Lisa Cleans Out Her DVR: Girls Night Out (dir by Philippe Gagnon)

Last night, before I went to bed, I continued to clean out my DVR by watching a Lifetime film, Girls Night Out.  I recorded Girls Night Out off of the Lifetime Movie Network on January 22nd.  It was the earliest recording on my DVR.

Girls Night Out tells the story of McKenzie (MacKenzie Mauzy) and three of her closest friends.  They’ve been close since college.  They were all in the same sorority.  They have a long history laughs, pranks, fun, and barely concealed resentment.  Now, they have all graduated and they’ve all found individual success.  McKenzie is marrying Reese (Cody Ray Thompson), who is nice but kind of boring.

While her friends take McKenzie out to celebrate, Reese runs into a guy at a bar.  Brandon (Jacob Blair) seems nice but he’s not!  In college, Brandon used to date McKenzie.  But, one night, after getting her drunk, Brandon raped McKenzie.  When McKenzie reported him, Brandon was kicked out of school.  He lost all of his friends at his fraternity.  He lost his chance to play in the NFL.  Brandon wants revenge and that revenge starts with kidnapping Reese.

Brandon announces that, unless McKenzie and her friends follow his every order, he will kill Reese.  He divides the four of them into two teams and then has them recreate extreme versions of some of the pranks they played in college.  One team is sent searching for thrown-away food and used condoms.  One team is ordered to sneak into a morgue and kiss a corpse.  One friend has to strip down to her underwear while her teammate writes on her with a marker.  Meanwhile, the other two friends have to go buy crack.  And that’s only the beginning…

Girl’s Night Out is a film that asks, “How far would you go for your friends?”  That’s the question that I found myself wondering as I watched.  I never joined a sorority but, when I was in college, I had a group of friends who were like sisters to me.  I called us the SBS, which stands for Sexy Bitch Squad.  My friend Lea used to call us the BNC, which stood for Big Nose Crew, which I think was her sweet way of trying to make me feel better about my own nose.  But regardless of what we were called, we were and are extremely close.  So, I could definitely relate to the scenes involving the bachelorette party and the male strippers.

But, I asked myself, if someone’s fiancée was being held prisoner and being threatened with murder, would I go to the same lengths as the characters in Girls Night Out?

Probably not.

I mean, seriously — climbing into the dumpster and looking for a used condom?  Ewwww.  Kiss a corpse?  No way!  But, luckily, I know that none of the members of SBS (or the BNC) would ever ask me to.  They know me well enough to know better.  That’s the great thing about friendship.  You don’t have to pretend like you’d wear high heels in a crack house just to keep your friend’s boyfriend from being murdered.  You can be yourself, flaws and all.

As for the rest of Girls Night Out … well, it took it a while but it won me over.  At first, everyone in the film seemed so shallow that I had a hard time imagining how I could ever have any sympathy for them.  But then Brandon showed up and was such a hateful character (and Jacob Blair did such a good job of bringing this loathsome jerk to life) that I found myself really looking forward to seeing him get his comeuppance.  Let’s face it — we’ve all had a Brandon in our lives and our greatest regret is that we never go a chance to witness him getting repeatedly kicked in his genitals.  Knowing that Brandon would eventually get his ass kicked was more than enough to keep me watching the film.

It took a while but seeing Brandon get what he deserved made the film more than worth watchiing.

2016 in Review: The Best of Lifetime

Today, I continue my look back at the year 2016 with the best of Lifetime!  Below, you’ll find my nominations for the best Lifetime films and performances of 2016!  Winners are starred and listed in bold!


Best Picture
Bad Sister, produced by Robert Ballo, Timothy O. Johnson, Rukmani Jones, Ken Sanders
The Cheerleader Murders, produced by Sharon Bordas, Arthur Edmonds III, Hannah Pillemer, Fernando Szew, Jennifer Westin
Girl in the Box, produced by Stephen Kemp, Charles Tremayne, Thomas Vencelides
Inspired to Kill, produced by Johnson Chan, Michael Fiefer, Douglas Howell, Stephanie Rennie, Vincet Reppert, Nathan Schwab, Tammana Shah, Shawn Tira
Manson’s Lost Girls, produced by Nancy Bennett, Kyle A. Clark, Lawrence Ducceschi, Joan Harrison, Jonathan Koch, Stephen Kronish, Steven Michaels, Lina Wong
Mommy’s Little Girl, produced by Tom Berry, Steve Boisvert, Neil Bregman, Cinthia Burke, Christine Conradt, Curtis Crawford, Pierre David, Donald M. Osborne, Andrew E. Pecs
*A Mother’s Escape, produced by Sharon Bordas, Lori Bell Leahy, Michael Leahy, Kristofer McNeeley, Fernando Szew
My Sweet Audrina, produced by Dan Angel, David Calvert-Jones, Harvey Kahn, Kane Lee, Tom Mazza, Mike Rohl, Jane Startz
The Night Stalker, produced by Matthew R. Brady, Patrick G. Ingram, Michel Rangel, Alisa Tager
The Wrong Car, produced by Mark Donadio, Miriam Marcus, Molly Martin, Michael O’Neil

