What Lisa Watched Last Night #195: Long Lost Daughter (dir by Christopher James Lang)

On Friday night, I watched the latest Lifetime premiere, Long Lost Daughter!

Why Was I Watching It?

First off, let me just say that, considering what the folks on the East Coast have had to deal with over the past two weeks, I feel really guilty about complaining about getting a little bit of rain in Texas.  (And it’s not really a complaint because, to be honest, I love stormy weather!)

That said, it rained all day Friday and it’s supposed to continue to rain through the weekend.  When I was driving home from work, the rain was so bad that I actually had to limit myself to 30 mph.  We’re under flash flood warning right now.  What better way to pass the time when you’re trapped inside by a storm than be watching a Lifetime movie?

What Was It About?

Cathy Rhodes (Molly Hagan) is a successful and acclaimed author of children’s books.  She’s written hundreds of stories about Mr. Poppins, a rabbit who can’t find his way home.  It’s made her a beloved figure in her small town but there are some who find Cathy and her husband (Bates Wilder) to be a little bit strange.  They whisper about how, 20 years earlier, Cathy’s 7 year-old daughter, Michelle, vanished.

Meanwhile, two new arrivals have come to town.  Jonathan (Richard Brancatisano) is an aspiring science fiction writer.  And his wife (Sofia Mattson) is going to help run the education center that Cathy has helped to fund.  It turns out that Jonathan’s wife is 27 years old and has no memory of her mother or her childhood.  And her name is …. Michelle!

Could Michelle be Cathy’s daughter?  That’s certainly what Cathy thinks and she’s willing to do anything to make sure that both her daughter and Mr. Poppins find their way home…

What Worked?

Molly Hagan may not be a household name but I can guarantee you that you would recognize her if you saw her.  She’s been in a countless number of films over the years and she is a truly great character actress.  She’s played so many different characters and she’s been totally convincing every time.  (I think her best-known recent film might be Sully, where she played one of the flight attendants who chanted, “Brace!  Brace!  Head down!  Stay down!”)  Anyway, Hagan does a great job as the Cathy Rhodes, making her both frightening and sympathetic.

Also giving a good performance was Bates Wilder, who played Cathy’s somewhat creepy husband.  Both he and Hagan keep you guessing.

Speaking of keeping you guessing, this film had an ambiguous ending that I absolutely loved.  I won’t spoil it but it was handled very well.  It’s the type of ending that I wish Lifetime would try more often.  Sometime, it’s not necessary to spell everything out.

What Did Not Work?

Could Michelle and Jonathan have been anymore unlikable?  Michelle acted like moving from the city to a small town was the equivalent of moving to a different country.  When Cathy mentioned she was making a casserole, Michelle’s smug response of, “Casserole!” was enough to make me decided that I wouldn’t ever want to know someone like Michelle in real life.

As for Jonathan … well, I lost all sympathy for him when he announced that, for him, being a writer was about business and not art.  “No one ever reads Proust anymore,” he said, at one point.  What a jerk!  Michelle, at least, kinda redeemed herself as the film progressed.  But Jonathan …. well, once a jerk, always a jerk.

“Oh my God!  Just like me!” Moments

Whenever Michelle got annoyed with Jonathan, I was like, “Oh my God!  I feel the exact same way!”

Lessons Learned

Don’t insult Proust.

A Movie A Day #304: Code of Silence (1985, directed by Andrew Davis)

It’s life and death in the Windy City.  It’s got Chuck Norris, Henry Silva, Dens Farina, and a robot, too.  It’s Code of Silence.

Chuck plays Eddie Cusack, a tough Chicago policeman who is abandoned by his fellow officers when he refuses to cover for an alcoholic cop who accidentally gunned down a Hispanic teenager and then tried to place a gun on the body.  This the worst time for Cusack to have no backup because a full-scale gang war has just broken out between the Mafia and the Comachos, a Mexican drug gang led by Luis Comacho (Henry Silva).  When a cowardly mobster goes into hiding, Luis targets his daughter, Diana (Molly Hagan).  Determined to end the drug war and protect Diana, Eddie discovers that he may not be able to rely on his brothers in blue but he can always borrow a crime-fighting robot named PROWLER.

