Goin’ South (1978, directed by Jack Nicholson)


Jack Nicholson was not an overnight success.

Nicholson was 17 years old when he first came to Hollywood in 1954.  Looking to become an actor, Nicholson toiled as an office worker at the MGM cartoon studio, took acting classes, and went to auditions.  It would be four years before he even landed his first role, the lead in the Roger Corman-produced The Cry Baby Killer.  When that film failed to become a hit, Nicholson spent the next ten years doing minor roles and occasionally starring in a B-picture.  He auditioned for some big parts, like Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate, Buck Barrow in Bonnie and Clyde, and Guy Woodhouse in Rosemary’s Baby, but his big break continued to allude him.  By 1969, Nicholson was so disillusioned with acting that he was planning to instead pursue a career as a director.  However, before Nicholson officially retired from the acting game, he received a call from the set of Easy Rider.  Depending on who you ask, Rip Torn, who had previously been cast in the role of alcoholic George Hanson, had either quit or been fired.  Bruce Dern, the first choice to replace Torn, was busy filming They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Nicholson agreed to step into the role and the rest is history.

Easy Rider may have made Jack Nicholson one of the world’s biggest film stars but he never lost his ambition to direct.  In 1971, he made his directorial debut with Drive, He Said, a film about campus unrest.  At the time, the film flopped at both the box office and with critics and quickly sunk into obscurity.  (It has subsequently been rediscovered and, in some cases, positively reevaluated.)  After the failure of Drive, He Said, it would be another seven years before Nicholson again got a chance to direct.

Nicholson’s second film as a director, Goin’ South, is a comedic western.  Nicholson plays Henry Lloyd Moon, an unsuccessful outlaw who used to ride with Quantrill’s Raiders.  When Moon is captured in Longhorn, Texas, he is sentenced to be hanged.  Fortunately, for Moon, Longhorn has a special ordinance.  Any man condemned for any crime other than murder can be saved from the gallows if a local woman agrees to marry him and take responsibility for his good behavior.  As a result of this ordinance, Longhorn is populated almost exclusively by single women and reformed outlaws.

While standing on the gallows, the cocky Moon is stunned to discover that none of the women want to marry him.  Finally, an old woman emerges from the crowd and announces that she’ll become Moon’s wife.  When Moon hops off the gallows and thanks her, the woman drops dead.  Fortunately, another, younger woman, Julia Tate (Mary Steenburgen, making her film debut), steps forward.

Once they’re married, the lecherous Moon discovers that Julia is a virgin and that the only reason she married him was so she could force him to work in the secret gold mine that’s hidden underneath her property.  The railroad will soon be taking over the land and Julia wants to get all of the gold before she leaves town for Philadelphia.  Though Julia, at first, wants nothing to do with Moon, he eventually wears her down through sheer persistence and the two fall in love.

Complicating matters is Deputy Towfield (Christopher Lloyd), who is upset because he feels that Julia was meant to be his wife.  Also, the members of Moon’s former gang (including Danny DeVito and Veronica Cartwright) show up at Julia’s house and discover the truth about the mine.

Goin’ South gets off to a good start.  The scene on the gallows, where Moon waits for someone to marry him and save his life, is genuinely funny and Nicholson and Steenburgen have a playful chemistry for the first hour of the movie.  Nicholson leers even more than usual in this film but the script is written so that the joke is always on Moon.  Much of the film’s humor comes from Moon always overestimating both his charm and his cleverness.  However, once Moon and Julia finally consummate their marriage, the movie loses whatever narrative momentum it may have had and gets bogged down with the subplots about Towfield and Moon’s gang.  There are funny moments throughout but the story gets away from Nicholson and the film is reduced to a series of set pieces, none of which build up to much.

Not surprisingly, Nicholson gets good performances from his cast, which is largely made up by the members of his 1970s entourage.  Along with Danny DeVito and Christopher Lloyd, longtime Nicholson associates like Tracey Walter, Ed Begley Jr., Richard Bradford, Jeff Morris, and Luana Anders all appear in small roles.  John Belushi plays the tiny role of Deputy Hector.  (Goin’ South was actually the first film in which Belushi was cast, though production didn’t actually begin until after Belushi had finished working on National Lampoon’s Animal House.)  Unfortunately, despite all of the good performances, the script doesn’t do much to develop any of the characters.  Belushi especially feels underused.  (Because Belushi had moved on to Animal House by the time the film went into post-production, Nicholson ended up dubbing several of Belushi’s lines himself.)

