Lifetime Film Review: The Secret Life of a Celebrity Surrogate (dir by Mark Gantt)


So, put yourself in this situation.

You’re an aspiring writer, which is a really nice way of saying that you don’t have much money.  Because you haven’t paid your rent in four months, you’ve just gotten kicked out of your apartment.  As bad as that is, you can take some comfort from the fact that your incredibly hot boyfriend owns a really nice and really big apartment and he probably won’t have any issue with letting you live there.  I mean, he’s always eager for you to sleep over so why not just move in?  So, you head over to his place to give him the news and….

….some blonde that you’ve never seen before opens the door and asks you who you are!

Okay, now you’re in trouble.  Not only do you not have an apartment but you also don’t have a boyfriend.  You have no money and you have no family to fall back on.  While many writers wrote some of their best work while living in boxcars and drifting across the country, you’re not sure that’s what you want to do with the next few years of your life.  So, you get on social media and you let the world know that you need a job.  ANY JOB!

That’s what happens to Olivia (Carrie Wampler), the character at the center of The Secret Life of a Celebrity Surrogate.  It all happens during the first 10 minutes or so of this movie and it does make Olivia into an instantly likable character.  There’s no way that you can’t sympathize with her because everything that could go wrong in her life has gone wrong in just the course of a few hours.  When Olivia is contacted by Cassidy (Jordyn Aurora Aquino) and told that there is a job opportunity for her but that it requires Olivia to be discreet, you can’t blame Olivia for jumping at the opportunity.  What else is Olivia going to do?  Starve?

It turns out that Cassidy works for Ava (Brianne Davis) and Hayden (Carl Beukes) von Richter, a celebrity couple who, after Ava’s last few films flopped at the box office, are now mostly famous for being famous.  Ava and Hayden hire Olivia to act as a surrogate to carry their child.  Olivia will get $150,000 once the baby is born and she’ll get to stay at Ava and Hayden’s fabulous mansion.  The main conditions seem reasonable: Olivia will have to be discreet and she’ll also have to stay healthy and be regularly checked out by Ava’s army of doctors.  Olivia agrees.

And, at first, everything seems okay.  Ava and Hayden are charming, even if Ava is a bit high-strung and Hayden often seems like he’s lost in thought.  Olivia bonds with Cassidy and chef Peter (Kenneth Miller).  Ava can be demanding but that makes sense and …. wait, a minute, did Ava just do cocaine in a public restaurant?   And what exactly is Hayden doing with that hypodermic needle?

Needless to say, Ava and Hayden are not as perfect as they initially seem and Olivia soon starts to have doubts about whether or not they should even be parents.  Hayden, especially, seems to get creepier (and more and more gropey) with each passing day.  Soon, that fabulous mansion starts to feel like a prison and Olivia comes to realize that her employers are even more dangerous than she originally suspected….

The Secret Life of a Celebrity Surrogate is a film that’s very much of the moment.  We live in a society that is obsessed with celebrities, even faded ones like Ava and Hayden.  We also live in a world where ordinary people — like Olivia — can actually connect with celebrities via social media.  At the same time, though people may not always be quick to admit it, we all secretly suspect that most celebrities are actually crazy and probably have a dungeon underneath their mansion.  Even our favorites are often suspected of harboring dark secrets, as seen by the eagerness of the twitter mob to cancel their former heroes.  As such, we can all relate to Olivia’s willingness to be a part of Ava and Hayden’s seemingly glamorous life while, at the time, Ava and Hayden’s “quirks” serve to confirm what we’ve always suspected about what goes on behind closed doors in Beverly Hills and on Park Avenue.

The Secret Life of a Celebrity Surrogate strikes a good balance between thriller and satire.  It embraces the melodrama while also retaining enough self-awarness to be fun.  Brianne Davis and Carl Beukes are both entertainingly sleazy as the celebrity couple from Hell while Carrie Wampler is sympathetic and likable in the role of Olivia.  This is an entertaining Lifetime movie that will be enjoyed by anyone who has ever looked at a celebrity tweet and thought to themselves, “What a weirdo.”

4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Bill Murray Edition


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

Today, we wish a happy 70th birthday to everyone’s favorite actor, Bill Murray!

That means, of course, that it’s time for….

4 Shots From 4 Films

Ghostbusters (1984, dir by Ivan Reitman)

Rushmore (1998, dir by Wes Anderson)

Lost In Translation (2003, dir by Sofia Coppola)

The Dead Don’t Die (2019, dir by Jim Jarmusch)

Here Are The Emmy Winners!


