Film Review: The Top Rope (dir by Cody Broadway)


About halfway through the 20 minute documentary, The Top Rope, a soft-spoken, bearded man named Billy Gray says, “It’s how I’m wired.”

Billy is explaining why he spends most of his time playing a character named Hunter Grey, a viking who is, at one point, seen carrying a big axe.  (By being a viking, he explains, he can make people laugh while still being believably intimidating.)  Billy, who was a championship wrestler in high school and who comes from a long line of wrestlers, now makes his living traveling the pro wrestling circuit in Colorado.  It’s hardly glamorous.  Billy tells us stories about having to change in parking lots and says that if you have a locker room, you should consider yourself to be lucky.  He also tells us about how his family was initially dismissive of his career and how it took a while before they actually started coming to his matches.  But, whenever we actually see Billy performing and in the ring, we understand why he does it.  The crowds love watching him.  When Billy Gray’s in that ring, he’s a star.

Billy is one of several wrestlers to be interviewed in The Top Rope.  Considering that one of the main appeals of pro-wrestling is the flamboyance of the people involved, it’s tempting to be surprised to discover that, outside the ring, the majority of the participants come across as being rather soft-spoken.  Then again, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised at all.  One of the joys of performing, after all, is assuming a new and different persona.

For instance, a wrestler named Zach Anaya is obviously somewhat bemused with his villain status but, when we see him in the ring, we see someone who is truly enjoying playing his role.  A scene in which he jumped off a ledge and landed on top of two wrestlers below left me cringing because you could tell that, for all the talk about how pro-wrestling matches are essentially a type of performance art, the participants can still get seriously injured.  Scripted or not scripted, you have to be willing to push yourself to extremes in order to pursue it.

Also interviewed is Curtis Cole, a wrestler who rather touchingly talks about how he used to watch wrestling with his mother.  You get the feeling that, to a certain extent, he’s wrestling in her memory.  Cole also discusses the importance of having a storyline in the ring.  Without a storyline, it’s just two guys jumping on each other.  With a storyline, it becomes an epic battle of good and evil.  Cole tears up while discussing once past storyline and I have to admit that he got so emotional that even I, who has never even watched a wrestling match, started to get emotional too.  In a film full of great storytellers, Curtis Cole might be the best.

This documentary was directed by Cody Broadway, who previously directed 4 Quarters of Silence, a film about the Texas School for The Deaf’s football team.  He brings the same empathetic touch to this film.  Though the film did not make me a pro wrestling fan (to misquote Billy Gray, it’s just not how I’m wired), it did make me a fan of the men who were interviewed and it made me happy that they have this in their lives.  We’re all wired differently but, as this film demonstrates, there’s a place for all of us if we’re willing to look for it.

Film Review: The Cleaning Lady (dir by Jon Knautz)


The Cleaning Lady opens with a close-up of several mice in a box.  A hand reaches down and scoops up the mice, one-by-one.  The mice are dropped into a blender.  We watch as a finger turns the blender on.  Now, before anyone panics, we don’t actually see the mice get turned into puree or anything like that.  (Indeed, if we had, I would have stopped watching the movie right at that moment.)  Still, just the sound of that blender coming to life was enough to make me cringe.

It’s also a signal of the type of film that The Cleaning Lady is going to be.  This is a dark horror movie about some seriously damaged individuals.  If you think that things can’t get any darker than mice being dropped in a blender, just you wait.

The film opens with the travails of Alice (Alexis Kendra), who has a nice apartment and a married boyfriend.  The problem with having a married boyfriend is that, no matter how much you love him, you still have to deal with the guilt of being a homewrecker.  Unfortunately, Alice is “addicted to love” and she simply cannot seem to resist the urge to call Michael (Stelio Savante) and ask him to come over to her place.  Not even attending a support group seems to help.  (Of course, Michael does invite her to to go to Italy with him and, seriously, who could resist a free trip to Italy?)