Despite the presence of a crime-fighting robot, Code of Silence is a tough, gritty, and realistic crime story.  Though Chuck only gets to show off his martial arts skills in two scenes (and one of those scenes is just Eddie working out in the gym), Code of Silence is still Norris’s best film and his best performance.  The film draws some interesting comparisons between the police’s code of silence and the Mafia’s omerta and director Andrew Davis shows the same flair for action that he showed in The Fugitive and Above the LawCode of Silence‘s highlight is a fight between Chuck and an assassin that takes place on top of a moving train.  Norris did his own stunts so that really is him trying not to fall off that train.

Davis surrounds Norris with familiar Chicago character actors, all of whom contribute to Code of Silence‘s authenticity and make even the smallest roles memorable.  (Keep an eye out for the great John Mahoney, playing the salesman who first introduces the PROWLER.)  Norris’s partner is played by Dennis Farina, who actually was a Chicago cop at the time of filming.  After Code of Silence, Farina quit the force to pursue acting full time and had a busy career as a character actor, playing cops and mobsters in everything from Manhunter to Get Shorty.  As always, Henry Silva is a great villain but the movie is stolen by Molly Hagan, who is feisty and sympathetic as Diana.  To the film’s credit, it doesn’t try to force Eddie and Diana into any sort of contrived romance.

Unfortunately, none of Chuck Norris’s other films never came close to matching the quality of this one.  Code of Silence is a hint of what could have been.

A Movie A Day #274: The Dentist (1996, directed by Brian Yuzna)

Alan (Corbin Bernsen) may be a wealthy dentist in Malibu but he still has problems.  He has got an IRS agent (Earl Boen) breathing down his neck.  His assistant, Jessica (Molly Hagan), has no respect for him.  His demanding patients don’t take care of their teeth.  His wife (Linda Hoffman) is fucking the pool guy (Michael Stadvec).  When Alan feels up a beauty queen while she’s passed out from the nitrous oxide, her manager (Mark “yes, the Hulk” Ruffalo) punches him and then goes to the police.  Under pressure from all sides, Alan loses his mind and a crazy dentist with a drill means a lot of missing teeth.

“You’re a rabid anti-dentite!” Kramer once yelled at Jerry Seinfeld and even people who were not already uneasy about going to dentist will be after watching Corbin Bernsen stick his drill in Earl Boen’s mouth.  The scene where Alan tells a group of dental students to yank out their patients’ teeth represents everyone’s worst fear of what dentists talk about when there aren’t any innocent bystanders around.  The Dentist may be predictable but Corbin Bernsen gives the performance of his career, playing the nightmare of anyone who has ever had a toothache.

Of course, good health begins with healthy teeth and real-life dentists provide a valuable service.  Take it from Robert Wagner:

A Movie A Day #13: Ringmaster (1998, directed by Neil Abramson)

ringmaster-posterJerry Springer has been many things over the course of his long life.  Lawyer.  Anti-war activist.  Adviser to Bobby Kennedy.  Congressional candidate.  City councilman.  Brothel aficionado.  Mayor.  Journalist.  Commentator.  Talk show host.  Destroyer of culture.  Scourge of humanity.  Twice, he was a highly recruited candidate for the U.S. Senate but, both times, it was decided that there was no way a morally questionable television personality could actually win high political office in the United States.

(Yeah, about that…)

There is one thing that Jerry Springer has never been and that is a movie star.  However, that’s not for lack of trying.  At the height of his talk show’s popularity, Jerry Springer starred in Ringmaster.  Though he played a character named Jerry Farrelly and his show was retitled The Jerry Show, there was never any doubt that Jerry Springer was meant to be playing himself.

Who is Jerry Springer, according to Ringmaster?  He’s a sad and weary man who sleeps with his guests and worries that his raunchy show will be his only legacy.  After one show, he tells his staff that he will never again be elected to political office.  His staff laughs but Jerry didn’t sound like he was making a joke.  Why does Jerry do it?  Because he cares about America!  When a man in his audience starts yelling that Jerry and his guests are all going to Hell, Jerry gets in his face and let him know that his show is providing a voice for the people who live in the real America.

