Playing Catch Up: First Daughter, Ice Girls, Raising The Bar, Walk Like A Man


So, this year I am making a sincere effort to review every film that I see.  I know I say that every year but this time, I really mean it.  Unfortunately, over the past two weeks, real life has interfered with my movie reviewing, if not my move watching.

So, in an effort to catch up, here are four quick reviews of some of the movies that I watched over the past two weeks!

  • First Daughter
  • Released: 2004
  • Directed by Forest Whitaker
  • Starring Katie Holmes, Marc Blucas, Amerie, Michael Keaton, Margaret Colin, Lela Rochon

Michael Keaton as the President of the United States!?  Now, that’s a great idea.  Michael Keaton plays President Mackenzie.  First Daughter was made long before Birdman so Michael Keaton doesn’t really have a huge part but, whenever he does appear, he is totally believable as a world leader.  You buy the idea that this guy could win an election and that he’d probably be a good (if not necessarily a great) President.  Someone really needs to make another movie where Michael Keaton plays the President.  Maybe President Birdman.  Just don’t give it to Inarritu to direct because he’ll make it too political…

Anyway, the majority of the film is about Katie Holmes as the President’s daughter, Samantha.  Samantha has been accepted to a college in California.  She’s excited because it means that she’ll finally be able to have a life outside of the White House.  The President is concerned because he loves his daughter and he knows that, if she makes any mistakes in California, his political opponents will try to use her against him.  Samantha goes off to college and tries to have a good (but rather chaste) time.  Making that somewhat difficult is her secret service entourage.  Fortunately, Samantha meets a guy (Marc Blucas) who loves her for who she is and not because her father is the President.

It’s all pretty silly and shallow but I have to admit that I get nostalgic whenever I see this movie.  Much like From Justin To Kelly, it’s definitely a film from a more innocent and less angry time.  To date, it’s also the last film to be directed by actor Forest Whitaker.

  • Ice Girls
  • Released in 2016
  • Directed by Damian Lee
  • Starring Michaela du Toit, Lara Daans, Arcadia Kendal, Sheila McCarthy, Taylor Hunsley, Shane Harte, Elvis Stojko

Struggling financially, Kelly (Lara Daans) is forced to move back to her hometown and move in with her sister (Sheila McCarthy).  Until she got married and gave up that part of her life, Kelly was once an up-and-coming figure skater.  Fortunately, her daughter, Mattie (Michaela du Toit), has inherited her mother’s talent.  However, a serious injury shook Mattie’s confidence.  Now, she says she doesn’t want to skate anymore.  Still, she’s willing to accept a job from Mercury (Elvis Stojko) at the local rink and it’s not too long before, under Mercury’s guidance, Mattie is skating once again.  Mattie also befriends another skater, Heather (Taylor Hunsley).  Heather happens to be the daughter of Rose (Natasha Henstridge), who was once in love with Kelly’s father…

It sounds like the set-up of a melodramatic Lifetime movie but actually, Ice Girls is a sweet-natured film about two ice skaters, one who has a mother who is too protective and the other who has a mother who is too driven.  In the end, both of them end up skating for themselves and not their mothers and that’s a good message for the film’s target audience of young skate fans.  The majority of the cast is made up of actual ice skaters, so the skating footage is pretty impressive.  It’s a predictable movie but I enjoyed it when I watched it on Netflix.

  • Raising the Bar
  • Released in 2016
  • Directed by Clay Glen
  • Starring Kelli Berglund, Lili Karamalikis, Tess Fowler, Emily Morris, Peta Shannon

I also watched this one on Netflix, a day after I watched Ice Girls.  (I was in an Olympics sort of mood, even though neither film took place at the Olympics.)  Raising the Bar feels a lot like Ice Girls, except that the ice skaters were now gymnasts and instead of relocating to Toronto, the family in Raising the Bar relocates all the way to Australia.  Once in Australia, Kelly (Kelly Johnson) finds the courage to re-enter gymnastics and ends up competing against her former teammates.

