A Movie A Day #273: Zombie High (1987, directed by Ron Link)


Andrea (Virginia Madsen) is a small town teenager who has just received a scholarship to attend the Ettinger Academy, a formelyr all-male boarding school.  Andrea is excited because some of the most powerful and wealthy people in the country have graduated from Ettinger.  Her boyfriend (James Wilder) is less excited because he worries that Ettinger is going to change Andrea.  He might be right because all of the students at Ettinger are emotionless robots who read the Wall Street Journal and listen to classic music.  Even Andrea’s new friends, who all seem normal, soon change into mindless preppies who wear sweaters over their shoulders.

A high school version of The Stepford Wives, Zombie High features no zombies and is more of a comedy than a straight up horror film.  The movie’s original title was the far cooler The School That Ate My Brain.  Zombie High is nothing special but it does feature Sherilyn Fenn in a small role, as one of the students who goes from being vampy to preppy in just one day.  Virginia Madsen and Sherilyn Fenn in the same movie?  What 80s or 90s kid could resist that?  Also, Zombie High wins points by proving that heavy metal music is the key to reversing brainwashing.

TV Review: Twin Peaks: The Return Part 12 (dir by David Lynch)


Do you realize that there are only 6 episodes of Twin Peaks: The Return left?

Normally, this is when most limited series would start working towards a climax.  If this was any other show, Cooper would no longer be trapped in Dougie’s body, everyone would already be back in Twin Peaks, and … well, things would be a lot different.

But the fact of the matter is that Twin Peaks is different.  That’s why we watch.  That’s what makes it exciting.  David Lynch has repeatedly shown that he has no interest in slavishly following the traditional rules of television.  In fact, to call Twin Peaks a television series is incorrect.  It’s an 18-hour movie, one that’s been directed by America’s premiere surrealist.  In many ways, this show requires the viewer to take a leap of faith.  “Trust me,” Lynch is saying, “You might not understand it all but you’ll never forget it.”  I have no idea what’s going to happen over the next month but, as always, I’m looking forward to finding out.

Part 12 opens in an office, with Albert (Miguel Ferrer) telling Tammy (Chrysta Bell) to ignore the strange man.  The man in question is Gordon Cole (David Lynch) and while Gordon may be eccentric, Albert is just showing off his famous wit.  Albert, Gordon, and Tammy drink a toast to the bureau and then Tammy is invited to join the Blue Rose.  Albert explains that the Blue Rose is a secret task force that was set up to investigate that strange cases that Project Blue Book could not solve.  The Blue Rose was originally made up of Albert, Philip Jeffries, Dale Cooper, and Chet Desmond.

“Perhaps you have noticed,” Albert says, “that I’m the only one of that group who hasn’t vanished without explanation.”

Despite the dangers, Tammy agrees to join the task force.  Yay, Tammy!

Diane (Laura Dern) then enters the office.  Gordon and Albert offer to deputize her into the Blue Rose.  Diane at first seems hesitant but suddenly, after a sudden burst of dramatic music, she says, “Let’s rock!”  And, of course, true fans of the show will immediately remember the first time that Cooper met the Man From Another Place during the first season of Twin Peaks.  Coincidence?  I don’t know if anything in Twin Peaks is ever a coincidence.

(I loved this scene.  It was nicely acted by all involved, including the underrated Chrysta Bell, and Angelo Badalamenti’s haunting music was used to wonderful effect.)

Back in Twin Peaks, Jerry (David Patrick Kelly) finally comes running out of the woods.

Meanwhile, in a grocery store, Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie, who is absolutely brilliant in this episode) wanders down the liquor aisle.  After filling up her shopping cart with liquor, she goes to the check out and also gets a carton of Salems.  While the cashier rings her up, Sarah stares at a display of beef jerky.  She appears to be disturbed by it and I don’t blame her.  Beef jerky is nasty.

Anyway, Sarah’s liquor and cigarette bill comes to $133.70.  However, she is more concerned about the beef jerky display.  It wasn’t there before, she says.  She asks if the beef jerky is smoked.  The cashier says that it’s the same beef jerky except that its turkey.

“Were you here when they brought it in?” Sarah asks.  Then, “Your room seems different … AND MEN ARE COMING!  I am trying to tell you that you have to watch out!  Things can happen!  Something happened to me!  I don’t feel good, I don’t feel good!  Sarah … Sarah, stop doing this.  Okay.  Leave this place.”

Leaving behind her liquor and cigarettes, Sarah leaves the store.

At the trailer park, Carl (Harry Dean Stanton) talks to one of his residents, an old man who walks with a cane.  Carl finds out that the man has been selling his blood for money.  Yet, he mows people’s lawns and puts in propane tanks for free.  Carl gives the man $50 and tells him not to worry about paying that month’s rent.  Carl says he doesn’t like the idea of people selling their blood.