In Ringmaster, the real America is made up of people like trailer park nymphomaniac Angel Zorzak (Jaime Pressly) and her mother, Connie (Molly Hagan).  Angel and Connie appear on The Jerry Show after Angel sleeps with her stepfather (Michael Dudikoff, the American Ninja himself) and Connie gets revenge by sleeping with Angel’s boyfriend.  Also on the show is Demond (Michael Jai White), who cheated on his girlfriend with her two best friends and, the night before the show, cheats with Angel too.  Thanks to the show, Demond gets his comeuppance and Angel and Connie’s relationship is repaired.  The movie ends with mother and daughter back in the trailer park, talking about how their new neighbor has big feet.

Pressly and Hagan are the best thing about Ringmaster.  The worst thing is undoubtedly Jerry Springer.  For someone who has made a career in both politics and television, Jerry Springer turns out to be a terrible actor.  He sleepwalks through the movie with a please-kill-me look on his face, keeping his head down and muttering the majority of his lines.

According to Wikipedia, Ringmaster had a budget of $20,000,000 and grossed back less than half of that.  Why would people pay money to watch what they could see on TV for free?  Jerry Springer never became a senator or a movie star.  He continues to host his talk show and probably will until the end of time.

Film Review: Sully (dir by Clint Eastwood)


The new film Sully is about several different things.

Most obviously, it’s about what has come to be known as the Miracle on the Hudson.  On January 15th, 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 had just departed from New York’s LaGuardia Airport when it was struck by a flock of geese.  (They say that it was specifically hit by Canadian Geese but I refuse to believe that Canada had anything to do with it.)  With both of the engines taken out and believing that he wouldn’t be able to get the plane back to either LaGuardia or an airport in New Jersey, the flight’s plot, Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger (played by Tom Hanks) landed his plane on the Hudson River.  Not only did Sullenberger manage to execute a perfect water landing but he also did so without losing a single passenger.

I’m sure that we can all remember that image of that plane sitting on the river with passengers lined up on the wings.  We can also remember what a celebrity Sully became in the days following the landing.  At a time of national insecurity and cynicism, Sully reminded us that people are still capable of doing great things.  It also helped that Sully turned out to be a rather humble and self-effacing man.  He didn’t use his new-found fame to host a reality TV show or run for Congress, as many suggested he should.  Instead, he wrote a book, raised money for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and appeared in two commercials for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Wisely, Sully opens after the Miracle on the Hudson, with Sully still struggling to come to terms with suddenly being a celebrity.  (That said, we do get to see the landing in flashbacks.  In fact, we get to see it twice and it’s harrowing.  The “Brace! Brace!” chant is pure nightmare fuel.)  Tom Hanks plays up Sully’s modesty and his discomfort with suddenly being a hero.  Even while the rest of the world celebrates his accomplishment, Sully struggles with self-doubt.  Did he make the right decision landing the plane on the Hudson or did he mistakenly endanger the lives of all the passengers and crew members?

A lot of people would probably say, “What does it matter?  As long as he succeeded, who cares if he actually had to do it?”  Well, it matters to Sully.  Some of it is a matter of professional pride.  And a lot of it is because the soulless bureaucrats at the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating Sully’s landing.  If it’s determined that he could have made it back to airport and that he unnecessarily endangered the lives of everyone on the plane, he could lose his job and his pension.  As we see in a few scenes with Sully’s wife (Laura Linney, who is somewhat underused), the Sullenbergers really need that pension.

That brings us to another thing that Sully is about.  It’s a celebration of not only individual heroism but individuality itself.  The NTSB claims that they have computer-generated recreations that prove Sully had enough time and fuel to return to an airport but, as Sully himself points out, the NTSB has ignored the human element in their recreations.  As a result of their obsession with regulation and procedure, the bureaucrats have forgotten that planes are not flown by computers but individuals who have to make split-second decisions.

That’s one of the things that I loved about Sully.  In this time when we’re constantly being told that our very future is dependent upon always trusting the bureaucrats and following their rules and regulations, Sully reminds us that the government is only as good as the people who work for it.  And, far too often, the people are smug and complacent morons.

(For the record, Sullenberger has said that the real-life hearings were not as confrontational as the ones depicted in the film.  However, even taking into account the dramatic license, the overall message still rings true.)

