Film Review: The Divide (dir by Xavier Gens)


It seems like whenever there’s any sort of disaster, people are advised to seek shelter.  Often, if the disaster is national news, people are told to take shelter in their basement, as if everyone in the world has a basement.  This is a bit of a pet peeve of mine because I live in North Texas, where the land is completely flat and no one has a basement, a cellar, or any other sort of underground shelter.  (We also don’t have mud rooms and, in fact, I’m not even sure what a mud room is.)

That said, there’s a part of me that’s glad that it would be impossible for me to take shelter because, from what I’ve seen in the movies, it appears that spending months in a shelter can actually be worse than dying in a disaster.

Take the 2011 film, The Divide, for instance.

The Divide opens with several people watching while a mushroom cloud blooms over New York City.  Eight of those people all end up taking shelter in the same basement.  While that means that they don’t get incinerated by the nuclear blast, it also means that they now have to figure out how to live together.  That’s not going to be easy because it doesn’t take long to realize that none of these people should be anywhere near each other.

For instance, there’s Mickey (Michael Biehn).  Mickey’s the one who built the shelter.  He says that he specifically built it so that, in case of a nuclear war or a terrorist attack, he could safely sit underground and laugh at everyone dying above him.  That’s not a nice sentiment but Mickey is played by Michael Biehn so he’s still one of the more likable characters in the film.

There’s Josh (Milo Ventimiglia) and his brother Adrien (Ashton Holmes) and their friend Bobby (Michael Eklund), three idiots who are clearly destined to end up going crazy before the ordeal is over.

There’s Eva (Lauren German) and her boyfriend, Sam (Ivan Gonzalez), who are both obviously destined to be the voices of reason to which no one is going to listen.

And then there’s Marilyn (Rosanna Arquette) and her daughter (Abby Thickson), who are there because it’s not a shelter-movie without a child being put in jeopardy.

Lastly, there’s Devlin (Courtney B. Vance), who is there to be the older authority figure who ultimately fails to exercise much authority.

After an effectively chilling scene where the basement is briefly invaded by some mysterious men in Hazmat suits, The Divide settles down to be a fairly predictable and, to be honest, rather unpleasant examination of a group people going crazy from the stress of being trapped together.  It may seem odd to complain that a film about the aftermath of a nuclear apocalypse was unpleasant and I guess it is.  But The Divide runs a little over two hours and it’s so relentlessly bleak and everyone is ultimately so nasty that it becomes a bit of a chore to sit through.  By the time the torture scenes begin, The Divide has slipped into Hostel territory and it’s hard not to feel that the film is being grotesque simply for the sake of being grotesque.

That said, the film does have its strength.  The shelter is an effectively claustrophobic location and Michael Biehn does what he can with the role of Mickey.  When some of the characters end up getting radiation sickness, it creates some effectively scary visuals.  I mean, if you ever thought it would be cool to poison yourself with radiation, this film will change your mind.  That’s a good thing, I suppose.

The Divide is a very long movie about some very unpleasant people in an even more unpleasant situation.  It’s well-made but not particularly entertaining to watch.  In the end, it’s easy to feel that everyone would have been better off just staying above ground and getting it over with.

Film Review: The Ride (dir by Michael O. Sajbel)


“Do you own a horse?”

Because I was born and live in Texas, a friend of mine used to ask me that constantly.  His assumption was that everyone in Texas wore a cowboy hat and rode a horse to work.  That, of course, is not true.  I imagine that you’re more likely to see people on horseback in Central Park than you are in downtown Dallas.  As well, for the most part, if you see anyone wandering around Dallas wearing a cowboy hat and cowboy boots, chances are that they’re from up north.  Northerners love to come down to Dallas and see where Kennedy was shot and ask if everything really is bigger in Texas.  It gets annoying after a while.  Of course, I’d by lying if I said that there weren’t any cowboys in Texas.  And yes, there are people down here who own horses.  We’ve got our ranchers and our oilmen and our farmers.  We just don’t have as many as people up in Minnesota seem to assume that we do.

And, to be honest, I’ve known a few cowboys.  If you dig around my family tree, you’ll find a few people who have worked the rodeo circuit.  For the most part, the cowboys I’ve known have been a proud group of people.  They’re not really emotional and they might not spend much time on twitter but you can depend on them to get the job done without a lot of crying and that’s always kind of a nice thing.

