Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: The Citadel (dir by King Vidor)


The 1938 Best Picture nominee, The Citadel, is about a doctor who briefly loses his way but — don’t worry! — he eventually finds it again.

The film opens with the following title card:

This motion picture is a story of individual characterizations and is in no way intended as a reflection on the great medical profession which has done so much towards beating back those forces of nature that retard the physical progress of the human race.

Having gotten that out of the way, it goes on to tell the story of Dr. Andrew Manson (Robert Donat), an idealistic British doctor who serves his apprenticeship in rural England and who eventually ends up in Wales, trying to figure out why all of the miners seem to developing a mysterious cough. Along the way, he marries the always supportive Christine (Rosalind Russell, doing a lot with an underwritten role). Unfortunately, Dr. Manson discovers that being a doctor is not always an easy life. He’s frequently underpaid and underappreciated. His patients are often suspicious and argumentative and the medical establishment is hesitant to accept change. When the frustrated Dr. Manson returns to London, he discovers that he can make a fortune by working as a doctor for the type of wealthy people who are always willing to spend a little extra money on the latest fad treatment. With the encouragement of the decadent Dr. Lawford (Rex Harrison), Manson abandons his old ways and he’s finally able to make some money off of patients who will basically do anything that he tells them to do. However, a personal tragedy forces Manson to reexamine his life and consider why he became a doctor in the first place.

The Citadel is a coming-of-age film, one the follows Dr. Manson from the time when he’s a young doctor in need of a mentor until he himself is the one who is doing the mentoring. It gets off to a bit of a slow start. To be honest, I found Manson’s early apprenticeship to be almost as tedious as Dr. Manson found it to be. Things pick up a bit once Manson is on his own, fighting for the rights of miners or trying to find some sort of ethical justification for only treating the rich. If Robert Donat seems oddly hesitant during the first half of the film, he’s undeniably compelling during the second half. Though Dr. Manson has many scenes in which he rails against ignorance and injustice, Donat wisely resists the temptation to go overboard while portraying his indignation and, as a result, The Citadel never slips into melodrama. Donat doesn’t play Manson as being a crusader but instead as just being an often frustrated professional who knows that he’s being prevented from doing his best work. Director King Vidor, who made several films about thwartded visionaries, was never a particularly subtle director but Donat’s performance goes a long way towards making Vidor’s messianic tendencies tolerable.

Donat gets good support from the rest of the cast, especially Ralph Richardson in the role of his sometimes mentor. That said, Donat is still definitely the main reason to watch The Citadel, which is an uneven thought ultimately worthwhile film. The Citadel is very much a film of 1938 and it’s slow pace, earnest seriousness, and dialogue-heavy style will undoubtedly be an issue for some people watching the film in 2021. Watching a film like The Citadel today requires a willingness to adjust to the aesthetics of a past age. This is a film that will definitely be best-appreciated by those who aren’t unfamiliar with spending an entire weekend watching TCM. But you know what? It’s good to watch old movies. You can’t understand the present or prepare for the future if you’re not willing to look at the past.

The Academy nominated The Citadel for Best Picture. It was one of the first British films to be so honored (though not the first, that honor went to The Private Life of Henry VIII). However, it lost to Frank Capra’s You Can’t Take It With You. Though Robert Donat lost the Oscar for Best Actor to Spencer Tracy in Boys Town, he would be rewarded the very next year for his performance in Goodbye Mr. Chips. Among those who Donat defeated was Clark Gable, nominated for playing Rhett Butler in Gone With The Wind, a characters that Margaret Mitchell always said she envisioned as being played by Robert Donat.

Film Review: Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal (dir by Chris Smith)


In Operation Varsity Blues, Matthew Modine plays Rick Singer, the real-life “college admissions consultant” who was one of the many people involved in the 2019 College Admissions scandal.

Singer was the former basketball coach who helped the rich and famous get their children into the right Ivy League schools. As the film shows (and as you probably already know), he did this by faking test scores, faking athletic activities, and often arranging for money to exchange hands. The film not only features Modine and others actors acting out the actual conversations that Singer was taped as having with his wealthy clients, it also features interviews with a few of Singer’s acquaintances and with the various journalists who covered the scandal. It’s a documentary with dramatic recreations.

And that’s fine. Modine does a good enough job portraying Rick Singer, playing him as essentially being a sleazy salesman who knew exactly what to say to the parents who were desperate to get their child into a prestigious university. (The film reveals that Singer would often lie to his clients, brainwashing them into believing that there was no way their children would be able to get into USC or Harvard without his help.) Unfortunately, with his gray hair and, his nervous smile, Matthew Modine as Rick Singer bares an odd but definite resemblance to the great Eric Roberts and, as I watched Operation Varsity Blues, I found myself thinking about how great it would be to see a film in which Eric Roberts did play Rick Singer. (I mean, seriously, Singer just seems like a perfect Eric Roberts role.) That may sound like a petty complaint but it does get at a bigger issue. Operation Varsity Blues is 100 minutes long but, despite its slightly different narrative format, it still doesn’t tell us anything that we couldn’t have learned from all of the other documentaries and dramatic adaptations based on the college admissions scandal. Even with the reenactments and the chance to hear Singer’s own words, Operation Varsity Blues still doesn’t tell us anything new about the scandal or why it happened. If nothing else, Eric Roberts and his neurotic screen presence would have put a new spin on a now-familiar story,

To be honest, the hybrid, docudrama format actually works against the film. On the one hand, you’ve got the real people telling their story in talking head interviews. But every time you start to get into their stories, the film cuts away to a reenactment and the film goes from being a documentary to being a low-budget Matthew Modine film. The film would have worked better if it had chosen to be either a documentary or a drama. By trying to be both, the end result is a movie that often seems disjointed and leaves you still feeling as if you haven’t actually gotten the entire story.

