Here’s What Won At The Emmys Last Night!


Last night, Lisa Marie did not watch the Emmys because she says that, “I’m just not feeling TV this year.”  If Twin Peaks had been eligible to be nominated, I bet it would have been a different story!

Instead, she asked me to watch the ceremony and let everyone know what I thought.  It needed less politics and more cats.

Here’s the list of winners:

COMEDY

BEST COMEDY SERIES
“Atlanta”
“Black-ish”
“Masters of None”
“Modern Family”
“Silicon Valley”
“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
X — “Veep”

BEST COMEDY ACTRESS
Pamela Adlon, “Better Things”
Jane Fonda, “Grace and Frankie”
Allison Janney, “Mom”
Ellie Kemper, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
X — Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “Veep”
Tracee Ellis Ross, “Black-ish”
Lily Tomlin, “Grace and Frankie”

BEST COMEDY ACTOR
Anthony Anderson, “Black-ish”
Aziz Ansari, “Master of None”
Zach Galifianaks, “Baskets”
X — Donald Glover, “Atlanta”
William H. Macy, “Shameless”
Jeffrey Tambor, “Transparent”

BEST COMEDY SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Vanessa Bayer, “Saturday Night Live”
Anna Chlumsky, “Veep”
Kathryn Hahn, “Transparent”
Leslie Jones, “Saturday Night Live”
Judith Light, “Transparent”
X — Kate McKinnon, “Saturday Night Live”

BEST COMEDY SUPPORTING ACTOR
Louie Anderson, “Baskets”
X — Alec Baldwin, “Saturday Night Live”
Tituss Burgess, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
Ty Burrell, “Modern Family”
Tony Hale, “Veep”
Matt Walsh, “Veep”

BEST COMEDY DIRECTING
X — “Atlanta” (“B.A.N.”)
“Silicon Valley” (“Intellectual Property”)
“Silicon Valley” (“Server Error”)
“Veep” (“Justice”)
“Veep” (“Blurb”)
“Veep” (“Groundbreaking”)

BEST COMEDY WRITING
“Atlanta” (“B.A.N.”)
“Atlanta” (“Streets on Lock”)
X — “Master of None” (“Thanksgiving”)
“Silicon Valley” (“Success Failure”)
“Veep” (“Groundbreaking”)
“Veep” (“Georgia”)

DRAMA

BEST DRAMA SERIES
“Better Call Saul”
“The Crown”
X — “The Handmaid’s Tale”
“House of Cards”
“Stranger Things”
“This is Us”
“Westworld”

BEST DRAMA ACTRESS
Viola Davis, “How to Get Away with Murder”
Claire Foy, “The Crown”
X — Elisabeth Moss, “The Handmaid’s Tale”
Keri Russell, “The Americans”
Evan Rachel Wood, “Westworld”
Robin Wright, “House of Cards”

BEST DRAMA ACTOR
X — Sterling K. Brown, “This is Us”
Anthony Hopkins, “Westworld”
Bob Odenkirk, “Better Call Saul”
Matthew Rhys, “The Americans”
Liev Schreiber, “Ray Donovan”
Kevin Spacey, “House of Cards”
Milo Ventimiglia, “This is Us”

BEST DRAMA SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Uzo Aduba, “Orange is the New Black”
Millie Bobby Brown, “Stranger Things”
X — Ann Dowd, “The Handmaid’s Tale”
Chrissy Metz, “This is Us”
Thandie Newton, “Westworld”
Samira Wiley, “The Handmaid’s Tale”

BEST DRAMA SUPPORTING ACTOR
Jonathan Banks, “Better Call Saul”
David Harbour, “Stranger Things”
Ron Cephas Jones, “This is Us”
Michael Kelly, “House of Cards”
X — John Lithgow, “The Crown”
Mandy Patinkin, “Homeland”
Jeffrey Wright, “Westworld”

BEST DRAMA DIRECTING
“Better Call Saul” (“Witness”)
“The Crown” (“Hyde Park Corner”)
“The Handmaid’s Tale” (“The Bridge”)
X — “The Handmaid’s Tale” (“Offred”)
“Homeland” (“America First”)
“Stranger Things” (“Chapter One: The Vanishing of Will Byers”)
“Westworld” (“The Bicameral Mind”)

