Selling Innocence (2005)

SellingInnocence

Selling Innocence
Directed By: Pierre Gang
Written By: John Moffatt
Starring: Mimi Rogers, Sara Lind, JR Bourne
2005

It doesn’t embarrass me one bit to confess that I am a Lifetime Junkie. From re-runs of The Golden Girls to the makeover show How to Look Good Naked to original TV series like The Division, this little cable channel has offered me many hours of ‘Television for Women’. But of course, this network would be nothing without their TV Movies. I live for Lifetime originals. They are so good! I know, I just can’t contain myself!

I was fortunate enough to catch Selling Innocence not that long ago, which was awesome since I missed the original broadcast back in ‘05. I was drawn to it based on a commercial which featured a lovely Sarah Lind vamping it up in a school girl dress… I know, I’m such an easy target.

Essentially, Sarah plays Mia, a goth-loving, sweatshirt-wearing teen who’s mother, Abby (played by the even lovelier Mimi Rogers), is constantly pounding the idea into Mia’s head that being pretty = happiness. Abby drags Mia to a modeling agency where young girls garnish compliments all over her. The owner of the agency, Malcolm (JR Bourne), lies right in the middle of sleazy and sincere but lathers enough charm over Abby to get her to sign a contract.

Things go well at first for Mia – she models polyester blended pants for a local flyer (much to the chagrin of her best friend) and joins Malcolm’s paid website for online chats, with a webcam (he assures her that the members are ‘clients’). For once Mia is being paid attention to and she likes it, she really likes it. So much so, she willingly gives a little more skin each time she chats. At one point Malcolm tells her “You’re a star, so act like one,” and the next day Mia is strutting said stuff all over the joint.

Things slowly begin to unravel after that – she inherits a stalker, she’s forced to attend a costume party for some ‘clients,’ her best friend disowns her and her dirty little secret is exposed for every Tom, Dick & Harry to see.

Although this is not groundbreaking stuff, it’s certainly an interesting thriller with a satisfying twist that could have actually been expounded upon even further (there’s another movie that could be made just on that development alone!), but the key factor here is Sarah Lind. Obviously a gorgeous woman, the casting here is realistic and she anchors the film with a strong and thoughtful performance. The producers were smart to hire an attractive girl who probably would never qualify for professional modeling – she’s got healthy curves. This was an important choice because we know Malcolm is pulling one over on her, even though working for him helps her transform into a confident beauty. It underlines the sad fact that girls can be lured into fulfilling dreams with even the most troublesome of characters.

Mimi Rogers is also good as the exasperated mom who loves Mia but has no real time to see what is going on in front of her. A likeable character, she is certainly flawed and sometimes meek, but owns up to her own mistakes when it comes to Mia.

So, that’s a lot of thought for a Lifetime movie, no? Although I wouldn’t classify all their films as thought-provoking material, Selling Innocence does give parents and young girls something to ponder. Give me that over thoughtless high-budget fare any day.

This review originally appeared on Pretty Scary in my column Lifetime Kills.

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Prison-a-Go-Go (2003)

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Can any movie sporting sexed-up nymphets, ninjas, mad-scientists and a countdown clock to the shower scenes be anything but fabulous? You’re right again, Prison a Go Go is slapstick spoof of several genres and by and large, it works. And it works well.

Sweet but not too smart Janie vows to find her sister, who’s being turned into a porcupine in a Philippine prison (yeah, you heard me right… a porcupine!). So Janie decides to kill a homeless guy and next thing you know she’s America’s next T&A export to this dung heap of a pokey. Once inside, she meets Jackpot, a horny Rhonda Shear who basically rapes the entire male prison guard staff, and the warden, Wilbur Thorn, a recent college grad who sips coffee and thinks his office is pretty cool. As Janie searches out her sister/porcupine, she encounters chicks with a Freon addiction, ninjas and just a few zombies to keep her on her toes. Oh yeah, and she showers A LOT.

