TV Review: The Dropout 1.8 “Lizzy” (dir by Erica Watson)


(Below, you will find spoilers for the final episode of The Dropout.  I would recommend not reading this post until you’ve watched the episode.)

After all the drama and the deception, The Dropout ended the only way that it could, with Theranos in ruins, Sunny out of Elizabeth’s life, and Elizabeth still unable to comprehend why everyone got upset with her in the first place.  While George Schultz tries to come to terms with his mistakes and Erika Cheung worries about whether or not she’s ruined her future career by coming out as a whistleblower, Elizabeth tries to do damage control by forcing Sunny out of Theranos and then going on television for a cringey interview that pretty much seals her fate.  Both David Boies and Linda Tanner (Michaela Watkins, who became the unexpected heart of this episode) tell Elizabeth that it’s important that she come across as being contrite and sincerely “devastated” by Sunny’s actions.  Elizabeth, however, can’t do it.  As she explains to her mother, Elizabeth has been locking away her emotions for so long that she no longer knows how to express or even feel them.

The end of the episode finds Elizabeth finally pursuing the life that she would have led if she hadn’t dropped out of Stanford, started Theranos, and gotten involved with Sunny.  She’s dating a younger man.  She’s going to Burning Man.  She owns a dog.  She’s ditched the turtleneck.  She’s let her hair down.  She’s speaking in her real voice.  She’s going by “Lizzie.”  She’s reverted back to being the somewhat flakey child of privilege that she was at the start of the miniseries.  Even while Linda Tanner confronts her with the number of lives that she and Theranos destroyed, Elizabeth doesn’t break her stride.  Elizabeth has decided that she’s moved on, even if no one else can.  It’s only when she’s alone that she briefly allow her composure to crack, just long enough to scream into the void.

Of course, the final title card informs us that it doesn’t matter how much Elizabeth wants to be Lizzie, the girl who goes to Burning Man with her boyfriend.  Having been convicted of defrauding her investors, Elizabeth Holmes is currently awaiting her sentencing.  She could end up spending the next twenty years in prison.  And, just as Phyllis Gardner predicted in the previous episode, Elizabeth has made it difficult for other female entrepreneurs to find success in Silicon Valley.

As the episode came to a close, with Elizabeth walking through the now empty offices of Theranos with her dog and an increasingly agitated Linda, I found myself thinking about how those offices progressed through the series.  Theranos went from a shabby office building in the worst part of town to being the epitome of Silicon Valley chic.  In the early episodes, the cluttered Theranos offices and labs were disorganized but there was also a very sincere earnestness to them.  Men like Ian Gibbons actually believed in what they were doing.  By the fourth episode, Theranos transformed into a secretive place that was fueled by paranoia.  With each subsequent episode, the offices became a bit less individualistic and bit more joyless.  In the final episode, the offices were dark and deserted, as empty as Elizabeth and Sunny’s promises.  Looking at those offices, it was hard not to mourn the lost idealism of those early days.  Sunny may have never shared that idealism.  The miniseries suggests that Elizabeth lost her idealism as soon as she finally started to get the positive publicity that she craved.  But the people who were there at the beginning believed in Theranos and its stated mission.  Even Elizabeth’s early investors were taking a chance because they thought she could make the world a better place.  In the end, Elizabeth and Sunny betrayed all of them.  As I said at the start of this review, The Dropout ended the only way that it could, with an empty office, a lot of broken hearts, and Elizabeth Holmes convinced that the world had somehow failed her.  Viewers may never fully understand what was going on in Elizabeth Holmes’s mind but they’ll never forget her or the story of Theranos.

The Dropout was a good miniseries, probably the best that we’ll see this year.  This is a miniseries that better be remembered come Emmy time.  Amanda Seyfried seems to be a lock to at least get a nomination.  Naveen Andrews deserves consideration as well.  The supporting cast provides an embarrassment of riches.  Sam Waterston, Dylan Minnette, Kurtwood Smith, Michaela Watkins, William H. Macy, the great Stephen Fry, Camryn Mi-Young Kim, Kate Burton, Anne Archer, and Laurie Metcalf, all of them are award-worthy.  Give them the Emmy campaign that they deserve, Hulu!

