Horror Film Review: Single White Female (dir by Barbet Schroeder)


Allie Jones (Bridget Fonda) is an always fashionable software designer who is living in New York City and who has just broken up with her cheating lover, Sam (Steven Weber).  She has pretty hair, a big apartment, a closet full of nice clothes, and a totally devoted gay best friend.

Hedra Carlson (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is shy and socially awkward and in need of someone who will give her a cute nickname like “Hedy.”  She has pretty hair that’s just slightly less pretty than Allie’s, a job at a bookstore, a dead twin sister, a pair of really nice earrings, and a television that only seems to show old black-and-white movies.

Together …. THEY SOLVE CRIMES!

No, actually, they don’t.  Instead, Hedy answers an ad that Allie placed about needing a new roommate.  Even though Allie was thinking of asking another homeless woman to move in with her, Hedy impresses Allie by fixing her sink.  Seriously, how can you turn down a potential roommate who knows how to do simple plumbing?  Allie invited Hedy to live with her and, at first, everything is great.  Hedy even brings home a dog that Allie quickly falls in love with.  However, then Sam shows back up and we quickly discover just how obsessed Hedy has become with her roommate.

Single White Female was originally released way back in 1992 and, even if you’re viewing it for the very first time, you’ll probably feel a sense of deja vu while watching the movie.  This is one of those films that has been so endlessly imitated and has been unofficially remade so many times that you probably already know everything that happens in the film, regardless of whether you’ve actually sat through it or not.  A few years ago, there was a film called The Roommate that basically was Single White Female, just with a college setting and a bit less of a subversive subtext.  As well, I’ve lost count of the number of Lifetime films that have basically ripped off Single White Female‘s plot.  Any time that a new friend proves herself to be excessively clingy, chances are that she’s going to get compared to Jennifer Jason Leigh in this film.

 

And yet, despite all of the imitations, Single White Female still holds up surprisingly well.  A lot of that is because Single White Female was directed by Barbert Schroeder.  Schroeder started his career as a disciple of the French New Wave and, much like Paul Verhoeven, his American films tend to be genre films with just enough of a subversive subtext to stick in your mind afterwards.

For example, Single White Female is often describes as being a film about “the roommate from Hell” but what always seems to be missed is that, especially during the film’s first half, Allie is often as bad of a roommate as Hedy.  For instance, when Allie comes home late after spending two days with Sam, Hedy is pissed off and waiting for her.  On the surface, the scene is the first indication that Hedy has become obsessed with Allie.  But, at the same time, Hedy actually is making a valid point.  After repeatedly telling Hedy that she wants nothing to do with Sam, Allie runs off and spends two days with him without bothering to call home once.  Though Hedy may have been a bit too quick to yell, she still had every right to be annoyed.

In fact, Allie really is a bit of self-centered character.  She impulsively invited Hedy to live with her and then, just as impulsively, she gets back together with Sam and decides that it’s time for Hedy to move out.  Of course, then Hedy tosses a dog out of a window and you pretty much lose whatever sympathy you may have had for her.

Still, you can’t help but feel that, just as Hedy wants to be Allie, there’s a part of Allie that would like to be Hedy.  Hedy does all the things that Allie’s scared to do.  When Allie is sexually harassed and nearly raped by a client, Hedy’s the one who actually gets revenge.  While Allie tries to get over and suppress her anger at Sam, Hedy’s the one who acts on that anger.  Just Hedy seems to need Allie’s life to be happy, Allie seems to need Hedy’s anger to survive.  In short, there’s a lot more going on underneath the surface of Single White Female than its reputation might lead you to presume.

Not surprisingly, the film is dominated by Jennifer Jason Leigh’s performance.  When Hedy first appears, Leigh plays her as just being slightly off.  She has some obvious confidence issues but, at the same time, she comes across as being so innocent and naive that you can’t help but want to protect her.  You find yourself wondering how she could have possibly survived living in a city like New York.  It’s only as the film progresses that you start to discover that Hedy was never particularly naive and everything that she’s done and said has basically been about manipulating the people around her.  And yet, even after Hedy has started killing dogs and people, you can’t help but feel a strange empathy (though not necessarily sympathy) for her.  There’s an emptiness to Hedy, an emptiness that she attempts to fill by stealing the personalities of the people around her and Leigh does a great job of expressing the pain that would come from not having an identity of your own.  Plus, poor Hedy just seemed so happy with Allie said that she liked her earrings!  I mean, I just can’t imagine being that insecure but I get the feeling it would really suck.

