Love On The Shattered Lens: Xanadu (dir by Robert Greenwald)


“What the Hell did I just watch?” I asked myself as the end credits rolled for the 1980 film, Xanadu.

Xanadu is one of those films where words just fail you.  It’s a musical and it stars Olivia Newton-John, who has a good voice even if she’s also kind of a bland screen presence.  The music is really good.  I love the main song and it’s definitely one that has gotten stuck in my head every time that I’ve heard it.  Of course, for the longest time, I thought Olivia was singing, “One-a-due.”  (Seriously, I’m the worst when it comes to mishearing lyrics.)  But no, I later discover that she was singing about Xanadu and who would have guessed that Xanadu would turn out to be a roller disco?

Yes, it’s a very strange movie.

Xanadu starts out with a mural of nine women coming to life.  The 9 women are the Muses.  You may remember them from Greek mythology.  They exist to inspire artists who inevitably end up falling in love with him without realizing that a muse is not allowed to love back.  This leads to a lot of great art but also to a lot of broken hearts.  Olivia Newton-John plays a muse named Terpsichore but she prefers to be known as Kira because …. well, wouldn’t you?  For centuries, Kira has inspired great works of art.  She’s worked with Michelangelo and probably a few poets as well.  As someone who majored in Art History, I’m thankful for Kira because, without her, my degree would be totally useless as opposed to just slightly.  In the year 1980, Kira has again entered the mortal world so that she can inspire …. a roller disco.

Yeah, okay.

Listen, I could probably go on for about a thousand words about how disappointed I would be to go from inspiring the Mona Lisa to inspiring a tacky roller disco in Malibu.  But it doesn’t seem to bother Kira so good for her!  Of course, Kira is a bit distracted because she’s broken the number one rule of being a muse.  She’s fallen in love with an artist!

Sonny Malone (Michael Beck) is a painter whose job involves painting larger versions of album covers so that they can be displayed in the windows of record stores.  Sonny dreams of being an independent artist but instead, he’s stuck recreating the works of others.  He feels like his life and his work are going nowhere.  However, once he sees a picture of Kira, he is immediately inspired.  And then, when Kira skates up behind him and kisses him, he’s in love!

Yay!

The only problem, of course, is that Sonny is a human being and Kira is a mythological creature.  If Sonny was destined to fall in love with a creature from Greek mythology, I guess he should be happy that it was one of the muses and not Medusa.  But anyway, Kira says that she’s not allowed to be with Sonny so Sonny tries to talk Zeus and Hera into changing the rules.  Whether or not he succeeds is kind of left up in the air.  I think a bigger problem would be the fact that Kira is immortal whereas Sonny comes across like he’ll probably end up snorting too much cocaine before the 80s are over.  But that’s never really brought up in the film.

Around the same time that Sonny meets Kira, he also meets Danny (Gene Kelly!), who is a former big time band leader who now spends his time hanging out on the beach and dreaming about opening up a roller disco.  It turns out that, when Danny was a young man, he was also inspired by Kira.  Danny and Sonny join forces and soon, Xanadu is a reality!  Danny fantasizes about a 1940s style nightclub.  Sonny fantasizes about a generic “rock club.”  They may have two different visions but fortunately, they both agree one one thing: everyone has to wear roller skates.

Xanadu is one of those films where not much really happens but it’s still incredibly busy.  Danny keeps on dancing.  Sonny keeps on painting and bitching about how his life isn’t going anywhere.  Kira keeps on roller skating through everyone’s life.  As I said, the music’s great but the storyline …. well, to be honest, I thought the film’s story was fun as an example of something that could only have seemed logical in the late 70s.  I mean, it’s an incredibly stupid film but Gene Kelly’s in it and, even at the age of 68, he was still such a dedicated old trouper that you can’t help but smile whenever he breaks out a few moves.  Add to that, Michael Beck and Olivia Newton-John do make for a cute couple, even if both of them were reportedly miserable during filming.  They just look like they belong together, in a California beach community sort of way.