TV Review: The Dropout 1.5 “Flower of Life” (dir by Francesca Gregorini)


Who was Elizabeth Holmes?

Was she an idealist who got in over her head and ended up cutting corners with the best of intentions?

Was she a con artist who simply lied for the money?

Was she the abused and manipulated partner in a crime that masterminded by Sunny Balwani?

Or was she a sociopath who was simply incapable of feeling any empathy for the people that she manipulated and, in some cases, destroyed?

That’s the question that’s been at the heart of the first five episodes of The Dropout.  It’s also a question that the show’s version of Elizabeth Holmes (played, brilliantly, by Amanda Seyfried) is struggling with.  One gets the feeling that she herself doesn’t full understand what’s going on inside of her head.  For the first half of the episode 5, Holmes is an almost sympathetic character.  Still desperate for Sunny’s approval and seemingly convinced that Theranos can come up with some magic spell that will actually make the Edison work, Elizabeth comes across as being more self-delusional than malicious.  For the first half of the episode, it’s like we’re watching the socially awkward but earnest Elizabeth who we first met at the beginning of the series.  At her uncle’s funeral, she asks her mother if she ever had any hobbies when she was younger and her mom can only list several competitive activities that Elizabeth took part in.  But, as becomes clear, Elizabeth never did anything just for fun or just for enjoyment.  Instead, everything the she’s always done has been a part of an obsessive need to not only prove her own abilities but to also prove that she’s superior to other people.

Perhaps this strange mix of a grandiose self-image and gnawing insecurity is why she simply cannot bring herself to settle the lawsuit that’s been brought against her by Richard Fuisz (William H. Macy).  Instead, with the help of her newest mentor, George Shultz (Sam Waterston), Elizabeth brings in David Boies (Kurtwood Smith).  Boies is one of the leading lawyers in the United States.  Before getting involved with Theranos, Boies tried to put Al Gore in the White House.  After his involvement with Theranos, Boies tried to keep Harvey Weinstein out of jail.  Boies failed on both accounts but he was far more successful when it came to battling Fuisz’s lawsuit.  One of the key scenes in the episode comes when Schultz mentions that he and Boies are on different sides politically but that they’re willing to come together to protect Theranos.  It doesn’t matter that Schultz is a Republican and Boies is a Democrat.  What matters is that they’re both a member of the elite and Theranos, with its prestigious board of directors, is now a part of the elite as well.  Richard Fuisz, with his terrible haircut and his excitable manner, is far too gauche to be allowed to defeat Theranos.

Indeed, Elizabeth spends most of this episode worrying about the lawsuit and also what might happen if Ian Gibbons (Stephen Fry) is called to testify.  Gibbons’s name is on all of Theranos’s patents, along with Elizabeth’s.  Gibbons is perhaps the one person who can testify that Elizabeth had nothing to do with designing any of Theranos’s equipment.  When we first see Theranos’s legal team pressuring Ian to sign a statement saying that, as an alcoholic, he can’t testify, we’re left to wonder whether the team is working at the direction of Sunny, Boies, or Elizabeth.  When Ian points out that signing such a statement will end his career, no one seems to care.  Ian Gibbons goes home, plays with his dogs, listens to his favorite opera, says goodnight to his wife, and then kills himself.

Elizabeth’s reaction to Ian’s death tells us all we need to know about her and it pretty much erases whatever sympathy we may have had for her.  She’s a bit like a robot, trying to generate the “right” emotions but not quite sure the proper way to do it.  When told that Ian is dead and that the lawsuit is apparently dead as well, Elizabeth focuses on the finger puppets that she wants to stock in the Theranos Wellness Centers.  The puppets are for children to wear after getting their finger pricked but they’re also a part of Elizabeth’s fantasy world, a world where Theranos will be fine and she’ll be as famous and beloved as Steve Jobs.  And if that means that the Edison had to be built with technology with Sunny stole from another company, so be it.