Kelly Johnson gives a good performance in the lead role.  Though it may be predictable, Raising the Bar is an effective and sweet-natured family film.  Perhaps the most interesting thing about watching the film was that I quickly found myself rooting against the American team.  Australia all the way!

  • Walk Like A Man
  • Released 1987
  • Directed by Melvin Frank
  • Starring Howie Mandel, Amy Steel, Cloris Leachman, Christopher Lloyd, Colleen Camp, Stephen Elliott, George DiCenzo, John McLiam, Earl Boen

Oh, what sweet Hell is this?

Okay, I’m going to try to explain what happens in this movie.  You’re not going to believe me.  You’re going to think that I’m just making all of this up.  But I swear to a God … this is an actual movie.

When he was a baby, Boba Shand (Howie Mandel) got separated from his family.  His mother and his father assumed that he was gone forever but what they didn’t know was that Bobo was found and raised by a pack of wild dogs.  For twenty years, Bobo lives as a dog.  Then he’s discovered by Penny (Amy Steel), an animal researcher who tries to teach Bobo how to be a human.  However, as time passes, Penny comes to realize that maybe she’s making a mistake trying to change Bobo.  Bobo is innocent and child-like and obsessed with chasing fire engines.  When he has too much to drink, he runs around on all fours.  And … PENNY’S IN LOVE WITH HIM!

Seriously, she’s in love with a man who thinks he’s a dog.

However, Bobo stands to inherit a fortune and his evil brother (Christopher Lloyd) is planning on having him committed.  Penny has to prove that Bobo is human enough to manage his own affairs while also respecting his desire to continue living like a dog.

I’m serious.  This is a real movie.

Anyway, making things even worse is the performance as Howie Mandel.  Mandel has always been a rather needy performer and the role of a man who thinks he’s a dog only serves to bring out his worst instincts.  Remember when Ben Stiller played Simple Jack in Tropical Thunder?  Well, Mandel’s performance is kinda like that only worse.  At one point, Bobo walks up to a mannequin in a mall and says, “I have to go pee pee.  Come with me,” and I nearly threw a shoe at the TV.  Oh my God, it was so bad.

The main problem with Walk Like A Man is that it wants to have it both ways.  It wants to be a wild comedy about Howie Mandel chasing fire engines but it also makes us want to tear up when Penny explains why Bobo should be allowed to live as a dog.

All in all, it’s a really bad movie.  And yes, it does actually exist.

Back to School Part II #34: The Ice Storm (dir by Ang Lee)


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The 1997 film The Ice Storm is kind of a schizophrenic film, which makes sense since it’s set in 1973 and, just from what I’ve seen in the movies, it appears that the early 70s were kind of a schizophrenic time.

It’s a film that deals with two sets of people who all live in an upper class Connecticut community.  One part of the film deals with parents who are freaking out about suddenly being adults.  The other part of the film deals with the children, most of whom seem destined to make the same mistakes as their parents.  It’s a film that is occasionally bracingly realistic and relatable, one that reminds us that being directionless in the 70s isn’t necessarily that different from being directionless in 2016.  At other times, the film feels a bit too studied for its own good.  This is one of those films that features a Tobey Maguire voice-over and, as good an actor as Maguire has always been, he’s always at his worse when reciting a pseudo-profound voice over.  And then there are other times when the film feels a bit too cartoonish for its own good.  Elijah Wood’s a stoner.  Sigourney Weaver walks around with a bullwhip.  David Krumholtz shows up as a character named Francis Davenport.

Fortunately, the film is directed by Ang Lee and Ang Lee is probably one of the few filmmakers who can overcome tonal inconsistency.  Lee is so good with actors and is such a good storyteller that even his lesser films are usually worth watching.  The Ice Storm would just be another silly sin-in-the-suburbs film if it had been made by any director other than Ang Lee.

The main adult in the film is Ben Hood (Kevin Kline).  Ben is married to Elena (Joan Allen) but he’s having an affair with his neighbor, Janey (Sigourney Weaver).  Elena may be upset when she finds out about the affair but she’s still willing to accompany her husband to a key party.  A key party was a 70s ritual in which husbands would throw their car keys into a big punch bowl and then the wives would randomly pick a key and have sex with the owner.  Basically, anytime a TV show or a movie takes place in the suburbs during the 70s, there has to be at least one key party.