Drive, He Said was largely considered to have failed at the box office because Nicholson remained behind the camera so he took the opposite approach with Goin’ South.  Nicholson is in nearly every scene and he gives one of his broadest performances.  It works for the first half of the film, when Moon is constantly trying to get laid and failing every time.  But, during the second half of the movie, Nicholson’s failure to reign in his performance works to the film’s detriment.  When the movie needs Nicholson to be romantic, he’s still behaving like a horny cartoon. Whenever he looks at Mary Steenburgen, it seems as if his eyes should be popping out of his head, Tex Avery-style.  He’s an entertaining cartoon, but a cartoon nonetheless.  As a result, Goin’ South is often funny but it still feels very inconsequential.

Like Drive, He Said, Goin’ South was both a critical and a box office flop and it temporarily turned Nicholson off of directing.  It would be another 12 years before he would once again step behind the camera.  In 1990, Nicholson directed The Two Jakes, the sequel to one of his best films, Chinatown That would be Nicholson’s last film as a director.  Nicholson acted for another 20 years, following the release of The Two Jakes.  To date, he made his final screen appearance in 2010, with a supporting role in James L. Brooks’s How Do You Know.  Nicholson has disputed claims that he’s officially retired, saying that he’s instead just being more selective about his roles.  Even though it’s been ten years since we last saw him on screen, Jack Nicholson remains an American icon and a living legend.

TV Review: Chilling Adventures of Sabrina 2.4 “Doctor Cerberus’s House of Horrors” (dir by Alex Garcia Lopez)


Is Chilling Adventures of Sabrina the most underlit show on Netflix?

Seriously, every scene on the show seems to take place in near darkness.  I get that’s because the show itself is supposed to be dark and spooky and I appreciate the fact that the show is trying to maintain a proper atmosphere but still, as I watched the fourth episode of the 2nd season, I found myself shouting, “Will someone turn on a freaking light!?”  Like a lot of things about this show, the constant darkness seems like one of those “it seemed like a good idea at the time” concepts.

That said, I also have to say that I liked this installment a bit more than the previous episode.  Though it can probably be correctly stated that this was something of a filler episode, it still had enough surreal moments to remain entertaining.  In fact, it reminded me a bit of last season’s superior Dreams In A Witch House.  Like that episode, House of Horrors largely took place in the minds of the show’s characters.  Whereas Dreams In A Witch House used the character’s nightmares as a way to provide a glimpse of their subconscious fears and desires, this episode used Tarot readings.

The episode begins with Hilda and Dr. Cee hanging out at Cerebrus Books.  No mention is made of the fact that Dr. Cee apparently has an incubus inside of him, which seems like an odd thing to go unmentioned.  Anyway, a fortune teller (played by Veronica Cartwright) shows up and asks if she can do readings in the back of the store.  Hilda and Dr. Cee promptly agree because …. well, when do they ever say no to anyone?

For the next hour, various characters wandered into Cerebrus Books and got their fortune read.  The fortune teller turning over her cards would lead to everyone having a surreal vision of the future.  The visions rarely turned out well but, with one huge exception, the fortune teller was always quick to explain that the ominous vision was actually a good thing.  For instance, Sabrina may have seen herself getting killed during Nick’s magic show but the fortune teller was quick to explain that the vision meant Sabrina should put her faith in Nick and not trust anyone else.  Theo may have had a vision of turning into a boy and then having his body turn to wood but apparently, that meant Theo should trust others to help him out.  Roz was thinking of having an operation to get her sight restored but her vision — in which a blind girl accused Roz of stealing her eyes — convinced Roz that she should remain blind.  Harvey saw that going to Rhode Island would lead to him having a Satanic roommate.  Hilda envisioned telling Father Blackwood the truth about the baby but then discovered that would just lead to Blackwood cheating on her.  “Some secrets,” the fortune teller announces, “should stay secrets.”