The episode ends with Brendan (Bashir Salahuddin) quitting the company and George Schultz’s nephew, Tyler (Dylan Minnette), starting his first day.  Using her fake voice, Elizabeth gives a speech to her cult-like employees.  She talks about her uncle’s death and how it effected her and we know that it’s all a lie but Elizabeth sells it.  The only disconcerting note comes from Sunny, who can’t stop himself from casually threatening to fire anyone who doesn’t share Elizabeth’s version.  They’re a team.  Elizabeth knows how to sell Theranos.  Sunny knows how to terrify anyone who asks too many questions.

This was the first episode of the series to not be directed by Michael Showalter.  Instead, it was directed by Francesca Gregorini and there are a few scenes where you really do miss Showalter’s ability to balance the absurd with the dramatic.  That said, this episode worked due to the performances of not only Seyfriend and Naveen Andrews but also William H. Macy, Kurtwood Smith, and especially Stephen Fry.  Fry especially broke my heart, even though I knew enough about the real story of Theranos that I already knew that Gibbons was going to take his own life.  Still, Fry plays the role with such a wounded dignity that you are left with no doubt that Gibbons was the last of the true believers.  He gave his life for Theranos and, in the end, Theranos gave him nothing in return.

The episode ends with Richard calling Phyllis Gardner (Laurie Metcalf), who was last seen telling a very young Elizabeth that there was no way to make the idea behind Theranos a reality.  Phyllis tells Richard that Elizabeth is a fraud.  And I have to admit that, as a viewer who had just spent 50 minutes with Elizabeth Holes and Sunny Balwani and David Boies, it was nice to hear someone come straight out and say it.

Next week, Tyler Schultz starts working at Theranos and he discovers that everything is not as it seems!  It’s the beginning of the end for Theranos and I’m looking forward to watching it all come down.

The TSL’s Grindhouse: Amityville: The Awakening (dir by Franck Khalfoun)


You have to feel bad for the DeFeo family.

Not only where they murdered in their sleep by a junkie loser who also happened to be a member of the family but, for the past five decades, their names have been slandered in a countless number of Amityville books and films.  The house’s subsequent owner, George Lutz, realized that he could make a fortune by claiming that the murder house was haunted by a demon and, working with an author named Jay Anson, he did just that.  Anson’s book, The Amityville Horror, was published in 1977.  The first film version was released in 1979.  Since then, there have been over 20 Amityville films, the majority of which feature reenactments of the DeFeo murders and all of which let Ronald DeFeo, Jr. off the hook by suggesting that it was the supernatural that led to the murders as opposed to a raging heroin habit.

With so many different films having been made by so many different directors and companies, it’s next to impossible to maintain any sort of consistent continuity from film to film.  2017’s Amityville: The Awakening acknowledges this in the most meta way possible by having the film’s lead character, Belle (played by Bella Thorne), watch the original film with two of her friends while discussing all of the sequels.  In the world of Amityville: The Awakening, the films exist and the house is both famous and infamous.  And yet, people still voluntarily live there.

The latest inhabitants are Joan (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and her three children, Belle, Juliet (McKenna Grace), and James (Cameron Monaghan).  James is on life support after having been paralyzed in an accident and Joan is fanatically devoted to him.  Though Dr. Milton (Kurtwood Smith) says that there’s no chance of James ever recovering and that he’s probably brain dead, Joan remains convinced that James will someday come back again.  As she explains at one point, she’s abandoned her faith in God but she still has faith that there will be a way for James to recover.

No sooner has the family moved in then all of the typical Amityville stuff starts happening.  Flies start buzzing around.  The dog doesn’t want to be in the house. Juliet starts talking to people who aren’t there.  One night, James flatlines but, after being dead for several minutes, his heart suddenly starts to beat again.  Suddenly, James is showing indications that, though paralyzed and unable to speak, he is aware of his surroundings.  Joan is convinced that James is recovering but is it possible that something else is happening?

