There’s a documentary about a strange pageant that isn’t strange enough.
Every year since 1958, in Sweetwater, Texas, the Sweetwater Jaycees conduct the world’s largest rattlesnake roundup. Hundreds or even thousands of rattlesnakes are captured and turned into exhibits, boots, and, of course, delicious snake meats. The festival includes a gun and coin show, a literal giant tub of snakes, and the Miss Snake Charmer beauty pageant.
If you’re from a small town you’re probably familiar with a festival like this. I’ve been around Florida to many of their festivals, ranging from watermelon to railroad to ‘possum (not to be confused with opossum, which is how it’s spelled by Yankees). All of them are usually fun, local events that are designed to boost the local economy. Much like the Rattlesnake Roundup, there’s often a beauty pageant or a similar contest associated with it. Sadly, the Miss Snake Charmer pageant is pretty much the same as those: Cute and unconventional, but only moderately interesting.
When this documentary started, I imagine that the people filming it assumed that any festival dedicated to capturing hundreds of rattlesnakes must inherently be staffed by the kind of crazy people that we usually see only in Christopher Guest movies. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Most of the people featured, ranging from the festival hosts to the pageant contestants, are painfully normal. Despite the fact that they hold a festival dedicated to poisonous snakes, the citizens of Sweetwater are mostly just regular folks, most of whom only value the festival for the fact that it clears out snakes and brings in revenue. Given that the town of less than 11,000 people gets an $8.3 Million boost from the festival, that’s understandable.
While, yes, the media day for the pageant does include having the girls kill and skin a rattlesnake, the other parts of the event are fairly mundane. It’s not that it’s not a nice pageant, it’s very well done, but it’s not likely to be what you envision when you hear “Miss Snake Charmer.” It would likely have been more fun to follow a snake handler church service. Honestly, the roundup looks fun, it just doesn’t have anything too out of the ordinary.
Overall, the documentary is a bit of a letdown, unless you want to see a literal tub of snakes. This seems like the kind of thing that needs to be seen live to be fully enjoyed.
Jeremy Gardner writes, co-directs, and stars in this movie about horror and romance.
Hank (Jeremy Gardner) and Abby (Brea Grant) were a couple for 10 years, before one day Abby just got up and left without much explanation. Shortly afterwards, Hank finds himself being attacked at night by a monster that attempts to get into his house. Unsurprisingly, no one around him seems to believe that monsters are real, leading him to have to deal with everything alone.
If you’re not familiar with Jeremy Gardner, well, that’s not surprising. This is only his third film as a director/writer (with Christian Stella) and the first two, Tex Montana Will Survive! and The Battery didn’t make a lot of waves, as far as I can tell. Honestly, I only watched them after watching this film, because they’re both free on Amazon Prime, but I will admit that I enjoyed them (mostly The Battery, although Tex Montana is an impressive one-man film). This movie, though, is a big step forward in filmmaking from those.
This is one of those movies that is going to be divisive, because it definitely isn’t what it seems from the beginning. While a lot of the movie is focused on Hank dealing with the monster, it’s constantly intercut with Hank thinking about his relationship with Abby, going from how they bonded to how they would argue to the day that she just disappeared. In the “present,” Hank is paranoid, worn down, and emotionally damaged from dealing with the monster. Despite him repeatedly shooting holes through his front door, he never seems to actually get a clear sight of the beast, leaving it unseen to both him and the audience. Because of this and the constant inter-spliced plotlines showing his decline, the movie always keeps the door open that the entire thing is in Hank’s head.
I’m always an advocate for using horror as a metaphor, and this movie uses its monster and horror elements fairly blatantly as a representation for relationship issues. I don’t want to give it fully away, but I will say that the ending ties the horror and personal themes together perfectly. I’ll add an Ending Explanation after the spoiler break, though, because I want to talk about it.
