Film Review: After (dir by Jenny Gage)


After, which was released back in April, tells the story of the world’s most boring college romance.

Tessa (Josephine Langford) is a beautiful, intelligent, but shy good girl who has just stared college and who is struggling to fit in with her fellow students.  Her new roommate has tattoos and a nose ring and Tessa’s just not sure if she can keep up with a group of campus rebels who drink, vape, and play extremely anodyne games of truth or dare.  Tessa’s roommate demands to know why Tessa has so many old books.  It’s because Tessa loves to read but we soon discover that her literary tastes seem to be dominated by her old high school reading list.  In her lit class, she says that Pride and Prejudice is a “revolutionary feminist novel,” in a tone of voice that indicates that she googled “revolutionary feminism” for the first time the previous night.

Hardin (Hero Fiennes-Tiffin) is a bad boy because he has tattoos and he tends to smirk before leaving a room.  Hardin seems like he’s …. well, I guess he’s supposed to be dangerous.  He’s cynical and he says there’s no such thing as love but actually, he just needs someone to help tend to his emotional wounds.  We know that he’s not really a bad dude because he likes Jane Austen and he has a copy of Wuthering Heights in his room, one that’s full of book marks, indicating that he is an actual serious student of literature.  He also says that The Great Gatsby was all a dream.  (Seriously, you know he’s serious about literature when he owns copies of both Wuthering Heights and The Great Gatsby.  I imagine if the movie had lasted a few minutes longer, he would have said, “Hemingway was the poor man’s Hemingway,” and everyone’s mind would have been totally blown.)

Anyway, from the minute that a towel-clad Tessa returns to her dorm room from taking a shower and discovers Hardin sitting in the corner (and reading, of course!), it’s pretty obvious that they’re destined to fall in love.  (Of course, considering that Hardin refused to leave the room so Tessa could get dressed, it was perhaps just as likely that she would end up filing a harassment complaint.)  Of course, the path to true love never runs smoothly.  Tessa has a sweet boyfriend that she’ll need to dump.  Hardin has all sorts of emotional baggage that he needs someone to unpack for him.  Still, while Hardin and Tessa are swimming in the nearby lake, Hardin says, “We could never be just friends….”

If this all sounds like bad fanfic, that’s because it is.  After is based on a novel by Anna Todd.  The novel started out as fan fiction and Hardin was originally named Harry Styles.  Anyway, the novel sold a lot of copies and developed a reputation for being an innocent version of Fifty Shades of Grey so I guess it’s inevitable that it would later be adapted into an amazingly bad movie.  I mean, the sex was the only good thing about Fifty Shades so I’m not sure why someone would say, “Let’s make a chaste version of this book!”

The main problem with After is that both Tessa and Hardin are such inherently boring characters and all the soft-focus shots in the world can’t make them interesting.  It doesn’t matter how much time they spend interlocking their fingers, they never seem like people who you’d want to get stuck in a conversation with.  Tessa may claim to be into “revolutionary feminism” but she only exists to find a man.  She’s defined by how she feels about Hardin and Hardin seems to be the only thing she’s interested in.  Meanwhile, Hardin is the worst type of phony intellectual, the self-centered rich boy who has a convenient tragedy for every occasion.  Josephine Langford and Hero Fiennes-Tiffin are both attractive in a “I just shot a pilot for the CW” sort of way but neither has much screen presence and, together, they generate so little chemistry that they might as well be two wax figures staring into each other’s glass eyes.

“I’m a mess,” Hardin says and Tessa agrees, “I think we’re both a mess,” and everyone who is a real mess replies, ‘Oh, fuck off, you two.”

 

 

Film Review: Before I Fall (dir by Ry Russo-Young)


One of my favorite films of 2017 was Before I Fall, which was kind of a combination of Mean Girls, Groudhog Day, and Happy Death Day.  Two years later, it remains one of my favorite movies, even if I do end up crying whenever I watch it.

The film begins with an ordinary teenager named Samantha Kingston (Zooey Deutsch) waking up on February 12th.  We follow her throughout her day and watch her deal with family, friends, teachers, and all the drama that goes along with all of that.  We meet her boyfriend, Rob (Kian Lawley) and we automatically know that she needs to dump his jock ass.  (Whenever we hear him glibly say, “Love ya,” it’s like nails on a chalkboard.)  We all know that Sam should be with Kent (Logan Miller), who is sweet and sensitive and gives her a white rose for Cupid’s Day.  We also meet and get to know her friends, Allie (Cynthia Wu), Elody (Medalion Rahimi), and especially Lindsay (Halston Sage).  While being a close friend to Sam, Lindsay is still the stereotypical popular, mean girl, the one who decides who is accepted and who is destined to forever to be an outsider.  Sam, on the other hand, is not a mean girl (or, at the very least, she’s a not-as-mean girl).  Instead, she’s the girl who simply goes along with what everyone else is doing.  She may not instigate any bullying but she doesn’t do anything to stop it either.

February 12th was the night that Sam had been planning on losing her virginity to Rob but Rob pretty much ruins that by getting drunk and acting like an asshole.  Instead, at a party at Kent’s house, Sam watches as Lindsay humiliates an outsider named Juliet (Elena Kampouris).  After leaving the party, Sam, Lindsay, Elody, and Allie drive down a dark road.  They listen to music.  They talk about how stupid everyone at the party was.  And, eventually, the car crashes and….

Suddenly, Sam’s waking up in her bedroom!  And it’s February 12th all over again!  That’s right, Sam is in a time loop, destined to continually relive the final day of her life until she makes things right.  In the 2010 novel that this film is based on, author Lindsay Olivier makes it pretty clear that each time Sam relives her day, she’s going through another stage of grief, moving from denial to acceptance.  While the film doesn’t make that point quite as clearly as the book, it does do a good job of showing us how, each time that Sam is forced to relive that day, she comes out of it as a changed person.  She discovers that Rob wasn’t worthy of her love and that Kent was.  She discovers that her family wasn’t as terrible as she assumed.  And, perhaps most importantly, she learns that being a friend does not mean excusing casual cruelty.

Watching Before I Fall is always an emotional experience for me.  A lot of it is because I can relate to Sam.  In many ways, back in high school, I was Sam.  But, even beyond that, the theme of Before I Fall is universal.  It doesn’t matter how old you are or what your background may be.  It doesn’t matter if you were popular in high school or if you were one of the outsiders.  Everyone — every single one of us — has done something that they regret.  All of us have one day that we wish we could travel back to and do things differently.

Well-directed by Ry Russo-Young and featuring a lot of beautiful Canadian scenery (the film was shot in British Columbia and Vancouver), Before I Fall is a poignant and touching film.  Zooey Deutch, Halston Sage, Cynthia Wu, and Medalion Rahimi are all believable as longtime friends and, to the film’s credit, no one — not even Lindsay — can be reduced to a mere stereotype.  Before I Fall is a film about regret, denial, anger, acceptance, and finally, peace.  No wonder it makes me cry.

Film Review: Flashdance (dir by Adrian Lyne)


Instead of getting any sleep last night, I decided to stay up and watch the 1983 dance film, Flashdance.  As a result, I’m not only very tired but everyone I see today, I’m just like, “You’re not really a welder, are you?”

In the film, that question is asked by bitchy Katie Hurley (Belinda Bauer) to 18 year-old Alex (Jennifer Beals) and the answer, by the way, is yes.  Alex is a welder.  Judging by the way the film handles the topic, it appears that audiences in 1983 were really stunned that a woman could be a welder.  (I kept expecting to hear someone say, “She’s one of those lady welders, like you read about in the Reader’s Digest.”)  Myself, I’m more amazed that an 18 year-old in Pittsburgh could get a high-paying union job.  Then again, we never really see any evidence that Alex is really doing much as a welder.  We do see her at a construction site holding one of those torch things but that’s pretty much it.  Last night, I started Flashdance with no idea what a welder does and I ended the movie with even less of an idea but then again, the movie really isn’t about welding.

Instead, it’s about dancing!  And love!  And holding onto your dreams!  And living in a big warehouse with a dog and a handsome boyfriend!  As one character puts it, when you give up your dreams, you die.  Of course, most people have multiple dreams so what happens if you only give up one but hold onto the others?  I guess you just lose a toe or something.  But anyway….

Actually,  before we move on, how much money did welders make back in 1983?  Because seriously, Alex lives in a gigantic and very nicely decorated building and her only roommate is a dog.  As Alex explains to her boss and boyfriend, Nick (Michael Nouri), the building was an abandoned warehouse before Alex moved in.  So, does Alex own the building?  Does she just rent it?  It’s a great place and I love what Alex does with it but seriously, it’s hard to believe that any 18 year-old — even one who is working two jobs — could afford it.

Yes, Alex has two jobs.  Such is the price of independence.  When she’s not welding, she’s dancing at a dive bar.  Her routines are amazingly filmed and a lot of fun to watch but they’re also so elaborate it’s hard to believe that they could be performed in such a run-down establishment or that the bar’s blue collar clientele would have much patience for them.  She’s an exotic dancer, which means she doesn’t take off her clothes.  The sleazy owner of local strip club (Lee Ving) keeps trying to encourage Alex and her friend, Jeanie (Sunny Johnson), to come dance at his place but Alex has no interest in that.  Jeanie, on the other hand, accepts the offer.  Fortunately, Alex is there to run into the club and yank her off stage and then yell at her.  Alex spends a lot of time yelling at people.  She also throws a rock through one of Nick’s windows when she sees him talking to his ex-wife.  One could argue that Alex has rage issues but no one in the film seems to take them personally.  How could they?  Alex is pursuing her dreams and the good thing about pursuing a dream is that you can do whatever you want while doing so.

(Interestingly, you can tell that the filmmakers were a little bit concerned that audiences in the early 80s might view Alex as being a bit too independent and confrontational.  In between the scenes of Alex yelling at people and casually reaching underneath her sweatshirt to remove her bra while Nick watches, there are also scenes of Alex going to confession.  It’s as if the film’s saying, “Yes, she welds!  Yes, she has a temper!  Yes, she’s flirty!  But fear not, she’s a good girl!  So, it’s okay for you to be on her side….”)

For a film that was shot on the streets of Pittsburgh, there’s not a gritty moment to be found in Flashdance.  This is the type of film where Alex rides her bicycle across the city and it never once gets stolen, despite the fact that she never actually locks it up.  In the world of Flashdance, all conflicts are easily resolved, all insecurities are ultimately conquered, and all dreams come true.  It’s a world where Alex can become a great dancer despite having never had any formal training just because, as she puts it, she’s “watched TV and read books.”  (My old dance teachers probably hated this movie.)  It’s a fairy tale and, like most fairy tales, it’s deeply silly and yet oddly compelling at the same time.  Never once do you buy that Alex is a welder and it’s pretty obvious, from all the quick cuts and the skewed camera angles, that Jennifer Beals did not do her own dancing.  But it doesn’t matter because it’s hard not to get pulled into the film’s glitzy fantasy.  Flashdance may technically be a bad movie but I dare you not to cry a little when Alex leaves her audition and finds Nick waiting for her.  Not only does Alex achieve her dreams, but she also get a rich, older boyfriend, the type who gives her flowers and puts a bow on her dog.

It’s interesting to note that the two films that practically define the early 80s cinematic aesthetic, Flashdance and Scarface, were both released in 1983.  (Not only was Flashdance initially offered to Scarface director Brian DePalma but Al Pacino was also offered the role of Nick.  Pacino, of course, turned it down and played Tony Montana instead.)  To be honest, I think you can argue that Flashdance and Scarface are essentially the same film.  They’ve both got neon opening credits.  They’ve both got a score from Giorgio Moroder.  They’re both elaborate fantasies about someone who won’t surrender their dream.  Just replace all the cocaine that Tony Montana snorted with Alex’s love of dancing.

Finally, I have to mention Flashdance‘s music.  The score and the song may be totally 80s but it still sounds good in 2019.  The theme song won an Oscar and let me tell you, if you can listen to this song without dancing around your house in your underwear, then you obviously have a lot more self-control than I do.

A Movie A Day #292: The Bride (1985, directed by Franc Roddam)


The Bride opens where most films about Frankenstein and his monster end.

The Baron (played by fucking Sting, of all people) has agreed to create a bride for his creation, who in this movie is named Viktor and played by Clancy Brown.  Jennifer Beals plays the Bride, who is named Eva.  Eva looks like a normal, beautiful wielder-turned-dancer so when she first sees Viktor, she screams.  Viktor gets upset and starts to trash the laboratory.  “Don’t be impertinent!’ snaps the Baron’s assistant (Quentin Crisp).  A fire breaks out.  Quentin Crisp dies and so does another assistant played by Timothy Spall.  The monster escapes.  The Baron takes Eva into his household.  The Baron is obsessed with controlling Eva, who wants her independence and who has fallen in love with Cary Elwes.  When Eva sees a cat, she screams.  “You never told me about cats,” she tells the Baron, “I thought it was a tiny lion!”

The rest of the movie is a bewildering collection of cameos from respected thespians forced to recite some of the worst dialogue in film history.  Viktor befriends Rinaldo the dwarf (David Rappaport), who tells Viktor about how much he dreams of one day seeing Venice.  After Rinaldo is murdered by Alexei Sayle, Viktor swears that he will go to Venice and he will take Eva with him.

(Timothy Spall,  Quentin Crisp, and Alexei Sayle are not the only British performers to be strangely miscast in The Bride.  Keep an eye out for Phil Daniels, Ken Campbell, and Tony Haygarth, all wasted in small roles.)

The Bride attempts to put a revisionist, feminist spin on the story of Frankenstein but it ultimately just looks like a two hour Duran Duran video, with a guest vocals provided by Sting.  The scenes with Clancy Brown and David Rappaport work but otherwise, every important role is miscast.  Jennifer Beals is monotonous as the Bride and Sting never comes close to suggesting that he is capable of the type of mad genius that would be necessary to create life.  When it comes to the Bride of Frankenstein, stick with the original.

One final note: Both Sting and Phil Daniels also appeared in a much better film from Franc Roddam, Quadrophenia.  I recommend seeing Quadrophenia almost as much as I recommend forgetting about The Bride.

A Movie A Day #164: Split Decisions (1988, directed by David Drury)


Craig Sheffer seeks symbolic revenge and Gene Hackman picks up a paycheck in Split Decisions!

Ray McGuinn (Jeff Fahey) is a contender.  Ever since he let his father’s gym and signed with a sleazy boxing promoter, Ray has been waiting for his title shot.  His father, an ex-boxer turned trainer named Dan (Gene Hackman), has never forgiven Ray for leaving him.  Meanwhile, his younger brother — an amateur boxer and Olympic aspirant named Eddie (Craig Sheffer) — worships Ray and is overjoyed when Ray returns to the old neighborhood to fight “The Snake” Pedroza (Eddie Velez).  But then Ray is told that if he doesn’t throw the fight, he’ll never get a shot at a title bout.  When Ray refuses, The Snake and a group of thugs are sent to change his mind and Ray gets tossed out of a window.

Eddie is determined to avenge his brother’s death.  Does he do it by turning vigilante and tracking down the men who murdered his brother?  No, he turns pro and takes his brother’s place in the boxing ring!  Dan reluctantly trains him and Eddie enters the ring, looking for symbolic justice.  Symbolic justice just doesn’t have the same impact as Charles Bronson-style justice.