(Fortunately, I’ve also never really had a truly bad roommate situation.  One advantage of having three older sisters is knowing that you’ll always have someone to stay with.)

Despite all of the imitations and rip-offs that have come out over the years, both Single White Female and Jennifer Jason Leigh’s performance hold up remarkably well.  I’d recommend watching it before inviting anyone to come live with you.  If nothing else, you’ll at least learn what stiletto heels are really for.

 

Horror on TV: The Outer Limits 3.15 “The Revelations of Becka Paulson” (dir by Steven Weber)


For today’s excursion into the world of televised horror, we have another adaptation of a Stephen King short story.

In The Revelations of Becka Paulson, Becka Paulson (Catherine O’Hara) accidentally shoots herself in the head and subsequently finds herself being spoken to by a photograph of a tuxedo-wearing man (Steven Weber).  The photo has some suggestions as to how Becka can get out of her stifling marriage.

(In the original Stephen King short story — which he later adapted into a chapter of his novel The Tommyknockers — the talking photograph was a picture of Jesus.)

The Revelations of Becka Paulson originally aired on June 6th, 1997, as a part of Showtime’s The Outer Limits series.  Steven Weber not only played the man in the tuxedo.  He also directed this episode as well.

(The episode itself runs for 44 minutes.  The video below has some extra stuff, including alternate takes and a scene that was cut out of the original broadcast, tacked onto the end.)

Enjoy!

Horror On TV: Tales From The Crypt 3.10 “Mournin’ Mess” (dir by Manny Coto)


Tonight’s excursion into the world of televised horror is the 10th episode of the 3rd season of HBO’s Tales From The Crypt!

Steven Weber plays an alcoholic reporter who thinks that he has found the story of his career!  Someone is preying on the homeless and our reporter is determined to find out who and why.  (Not because he actually cares about the homeless, of course.  He just needs a big story to save his career.)  However, the reporter quickly discovers that 1) all charities are not charitable and 2) you should always be careful about biting off more than you can chew…

This well-acted episode was directed and written by Manny Coto and it originally aired on July 31st, 1991.

Enjoy!

 

Embracing the Melodrama #55: Inside Out (dir by David Ogden)


Eriq La Salle in Inside Out

Eriq La Salle in Inside Out

Welcome to the suburbs!

It’s a world of secrets and lies, where friends spend their time exchanging gossip and no one’s marriage is that happy once you get behind closed doors.  It’s a place where any sign of nonconformity is viewed as being a threat and where everyone is desperate to be a neighborhood insider because being an outsider is Hell on Earth.

The suburbs have also been the setting of a countless number of Hollywood melodramas.  I’ve reviewed a few of them, like Sin In The Suburbs, over the past two weeks.  The 2005 film Inside Out continues the cinematic tradition of casting a skeptical eye on the suburbs and it actually works pretty well, up until about the final 10 minutes of the movie.  Yes, Inside Out is one of those movies that basically starts out strong and then ruins it all by building up to a thoroughly ludicrous final twist.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love twist endings when they work.  When they don’t work, they lead to something like Inside Out.

Inside Out starts out well enough.  Eriq La Salle plays a mysterious man who moves into an idyllic suburban neighborhood in the middle of the night.  When his neighbors attempt to greet him, he simply responds with a cold glare and then proceeds to alienate them even more by loudly mowing his lawn in the middle of another night.  When he decides to hold a sudden garage sale, everyone is surprised to discover that he’s not selling the usual second-hand stuff.  Instead, he’s selling expensive and new electronics and valuable antiques.  When one neighborhood woman asks why he’s selling all of it, La Salle simply replies that they once belonged to his son.

Finally, La Salle does start to socialize with one neighbor (played by Steven Weber) but the friendlier that La Salle is, the more suspicious Weber becomes.  Weber cannot bring himself to trust his new neighbor and instead, he starts his own investigation.  As Weber finds out more and more about La Salle, he starts to grow more and more paranoid….

