Favorite Son (1988, directed by Jeff Bleckner)


During a reception on the steps of U.S. Capitol, an assassin kills Contra leader Col. Martinez (Geno Silva) and seriously wounds Sen. Terry Fallon (Harry Hamlin), an up-and-coming politician from Texas.  An eager media catapults Fallon to national stardom and the beleagued President (James Whitmore), who is facing a tough reelection bid, is pressured to replace the current vice president (Mitchell Ryan) with Fallon.

The FBI only assigns two of their agents to investigate the assassination, a sure sign that someone wants the investigation to just go away.  Nick Mancuso (Robert Loggia) is a crusty, hard-drinking veteran agent whose career is nearly at an end.  David Ross (Lance Guest) is his young and idealistic partner.  When Mancuso and Ross discover that Martinez was injected with the HIV virus just two days before the assassination, it becomes obvious that there is a bigger conspiracy afoot.  It all links back to Sally Crain (Linda Kozlowski), who is Fallon’s legislative aide and also his lover.  (Fallon has a wife but she’s locked away in a hospital.)  Sally has an interest in bondage, as Ross soon finds out.

Favorite Son was originally aired as a 3-night, 4 and a half-hour miniseries.  It was later reedited and, with a running time of less than two hours, released theatrically overseas as Target: Favorite Son.  As a miniseries, Favorite Son is an exciting conspiracy-themed film that is full of scheming, plotting, interesting performances, and pungent dialogue.  Target: Favorite Son, on the other hand, is disjointed and, unless you know the original’s plot, almost impossible to follow.  If you’re going to watch Favorite Son, make sure you see the original miniseries.  My mom taped it off of NBC when it originally aired.  That was the only way that I was able to originally see the film the way that it meant to be seen.  The entire miniseries has also been uploaded, in three parts, to YouTube.

Hopefully, the original miniseries will get an official release someday because it’s pretty damn entertaining.  Harry Hamlin isn’t really dynamic enough for the role of Fallon but otherwise, the movie is perfectly cast.  Robert Loggia is so perfect for the role of Nick Mancuso that it almost seems as if the character was written for him.  (Loggia did later star in a one-season drama called Mancuso, FBI.)  Linda Kozlowski seems to be destined to be forever known as Crocodile Dundee’s wife but her performance as Sally shows that she was a better actress than she was given credit for.  The supporting cast also features good performances from Jason Alexander, Ronny Cox, Tony Goldwyn, John Mahoney, Kenneth McMillian, Richard Bradford, and Jon Cypher.

Favorite Son may be over 30 years old but it’s still relevant today.  In the third part, John Mahoney gives a speech about how American voters are often willfully ignorant when it comes to what’s going on behind the scenes in Washington and it’s a killer moment.  Melodramatic as Favorite Son may be, with its portrayal of political chicanery and an exploitative national media, it’s still got something to say that’s worth hearing.

 

Guilty Pleasure No. 42: Harper’s Island


Oh my God, do you remember Harper’s Island!?

Way before The Walking Dead and American Horror Story made death and gore safe for mass consumption, Harper’s Island was the scariest show on television.  I have to admit that, when I first heard about the show, I wasn’t expecting it to be.  Way back in 2009, whenever the commercials for the show would air and that little girl would go, “One by one,” I would roll my eyes so hard that I once nearly gave myself a concussion.

“Really?” I would say, “A slasher television show where at least one person dies every week?  And it’s going to be on network TV?  There’s no way this is going to be bloody or scary enough to be worth watching.”

However, I did watch the first episode because I figured that I could at least be snarky about it on twitter.  (I had joined just a few months before the show premiered.  Harper’s Island was the first show that I ever live tweeted, even though I didn’t even know that there was such a thing as “live tweeting” way back then.)  The episode opened with a man tied to the propeller of a boat, screaming as the engine started.  The episode ended with Uncle Marty (played by special guest star Harry Hamlin) getting chopped in half by an unseen assailant.

“AGCK!” I said.

I was hooked from that episode on.