As an actor, Michael Biehn has always seemed uniquely right for cowboy roles.  He’s a low-key actor who doesn’t feel the need to always be the center of attention and who does his job with a minimum amount of fuss.  What he does, he does well.  Much like the best cowboys, an actor like Michael Biehn often gets taken for granted.  Viewers just always assume that he’ll always be there, delivering laconic one-liners and viewing the world through weary but never defeated eyes.

Michael Biehn plays a cowboy in the 1997 film, The Ride.  His name is Smokey Banks and he’s the type of character who, if you’ve ever spent any time at a rodeo, you’ll recognize immediately.  He used to be one of the world’s greatest bull riders but now, he’s getting older.  He still walks like a cowboy but he’s definitely moving a bit slower than he used to.  He drinks too much.  He spends too much time with the buckle bunnies.  He’s like a downbeat country song come to life.

But fear not …. redemption is coming for Smokey.  And, like all good redemption arcs, it all starts with being sentenced to community service.  Smokey can either go to jail or he can go to a ranch and teach a bunch of boys how to be a cowboy.  Along the way, he befriends a terminally ill, religious young man (Brock Pierce) who wants to learn how to ride a bull and he also ends up spending some time at a tent revival.  Yes, it’s a religious film but, fortunately, it was made before the whole God’s Not Dead phenomenon so it never gets as preachy or apocalyptic as some other faith-based films.  One gets the feeling that Smokey would find Kirk Cameron to be as annoying as the rest of us do.

It’s a sweet film.  I mean, it’s not a movie that’s going to surprise you.  It’s unapologetic about being sentimental but, at the same time, it’s such a good-natured film that it’s hard to really dislike it.  Michael Biehn grounds the film with his typically low-key charm.  Biehn turns Smokey into a real person and, as much as you might try to resist, it’s hard not to get swept up in his emotional journey.  Considering that the film’s audience was probably limited to kids and church groups, Biehn easily could have gotten away with just phoning in his performance.  That’s the sign of a good actor, though.  Like the best cowboys, they’re good even when they don’t have to be.

A Movie A Day #199: Timebomb (1991, directed by Avi Nesher)


Recall Total Recall?

If you do, Timebomb will seem very familiar.

Michael Biehn is a mild-mannered watchmaker who surprises himself when he fearlessly rushes into a burning building and saves a mother and her baby.  After he shows up on the evening news and is hailed as being a hero, he is attacked by an assassin (martial arts legend Billy Blanks) and discovers that he instinctively know how to defend himself.  When he starts having disturbing nightmares and strange flashbacks, he sees a psychiatrist (Patsy Kensit).  They discover that Biehn’s problems go back to when he was a part of a military brainwashing experiment.  The man behind the experiment (Richard Jordan) now wants Biehn dead.  Pursued by another brainwashed assassin (Tracy Scoggins), Biehn and Kensit go on the run.

Like many action movies from the early 90s, Timebomb has an extremely cool premise but lacks the budget necessary to make the most of it.  After a good start and some surreal moments (including a scene where Biehn and Kensit visit the lab where Biehn was “created”), Timebomb ends up just being another shoot ’em up.

Luckily, Timebomb has a really good cast.  Richard Jordan is an effective villain and old pro Robert Culp has a small role as one of Jordan’s collaborators.  The always underrated Michael Biehn is a great hero, precisely because he’s not some huge, indestructible guy.  He’s not Stallone or Schwarzenegger or even Jean-Claude Van Damme.  (Timebomb was originally envisioned as a Van Damme vehicle.)  In Timebomb, Michael Biehn is the everyman action hero.  Plus, any movie that features Tracy Scoggins as a gun-toting assassin is going to be worth watching.

A Movie A Day #118: Navy SEALs (1990, directed by Lewis Teague)


While rescuing hostages in the Middle East, a team of Navy SEALs discover that terrorist leader Ben Shaheed (Nicholas Kadi) has a warehouse full of stinger missiles.  Hawkins (Charlie Sheen) wants to destroy the missiles but his superior, Curran (Michael Biehn), orders him to concentrate on saving the hostages.  As a result, Shaheed has time to move the missiles to another location.  With the help of a Lebanese-American journalist (Joanne Whalley-Kilmer) and the CIA, the SEALs must now track down the new location and destroy the missiles before they are used by Shaheed’s organization.

