Film Review: In The Line of Fire (dir by Wolfgang Petersen)


Earlier today, it was announced that director Wolfgang Petersen had passed away.  He was 81 years old and had been suffering from pancreatic cancer.  Though Petersen started his career making films in his native Germany (and his 1981 film, Das Boot, remains the most Oscar-nominated German film of all time), Petersen eventually relocated to Los Angeles and established himself as a very successful director of thrillers and star-filled action films.

Last month, I watched one of Petersen’s films.  First released in 1993, In The Line of Fire stars Clint Eastwood as Frank Horrigan.  Frank is a veteran member of the Secret Service, still serving at a time when almost all of his colleagues have either retired or died.  When we first meet Frank, he and his new partner, Al (Dylan McDermott), are arresting a gang of counterfeiters and Frank (and the then 63 year-old Eastwood) is proving that he can still take down the bad guys.

But is Frank still up to protecting the President?  Of the agents that were with President Kennedy when he was assassinated in 1963, Frank Horrigan is the last one standing.  He’s the only active secret service agent to have lost a president and he’s haunted by what he sees as being his failure to do his job and the feeling that America has never recovered from Kennedy’s death.  Also obsessed with Frank’s history is a mysterious man who calls himself Booth.  Booth (played by John Malkovich, who received an Oscar nomination for his performance) starts to call Frank.  He informs Frank that he’s planning on assassinating the president, who is currently traveling the country as a part of his reelection bid.  Booth views Frank as being a worthy adversary and Frank, looking for redemption, requests to be returned to the Presidential Protective Division.

While Frank struggles to keep up with both the President and the younger agents, Booth slowly and methodically puts his plan in motion.  He builds his own wooden gun and tries it out on two hunters who are unfortunate enough to stumble across him.  Making a heart-breaking impression in a small role, Patrika Darbo plays the bank teller who, unfortunately, comes a bit too close to uncovering Booth’s secret identity.  Booth is friendly and sometimes apologetic and he quickly shows that he’s willing to kill anyone.  It’s a testament to both the skill of Malkovich’s performance and Petersen’s direction that the audience comes to believe that there’s a better than average chance that Booth will succeed.  He just seems to have such a strong belief in himself that the audience knows that he’s either going to kill the President or that he’s going to willingly die trying.

Meanwhile, no one believes in Frank.  The White House Chief of Staff (Fred Dalton Thompson, later to serve in the Senate and run for President himself) views Frank as being a nuisance.  The head of the detail (Gary Cole) thinks that Frank should be put out to pasture.  Only Lilly Raines (Rene Russo), another agent, seems to have much faith in Frank.  While Frank is hunting Booth, he falls in love with Lilly and she with him.  (Fortunately, even at the age of 63, Eastwood still had enough of his old Dirty Harry charisma that the film’s love story is credible, despite the age difference between him and Russo.)  The hunt for Booth reawakens something in Frank.  Just as Booth has a psychological need to be pursued and challenged, Frank needs an enemy to which he can re-direct all of his guilt and self-loathing.  Frank becomes a stand-in for everyone who fears that, because of one particular incident or tragedy, America will never regain the strength and promise that it once had.  (In Frank’s case, that strength is symbolized by his idealized memories of JFK.)  Defeating Booth is about more than just saving America.  It’s about redeeming history.

It all makes for an very exciting thriller, one in which Eastwood’s taciturn style of acting is perfectly matched with Malkovich’s more cerebral approach.  Just as the two characters are challenging each other, Eastwood and Malkovich also seem to challenge each other as actors and it leads to both men giving wonderful performances.  Wolfgang Petersen not only does a good job with the action scenes but also with generating some very real suspense.  The scene in which Malkovich attempts to assemble his gun under a table is a masterclass in directing and evidence that Petersen had not only watched Hitchcock’s films but learned from them as well.

As directed by Petersen and performed by Malkovich and Eastwood, In The Line of Fire emerges as a film that was more than just an exciting thriller.  It was also a mediation on aging, guilt, love, redemption, and the national traumas of the past.  It’s a film that stands up to multiple rewatches and as a testament to the talent of the man who directed it.

I Watched Forever Strong (2008, dir. by Ryan Little)


Rick Penning (Sean Faris) is the captain of his high school rugby team and the team’s highest scorer.  He’s also the son of the team’s coach (Neal McDonough).  Coach Penning is obsessed with winning at all costs and refuses to tell his son that he’s proud of him.  Coach Penning believes that emotion equals weakness and that only losers brag about doing their best.  After a loss to the Highland High school rugby team, which is coached by Larry Gelwix (Gary Cole), Rick and his teammates blow of steam by drinking, driving, and crashing a car.