 

Believe it or not, Harper’s Island wasn’t just killings.  It actually did tell a story, about a young woman named Abby (played by Elaine Cassidy) who returns to her childhood home, on Harper’s Island, for her best friend’s wedding.  Many years ago, Abby’s mother was among those who was killed by a serial killer named John Wakefield.  From the minute that Abby arrives, she feels that something bad is going to happen and it turns out that she’s right.

Of course, Abby’s not the only one on the island.  There’s the other members of the wedding party.  There’s the island’s inhabitants, the fishermen and the deputies and the cafe owner and the local reverend whose destined to lose his head in the woods.  They’ve all got their quirks and subplots.  Boisterous Malcolm (Chris Gauthier) is in desperate need of money.  Local fisherman Jimmy (C.J. Thomason) is still in love with Abby.  The groom, Henry (Christopher Gorham), has issues from his past that he needs to deal with.  Some of them are likable.  Some of them are annoying.  Some of them, like spoiled Chloe (Cameron Richardson), are meant to be annoying but become likable as the series progresses.

And, in the end, none of their hopes and dreams really mattered because, by the end of the show, everyone was pretty much dead.  The ads for Harper’s Island promised a bloodbath and that’s what the show delivered.  It wasn’t just that at least one person died per week.  It was also that they usually died in the most macabre and disturbing ways possible.  This was the type of the show where the most likable groomsman ended up getting chopped into pieces and then tossed into an incinerator.  Another wedding guest chose to drown herself rather than be attacked by the killer.  Sometimes, the killers didn’t even have to be around for someone to get killed.  Who can forget poor Booth (played by Sean Rogerson), accidentally shooting himself in the leg and bleeding out while America watched?

And yes, you did watch every week because you wanted to see who would be the next to die.  (That’s where the guilty part of the pleasure comes in.)  But you also watched because the show was produced and directed so well.  The island was a wonderfully atmospheric location and the cast really committed themselves to bringing the show’s morbid reality to life.  At the time, it was the darkest show on television and it could have been even darker because, originally, the plan was for the killer to get away with it.  In the end, karma caught up with the killer but not before we were all traumatized upon discovering just who was responsible.  Harper’s Island‘s mystery was as intriguing as its deaths were bloody.

Being ahead of its time, Harper’s Island struggled in the ratings and it was never a big hit with critics.  But, with the help of Netflix and the the occasional marathon on SyFy, Harper’s Island‘s reputation has improved and grown over the years.  Looking back, it’s easy to see that Harper’s Island was not only the forerunner to American Horror Story but it was also a far better series.  American Horror Story tends to condescend to the horror, keeping the genre at arm’s length through misdirected pretension.  It’s a show for people who think that they’re too good for horror.  Harper’s Island, on the other hand, fully embraced both the horror and the melodrama and it did so without apology.

Seriously, what Halloween is complete without a trip to Harper’s Island?

Previous Guilty Pleasures

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class
  19. Tart
  20. King Kong vs. Godzilla
  21. Hawk the Slayer
  22. Battle Beyond the Stars
  23. Meridian
  24. Walk of Shame
  25. From Justin To Kelly
  26. Project Greenlight
  27. Sex Decoy: Love Stings
  28. Swimfan
  29. On the Line
  30. Wolfen
  31. Hail Caesar!
  32. It’s So Cold In The D
  33. In the Mix
  34. Healed By Grace
  35. Valley of the Dolls
  36. The Legend of Billie Jean
  37. Death Wish
  38. Shipping Wars
  39. Ghost Whisperer
  40. Parking Wars
  41. The Dead Are After Me

A Movie A Day #336: The Bronx Bull (2017, directed by Martin Guigui)


New York in the 1930s.  Jake LaMotta (Morean Aria) is a tough street kid who is pushed into fighting by his abusive father (Paul Sorvino) and who is taught how to box by a sympathetic priest (Ray Wise).  When Jake finally escapes from his Hellish home life, it is so he can pursue a career as a professional boxer.  Ironically, the same violent nature that nearly destroyed him as a youth will now be the key to his future success.

