Behind Enemy Lines: Colombia (2009, directed by Tim Matheson)


After 40 years of war, the Colombian military and FARC, the cocaine-funded guerrilla insurgency, are finally meeting to discuss peace.  A group of Navy SEALS, led by Lt. Macklin (Joe Manganiello), have been sent into the Colombian jungle to secretly keep an eye on the peace talks and make sure that things don’t get out of hand.  However, as soon as they arrive, the conference is attacked by yet another group of terrorists.  Led by Alvaro Cardona (Yancy Arias), this third group kills the leaders of the Colombian military and FARC and attempts to frame the entire attack on the SEALS!  Now, Macklin and Carter Holt (WWE superstar Mr. Kennedy) are trapped behind enemy lines.  With the Colombian military, FARC, and Cardona after them and the CIA disavowing any knowledge of their existence, the two SEALS have to rescue a captured comrade and prove their innocence before all of South America plunges into war.

This film, which features Keith David recreating his commanding officer role from Behind Enemy Lines II: Axis of Evil, is a standard action movie.  Some of the action scenes are exciting but all too often, BEL: Colombia is done in by its own low budget.  This is especially obvious when the SEALS are parachuting into the jungle and the cheap green screen effects make the movie look like an old 80s tv show, with the SEALS clumsily superimposed over a picture of the sky.  Watching that scene, I wouldn’t have been surprised if the original Magnum P.I. or Simon and Simon suddenly appeared as a member of the team.  Even Jessica Fletcher wouldn’t have been out of place.

On the plus side, the acting actually isn’t bad and Cardona has a little more depth than the usual action movie villain. This is really not the type of film that you would expect to be directed by Otter from Animal House but Tim Matheson doesn’t do a bad job.  Again, the low budget hurts but he gets some decent performances and he shows that he can adequately handle an action scene.   BEL: Colombia isn’t terrible but it’s still not hard to feel that it would have been better if it had been made in 1988 by Chuck Norris and Menahem Golan.

The Things You Find On Netflix: 6 Balloons (dir by Marja Lewis-Ryan)


Poor Katie (Abbi Jacobson)!

All she wants to do is throw a surprise party for her new boyfriend and enjoy the 4th of July.  Is that too much to ask?  However, things are never easy.  Her friends are ruthless in their critique of what she’s planning to wear.  Her mother (Jane Kaczmarek) keeps pressuring her to go down to CVS and buy more makeup.  As for her father (Tim Matheson) — well, he’s just too damn good-looking.  All of her friends want to know if it was difficult for Katie to grow up with a “hot dad.”  Katie says it was.

You know what’s even more difficult though?

Trying to throw a surprise birthday party while also trying to take care of your niece and your junkie brother!

From the minute we meet Seth (Dave Franco) it’s obvious that he’s on something.  As soon as Katie orders him to roll up his sleeves, we know that this is not a new thing with Seth.  Seth is a junkie, the type who shoots up in grocery store bathrooms and who buys his heroin from a man who lives in a yellow tent.  Seth isn’t one of those charming junkies, either.  He’s not Ewan McGregor in Trainspotting.  He’s a manipulative, self-centered asshole who agrees to go to detox but only if Katie agrees to pay for it and not tell anyone that he’s using again.  He’s the type who thinks nothing of begging his sister to leave the party that she’s spent weeks planning because he needs a ride to get one last hit before “getting clean.”

6 Balloons is a short film, one that takes place over the course of one long night.  While the party goes on without her, Katie drives Seth around the city.  Whenever Katie objects to what Seth is asking her to do, Seth guilts her.  He continually assures her that he just needs to get high one last time and then he’ll be able to do detox.  Meanwhile, Seth’s daughter sits in her car seat and begs to be taken home.

The acting is okay.  Both Dave Franco and Abbi Jacobson are best known for their comedic work so it’s interesting to see them taking on such dramatic roles here.  At the same time, it sometimes seems like both of them are trying too hard.  The same could be said of  6 Balloons.  This is a film that could have used a little dark humor.  Instead, it’s relentlessly grim and serious and, as a result, a bit of a chose to sit through.  For a 70 minute film, 6 Balloons seems to go on forever.

