Parallel Lives (1994, directed by Linda Yellen)


A large group of people gather together one weekend for a fraternity/sorority reunion.  Since college, some of them have become rich and powerful.  Some of them are now famous.  Some of them are now seedy and disreputable.  They all have college memories, though there’s such a wide variety of age groups represented that it’s hard to believe that any of them actually went to college together.  After the men spend the day playing practical jokes and touch football and the women spend the night talking about their hopes and dreams, they wake up the next morning to discover the someone has murdered Treat Williams.  A pony-tailed sheriff (Robert Wagner) shows up to question everyone.

Parallel Lives was made for Showtime with the help of the Sundance Institute.  Today, it’s a forgotten film but, for some reason, it was very popular with American Airlines during the summer of 1997.  That summer, when I flew to the UK, Parallel Lives was one of the movies that we were shown.  (It was the second feature.  The first feature was Down Periscope, a submarine comedy starring Kelsey Grammar.  Fourteen year-old me enjoyed Down Periscope but, in retrospect, it wasn’t much of a flight.)  A month and a half later, when I flew back to the U.S., Parallel Lives was again one of the films shown on the flight!  For that reason, I may be the only person on the planet who has not forgotten that a film called Parallel Lives exists.

Parallel Lives, I later learned, was an entirely improvised film.  The huge cast were all given their characters and a brief outline of the film’s story and they were then allowed to come up with their own dialogue.  Unfortunately, no one did a very good job of it and the men were reduced to bro-ing it up while the women spent most of the movie having extended group therapy.  The story doesn’t add up too much and, even when I rewatched it from an adult’s perspective, I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to get out of everyone talking about how different the real world was from college.  Technically, the film’s a murder mystery but you can’t improvise a successful murder mystery.  This film proves that point.

Of course, it doesn’t help that there are 26 characters, all trying to get a word in at the same time.  Some of the roles don’t make much sense.  Dudley Moore shows up, playing an imaginary friend.  (How do you improvise being a figment of someone’s imagination?)  James Brolin introduces himself to everyone as being, “Professor Doctor Spencer Jones” and that appears to be as far as he got with his improv.  Ben Gazzara is a gambler and Mira Sorvino is the prostitute that he brings to the reunion while Mira’s father, Paul Sorvino, moons the camera several times.  Jack Klugman is a senator with Alzheimer’s and Patricia Wettig is his daughter.  The majority of the movie centers around Jim Belushi, playing a reporter and falling in love with JoBeth Williams.  Liza Minnelli, Helen Slater, Levar Burton, Lindsay Crouse, Matthew Perry, Ally Sheedy, and Gena Rowlands all have small roles.  How did so many talented people come together to make such a forgettable movie and why did American Airlines decide it was the movie to show people on their way to another country?  That’s the true mystery of Parallel Lives.

Guilty Pleasure No. 36: The Legend of Billie Jean (dir by Matthew Robbins)


Two weeks ago, while I was sick in bed, I watched The Legend of Billie Jean, a deeply silly movie from 1985.

Okay, get this.  Billie Jean (Helen Slater) and her younger brother, Binx (an incredibly young Christian Slater), live in Corpus Christi, Texas.  Binx has always wanted to go to Vermont.  That right there should tell you just how silly this movie is.  Not only does it feature a character named Binx but it also features Texans wanting to go to Vermont.  I’m a native Texan who loves to travel but I can tell you right now that the last place I would ever want to go would be Vermont.  In fact, down here, we tend to assume that Vermont’s just a place that was made up by the media.  Bernie Sanders?  He’s just an actor.  Seriously, there’s no way that Vermont actually exists.

Anyway, after Binx throws a milkshake in the face of local bully, Hubie Pyatt (Barry Tubb), Hubie steals Binx’s scooter.  (If you’re stuck with a name like Hubie Pyatt, it seems kinda predestined that you’re going to grow up to be a bully.)  After getting nowhere with the police, Billie Jean returns home to discover that Binx has been beaten up and his scooter has been dismantled.  Billie Jean goes to Hubie’s father (Richard Bradford) to demand some money to get the scooter fixed.  Mr. Pyatt responds by attempting to assault Billie Jean, which leads to Binx shooting Mr. Pyatt in the shoulder.