As for Alice’s apartment, it’s nice and big but what’s the point if you can’t keep it clean and neat?  Fortunately, Shelly (Rachel Alig) is here to help!  Shelly is the cleaning lady and she has a habit of mysteriously materializing in Alice’s apartment.  At first, Alice is a little bit nervous around the heavily scarred and withdrawn Shelly.  However, Alice soon comes to appreciate Alice’s ability to unplug a drain and dispose of dead rodents.  Soon, Alice is making Shelly dinner and inviting her to stay over and watch movies.  Alice even drives Shelly home one night and is shocked to discover that Shelly apparently lives out in the middle-of-nowhere.

Now, admittedly, Alice’s motives aren’t entirely altruistic.  There’s a hint of elitism to Alice’s attempts to be nice to “the help.”  Even more importantly, spending time with Shelly gives Alice something to do other than calling up Michael.  Alice is using Shelly to break her addiction.

What Alice doesn’t realize is that 1) Shelly’s become a bit addicted to her company and 2) Shelly is willing to do just about anything to get closer to Alice.  I’m not going to spoil things by discussing just how far Shelly goes but let’s just say that things do a get a bit extreme.  And that’s even before the knives and the axes come out!

The Cleaning Lady is hardly the first horror film to be made about obsession, nor will it be the last.  That said, it’s still an effectively creepy film.  By making Alice as obsessed with Michael as Shelly is with Alice, the film brings a few unexpected wrinkles to its plot and both Alexis Kendra and Rachel Alig do a good job bringing their characters to life, with Alig even managing to generate some sympathy for poor, scarred Shelly.  Alig especially deserves credit for underplaying a few key scenes, as opposed to going full psycho.  The fact that Shelly rarely speaks above a whisper actually makes her far more intimidating than she would have been if she had spent the entire movie screaming at her prey.

All in all, this is an effective indie horror film.  Of course, after seeing the film, it’s possible that you might never look at a blender the same way again….

Lifetime Film Review: Mommy Group Murder (dir by Nick Everhart)


There are a few lessons that I’ve learned from Lifetime movies in general and the film Mommy Group Murder in specific.

First off, don’t live in the suburbs.  Like, seriously, don’t do it.  Yes, the houses are big and everyone’s got a nice lawn and there’s always some hot guy working shirtless across the street from you.  Yes, it may seem like a nice and fun place to live but don’t be fooled.  You want to know why all those pretty and handsome people are living in the suburbs?  Because they’ve all got something to hide!  The minute they see you and your sensitive husband and your baby moving into the big, white house next door, they’re going to start plotting against you.  Next thing you know, strangers will be putting cameras in your house and having sex on your kitchen counters and you’ll be hearing weird noises at all hours of the night.

(Of course, I already live in the suburbs so I’m learning this lesson a bit too late.  Admittedly, my suburban neighborhood seems to be a bit safer than the average Lifetime suburban neighbor.  I have yet to find any hidden cameras in the house and the kitchen counters are thoroughly cleaned every day.)

Lesson number two: no matter how appealing the mysterious mansion next door might look, resist the temptation to break in and look around.  In fact, for that matter, don’t even accept an invitation to visit.  Nothing good ever happens in those mansions.  There’s always either a dead body hidden in an ice chest or someone chained up in the basement.  Once you discover something like that, you’re pretty much required by law to get involved and go to the police.  So, seriously, think before you invade.

Lesson number three: You know that person who shows up out of nowhere and suddenly wants to be your new best friend?  DON’T TRUST THEM!  When all of your old friends or your husband says that they think there’s something strange about your new BFF, LISTEN!  And when you discover that your new best friend is using an alias, ask yourself why.  Don’t just shrug and say, “Well, she just changed her name.  Big deal.”

Finally, lesson number four — and this is one that was specifically driven home by this movie: Don’t join a mommy group!  Sure, it’s tempting.  I mean, you’re suffering from crippling depression.  You’re having nightmares about someone trying to kidnap your baby.  Your new best friend suggests that maybe you need to join a mommy group so that you can talk about all of this with people who actually understand what you’re going through.  It seems like a great idea but, if Lifetime has taught us anything, it’s that these mommy groups always lead to secrets, lies, and murder!