Garner’s performance is pretty solid, particularly given that he spends much of the movie on his own, fighting against an unseen “monster.” His performance in Tex Montana was a pretty solid indicator that he can both hold your attention during solo stretches and also that he can do slow descents into madness believably. Moreover, his scenes with Brea Grant are excellent and the two have great chemistry. Grant’s performance tells more of the story than most of the actual dialogue in the flashbacks.
Overall, I thought they did a great job with this film. It has two main flaws: it’s not really what people expect from a monster movie, and that the structure can be disorienting to the viewer. Still, I enjoyed it.
Obviously, at the end of the movie, we get the reveal that yes, the monster is real. This is after Abby comes back and explains, at length, all of the things that led to her falling for him and, ultimately, why she left. Throughout the movie, she compared his hunting to his nature with women, unable to stop looking for the next target, which he denies. He then explains some of his own flaws and fears, then, during karaoke, starts to finally show his full vulnerabilities to Abby… which is exactly when the monster attacks, just like he feared. However, ultimately, he kills the monster, then reveals that he already had a ring for Abby the whole time. While I think this part’s a little heavy-handed, it cements the monster as being a symbol for Hank’s fear of commitment. It destroyed the home he built with Abby and ultimately left him a broken, isolated, lonely human being. After he finally allows himself to be vulnerable, yes, it hurts him, but it also gives him the ability to destroy those fears and move forward with Abby. I think it’s a good use of monster, honestly.
Dave Bautista stars in this action comedy about a spy being outsmarted by a 9 year old.
JJ (Dave Bautista) is a former US Army Ranger who now works as an agent for the CIA. Unfortunately, he’s not particularly good at infiltration, so he blows his first major mission, resulting in him losing part of a plutonium core. Because of this, he’s assigned to keep an eye on Kate (Parisa Fitz-Henley) and her daughter Sophie (Chloe Coleman), the in-laws of a major illegal arms dealer. JJ is accompanied by his Tech Operator Bobbi (Kristen Schaal). Unfortunately, Sophie soon discovers that JJ and Bobbi are watching over her family and starts to blackmail JJ into being her friend and guardian while she tries to fit in at her new school.
There’s a long history of “action star with cute kid” comedy, ranging from fun movies like Kindergarten Cop and The Pacifier to terrible movies like Cop and a Half and The Tooth Fairy (I love The Rock, but that movie sucks). However, most of those movies are smart enough to be marketed and targeted towards children. This movie, bizarrely, decided to get a PG-13 rating, but only to add a little bit more violence and a few swears, without trying to make the movie more appealing to adults.
It’s pretty sad that the film decided to make itself mostly inaccessible to children, because the chemistry between Bautista and Coleman is honestly pretty solid. Their interactions are really cute, particularly when Bautista is teaching her spycraft. Her desire to use him as a father figure is not really subtle, but it works anyway because of Bautista’s sincerity in being concerned for her. Unfortunately, the film mostly relies on “cute” over “funny,” which is also a bad call if you want it to be for everyone.
It’s not like Bautista can’t be funny; he’s great as the straight-man in Guardians of the Galaxy and was pretty funny in Stuber with Kumail Nanjiani. Kristen Schaal, who is tragically underused in this movie, is typically hilarious. Coleman, although young, also has some decent comedy instincts. Yet, somehow, aside from a few scenes of Bautista’s tough-guy character being paired with Brittany Spears music, which is an old gag to begin with, there’s not a ton to laugh about in this film. There are a lot of heartwarming moments, but the humor isn’t there, at least not for adults. We get some scenes of Coleman humiliating the two grown spies, which should be funny, but it’s been done so much in other movies that it’s really predictable. I will admit that I liked the part where she just Googles how to find the source of the hidden cameras, because I constantly wonder why people don’t just search for answers in films more often.
Even more bizarrely, the action sequences in this film aren’t particularly outstanding. The opening of the film does contain Bautista kicking a decent amount of villainous backside, but after that it is a long time before we see any more of his action chops, and the final fights just aren’t great.
Overall, I just don’t get why the heck this movie wasn’t just made into a kids film. It’s not like there would be a huge amount to change to do so, and I think kids would like it. Adults, though, not so much.