In the late 60s, a middle-aged Jake LaMotta (William Forsythe) testifies before a government panel that is investigating that influence of the Mafia in professional boxing.  LaMotta testifies that, during his professional career, he did take a dive in one of his most famous matches.  LaMotta goes on to pursue an entertainment career which, despite starring in Cauliflower Ears with Jane Russell, never amounts too much.  He drinks too much, fights too much, and gets into arguments with a ghost (Robert Davi).  He also gets married several times, to women played by everyone from Penelope Ann Miller to Alicia Witt.  The movie ends with Jake happily walking down a snowy street and a title card announcing that Jake is now 95 years old and married to his seventh wife.  (The real Jake LaMotta died on September, 9 months after the release of The Bronx Bull.)

The Bronx Bull is a largely pointless movie about the later life of the antisocial boxer who was previously immortalized in Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull.  In fact, The Bronx Bull was originally announced and went into production as Raging Bull II.  Then the producers of the original Raging Bull found out, filed a lawsuit, and the film became The Bronx Bull.  Because of the lawsuit, The Bronx Bull could cover every aspect of Jake’s life, except for what was already covered in Raging Bull.  In fact, Scorsese’s film (which undoubtedly had a huge impact on LaMotta’s later life) is not even mentioned in The Bronx Bull.

William Forsythe does what he can with the role but, for the most part, Jake just seems to be a lout with anger issues.  With a cast that includes everyone from Tom Sizemore to Cloris Leachman to Bruce Davison, the movie is full of familiar faces but none of them get too much of a chance to make an impression.  Joe Mantegna comes the closest, playing Jake’s best friend.  The Bronx Bull was not only shot on the cheap but it looks even cheaper, with studio backlots unconvincingly filling in for 1930s Bronx.  The film’s director, Martin Guigui, occasionally tries to throw in a Scorsesesque camera movement and there are a few black-and-white flashbacks but, for the most part, this is the mockbuster version of Raging Bull.

A Movie A Day #85: Blue Skies Again (1983, directed by Richard Michaels)


As Lisa said in her review of Night Game, Erin asked for baseball reviews today and there is no way you can turn down Erin.  So, I watched Blue Skies Again on YouTube.

The Denver Devils is a minor league baseball team that is coming off of its worst season ever.  The new owner (Harry Hamlin) is only concerned with making money and does not know anything about baseball.  The veteran coach (Kenneth McMillan) does not have the respect of his players.  Teammates like Ken (Andy Garcia), Calvin (Joseph Gian), and Wall Street (Cylk Cozart) are worried that they could lose their place on the team at any moment.  The only good news is that two sports agents (Mimi Rogers and Dana Elcar) have found the perfect prospect for the Devils.  This player can play second base.  This player can catch a grounder and turn it into a double play.  This player can hit the ball out of the park.  The only problem?  The player’s name is Paula (Robyn Barto) and she’s a girl!

Robyn Barto was asked to audition after a casting director saw her playing softball for her community college.  Blue Skies Again was her first film role.  In the role of a professional baseball player, Barto was a very convincing softball player.  But Barto was likable and had an engaging screen presence so it’s too bad that this movie was not only her first but also her last.  In the publicity leading up to the release of Blue Skies Again, Barto got to throw out the opening pitch at a Dodger game but that was it for her time in the spotlight.  According to one article that I found that was written ten years after the release of Blue Skies Again, Barto never regretted not having a film career and ended up coaching the softball team at her old high school.

Blue Skies Again was not only the debut of Robyn Barto but also the first feature film for both Mimi Rogers and Andy Garcia.  Garcia does not get to do much but Mimi Rogers shows off the sexy and fun screen presence that always makes me wonder why she never really became a big star.

Blue Skies Again is an okay movie but it does not add up to much.  No one wants to play with a girl but then she gets a hit so everyone changes their mind.  It’s the type of movie that, today, would be made for Hallmark or the Family Channel.  It’s a nice baseball movie but it can’t compare to the real thing.