BEST DRAMA WRITING
“The Americans” (“The Soviet Division”)
“Better Call Saul” (“Chicanery”)
“The Crown” (“Assassins”)
X — “The Handmaid’s Tale” (“Offred”)
“Stranger Things” (“Chapter One: The Vanishing of Will Byers”)
“Westworld” (“The Bicameral Mind”)

MOVIE/LIMITED SERIES

BEST LIMITED SERIES
X — “Big Little Lies”
“Fargo”
“Feud: Bette and Joan”
“Genius”
“The Night Of”

BEST TV MOVIE
X — “Black Mirror: San Junipero”
“Christmas of Many Colors”
“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”
“Sherlock: The Lying Detective”
“The Wizard of Lies”

BEST MOVIE/MINI ACTRESS
Carrie Coon, “Fargo”
Felicity Huffman, “American Crime”
X — Nicole Kidman, “Big Little Lies”
Jessica Lange, “Feud: Bette and Joan”
Susan Sarandon, “Feud: Bette and Joan”
Reese Witherspoon, “Big Little Lies”

BEST MOVIE/MINI ACTOR
X — Riz Ahmed, “The Night Of”
Benedict Cumberbatch, “Sherlock: The Lying Detective”
Robert De Niro, “The Wizard of Lies”
Ewan McGregor, “Fargo”
Geoffrey Rush, “Genius”
John Turturro, “The Night Of”

BEST MOVIE/MINI SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Judy Davis, “Feud: Bette and Joan”
X — Laura Dern, “Big Little Lies”
Jackie Hoffman, “Feud: Bette and Joan”
Regina King, “American Crime”
Michelle Pfeiffer, “The Wizard of Lies”
Shailene Woodley, “Big Little Lies”

BEST MOVIE/MINI SUPPORTING ACTOR
Bill Camp, “The Night Of”
Alfred Molina, “Feud: Bette and Joan”
X — Alexander Skarsgard, “Big Little Lies”
David Thewlis, “Fargo”
Stanley Tucci, “Feud: Bette and Joan”
Michael Kenneth Williams, “The Night Of”

BEST MOVIE/MINI DIRECTING
X — “Big Little Lies”
“Fargo” (“The Law of Vacant Places”)
“Feud: Bette and Joan” (“And the Winner Is”)
“Genius” (“Einstein: Chapter One”)
“The Night Of” (“The Art of War”)
“The Night Of” (“The Beach”)

BEST MOVIE/MINI WRITING
“Big Little Lies”
X — “Black Mirror: San Junipero”
“Fargo” (“The Law of Vacant Places”)
“Feud: Bette and Joan” (“And the Winner Is”)
“Feud: Bette and Joan” (“Pilot”)
“The Night Of” (“Call of the Wild”)

VARIETY/REALITY

BEST REALITY COMPETITION PROGRAM
“The Amazing Race”
“Amercan Ninja Warrior”
“Project Runway”
“RuPaul’s Drag Race”
“Top Chef”
X — “The Voice”

BEST VARIETY TALK SERIES
“Full Frontal with Samantha Bee”
“Jimmy Kimmel Live”
X — “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”
“Late Late Show with James Corden”
“Late Show with Stephen Colbert”
“Real Time with Bill Maher”

BEST VARIETY SKETCH SERIES
“Billy on the Street”
“Documentary Now”
“Drunk History”
“Portlandia”
X — “Saturday Night Live”
“Tracey Ullman’s Show”

BEST VARIETY SERIES DIRECTING
“Drunk History”
“Jimmy Kimmel Live”
“Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”
“Late Show with Stephen Colbert”
X — “Saturday Night Live”

BEST VARIETY SERIES WRITING
“Full Frontal with Samantha Bee”
X — “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”
“Late Night with Seth Meyers”
“Late Show with Stephen Colbert

The Measure of a Man: The Life and Career of Rocky Balboa


rocky-and-apollo-02

Have you heard the rumor?

Rocky Balboa, also know as the Italian Stallion and the former heavyweight champion of the world, is going to die.