I skipped watching the Emmys this year because …. well, do I need a reason?  When it comes to award shows, my heart has always belonged to the Oscars.  The Emmys have never done much for me.

That said, I do want to say Congrats! to all the winners.  Bad Education won and I am excited about that, though it still bugs me that if only the film had been purchased by Netflix rather than HBO, it would be Oscar eligible as opposed to having to settle for an Emmy.  I’m also happy to see that Zendaya won for Euphoria and …. well, to be honest, there’s not a single winner that I really disagree with.  I don’t watch Succession but I know a lot of people love it.  Schitt’s Creek doesn’t do much for me but it’s nice that Pop! got some recognition.

I mean, at this point, I’m just happy that the Emmys — which were done with an audience and featured all of the winners accepting either from their home or a hotel room — were even held.  If they can do the Emmy, there’s no reason why they can’t do the Oscars, right?

Here are the winners!

Winners

Outstanding Drama Series

Better Call Saul
The Crown
The Handmaid’s Tale
Killing Eve
The Mandalorian
Ozark
Stranger Things
Succession — winner

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series

Helena Bonham Carter, The Crown
Laura Dern, Big Little Lies
Julia Garner, Ozark — winner
Thandie Newton, Westworld
Fiona Shaw, Killing Eve
Sarah Snook, Succession
Meryl Streep, Big Little Lies
Samira Wiley, The Handmaid’s Tale

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

Nicholas Braun, Succession
Billy Crudup, The Morning Show — winner
Kieran Culkin, Succession
Mark Duplass, The Morning Show
Giancarlo Esposito, Better Call Saul
Matthew Macfadyen, Succession
Bradley Whitford, The Handmaid’s Tale
Jeffrey Wright, Westworld

Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series

Andrij Parekh, Succession — winner

Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series

Jesse Armstrong, Succession — winner

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series

Jennifer Aniston, The Morning Show
Olivia Colman, The Crown
Jodie Comer, Killing Eve
Laura Linney, Ozark
Sandra Oh, Killing Eve
Zendaya, Euphoria — winner

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series

Jason Bateman, Ozark
Sterling K. Brown, This Is Us
Steve Carell, The Morning Show
Brian Cox, Succession
Billy Porter, Pose
Jeremy Strong, Succession — winner

Outstanding Competition Program

The Masked Singer
Nailed It!
RuPaul’s Drag Race — winner
Top Chef
The Voice

Outstanding Limited Series

Little Fires Everywhere
Mrs. America
Unbelievable
Unorthodox
Watchmen — winner

Outstanding Film — Bad Education (winner!)

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie

Uzo Aduba, Mrs. America — winner
Toni Collette, Unbelievable
Margo Martindale, Mrs. America
Jean Smart, Watchmen
Holland Taylor, Hollywood
Tracey Ullman, Mrs. America

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Watchmen — winner
Jovan Adepo, Watchmen
Tituss Burgess, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs. The Reverend
Louis Gossett Jr., Watchmen
Dylan McDermott, Hollywood
Jim Parsons, Hollywood

Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series or Movie

Maria Schrader, Unorthodox — winner

Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series or Movie

Damon Lindelof, Cord Jefferson, Watchmen — winner

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie

Jeremy Irons, Watchmen
Hugh Jackman, Bad Education
Paul Mescal, Normal People
Jeremy Pope, Hollywood
Mark Ruffalo, I Know This Much Is True — winner

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie

Cate Blanchett, Mrs. America
Shira Haas, Unorthodox
Regina King, Watchmen — winner
Octavia Spencer, Self Made
Kerry Washington, Little Fires Everywhere

Outstanding Variety Talk Series

The Daily Show with Trevor Noah
Full Frontal with Samantha Bee
Jimmy Kimmel Live
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver — winner
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert

Outstanding Comedy Series

Curb Your Enthusiasm
Dead to Me
The Good Place
Insecure
The Kominsky Method
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Schitt’s Creek — winner
What We Do In the Shadows

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series

Alex Borstein, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
D’Arcy Carden, The Good Place
Betty Gilpin, GLOW
Marin Hinkle, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Kate McKinnon, Saturday Night Live
Annie Murphy, Schitt’s Creek — winner
Yvonne Orji, Insecure
Cecily Strong, Saturday Night Live

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

Mahershala Ali, Ramy
Alan Arkin, The Kominsky Method
Andre Braugher, Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Sterling K. Brown, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
William Jackson Harper, The Good Place
Daniel Levy, Schitt’s Creek — winner
Tony Shalhoub, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Kenan Thompson, Saturday Night Live

Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series

Daniel Levy and Andrew Cividino, Schitt’s Creek — winner

Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series

Daniel Levy, Schitt’s Creek — winner

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

Anthony Anderson, Black-ish
Don Cheadle, Black Monday
Ted Danson, The Good Place
Michael Douglas, The Kominsky Method
Eugene Levy, Schitt’s Creek — winner
Ramy Youssef, Ramy

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

Christina Applegate, Dead to Me
Rachel Brosnahan, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Linda Cardellini, Dead to Me
Catherine O’Hara, Schitt’s Creek — winner
Issa Rae, Insecure
Tracee Ellis Ross, Black-ish

4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Guy Hamilton Edition


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

98 years ago today, the British director Guy Hamilton was born.  Though Hamilton rarely seems to get as much credit as Terence Young, he was one of the most important of the early James Bond directors.  With Goldfinger, he set the template the many subsequent Bond films would follow: an over-the-top villain, nonstop action, and one liners.  (“No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.”  Not to mention, “I must be dreaming.”)  Hamilton went on to direct Sean Connery’s final Bond outing and he also directed the first two films to star Roger Moore as 007, all three of which are rather underrated in my opinion.  Guy Hamilton’s Bond films reminded us that James Bond’s cinematic adventures work best when they’re fun to watch, which is something that I think the modern Bond films would be well-served to consider.

In honor of Guy Hamilton’s contributions to my favorite film franchise, here are….

4 Shots From 4 Films

Goldfinger (1964, dir by Guy Hamilton)

Diamonds are Forever (1971, dir by Guy Hamilton)

Live and Let Die (1973, dir by Guy Hamilton)

The Man With The Golden Gun (1974, dir by Guy Hamilton)

Here’s The Trailer For Love And Monsters!


It’s a monster apocalypse and only Dylan O’Brien can save us!

Listen, I don’t know if the film’s going to be any good or not but we should all be happy that Dylan O’Brien is still with us.  After he was seriously injured during the filming of the the last Maze Runner film, a lot of people thought that he might never return to films.

As for this film, Michael Rooker’s in it and that’s often a good sign.  It looks like it might be fun.  We’ll find out for sure on October 16th!

Here’s The Trailer For The Trial Of The Chicago 7!


The Trial of Chicago 7 has been on the Oscar radars of several observers ever since this year began.  Not only does it have a big-name cast but some feel that, in telling the story of the trial of a group of protesters, the film is well-positioned to take advantage of the current political zeitgeist.

Or something like that.  To be honest, I just like using the word “zeitgeist.”

To be absolutely honest, the fact that Aaron Sorkin is involved in this just makes me cringe.  This is exactly the type of project that will probably bring out his worst instincts as both a writer and a director.  Will the film feature any prominent female characters and, if so, how much time will be devoted to them being put in their place by the witty men of Sorkin Land?  I guess we’ll have to watch to find out.

Anyway, here’s the trailer.  The film will be coming out on Netflix sometimes this year.

4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Jean Renoir Edition


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

126 years ago today, the great French film director Jean Renoir was born in Paris!  The son of Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Jean would go on to become just as revolutionary a force in the world of cinema as his father was in the world of painting.  Today, in honor of the birth and legacy of Jean Renoir, here are….

4 Shots From 4 Films

The Rules of the Game (1939, dir by Jean Renoir)

Swamp Water (1941, dir by Jean Renoir)

The Southerner (1945, dir by Jean Renoir)

The River (1951, dir by Jean Renoir)

The Films of 2020: Horse Girl (dir by Jeff Baena)


Horse Girl tells the story of a lost woman named Sarah (played, in a bravely committed performance, by Alison Brie).

Sarah is an introvert who works in a craft store, where she can tell the customers exactly the right type of paint to buy and where she’s watched over by her friendly co-worker, Joan (Molly Shannon).  During the day, she occasionally visits the grave of her mother, who committed suicide.  Sometimes, she might have a conversation with her wealthy stepfather (Paul Reiser).  She enjoys going out to the stables and watching a horse named Willow.  When she was a little girl, she rode Willow and she still thinks of him as being her horse.  The owners of the stable, however, are never particularly enthused to see Sarah hanging around.  In one scene, Sarah attempts to give advice to the girl who was just riding Willow, despite the fact that the girl obviously has no idea who Sarah is.  Despite her good intentions, Sarah tends to be so awkward in her attempts to socialize that she just leaves people feeling uncomfortable.