Xanadu’s a big mess of a movie but it’ll make you dance and it’ll make you sing.  All together now: One-a-due, One-a-due something want to do….*

Cinemax Friday: Lipstick Camera (1994, directed by Mike Bonifer)


Omy Clark (Ele Keats) is an aspiring journalist who wants to work with the world famous videographer, Flynn Dailey (Brian Wimmer).  When she shows up at Flynn’s studio and marvels at how much power the filmed image can wield, Flynn blows her off.  While Flynn is busy ignoring Omy, Lily Miller (Sandahl Bergman) drops by and tries to hire Flynn to film her and her husband, Raymond (Terry O’Quinn), making love.  When Flynn heads out to the Miller residence, Omy tags along as an uninvited guest.  She happens to have a tiny camera that she stole from her best friend, Joule (Corey Feldman, sporting a beard and a beret).  Omy plants the camera in Lily’s bedroom.  Later, when Flynn, Omy, and Joule all return to the Miller house to retrieve the tiny camera, they discover that Lily has been murdered and that Raymond is a communist war criminal who fled East Germany following the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

Lipstick Camera has an intriguing premise and, even in 1994, it was trying to say something about media manipulation and what is today referred to as being “fake news.”  You could say that it was a film that was ahead of its time.  You could also say that it’s a complete mess or that it’s an erotic thriller that is neither erotic nor thrilling and you would be just as correct.  The main problem with the film is that almost every plot development is set in motion by Omy being either extremely self-absorbed or extremely stupid.  When she’s not manipulating Joule (who is not too secretly in love with her), she’s stalking Flynn and carelessly losing an expensive camera that didn’t even belong to her in the first place.  And she, of course, is meant to be our hero!

In the 90s, former teen idol Corey Feldman was one of the mainstays of late night Cinemax.  Even during his Cinemax years, Feldman would occasionally give a good performance.  Lipstick Camera was not one of those occasions.  In Lipstick Camera, Feldman wears a beard and a beret and spends a lot of time in a room that’s full of computer monitors and TV screens and that’s the extent of his characterization.  He does get a dramatic death scene, in which Joule appears to be determined to stave off the grim reaper by giving a monologue of Shakespearean proportions but otherwise, this is Corey Feldman at his worst.  Faring slightly better is Terry O’Quinn, who, at least, gets to deliver his lines in a light German accent.

With its focus on the media and communist war criminals, Lipstick Camera is an example of a direct-to-video film that tried to be about something more than just sex and murder.  (Though, this being a DTV film, there is one brief sex scene that takes place in front of a TV that’s showing a video of a fireplace.)  Unfortunately, nobody involved seems to know what that something was supposed to be.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: All That Jazz (dir by Bob Fosse)


“Bye bye life….

Bye bye happiness….

Hello loneliness….

I think I’m going to die….”

So sings Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider) at the end of the 1979 film, All That Jazz.  And he’s right!  It’s hardly a spoiler to tell you that All That Jazz ends with Joe Gideon in a body bag.  It’s not just that Gideon spends a good deal of the film flirting with the Angel of the Death (Jessica Lange).  It’s also that, by the time the film ends, we’ve spent a little over two hours watching Joe engage in non-stop self-destruction.  Joe is a director and a choreographer who is so in love with both death and show business that his greatest triumph comes from choreographing his own death.

Joe wakes up every morning, pops a handful of pills, stares at himself in the mirror and says, “It’s showtime!”  He spends his day choreographing a Broadway play.  He spends his nights editing his latest film, a biopic about Lenny Bruce called The Stand-Up.  He’s particularly obsessed with a long monologue that Lenny (played by Cliff Gorman) delivers about the inevitability of death.  When he’s not choreographing or editing, he’s smoking, drinking, and cheating on his girlfriend (Ann Reinking).  It’s obvious that he’s still in love with his ex-wife (Leland Palmer) and that she loves him too but she’s also too smart to allow herself to get fully sucked back into his self-destructive orbit.  He loves his daughter (Erzsébet Földi) and yet still ignores her when she begs him not to die.

Joe and the Angel of Death

When Joe has a heart attack and ends up in the hospital, he doesn’t change his behavior.  Instead, he and the Angel of Death take a look back at his youth, which was spent hanging out in strip clubs and desperately trying to become a star.  Joe Gideon, we see, has always know that he’s going to die early so he’s pushed himself to accomplish everything that he can in what little time he has.