Prison-a-Go-Go is a riotous comedy that gets it right more times than it misses.  Made by Barak Epstein with heart and an obvious love of the genre as well as silly slapstick, I was impressed by how fun this movie was. And that’s the key word here… fun. Barak and his cast of players, especially the co-writer and star, Mike Wiebe, a man who shows an amazingly natural knack for comedy, are up to the challenge of playing it straight while surrounded by hysterical chaos. Ms. Shear is also hilarious and still looks amazing. It looks like they could only get Mary Waranov for one or two days but she delivers her lines with the same sinister zeal that made her an icon after Rock and Roll High School.

If you like your Women in Prison movies mixed with a bit of Airplane, then you’ve just got to see Prison-a-Go-Go.  And if you’re not, then I feel kind of sorry for you.

She’s The Man (2006)

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She’s the Man showcases a silly but intriguing premise that needs to rely heavily on the strength of the actors to displace some of the disbelief of Amanda Bynes clumsily going incognito in the newest Teen-Movie-Does-Shakespeare.

Bynes plays Viola, a soccer-loving teenager whose team is disbanded due to lack of numbers.  Viola thinks it only natural to join the male soccer team but after her boyfriend (soon to be ex) pulls out some ham-fisted chauvinism, and after her twin brother, Sebastian (James Kirk) asks her to cover for him at the rival school (and his new school) while he heads to London with his band for two weeks, Viola decides to take Sebastian’s place at school, wow the soccer team, go toe-to-toe with her sexist ex in the big game and prove that girls are just are good as guys. Of course, she manages to fall in love with her new roommate, the hunky Duke (Channing Tatum) who is also on the team.

For those of us who were of any age in the late 80s or even the early 90s when Just One of the Guys ran endlessly on Comedy Central, it’s almost impossible not to compare the two films.  However, Dreamworks isn’t marketing this film to a generation now in their mid-30s.  It’s just as well, since although there are some scenes in She’s the Man that practically duplicate its predecessor, this is an entertaining, if hollow, comedy. It doesn’t capture any of the teenage nuances that Amy Heckerling’s Clueless did, but She’s the Man seems happiest when it’s at its silliest. Granted, Bynes mugs it a bit too much when she first makes the gender bending transition but she grows more comfortable as Viola’s life grows more chaotic.

There are several laugh-out-loud moments courtesy of some purely over the top humor lacking any subtlety, yet She’s the Man is a pleasant surprise. Glossy Hollywood films looking for an older audience could do worse than to follow in She’s the Man steps.  Keep it simple-stupid; make us laugh and the audience will come.

This review originally appeared in Entertainment Today.

Slither (2006)

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The Bottom Line

A great little throwback to the monster filled 80s fright flicks, Nathan Fillion is the sheriff of a small town suddenly besieged by alien space slugs.

Pros
• Director James Gunn really has an affinity for creating strong, human characters
• The cast is wonderful, especially Fillion and Michael Rooker
• A rollercoaster ride of laughs, scares and gore

Cons
• Less scary than humorous, fans of straight up horror will be disappointed with the amount of comedy featured
Description
• Directed By: James Gunn
• Starring: Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, Gregg Henry, Michael Rooker, Tania Saulnier
• Theatrical Release Date: March 31st, 2006
• DVD Release: October 24th, 2006
• Rated: R
• DVD Extras: Man, are there! A great package with a bit of everything
• Studio: Universal Studios

Guide Review – SLiTHER (DVD) – Review

For whatever reason, SLiTHER was a miss during its theatrical release. That’s a total bummer too, because it’s one of the best genre films of the year. Maybe that’s because James Gunn, who started out working for Troma, understands the phrase ‘popcorn entertainment.’ A thrill ride with lots of laughs and some wonderfully human characters, SLiTHER definitely came from Gunn’s heart. The characters he builds are strong and real and they are the kind of people you expect to find in a small town. Rooker is a standout too, with his hateful and pitiful portrayal of Grant Grant (!) you just end up feeling sorry for the poor sucker’s plight.