A group of hitmen make a documentary about trying to kill the world’s greatest assassin.
Blake (Taran Killam) is an assassin who is just starting in his career. He decides that he wants to kill the world’s top killer-for-hire, an enigmatic man named Gunther (Arnold Schwarzenegger)… who may have banged Blake’s ex-girlfriend Lisa (Cobie Smulders). Blake hires a camera crew to film his efforts and assembles a team of professionals: His explosives expert friend Donnie (Bobby Moynihan), Sanaa (Hannah Simone) who is the daughter of legendary hitman Rahmat (Peter Kalamis), hacker Gabe (Paul Brittain), Blake’s mentor Ashley (Aubrey Sixto), cyborg terrorist Izzat (Amir Talai), poison master Yong (Aaron Yoo), Blake’s ex-partner Max (Steve Bacic), and psychotic murderous twins Mia and Barold Bellakalakova (Allison Tolman and Ryan Gaul). The group quickly finds out that Gunther knows they’re hunting him, and he is set on humiliating him.
So, when I first saw this movie a few years ago, I thought it was an okay film. It had a lot of flaws, to be sure, mostly because the idea was not designed to fill 90 minutes, but I was overall pretty entertained with how ridiculous it was. Then, I saw the critics and other viewers mostly decimate this film. I wasn’t sure exactly what happened that led so many people to despise this movie to the level that they did. Yeah, it’s not the best mockumentary out there, but it avoided some of the issues that style usually has. For example, the main character is keeping the film crew around through threats of violent retribution. Because of that, you never have to ask the question “why are they still filming this?” It’s a simple explanation, but that issue usually bugs me, so I appreciate it.
However, as I thought about the movie, I realized that the biggest problem might be Arnold Schwarzenegger. Now, I admit Arnold plays more of a comedic role in this film than he probably should, but that’s not what I mean. It’s that he’s too big of a star and too big of a draw not to be included in the marketing and promotion for this movie, but he’s only in like 10 minutes of it. The identity of “Gunther” is treated like a surprise twist throughout almost all of the film, so it should be a revelation when Arnold finally gets there. However, on all of the movie posters, Arnold is front and center. I think a lot of people probably resented the fact that it feels like a deception. It’s compounded by the fact that the movie, which was already a little heavy on the slapstick, moves almost straight into insane farce in the third act, giving Gunther abilities that so far surpass reality that it loses its grounding. I still thought it was kind of fun, but I would definitely understand if people thought it just derailed the whole film.
The “humor,” and it is super niche, mostly revolves around how very incompetent the main team is compared with Gunther, combined with a number of other absurd jokes. For example, Sanaa’s father acts like an overly-supportive soccer parent, having customized shirts indicating his fandom for his offspring. This is despite the fact that he is a notorious cold-blooded murderer. The problem is that they have to keep adding scenes of different hitmen being quirky or failing in order to stretch the premise out to feature length. Eventually, it turns a bit into white noise.
Overall, If you like seeing a bunch of people regularly humiliated, you’ll probably have a good time in this film. If you like a bunch of dark humor combined with Three-Stooges-esque scenes, you’ll probably like it. If not, this probably won’t feel worth it.
Hey everybody, remember that time taxpayer dollars worked to keep segregation going through murder and espionage?
In 1954, the Supreme Court issued the famous Brown v. Board of Education ruling which led to the forcible integration of schools throughout the US. In 1956, James P. Coleman, the governor of Mississippi championed the passage of a bill through the state legislature establishing the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, an organization which was explicitly supposed to maintain segregation throughout the state. It was stated that this would be done through promotional materials that were pro-segregation so that businesses and tourism wouldn’t be negatively affected, but, within the legislation, the committee was given almost unbridled authority to investigate private citizens and even exercise police powers. Mississippi suddenly had a number of state spies, all working to subvert the civil rights movement and ensure the legacy of white supremacy.