As a result of his drive and his refusal to love anyone but himself, Gideon is widely recognized as being an artistic genius.  However, as O’Connor Flood (Ben Vereen, essentially playing Sammy Davis, Jr.) puts it, “This cat allowed himself to be adored, but not loved. And his success in show business was matched by failure in his personal relationship bag, now – that’s where he really bombed. And he came to believe that show business, work, love, his whole life, even himself and all that jazz, was bullshit. He became numero uno game player – uh, to the point where he didn’t know where the games ended, and the reality began. Like, for this cat, the only reality – is death, man. Ladies and gentlemen, let me lay on you a so-so entertainer, not much of a humanitarian, and this cat was never nobody’s friend. In his final appearance on the great stage of life – uh, you can applaud if you want to – Mr. Joe Gideon!”

Now, of course, Connor doesn’t really say all that.  Gideon just imagines Connor saying that before the two of them launch into the film’s final musical number, Bye Bye Life.  It should be a totally depressing moment but actually, it’s exhilarating to watch.  It’s totally over-the-top, self-indulgent, and equally parts sincere and cynical.  It’s a Bob Fosse production all the way and, as a result, All that Jazz is probably about as fun as a movie about the death of a pathological narcissist can be.  This is a film that will not only leave you thinking about mortality but it will also make you dance.

All That Jazz was Bob Fosse’s next-to-last film (he followed it up with the even darker Star 80) and it’s also his most openly autobiography.  Roy Scheider may be playing Joe Gideon but he’s made-up to look exactly like Bob Fosse.  Like Joe Gideon, Bob Fosse had a heart attack while trying to direct a Broadway show and a film at the same time.  Gideon’s girlfriend is played by Fosse’s real-life girlfriend.  The character of Gideon’s ex-wife is clearly meant to be a stand-in for Gwen Verdon, Fosse’s real-life ex-wife.  When the film’s venal Broadway producers make plans to replace the incapacitated Gideon, Fosse is obviously getting back at some of the producers that he had to deal with while putting together Chicago.  It’s a confessional film, one in which Fosse admits to his faults while also reminding you of his talent.  Thank God for that talent, too.  All that Jazz is self-indulgent but you simply can’t look away.

It helps that Gideon is played by Roy Scheider.  Originally, Scheider’s Jaws co-star Richard Dreyfuss was cast in the role but he left during rehearsals.  Dreyfuss, talented actor that he was, would have been all-wrong for the role of Gideon.  One can imagine a hyperactive Dreyfuss playing Gideon but one can’t imagine actually feeling much sympathy for him.  Scheider, on the other hand, brings a world-weary self-awareness to the role.  He plays Gideon as a man who loves his talent but who hates himself.  Scheider’s Joe Gideon is under no illusions about who he is or how people feel about him.  When Fosse’s own instincts threatens to make the film unbearably pretentious, Scheider’s down-to-Earth screen presence keeps things grounded.

I love All That Jazz.  (Admittedly, a good deal of that love is probably connected to my own dance background.  I’ve known my share of aspiring Joe Gideons, even if none of them had his — or Bob Fosse’s — talent or drive.)  It’s not for everyone, of course.  Any musical that features actual footage of open heart surgery is going to have its detractors.  For the record, Stanley Kubrick called All That Jazz “the best film I think I’ve ever seen.”  It won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and it was nominated for Best Picture, though it ultimately lost to the far more conventional Kramer vs. Kramer.

All that Jazz would be the last of Fosse’s film to receive a best picture nomination.  (Fosse directed five features.  3 of them were nominated for Best Picture, with the other two being Cabaret and Lenny.)  8 years after filming his cinematic doppelganger dying during heart surgery, Fosse would die of a heart attack.  Gwen Verdon was at his side.

Cinemax Memories: Raw Nerve (1991, directed by David A. Prior)


Raw Nerve opens with a serial killer haunting Mobile, Alabama, using a pump action shotgun to shoot women in the face while they’re wearing red high heels.  Race car driver Jimmy Clayton (Ted Prior, brother of this film’s director) has been having visions of the murders so he goes to the police and offers to help them out.  Unfortunately for Jimmy, neither Detective Ellis (Jan-Michael Vincent!) nor Captain Gavin (Glenn Ford!!) believe in psychic phenomena so they toss Jimmy’s ass in jail.  While Ellis’s ex-wife, Gloria (Sandahl Bergman!!!), tries to prove that Jimmy’s innocent, Jimmy’s mechanic (Randall “Tex” Cobb!!!!), takes an unhealthy interest in Jimmy’s teenage sister, Gina (TRACI LORDS!!!!!).