Rick is sentenced to juvie but his case officer (Sean Astin) can see that Rick needs rugby in his life so he arranges for Rick to play with the Highland Team.  At first, Rick resents the new team and doesn’t want to follow Coach Gelwix’s advice on or off the field.  Coach Gelwix makes the team do community projects while they’re not training and Rick says that’s not his thing.  Rick just wants to score points and he doesn’t care about teamwork.  But the team and the coach eventually win Rick over and, once Rick gets over being selfish and starts playing for the team instead of just himself, Highland High starts winning games and Rick becomes the team’s newest captain.  But, when Rick gets paroled from juvie, he’s sent back home to his father, who expects Rick to reveal all of Highland’s secret plays and weaknesses.  When Rick refuses to betray Coach Gelwix, his former teammates frame him and get him sent back to juvie.  Rick ends up playing for Highland again, just in time for the state championship and a chance to lead Highland against his father’s team.

Forever Strong had a good message but, from the first minute, I know what was going to happen and how it was going to all end.  The story was pretty predictable and the movie seemed to assume that everyone watching would already know everything that they needed to know about rugby.  At my high school, athletics pretty much meant football.  I don’t think we even had a rugby team.  (If we did, we never cheered at their games, which I feel bad about.)  Whenever everyone in the movie was arguing about the right way to play rugby and which position on the team was the most important, I was lost.  I did like Gary Cole as Coach Gelwix.  He was the type of coach that every parent should hope coaches their child’s team.

Film Review: A Very Brady Sequel (dir by Arlene Sanford)


“I’m tripping with the Bradys….” Roy Martin (Tim Matheson) announces shortly before he passes out in the 1996 film, A Very Brady Sequel.

And indeed, Roy is!  That’s what happens when Alice (Henriette Mantel) discovers a bunch of hallucinogenic mushrooms in your luggage and decides to use them for dinner.  It not only leads to Roy suffering through a cartoon Hell with the Bradys but it also causes Alice to disappear inside of the refrigerator.  The Bradys, however, don’t really seem to find any of it to be strange.  Safely hidden away in their home, the Bradys aren’t aware of things like drugs and bad trips.  They’re more concerned with potato sack races and Cindy’s lisp and Jan’s imaginary boyfriend, George Glass.

A Very Brady Sequel is, as the title suggests, a sequel to The Brady Bunch Movie.  In this one, conman Roy Martin shows up at the Brady House and claims to be the first husband of Carol Brady (Shelley Long).  “This is Carol’s first husband,” Mike (Gary Cole) explains, “He’s not dead like we thought.”  Mike might have mixed feelings about Roy being alive but he’s still determined to be a gracious host.  That’s the Brady way.

Roy wants to steal a priceless artifact that’s sitting in the Brady house.  It’s kind of a silly plot but then again, it’s a silly movie.  The important thing is that it eventually leads to the Bradys flying to Hawaii, where we discover that Carol’s husband was a professor and he disappeared during a three-hour tour and apparently, there’s no chance that he could have washed up on an island somewhere.

A Very Brady Sequel never quite gets the love that the first Brady Bunch movie does but I enjoy it.  Admittedly, it doesn’t have quite the same innocence as the first film.  The focus is much more on Roy and his attempts to swindle the Bradys and, as a result, A Very Brady Sequel can sometimes feel a bit more mean-spirited than the first Brady Bunch film, in which the focus was on the Bradys and their eternal (some would say infernal) optimism.  A lot of the jokes that felt so natural in the first film feel a bit forced in the sequel.  That seems to be the way that things usually go with comedy sequels, to be honest.

That said, there’s enough funny moments in A Very Brady Sequel that it’s a worthy continuation of the Brady story.  For instance, how can you not smile at the Bradys dancing on the airplane while totally oblivious to how annoyed the rest of the passnegers are with them?  How can you not enjoy Jan’s attempts to convince everyone that George Glass is real?  The cast is still likable and Gary Cole still has a talent for delivering the most absurd dialogue in the most deadpan style imaginable.

Add to that, Hawaii looks as beautiful as ever!  Seriously, if you’re ever going to get stuck with a bunch of weird, 70s sitcom characters, Hawaii is the place to do it!