Fans of 80s horror will also catch some nice tributes to the films we love. I noticed there was a place called Henenlotter’s! Cool. And like those little golden nugget films we hold so close, SLiTHER will, uh, SLiTHER its way right into your heart too.

Another inspiration from Gunn’s days at Troma was this action-packed DVD filled with a ton of extras, including how to make blood at home and a video diary with Lloyd Kaufman, the man behind Troma who has a cameo in the film. My favorite was the Who is Bill Pardy segment. I never realized he said his name so much! One thing all of the extras share is that everyone from the stars to the makeup girl seemed to love working on the film. Each person is in good spirits and the featurettes all share the spirit of having fun while making a great film. It also proves that Gunn is a mad genius and I really want to work with him on movie now!

This review originally appeared on About.com.

Sudden Death (1985)

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Although the tagline for Sudden Death reads, “Don’t mess with this Dirty Harriet,” I practically had to be hit over the head with a user comment on IMDb before I could make the connection. Valerie (Denise Coward), the protagonist of this movie is actually not a hard-nosed city cop like Mr. Eastwood’s most famous counterpart, rather she’s far more akin to his revenge seeking nemesis played by Sondra Locke in Sudden Impact (again, how lame is it that I didn’t make this connection? The word Sudden should have been my first clue). And in some respects she’s an awesome female companion to Robert Forster’s angst ridden vigilante in, you guessed it, Vigilante.

 After Valerie is brutally raped and told her case isn’t all that high on the priority list, this hot mamma grabs a gun and decides to hunt her assailants while cleaning up the streets of New York along the way. The problem is Valerie isn’t all that good at the vengeance thing. I mean, she becomes a notorious multi-murderer (nicknamed the Dum-Dum Killer based on the bullets she uses), but she always let the culprit get just a tad too close. This girl is on death’s door (or more aptly, rape’s door) almost every time she encourages a situation. So, she gets points for effort but loses some in execution. Ha! Get it? Execution…? Well, it seemed funny at the time…

 Released in 1985, Sudden Death is pure exploitation, and somewhat enjoyable. Writer/Director Sig Shore goes out of his way to capture New York as a city living in fear. Empty, rain-slicked streets become the stomping ground for the human animals. Every male is potentially a rapist, or at the very least, a really gross dude (check out the drug addict cab driver for proof). The women aren’t exactly portrayed as pure victims, but in an interesting scene featuring Valerie and her friend window shopping, they pass a confederate flag and a gun shop. This is not just a man’s world; it’s a universe devoid of anything not completely masculine (beside the feminine targets) and these guys apparently haven’t set foot outside the civil war (why a confederate flag is being displayed in New York is beyond me). With the exception of Detective Marty Lowery (Frank Runyeon), there are no likable men to be found. Even Valerie’s (soon to be ex) fiancé doesn’t understand why she can’t just go back to normal and screw him. It’s important to note that this film came out just a few years after the courts quit blaming the victim as much as the rapist himself. That’s probably why this revenge fantasy works. Although slow and somewhat flawed, the filmmakers put in an earnest effort to showcase Valerie as a woman lost in the scuffle of new system, which might not be able to implicate the woman in the court room, but can certainly incriminate her in the eyes of a still ignorant public. Anything that gives people an excuse not to care, right?

Australian born Coward gives the film a rocky start, but becomes more likable as the film progresses and she’s allowed to not just be wide-eyed and sweet. It is suggested that she treasures the battle wounds she retains from each murder, and these counter attacks allow her to move forward with her life. Of course I’m not saying assault victims should grab their favorite gun and right the wrongs of the world, but it certainly feels good to watch a pretty lady exact revenge. What can I say, I’m a softie!  

This review originally appeared on Pretty Scary.

A Sneak Peek at Terminator: Salvation

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Last week, the makers behind what is sure to be one of this summer’s biggest hits, Terminator: Salvation, called upon a few journalists for a gathering to view clips from the upcoming film. Salvation’s director, McG was in attendance (with a couple of his producers) and in-between the excerpts, the one-name maverick spun tales about the harrowing world of filmmaking and how this film came to be. He also made fun of his moniker, which was kind of awesome.