And finally, Sully is a film about what America has become in the wake of 9-11.  Just as in real-life, the film’s Sully suffers from PTSD in the days immediately following the Miracle on the Hudson.  Even while the rest of the world celebrates him, Sully has nightmares about what could have happened if he hadn’t made the landing.  When we watch as Sully’s plane collides with a New York skyscraper, it’s impossible not to be reminded of the horrible images of September 11th.  Not only does it drive home what was at stake when Sully made that landing but it also reminds us that, regardless of what some would want us to beg, there are still heroes in the world.  Not every story has to end in tragedy.  People are still capable of doing great things.  Heroism is not dead.  With tomorrow being the 15-year anniversary of the day when 3,000 people were murdered in New York, Pennsylvania, and D.C., it’s important to be reminded of that.

Sully is a powerful and crowd-pleasing film.  (The normally cynical audience at the Alamo Drafthouse broke into applause at the end of the movie.)  Director Clint Eastwood tells this story in a quick, no-nonsense style.  During this time of bloated running times, Sully clocks in at 97 minutes and it’s still a million times better than that 150-minute blockbuster you wasted your money on last week.  Toss in Tom Hanks at his best and you’ve got one of the best films of the year so far.

Adventures in Cleaning Out the DVR: A Teacher’s Obsession (dir by Blair Hayes)

A Teacher's Obsession

Continuing my adventures in cleaning out my DVR, I followed up Girl Missing by watching A Teacher’s Obsession, a batshit crazy little film about … well, about a teacher’s obsession.

A Teacher’s Obsession originally aired on September 6th on the Lifetime network.  Now, usually, whenever you see a Lifetime movie called A Teacher’s Obsession, you assume that the film is going to be about a teacher having sex with (or trying to have sex with, depending on the film) a student.  But, in A Teacher’s Obsession, the teacher wants to be a student’s new BFF.

The student in question is Bridgette (Mia Rose Frampton), who is your typical spoiled upper middle class brat.  Her mother, Candace (Molly Hagan), is a local politician.  Bridgette makes it a point to always call her mother by her first name and always does so in the snarkiest tone imaginable.  Bridgette attends a prestigious academy, where she’s the captain of the school lacrosse team.  (What’s the deal with rich people and lacrosse?)  However, Bridgette is failing her English class.  As the film starts, Bridgette has just been put on academic probation.  That means no lacrosse!  And, even worse, Candace has forbidden Bridgette from seeing her boyfriend, Bobby (Dillon James).

Fortunately, there’s a new English teacher at the Academy.  Her name is Jane (Boti Bliss) and — oh my God, Jane sure is crazy!  In fact, Jane is so totally and completely crazy that you can’t help but root for her.  That may sound strange but seriously, all the other teachers at the school are so boring and Bridgette is such a spoiled brat that you can’t help but think, Yay!  Jane’s here to fuck things up!

The painfully boring (and bearded) calculus teacher, Mr. Jeter (Eric Curtis Johnson), has a crush on Jane and, when she has to, Jane has no trouble leading Mr. Jeter on.  But the thing is, Jeter starts to get a little bit too needy and it all leads to this great scene where Jane totally goes off on Mr. Jeter in the teacher’s lounge.  While the rest of the teachers sit around and listen like mummified relics of a past era, Jane tells Jeter that he’s overweight, that he has bad breath, that his beard is disgusting, and “your penis is miniscule.”  Jeter sits there and listens, unaware that he has soup in his beard.

Jane may occasionally spend time with Mr. Jeter but she is far more interested in being Bridgette’s best friend.  She encourages Bridgette to continue to see Bobby and even gives her birth control pills.  She tutors Bridgette in English class.  She conspires to help Bridgette cheat her way through Mr. Jeter’s class.  Jane excitedly makes plans to get a tattoo with Bridgette.  (“Do you think I’m too old for a tattoo?” Jane asks with a giggle.)  When Bridgette gets a tattoo without inviting Jane to come with her, Jane goes crazy and accuses Bobby of trying to rape her.

And through it all, Candace has secrets of her own to hide.  It turns out that Candace and Jane knew each other in the past.  Jane used to be obsessed with Candace.  Now, she’s obsessed with Bridgette…

A Teacher’s Obsession is one of those batshit crazy Lifetime movies that’s so unapologetically over-the-top that I couldn’t help but love it!  Seriously, it was a lot of fun to watch Jane make spoiled Bridgette’s life difficult and Boti Bliss attacked the role of Jane with a ferocity that was truly admirable!  Meanwhile, the underrated actress Molly Hagan brought unexpected depth to her role and the end result was an unexpectedly entertaining Lifetime melodrama.