Finally, Lori Loughlin and her husband are featured in the documentary, though only in news footage. At one point, it’s revealed that after their daughter was accepted to USC, her high school guidance counselor called the college to tell them that Olivia Jade was never on her school’s rowing team, regardless of what her application said. Apparently, Lori and her husband got very angry about the counselor doing this and you know what? They had every right to be pissed off. Why is a guidance counselor trying to keep one of his students from getting into a good college? I mean, how was it really any of his business to begin with? That’s something that I would have liked to have seen explored in a bit more detail. Instead, the film just hurries along to another reenactment of Rick Singer explaining how to cheat on the ACT. (I’m still amazed that people spent that much money to do something as easy as cheat on a standardized test. I mean, it’s not that difficult.)

Unfortunately, the entire film is like that. It raises some interesting points but it ultimately leaves you frustrated by its refusal to do anything more than scratch the surface.

Film Review: BMX Bandits (dir by Brian Trenchard-Smith)


Bicyclists!

Oh, don’t even get me started on people who ride bicycles. Don’t get me wrong. I own a bicycle. I like to ride my bicycle occasionally, though only in the park and never in the street. They’re good exercise. They’re good for the environment, I guess. They don’t kill as many people as cars do, I assume. That said, professional bicyclists — and by that, I mean the ones who don’t even own a car — drive me crazy.

Don’t even pretend that you don’t know what I mean. You’re trying to drive to work or the grocery store or maybe you’re just taking a nice drive to clear your head. You’re tapping on the accelerator. You’re going over 60 mile per hour because there aren’t any cops around. Everything’s just fine and then suddenly …. you get stuck behind some jerk on a bicycle. He’s got his helmet on. He’s got his tight little bicycle shorts and his fluorescent shirt. He’s peddling along, all hunched over and with his ass up in the air, like that doesn’t make him look like a total idiot.

And then, you have to slow down. You’re have to be careful that you don’t accidentally run him over. You have to watch his arms because his stupid little bicycle doesn’t have a goddamn turn signal or a brake light. When you reach a red light, he sits there on his bike with one hand on his hips and the other hand holding up his little water bottle, from which he drinks as if he’s spent the past week in a desert. And you’re left to wonder why this guy is even here, riding his bicycle down a busy street that doesn’t even have a bicycle lane. The worst part of it is the smug look of satisfaction on his face as he looks back at your car and thinks, “I may be inconveniencing everyone but at least I’m making a difference.”

Considering my anti-bicyclist feelings, I may not have been the ideal audience for the 1983 Australian film, BMX Bandits. Fortunately, though, the teenager bikers in this film were all extremely fast and very stunt-orientated. These bikers weren’t interested in using their bikes as a symbol of moral superiority. Instead, they were more about using them to jump over shopping carts and to ride across the beaches of Sydney. One of the bikers was played by a 16 year-old Nicole Kidman and she managed to bring at least a hint of reality to even the most absurd pieces of dialogue.

That’s a good thing because BMX Bandits is, even by the standards of a bicycle film from the early 80s, is a thoroughly absurd film. A group of bank robbers lose a box of walkie talkies. Three BMX bike enthusiasts find the box. This leads to a long chase through Sydney, as well as a sort of bizarre counter attack launched by hundreds of teenage BMX bike owners. The bank robbers don’t stand a chance! That said, I’m not really sure why, since the movie opened with them successfully robbing a bank, they couldn’t have just purchased a new box of walkie talkies. Interestingly enough, the police also spend a lot of time listening to walkie talkies, which can only lead me to believe that walkie talkies were a really huge deal back in 1983. This film is fascinated by them, to the extent that a more appropriate title for the film might have been Law & Order: Walkie Talkie Squad.

Anyway, what can you really say about something like BMX Bandits? It’s such a silly film that it’s almost impossible to review because to take it seriously is to miss the point. The villains are buffoons. The plot makes no sense. Nicole Kidman’s good, though you still only really notice her because you know what audiences in 1983 did not know, that she’s future Oscar winner Nicole Kidman. At the same time, the scenery is lovely and there’s an extended scene that takes place in a cemetery that has some nice atmosphere even if it does go on a bit too long. There’s not really a lot to be said about BMX Bandits but at least it won’t slow down traffic.

Lisa’s Week In Television: 3/28/21 — 4/3/21


Twonky

Welcome to the first ever edition of Lisa’s Week In Television!  Because of the holiday weekend, there’s a lot of streaming shows that I haven’t gotten a chance to watch yet.  And I will also admit that I watched a lot of old TV shows over the previous few days.  Then again, I always end up watching a lot of old shows, if just because I always enjoy seeing how people dressed and spoke in the past.

American Idol

American Idol (Sunday and Monday Night, ABC)

I was recently trying to remember when the last time was that I was emotionally invested in American Idol and I think it was way back in 2007.  That would be the sixth season.  I thought Blake Lewis was totally adorable and I was actually really upset when he lost to Jordin Sparks.  That’s nothing against Jordin.  At the time, I just had a weakness for beat boxers.

Ever since then, American Idol has mostly been background noise to me.  It’s one of those things that I watch out of habit and it’s rare that I ever pay that much attention to it while it’s on.  When the show started, it was always interesting to see how brutally frank Simon Cowell could be but, after Simon left, no one was willing to play the villain and the show’s gotten rather bland as a result.

Anyway, on Sunday and Monday’s episodes, the judges announced the top 24 singers.  I have no idea who any of these people are.  I just know that none of them will ever win my heart quite like Blake Lewis performing Time of the Season.