If I may take the risk of damning with faint praise, Amityville: The Awakening is not bad for an Amityville film.  Yes, you do have to wonder why the house has never been torn down and yes, I’m as bored with the big Amityville flies as anyone else.  And the scenes where the characters discuss the DeFeo murders are icky and unethical as Hell.  But, with all that in mind, this is actually one of the better-made Amityville films.  Director Franck Khalfoun was also responsible for the better-than-it-had-any-right-to-be remake of Maniac and he brings a lot of energy to his direction here.  He’s smart enough to realize that the audience is going to automatically roll their eyes at yet another Amityville film and he often rolls his eyes with them.  As a result, we get some deserved digs at the shoddiness of the other films.  Khalfoun is also smart enough to understand that Bella Thorne is more effective as a personality than an actress and, as such, the character of Belle is carefully developed to fit with Thorne’s public image.  Jennifer Jason Leigh, on the other hand, is such a good actress that she actually brings some unexpected depth to the role of Joan and the film as a whole.

Amityville: The Awakening is one of the better Amityville films.  You still have to wonder why that house is still standing, though.  Seriously, tear it down already.

The Crush (1993, directed by Alan Shapiro)


Darien or Adrian?  Adrian or Darien?  Who does Alicia Silverstone play in The Crush?  It depends on which version you saw.

When the movie came out in theaters, she was named Darien because she was based on a real girl named Darien who writer/director Alan Shapiro claimed was obsessed with him.  When the real-life Darien saw the movie and saw that she was portrayed as a psycho stalker, she was understandably pissed off and she sued Shapiro.  As a result, when the film was re-edited for TV and later released on video, Darien suddenly became Adrian.

Whether Silverstone’s playing Adrian or Darien, the movie is still fairly lackluster.  This movie came out when Alicia was still known for playing the lead in several sexually-charged Aerosmith videos and it features her doing the whole Lolita thing, which was very popular in the 90s.  She becomes obsessed with her neighbor, Nick (Cary Elwes).  Nick tries to be nice but when it become obvious that he’s not going to risk going to jail even if the the girl next door does look like Alicia Silverstone, Adrian/Darien starts trying to make his life Hell.  She also tries to kill Nick’s girlfriend with a bunch of bees.  Nick’s girlfriend is played by Jennifer Rubin, who was one of the best of the straight-to-video actresses of the 90s.

(Unlike Alicia’s other pre-Clueless starring turn, The Babysitter, The Crush was not straight-to-video but probably would have been if not for those Aerosmith videos.  The Babysitter is also not very good but it’s an unsung classic when compared to The Crush.)

The Crush is one of those movies that got a huge push when it came out.  MTV was all over it and the commercials were edited to make it look like a steamy thriller starring the girl that every boy had a crush on in 1993.  I can’t remember if the movie got an R-rating or a PG-13 but I do know that my friends and I were bummed out when we were told we weren’t allowed to see it.  Later, we rented it on video and discovered, not for the first time, that we were misled.  The movie itself is really tame and Alicia’s miscast.  She actually seems too level-headed to be the type who would try to kill Jennifer Rubin.  Cary Elwes goes through the whole movie with a pained expression on his face, like he’s wondering how he went from The Princess Bride to this.  Kurtwood Smith plays Alicia’s father and he was always good as a bad parent.  It’s also always good to see Jennifer Rubin, even if her role here doesn’t allow her to show off the wicked playfulness that made her a late night Cinemax favorite.  She definitely should have been a bigger star.

The main lesson to learn from The Crush?  If you are going to portray an acquaintance as a murderous psycho, at least be smart enough to change the name.  It will save you a lot of money and trouble.

Film Review: Robocop (dir by Paul Verhoeven)


Last week, I watched the original Robocop (along with Robocop 2 and Robocop 3) and I have to say that the first film holds up far better than I was expecting. Made and released way back in 1987, Robocop may be one of the most prophetic films ever made.