Finally, Ambrose showed up and got his vision of the future.  Four things disturbed him.  First off, Luke was nowhere in the vision.  Secondly, in the vision, Father Blackwood made him a member of the Judas Society and ordered him to murder the Spellmans.  Third, in the vision, Ambrose did just that.  And fourth, the fortune teller told Ambrose this was going to happen, regardless of what he did.

Rushing to Father Blackwood’s office, Ambrose asked for an assurance that Father Blackwood would never hurt the Spellmans. “Of course not!” Blackwood replied before informing Ambrose that Luke was dead and that Ambrose was now a member of the Judas Society….

After all this, it was revealed that the fortune teller had actually been Ms. Wardwell in disguise.  I can’t say that I was particularly surprised by this reveal.  Since Wardwell was, up until the show’s final five minutes, the only regular not to have made an appearance, it was obvious that the fortune teller would turn out to be her.  I’m going to assume that her advice was intentionally bad and we should definitely be worried about Sabrina’s relationship with Nick.

Anyway, this episode was entertaining enough.  Since Sabrina is really the only multidimensional character on the show, Chilling Adventures can be uneven when it doesn’t focus on her but this show managed to do a pretty good job with the other characters.  We may not have learned anything new about any of them but some of their visions were enjoyably surreal and macabre.  The scenes of Theo’s body turning to wood were well-handled and Roz’s vision was genuinely frightening.  Even though you knew they weren’t real, the scenes of a murderous Ambrose stalking through the Spellman House were appropriately creepy.

Up next in the TSL’s Sabrina review-a-thon: Case returns with his reviews of Episodes Five and Six!

Horror on TV: One Step Beyond 2.25 “The Haunting” (dir by John Newland)


On tonight’s episode of One Step Beyond, a man suspects that his best friend is having an affair with his fiancee.  What better way to take care of the problem than by leaving his friend to die on the side of a mountain?

It seems like the perfect crime and the man might get away with it …. but only if he can do something about the ghost who seems to be stalking him in the days leading up to his wedding!

As always, this is supposedly based on a true story.

This episode originally aired on March 1st, 1960.

Enjoy!

Cleaning Out The DVR: Widsom (dir by Emilio Estevez)


(I recorded the 1986 film, Wisdom, off of Retroplex on Mary 1st.)

 

(SPOILER ALERT!  The ending of this film is so extremely stupid that there’s no way I’m not going to discuss it in this review.)

Meet John Wisdom (Emilio Estevez)!

He’s got one of those ironic names, as people in pretentious movies often do.  He’s extremely naive but his name is Wisdom.  He does a lot of stupid crap but his name is Wisdom.  And I guess the audience is meant to feel that Wisdom understands more than even he knows.

Or something like that.

Who knows?

Anyway, John Wisdom has got some issues.  He’s a college dropout who can’t get a good job because he has a criminal record.  He didn’t really do anything wrong, of course.  All he did was steal a car on the night of his high school graduation.  Hey, who hasn’t done that?  Anyway, Wisdom would be happy to just spend all day sitting around in his bathtub but his father (Tom Skerritt) insists that Wisdom find some sort of employment.

Eventually, Wisdom ends up working in a fast food restaurant.  It turns out that he’s not very good at it, which leads me to suspect that Wisdom probably wouldn’t be very good at any of the other jobs that he was pursuing either.  To be honest, the main reason that Wisdom works at the restaurant is so that Charlie Sheen can have a cameo as Wisdom’s boss.

(Strangely, Martin Sheen is nowhere to be found in the movie.  It wouldn’t surprise me if Emilio Estevez — who both directed and wrote the script — originally envisioned Martin playing his father.  Tom Skerritt does an extended Martin Sheen impersonation as Daddy Wisdom.)

Anyway, Wisdom decides that since the system refuses to give him a fair chance, he’s going to live the rest of his life as an outlaw.  So, Wisdom starts to rob banks.  However, instead of stealing all of the money, Wisdom is more interested in setting fire to mortgage and loan records.  Wisdom explains, via voice over, that he’s concerned about the working people who keeps getting screwed over by the banks.  That’s all good and well but I thought the whole reason that Wisdom started robbing banks was because there was no other way for him to make any money.  So, when did Wisdom go from being a greedy criminal to an altruistic rebel?

