An Olympic Film Review: Cool Runnings (dir by Jon Turtletaub)


Like all good people, I am currently obsessed with the Winter Olympics.  Earlier this week, I asked some of my closest friends if they could recommend some good films about the Winter Games.  Almost everyone who replied recommended that I check out Cool Runnings, a film from 1993.

So, I did.

And I’m glad that I did.

Cool Runnings is one of those sports movies that’s based on a true story, though I imagine it’s probably a very loose adaptation.  Jamaica is a country with a long and proud Olympic history.  Since the 1948 Summer Olympics, Jamaican athletes have won a total of 77 medals, the majority of them in individual and relay sprinting events.  However, Jamaica didn’t compete in the Winter Olympics until 1988, when the Jamaican Bobsled Team made their debut.  According to contemporary news reports, the Jamaicans were folk heroes at the ’88 Winter Games and other teams would frequently help them out by lending them equipment.  Though the Jamaicans were never really a medal contender, they were personally popular and everyone was upset when their bobsled crashed during one of their qualifying runs.

That, of course, isn’t exactly the story that’s told in Cool Runnings.  In Cool Runnings, the Jamaican bobsled team is ridiculed by all of the snobs on the other teams, with the Germans especially going out of their way to be condescending.  Their first run is a disaster but their second run puts them into medal contention and causes people all over the world to spontaneously break into applause.  It’s a sports film, after all.  For a sports film to work, there has to be adversity before there can be victory.  Cool Runnings does stick close enough to the real story that the Jamaicans do end up crashing their sled.  However, in the film version, the team proudly carries their bobsled over the finish line while, again, people all around the world applaud.  Even a woman with a Russian flag claps.  And yes, it’s all pretty hokey but who cares?  It made me cry.

It’s a well-done film, one that is unapologetically sentimental and all the better for it.  Before I watched the film, I didn’t know anything about how the bobsled worked, beyond the fact that it involved four people and that everyone had to jump into the sled after launching it.  But, ultimately, it didn’t matter that I didn’t know much about bobsledding.  From the moment that film started, with scenes of aspiring Olympians running across sunny Jamaica, it had my attention.

When the film starts, Derice Bannock (Leon Robinson) is hoping to compete in the Summer Olympics but, at the qualifying trial, Derice and another runner, Yul Brenner (Malik Yorba), end up tripping over yet another runner, the likable and enthusiastic Junior Bevil (Rawle D. Lewis).  Out of contention for the Summer Olympics, Derice decides to try to find a way to go to the Winter Olympics.  Fortunately, there’s a former Olympic bobsledder, Irv Blitzer (John Candy), living nearby and Derice’s best friend, Sanka (Doug E. Doug) is a champion push cart racer.

The film follows Irv and the four Jamaicans on their unlikely journey to Canada.  It’s a comedy with a dramatic heart.  Yes, Sanka may need help getting his helmet over his hair (“Thanks, coach,” he says whenever Irv pounds down the helmet) but the film also takes the time to explore why it’s so important for these four to compete in the first place.  It might be tempting to make fun of Yul Brenner when he talks about how he wants to live in Buckingham Palace but the film makes clear just how important this improbable dream is for Yul and everyone else.  No one may give the Jamaican bobsled team a chance but Jamaica never stops believing in them.

It’s an incredibly sweet little movie, featuring likable performances and a heart-warming story.  I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a good sports story.

2016 In Review: The Best of SyFy


Well, here we are!  We have reached the end of the first week of January, 2017 and that means that it is time for me to start listing my favorite movies, books, songs, and TV shows of the previous year!  Let’s start things off by taking a look at the best that the SyFy network had to offer in 2016!

Below, you will find my nominees for the best SyFy films and performances of the previous year.  The winners are listed in bold and starred.  As you’ll quickly notice, it was a good year for films about zombies, spiders, and sharks!

(Please note: When it comes to determining the nominees, I have used the credits for each film as listed on the Internet Movie Database.  If anyone feels that they have been miscredited, feel free to let me know and I’ll correct the mistake.  Thanks!)