And The Ice Storm‘s key party is kind of fun to watch.  Kevin Kline and Joan Allen both give really good performances and Ben is such a loser that it’s fun to watch him freak out when Janey gets a key other than this own.  Elena, meanwhile, ends up going off with Janey’s husband (Jamey Sheridan, pretty much looking the same in this 1997 film as he did in Spotlight and Sully) and they share a really good scene together, one that reveals that none of the film’s adults are really as mature or liberated as they claim to be.

While the adults attempt to play, their children attempt to find some sort of meaning to their empty existence.  Ben and Elena’s daughter, Wendy (Christina Ricci), wears a Richard Nixon mask and enjoys sexually teasing her classmates, especially Janey’s youngest son, Sandy (Adam Hann-Byrd).  Ben and Elena’s oldest son, Paul (Tobey Maguire) is in New York, hoping to lose his virginity to Libbits (Katie Holmes) despite the fact that Libbets is far more interested in his boarding school roommate, Francis Davenport (David Krumholtz).  Paul also compares his family to the Fantastic Four so, assuming Paul survived both the 70s and 80s, he’s probably still living in Connecticut and telling everyone who disappointed he was with last year’s film.

And, of course, there’s Mickey (Elijah Wood).  Mickey is Janey’s oldest son and he’s permanently spaced out.  When the ice storm of the title occurs, Mickey is the one who decides to wander around outside and appreciate the beauty of nature’s remorseless wrath.

Needless to say, the ice storm is also a really obvious metaphor for the way all of these very unhappy (but very prosperous) characters tend to view and treat each other.  Despite all the attempts to pretend otherwise, everyone has a frozen soul.  Nobody’s capable of maintaining any sort of real emotional connection.  Of course, someone dies and everyone’s forced to take a look at the sad reality of their lives and the film ends with a sudden and spontaneous display of actual human emotion.  It’s one of those ideas that probably works better as a literary conceit than a cinematic one.

That said, The Ice Storm is flawed but very watchable.  I enjoyed it, even if it did occasionally seem to be trying way too hard.  It’s well-acted and, if nothing else, I enjoyed getting to see all of the amazingly tacky clothes and the interiors of all those big houses.  These people love their wide lapels and their shag carpeting.  The Ice Storm is not Ang Lee’s best but it’s still good enough.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #104: Phone Booth (dir by Joel Schumacher)


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First released in 2003, Phone Booth is a good film.

Now, I know that you’re probably thinking, “Okay, that’s good, Lisa.  There were a lot of good films released in 2003.  I can’t think of any off the top of my head but let me go look on Wikipedia and I’m sure I can come back with a few dozen good films and…”

Well, before you go over to Wikipedia and do a search on 2003 in film (and I even included a direct link to make it easy for you because I like to be helpful), allow me to point something else out about Phone Booth.

Phone Booth is not only a good film but it’s a good film that was directed by Joel Schumacher!

That’s right!  There are several online film critics who will tell you that Joel Schumacher is one of the worst directors of all time and, to be honest, there’s actually a pretty good argument that can be made in support of that.  However, Schumacher did direct both The Lost Boys and Phone Booth.  So, he’s directed at least two good films and that’s two more than Uwe Boll.

In Phone Booth, Colin Farrell plays Stu, a slick publicist who has both a wife named Kelly (Radha Mitchell) and a girlfriend named Pam (Katie Holmes).  When Stu steps into the last remaining phone booth in New York City in order to call his girlfriend, he’s shocked when a pizza deliveryman shows up and attempts to give him a pizza.  No sooner has he gotten rid of the pizzaman (and, seriously, who turns down free pizza?), the phone rings.  Stu answers and is told by an unseen sniper (voice by Kiefer Sutherland) that, if he leaves the phone booth, he will be shot.  The sniper goes on to order Stu to tell the truth to both Kelly and Pam or to risk being shot as a consequence.

