) are definitely a highlight of the film.  People also always mention Linda (Pheobe Cates), who has a boyfriend in college and who walks in on Brad while he’s fantasizing about her.  And yes, Linda is a memorable character and not just because she bares her breasts during Brad’s fantasy.  She’s also Stacy’s best friend and I think we’ve all had a friend like Linda, someone who we looked up to and assumed had all the answers.  For that matter, Brad is also an interesting character and there’s something undeniably fascinating about watching as he goes from being a carefree, popular teen to being a guy working behind the counter at 7-11.

(If only Brad had not gotten Arnold that job at All-American Burger…)

Agck!

Agck!

However, for me, the film will always be about Stacy, if just because she’s the character to which I relate.  I know when I was 15, I felt a lot like Stacy and, every time I watch Fast Times, I feel like some of Stacy’s experiences could have been taken straight out of my diary.  I had the same combination of confidence and insecurity and the same questions about why boys could talk like men but never act like them.  Stacy, of course, is played by Jennifer Jason Leigh who gives a remarkably brave and vulnerable performance in this film.  Off the top of my head, I can’t tell you who won the Oscar for best supporting actress of 1982 but it doesn’t matter.  Jennifer Jason Leigh should have won it.

Jennifer Jason Leigh in Fast Times At Ridgemont High

Jennifer Jason Leigh in Fast Times At Ridgemont High

Fast Times is often referred to as being a Cameron Crowe film, largely because Crowe famously went undercover at an actual high school while writing the book that served as the basis for his script.  And yes, Fast Times is filled with scenes and characters that feel undeniably Cameron Crowe-like.  However, Fast Times was directed by Amy Heckerling and thank God for that.  Heckerling brings a sensitive touch to material that a male director would be tempted to play solely for exploitation.  Cameron Crowe may have written the script but it’s definitely an Amy Heckerling film.

And, sorry, Mike Damone — you’re still a little prick.

Mike Damone, a.k.a. Little Prick

Mike Damone, a.k.a. Little Prick

Lisa’s Homestate Reviews: Louisiana and Sister, Sister


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My sixth and (to date, anyway) final home state is Louisiana, where my family called Shreveport home from December of 1996 to May of 1998.  Louisiana was the last state I lived in before moving back to Texas, where I’ve remained ever since.

Whenever people find out that I used to live in Louisiana, they always seem to automatically assume that means that I either lived in New Orleans or next door to the family from Duck Dynasty.  They always seem to be somewhat disappointed to learn that I lived in Shreveport, which has a lot more in common with East Texas than with the things that most people visualize when they think about Louisiana.  However, I will always have good memories of Shreveport and let me tell you why.  For most of my childhood, I had a really bad stutter and, as a result, I was extremely shy.  However, shortly after my 12th birthday, my stutter went away.  Whether it was the result of spending hours with speech therapists or if it’s just something that I outgrew, Shreveport will always be the city where I stopped stuttering.  (And, it should be noted, Shreveport may not be New Orleans but it still celebrates Mardi Gras.  It’s just that the celebrations in Shreveport are a bit more …. sedate.)  So, seriously — don’t say a word against Shreveport.

Besides, Shreveport has a wonderful atmosphere all of its own.  In fact, the same thing can be said about all of Louisiana.  With its long history and unique culture, Louisiana is perhaps the most atmospheric state in the union and that atmosphere is perfectly displayed in Sister, Sister, an effective little thriller from 1987.

Sister, Sister tells the story of two sisters living in a dilapidated mansion on the bayous.  The older sister, Charlotte (Judith Ivey) is in love with Sheriff Cleve Doucet (Dennis Lipscomb) but she knows she can never marry him because she has to watch and protect her younger sister, Lucy (Jennifer Jason Leigh).  Lucy is mentally unstable and claims that she can communicate with the ghosts that live in the bayous.

Charlotte and Lucy have turned their mansion into the boarding house and they rent a room to Matt (Eric Stoltz), a congressional aide who is taking his vacation in the bayous.  Matt takes an interest in Lucy, which raises the suspicions of Etienne (Bejamin Mouton), a sinister handyman who appears to be obsessed with Lucy himself.  As you can probably guess, nobody in this film is quite who he or she appears to be and it all leads to the uncovering of dark secrets from the past.

So, let’s just start with the obvious.  The plot of Sister, Sister doesn’t make much sense.  If you think about it, you’ll find a lot of improbabilities.  So, my suggestion is that you just don’t think about it.  Instead, watch the film for the performances of Judith Ivey and Jennifer Jason and the atmosphere of the bayous.  Making his directorial debut here, future Twilight director Bill Condon captures a lot of haunting images of the bayou and his direction emphasizes mood over cheap thrills.  The end result is a horror film that might not be scary but it certainly is creepy and stays with you after it’s over.

If nothing else, Sister, Sister is an effective B-movie.  It’s also a nice showcase for my former home state of Louisiana.

