Today marks the 40th anniversary of An American Werewolf in London’s release and appropriately a full moon is on the horizon. Back in the 80s, the Jonathan Landis horror comedy brought a new perspective to the werewolf genre. The movie tells the story of two American friends who encounter a werewolf while backpacking through England. Jack (Griffin Dunne) is violently ripped apart while David (David Naughton) is attacked but survives. Later in the hospital, an undead Jack (who’s stuck in limbo) warns David that the bite turned him into a werewolf and he’ll have to kill himself to end the curse. David thinks it’s just a bad dream, until the killings start happening.
Posted at 6:51 am , on August 13, 2021
Since today is Friday the 13th it’s a good time to take a look at the horror movies inspired by the “holiday”. Even better that it’s the 40th anniversary of Friday the 13th Part II this year. It’s one of the best movies in the series and a huge part of that is because of Ginny (Amy Steele). The final girl/child psychology major/camp counselor is a formidable opponent for serial killer Jason (Warrington Gillette). She really shines towards the end of the movie, specifically in that endless chase scene. Here’s a breakdown in 13 parts.
1. Ginny and Paul (John Furey) come back to camp after a night out in town. The lights are out and none of the other counselors are around. Eerie. Oh and Jason is waiting for them in the dark. Look out Paul! A scuffle ensues. Jason, wearing his sack mask with the one eye cut out (just as unsettling as a hockey mask) pops up and scares the hell out of Ginny.
2. She runs to the bathroom, which doesn’t have a lock on the door. How can you pee safely in there? When she’s convinced Jason isn’t going to come in she goes for the window only to see his hand break through it. That bathroom really isn’t secure.
3. Ginny gets to the kitchen, which actually has a lock. Go figure. She stands by, armed only with a small knife, as Jason attempts to force his way in. When his pitchfork pierces the door, she finally scrambles out the open window.
4. She flees to her VW bug, the shitty one that never starts up, where Jason pitchforks his way thru the soft top roof. Don’t bring your bug to a horror movie, people.
5. Ginny manages to get away and dashes to the woods where she hides behind a tree. When Jason runs past she kicks him in the nuts. Good aim.
6. Around another bend, Jason suddenly leaps out, barely missing her. I may have screamed the first time I saw that scene in the movie. Possibly the second and third times too.
7. After a lot of running, Jason enters one of the cabins. Ginny has decided to crawl under a bed because why not choose the most obvious hiding place. Well, obvious to everyone except Jason who doesn’t even look. If it weren’t for Ginny peeing herself, causing a river of urine to flow from under the bed, he would have left. She believes he’s gone and comes out, nearly getting impaled on his pitchfork.
8. Ginny grabs a chainsaw from the closet. Whoa, wrong horror franchise. She scares Jason with it until it runs out of gas. So she just throws the saw at him and breaks a chair over his back. He’s down. Rather then finish him, she runs off again. Oh, girl.
9. Deeper in the woods, Ginny comes upon Jason’s shack. He follows. She barricades herself in the backroom where she finds Mrs. Voorhies (Betsy Palmer) severed head and shrine.
10. It’s time for some child psychology. Ginny puts on Mrs. V’s moldy sweater and stands in front of her head. When Jason breaks down the door, she goes into mommy-mode and pretends to be her. Jason falls for it until Ginny moves to hack him with a machete and he sees his real mother’s head. Uh-oh.
11. Paul arrives in the nick of time and saves Ginny. A struggle ensures. Ginny grabs the machete and brings it down on Jason’s shoulder. He falls to the ground. For now.
12. Paul and Ginny stumble back to one of the cabins. They hear something outside and fear the worst, but it’s just Muffin, the little dog. Whew. And then a deformed still-alive Jason crashes through the window behind Ginny. The most shocking jump scare of the movie. Slam to black.
13. It all ends with the cops and paramedics swarming the camp. A confused Ginny is loaded into the back of an ambulance. Where’s Paul? Where’s Jason? Most importantly, is Muffin ok?