A Very Brady Sequel was followed by The Brady Bunch In The White House, which I would recommend avoiding.

Film Review: The Brady Bunch Movie (dir by Betty Thomas)


“Put on your Sunday best, kids.  We’re going to Sears!”

I’m probably like a lot of people, in that I hate The Brady Bunch as a television show but I love the 1995 film version.  Of course, the film version acknowledges a lot of the things that make the TV show so difficult to sit through.  For instance, whenever I watch the TV show, I’m stuck by the fact that Robert Reed’s Mike Brady is kind of a jerk and he really doesn’t seem to know what he’s talking about half of the time.  Fortunately, in the movie, Gary Cole plays Mike Brady as being kind of a jerk who really doesn’t know what he’s talking about.  On the TV show, I’m always amazed that no one ever points out how dorky Greg Brady is or how no one ever seems to notice that Jan is slowly losing her mind.  The movie, however, is all about how dorky Greg is and how Jan is slowly losing her mind.

“Marcia Marcia Marcia!” Jan (played by Jennifer Elise Cox) exclaims and the audience is instantly divided between neglected middle children and those of us who were maybe a little bit spoiled when we were growing up.

“Johnny Bravo was just Johnny Rotten,” Greg (played by Christopher Daniel Barnes) confesses and it’s tempting to tell Greg not to be too hard on himself but it’s true.  That clown song really sucked and I don’t blame everyone for running away whenever Greg started to sing.

“Your father’s right, kids!” Carol (Shelley Long) says after every one of Mike’s long-winded soliloquies and the film hints that Carol might actually understand that Mike is rarely right but Carol is determined to do whatever needs to be done to keep the Bunch moving forward.  Myself, I’m more concerned by how long it’s taking Carol to read Jonathan Livingston Seagull.  My aunt owns a copy of that book and, if I remember correctly, it’s pretty short.

All of the Bradys (and Alice, too) get a chance to show off what they can do in The Brady Bunch Movie.  They’ve all pretty much got the same quirks as they did in the series but what made them so annoying on television actually makes them rather endearing in the film.  Of course, the film finds the Bradys living in the 90s, surrounded by crime, pollution, loud music, and a dastardly plot to steal their house.  (That’s what they get for living next door to veteran comedy villain Michael McKean).  The thing is that, while the rest of the world is a mess, the Bradys themselves still act and dress like they did on their television show.  They’re literally a family out of time.  That’s not a problem with Marcia, who all the boys love despite the 70s fashion sense and the belief that a hand on the knee is moving too fast.  But the rest of the family definitely sticks out, like a sore but always cheerful thumb.  And yet, because everyone around them is so obnoxious, it’s hard not to appreciate the Bradys and their nonstop earnestness.  They’re an antidote to everything negative in the world.  All they had to do was remain clueless about everything happening outside of their front door.

The Brady Bunch Movie makes me laugh every time I watch it.  It’s one of those films that I watch whenever I’m feeling extremely down.  It’s impossible not to be cheered up when the Bradys start dancing through Sears, amazed by the sight of their faces on television while Mike and Carol carefully examine a virbator in the background.  I’m thankful for this film.  It makes me laugh.

Every day is a sunshine day with the movie Bradys.

The television Bradys can go to Hell.

 

Gang Related (1997, directed by Jim Kouf)


LAPD vice detectives DiVinci (Jim Belushi) and Rodriguez (Tupac Shakur) have a pretty good racket going.  They sell cocaine to drug dealers and then, once they get their money, they murder the dealers and take their drugs back so that the cocaine can be resold.  The murders are written up as being “gang-related” and because no one cares about dead drug dealers, Divinci and Rodriguez don’t have to worry about anyone actually investigating their crimes.

This all changes when they kill the wrong dealer.  It turns out Lionel Hudd (Kool Mo Dee) was actually an undercover DEA agent and now that he’s been murdered, his partner (played by Gary Cole) is investigating the murder.  Needing a patsy to take the fall, they arrest a homeless man who is known as Joe Doe (Dennis Quaid).  Joe can’t even remember what his real name is and, because he’s intoxicated when he’s arrested and interrogated, it’s easy for DiVinci and Rodriguez to talk him into believing that he killed Hudd.