In Las Vegas, Dougie (Kyle MacLachlan) and his son play catch in the back yard.  Or, to be honest, his son tries to play catch.  Dougie just stands there while the baseball bounces off his head.  Here’s what Kyle MacLachlan had to say on twitter after someone asked him how he felt after filming this scene:

Back in Twin Peaks, Hawk (Michael Horse) walks up to the Palmer House, to check on Sarah’s well-being.  As he approaches, we see the infamous ceiling fan through a window.  In the original series, any shot of that ceiling fan was usually followed by an appearance by Killer BOB.

Sarah tells Hawk that she doesn’t know what came over her in the grocery store.  Sarah says she’s fine now but she refuses to open the door wide enough for Hawk to get a good view inside the house.  Hawk asks if there’s someone in the house.  “No,” Sarah says, “just something in the kitchen.”

“You’re okay, then?” Hawk asks.

“It’s a goddamn bad story, isn’t it, Hawk?” Sarah suddenly snarls.

Hawk says that if she needs help, she can call him anytime.  Sarah shuts the door in his face.

Cut to Twin Peaks Hospital, where a badly beaten Miriam (Sarah Jean Long) lies in bed.

At the hotel bar, Diane gets a text, asking if they’ve asked about Las Vegas yet.

At the Great Northern, Truman (Robert Forster) meets with Ben (Richard Beymer).  Truman tells Ben that they know that his grandson, Richard, was behind the wheel in the hit and run that killed the little boy.  Truman also says that Richard tried to kill Miriam.  Miriam is a teacher without insurance and now, she’s in intensive care and is going to need an operation.  Truman suggests that Ben should pay for her medical treatment.  Ben agrees and then says that something has always been wrong with Richard.

After talking about Richard being on the run, Ben holds up Cooper’s old room key, the one that he received in the mail a few episodes ago.  He gives it to Truman and asks him to give it to Harry.

After Truman leaves, Ben tells Beverly (Ashley Judd) about Richard.  Richard never had a father, Ben says.  (Perhaps because his father was Doppelganger Cooper.)

Back in South Dakota, Gordon has a mysterious French woman (Bérénice Marlohe) in his hotel room.  He’s telling her an old FBI story when they’re interrupted by Albert.  Albert asks the woman to wait downstairs.  Though it takes her a while to get her shoes back on (we’ve all been there), she finally does leave.  Gordon explains that the woman is visiting a friend who owns a turnip farm.  The friend’s daughter has disappeared.

“I told her the daughter would turn up eventually,” Gordon explains, before adding, “She didn’t get it either.”  What’s funny is that I can imagine David Lynch telling that exact same joke in real life.

Anyway, Albert is more concerned about the text message that Diane received, the one asking about Las Vegas.

Gordon says they’ll figure it out but, first, he’d like to get back to his wine.

“What kind is it?” Albert asks.

Gordon looks at his watch.  “11:05,” he announces.

When Albert stares at him without responding, Gordon says, “Albert, sometimes I really worry about you.”

Meanwhile, Chantal (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Hutch (Tim Roth) use a sniper rifle to assassinate the warden (James Morrison) as he walks up to his house.  The warden’s young son comes outside and sees his father dead on the porch.  “Daddy!” he shouts.  It could have been worse.  Hutch wanted to kidnap and torture the warden but Chantel was hungry and wanted to get something to eat.

Back in Twin Peaks, Dr. Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn) rants about the government and sells his golden shovels.  In her shop, Nadine (Wendy Robie) listens approvingly.  Apparently, Dr. Jacoby is now known as Dr. Amp and, just from the way he rants, I bet he’s on twitter and he probably does the whole numbered tweet threading thing.

Meanwhile, Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn) is talking to her husband Charlie (Clark Middleton) and — OH MY GOD!  AUDREY’S BACK!  Audrey and Charlie are arguing.  Audrey wants to go out and find someone named Billy.  Charlie says he has a lot of paperwork to do and that there’s no point in going at night.  Audrey is emotional and Charlie … well, Charlie most definitely is not.  Charlie is calm to the point of being creepy.

“What kind of shit are you?” Audrey asks, “You are nothing but a fucking no-balls loser.”

You tell him, Audrey!  I don’t know Charlie but if Audrey says he’s a loser…

Charlie gets peeved and asks Audrey not to talk to him like that but Audrey has no use for him or his hurt feelings.  “You have no balls,” she tells him, “that’s why I am in love with Billy.   That’s why I am fucking Billy.  And Tina … I got to find Tina.  She was the last person who fucking saw Billy and I can’t stand being in the same room as her!”

Audrey demands that Charlie sign some papers that she gave him.  Charlie says he’s not singing anything until he runs them by his lawyer.  Apparently, their marriage involves a contract and, by demanding a divorce, Audrey is reneging on a contract.  Charlie is shocked but Audrey doesn’t care.

Charlie finally agrees to go with Audrey to Roadhouse so they can look for Billy.  But first, Charlie suggests that he should call Tina and talk to her.  Audrey repeats that Tina was the last one to see Billy but then she says that “Chuck is certifiable so we can’t count on anything from him.”