Naturally, Wisdom and his girlfriend, Karen (Demi Moore), becomes folk heroes.  Everyone wants to meet Wisdom and protect him from the police.  But eventually, Karen gets gunned down by a police helicopter.  Poor Karen.  She didn’t even want to rob banks.  Well, actually, she did want to rob banks.  And then she didn’t.  And then she did again.  Karen’s motivation and personality changes from scene-to-scene, largely because she’s a poorly written character.  But no matter.  She’s dead now.

But Wisdom’s still alive!  Except, soon, he finds himself surrounded by cops.  Standing in the middle of a football field (Oh my God!  The symbolism!), Wisdom is gunned down by law enforcement…

…except suddenly, Wisdom’s back in the bathtub.  Apparently, he was just daydreaming about his girlfriend getting gunned down in front of him.  Wait … what?  Seriously, what type of ending is that!?  At the very least, the film could have ended with Wisdom robbing a bank for real and accepting that his dream is destined to come true.  I mean, that would have been stupid but at least it would have been something.  Instead, things end with Wisdom leaving the bathroom.

So, basically, the entire film was just Wisdom daydreaming about robbing banks and eventually getting gunned down on a football field.  Oh, Wisdom.  You got some issues, sweetie!

Emilio Estevez directed this film a year after appearing in The Breakfast Club.  Like many directorial debuts, it’s incredibly dumb.  You can tell that Estevez wasn’t sure what he wanted to say but he was still damn determined to say it.  Why do so many actors end up directing such pretentious and/or boring movies?  On the plus side, there were a few attempts at deliberate humor (Wisdom is not a particularly organized bank robber) and Demi Moore did a fairly good job playing an inconsistent character.  Otherwise, Wisdom is mostly memorable for having one of the worst endings of all time.

Film Review: Alien (dir. by Ridley Scott)


AlienPosterToday is 4.26, also known as “Alien Day”, and named after the planet in James Cameron’s Aliens (LV-426 / Acheron). It’s a celebration of the entire Alien Franchise, but I’m only focused on the first film as I finally saw it in the theatre in 2017.

This isn’t so much a review as it’s just my history with Ridley Scott’s Alien. You can find actual reviews all over the internet, and I know very few people who didn’t enjoy the movie. This piece assumes you’ve seen the film and are familiar with it. There are also spoilers within, though with a nearly 40 year old film, I’m not sure if it can be classified as such.

When I was little, my older brother and I shared a room in my grandmother’s house. Below our bunk beds was a open space that contained a set of boxes and each box contained a collection of our toys – board games, knick knacks, things like that. If you needed something, you went under the bed to fetch it. Only thing is, I always reached into those boxes with my eyes closed.

I have a vague memory of when my older brother received 3 toys that affected the way I looked at things. The first was a board game for the movie Alien. On it, you had a map of the Nostromo, about 3 Astronaut pieces and one for the Alien. I can’t recall the exact nature of how it was played, but I do remember it having to do with finding a way to reach the Narcissus – the escape ship – before the Alien reached your character. Each player also had their own Alien they could use to hunt the other characters before they could escape.

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The Alien Board Game. Fox marketed toys for Alien (an R rated film), possibly fearing the mistake they made with Star Wars.

The second was a movie viewer. I had to do some hunting around the net to find it, and thanks to The Toy Box, I was able to locate one. These viewers (made by Fisher Price and by Kenner) were really popular, especially after the Star Wars boom. You loaded it with a tape and it would play out a scene. For the Alien tape my brother had, it would play out the egg opening face hugger jump sequence. I rewound that too many times, and perhaps it’s the reason I’m afraid of spiders. I don’t really know for sure. The tape used below goes through most of the film’s plot, so if you haven’t watched the film by now, consider yourself spoiled.

The last toy was the reason I never went into the toy boxes. My brother owned an 18 Inch tall Alien figure, complete with a glow in the dark headpiece and a functional second set of teeth. It was one of the scariest things I’d seen as a kid.

All of this was thanks in part to Star Wars. With the mistake Fox made in giving the merchandising rights for Star Wars to Lucas and Lucasfilm, Ltd., they missed out a major chunk of revenue. So when Alien was set to launch 2 years later, they greenlit an entire toy line for the film, even though the movie was rated “R” and the toys demographic couldn’t really see the movie without parental supervision. For the time, that was a pretty amazing thing.