As you can tell from reading the paragraph above, the main thing that this film has going for it is a cast full of recognizable B-actors.  Though none of them are really at their best, Raw Nerve is still your only chance to see Glenn Ford, Jan-Michael Vincent, and Sandahl Bergman all sharing scenes together.  Unfortunately, despite all of the famous names in the cast, Ted Prior got the most screen time and he really didn’t have the screen presence to pull off either the role or the film’s loony final twist.

The best thing about Raw Nerve is that it features both Randall “Tex” Cobb and Traci Lords.  Lords was a legitimately good actress, even if her past as a pornographic actress made it impossible for her to get the type of roles that she really deserved.  Lords doesn’t get to do much in Raw Nerve but she does her best to make Gina into a real character instead of just a generic victim.  Meanwhile, Randall “Tex” Cobb is a marvel as a biker who is never seen without a beer in his hand.  When Cobb eventually leaves the movie, you miss him.

Raw Nerve was one of the many low-budget thrillers that came out in the 90s.  Like many of these films, Raw Nerve was directed by David A. Prior and released by Action International Pictures, which shared both an acronym and a sensibility with American International Pictures.  Though films like Raw Nerve may not have been great art, they were entertaining if you came across one of them on Cinemax.  Where else were you going to see Tex Cobb and Jan-Michael Vincent battle it out at two in the morning?

The TSL’s Grindhouse: Red Sonja (dir by Richard Fleischer)


The 1985 film, Red Sonja, invites us to take a journey to a forgotten age, a time of a mythical kingdoms, evil sorcery, epic sword fights, and annoying little child kings who spent a lot of time shouting.  It’s a time of wonder, danger, heroism, and, of course, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Reportedly, the once and future governor of California has frequently named Red Sonja as being the worst film in which he ever appeared.  When you consider some of the other films that have featured Gov. Schwarzenegger, that’s indeed a bold statement.  In Red Sonja, Schwarzenegger plays Lord Kalidor.  Interestingly enough, Lord Kalidor is absent for the majority of the film.  He shows up briefly at the beginning of the film and then he vanishes for quite a bit of Red Sonja‘s 89-minute running time.  Whenever Schwarzenegger does show up, he wears the smirk of a man who knows that he’s going to get paid a lot of money for doing very little actual work.

The majority of the film focuses on Sonja (Brigitte Nielsen), a warrior who lives in one of those vanished ages, perhaps after the War of the Rings but before the sinking of Atlantis.  When we first see her, she’s being spoken to by what appears to be a puff of smoke, which is apparently meant to be some sort of warrior goddess.  The puff of smoke fills tells Sonja about everything that happened to her before the start of the movie, though we never do learn why Sonja needs to be told her own backstory.  After rejecting the sexual advances of the evil Queen Gedren (Sandahl Begman), Sonja was forced to watch as her parents and brother were murdered and then she was raped and left for the dead by the Gedren’s soldiers.  The Goddess promises to make Sonja into a superior warrior, on the condition that Sonja agree to never have sex with a man unless that man can first beat her in fair combat.  Sonja agrees and is sent off to get trained by the Grand Master.  It’s kinda like Kill Bill, if Bill was a puff of smoke.

Jump forward to …. well, I’m not sure how many years pass.  To be honest, it’s next to impossible to really discern any sort of coherent logic to the film’s narrative progression so let’s just give up on that.  What’s important is that there’s this temple and, inside the temple, there’s a glowing green talisman.  Apparently, the talisman created the world but now it needs to be carefully watched over before being destroyed.  Only women are allowed to handle the talisman (Yay!) but they’re not allowed to destroy it unless directed by a man.  (Booooo!)  The temple priestesses are waiting for Lord Kalidor to arrive so that they can get rid of the talisman.  However, Queen Gedren shows up first.  Not only does she steal the talisman but she kills the priestesses as well.