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Best Picture

2 Lava 2 Lantula, produced by Neil Elman, Anthony Frankhauser, Lisa M. Hansen, Paul Hertzber

Atomic Shark, produced by Tanya Bellamy, Diane Boone, Matt Chiasson, Angela Meredith Furst, Griff Furst, Stephen Furst, M. Juan Gonzalez, Ross Herbert, Howie Klein, Som Kohanzadeh, Yoram Kohanzadeh, Isiah LaBorde, Kevin Lamb, Daniel March, Will Matherne, David Poughatsch, Lee C. Rogers, Miguel Sandoval, Arthur Scanlan, Ben Yimlimai

Dead 7, produced by Paul Bales, Nick Carter, David L. Garber, David Michael Latt, David Rimawi, Micho Rutare, Dylan Vox

Isle of the Dead, produced by Paul Bales, Lauren Elizabeth Hood, David Michael Latt, David Rimawi

*The Night Before Halloween, produced by Blake Corbet, Priscilla Galvez, Christina O’Shea-Daly, Marek Povisal, Lance Samuels, Mary Anne Waterhouse

Ozark Sharks, produced by Kenneth M. Badish, Sam Claitor, Eric Davies, Daniel Lewis, Jordan Lewis, Pierre-Andre Rochat, Tommy Talley

Best Director

Nick Lyons for Isle of the Dead

Nick Simon for 2 Lava 2 Lantula

Misty Talley for Ozark Sharks

*Sheldon Wilson for The Night Before Halloween

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Best Actor

*Nick Carter in Dead 7

Steve Guttenberg in 2 Lava 2 Lantula

Justin Kelly in The Night Before Halloween

Michael Papajohn in Ozark Sharks

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Best Actress

Jessica Blackmore in Dam Sharks

Laura Cayouette in Ozark Sharks

*Bailee Madison in The Night Before Halloween

Maryse Mizanin in Isle of the Dead

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Best Supporting Actor

Raymond J. Barry in Day of Reckoning

*D.C. Douglas in Isle of the Dead

Alex Harrouch in The Night Before Halloween

Thomas Francis Murphy in Ozark Sharks

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Best Supporting Actress

*Allisyn Ashley Arm in Ozark Sharks

Barbara Crampton in Day of Reckoning

Kristina Hughes in Stakeland 2: The Stakelander

Kiana Madiera in The Night Before Halloween

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Best Screenplay

*2 Lava 2 Lantula, Neil Elman, Ashley O’Neil

Isle of the DeadJacob Cooney, Brandon Trenz

The Night Before HalloweenSheldon Wilson

Ozark Sharks, Marcy Holland, Greg Mitchell

Best Cinematography

Atomic Shark, Don E. FauntLeRoy

*The Night Before Halloween, Daniel Grant

Planet of the Sharks, Mark Atkins

Stakeland 2: The Stakelander, Matt Mitchell

Best Costumes

*Dead 7Sarah Sharp

Isle of the Dead, Cailan Calandro

Planet of the Sharks, Mary-Sue Morris

Stakeland 2: The Stakelander, Brenda Shenher

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Best Editing

Atomic Shark, Stephen Pfeil

Isle of the Dead, Rob Pallatina

The Night Before Halloween

*Ozark SharksMisty Talley

Best Makeup

The Crooked Man, Laurie Hallack, Laura Morton, Hannah Schenck, Eric S. Wilson

*Isle of the Dead, Leslie Burdick, Dennis M. Chavez, Michael Robert Cypher, Lleva Radina

Sharknado 4Krystal Bagorio, Stacy Bisel, Haley Coats, Rebeca Ovadia, Magali Serrano, Melissa K. Webb

Stakeland 2: The Stakelander, Raven Dee, Jill Demaer, Lindi Edge, Pete Gerner, Nina McArthur, Brian Spears, Krista Stevenson