At first, it seems like a perfect plan because the only people that the citizens of Los Angeles care about less than gang members and drug dealers are the homeless.  But then it turns out that Joe Doe is actually a wealthy surgeon and his family hires a prominent attorney (played by James Earl Jones, so you know he’s good) to defend him.  Meanwhile, the stripper (Lela Rochon) who DiVinci and Rodriguez coerced into identifying Doe as the murderer is having second thoughts.  And so is Rodriguez.

The plot of Gang Related may be convoluted and sometimes difficult to follow but that works to the film’s advantage as Divinci and Rodriguez find themselves plunging further and further down the rabbit hole of their own lies.  The audience may be confused but so are they so everyone’s the same page.  It seems like no matter what scheme DiVinci comes up with to try to cover for his own crimes, there’s always an unforeseen complication and most of the film’s narrative momentum comes from watching two corrupt cops go from being cocky to being desperate to save their own lives as their maze of deception becomes increasingly difficult to navigate.  Neither DiVinci nor Rodriguez is a likable character (though Rodriguez is, at least, troubled by what he’s become) so there’s a lot of pleasure to be had by watching these two finally face justice.

Gang Related was Tupac Shakur’s final film and it was released over a year after his death.  It’s a B-movie but it’s a well-made B-movie and Shakur gives a good and complex performance.  So does Jim Belushi, whose mounting desperation is really something to see.  Gang Related may be a B-movie but it’s portrayal of two criminal cops being empowered by a corrupt system is still relevant today.

Horror Film Review: One Hour Photo (dir by Mark Romanek)


I guess some people might argue that the 2002 film, One Hour Photo, isn’t really a horror film.

It’s an argument that I can understand.  The film does have its scary moments, like the scene where Sy Parrish (Robin Williams) dreams that his eyes are exploding.  But there aren’t any ghosts or vampires or hockey mask-wearing slashers to be found in One Hour Photo.  Even the film’s most disturbing moment — in which we see that Sy’s apartment is nearly empty except for a giant collage of pictures that cover his living room wall — is more depressing than scary.

It’s really a very sad movie.  In fact, it’s probably even more sad today than when it was originally released.  Now, when you see Robin Williams’s sad eyes and you hear him talking about how reality can never live up to a photograph, it’s impossible not to think about the actor’s 2014 suicide.  I remember that, when One Hour Photo and Insomnia came out in the same year, there was a lot of talk about how unexpected it was to see Robin Williams playing such dark characters.  Now, of course, that darkness is a key part of Robin Williams’s persona.

In hindsight, it’s also sad because one watches the film with the knowledge that, even if Sy hadn’t lost it at the end of One Hour Photo, he still probably be a lost soul in 2019.  When we first meet Sy, he’s working at the one-hour photo lab in SavMart.  He talks about how much he loves developing pictures.  When someone mentions that they’ve been thinking about getting a digital camera, Sy nervously chuckles and says, “Don’t do that, you’ll put us out of business.”  Of course, in 2019, people take pictures with their phones and even digital cameras are viewed as being something of a relic.  If Sy were around and free today, I doubt he’d have a job.  If he did have a job, it’s doubtful it would be one that would allow him to cover his wall with someone else’s photos.  Instead, in 2019, I imagine Sy would be one of those people following strangers on social media and printing out all their pictures and probably sending them unsolicited DMs and private messages.

Sy is obsessed with the Yorkin family, Will (Michael Vartan), Nina (Connie Nielsen), and their son, Jake (Dylan Smith).  Even though the family barely knows who Sy is, he knows them because Sy has spent years developing (and stealing) their photos.  Sy views them as being the perfect family.  They’re the family that he wants to be a part of.  “Sometimes I think of myself as being Uncle Sy,” he says at one point.  But then Maya Burson (Erin Daniels) brings in her photos to be developed and Sy learns that the reality of the Yorkins is not as perfect as the photographs.  And Sy loses it.

Actually, there’s quite a few reasons why Sy loses it and the film suggests that, if the Yorkins had never stepped into SavMart, Sy would have found another family on which to obsess.  Something is missing inside of Sy.  Incapable of dealing with reality, Sy instead deals with posed pictures of happy times.  Towards the end of the film, there’s a throw-away line that attempts to offer some sort of insight into why Sy is such a lost soul.  Personally, I think the film works better without an explanation.  Why is less important than the fact that Sy exists.