That’s what Natalie (Leah Pipes) discovers after she befriends the mysterious Grace (Helena Mattsson).  Natalie and Grace are the center of Mommy Group Murder, a film which aired on Lifetime back in March.

Plotwise, Mommy Group Murder may seem like a typical Lifetime film.  Suburbs, adultery, murder, and a best friend that no one listens to until it’s too late, it’s all here!  However, Mommy Group Murder also features a wonderfully nuanced performance from Leah Pipes and a few twists and turns that take the movie to a slightly darker place than the average Lifetime film.  Director Nick Everhart emphasizes the darkness at the heart of the film’s story, opening with a harrowing montage of Natalie struggling to bond with her daughter and ending with a shadowy sequence that has as much in common with a horror film as a Lifetime film.

Mommy Group Murder is a nicely done, melodramatic thriller.  Watch it and learn.

Let’s Talk About Monster Island (dir by Mark Atkins)


Oh hell yeah, the Asylum strikes again!  And this time, it’s all about Kaiju, helicopters, and Eric Roberts!

Listen, folks, if you don’t get automatically excited when you see the words “Kaiju,” “helicopters,” and “Eric Roberts” all in the same sentence, I don’t know what to tell.  Obviously, you’re not the audience that this film was made for.  This is a film for people who enjoy monster mayhem, things exploding, and helicopters.  Seriously, it’s not an Asylum film without a helicopter.

Admittedly, Eric Roberts’s role is actually pretty small.  He plays Admiral Butler and he’s got an entire fleet of warships at his disposal.  You’d think that would be just what you would want when dealing with a bunch of recently awakened ancient monsters but it turns out that  the Admiral is pretty stubborn.  He’s better at shouting into telephones than understanding the logic behind Kaiju.  And if you’re saying to yourself, “Would we really want Eric Roberts to be in charge of the U.S. Navy?,” you are again missing the point.  Asylum films, like this one, create their own parallel universe.  It’s a universe where monsters live, sea creatures can take down helicopters, and, of course, Eric Roberts is going to be in charge of a battleship.

The main character is Billy Ford (Adrian Bouchet, giving a cheerfully flamboyant performance), a billionaire who operates out of a beach house and whose underwater sea mining operation may be responsible for awakening the fearsome Tengu.  (Tengu looks kind of like a giant starfish and has molten magma for blood.)  Billy has two people working in the basement of his beach house.  Cherise (Donna Cormack Thompson) has been working with him forever.  Riley (Chris Fisher, giving a nicely neurotic performance) is such a recent hire that Billy still calls him “James.”  When it becomes apparent that something has awakened at the bottom of the ocean, Billy, Cherise, and Riley head underwater to investigate.

Coming along with them is Sarah Murray (Natalie Robbie), who works for the government and who is an expert in geomythology.  Geomythology is the study of alleged references to actual geological events in mythology.  Geomythology is a real thing and, after having watched this movie, I kind of wish that I had at least minored in it.  At one point, Sarah has to go to her former Geomythology professor (Margot Wood) for advice on how to stop Tengu from destroying the world and it turns out the professor lives in this huge cabin.  There’s money to made in keeping track of the world’s Kaiju.

Anyway, needless to say, once Tengu is awakened, it’s pretty much determined to end the world.  This movie, as you can probably guess from the title, pays homage to the Japanese monster movies of old.  When flying, fire-breathing monsters start hatching from eggs and attacking the world, their battle shrieks will be familiar to anyone who has ever seen a movie featuring Godzilla, Mothra, or Rodan.  When the film reaches the point of two giant monsters fighting each other while a bunch of human beings watch on, it’s impossible not to be reminded of Godzilla fighting King Kong.  It’s all in good fun, a monster movie made by people who loves monster movies for people who love monster movies.