Sister, Sister

Film Review: The Prophecy (dir. by Gregory Widen)


I first found out about this little cult film starring the very awesome Christopher Walken around 1993 or so when I was at the local Waldenbooks (yes there used to be bookstores not named Barnes & Noble or Borders back in the day) looking at the latest issue of Fangoria. Inside the magazine they were doing a brief feature on an upcoming horror film tentatively called God’s Army. All I saw was that it was to star Christopher Walken and it had gore and angels in it. That alone peaked my interest and I was looking forward to seeing it in the theaters. Almost two years passed and nothing about it was ever heard again until I visited the video rental place near my house and saw a VHS tape (yeah, those big videocassette thingies) with the title of The Prophecy and starring Christopher Walken.

This was the film I was so hyped to seeing in the theaters. The title had changed from it’s earlier (and much cooler) one of God’s Army. It would seem that it’s film distributor had little to no faith in the box-office potential of the film and just delayed it’s release to the point that when it did come out no one knew about it barely anyone saw it. It was a real damn shame since filmmaker Gregory Widen made such a good film that was able to mash-up horror, angels and a detective story all in one without creating a mess of things.

The Prophecy was about the war in heaven we were never taught about in Sunday school. We all know about the war in heaven where Lucifer and the rebel angels who followed him tried to overthrow God. That didn’t go over so well for Lucifer and he and his band of fallen angels were cast out into Hell by God and his right-hand man the Archangel Michael. This film talks about the second war in heaven soon thereafter which no one outside those who wrote little-known apocryphal texts about it (and being apocryphal they never were included in the Bible). This war now had a new group of angels led by the Archangel Gabriel rebelling against God for choosing humans (talking monkeys as these new rebels called them) above all living creatures including the angels themselves for God’s love. This war was now in a state of stalemate after countless millenia, but a prophecy about a soul so dark and evil was to be the tipping point for either side. This particular soul was to be found on Earth and whoever acquires it would break the stalemate and finally bring this second war to an end.

With this in mind we have Walken as the Archangel Gabriel coming down to Earth to look for this soul so he can finally win the war for his side (which also means the end of mankind). It’s the angel Simon (played by Eric Stoltz) who comes down to stop him from getting this soul or, at the very least, hide it from Gabriel. With these two factions of angels vying to acquire this soul we have a Detective Thomas Daggett smack in the middle of the case investigating all the weird happenings and deaths surrounding the battle between these two factions. The dead bodies of angels begin to appear on morgue slabs looking like eyeless, hermaphroditic specimens and angelic script found in crime scenes brings Daggett back to his time studying to be a priest before images of angels warring amongst themselves breaks him down and he quits the seminary to become a cop instead.

It would come down to these three factions racing against time to acquire this dark soul.

The film is not as gory as it’s feature in Fangoria made it out to be, but it is quite violent and bloody that I understand why it got the horror label attached to it. It’s more a dark fantasy thriller more than horror. It’s rare in today’s film that we see angels portrayed as the bloodthirsty beings that the really are. The film even points out this oft-ignored detail of God’s messengers. Angels are always the ones God sends to punish or send a very serious message to his chosen beings that is Man. The Prophecy shows this aspect of angels in full light and how their attitudes about humanity might lead some of them to hate God for raising Man above even them.

Christopher Walker does a great job conveying Gabriel’s hate and contempt for humans. His Gabriel is like one of those pundits always on tv (both liberal and consevative) who are so into their sides’ message that they never see the other side as anything but the enemy. One could almost say that Walken’s Gabriel is like then apocalypse-hungry version of Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann in one body. This is not to say that Walken goes over-the-top with his performance. In fact, he’s quite subdued in how he uses those many tics and voice mannerisms a whole cottage industry has grown around in.

Walken’s portrayal of Gabriel infuses what could’ve become a one-note villain with lots of layers and complexities that the rest of the cast were able to play off from. His character would be terrifying one moment then smoothly switch over to being funny and charming then back to terror. It’s due to his great performance that the other cast members like Stoltz as the weary, loyal angel Simon and Koteas as the fallen religious cop Daggett were able to bring their own performance to another level. This is quite a feat since the dialogue in the film was a mixed bag of horror cliches and interesting Biblical-speak about secret wars, apocryphal books and prophecies. The film even has a nice appearance of the first fallen angel himself and none other than Viggo Mortensen plays Lucifer.

The Prophecy does have a feeling that it was always one misstep away from becoming an awful film. This had happened with 2010’s Legion and did that film about angels and the apocalypse turn out to be a huge steaming pile of shit-turd. But while Dimension Film saw the film fall over on the side of bad for myself and those who have come to admire and love this cult classic the film stayed balance between good and bad. Widen’s film never went over to the side of becoming a truly great film, but it also never fell on the side that Legion ended up on. What Prophecy ended up becoming was a film that was almost grindhouse in nature, but even then it still looked too good with too many good performances to be given that label. The fact that it contains one of Christopher Walken’s best performances speaks well of a film that many critics during it’s early days had dismissed as just another bad horror film.

In the end, this film became just one of the many little-gems that got lost in film studio money politics. I definitely would recommend this cult film to people who haven’t seen it, but I would tell them to stop at just this film and not even go near the four sequels which came after it.