Navy SEALs is mostly memorable for the amount of James Cameron alumni who appear in its cast.  The cast not only features The Terminator‘s Michael Biehn and Rick Rossovich but Bill Paxton as well.  Of course, the main star is Charlie Sheen, still technically a serious actor at the time, who gives a wide-eyed and histrionic performance that suggests Hawkins may have snorted a little marching powder before reporting for duty.  24‘s Dennis Haysbert plays a SEAL who is engaged to marry Law & Order‘s S. Epatha Merkerson.  Haysbert spends so much time planning his wedding and talking about both the importance of both duty and love that the only shocking thing about his role is that he manages to survive half the movie before getting killed.  Neither Val Kilmer nor Cary Elwes is in the cast, though it seems like they both should be.

Navy SEALs was a box office bust in 1990 but, after the death of Osama Bin Laden, it experienced a sudden upswing in popularity and even appeared on primetime television a few times.  The scene where the SEALs blow off some steam by playing golf is a classic but, otherwise, this is a largely forgettable Top Gun rip off.

Back to School Part II #10: Grease (dir by Randal Kleiser)


Grease_ver2

When it comes to reviewing Grease on this site, the film and I have a long and twisted history.  There have been several times when I was tempted to review Grease but one thing has always stopped me:

I absolutely hate this film.

Grease is one of my least favorite films and, to be honest, just thinking about it causes me pain.  Just about everyone that I know loves Grease.  They love the songs.  They love the music.  They love the performances.  They want to see it on stage.  They want to see it on the big screen.  They watch every time it pops up on AMC.

Growing up as a theater nerd means being surrounded by people who love Grease.  I cannot begin to count the number of times that I forced to watch this movie in school.  So many theater teachers seemed to feel that showing Grease in class was some sort of reward but, for me, it was pure torture.  And the fact that I was usually the only one who disliked the film made the experience all the more unbearable.

Back in 2014, when I was doing the first set of Back To School reviews, I was planning on reviewing Grease.  But I just could not bring myself to voluntarily relive the film.  Instead of putting myself through that misery, I decided to watch and review Rock ‘n’ Roll High School instead.  It was the right decision and I stand by it.

Jump forward two years and here I am doing Back to School again.  And again, for some reason, I had put Grease down as a film to review.  It’s just a movie, right?  And yet, after I finished writing my excellent review of Animal House, I again found myself dreading the idea of having to even think about Grease.

So, I said, “Fuck this,” and I promptly erased Grease from the list and I replaced it with Skatetown USA.  Then I watched Skatetown and I’m glad that I did because that was an experience that I can’t wait to write about!  And yet, I still had this nagging voice in the back of my mind.

“You’re going to have to review Grease at some point,” it said, “If not now, when?”

The voice had a point.  However, I was soon reminded that there was an even more important reason to review Grease.  A little further down on my list of Back to School films to review was a little film called Grease 2.  How could I possibly review Grease 2 if I hadn’t already reviewed Grease?  My OCD would not allow it!

And so, here I am, reviewing Grease.

Grease, of course, is a musical about teenagers in 1958.  Danny (John Travolta) is in love with Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) and Sandy is in love with Danny.  But Danny’s a greaser and Sandy’s Australian!  Will they be able to work it out, despite coming from different worlds?  Of course they will!  Danny’s willing to dress up like a jock in order to impress Sandy while Sandy’s willing to wear black leather to impress Danny!  Yay!  They go together!  And they’ve got a flying car, too!  YAY!

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And then Satan arrived…

Of course, there’s other subplots as well.  For instance, Frenchy (Didi Conn) nearly drops out of school but she’s visited by Satan (Frankie Avalon) and he manages to change her mind.  And Rizzo (Stockard Channing) might be pregnant because Kenickie (Jeff Conaway) hasn’t bought any new condoms since the 8th grade.  Comparing the sensitive way that teen pregnancy was handled on a show like Degrassi: The Next Generation with the way it’s handled in Grease is enough to make you want to sing “O Canada” every day for the rest of your life.

Here’s what I do like about Grease: Stockard Channing is great as Rizzo, though it’s hard not to feel that she deserves better than a doofus boyfriend like Kenickie and a boring bestie like Sandy.  I also like You’re The One That I Want.  That’s a fun song.