Monster Island is a film to watch and to enjoy for the mayhem and the destruction.  Watch it to enjoy Eric Roberts bragging about the Navy’s new “sonar weapon.”  Watch it for the scene where one person makes the mistake of taunting one of the monsters.  (Piece of advice: Don’t ever yell “Come on!” at a create that can breathe fire.)  Watch it for giant starfish rising out of the ocean and the crashing helicopters.  Get a group of your friends together and enjoy the movie because the Asylum is back and so are the monsters and the helicopters!

Monster Island aired on the SyFy Network last night and it’ll probably air again.  Keep an eye out!

TV Review: Chilling Adventures of Sabrina 2.8 “The Mandrake” (dir by Kevin Sullivan)


When last we checked in on the adventures of the Greendale’s most boring family of witches, Sabrina had been resurrected as some sort of witch messiah and was planning on revealing the truth of her powers to all of Roz’s church friends when she was suddenly stopped by Harvey.  Harvey cried out, “If you ever loved me, stop!”  That got a look from both Roz and Nick, not to mention Sabrina.

Anyway, it turned out that Harvey found a wall painting of Sabrina in the mines and apparently, the painting indicated that Sabrina was destined to be the herald of Hell and bring about the apocalypse.

“Am I evil!?” Sabrina asked.

The 8th episode of the 2nd season of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina attempted to answer this question and, as is typical with this show, the results were mixed.  In order to try to exorcise the evil out of her, Sabrina convinced Ambrose to help her create a duplicate Sabrina, a “mandrake.”  The Mandrake Sabrina would have all of her powers but none of her humanity and the plan was for the real Sabrina to kill the fake Sabrina 24 hours after creating it.  This would not only vanquish whatever evil that Sabrina had inside of her but it would also deprive her of both her powers and her immortality.  In short, Sabrina would become a normal mortal but, at the same time, she also wouldn’t end the world.

Sounds like a good plan, right?

Of course, it didn’t work like that, largely due to the fact that Sabrina is incredibly incompetent.  While Sabrina managed to create the Mandrake, she didn’t do a very good job of keeping track of it.  This led to the Evil Sabrina wandering around Greendale and exploiting all of her friends’s insecurities and weaknesses.  Of course, since Sabrina only has three friends, this means that the Mandrake just tracked down Harvey, Roz, and Theo.  If Harvey, Roz, and Theo were complex characters (as opposed to thinly drawn caricatures), it would be potentially interesting to see how the Mandrake manipulated them and tried to use their weaknesses against them.  But, as I’ve been saying since this season began, there’s not much to say about the members of Sabrina’s supporting cast.  Everyone has one or two traits that are used to define them.  Of course, Roz is going to be insecure about her relationship with Harvey and her eyesight because that’s really the only two things that Roz has going on in her life.  The show’s refusal to dig any deeper into its supporting cast remains one of its most glaring flaws.

On the plus side, the Mandrake’s plan to create duplicates of Harvey, Roz, and Theo did lead to a nice homage to Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Kiernan Shipka did a great job playing both Sabrina and her evil twin.  As is usually the case with this series, Kiernan Shipka’s efforts to hold this uneven episode together were nothing less than heroic.

When the episode wasn’t dealing with Sabrina and her Mandrake, it was focusing on Father Blackwood’s attempts to break away from the Church of Night and join the Church of Judas.  It was …. well, not very interesting.  Meanwhile, Mrs. Wardwell sent a reanimated scarecrow to kill Sabrina.  The scarecrow failed, of course but Sabrina has now finally figured out that Wardwell is her enemy.  Considering that Mrs. Wardwell has never been a subtle antagonist, you have to wonder how dumb Sabrina is to have only now figured this out.

Anyway, I actually liked this episode a little bit more than the previous one.  It had all the usual flaws that we’ve come to expect from this series but Kiernan Shipka’s evil turn as the Mandrake elevated the episode.  As usual, Kiernan Shipka remains the show’s greatest strength.  At times, it’s the show’s only strength.