The problem with films about junkies is that, for the most part, hardcore junkies are dull people and not much fun to be around.  Christiane F, Trainspotting and several of the films influenced by them dealt with this problem by featuring a propulsive soundtrack and some imaginative cinematography.  (Trainspotting also wisely devoted more screen time to Mark and Sick Boy than to Spud.  Just imagine how difficult it would be to watch Trainspotting if the entire film had centered on Spud getting high and crawling underneath cars.)  With its hand-held camerawork and it’s subdued soundtrack, 6 Balloons takes more of a documentary approach.  The film will leave you with no doubt that heroin is bad and it’s not good to be an enabler but, at the same time, it’ll probably also inspire you to glance at the time and ask yourself, “Is this thing over yet?”

Horror on the Lens: Sometimes They Come Back (dir by Tom McLoughlin)


For today’s horror on the lens, we have 1991’s Sometimes They Come Back.

Adapted from a Stephen King short story, this made-for-television film tells the story of a teacher (played by Tim Matheson) who returns to the New England town where he grew up.  If he seems reluctant to do so, it’s because he has some bad childhood memories to deal with.  In the 60s, his brother was murdered by a group of leather-clad greasers, all of whom subsequently died in a fiery car crash.

But, if all of them died in the 60s, why are they now showing up in his classroom?  And why have none of them aged?

Could it be that … sometimes they come back?

And could it also be that the reason that they’re coming back is so they can finish the job that they started in the 60s and murder the last remaining brother?

This campy but enjoyable adaptation features good performances from both Tim Matheson and, in the role of the main dead guy, Robert Rusler.  Why have they come back and what can be done to make them leave once again? Watch, find out, and enjoy!

Lisa Cleans Out Her DVR: Dreamer (dir by Noel Nosseck)


(I am currently trying to clean out my DVR!  I recorded this 1979 sports film off of FXM on February 1st!)

In Dreamer, Tim Matheson plays a character named Harold Nuttingham.  His nickname is Dreamer.  Do you think it’s possible that Harold has a dream!?  Well, it would probably be a really cruel nickname if he didn’t!

Dreamer lives in small town Illinois.  He loves to bowl.  He spends all of his time down at the local bowling alley, where everyone knows him and they all love him and his dreams of becoming a professional bowler.  His mentor is named Harry White (Jack Warden) and runs the pro shop.  Harry dreamed of being a famous, champion bowler but his dreams didn’t come true.  But now he can help Dreamer’s dreams work out.  Everyone loves the fact that Harry is helping Dreamer.  Dreamer’s girlfriend is named Karen Lee (Susan Blakely).  She loves that Dreamer loves bowling but she is frustrated because everyone keeps telling Dreamer that it would be a mistake to take her to his games.  Karen might bring bad luck.

Everyone in his hometown loves Dreamer but the Professional Bowling Association (which apparently is an actual thing) doesn’t love Dreamer.  They don’t want to let Dreamer compete on a professional level.  Or, at least, they don’t until Dreamer meets with them personally and shows off his amazing bowling skills.  Then they love Dreamer.

Even though Dreamer is the new guy on the professional circuit, the audiences love him.  And all the other professional bowlers love him, even when they lose to him.  Everyone loves Dreamer, perhaps because everyone loves a dreamer…

Are you getting the impression that Dreamer might be one of the most positive movies ever made?  Well, it is.  Hardly anyone says a bad word about anyone in Dreamer.  Nobody tells Dreamer to give up.  Dreamer never really suffers from any self-doubt, though he does injure his thumb at one point.  There is a moment of tragedy towards the end of the movie but it’s one of those tragedies that leads to better things.  You can’t have light without a little darkness, though Dreamer seems to suggest that you can come awfully close.

Normally, films get on my nerves when they’re overwhelmingly positive but I can’t really complain about a movie like Dreamer.  It’s just so earnest and sincere.  There’s no real conflict and there’s no real drama but everyone in the movie is just so damn likable that you almost feel guilty for wishing something unexpected would happen.  Dreamer struggles and fails to make bowling cinematic but Dreamer’s a nice guy so you wish him the best.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Dreamer is that it was directed by Noel Nosseck, who also directed an incredibly odd little grindhouse film called Best Friends.  Best Friends, which I recommend tracking down, is almost the anti-Dreamer.  Watch Best Friends to have your faith in humanity destroyed and then follow it up with Dreamer so your faith can be restored.