Best Director
Doug Campbell for Bad Sister
Megan Griffiths for The Night Stalker
*Blair Hayes for A Mother’s Escape
David Jackson for The Cheerleader Murders
Leslie Libman for Manson’s Lost Girls
Mike Rohl for My Sweet Audrina

Best Actress
*Tara Buck in A Mother’s Escape
India Eisley in My Sweet Audrina
MacKenzie Mauzy in Manson’s Lost Girls
Alyshia Ochse in Bad Sister
Karissa Lee Staples in Inspired To Kill
Addison Timlin in Girl in the Box

Best Actor
Zane Holtz in Girl in the Box
Lou Diamond Phillips in The Night Stalker
*Eric Roberts in Stalked By My Doctor: The Return
Antonio Sabato, Jr in Inspired To Kill
Jason-Shane Scott in The Wrong Roommate
Jeff Ward in Manson’s Lost Girls

Best Supporting Actress
*Toni Atkins in My Sweet Audrina
Eden Brolin in Manson’s Lost Girls
Zoe De Grande Maison in Pregnant at 17
Beth Grant in A Mother’s Escape
Ryan Newman in Bad Sister
Zelda Williams in Girl in the Box

Best Supporting Actor
Blake Berris in Wrong Swipe
Rogan Christopher in Pregnant at 17
*Rhett Kidd in The Wrong Car
Christian Madsen in Manson’s Lost Girls
William McNamara in The Wrong Roommate
James Tupper in My Sweet Audrina

Best Screenplay
Bad Sister, Barbara Kymlicka
*The Cheerleader Murders, Matt Young
Girl in the Box, Stephen Kemp
Mommy’s Little Girl, Christine Conradt
A Mother’s Escape, Mike Bencivenga, Blair Hayes, Kristofer McNeeley
My Sweet Audrina, Scarlett Lacey

Best Cinematography
The Cheerleader Murders, Denis Maloney
Mommy’s Little Girl, Bill St. John
*A Mother’s Escape, Samuel Calvin
My Sweet Audrina, James Liston
The Night Stalker, Quyen Tran
The Wrong Car, Terrence Hayes

Best Costuming
Girl in the Box, Barb Cardoso, Tania Pedro
Manson’s Lost Girls, Dorothy Amos
*My Sweet Audrina, Farnaz Khaki-Sadigh
The Night Stalker, Rebecca Luke
The Red Dress, Sophie Pace
Toni Braxton: Unbreak My Heart, Mary McLeod

Best Editing
The Cheerleader Murders, Eric Potter
Girl in the Box, Julian Hart
Manson’s Lost Girls, Josh Hegard
*A Mother’s Escape, Travis Graalman
My Sweet Audrina, Charles Robichaud
The Night Stalker, Celia Beasley

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Girl in the Box, Claudia Breckenridge, Jen Fisher, Oriana Rossi, Alex Rotundo, Collette Tolen
Killing Mommy, Cinthia Burke, Christie Capustinsky, Kevin Crawley, Kirsten Fairfield, Margaret Harding-Crawley, Corey J. Stone
*Manson’s Lost Girls, Jenni Brown Greenberg, Randi Mavestrand, Kelly Muldoon, Natalie Thimm
A Mother’s Escape, Jenny Hausam, Toni Mario
My Sweet Audrina, Alannah Bilodeau
Toni Braxton: Unbreak My Heart, Tara Hadden-Watts, Alexandra Holmes

Best Original Score
911 Nightmare, David Findlay
*The Cheerleader Murders, Cladue Foisy
Inspired To Kill, Brandon Jarrett
A Mother’s Escape, Todd Haberman
My Sweet Audrina, Graeme Coleman
The Wrong Car, Ed Grenga