But as for the rest of the movie … BLEH!  I mean, it is so BORING!  It takes them forever to get to You’re The One That I Want.  Olivia Newton-John is so wholesome that she literally makes you want to tear your hair out while John Travolta pretty much acts on auto pilot.  As for the supporting cast, most of them appeared in the stage production of Grease and they still seem to be giving stage performances as opposed to film performances.  They’re still projecting their lines to the back of the house.  Worst of all, it’s obvious that director Randal Kleiser had no idea how to film a musical because the dance numbers are so ineptly staged and framed that, half the time, you can’t even see what anyone’s doing with their feet.  If you can’t see the feet, it defeats the whole purpose of having an elaborate dance number in the first place!

So, no, I don’t like Grease.

Sorry, everyone.

However, I’m sure I’ll enjoy Grease 2….

Love you, Canada!

Love you, Canada!

The Things You Find On Netflix: The Scorpion King 4: Quest For Power (dir by Mike Elliott)


Believe it or not, The Scorpion King 4: Quest For Power is a historical footnote.  It is the first 2015 release to be available for viewing on Netflix streaming!  That’s because The Scorpion King 4 was a straight-to-video release and Universal Pictures doesn’t seem to have much faith in the film’s commercial prospects.  In fact, if not for my love of historical footnotes, I probably would never have even watched the film.

But I did watch it, mostly because I didn’t like the idea of The Woman In Black 2 being the only 2015 films that I had seen up to that point.

And you know what?

The Scorpion King 4 is cheap, silly, and often times impossible to follow.  But, when taken on its own terms, it’s also a lot of fun.  At the very least, it’s more entertaining than The Woman In Black 2.

Scorpion-King-4

As for what the film is about … well, that’s a good question.  To be honest, I’ve never seen any of the previous Scorpion King films.  I know from Wikipedia that the character was spun-off from Brendan Fraser’s old Mummy film and, while I’ve seen bits and pieces of it on cable over the years, I’ve never actually sat through that entire movie.  However, I do know that the Mummy was Egyptian and apparently, so was the Scorpion King.

So, you would assume that Scorpion King 4 would take place in ancient Egypt.  And indeed, the opening scene is set in the desert and involves the Scorpion King, also known as Mathayus (Victor Webster), and his partner Drazen (Will Kemp) storming a fortress that feels vaguely Egyptian.  After a lengthy battle, Mathayus and Drazen steal an urn that is covered with hieroglyphics.  However, Drazen double crosses Mathayus and takes the urn for himself.

Okay, I thought, we’re obviously in Egypt.

Except, of course, in the very next scene, Mathayus meets with his employer, King Zakour (Rutger Hauer).  King Zakour explains that Drazen is the son of a rival king (played by Michael Biehn, who makes little effort to hide his Southern accent).  Zakour also explains that the urn hides mystical secrets that, if deciphered, could allow Drazen to conquer the world.  Zakour sends Mathays to the rival kingdom, ordering him to deliver a peace treaty.

And, while Zakour delivers all of this exposition, it’s hard not to notice that he appears to live in an ancient Roman villa and he has a rather cheap-looking crown perched on his head.

Okay, I thought, the film has moved to the Roman Empire but at least I know we’re still in ancient times…

Except then Mathayus rides his camel into the rival kingdom and it turns out to look a like the set from a community theater production of Spamalot.  As soon as Mathayus arrives, he is captured by Drazen’s men and ends up in a jail cell next to Valina (Ellen Holman), a revolutionary who is wearing a green, prison bikini top.  After Mathays is framed for the king’s death, he and Valina escape from the prison and run into the wilderness, where Valina changes into a battle-worthy bikini top.

They reach the house of Valina’s father (Barry Bostwick) and it turns out to be a Dutch windmill!  So, within the first 30 minutes of the film, we’ve gone from ancient Egypt to the Roman Empire to a medieval village in England to Renaissance Netherlands.  Eventually, our characters will end up in another village, one that happens to feature a temple that looks a lot like a left over set from Hercules in the Haunted World…

What’s surprising is that the film’s refusal to settle on a definite setting or time period is actually oddly charming.  As soon as that windmill showed up and a feather-covered Barry Bostwick flew across screen (Bostwick is an inventor who has filled the windmill with blueprints for cars and airplanes), I knew that this was a film that was at peace with being a mess.  And you had to respect the film’s no apologies attitude towards being incoherent.

