Important Film News From January 18th, 1929


Let us begin the rest of 2018 with this article that I found while looking through the January 18th, 1929 edition of the Deseret News (which was published out of Salt Lake City):

The lesson?

(Other than the fact that I’m an unapologetic history nerd, of course.  Seriously, I love this stuff.)

History is unpredictable but movies are forever.

Cleaning Out The DVR: My Husband’s Secret Life (dir by Philippe Gagnon)


I recorded My Husband’s Secret Life off of Lifetime on March 25th.

Agck!

That looks like quite an accident, doesn’t it?

Lying on the ground is Freddy (Brett Donahue).  Freddy owns a flower store so you might wonder how exactly he ended up lying in the middle of the street, covered in blood.  Some of it could have to do with the fact that Freddy is the husband who is mentioned, in the title, as having a secret.  Freddy may seem like a nice guy but he sure is shady about certain aspects of his past.  For instance, why does he carry a lighter that was made in Russia?  And when he talks in his sleep, why does he speak with slightly foreign accent?  And then there’s his slightly creepy and rather overprotective mother.

As for why he’s lying in the middle of the road, he’s just been run by a man named Arthur (Joe Cobden).  Arthur drinks too much and is frequently a nervous wreck.  Interestingly enough, he once had a respectable job and a strong family.  Whenever Freddy and Arthur meet, it’s on one of those park benches that practically screams, “Secret spy meeting place!”

Hovering over him is Jennifer Jones (Kara Killmer).  Jennifer is Freddy’s wife and, to be honest, she was a bit concerned about her marriage even before Freddy ended up in the middle of the street.  They’ve been married for seven years and yet, there’s still things that Jennifer doesn’t really known about Freddy.  And when she just happens to spot him in the city, getting yelled at by an angry woman, Jennifer’s suspicions become even stronger.  It gets even worse when she twice tries to call him and, after first ignoring her, he answers the second time and blatantly lies about where he is.

Later, when she confronts him, he admits that he was lying about where he was but then asks her why she didn’t call him out if she knew he was lying.  I mean, how dare she allow him to lie!?  That’s classic gaslighting and enough to make everyone watching the film shout, “Get away from him!”

But, shortly afterward, Freddy ends up in the middle of the street and, suddenly, the whole idea of leaving him gets a lot more awkward.  Freddy’s in a coma now and how can you leave someone when they’re in a coma?  While Jennifer waits for Freddy to wake up, her mother-in-law continues to push her away.  What was Jennifer’s husband hiding and why is his mother searching through his house in the middle of the night?  Jennifer is determined to find out!

In all probability, you’ll figure it out long before Jennifer does.  I mean, honestly, when a guy starts speaking in a foreign accent in his sleep, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that he’s probably not who he says he is.  In fact, it takes a certain suspension of disbelief to accept that Freddy could have fooled Jennifer for all this time.

But — hey, this is Lifetime and Lifetime is all about suspending your disbelief and having a good time!  Kara Killmer gives a sympathetic lead performance and Joe Cobden has a few good scenes as the perpetually shaky Arthur.  At its most effective, My Husband’s Secret Life deals with a question that we’ve all asked (whether we admit it or not): How well do we know the people we love?

My Husband’s Secret Life is also known as Sleeper.

Cleaning Out The DVR: Family Vanished (dir by Mark Sanderson)


I recorded Family Vanished off of the Lifetime Movie Network on July 6th!

“Give me my wedding ring, you white trash bitch!”

— Lisa (Kelly Packard) in Family Vanished (2018)

Here’s two lessons that I learned from Family Vanished:

  1. Be careful how much information you post online.

Seriously, Lisa (Kelly Packard) thought it would be a good idea to post how much she had sold a painting for online.  She also thought it would be a good idea to let the world know that she, her husband (Madison Dirks), and her daughter (Elisa Luthman) would all be in Hawaii on a work vacation.