Baywatch

Baywatch (Weekday Evenings, H&I)

Yes, the show about lifeguards is now airing on H&I.  Hopefully, Baywatch Nights will eventually follow.  There’s always been a lot of debate about whether or not David Hasselhoff is self-aware in the style of William Shatner or if he actually took Baywatch seriously.  Having watched a few episodes of the show, I still have no idea.  On the one hand, Hasselhoff certainly seemed to be taking thing very seriously.  On the other hand, how could anyone actually take a show like Baywatch seriously?  I mean, you would have to have somewhat of a satricial spirit to just be involved with the show, wouldn’t you?

Speaking of taking Baywatch seriously, Tuesday’s episode featured Danny Trejo as the father of a gang member.  Trejo wanted his son to stay in the gang and was upset when Billy Warlock tried to recruit him into a lifeguard program instead.  However, when Trejo subsequently fell in the ocean just to be saved by his own son, everyone learned an important lesson.

City Confidential

City Confidential (Sunday Afternoon, CI)

This show, which originally aired on A&E 20 years ago, is actually two shows in one.  The first half of every episode always deals with the history and culture of an American city.  The 2nd half always deals with some crime that happened in that city and which, we’re told, changed that city forever.  Each episode was narrated by actor Paul Winfield, who always sounded somewhat amused no matter how heinous a crime he was describing.

I watched two episodes, one about Milwaukee and one about Carlsbad, New Mexico.  My family briefly lived in Carlsbad when I was growing up so I found that episode to be interesting.  What can I say?  I have a weakness for true crime shows hosted by sardonic narrators.

Distirct

The District (Weekday Mornings, H&I)

The District is a fairly predictable cop show that aired for four seasons at the start of the century.  I had totally forgotten about it until I stumbled across it on H&I during a bout of insomnia.  It’s about Jack Mannion (Craig T. Nelson), the hyperactive police commissioner for Washington D.C.  Pretty much the only interesting thing about the show was Craig T. Nelson’s frequently bizarre lead performance.  Nelson’s not exactly a low-key actor to begin with and The District cast him as a frequently married, show tune loving cop who enjoyed yelling at people.  The show’s producers basically gave Nelson a license to overact and he took full advantage of it.  With each episode, you think that Nelson can’t possibly go more over-the-top and, with each episode, he proves you wrong.

Tuesday’s episode featured him crashing a meeting of the Washington D.C, city council and, when he felt they weren’t paying attention to him, climbing up on a desk so that he could better yell at them.  Later, when Mannion had to interrogate a young child who had witnessed a crime, he got her to answer his question by having a tea party with her.  That’s Jack Mannion for ya!

Hell's Kitchen

Hell’s Kitchen (Thursday night, FOX)

Even though I’m not really a huge fan of yelling at or insulting people, I’ve always liked Hell’s Kitchen.  Some of it is because of those moments (which usually happens towards the end of the season) when Gordon Ramsey reveals that he’s not quite as fearsome as he pretends to be.  (He actually does seem to get emotionally invested once there’s only 6 or 5 chefs left.)  Plus, since I can’t cook, I guess I find it interesting to watch people who actually can.  This latest season, which is drawing to a close, has been one of the better seasons.  Myself, I’m totally cheering on Mary Lou!  Go, Mary Lou!  You got this!

King of the HIll

King of the Hill (Hulu)

This is still the best and most authentic TV show ever made about Texas.  Watching it today, it’s also a nice alternative to the more mean-spirited programming of Seth MacFarlane.  Let it never be forgotten the Fox cancelled King of the Hill to make room for The Cleveland Show, of all thing.  Fortunately, King of the Hill can currently be watched at any time on Hulu.

Saturday morning, my sisters and I watched three episodes while we were preparing for the day — the episodes where Hank goes down Aisle 8A, where Hank goes to New Orleans, and where Dale thinks he’s rabid.  We agreed that Boomhauer is one of the greatest characters of all time.

law & Order

Law & Order: Organized Crime (Thursday Night, NBC)

I reviewed the first episode of Law & Order: Organized Crime here.

Law & Order: SVU (Thursday Night, NBC)

I used to watch SVU religiously when I was in high school and college.  However, as I got older, I kind of lost interest. That said, I did watch it this week because Elliott Stabler (played by Chris Meloni) was making his first appearance on the show since leaving 8 seasons ago.  Thursday’s episode also served as a backdoor pilot, of sorts, for Law & Order: Organized Crime.

The episode was …. okay.  The mob stuff was predictable but it was nice to see that Chris Meloni and Mariska Hargitay still had their old chemistry.  That said, Stabler seemed to be even more tightly wound than he did during his time as a regular on SVU and that’s really saying something as Stabler always seemed like the cop mostly likely to beat a suspect to death during interrogation.  (Of course, Stabler’s wife was injured by a car bomb and later died during the episode so Stabler had good reason for being wound up.)

A lot of people on twitter freaked out over the fact that no one on the show was wearing a mask.  Calm down, people, it’s a TV show.

Love Boat

The Love Boat (Weekday Evenings, Decades TV)

Ah, The Love Boat.  If there’s any show from the 70s and 80s that deserves a revival, it’s probably this one.  Movie and television veterans play the passengers of a weekly cruise, falling in love and taking part in other hi-jinks.  Every episode that I’ve ever seen of The Love Boat has been charmingly silly and, quite frankly, I think that’s what we need more of in the world.  Add to that, the cruise ship industry took a hit with the pandemic.  A Love Boat revival might help revive it.

Monday’s episode featured Zsa Zsa Gabor and a bunch of people who I didn’t recognize but who all appeared to be having a great time on the boat.  Zsa Zsa was determined to win back her ex, even though he was planning on marrying someone else.  The other stories dealt with a kleptomaniac who kept accidentally stealing stuff and a TV actor who feared that he would never be able to live up to his heroic image.  In the end, for all the passengers and crew, love won.

Wednesday’s episode was a Christmas episode from 1980.  Dorothy Lamour was one of the passengers.  Father and son entertainers ran into each on the boat after having not spoken to each other for years.  A stowaway pretended to be the child of a wannabe womanizer.  In the end, for all the passengers and crew, love won.