One spectacular talker, McG reminded me of the old carnival barkers that infamous schlock filmmaker David F. Friedman holds in such high regard. There is a definite art to bringing together a disparate (and admittedly jaded) group and making them want to spend money on your act. McG did a wonderful job of making everyone feel like their opinions and ideas were worth noting. He’s a grand master of presentation, and I will confess, he almost hooked me. But more on that in a bit…

But what about the clips, you ask? They were screened in very rough forms; some were even still in their pre-CGI cartoon state. They were action packed and several of the (finished) images were quite startling and beautiful. McG promises that the post-apocalyptic world the first two films only alluded to will be the main focus of Salvation (he doesn’t count the third film as part of the series – and you’ll get no argument here). The images often looked like something right out of The Road Warrior while others resembled glossier sci-fi such as Gattaca. I think mixing the hostile outside world with SkyNet is a brilliant move on the filmmaker’s part.

I think fans might be in for a treat. We’ve got a director interested in what people want from the movie, we’ve got Christian Bale who wouldn’t sign on until he felt the story was strong enough, and we’ve got some crazy big robots that kill people. It’s a tried and true formula that has to potential to be the makings of a great popcorn flick.

This article first appeared on Pretty Scary.

The Men Behind the Wheel

ImageWatching Darin Scott and Ed Polgardy together, one would think that they’ve been life-long friends. Their passion for comics, graphic novels and genre films are equally matched and they have that kind of rapport with each other that most of us spend a lifetime searching for. No doubt these two thriving businessmen would venture into a business together, and the union has brought about CinemaGraphix, which is an exciting endeavor for the pair because of their like-minded respect and infatuation with graphic novels and film.

Although Polgardy has wanted to work in film since he was a teenager, he would find a place for himself in the world of comics. His first graphic novel, From the Darkness was released in the early 90s and was an immediate hit. Soon Ed found himself as the editor-in-chief at Big Entertainment. Scott, another behind-the-scenes guy has produced the films Menace II Society and Tales From the Hood as well as directing the feature Caught Up starring Bookem Woodbine. Like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, this became two great tastes that taste great together! “Both of us have been voracious fans and readers of comic book since we were in grade school,” Polgardy says. “When graphic novels came along, it was just a new and exciting format that expanded the storytelling possibilities of comics. We were both on board from the jump.”

“[We want] CinemaGraphix to become a place where comics and movie fans can turn to for exciting concepts and characters,” Scott interjects. “A place where fresh ideas and terrific art are commonplace. We want our readers to feel like they’ve just watched a terrific movie when they read one of our books, and we want the viewers of our films to feel inspired to run out and buy some comic books. That’s what we call synergy.”

The duo has gotten off to a strong start too, with the highly anticipated release of The Night Driver, CinemaGraphix first graphic novel. Polgardy explains why they chose John Cork’s darkly menacing thriller as the springboard for CinemaGraphix. “We thought it’d be great to launch our company with an intelligent noir-ish-horror-thriller with great visual style and fascinating psychological element. John’s story fit the bill perfectly, so we ran with it.”

They are thrilled about the upcoming release and have always been enamored with the more sinister side of graphic novels. Scott says, “[We love] classics like The Watchmen and Dark Night Returns, all the Sin City series, 30 Days Of Night, Road To Perdition, you know, all the light  and frothy stuff!” Polgardy adds, “We’re also current readers and fans. We work with writers who specialize in hip, cutting-edge, cinematic stories.  But we don’t follow trends, we seek to set them.” Image

With cinematic stories in mind, the Night Driver follows traveling businessman Hurdis on a road to nowhere – or so he thinks. Scott elaborates, “I like to call The Night Driver the thinking-man’s Hitcher with elements of the film Duel.  People will relate to the plight of our lead character, an ordinary man who loses control of his life through a minor incident.  He’s plunged into a nightmarish journey that includes suspense, terror, temptation, and paranoia.” The epic tale of The Night Driver will be told in a 3 parts.

