Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Tender Mercies (dir by Bruce Beresford)


The other day, on this very site, I mentioned that the 1983 film Tender Mercies was one of the films that David Lynch turned down.  

In his memoir, Room to Dream, Lynch wrote that he was sent the film’s script while he was looking for a project to serve as his follow-up to The Elephant Man.  Lynch wrote that he liked the script, which was written by Horton Foote (who had previously won an Oscar for adapted To Kill A Mockingbird), but that Lynch also felt that it just wasn’t the right project for him at the time.  Tender Mercies was eventually directed by Bruce Beresford and Lynch mentioned that he felt that Beresford did a “brilliant” job.

After I posted the article, it occurred to me that Tender Mercies is not a film that’s as well-known as it deserves to be.  It received five Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture.  Robert Duvall won his first (and, to date, only) Oscar for playing the lead role.  It’s an acclaimed film but it also plays it in a rather low-key style, particularly when compared to some of the other films that were released in the early 80s.  (1983 may have been the year of Tender Mercies but it was also the year of Scarface, Flashdance, Return of the Jedi, and Risky Business.)  As such, it’s a film that’s been a bit overshadowed over the years.

Tender Mercies takes place in rural Texas.  Mac Sledge (Robert Duvall) is a former country-western star whose career has collapsed due to his alcoholism and his own self-destructive behavior.  One morning, a hungover Mac wakes up in a roadside motel.  Not having any money on him, Mac asks the motel’s owner — Rosa Lee (Tess Harper), who lost her husband in Vietnam — if he can work at the motel in return for a room.  Rosa Lee agrees, on the condition that Mac not drink while he’s working.

As the days pass, Mac and Rosa Lee grow closer and Mac becomes a surrogate father to Rosa Lee’s young son, Sonny (Allan Hubbard).  Eventually, Mac and Rosa Lee marry and Mac becomes an accepted member of the community.  However, Mac remains troubled.  His ex-wife, Dixie (Betty Buckley), has built a career on singing the songs that he wrote for her but she refuses to consider anything new that he’s written.  His teenage daughter (Ellen Barkin) stops by the motel and announces that she’s running away to get married.  There’s tragedy but there’s also hope and forgiveness.

Tender Mercies is a simple but affecting film about a good man who is struggling to deal with the fact that he was once a very bad man.  What makes Tender Mercies interesting is what doesn’t happen.  The first time I saw it, I spent the entire movie expecting Mac to fall off the wagon and break everyone’s heart.  Instead, Mac manages to keep his promise to his new family but what he discovers is that being sober doesn’t automatically exempt one from pain or guilt.  He still has to deal with sadness and disappointment but now, he has to do it without using alcohol as a crutch.  Instead of getting his strength from booze, he now gets it from love.

It’s a wonderfully sweet movie, featuring naturalistic performances from Harper, Hubbard, and especially Robert Duvall.  It seem appropriate that, after making his film debut as Boo Radley in a film written by Horton Foote, Duvall would win his first Oscar for another film written by Foote.  Duvall plays Mac as a plain-spoken and weary soul who is still just enough of a romantic to find some sort of redemption in the world.  It’s a great performance and it’s a good film and I’d suggest checking it out if you ever need a good cry.

A Movie A Day #228: Johnny Be Good (1988, directed by Bud Smith)


Johnny Walker (Anthony Michael Hall) may be the best high school quarterback in the country but he has a difficult choice to make.  He promised his girlfriend, Georgia (Uma Thurman), that he would go to the local state college with her but every other university in the country wants him.  (Even legendary sportscaster Howard Cosell calls Johnny and advises him to go to an Ivy League college.)  As Johnny tours universities across the country, he faces every temptation.  By the time he makes his decision, will Johnny still be good?

The main problem with Johnny Be Good can be found in the first sentence of the above synopsis.  Anthony Michael Hall plays the best high school quarterback in the country.  By taking on the role of Johnny Walker, Hall was obviously attempting to prove that he was capable of more than just playing nerds for John Hughes.  But Hall is never convincing as a quarterback, much less the best in the country.  Though he bulked up for the role, it is impossible to imagine Hall in a huddle, coming up with the big play that wins the game.  It’s easier to imagine Johnny getting shoved in a locker and left there until the school year ends.  Hall seems to be lost in the role and the movie never seems to be sure who Johnny Walker is supposed to be.  (Two years later, Hall would again play a jock and give a far better performance in Edward Scissorhands.)