What happened as a result?  Well, Mike (Todd Cahoon), Carol (Jennifer Taylor), and their daughter (Megan Littler) saw Lisa’s posting.  And they decided that Lisa and her family must have a lot of money.  So, they broke into the family’s house.  They lived there for several days.  They tried on everyone’s clothes.  They slept in everyone’s beds.  They made the house their own and, since they never took off their black gloves, they managed to do it without leaving behind any DNA or fingerprint evidence.

Of course, they quickly discovered that Lisa and her family wasn’t as rich as they assumed.  In fact, a quick perusal of Lisa’s diary revealed that the family itself wasn’t particularly happy.  Still, Mike and Carol were determined to get something for all of their trouble so they stayed in the house until Lisa and the family returned from their vacation.

Second lesson learned:

2. You can only push people so far before they snap.

Sure, Mike and Carol had a lot of fun tormenting Lisa and her family.  They revealed that Lisa had been unfaithful.  They forced Lisa’s husband to bark like a dog.  They taunted Lisa’s daughter for having won so many trophies in school.  Mike and Carol had a lot of fun but they failed to consider just how far some people will go to get revenge.

When their initial ordeal finally ended, Lisa and her husband were not happy to learn that the police had no real leads as to where Mike and Carol went off to.  So, they decided to investigate on their own.  And when they did track down Mike and Carol, well, let’s just say that even the most normal-seeming people can be pushed too far…

So, Family Vanished was a film that I had mixed feelings about.  I’m not a huge fan of movies about people being held hostage.  Films about hostage situations are always a bit too predictable for me.  It always starts with the hostages pleading for their lives and then the nosy neighbor comes over and there’s the big tense scene where the main hostage has to try to get rid of him while someone stands behind the front door with a gun or a knife pointed at his back.  The hostage takers always start taunting the hostages.  I’ve seen it so many times that I just automatically get bored with the situation.

So, the first half of Family Vanished didn’t do much for me but then Lisa and her husband set out to get revenge and it became this totally different, wonderfully over-the-top movie!  I loved watching Kelly Packard and Madison Dirks get mean and vengeful.  Kelly Packard has appeared in many Lifetime movies but I think this is the first one where she actually gets to kick some ass and both she and Dirks seemed to be having a lot of fun with the role reversal.  Add to that, Mike and Carol were so obnoxiously cruel that it was impossible not to get some guilty pleasure out watching Lisa demanded the return of her wedding ring.

With its theme of a terrible crime leading to an even worse revenge, Family Vanished is what I imagine a Wes Craven-directed Lifetime movie would have been like.   It’s Lifetime’s Last House On The Left.

What Lisa Watched Last Night #186: Killer Caregiver (dir by John Murlowski)


Last night, I watched the latest Lifetime movie premiere, Killer Caregiver!

Why Was I Watching It?

Why not?

What Was It About?

While visiting one of her clients, Mariah Wilson (Nicole Hayden) is shocked when an accident leads to not only his death but also to her breaking her arm.  With months of physical therapy ahead of her, Mariah hires a home caregiver.  Tara (Camila Banus) seems like she’s perfect.  She gets along with Mariah’s estranged husband, Greg (George Stults).  She helps Mariah exercise her arm.  Most importantly, Mariah’s son, Jacob (Jaeden Bettencourt), loves her!

It all seems perfect, except … uh oh!  It turns out that Tara is the daughter of Mariah’s dead client and she’s out for revenge!

What Worked?

Oh my God, the houses were to die for!  Seriously, one of the things that I love about Lifetime films is that they always take place in these huge houses, the majority of which have a pool in the back yard.  But, even by the standards of Lifetime, this film featured some nice houses.  In fact, Greg and Mariah’s house was so nice that I was half expecting Greg to reveal that he worked as a money launderer for the mob.  But no, Greg’s job had something to do with computers.  Having seen this film, I’m now encouraging my boyfriend to get an IT-related job because I could have a lot of fun with a house that big.