Best Score

*Dead 7Drew Lerdal, Bryan Shackle

Isle of the Dead, Chris Cano, Chris Ridenhour

Ozark SharksAndrew Morgan Smith

Sharknado 4Christopher Cano, Chris Ridenhour

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Best Production Design

2 Lava 2 Lantula, Yana Veselova, Megan Sunzeri

Dead 7, Caitlin Langen, Mikki Mamaril

*Isle of the Dead, Kalise Wallace, Taylor Jean

Sharknado 4Kalise Wallace

Best Sound

Atomic Shark

Isle of the Dead

The Night Before Halloween

*Sharknado 4

2lava-2lantula

Best Visual Effects

Atomic Shark

*2 Lava 2 Lantula

The Night Before Halloween

Shadows of the Dead

 

Congratulations to all the nominees!  Thank you for keeping us entertained in 2016!

Want to see my picks for last year?  Click here!

Click here for my picks from 2014!

And here for my picks from 2013!

Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at the best from Lifetime!

Previous Entries In The Best of 2016:

  1. TFG’s 2016 Comics Year In Review : Top Tens, Worsts, And Everything In Between
  2. Anime of the Year: 2016
  3. 25 Best, Worst, and Gems I Saw In 2016

 

Cleaning Out The DVR Yet Again #12: Day of Reckoning (dir by Joel Novoa)


(Lisa recently discovered that she only has about 8 hours of space left on her DVR!  It turns out that she’s been recording movies from July and she just hasn’t gotten around to watching and reviewing them yet.  So, once again, Lisa is cleaning out her DVR!  She is going to try to watch and review 52 movies by Wednesday, November 30th!  Will she make it?  Keep checking the site to find out!)

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The next film that I watched off of the DVR was Day of Reckoning, a film that premiered on the SyFy network on October 8th.

Day of Reckoning was one of the handful of films that premiered as a part of SyFy’s 31 Days of Halloween.  There was a time when the SyFy network used to air a new film every week.  That was a golden age for those of us who enjoy live tweeting and snarking online.  Unfortunately, it would appear that the network made a change in their business model and SyFy drastically cut back on the number of original films that they produced and/or bought each year.  Now, if you want to see an original film premiere on SyFy, you either have to wait for Shark Week or October.  It’s unfortunate but that’s the way things are.

This year, it seemed as if almost all of SyFy’s October premieres were essentially remakes of It Follows.  Day of Reckoning is unique because it went the opposite route.  In no way is this film a rip-off of It Follows.

Instead, it’s more of a rip-off of The Purge: Anarchy.

16 years ago, during an eclipse, Earth was attacked by a pack of dogs from Hell.  That’s not just me being overdramatic.  Fissures literally formed in the ground and these dogs sprang out from the depths of Hell.  For 24 hours, the hellhounds terrorized and killed.  And then, much like a wealthy, mask-wearing murderer at the end of the annual Purge, they just vanished.  Naturally, the survivors built barriers over the fissures and hoped that the dogs would never return.  But now, another eclipse is approaching and some people are terrified that it’s going to happen again.

And you know what?

Those people are right.

Day of Reckoning follows one family and their effort to get to safety during the canine apocalypse.  The father (Jackson Hurst) is still feeling guilty for not being home when the dogs first showed up.  He’s determined not to fail his family for a second time.  His wife (Heather McComb), meanwhile, just wants a divorce and his teenage son (Jay Jay Warren) just wants to hang out with his girlfriend.

Fortunately, a crazy uncle is coming to the rescue!  Crazy Uncle Ted (Raymond J. Barry) has built an underground bunker and he’s invited the family to come join him and his wife (Barbara Crampton).  However, the family first has to reach the shelter and that’s going to mean dealing with not only dogs but a lot of stupid people as well.  You know how that goes.  Can the family survive 24 hours of hellhound purging?

Crazy Uncles have been getting blamed for a lot lately.  As of right now, you can go to about a hundred different sites and find all sorts of guides for how to talk to your crazy uncle during Thanksgiving.  Apparently, the solution is to repeat tired soundbites.  Personally, I would think a better solution would be not to worry about it and just enjoy your holiday but what the Hell do I know?  With the character of Ted, Day of Reckoning pays tribute to the occasional wisdom of the crazy uncle and therefore, it’s essential Thanksgiving viewing.

