Film Review: The Thing Called Love (dir by Peter Bogdanovich)

First released in 1993 and directed by Peter Bogdanovich, The Thing Called Love takes place in Nashville, the city that, for many people, has come to define Americana.

Of course, for those who actually love movies, it’s difficult to watch any film about Nashville and the country music scene without being reminded of Robert Altman’s American epic, Nashville.  Much like Nashville, The Thing Called Love follows a group of wannabes, stars, writers, and performers.  However, whereas Robert Altman used the city and its residents as a way to paint an acidic portrait of a nation struggling to find its way in an uncertain new world, The Thing Called Love is far less ambitious.

The Thing Called Love centers around Miranda Presley (Samantha Mathis).  Miranda is from New York but she loves country music.  She comes to Nashville to try to sell her songs and become a star.  Instead, she ends up working as a waitress at the “legendary” Bluebird Cafe.  While she waits for her big break, she meets two other aspiring writer/performers, Linda Lu (Sandra Bullock) and Kyle Davidson (Dermot Mulroney).  Kyle falls in love with Miranda but Miranda falls in love with and marries James Wright (River Phoenix, brother of Joaquin).  Unfortunately, while James is talented, he’s also a bit of a jerk.

The Thing Called Love aired on TCM last year and I can still remember checking out the #TCMParty hashtag on twitter while the film was airing.  The majority of the comments were from people who loved TCM and who couldn’t understand why the channel was showing this rather forgettable movie.  The answer, of course, is that the film was directed by Peter Bogdanovich and Bogdanovich was one of the patron saints of TCM.  Along with being responsible for some genuinely good films (Targets, The Last Picture Show, Paper Moon, Saint Jack, Mask, The Cat’s Meow), Bogdanovich was also a very serious student of the history of film.  Up until he passed away in January, Bogdanovich was a familiar and welcome sight on TCM.  Listening to him talk about John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, and especially Orson Welles was always a delight.

Unfortunately, as Bogdanovich himself often admitted, the majority of his later films failed to reach the heights of his earlier work and that’s certainly the case of The Thing Called Love.  It’s not so much that The Thing Called Love is bad as it’s just really forgettable.  There’s very little about the film that suggests that it was directed by cineaste who was responsible for The Last Picture Show.  Samantha Mathis is likable but a bit bland in the role of Miranda while River Phoenix plays James as being such a jerk that you really don’t care about whether or not he finds success.  From what I’ve read, Phoenix based his performance on watching Bob Dylan in the documentary Don’t Look Back.  Dylan is notably mercurial in that documentary but, it should be noted, that Dylan eventually abandoned that persona once he realized that it was a creative dead end.

To be honest, I think the film would have worked better if Samantha Mathis had switched roles with Sandra Bullock.  This was one of Bullock’s first films and she steals every scene in which she appears, giving an energetic and likable performance as someone who never allows herself a single moment of doubt or despair.  As opposed to the self-loathing Phoenix and the bland Mathis and Mulroney, Sandra Bullock represents the hope and optimism that Nashville is meant to symbolize.  In the end, her performance is the best thing about The Thing Called Love.

Film Review: The Manor (dir by Axelle Croyon)

In 2021’s The Manor, Barbara Hershey plays Judith Albright.  Once a professional dancer, Judith now works as a dance instructor.  Or, at least, she does until she has a sudden stroke at her 70th birthday party.  Judith survives the stroke but it’s discovered that she has Parkinson’s disease.  Judith decides that it’s time to move into a nursing home.  Her grandson, Josh (Nicholas Alexander), disagrees but the rest of Judith’s family thinks that Judith is making the right decision.

At first, the nursing home seems ideal for Judith.  The nurses seem to be friendly.  The home is actually in a stately old manor and Judith has a nice view of the nearby woods from her room.  It’s true that Judith’s roommate seems to think that there’s something sinister happening but Judith (and everyone else) chalks that up to senility.  Judith moves into the Manor and even befriends some of the other residents, including Roland (Bruce Davison).

However, it’s not long before Judith starts to suspect that something strange is happening at the Manor.  She hears strange noises.  There are mysterious deaths.  It turns out that not all of the nurses are as friendly as the originally seem.  Judith starts to have visions of a strange tree-like creature in her room.  When Judith tries to talk to the nursing home’s staff, they dismiss her concerns and condescendingly tell her that she’s just confused.  Some of them even threaten her to keep her from making too much trouble.  Are they just bad nurses or is there something even worse motivating them?  And can Judith discover the Manor’s secret before she becomes the latest victim?