Back in the early 1980s, my father invited my older brother and I to his place to see Alien. I was about six or seven years old at the time, with my brother a few years older. My parents worked nights, so we pretty much lived with my grandmother. He was always into movies and he acquired a RCA Videodisc Player, along with that film and First Blood. Although I was sick, I still went and watched it. I vomited twice during the playthrough, but it was so worth it.

I’d come to find out years later from my Mom that my Dad really didn’t need to invite us. He was just too scared of the movie to watch it alone. According to family legend, Alien was a date movie for my parents, and halfway into the film, my Dad (along with most guys, I’ve heard), was using my Mom as a shield. Mind you, this was a guy who kept multiple firearms in the house and knew how to use them.

Alien was the brainchild of Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett. Having worked on Dark Star for John Carpenter, O’Bannon wanted to create another space film, but with a more serious tone. They came up with the story, inspired by 1958’s B-movie classic It! The Terror From Outer Space and decided to roll with it. The feel for their story would be more like a set of space truckers hauling ore and picking up a stowaway space possum in their cargo.

And that’s Alien in a nutshell. A crew of seven astronauts heading towards Earth in their mining vessel are awakened from hyper sleep when their spaceship – The Nostromo – picks up a distress signal from a nearby planetoid. They are given orders to investigate the signal, but when one of them is incapacitated by an alien life form, it brings trouble to the rest of the crew once they all return to the ship. Can they survive?

The casting for Alien is damn near flawless. There isn’t a single person that feels out of place. The characterization for everyone is straightforward, from the wisecracking pair of Harry Dean Stanton and Yaphet Kotto to the very systematic Ian Holm as the Nostromo’s Science Division expert, it doesn’t take long for one to get to know them or at least wonder if they’ll make it through the story unscathed.  Whether it’s Veronica Cartwright’s Lambert, who is nervous and jittery mid way through the film (and with good reason) or Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley who sees the potential threat before it gets out of hand, everyone here plays their part well.

Ridley Scott was a young director brought on board to create the film. Now, normally, this is where the movie would be made and that really would be that. Scott’s visit to an art gallery in Paris would change the make up of the movie, according to the behind the scenes documentary. What set Alien aside from other space/horror fanfare were the influences of two major artists at the time, Jean Giraud and H.R. Giger.

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Concept Art by Jean Giraud, a.k.a. Moebius.

Having seen his work in France, Ridley Scott felt that Giger had to be brought on board. Giger agreed to use some of his designs for the film and actually helped create the entire Space Jockey set. For the late 1970s, Giger’s look – elongated bones with sexual undertones – had to be a shock to audiences. Giraud, known to many fans as Moebius, was one of the greatest illustrators to have lived. Giraud was previously brought on to work on Alejandro Jodorowsky’s adaptation of Dune, but after that fell through, he ended up working with Scott for a bit, mainly coming up with the designs for the suits in the Nostromo. Together, both their designs would be used to bring something entirely new to audiences at the time. Also on hand was Carlo Rambaldi (E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Dune), who helped design the Alien’s mouth and motor features. In the effects department, Dennis Ayling, Nick Allder, and even Batman’s Anton Furst had a hand in setting the atmosphere for the Nostromo and LV-426. The result is a sense of claustrophobia. The Nostromo’s hallways aren’t the immaculate ones you’d find on board the Enterprise or the roomy ones on the Millennium Falcon. They’re tight, dimly lit with an obvious function over form factor to them. It’s a space rig.

With older monster films, the creature usually is just one form. Giger’s Alien had three distinct forms used, which has always made me curious for the initial audience reactions. The first encounter is with a the Facehugger, an arachnid like creature with a tail that restricts the breathing of its potential victim. Add to this the notion that it uses molecular acid for blood. How do you even fight such a thing? Imagine thinking this is the “big bad” you’re going to see throughout the movie. Scott was particular in having the advertising reference as little as it could about the Alien itself (though the toy line kind of ruined that).