However, it wasn’t just Greg and Mariah who had a nice house.  Tara also had a really nice house, too.  For that matter, when Greg, Mariah, and Jacob were forced to stay in a motel for a night, the motel looked really, really good.

From her first appearance, Tara established herself as being a classic Lifetime villain and Camila Banus really threw herself into the role.  From the minute Tara showed up, she was like, “This is my film and now, everyone’s at my mercy!”  A film like this is only as good as its villain and Tara was a great one.

What Did Not Work?

What happened to Eugene?  The well-meaning but intellectually disabled groundskeeper (played by David Meyers) seemed like he was going to be an important character but then he just kinda disappeared.  It was hard not to feel that the character deserved a resolution to his subplot, as minor as it may have been.

Other than that, it all worked!  I mean, I could sit here and wonder if perhaps Tara could have come with a simpler revenge scheme (spoiler: she could have) but that would be kind of silly on my part.  Melodrama is one of the reasons why I love Lifetime movies!  Besides, how can you go wrong when you’ve got a great psycho and a big house?

“Oh my God!  Just like me!” Moments

While I personally would never plot anyone’s downfall, I still found myself admiring how organized Tara was about it.  You could tell that she probably made out a To-Do List before she set about destroying Mariah’s life:

  1. Become a caregiver
  2. Get hired
  3. Brainwash Jacob
  4. Drug Mariah…

And so on and so forth.  At least, that’s what I would do.

Lessons Learned

With enough planning and preparation, there’s nothing you can’t accomplish.

Plus, computer people make hella money!

The Things You Find On Netflix: 6 Balloons (dir by Marja Lewis-Ryan)


Poor Katie (Abbi Jacobson)!

All she wants to do is throw a surprise party for her new boyfriend and enjoy the 4th of July.  Is that too much to ask?  However, things are never easy.  Her friends are ruthless in their critique of what she’s planning to wear.  Her mother (Jane Kaczmarek) keeps pressuring her to go down to CVS and buy more makeup.  As for her father (Tim Matheson) — well, he’s just too damn good-looking.  All of her friends want to know if it was difficult for Katie to grow up with a “hot dad.”  Katie says it was.

You know what’s even more difficult though?

Trying to throw a surprise birthday party while also trying to take care of your niece and your junkie brother!

From the minute we meet Seth (Dave Franco) it’s obvious that he’s on something.  As soon as Katie orders him to roll up his sleeves, we know that this is not a new thing with Seth.  Seth is a junkie, the type who shoots up in grocery store bathrooms and who buys his heroin from a man who lives in a yellow tent.  Seth isn’t one of those charming junkies, either.  He’s not Ewan McGregor in Trainspotting.  He’s a manipulative, self-centered asshole who agrees to go to detox but only if Katie agrees to pay for it and not tell anyone that he’s using again.  He’s the type who thinks nothing of begging his sister to leave the party that she’s spent weeks planning because he needs a ride to get one last hit before “getting clean.”

6 Balloons is a short film, one that takes place over the course of one long night.  While the party goes on without her, Katie drives Seth around the city.  Whenever Katie objects to what Seth is asking her to do, Seth guilts her.  He continually assures her that he just needs to get high one last time and then he’ll be able to do detox.  Meanwhile, Seth’s daughter sits in her car seat and begs to be taken home.

The acting is okay.  Both Dave Franco and Abbi Jacobson are best known for their comedic work so it’s interesting to see them taking on such dramatic roles here.  At the same time, it sometimes seems like both of them are trying too hard.  The same could be said of  6 Balloons.  This is a film that could have used a little dark humor.  Instead, it’s relentlessly grim and serious and, as a result, a bit of a chose to sit through.  For a 70 minute film, 6 Balloons seems to go on forever.