2013Rocky_SylvesterStallone_PA-14110031250713At least that is what some people think after reading the official plot synopsis of the upcoming boxing film Creed.  Here is the press release from MGM and Warner Brothers:

From Warner Bros. Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures comes award-winning filmmaker Ryan Coogler’s “Creed.” The film explores a new chapter in the “Rocky” story and stars Academy Award nominee Sylvester Stallone in his iconic role. The film also reunites Coogler with his “Fruitvale Station” star Michael B. Jordan as the son of Apollo Creed.

Adonis Johnson (Jordan) never knew his famous father, world heavyweight champion Apollo Creed, who died before he was born. Still, there’s no denying that boxing is in his blood, so Adonis heads to Philadelphia, the site of Apollo Creed’s legendary match with a tough upstart named Rocky Balboa.

Once in the City of Brotherly Love, Adonis tracks Rocky (Stallone) down and asks him to be his trainer. Despite his insistence that he is out of the fight game for good, Rocky sees in Adonis the strength and determination he had known in Apollo—the fierce rival who became his closest friend. Agreeing to take him on, Rocky trains the young fighter, even as the former champ is battling an opponent more deadly than any he faced in the ring.

With Rocky in his corner, it isn’t long before Adonis gets his own shot at the title…but can he develop not only the drive but also the heart of a true fighter, in time to get into the ring?

Sylvester-Stallone-creedMany have interpreted that to mean that, while training Adonis, Rocky will be battling cancer.  With the exception of the first one and Rocky V, every installment in the Rocky franchise has featured a character either dying or coming close.  Since Paulie will apparently not be appearing in Creed, that leaves Rocky himself as the most likely candidate to tragically pass away before or after the big fight.  In death, Rocky would not only pass on his legacy Adonis Creed but Sylvester Stallone would pass on the Rocky franchise to Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan.

With his days possibly numbered, I decided to take a look back at Rocky Balboa’s amazing career.

Rocky (1976)

Sylvester Stallone was just another out-of-work actor when, one night in 1975, he saw a little known boxer named Chuck Wepner go 15 rounds against the reigning heavyweight champion, Muhammad Ali.  Inspired by the fight, Stallone wrote the first draft of Rocky in three days.  When he sold his script, he did so with one condition: that he be allowed to play Rocky Balboa.  You know the rest of the story: Directed by John G. Avildsen, Rocky became a huge box office hitwon the Oscar for best picture of the year, and made Sylvester Stallone into an unlikely star.

618_movies_rocky_10Rocky Balboa is an aging boxer and a collector for Philadelphia loan shark, Tony Gazzo (Joe Spinell).  The current heavyweight champion, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), is scheduled to fight a match in Philadelphia in honor of America’s bicentennial.  When his opponent injures his hand, Apollo decides to give a local boy a chance and the unknown Rocky gets a once-in-a-lifetime shot at the title.  Nobody gives Rocky a chance, except for Rocky.  With the help of grizzled trainer Mickey (Burgess Meredith) and alcoholic best friend, Paulie (Burt Young), Rocky prepares for the fight.  After a training montage (the first of many) that ends with Rocky running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Rocky shocks everyone by going the distance against Apollo.  Though he loses by a split decision, Rocky wins both his self-respect and the love of Paulie’s sister, Adrian (Talia Shire).

Rocky holds up as one of the best boxing movies ever made and it set the standard by which almost all future underdog sports movies have been judged.  Rocky may have ended with Rocky ready to take off his gloves and concentrate on his life with Adrian but the box office demanded that Rocky get another once-in-a-lifetime shot.

Rocky II (1979)

The first Rocky may have ended with Apollo saying there would be no rematch and Rocky replying that he did not want one but the film’s box office success said otherwise.  In Rocky II, Apollo is stung by criticism over how he nearly lost his first fight against Rocky and demands a rematch.  At first, Rocky refuses but, with no prospects and a wife, son, and alcoholic brother-in-law to support, Rocky finally agrees to a rematch.  What follows is largely a repeat of the first film, except this time Rocky has a lot more fans following him through the streets of Philadelphia during his training montage and Rocky actually wins the fight, becoming the heavyweight champion of the world.

rocky-ii-1979-01-gThe best thing about Rocky II is that it fleshes out the character of Apollo.  No longer is he just the cocky villain from the first film.  Instead, he is revealed to be a proud man, a fierce competitor, and a worthy opponent. Though he may lose the final fight, Apollo regains the respect that he sacrificed as the end of the first film.

