A Movie A Day #248: Flinch (1994, directed by George Erschbamer)


Harry (Judd Nelson) is a law student who has failed the bar exam three times.  Daphne (Gina Gershon) is an aspiring actress who has an unfaithful boyfriend.  With neither of them making much headway in their chosen careers, they end up working as living mannequins in a department store display window.  If they flinch even the least little bit, they will lose their jobs.  At first, it does not seem that there is much of a romantic future for Harry and Daphne.  But when Daphne breaks up with her boyfriend, Harry invites her to join him in breaking into the store after hours and partying.  But while Harry and Daphne are celebrating, they witness a crazed artist (Nick Mancuso) strangling one of his models.

If the name of the director, George Erschbamer, seems familiar, you may be familiar with the Snake Eater films that he made with Lorenzo Lamas.  Fortunately, Flinch is far superior to Snake Eater III.  Starting out like a romantic comedy before turning into a thriller, Flinch is actually one of the better direct-to-video Judd Nelson films to come out in the 90s.  Of course, considering that the competition comes from Entangled and Conflict of Interest, Flinch doesn’t have that high of a bar to clear.  Though the thriller aspect is predictable, The first half of the movie, which is almost entirely Gershon and Nelson trying to talk to each other without anyone noticing their lips moving, is actually enjoyable.  Gina Gershon is as sexy as ever and she brings out the best in Judd Nelson, who is almost likable in this movie.

Still, there is one thing that could have improved Flinch.  Like almost any other Judd Nelson film, it really could have used a Burt Reynolds cameo.

Right, Burt?

Back to School Part II #19: Girls Just Want To Have Fun (dir by Alan Metter)


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For our next film in this series of Back to School reviews, we take a look at 1985’s Girls Just Want To Have Fun!

And you know what?

It’s true — we do just want to have fun!

The fun in Girls Just Want To Have Fun is pretty much defined by dancing, which is okay with me because I love to dance.  However, Girls Just Want To Have Fun had the misfortune to be made in the mid-80s.  I have lost track of many 80s films that I’ve watched but I’m still always shocked at how undanceable most 80s music truly was.  This film, of course, does contain a cover version of the famous song by Cyndi Lauper and that’s actually a pretty good 80s song.  However, the rest of the music (and, by that, I mean the music that everyone in the movie is actually dancing to) is incredibly bland in the way that only music from the decade of We Built This City could be.

As for the film itself, it takes place in Chicago.  Janey Glenn (Sarah Jessica Parker) is the newest student at the local Catholic girls school.  Janey’s overprotective father (Ed Lauter) is in the army and Janey has lived all over the world.  Despite that, Janey is not at all worldly.  In fact, when she tries to introduce herself to her classmates, all she can get out is that she’s a gymnast and she loves to dance. (When we actually see Janey dancing or doing any sort of gymnastics, Sarah Jessica Parker’s hair always seems to fall in her face, which is certainly one way to hide a stunt double.)

Janey makes one friend at the school.  Lynn (Helen Hunt, looking like a teenager but already sounding like a hung over 40 year-old) is about as wild as a girl can be in 1980s PG-rated film.  That’s to say, she wears a leather skirt when she’s not in school and, when she babysits, she orders pizza and then allows the baby to sit on it.  (Ewwwwwww!  There’s a reason why babies wear diapers….)  Lynne and Janey are automatically BFFs because they both love Dance TV!

That’s right — it’s DTV!  I wonder what that’s supposed to be based on…

It turns out that DTV is having a contest to pick two new dancers!  Disobeying her strict father, Janey sneaks out of the house and joins Lynn in auditioning!  Lynn’s partner turns out to be so spastic that Lynn doesn’t make the semi-finals.  Later, Lynn discovers that her partner was bribed by rich bitch Natalie Sands (Holly Gagnier).  I’m not sure why Natalie felt the need to do that since Lynn wasn’t that impressive to begin with.  She’s about as good a dancer as you would expect Helen Hunt to be.

However, Janey does make it to the semi-finals, where she’s partnered with Jeff.  Jeff is tough and blue-collar and, at first, it doesn’t seem like he and Janey will get along.  So, of course, they end up falling in love and, of course, Natalie’s father tries to force Jeff out of the contest by threatening to put his father out of work.  Jeff, incidentally, is played by Lee Montgomery.  Years before appearing in Girls Just Want To Have Fun, Montgomery played the little kid who gets crushed by a chimney at the end of Burnt Offerings.  Burnt Offerings is a really crappy film but I watch it every time that it comes on TCM just so I can see that chimney crush Lee Montgomery.  That said, Montgomery actually does a pretty good job of Jeff.  You never quite buy him as a rebel without a cause but he still seems like an authentic and likable teenager.  Jeff and Janey are a cute couple and that’s all that really matters.