When she’s not at work or at the stables or trying to fit in with the other students at her zumba class, Sarah lives in an apartment with her roommate, Nikki (Debby Ryan).  While Nikki has a boyfriend, Sarah spends most of her nights in her living room, watching a cheesy sci-fi adventure show called Purgatory.  She knows every detail about the show and is always shocked when no one else is as interested in it as she is.

In short, Sarah is a misft but she’s a familiar misfit.  We all probably know someone like Sarah.  At the very least, we all follow someone on twitter who is like Sarah, someone who always seems to be trying to make a connection but who can never quite get comfortable enough to just relax and be herself.

Strange things start to happen to Sarah.  She hears voices in the apartment.  She has dreams in which she’s lying on the floor of what appears to be a spaceship.  Sarah starts to sleepwalk and is soon waking up to find herself in random locations.  When she sees a picture of her grandmother, she wonders if it’s possible that she’s a clone.  Strange scratches start to appear on the walls of her apartment.  Did Sarah put them there or are they result of something coming after her?

Horse Girl is a surprisingly effective film, one that keeps you guessing as to whether or not what we’re seeing is really happening or if it’s all just occurring in Sarah’s head.  Horse Girl was produced by Duplass Brothers Productions and it really does feel like a mumblecore version of Repulsion, with Alison Brie stepping into Catherine Deneuve’s role of the repressed young woman who finds herself a prisoner of her own fears.  Whereas Repulsion featured arms growing out of the walls, Horse Girl features alien abductions and clones.

It’s a film that is sometimes heart-breaking and occasionally darkly funny.  As much as we care and worry about Sarah, the people around her are interesting as well.  The world that Horse Girl creates feels very real and very familiar and even the actors in the smallest roles create an indelible impression.  This is one of those rare movies where it actually seems like the characters in the film all have a life even when they’re not in a scene.  Every performance and every character feels real and authentic.  I particularly liked the performance of Molly Shannon, who brings a very natural and sincere kindness to the role of Sarah’s co-worker.  Playing Sarah’s father and Sarah’s gently humorous doctor, Paul Reiser and David Paymer shine in small roles.

That said, the film works best as a showcase for Alison Brie, who is both sympathetic and, eventually, more than a little frightening in the role of Sarah.  Brie gives such an emotionally vulnerable performance as Sarah that there are times when you really wish that you could step into the film yourself and assure her that everything’s going to be okay.  It’s also a rather brave performance, one that wins our sympathy while also showing why the increasingly manic Sarah might be too much for some people to take.

I have to admit that I wasn’t necessarily expecting much when I started watching a film called Horse Girl but it turned out to be one of my favorite films of 2020 so far.

The Films of 2020: Confessions of a Time Traveler: The Man From 3036 (dir by The Nostradamus Brothers)


The faux documentary Confessions of a Time Traveler opens with a series of news reports about a mysterious man named Sebastian who, upon being arrested for stealing food, claimed to be from the year 3036.  He also explained that he didn’t know what stealing was because, in 3036, no one uses money.  Not surprisingly, this makes national news because — well, it’s not like there’s anything else going on right now that journalist might be reporting on.  I mean, 2020 has been a pretty slow news year, right?

The authorities are perplexed to discover that there are no records of Sebastian’s life.  Up until the moment that he got arrested, he might as well have not even existed.  Sebastian says that’s because he hasn’t even been born yet.  Could he be telling the truth?

Confessions of a Time Traveler purports to be a series of interviews with Sebastian, who wears sun glasses, a mask, and a hoodie.  Sebastian doesn’t seem to be particularly enthused about being stuck in the 21st Century.  In fact, his attitude is rotten.  Well, you know what, buddy?  If you don’t like it here, go back to your own time!  Oh wait, you can’t.  We haven’t invited time travel yet and by the time we do, Sebastian will probably be dead.  Oh well, sucks to be him.

Sebastian talks a little bit about what life is like in the future and guess what?  None of it is good news.  Apparently, we’re all screwed.  Of course, I’m writing this in 2020 so it’s not like I’m going to be around in 3036 so at least I won’t have to deal with all of the radiation that Sebastian says has caused everyone to lose their hair.

Sebastian informs us that World War III will be between the U.S., Russia, the China, and EU.  (Though Sebastian doesn’t confirm it, I bet the EU was the first to surrender.)  He also says that there’s going to be a vaccine war and that billions will die when they refuse to take a vaccine.  People are going to end up living underneath cities, in abandoned tunnel systems.  They’ll be called beneathers and none of them will live past the age of 40.  Personally, if I was known as being a “beneather,” I would probably die of shame too.