As for the rest of the cast, Robert Downey, Jr., who plays Johnny’s teammate and best friend, is even less convincing as a football player than Hall.  In the 1980s, Downey could play a quirky sidekick in his sleep but not a wide receiver.  Paul Gleason also shows up in the movie, basically playing the same role that he played in The Breakfast Club.  Uma Thurman is sweet and pretty in her film debut but it’s a nothing role.  Fans of Cannon Picture will want to keep an eye out for Steve James, in a small role as a coach.

Poorly written and slackly directed with few laughs, Johnny Be Good fails to take its own advice.

A Movie A Day #183: No Code of Conduct (1998, directed by David Lee…sorry, Bret Michaels)


From the strange period of time in which Charlie Sheen wanted people to call him Charles, comes this generic action movie.

Detective Jake Peterson (Charles Sheen) is a loser.  Even though his father (Martin Sheen) is the chief of police, Jake is so bad at his job that he has been assigned to work in the evidence locker.  His wife (Meredith Salenger) is always yelling at him for being a neglectful father.  The only person who likes Jake is his partner (Mark Dascasos, who is wasted) and partner’s never live for long in cop movies.  When Jake discovers that evil businessman Julian Disanto (Ron Masak) is plotting to smuggle Mexican heroin into Arizona, he has a chance for redemption but it will not be easy because Disanto is not only working with a corrupt DEA agent (Paul Gleason, of course) but he also has a band of psychotic henchmen.

This predictable and not very exciting action film is interesting for two reasons.  First of all, it was directed by the poor man’s David Lee Roth, Bret Michaels.  At the time, the future star of Rock of Love and Celebrity Apprentice winner was best known for being the lead singer of the most boring hair metal band of the 80s, Poison.  It is always interesting when someone who found fame as something other than a filmmaker tries his hand at directing.  Sometimes, the results can be surprisingly good and sometimes, the result is No Code For Conduct.  Michaels and Sheen (who co-wrote the script) may have been trying to pull off an homage to the action films of their youth but No Code For Conduct has more in common with the work of Uwe Boll than the work of William Friedkin.

The other interesting thing about No Code for Conduct is that, even though “Charles” and Martin are top-billed, it is actually a four Sheen/Estevez movie.  Renee Estevez briefly appears as a cop while Martin’s brother, Joe Estevez, is in charge of the police motor pool.  If No Code For Conduct is an act-off between the members of the Sheen/Estevez clan, Joe emerges as the clear winner.  Charlie does his wide-eyed intense thing.  Martin goes through the movie with a “the shit I do for my son” air of resignation.  Renee is not around long enough to make an impression.  But Joe?

Joe Estevez is the man!

Joe Estevez, the only Estevez that matters

A Movie A Day #131: Rich Girl (1991, directed by Joel Bender)


Courtney Wells (Jill Schoelen) is a rich girl (hence, the title).  Realizing that she is 21 years old and has yet to really experience life, Courtney declares her independence.  She breaks up with her cheating fiancée and tells her industrialist father (Paul Gleason, of course) that she no longer wants to go into the family business.  When her father responds by cutting her off, the rich girl becomes a poor girl.  Though she struggles at first, Courtney eventually trades her Ferrari for a reasonable car, finds a cheap apartment, and gets a job working as a waitress at a trendy Los Angeles nightclub, which is owned by Rocco (Ron Karabastos, of course).  She falls in love with aspiring musician Rick (Don Michael Paul) but he is already involved with his cokehead lead singer (Cherie Currie) and Courtney’s father will do anything to keep her and Rick apart.

In the early 1990s, Rich Girl was a late night HBO mainstay.  There is nothing surprising about the movie and Rick’s band has a sound that was already dated by 1991.  (While the rest of America is learning to love grunge, Rick and his band are still playing Bon Jovi cover tunes in the garage.)  However, Rich Girl does star the always gorgeous Jill Schoelen, which makes it a hundred times better than every other low-budget film that showed up on HBO in the early 90s.  Whatever happened to her?

Look familiar?

Here’s why.

The TSL’s Grindhouse: Night Game (dir by Peter Masterson)


Apparently, today is the opening day of the 2017 baseball season.  The only reason that I know that is because of my sister Erin.  I don’t know much about baseball, to be honest.  I know that my city’s team is the Texas Rangers and they were once owned by George W. Bush.  I know that Houston has a team called the Astros.  But, really, the main thing that I know about baseball is that my sister absolutely loves it.

So, when Erin asked me to review a baseball movie today, how could I say no?  I mean, I may know next to nothing about baseball but I certainly know something about movies!

