Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (dir by Richard Brooks)


The 1958 best picture nominee, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, opens with a 30-something Paul Newman doing something stupid.

It’s a testament to just how incredibly handsome Paul Newman was in the 1950s that he can still be sexy even while he’s stumbling around in a drunken haze and attempting to jump over hurdles on a high school football field.  Newman is playing Brick Pollitt, youngest son of the wealthy cotton farmer Big Daddy Pollitt (Burl Ives).  Brick was a star athlete in high school but now, he’s a drunk with an unhappy marriage and a lot of bitter feelings.  When Brick attempts to jump over the hurdles, he breaks his ankle.  The only thing that keeps Brick from being as big a loser as Biff Loman is the fact that he looks like Paul Newman.

Brick is married to Maggie (Elizabeth Taylor), a beautiful woman who may have grown up on the wrong side of the tracks but who has married into money.  The only problem is that it doesn’t seem like Brick is ever going to get that money.  With Big Daddy getting older, everyone in Mississippi is wondering which Pollitt son will inherit his fortune.  Will it be drunken, self-pitying Brick or will it be Goober (Jack Carson) and his wife (Madeleine Sherwood)?  One point in Goober’s favor is that he and his wife already have five rambunctious children while Brick and Maggie have none.  In fact, gossip has it that Brick and Maggie aren’t even sleeping in the same bed!  (While Maggie begs Brick to make love to her, Brick defiantly sleeps on the couch.)  The other problem is that, for whatever reason, Brick harbors unending resentment towards … well, everything.  Perhaps it has something to do with the mysterious death of Brick’s best friend and former teammate, Skipper…

Brick, Maggie, Goober, and the whole clan are in Mississippi to celebrate Big Daddy’s 65th birthday.  Big Daddy is happy because he’s just been told that, despite a recent scare, he does not have cancer.  What Big Daddy doesn’t know is that his doctor (Larry Gates) lied to him.  Big Daddy does have cancer.  In fact, Big Daddy only has a year to live.

Whenever I watch Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, I find it’s helpful to try to imagine what it would have been like to watch the movie in the 1950s.  Imagine how audiences, at a time when married couples were still regularly portrayed as sleeping in separate beds and when men were naturally assumed to be the kings of their household, reacted to seeing a film where Elizabeth Taylor was literally reduced to begging Paul Newman to make love to her while Newman hopped around on a crutch and continually found himself getting stuck in embarrassing situations.  Though it may seem tame by today’s standards, the film was undeniably daring for 1958 and watching it is like stepping into a time machine and discovering that, yes, there was a time when Elizabeth Taylor wearing a modest slip was considered to be the height of raciness.

Of course, the film itself is quite toned down from the Tennessee Williams’s play on which it was based.  Williams reportedly hated the changes that were made in the screenplay.  In the play, Skipper committed suicide after confessing that he had romantic feelings for Brick, feelings that Brick claims he did not reciprocate.  That was glossed voter in the film, as was the story of Skipper’s unsuccessful attempt to prove his heterosexuality by having sex with Maggie.  By removing any direct reference to the romantic undercurrent of Brick and Skipper’s relationship, the film also removes most of Brick’s motivation.  (It’s still there in the subtext, of course, but it’s probable that the hints that Newman and Taylor provided in their performances went straight over the heads of most audience members.)  In the play, Brick is tortured by self-doubt and questions about his own sexuality.  In the film, he just comes across as being rather petulant.

And again, it’s fortunate that, in the film, Brick was played by Paul Newman.  It doesn’t matter how bitter Brick becomes or how much he whines about not wanting to be around his family.  One look at Newman’s blue eyes and you understand why Maggie is willing to put up with him.  In the role of Maggie, Elizabeth Taylor gives a performance that manages to be both ferocious and delicate at the same time.  Maggie knows how to play the genteel games of the upper class South but she’s definitely not going to let anyone push her around.  It’s easy to see why Big Daddy prefers the company of Maggie to his own blood relations.  It’s not just that Maggie’s beautiful, though the implication that Big Daddy is attracted to her is certainly present in the film.  It’s also the she’s the only person around who is as strong and determined as him.