Up next, Case finished up season 2 by reviewing the finale!

The Things You Find On Netflix: Maria (dir by Pedring Lopez)


Once upon a time, Lily (Cristine Reyes) was one of the most feared cartel assassins in the Philippines.  Working with her lover, Kaleb (Ivan Padilla), Lily killed a lot of people and she did so with the an unstoppable ruthlessness.  However, she soon grew tired of the killing.  When she told Kaleb that she wanted out, he told her that there was no way to get out.  Lily decided to prove him wrong by betraying the cartel, faking her own death, and building a new life for herself.

Years later, Lily is now knows as Maria.  She’s a wife and a mother.  While her new husband is enthusiastic about a politician who says that he’s going to do whatever needs to be done to put the cartel out of business, Maria is always careful to remain apolitical.  In fact, she does nothing that might bring attention to herself.

Unfortunately, disappearing is easier said than done.  The cartel learns of her new location and Kaleb and his men are sent to kill her and her family.  They easily manage to kill both her husband and her daughter.  However, Maria escapes.  While Kaleb is forced to deal with the machination of a rival member of the cartel, the brutal Victor (KC Montero), Maria once again enters the criminal underworld.  She now only has one mission and that’s revenge.  She’s going to kill anyone who had anything to do with the death of her family….

Earlier tonight, I watched the Filipino film Maria on Netflix.  It’s pretty much a standard revenge thriller.  The action scenes and the over-the-top violence were clearly inspired by films like The Raid and John Wick.  One could just as easily replaced the cartel with the Russian mafia and Maria’s family with a collection of house pets and then sold that film as being about John Wick’s long-lost sister.  However, Maria didn’t have any of the winking self-awareness that makes both The Raid and the John Wick films so memorable.  Really, the only thing that Maria has to distinguish itself from other action films is that the lead character is female but, at times, that’s enough.  Even though the whole “action girl” character has become a bit of a cliche in the years since Kill Bill and the original Resident Evil, there’s still something undeniably satisfying about watching a woman kick ass.  If nothing else, this makes Maria an appropriate film to watch if you’re having a bad day and you need the catharsis that comes from watching some really bad dudes not get a fair trial.

The film itself is a bit oddly paced.  The first fourth of the film is a bit-heavy on torture scenes with one in particular being drawn out to a painful degree.  Things pick up once Maria starts beating people up and Christine Reyes gives a sympathetic and highly-charged performance in the title role.  Maria is not a particularly challenging film, nor is it one that you’ll necessarily remember two hours after you’ve watched it.  That said, for what it is — i.e., a modest revenge flick, it gets the job done.  Just like Maria!

Music Video of the Day: In the Sun by She & Him (2010, dir by Peyton Reed)


You’re going to have to excuse me if my thinking is a bit incoherent right now.  Between my DVR exploding on Monday night and some issues with my laptop on Tuesday, I’ve only had about 4 hours of sleep over the past two days and, as I sit here typing this, I am on the verge of passing out.  On the plus side, I may be exhausted but at least everything seems to be working now.  The laptop is working fine.  The new DVR has arrived.  My thumb — which I slightly burned when, while unplugging the DVR, I accidentally grabbed the metal part of the plug, despite the fact that there was an actual plume of smoke rising up off of it — has finally stopped throbbing and is back to being it’s wonderful self.  Now, I just need to get some sleep and hopefully, when I wake up, my heart will no longer be racing and my thoughts will be much more coherent.

Fortunately, there’s a solution for when you’re trying to write about a music video but your brain is screaming at you to fall asleep.  You can just pick something from She & Him!  She & Him, of course, are Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward.  Both their music and their videos tend to be so wonderful and endearing that they can pretty much speak for themselves.

This video was directed by Peyton Reed.  Today, of course, Reed is probably best known for directing the Ant-Man films.  When this video was shot, he was best known for directing the original Bring It On.  As such, it’s not surprising to see him selected to bring this video’s high school world to life.

Enjoy and good night!