A Few Thoughts On The iZombie Pilot


Pictured above, you’ll find Liv Moore (played by Rose McIver), the character who is at the center of the new CW show, iZombie.

Just a few months before the start of iZombie, Liv was a friendly and optimistic medical student who was engaged to marry the handsome and rich Major Lillywhite (Robert Buckley), whose personality can pretty much be summed up by the fact that his name is Major Lillywhite.

However, then Liv happened to attend a party where things went dramatically wrong.  How wrong?  Liv was offered a mysterious drug by a mysterious man.  Liv turned the man down.  Everyone else at the party took the drug and soon, it was zombie apocalypse time!  Liv was one of the few “survivors,” practically bursting out of a body bag that she had been placed into and discovering that her arms were covered with zombie scratches.  That would traumatize anyone, right?

Now, several months later, Liv is no longer in medical school and she’s broken things up with Major.  She works as a coroner’s assistant, spending her time surrounded by the dead.  Her skin is deathly pale.  Her hair is nearly white.  She no longer smiles and instead, she reacts to almost every situation with a sarcastic comment.  Her family and former friends assume that she’s just going through a phase and that eventually, she’ll get over it and end up back with Major.

What her family and friends don’t know is that, at work, Liv eats the brains of cadavers.  Eating brains is the only thing that keeps her own mind alert.  Much like the lead character in Warm Bodies, eating a brain allows her to access both the memories and the skills of the brain’s previous owner.

As you probably guessed from the show’s title, Liv is now a zombie.  She’s a walking, talking, and thinking zombie and she’s not particularly happy about it.  Apparently, the only way that she can keep from turning fully into a mindless flesh eater is by eating brains.

She’s also a zombie who solves crimes!  (And I’m just going to say right now that I’ve been waiting my entire life to have an excuse to write that sentence.)  She does so with the help of her boss, Dr. Ravi Chakrabarti (Rahul Kohli) and Detective Clive Babinaux (Malcolm Goodwin).  Ravi knows that Liv is a zombie and is overjoyed to have the chance to study her existence.  Detective Babinaux, meanwhile, thinks that Liv is a psychic.

Ever since I first saw the teaser trailer in January, I’ve been looking forward to seeing iZombie.  Not only did I think that the concept was a promising one, but I was excited to hear that iZombie was the latest from Rob Thomas, who previously gave the world Veronica Mars.

As well, and with all due respect to The Walking Dead, it was hard not to feel that it was time for a zombie show that was actually fun to watch.  (The Walking Dead is a great show but, whenever I watch it, I’m always thankful for the knowledge that each somber and grisly episode will be followed the always funny and adorable Chris Hardwick.  We need Hardwick there to keep the Walking Dead experience from becoming too oppressively depressing.)  From the minute I first heard about iZombie, I thought it seemed like it would be a fun show.

And you know what?

Judging from the pilot, it is.

The first episode of iZombie aired on Tuesday night and it was pretty good.  The procedural aspects of the pilot’s mystery didn’t really interest me but then again, the pilot really wasn’t about the mystery.  The pilot was all about establishing Liv and her existence and it succeeded quite well in accomplishing just that.  Rose McIver brought a lot of life to the role of the undead Liv and the pilot made good use of the show’s moody Seattle setting.

Add to that, the pilot features a great throw-away line in which Liv dealt with an annoying hipster by calling him, “Karl Marx.”  Seriously, you can’t set a show in Seattle unless you’re willing to make fun of hipsters…

So, I’m definitely looking forward to seeing where iZombie goes.  Hopefully, the show will continue to mix comedy with drama and it won’t allow itself to get bogged down in the whole procedural format.  Am I saying that I’m hoping that future episodes will continue to follow the lead of the pilot and turn out to be Zombie Veronica Mars?  Yes, I am.

I’ve read some comments on the imdb from people who are angry that Liv is not a “real” zombie because she can think and talk and all the rest.  Those people need to relax and stop taking their CW shows so seriously.  Obviously it’s too early to say whether or not iZombie is going to live up to its full potential but the pilot was definitely a step in the right direction.