The end…until part 3.
Posted at 1:33 pm , on June 27, 2021
Never to Young to Die poses the question: what if James Bond had a son who was also a secret agent? The answer: they’d make an incredibly bad movie about him. To be clear, NTYTD isn’t supposed to be 007 Jr., but c’mon. You have a former Bond actor (George Lazenby) playing a spy, a Bond girl (Vanity), and a dastardly villain (Gene Simmons) with a sinister plot. Plus the dramatic title that sounds like it could be a legitimate entry in the series. Director Gil Bettman knew where he was going with this. It’s just that getting there went completely left. And shitty.
While on a secret mission, Drew Stargrove (Lazenby) is killed by the evil Velvet Von Ragnar (Simmons). After the funeral, Drew’s son Lance (John Stamos, pre-Uncle Jessie) discovers his father’s spy past. This prompts the college student/gymnast to leap into action (on his little motorbike) and avenge his father’s death. Along the way, Lance teams up with his father’s associate, agent Danja Deering (Vanity). They aim to take down Velvet before she can carry out her plan to poison the city’s water supply.
The movie is truly ridiculous from the get go. We’re supposed to believe Lance can instantly become a super spy? That he can fight off Velvet’s Mad Max-like henchmen with ease? Those are some wacky action sequences, btw. But most importantly, that he can save the world? Mmmmk. Then there’s Danja (spelled how Whoopi would pronounce it). Vanity was clearly brought in to sex up the movie. Cue topless scene. Ultimately her character is flat and one-note. Adding to the blandness is the lack of chemistry with Stamos. Yes, they’re both hot, but it doesn’t translate into anything exciting. Let’s not even get into their bizarre love scene where she hoses herself down and he devours an apple. It’s the furthest thing from erotic.
Velvet is another story. A confusing one. In the film’s summary she’s described as a he/she. That’s offensive. Other reviews claim she’s a hermaphrodite. But at times she seems like a drag queen. Or possibly trans. Anyway you slice it, the character is problematic, even by 80s standards. It doesn’t help that Simmons is dialed up to a 30, on a 1-10 scale. It’s like Bettman said, “just go batshit crazy”, and he really leaned into it, creepy-flicking-tongue first.
NTYTD barely eeks into the “so good it’s bad” category because a majority of it is plain horrible. But it’s also entertaining in a weird way. The movie holds your attention with all the WTF moments, cheesy special effects, and unintentional comedy. For all of that, it’s worth checking out.
Posted at 6:53 am , on June 10, 2021
Soapdish is a comedy about the drama that goes down behind the scenes of a daytime soap opera. As someone who read Soap Opera Digest for years, I can attest that the drama offscreen can be more interesting than the fictional stuff that airs. In the movie, Celeste (Sally Field), the star of “The Sun Also Sets”, is at the center of the strife. There’s her newly resurrected love interest Jeffrey (Kevin Kline), aspiring actress niece Lori (Elizabeth Shue), villainous rival Montana (Cathy Moriarty), manipulative executive producer David (Robert Downey Jr.), and head writer/best friend Rose (Whoopi Goldberg). A lot of chaos goes down with this crew. Here are 10 of the funniest moments.
10. Soap opera awards
The movie kicks off at the soap opera awards where Celeste wins for best actress, much to her costars’ annoyance. In the clip package, we see her character Maggie confessing while in prison. “Yes, yes, yes! I’m am guilty. Guilty of love in the first degree.” Powerful. Sidenote, Celeste has won several awards. If this character was truly based on soap diva Susan Lucci, that’s kinda shady. And I like it.
Hunky men are a staple on soaps. On TSAS, Blair (Paul Johansson) plays the studly and very dense Bolt. During a love scene with Celeste, he drops his towel revealing his full… bolt. Celeste implores him to wear a swimsuit next time. Blair: “I can’t act in a swimsuit.” He’s a method actor.