Rocky II is also notable for being the first film in the franchise to be directed by Sylvester Stallone.  Stallone would direct all of the subsequent installments, with the exception of the John G. Avildsen-directed Rocky V.

Rocky III (1982)

mr-t-plays-clubber-in-rocky-iiiRocky III has the best opening of the franchise.  While Rocky does commercials and trades jokes with Kermit and Miss Piggy on The Muppet Show, Clubber Lang (Mr. T) relentlessly trains and savagely knocks out every opponent that he faces in the ring.  The premise of the first two films has been reversed.  Now, Rocky is the overconfident champion who does not take his latest fight seriously while Clubber Lang is the challenger who is hungry for victory.  Clubber has the “eye of the tiger” and is determined to win.  Rocky is busy doing charity events with Hulk Hogan and bailing alcoholic freeloader Paulie out of jail.

Rocky III features the first death of the franchise, when Clubber shoves Mickey so hard that Mickey ends up having a heart attack and dying almost immediately after Clubber defeats Rocky and becomes the new heavyweight champion of the world.  As if Rocky needed another reason to demand a rematch, Mickey’s death makes it personal.  Unfortunately, Rocky has lost his hunger.  He no longer has the eye of the tiger.

Fortunately, Rocky’s former rival, Apollo Creed, is there to help him get it back.  Taking over as Rocky’s trainer, Apollo gets the former champion back into fighting shape.  This means that it is time for a training montage!  This one ends with a great moment in bromance history as Rocky and Apollo embrace while jumping up and down in the ocean.

2009654-rocky_iii_l_oeil_du_tigre_1983_07_gRocky III ends with what may be the best fight in the history of the franchise.  It is also the only fight to be shown straight from beginning to end, without jumping to future rounds.  From the start of the fight, it is obvious that Clubber is stronger than Rocky but, taking a page from the rope-a-dope strategy that Muhammad Ali used on George Foreman in Zaire, Rocky knows that Clubber is so aggressive that he will tire himself out before the end of the fight.  Once Clubber has exhausted himself, Rocky sends him down to the canvas.

At the end of the film, Rocky and Apollo square off one last time to see who is truly the best boxer.  The film ends before the first punch is thrown and we never find out who won.  I like to think that it was Apollo, if just because I know what is going to happen to him in Rocky IV.

Rocky IV (1985)

Ivan_kills_ApolloHaving defeated every contender in the U.S., it only made sense that Rocky’s next opponent would come from the evil empire itself, the Soviet Union.  But before Rocky could battle Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), someone had to die.  This installment’s sacrificial victim was none other than Apollo Creed.  Apollo dies in the ring, beaten to death by the robotic Russian.  Of all the deaths in the Rocky franchise, Apollo’s was the most shocking and the most traumatic.  After Apollo falls face forward onto the mat, his body is still twitching even as Ivan says, “If he dies, he dies.”

Knowing that he should have been in the ring instead of Apollo, Rocky challenges Drago to a rematch, to be held in Moscow on, of all days, Christmas.  Leaving behind his mansion, his son, and his robot (yes, Rocky owns a robot in this one), Rocky goes to Siberia and that means that it is time for a training montage!  While Drago trains with machines and shoots steroids, Rocky trains by chopping wood and running in the snow.

lXRPTbIt’s a tough fight.  At first, Drago does not even seem to feel Rocky’s punches.  The Soviet audience (including someone who looks a lot like Mikhail Gorbachev) chants Drago’s name.  Just like in Philadelphia, Rocky refuses to go down.  The crowd starts to chant Rocky’s name.  When Drago’s manager demands that he win the fight in the name of communism, Drago shouts that he does not fight for the Soviet Union, he fights for himself.  Finally, with seconds left in the final round, Rocky knocks Drago out.

Lundgren_Ivan_DragoAs a bloody Drago looks on, Rocky literally wraps himself in an American flag and gives a speech.  Rocky thanks the Americans and the Soviets for supporting him and then says, “”If I can change, and you can change, then everybody can change!”  Gorbachev stands and applauds.  Is it just a coincidence that, four years later, the Berlin Wall fell and the Cold War ended?

