What Lisa Marie Watched Last Night: FANatic (dir by Jean-François Rivard)


Around 2 a.m. this morning, I watched the latest Lifetime Movie Network premiere, FANatic!

fanatic

Why Was I Watching It?

Okay, so technically, I didn’t watch this last night.  It premiered last night and I recorded it because I was watching the latest episode of The Walking Dead.  However, I don’t think What Lisa Recorded Last Night has quite the same ring to it.

As for why I watched it at 2 in the morning — well, I fell asleep last night around 11:00.  And then I woke up at one.  Seeing as how I had already gotten my usual two hours of sleep, I decided that I might as well watch a movie!

What Was It About?

Nikki Myers (Katy Breier) has finally landed her dream job.  She’s working as an assistant to Tess Daniels (Betsy Brandt), a highly acclaimed actress who happens to be the star of Nikki’s favorite show!  It’s an enjoyably silly sci-fi show, one on which Tess co-stars with her husband, Hunter Clay (Benjamin Arthur).  When the show started, Tess and Hunter were equals and Tess considered her role to be empowering.  But, over the past few seasons, things have changed.  Tess now finds her role to be demeaning and limiting.  While Hunter gets to play the hero, Tess’s role becomes more and more about providing fan service for the show’s male viewers.  Tess wants to leave the show…

But if Tess leaves the show, where does that leave Nikki!?  Nikki’s spent the last few weeks bragging to her two friends about her job!  If the show ends, how will Nikki be able to continue to steal props from the set?  And how will she be able to continue to lie to her friends about the imaginary affair she’s having with Hunter!?

Seriously, when you look at things from her point of view, can you blame Nikki for becoming a little bit homicidal?

What Worked?

Yay!  If nothing else, FANatic showed that the Lifetime-Degrassi conduit still exists!  Perhaps because so many Lifetime films are produced in Canada, it’s not unusual to see former Degrassi actors pop up in supporting (and, sometimes, lead) roles.  On Degrassi, Jake Epstein played the lovable, bipolar, drug addicted musician/photographer Craig Manning.  In FANatic, he plays a slightly less likable character, a misogynistic television producer.  Still, it’s always good to see Jake.

Anyway, FANatic was a lot of fun to watch, mostly because of the loving detail that was put into creating Tess and Hunter’s irresistibly silly sci-fi show.  What’s interesting is that, if that show actually was on the air, it probably would be, at the very least, a cult hit.  I knew more than a few people who would probably watch every episode.

Katy Breier did a good job playing the fanatic of the title.  A film like FANatic is only as good as its villain and Breier brought a lot of life to the role.

What Did Not Work?

Seriously, why are redheads always crazy in Lifetime movies?  Of course, that’s really not something that didn’t work.  That’s just something that I, as a member of the 2% of the world’s population who has red hair, always notice.

But back to the question — hey, it all worked!

“Oh my God!”  Just like me moments!

It’s hard for me to imagine myself ever becoming obsessed with any show to the extent that Nikki does.  Then again, if that show starred James Franco…

Lessons Learned

You can’t spell “fanatic” without “fan!”

Film Review: The Twin (dir by Max Derin and Fred Olen Ray)


twin

According to the imdb, Fred Olen Ray is, as of this writing, credited with directing 148 films.  Few of those films have necessarily been acclaimed by the mainstream critics but almost all of them are a lot of fun when taken on their own terms.

Take The Twin for instance, on which Ray shares a directing credit with screenwriter Max Derin.

Now, in many ways, The Twin is a ludicrous film.  It’s very, very melodramatic and the whole film’s central issue (i.e., which twin is which) could have been very easily resolved if just one person in the movie had used a little common sense.

But you know what?

Criticism like that misses the entire point of the film.  The Twin is a lot of fun and it’s certainly not a film that’s meant to be taken seriously.  This is not a serious look at mental illness, young love, sibling rivalry, or anything else for that matter.  This is an over-the-top and rather silly piece of pure entertainment and, if we can’t enjoy something like that, what hope is there for the world?