While all of this is going on, a group of prostitutes demand that Stu get out of the booth and let them use the phone.  When Stu refuses, their pimp approaches the booth and is promptly gunned down by the sniper.  Soon, under the assumption that Stu has a weapon, the police — led by Forest Whitaker — have surrounded the booth and are demanding that Stu step out.  The sniper, however, reminds Stu that he’ll be shot if he leaves the booth.

As a crowd of onlookers (including Pam and Kelly), police, and reporters surround the booth, Stu finds himself literally with no escape…

Telling the story in real time and keeping the film largely focused on Stu’s increasing desperation, Schumacher actually does a pretty good job with Phone Booth.  Colin Farrell gives a great performance, making Stu into a character who you like despite yourself.  While Kiefer Sutherland never appears onscreen, his sexy growl of a voice works wonders and he even manages to sell the point where his character starts to maniacally laugh.  Reportedly, screenwriter Larry Cohen came up with the idea for Phone Booth way back in the 1960s.  It took nearly 40 years for the film to be made but Schumacher, Farrell, and Sutherland made it more than worth the wait.

Shattered Politics #77: Thank You For Smoking (dir by Jason Reitman)


Thank_you_for_smoking_PosterI have always hated those Truth.com commercials.  Truth.com is an organization that claims to be dedicated to eradicating smoking.  Their smug commercials are essentially the height of hipster douchebaggery, a bunch of self-consciously cool people wandering around and harassing random people about whether or not they smoke.  And then, of course, there was the commercial where they all gathered outside a tobacco company and pretended to be dead.  Of course, the truth about Truth.com is that they are essentially the same people who, in high school, would get offended whenever anyone wore a short skirt.  I really can not stand people like that.  (And don’t even get me started on those assholes who appear in the Above The Influence commercials.)  Myself, I don’t smoke because I have asthma.  But, seriously, whenever I see a Truth.com commercial, I’m tempted to run down to 711 and start.

And so maybe that’s why I like the 2005 comedy Thank You For Smoking.

The hero of Thank You For Smoking is Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart), a lobbyist for the tobacco industry, who is first seen appearing on a talk show and winning over a hostile audience by announcing that the tobacco industry is going to be investing millions in researching way to keep young people from smoking and shaking the hand of a teenage honor student who is dying from lung cancer.  Over the course of the film, Nick shows us how he does business, everything from defending tobacco companies on talk shows to convincing a former Marlboro Man-turned-cancer-patient to drop his law suit.  When Nick isn’t working, he’s hanging out with his best friends (who are lobbyists for both the liquor and the gun industries), trying to bond with his son (Cameron Bright), or having sex with a reporter (Katie Holmes).

Now, in most movies, Nick Naylor would be the villain.  However, in Thank You For Smoking, Nick becomes a hero by default, if just because everyone who disagrees with him is even worse than he is.  Add to that, Nick has the benefit of being played by Aaron Eckhart while all of his opponents are played by balding actors with ugly beards.

Another reason that I liked Thank You For Smoking was because the main villain was a senator from Vermont and it’s about time somebody stood up to the tyranny of Vermont.  Ortolan Finistirre (William H. Macy) has built a career out of campaigning against the tobacco industries and why shouldn’t he?  Who, other than Nick Naylor, is willing to defend them?  Finistirre’s latest plan is to change the law so that every pack of cigarettes has to be branded with a skull and crossbones warning.

When Nick and Finistirre finally face off, it’s a battle between those who believe in allowing people the freedom to make their own choices and those who hide their totalitarian impulse behind claims that they’re working for the greater good.

Thank You For Smoking was Jason Reitman’s first film.  And while it may be a bit too episodic and it frequently struggles to maintain a consistent tone, it’s still a lot better than both Labor Day and Men, Women, & Children.

Film Review: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (dir. by Troy Nixey)


Since late last year, one trailer has managed to consistently scare me.  That trailer was advertising a horror film called Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.  Well, after a few delays, Don’t Be Afraid of The Dark has finally been released and I’ve finally seen it.  Unfortunately, the trailer is the only thing scariest thing about Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.