8. Casting couch
Carrie Fisher has a small role as Betsy, the show’s horny casting director. We see her auditioning with a handsome actor. Banging Betsy lands him the part, so ultimately they both score.
7. No turbans
Celeste is having a bad day after getting dumped by her boyfriend via answering machine. It doesn’t help that Tawny (Kathy Najimy), the costume designer, has put her in a turban. “Could you please tell our new costume designer that I don’t feel quite right in a turban? What I feel like is GLORIA FUCKING SWANSON!!” Nobody wants to be dressed like a dead woman. Najimy only has few lines in the entire movie, but she does so much with just her facial expressions.
6. Dinner theater
After getting fired from the show decades earlier, Jeffrey was banished to the dinner theater circuit. A horrible existence. It’s hard to perform Death of a Salesman to an audience of elderly people who are uninterested, busy slurping their dinner, and on death’s door themselves.
Everything about Montana is extreme from her voice, to her look, to her reactions. She steals each scene she’s in as she tries to take the show from Celeste. Moriarty is so good in the role. She also bounces off of (or on top of) Downey well. You don’t know whether she’s going to screw him or kill him.
4. Celeste’s explanation
The big plot twist in the film occurs when Celeste reveals that her niece Lori is actually her daughter with Jeffrey. She got pregnant years ago, hid it from everyone, invented a twin sister she passed off as the mother, and then got Jeffrey fired because she felt he ruined her life. That’s incredibly soapy. Field expertly delivers this monologue. It’s worthy of a soap award and another Oscar.
3. Nervous breakdown
The family drama with Celeste, Jeffery, and Lori spills over onto the show. All three separately go to the head of the network, Edmund Edwards (the sharply funny Garry Marshall), and declare they can’t work like this. They’re on the verge of a nervous breakdown! It must be contagious. The rapid cutting between each character adds to the comedy here.
2. Live show
During the live show everything goes wrong. Either Jeffrey, Celeste, or Lori is going to be fired, but they won’t know the outcome until they read it from the teleprompter. Jeffery is blind as a bat, so he mispronounces all his lines. Except Kopfgeschlagen. Celeste goes off script when she realizes Lori is going to be killed off. She offers to die instead. This leads to prepping for an emergency brain surgery. In a restaurant. Lori breaks character and stops it all, reconciling with her parents. It’s a great convoluted mess.
1. “He doesn’t have a head!”
Death is easy to overcome in soaps since characters come back to life on a regular basis. But some things can’t easily be explained. Like how Jeffrey’s character Rod Randall is still alive after being decapitated onscreen. Or as Rose proclaims, “He doesn’t have a head! How am I supposed to write for a guy who doesn’t have a head?!” Nothing is funnier than Rose’s exasperation and yet she manages to write for him anyways. That’s talent.
Posted at 2:10 pm , on April 16, 2021
Fear walked so hundreds of Lifetime movies could run. You can’t turn on the TV today without seeing films like My Psycho Ex-Boyfriend or Deadly Boyfriend. Different titles with the same premise of a young woman meeting a “good” guy who turns out to be criminally insane. There weren’t a lot of young adult thrillers like that up until the release of Fear in 1996. You had horror and dramas, but not any Fatal Attraction-type films for the high school crowd. There was The Crush in 1993, starring Alicia Silverstone as a teenage girl who becomes dangerously obsessed with an older man, but that was told from the man’s point of view. Fear‘s focus is primarily on the teens, which makes it much more interesting.