“Did you know,” Charlie asks, “that Chuck stole Billy’s truck last week?”

Charlie goes on to say that the police eventually found Billy’s truck and that Billy dropped all charges.  Audrey seems both confused and fascinated by this story.  Myself, I’m wondering if Billy, Chuck, and Tina actually exist.  (Chuck and Charlie, of course, are both nicknames for Charles.)

I guess Tina is real because Charlie does call her, or at least he claims that he’s called and is talking to Tina.  (We only hear Charlie’s side of the conversation.  And everything that Charles says seems to be intentionally vague.)  After hanging up the phone, Charlie refuses to reveal what Tina said.

In South Dakota, Diane sits in the hotel bar and looks up the coordinates that were written on Ruth Davenport’s arm.  Not surprisingly, they’re the coordinates for Twin Peaks.

Meanwhile, at the Road House, Chromatics are playing once again.  In a booth, two women, Abbie (Elizabeth Anweis) and Natalie (Ana de la Reguera), gossip about a guy named Clark, who is apparently cheating on his girlfriend, Angela, with someone named Mary.  Apparently, Angela is off her meds now.  They also note that Angela’s having a rough time but they’re not surprised.  “Losing her mom like that!” they say.

Suddenly, they’re joined by a hyperactive man named Trick (Scott Coffey, who also played the mysterious Cowboy in Mulholland Drive) who is upset because, on his way to the roadhouse, another vehicle ran him off the road. Trick says he wishes he could kill whoever the other driver was.  When Trick goes to get a beer, Abbie and Natalie discuss that Trick was under house arrest but he’s free now.

To quote something that I said in my initial thoughts post for this episode:

In Dario Argento’s Inferno, there’s a random shot of a woman who we’ve never seen before hanging herself.  She’s never mentioned or seen again.  Argento has said that he included that random shot to show that the world was out of balance.  I think, to a large extent, that’s what Lynch is doing with several of the more random aspects of Twin Peaks.

And, with that in mind, the end credits roll and we only have six more episodes to go.

Twin Peaks on TSL:

  1. Twin Peaks: In the Beginning by Jedadiah Leland
  2. TV Review: Twin Peaks 1.1 — The Pilot (dir by David Lynch) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  3. TV Review: Twin Peaks 1.2 — Traces To Nowhere (directed by Duwayne Dunham) by Jedadiah Leland
  4. TV Review: Twin Peaks 1.3 — Zen, or the Skill To Catch A Killer (dir by David Lynch) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  5. TV Review: Twin Peaks 1.4 “Rest in Pain” (dir by Tina Rathbone) by Leonard Wilson
  6. TV Review: Twin Peaks 1.5 “The One-Armed Man” (directed by Tim Hunter) by Jedadiah Leland
  7. TV Review: Twin Peaks 1.6 “Cooper’s Dreams” (directed by Lesli Linka Glatter) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  8. TV Review: Twin Peaks 1.7 “Realization Time” (directed by Caleb Deschanel) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  9. TV Review: Twin Peaks 1.8 “The Last Evening” (directed by Mark Frost) by Leonard Wilson
  10. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.1 “May the Giant Be With You” (dir by David Lynch) by Leonard Wilson
  11. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.2 “Coma” (directed by David Lynch) by Jedadiah Leland
  12. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.3 “The Man Behind The Glass” (directed by Lesli Linka Glatter) by Jedadiah Leland
  13. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.4 “Laura’s Secret Diary” (dir by Todd Holland) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  14. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.5 “The Orchid’s Curse” (dir by Graeme Clifford) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  15. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.6 “Demons” (dir by Lesli Linka Glatter) by Leonard Wilson
  16. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.7 “Lonely Souls” (directed by David Lynch) by Jedadiah Leland
  17. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.8 “Drive With A Dead Girl” (dir by Caleb Deschanel) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  18. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.9 “Arbitrary Law” (dir by Tim Hunter) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  19. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.10 “Dispute Between Brothers” (directed by Tina Rathbone) by Jedadiah Leland
  20. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.11 “Masked Ball” (directed by Duwayne Dunham) by Leonard Wilson
  21. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.12 “The Black Widow” (directed by Caleb Deschanel) by Leonard Wilson
  22. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.13 “Checkmate” (directed by Todd Holland) by Jedadiah Leland
  23. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.14 “Double Play” (directed by Uli Edel) by Jedadiah Leland
  24. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.15 “Slaves and Masters” (directed by Diane Keaton) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  25. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.16 “The Condemned Woman” (directed by Lesli Linka Glatter) by Leonard Wilson
  26. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.17 “Wounds and Scars” (directed by James Foley) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  27. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.18 “On The Wings of Love” (directed by Duwayne Dunham) by Jedadiah Leland
  28. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.19 “Variations on Relations” (directed by Jonathan Sanger) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  29. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.20 “The Path to the Black Lodge” (directed by Stephen Gyllenhaal) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  30. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.21 “Miss Twin Peaks” (directed by Tim Hunter) by Leonard Wilson
  31. TV Review: Twin Peaks 22.2 “Beyond Life and Death” (directed by David Lynch) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  32. Film Review: Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (dir by David Lynch) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  33. Here’s The Latest Teaser for Showtime’s Twin Peaks by Lisa Marie Bowman
  34. Here’s The Newest Teaser for Showtime’s Twin Peaks by Lisa Marie Bowman
  35. 12 Initial Thoughts About Twin Peaks: The Return Parts One and Two by Lisa Marie Bowman
  36. This Week’s Peaks: Parts One and Two by Ryan C. (trashfilm guru)
  37. TV Review: Twin Peaks: The Return Parts One and Two (dir by David Lynch) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  38. 4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Twin Peaks Edition by Lisa Marie Bowman
  39. This Week’s Peaks: Parts Three and Four by Ryan C. (trashfilm guru)
  40. 14 Initial Thoughts About Twin Peaks: The Return Part Three by Lisa Marie Bowman (dir by David Lynch)
  41. 10 Initial Thoughts About Twin Peaks: The Return Part Four by Lisa Marie Bowman (dir by David Lynch)
  42. TV Review: Twin Peaks: The Return Parts Three and Four (dir by David Lynch) by Lisa Marie Bowman 
  43. 18 Initial Thoughts About Twin Peaks: The Return Part 5 (dir by David Lynch) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  44. This Week’s Peaks: Part Five by Ryan C. (trashfilm guru)
  45. TV Review: Twin Peaks: The Return: Part 5 (dir by David Lynch) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  46. 14 Initial Thoughts On Twin Peaks Part 6 (dir by David Lynch) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  47. This Week’s Peaks: Part Six by Ryan C. (trashfilm guru)
  48. TV Review: Twin Peaks: The Return Part 6 (dir by David Lynch) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  49. 12 Initial Thoughts on Twin Peaks: The Return Part 7 (dir by David Lynch) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  50. This Week’s Peaks: Part Seven by Ryan C. (trashfilm guru)
  51. TV Review: Twin Peaks: The Return Part 7 (dir by David Lynch) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  52. Ten Initial Thoughts on Twin Peaks: The Return Part 8 (dir by David Lynch) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  53. This Week’s Peaks: Part Eight by Ryan C (trashfilm guru)
  54. TV Review: Twin Peaks: The Return Part 8 (dir by David Lynch) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  55. 16 Initial Thoughts on Twin Peaks: The Return Part 9 (dir by David Lynch) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  56. This Week’s Peaks: Part Nine by Ryan C (trashfilm guru)
  57. TV Review: Twin Peaks: The Return Part 9 (dir by David Lynch) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  58. 20 Initial Thoughts On Twin Peaks: The Return Part 10 (dir by David Lynch) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  59. This Week’s Peaks: Part 10 by Ryan C (trashfilm guru)
  60. TV Review: Twin Peaks: The Return Part 10 (dir by David Lynch) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  61. 16 Initial Thoughts About Twin Peaks: The Return Part 11 (dir by David Lynch) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  62. This Week’s Peaks: Part 11 by Ryan C (trashfilm guru)
  63. TV Review: Twin Peaks: The Return Part 11 (dir by David Lynch) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  64. 20 Initial Thoughts on Twin Peaks: The Return Part 12 (dir by David Lynch) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  65. This Weeks Peaks: Part 12 by Ryan C (trashfilm guru)

Back to School Part II #19: Girls Just Want To Have Fun (dir by Alan Metter)


Girls_just_want_to_have_fun

For our next film in this series of Back to School reviews, we take a look at 1985’s Girls Just Want To Have Fun!

And you know what?

It’s true — we do just want to have fun!

The fun in Girls Just Want To Have Fun is pretty much defined by dancing, which is okay with me because I love to dance.  However, Girls Just Want To Have Fun had the misfortune to be made in the mid-80s.  I have lost track of many 80s films that I’ve watched but I’m still always shocked at how undanceable most 80s music truly was.  This film, of course, does contain a cover version of the famous song by Cyndi Lauper and that’s actually a pretty good 80s song.  However, the rest of the music (and, by that, I mean the music that everyone in the movie is actually dancing to) is incredibly bland in the way that only music from the decade of We Built This City could be.

As for the film itself, it takes place in Chicago.  Janey Glenn (Sarah Jessica Parker) is the newest student at the local Catholic girls school.  Janey’s overprotective father (Ed Lauter) is in the army and Janey has lived all over the world.  Despite that, Janey is not at all worldly.  In fact, when she tries to introduce herself to her classmates, all she can get out is that she’s a gymnast and she loves to dance. (When we actually see Janey dancing or doing any sort of gymnastics, Sarah Jessica Parker’s hair always seems to fall in her face, which is certainly one way to hide a stunt double.)