Consider the plot:

America is torn apart by crime and a growing gap between the rich and the poor. That was probably true in 1987 and it’s certainly true in 2021.

Throughout the film, we see news reports about what’s happening in the world. The news is always grim but the reporters are always cheerful and the main message is that, no matter what’s happening, the government is not to blame and anyone who questions the wisdom of the establishment is a fool. If that’s not a perfect description of cable news and our current state-run media, I don’t know what is.

The populace is often too busy watching stupid game shows to really pay attention to what’s happening all around them. I’m writing these words on a Wednesday, which means that Game of Talents will be on Fox tonight, immediately after The Masked Singer.

Detroit, a once proud center of industry, has now turned into a dystopian Hellhole where no one feels that they’re safe. Now, I don’t live in Detroit so I don’t know how true that is but I do know that most of the recent news that I’ve heard about the city has not exactly been positive. Also, this seems like a good time to point out that, even though the film is set in Detroit, it was shot in Dallas. Though the Dallas skyline has undoubtedly changed a bit since 1987, I still recognized several buildings while watching Robocop. Seeing Reunion Tower in the background of a movie that’s supposed to be set in Detroit was interesting, though perhaps not as interesting as seeing our City Hall transformed into the headquarters of Detroit’s beleaguered police force.

OCP, a multi-national conglomerate that’s run by the amoral but occasionally charming Old Man (played by the brilliant Dan O’Herlihy), has a contract with city of Detroit to run their police department. This certainly doesn’t seem far-fetched in 2021. Considering that we now have prisons that are run by private companies and that the government has shown a willingness to work with private mercenaries overseas, it’s not a stretch to imagine a city — especially one on the verge of bankruptcy — handing over the police department to a private company.

Two OCP executives — Dick Jones (Ronny Cox) and Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer) — are competing to see who can be the first to create and develop a peace-keeping robot, a machine that will replace the need to employ (and pay) human police officers. Dick Jones goes with an actual robot, which malfunctions during a boardroom demonstration and guns down another executive. (The scene where the poor exec is targeted is both terrifying and darkly humorous at the same time. Particularly disturbing is how everyone in the boardroom keeps shoving him back towards the robot in order to ensure that they won’t accidentally be in the line of fire.) Bob Morton, however, takes a mortally wounded cop named Murphy (Peter Weller) and turns him into Robocop!

Robocop turns out to be a huge success and is very popular with the media. (Anyone who doubts this would really happen has obviously never watched news coverage of a drone attack.) As you can guess, Dick is not particularly happy about getting shown up by Morton and his robocop. Dick also happens to be secretly in league with Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith), the crimelord who blew Murphy apart in the first place.

(A gangster and a businessman working together!? I doubt that was shocking even in 1987.)

Robocop claims that he’s just a machine, without a past or emotions, but he’s still haunted by random flashes of his life as Murphy. Working with Lewis (Nancy Allen), Murphy’s former partner, Robocop tracks down Boddicker and his gang. A lot of people die in outrageously violent ways. (The scene where Boddicker and his gang use a shotgun to torture Murphy is still shocking, even after all these years.) The violence is so over-the-top that it soon becomes obvious that director Paul Verhoeven is deliberately trying to get those of us watching to ask ourselves why we find films like this to be so entertaining. On the one hand, Robocop is an exciting action film with a sense of humor. On the other hand, it’s the type of subversive satire of pop and trash culture to which Verhoeven would return with Basic Instinct, Starship Troopers, and Showgirls. This is the type of film that asks the audience, “What are you doing here?”

34 years after it was first made, Robocop remains a triumph. Peter Weller’s performance holds up well, as he does a great job of capturing Robocop’s anguish while, at the same time, never forgetting that the character is ultimately a machine, one that’s trapped in a sort of permanent limbo. I also really liked the performance of Miguel Ferrer, who takes a character who should be unlikable and instead makes him into a surprisingly sympathetic figure.