Girl meets boy
Nicole Walker (Reese Witherspoon) is a 16-year-old who lives in Seattle (we know this because they show the Space Needle a thousand times) with her father Steven (William Petersen), her stepmother Laura (Amy Brenneman), and her little stepbrother Toby (Christopher Gray). There’s friction at home because Nicole is growing up and her dad can’t handle it. When she stays out past curfew to go to a rave with her best friend Margo (Alyssa Milano), she meets David (Mark Wahlberg). He seems great on paper: good looking, polite, and chivalrous. So, Nicole falls for him pretty quickly. The sexy part of the thriller kicks into gear here. It’s like David brings Nicole out of her shell and causes her, and the director, to lean into her sexuality. There are plenty of closeups of her breasts in lowcut dresses, intense make out sessions, and a fingerbanging scene on a roller coaster (set perfectly to The Sundays’ version of “Wild Horses”). David’s perfect boyfriend veneer soon begins to crack, though, and he proves to be fairly disturbed. Like when he kicks the crap out of Nicole’s friend Gary (Todd Caldecott) for giving her a friendly hug. Or when he purposely injures himself and blames Steven. David continually manipulates Nicole until she finally gets a clue. She dumps him, but he won’t let her go. He even makes a homemade tattoo on his chest proclaiming: NICOLE 4 EVA. It’s fairly ridiculous, but I guess it was supposed to be cool and scary back then.
The overprotective dad
The contentious relationship between Steven & David makes up a large portion of the story too. Steven isn’t fooled by his overly polite façade. Good eye. But even if David wasn’t a bad guy, Steven still would have hated him. He’s extremely protective of Nicole and wants to keep her his little girl. Sweet on one hand, creepy on the other. Throughout the movie he worries about her dresses being too short or that David is too handsy with her. It all comes down to his fear of her losing her virginity. When he discovers that Nicole and David had sex, he freaks out. It’s almost like he’s jealous. For his part, David does anything he can to antagonize Steven. He stares him down, daring him to stop him from screwing his daughter. He even flirts with Laura, so he can really be a dick. Both men want to possess Nicole in their own way and be the alpha male figure in her life. Her narrative almost gets lost as she’s bounced back and forth between these two men.
The best friend
In a thriller, the best girlfriend is the talk-to who helps keep the heroine’s story going. Margo fits the bill here. She’s supportive of Nicole and offers an ear for all of her problems. She even risks her life to save Nicole from being attacked. It’s a wonder she isn’t killed since that’s usually the fate of this character type. Although, I suppose poor Gary, Nicole’s other good friend, being beaten to death by David kinda counts. On the flip side, Nicole is a shitty friend. She sees David forcibly take Margo away to have sex with her, but she’s actually angry with Margo. As if her best friend wanted to sleep with her boyfriend and wasn’t raped. It’s a horrible way to treat someone who has already been traumatized. #JusticeforMargo
The last act is where all the dramatic violent chaos happens. David and his cracked-out friends (how did I miss that he was a crack dealer when I first saw this in 1996?) try to break into Nicole’s house, while Steven and Laura fight them off. The family dog and a security guard are killed, Toby runs over someone, and Nicole is nearly sexually assaulted. In the final moments, Steven saves Nicole by tossing David out of a window. That splat is very satisfying. The ultimate lesson here is if a guy seems too good to be true, he probably is. Even if he’s a hot 90s era Marky Mark.
Posted at 1:23 pm , on April 11, 2021
In the years since she died, it seems like Latasha Harlins has been largely forgotten. When she is actually mentioned, in the media, the focus is on how she died. The documentary short, A Love Song for Latasha, chooses to look at her life as a whole and not just the horrible circumstances surrounding her death.
Latasha was a young black girl growing up in South Central LA. Early on she faced hardship when her mother was murdered, but she kept going. She took care of her younger siblings and looked out for her friends. She was also a good student who dreamed of being a lawyer and a business owner. She wanted to give back to her community and help other children. But at 15 years old, she was murdered by a convenience store owner who wrongfully accused her of stealing and shot her. All for a $1.79 bottle of orange juice.