Janey makes one friend at the school.  Lynn (Helen Hunt, looking like a teenager but already sounding like a hung over 40 year-old) is about as wild as a girl can be in 1980s PG-rated film.  That’s to say, she wears a leather skirt when she’s not in school and, when she babysits, she orders pizza and then allows the baby to sit on it.  (Ewwwwwww!  There’s a reason why babies wear diapers….)  Lynne and Janey are automatically BFFs because they both love Dance TV!

That’s right — it’s DTV!  I wonder what that’s supposed to be based on…

It turns out that DTV is having a contest to pick two new dancers!  Disobeying her strict father, Janey sneaks out of the house and joins Lynn in auditioning!  Lynn’s partner turns out to be so spastic that Lynn doesn’t make the semi-finals.  Later, Lynn discovers that her partner was bribed by rich bitch Natalie Sands (Holly Gagnier).  I’m not sure why Natalie felt the need to do that since Lynn wasn’t that impressive to begin with.  She’s about as good a dancer as you would expect Helen Hunt to be.

However, Janey does make it to the semi-finals, where she’s partnered with Jeff.  Jeff is tough and blue-collar and, at first, it doesn’t seem like he and Janey will get along.  So, of course, they end up falling in love and, of course, Natalie’s father tries to force Jeff out of the contest by threatening to put his father out of work.  Jeff, incidentally, is played by Lee Montgomery.  Years before appearing in Girls Just Want To Have Fun, Montgomery played the little kid who gets crushed by a chimney at the end of Burnt Offerings.  Burnt Offerings is a really crappy film but I watch it every time that it comes on TCM just so I can see that chimney crush Lee Montgomery.  That said, Montgomery actually does a pretty good job of Jeff.  You never quite buy him as a rebel without a cause but he still seems like an authentic and likable teenager.  Jeff and Janey are a cute couple and that’s all that really matters.

Just as Janey has a best friend, Jeff also has a best friend.  Drew Boreman (Jonathan Silverman) talks too much, tries to sell t-shirts from the trunk of his car, and there’s also a scene were he grabs a random girl’s breasts and makes a comment about using her nipples to tune a radio.  Drew is annoying and, once you get over the fact that she’s being played by a young Helen Hunt, so is Lynn.  Watching the movie, you kind of want to tell both of them to just calm down for a few minutes.

But you know who is not annoying?  Jeff’s younger sister, Maggie, who is played by none other than a very young Shannen Doherty.  Maggie was my favorite character because she alone seemed to understand how stupid everyone else in the film was.  And she was willing to call them out on it.

ANYWAY — Girls Just Want To Have Fun is one of those movies where next to nothing actually happens.  There is an extended sequence where our heroes destroy Natalie’s snooty party with the help of a bunch of punks and female body builders but otherwise, it’s remarkable how little actually happens.  That said, some of the dancing is good (even if most of the music is totally bland in the way that only 80s music can be) and it’s interesting to see Sarah Jessica Parker and Helen Hunt when they were young.  Sarah Jessica Parker actually gives a surprisingly likable performance here, even if it is often way too obvious that a body double is doing the majority of her dancing.  That said, you really can’t get any further away from Carrie Bradshaw than Janey Glenn.

Girls Just Want To Have Fun is a time capsule of the decade in which it was made and that is definitely the main reason to watch it.  Until time machines are a reality and we can experience the past firsthand, we’ll just have to keep getting our information from movies like this one.

Shattered Politics #50: Once Upon A Time In America (dir by Sergio Leone)


once-upon-a-time-in-america-5207d6cf9d3ac

Before I start this review of Sergio Leone’s 1984 gangster epic, Once Upon A Time In America, I want to issue two warnings.

First off, this review is going to have spoilers.  I’ve thought long and hard about it.  Usually, I try to avoid giving out spoilers but, in this case, there’s no way I can write about this movie without giving away a few very important plot points.  So, for those of you who don’t want to deal with spoilers, I’ll just say now that Once Upon A Time In America is a great film and it’s one that anyone who is serious about film must see.

Secondly, I’m not going to be able to do justice to this film.  There’s too much to praise and too much going on in the film for one simple blog post to tell you everything that you need to know.  Once Upon A Time In America is the type of film that books should be written about, not just mere blog posts.  Any words that I type are not going to be able to match the experience of watching this film.

For instance, I can tell you that, much as he did with his classic Spaghetti westerns, Sergio Leone uses the conventions of a familiar genre to tell an epic story about what it means to be poor and to be rich in America.  But you’ll never truly understand just how good a job Leone does until you actually see the film, with its haunting images of the poverty-stricken Jewish ghetto in 1920s New York and it’s surreal climax outside the mansion of a very rich and very corrupt man.

I can tell you that Ennio Morricone’s score is one of his best but you won’t truly know that until you hear it while gazing at Robert De Niro’s blissfully stoned face while the final credits roll up the screen.

I can tell you that the film’s cast is amazing but you probably already guessed that when you saw that it featured Robert De Niro, James Woods, Treat Williams, Danny Aiello, Joe Pesci, Burt Young, Tuesday Weld, Elizabeth McGovern, and Jennifer Connelly.  But, again, it’s only after you’ve seen the film that you truly understand just how perfectly cast it actually is.  Given the politics of Hollywood and the fact that he’s unapologetically critical of Barack Obama, it’s entirely possible that James Woods might never appear in another major motion picture.  A film like Once Upon A Time in America makes you realize what a loss that truly is.