The problem with films about junkies is that, for the most part, hardcore junkies are dull people and not much fun to be around.  Christiane F, Trainspotting and several of the films influenced by them dealt with this problem by featuring a propulsive soundtrack and some imaginative cinematography.  (Trainspotting also wisely devoted more screen time to Mark and Sick Boy than to Spud.  Just imagine how difficult it would be to watch Trainspotting if the entire film had centered on Spud getting high and crawling underneath cars.)  With its hand-held camerawork and it’s subdued soundtrack, 6 Balloons takes more of a documentary approach.  The film will leave you with no doubt that heroin is bad and it’s not good to be an enabler but, at the same time, it’ll probably also inspire you to glance at the time and ask yourself, “Is this thing over yet?”

Insomnia File #37: Evita (dir by Alan Parker)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

Last night, if you were in a hotel room in Alabama and you discover that you couldn’t get to sleep despite having a busy day ahead of you, you could have always turned on the TV and watched the 1996 musical extravaganza, Evita.

That’s what I did!

Evita, of course, is based on the award-winning musical by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber.  Opening in 1952, with Argentina being thrown into mourning and chaos by the death of Eva Peron (Madonna), the film then flashes back to follow Eva as she goes from being a child of poverty to a well-known actress to eventually the wife of Argentina’s president, Juan Peron (Jonathan Pryce).  The majority of her story is told to us by Che (Antonio Banderas), a cynical observer who pops up in various disguises and who is always quick to accuse Eva of selling out the poor while, at the same time, professing to be as obsessed with her as everyone else.  Much as they did with the story of Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar, Rice and Lloyd Weber use the story of Eva Peron to explore what it means to be a celebrity in an unstable world.

(If anyone ever decides to produce a musical about the Kardashians, they would be fools not to approach Rice and Lloyd Webber to write it.)

Evita is kind of a strange film.  On the one hand, it’s a wonderful spectacle.  Director Alan Parker does a wonderful job visually interpreting the music.  The sets are huge and ornate.  The costumes are to die for.  There’s never a moment when you don’t want to look at the screen.  Parker keeps the action moving and, regardless of how cynical one may be about politics, it’s hard not to be impressed by the army of extras that march through the film, chanting “Peron.”  While both the musical and film undoubtedly took liberties with the actual story (and don’t watch this film expecting to see any acknowledgment of the countless number of Nazi war criminals that Peron welcomed to Argentina after the fall of the Third Reich), it still does a great job of capturing the sweep of change and revolution.  You watch the film and you understand why the citizens of an unstable country would put their faith in messianic leaders like the Perons.  Jonathan Pryce does a good job playing Peron and Antonio Banderas is absolutely on fire as Che.

(In some stage productions, Che is specifically portrayed as being a young Che Guevara.  Guevara, of course, was a racist mass murderer who became an icon because he was photogenic.  Fortunately, the film is content to portray Che as simply being a politically active citizen of Argentina.)

And yet, there is an emptiness at the center of this adaptation of Evita and that emptiness is named Madonna.  Strangely, for someone who has been a star longer than I’ve been alive, Madonna has absolutely zero screen presence.  She looks glamorous enough for the part and she’s got a good enough voice for the songs but, whenever she actually has to act, Madonna’s performance feels awkward and forced.  Her performance is too obviously calculated, and, as a result, there’s nothing natural about her or her interpretation of Evita.  To put it simply, she tries too hard.  She comes across as the type of performer who doesn’t so much smile as she acts the process of smiling.  When Madonna performs opposite Pryce and Banderas, they’re both good enough to carry her through their shared scenes.  But whenever Madonna has to hold the screen on her own, the film falls strangely flat.

The end result is a strangely uneven film, one that leaves little doubt that Eva Person was loved while, at the same time, never seeming to understand why.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Winning Season
  26. Rabbit Run
  27. Remember My Name
  28. The Arrangement
  29. Day of the Animals
  30. Still of The Night
  31. Arsenal
  32. Smooth Talk
  33. The Comedian
  34. The Minus Man
  35. Donnie Brasco
  36. Punchline

Film Review: The Howling (dir by Steven M. Smith)


Horror is all about atmosphere.