Rocky IV may be the best remembered of all of the Rocky films.  Ivan Drago was Rocky’s greatest and most imposing opponent and it is not surprising that, despite killing Apollo, he still has a strong fan base.  Unlike Clubber Lang, Ivan is a cold and methodical machine.  Rocky’s improbable win over him is not just a victory for America but a victory for humanity as well.

Rocky V (1990)

Is Rocky V canonical?  A lot of fans consider this to be the weakest film in the franchise.  Despite writing the film’s screenplay, Sylvester Stallone reportedly hates Rocky V and ignored it when he made Rocky Balboa.

rocky-5Rocky V starts with Rocky retiring after being told that his battle with Drago has left him with permanent brain damage.  Paulie, proving once again that he’s the worst best friend that anyone could hope for, loses all of Rocky’s money.  Rocky, Adrian, and Rocky, Jr. (now played by Sage Stallone) move back to the old neighborhood.  Following in the footsteps of Mickey and Apollo, Rocky trains a mulletheaded young boxer named Tommy Gunn (Tommy Morrison).  Instead of a training montage, we get a fight montage as Tommy becomes a champion but rejects Rocky’s management and signs with Don King George Washington Duke (Richard Gant).  Tommy and Rocky eventually face off in a street fight.  Originally, the plan was for Rocky to die at the end of the fight but, fortunately, someone in production realized that nobody would want to see Rocky Balboa beaten to death by Tommy Morrison.

551-3Tommy Morrison was a real-life boxer.  Rocky V was his only film role and he’s almost too convincing as the dim-witted Tommy Gunn.  In the real world, Tommy Morrison was suspended from boxing in 1996 when he tested positive for HIV.  He spent the rest of his life loudly insisting that the test was a false positive and trying to make a comeback.  He was 44 years old when he died of AIDS in 2013.

Rocky V suffers because Tommy Gunn and George Washington Duke cannot begin to compare to great Rocky opponents like Clubber Lang and Ivan Drago.  However, Rocky V does feature one of the franchise’s best endings.  Rocky and Rocky, Jr. jog up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and, father and son together, they finally decide to enter the building and discover what’s inside.

Rocky Balboa (2006)

After the critical and box office failure of Rocky V, it seemed like Rocky Balboa had retired for good.  However, after 16 years of well-deserved retirement, Rocky followed the path of George Foreman, Larry Holmes, and Riddick Bowe and decided to make a comeback.

guide_cemeteryAs Rocky Balboa begins, Rocky is a widower and owns an Italian restaurant named Adrian’s, where he spends most of his time telling patrons stories about his fighting career.  He is estranged from his son, who now wants to be called Robert and is played by Milo Ventimiglia, but Rocky still has his best friend Paulie.  If not for Rocky, Paulie would probably be living in a cardboard box.  After a computer simulation suggests that Rocky, in his prime, could have defeated the reigning heavyweight champion, Mason Dixon (Antonio Tarver), Rocky comes out of retirement for one last fight.  With the help of Apollo’s former trainer, Duke (Tony Burton), Rocky proves that he can still go the distance, even though he ultimately loses the fight in a split decision.

At the start of the film, Adrian has been dead for four years.  However, her ghost haunts the film.  Rocky regularly visits her grave and the film ends with him at her grave and saying, one last time, “Yo Adrian, we did it.”  Stallone may be the battered face of the Rocky franchise but Talia Shire was the heart.  Though she’s only seen in flashback, Rocky Balboa is a tribute to the way that Talia Shire brought Adrian to life.

Sentimental and nostalgic, Rocky Balboa felt like the perfect way to end the franchise.  However, Rocky will be returning for at least one more fight when Creed is released on November 25th.

01070815061

So, I Finally Watched Grace of Monaco…


Grace_of_Monaco_PosterWell, I finally saw Grace of Monaco and…

Oh God.

Seriously, I am sitting here right now and I am just thinking to myself, “Oh God, do I really have to try to think up something interesting to say about this movie?”  Grace of Monaco is not a good movie but, at the same time, it’s bad in the worst way possible.  It’s not so bad-that-its-entertaining.  Instead, it’s just a dull misfire.

In fact, probably the only really interesting thing about Grace of Monaco is that it is the first film to go from opening Cannes to premiering on Lifetime.  Though it may seem impossible to believe now, there was a time in 2013 when everyone was expecting Grace of Monaco to be a major Oscar contender.  It seemed like everyone was saying that Nicole Kidman was a lock for a best actress nomination and maybe more!