In the end, One Hour Photo qualifies as a horror film not because of any paranormal danger but because it’s a film about the horror of everyday life.  You never know who might be watching you.  That friendly clerk who waits on you at the grocery store might be following you home and imagining that he’s a part of your life.  You never know.  One Hour Photo is the film that suggests that, lurking behind every friendly smile, there’s a blank Sy Parrish.  It’s a scary thought.

Film Review: The Bronze (dir by Bryan Buckley)


The Bronze has been getting terrible reviews since it first premiered at Sundance last year.  Telling the story of an Olympic bronze medalist who has grown up to be bitter and angry, The Bronze has been unfavorably compared to Bad Santa, Bad Words, Bad Teacher and … well, bad anything.  (You know you’re in trouble when your film gets compared to Bad Teacher because most critics have an irrational hatred for that film.  I actually enjoyed it.)  The Bronze was originally scheduled to be released last July and then it was pushed back and then, for a little while, it vanished all together as it was traded between different distributors.  Finally, last Friday, Sony Pictures Classics released The Bronze with all the fanfare of a community theater announcing their annual production of Forever Plaid.

Well, after hearing how terrible it was, there was no way that my BFF Evelyn and I could resist the temptation to experience it for ourselves.  (We both enjoy watching and commenting during bad movies.  That’s what led to us watching that Tyler Perry movie about the adulterous matckmaker .)  We caught a 10:15 showing last night at the AMC Valley View and the theater was almost totally deserted.  (Admittedly, not many people are brave enough to go to Valley View Mall past 9:00 but Evelyn and I fear nothing.)  We were expecting to see a thoroughly mediocre film but you know what?

We were both kind of surprised to discover that The Bronze was not the terrible film that we had been led to expect.

Melissa Rauch (who co-wrote the script) plays Hope Ann Gregory, a former Olympic gymnast who won the Bronze medal at the Summer Olympics.  She won the medal despite competing on an injured ankle.  Unfortunately, her injury ended her competitive career but it also briefly made her a national celebrity.  12 years later, most of the country may have forgotten Hope but the people of hometown of Amherst, Ohio still love her.

When we first meet Hope, she’s masturbating while watching footage of herself competing at the Olympics.  She then proceeds to steal money from her father’s mail route so she’ll have enough money to buy weed.  Hope is rude to almost everyone and yet, no one in the town seems to notice.  Or maybe they are so happy to be in the presence of a minor celebrity that they just don’t care how terribly she treats them.  The movie is actually somewhat vague on this point but still, the contrast between Hope’s reality and the opinion that others have of her is one of the best things about the film.  Intentionally or not, it perfectly satirizes that way that we idealize our celebrities.

When Hope’s former coach commits suicide, her final request is that Hope agree to train an up-and-coming gymnast, Maggie (Haley Lu Richardson).  At first, the jealous Hope tries to sabotage Maggie but eventually, Hope starts to take her job as coach seriously.  (When Maggie first shows up, she seems to be a one-note, excessively perky character but eventually, she reveals some needed, if not exactly surprising, complexity.)  Hope also develops an unexpected relationship with Maggie’s assistant coach, Twitchy (Thomas Middleditch).  (Twitchy is called Twitchy because he blinks a lot.)

The Bronze is not a great film.  Instead, it’s an extremely uneven film, one that often seems to be trying too hard.  It never manages to find the right balance between its raunchy comedy and the occasional and surprisingly subtle moments when it suddenly becomes a character study.

And yet, at the same time, it’s not as terrible as you’ve heard.  There are moments that work surprisingly well.  Some of them are moments like an enjoyably over-the-top sex scene between two gymnasts.  But then there are moments like the scene where Hope talks about the first time she learned that, as a result of the injury she sustained while winning her Bronze, she would never be able to compete again.  There are scenes like the one where Hope proves herself to be surprisingly loyal to the citizens of Amherst or where her long-suffering father (Gary Cole) confronts her about her behavior.  Though these moments may be few and far between, they still work surprisingly well.  It’s during these moments that The Bronze drops the protective mask of outrageousness and reveals some unexpected depth.  It helps that, along with writing the script, Melissa Rauch totally commits herself to the role.  At her best, she’s like a force of stoned nature.

Is The Bronze really worth seeing on the big screen?  Probably not.  It’s too uneven to really be successful.  But when it shows up on Netflix, I predict that a lot of people are going to be surprised to discover that The Bronze isn’t as terrible as they’ve been told.