So now, Billie Jean and Binx are on the run.

Joining them in their flight are two idiot friends (Martha Gehman and Yeardley Smith) and Lloyd (Keith Gordon), the son of the local district attorney.  Because this is a movie, Billie Jean quickly becomes a media superstar.  Everyone wants to meet Billie Jean.  Everyone wants to help Billie Jean.  A sympathetic police detective (Peter Coyote) is determined to capture Billie Jean without violence but that might be difficult with the media constantly getting in the way.

While hiding out in a motel, Billie Jean turns on the TV and watches the classic 1928 silent film, The Passion of Joan of Arc.  (I have to say that I’ve stayed in a few motels around Corpus Christi and never once did I turn on the TV and just happen to come across a classic silent movie.)  Moved by Renee Falconetti’s performance in the lead role, Billie Jean decides to cut her hair really, really short (though not as short as Falconetti’s).  I guess Billie Jean is supposed to be a 1980s version of Joan of Arc, which really doesn’t make any sense.  I mean, Joan of Arc heard the voice of God and led the French to victory over the British.  Billie Jean is just trying to get some money to get her brother’s scooter fixed and pay for a trip to the imaginary state of Vermont.

Meanwhile, Mr. Pyatt has recovered from his wounds and is now selling Billie Jean merchandise in his store.  The detective mentions how weird that is but Mr. Pyatt is just out to make some money.  Can you blame him?  The entire country is obsessed with Billie Jean!

As you might have guessed, The Legend of Billie Jean is incredibly silly but likable.   Despite having an inconsistent Texas accent, Helen Slater does a good job in the lead role of Billie Jean and it’s interesting to actually see Christian Slater before he developed the sarcastic style that, for better or worse, has come to define pretty much all of his performances.  Never for a second do you believe that Billie Jean would actually become a media superstar.  (Nor do you ever believe that she’s the type who would have the patience to watch a silent movie.)  I mean, when you get right down to it, it’s a pretty dumb movie.  But, when you’re sick in bed, The Legend of Billie Jean is a perfectly acceptable way to pass the time.

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

A Movie A Day #192: Betrayal of the Dove (1993, directed by Strathford Hamilton)


Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Ellie West (Helen Slater) has a 7 year-old daughter (Heather Lind), a sleazy ex-husband (Alan Thicke), a vampy best friend (Kelly LeBrock), and a pair of inflamed tonsils that need to come out.  When she goes in the hospital for what should be a routine procedure, she nearly dies on the operation table.  Something went wrong with the anaesthesia.  But what, why, and how?  Fortunately, Doctor Jesse Peters (Billy Zane) was there to save Ellie’s life.  Even as Ellie, with the encouragement of her best friend, starts to go out with Jesse, she still suspects that someone is trying to kill both her and her daughter.

While the title may sounds like an early 90s Merchant Ivory production, Betrayal of the Dove is actually just another “erotic” thriller, the type that used to show up exclusively on late night Cinemax.  The only thing that distinguished Betrayal of the Dove was the cast, which mixed B-movie stalwarts like Kelly LeBrock and Billy Zane with actors who usually did not appear in movies like this.  Alan Thicke was surprisingly good as a sleazy, abusive alcoholic and both Stuart Pankin and David L. Lander were cast in serious roles.

Perhaps the most surprising casting was that of veteran television comedian and Mel Brooks regular, Harvey Korman.  In the role of Ellie’s boss, Harvey not only played a serious role here but, at the end of the movie, he also got to save the day.  I’m not sure if Harvey did his own stunt work but if you have ever wanted to see Harvey Korman as an action hero, Betrayal of the Dove is as close as you’re going to get.

Or you could just watch Blazing Saddles again.