I didn’t know of the existence of this group for most of my life, and I consider that an astonishingly bad gap in my education, particularly since the files that the commission developed were unsealed in 1998 (as opposed to the originally mandated year of 2027). The commission itself wasn’t dissolved until 1977, more than a decade after the signing of the Voting Rights Act, usually considered the turning point for the civil rights movement. There were over 87,000 names of people that the Commission had investigated, to give you an idea of how extensive the spy-ring was.
I guess despite growing up in the South I never really understood how vehemently many people wanted to maintain segregation, but the film points out the obvious: The more things started to move towards equality, the more the oppressors feared reprisal. When the Federal Government told the states to start integrating, that meant that the segregationists now had to actually consider what it meant that the percentage of black people in Mississippi was nearly equal to the white population. Currently, aside from the District of Columbia, Mississippi has the highest per capita population of black Americans of any state, at around 38%, but in 1950, non-whites (because that’s the only way they kept demographic data back then) made up over 45% of the population. This fear of black people actually having majority power was what Governor Coleman used to convince the legislature to create the commission.
I cannot, in this short review, convey the sheer level of atrocities that are levied at this group. They used spies, including African-Americans, most of whom were wealthy and wanted to keep the poorer black people down, to infiltrate any civil rights gathering. They published the names of any people who were seen supporting the Voting Rights Act. They framed innocent people and had them sent to prison over such trivial things as “wanting to go to college while black.” They made promotional videos of the fact that they had tanks which were directly stated to be ready for anyone who tried to picket the state government or make complaints of due process violations to Federal authorities. Also, they were involved in the infamous events of Mississippi Burning. The fact that they did all of this openly and with impunity is horrifying and the fact that so many of the people involved stayed influential with the state is even more so.
During the course of looking into this film, I found out that Florida, my home state, had a similar group called the Florida Legislative Investigation Committee, aka the Johns Committee. Similar to Mississippi, the Florida Legislature responded to Brown v. Board of Education by declaring the decision “null and void,” and then enact a committee to try and destroy the NAACP. When they failed to do that due to their own incompetence, they then turned their attention on the LGBT+ community, mostly getting teachers fired for being suspected of homosexuality. Ultimately, they weren’t in the same ballpark as the Mississippi committee in terms of either tactics or effectiveness, but the fact that they existed and nobody seems to mention that is still horrible.
Overall, I really recommend this film to everyone. It’s short and it exposes a deeply disturbing part of American history that was literally state sponsored. Seriously, the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission was like 1% of the state’s budget by the 1960s and nobody seemed to bat an eye. I guess racism trumps fiscal responsibility.
Jamie Foxx and Michael B. Jordan star in this true story about a wrongful conviction.
SUMMARY (Spoilers, but not really, cuz true)
In 1989, Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan), a Harvard lawyer, travels to Alabama to head up the Southern Center for Human Rights, an organization dedicated to defend Death-Penalty cases and appeals. This later became the non-profit Equal Justice Initiative (after Congress decided to cut funding for Death-Penalty resources). Together with Eva Ansley (Brie Larson), Bryan takes up a number of cases, including that of Walter “Johnny D.” McMillian (Jamie Foxx). Stevenson quickly begins to believe that McMillian, who was convicted of the murder of a white woman named Ronda Morrison, was innocent of the charges and had been used as a scapegoat by local law enforcement. Despite having a number of witnesses that McMillian was present at a public event at the time of the murder, the new prosecutor Tommy Chapman (Rafe Spall) refuses to look into the case and the court refuses to grant a new trial even after Stevenson gets the State’s primary witness, Ralph Myers (Tim Blake Nelson), to recant. It takes many years and multiple appeals, but eventually Stevenson is able to free McMillian.
In response to the recent (as of this writing) protests arising from the death of George Floyd, Amazon has removed the rental cost on a number of films, including this one. I recommend taking advantage of this, because the movies on the list are great. I selected this one, however, because I’m an attorney in the South. I’ve never witnessed any civil rights violation as bad as the ones alleged in this film (or in the events which form its basis), but I still have been around long enough to know that there are gross inequalities between states, counties, or even different judges, and that race, gender, or sexuality can massively amplify those inequalities. As events in the past… well, history of America, but also the last few weeks, have reminded us, racism is still an issue in this country. In fact, I had a disturbing realization during this movie that all of the events depicted are within my lifetime, including the revelation that another wrongful conviction took 28 years to reverse.