The idea of a barely known amateur turning professional and getting a chance to fight a contender feels just as implausible here as it did in Creed.  The difference is that Creed was a great movie so it did not matter if it was implausible.  To put it gently, Split Decisions is no Creed.  The boxing scenes are uninspired and even the training montage feels tired.  Look at Craig Sheffer run down the street while generic 80s music plays in the background.  Watch him spar in the ring.  Listen to Gene Hackman shout, “You’re dragging your ass out there!”  In the late 80s, Gene Hackman could have played a role like Dan in his sleep and he proves it by doing so here.  Underweight pretty boy Craig Sheffer is actually less convincing as a boxer than Damon Wayans was in The Great White Hype.

Split Decisions is another boxing movie that should have taken Duke’s advice.

Cleaning Out The DVR, Again #39: Full Out (dir by Sean Cisterna)


(Lisa is currently in the process of trying to clean out her DVR by watching and reviewing all 40 of the movies that she recorded from the start of March to the end of June.  She’s trying to get it all done by the end of July 11th!  Will she make it!?  Keep visiting the site to find out!)

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The 39th film on my DVR was Full Out, which aired on Lifetime immediately after Center Stage: On Pointe.  

I enjoyed Full Out when it first aired and I enjoyed it even more when I watched it a second time.  It’s a truly enjoyable and inspiring dance film and it’s one of the best films to have appeared on Lifetime this year.  Not only is it wonderful to watch but it’s a Canadian film, which is always a good thing.  It features not one, not two, not three, but FOUR Degrassi actors!

Full Out tells a true story and what a story it is!  Ariana Berlin (Anna Golja) is a talented gymnast who is bound for Olympic glory when she and her mother (Ramona Milano) are involved in a devastating traffic accident.  While Ariana survives the accident, she spends five days in a coma.  When she awakens, she discovers that she has two broken legs, two collapsed lungs, a broken wrist, a broken collarbone, and several cracks ribs.  A metal rod has been placed in her leg and her doctors tell her that she’ll never compete again.

At first, Ariana is bitter.  Not only does she miss the Olympics but she also has to watch as her best friend (played by Sarah Fisher) goes in her place and wins a silver medal.  Ariana lashes out at her friends and her family.  Everyone is prepared to give up on her, except for her physical therapist, Michelle (Asha Bromfield).  Michelle teaches Ariana hip hop dance and introduces Ariana to her dance troupe.  Through dance, Ariana starts to gain back her confidence.  Michelle eventually asks Araina to coach the dancers for an upcoming audition to join a famous dance team.

In fact, Ariana has become so confident that she feels ready to return to gymnastics.  She is accepted at UCLA, where her coach is the demanding Valorie Kondos Field (Jennifer Beals).  However, Ariana struggles to balance both gymnastics and dance.  Can she have both or will she be forced to make a difficult choice?

Full Out is an incredibly positive and likable film, one that made me feel good both times that I watched it.  The acting is wonderful, the story is inspiring, and the dancing is pure joy.  Watch this when you’re in a bad mood or when you’re feeling hopeless and it will immediately cheer you up, I promise!

As I’ve mentioned a few times in the past, this has been a good year for Degrassi actors appearing in Lifetime films.  Full Out sets some sort of record by featuring four Degrassi actors!  Sarah Fletcher (who played conflicted Christian Becky Baker on Degrassi and also starred in The Stepchild) plays Ariana’s best friend and occasional rival.  Jake Epstein, who played bipolar musician/photographer Craig Manning on Degrassi, appears as one of Ariana’s coaches.  Ramona Milano, who played Drew and Adam’s mom on Degrassi, plays Ariana’s mom.  (Interestingly enough, on Degrassi, Sarah Fletcher’s Becky was a potential girlfriend to both Drew and Adam.)  And finally, Anna Golja, who plays bitchy Zoe on Degrassi, gives a great and empathetic performance as Ariana Berlin.

In fact, everyone is great in Full Out.  WAY TO GO, CANADA!