The Manor was the eighth and the last entry in the Welcome to the Blumhouse horror anthology series.  Each of the films premiered on Prime, with The Manor dropping on October 8th, 2021.  For the most part, the quality of the films featured as a part of Welcome to the Blumhouse were uneven.  However, The Manor actually works fairly well.  What the film lacks in budget, it makes up for in atmosphere.  The nursing home is a truly creepy location and director Axelle Croyon does a good job of creating the feeling that there could be something lurking in every shadow.  The scenes were Judith is woken in the night are well-done and the scenes where Judith is told that she is simply confused because she’s elderly are properly infuriating.  Barbara Hershey is well-cast as Judith, giving a good performance as someone who is at peace with being in her twilight years but who still isn’t quite ready to give up on life.  She is well-matched by Bruce Davison, playing a more ambiguous resident of the nursing home.  The ending of The Manor is also a bit unexpected, with Judith making a choice that’s unexpected but which makes sense if you look back over what we’ve learned about her over the course of the film.

In the end, The Manor feels like a modern version of one of those old episodes of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits.  Yes, the film does teach an important lesson about aging and respecting our elders but, even more importantly, it adds a slightly unexpected twist to give the story a properly macabre conclusion.  The Manor is an effective little horror tale and one that gives Barbara Hershey a chance to shine.

4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Michele Soavi Edition

4 Or More Shots From 4 Or More Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

Today, the Shattered Lens wishes a happy 65th birthday to one of our favorite directors, Michele Soavi!  In other words, it’s time for….

4 Shots from 4 Michele Soavi Films

Stage Fright (1987, dir by Michele Soavi, DP: Renato Tafuri)

The Church (1989, dir by Michele Soavi, DP: Renato Tafuri)

The Sect (1991, dir by Michele Soavi, DP: Raffaele Mertes)

Dellamorte Dellamore (1994, dir by Michele Soavi, DP: Mauro Marchetti)

Scenes I Love: Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer Play Beach Volleyball in Top Gun

Tom Cruise is 60 years old today!  He doesn’t look a day over 36.  Insert your own Dorian Gray joke here.

No matter what else you may want to say about Tom Cruise, you can’t deny that he’s one of the last of the genuine movie stars.  He’s been a star in since the 80s, doing things onscreen that you could never imagine some of our younger actors even attempting.  And right now, Top Gun: Maverick appears to be unstoppable with audiences and critics.  There are many reasons for Maverick‘s popularity but one cannot deny that a lot of it is the fact that Cruise just has that old-fashioned movie star charisma.

Today’s scene that I love comes from the first Top Gun.  In this scene, Tom Cruise, Anthony Edwards, Val Kilmer, and Rick Rossovich play beach volleyball.  The scene kind of comes out of nowhere and there are times when the whole thing comes close to self-parody.  (Actually, if we’re going to be honest, it crosses the line into self-parody more than a few times.)  But, Cruise and Kilmer manage to save it, like the movie stars they are!

Film Review: The Princess (dir by Le-Van Kiet)

An unnamed Princess (Joey King) has been taken prisoner by the evil Julius (Dominic Cooper).  Julius wants to take control of the kingdom and the best way to do that is to force the Princess to marry him.  The morning of what is planned to be her forced wedding, the Princess wakes up handcuffed and trapped in one of those huge towers that always seem to turn up in movies like this.  The Princess takes one look out the window and is confronted by some cartoonish CGI that lets the viewer know that she’s really up high.

Fortunately, this Princess has spent most of her life training to be a warrior.  Under the tutelage of Linh (Veronica Ngo) and Khai (Kristofer Kamiyasu), the Princess has learned how to fight and defeat almost any enemy.  (“Fight from you heart,” Linh tells her.)  As such, the Princess has no fear of breaking her wrist so that she can remove the handcuffs.  Soon, she is running through the tower, fighting every man that she comes across.