The film deals with Tyler (Timothy Granaderos), who would seem to be almost perfect.  He’s handsome.  He’s intelligent.  He’s compassionate.  He’s a wonderful boyfriend, always polite and considerate to his girlfriend, Jocelyn (Jess Gabor).  Even Jocelyn’s overprotective mother, Ashley (Brigid Brannah), seems to like him.

However, Tyler has a secret.  Years ago, his parents were killed in a car accident.  The accident was caused by Tyler’s brother, Derrick.  As you may have guessed from the film’s title, Derrick is Tyler’s twin.  And we all know that, whenever a movie is called The Twin, that means that there’s going to be a good twin and an evil twin.  It turns out that Derrick is the evil twin and that accident was no accident.

Derrick has spent the last few years in a mental asylum.  When Tyler shows up to visit his brother, the staff tells Tyler that Derrick has picked up a strange new habit.  He’s telling everyone that he’s actually Tyler and Tyler is Derrick.  Oh well, Tyler shrugs, that’s what happens when you’ve got a sociopathic twin.

Later, when Tyler is alone with his twin, he’s shocked when Derrick attacks him.  Derrick knocks him out and then switches clothes with him.  Claiming to be Tyler, Derrick walks out of the hospital and into the lives on Jocelyn and Ashley.  Meanwhile, Tyler is stuck in the hospital, begging for someone to just give him a blood test so that he can prove who he is….

Anyway, you can probably guess what happens next but that’s part of the fun.  Derrick (as Tyler) spends a lot of good, quality time with Ashley and Jocelyn, both of whom are surprised by how different “Tyler’s” personality seems to now be.  Ashley, of course, is more suspicious than Jocelyn.  (This film premiered on Lifetime so you better believe that overprotective mom is eventually proven right.)

It may be predictable but, like I said, it’s all a lot of fun.  I don’t know which parts of the film were directed by Derin and which parts by Fred Olen Ray but, as a whole, the film is cheerfully content to be a B-movie and you have to kind of love it for that.  At a time when everyone is taking everything so seriously and so many filmmakers are giving into portentous pretension, it’s nice to see a thriller that’s pure entertainment.

Plus, Timothy Granaderos is a lot of fun as both Tyler and Derrick.  Tyler is nice but kind of dull.  Derrick is exciting but totally batshit crazy.  Granaderos seems to be enjoying himself as he switches back and forth between being good and evil.  An evil twin movie is only as good as its twins and Granaderos is pretty good.

So, keep an eye out for The Twin.  Melodrama this enjoyable should not be missed.

Film Review: Britney Ever After (dir by Leslie Libman) #FreeBritney


britney-ever-after-trailer

Earlier tonight, I watched the latest Lifetime celebrity biopic, Britney Ever After.

Ever since that ill-fated Aaliyah movie, Lifetime biopics have had a reputation for being hot messes and I’m sure that a lot of people will say the same thing about Britney Ever After.  Britney Ever After is about Britney Spears, following her from her first tour with *NSYNC through her relationship with Justin Timberlake through her marriages to both Jason Alexander and Kevin Federline and finally concluding with her well-publicized breakdown in 2008.  As usually seems to happen with these biopics, the whole story is framed by interviews with a documentary crew.  From what I saw, the twitter reaction was pretty savage and I’m sure that there will be all sorts of snarky reviews tomorrow.

But you know what?

As far as Lifetime celebrity biopics go, Britney Ever After was not that bad.

It suffered from some obvious problems.  Since neither Britney nor her management had anything to do with the making of the film, none of Britney’s original music was heard.  That means there was no Oops! I did it again!  There was no Baby One More Time.  No Toxic.  No If U Seek Amy.  There was no Work Bitch, which incidentally is both the greatest song that Britney’s ever done and my favorite song to sing while stuck in traffic.  I think it was mentioned, at one point, that Britney was working on a song called Womanizer but I may have misheard.  When the actress playing Britney sang, it was only to cover songs by other artists.  In the film, Britney performed I Love Rock and Roll and a bit of Walking After Midnight.