The film starts out as a classic haunted house story.  Sally (well-played by Bailee Madison) is a young girl who is sent, by her neglectful mother, to live with her father.  Sally’s father (Guy Pearce, who seems to be bored by the whole movie) is restoring an old mansion in Rhode Island with his girlfriend (Katie Holmes).  In a plot development that will be familiar to anyone who has seen Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond, It turns out that the mansion was previously owned by a crazy painter who disappeared over a 100 years ago.  Anyway, Sally isn’t all that happy with the situation to begin with and, once she starts to hear malevolent voices whispering threats at her, she’s even less happy with it.  However, her father refuses to take Sally’s fears seriously.  Why?  Because, simply based on his actions in this film, Sally’s dad is an idiot as well as being the worst father ever!  Seriously.

The main problem with Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is that it’s simply not scary.  Director Nixey, making his film debut here, borrows a few effective images from other, better horror films but otherwise, he creates no sense of pace and no sense of tension.  The owners of the voices are revealed fairly early on in the film and as soon as they show up, the film pretty much loses whatever atmosphere of dread that it may have built up.  It’s as if nobody told Nixey that the unknown is always far scarier than obvious CGI. 

It really doesn’t bother me that all of the characters continually do stupid things.  We expect that.  That’s just part of the horror genre.  If the characters in a horror movie acted sensibly and just left the haunted house or didn’t wander off by themselves then there wouldn’t be any horror.  What does bother me in this film is that there’s no consistency in the way the characters act or any sort of continuity for scene to scene.  Sometimes, everybody in the house can hear Sally scream regardless of where they’re located and then other times, it appears that Sally could scream for hours without anyone noticing.  Sometimes, Katie Holmes seems determined to save Sally from the house’s evil forces and then other times, she seems fairly indifferent to whether she survives or not.  Horror films don’t require that characters act with any sort of logic but it does help if there’s at least a little consistency.

I mentioned Lucio Fulci earlier and I did that on purpose because, in many ways, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark reminded me of one of Fulci’s later, post-New York Ripper films.  Like most of Fulci’s later films, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is ultimately a disappointment but occasionally, a little glimmer of talent shines through and manages to keep the film from being a total loss.  In the case of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, most of those glimmers belong to Bailee Madison who is well-cast as Sally and who bring some much needed conviction to the film.  Also, towards the end of the film, there’s a lengthy dinner party sequence in which Sally attempts to ward off the evil creatures while her unaware father attempts to schmooze with his guests (one of whom was played by Alan Dale, the same actor who played Charles Widmore on Lost).  The dinner party sequence actually generates some tension (as well as some intentional laughs) and it hints at what the film could have been.

Trailer: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark


I love films, all films, in general but if there’s one particular film genre that really floats my boat then it would be in the horror category. This summer will see the release of a title that I’ve been anticipating since I heard about it at last year’s San Diego Comic-Con. The film I speak of is the remake of the 1973 tv horror film of the same name: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.

While Troy Nixey takes the director’s chair for this film he’s working on a story written by Guillermo Del Toro who’s been known to dabble in the horror genre (Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone). Del Toro promised a horror film that would bring back horror the way it’s meant to be and that’s with genuine scares and not horror predicated on torture and extreme use of gore. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark will be a throwback to the atmospheric, almost gothic horror, that reached it’s peak during the late 70’s before the slasher boom hit.

The film has been delayed several times as Miramax Films was sold by Disney and the restructuring of the studio after it’s owners finalized it’s purchase put the film on the backburner. It now has an official August 26, 2011 release and it looks like the film got an R-rating from the MPAA for “pervasive scariness”. While Del Toro, Nixey and the rest of the film crew were hoping for a PG-13 rating the one given by the MPAA who seemed to really enjoy said “pervasive scariness” recommended it go out as an R-rated horror (one with little to no gore).

So, we have an upcoming horror film by an upcoming filmmaker handpicked by Del Toro. A film written by Del Toro himself and one which just got an R-rating which made Del Toro as happy as a clam. Plus, it’s a horror film that relies on genuine scares and not gore. My answer to that is August 26, 2011 cannot come sooner.