Then the film’s American release date was moved from November of 2013 to June of 2014.  Rumor had it that the infamous Harvey Weinstein was chopping up the film and destroying the vision of director Olivier Dahan.  “Bad Harvey!” we all said.  (Of course, having now seen the film, I can understand why Harvey may have had some concerns…)

Okay, we told ourselves, Grace of Monaco probably won’t be a best picture contender.  But surely Nicole Kidman can get a nomination.  Surely the costumes and the production design will be honored…

And then the film played opening night at the Cannes Film Festival and it was greeted with less than appreciate reviews.  In fact, the reaction to the film was so negative that it has since become somewhat legendary.

And so, the American premiere was canceled.  The film opened in Europe, where it made little money and received scathing reviews.  But it was destined to never play in an American theater.  Instead, Grace of Monaco was sold to the Lifetime network.

And, after all of the drama and the waiting, I finally got to see Grace of Monaco tonight and … well, bleh.

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s a pretty movie.  I loved looking at what everyone was wearing.  I enjoyed looking at the ornate settings.  Whenever Grace Kelly stopped to look out at the view from the palace, I appreciated it because it was a beautiful view.  If I had hit mute and simply enjoyed the film as a look at beautiful people wearing beautiful clothes and living in beautiful houses, I probably would have enjoyed it a lot more.

But, unfortunately, Grace of Monaco has a plot that gets in the way.  The evil French, led by Charles De Gualle (played by Andre Penvern, who gives a performance that would probably be more appropriate for a James Bond film), want to take over Monaco because the citizens of Monaco don’t pay any income tax.  (I was totally Team Monaco as far as this was concerned.  Everyone should stop paying their taxes.  If we all do it, we’ll be fine.  They can’t prosecute all of us!)  Only Princess Grace Kelly can stop them but first, she has to convince her headstrong husband, Prince Rainier (Tim Roth), to listen to her opinions.  She has to convince her subjects that she’s more than just an opinionated American.

But Grace doesn’t just want to keep the French out of Monaco!  She also wants to return to her film career.  Alfred Hitchcock (Roger Ashton-Griffiths) wants her to star in Marnie.  (Hitchcock is always filmed as being slightly out-of-focus.)  Rainier doesn’t want her to return to acting.  And neither does a priest played by Frank Langella…

What was Frank Langella doing in this movie?  I have no idea.  He was some sort of advisor.  I understand that he’s based on a historical figure but honestly, the film was so boring that I can’t even bring myself to go on Wikipedia to find out who exactly he was.

But really, the main issue with Grace of Monaco is that it tells us absolutely nothing about Grace Kelly.  The film doesn’t seem to know who she was or what it wants to say about her.  And Nicole Kidman is a good actress and I hope that I look as good as she does when I’m 47 and after I’ve given birth to two children but seriously, she seems to be totally lost in this film.  Olivier Dahan fills the film with close-ups of Kidman’s face but for what reason?  Never for a minute do we believe we’re looking at the face of the star of High Noon, Rear Window, or To Catch A Thief.  Instead, we’re always aware that we’re looking at Nicole Kidman and she doesn’t seem to be sure just what exactly she’s supposed to be doing.  We learn nothing about Grace, Monaco, France, royalty, or movies.

And it’s a shame really.  Because the story of Grace Kelly would make a great film.  But Grace of Monaco doesn’t really tell you anything about her life.

It’s just boring and a film about an actress like Grace Kelly has absolutely no right to be boring.

Back to School #58: She’s All That (dir by Robert Iscove)


Shes_All_That

She’s All That, a 1999 high school-set adaptation of My Fair Lady, has a lot to answer for.

When I, as an impressionable 13 year-old first saw this film, I left the theater believing that high school would be full of random, fully choreographed dance-offs.  That, after all, is what happened towards the end of She’s All That.  After watching as handsome jock Zack (Freddie Prinze, Jr.) spent almost the entire movie changing Laney (Rachael Leigh Cook) from an artist into a Prom Queen, the great prom dance-off made for the perfect climax.