Just when you’re comfortable with the possiblity of facehuggers crawling around, the movie switches gears and introduces us to the Chestburster, a phallic snake of a creature (thanks again to Giger). . The scene was fantastic. Although the cast was told what was supposed to happen with Kane (John Hurt), they weren’t completely filled in on how it was supposed to occur. It was a two part process. The first involved trying to hold down Kane, and the second was setup with John Hurt in the table to have the “push through”. So, when Kane lets out that one big scream, everyone’s reactions are real. You can see that both Parker (Yaphet Kotto) and Dallas (Tom Skerritt) are completely stunned. Veronica Cartwright (and her character Lambert) caught the worst of all this and also had the best reaction. When the Chestburster appears, the effects blood pumps caught Cartwright full on and it was all kept on film. I’m told that the scene in its initial run had people curling in their seats, standing to move to the back of the theatre (for some distance) or walking out altogether. What I wouldn’t give for a Time Travelling DeLorean and an Opening Night movie ticket to that.

So now, there’s a snake running loose on the ship. The film spares very little time before our newborn becomes an adult. Mostly sleek and skeletal, the adult Alien is the stuff of nightmares, but thanks to Scott, and Cinematographer Derek Vanlint, we don’t see much of the Alien until the last act of the movie. Like the Batman, we only see it pounce, and that’s a testament both to the lighting used and the editing of shots. Scott’s close-ups on the Alien’s mouth and forehead doesn’t give anyone enough time to fully make out what it is entirely. Credit also goes to Bolaji Badejo, who portrayed the Alien. At 6’10”, Badejo was perfect for the creature sense of stature and movement, particularly with Harry Dean Stanton’s Brett having to stare up at him in shock.

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The production wasn’t without an issue here or there. Giraud’s suits – which had a samurai feel to them – had problems with the ventilation, so some of the actors nearly experienced exhaustion while working in them. This was later remedied, of course.

Alien remains one of Jerry Goldsmith’s best scores, though it’s also a simple one. The music isn’t so much horrific as it just classical. The music in Alien isn’t really used to imply any kind of horror (save for perhaps one sequence), but perhaps that’s a good thing. The music lets the movie do the talking instead of throwing zingers. There’s very little I can say about the score outside of that.

Alien would go on to spawn seven extra films, though personally, only James Cameron’s Aliens (1986) and Ridley Scott’s Prometheus (2012) are the two worth seeing. Alien 3 (1992) is beautiful, thanks to David Fincher and Cinematographer Alex Thomson, but also kind of damaged the timeline.

So, turn out the lights, settle in with the food of your choice and enjoy Alien Day.

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The Space Jockey. Much of Giger’s designs looked like bone.

* – A thank you goes out to Kevin Carr of Fat Guys At the Movies. He once featured It! The Terror From Outer Space years ago during the weekend Live Tweets he used to host. It was a treat to watch.

Halloween Havoc!: Alfred Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS (Universal 1963)


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Many years ago, back in the 80’s I believe, I spent a week on Martha’s Vineyard. It was early in the morning on a gorgeous summer day, and as my friend was still crashed from the previous evening’s debauchery, I decided to walk down to the beach and catch some rays. I strolled past a particularly marshy stretch when, out of nowhere, a seagull buzzed by my head. Then another. And another. And soon there were about ten of the nasty flying rats swooping down at me, screeching and dive-bombing toward my long-haired dome (this was back when I actually had hair!). I ducked and dodged, yelling and snapping my beach towel at the airborne devils, and ran as fast as I could away from the area, scared to death one of these buzzards was going to peck my eyeballs out! It was like something straight out of Alfred Hitchcock’s 

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Lifetime Film Review: Mommy, I Didn’t Do It (dir by Richard Gabai)


If there’s an Eye Rolling Hall of Fame, the recent Lifetime film Mommy, I Didn’t Do It definitely has earned inclusion.

Seriously, this film was full of some championship-level eye rolling.  It’s a courtroom drama and a murder mystery.  Ellen Plainview (Danica McKellar) is an attorney whose teenager daughter, Julie (Paige Searcy) is on trail for murdering one of her former teachers.  When Julie is first arrested, Ellen rolls her eyes.  When Ellen visits Julie in jail and explains that they don’t have the money to bail her out, Julie rolls her eyes and sighs.  You can just tell she’s thinking, “My God, mom, you’re so lame!”  When Detective Hamer (Jaleel White) explains why all the evidence points to Julie, Ellen again rolls her eyes and Detective Hamer counters her by rolling his own eyes.  When Ellen approaches the dead man’s wife (Jamie-Lynn Sigler), the wife not only rolls her eyes but narrows them as well.