Of course, a film like this lives and dies on the strength of its villains and both Ronny Cox and Kurtwood Smith are ideally cast as Dick Jones and Clarence Boddicker. Kurtwood Smith especially took me by surprise by how believably evil and frightening he was. As a I watched the film, I realized that it was his glasses that made him so intimidating. Wearing his glasses, he looked like some sort of rogue poet, a sociopathic intellectual who had chosen to use his talents to specifically make the world into a terrible place. Boddicker’s crew was full of familiar actors like Paul McCrane, Ray Wise, and, as the always laughing Joe Cox, Jesse Goins. Interestingly enough, all of the bad guys seemed to genuinely be friends. Even though they were all willing to betray each other (“Can you fly Bobby?”), they also seemed to really enjoy each other’s company. That somehow made them even more disturbing than a group of bad guys who were only in it for the money. The villains in Robocop really do seem to savor the chance to show off just how evil they can be.

(Incidentally, for all of the Twin Peaks fans out there, this film features three members of the show’s ensemble: Miguel Ferrer, Ray Wise, and Dan O’Herlihy.)

Robocop holds up well as entertainment, prophecy, and satire. Though not much was expected from it when it was first released, it became a surprise hit at the box office. Needless to say, this led to a sequel. I’ll deal with that film in about an hour.

Scenes That I Love: The Opening of Staying Alive


We’re still in the process of recovering from last week’s winter storm down here and I have to admit that, for me personally, it’s been a bit of a struggle to actually maintain my focus.  Last week’s combination of power outages and freezing weather threw me off of my usual rhythm and I’m still getting it back.

Fortunately, I have a little help from my friends.  Earlier tonight, a group of us watched the 1983 film, Staying Alive.  Staying Alive is the somewhat notorious sequel to Saturday Night Fever.  If Saturday Night Fever was actually a dark and gritty coming-of-age story disguised as a crowd-pleasing musical, Staying Alive is …. well, it’s something much different.  It’s a film about dancing and Broadway, directed and at least partially written by Sylvester Stallone.  Why exactly would anyone think that Sylvester Stallone was the right director to make a movie about dancing and Broadway?  Your guess is as good as mine but, in the end, the important thing is that Stallone wrote a key supporting role for his brother, Frank Stallone.  Frank not only performs several songs but he proves that he can glare with the best of them.

As for the film itself, it opens with Tony Manero (John Travolta) having left behind Brooklyn and the world of disco.  Now, he lives in Manhattan, he teaches a dance class, he humiliates himself looking for an agent, and he’s struggling to make it on Broadway.  (Basically, he’s turned into Joey from Friends.)  When Tony’s lucky enough to get cast in a lavish musical called Satan’s Alley, Tony has a chance to become a star but only if he can …. well, I was going to say control his ego but actually, his ego isn’t that much of a problem in Staying Alive.  Actually, there’s really nothing standing in Tony’s way, other than the fact that — in Staying Alive as opposed to Saturday Night Fever — he’s portrayed as kind of being an irredeemable idiot.  If Saturday Night Fever was all about revealing that Tony was actually smarter and more sensitive than he seemed, Staying Alive seems to be all about saying, “Whoops!  Sorry!  He’s just as obnoxious as you thought he was.”

Staying Alive is a notoriously ill-conceived film, though it’s also one of those films that’s just bad enough to be entertaining when viewed with a group of snarky friends.  That said, the opening credits montage — which features Tony dancing while Kurtwood Smith glares at him — is actually pretty good.  Travolta smolders with the best of them and the sequence does a good job of capturing Tony’s mix of desperation and determination.  It’s unfortunate that Kurtwood Smith pretty much disappeared from the film following the opening credits.  Judging from what little we see of him, Smith would have been pretty entertaining as a permanently annoyed choreographer.  Finally, how can you not love the neon credits?  This a scene that screams 80s in the best possible way.

So, while I continue to work on getting back to my usual prolific ways, why not enjoy this scene that I love from Staying Alive?

Film Review: To Die For (dir by Gus Van Sant)


The 1995 satire, To Die For, is a very clever film about some seriously stupid people.