For what I presume are legal reasons, the film had to be circumspect.  Yes, Justin Timberlake (played by Nathan Keyes) was a character in the movie but he was portrayed so blandly that he could have been any hyperactive teenager with good hair.  Jason Allen Alexander (Kelly McCabe) shows up just long enough to marry Britney and then be told that the marriage is going to be annulled.  Amazingly, Britney’s entire marriage to Kevin Federline (Clayton Chitty) takes place over less than 10 minutes of screen time.  Adnan Ghalib (Serge Jaswal) and Sam Lufti (Benjamin Arce) get more attention that Kevin but both of them are portrayed so negatively that they probably wish they hadn’t.

(Adnan and Sam both made the mistake of testifying about Britney in court, meaning that their douchebaggery was a part of the public record and free for Britney Ever After to portray.)

As for Britney’s “rivalry” with Christina Aguilera (which, early in their careers, pretty much defined both of their public personas), it goes unmentioned.  Christina is only briefly seen in a long shot.  For those of you hoping for any details about the dark side of life at the Mickey Mouse Club, Britney Ever After is not for you.  Really, the film’s main problem was one of logistics.  Britney Ever After had only 90 minutes to tell the story of a very dramatic and complicated life.  If the film felt rushed, that’s because it had a lot to show and not much time to do it.

But, even with all that in mind, Britney Ever After was not the disaster that some seem to believe that it was.  In the role of Britney, Natasha Bassett did far better than I was expecting.  There were some issues, of course.  Her attempt to duplicate Britney’s Southern accent led to her sounding more like Jessica Simpson than Britney Spears.  During the film’s early scenes, she seemed almost too innocent to be believed but it quickly became apparent that this was intentional on the film’s part.  One of the themes running through the film was how Britney’s image was continually shaped by her parents, her management, and her boyfriends.  In the end, Britney is portrayed as having no control over her own life.  When Britney suffers a break down in 2007, she’s at least trying to live her own life.  When everyone around her panics, are they concerned about her health or are they concerned about her image and their investment in her career?  This unanswered question hangs over the final 30 minutes of Britney Ever After.  If Natasha Bassett never quite seemed to be Britney, she was still very believable as a character living the exact same life and dealing with the exact same issues.

Plus, there was an enjoyably silly scene where Britney ran into Justin in a club and they had an epic dance off.  If only all relationship issues could be solved by a dance off!

That said, I was a bit disappointed that, at no point, was Crossroads mentioned.

(Seriously, a Britney movie with no mention of Crossroads!?)

But give the film some credit.  It did a good job of capturing the suffocating experience of being hounded by paparazzi.  And the film was even-handed and compassionate when it came to portraying Britney’s 2007 breakdown.  Like Britney, I’m bipolar and I’ve always felt that I could understand what she was going through while the rest of the world was finding so much entertainment in her very public struggle.  Since 2008, Britney’s father has had conservatorship over her life and control of all of her assets.  For nearly ten years, Britney Spears has not been allowed to stand on her own and has essentially made a lot of money for everyone but her.  During the documentary segments that provide a wrap-around to the film’s story, Britney Ever After obliquely hints at this sad reality.  In those sequences, there’s a sadness to Bassett’s performance, an acknowledgement that Britney has paid a price for public stability.

Britney Ever After was on Britney’s side, which is more than can be said of many other biopics.

#FreeBitney!

 

 

Film Review: Boyfriend Killer (dir by Alyn Darnay)


bk

In the Lifetime film, Boyfriend Killer, there was a brief scene that I really liked and I think it epitomizes why I enjoyed this film and why I watch Lifetime films in general.

In the scene, Sandra Durro (Barbie Castro, who also produced this film) shares a hug with Krystal Kellers (Kate Mansi), her son’s girlfriend.  The camera quickly cuts back and forth from Sandra’s face to Krystal’s face and the audience sees that both of them have the same look of irritation and loathing on their face.  That really does get to a basic truth.  A mom is never going to fully trust her son’s girlfriend.  And a girlfriend is always going to suspect that her boyfriend’s mom is judging her.