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Embracing the Melodrama Part II #96: A Simple Plan (dir by Sam Raimi)


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The 1998 film A Simple Plan reunites Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton.  After previously playing adversaries in One False Move, they played brothers here.  However, it’s not just the cast that makes A Simple Plan feel like a spiritual descendant of One False Move.  Both One False Move and A Simple Plan deal with greed and violence.  Both One False Move and A Simple Plan take place in a small town where everyone thinks that they know all there is to know about each other.  Both One False Move and A Simple Plan feature Paxton as a man who turns out to be something more than what the viewer originally assumed.  Perhaps most importantly, both One False Move and A Simple Plan are meditations on guilt, greed, and community.

A Simple Plan takes place in Minnesota, in a world that seems to exist under a permanent layer of snow and ice.  While out hunting, Hank (Bill Paxton), his well-meaning but dim-witted brother Jacob (Billy Bob Thornton), and their redneck friend Lou (Brent Briscoe) stumble across an airplane that has crashed in the woods.  Inside the airplane, they find a dead pilot and a bag containing 4 million dollars.  At first, Hank says they should call the authorities and let them know what they’ve found but he rather easily allows Jacob and Lou to talk him out of it.  Instead, they agree that Hank will hide the money at his house until spring arrives.  They also agree to not tell anyone about the money but, as soon as he arrives home, Hank tells his pregnant wife Sarah (Bridget Fonda) everything that has happened.

Needless to say, this simple plan quickly get complicated.  Sarah is soon telling Hank that he should not trust Lou and Jacob.  The local sheriff (Chelcie Ross) saw Hank and Jacob leaving the woods after discovering the plane and may (or may not) be suspicious of what they found.  Alcoholic Lou starts to demand his share of the money early.  As things start to spiral, Hank finds himself doing things that he would have never thought he would ever do.  Or, as Sarah puts it, “Nobody’d ever believe that you’d be capable of doing what you’ve done.”

And then, one day, a mysterious FBI agent (Gary Cole) shows up and says that he’s looking for the plane.  Except that, according to Sarah, he’s not really with the FBI…

It’s appropriate that A Simple Plan takes place in a world that appears to be permanently covered in snow because it is a film that is both chilly and chilling.  Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton are both perfectly cast.  (Thornton received an Oscar nomination for his performance.  Paxton undoubtedly deserved one.)  Bridget Fonda turns Sarah into a small town Lady MacBeth and Gary Cole, Brent Briscoe, and Chelcie Ross are all memorable in smaller roles.

(Brent Biscoe, in particular, is a redneck nightmare.)

The next time that you want to contemplate the evil that is done in the name of money, why not start off with a double feature of One False Move and A Simple Plan?

 

Shattered Politics #70: The Brady Bunch In The White House (dir by Neal Israel)


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What happens when architect and suburban dad Mike Brady (Gary Cole) is elected Vice President of the United States?  Well, President Randolph (Dave Nichols) ends up having to resign when it turns out that he’s thoroughly corrupt.  Mike Brady is sworn in as the new President and then appoints his wife Carol (Shelley Long) as his new Vice President.  He and his wife run an ethical and determinedly old-fashioned administration.  When Senators argue, Carol suggests that they need a time out.  When Mike is handed a report that indicates trouble for the economy, Mike looks at it, signs it, and says, “We can do better.”  When a racist Senator is seated next to a black nationalist at a White House reception, the two opponents are both served peanut butter on crackers by the Alice, the Brady Family housekeeper and soon, they are bonding over their shared love of peanut butter.

Of course, not everything’s perfect.  For instance, middle daughter Jan (Ashley Drane) is haunted by voices in her head that tell her that she’ll never be better than older sister Marcia (Autumn Reeser).  However, fortunately, Jan discovers a talking portrait of Abraham Lincoln who talks some sense to her.

And then, middle son Peter (Blake Foster) accidentally breaks a priceless Ming vase.  All of the other Brady kids take responsibility for breaking it.  President and Vice President Brady quickly figure out that Peter was responsible and, in order to make him confess, they punish every Brady kid but Peter.  And then…

Okay, are you getting the feeling that Brady Bunch In The White House is a stupid movie?  Well, it is.  This 2002 film was made for television and serves as a sequel to the earlier Brady Bunch Movie and A Very Brady Sequel.  It features the same basic idea as the first two films: the rest of the world is cynical and angry while the Bradys are still trapped in the wholesome world of their old television show.  Mike is still offering up life lessons.  Carol is still smiling and saying, “Your father’s right.”  Marcia is self-centered.  Jan is obsessive.  Cindy has issues with tattling.  Greg thinks every girl that he meets is really happening in a far out way.  Peter is always feeling guilty.  Bobby … well, Bobby doesn’t do much of anything.