Shattered Politics #65: Election (dir by Alexander Payne)

Election_1999filmLast year, when I did my series of Back to School reviews, it somehow slipped my mind to review Alexander Payne’s 1999 comedy, Election.  Don’t ask me how I managed to do that.  Election, after all, is one of the greatest high school films ever made.  Not only does it feature Reese Witherspoon’s best performance (or, at least, it was her best performance up until the release of Wild) but it also features Ferris Bueller himself, Matthew Broderick, as the type of teacher who regularly inspired Ferris to skip school.  Trust me — when I realized that I had managed to review Cavegirl while somehow ignoring Election, I was mortified.

But then, a few months later, I decided to do Shattered Politics and review 94 films about politics and politicians.  And it occurred to me that Election may have been a high school film but it was also a political satire.  Add to that, it’s totally plausible that Reese Witherspoon’s Tracy Flick will someday end up running for President.

That certainly seems to be the concern of Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick) in Election.  When he learns that Tracy is planning on running for student body president, Jim is concerned.  Tracy is an overachiever.  Tracy is the type of student who always raises her hand in class and who always has the right answer.  Tracy is the type of student that tends to drive other students crazy.  As Jim puts it, if Tracy is elected Student Body President, who knows where it will end?

Of course. Jim has other reasons for disliking Tracy.  Earlier in the year, for instance, Tracy was seduced by Jim’s fellow teacher and best friend, Dave Novotny (Mark Harelik).  When Tracy’s mother (played by Colleen Camp) discovered the affair, Dave was forced to retire and was subsequently divorced.  When Tracy mentions that if she’s elected President, that means she and Jim will be working closely together, Jim panics.  Jim thinks that Tracy will try to seduce him and he knows that he would be too weak to resist.  Instead, Jim would rather have an affair Dave’s ex-wife (Delaney Driscoll) while trying unsuccessfully to get his own wife (Molly Hagan) pregnant.

So, of course, Jim decides to recruit Paul Metzler (Chris Klein) to run against her.  Paul is a simple-minded but sweet-natured jock who, as the result of breaking his leg while skiing, has become something of a school martyr.  As soon as Paul announces that he’s running, his cynical little sister Tammy (Jessica Campbell) also announces that she’s running, despite the fact that she hates school and thinks that idea of student government is a joke.  Tammy’s main motivation is that her ex-girlfriend, Lisa (Frankie Ingrassia) has announced that she was just “experimenting” and is now dating Paul and managing his campaign.

Got all that?

As the campaign plays out, Jim is panicked to discover that, while Paul may be popular, he’s also amazingly inarticulate and really doesn’t seem to care whether he wins or not.  Meanwhile, Tammy announces that her first action as president will be to destroy the student government.  However, Jim then has reason to believe that Tracy destroyed some campaign signs (mostly because Tracy did) and he comes up with a plan to get her disqualified from the ballot.

Except, of course, it’s not that easy to get rid of Tracy Flick…

One of the things that always amuses me about TV shows set in high school is that they almost always feature an absurdly powerful student council.  Remember that episode of Boy Meets World where Topanga is elected president because she gives a speech about how somebody has to do something about the mold in the cafeteria?  That’s the fantasy view of the student council.  The reality is that, when I was in high school, the student council was something that, whenever we remembered that it actually existed, we all laughed about.

(One of the great things about Degrassi is that it’s one of the few teen shows to acknowledge that the student council has no power.  Considering that the current President of the Degrassi Student Council is Drew Torres, that’s probably for the best.)

But here’s the thing — we all knew someone like Tracy Flick.  We all knew someone who took things like the student council very seriously and who would always get very angry whenever the rest of us showed less reverence for school institutions.  And, in retrospect, you almost have to feel sorry for her because what she never understood was that devotion to the rules and hard work really don’t mean much in either high school or college.  The genius of Reese Witherspoon’s performance is that she brings to life a character that we all know and then, at the same time, makes her a unique human being.  In the role of Tracy, Witherspoon allows us to understand what motivated the girls who always used to get on our nerves.