Of course, you could debate whether or not Suzanne Stone-Maretto (Nicole Kidman) is actually dumb or not.  Suzanne may not know much about anything that isn’t on TV but she does have a natural understanding for what makes a good story.  She knows exactly the type of story that the public wants to hear and she does a good job of faking all of the right emotions.  As she proves throughout the course of the film, she’s also very good at convincing people to do stuff.  Whether it’s convincing the local television station to put her on the air as a weather person or convincing two teenagers to murder her husband, Suzanne always seems to get what she wants.

Of course, what Suzanne really wants is to be a celebrity.  She wants to be a star.  As she explains it, that’s the greatest thing about America.  Anyone can become a star if they just try hard enough and find the right angle.  If the film were made today, Suzanne would be a social media junkie.  Since the movie was made in 1995, she has to settle for talk shows and murder.

So maybe Suzanne isn’t that dumb but her husband, Larry (Matt Dillon) …. well, if we’re going to be honest, Larry’s more naive than dumb.  He’s the favored son of a big Italian family and it’s obviously never occurred to him that a woman would possibly want something more than just a husband and a lot of children.  He thinks it’s cute that Suzanne’s on TV but he’s also fully convinced that she’s going to eventually settle down and focus on starting a family.  It never occurs to him that his wife would be willing to sacrifice him on her way to stardom.

Of course, if you really want to talk about dumb, just check out the teenagers who Suzanne recruits to kill her husband.  They’ve been appearing in a documentary that Suzanne’s been shooting.  The documentary’s title is “Teens Speak Out,” which is something of an ironic title since none of the teens that Suzanne interviews really has anything to say.  Lydia (Allison Folland) is just happy that the “glamorous” Suzanne is pretending to care about her.  Russell (Casey Affleck) is the type of grinning perv who drops a pen just so he can try to get a peek up Suzanne’s skirt while he’s on the floor retrieving it.  And then there’s Jimmy (Joaquin Phoenix), with his flat voice and his blank stare.  Jimmy is briefly Suzanne’s lover before he ends up in prison for murdering her husband.  It doesn’t take much to convince Jimmy to commit murder, either.  Apparently, all you have to do is dance to Lynard Skynard while it’s raining outside.  Media interviews with Lydia, Jimmy, Suzanne, and Larry’s sister (Ileana Douglas) are sprinkled throughout the film and Jimmy continues to insist that he will always love Suzanne.

As for Suzanne, she’s got stardom to worry about….

Though the subject matter is a bit familiar and the film, made before the age of Twitter and Instagram, is a bit dated, To Die For‘s satire still carries a powerful bite.  One need only watch A&E or the Crime and Investigation network to see that Suzanne was absolutely correct when she decided that killing her husband would make her a star.  If To Die For were made today, you could easily imagine Suzanne leveraging her infamy into an appearance on Dancing With The Stars and maybe Celebrity Big Brother.  At the very least. she could get her own house hunting show on HGTV.  Delivering her often sociopathic dialogue with a perky smile and a positive attitude, Nicole Kidman is absolutely chilling as Suzanne.  Meanwhile, Joaquin Phoenix’s blank stare will continue to haunt you long after the film ends.

And speaking of endings, To Die For has a great one.  You’ll never hear Season of the Witch the same way again!

A Movie A Day #317: Flashpoint (1984, directed by William Tannen)


November 22, 1963.  While the rest of the world deals with the aftermath of the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas, a man named Michael Curtis drives a jeep across the South Texas desert, heading for the border.  In the jeep, he has a $800,000 and a high-powered rifle.  When the jeep crashes, the man, the rifle, and the money are left undiscovered in the desert for 21 years.

1984.  Two border patrol agents, Logan (Kris Kristofferson) and Wyatt (Treat Williams), are complaining about their job and hoping for a better life.  It looks like they might get that opportunity when they come across both the jeep and the money.  A bitter Vietnam vet, Logan wants to take the money and run but Wyatt is more cautious.  Shortly after Wyatt runs a check on the jeep’s license plate, a FBI agent (Kurtwood Smith) shows up at the station and both Logan and Wyatt discover their lives are in danger.