It gets even better once the trial begins.  The prosecutor, Kimberly Bains (Jen Lilley), rolls her eyes whenever Ellen makes an objection.  Whenever a witness testifies that Julie was obsessed with the victim, Ellen rolls her eyes and then Julie rolls her eyes at her mother rolling her eyes and then Kimberly rolls her eyes at both of them.  When the weird boy who is obsessed with her tries to save Julie by confessing to the murder, the amount of eye rolling probably sets a world record.  In the real world, of course, this type of courtroom behavior gets people cited for contempt but, in the world of Lifetime, it’s just the way that people communicate.

Don’t get me wrong.  The film itself did not make me roll my eyes.  Yes, it was totally implausible and it was full of silly scenes but it’s a Lifetime film.  That’s what we expect Lifetime.  Even more importantly, that’s what we want from Lifetime.  When it comes to a quality Lifetime film, there’s really only two rules: 1) the more ludicrous, the better and 2) the more melodramatic, the more entertaining.

While the film’s story might be ludicrous, the mother-daughter relationship between Ellen and Julie felt very real and both Danica McKellar and Paige Searcy gave sincere and believable performances as mother and daughter, which went a long way towards explaining all the eye rolling.  Seriously, when I was Julie Plainview’s age, I rolled my eyes for 24 hours a day and I wasn’t even accused of murder.

Mommy, I Didn’t Do It is actually a sequel to a previous Lifetime movie, The Wrong Woman.  In that one, Ellen was wrongly accused of murder and was arrested by the same idiot detective who arrests her daughter in Mommy, I Didn’t Do It.  (If nothing else, these two films show how vindictive authority figures can be.)  As long as this is going to be a franchise, I’d like to suggest that the next installment could feature Eric Roberts, recreating his role from Stalked By My Doctor and its sequel. Maybe he could treat Julie while Ellen defend him in court.

Seriously, it sounds like a great idea to me.

 

A Movie A Day #65: Hitler’s Daughter (1990, directed by James A. Contner)


Ted Scott (Patrick Cassidy), a White House press aide, is contacted by his former professor, Dr. Bauman (Donald Davis).  Bauman gives Ted a file that he claims will prove that not only did Adolf Hitler have a daughter but she was subsequently smuggled into America and is now on the verge of occupying the White House.  Ted thinks that Bauman’s crazy but then Bauman is murdered and Ted is framed for the crime.  With both the police and the bad guys after him and with time running out, Ted must now figure out who is Hitler’s daughter.  Is it Sharon Franklin (Melody Anderson), the famous TV anchorwoman who is having an affair with a Senator?  Is it Patricia Benedict (Veronica Cartwright), the wife of the Vice President?  Or is it Senator Leona Crawford Gordon (Kay Lenz), who has just been put on the opposition party’s presidential ticket?

Hitler’s Daughter was originally made for the USA Network and, throughout the 1990s, it would frequently air late at night.  As far as the film’s quality is concerned, Kay Lenz was beautiful as ever but otherwise, Hitler’s Daughter was a typically forgettable low-budget made-for-tv thriller, complete with bad guys who can shoot everyone but the main character, exploding cars, and villains who carefully explain their plans before trying to kill the heroes.  It does end on a down note, with almost everyone dead.  This probably seemed edgy in 1990 but it seems predictable today.  Exactly ten years after this otherwise forgotten movie aired, Hitler’s Daughter was briefly again in the public spotlight a group of online conspiracy nuts claimed that Hillary Clinton was trying to suppress the movie’s release on video would harm her chances of getting elected to the Senate.

Far better than the movie is the novel on which it was based.  Written by Timothy B. Benford, the literary Hitler’s Daughter is an entertaining and enjoyably pulpy page turner.  Benford was the former police commissioner of Mountainside, New Jersey when he wrote Hitler’s Daughter in 1983 and the book touched with an nerve with at least a few readers.  According to a story in The New York Times, shortly after the novel was published, Benford woke up to discover a wooden swastika burning on his front lawn.  The movie stick closely to the book’s plot but never translates what worked on the page to the screen.

Scenes I Love: Alien


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We found out tonight that the great Sir John Hurt passed away at the age of 77.