Beyond that, Day of Reckoning is pretty much a typical SyFy film.  It’s a bit more serious than most but, ultimately, it follows the same pattern.  A group of characters have to get from one location to another without getting killed by a paranormal threat.  It won’t take you by surprise but Raymond J. Barry and Barbara Crampton are both well-cast and, if you’re a fan of SyFy movies, you’ll probably enjoy Day of Reckoning.

Film Review: The Purge: Election Year (dir by James DeMonaco)


The_Purge_Election_Year

I had really high hopes for The Purge: Election Year.

While the first Purge film was definitely flawed, it still had an interesting and thought-provoking premise behind it.  What would we do, the film forced us to ask, if we could do anything we wanted to for one night out of the year?  Would you hide in your house or would you go out and randomly kill people?  Yes, The Purge had its flaws but it was an interesting film.

And then, in 2014, The Purge: Anarchy was released.  Anarchy was one of the best films of 2014 (a film that saw no shortage of great films).  It was a big, loud, and over-the-top masterpiece of the pulp imagination, one that managed to be as thought-provoking as the first film while also keeping audiences entertained.  It was a political movie, perhaps one of the most overtly political to be released over the past ten years.  And yet, it was also amazingly entertaining.  By further exploring the type of society that would come up with something like an annual Purge, Anarchy forced audiences to think even as it gave them reasons to cheer and hiss.  For many viewers, it also served as an introduction to a tough and grizzled actor named Frank Grillo.  In the role of the enigmatic but ultimately good-hearted Leo Barnes, Frank Grillo gave an outstanding performance.

Well, The Purge: Election Year continues its exploration of the culture behind the Purge.  And Frank Grillo is back as Leo.  It should be said that, just as he did in Anarchy, Grillo supplies Election Year with some of its best moments.  Much like Clint Eastwood, Grillo can communicate an entire backstory just be squinting his eyes.

But overall, Election Year is a disappointment.  As I watched it, I found myself wondering if maybe director James DeMonaco should have quit when he was ahead and ended the series with Anarchy.  Anarchy pushed the idea behind The Purge about as far as it could go and it is perhaps not surprising that Election Year often feels like a rehash that was constructed out of leftovers.

Election Year finds Leo working as head of security for U.S. Sen. Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell).  Charlie, who saw her family massacred during an earlier purge, is running for President on an anti-Purge platform and it appears that she’s about to overtake the candidate of the New Founding Fathers, the Rev. Edwidge Owens (Kyle Secor).  The New Founding Fathers decide that the best way to take care of Charlie would be to assassinate her on Purge Night.  They announce that, for the first time since the Purge began, government leaders will no longer be granted immunity.

In short, anyone can be killed!

Leo’s idea is for Charlie to stay inside during Purge Night but, if that happened, there wouldn’t be a movie.  Naturally, Leo and Charlie eventually end up on the streets and they get to witness a few surreal and violent moments, none of which have quite the impact of anything we previously saw in Anarchy.  They are given some assistance by a deli owner (Mykleti Williamson) and, naturally, they meet up with rebel leader Dante Bishop (Edwin Hodge).  Just like in the previous film, Leo is eventually forced to decide between purging and showing mercy.

And it’s really never that interesting.  The whole film just falls flat.  The first two Purge film worked because they convinced you that something like The Purge could actually happen.  When, at the end of Anarchy, Leo chose not to murder someone, it felt like a great moment because you truly believed that Leo could have gotten away with murder if he wanted to.  But Election Day is never convinces you that you’re watching anything more than a standard issue sequel.  With the exception of Frank Grillo and Kyle Secor (more about him in a moment), none of the actors are particularly memorable or believable.  In fact, Mykelti Williamson gives a performance that is almost amazingly bad.

I think a huge part of the problem is that the character of Charlie is never credible.  Elizabeth Mitchell is a good actress and has appeared in some of my favorite TV shows (she was Juliet on Lost, for instance) but you never believe that she’s a dynamic senator who is destined to save America from itself.  Every character in the film has at least one moment in which he or she is required to talk about how much they love Charlie.  The film spends so much time worshipping her that it apparently forgot to make her believable.