 

 

Insomnia File No. 6: Frogs For Snakes (dir by Amos Poe)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

220px-Frogs_for_Snakes

If you were suffering from insomnia last night, at around two a.m., you could have turned over to Flix and watched the 1998 film Frogs For Snakes.

And if you were suffering from insomnia, watching Frogs For Snakes would probably have been a good idea because this film is amazingly dull.  In fact, I am not sure that I have the words to express to you just how tedious Frogs For Snakes truly was.  It may be necessary for me to go back to school and learn how to speak in a dead language in order for me to express the boredom that I felt while watching Frogs For Snakes.

And yes, I realize that I’m talking about an obscure film that was released nearly 20 years ago and it might seem kind of petty to, at this late date, make a big deal about how terrible this film was.

But seriously, Frogs For Snakes was really, really bad.  In fact, it was disturbing to think that a film this bad could have actually been made.  It was even more disturbing to consider that this film was apparently given a theatrical release and, all these years later, still pops up on cable so that it can proudly display its overwhelming mediocrity.

Now, I’m going to tell you what Frogs For Snakes is about and you’re going to think, “That actually sounds like it might be kind of interesting.”  Don’t be fooled!  The film may sound interesting but it’s not.

Frogs for Snakes takes place in a stylized, neo-noir version of New York City.  Eva Santana (Barbara Hershey) is an aging actress who claims to have quit the business, though it’s clear that it’s more a case of the business quitting her.  She talks about leaving New York and raising her son in a better environment.  However, until she gets around to leaving, she’s making ends meet by working as a waitress at a diner owned by the kind-hearted Quint (Ian Hart).  And, of course, when she’s not waitressing, she’s working as a debt collector for her ex-husband, a loan shark named Al Santana (Robbie Coltrane).

That’s right, this actress has a gun and she uses it frequently.  However, because Eva is good at heart, she rarely kills anyone.  Instead, she just shoots them in the foot and tells them to pay back their loans while they lay on the floor and scream in agony.  (All that agonized screaming got pretty old after a while.)

As for Al, he’s not just a loan shark.  He’s a theatrical impressario.  He’s planning on putting on a production of David Mamet’s American Buffalo.  He promises his driver a role in American Buffalo on the condition that the driver assassinate Eva’s new boyfriend (John Leguizamo, of course).

Soon, actors all over New York are literally killing to get a role in Al’s play.  Meanwhile, Eva just wants to retire and get out of New York but first, she has to do one last job for Al…

In between all the killing, the characters frequently launch into monologues that have been lifted from other films.  John Leguizamo does a Brando imitation.  Lisa Marie (Tim Burton’s ex, not yours truly) delivers the cuckoo clock speech from The Third Man.  A suggestion for aspiring filmmakers: if you’re going to make a bad film, don’t remind your audience that they could be watching The Third Man instead.

Anyway, the plot sounds interesting but none of the potentially intriguing ideas are explored.  I imagine that the film was meant to be a satire of Off-Broadway ruthlessness but ultimately, the film is just another tediously violent indie film from the 90s.  This is one of those movies where nobody can do anything without spending an excessive amount of time talking about it beforehand and, when things do turn violent, it’s the worst type of quirky, sadistic, drawn-out, “look how crazy we are” violence.

There’s a scene towards the end of the film where Al shoots a group of people in a bar.  This is intercut with clips from the Odessa Steps sequence from Battleship Potemkin.  As Al leave, he shoots the TV showing Battleship Potemkin and, I have to say, that really annoyed me.  Seriously, just as a bad filmmaker should not remind people that they could be watching The Third Man, he shouldn’t invite them to compare his film to Battleship Potemkin unless he’s willing to back up the comparison.  When Al shot the TV, I found myself hoping that Sergei Eisenstein would pop up and shoot him.

Frogs for Snakes is one of the worst films that I’ve ever seen.  It may, in fact, be the worst but I would need to rewatch Ted 2 before I said that for sure.  But, if you have insomnia, Frogs For Snakes will at least put you to sleep.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice