Holiday Film Review: Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus (dir by Charles Jarrott)

The year is 1897 and eight year-old Virginia O’Hanlan (Katharine Isabelle — yes, that Katharine Isabelle) has a problem.  All of her “little friends” say that there is no Santa Claus!  When she asks her father (Richard Thomas) about whether or not there’s a Santa Claus, he suggests that she write a letter to the New York Sun.  “If you see it in the Sun,” he says, “it must be true!”  The letter ends up on the desk of a gruff editor (Edward Asner) who assigns Virginia’s question to Frank Church (Charles Bronson), an alcoholic who is still mourning the deaths of his wife and child. Conquering his own cynicism and depression, Church writes an editorial reply that goes on to become not just a holiday classic but also the most frequently reprinted editorial in history.  Yes, Virginia, Church begins, there is a Santa Claus….

This 1991 film is a sweet-natured retelling of the famous story of Frank Church’s editorial.  Of course, it takes considerable liberties with the actual story.  Here’s just a few examples.

In real life, the editorial was published in September.  In the movie, it’s published on Christmas Eve.

In real life, Virginia’s father was a doctor and she came from a middle class family.  In the movie, Virginia’s father is an Irish immigrant and laborer who is so poor that the O’Hanlan’s might not be able to afford a Christmas!  They live in a tenement and Virginia’s father is frequently harassed by not only the cops but also corrupt labor officials.

In real life, Frank Church was a notoriously cynical atheist who reportedly had little use for Christmas and specifically didn’t sign his name to his famous editorial because he didn’t think much of it.  At the time that he wrote the editorial, he was also a bachelor.  He did marry shortly after the editorial was published but he never had any children.  In the film, Frank is a widower who rediscovers his zest for life and who smiles broadly while listening to Virginia’s father read it aloud.

And, of course, in real life, it’s very probable that the letter was written by Virginia’s parents because how many eight year olds would actually write something like, “Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.”  In the movie, however, Virginia writes the letter herself.

In other words, this is a nice movie that just happens to be terrible history.  The film does end with a disclaimer that clarifies that “certain events have been fictionalized.”  Actually, the entire story has been fictionalized, with the exception of the content of Church’s editorial.  That said, this is a sweet-natured and generally likable movie.  If nothing else, it’s a film that means well and, as tempting as it may be to roll your eyes at the film’s unabashed sentimentality, it’s sincerity feels right for the holiday season.  It’s a made-for-TV movie from the early 90s so don’t expect any surprises but it’s nicely acted and even Charles Bronson seems to be in a good mood by the end of it.

As far as movies about journalists lying to children are concerned, this is a good one.  Just don’t watch it for a history lesson.

Never Nominated: 16 Actresses Who Were Never Nominated For An Oscar

The late actress Deborah Kerr was nominated for six Oscars over the course of her distinguished career.  She never won and, in fact, she currently holds the record for the most Best Actress nominations without a victory.

But, at least, Deborah Kerr was nominated!

The 16 actresses below have never been nominated for an Oscar, despite some excellent and compelling performances.  10 of them still have a chance to be nominated.  Sadly, 6 of them are no longer with us.

  1. Emily Blunt

Emily Blunt came close this year.  She received a SAG nomination for her performance in Girl On The Train and some of the critics groups also honored her work.  However, when the Oscar nominations were announced, Meryl Streep was nominated for a film nobody saw and Emily Blunt was nowhere to be seen.  This year, she’s in good company, as neither Amy Adams nor Annette Bening picked up expected nominations either.  Personally, I didn’t care much for Girl on the Train.  I would have much rather seen Blunt nominated for Looper, Sicario, or even Edge of Tomorrow.  Blunt will be nominated eventually.

2. Dale Dickey

You may not know Dale Dickey’s name but you’d recognize her if you saw her.  She usually plays characters who are strong, outspoken, and occasionally a little scary.  You never want to get on the bad side of someone played by Dale Dickey.  To date, Dickey’s most award-worthy role was in Winter’s Bone.  She also had a memorable (if small) role in Hell or High Water, playing the bank teller who, when asked if the men who robbed her were black, replies, “Their skin or their souls?”


3. Kirsten Dunst

As a result of Bring It On, Dunst is often thought of as being the ideal cheerleader.  But, by far, her most award-worthy turn was in a film that was about as different from Bring It On as possible, Melancholia.  Dunst was just twelve when she was first mentioned, for her performance in Interview With A Vampire, as a potential nominee.  She was also very good in Marie Antoinette and the overlooked Crazy/Beautiful.  Dunst fell off the radar for a while but she’s been quietly making a comeback.

4. Greta Gerwig

Greta Gerwig is my spirit animal.  She deserved a nomination for Francis Ha and for Damsels in Distress before that.  She’ll be nominated some day.

5. Rebecca Hall

Rebecca Hall received some Oscar buzz last year for Christine.  I haven’t seen Christine but I think that her performances in 2008’s Vicky Christina Barcelona and especially 2010’s Please Give were criminally overlooked.

6. Katharine Isabelle

Though Isabelle is best known for Ginger Snaps, I think she deserved a nomination for last year’s underrated 88.  One of the best actresses working today, Isabelle will hopefully get a role worthy of her talents.

Film Review Under the Skin

7. Scarlett Johansson

It’s a bit of a shock that Scarlett Johansson has yet to be nominated.  Her work in Lost in Translation was just as important to that film’s success as Bill Murray’s.  And her performance in Under the Skin remains one of the bravest pieces of acting to ever be put on screen.

8. Ashley Judd

Unfortunately, Ashley Judd now seems to be more concerned with political activism than acting.  It’s been a while since she’s appeared in a really great role (and no, the Divergent movies don’t count).  Judd’s best work came in the 90s, when she gave award-worthy performances in Ruby in Paradise, Heat, and especially Normal Life.

9. Kelly MacDonald

Scottish actress Kelly MacDonald doesn’t make enough movies but it’s still hard not to feel that she’s been overlooked by the Academy.  Not only did she hold her own in Trainspotting but her performance in No County For Old Men provided that otherwise cold film with a much-needed heart.

Kristen Stewart

10. Kristen Stewart

Kristen Stewart managed to survive the Twilight films and has emerged as a consistently interesting actress.  Her work in Clouds of Sils Maria won her a Ceasar but was overlooked by the Academy.  Before that, Stewart did excellent work in Into the Wild, Adventureland, Still Alice and Welcome to the Rileys.

Sadly, these six unnominated actresses are no longer with us:

  1. Rita Hayworth

That the wonderful Rita Hayworth was never nominated — not even for Gilda — is nothing less than mind-blowing.

2. Myrna Loy

Myrna Loy was an actress who was such a natural that she made it look easy.  Perhaps that’s why she wasn’t even nominated for The Thin Man.


3. Marilyn Monroe

Perhaps one of the most tragic actresses in the history of Hollywood, Monroe was never nominated despite giving some of the most iconic performances in film history.  I would even make the case that she deserved a nomination for her tiny cameo in All About Eve.

4. Maureen O’Hara

Despite great performances in classic films like The Quiet Man and Miracle on 34th Street, Maureen O’Hara was never nominated for the Oscar she deserved.


5. Ann Savage

You may not recognize the name but if you’ve ever seen Detour, you know Ann Savage.  Savage largely appeared in low-budget noirs and she always gave performances that were just as fierce as her last name.



6. Edie Sedgwick

Sadly, Edie never got a chance to play a truly award-worthy role.  Actually, since almost all of her films were underground Andy Warhol movies, it’s debatable whether she ever played a role at all.  During the 1960s, as one of the top models in New York (a so-called “youthquaker”), Edie was best known for being herself.  But, whenever I see Edie in an old Warhol film like Vinyl or even in something like Ciao! Manhattan, I see what a great actress she could have been if she’d only been given the chance.

Edie Sedgwick (1943 -- 1971)

Edie Sedgwick (1943 — 1971)

Insomnia File #22: Insomnia (dir by Christopher Nolan)

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!

Last night, if you were up at 2 in the morning, you could have turned over to Starz and watched the atmospheric 2002 mystery, Insomnia.

I have to admit that I’m cheating a little bit by including Insomnia in a series about obscure films that you might find on cable late at night.  While Insomnia does seem to often turn up during the early morning hours, it’s hardly an obscure film.  A remake of an acclaimed Norwegian film, it not only stars three Oscar winners (Al Pacino, Robin Williams, and Hilary Swank) but it was directed by Christopher Nolan.  Insomnia got a lot of attention when it was first released in 2002.  But, doing an insomnia file about a movie that’s actually about insomnia was just too good of an opportunity to pass up.

I should also mention that I didn’t have insomnia last night.  I was up because I currently have a cold and I watched Insomnia in a feverish and congested haze.  And yet I couldn’t help but feel that, somehow, that was actually the ideal way to watch Insomnia.  With its ominous atmosphere and Nolan’s eye for the surreal, Insomnia plays out like a semi-lucid fever dream.

A teenage girl has been murdered in a small Alaskan fishing village.  The chief of police (played by the great character actor Paul Dooley) asks his former LAPD partner, Will Dormer (Al Pacino), to come to Alaska and help with the investigation.  Accompanying Dormer is his partner and friend, Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan).

Dormer has issues that go far beyond anything happening in Alaska.  He’s burned out and he’s plagued by rumors that, in the past, he was a crooked cop.  He’s being investigated by Internal Affairs and, shortly after they arrive in Alaska, Eckhart admits that he’s been given immunity as part of a deal to testify against Dormer.  While pursuing the suspected murderer through the Alaskan fog, Dormer fires his gun.  When the fog clear, Dormer discovers that he’s killed Eckhart.  Was it an accident or did Dormer intentionally shoot  his partner?  Not even Dormer seems to know for sure.  He lies and says that the murderer shot Eckhart.

Working with a local detective (Hilary Swank), Dormer tries to solve the Alaska murder, with the knowledge that, once he does, he’ll have to return to Los Angeles and he’ll probably be indicted.  Because of the midnight sun, night never falls in Alaska and, tortured by guilt, Dormer cannot sleep.  Add to that, the murderer knows that Dormer shot Eckhart.  And now, he’s calling Dormer and cruelly taunting him.

Who is the murderer?  His name is Walter Finch.  He’s a writer and, in a stroke of brilliance, he’s played by none other than Robin Williams.  To me, Robin Williams’s screen presence always carried hints of narcissism and self-destruction.  Even in comedic roles, there was a transparent but very solid wall between Williams the audience.  When he was shouting out a thousand words a minute and rapidly switching from one character to the next, it always seemed as if it was all a technique to keep anyone from figuring out who he really was.  In Insomnia (and, that same year, in One Hour Photo), Robin Williams reveals an inner darkness that he rarely showed before or after.  Finch may possess Williams’s trademark eccentric smile and nervous voice but, underneath the surface, he’s an empty shell who views human beings as being as disposable as the characters in his paperback novels.

Christopher Nolan takes us directly into the heads of these two enemies, with shots of the desolate Alaskan landscape seeming to perfectly capture the inner desolation of two minds destroyed by guilt and paranoia.  (Neither Finch nor Dormer is capable of connecting with the world outside of his damaged psyche.)  As seen through Nolan’s lens, Alaska becomes as surreal and haunting as one of the dream landscapes from Inception.  For those of us who found both The Dark Knight Rises and Interstellar to be so bombastic that they verged on self-parody, Insomnia is a nice reminder that Nolan doesn’t need a pounding Han Zimmer score to make a great movie.  With Insomnia, Nolan gives us not bombast but a deceptively low-key and atmospheric journey into the heart of darkness.

Ironically, for a film about two men who cannot sleep, Insomnia will haunt your dreams.


Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth

Ginger Snaps, Reviewed- BAM!


I need to begin this film review by writing that I LOVE THIS MOVIE…A LOT!  There will be some geeking out- prepare yourselves.  The ideal horror film takes an issue or life lesson and hides the message in something scary. The horror genre is not alone; good science fiction does this, but it’s rare.  “Ginger Snaps” takes the milestone of 50% of the World’s population – the menarche and uses lycanthropy as a metaphor for it.  Yes, you read that right-  Werewolfism as a metaphor for the first menstrual cycle.  I have two very young daughters and in an odd way, I feel a little more prepared.  This film’s got it all: werewolves, a coming of age story, and Mimi Rogers.  Yes, Mimi Rogers – a Voluptuous Artsy Smarty Pants (VASP) and the uber crush of my youth – is in Ginger Snaps.

We open in suburban Canada- every house looks the same.  A mom is cleaning up yard waste and her son is playing in the sandbox with…. dog gore.  The mom sees her son covered in their dog and their dog is opened all up.  She freaks in the neighborhood and no one cares.

The story moves onto Brigitte and Ginger.  Brigitte is the introspective sister and Ginger is the more gutsy one.  They both are very Alternative and Gothish.  In high school, these would be the girls whom I would’ve crushed on very awkwardly and they would’ve thought I was boring because I was into sports and pretty stammering.  The sisters are obsessed with death.  They stage elaborate death scenes of each other impaled, hanged, poisoned, overdosed, and suffocated (list not exclusive). They present this avant garde masterpiece to their teacher who thinks they’re whacko.  Sidenote: I truly love the 1990s vibe the high school has!!!

The girls are trying to play Field Hockey.  Brigette is being bullied by a Mean Girl.  Then, Brigette trips into a dog and what I mean by into I mean there is ANOTHER mauled dog and Brigette is sitting in him. YEECH!

They get home and their mom- Mimi Rogers- is trying to connect with them.  She recognizes the premenstrual symptoms that Ginger is having and tries to bond with her. It fails- Poor Beautiful Mimi Rogers.  The girls sneak out of the house to kidnap the Mean Girl’s dog.  While canine hunting, Ginger gets her period as she calls it The Curse and the Werewolf attacks her.  Also, they call the lycanthropy a curse throughout the film.  Ginger is mauled by the werewolf and is saved by Brigette, but the werewolf gives chase and is run over by a Drug Dealer’s van.  Yep, forget silver to kill Werewolves; it’s all about an old school car.  A Prius, however, would not likely save you because they suck and are terrible.

The girls get home and Ginger’s wounds are already healing.  The movie continues with references to lunar cycles in relation to Ginger’s lunar and menstrual cycle.   Ginger rapidly leaves Brigette behind as she begins to chase a bad boy and the occasional neighbor dog for a snack.  Ginger also begins to dress more provocatively.  Then, Ginger porks her boyfriend and she grows a tail.  See what premarital sex will get you?! A Tail!

Brigette attracts the Mean Girl’s ex the Drug Dealer who ran over the werewolf.  He comes up with some nifty werewolf-be-gone remedies: One being for Ginger to get a belly piercing- Ok, whatever works.  Ginger gets more aggressive at school and beats the piss out of anyone who messes with Brigette.  We see Ginger’s Boyfriend and he looks roughed because Ginger gave him her werewolf disease by knockin’ boots with him.  The Drug Dealer guy figures out that mainlining wolf’s bane will cure Ginger.

The Mean Girl shows up at Brigette’s and Ginger’s home and hilariously slips and dies. Sorry, it was kind of funny.  The girls bury her in the cellar.  Later, Mimi Rogers finds the body of the Mean Girl and resolves to take the girls far away.  Ginger kills a few more people and becomes more wolf-like and decides it’s time to party.

She tries to seduce Drug Dealer guy, but is thwarted by Brigette.  Mimi loses track of her girls and is not seen again.  Brigette distracts Ginger by mixing their blood with the hope that this will distract Ginger long enough to inject them both, curing them all.  Does it work? Not so much. Ginger goes full-on werewolf, Brigette is becoming a werewolf, and …… You’ll just have to watch.  I’m not spoiling the 3rd act of the best Metaphorical Horror Movie Ever! NO WAY!  Go buy this film!!!  It’s really awesome!  If you buy Ginger Snaps and you don’t like it, you get to keep it.  This film is just purely great! I know many of you like my snark alec a lot, but this movie just wonderful!


What If Lisa Had All The Power And Picked The Oscar Nominees: 2015 Edition

oscar trailer kitties

With the Oscar nominations due to be announced tomorrow, now is the time that the Shattered Lens indulges in a little something called, “What if Lisa had all the power.” Listed below are my personal Oscar nominations. Please note that these are not the films that I necessarily think will be nominated. The fact of the matter is that the many of them will not. Instead, these are the films that would be nominated if I was solely responsible for deciding the nominees this year. Winners are starred and listed in bold.

(You’ll also note that I’ve added four categories, all of which I believe the Academy should adopt — Best Voice-Over Performance, Best Casting, Best Stunt Work, and Best Overall Use Of Music In A Film.)

(Click on the links to see my nominations for 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, and 2010!)

best picture

Best Picture
Clouds of Sils Maria
Ex Machina
The Final Girls
Inside Out
Mad Max: Fury Road
Straight Outta Compton

George Miller

Best Director
John Crowley for Brooklyn
Alex Garland for Ex Machina
F. Gary Gray for Straight Outta Compton
Todd Haynes for Carol
*George Miller for Mad Max: Fury Road*
Denis Villeneuve for Sicario

Jacob Tremblay

Best Actor
John Cusack in Love & Mercy
Gerard Depardieu in Welcome To New York
Johnny Depp in Black Mass
Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant
Michael B. Jordan in Creed
*Jacob Tremblay in Room*

alicia vikander

Best Actress
Katharine Isabelle in 88
Brie Larson in Room
Rooney Mara in Carol
Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn
Amy Schumer in Trainwreck
*Alicia Vikander in Ex Machina*

Del Toro

Best Supporting Actor
Michael Angarano in The Stanford Prison Experiment
Paul Dano in Love & Mercy
*Benicio Del Toro in Sicario*
Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation
Arnold Schwarzenegger in Maggie
Sylvester Stallone in Creed


Best Supporting Actress
*Malin Akerman in The Final Girls*
Elizabeth Banks in Love & Mercy
Cate Blanchett in Carol
Jessica Chastain in Crimson Peak
Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hateful Eight
Kristen Stewart in Clouds of Sils Maria


Best Voice Over Performance
Jon Hamm in Minions
Richard Kind in Inside Out
Jason Mantzoukas in The Regular Show Movie
*Amy Poehler in Inside Out*
James Spader in Avengers: The Age Of Ultron
Steve Zahn in The Good Dinosaur


Best Original Screenplay
Clouds of Sils Maria
*Ex Machina*
The Final Girls
Inside Out


Best Adapted Screenplay
The End of the Tour
Love & Mercy
The Walk


Best Animated Film
*Inside Out*
The Good Dinosaur
The Peanuts Movie
The Regular Show Movie
Shaun The Sheep


Best Documentary Feature:
3 ½ Minutes 10 Bullets
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s The Island of Dr. Moreau
Prophet’s Prey
The Wolfpack


Best Foreign Language Film
The Connection
The Mafia Only Kills In Summer
A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Contemplating Existence
*The Tribe*


Best Casting
Mad Max: Fury Road
Straight Outta Compton
Star Wars: The Force Awakens


Best Cinematography
Clouds of Sils Maria
The Green Inferno
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant


Best Costume Design
Ex Machina
Star Wars: The Force Awakens


Best Editing
Ex Machina
*Mad Max: Fury Road*
Straight Outta Compton


Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Black Mass
Mad Max: Fury Road
Star Wars: The Force Awakens


Best Original Score
The Hateful Eight
It Follows
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
Star Wars: The Force Awakens


Best Original Song
“Love Me Like You Do” from Fifty Shades of Grey
“See You Again” from Furious 7
“Better When I’m Dancing” from The Peanuts Movie
“Flashlight” from Pitch Perfect 2
“Feels Like Summer” from Shaun the Sheep
*“Who Can You Trust” from Spy*

Compton 2

Best Overall Use Of Music
Furious 7
The Hateful Eight
Love & Mercy
The Martian
*Straight Outta Compton*


Best Production Design
*Crimson Peak*
Ex Machina
The Final Girls
Mad Max: Fury Road
Star Wars: The Force Awakens


Best Sound Editing
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Furious 7
The Revenant
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Straight Outta Compton


Best Sound Mixing
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Furious 7
The Revenant
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
*Straight Outta Compton*

MM Stunt

Best Stunt Work
Furious 7
Kingsman: The Secret Service
*Mad Max: Fury Road*
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
Star Wars: The Force Awakens


Best Visual Effects
Avengers: The Age of Ultron
Ex Machina
Mad Max: Fury Road
*Star Wars: The Force Awakens*
The Walk

Films By Number of Nominations:
11 Nominations – Carol
10 Nominations – Mad Max: Fury Road
9 Nominations – Sicario, Star Wars: The Force Awakens
8 Nominations – Ex Machina
7 Nominations – Brooklyn, Straight Outta Compton
5 Nominations – Furious 7, Inside Out, Love & Mercy, The Revenant, Room
4 Nominations – Avengers: The Age of Ultron, Clouds of Sils MariaThe Final Girls
3 Nominations – The Hateful Eight
2 Nominations – Black Mass, Creed, Crimson Peak, The Good Dinosaur, Maggie, Minions, The Peanuts Movie, The Regular Show Movie, Shaun the SheepSpy, Trainwreck, The Walk
1 Nomination – 3 ½ Minutes 10 Bullets, 50 Shades of Grey, 88, Amy, Ant-Man, Beasts of No Nation, Cinderella, The Connection, The End of The Tour, Gloria, Going Clear, The Green Inferno, It Follows, Joy, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Mafia Only Kills in Summer, The Martian, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Misunderstood, A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence, Pitch Perfect 2, Prophet’s Prey, The Stanford Prison Experiment, Suffragette, The Tribe, UnfriendedWelcome to New York, The Wolfpack

Films By Number of Oscars Won:
4 Oscars – Carol
3 Oscars – Mad Max: Fury Road, Sicario
2 Oscars – Ex Machina, Inside Out, Straight Outta Compton
1 Oscar – Amy, Brooklyn, Crimson Peak, The Final Girls, Maggie, Room, Spy, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Tribe

Will the Academy be smart enough to agree with me on these picks?  We will find out on Thursday!

Lisa and Evelyn at the Oscars

Lisa and Evelyn at the Oscars

The Things You Find On Netflix: 88 (dir by April Mullen)


If you go over to Netflix right now, you can watch 88, the best film of the year so far.

88 opens with a close-up of Gwen (Katharine Isabelle).  Gwen is sitting in a diner and she has no idea how she got there.  All she knows is that her boyfriend Aster (Kyle Schmid) is dead and that she believes that her former employer, Cyrus (Christopher Lloyd) is responsible.  Oh, and Gwen’s hand is also covered in a bloody bandage, largely because she’s missing a finger.  When Gwen tries to leave the diner, several gumballs and a gun fall out of her bag.  The cops eating breakfast overreact.  A waitress panics.  Gwen accidentally shoots someone as she flees.

Still with no idea where she is exactly or how she got there, Gwen discovers that she has a motel room key on her.  When she goes to the motel room, she discovers that the walls are covered with newspaper clippings.  And, of course, there’s a corpse in the bathtub.  On top of that, there’s also a rather hyperactive man named Ty (Tim Doiron, who also wrote the film’s script).  Gwen claims to have never seen Ty before.  Ty, however, says that they’re friends and they’re planning on killing Cyrus together.

Meanwhile, as we watch Gwen try to figure out what’s going on, we also follow the adventures of Flamingo (again played by Katharine Isabelle).  Flamingo is a tough-talking survivor, the type of girl who, when we first meet her, is busy strangling a random motorist so that she can use his car.  Flamingo goes from motel to motel, always staying in room 88.  She obsessively drinks milk.  When she runs into Cyrus and his gang on the street, they claim to know her.  However, Flamingo has no idea who they are.

Which, of course, does not mean that she’s not willing to kill them…

88 is a masterpiece of the grindhouse imagination, an over-the-top film that not only embraces its pulpy origins but practically revels in them as well.  The film is full of wonderfully strange and crazy moments, like when Gwen and Ty visit a flamboyant gun dealer or when Flamingo casually trashes a convenience store for no reason beyond the fact that she apparently feels like doing so.  There is not a single character in 88 who is not, in some way, memorably odd.  Between Gwen’s amnesia, Flamingo’s psychotic behavior, Ty’s cheerful embrace of violence, and Cyrus’s raspy monologues, 88 presents a world that is familiar and yet uniquely its own.  When Michael Ironside shows up as a strict but good-hearted sheriff, it only makes sense that, in the world of 88, Michael Ironside would be the face of law, order, and decency.

Now, to be honest, you’ll probably figure out just how exactly Gwen and Flamingo are related long before the film actually makes it explicit.  You probably figured it out just from reading this review.  But it doesn’t matter.  Ultimately, the specifics of the twist really doesn’t matter.  This film is a celebration of pure style and pulp energy.  Katharine Isabelle is brilliant, both as Gwen and as Flamingo.  In the role of Gwen, Isabelle gives a very sympathetic performance.  You want to understand what is happening to Gwen and, even more importantly, you want her to survive.  Meanwhile, as Flamingo, Isabelle is a force of pure, destructive nature.  Finally, in the role of Cyrus, Christopher Lloyd is a sleazy marvel and even manages to bring a hint of humanity to an occasionally demonic character.

88 is one of those films that will probably never get the critical support that it deserves.  However, I think it’s one of the best of the year so far.

Film Review: Freddy Vs. Jason (dir. by Ronny Yu)

(This review probably contains what some people would consider to be spoilers.)

Today, as part of my continuing series reviewing the films of the Friday the 13th franchise, I take a look at Freddy Vs. Jason.

After spending 15 years in development Hell, the film Freddy Vs. Jason was finally released in 2003.  With this film, New Line Cinema brought together the stars of their two best-known horror franchises, Jason Voorhees (played here not by Kane Hodder but by Ken Kirzinger) and Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund.) 

During the time that Freddy Vs. Jason was languishing in development Hell, a huge number of potential storylines were pursued and a lot of scripts were written.  Some of those scripts are surprisingly good and one of them (the one with the enviromental message) is hilariously self-important.  Most of them are just terrible and can be found online via a google search.  The main problem was how to convincingly bring both Jason and Freddy together when the two of them essentially epitomized two radically different subsets of the slasher genre.  Especially when compared to some of the other ideas that were considered, the concept behind FreddyVs. Jason is actually pretty clever.

As the film starts, Freddy is trapped in Hell because he’s been forgotten by the teenagers of the world.  They’re no longer scared of him and, as such, they’re not having nightmares about him.  Freddy’s solution?  He tracks down Jason (also hanging out in Hell and having dreams that neatly parody his whole image of being a murderous defender of purity) and, by disguising himself as Pamela Voorhees, he convinces Jason to resurrect himself in Freddy’s old hometown.  Jason promptly starts killing teenagers and Freddy is blamed.  Soon, people are having nightmares and Freddy has his gateway back into the real world.  Unfortunately for Freddy, Jason keeps killing everyone before Freddy can get to them.  Freddy sets out to kill Jason and it all leads to one “final” battle between the two of them.