Just as Janey has a best friend, Jeff also has a best friend.  Drew Boreman (Jonathan Silverman) talks too much, tries to sell t-shirts from the trunk of his car, and there’s also a scene were he grabs a random girl’s breasts and makes a comment about using her nipples to tune a radio.  Drew is annoying and, once you get over the fact that she’s being played by a young Helen Hunt, so is Lynn.  Watching the movie, you kind of want to tell both of them to just calm down for a few minutes.

But you know who is not annoying?  Jeff’s younger sister, Maggie, who is played by none other than a very young Shannen Doherty.  Maggie was my favorite character because she alone seemed to understand how stupid everyone else in the film was.  And she was willing to call them out on it.

ANYWAY — Girls Just Want To Have Fun is one of those movies where next to nothing actually happens.  There is an extended sequence where our heroes destroy Natalie’s snooty party with the help of a bunch of punks and female body builders but otherwise, it’s remarkable how little actually happens.  That said, some of the dancing is good (even if most of the music is totally bland in the way that only 80s music can be) and it’s interesting to see Sarah Jessica Parker and Helen Hunt when they were young.  Sarah Jessica Parker actually gives a surprisingly likable performance here, even if it is often way too obvious that a body double is doing the majority of her dancing.  That said, you really can’t get any further away from Carrie Bradshaw than Janey Glenn.

Girls Just Want To Have Fun is a time capsule of the decade in which it was made and that is definitely the main reason to watch it.  Until time machines are a reality and we can experience the past firsthand, we’ll just have to keep getting our information from movies like this one.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #90: Showgirls (dir by Paul Verhoeven)


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Showgirls in the 1995 film that, 20 years after it was first released, is still held up as the standard by which all subsequent bad films are judged.  The story behind the production is legendary.  Screenwriter Joe Ezsterhas was paid a then-record sum to write a script that ripped off All About Eve and featured lines like, “Come back when you’ve fucked some of that baby fat off,” and “You’re the only who can get my tits poppin’ right!”  (And let’s not forget the heroine’s oft-repeated catch phrase, “It doesn’t suck.”)  A major studio specifically hired Paul Verhoeven with the understanding that he was going to give them an NC-17 rated film.  And finally, the lead role was given to Elizabeth Berkley, an actress whose previous experience amounted to co-starring on Saved By The Bell.

(And, let’s be honest, the only reason Jessie Spano was a tolerable character was because she wasn’t Screech.)

Berkley plays Nomi Malone, a sociopath who wants to be a star.  She hitchhikes her way to Las Vegas where, as is destined to happen to anyone who shows up in Vegas or New York with a clunky suitcase, she is promptly robbed of all of her possessions.  “Fuck!  Fuck!  Fuck!  Fuck!” she yells, showing off the very expensive dialogue that was written for her by Joe Ezsterhas.  Eventually, Nomi starts to take her frustration out on a random car.  The car, it turns out, belongs to sweet-natured Molly (Gina Revara), who is a seamstress for a tacky Vegas show called Goddess.  

(Seriously, Goddess makes Satan’s Alley from Staying Alive look like a work of quiet genius.)

Soon, Nomi is living in Molly’s trailer and working as a stripper at the Cheetah Club.  The Cheetah Club is owned by Al, who is amazingly sleazy but who is also played by Robert Davi.  Robert Davi is one of those actors who knows how to make terrible dialogue interesting and it’s instructive to watch him perform opposite Elizabeth Berkley and the rest of the cast.  Whereas the majority of the cast  always seems to be desperately trying to convince themselves that their dialogue is somehow better than it actually is, Davi knows exactly what he’s saying.  Watching his performance, it’s obvious that Davi understood that he was appearing in a bad film so he figured that he might as well enjoy himself.

The same can be said of Gina Gershon, who plays Cristal Connors, the star of Goddess.  Sexually voracious Cristal is basically a male fantasy of what it means to be bisexual.  Cristal hires Nomi to give a lapdance to her sleazy boyfriend, Zack (Kyle MacLachlan, giving a good performance despite having to spend the entire film with hair in his eyes) and then arranges for her to be cast in the chorus of Goddess.  There’s absolutely nothing subtle about Gershon’s performance and that’s why it’s perfect for Showgirls.  It’s been argued that Showgirls is essentially meant to be a huge in-joke and, out of the huge cast, only Gershon, Davi, and occasionally MacLachlan seem to be in on it.