My Evil Sister

My Evil Sister (Sunday Afternnon, CI)

I watched this on Crime and Investigation on Sunday morning.  As the youngest of four sisters, it’s hard for me not to be intrigued by the fact that there’s so many evil sisters out there that they could actually produce an entire TV series about them.  The episode I saw featured two stories, one about a sister who killed her lazy sister and then tried to frame local drug dealers and the other about a girl who shot her adopted sister because she felt her sister was keeping her from being popular in high school.  Scary stuff!  I’m glad my family likes me!  (I say this as I nervously glance over my shoulder.)

The Office

The Office (Comedy Central)

I watched a few episodes of The Office on Thursday and Friday.  I always feel like I’m taking a risk whenever I watch The Office on Comedy Central because there’s always a chance that they’ll be showing episodes from Seasons 8 or 9.  Fortunately, on Thursday and Friday, they were showing episodes from Season 5.  Jim and Pam hadn’t gotten unbearably smug yet.  Andy and Angela weren’t quite as cartoonish as they would later become.  Best of all, Michael was still on the show so I got to watch him once again fall in love with Holly Flax.  Though The Office was pretty uneven after the third season, the few episodes of season 5 were all gems.

parking_wars

Parking Wars (Monday Morning on A&E)

I wrote about this annoyingly addictive show a few years ago.  I watched two episodes of the show on Monday morning, as I was getting ready for my day.  Even though I mostly had it on for background noise, I still couldn’t help but think about how this show, which aired its last original episode nearly ten years ago, feels like the perfect show for the current era.  A bunch of self-righteous bureaucrats make life difficult for their fellow citizens and, whenever they’re challenged on it, they respond with a bunch of “If you had followed the rules” bullshit.  Watching this show always makes me want to park in front of an expired meter and then rip up the ticket.

The Rookies

The Rookies (Sunday Morning, H&I)

The Rookies is a cop show that aired from 1972 to 1976.  H&I just recently started showing the show.  It airs on Sunday morning at 2 in the morning.  I decided to set the DVR to record the show, just because it was a show that I’d never heard of.  I’m like a cat when it comes to being curious about stuff.

Anyway, The Rookies is about three cops who are …. can you guess it? …. rookies!  One is black.  Two are white.  One has a wife, the other two single.  Whenever they drive their car around the city, 70s wah wah music plays in the background.  From what I’ve seen so far, it’s pretty much a standard cop show.  One of the cops is played by Michael Ontkean, so it’s possible to view the show as being a prequel to Twin Peaks, if you’re so inclined.

I watched Sunday’s episode off of the DVR.  The first episode featured a criminal turning into an informant and putting his life at risk.  In the 2nd episode, Ontkean was shot in the back and had to undergo an experimental surgery to regain the ability to walk.  The stories were, in no way, surprising but it was a chance to experience how people talked and dressed in 1972.

Rome Chariot

Rome’s Chariot Superstar (Monday Morning, Smithsonian Channel)

This docuseries took a look at the ancient Roman chariot races.  It was actually pretty entertaining.  I enjoyed the descriptions of life in ancient Rome and, even better, they showed how to build and steer a chariot!  As I’ve said many times on the site, I’m a history nerd.  I love stuff like this.

sbtb

Saved By The Bell (Sunday Morning, MeTV)

Ah, Saved By The Bell, the oddly popular and incredibly dated high school sitcom from the early 90s.  Don’t ask me to explain why Saved By The Bell remains so watchable, despite being terrible in almost every way.  It’s just a part of the culture and, perhaps more importantly, there’s never been an extended period of time when it hasn’t been on TV somewhere.  One of the many places where it can currently be found is as a part of MeTV’s Sunday morning lineup.  I always seem to end up watching it, even though the show makes me cringe in so many ways.

For instance, on Sunday morning, I watched three separate episodes.  First off, I watched the infamous Running Zack.  This is the incredibly problematic episode where the blonde, blue-eyed, and very pale Zack Morris discovers that he’s a direct descendant of the Native American Chief Joseph and he responds to this news by putting on an elaborate headdress and then giving a speech to his class.  It’s really …. not good.  Zack, however, does subsequently win the big track meet.  If I remember correct, his Native American heritage was never again mentioned on the show.

Running Zack was followed by a far more entertaining episode, Jessie’s Song.  This is the “I’m so excited, I’m so excited, I’m so scared” episode, in which Jessie gets hooked on caffeine pills.  Everyone always laughs about the scene where Jessie freaks out but I think the extremely 80s music video is even more memorably weird.

Jessie’s Song was followed by The Fabulous Belding Boys, in which Mr. Belding’s supercool brother, Rod, showed up as a new substitute teacher at Bayside.  After getting all of his students excited about going rafting for the senior class trip, Rod ditched them all for two stewardesses.  Fortunately, Mr. Belding stepped up and took Rod’s place, showing Zack what being a hero is all about.  This is actually one of the few episodes of Saved By The Bell that actually works as something more than camp, with the normally underappreciated Dennis Haskins getting a chance to show what he could actually do with some halfway decent dialogue.

YesMinister

Yes, Minister (Monday Morning on PBS)

This is a BBC series, which originally aired back in the 80s.  It’s about a government minister named Jim Hacker (Paul Eddington) and two civil servants, Sir Humphrey (Nigel Hawthorne) and Bernard (Derek Fowlds), and their efforts to help Hacker run his department while also making sure that Hacker doesn’t actually accomplish anything.  It’s a hilarious show, one that Jeff recently introduced me to.  Even though the show is very British and 40+ years old, it’s still easy to see parallels between the show’s portrayal of the British government and the realities of Washington, D.C.  I guess bureaucracy is universal.