Though it was made seven years before Oliver Stone’s JFK, Flashpoint makes the same argument, that Kennedy was killed as the result of a massive government conspiracy and that the conspirators are still in power and doing whatever they have to do keep the truth from being discovered.  The difference is that Flashpoint doesn’t try to convince anyone.  If you’re watching because you’re hoping to see a serious examination of the Kennedy conspiracy theories, Flashpoint is not for you.  Instead, Flashpoint is a simple but effective action film, a modern western that uses the assassination as a MacGuffin.  Though Kris Kristofferson has never been the most expressive of actors, he was well-cast as the archetypical gunslinger with a past.  Rip Torn also gives a good performance as a morally ambiguous sheriff and fans of great character acting will want to keep an eye out for both Kevin Conway and Miguel Ferrer in small roles.

Horror on the Lens: Deadly Messages (dir by Jack Bender)


Today’s horror on the lens is a made-for-TV movie from 1985!

In Deadly Messages, Kathleen Beller plays a woman named Laura who witnesses a murder and then becomes convinced that the murderer is after her.  She also finds a Ouija board that continually sends her the same message: “I am going to kill you.”  The police are skeptical of Laura.  Even worse, her boyfriend (Michael Brandon) is skeptical!  And, needless to say, Laura may have some secrets of her own…

Deadly Messages is a lot of fun.  Thank you to frequent TSL commenter Trevor Wells for suggesting this movie!

Enjoy!

Sci-Fi Review: Regular Show: The Movie (2015, directed by J.G. Quintel)


Regular_Show_the_MovieAfter airing for seven seasons and counting on the Cartoon Network, Regular Show has finally gotten its own feature-length movie!  In Regular Show: The Movie, the Earth is in danger of being destroyed by a time jumping volleyball coach and it is up to our two favorite slacker groundskeepers — Mordecai the Blue Jay and Rigby the Racoon — to save the world.  But to do so, they are going to have to confront their past and Rigby is going to have to reveal something that not even his oldest friend, Mordecai, knows about.

Regular Show: The Movie opens in the future, with a massive battle in space.  Rigby is leading a squadron composed of his former co-workers at the state park against the forces of the evil Mr. Ross, a former high school volleyball coach-turned-cyborg who is using a “timenado” to destroy time itself.  (Ross is in a hurry to destroy Earth because, after devoting 25 years to his evil plan, he has a lot of television to catch up on.)  During the battle, Rigby is shocked to discover that his former friend Mordecai is one of Ross’s soldiers.  Mordecai tells Rigby that he wants revenge for something that Rigby did in the past.  Rigby manages to escape in a time ship but not before getting shot by Mordecai.

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Future Rigby lands in a Georgia state park where, as usual, present day Rigby and Modecai are trying to get through the day by doing as little work as possible and without getting fired by their boss, an uptight gumball machine named Benson.  Before Future Rigby dies, he reminds Present Rigby and Mordecai of the time that they built a time machine in high school.  The time machine malfunctioned and caused the science lab to explode, which led to Rigby and Mordecai being expelled from high school.  It also caused Mr. Ross to lose a volleyball game, which set Mr. Ross on his path to madness (or, as Mr. Ross, puts it, drove him “craze-o” because that is how they say crazy in the future).

Regular Show

Using the time ship, Present Rigby and Mordecai try to stop Past Rigby and Mordecai.  But before they can save the world, Rigby has to find the courage to reveal his secret to Mordecai, a secret that causes them to question and reconsider their friendship.

Regular Show: The Movie is a fun and trippy movie that is full of nods to 80s and 90s pop culture.  (The Ferris Bueller homage was my favorite.)  The voice work is also excellent, with Mark Hamill a stand-out in the role of Skips, a very intelligent and reasonable Yeti.  Devotees of the series will not be disappointed by this frequently hilarious expansion.

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