Or don’t.  It’s really up to you.

Back to School Part II #9: National Lampoon’s Animal House (dir by John Landis)


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You know what?  I’m going to start this review with the assumption that you’ve already seen the classic 1978 college comedy, National Lampoon’s Animal House.  At the very least, I’m going to assume that you’ve heard of it and that you know the general details.  Animal House was not only a huge box office success but it’s also one of the most influential films ever made.  Almost every comedy released since 1978 owes a debt to the success of Animal House.  Just as every subsequent high school film was directly descended from American Graffiti, every college film features at least a little Animal House in its DNA.

So, with that in mind, who is your favorite member of Delta House?

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Most people, I think, would automatically say Bluto (played by John Belushi) and certainly, Bluto is the best known and perhaps best-remembered member of the cast.  As played by Belushi, Bluto is the film’s rampaging ID and he’s such a force of nature that, whenever I rewatch Animal House, I’m surprised to be reminded of the fact that he’s not really in the film that much.  He’s present for the parties, of course.  He imitates a zit and starts a food fight.  He gives a rousing speech, in which he reminds the members of the Delta House that America didn’t give up after “the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor!”  He destroys a folk singer’s guitar and I personally love the scene where he tries to cheer up a despondent pledge by smashing a beer bottle over his head.  But really, Bluto is used very sparingly and he’s one of the few members of the ensemble not to get his own subplot.  Bluto’s great but he’s not my favorite member of Delta House.

Hoover

Believe it or not, my favorite member of Delta House is Robert Hoover (James Widdoes).  Hoover is the president of Delta House and, when we first meet him, he seems like he’s way too clean-cut to be in charge of the “worst house” on campus.  But then, as the film progresses, we discover that Hoover may not be as openly crazy as everyone else but he’s definitely a Delta.  Just watch him in the Toga party scene.  Just look at him in the picture that shows up during the closing credits.  It took me a while to realize that Hoover, the future public defender, was giving the camera the finger.  Hoover may look uptight but he’s secretly a wild man!

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One of the things that I love about Animal House is that it truly is an ensemble film.  There’s not a weak performance to be found in the entire movie.  No matter how wild or over-the-top the humor gets, the entire cast commits to their roles and, as a result, they keep this movie grounded.  You actually find yourself caring about whether or not they get kicked off campus.  You truly believe that the members of Delta House have been friends for years but, even more importantly, you believe the same thing about their rivals at Omega House.  For that matter, it may be easy to make fun of Dean Wormer (John Vernon, setting the template for all evil deans to come) but you never doubt that he’s been in charge of Faber College for years and that he’s planning on being in charge for years to come.  As played by the deep-voiced and sinister-looking Vernon, Wormer becomes every unreasonable authority figure.  When he explains the concept of super secret probation, he does so with a smug pleasure that is practically chilling.  When he mentions that the members of Delta House can now be drafted, the smile on his face is terrifying.

Wormer

You know who else gives a really good performance in Animal House?  Donald Sutherland.  At the time, Sutherland was the biggest star in the film.  He was offered either a percentage of the grosses or a flat fee.  Sutherland thought the film would flop, took the flat fee, and missed out on millions as a result. Sutherland plays Prof. Jennings, an English teacher who, in the only scene actually set in a classroom, desperately tries to get his bored students to pay attention to him.  There’s something so poignant about the way Jennings begs his students to turn in their papers.  “I’m not joking,” he sputters, “this is my job!”

Jennings

Jennings turns out to be free thinker.  He turns Boone (Peter Riefert), Katie (Karen Allen), and Pinto (Tom Hulce) onto marijuana.  There’s an anachronistic peace sign hanging in his apartment (Animal House takes place in 1963) but no matter.  Far worse is the fact that he temporarily breaks up Boone and Katie!  Everyone knows those two belong together!