This show airs on Monday, usually at midnight.  I always set the DVR for it, though I’ve lately been staying up to watch it just because PBS is so inconsistent about keeping to their posted start and stop times.  Back in February, when Texas got hit by that winter storm, an episode of Yes, Minister was the last thing that I watched before the rolling blackouts began.

This week’s episode found Jim Hacker going to a farm for a photo op and essentially screwing everything up.  The show is at its best when it pokes fun at Hacker’s self-righteousness by revealing him to be just another clueless politician and this episode did just that.  (In all fairness, though, Hacker also consistently means well and, occasional pompousness aside, actually is the type of person you would want in office.)  Though the show may be an old one, it’s kind of what we need right now in the Age of Big Government.

Watched But Not Reviewed:

  1. ‘Allo ‘Allo (Sunday Night on PBS)
  2. America’s Most Wanted (Monday Night on Fox)
  3. Fear Thy Neighbor (Saturday Afternoon on ID)
  4. Hill Street Blues (Weekend Morning on H&I)
  5. The Killer Beside Me (Saturday afternoon on ID)
  6. The Masked Singer (Tuesday and Wednesday on Fox)
  7. Open All Hours (Sunday Night on PBS)
  8. Temptation Island (Tuesday Night on USA)
  9. Tough as Nails (Wednesday Night on CBS)
  10. The Voice (Monday Night on NBC)
  11. Your Worst Nightmare (Saturday afternoon on ID)

TV Mini-Review: Law & Order: Organized Crime 1.1 “What Happens In Puglia”


I used to watch Law & Order: SVU religiously. I thought Benson and Stabler were obviously in love, though I also knew that there was no way that Stabler would ever cheat on his wife. I enjoyed listening to Munch’s conspiracy theories and his weird little trivia factoids. I loved Finn’s way with a quip and even boring old Captain Cragen didn’t bother me too much. I enjoyed the show, even if I did occasionally call it Law & Order: SUV by accident. Eventually, though, the show’s relentlessly grim atmosphere and subject matter started to get to me and, a few years ago, I stopped regularly watching.

However, I did make it a point to watch this week’s episode of SVU because Elliott Stabler (Chris Meloni) was returning for the first time since both the character and the actor left the show at the end of its 12th season. Stabler returned in order to investigate who was responsible for the explosion that killed his wife. He not only reunited with Benson (and it was nice to see that Meloni and Mariska Hargitay still had their old chemistry) but he also attempted to redeem himself and his reputation. Stabler previously left the NYPD under a cloud of suspicion. Having committed six shootings in the line of duty, he could either submit himself to a full psychological analysis and take an anger management class or he could quit. He chose to quit. Anyone who thinks that it’s extreme to quit your job rather than learn to control your anger obviously never saw Elliott Stabler in action. Stabler was basically fueled by nonstop anger.

When Stabler was on Law & Order: SVU, he was the epitome of the cop who took every case personally. On the one hand, you liked him because Meloni gave a good performance and you could tell that he was trying to control his demons. On the other hand, you always knew that there was a decent chance that he was going to end up beating a suspect to death during an interrogation. It sometimes made him a bit frightening. At times, Stabler’s eyes would narrow and he would get that look on his face and you knew that anyone who cut him off in traffic was probably going to get intentionally rear-ended. He was a road rage incident waiting to happen. Tonight, when Stabler returned to SVU, it quickly became apparent that years of retirement hadn’t done much to calm him down. Admittedly, he had every reason to take this particular case personally but you still got the feeling that, even if his wife hadn’t been murdered, Stabler would still have been looking for an excuse to shoot someone.

I imagine he’ll probably get that excuse soon enough because Thursday’s episode of SVU served as a crossover with the first episode of Law & Order: Organized Crime. Organized Crime is the sixth entry in the Law & Order franchise (the seventh if you count that strange True Crime show) and it’s the first new one since Law and Order: Los Angeles came and went in 2010. This latest entry follows Stabler, who is now once again a detective with the NYPD and who is working with the Organized Crime task force. The first episode found Stabler launching an investigation into Richard Wheatley, a mob heir-turned-businessman who was played by Dylan McDermott. Since McDermott was listed in the opening credits, I assume the entire first season is going to be about Stabler investigating him and trying to take him down.

The first episode of Law & Order: Organized Crime was flawed but watchable. The scenes with Stabler, whether he was comforting his children or investigating a crime or trying to convince his boss that he wasn’t a loose cannon, were all strong. From the minute Meloni showed up, I was reminded of how compelling he was on SVU. Meloni brings a tough authenticity to even the most clichéd of dialogue and, even though he’s obviously quite a bit older now than he was a regular on SVU, Meloni hasn’t lost a step when it comes to portraying Elliott Stabler. The show acknowledged that Stabler, with his “I am the law” attitude, is a bit out-of-place in today’s culture. Stabler, like the Law & Order franchise itself, is going to have to figure out how to adjust to the times.

I was a bit less enthusiastic about both the character of Richard Wheatley and Dylan McDermott’s performance in the role. If Wheatley’s going to be a season-long villain, he’s going to need to develop a few more quirks and nuances beyond loving his children and killing his father. McDermott seemed almost bored with the role, suggesting none of the charisma that one would expect from someone who can convince that world that he’s a legitimate businessman while, at the same time, controlling the New York drug trade. Whealtey seemed like just a generic bad guy and he’s going to have to be more than that if he’s going to be a truly worthy opponent for Elliott Stabler. Hopefully, Wheatley will become more interesting as the show progresses.

That said, the first episode worked well-enough. It was well-directed by Fred Berner and it had more visual flair than I was expecting from a Law & Order spin-off. The scene where Stabler goes to a deserted amusement park to meet with an informant was especially well-done and atmospheric, with the lights of the boardwalk providing a perfectly spooky compliment to what Stabler discovered.

I’ll set the DVR. The first episode wasn’t perfect but I’m still intrigued enough by Meloni’s return to see where this 6-episode series goes.