CinemaGraphix is also in tune with the burgeoning trend of turning graphic novels into movies. Along with developing vivid concepts and evocative artwork for their novels, they also want to conjure up the world of films in their books. Polgardy explains, “Because movies and graphic novels are both visual storytelling mediums, and graphic novels have become much more literate and varied in subject matter over the years, they’re an excellent source for film projects. In a way, the graphic novel is often like a movie on paper.” It is this self-awareness that keeps both men searching for the perfect material to represent CinemaGraphix. “The main goal,” Polgardy continues, “is finding stories that will translate extremely well in multiple mediums. Some projects are only suited to the comic form of storytelling, and others only work in film but not comics. We want to work on projects that will be great in both arenas, so that means we have to pass on a lot of cool ideas that just aren’t right for us.”

Based on that ambition to cross the comic genre with the world of movies, CinemaGraphix is going to unleash several novels that should satiate the diverse needs of their audience. “We have very cool things coming down the pike in a variety of genres. In horror we have Wrath and Marked. In action-drama there is The Operators. For science fiction we have Earth No More, in Fantasy there will be Mighty Oliver. And we’ll even have family orientated novels like Granny Justice and Double 0 Dogs. Whatever your tastes and interests, I think you’ll find high quality entertainment coming from CinemaGraphix.”

This interview first appeared on Pretty Scary.

Swimfan (2002)

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Swimfan
Directed by: John Polson
Written by: Charles F. Bohl and Richard Schneider
Featuring: Jesse Bradford, Erika Christensen and Shiri Appleby
2002
Twentieth Century Fox

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before – A hot stud with a worshipping girlfriend betrays her in one night of lost passion with another girl. Once he realizes his mistake, he tries to dump the other woman only to realize she’s not giving up that easy. A few dead bodies later, he has to go toe to toe with the bitch from hell and only one will come out the winner. If you can’t name at least three movies this synopsis reminds you of, than you are obviously not spending enough of your time watching bad movies.

If Lifetime ever made a big screen movie, Swimfan would likely have been the film they would have produced. Salacious and featuring a good mix of nice and nasty female characters, this teenage Fatal Attraction is a not bad thriller. Not terribly good either, but certainly not worthy of some of the bashing it received upon its initial release in 2002. I mean, am I the only one who enjoys watching pretty people being stalked, tortured and/or killed?!? OK, maybe I am the only one, but if you were of any age in the early 90s, it was impossible to miss the onslaught of sexy stalker pics such as the unforgivably ludicrous Whispers in the Dark to the wonderfully over the top The Crush (in which a pretty girl got socked in the jaw. Go Cary!). Like all the other blueprint stalker films that came before Swimfan, this one plays it by the book but not without a bit of trashy fun. The problem here is that it isn’t trashy enough. Our resident female scorned character, Madison Bell (Erika Christensen), is played with a Drew Barrymore circa Poison Ivy-like charm. She’s Jessica Rabbit on acid and dips herself into the role with enough menacing abandoned that she’s brings the picture up a notch. The rest of the cast can act, but none of them come out more than cardboard (except for Max Rosmarin as the Music Nerd who is so cardboard it’s actually fun!).

Although it’s obvious that the screenwriters were out to lunch when they wrote Swimfan, at least they gave it an original title and didn’t take the remake road that so many Hollywood suits have been relying on as of late. It might not be great, but at least it doesn’t smear the memory of the good films it’s attempting to rip-off. Sadly, that makes it something of note.

This review originally appeared on Pretty Scary.

Vendetta (1986)

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There have been plenty of rape/revenge movies since the 70s blew the topic open for discussion in the deeply disturbing Last House on the Left.  What’s come out of that sleazy sub-genre ranges from the amazing (Death Weekend) to the abysmal (I Spit on Your Grave) to the what-the-hell-were-they-thinking (Slashed Dreams)!  In the wake of such a wide variety, a few titles still remain undiscovered gems.  Vendetta is just such a film.