Of course, Sandra has good reason to not fully trust Krystal.  Boyfriend Killer opens with the death of Sandra’s son, Preston.  Preston, who was handsome and charismatic and had a great life ahead of him, was killed in a car crash and Sandra suspects that it wasn’t an accident.  When Sandra and her friend Carrie (Yancy Butler) are packing up Preston’s things, Krystal suddenly shows up and announces that she wants to help.

From the first minute we meet Krystal, there’s something off about her.  She claims to be sad but her grief is almost too theatrical.  It’s almost as if all she knows about being sad is what she’s seen in the movies.  Add to that, Krystal claims that she and Preston were deeply in love, despite the fact that Preston rarely spoke about her.  Krystal always seems to be sneaking around the house, searching for something.  When Sandra gets near Preston’s computer, Krystal freaks out.  Krystal explains that she and Preston both used that computer so if Sandra touches it, she’ll actually be invading Krystal’s privacy.

Well, what’s a mother to do?

It turns out that things between Preston and Krystal were never as perfect as Krystal claims.  In fact, shortly before his death, Preston had told Krystal that he never wanted to see her again.  Could that have had something to do with the fact that Krystal tried to convince Preston to kill her ex?

Sandra certainly thinks that it might.  However, before Sandra can really pursue her suspicions, she has a funeral to attend, a funeral that Krystal makes all about her.  It turns out that Krystal has an announcement to make, one that catches everyone by surprise…

Boyfriend Killer is a fun melodrama, one that pretty much epitomizes everything that we love about Lifetime movies.  Barbie Castro is relatable and sympathetic as the grieving mother (you really want her to get justice for her son) and Yancy Butler provides good support as her friend.  Kate Mansi, who played a similar role in Unwanted Guest, is a force of nature in the role of Krystal.  Krystal is a familiar Lifetime character — the duplicitous temptress — but Mansi plays the role with such determination and drive that Krystal becomes a wonderfully hissable villain.  Krystal is less defined by the bad things she does than by her total confidence that she’ll never get caught.  You alternate between marveling at how far she’ll go and eagerly anticipating the moment when she gets her comeuppance.

Finally, I have to make special mention of Patrick Muldoon, who plays Sandra’s alcoholic ex-husband.  To a certain group of pop culture fanatics, Muldoon will always be known as Jeff, the handsome college student whose smile and killer dance moves inspired Kelly to dump Zack on Saved By The Bell.  (Hell, I would have dumped Zack for Jeff.  Jeff’s in college, has a great smile, and is a manager at the Maxx.  Zack’s in high school and spends all of his time with Screech.)  And some are always going to think of Muldoon as being the doomed Zander Barclow in Starship Troopers.

However, over the past few years, Patrick Muldoon has given some seriously good performances.  They haven’t gotten the attention that they deserve but he was excellent in both Patient Killer and Deadly Revenge.  And he’s excellent here, playing a well-meaning guy who cannot shake his demons.  It’s a good and poignant performance, one that elevates the film.

One of the great things about Lifetime is that they constantly rebroadcast all of their movies so keep an eye out for Boyfriend Killer!

A Quickie With Lisa Marie: Deadly Ex (dir by Tom Shell)


deadly-ex

On Sunday night, I watched the premiere of Deadly Ex on the Lifetime Movie Network.

In Deadly Ex, Jason Gerhardt plays Gary.  He’s a guy who appears to have a successful life, despite a few regrets.  For instance, he gave up his teenage dream of being a lawyer but he’s still managed to do okay for himself.  He’s married to Jess (Marguerite Moreau) and his two wonderful, teenage children (Sammi Hanratty and Matt Cornet) but domestic bliss has somehow eluded him.  In fact, he’s on the verge of divorce.