The documentary tells us about Latasha through her loved ones. Her cousin and best friend talk about how special she was and speculate about who she could have grown up to become. We also hear Latasha’s own words in a heartfelt essay. Director Sophia Nahli Allison intertwines this with beautiful images of black girls. They all could have been Latasha. They’re shown as proud queens, the way they should be depicted in the media. Allison uses this imagery instead of showing the widespread video footage of Latasha’s murder. It makes the film much more impactful. She gives life and light to Latasha’s story, making sure that she will always be remembered.
Posted at 4:12 pm , on March 25, 2021
Soleil Moon Frye carried her video camera everywhere she went when she was a teenager in the 90s. From wild parties to mundane trips to the mall. Then she locked those videotapes away and never looked back. Twenty-something years later, she has opened her vault of recorded memories and made the documentary kid90.
Frye rose to fame as a child on the 80s sitcom Punky Brewster. Everyone loved the character and the precocious little girl who played her. When the show ended, she continued to work in the business while having a semi-normal teen life. By this time, she had befriended other young actors like Brian Austin Green, Stephen Dorff, and Mark-Paul Gosselaar. They grew up together in LA and she was there to film it all.
In kid90, Frye looks back at this footage and checks in with her younger self. She questions whether or not what she remembers happening actually occurred. She finds that she did have a pretty happy childhood. Her family was loving and caring. Plus, she had a supportive group of friends. There were dark times though. Frye’s breasts developed very early, leading to unwanted attention and harassment from older men. In the documentary, we see her going in for breast reduction surgery. She also had to contend with sexual assault. These events shaped her physically and emotionally.
The film also gets into life as a child star. Frye’s post-Punky career didn’t take off in the way she would have hoped, but she accepted this and moved past it. Unfortunately, many of her friends weren’t able to survive similar challenges. Actor Jonathan Brandis, who also became famous at a young age, is featured in the film. He seems happy and Frye only has fond memories of him. This is where perceptions of the past can differ from what was actually going on. Frye wasn’t seeing the whole picture. After his career failed, Brandis killed himself. Frye wonders how she could have missed the pain her friend was going through. Not everything showed up on camera it seems.
In the 90s, social media didn’t exist and people weren’t self-documenting like they do today. Frye was ahead of the curve. She knew she had a story to share someday. Also, without the threat of having their personal business put online, she was able to capture her friends unguarded. As a fellow 90s kid, it’s interesting to see these actors that I followed in a more private real setting. Frye does a great job of assembling it all and taking the audience down a fun and sometimes complex nostalgia trip.
Posted at 9:56 pm , on March 9, 2021
The US government’s persecution of prominent members of the black community has been a recurring theme this Oscar season. MLK/FBI details the harassment and surveillance of Martin Luther King Jr. Judas and the Black Messiah follows an informant who infiltrates the Black Panthers in order to take down Fred Hampton. And now, The United States vs. Billie Holiday focuses on the FBI’s attacks on the legendary singer. They targeted Holiday (Andra Day) because of her song “Strange Fruit”, which tells the story of the lynching of Black men and women in the South. The FBI claimed the song would incite riots. They were actually worried about it inspiring a burgeoning civil rights movement and threatening their way of life. White life.
US vs. Billie Holiday covers her story from the 1940s to the 1950s. By this time she is an established star touring the country. She also has a huge drug problem that threatens to derail her career. Jimmy Fletcher (Trevante Rhodes) comes onto the scene at this time. He’s claims to be a journalist, but is actually a Federal narcotics agent. The head of the division, Harry Anslinger (Garrett Hedlund), knows about Holiday’s drug issues. If he can take her down with that she won’t be able to perform “Strange Fruit”. Thanks to Fletcher’s betrayal, Holiday is sent to prison. Oddly enough, when she gets out, she accepts him back into her life and they begin a relationship. But he’s still being used by Anslinger to get to her, a role that Fletcher begins to rebel against.