And, up until the final 10 minutes, the entire movie is actually kind of working.  Director David Ogden is keeping things nicely off-center.  Weber is both sympathetic and somewhat frightening as he grows more and more paranoid.  Best of all, Eriq La Salle creates a character that seems to radiate a very genuine sort of menace.  You really want to know what La Salle is hiding in his basement and you worry what will happen to Weber once he inevitably breaks in La Salle’s house to investigate…

And then, out of nowhere, the film launches one of the biggest and stupidest twists in the history of the movies.  No, you won’t see it coming.  Yes, you will be shocked.  But not because the twist is effective or surpising.  No, the twist is shocking because it makes no sense, it comes out of nowhere, and it is just amazingly stupid.

And that’s a shame because there’s a lot of talent on display in this film.

Is the film worth seeing despite the twist?  Perhaps.  It shows up on Encore occasionally and  I would recommend it on the strength of Weber and La Salle’s performances.  As I said, there’s a lot to appreciate during the first 80 minutes of the film.  But, before it reaches that twist, you might want to stop the film and come up with a better ending of your own.

My 2012 Emmy Nominations


So, for the past few days, I’ve been happily hopping around my section of the Shattered Lens Bunker and do you know why? 

Because it’s awards season, that’s why!  With the conclusion of the 2011-2012 TV season, Emmy ballots have been mailed and votes are being cast and, come July, we’ll know which shows and performers have been nominated for the 2012 Emmys. 

Before that happens, however, I would like to play a little game called “What if Lisa Was Solely Responsible For Picking the Nominees.”  Here’s how it works — I looked over and studied the complete list of the shows and performances that have been submitted this year for Emmy consideration.  And then, from that list, I picked my personal nominees.

(A complete list of every show and performer that’s been submitted for Emmy consideration can be found here.)

Below are my personal nominations in the major Emmy categories.  Again, note that these are not necessarily the shows and performers that I believe will be nominated.  Instead, these are the shows and performers that I would nominate if I was solely responsible for picking the nominees.

A complete list of my nominations in every single Emmy category can be found here.  (And yes, there’s a lot of Lifetime on the list.  There’s also a lot of Community.)

Best Comedy Series

Bored to Death (HBO)

Community (NBC)

Girls (HBO)

It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia (FX)

Parks and Recreation (NBC)

Raising Hope (Fox)

Veep (HBO)

Best Drama Series

Boardwalk Empire (HBO)

Breaking Bad (AMC)

The Client List (Lifetime)

Downton Abbey (PBS)

Game of Thrones (HBO)

Homeland (Showtime)

Pan Am (ABC)

Ringer (The CW)

True Blood (HBO)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

Outstanding Miniseries or Movie

Blue-Eyed Butcher (Lifetime)

Cyberbully (ABC Family)

Drew Peterson: Untouchable (Lifetime)

Five (Lifetime)

Girl Fight (Lifetime)

Hatfields & McCoys (History Channel)

The Hour (BBC America)

Of Two Minds (Lifetime)

Outstanding Variety Series

Conan (TBS)

Fashion Police (E)

Key and Peele (Comedy Central)

The Soup (E)

Tosh .O (Comedy Central)

Outstanding Variety Special

Betty White’s 90th Birthday Party (NBC)

Celtic Women: Believe (PBS)

The Comedy Central Roast of Charlie Sheen (Comedy Central)

TV Land Awards (TV Land)

Wendy Liebman: Taller on TV (Showtime)

Outstanding Nonfiction Special

Bobby Fischer Against The World (HBO)

Catholicism: Amazed and Afraid (PBS)

Crime After Crime (OWN)

God Is The Bigger Elvis (HBO)

6 Days To Air: The Making of South Park (Comedy Central)

Outstanding Nonfiction Series

America in Primetime (PBS)

American Masters (PBS)

America’s Most Wanted (Lifetime)

Beyond Scared Straight (A&E)

Inside Story (Biography)

Outstanding Reality Program

Antiques Roadshow (PBS)

Dance Moms (Lifetime)

Kitchen Nightmares (Fox)

Scouted (E)

Storage Wars (A&E)

Outstanding Reality-Competition Program

The Amazing Race (CBS)

The Bachelor (ABC)

Big Brother (CBS)

