The Things You Find On Netflix: 6 Balloons (dir by Marja Lewis-Ryan)


Poor Katie (Abbi Jacobson)!

All she wants to do is throw a surprise party for her new boyfriend and enjoy the 4th of July.  Is that too much to ask?  However, things are never easy.  Her friends are ruthless in their critique of what she’s planning to wear.  Her mother (Jane Kaczmarek) keeps pressuring her to go down to CVS and buy more makeup.  As for her father (Tim Matheson) — well, he’s just too damn good-looking.  All of her friends want to know if it was difficult for Katie to grow up with a “hot dad.”  Katie says it was.

You know what’s even more difficult though?

Trying to throw a surprise birthday party while also trying to take care of your niece and your junkie brother!

From the minute we meet Seth (Dave Franco) it’s obvious that he’s on something.  As soon as Katie orders him to roll up his sleeves, we know that this is not a new thing with Seth.  Seth is a junkie, the type who shoots up in grocery store bathrooms and who buys his heroin from a man who lives in a yellow tent.  Seth isn’t one of those charming junkies, either.  He’s not Ewan McGregor in Trainspotting.  He’s a manipulative, self-centered asshole who agrees to go to detox but only if Katie agrees to pay for it and not tell anyone that he’s using again.  He’s the type who thinks nothing of begging his sister to leave the party that she’s spent weeks planning because he needs a ride to get one last hit before “getting clean.”

6 Balloons is a short film, one that takes place over the course of one long night.  While the party goes on without her, Katie drives Seth around the city.  Whenever Katie objects to what Seth is asking her to do, Seth guilts her.  He continually assures her that he just needs to get high one last time and then he’ll be able to do detox.  Meanwhile, Seth’s daughter sits in her car seat and begs to be taken home.

The acting is okay.  Both Dave Franco and Abbi Jacobson are best known for their comedic work so it’s interesting to see them taking on such dramatic roles here.  At the same time, it sometimes seems like both of them are trying too hard.  The same could be said of  6 Balloons.  This is a film that could have used a little dark humor.  Instead, it’s relentlessly grim and serious and, as a result, a bit of a chose to sit through.  For a 70 minute film, 6 Balloons seems to go on forever.

The problem with films about junkies is that, for the most part, hardcore junkies are dull people and not much fun to be around.  Christiane F, Trainspotting and several of the films influenced by them dealt with this problem by featuring a propulsive soundtrack and some imaginative cinematography.  (Trainspotting also wisely devoted more screen time to Mark and Sick Boy than to Spud.  Just imagine how difficult it would be to watch Trainspotting if the entire film had centered on Spud getting high and crawling underneath cars.)  With its hand-held camerawork and it’s subdued soundtrack, 6 Balloons takes more of a documentary approach.  The film will leave you with no doubt that heroin is bad and it’s not good to be an enabler but, at the same time, it’ll probably also inspire you to glance at the time and ask yourself, “Is this thing over yet?”

A Movie A Day #322: CHiPs (2017, directed by Dax Shepard)


Based on the campy 70s cop show that will live on forever in syndication, CHiPs is about two unlikely partners who, after a rough beginning, work together to catch a cop’s killer and capture a gang of armed robbers.

Officer Jon Baker (Dax Shepherd) is a flaky former motocross champion who joins the California Highway Patrol to try to impress his estranged wife (Kristen Bell).  Baker pops painkillers like candy, throws up whenever he enters an unfamiliar house, and has a knee that randomly goes out.  Baker can’t shoot, fight, or think but he sure can ride a bike.

Officer Francis Llewelyn “Ponch” Poncherello (Michael Pena) is actually an FBI agent named Castillo who has been assigned to work undercover to investigate corruption in the CHP.  Ponch is a sex addict who is obsessed with yoga pants and who keeps accidentally shooting his former partner (Adam Brody).

Both Baker and Ponch are given one identifying characteristic.  Baker’s thing is that he always says the wrong thing and then apologizes.  Ponch’s thing is that he always says the wrong thing and then doesn’t apologize.  That is about as deep as things get.

I’m not really sure who this movie is supposed to appeal to.  Michael Pena and Dax Shepard have been good in other productions but they’re both awful here, let down by a script that does not have much to offer beyond tepid bromance and dick jokes.  The humor is too deliberately lowbrow and raunchy to appeal to the people who were fans of the quaintly innocent TV show but it’s also neither meta nor clever enough to appeal to the audience that made hits out of 21 and 22 Jump Street.  I guess the ideal audience for this film would be people who still find gay panic jokes to be hilarious because CHiPs is full of them.  If the last movie you saw was made in 1999 and starred Adam Sandler and David Spade, CHiPs might be right up your alley.