Bluto and Flounder

You know who else doesn’t get enough credit for his performance in Animal House?  Stephen Furst.  He plays Flounder, a new pledge.  Flounder is just so enthusiastic about everything and he doesn’t even seem to be upset when Wormer tells him, “Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life.”  I love the enthusiastic way that Furst delivers simple lines like, “What’s my Delta Chi name?” and “Brother Bluto!  Brother D-Day!  What are you doing here!?” My favorite Flounder moment comes when he accidentally gives a horse a heart attack.  Technically, it shouldn’t be funny but it is because Furst, Belushi, and Bruce McGill (playing the role of D-Day) so thoroughly throw themselves into their roles.  For that matter, the horse did a pretty good job too.

Boone and Otter

But that’s not all!  How can I praise the ensemble of Animal House without mention Tim Matheson, who plays Otter, the future Beverly Hills gynecologist?  Or what about Kevin Bacon, playing Omega pledge Chip Diller?  This was Bacon’s first role and who can forget him shouting, “Thank you, sir, may I have another!” while being initiated into Omega House?  Or how about James Daughton and Mark Metcalf, as the two leaders of Omega House?  They were villains truly worth hissing!

Omega House

And yes, I know that a lot of the humor in Animal House is not politically correct but who cares?  It’s a hilarious movie, one that is full of good actors at their absolute best.  Yes, they’re all a bunch of privileged sexists blah blah blah, but I’d still party with the Delta House.  They know how to have fun and, even if they did wreck the Homecoming Parade, they had a good reason!

parade

And so is the movie.  Every time I see Animal House, I feel good about the world.  In 1978, The Deer Hunter was named best picture by the Academy.  Well, you know what?  With all due respect to that long epic about the tragedy of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War,  all the Oscars should have gone to Animal House!

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In conclusion … SING IT!

Let me t-t-tell you ’bout some friends I know
They’re kinda crazy but you’ll dig the show
They can party ’till the break of dawn
at Delta Chi you can’t go wrong

Otter, he’s the ladies man
Every girl falls into his hands
Boon and Katy playing “Cat and Mouse”

and Mrs. Wormer, she’s the queen of the
ANIMAL HOUSE

ANIMAL HOUSE

ANIMAL HOUSE

That Pinto he’s a real swell guy
Clorette was jailbait but he gave her a try
Chip, Doug, and Greg, they’re second to none
They studied under Attila the Hun

Mr. Jennings has got his wig on tight
Flouder’s left shoe’s always on his right
Babs and Mandy are having a pillow fight
With D-Day, Hoover, Otis Day and the Knights

DO THE BLUTO

Come on baby, dance with me
Maybe if we do the Bluto
We will get an “A” in lobotomy

DO THE BLUTO
DO THE BLUTO

DO THE BLUTO
DO THE BLUTO

Aw, come on!
Let me tell ya
Dean Wormer tried to shut us down
But he fell and he broke his crown
He didn’t know about the Delta spunk
He came in handy when we were short a skunk

At the

ANIMAL HOUSE

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Cleaning Out The DVR: Last Chance For Christmas (dir by Gary Yates)


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After I watched The Christmas Gift, I continued to clean out the DVR by watching Last Chance For Christmas.  Last Chance for Christmas originally aired on Lifetime on December 6th and it took me a second viewing to realize that, as far as Lifetime holiday movies are concerned, Last Chance For Christmas was actually pretty good.

Annie (Hilarie Burton) lives in a small town in Alaska, along with her daughter Madison (Lola Flanery).  Annie owns a reindeer farm, which is her inheritance from her father.  The bank is eager to foreclose on her and take the farm away from her.  It’s all because Mr. Buckley (who is somewhat inevitably played by Tim Matheson) wants to build a ski resort on her property.

Desperate but still defiant (which is why I liked her), Annie is understandably paranoid when John (Gabriel Hogan) suddenly shows up on her doorstep and says that he needs to borrow one of her reindeer.  She assumes that John must be working for either the bank or Mr. Buckley.

Which she doesn’t know is that John’s boss lives up north.  For the past 15 years, John has worked for Santa Claus (Derek McGrath).  John is in charge of the stables and taking care of Santa’s reindeer.  When Prancer cracks a hoof, it’s crisis time at the North Pole.  As John explains it, without Prancer, it could take three to four months to deliver all of the presents.  John even suggests that they may have to delay Christmas or cancel it altogether…

That’s when Mrs. Claus (Jayne Eastwood) steps forward and announces that, under no circumstances, will Christmas be canceled.  As she puts it, the children will get their gifts “by any means necessary.”  John is sent into the human world, instructed to track down a replacement reindeer.  And he thinks that he’s found one on Annie’s farm.