For that reason, I’m going to take a few minutes to tell you about a 1989 film called Night Game.  Night Game is many things.  It’s a movies that features a lot of baseball, even though it’s not really a sports film per se.  It’s a police procedural, though the film itself suggests that the police often don’t have the slightest idea what they’re actually doing.  It’s a serial killer film, though its killer is never quite as loquacious as we’ve come to expect in this age of Hannibal Lecter and Dexter Morgan.  At times, it’s a slasher film, though it’s never particularly graphic.  Mostly, Night Game is a Texas film.

Directed by native Texan Peter Masterson, Night Game is like the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre in that it is one of those rare films that not only takes place in Texas but was actually filmed on location.  To be exact, Night Game was filmed in both Galveston and Houston.  The entire film has a friendly and quirky Texas feel to it.  Masterson may not have been a great visual director (If not for some language and nudity, Night Game could pass for a TV movie) but Night Game is a movie where the plot is less important than capturing the little details of a time. a location, and the people who lived there.  Though Night Game is 28 years old, it’s portrait of my home state still seemed very contemporary to me.  I guess Texas hasn’t really changed that much over the past few decades.

As for the film’s plot, someone is murdering young women in Galveston and leaving their bodies on the boardwalk.  Obviously, that’s not going to be good for attracting Spring Break revelers.  The film doesn’t make any effort to keep the murderer’s identity a secret.  We see his face fairly early on.  We also see that he has a hook for a hand.  Eventually, we do learn the murderer’s motives.  They’re pretty silly but then again, individual motives rarely make sense to anyone other than the guy with the hook for a hand.

Detective Mike Seaver (Roy Scheider) has been assigned to solve the case.  One thing that I really liked about Night Game was that Mike was pretty much just a normal guy with a job to do.  He wasn’t self-destructive.  He wasn’t always drunk.  He wasn’t suicidal.  He wasn’t always lighting a cigarette and staring at the world through bloodshot eyes while the lighting reflected off of his artful stubble.  He was just a detective trying to do his job and get home on time.  After sitting through countless films about self-destructive cops and criminal profilers, the normalcy of Mike was a nice change of pace.

Mike does have a backstory.  He used to play baseball and he still loves the game.  He goes to every Astros home game in Houston.  He’s in love with Roxy (Karen Young), who works at the stadium.  Things are only slightly complicated by the fact that Mike had a previous relationship with Roxy’s mother (Carlin Glynn).  Don’t worry, Mike’s not secretly Roxy’s father or anything like that.  It’s not that type of movie.

Anyway, Mike is such a fan of baseball that he realizes something.  The killer only strikes on nights that the Astros win a game.  And he only strikes if a certain pitcher was throwing the ball.  The obvious solution would be to shoot the pitcher in the arm and end his athletic career.  However, Mike’s too nice a guy to do that.  Instead, he just tries to track down the killer…

And, as I said, Night Game actually isn’t a bad little movie.  Make no mistake, it’s a very slight movie.  At no point are you going to say, “I’m going to remember that scene for the rest of my life!”  That said, it’s a surprisingly good-natured film and Roy Scheider’s performance is likable and unexpectedly warm.  With all that in mind, Night Game is an entertaining and (mildly) bloody valentine to my home state.

Plus, it’s a baseball movie!  I don’t know much about baseball but, if my sister loves it, it has to be a good thing!

Horror on TV: Tales From The Crypt 3.7 “The Reluctant Vampire” (dir by Stephen Hopkins)


Since I’ve been reviewing so many Dracula films as of late, it seems only appropriate that tonight’s excursion into televised horror should be about a vampire as well!

The Reluctant Vampire was the 7th episode of the 3rd season of HBO’s Tales From The Crypt!  It stars Malcolm McDowell as a vampire who is a little bit too nice for his own good.  Seriously, you can’t go wrong with Malcolm McDowell as a vampire.

The Reluctant Vampire originally aired on July 10th, 1991.

Enjoy!

Horror on the Lens: He Knows You’re Alone (dir by Armand Mastroianni)


For today’s Horror on The Lens, we present 1980’s He Knows You’re Alone!

He Knows You’re Alone is an old school slasher film, which means that it’s basically about one stalking killer and a bunch of people who have absolutely no common sense.  The gimmick here is that the slasher is stalks young brides-to-be.  Admittedly, this is all pretty standard stuff, though the film does have a clever opening and features some good cinematography and —

OH MY GOD, IS THAT TOM HANKS!?

Yes, He Knows You’re Alone is the debut film of Tom Hanks and he’s so young in this film that he still has a chin.  He plays a college student named Eliot.  Nowadays, He Knows You’re Alone is usually described as “starring Tom Hanks” but actually, Tom’s role is pretty small.  But he’s still probably the most likable person in the film.