One thing I’ve noticed about time travelers is that they never seem to bring good news.  I mean, seriously — how depressing is the future that every time traveler who visits our age just wants to talk about pollution and war all the time?  I think some of it is our fault for enabling them.  Instead of changing the topic by asking something like, “So, what movie won Best Picture in 3035?,” we’re always demanding information about everything that’s gone wrong with the world.  We’re gluttons for bad time travel news.  What I always wonder is how — with the world apparently in such shambles — people managed to discover the secrets of time travel in the first place.  It seems like that would take a lot of effort and some serious concentration.  Could you concentrate while living in a post-apocalyptic hellscape?

As for Confessions of a Time Traveler, it’s a 36-minute short film that comes to us disguised as a documentary.  Personally, I appreciated the efforts to which the film went to appear to be a legitimate documentary.  Much like Orson Welles convincing listeners that the Martians had landed, Confessions of a Time Traveler attempts to convince the gullible that Sebastian actually is from 3036.  I’m sure that there are some people who will watch Confessons and totally miss the fact that it’s not a real documentary and who will think that it’s an actual interview with someone who claims to be from 3036.  Let’s face it, some people are easily fooled and that’s a timeless truth.  Confession of a Time Traveler certainly understands this and it uses our curiosity and anxiety about the future to its own advantage.  After years of hearing about how society’s on the verge of collapsing, there’s something satisfying about watching something like this and discovering that society actually did collapse.  It’s like, “Finally!  We got something right!”

The film ends with the hint of a sequel or, at the very least, an expansion on the original short film.  I imagine that I’d probably watch a follow-up.  I mean, who knows what the future may hold, right?

Film Review: The Most Dangerous Game (dir by Irving Pichel and Ernest B. Schoedsack


On a jungle island Count Zaroff awaits.

Zaroff is a Russian nobleman and a hunting enthusiast.  However, he’s grown bored with hunting the usual big game trophies.  Those don’t provide enough of a challenge for him.  Instead, he prefers to hunt humans because humans are the most dangerous game.  Humans can think.  Humans are clever.  Humans are deadly.  When big game hunter Bob Rainsford washes up on the island after a shipwreck, he is discovered by Zaroff’s men.  Rainsford discovers that Zaroff is a fan of his work.  Rainsford also learns that Zaroff is planning to hunt him next.

It’s a tale that we’ve all heard, in one form or another.  Ever since Richard Connell’s original short story was published in 1924, The Most Dangerous Game has inspired a countless number of adaptations.  Some of those have been direct adaptations while others have merely been inspired by Connell’s plot but, in the end, they all have the same thing in common.  No animal is more dangerous than man.

As far as my research has revealed, the very first cinematic adaptation of The Most Dangerous Game came out in 1932.  It was produced by Ernest Schoedsack and Merian C. Cooper, the same team that would later be responsible for the original King Kong.  Joel McCrea played Rainsford while Zaroff is played by Leslie Banks.  In order to provide some romance and perhaps to pad out the film to over an hour, a few extra shipwreck survivors are added.  There’s two sailors who don’t last long.  There’s also Eve Trowbridge and her brother, Martin.  Eve and Martin are played by Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong, both of whom would star in King Kong.  Zaroff’s imposing servant, Ivan, is played by Noble Johnson who also appeared in King Kong.  Are you picking up on a theme here?’

Other than the addition of the extra characters, this film version is pretty faithful to its source material.  Again, we have Zaroff “rescuing” Rainsford and then having a long philosophical discussion with him before announcing that it is Rainsford who will be hunted.  Unsurprisingly, the film’s Rainsford is a bit more heroic than the one who appears in the short story.  The literary Rainsford looks forward to defeating Zaroff at his own game while the film’s Rainsford is more concerned with getting off the island and protecting Eve.

All in all, it’s an entertaining film.  Of course, by today’s standards, it’s a bit creaky.  I mean, the film is 88 year old.  Still, Joel McCrea remains a convincing and compelling hero while Leslie Banks is enjoyably hammy in the role of Zaroff.  Zaroff is a role that calls for an actor who is willing to give into his most theatrical impulses and Banks doesn’t let the film down.  The jungle scenery is properly shadowy and even the miniatures used during the shipwreck sequence have a charm all their own.

Unfortunately, The Most Dangerous Game is one of those films that has slipped into the public domain.  As a result, there’s a lot of less-than perfect versions floating around.  (The version that I recently watched on YouTube was so grainy that it was nearly unwatchable.)  Fortunately, this film is a part of the Criterion Collection.  That’s the one to add to your collection.