Certainly, it’s apparent that nobody bothered to tell Elizabeth Berkley.  Berkley gives a performance of such nonstop (and misdirected) intensity that you end up feeling sorry for her.  She’s just trying so hard and she really does seem to think that she can somehow make Nomi into a believable character.  And it’s actually a bit unfair that Elizabeth is always going to be associated with this film because I doubt any actress could have given a good performance in a role as inconsistently written as Nomi.  One second, Nomi is a wide-eyed innocent who is excited about living in Las Vegas.  The next second, she’s screaming, “FUCK OFF!” and threatening strangers with a switch blade.  She may be a survivor (and I imagine that’s why we’re supposed to root for her) but she’s also humorless, angry, and apparently clinically insane.

Hilariously, we’re also continually told, by literally everyone else in the movie, that she’s a great dancer, despite the fact that we see absolutely no evidence of this fact.  Check out this scene below, where Nomi dances with a lot of enthusiasm and little else.

Once Nomi is cast in Goddess, she promptly sets out to steal both the starring role and Zack from Cristal.  Nomi’s cunning plan, incidentally, amounts to fucking Zack in his pool and shoving Cristal down a flight of stairs.  Nomi’s finally a star but when a Satanic rock star named Andrew Carver (William Shockley) comes to town, Nomi is confronted with the sordid truth about Las Vegas and, because this long film has to end at some point, Nomi must decide whether to take a stand or…

Well, you can guess the rest.

(Incidentally, I like to assume that Andrew Carver was meant to be a distant cousin of the great short story writer Raymond Carver.)

There seems to be two schools of thought when it comes to Showgirls.

Some critics claim to Showgirls is just crap.  They say that it’s a terrible film with bad dialogue, bad acting, and terrible direction.  These critics view Joe Eszterhas as being the villain of this tale, a misogynist who conned the studios into paying two million dollars for a terrible script.

And then other critics claim that Showgirls is crappy on purpose.  They claim that Verhoeven meant for the film to be a satire of both American culture and Hollywood showbiz dramas.  For these critics, Verhoeven used Eszterhas’s terrible script and Elizabeth Berkley’s inexperience to craft a subversive masterpiece.

Myself, I fall somewhere in between.  Based on Verhoeven’s other films — Starship Troopers comes immediately to mind — I think his intent with Showgirls probably was meant to be satirical and subversive.  But, at the same time, I would argue that Verhoeven’s intent doesn’t change the fact that Showgirls is a surprisingly boring film.  For all the sex and the nudity and the opulent costumes and sets and all of the over-the-top dialogue, Showgirls is never really that interesting of a film.  It barely even manages to reach the level of being so-bad-that-it’s-good.  Instead,  it’s slow, it’s draggy, and — satiric or not — the bad performance, the bad dialogue, and the nonstop misogyny get a bit grating after a few minutes.

Of course, that’s why you should never watch Showgirls alone.  Showgirls is a film that you have to watch as a part of a group of friends so that you can all laugh together and shout out snarky comments.  The first time I ever saw Showgirls was at a party and it was a lot of fun.  But, for this review, I rewatched the film on Netflix and I was surprised by how much of a chore it was to sit through the entire running time.  This is one of those films — like Birdemic and The Room — that you have to watch with a group.  You watch for the experience, not the film.

Back to School #41: Pretty In Pink (dir by Howard Deutch)


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“Blane!  That’s not a name, that’s a major appliance!” — Duckie (Jon Cryer) in Pretty In Pink (1986)

(SPOILERS!)

Blane or Duckie?  Duckie or Blane?  Which one should Andi have gone to the prom with?

That’s the question at the heart of the 1986 film Pretty In Pink.  In Susannah Gora’s excellent book You Couldn’t Ignore Me If You Tried (which, incidentally, has been an important source of information for this entire Back to School series of reviews), a good deal of space and debate is devoted to whether or not Andi (played by Molly Ringwald) should have ended up going to the prom with either Duckie (Jon Cryer) or Blane (Andrew McCarthy).  What’s interesting is just how passionate the arguments on both side of the debate get.  Those in the pro-Duckie camp, like producer Lauren Shuler Donner and director Howard Deutch, frame the debate as almost being a moral one.  Those on the pro-Blane side — people like John Hughes (who wrote the film’s script) and Andrew McCarthy — make a convincing argument that the audience wanted to see Andie with Blane.

Perhaps most importantly, Molly Ringwald — who not only played Andie but upon whom the character was largely based — makes little secret of which suitor she preferred.  Molly Ringwald is pro-Blane all the way.

Myself — well, I’m going to hold off on saying which side I come down on.