And then, of course, there’s Matthew Broderick.  Broderick starts out as a glibly self-confident character just to end the film as something of a twisted gargoyle, unshaven because he’s been sleeping in his car and, as the result of a bee sting, a frightfully swollen eye.  By the end of the film, Jim has essentially been destroyed by his fear and obsessive hatred of one student.  Broderick is not exactly playing a sympathetic character here but it’s still a compelling performance because it confirms everything that I always suspected about all of my teachers — i.e., that they specifically and targeted certain students and that most of them were motivated by jealousy.

Thank you, Election, for letting me know that I was right!

Back to School #44: Some Kind of Wonderful (dir by Howard Deutch)


For the past two and a half weeks, I’ve been reviewing, in chronological order, some of the best, worst, most memorable, and most forgettable teen films ever made.  We started with two films from 1946 and now, we find ourselves coming to the close of the decade that is often considered to be the Golden Age of teen films, the 1980s.  For our 44th entry in Back to School, we take a quick look at 1987’s Some Kind of Wonderful.

Why a quick look?

Because, quite frankly, there’s not that much to say about it.

Some Kind of Wonderful is a story about an artistic, lower-class misfit who has a crush on one of the popular kids.  The only problem is that the popular kid is being cruelly manipulated by one of the richest students in school.  The misft also has a best friend who is totally in love with the misfit but the misft has somehow failed to notice this.  Eventually, the misfit does get to date the popular kid.  Both the popular kid and the misft are given a hard time by the members of their collective clique but they still manage to go on one truly amazing date.  Finally, the film ends with a big show down at a party and two people kissing outside.

Sound familiar?

If it does, that probably means that you’ve seen Pretty In Pink.  Some Kind of Wonderful is basically a remake of Pretty In Pink, the only difference being that the genders have been reversed and that the film is a lot more heavy-handed (and predictable) when it comes to examining class differences.   (Not coincidentally, both films were written by John Hughes and directed by Howard Deutch and it must be said that when it comes to Some Kind of Wonderful, it’s easy to feel that both of them were simply going through the motions.)  The misfit is an aspiring painted named Keith (Eric Soltz).  His best friend is a drummer named Watts (Mary Stuart Masterson).  The object of Keith’s affection is Amanda (Lea Thompson).  Unfortunately, even though she lives in the same poor neighborhood as Keith and Watts, Amanda is dating the rich (and therefore, evil) Hardy (Craig Sheffer).


When Keith finally works up the nerve to ask out Amanda, he doesn’t realize that she’s just broken up with Hardy and is on the rebound.  Watts is skeptical, telling Keith, “Don’t go mistaking paradise for a pair of long legs,” and I’m just going to admit that, as the proud owner of a pair of long legs, that line really annoyed me.  I guess it’s because I’ve known people like Watts, who always act like there’s something wrong with wanting to look good.

Shut up, Watts.

Shut up, Watts.

With the help of Watts and Duncan (Elias Koteas), the school bully that Keith managed to befriend in detention, Keith takes Amanda out on an amazing date and shows her a wonderful portrait that he’s painted of her.  At the same time, Hardy — angry because someone from a lower class is now dating his ex-girlfriend — starts to plot his own revenge…

There are some positive things about Some Kind of Wonderful.  There are two really good and memorable scenes that, momentarily, manage to elevate the entire film.  There’s the moment when Keith shows Amanda the painting.  And then there’s the erotically charged scene in which Keith and Watts practice how to kiss.  Koteas, Thompson, and Masterson all gives good performances.  Eric Stoltz is, at times, a bit too intense to sell some of the film’s more comedic moments but overall, he’s well-cast here.  (In fact, the only performance that I really didn’t care for was Craig Sheffer’s.  Sheffer one-dimensional villain only served to remind me of how good James Spader was in Pretty In Pink.)

That's no James Spader

That’s no James Spader

And yet, there’s just something missing from Some Kind of Wonderful, something that keeps this film from being … well, wonderful.  I have to wonder if I had never seen Pretty In Pink, would I have thought more of Some Kind of Wonderful?  Perhaps.  Whereas Pretty In Pink was full of the type of small details and clever moments that make it a joy to watch and rewatch, Some Kind of Wonderful is one of those films that you can watch once and enjoy it without ever necessarily feeling the need to ever watch it again.

Eric Stoltz is going to kill someone