The big difference is that the Bradys are in the White House now.  They’re still reliving incidents from their TV show but now they’re doing it in the White House.  And, some of it is kinda cute.  Well, I take that back.  Most of it is really stupid but the part about the vase made me smile despite myself.

So there’s that.

But, honestly — no, I really can’t think of any clever way to prove that the Brady Bunch In The White House is actually a subversive satire or anything that’s really worth recommending.

Sorry.

However, I did see A Very Brady Sequel on Cinemax last night.  It’s kind of funny and features a lot of pretty Hawaiian scenery.  Go watch that.  Forget about the Brady Bunch In The White House

Film Review: The Town That Dreaded Sundown (dir by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon)


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The Town That Dreaded Sundown is the latest classic horror remake.  In this case, it’s a remake of a 1976 docudrama about a real-life serial killer who, shortly after World War II, haunted the streets of my former hometown of Texarkana, Texas.  (You can read my review here.)  The original was a low-budget but effectively creepy little film that was shot on the streets of Texarkana and was full of authentic Texas atmosphere.  (It helped that it was directed by Charles B. Pierce, a Texarkana native, as opposed to some jerk from up north.)  What made the film all the more haunting was the fact that — in both the movie and in real life — the Phantom Killer was never captured.

So, how does the remake compare?

*Sigh*

(For the record, I’m not only signing but I’m also massively rolling my mismatched,  heterochromatic eyes.)

Listen, I will give this film credit for attempting to be something more than just your usual horror remake.  It actually does have a fairly clever premise.  Instead of retelling the original story, the remake of The Town That Dreaded Sundown begins with a bunch of people in present-day Texarkana sitting around and watching the original film.  There’s even an eccentric character named Charles B. Pierce, Jr. (Denis O’Hare) who we are told is the son of the original director.  It’s a clever idea, one that wisely acknowledges the effectiveness of the original film while also commenting on the continuing mystery surrounding both the identity and the fate of the Phantom Killer.

And, when someone dressed like the original Phantom Killer starts to murder young couples in Texarkana, we — just like the characters — are left to wonder whether it’s the spirit of the Phantom or if it’s someone imitating the murders from the original film or whether it’s something else altogether.

That’s certainly the question faced by Jami (Addison Timlin), who survives being attacked by this new Phantom but then grows obsessed with trying to discover who he is.  Addison Timlin gives a really good performance here.  She’s likable and sympathetic, the perfect “final girl.”

In fact, the entire film is well-cast.  Anthony Anderson is a lot of fun as a cocky Texas Ranger while Gary Cole and Joshua Leonard do good work as members of local law enforcement.  Denis O’Hare, who I will always think of as being Russell on True Blood, brings a certain dissipated nobility to his role.  The victims are all sympathetic and the killer is creepy.

But, with all that in mind, I was disappointed with the remake of The Town That Dreaded Sundown.  The reason the original film worked is because it was made by a member of the Texarkana community.  Charles B. Pierce knew the town and he understood why the Phantom Killer continued to haunt the citizens.  What his movie lacked in technical polish, it made up for in authenticity.

Though the remake features a narrator and duplicates the original’s obsession with letting us know whether each scene is taking place on the Texas-side or the Arkansas-side of the town, there’s still absolutely nothing authentic about it.  Whereas the original was filmed entirely on location, the remake was mostly filmed in Shreveport with only three days devoted to getting some location footage of downtown Texarkana.  As someone who has lived in both Shreveport and Texarkana, allow me to assure you that you can totally tell the difference.

The remake was produced by Ryan Murphy (of Glee and American Horror Story fame) and the film really does feel like a lesser season of American Horror Story.  It’s a film that has so little use for subtlety (just check out Edward Herrmann going totally overboard as a hypocritical preacher) that its creepy moments are totally smothered by all the heavy-handed cartoonishness that surrounds them.

Ultimately, the remake fails because it has no feel for or understanding for my homestate.  It was made by people who obviously know nothing about Texas or Arkansas beyond what they’ve seen in other movies produced, directed, and written by other northerners.

The 1976 Town That Dreaded Sundown worked because it was authentic.  Despite a few good ideas, the remake is just too generic to do justice to the original.