How bad is Gary’s marriage?  It’s so bad that he leaves his wife and children behind when he goes to his high school reunion!  However, that also means that he gets to spend some time catching up with his ex-girlfriend, Valerie (Natasha Henstridge).  In turns out that, in high school, Gary wasn’t the best boy friend.  He rather callously dumped Valerie.  But that was a long time ago and Gary’s changed.  He says that he’s sorry and he means it.  Valerie tells him that she forgives him and…

Well, this is a Lifetime film.  And it’s called Deadly Ex.  So you can probably guess that Valerie hasn’t quite forgiven or gotten over Gary.  Instead, Valerie follows Gary back to his hometown.  She enrolls as a student in Jess’s yoga class.  She starts to send gifts to Gary’s house.  And, eventually, she shows up with a knife…

Plotwise, Deadly Ex is typical Lifetime fare but it’s distinguished by two things.  First off, Natasha Henstridge gives a terrific performance as the insanely driven Valerie.  Films like this are only as good as their villains and Henstridge bravely throws herself into her performance.  Marguerite Moreau also does a good job, playing a mother who will take any risk to defend her family.  Secondly, the final confrontation between Valerie and Jess is extremely well-done and director Tom Shell actually keeps you guessing as to how it’s going to end and who is going to survive.

Finally, Deadly Ex manages to tap into a fantasy that I think everyone has.  Who hasn’t wanted to run into their ex and brag about how wonderful their life has been since the break-up?  For that matter, who hasn’t wanted to get a chance to put an ex in his place?  Me, I’d rather do it with a perfectly timed quip than a knife but I guess that’s just me.

(Also, I should mention that, while watching the film, I was able to totally relate to Gary and Jess’s daughter, Carissa, largely because she had perfected the dismissive “whatever” glance that I’ve been employing since I was 13 years old.)

If you’re into Lifetime movies (and who isn’t, really?), Deadly Ex is one to keep an eye out for.

Film Review: From Straight A’s to XXX (dir by Vanessa Parise)


814cfc78-0826-468f-a85f-9be1a395efab

I just finished watching the latest Lifetime original film, From Straight A’s to XXX.

Like many Lifetime films, it’s based on a true story.  In this case, it tells the story of Miriam Weeks (Haley Pullos), who briefly became notorious for paying her tuition to Duke University by appearing in adult films under the name Belle Knox.  Her story became notorious because it touched on almost every important cultural issue of the past twenty years.  Stuffy pundits acted as if Belle Knox was somehow a sign of the collapse of civilization.  The story was regularly held up as a sign that my generation was spoiled and entitled, which was interesting since Miriam wouldn’t have ever made her first movie if college was actually affordable.  That’s one issue that, interestingly enough, was rarely brought up in all the discussions about the Duke porn star.  If students are having to do pornography to pay for college, shouldn’t the question be why it costs so much to get an education?

As for Belle Knox herself, she became a media celebrity.  She was interviewed by people like Piers Morgan and she proved herself to be quite adroit at putting that windbag in his place.  Rather than asking for sympathy, Belle defended herself and asked a very important question: why was the stigma of porn on her, as opposed to the men who watched her?

From Straight A’s to XXX does a good job telling Belle’s story.  Interestingly enough, it actually goes out of its way to be fair and evenhanded.  While the film is on Belle’s side, it doesn’t dismiss those who had concerns about how she was paying her way through college.  While Belle is shown defending herself to the media and explaining how her career has empowered her, the film also makes a point to show that not every porn actress is Belle Knox.  At one convention, she’s confronted by two veteran porn actresses who point out that they work just as hard as she does but, unlike her, they will never be invited to appear on CNN, suggesting that the only reason anyone cares about her or what she thinks is because of the novelty of her being a student at Duke.  And while this may be the most pro-porn film to ever appear on Lifetime, it doesn’t shy away from the dark side of the industry.  Belle’s first job is a genuinely disturbing nightmare of abuse and serves as a valuable warning.  Make sure you know who you’re working with before you show up for the job.  As a producer later explains to Belle, there are professionals and unprofessionals in every industry and porn is no different.

As for Duke University — well, let’s just say that Duke doesn’t come across as looking all that good by the end of From Straight A’s to XXX.  With a few notable exceptions, all of the students are portrayed as being rich snobs.  When Belle’s secret life is discovered, she finds herself harassed by every man on campus.  In one particularly disturbing scene, she returns to her dorm room just to discover that her door has been defaced.  When she tries to sleep, drunk frat boys try to break into her room.  When she reports that she’s being harassed, she gets little help.  Her roommate remains supportive throughout the entire film but otherwise, Duke does not come across well.