So, if you haven’t seen it yet, I encourage you to see it.  Order it off of Amazon.  Do the one day shipping thing.  Pay the extra money, the film is worth it.

Much like The Godfather, Part II (and Cloud Atlas, for that matter), Once Upon A Time In America tells several different stories at once, jumping back and forth from the past to the present and onto to the future.

The film’s “past” is 1920.  Noodles (Scott Tiler) is a street kid who lives in New York’s ghetto.  He makes a living by doing small jobs for a local gangster and occasionally mugging a drunk.  He’s also the head of his own gang, made up of Patsy (Brian Bloom), Cockeye (Adrian Curry), and Dominic (Noah Moazezi).  Despite his rough edges, Noodles has a crush on Deborah (Jennifer Connelly), a refined girl who practices ballet in the back of her family’s store.  When Nooldes meets Max (Rusty Jacobs), the two of them become quick friends.  However, their criminal activities are noticed by the demonic Bugsy (James Russo), who demands any money that they make.

The film’s “present” is 1932.  Noodles (Robert De Niro) has spent twelve years in prison and, when he’s released, he discovers that some things have changed but some have remained the same.  Max (James Woods), Cockeye (William Forsythe), and Patsy (James Hayden) are still criminals but they’ve prospered as bootleggers.  Occasionally, they do jobs for a local gangster named Frankie (Joe Pesci) and sometimes, they just rob banks on their own.  During one such robbery, they meet a sado-masochistic woman named Carol (Tuesday Weld), who quickly becomes Max’s girlfriend.

As for Noodles, he continues to love Deborah (Elizabeth McGovern). But, when he discovers that she’s leaving New York to pursue a career as an actress, he reveals his true nature and rapes her.  It’s a devastating scene — both because all rape scenes are (or, at the very least, should be) devastating but also because it forces us to ask why we expected Noodles to somehow be better than the men who surround him.  After spending nearly two hours telling ourselves that Noodles is somehow better than his friends and his activities, the movie shows us that he’s even worse.  And, when we look back, we see that there was no reason for us to believe that Noodles was a good man.  It’s just what we, as an audience, wanted to believe.  After all, we all love the idea of the romanticized gangster, the dangerous man with a good heart who has been forced into a life of crime by his circumstances and who can be saved by love.  In that scene, Once Upon A Time In America asks us why audiences continue to romanticize men like Noodles and Max.

As for the gang, they’re hired to serve as unofficial bodyguards for labor leader Jimmy O’Donnell (Treat Williams) and, in their way, help to found the modern American labor movement.  (“I shed some blood for the cause,” Patsy says while showing off a huge bandage on his neck.) When fascistic police chief Aiello (Danny Aiello) needs to be taken down a notch, they kidnap his newborn son and hold him for ransom.  (While pulling off this crime, they also manages to switch around all the babies and, as a result, poor babies go home with rich families and vice versa, neatly highlighting both the power of class and the randomness of fate.)  However, the good times can’t last forever and, when prohibition is repealed, the increasingly unstable Max has to find a new way to make some money.

Finally, the film’s third storyline (the “future” storyline) takes place in 1967.  Noodles has spent decades living under a false identity in Buffalo.  When he gets a letter addressed to his real name, Noodles realizes that someone knows who he is.  He returns to a much changed New York.  Carol now lives in a retirement home.  Deborah is an acclaimed Broadway actress.  Jimmy O’Donnell is the most powerful union boss in America.  Fat Moe’s Speakeasy is now Fat Moe’s Restaurant.

Once Noodles is back in town, he receives a briefcase full of money and a note that tells him that it’s an advanced payment for his next job.  He also receives an invitation to a party that’s being held at the home of Christopher Bailey, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce.

Who is Secretary Bailey?  He’s a shadowy and powerful figure and he’s also a man who is at the center of a political scandal that has turned violent.  And, when Noodles eventually arrives at the party, he also discovers that Secretary Bailey is none other than his old friend Max.

How did a very Jewish gangster named Max transform himself into being the very WASPy U.S. Secretary of Commerce?  That’s a story that the film declines to answer and it’s all the better for it.  What doesn’t matter is how Max became Bailey.  All that matters is that he did.  And now, he has one final favor to ask Noodles.

(There’s a very popular theory that all of the 1967 scenes are actually meant to be a hallucination on Noodles’s part.  And the 1967 scenes are surreal enough that they very well could be.  Though you do have to wonder how Noodles in 1932 could hallucinate the Beatles song that is heard when he returns to New York in 1967.)

Once Upon A Time In America is an amazing film, an epic look at crime, business, and politics in America.  It’s a film that left me with tears in my eyes and questions in my mind.  The greatness of the film can not necessarily be put into words.  Instead, it’s a film that everyone needs to see.