The Celebrity Apprentice (NBC)

Hell’s Kitchen (Fox)

Project Runway (Lifetime)

So You Think You Can Dance (Fox)

Survivor (CBS)

Outstanding Lead Actor In A Comedy Series

Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)

Johnny Galecki in The Big Bang Theory (CBS)

Danny McBride in Eastbound and Down (HBO)

Joel McHale in Community (NBC)

Lucas Neff in Raising Hope (Fox)

Jason Schwartzman in Bored To Death (HBO)

Outstanding Lead Actor In A Drama

Steve Buscemi in Boardwalk Empire (HBO)

Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad (AMC)

Jeffrey Donavon in Burn Notice (USA)

Damian Lewis in Homeland (Showtime)

Andrew Lincoln in The Walking Dead (AMC)

Timothy Olyphant in Justified (FX)

Outstanding Lead Actor In A Miniseries or Movie

Idris Elba in Luther (BBC America)

Rob Lowe in Drew Peterson: Untouchable (Lifetime)

Steven Weber in Duke (Hallmark Movie Channel)

Dominic West in The Hour (BBC America)

Ben Whishaw in The Hour (BBC America)

Outstanding Lead Actress In A Comedy

Zooey Deschanel in New Girl (Fox)

Lena Dunham in Girls (HBO)

Tina Fey in 30 Rock  (NBC)

Julia Louis Dreyfuss in Veep (HBO)

Mary-Louis Parker in Weeds (Showtime)

Martha Plimpton in Raising Hope (Fox)

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama

Claire Danes in Homeland (Showtime)

Sarah Michelle Gellar in Ringer (The CW)

Jennifer Love Hewitt in The Client List (Lifetime)

Julianna Margulies in The Good Wife (CBS)

Elizabeth McGovern in Downton Abbey (PBS)

Anna Paquin in True Blood (HBO)

Outstanding Lead Actress In A Miniseries or Movie

Kristin Davis in Of Two Minds (Lifetime)

Anne Heche in Girl Fight (Lifetime)

Rose McGowan in The Pastor’s Wife (Lifetime)

Emily Osment in Cyberbully (ABC Family)

Sara Paxton in Blue Eyed Butcher (Lifetime)

Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Comedy Series

Charlie Day in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX)

Danny DeVito in It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia (FX)

Donald Glover in Community (NBC)

Nick Offerman in Parks and Recreation (NBC)

Danny Pudi in Community (NBC)

Matt Walsh in Veep (HBO)

Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Drama

Bruce Campbell in Burn Notice (USA)

Peter Dinklage in Game of Thrones (HBO)

Giancarlo Espositto in Breaking Bad (AMC)

Michael Pitt in Boardwalk Empire (HBO)

Michael Shannon in Boardwalk Empire (HBO)

Alexander Skarsgard in True Blood (HBO)

Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Miniseries or Movie

Powers Boothe in Hatfields and McCoys (History Channel)

Justin Bruening in Blue-Eyed Butcher (Lifetime)

Mark-Paul Gosselaar in Hide (TNT)

Sir Roger Moore in A Princess For Christmas (Hallmark Movie Channel)

Tony Shalhoub in Five (Lifetime)

Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Comedy

Alison Brie in Community (NBC)

Kristen Chenoweth in GCB (ABC)

Anna Chlumsky in Veep (HBO)

Gillian Jacobs in Community (NBC)

Cloris Leachman in Raising Hope (Fox)

Aubrey Plaza in Parks and Recreation (NBC)

Outstanding Supporting Actress in Drama

Christine Baranski in The Good Wife (CBS)

Kristen Bauer Von Straten in True Blood (HBO)

Kelly MacDonald in Boardwalk Empire (HBO)

Christina Ricci in Pan Am (ABC)

Sophia Turner in Game of Thrones (HBO)

Deborah Ann Woll in True Blood (HBO)

Supporting Actress In A Miniseries or Movie

Tammy Blanchard in Of Two Minds (Lifetime)

Kaley Cuoco in Drew Peterson: Untouchable (Lifetime)

Lisa Edelstein in Blue-Eyed Butcher (Lifetime)

Jessica Lange in American Horror Story (FX)

Jena Malone in Hatfields and McCoy (History Channel)