Indeed, seen today, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof‘s main strength is that it’s a masterclass in good acting.  Williams’s dialogue is so stylized and his plot is so melodramatic that one bad performance would have caused the entire film to implode.  Fortunately, Newman and Taylor make even the archest of lines sound totally natural while Burl Ives and Judith Anderson are both the epitome of flamboyant charisma as Big Daddy and Big Mama.  It takes a lot of personality to earn a nickname like Big Daddy but Ives pulls it off.

Along with being a huge box office success, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof was nominated for best picture of 1958.  However, it lost to Gigi.

Cleaning Out The DVR: A Night To Regret (dir by Tim Shell)


I recorded A Night To Regret off of Lifetime on June 19th, 2018!

Poor Chelsea Bilson (Mollee Gray)!

She’s got a lot to deal with.  She’s a college student who is always busy.  Her mother (Marguerite Moreau) is pressuring her to become an attorney, constantly asking her about her grades, and continually talking about how expensive Chelsea’s education is turning out to be.  Her boyfriend has just dumped her, specifically because Chelsea doesn’t ever seem to have any time for him.

All Chelsea wants to do is direct a movie but even that’s become a struggle.  Because her mother is only interested in financing Chelsea’s education, Chelsea is not only having to pay for the movie herself but she’s also having to do it all without her mother finding out what’s going on.  Can you blame Chelsea for just wanting to spend a night unwinding?

It’s while she’s out with her friend Sara (Gigi Zumbado) that Chelsea runs into Mila (Kirsten Pfeiffer) and Liam (Tyler Sellers).  Mila and Chelsea were childhood friends.  As Chelsea explains it, she and Mila were always getting in trouble together.  Mila eventually ended up living on the streets but it appears that she’s doing much better now.  Now, she has expensive clothes and a nice apartment.  And she even has a handsome business partner in Liam.

What is Mila’s business?

She’s a webcam girl and, in Lifetime films, that always means trouble!

Seeing that Chelsea needs money and some confidence boosting, Mila tries to turn Chelsea into a webcam girl.  It’s not really something Chelsea is interested in doing, though she does make a thousand dollars as the result of one eager fan.  That allows her to pay for one more day of shooting, which is a good thing.

What isn’t such a good thing is that it soon becomes apparent that Chelsea’s fan is more than a little unstable and obsessed.  Even after Chelsea makes it clear that she wants nothing to do with him, he still tries to contact her.  He sends her a message letting her know that he likes what she’s wearing.  Chelsea looks outside her bedroom window, just in time to catch a truck driving away.

Meanwhile, Chelsea’s mom has a new friend!  His name is Jake Peters (Kevin McNamara) and he’s a personal trainer!  He has a disconcerting habit of showing up wherever Chelsea happens to be.  Jake seems friendly but there’s something a bit off about him.  He’s a little bit too friendly and he tends to speak in weird self-help clichés.  And, of course, there’s the fact that Jake murdered his mother at the start of the film…

Yep, Jake has some issues.  And it’s not a spoiler to tell you that he’s also Chelsea’s stalker.  He’s got plans to make Chelsea’s one night as a webcam girl a night to regret!

I had to work the film’s title into that last paragraph because I think it’s a pretty good title.  As soon as you hear those words, “A Night To Regret,” you’re immediately intrigued.  A Night To Remember ended with the Titanic hitting an iceberg.  How will A Night To Regret end?

Well, in A Night To Regret, the iceberg is Jake, who is a thoroughly creepy and unsettling character, so much so that you have to feel that both Chelsea and her mother were incredibly naive to not immediately turn and run the first time that they saw Jake approaching them.  Jake is the type who will murder a random passerby, smirk about it, and then not understand why some people are turned off by his behavior.  Kevin McNamara does a great job playing Jake, turning him into a memorable Lifetime villain.

I also liked the performances of Kirsten Pfeiffer and Tyler Sellers are Mila and Liam.  (Interestingly enough, Liam is an anagram of Mila and vice versa.)  Pfeiffer kept you guessing as to whether Mila was just a concerned friend or if her motives were more sinister while Sellers was so charming as Liam that you regretted he wasn’t in more of the movie.  Also giving a good performance was Tina Huang, who projected a wonderful, no-bullshit attitude as Detective Morita.

A Night To Regret is a typical stalker flick but the performances of McNamara, Pfeiffer, Sellers, and Huang keep things interesting.

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?”