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6 Late Film Reviews: 300: Rise of Empire, About Last Night, Adult World, Jersey Boys, Ride Along, and Trust Me


Well, the year is coming to a close and I’ve got close to 50 films that I still need to review before I get around to making out my “Best of 2014” list.  (That’s not even counting the films that I still have left to see.  December is going to be a busy month.)  With that in mind, here are late reviews of 6 films that I saw earlier this year and had yet to get around to reviewing.

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1) 300: Rise of an Empire (dir by Noam Munro)

Last night, I watched 300: Rise of an Empire for the second time and I still couldn’t figure out what exactly is going on for most of the film.  I know that there’s a lot of fighting and a lot of bare-chested men yelling and, whenever anyone swings a sword, they suddenly start moving in slow motion and dark blood spurts across the screen like Jackson Pollock decorating a previously blank canvas.  The style of 300 has been co-opted by so many other films that 300: Rise of an Empire feels more like an imitation than a continuation.

At the same time, I’m resisting the temptation to be too critical of 300: Rise of the Empire for two reasons.  First off, this movie wasn’t really made to appeal to me.  Instead, this is a total guy film and, much as I have every right to love Winter’s Tale, guys have every right to love their 300 movies.  Secondly, 300: Rise of an Empire features Eva Green as a warrior and she totally kicks ass.

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2) About Last Night (dir by Steve Pink)

Obviously, I made a big mistake this Valentine’s Day by insisting that my boyfriend take me to see Endless Love.  (I still stand by my desire to see Winter’s Tale.)  I say this because I recently watched this year’s other big Valentine’s Day release, About Last Night, and I discovered that it’s a funny and, in its way, rather sweet romantic comedy.

About Last Night tells the story of two couples, Danny (Michael Ealy) and Debbie (Joy Bryant) and Bernie (Kevin Hart) and Joan (Regina Hall).  All four of the actors have a very real chemistry, with Hart and Hall bringing the laughs and Ealy and Bryant bringing the tears.  The film itself is ultimately predictable but very likable.

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3) Adult World (dir by Scott Coffey)

In Adult World, Emma Roberts plays Amy Anderson, an aspiring author and recent college graduate.  Despite her own overwhelming faith in her own abilities, Amy struggles to find a job outside of college.  She is finally reduced to working at Adult World, a small adult bookstore.  Working at the store, she befriends the far more down-to-earth Alex (Evan Peters) and eventually discovers that one of her customers is also her idol, poet Rat Billings (John Cusack).  Amy proceeds to force her way into Rat’s life, volunteering to work as his assistant and declaring herself to be his protegé.  However, it turns out that Rat is far less altruistic than Amy originally thought (and with a name like Rat, are you surprised?).

Adult World is a flawed film but I still really enjoyed it.  The story has a few problems and the film never really takes full narrative advantage of Adult World as a setting but the entire film is so well-acted that you’re willing to forgive its flaws.  Cusack gives a surprisingly playful performance while Evan Peters is adorable in a Jesse Eisenberg-type of way.  Emma Roberts shows a lot of courage, playing a character who is both infuriating and relatable.

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4) Jersey Boys (dir by Clint Eastwood)

Clint Eastwood’s upcoming American Sniper has been getting so much attention as a potential Oscar contender that it’s easy to forget that, at the beginning of the year, everyone was expecting Jersey Boys to be Eastwood’s Oscar contender.  In fact, it’s easy to forget about Jersey Boys all together.  It’s just one of those films that, despite its best efforts, fails to make much of an impression.

Jersey Boys is based on one of the Broadway musicals that tourists always brag about seeing.  It tells the true story of how four kids from the “neighborhood” became the Four Seasons and recorded songs that have since gone on to appear on thousands of film soundtracks.  The period detail is a lot of fun, Christopher Walken, who has a small role as a local gangster, is always entertaining to watch, and the music sounds great but Eastwood’s direction is so old-fashioned and dramatically inert that you don’t really take much away from it.

Hopefully, American Sniper will be the work of the Eastwood who made Mystic River and not the Eastwood who did Jersey Boys.

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5) Ride Along (dir by Tim Story)

School security guard Ben Barber (Kevin Hart) wants to marry Angela (Tiki Sumpter) but Angela’s tough cop brother James (Ice Cube) doesn’t approve.  In order to prove himself worth, Ben goes on a ride along with James and the results are just as generic as you might expect.  Probably the only really funny part of the film was the way that Hart delivered the line, “You’re white!  You don’t fight!” but we all saw that in the commercial so who cares?

On the plus side, Ice Cube has a lot of screen presence and is well-cast as James.  As for Kevin Hart — well, he should probably be thankful that About Last Night came out a month after Ride Along.