The strength of this movie, naturally, is in its performances. The leads are all unbelievably charismatic and believable, from Michael B. Jordan’s optimistic but not really naive portrayal of Stevenson to Foxx’s portrayal of a disillusioned and broken man to Tim Blake Nelson as a career criminal trying to do just one good thing.
The plot of the movie is pretty standard for how courtroom dramas like these always play out. If you’ve seen Gideon’s Trumpet or The Hurricane, then you have seen this film before. In any story that’s based on a real life case, you can probably guess from the beginning that the end of the film is going to have someone getting exonerated. It would probably be a bummer to tell the story of a person who was executed and then later proven innocent (which has definitely happened), so the movie naturally picked a case with a “happy” ending. Unfortunately, that same logic is one of the weaknesses of the film, because it tries to portray most of what happened to McMillian as being a matter of figurative and literal black-and-white.
That’s not to say that there weren’t a number of extra culpable people in his case, there absolutely were, but the film only touches on the fact that almost all of the people responsible were not only elected, but continued to be elected after the charges against McMillian were dropped. While Jordan does deliver a short monologue on how a rural Southern jury might perceive McMillian (even in 1989), the fact is that any number of people might have wanted to speak out against this, but the entire community would have been at their throats for doing so. Hell, the prosecutor and Sheriff were both basically threatened by the voters if they didn’t have someone convicted for the murder. Racism isn’t just ten bad people in power, it’s the hundred bad people who want those ten people in power, but aren’t willing to do the dirty deeds themselves. The movie also shies away from emphasizing the fact that the media had long condemned McMillian from the moment he got arrested, a reminder that journalists can often contribute to injustice as much as they can fight against it. However, the movie DID go further into it than many other films, so I will still give it credit.
Honestly, this is still a really well-done film, even if it’s pretty formulaic by necessity. I think it also goes into some issues with the legal system that people should be aware are not just remnants of the 50s or 60s, but are still problems in the modern day. Hell, the Alabama rule that allowed a judge to overrule a jury and impose a one-sided Death Penalty, as happened in this case with Judge Robert E. Lee Key, Jr. (yes, that name is real), was only eliminated in 2017. This kind of regional or local inequality still exists. There’s a county line near me where on one side, possession of marijuana resulted in a dropped case for some community service, on the other side, possession was ten days jail (until Florida accidentally made it impossible to prosecute cannabis cases last year).
I try not to get too political on this blog, but right now is a great time to watch a film based on real, and recent, events and get a picture of how our country has been in recent years and to realize that some problems are not just coming out of nowhere. There aren’t going to be a lot of easy solutions, and anything is going to take time, but the first step is to acknowledge there’s a problem. If you watch this movie, or read up on the case that it’s focused on, then it becomes really hard to claim that there aren’t issues in the country. Please, do yourself a favor, check it out.
Amazon Prime gives us a powerful character-driven 1950s sci-fi tale.
You are watching an episode of Paradox Theatre, a Twilight Zone– or The Outer Limits-style show which is apparently airing in the 1950s or 1960s. This episode is called “The Vast of Night.” In the 1950s in a small town in New Mexico, Everett (Jake Horowitz) is a local radio DJ who has just invested in a new tape recording device. He shows it off to his friend and fellow teenager Fay Crocker (Sierra McCormick), who works as a local switchboard operator. That evening, while the town is attending the local high school basketball game, Fay hears a strange noise during Everett’s broadcast. She and Everett set out to investigate the sound and end up finding out that there are more things in heaven and Earth than were dreamt of in their philosophy.