(It’s hard not to compare Election Year to Anarchy.  Anarchy advocated revolution.  Election Year argues that the system will eventually correct itself, going so far as to present the revolutionaries as almost being villains because they’re not properly deferential to a wealthy white liberal.)

However, I do have to say that Election Year is occasionally elevated by the thoroughly over-the-top performance of an actor named Kyle Secor.  It’s almost as if Secor alone understood that Election Year needed a jolt of pure adrenaline and, at the end of the film, he goes out of his way to provide it.  He bulges his eyes.  He shrieks out his lines.  His entire body shakes and it’s damn near brilliant.  He’s a lot of fun and his performance is probably the most entertaining thing about Election Year.

Undoubtedly, there will eventually be a sequel to Election Year.  Hopefully, it’ll be an improvement.

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Embracing the Melodrama Part II #58: An Unmarried Woman (dir by Paul Mazursky)


Unmarried_womanI have mixed feelings about the 1978 best picture nominee An Unmarried Woman and I really wish I didn’t because this is one of those films that I really want to love.

Erica (Jill Clayburgh, who did not win the Oscar that she deserved for this film) appears to have the perfect life.  She works at an art gallery in New York.  She has smart, sophisticated friends.  She has an accomplished teenager daughter (Lisa Lucas).  She has a beautiful apartment.  Early on in the film, she wakes up and literally dances from her bedroom to the living room and back again.

And, of course, she has a husband.  His name is Martin and he’s a successful stock broker.  Of course, there are hints that everything might not be perfect.  She and Martin are a cute couple but they’re not exactly passionate.  One need only watch Erica carefully wash dogshit off of Martin’s expensive running shoes to tell who is getting the most out of the marriage.  Add to that, Martin is played by Michael Murphy and, as anyone familiar with 70s cinema knows, Murphy specialized in playing well-dressed, outwardly friendly heels.  And, of course, the film is called An Unmarried Woman and the title can’t be true as long as Erica’s married.

So, you’re not exactly surprised when Martin suddenly breaks down in tears and tells Erica that he’s fallen in love with a younger woman and that he’s leaving her.

The rest of the film deals with Erica’s attempts to adjust to suddenly being an unmarried woman and a single mom.  We follow as she struggles to get back her confidence.  The scenes of Erica dealing with her suddenly rebellious daughter really struck home to me, largely because I’m a rebellious daughter of divorce myself.  There’s a few great scenes of Erica turning to her girlfriends for support.  (Importantly, one of Erica’s friends is happily married, as if the film wants to make sure that we understand that not all marriages are as bad as Erica and Martin’s.)  We watch as Erica starts dating again, having a memorable one-night stand with the obnoxious but oddly likable Charlie (Cliff Gorman).  Finally, she ends up dating a rugged, bearded artist (Alan Bates) and she has to decide whether she wants to remain independent or not.

And it’s all amazingly well-acted and fun to watch but I have to admit that I was a little bit disappointed the first time that I saw An Unmarried Woman.  For some reason, I couldn’t bring myself to like it as much as I wanted.  The more I thought about it, the more clear my issue with it became.

As a character, Eric was simply too wealthy.

As I watched Erica struggle with being an unmarried woman, it was hard for me not to compare her struggles with the struggles that my own mom had to deal with after her divorce.  The film, and specifically Clayburgh’s lead performance, got so much right.  But there’s a difference — a huge difference — between an unmarried woman who has an apartment in Manhattan and a dream job at an art gallery and a woman like my mom who worked multiple jobs, spent hours worrying about how to pay the bills, and who had to do all of this while dealing with four stubborn daughters.  And so, whenever I saw Erica talking to her therapist about how upset she was over suddenly being single, there was a part of me that wanted to say, “Try doing it while living in South Dallas and having to deal with a brat like me.”