Anyway, He Knows You’re Alone is an above average slasher flick and it’s definitely not safe for work so stop watching movies while on the clock!  Wait until you get home to enjoy He Knows You’re Alone!

 

Back to School #39: The Breakfast Club (dir by John Hughes)


breakfast-club-2

Dear Mr Vernon,

We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. But we think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us – in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain, and an athlete and a basket case, a princess and a criminal.

Does that answer your question?

Sincerely yours,

The Breakfast Club.

— Brian’s essay from The Breakfast Club (1985)

 That’s one thing that has always bothered me about The Breakfast Club.  The film, of course, is famous for being about five different high school students who are forced to spend a Saturday in detention with each other.  Over the course of the day, they start off as antagonists, separated by their own preconceived notions of who they are.  But, as the day progresses, they talk and they bond and they discover that they all have more in common than they might think.  And, at the end of the film, “basket case” Allison (Ally Sheedy) pairs off with “athlete” Andy (Emilio Estevez) and “criminal” Bender (Judd Nelson) pairs off with “princess” Claire (Molly Ringwald).  And while Claire is busy giving Allison a makeover and Bender is thinking about how iconic he’ll look when he raises his fist while leaving the school, “brain” Brian gets to write everyone’s essay.

Originally, all five of them were supposed to spend their time in detention writing individual essays about how they’re going to be better students and citizens.  But, in the end, only one essay is turned in and Brian is the one who writes it.  It’s always seemed a bit unfair to me that, while everyone else was getting to reveal a new side of his or herself, Brian was basically doing everyone’s schoolwork.  I know it can be argued that this shows that the other students finally appreciate Brian’s intelligence but everyone already knew he was smart.  In the end, Brian is the one who articulated what they all discovered during that Saturday detention but he also seems to be the one who gained the least from the experience.

The-Breakfast-Club-1985-001

But, at heart, The Breakfast Club is a deeply ambiguous movie.  That’s one reason why, despite the fact that it was initially released the same year that I was born, the film still feels relevant today and why it remains one of the most popular high school films ever made.  Everyone can relate to at least one of the five students and I imagine that when most people watch it, they wonder how they would react to an aggressive character like John Bender or how they would handle the horrific story that Andy tells when asked what he did to get sentenced to detention.  And, at the end of the film, everyone wonders if any of the new friendships and relationships would actually last longer than a weekend.  When Bender asks Claire how she’s going to act if Brian approaches her on Monday, we all know what will probably actually happen if he does.  At the end of the film, you’re happy that they got that Saturday together because you know that, once Monday comes, it’s going to be like it never happened.

the_breakfast_club_2

I’ve watched The Breakfast Club a handful of times.  Whether I relate the most to Claire or to Allison usually depends on my mood. I think that a lot of people want to relate to Allison because, for much of the movie, Claire is unapologetically selfish and spoiled.  But, if we’re honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we’re all a lot more like Claire than any of us want to admit.

It’s also easy to relate to Allison because she’s not really a very well-drawn character.  While the other characters all come from an easily identifiable group, Allison is just there.  She’s a collection of strange quirks that don’t always have a clear motivation and, in the end, the only reason Allison works as a character is because Sheedy does such a good job playing her.  At the end of the film, Claire gives Allison a makeover and I have to admit that it always kind of breaks my heart to see how Allison goes from being strange to being very conventional.

Makeover

(In Susannah Gora’s excellent book You Couldn’t Ignore Me If You Tried, Sheedy is quoted as saying that she didn’t feel very happy about it either.  According to her — and she’s correct — the only thing that really redeems this scene is the fact that Allison doesn’t quite pull off her new look.  She’s still a little awkward and you realize that she may have just been humoring Claire.)

As for the males, Anthony Michael Hall gets a lot of the laughs and Judd Nelson gets the best lines but Emilio Estevez gives the best performance.  We already know that Brian is insecure despite being intelligent and we expect that Bender is angry because he’s got an abusive father.  But when Andy explains why he, an otherwise nice and likable guy, committed a horrific act of bullying, it’s an amazing scene and Estevez plays it perfectly.

Estevez

In fact,  both Estevez and Sheedy are so good that I’ve decided that Andy and Allison did stay together after detention.  Eventually they got married and, right now, they’re living in a pretty house in the suburbs of Chicago.  Bender and Claire, however — there’s no way that lasted!

But, regardless of what happened on Monday, there’s no way your heart can’t soar a little when Bender lifts that fist above his head.

Bender and his fist