Trying to keep up with the plot is exhausting so I suggest that, if you should find yourself watching The Scorpion King 4, you ignore the plot.  The best thing about The Scorpion King 4 is that it doesn’t take itself all that seriously.  All of the dialogue is either intentionally melodramatic or anachronistically humorous and all of the actors seem to be having fun going over the top.  Some of the fight scenes are exciting, some of the scenery is pretty, and some parts of the film are better than others.

In the end, The Scorpion King 4 is pretty forgettable.  But it’s still better than The Woman In Black 2.

Scorpion King, The Lost Throne

Back to School #20: Coach (dir by Bud Townsend)


Just from watching the trailer above, you probably think that the 1978 film Coach is just your standard high school sports film.  And, in many ways, it is.  But, since it was made in the 70s, things still get a little bit weird.  Before proceeding, I should probably point out that Coach (like the similar The Teacher) was produced by Crown International Pictures.  But you probably already guessed that.

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An exclusive California high school has a problem.  The boy’s basketball team is having a terrible season.  The most powerful man in town, F.R. Granger (Keenan Wynn), demands a change!  (You can tell that Granger is powerful because he goes by his initials.)  After ordering the hapless basketball coach to resign, Granger and the school board hire Randy Rawlings to replace him.  Oddly enough, they don’t actually interview Randy for the job or attempt to meet Randy ahead of time.  They just know that Randy is a former Olympian and are overjoyed when Randy accepts the job.

On Randy’s first day on the job, everyone is shocked to discover that Randy Rawlings is — GASP — a woman!  Now, I’ll admit that this film is a little bit before my time and the world was probably a lot different back in the 70s but, as an Olympic medalist, wouldn’t Randy be a bit of a celebrity?  And would anyone as obsessed with winning as F.R. Granger actually hire a coach sight unseen?  Anyway, F.R. is none too happy to discover that Randy (Cathy Lee Crosby) is a woman and tries to fire her on the spot.  Sorry, F.R. — can’t be done.  As Randy points out, F.R. needs cause to fire her.

After forcing them to all take a cold shower and then coaching them to a few victories, Randy wins over the team.  She also starts sleeping with one of her players (played by a very young and handsome Michael Biehn) and this is where the movie gets weird.  I kept expecting this affair to be discovered and used by F.R. as an excuse to fire Randy.  Because, after all, why would any film feature a rather creepy subplot about a teacher sleeping with a student unless it was somehow going to pay off in the end?  But instead, the affair just sort of happens and never really ties back into the main plot of whether or not Randy will be able to coach the team to having a winning season.

coach

Now, I know you’re probably thinking to yourself, “What would the great Russian writer Anton Chekhov think about this?”  Well, here’s an exact quote from Mr. Chekhov:

“Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”

In other words, Coach was definitely not written by Anton Chekhov.

Anton Chekhov ponders the narrative failings of Coach

Anton Chekhov ponders the narrative failings of Coach

 

What Lisa and Evelyn Watched Last Night #65: Megiddo: The Omega Code 2 (dir by Brian Trenchard-Smith)


Last night, after we finished watching the first episode of the new season of American Idol, my bff Evelyn and I watched Megiddo: The Omega Code 2, an evangelical apocalypse film from 2001.

Why Were We Watching It?

Considering that I’m an occasionally agnostic Irish Catholic and Evelyn describes herself as being a “Jewish atheist,” and that Megiddo: The Omega Code 2 is a film about Armageddon told from an evangelical point of view, I think the real question is how could we not watch it?  I mean, seriously.

Along with that, of course, Evelyn and I both wanted to watch something that nobody would ever expect either one of us to ever watch.

What Was It About?

Stone Alexander (Michael York) is President of the European Union and is promoting a plan that he claims will solve all of the world’s problems.  His younger brother, David Alexander (Michael Biehn) is vice president of the United States and wants to keep America from turning into Europe.  David is also in love with Stone’s wife (Diane Venora).  And, of course, Stone is actually the Antichrist while David is Michael Biehn.

Anyway, Stone uses his magic devil powers to cause President Benson (R. Lee Ermey) to die of a heart attack and David becomes President.  David, however, refuses to join Stone’s “new world order” so Stone frames David for the murder of their father.  David goes into hiding with a few loyal American soldiers while Stone makes plans to launch a military strike against Jerusalem.