The second time that I watched An Unmarried Woman, I was able to better appreciate the film.  Now that I knew that Erica’s experiences were not going to be universal, I could focus on Jill Clayburgh’s great performance in the lead role.  I could marvel at how marvelously wimpy Michael Murphy was in the role of Martin.  I could laugh at Cliff Gorman’s comedic performance.  As for Alan Bates as that bearded artist — well, sorry, that still didn’t work for me.  Eventually, I could accept Erica’s perfect apartment and her perfect job but suddenly introducing a perfect boyfriend who also happened to be a passionate and financially successful painter; it all felt like a bit too much.

But, in the end, An Unmarried Woman is a good film and a valuable historical document of its time.  If for no other reason, see it for Jill Clayburgh’s lead performance.

Shattered Politics #51: Three For The Road (dir by B.W.L. Norton)


three-for-the-road-movie-poster-1987-1020243960It’s a little bit strange to go from watching and reviewing a film like Once Upon A Time In America to watching and reviewing a film like 1987’s Three For The Road.  But that’s one reason that I like doing things like Shattered Politics.  It’s always interesting to see how many different films can all be linked together by common elements.  In the case of Shattered Politics, those shared elements are politics and politicians.

Three For The Road is an 80s comedy.  In fact, it’s one of the most stereotypically 80s films ever made.  Senator Kitteride (Raymond J. Barry) may very well be the next President of the United States but first he has to do something about his rebellious teenage daughter (Kerri Green).  He has arranged for her to be shipped down to a reform school down South.

But who can he trust to drive her down there?  How about the newest member of his staff, Paul Tracy?  Paul looks up to Sen. Kitteridge and has political ambitions himself.  He’s such a responsible guy that, while all of his roommates are busy getting drunk and having sex, Paul locks himself away in his bedroom and studies.  So, naturally, who is cast as this straight-laced, ultra-responsible, uptight guy?  Why Charlie Sheen, of course!

Now, Paul has a roommate who comes along on the road trip with him and Robin.  T.S. is an aspiring writer.  (His actual name is Tommy but he demands to be known as T.S., in honor of T.S. Eliot.)  T.S. is an intellectual.  T.S. is a serial womanizer who is hit on by nearly every woman he meets.  (T.S. always asks them to name their favorite author as a test.)  So, of course, T.S. is played Alan Ruck, who is better known for playing Cameron in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Now, to be honest, I’m being a bit snarky here and that’s not really fair to either Sheen or Ruck.  Yes, they’re both miscast but that doesn’t mean that they don’t give good performances.  They both do as well as they can with the material that they’ve been given.  It’s just that the material itself… well, I’ll get to that in a minute.

Three For The Road is not a bad film as much as it’s just an extremely forgettable one.  From the minute it opens with the predictable shots of D.C. landmarks to Paul and Robin falling in love to the eventual revelation that Sen. Kitteridge isn’t the great man that Paul thinks that he is, it all just feels extremely generic.  The film probably works best as a time capsule, a portrait of when it was made.

If you go to Three For The Road‘s imdb page, you can find a comment that was left by film director Richard Martini.  Martini wrote the original script for what would eventually develop into Three For The Road.  I say “develop” because, as Martini explains it, his script was apparently changed and rewritten on a daily basis.  While that’s certainly not a surprising thing to hear, it does sound like Martini’s original version would have made for a more interesting film.

In Martini’s original script, Sen. Kitteridge’s motivation for sending Robin to the institution was that Robin was embarrassing him with her own left-wing political activism.  That would have certainly brought a much needed edge to the film’s politics because, in the film that was eventually made, there’s really no point to Kitteridge being a senator.  He could just as easily have been a wealthy businessman or maybe a college president.  But apparently, once filming started, it appears that the filmmakers went for the least edgy approach possible.

(Martini also commented that, as a result of the actual film being so different from his original script, that he hates to read reviews of the film.  And, needless to say, I don’t blame him.  If Richard Martini is reading this review, please accept my apologies for any bad memories this review may have brought up.)

Three For The Road has never been released on DVD or Blu-ray but you can watch it on YouTube.