I mean, just check it out:

Imagine how disappointed I was, once I finally did reach high school, to discover that it was actually nothing like She’s All That.  There were no big dance numbers for no particular reason.  I went to five different proms and none of them were ever as much fun as the prom at the end of She’s All That.

So thank you, She’s All That, for getting my hopes up.

As for the rest of the film, it’s a guilty pleasure in much the same way as Never Been Kissed.  I was recently doing some research over at the imdb and I was surprised to discover just how many films Freddie Prinze,Jr. made between 1999 and 2002.  For the most part, they’ve all got rather generic names.  What’s funny is that I probably saw most of them because, back then, I would get excited over almost any PG-rated movie that featured a cute guy and had a hint of romance about it.  But, with the exception of She’s All That, I can’t really remember a single one of them.  But you know what?  Freddie Prinze, Jr. may not be a great actor and his films may have basically all been the same but he had a certain something that, when you were 13 or 14, made him the perfect crush.  There was a hot blandness to Freddie Prinze, Jr. that prevented him from being compelling but did make him the perfect star for a film like She’s All That.

Along with featuring that prom dance-off and being the epitome of a Fredde Prinze, Jr. movie, She’s All That is also remembered for featuring Rachael Leigh Cook as one of the most unlikely ugly ducklings in the history of the movies.  Rachael plays Laney and the entire film’s starting off point is that Zack has made a bet with Dean (Paul Walker, as handsome here as he was in Varsity Blues) that he can turn Laney into a prom queen.  However, it should be a pretty easy bet to win because all Laney has to do is let her hair down, start wearing makeup, and stop wearing her glasses.

Myself, I’m severely myopic.  Usually, I wear contact lenses but occasionally, I may be running late or may not feel like putting my contacts in or maybe I just want to try a different look.  So, occasionally, I’ll wear my glasses and I have to say that, other than a few guys who always make “hot librarian” jokes, everyone pretty much treats me the same regardless of whether I’m wearing my glasses or not.  I do have to admit though that, when I take off my glasses and dramatically let my hair down, I always say that I’m having a She’s All That moment.

Anyway, She’s All That is okay.  I like it but I don’t love it and, to be honest, the film’s main appeal is a nostalgic one.  Freddie Prinze, Jr. and Paul Walker both look good, Rachael Leigh Cook and Jodi Lynn O’Keefe will keep the boys happy, and Matthew Lillard has a few good scenes where he plays an obnoxious reality tv celeb.

And there’s always that dance number!

shes-all-that-dork-outreach-program-rachael-leigh-cook-freddie-prinze-jr

Review: Gamer (dir. by Neveldine/Taylor)


No one will ever mistake the writer-director duo of Neveldine/Taylor (Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor) as the next Coen Brothers, but they definitely have made their mark in creating entertaining films which some have called exploitative, pandering to the lowest common denominator and exercises in excess. Maybe these critics are right, but they also seem to view the films by these two filmmakers through the narrow-minded lens of their elistist and so-called cineaste sensibilities. They won’t be the next Coen Brothers but they’re way ahead of other so-called filmmaker duos such as The Spierig Brothers (Undead and the pretentious and awful Daybreakers) or The Strause Brothers (AvP: Requiem and the awful Skyline). They came onto the scene with their cult classic action thrillers Crank and it’s sequel, Crank: High Voltage.

Their third film took the gaming influences so inherent in their first two films (which for all intents and purpose were video games that happened to be film) and went the next step. Gamer is all about a near-future world where two games with on-line social media foundations have become the rage of the entertainment world. One is a game called “Society” that looks to be the nightmare evolution of privacy advocates everywhere to the on-line virtual world Second Life and The Sims. It is the other game in this film which makes up the foundation of the film’s plot. “Slayers” takes the ultra-popular multiplayer on-line experiences of games such as Call of Duty and HALO to the next level by allowing gamers to actually control real people (inmates sentenced to death) to act as their avatars in a real-life battlefield arena with real weapons and real deaths.

These games which have become the obsession of hundreds of millions of people worldwide are the brainchild of the film’s antagonist. Michael C. Hall plays the creator of these games and his performance looks to combine the sociopathic charm of his Dexter character with that of Steve Jobs is the latter was openly honest about his douchebag tendencies. Playing his opposite is the character of Kable who happens to be the reigning champion of the game Slayers and who knows a secret that could tear down the billion-dollar empire created by Castle. Gerard Butler plays the desperate but very capable inmate Kable who just wants to survive past the final match and earn his freedom thus return to his wife and young daughter on the outside.