It all, of course, leads to a huge battle between the forces of Hell and the combined armies of Spain and China (no, really).  David finally gets his chance to confront his brother, many prayers are said, and, eventually, a CGI demon pops up and creates a lot of CGI mayhem.

What Worked?

Evelyn claims that nothing worked in this film but I disagree just slightly.  First off, and most importantly, Franco Nero is in this film!  He plays Stone’s father-in-law and, while he may no longer be the dashing Lancelot from Camelot, Franco Nero is still aging pretty damn well.

Udo Kier is in the film too.  Seriously, Udo Kier pops up in the strangest places.

Michael York is a lot of fun as the wonderfully evil Stone Alexander. York’s performance here makes his delivery of the line, “YOU CAN LIVE!  LIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIVE!” at the end of Logan’s Run look restrained.  Also, if you’re going to have a made-for-evil name like Stone Alexander, you might as well be the Antichrist.

On a personal note, I had a lot of fun annoying Evelyn by pointing out that just about every policy proposed by Stone Alexander has also been proposed by Barack Obama.  I imagine that Megiddo must be a very popular film among certain conspiracy-minded segments of the population.

What Did Not Work?

To be honest, the entire film didn’t work.  It’s not a very good film.  The special effects were cheap, the script made the Atlas Shrugged films look subtle, and I imagine that the film probably created more atheists than believers.

That said, Megiddo is still better than Avatar.

“Oh my God!  Just like Evelyn and Lisa!” Moments

None.

Lessons Learned

Franco Nero ages like a fine wine.

Getting the point of Megiddo

What Lisa Watched Last Night: The Fan (dir. by Edward Bianchi)


Last night, I watched the 1981 slasher-musical hybrid, The Fan.

Why Was I Watching it?

I had read about The Fan on a few slasher-related film sites and, despite the fact that the reviews were always universally negative, the former aspiring prima ballerina was intrigued by the idea of a slasher movie where the mayhem was occasionally put on hold for a dance number.  When I saw it listed as being on AMC last night, I set the DVR to record it.  Later, around 4 in the morning, I was battling insomnia and I didn’t really feel like watching infomercials or hurricane coverage.  So, I watched The Fan.

What Was It About?

Lauren Bacall is Sally Ross, an aging actress who smokes and smokes and smokes.  A very young and handsome Michael Biehn is Douglas, The Fan.  He’s obsessed with Sally and writes her hundreds of adoring letters.  “Believe me, I have the equipment to make you very, very happy,” the 20ish Douglas tells the 60ish Sally.  Sally’s secretary (Maureen Stapleton) writes back to Douglas and tells him that it’s illegal to “send pornography through the mail.”  Douglas responds by doing the whole slashing-up-the-world-with-a-straight-razor thing.  Meanwhile, Sally is in rehearsals for her Broadway musical debut and wow, it’s the worst musical since Nine.  Will Douglas be stopped?  Will Sally getting a standing ovation?  And how many cigarettes will be left by the end of the movie?

What Worked?

Michael Biehn is actually fairly good as the killer and the opening credits — where the musical score is nicely integrated with the sound of Biehn typing and reading his obsessive prose — are nicely done.  And technically, the film looks good.  The cinematography is credited to someone named Dick Bush and that’s all I’ll say about that.

But, let’s be honest, I wasn’t watching this film for quality.  I was watching for the Broadway dance sequences.  Films are always at their campiest when they try to portray a “Broadway” hit and that’s especially true if the film was made in 1981 (like this one).  And, on this, The Fan did not disappoint.  Seriously, the “show-within-the-show” here appears to be one of the greatest debacles in the history of imaginary Broadway.  Lauren Bacall rasps out her songs while chain-smoking while the chorus line spins across the stage in a blur of sequins and glitter.  On top of that, the show is named Never Say Never which has to be one of the most boring titles ever, as far as imaginary Broadway is concerned.  Yet, when it’s all over, the audience gives Never Say Never a standing ovation.  It’s a hit!  There’s no accounting for taste as far as fake Broadway is concerned.

Here’s a show-stopper from Never Say Never, starring Sally Ross:

Plus, about 40 minutes into the film, Bacall and Stapleton have themselves a good, old-fashioned bitch-off which just has to be seen.  There’s nothing like watching two divas compete to see who can devour the most scenery.