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Both Blane and Duckie have their flaws and their strengths.  Blane, for instance, comes from a wealthy family and spends too much time worrying about what his loathsome friend Steff (James Spader, who gives a wonderfully evil performance that justifies why he is quoted in Gora’s book as saying, “I figure I got a lock on this whole teen asshole thing,”) thinks.  But, at the same time, Blane is obviously more sensitive than the rest of his rich friends.  There’s a soulful sincerity to McCarthy’s performance and, until he breaks Andi’s heart by giving into peer pressure, he truly is every girl’s dream boyfriend.

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And then there’s Duckie.  As played by Jon Cryer, Duckie is the type of best friend that we all hope we’re lucky enough to have.  You never have any doubt that he’ll always be there for Andie and it just takes one look at how he’s dressed to understand that Duckie doesn’t care about peer pressure.  Duckie may be an outcast but, unlike Steff and Blane, he’s confident in himself.  And whereas Blane is always wrestling with doubt, Duckie knows that he loves Andie.  And if your heart doesn’t hurt a little when he confesses that fact to Andi, then you probably don’t have one to begin with.  Add to that, as cute and charming as Blane is, you know he’d never break out into a random dance routine.  Blane is no Duckie but, at the same time, Duckie is also no Blane.

And who Andie should take with her to the prom (or if she should even go at all) is an important question because, if anyone deserves to have the perfect prom, it’s Andie.  Not only does she work hard to support her alcoholic and depressed father (the great Harry Dean Stanton) but she has great taste in music (or, at least, she does for someone living in the 80s) and she makes her own clothes.  One reason why we love Blane is because he discovers that, even if Andie isn’t rich, she’s still the most interesting girl in the entire school.  One reason why we love Duckie is because he didn’t have to discover this.  He already knew it.

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The film, of course, originally ended with Blane giving into peer pressure and canceling his date with Andie.  Andie is heart-broken but refuses to surrender.  Wearing the pink dress that she specifically made for the event, Andie still goes to the prom and, as the film ends, she shares a dance with Duckie, the one who, all along, loved her unconditionally.

As is recounted in Gora’s book, test audiences loved the movie but hated that ending.  And so, a new ending was shot.  Blane shows up at the prom without a date.  He apologizes to Andie.  He shakes Duckie’s hand.  He tells Andie that he always believed in her, he just didn’t believe in himself.  (Watching at home, Lisa says, “Oh my God!” and wipes away a tear.)  As he leaves, even Duckie realizes that Andie belongs with Blane.  Andie and Blane are reunited in the parking lot and Duckie goes off with Kristy Swanson.

And you know what?  That ending — that ending is perfect.  Because yes, Duckie did love Andie but Andie loved Blane and the prom is a time to be with someone who you think you’ll love forever.  (Little realizing, of course, that you’ll eventually only think of your former prom date as being that guy who keeps inviting you to play games on Facebook.)  Pretty in Pink is one of the most romantic high school movies ever made and one reason it works is because the ending is all about celebrating that romance.  It may not be realistic and yes, it might even be borderline immoral to allow Blane to be so easily redeemed after breaking Andie’s heart but who cares?

The wonderful thing about romance is that it doesn’t have to make sense.

It just has to be.

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Lisa Marie Does Killer Joe (dir. by William Friedkin)


I nearly didn’t get to see Killer Joe.

Killer Joe, the latest film from William Friedkin (who, 40 years ago, won an Oscar for directing The French Connection), is rated NC-17 for “graphic disturbing content involving violence and sexuality, and a scene of brutality.”  That, more than anything, was why I wanted to see Killer Joe.  I wanted to see just how extreme a film starring Matthew McConaughey could possibly be.  However, I also knew that the NC-17 rating would mean that I would have to show my ID before being allowed to have my mind corrupted.  See, I might be 26 years old but most people seem to assume that I’m 17.  That is, until I speak.  At that point, they usually realize that they’ve guessed incorrectly and decide that I’m actually 15.

Sure enough, when me and my BFF Evelyn bought our tickets to see Killer Joe earlier this week, I was asked to show my ID. Smiling my sweetest smile, I held up my driver’s license.  I was expecting that the ticker seller would just glance at the ID and then say, “Thank you,” but instead, he literally appeared to be studying my picture.  His eyes shifted from the license to me and back to the license.  I was starting to get nervous because, after all, it’s not like I was trying to get through airport security.  I just wanted to see a forbidden movie.

Behind me, I heard Evelyn say, “That looks like a fake to me.”

“Ha ha,” I cleverly replied.

Evelyn responded with, “I don’t trust her.  Maybe you guys should strip search her…”

Finally, the ticket seller looked away from my driver’s license and, as he handed me my ticket, he told us that the theater’s management had instructed him to make sure that we understood that we were about to see an explicitly violent film.  He also told us that there were free donuts available at the concession stand.  That was nice of him.