From Straight A’s to XXX is well-directed by Vanessa Parise, who has also directed such Lifetime films as Perfect High and The Unauthorized Beverly Hills 90210 Story.  Much like The Unauthorized Beverly Hills 90210 Story, From Straight A’s to XXX is a tribute to a strong woman who was ultimately punished for being stronger than others were comfortable with.  (That From Straight A’s to XXX was written and directed by women goes a long way to keeping potentially salacious material from becoming sordid.)  Haley Pullos is sympathetic as Miriam/Belle and a bearded Judd Nelson does a good job in the role of a porn producer who shows the difference between professionals and unprofessionals in the industry.

Finally, From Straight A’s to XXX ends with Belle becoming a Libertarian activist and that fact alone makes this one of the best Lifetime films of the year so far!  You can’t go wrong with any film that ends with a Libertarian political rally.

Film Review: High School Lover (dir by Jerell Rosales)


james-franco-high-school-lover

So, this is an odd one.

Tonight, I watched the latest Lifetime premiere.  The film was called High School Lover and, in many ways, it was a typical Lifetime film.  As you might guess from the title, it’s tells the story of a teenage girl who defies her overly protective father and enters into a relationship with an older man.  Since it’s never a good idea to defy your parents in a Lifetime film, the older man turns out to be an obsessive psycho, the type who shows up at his ex-girlfriend’s house with a crowbar and demands that she love him.

As I said, typical Lifetime film.  Plotwise, this was almost identical to almost every thriller that Lifetime has premiered on Saturday night.

However, there were a few things that set High School Lover apart from something like Killer Coach.

Number one, the obsessive psycho was a movie star.  That’s right — Christian Booth (Francois Arnaud) is a celebrity.  He’s such a celebrity that, at one point, his teenage girlfriend is upset when she reads an article in US Weekly that claims that Christian is getting back together with his ex.  And yet, for a celebrity who is well-known enough to appear on the cover of US Weekly, it was remarkable just how much Christian was able to do without anyone noticing.  For instance, if Justin Bieber showed up at someone’s house with a crowbar and started breaking all the windows, you can be sure that the paparazzi would be right behind him, taking pictures and shouting out questions.  If Ryan Gosling picked up a teenager in a limo and then flew her around in his own private helicopter, you imagine that it would at least be mentioned on TMZ.  Yet, somehow, superfamous Christian Booth is able to do all of this without anyone noticing.

This leads me to suspect that Christian may not have been human.  Though it’s never specifically stated, I suspect that Christian may have been a vampire, an alien, or a time traveler.  He had to have some sort of mystical power to get away with everything that he did.

Secondly, this film was not only executive produced by James Franco but it also starred Franco as well!  What’s strange is that this wasn’t a parody like A Deadly Adoption or Franco’s previous Lifetime film, the remake of Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?  Instead, this was a totally typical Lifetime movie with James Franco in the role that would usually be played by a former cast member of One Tree Hill.  

And yet, James Franco fit right in.  He gets to flash his winning smile and there’s a scene where he shows off some dance moves that deserves to be put in the Hall of Fame of Fearless Franco Moments.  Watching the film, one gets the feeling that James Franco woke up one day and said to himself, “I want to make some movies for Lifetime just because.”  And that’s what he proceeded to do!  And let’s give some credit where credit is due.  Instead of slumming his way through the film, James Franco gave a good and sincere performance, as did Paulina Singer in the role of his daughter.

Anyway, if it sounds like I’m struggling to be objective when it comes to reviewing this film, you’re right.  I love Lifetime melodrama and, though Arleigh likes to make fun of me for this, I love James Franco too.  And really, that’s the best review that I can give you.  If you like Lifetime movies and/or James Franco, you’ll like High School Lover.

It’s just an odd little movie.  When I get around to writing my study of the career and accomplishments of Mr. James Franco, High School Lover will, at the very least, get a chapter or two.