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6) Trust Me (dir by Clark Gregg)

In Trust Me, Clark Gregg both directs and stars.  He plays Howard, a fast-talking but ultimately kind-hearted talent agent who mostly represents children.  After losing some of his most popular clients to rival agent Aldo (a hilariously sleazy Sam Rockwell), Howard meets Lydia (Saxon Sharbino), a 13 year-old actress.  Soon, Howard is representing Lydia and trying to land her a starring role in a major production.  Howard also finds the time to tentatively date his next door neighbor (Amanda Peet).  However, there’s more to Howard than meets the eye.  He is haunted by the death of one of his previous clients and his guilt leads him to become especially protective of Lydia.  When Howard concludes that Lydia is being sexually abused by her crude father (Paul Sparks), he attempts to protect her from both him and the Hollywood system that’s threatening to corrupt her.  It all leads to an oddly tragic conclusion…

I say “oddly tragic” because Trust Me is, in many ways, an odd film.  As a director, Gregg gets good performances from his cast but he never manages to find a consistent tone.  The film starts as a Hollywood satire and then it becomes a romantic comedy and then it turns into a legal drama before then becoming an all-0ut attack on the way the entertainment industry treats child actors and then finally, it settles on being a tragedy.  As a result, Trust Me is undeniably a bit of a mess.

And yet, it’s a compelling mess and the film itself is so heart-felt that you can’t help but forgive its flaws.  If nothing else, it proves that Clark Gregg is capable of more than just being Marvel’s Agent Coulson.

Back to School #44: Some Kind of Wonderful (dir by Howard Deutch)


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For the past two and a half weeks, I’ve been reviewing, in chronological order, some of the best, worst, most memorable, and most forgettable teen films ever made.  We started with two films from 1946 and now, we find ourselves coming to the close of the decade that is often considered to be the Golden Age of teen films, the 1980s.  For our 44th entry in Back to School, we take a quick look at 1987’s Some Kind of Wonderful.

Why a quick look?

Because, quite frankly, there’s not that much to say about it.

Some Kind of Wonderful is a story about an artistic, lower-class misfit who has a crush on one of the popular kids.  The only problem is that the popular kid is being cruelly manipulated by one of the richest students in school.  The misft also has a best friend who is totally in love with the misfit but the misft has somehow failed to notice this.  Eventually, the misfit does get to date the popular kid.  Both the popular kid and the misft are given a hard time by the members of their collective clique but they still manage to go on one truly amazing date.  Finally, the film ends with a big show down at a party and two people kissing outside.

Sound familiar?

If it does, that probably means that you’ve seen Pretty In Pink.  Some Kind of Wonderful is basically a remake of Pretty In Pink, the only difference being that the genders have been reversed and that the film is a lot more heavy-handed (and predictable) when it comes to examining class differences.   (Not coincidentally, both films were written by John Hughes and directed by Howard Deutch and it must be said that when it comes to Some Kind of Wonderful, it’s easy to feel that both of them were simply going through the motions.)  The misfit is an aspiring painted named Keith (Eric Soltz).  His best friend is a drummer named Watts (Mary Stuart Masterson).  The object of Keith’s affection is Amanda (Lea Thompson).  Unfortunately, even though she lives in the same poor neighborhood as Keith and Watts, Amanda is dating the rich (and therefore, evil) Hardy (Craig Sheffer).

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When Keith finally works up the nerve to ask out Amanda, he doesn’t realize that she’s just broken up with Hardy and is on the rebound.  Watts is skeptical, telling Keith, “Don’t go mistaking paradise for a pair of long legs,” and I’m just going to admit that, as the proud owner of a pair of long legs, that line really annoyed me.  I guess it’s because I’ve known people like Watts, who always act like there’s something wrong with wanting to look good.

Shut up, Watts.

Shut up, Watts.

With the help of Watts and Duncan (Elias Koteas), the school bully that Keith managed to befriend in detention, Keith takes Amanda out on an amazing date and shows her a wonderful portrait that he’s painted of her.  At the same time, Hardy — angry because someone from a lower class is now dating his ex-girlfriend — starts to plot his own revenge…

There are some positive things about Some Kind of Wonderful.  There are two really good and memorable scenes that, momentarily, manage to elevate the entire film.  There’s the moment when Keith shows Amanda the painting.  And then there’s the erotically charged scene in which Keith and Watts practice how to kiss.  Koteas, Thompson, and Masterson all gives good performances.  Eric Stoltz is, at times, a bit too intense to sell some of the film’s more comedic moments but overall, he’s well-cast here.  (In fact, the only performance that I really didn’t care for was Craig Sheffer’s.  Sheffer one-dimensional villain only served to remind me of how good James Spader was in Pretty In Pink.)

That's no James Spader

That’s no James Spader

And yet, there’s just something missing from Some Kind of Wonderful, something that keeps this film from being … well, wonderful.  I have to wonder if I had never seen Pretty In Pink, would I have thought more of Some Kind of Wonderful?  Perhaps.  Whereas Pretty In Pink was full of the type of small details and clever moments that make it a joy to watch and rewatch, Some Kind of Wonderful is one of those films that you can watch once and enjoy it without ever necessarily feeling the need to ever watch it again.

Eric Stoltz is going to kill someone