This movie took what should have been an astoundingly boring series of events and somehow made it extremely compelling. This is honestly a testament to how things can be but through a masterful combination of cinematography, sound editing, great scripting, and excellent performances. Most of this movie is the leads conducting interviews or talking over phones or radio, things that are much better done over a podcast or radio drama than a film, but this film manages to make all of those conversations intense and, somehow, fresh. This, despite the fact that the movie follows the same steps that dozens, if not hundreds, of films from the 1950s and 60s through today have already taken. Normally, to move a genre like “something mysterious in a small town” forward, you have to use the same cliches, then build upon them. This movie tends to just eschew the cliches in favor of having sincere character conversations. I once said that the reason that my favorite episode of Gravity Falls is “Not What He Seems” is that the show focused on how the characters felt about what was happening, rather than just focusing on what happens. This film does the same thing, and I applaud it.
I think the framing device of being an episode of an old sci-fi show might be one of the most brilliant things about the film. Because it’s an episode of Paradox Theatre, we are cued in that everything is going to look like a stereotypical 1950s small town, the way that shows from that time would convey them. It means that we’re going to address some themes, like government secrecy or racism, but that the focus is still going to be on a compelling narrative. It just tells us what kind of story we’re going to get, something involving science fiction, and it makes it easier to accept the long gap between the movie starting and the plot really gaining steam, because we’re not waiting for a reveal.
I think one of the best things about this movie is how well it uses the medium of film and radio. There are scenes that are completely dark in this film which give us the same feelings that we would get if the information were coming in over the phone or the radio, the way that the characters are experiencing them. Then there are other, long, sweeping shots in a single take that basically covers the entire town. We get single take shots of Fay monitoring the switchboard as calls come in that start to tell her that there is something happening on the outskirts of town, which makes all of the building concern much more impactful.
Overall, just a great movie. I really recommend it. This is the director’s only credit on IMDB, but I would like to see what Andrew Patterson does when he has more than a shoestring budget.
A survivalist TV host finds himself in trouble when something in the woods is stalking him.
Doug Woods (Chris Diamantopoulos) is the host of Woods Vs., a show in which he is dropped into the middle of nowhere and has to survive for five days. He leaves his wife and daughter (Chloe Bradt and Kate Ziegler) and sets off with his camera crew (Michael Cram, Kelly Fanson, Alex Karzis) and his brother Terry (Drew Nelson). After being dropped into the woods, he hears a loud noise and feels the Earth shake beneath him. The next day, he finds that a number of fish in the lake are dead and the local wildlife are behaving strangely. It seems something has come into the woods besides him, and that something is toying with him. Now, Doug has to make his way back to civilization while avoiding this new threat, which, unfortunately, seems to be smarter than he is.
I want to start out by saying that I desperately want someone to try a premise like this again, but do it just a little better. Hell, you can use Chris Diamantopoulos again, since his portrayal of Doug Woods was actually pretty captivating, demonstrating a nice blend between survivalist and showman. His interactions with his audience are the majority of the film, with him speaking to the camera both as part of the show and as part of a surrogate confessional. It’s fun to watch him start swearing and complaining the minute he’s not “officially” recording. At no point do his conversations ever seem awkward or forced, which is impressive for a solo performance. Honestly, if they just had him film a show like that, I would have watched it.
The fact that the show-within-the-movie is so close to shows like Survivorman or Man Vs. Wild gives the plot a level of credibility. Normally, the idea of a random person stranded in the wilderness falls thin, because the person would just try to find civilization rather than trying to stay in the area where they’re being stalked. Instead, Doug is forced to at least try to ignore the threat, allowing for the audience to watch his slowly growing unease. I also like that they had almost everything that Doug shows the audience pay off later in the film, but not in the way that you would expect.
The problem is that the movie is NOT just watching Doug survive for five days. The movie introduces the threat indirectly, which is good, but it tries to focus the audience’s attention on it a bit too much. It starts to be a bit less believable that Doug doesn’t realize the full extent of what is happening when so many odd things are happening, but it also removes a little bit of the terror to see things happen so blatantly. The timing and the framing of each appearance is off just a little. When Doug finally starts to realize something else is definitely there, though, the initial reveal that the creature has been watching him and duplicating his survival techniques (including trying to treat Doug as prey) are really well-done. You can finally see Doug break down and Diamantopoulos really sells the fear.