So, after all that, I finally got to see the forbidden film Killer Joe and you know what?  Killer Joe earns its NC-17 rating, not so much because it’s any more exploitive than any other mainstream film released this year but because it’s actually honest about being an exploitation film.  Killer Joe may be playing in the arthouses but it’s a grindhouse film and proud of it.

Killer Joe takes place in my hometown of Dallas (though it was filmed in New Orleans) and it features perhaps the sleaziest group of losers that you’ll find on a movie screen this year.  Chris (Emile Hirsch) is a drug dealer who lives with his mother and who moves, talks, and thinks with the scrambled energy of a meth addict.  His father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) is an affably stupid alcoholic who lives in a trailer park with his second wife, Sharla (Gina Gershon, who gives a ferociously good performance here) and his daughter, 16 year-old Dottie (Juno Temple).  Dottie is a spacey girl who is given to sleep walking and who doesn’t appear to be quite all there.  Chris is creepily overprotective of her and, though it’s never implicitly stated, it quickly becomes obvious that there’s a rather disturbing subtext to her relationship with both Chris and her father.

Chris has managed to get into debt with some local criminals but he’s got a plan.  As he explains to Ansel, his mother has got a sizable life insurance policy and if she dies, the money will go to Dottie.  Chris and Ansel hire a hitman to carry out the murder for them.  That hitman is Joe (Matthew McConaughey, giving the performance of his career), a demonic charmer who always dresses in black and who has a day job as a homicide detective.  When Chris and Ansel explain that they don’t have the money to pay him in advance, Joe agrees to take Dottie as a retainer. 

Soon, Joe is living in the trailer park with Dottie, Chris is getting brutally beaten up every time he goes out in the daylight, and the murder doesn’t seem to be any closer to actually happening.  When Joe finally does make his move, it all leads to a lot of very brutal violence, a series of betrayals, and a very disturbing scene involving a drumstick from Kentucky Fried Chicken.  As I said before, Killer Joe earns that NC-17.

William Friedkin, who has had a rather uneven career, dives right into the film’s sordid atmosphere.  The majority of the film takes place in that Hellish trailer park and Friedkin perfectly captures the feeling of a society made up of people who are trapped by their own lack of intelligence, imagination, and status.  There’s been a lot of films made about white trash but Killer Joe gets it right, creating an all too believable Hell where everyone can afford to buy a pit bull but not a decent suit (or, in the case of Dottie, a bra).  When the violence does come, Friedkin doesn’t shy away from showing it nor does he try to pretend that violence doesn’t have consequences.  When people get hurt in Killer Joe, they stay hurt. 

Matthew McConaughey is a wonder as Killer Joe.  Whereas many actors would tend to go overboard with such a psychotic character (and you’d be justified in expecting McConaughey to go overboard as well), McConaughey is actually rather restrained for most of the film. The power of his performance comes from the fact that, while everyone else is going crazy, McConaughey is subdued and steady.  It’s only when he speaks to Dottie that we get a few clues of just what exactly it is that lurks beneath Killer Joe’s coolly professional manner.  It’s only towards the end of the film that McConaughey allows his performance to get a bit more showy but, by that point, the entire film has gone to such an extreme that Joe still seems almost sensible.

Killer Joe, however, is not a perfect film.  Though the film is set in North Texas (and, in fact, the Texas-setting is pretty important to the film’s overall plot), it was filmed in Louisiana.  Speaking as someone who has lived in both of those fine states, trust me when I say that, visually, there’s a huge visual difference between Texas and Louisiana.  (Evelyn and I shared a laugh  when we spotted Palm Trees in the film’s version of Dallas.) 

While the clumsy use of Louisiana as a stand-in for Texas probably won’t be noticeable to anyone outside of the Southwest, a far more noticeable problem with Killer Joe is that the film is based on a stage play and, despite some efforts to open up the action, the film still basically feels rather stagey.  This is the type of movie where people tend to deliver semi-poetic monologues about their childhood at the drop of a (cowboy) hat.  To a certain extent, the staginess made it easier to handle the film’s violence (and perhaps that was Friedkin’s intention) but, at other times, it just caused the action to drag.

Ultimately, Killer Joe is a film that I would recommend with reservations.  It’s definitely not for everyone and I don’t know that it’s a film that I’ll ever want to sit through again (seriously, I’ll be surprised if I ever manage to eat another drumstick) but it is a movie worth seeing.  If nothing else, it’s the closest were going to get to a true grindhouse film this year.