Lifetime Film Review: The Wrong Prince Charming (dir by David DeCoteau)


“It looks like you found the wrong prince charming!” Vivica A. Fox says towards the end of The Wrong Prince Charming.

I’ll admit that I cheered a little when Vivica said the line. If you know anything about Lifetime’s “Wrong” franchise, you know that Vivica A. Fox always plays a sympathetic authority figure who, at some point, says something along the lines of “Looks like he was the Wrong Poolboy” or “He messed with The Wrong Administrative Assistant.” One of the main reasons why people like me look forward to seeing the latest “Wrong” films is to see just how exactly the title is going to be worked into Vivica’s dialogue.

Make no doubt about it, there’s been a lot of “Wrong” films. We’ve had wrong blind dates, wrong tutors, wrong cheerleader coaches, wrong teachers, wrong real estate agents, wrong motel owners, wrong boyfriends, wrong girlfriends, and wrong houseguests. It only makes sense that we would eventually have a wrong Prince Charming.

The title character would be Prince Edward (James Nitti), who claims to be royalty but who, we learn fairly early on, is actually just a con artist who works with his assistant Liam (Jonathan Stoddard) to defraud people and corporations out of their money. Edward may be a charmer but he’s also a charlatan who is not above murdering anyone who he feels might be getting too close to the truth. That’s what greed does to people. That’s bad news for Anna (Cristine Prosperi), who is Edward’s latest target. Anna is an attorney. Among her clients is Bridget (Vivica A. Fox). After watching enough of the “Wrong” films, you really do find yourself wondering if maybe Vivica A. Fox is supposed to be playing the same character in every one of them. Maybe she just changes her name frequently as she travels across Canada and gets involved in thwarting the schemes of the wrong people. It would certainly explain a lot about the Wrong Cinematic Universe.

The thing with Lifetime’s “Wrong” films is that you either get them or you don’t. On the one hand, they’re pure melodrama. On the other hand, they’re also self-aware enough to poke fun at themselves. They’re not meant to be taken seriously, Instead, they’re diverting treats that are designed to keep the audience amused while they wait to hear Vivica pronounce someone to be “the wrong whatever.” They’re designed to be fun and usually, they are. The Wrong Prince Charming, for instance, has fun with the fact that everyone in the audience knows that anyone who claims to be a member of a royal family is probably lying to you. I’ve seen enough emails from enough financially burdened royals to know better than to trust anyone who claims to be a prince. When it comes to The Wrong Prince Charming, a good deal of the fun is to be found in catching all of Edward’s mistakes, all of the little moments when he accidentally lets his cover slip and reveals that he’s just some random commoner with a nice smile.

This is Cristine Prosperi’s 3rd wrong film She was also in The Wrong Cheerleader (“He messed with the wrong cheerleader!”) and The Wrong Neighbor. She’s also appeared in a handful of other recent Lifetime films, including Killer Competition and Murdered At 17. Before that, she played Imogen, the quirky stalker, on the final few seasons of Degrassi. Prosperi always does a good job in these films and the same is true here. She’s a sympathetic lead, even though it’s obvious from the start that she’s picked the wrong prince charming.

The Wrong Prince Charming is silly and fun, the type of movie that’s pretty much made to be watched with a snarky friend. I’m definitely looking forward to the next wrong film!

Lifetime Film Review: The Evil Twin (dir by Max McGuire)


If there’s anything I’ve learned from watching Lifetime films, it’s that anyone can afford a gigantic, three-story house with a basement, an attic, an Olympic-size swimming pool, and a guesthouse. Seriously, I don’t know why everyone always says it’s so difficult to get that first house because there are unemployed people in Lifetime films who live in mansions.

The other thing that I’ve learned from watching Lifetime films is that you’re screwed if you’ve got a twin. Seriously, your twin is always going to be evil. Your twin is always going to pretend to be you so that she can sleep with your boyfriend and murder your coworkers. Your twin is going to use her own DNA to frame you and then, once you’re imprisoned, she’s going to sell your identity to the Russian mob and then you’ll never get it back. Twins are bad news, or at least that’s the way it goes in the Lifetime Cinematic Universe. I’ve lost track of how many psycho twin films I’ve seen on Lifetime.

The most recent psycho twin film is named, appropriately enough, Evil Twin. Emily Piggford plays Emily, who flees from an abusive relationship and returns to her small hometown. She’s staying with her friend Lenah (Cory Lee, who also played Miss Oh on Degrassi) and she’s trying to get her life back together. Unfortunately, this prove difficult because random people keep walking up to Emily and yelling at her before telling her to stay out of their lives. Emily doesn’t know any of these people and is left to wonder why so many strangers suddenly hate her.

Emily also discovers that she has a twin sister named Charlotte! Charlotte, who lives in a beautiful house and who has longer hair than Emily, at first seems to be thrilled to have found her twin. She even asks Emily to turn her head so that Charlotte can see what the back of their earlobes look like. (That may sound like a strange request but I’d probably ask the same thing if I ever met my twin. Ears are fascinating things.) However, it soon turns out that …. well, you can probably guess. I mean, the movie is called Evil Twin, after all. Soon, Charlotte is pretending to be Emily and she’s attacking people left and right. You know how these things go.

Evil Twin is a bit more moody than the average Lifetime film. The fact that Emily is escaping from abuse and still dealing with the emotional trauma of her previous relationship gives the film a few more layers than the average Lifetime film and Emily Piggford does a good job playing both Emily and her twin sister. The film actually does manage to keep you guessing as to which twin is onscreen at any particular moment and, with Charlotte being considerably more clever and ruthless than the average Lifetime villain, the film manages to generate some suspense as Charlotte kills and maims her way through the people in Emily’s life. Evil Twin may not be the first Lifetime psycho twin movie and it definitely won’t be the last but it is one of the better ones.