The first few fight scenes are cool and I appreciated the scene where the Princess shot a man with a crossbow just as he started to yell the C-word because, seriously, you boys have been going overboard with that word lately.  Ultimately, though, there’s so many fight scenes that eventually, the viewer can’t help but notice that the fight choreography itself is rather simplistic.  The Princess spends a lot of time jumping and spinning around in slow motion.  She’s good at sliding across the floor while ducking her head to avoid swinging swords and flying arrows.  It’s enjoyable the first few times but, as the film progresses, it all gets a bit repetitive.  A huge part of the problem is that none of Julius’s henchmen appear to be particularly competent.  They keep making the same stupid mistakes over and over again and, as such, it’s not really empowering to watch The Princess defeat them because they’re all so clumsy that it seems anyone could defeat them.  Even Julius commits the cardinal sin of talking when he should be fighting.  A great hero needs a great villain and unfortunately, The Princess doesn’t provide that.  Still, the fight scenes are preferable to any scene that involves dialogue as the script sometimes seems to have been written by an AI programmed to include every cliché possible.  On the one hand, the Princess is smashing the patriarchy.  On the other hand, good intentions do not make up for clunky dialogue.

To be honest, there’s a certain cynicism at the heart of The Princess that’s a bit off-putting.  Written by two men and directed by another, The Princess is so proud of itself for featuring a young woman kicking ass that one has to wonder if the people responsible are seriously not aware that the action girl is one of the leading pop culture clichés of the past 20 years.  The main complaint about the action girl trope is that the character is often not given any personality or motivation beyond the fact that she can beat people up and look good while doing it.  The Princess doesn’t even bother to give its main character a name.  For all the talk about the fate of the kingdom, we never learn how the Princess feels about any of it.

As for the cast, neither Joey King nor Dominic Cooper are well-served by a script that doesn’t offer any sort of real depth to the characters.  Both deserve better.

Film Review: Strategic Command (dir by Rick Jacobson)

In the 1997 film, Strategic Command, Richard Norton plays a terrorist named Carlos …. wait for it …. Gruber.  If that last name sounds familiar, that’s because the villain of Die Hard was named Hans Gruber and the bad guy from Die Hard With A Vengeance was named Simon Gruber.  Gruber — the number one name in hostage situations!

Anyway, Carlos Gruber and his fellow terrorists steal a chemical called Bromax from the FBI.  Bromax is a chemical weapon, one that can be used to kill thousands of people.  It’s probably not a good idea for anyone to have Bromax, regardless of whether they are terrorists or the FBI.  What’s the point of Bromax, really?  It only has evil purposes.  Plus, it has a stupid name.

Gruber proceeds to hijack Air Force Two, holding the Vice President (Michael Cavanaugh) and several journalists hostage.  Gruber wants his fellow terrorists to be released from prison and he’s prepared to kill the Vice President if he doesn’t get what he wants.  Perhaps because Gruber realizes how little the Vice President actually does, Gruber is also willing to spray Bromax over America.

Not wanting to see America get Bromaxed, the President sends an elite force of special op. soldiers after Air Force Two.  Captain Rattner (Jsu Garcia, back when he was still using the name Nick Corri) is in charge of the mission and he doesn’t expect there to be any slip-ups.  Accompanying Rattner’s men is Rick Harding (Michael Dudikoff!), the inventor of Bromax!  Along with not wanting to see Bromax sprayed over America, Harding also wants to save the life of his wife, Michelle (Amanda Wyss, who co-starred with Jsu Garcia in the original Nightmare on Elm Street).  Michelle is one of the journalists on the plane.

Strategic Command is stupid, yet strangely likable.  It’s impossible not to admire the film’s attempt to be a huge action epic without actually spending any money.  As a result, Air Force 2 is a commercial airliner.  There’s a surprisingly small number of people involved on both sides of the plot.  The viewer might expect the hostage situation to be one of those big, “all hands on deck” emergencies but, instead, the President is content to send 6 people to get the job done.  Fortunately, there aren’t that many terrorists either.  This is action on a budget.

Adding to the film’s overall strangeness is the miscasting of Michael Dudikoff as a quiet and somewhat nerdy scientist.  This is one of those films where the viewer is meant to assume that a character is smart just because he’s wearing glasses.  Dudikoff is so miscast that, again, it all becomes strangely likable.  He and Richard Norton are so enthusiastic about chewing up the scenery that it’s kind of fun to watch.  Also fun to watch is the legitimate great actor Bryan Cranston, cast here as a vain and cowardly anchorman.  One gets the feeling that this is probably not a film that Cranston brags about but his performance isn’t bad at all.  Every film like this needs to have a self-important reporter who can get humiliated in some fashion and Cranston handles the role like a pro.