Gamer posits the question of how far are we willing to go to experience realism in our games and entertainment. With the game Society people pay to be able to control other people in a social setting (albeit in a controlled area). These so-called avatars will do anything and everything their real-life controllers tell them to do. In the film these avatars get paid to become virtual slaves and with most people signing up for the job being the socially desperate. Their situation is not so dissimilar from the condemned inmates who populate the game Slayers. The film hits the audience with a sledgehammer that these virtual entertainments have become popular worldwide because people have stopped looking at these “volunteers” as real people. Morality has been replaced by the need for instant gratification by way of these virtual on-line systems.

The film doesn’t make any apologies for the heavyhanded delivery of it’s message and also doesn’t skimp on the entertainment side of the equation. Neveldine/Taylor have shown that they have a certain flair for creating visual chaos and action on the screen. Their unique visual style does look like something out of a video game especially those from hyperrealistic shooters such as Call of Duty and its ilk. The filmmakers have always accomplished the high-quality visual look of their films despite the low to modest budget given to them by the studios they’re working for. Gamer is no exception and the film benefits from the decision by these two filmmakers to continue working with the Red One digital cameras thus allowing them to add in the visual effects right into the shot scenes the very same day of shooting.

It’s this very style of hi-tech guerrilla filmmaking which makes Neveldine/Taylor this current era’s Cormans. Unlike most low-budget filmmakers they don’t use the size of their budget to dictate how their films turn out visually, aurally and narratively. The first two this film succeeds in ways that makes an audience think the film was higher budgeted than it really was. The third would depend on the viewer whether the film succeeds or not. For those who seem intent on viewing every film as if they were made to be worthy of high awards and accolades would probably dismiss and hate this piece of exploitation cinema. Gamer succeeds in a narrative sense because it delivers on the promise of telling a story about a world where free will has been seconded to control in the need of a population in search of a the next virtual playground. It’s a heady premise that has been explored in past films such as the Matrix Trilogy and another film similar to this one which came out weeks later in Surrogates.

Gamer doesn’t have the philosophical and existential sermoning in combination with futuristic action sequences as the Wachowski Brothers’ trilogy, but it does have the same visceral action DNa as those three films and also more entertaining than the Bruce Willis vehicle Surrogates. This film will appeal to the very people who it condemns as sheep to the rising tide of on-line control in entertainment, but then that’s what all exploitation films tend to do best. Cater to the very people it uses as examples of what’s wrong in society and build an entertaining film around them and what they represent.

The film’s cast revolves around Gerard Butler and Michael C. Hall and the roles they play. Whether its Amber Valletta playing Kable’s desperate wife who has sold herself to become a controllable avatar in Society to try and earn enough to get her young daughter back or to Logan Lerman playing the role of Simon the gamer who controls Kable during the Slayer matches. They all do enough with their roles to keep their characters from becoming less than one-notes. Again, for some having a film with characters that are quite basic and one-note might make for a bad film, but when put into context of the story being told they’re quite good and needed to become motivators for Butler’s character.

In the end, Neveldine/Taylor have made a modern day exploitation and grindhouse film in Gamer without having to resort to the visual tricks used in the Rodriguez/Tarantino grindhouse homage film Grindhouse. A film doesn’t need to have film scratches, overexposed film stock, scratchy audio track or missing film reels to be grindhouse. It just have to espouse the very nature of the films which made up the kind of films which became prime example of grindhouse/exploitation cinema. Gamer won’t win any awards, but I suspect that more people who saw it were entertained by it’s blatant, in-your-face entertainment than would normally admit to it. It’s a film that has cult status and guilty pleasure written all over it.

Plus, this film is definitely worth at least a curiosity viewing if just to see the musical number performed by Michael C. Hall at the climactic sequence near the end of the film. I don’t think any film has ever combined gratuitous violence, musical dance numbers using bloodied death row inmates and Michael C. Hall singing Frank Sinatra’s “Ive Got You Under My Skin“. That sequence alone is worth a rental or Netflix Instant streaming.