As Bonnie Cusack is raped in Joe-Bob’s truck, she shoots him square in the head, killing him.  A trial leaves her with an unreasonable guilty verdict, whereupon she enters one of the roughest female prisons this side of Corcoran.  Bonnie meets Kay, the most feared prisoner and the one with all of the connections outside and in. When Bonnie rejects Kay’s advances, she’s promptly thrown off the second floor of the block – and it’s her first day!  Bonnie’s sister, bad-ass stuntwoman Laurie Collins, decides to get herself thrown in the same prison (she steals the judge’s car and then runs it through a jewelry store!) and hunts down Kay’s gang one by one.

A roundabout type of rape/revenge film, Laurie’s quest goes far more than justifying her sister’s demise. Laurie is looking for answers where she’ll never find them. Random violence prevails and executing those you think are to blame might not be the only answer.  Laurie is left with a changed soul and more questions then ever. This film takes an odd Last House on the Left turn with Laurie’s epiphany, teaching that equating violence with violence does not equal inner peace.

 But back to Kay, actress Sandy Martin is by far the most realistic badass female prisoner I’ve ever laid my eyes on.  She’s a grotesque species in wife-beaters with a mouth like a sailor and the kind of humor only Ted Bundy would find amusing.  She’s a hedonistic bitch and she rocks!  Because not only is Vendetta an interesting allegory about revenge, it’s also a knock-down-drag-out action flick with real-life stunt woman Karen Chase putting foot to ass!  There’s plenty to eye here – heroin addicts, interracial relations (“Black and brown don’t mess around.”), cat fighting and a shower scene for good measure (keep your eye out for Bonnie’s body double!). In fact, what’s interesting about Vendetta is how it manages to keep hold of its feminist standpoints while delving into sleaze. And it’s got a female Prince impersonator!  What more could one ask for?

 

This review originally appeared on the blog Genre Girls.

Wolf Creek (2005)

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In an ambitious move on the distributor’s part, the theatrical release of Wolf Creek fell on Christmas Day. In its limited play areas the movie did well and fans seemed generally satisfied with this ultra-realistic tale loosely based on the notorious Australian serial killer Ivan Milat. Torture is of the first degree here, but unfortunately, it’s too little too late and the uneasy mix of mysticism and gore falls short.

Wolf Creek tells the story of three backpackers who run afoul of a backwoods/outback type madman when their car breaks down at Wolf Creek (the Creek is actually a landmark of a giant crater). Before they meet up with Mick Taylor (John Jarrett), strange things happen to them at the foot of the Creek. First their watches stop, then the car engine won’t turn, leaving them stranded in the barren Australian wasteland. There’s lots of foreshadowing but none of it leads the viewer to what it will ultimately experience, the last third is a long and gruesome torture sequence featuring the three hiker’s attempts to survive.

Where writer/director Greg McLean goes wrong is trying to combine too much of another Australian thriller, the supernatural (and superb) Picnic at Hanging Rock with Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It’s a marriage that doesn’t mix well, making the first half of the movie feel like a rotten red herring. Wolf Creek does have its strong points, the build up is great, thanks to the three lead actors who are simply the most realistic young adults I’ve seen in the spate of recent disappointing horror releases. There is lots of subtly creepy dialog that foretells their fate as well as some great off-the-cuff remarks about the Creek itself and why the comet was drawn to this particular part of the earth, much like Mick who uses the Creek as his playground for murder. However, all of this loses steam once the killer shows up. He’s silly and comically over the top. In retrospect, it doesn’t seem that odd that he’d be this way, as most serial killers seem to lack any kind of real human core, but his portrayal is more the stuff of Scary Movie than Maniac. By the time we get to the brutality, it’s a cold viewing as the likeable characters start doing stupid things. That might work in the old 80s slashers and it certainly added to their charm, but now it’s just frustrating. It would seem that McLean does have an eye for the wicked but he needs to decide exactly what genre he’s speaking to, and then he must speak clearly.

This review originally appeared in Entertainment Today