Strategic Command is dumb but kind of fun, in the way that many 90s direct-to-video action films tend to be.  It’s a good film for when you want to watch something that won’t necessarily require your full attention.  In fact, the less thought one gives to what happens in Strategic Command, the better.  Watch it for Dudikoff, Norton, and especially the one and only Bryan Cranston!

4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Sydney Pollack Edition

4 Or More Shots From 4 Or More Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

87 years ago today, Sydney Pollack was born in Indiana.  Though Pollack got his start as an actor, he soon moved into directing and was one of the key television directors of the 1960s.  He eventually branched out into film, making a name for himself as a director of intelligent and sensitive comedies and dramas.  Though he only directed 21 films over the course of his career, his films received a total of 48 Oscar nominations and 11 wins.  1982’s Tootsie and 1985’s Out of Africa were both nominated for Best Picture.  Out of Africa won.

Pollack also returned to acting in the 90s, making a name for himself as a skilled character actor.  I’ll always remember him from Eyes Wide Shut, interrogating Tom Cruise while playing pool.

When he passed away in 2008, Pollack was remembered as one of the best directors of Hollywood’s second golden age.

In honor of Sydney Pollack, here are….

4 Shots From 4 Sydney Pollack Films

Jeremiah Johnson (1972, dir by Sydney Pollack, DP: Duke Callaghan)

The Yakuza (1974, dir by Sydney Pollack, DP: Duke Callaghan and Kozo Okazaki)

The Electric Horseman (1979, dir by Sydney Pollack, DP: Owen Roizman)

The Firm (1993, dir by Sydney Pollack, DP: John Seale)

Scenes I Love: Robby the Robot Makes His Debut in Forbidden Planet

According to the imdb, today is Robby the Robot’s birthday.  I didn’t know that robot’s had birthdays but apparently, they do.  Robby is 67 years old and I think that, along with Earl Holliman, he might be one of the last two surviving cast member of the 1956 sci-fi classic, Forbidden Planet.

So, it only seems appropriate that today’s scene that I love should be Robby the Robot’s debut appearance in Forbidden Planet.  Happy birthday, Robby!

8 Shots From 8 Films: Special Robert Evans Edition

4 Or More Shots From 4 Or More Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

92 years ago today, Robert Evans was born in New York City.  He started out working in his brother’s clothing business but a chance meeting with actress Norma Shearer led to him becoming an actor.  And while Evans, by his own account, was not a particularly good actor, he did prove himself to be very skilled at playing the games of Hollywood.  Evans eventually moved from acting to production, first as an executive at Paramount and then as an independent producer.

He lived a life as glamorous and tumultuous as the stars of his pictures and his memoir, The Kid Stays In The Picture, is considered to be one of the classic show biz autobiographies.  He hung out with cinematic rebels like Jack Nicholson and Robert Towne and counted Secretary of State Henry Kissinger as a friend.  He suggested that Francis Ford Coppola should direct The Godfather and, when Paramount put pressure on Coppola to cut the film down to two hours, it was Evans who famously announced that a two-hour Godfather was nothing more than a trailer.  He lost Ali MacGraw to Steve McQueen and, again by own account, he lost a lot of potentially productive years to cocaine.  (The Cotton Club scandal is one of the wildest in the history of Hollywood, though it should be noted that Evans himself was never charged with any wrongdoing.)  But, for all that he lost, Evans continues to gain admirers as being the epitome of the producer who was willing to take chances.  For all of his flamboyance, Evans had an eye for good material and the willingness to protect his directors.  In many ways, he was as important to the cinematic revolution of the 70s as the directors that he hired.  When Evans passed away in 2019, it was truly the end of an era.

Here, in honor of the birth and legacy of Robert Evans, are 8 Shots from 8 Films that Evans produced, either as studio chief at Paramount or as an independent producer.

8 Shots From 8 Robert Evans Films

Rosemary’s Baby (1968, dir by Romnn Polanski, DP: William A. Fraker)

Love Story (1970, dir by Arthur Hiller, DP: Richard Kratina)

The Godfather (1972, dir by Francis Ford Coppola, Cinematography by Gordon Willis)

Chinatown (1974, dir by Roman Polanski, DP: John A. Alonzo)

Marathon Man (1976, dir by John Schlesinger, DP: Conrad Hall)

The Cotton Club (1984, dir by Francis Ford Coppola, DP: Stephen Goldblatt)

The Two Jakes (1990, dir by Jack Nicholson, DP: Vilmos Zsigmond)

Sliver (1993, dir by Phillip Noyce, DP: Vilmos Zsigmond)