What Does Not Work:

Well, to be honest, the entire film doesn’t work.  The pacing is terrible, the scenes with Biehn kills his victims somehow manage to be both bloodless and overly sadistic at the same time, and Bacall seems to be not only ticked off at having to appear in the film but angry with you for watching it as well.  Add to that, there’s a bizarre homophobic subtext to this film that, while typical of a film released in the 80s, still seems odd for a movie that’s so obsessed with Broadway show tunes.

“OMG! JUST LIKE ME!” Moments:

I related to the dancers who show up on-screen whenever Sally is in rehearsals for her show.  Being trapped on the chorus line of a terrible show?  Been there, done that.  It’s actually a lot of fun because you’re freed from having to worry about how terrible the show is.  Instead of rehearsals being a death march, they’re an exuberant, doom-themed Mardi Gras.

Lessons Learned:

Don’t allow anyone else to answer your fan mail.

 

Film Review: Take Me Home Tonight (dir. by Michael Dowse)


I missed the 80s retro-themed comedy Take Me Home Tonight when it was released to theater earlier this year.  It was one of those films that I meant to see but then it ended up spending such a short time in theaters that I just never got the chance.  A few days ago, via OnDemand, I finally got a chance to see Take Me Home Tonight in the comfort of my own bedroom.

Plotwise, Take Me Home Tonight feels like a cinematic Frankenstein monster, stitched together from elements from all those old school 80s comedies.  Therefore, it’s appropriate that the film itself is set in 1988.  Matt (Topher Grace) is a recent graduate from M.I.T. who is spending his post-graduate life working at Suncoast Video.  One day, while at work, he happens to run into Tori (Teresa Palmer), his high school crush.  When Tori asks Matt what he’s doing with his life post-high school, Matt quickly replies that he’s working at Goldman Sachs.  Tori then invites Matt to attend a weekend party being held by Kyle Masterson (Chris Pratt), a vaguely insane frat boy type who also happens to be the boyfriend of Matt’s twin sister, Wendy (Anna Faris).  In typical 80s comedy fashion, this leads to Matt and his friend Barry (Dan Folger) stealing a car, coming across a secret stash of cocaine, destroying a suburban neighborhood with a big metal ball, and eventually coming to several heart-warming (but not too heart-warming) conclusions about what they want out of life and what the future holds.

For a film like this to work, you have to care about the characters enough to be willing to stick with them even though they spend the majority of the film acting like complete morons.  Fortunately, the film is very well-cast with nice supporting turns from Folger, Faris, and Michael Biehn (who plays Matt’s father and who gets a great scene where he “arrests” his own son).  Folger is especially good, bringing a hilarious intensity to a familiar role.  From the minute that little baggie of cocaine first shows up on-screen, you know that Folger’s going to end up with a white powder all over his face.  What you don’t expect is just how hilarious a committed comic performer can make even the most familiar of comedic developments.  Dan Folger rubs cocaine on his teeth as if the world depended upon it. 

However, the film really belongs to Topher Grace (who not only stars in but also co-produced and co-wrote the film).  Now, I have to admit that when I was much younger, I used to love That 70s Show and I had the biggest crush on Topher Grace.  (I had an even bigger crush on Danny Masterson but that’s another story.)   As this film was apparently put together by many of the same people who were involved with That 70s Show, it’s not surprising that Take Me Home Tonight almost feels like it could be a sequel to that show.  Much as he did in That 70s Show, Grace provides the anchor here, keeping the film grounded (at times just barely) in reality.  It seems like whenever I see Topher Grace in the movies, he’s always playing some sort of psycho.  So, it was nice to see him back to doing what he does best, playing the sympathetic everyman who spends every day walking the fine line between cool and awkward. 

When Take Me Home Tonight was released in theaters earlier this year, it was greeted with mediocre reviews and poor box office.  But you know what?  It’s really not that bad of a film.  Yes, the plot is predictable and the jokes are more warmly amusing than laugh-out-loud funny.  However, this film is predictable in much the same way a funny but oft-told joke is predictable.  Take Me Home Tonight is a case where familiarity breeds not contempt but comfort.  It’s a type of comfort that’s probably better suited for being watched on a television while multi-tasking as opposed to being seen on the big screen with no other distractions.  Seriously, if Take Me Home Tonight was a weekly sitcom, it would probably end up getting nominated for all sorts of Emmys.