CHiPs is a terrible fucking movie but what really distinguishes it from other terrible movies is the amount of contempt that it seems to have for its source material.  The Jump Street movies might have poked fun at the TV series that inspired them but it was still obvious that the films were being made by fans.  CHiPs can’t even be bothered to use the original’s theme music as anything other than a way to punctuate a few cheap jokes.  Erik Estrada, the original Ponch, does have a cameo but only so he and the new Ponch can talk about eating ass in Spanish.  Otherwise, there is nothing that links the movie to the TV show.  A more accurate title would have been Two Assholes On Motorcycles, except the motorcycles really are not that important to the film.  So, I guess the title would actually just have to be Two Assholes.  That sounds about right to me.

CHiPs proves that not every stupid cop show needs a movie version.  Now, excuse me while I get back to work on my T.J. Hooker spec script…

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Wolves at the Door (dir by John Leonetti)


I’m really not sure what to make of Wolves at the Door.

I knew the film was inspired by the crimes of Charles Manson and his family before I watched the film.  Not only was Wolves at the Door specifically advertised as being “Inspired by The Infamous Manson Family Murder Spree” but just check out the plot description that was provided by Warner Bros:

Four friends gather at an elegant home during the Summer of Love, 1969. Unbeknownst to them, deadly visitors are waiting outside. What begins as a simple farewell party turns to a night of primal terror as the intruders stalk and torment the four, who struggle for their lives against what appears to be a senseless attack.

The Manson Family have inspired a countless number of films, so that’s not really an issue.  Almost all of those films either presented Manson and his followers as being the epitome of evil or they told stories that were heavily and obviously fictionalized.

Wolves at the Door, however, is different.  Other than in some news footage that is shown during the end credits, Manson is not seen in the film.  For that matter, the members of the Family don’t get much screen time either.  Mostly, they’re just seen as shadows, creeping down hallways and sometimes materializing in a doorway before vanishing.  There’s no mention of Helter Skelter or the Beatles.  I’d have to rewatch the film to say for sure but I think it’s possible that we only hear them say one or two words over the course of the entire movie.

Instead, Wolves at the Door spends most of its running time with the victims of the Manson Family, following them as they are unknowingly stalked inside of a Los Angeles mansion.  Usually, in a film like this, you would expect the names to be changed but, for some reason, that doesn’t happen in Wolves At The Door.

So, Katie Cassidy plays a pregnant actress who is named Sharon.

Elizabeth Henstridge plays a coffee heiress who is named Abigail.

Adam Campbell plays Abigail’s Polish boyfriend, who is named Wojciech.

Miles Fisher plays a hairdresser who is named Jay and who just happens to be Sharon’s ex-boyfriend.

And, finally, Lucas Adams plays a teenager stereo enthusiast named Steven, who just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Speaking as someone who loves horror and who has defended some of the most critically derided films of all time, everything about Wolves at the Door just feels icky, tacky, and wrong.  Many grindhouse horror films have been inspired by actual crimes but most of them at least changed the names of the victims.   You really have to wonder just what exactly the filmmakers were thinking here.

(Then again, just two years ago, NBC greenlit a show called Aquarius, which could have just as easily been called “The Adventures of Young Charlie Manson.”)

It’s not just that Wolves at the Door is offensive.  In fact some of the best movies of all time were specifically designed to be offensive.  The problem with Wolves at the Door is that it’s also just a very shoddy film.  (In fact, if the film had been well-made, it wouldn’t be quite as offensive.)  Though the actors may be talented, they’re let down by a script that’s full of some of the clunkiest dialogue that I’ve ever heard.  Though the soundtrack may feature some good songs, they’re still the same damn songs that show up in every movie set in 1969.  (Judging from the movies, everyone in 1969 just listened to the same five songs over and over again.)  Though the movie itself is only 73 minutes long, it is so abysmally paced that it feels much, much longer.

Sadly, this film was directed by John Leonetti, who did a pretty good job with Annabelle.  Again, I’m not sure what exactly he or anyone else was thinking with Wolves at the Door, which I’m going to go ahead and declare to be the worst film of 2017.  I know that the year isn’t over yet but I just can’t imagine anything as bad as this.