For some their memory of him was in the role of the Elephant Man. For the younger set it might be as Hellboy’s adopted father Professor Broom. Some might even remember him as Chancellor Sutler from V for Vendetta. They were all great roles, but my very first memory of him is from a film that helped shaped my love for horror and sci-fi. It was a film that was influenced the impressionable mind of a pre-teen.

This film is and will always be Ridley Scott’s haunted house in space sci-fi horror film, Alien.

Sir John Hurt as the doomed crew-member Kane would make such an impact in my impressionable mind as a child not when he first appears on-screen, but when the titular creature makes it’s first appearance in what I can only describe as an explosive birthing scene.

Rest In Peace good sir.

Film Review: The Town That Dreaded Sundown (dir by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon)


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The Town That Dreaded Sundown is the latest classic horror remake.  In this case, it’s a remake of a 1976 docudrama about a real-life serial killer who, shortly after World War II, haunted the streets of my former hometown of Texarkana, Texas.  (You can read my review here.)  The original was a low-budget but effectively creepy little film that was shot on the streets of Texarkana and was full of authentic Texas atmosphere.  (It helped that it was directed by Charles B. Pierce, a Texarkana native, as opposed to some jerk from up north.)  What made the film all the more haunting was the fact that — in both the movie and in real life — the Phantom Killer was never captured.

So, how does the remake compare?

*Sigh*

(For the record, I’m not only signing but I’m also massively rolling my mismatched,  heterochromatic eyes.)

Listen, I will give this film credit for attempting to be something more than just your usual horror remake.  It actually does have a fairly clever premise.  Instead of retelling the original story, the remake of The Town That Dreaded Sundown begins with a bunch of people in present-day Texarkana sitting around and watching the original film.  There’s even an eccentric character named Charles B. Pierce, Jr. (Denis O’Hare) who we are told is the son of the original director.  It’s a clever idea, one that wisely acknowledges the effectiveness of the original film while also commenting on the continuing mystery surrounding both the identity and the fate of the Phantom Killer.

And, when someone dressed like the original Phantom Killer starts to murder young couples in Texarkana, we — just like the characters — are left to wonder whether it’s the spirit of the Phantom or if it’s someone imitating the murders from the original film or whether it’s something else altogether.

That’s certainly the question faced by Jami (Addison Timlin), who survives being attacked by this new Phantom but then grows obsessed with trying to discover who he is.  Addison Timlin gives a really good performance here.  She’s likable and sympathetic, the perfect “final girl.”

In fact, the entire film is well-cast.  Anthony Anderson is a lot of fun as a cocky Texas Ranger while Gary Cole and Joshua Leonard do good work as members of local law enforcement.  Denis O’Hare, who I will always think of as being Russell on True Blood, brings a certain dissipated nobility to his role.  The victims are all sympathetic and the killer is creepy.

But, with all that in mind, I was disappointed with the remake of The Town That Dreaded Sundown.  The reason the original film worked is because it was made by a member of the Texarkana community.  Charles B. Pierce knew the town and he understood why the Phantom Killer continued to haunt the citizens.  What his movie lacked in technical polish, it made up for in authenticity.

Though the remake features a narrator and duplicates the original’s obsession with letting us know whether each scene is taking place on the Texas-side or the Arkansas-side of the town, there’s still absolutely nothing authentic about it.  Whereas the original was filmed entirely on location, the remake was mostly filmed in Shreveport with only three days devoted to getting some location footage of downtown Texarkana.  As someone who has lived in both Shreveport and Texarkana, allow me to assure you that you can totally tell the difference.

The remake was produced by Ryan Murphy (of Glee and American Horror Story fame) and the film really does feel like a lesser season of American Horror Story.  It’s a film that has so little use for subtlety (just check out Edward Herrmann going totally overboard as a hypocritical preacher) that its creepy moments are totally smothered by all the heavy-handed cartoonishness that surrounds them.

Ultimately, the remake fails because it has no feel for or understanding for my homestate.  It was made by people who obviously know nothing about Texas or Arkansas beyond what they’ve seen in other movies produced, directed, and written by other northerners.

The 1976 Town That Dreaded Sundown worked because it was authentic.  Despite a few good ideas, the remake is just too generic to do justice to the original.