Film Review: Robocop 3 (dir by Fred Dekker)


“Oh wow, Robocop can fly!”

An odd film, Robocop 3. Released in 1993, this was the third and final film in the original Robocop franchise. While the action is still set in Detroit and Robocop is back (albeit now played by Robert John Burke) and Nancy Allen shows up long enough to get killed off, Robocop 3 feels strangely separate from the previous two Robocop films. If the first two Robocop films were dark, satirical, and over-the-top in their violence, the third film is a family friendly adventure film that reimagines Robocop as being some sort of fair housing activist.

And, on top of all that, Robocop can fly now. Admittedly, that’s because Robocop gets fitted for a jetpack that he didn’t have in the previous films but he still looks incredibly ludicrous flying through the streets of Detroit. Since the Robocop armor has always looked very bulky and very heavy, it’s hard to believe that he could fly as quickly and as smoothly as he does in this film.

There’s a new set of villains too. Rip Torn has replaced Dan O’Herilhy as the CEO. And listen, I like Rip Torn. He will always be a hero to me because he bit Norman Mailer’s ear off. But Torn is far too obviously evil in the role of the CEO. O’Herlihy smartly played the Old Man as being avuncular and amoral. You could look at him and understand how he rose to his position of prominence. Torn’s performance is a bit more cartoonish but then again, Robocop 3 is the most cartoonish of the series.

The CEO wants to tear down Old Detroit so the residents of Old Detroit are fighting back. Leading the CEO’s forces — called the Rehabbers — is Paul McDagget (John Castle), who is a complete and total madman but who, at the same time, is never quite as memorable as Kurtwood Smith or Tom Noonan. He’s really just another generic militaristic bad guy. Normally, you would expect Robocop to be on the side of the company and the police but he’s been reprogrammed by an 8 year-old hacker named Nikko (Remy Ryan). Robocop is now working with the rebels. One of the rebels is played by Stephen Root, proving once again that you never know where Stephen Root might pop up.

Robocop 3 has none of the satiric bite of the first two movies. Instead of being a symbol of authoritarianism gone beserk, Robocop becomes a generic do-gooder. The violence is toned down and, with the addition of a kid sidekick, it’s obvious that this Robocop was meant to be a safer version of the character. Unfortunately, a safe Robocop equals a boring Robocop. You watch this movie and you wonder what happened to the Robocop who shot Ronny Cox out of a window.

“My friend’s call me Murphy,” he says towards the end of the film, “You can call me Robocop.” That seemed to indicate that Robocop had quite a future ahead of him of doing the right thing and standing up to big evil corporations but Robocop 3 was such a bomb at the box office that Robocop’s further adventures would only be seen on TV. The franchise was rebooted back in 2014, in a film that my friend Mark called “Rubber Cop.” After Rubber Cop fell flat, it was announced that Robocop would be rebooted for a second time, this time with a movie that would serve as a direct sequel to the first Robocop and which would ignore the sequels and the first reboot. Personally, I think it might be time to let Robocop retire. He had a good run.

Film Review: Robocop 2 (dir by Irvin Kershner)


Robocop 2, the 1990 sequel to Robocop, finds Detroit on the verge of getting nuked.

No, not nuked like that! Instead, there’s a new designer drug called Nuke and it’s tearing the city apart. Of course, Detroit has problems that go beyond just the new drug. The city is almost bankrupt. OCP, under the leadership of The Old Man (Dan O’Herlihy), is still running things behind the scenes. There’s still all sorts of petty crime to deal with. To be honest, it seems like the city has gotten even more out-of-control now that Clarence Boddiker is no longer around to oversee things.

Fortunately, Robocop (Peter Weller) is still patrolling the streets! But, for how long? There are lawyers who claim that Robocop is a huge potential liability and when you consider some of the stuff that went on during the first film, it’s hard not to see their point. His ex-wife is also suing the police department, claiming that Robocop has been harassing her. Despite being a robocop, our hero is still Murphy and he’s still haunted by memories of the family he once had. Or, at least, he is for the first few minutes of the film. That storyline kind of gets abandoned, along with a lot of other storylines.

While OCP is trying to develop a second robocop, one that can be mass produced and used to replace the human police force (the majority of whom have gone out on strike), a cult leader named Cain (Tom Noonan) is attempting to take over the city’s Nuke trade. Working with Cain is the usual gang of flamboyant malcontents. His second-in-command is a sociopathic child named Hob (Gabriel Damon). Hob may be a kid but he’ll kill anyone and he’ll enjoy himself while he’s doing it.

Robocop 2 is a bit of a mess. It apparently was rushed into production after the surprise success of the first film and filming started before there was even a completed script. As a result, there are a lot of storylines and themes that are brought up and then seem to mysteriously disappear. The film duplicates Paul Verhoeven’s satirical approach to the first film’s ultra-violence but, unfortunately, it does so in the most superficial way possible. Once again, we get the cheerful and vapid news reports about impending doom and once again, the violence is completely and totally over-the-top. But none of it carries any of the bite that was present in the first film. The first film worked because director Verhoeven actually was trying to make a larger point with all of the violence and the hints of growing fascism. He was attempting to challenge the audience and to get them wonder why they found all of the terrible thing happening in Robocop to be so entertaining. The sequel was directed by Hollywood veteran Irvin Kershner who was a good, workmanlike director but who also didn’t possess Verhoeven’s subversive sensibility. Far too often, Robocop 2 just feels like it’s going through the motions.