One of the priestesses was Varna (Janet Agren, who you might recognize from Lucio Fulci’s City of the Living Dead).  Varna just happens to be the sister of Sonja.  (Sonja is now known as Red Sonja, because she had red hair.  From now on, I want to be known as Red Lisa.)  Now, Sonja has yet another reason to want to kill Gedren!  Rejecting Kalidor’s help, Sonja heads off for revenge.  Along the way, she meets an annoying child king named Tarn (Ernie Reyes, Jr.), who is upset that Gedren previously destroyed his kingdom.  Despite hating him, Sonja allows Tarn and his guardian, Falkon (Paul L. Smith), to tag along with her.  Despite not being an official member of the revenge party, Kalidor decides to follow after them because he wants to beat Red Sonja in fair combat, if you get what I mean.

Red Sonja is a spectacularly silly film.  The dialogue is stilted.  Even by the standards of the 1980s ,the special effects are poorly executed.  This the type of film where the evil Queen nearly destroys the world not because she has any sort of grand scheme but instead, just because she’s evil and that’s what evil people do.  Brigitte Nielsen delivers her lines with a forced solemnity while Schwarzenegger, Bergman, and the great Paul L. Smith seem to be struggling not to start laughing.

And yet, there’s a sneaky charm to be found in all of the silliness.  For instance, when Sonja does finally reach the queen’s castle, she has to cross a bridge that appears to basically be the skeleton of giant rhinoceros.  No none in the film seems to be surprised to come across a skeleton a giant rhinoceros and, to be honest, there’s no reason for it to be there.  It’s just there and it’s so wonderfully out-of-place that it becomes rather fascinating.  Add to that, while the portrayal of the evil lesbian queen is problematic in all sorts of ways, this is a film about a strong female warrior who doesn’t need a man to rescue her and that was probably even more rare in 1985 than it is today!

Watching Red Sonja, you get the feeling that nobody involved in the film took it all that seriously and that perhaps the best way to handle the movie is to just sit back and have a laugh.  It’s dumb, it’s campy, it often makes no sense but, at the same time, it’s still a lot easier to follow than Game of Thrones.   Like many bad films, it’s only bad if you watch it alone.  Watch it with a group of your snarkiest friends and you’ll have a totally different experience.

Playing Catch-Up: Crisscross, The Dust Factory, Gambit, In The Arms of a Killer, Overboard, Shy People


So, this year I am making a sincere effort to review every film that I see.  I know I say that every year but this time, I really mean it.

So, in an effort to catch up, here are four quick reviews of some of the movies that I watched over the past few weeks!

  • Crisscross
  • Released: 1992
  • Directed by Chris Menges
  • Starring David Arnott, Goldie Hawn, Arliss Howard, Keith Carradine, James Gammon, Steve Buscemi

An annoying kid named Chris Cross (David Arnott) tells us the story of his life.

In the year 1969, Chris and his mother, Tracy (Goldie Hawn), are living in Key West.  While the rest of the country is excitedly watching the first moon landing, Chris and Tracy are just trying to figure out how to survive day-to-day.  Tracy tries to keep her son from learning that she’s working as a stripper but, not surprisingly, he eventually finds out.  Chris comes across some drugs that are being smuggled into Florida and, wanting to help his mother, he decides to steal them and sell them himself.  Complicating matters is the fact that the members of the drug ring (one of whom is played by Steve Buscemi) don’t want the competition.  As well, Tracy is now dating Joe (Arliss Howard), who just happens to be an undercover cop.  And, finally, making things even more difficult is the fact that Chris just isn’t that smart.

There are actually a lot of good things to be said about Crisscross.  The film was directed by the renowned cinematographer, Chris Menges, so it looks great.  Both Arliss Howard and Goldie Hawn give sympathetic performances and Keith Carradine has a great cameo as Chris’s spaced out dad.  (Traumatized by his experiences in Vietnam, Chris’s Dad left his family and joined a commune.)  But, as a character, Chris is almost too stupid to be believed and his overwrought narration doesn’t do the story any good.  Directed and written with perhaps a less heavy hand, Crisscross could have been a really good movie but, as it is, it’s merely an interesting misfire.