I have to admit that when I first saw Freddy Vs. Jason, I didn’t care much for it.  Of course, at that point in my life, my view of whether or not a film was good or bad was largely based on the type of night I was having when I saw it.  I saw Freddy Vs. Jason with a guy who 1) thought proper date attire was shorts, a t-shirt, and a baseball cap and 2) who apparently thought my right breast was just an armrest there for him to lean on whenever he got bored.  Bleh.  Beyond the company that I saw the film with, I was also upset that the character I most related to, Katharine Isabelle’s Gibb, was rather brutally killed off while boring old Monica Keena was allowed to survive.  My initial response to Freddy Vs. Jason was that it had to be bad film because I had a bad time while I was watching it.

However, I recently rewatched it again with my BFF Evelyn (who always dresses up and is pretty good about not feeling me up every three minutes) and I actually enjoyed Freddy Vs. Jason a bit more the second time around.  I think it also helped that, in between the two viewings, I got a chance to see all the other Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street films along with a lot of other horror films and was now able to see how scenes that seemed pointless the first time around were actually meant to comment on the history and the conventions of both the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street franchises.  The 2nd time around, I could better appreciate the perverse parody at the center of Robert Englund’s performance as Freddy Krueger.  While the human characters are never all that interesting, the “final” battle between Jason and Freddy is genuinely exciting.  When I first saw it, I thought that the film’s final scene (with Freddy’s decapitated head winking at the camera before laughing) was incredibly stupid but now I appreciate it for what it is — a deliberately campy homage to the over the top exploitation films of the 70s and 80s. 

As opposed to the previous few films in the Friday the 13th franchise, Freddy vs. Jason was a huge box office success.  It was the first (and, come to think of it, only Friday the 13th film) that I saw in an actual theater and it actually did give me nightmares (mostly because I foolishly chose to relate to the obviously doomed Katharine Isabelle).  With that type of success, it was inevitable that there would be another film in both the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street franchises.  Those two films, however, would not be sequels.  Instead, they would be (bleh) reboots.  We’ll take a look at the reboot of Friday 13th (and finish off this series of reviews) tomorrow.

Quickie Horror Review: Ginger Snaps (dir. by John Fawcett)

There hasn’t been as many werewolf horror films as there has been zombie or vampire ones in recent times. Of those that have come out in the last ten or more years one could the number of really good ones in one hand. There was Neil Marshall’s low-budget Dog Soldiers in 2002. Preceding Marshall’s film by two years was an equally low-budget and well-made werewolf and coming-of-age horror film from Canada which has gained quite a cult following since it appeared on horror fans’ radars.

Ginger Snaps took the werewolf tale and combined it with the coming-of-age tale of two sisters growing up in a small Canadian town. Ginger and Brigitte Fitzgerald are the two sisters who are your usual outcasts in school who feel more at home with their goth interests than the jocks and popular in-crowd. It would be during one night when the two are walking home when things would change not just for Ginger but for the two sisters as a team. Ginger gets attacked by some wild animal and it’s how she and her sister Brigitte deal with the sudden changes to Ginger that the film really earns it’s merits.

The film definitely takes some cues from fellow Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg in illustrating and exploring how the curse of lycanthrophy could double as the phase of puberty on two girls entering young womanhood. We see the change happening not just to Ginger’s body but to her personality as well. The more she becomes the wolf (hence embracing her primal side) the more confident and self-assured she becomes leaving her sister behind.

Ginger Snaps wasn’t a film that could’ve succeeded on the film’s direction but the writing (though heavy-handed and lacking some subtlety) was atypically good for a low-budget horror film involving the topic of werewolf, female puberty and sisterhood dynamics. It’s a story that first glance seems like a recipe for disaster, but the performances by the film’s leads in Katharine Isabelle as Ginger and Emily Perkins as her sister Brigitte holds everything together. Even Mimi Rogers as the well-meaning, but oblivious mother to the two sisters does a good job without being too campy in a role that seemed destined to be one.

The film has definitely gained a cult following in the years since it first premiered at the 2000 Toronto International Film Festival due more to horror fans discovering it on video. Ginger Snaps is a wonderful werewolf film which combines some dark humor and teenage anxieties to a fresh take on the werewolf legend. It’s a film that really deserves to be seen by those who wonder why there’s not more werewolf horror films.