That’s not say that Robocop 2 isn’t occasionally an effective film. Dan O’Herlihy is wonderfully amoral as the Old Man and Tom Noonan is a worthwhile villain. Though Peter Weller has said that he wasn’t happy with how the overall film turned out, he still make for a sympathetic hero and he still manages to capture Robocop’s anguish without letting us forget that the character is still essentially a machine. I’m not really a big fan of films that use evil children for cheap shocks but Gabriel Damon is frequently chilling as Hob. Detroit is such a terrible place in the Robocop films that it’s not really a surprise when an evil child pops up and start shooting people. When compared to the first film, Robocop 2 may be a disappointment but it’s hardly a disaster.

Robocop 3 on the other hand….

Film Review: Robocop (dir by Paul Verhoeven)


Last week, I watched the original Robocop (along with Robocop 2 and Robocop 3) and I have to say that the first film holds up far better than I was expecting. Made and released way back in 1987, Robocop may be one of the most prophetic films ever made.

Consider the plot:

America is torn apart by crime and a growing gap between the rich and the poor. That was probably true in 1987 and it’s certainly true in 2021.

Throughout the film, we see news reports about what’s happening in the world. The news is always grim but the reporters are always cheerful and the main message is that, no matter what’s happening, the government is not to blame and anyone who questions the wisdom of the establishment is a fool. If that’s not a perfect description of cable news and our current state-run media, I don’t know what is.

The populace is often too busy watching stupid game shows to really pay attention to what’s happening all around them. I’m writing these words on a Wednesday, which means that Game of Talents will be on Fox tonight, immediately after The Masked Singer.

Detroit, a once proud center of industry, has now turned into a dystopian Hellhole where no one feels that they’re safe. Now, I don’t live in Detroit so I don’t know how true that is but I do know that most of the recent news that I’ve heard about the city has not exactly been positive. Also, this seems like a good time to point out that, even though the film is set in Detroit, it was shot in Dallas. Though the Dallas skyline has undoubtedly changed a bit since 1987, I still recognized several buildings while watching Robocop. Seeing Reunion Tower in the background of a movie that’s supposed to be set in Detroit was interesting, though perhaps not as interesting as seeing our City Hall transformed into the headquarters of Detroit’s beleaguered police force.

OCP, a multi-national conglomerate that’s run by the amoral but occasionally charming Old Man (played by the brilliant Dan O’Herlihy), has a contract with city of Detroit to run their police department. This certainly doesn’t seem far-fetched in 2021. Considering that we now have prisons that are run by private companies and that the government has shown a willingness to work with private mercenaries overseas, it’s not a stretch to imagine a city — especially one on the verge of bankruptcy — handing over the police department to a private company.

Two OCP executives — Dick Jones (Ronny Cox) and Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer) — are competing to see who can be the first to create and develop a peace-keeping robot, a machine that will replace the need to employ (and pay) human police officers. Dick Jones goes with an actual robot, which malfunctions during a boardroom demonstration and guns down another executive. (The scene where the poor exec is targeted is both terrifying and darkly humorous at the same time. Particularly disturbing is how everyone in the boardroom keeps shoving him back towards the robot in order to ensure that they won’t accidentally be in the line of fire.) Bob Morton, however, takes a mortally wounded cop named Murphy (Peter Weller) and turns him into Robocop!

Robocop turns out to be a huge success and is very popular with the media. (Anyone who doubts this would really happen has obviously never watched news coverage of a drone attack.) As you can guess, Dick is not particularly happy about getting shown up by Morton and his robocop. Dick also happens to be secretly in league with Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith), the crimelord who blew Murphy apart in the first place.

(A gangster and a businessman working together!? I doubt that was shocking even in 1987.)

Robocop claims that he’s just a machine, without a past or emotions, but he’s still haunted by random flashes of his life as Murphy. Working with Lewis (Nancy Allen), Murphy’s former partner, Robocop tracks down Boddicker and his gang. A lot of people die in outrageously violent ways. (The scene where Boddicker and his gang use a shotgun to torture Murphy is still shocking, even after all these years.) The violence is so over-the-top that it soon becomes obvious that director Paul Verhoeven is deliberately trying to get those of us watching to ask ourselves why we find films like this to be so entertaining. On the one hand, Robocop is an exciting action film with a sense of humor. On the other hand, it’s the type of subversive satire of pop and trash culture to which Verhoeven would return with Basic Instinct, Starship Troopers, and Showgirls. This is the type of film that asks the audience, “What are you doing here?”

34 years after it was first made, Robocop remains a triumph. Peter Weller’s performance holds up well, as he does a great job of capturing Robocop’s anguish while, at the same time, never forgetting that the character is ultimately a machine, one that’s trapped in a sort of permanent limbo. I also really liked the performance of Miguel Ferrer, who takes a character who should be unlikable and instead makes him into a surprisingly sympathetic figure.

Of course, a film like this lives and dies on the strength of its villains and both Ronny Cox and Kurtwood Smith are ideally cast as Dick Jones and Clarence Boddicker. Kurtwood Smith especially took me by surprise by how believably evil and frightening he was. As a I watched the film, I realized that it was his glasses that made him so intimidating. Wearing his glasses, he looked like some sort of rogue poet, a sociopathic intellectual who had chosen to use his talents to specifically make the world into a terrible place. Boddicker’s crew was full of familiar actors like Paul McCrane, Ray Wise, and, as the always laughing Joe Cox, Jesse Goins. Interestingly enough, all of the bad guys seemed to genuinely be friends. Even though they were all willing to betray each other (“Can you fly Bobby?”), they also seemed to really enjoy each other’s company. That somehow made them even more disturbing than a group of bad guys who were only in it for the money. The villains in Robocop really do seem to savor the chance to show off just how evil they can be.

(Incidentally, for all of the Twin Peaks fans out there, this film features three members of the show’s ensemble: Miguel Ferrer, Ray Wise, and Dan O’Herlihy.)

Robocop holds up well as entertainment, prophecy, and satire. Though not much was expected from it when it was first released, it became a surprise hit at the box office. Needless to say, this led to a sequel. I’ll deal with that film in about an hour.