  • The Dust Factory 
  • Released: 2004
  • Directed by Eric Small
  • Starring Armin Mueller-Stahl, Hayden Panettiere, Ryan Kelly, Kim Myers, George de la Pena, Michael Angarano, Peter Horton

Ryan (Ryan Kelly) is a teen who stopped speaking after his father died.  One day, Ryan falls off a bridge and promptly drowns.  However, he’s not quite dead yet!  Instead, he’s in The Dust Factory, which is apparently where you go when you’re on the verge of death.  It’s a very nice place to hang out while deciding whether you want to leap into the world of the dead or return to the land of the living.  Giving Ryan a tour of the Dust Factory is his grandfather (Armin Mueller-Stahl).  Suggesting that maybe Ryan should just stay in the Dust Factory forever is a girl named Melanie (Hayden Panettiere).  Showing up randomly and acting like a jerk is a character known as The Ringmaster (George De La Pena).  Will Ryan choose death or will he return with a new zest for living life?  And, even more importantly, will the fact that Ryan’s an unlikely hockey fan somehow play into the film’s climax?

The Dust Factory is the type of unabashedly sentimental and theologically confused film that just drives me crazy.  This is one of those films that so indulges every possible cliché that I was shocked to discover that it wasn’t based on some obscure YA tome.  I’m sure there’s some people who cry while watching this film but ultimately, it’s about as deep as Facebook meme.

  • Gambit
  • Released: 2012
  • Directed by Michael Hoffman
  • Starring Colin Firth, Cameron Diaz, Alan Rickman, Tom Courtenay, Stanley Tucci, Cloris Leachman, Togo Igawa

Harry Deane (Colin Firth) is beleaguered art collector who, for the sake of petty revenge (which, as we all know, is the best type of revenge), tries to trick the snobbish Lord Shabandar (Alan Rickman) into spending a lot of money on a fake Monet.  To do this, he will have to team up with both an eccentric art forger (Tom Courtenay) and a Texas rodeo star named PJ Puznowksi (Cameron Diaz).  The plan is to claim that PJ inherited the fake Monet from her grandfather who received the painting from Hermann Goering at the end of the World War II and…

Well, listen, let’s stop talking about the plot.  This is one of those elaborate heist films where everyone has a silly name and an elaborate back story.  It’s also one of those films where everything is overly complicated but not particularly clever.  The script was written by the Coen Brothers and, if they had directed it, they would have at least brought some visual flair to the proceedings.  Instead, the film was directed by Michael Hoffman and, for the most part, it falls flat.  The film is watchable because of the cast but ultimately, it’s not surprising that Gambit never received a theatrical release in the States.

On a personal note, I saw Gambit while Jeff & I were in London last month.  So, I’ll always have good memories of watching the movie.  So I guess the best way to watch Gambit is when you’re on vacation.

  • In The Arms of a Killer
  • Released: 1992
  • Directed by Robert L. Collins
  • Starring Jaclyn Smith, John Spencer, Nina Foch, Gerald S. O’Loughlin, Sandahl Bergman, Linda Dona, Kristoffer Tabori, Michael Nouri

This is the story of two homicide detectives.  Detective Vincent Cusack (John Spencer) is tough and cynical and world-weary.  Detective Maria Quinn (Jaclyn Smith) is dedicated and still naive about how messy a murder investigation can be when it involves a bunch of Manhattan socialites.  A reputed drug dealer is found dead during a party.  Apparently, someone intentionally gave him an overdose of heroin.  Detective Cusack thinks that the culprit was Dr. Brian Venible (Michael Nouri).  Detective Quinn thinks that there has to be some other solution.  Complicating things is that Quinn and Venible are … you guessed it … lovers!  Is Quinn truly allowing herself to be held in the arms of a killer or is the murderer someone else?

This sound like it should have been a fun movie but instead, it’s all a bit dull.  Nouri and Smith have next to no chemistry so you never really care whether the doctor is the killer or not.  John Spencer was one of those actors who was pretty much born to play world-weary detectives but, other than his performance, this is pretty forgettable movie.