Best Production Design
Bad Sister, Lia Burton, Danielle Lee
Girl in the Box, Andrew Berry, Jere Sallee
*Manson’s Lost Girls, Cynthia E. Hill, Linda Spheeris
A Mother’s Escape, Zackary Steven Graham
My Sweet Audrina, Tink, Janessa Hitsman
Toni Braxton: Unbreak My Heart, James Robbins, Courtney Stockstad, Amanda Christmas

Best Sound
*Center Stage: On Pointe
The Cheerleader Murders
Honeymoon from Hell
I Have Your Children
Inspired to Kill
Toni Braxton: Unreak My Heart

Best Visual Effects
Final Destiny
House of Darkness
The Inherited
Little Girl’s Secret
The Watcher

Congratulations to all the nominees and thank you for keeping us entertained in 2016!

Want to see my picks for the best of Lifetime in 2015?  Click here!

And if you want to see my picks from 2014, click here!

Tomorrow, I’ll continue my look back at 2016 with the 16 worst films of the year!

Previous Entries In The Best of 2016:

  1. TFG’s 2016 Comics Year In Review : Top Tens, Worsts, And Everything In Between
  2. Anime of the Year: 2016
  3. 25 Best, Worst, and Gems I Saw In 2016
  4. 2016 in Review: The Best of SyFy

Lifetime Movie Review: Manson’s Lost Girls (dir by Leslie Libman)


I know way too much about the crimes of Charles Manson.

I realized that, earlier tonight, as I watched the latest Lifetime original film, Manson’s Lost Girls.  It was one of the better films that I’ve recently seen on Lifetime and it was certainly superior to NBC’s Aquarius, the TV show that tried to turn Manson into some sort of sexy anti-hero.  (Memo to NBC:  Walter White was a great anti-hero.  Charles Manson was just a grubby little serial killer.)  Manson’s Lost Girls was well-acted and it did a fairly good job of portraying the 60s without falling back on too many of the usual clichés (at no point was White Rabbit heard on the soundtrack), and it also did a pretty good job of portraying how certain lost people can be brainwashed by one cunning sociopath.

Yet, with all that in mind, I found myself watching the film and thinking, Where is Bruce Davis?  Where’s Clem Grogan?  What about Catherine Share, whose parents were both members of the resistance during the Nazi occupation of Germany just for their daughter to end up a brainwashed member of Manson’s Family?”  For whatever reason, the Family portrayed in Manson’s Lost Girls was considerably smaller than the real-life Family and seriously, how disturbing is that?  I mean, the 10-member cult in Mason’s Lost Girls was bad enough but, in real life, there were even more of them!  How disturbing is that!?  But, in retrospect, it’s even more disturbing that I knew enough about the Family to know that Bruce Davis, Clem Grogan, and Catherine Share were all missing from the film.

(Actually, I just looked at the credits on the imdb and I saw that Diana Irvine is credited as playing Catherine.  So, perhaps Catherine Share was included as a character and I just didn’t notice.)

When I was 16, I took a sociology class in high school.  One of the class assignments was to do a report on a subculture.  I did my report on vampires and the less said about that the better.  However, the hot and troubled guy who sat in front of me did his report on the Manson Family.  As a part of his report, he handed out a little booklet that had pictures of all the Family members in it.  I can remember looking through those pictures and thinking that Charles Manson looked scary and that Tex Watson was kind of hot, in a rebellious son of an evangelical preacher sort of way.  (Tex Watson spent a semester at North Texas State University.  Four decades later, I went to NTSU — or UNT as its now called.  Around the campus, you can find pictures of famous former students like Joe Don Baker, Peter Weller, Pat Boone, and Roy Orbison.  For obvious reasons, you will never find a picture of Charles “Tex” Watson.)  But, as I listened to the details of Manson’s crimes and his belief that the Beatles were sending him secret messages and that those messages justified murder, I found myself wondering how any of the fresh-faced people in those pictures could have possibly believed a word that Manson said.  It just seemed so weird and …. stupid.

(By the end of the presentation, Tex Watson no longer looked hot.)

And I have to admit that I was a bit intrigued by it all.  It wasn’t that I had any sympathy for those murderers.  But I found myself wondering how they could have done what they did.  I wondered how so many different people from different background could come together and all buy into the same stupid bullshit.  Though I didn’t realize it at the time, I was struggling to understand the very nature of evil.  To most people, it was easy enough to say that Manson and his followers were evil but I wanted to know how they had become evil.  I wanted to understand why and, though I may not have wanted to admit it, I wanted to make sure that I never woke up to discover that I had made the same mistake of surrendering my free will to a some nut just because he was able to look at me and tell that I had issues with my father.