The problem, of course, is that the reindeer — named Frankie — is Madison’s favorite.  As John slowly starts to win Annie’s trust (and as he and Annie fall in love), he realizes that he cannot bring himself to take Frankie away from Madison.  However, when he explains this to Mrs. Claus, she tells him that the needs of the many outweighs the needs of the few.  If John isn’t willing to steal Frankie then maybe Mrs. Claus will have to come do it herself…

And really, the portrayal of Mrs. Claus as being the ruthless head of a crime syndicate was perhaps the best thing about this film.  It was so unexpectedly dark and almost cynical.  As well, Jayne Eastwood was obviously having a lot of fun playing this very unsentimental version of Mrs. Claus.

Beyond the subversive portrayal of Mrs. Claus, Last Chance For Christmas was a genuinely entertaining film.  Hilarie Burton and Gabriel Hogan made for a cute couple, Lola Flanery gave a blessedly non-cutesy performance as Madison, and the snowy scenery was nice to look at.  All in all, Last Chance for Christmas is a perfect example of the correct way to do a holiday movie.

Back to School #58: She’s All That (dir by Robert Iscove)


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She’s All That, a 1999 high school-set adaptation of My Fair Lady, has a lot to answer for.

When I, as an impressionable 13 year-old first saw this film, I left the theater believing that high school would be full of random, fully choreographed dance-offs.  That, after all, is what happened towards the end of She’s All That.  After watching as handsome jock Zack (Freddie Prinze, Jr.) spent almost the entire movie changing Laney (Rachael Leigh Cook) from an artist into a Prom Queen, the great prom dance-off made for the perfect climax.

I mean, just check it out:

Imagine how disappointed I was, once I finally did reach high school, to discover that it was actually nothing like She’s All That.  There were no big dance numbers for no particular reason.  I went to five different proms and none of them were ever as much fun as the prom at the end of She’s All That.

So thank you, She’s All That, for getting my hopes up.

As for the rest of the film, it’s a guilty pleasure in much the same way as Never Been Kissed.  I was recently doing some research over at the imdb and I was surprised to discover just how many films Freddie Prinze,Jr. made between 1999 and 2002.  For the most part, they’ve all got rather generic names.  What’s funny is that I probably saw most of them because, back then, I would get excited over almost any PG-rated movie that featured a cute guy and had a hint of romance about it.  But, with the exception of She’s All That, I can’t really remember a single one of them.  But you know what?  Freddie Prinze, Jr. may not be a great actor and his films may have basically all been the same but he had a certain something that, when you were 13 or 14, made him the perfect crush.  There was a hot blandness to Freddie Prinze, Jr. that prevented him from being compelling but did make him the perfect star for a film like She’s All That.

Along with featuring that prom dance-off and being the epitome of a Fredde Prinze, Jr. movie, She’s All That is also remembered for featuring Rachael Leigh Cook as one of the most unlikely ugly ducklings in the history of the movies.  Rachael plays Laney and the entire film’s starting off point is that Zack has made a bet with Dean (Paul Walker, as handsome here as he was in Varsity Blues) that he can turn Laney into a prom queen.  However, it should be a pretty easy bet to win because all Laney has to do is let her hair down, start wearing makeup, and stop wearing her glasses.

Myself, I’m severely myopic.  Usually, I wear contact lenses but occasionally, I may be running late or may not feel like putting my contacts in or maybe I just want to try a different look.  So, occasionally, I’ll wear my glasses and I have to say that, other than a few guys who always make “hot librarian” jokes, everyone pretty much treats me the same regardless of whether I’m wearing my glasses or not.  I do have to admit though that, when I take off my glasses and dramatically let my hair down, I always say that I’m having a She’s All That moment.

Anyway, She’s All That is okay.  I like it but I don’t love it and, to be honest, the film’s main appeal is a nostalgic one.  Freddie Prinze, Jr. and Paul Walker both look good, Rachael Leigh Cook and Jodi Lynn O’Keefe will keep the boys happy, and Matthew Lillard has a few good scenes where he plays an obnoxious reality tv celeb.

And there’s always that dance number!

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