  • Overboard
  • Released: 1987
  • Directed by Garry Marshall
  • Starring Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, Edward Herrmann, Katherine Helmond, Roddy McDowall, Michael G. Hagerty, Brian Price, Jared Rushton, Hector Elizondo

When a spoiled heiress named Joanne Slayton (Goldie Hawn) falls off of her luxury yacht, no one seems to care.  Even when her husband, Grant (Edward Herrmann), discovers that Joanne was rescued by a garbage boat and that she now has amnesia, he denies knowing who she is.  Instead, he takes off with the boat and proceeds to have a good time.  The servants (led by Roddy McDowall) who Joanne spent years terrorizing are happy to be away from her.  In fact, the only person who does care about Joanne is Dean Proffitt (Kurt Russell).  When Dean sees a news report about a woman suffering from amnesia, he heads over to the hospital and declares that Joanne is his wife, Annie.

Convinced that she is Annie, Joanne returns with Dean to his messy house and his four, unruly sons.  At first, Dean says that his plan is merely to have Joanne work off some money that she owes him.  (Before getting amnesia, Joanne refused to pay Dean for some work he did on her boat.)  But soon, Joanne bonds with Dean’s children and she and Dean start to fall in love.  However, as both Grant and Dean are about to learn, neither parties nor deception can go on forever…

This is one of those films that’s pretty much saved by movie star charisma.  The plot itself is extremely problematic and just about everything that Kurt Russell does in this movie would land him in prison in real life.  However, Russell and Goldie Hawn are such a likable couple that the film come close to overcoming its rather creepy premise.  Both Russell and Hawn radiate so much charm in this movie that they can make even the stalest of jokes tolerable and it’s always enjoyable to watch Roddy McDowall get snarky.  File this one under “Kurt Russell Can Get Away With Almost Anything.”

A remake of Overboard, with the genders swapped, is set to be released in early May.

  • Shy People
  • Released: 1987
  • Directed by Andrei Konchalovsky
  • Starring Jill Clayburgh, Barbara Hershey, Martha Plimpton, Merritt Butrick, John Philbin, Don Swayze, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Mare Winningham

Diana Sullivan (Jill Clayburgh) is a writer for Cosmopolitan and she’s got a problem!  It turns out that her teenager daughter, Grace (Martha Plimpton), is skipping school and snorting cocaine!  OH MY GOD!  (And, to think, I thought I was a rebel just because I used to skip Algebra so I could go down to Target and shoplift eyeliner!)  Diana knows that she has to do something but what!?

Diana’s solution is to get Grace out of New York.  It turns out that Diana has got some distant relatives living in Louisiana bayou.  After Cosmo commissions her to write a story about them, Diana grabs Grace and the head down south!

(Because if there’s anything that the readers of Cosmo are going to be interested in, it’s white trash bayou dwellers…)

The only problem is that Ruth (Barbara Hershey) doesn’t want to be interviewed and she’s not particularly happy when Diana and Grace show up.  Ruth and her four sons live in the bayous.  Three of the sons do whatever Ruth tells them to do.  The fourth son is often disobedient so he’s been locked up in a barn.  Diana, of course, cannot understand why her relatives aren’t impressed whenever she mentions that she writes for Cosmo.  Meanwhile, Grace introduces her cousins to cocaine, which causes them to go crazy.  “She’s got some strange white powder!” one of them declares.

So, this is a weird film.  On the one hand, you have an immensely talented actress like Jill Clayburgh giving one of the worst performances in cinematic history.  (In Clayburgh’s defense, Diana is such a poorly written character that I doubt any actress could have made her in any way believable.)  On the other hand, you have Barbara Hershey giving one of the best.  As played by Hershey, Ruth is a character who viewers will both fear and admire.  Ruth has both the inner strength to survive in the bayou and the type of unsentimental personality that lets you know that you don’t want to cross her.  I think we’re supposed to feel that both Diana and Ruth have much to learn from each other but Diana is such an annoying character that you spend most of the movie wishing she would just go away and leave Ruth alone.  In the thankless role of Grace, Martha Plimpton brings more depth to the role than was probably present in the script and Don Swayze has a few memorable moments as one of Ruth’s sons.  Shy People is full of flaws and never really works as a drama but I’d still recommend watching it for Hershey and Plimpton.