By telling the story of Linda Kasabian (played quite well by MacKenzie Mauzy), Manson’s Lost Girls attempts to answer that question.  Linda was a young mother who, after her drug dealing husband deserted her, found herself living on the Spahn Movie Ranch with Manson and the Family.  Linda spent a month with Manson.  At first, she felt as if she had a found a new home and a new family but soon, things started to unravel.  In hopes of bringing about a race war (and also looking for vengeance over his own failure to become a rock star), Manson ordered his followers to commit murder.  Linda witnessed the tragic and brutal murder of actress Sharon Tate and her friends.  After the murders, Linda fled the Family and she would later serve as the prosecution’s star witness in Manson’s murder trial.

Manson’s Lost Girls is told almost totally from Linda’s point of view.  It’s through her that we are introduced to Manson and his Family.  The film doesn’t quite succeed in giving us a definitive answer as to how Manson could get people to kill for him but, then again, there may not be a definitive answer.  Fortunately, Manson’s Lost Girls does provide hints.  In her narration, Linda emphasizes that Manson kept everyone perpetually wasted.  But, even more importantly, the film highlights that, for these brainwashed future murderers, the Family truly was a family.  They were lost.  They were rejected by conventional society.  And when they met Manson, they were given a chance to belong.  The film suggests that need to belong and to be a part of something greater than what they had left all the members of the Family vulnerable to Charlie’s manipulations.

Manson was played by Jeff Ward, who did a pretty good job in the role.  Wisely, the film didn’t overplay Manson’s charisma or attempt to turn him into some sort of supervillain.  (In short, it didn’t make the same mistake as Aquarius.)  Instead, it portrayed him as what he probably was — a grubby hustler with a massive chip on his shoulder.  As played by Ward, Manson is less a messiah and more an extremely lucky con artist.  Manson’s Lost Girls deserves credit for portraying Manson without a hint of glamour.

The film suggests that Manson’s rampage was largely motivated by his bitterness over not being able to get a record contract.  As I watched, I found myself what would have happened if Manson had gotten that contract.  Would he now be remembered as one of those obscure musicians from the 60s and 70s whose later career was made up of performing at fairs and cheap clubs?  Or, if he had found success, would he have eventually ended up as a mentor on an early episode of American Idol?

Far more importantly, I found myself wondering what the future would have held for his most famous victim, Sharon Tate?  Sharon gave a such good performance in Valley of the Dolls, one that suggested she was capable of a lot more than she had been given credit for.  Would she have continued to grow and develop as an actress?  And what of her unborn son?  If not for Manson and his followers, Paul Polanski would now be 46 years old.

Manson’s Lost Girls does not linger on the murders.  They largely happen off-screen and, for that, I’m thankful.  But, at the same time, it never shies away from the real-life tragedy of Manson’s crimes.  And, even if the film did not have all the answers, it did remind us why the questions must be asked.  In the end, Manson’s Lost Girls reminds us of what evil can come from surrendering our independence and our free will.

It’s a film that reminds us that no matter how lost we may be, we must always be careful about those who claim to have found us.  Instead of waiting for others to find us, we must find ourselves.


Film Review: Into the Woods (dir by Rob Marshall)

I had such a mixed reaction to Into the Woods, the latest Rob Marshall-directed musical adaptation, that it’s hard to really know how to start my review, let alone how to conclude it.

So, I’ll start by answering the most important question that you probably have about this film.  I think sometimes that film snobs like me tend to forget that, for most people, it’s just a question of whether or not the film is worth the time, effort, and money that it will take to sit through it.  In other words, having seen Into the Woods, do I recommend it?

Yes, I do.  Well, kind of anyway.  As I said before, it’s complicated.  But, for the most part, I enjoyed Into the Woods.  The audience that I saw it with (and the theater was absolutely packed) seemed to really love the film and there was even a smattering of applause at the end of it.  Into the Woods is a crowd-pleaser.  It’s a well-made film.  It’s perfectly cast.  It’s full of funny moments.  The costumes are absolutely to die for.  (I’m totally in love with the gown that Anna Kendrick gets to wear to the ball.)  Meryl Streep will probably get an Oscar nomination.  Chris Pine deserves to be given a lot more awards consideration than he’s received.  It’s such a good film and yet…

And yet, I never loved Into the Woods like I thought I would.  I watched it and I kept thinking about how much I, of all people, should have loved this film.  I love musicals.  I love spectacle.  I love fairy tales.  I love revisionism.  I love satire.  I love handsome, charming men, like the one played by Chris Pine.  In a perfect world, Anna Kendrick would be my best friend and we’d spend all of our time going to wine tastings and watching Lifetime movies.  Into the Woods was full of everything that I should have loved and the final song actually brought tears to my mismatched eyes but I never quite came to love the film.  Something was just off.