It doesn’t matter how bloody or gory a film is.  It doesn’t matter how creative the filmmakers gets when it comes to creating their monster or plotting out their haunting.  It doesn’t matter how meta the dialogue is or how many references are tossed in to other horror movies.  It all starts with atmosphere.

The right atmosphere keeps us, the viewers, off-balance throughout the entire film.  The right atmosphere leaves us wondering what’s lurking behind every corner and it makes us jump at every unexpected sound.  The right atmosphere tells us that something terrifying could happen at any minute.  The right atmosphere makes us feel as if we’re watching a filmed nightmare.  The right atmosphere keeps us watching even when we might want to look away.

The Howling is full of atmosphere.

Now, before anyone asks, this British film is not a remake of the classic American werewolf movie.  Instead, it deals with the legend of Dr. Rathbone (Jon-Paul Gates).  Rathbone, it’s said, was a scientist who lived in a mansion outside of a small English village.  Everyone suspected that, inside of his mansion, Rathbone was performing horrific experiments on both animals and humans.  When Rathbone mysteriously disappeared, no one regretted his absence.  In fact, many people suspected that perhaps Rathbone had been killed by one of his experiments and, if so, good riddance!  Of course, the only problem was that, with Rathbone gone, no one was quite what had actually happened to his experiments.  Were they now living in the woods or was the whole thing just an urban legend?

Dr. Rathbone, at work

 

As Halloween approaches, three teenagers — Jason (Erik Knutsvik), his girlfriend Kristy (Tiffany-Ellen Robinson), and their friend Sophia (Maria Austin) — camp in the woods, hoping to discover the truth.  After all, there’s a lot of online clicks and youtube views to be captured by hunting the paranormal.  One need only watch Mystery, Uncovered with Ben Tramer (Matthew Fitzthomas Rogers) to understand that!

(I assume that Ben Tramer was named after Laurie’s unfortunate crush in the first two Halloween films.)

When it starts storming and their car disappears, Jason, Kristy, and Sophia are forced to seek refuge in what appears to be some sort of decrepit asylum.  They’re met by the caretaker, Shelley (Hans Hernke), who says he works for the Master and who, when an inmate suddenly makes an appearance, says, “Don’t mind him, he’s harmless.”

Of course, no one that they’ll meet that night is harmless…

The Howling plays out like a filmed dream, full of strange characters and nicely surreal images.  The film starts with a series of overhead shots, all of which suggest that not only the main characters but the entire world is being watched and stalked by some ominous and unknown force.  With the exception of a few key scenes, the majority of the film is in black-and-white and some of the images captures, especially in the doctor’s lab, are striking in their starkness.  (There are also a few brief scenes where the asylum is so dark that it’s hard to visually make out what’s happening.  Instead, we only hear voices in the blackness, an effective reminder of why so many people sleep with at least one light on.)  The few times when color does intrude on the film, like when Shelley lights a candle or when we see an episode of Mystery, Uncovered, the effect is a disquieting one.  In perhaps the film’s strongest sequence, several of Rathbone’s “patients’ suddenly appear in full, vibrant color, a nightmarish montage that seems to literally explode from the film.  There’s also a nicely down black-and-white scene involving a rather haunting dance.

Lest I give you the wrong idea, The Howling definitely has a sense of humor about itself.  In many ways it’s an homage to the gloriously over-the-top horror films of the past.  It’s a film that obviously was made for horror fans by horror fans and, as a result, the 83 minute running time is full of references to other classic horror films.  Shelley, for instance, will be a familiar character to anyone who has ever seen a haunted house film from the 40s or 50s.  There’s always a mysterious caretaker.  As for the Asylum itself, it feels like it could have been transported in from the twisted, psychological landscape of German Expressionism.

I liked The Howling.  It’s a low-budget horror film that makes pays homage to some of my favorite horror films and makes good use of a dream-like atmosphere.  And, as I said before, atmosphere is everything….