A Movie A Day #266: Possessed by the Night (1994, directed by Fred Olen Ray)


Howard Hansen (Ted Prior) is a best-selling horror writer who is suffering from writer’s block.  With his agent, Murray (Frank Sivero), pressuring him to get something written, Howard decides to seek inspiration in Chinatown.  When he steps into a curio shop and sees a grotesque, one-eyed blob floating in a jar of formaldehyde, Howard buys it.  He hopes that the blob will give him an idea for a great book but instead, it just causes him to have nightmares and violent sex with his wife, Peggy (Sandahl Bergman).

Meanwhile, Murray is in debt with loan shark Scott Lindsey (Henry Silva) and Scott’s number one debt collector, Gus (Chad McQueen).  Murray needs money and he needs it quickly.  Murray sends his “secretary,” Carol (Shannon Tweed), to live with the Hansens and steal an unpublished romance novel that Howard wrote when he was just starting out as a writer.  However, the one-eyed blob possesses Carol and she is soon climbing onto both Howard’s workout equipment and Howard!  Soon everyone is under the influence of the one-eyed blob, Carol is forcing Howard and Peggy to make love while she holds the gun on them, and both Gus and Murray are sneaking around the house, trying to find the manuscript.

A movie that was once very popular on late night Cinemax, Possessed By The Night is a sometimes awkward but frequently entertaining horror/thriller hybrid from B-auteur Fred Olen Ray.  Along with giving Frank Sivero a rare leading role (Sivero is best known for playing Frankie in Goodfellas and providing the inspiration for the Simpsons character of the same name), Possessed By The Night proves that no movie can be that bad when featuring both Sandahl Bergman and Shannon Tweed.  When you watch a Fred Olen Ray/Shannon Tweed collaboration from 1994, you know what you’re getting and Possessed By The Night delivers.

Film Review: Programmed To Kill/The Retaliator (1987, dir. Allan Holzman & Robert Short)


Samira (Sandahl Bergman)

Samira (Sandahl Bergman)

That screenshot look promising? Well, it isn’t. Programmed to kill? More like programmed to bore. This movie is like Atomic Cyborg in that it’s a Terminator inspired movie. However, unlike Atomic Cyborg, this movie is awful.

I would love to say the movie is about Samira who is captured after participating in a terror attack in Greece and turned into a killing machine, but it’s not. Look at this shot below and guess when it happens out of the 90 minute running time.

I bet that number you thought of wasn’t 40 minutes! Take a look at the shot below when she kills someone in the field as a cyborg and take another guess.

This happens at 52 minutes. It takes this movie 52 minutes to capture her, transform her, and send her into the field. The movie is only 90 minutes long with credits! Just wow! What the movie is actually about is this guy who captures her, then tries to track her down to finish her off.

Eric Mathews (Robert Ginty)

Eric Mathews (Robert Ginty)

The majority of the film is with him, his wife, and kid. The rest of the time is the surgery and exposition. I love when they are walking down this underground hall with pipes running it’s length. Why? So they have plenty of time to tell us that their plan to turn her against her own people by transforming her into a cyborg is going to backfire down the road. What a waste of time! I wonder if the VHS release of this had a sticker on the front of it that said “Press Here” so it’s audience would know how to insert it into the VCR. Oh wait, this was for an audience expecting something kind of cool so maybe it says “insert to fucking box” like Explosive Fighter Patton for the Famicom Disk System does.

At least we can hope that the action, when it happens, is good, right? Nope, it sucks. The stuff near the end kind of suffers from the 2014 Godzilla problem of not putting enough light on the action. Not that much is going on anyways, but still. I really love this shot below.

It’s clearly supposed to be all arty and dramatic as he talks about how she is out to get those who wronged her, but oh please. It’s like the movie wanted to be taken seriously. As if it had an important message to deliver it’s audience. Atomic Cyborg covers the same sort of territory so much better and has arm wrestling. The best you get here is when she calls up a guy and screeches so loud into the phone that his ear bleeds, he crashes the car, and dies. I’m sorry, but if I want murder by phone, then I’ll watch Murder By Phone (1982).

There is one bright point though. Eric’s son is played by none other than Paul Walker!

Paul Walker

Paul Walker

That’s a good thing for me because it means I can mention Tammy and the T-Rex again. Otherwise, there is no bright point to this movie. It’s just terrible. Please watch Atomic Cyborg or Lady Terminator instead.