Before I go any further, I should admit that my reaction may have been influenced by outside factors.  On the one hand, all of the Bowman girls are together right now for the holidays and I loved the fact that, as I watched Into the Woods, I was watching it with my sisters and all four of us were sharing in the experience.  Really, that’s the ideal way to watch something like Into The Woods.  This is the type of movie that was specifically made to be watched and appreciated by large groups, preferably made up of people who understand and appreciate the conventions of musical theater.

On the other hand, we had the most obnoxious woman ever sitting directly behind us.  She laughed through the entire film, regardless of whether anything funny was happening on screen or not.  (The film features a lot of comedy but it grows progressively darker with each passing minute.)  It wasn’t just that she wouldn’t stop laughing as much as it was that her laugh was so insincere.  You could tell that she was laughing because she wanted everyone to be impressed with the fact that she “got” the film.  But ultimately, all she did was get on everyone’s nerves with her inability to understand that we weren’t there to listen to her dry heave of a laugh.  We were there because we wanted to see Into the Woods.  The experience was not meant to be about her.  It was about the movie.

As for what the film is about, it’s an adaptation of the famous Stephen Sondheim musical in which the Baker (James Corben) and the Baker’s Wife (Emily Blunt) attempt to break the spell of a not-quite-evil-but-definitely-bad-tempered witch (Meryl Streep).  By bringing the witch several things (the majority of which can be found in the woods that sit right outside their village), they can lift the curse that has made it impossible for the Baker’s Wife to get pregnant.  Along the way, they run into everyone from the witch’s daughter, Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy) to Jack the Giant Slayer (Daniel Huttlestone) to Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) to the Big Bad Wolf (Johnny Deep, playing up the sexual subtext of the story of Little Red Riding Hood) to not one but two charming princes (played by Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen)!  Into the Woods starts by poking gentle fun at the fairy tales of old and then gets darker and darker until, by the end of the film, only a few characters are left alive.

It’s a great idea and it’s gorgeously executed but yet the film itself never quite makes the transition from being good to being great.  Towards the end of the musical, the surviving characters sing about missing their loved ones and it brought tears to my eyes but that was one of the few moments when the film itself actually made an emotional connection.  Otherwise, I spent a lot of time feeling curiously detached from what was happening on screen.

Thinking about Into The Woods, it’s hard not to compare it to 2012’s version of Les Miserables.  In Les Miserables, all of the songs were recorded live on set.  And, for all the unfair criticism that Russell Crowe received for his singing, this brought a definite raw power and immediacy to the entire production.  What some of the actors may have lacked in conventional singing ability, they made up for with the sheer power of their performances.  In Into The Woods, the majority of the songs were pre-recorded.  Everyone sounds almost too perfect.  There’s none of the vitality or danger that came with Les Miserables or even Rob Marshall’s previous musical, Nine.

(As far as casting, direction, and almost everything else is concerned, Into The Woods is a hundred times better than Nine but it still never manages to produce a moment as vibrantly silly and memorable as Kate Hudson’s performance of Cinema Italiano.)

Into the Woods does have a uniformly excellent cast.  Everyone — even the much-criticized Johnny Depp — does a wonderful job with their role.  Meryl Streep has been getting all of the awards-consideration, largely because she’s Meryl Streep and, if she could get a nomination for giving that performance in August: Osage County, then she can probably get a nomination for anything.  (And don’t get me wrong — Meryl’s great and all but there’s still a part of me that would have loved to have seen what a less self-enamored performer — like Marion Cotillard or Helen Mirren — could have done with the role of the Witch.)  But, to me, the film’s best two performances really came from Anna Kendrick and Chris Pine.  Whether pausing to strike a heroic pose or casually trying to seduce a woman who he meets in the woods or explaining that he’s been raised to be charming and not sincere, Chris Pine is never less than outstanding.

So, to get back to the only question that really matters, did I like Into The Woods?  I did but I did not love it, which is unfortunate because I really wanted to love it.

However, overall, I recommend Into The Woods.

Just don’t watch it alone.

Or with anyone who has an annoying laugh.