Director Lee Daniels has a lot to juggle with this film. It’s part biopic, romance, and historical drama. As a result Holiday’s story often feels disjointed, like Daniels is jumping around from moment to moment in an attempt to capture everything. Also, the sudden tonal and visual shifts are distracting. It’s a very interesting piece, but it could have been more cohesive. Day, on the other hand, often exceeds the movie she’s in. She truly embodies Holiday from the start, going beyond a simple imitation. Plus, her performances in the musical numbers are captivating. It’s an incredible debut that is deserving of the Oscar talk.
Posted at 8:17 am , on January 26, 2021
You never know what hidden “gems” you’ll find while scrolling through Hulu. The other night I stumbled upon a movie I’d never heard of before, The January Man. I see now why it was hidden since 1989.
It’s hard to describe TJM mainly because it doesn’t know what it wants to be. In the course of 97 minutes, which feels much longer, it goes from a thriller, to a romantic comedy, to a serious drama, to a farce, and around again. It’s whiplash-inducing. The gist is a serial killer is strangling women in NYC and the mayor (Rod Steiger) orders the police commissioner (Harvey Keitel) to do something about it. Since the mayor’s daughter (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) was friends with the most recent victim, he’s invested in the case. The police commissioner implores his retired cop brother (Kevin Kline) to rejoin the force and catch the killer. Because he’s the only one who can?? Mmmk. He agrees to help, but there’s tension because his brother is now married to his former girlfriend (Susan Sarandon). A lot of time is spent on this dopey triangle where nobody is worth rooting for. Then it becomes a weak quadrangle when the cop starts seeing the mayor’s daughter. With all this extra fluff, you could almost forget a serial killer is running around the city. Perhaps the screenwriter did too.
If the film had stuck with one genre or tone it could have been decent. But instead it got turned into a confusing mess and the audience is forced to slog through it. Not even a cast full of Oscar winners/nominees can elevate this script. They’re just as lost as us, which makes for some conflicting acting styles. Someone really should have told Steiger to dial it down a notch. He’s acting with a capital A in a very B-level film.
I’m trying to think of one redeeming quality for this movie…Alan Rickman. He plays the cop’s eccentric artist friend who gets roped into helping him nab the killer. Rickman is fun to watch whenever he’s onscreen. The movie doesn’t deserve him.
Posted at 9:56 am , on November 28, 2020
In his latest film, Uncle Frank, writer/director Alan Ball explores issues with family, identity, and acceptance. The story, set in the 70s, focuses on Beth (Sophia Lillis), a bright young girl growing up in a small town in South Carolina. She doesn’t feel like anyone in her family understands her with the exception of her Uncle Frank (Paul Bettany). He is a smart witty college professor who encourages her to choose her own path and get out of the South. Years later, Beth takes Frank’s advice and enrolls in New York University, where he also teaches. She discoverers that her uncle is gay and lives with his partner, Wally (Peter Macdissi, Ball’s real-life husband). Frank has kept his sexuality hidden from his family for decades. Before Beth can digest this new information, they learn that Daddy Mac, her grandpa/Frank’s father has passed away. Frank is reluctant to return home for the funeral because he and his father had a contentious relationship. But Beth and Wally convince him to go. On the trip back home, secrets are unearthed and demons come back to haunt Frank.
Family dramas are Ball’s strong suit. Just like with his series, Six Feet Under, he creates an interesting clan here. At the forefront is Bettany’s compelling performance. Frank’s defiance and strength hide a lot of hurt. That pain comes to the surface in several well-acted scenes where Frank has to face his past. On the flip side, Macdissi delivers comic relief with Wally. But he also shows a lot of depth underneath the humor. Lillis is a great new talent. Her character comes of age before our eyes, growing from a timid teenager to a confident young woman. The rest of Frank’s family is filled in with fantastic supporting actors like Steve Zahn, Margo Martindale, and Judy Greer.
Ball loosely based Uncle Frank on his own experience with his father, who was closeted. He continually hits home the message of being true to yourself. Moreover, despite how smothering family can be and how you feel like you need to run away from them, once you return home you may realize that you actually do belong and this is where you’re supposed to be.