Overall, the movie was pretty enjoyable for the first half. Unfortunately, I am going to have to put the negatives after the Spoiler Warning. I’d still recommend this for horror fans, but I’ll go ahead and warn you that the ending let me down hard on a lot of levels. Not enough to ruin the movie, but it’s like watching someone make a show that perfectly crafts character interactions for 6 seasons, then the writing makes people think a main character goes crazy because her nephew won’t bang her. Disappointing.
Okay, so, the creature is revealed to be an alien, which was probably pretty obvious from the crash at the beginning. Unfortunately, the alien is a conquering invader, which wrecks a lot of the movie. If the alien was like the predator, trying to hunt Doug for honor or sport, then it makes sense to study him and steal his techniques. Instead, we find out that aliens pretty much took over the Earth in the last 3 days, meaning that the creature followed Doug and didn’t just instantly kill him with its sonic weapon for… reasons? Also, despite having a main character who is a survivalist, he doesn’t actually deal with the alien using any survival techniques. The alien, who has superior technology and can apparently jump almost 100 feet, just happens to fall backwards into a pit and then succumbs to stones thrown by an injured person. Then, when it returns at the end, it just doesn’t avoid Doug shoving a motor into it. I’m not saying I needed Doug to prepare a series of Predator-style log traps, because I’ve seen that, but having the main character defeat a creature that apparently can learn what chess is and also how to beat a good player at it in 2 days using pretty much pure luck is unsatisfying. Also… CGI not great, sorry.
SUMMARY (They’re basically the same, differences go 1993)
Harry Smith [Delamo] (Eric Kohner / Alexi Stavrou) is a strip [cabaret] club owner with his wife, Olivia (Melanie Rose / Rachel Alig). Olivia is obsessed with UFOs to the point that she has had no interest in sex with Harry for 4  months. A new girl, named Thousand Ways (Michaela Stoicov / Roberta Sparta) arrives at the club and flirts with Harry. Harry’s best friend (Frank Fowler / Ben Gillman) comes up with a strategy to help Harry have an affair with Thousand Ways and fakes an alien abduction. After a night with Thousand Ways, Harry returns and tells his wife the truth, but Olivia believes that the aliens just erased his memory. A few nights later, he plans another “abduction,” only for him to actually be abducted by aliens. The aliens (Uncredited / Albert Minero, Jr. and Josiah Black) return Harry to Earth and give him a special ability – Whenever he looks at a woman, he can make her orgasm. Eventually, after some hijinks, Olivia gets rid of Harry’s ability by satisfying him sexually [using voodoo to attack the aliens] and they have some kind of happily ever after.
So, this movie was requested because the reader had remembered the movie from the classic USA Up All Night series hosted by Gilbert Gottfried and Rhonda Shear. The show’s premise was that the comedians would host two films, starting late at night on Saturday, with comedy skits or commentary during the commercial breaks and then there would be a third movie or a repeat of the first film, but that was usually unhosted. If, like me, you liked Duckman in the 90s (and like me had parents that didn’t notice that you were watching Duckman), then you might remember this as the show that came on after it. The series ran from 1989 to 1998 and the late-night movies continued until 2002. During the show’s run, it featured films ranging from legitimately great movies like the original Halloween to B-movies like the Puppet Master films to heavily-edited soft-core pornography like The Bikini Carwash Company. The 1993 version of this movie is definitely one of the latter. I actually didn’t catch this movie during the USA Up All Night run, due to being 10 the last time it aired, but I did see it on Cinemax years later. It was truly made for the “13 and can’t find actual porn” audience.
The 1993 version of the movie starts off with nudity. It’s literally just a stripper dancing and collecting money, and that’s actually what a large percentage of this movie is. Even in scenes where characters are being developed or the plot is supposed to be progressing, the camera is usually focused on a scantily clad or nude female. The movie is, I guess, supposed to be a sex comedy, but I don’t think anything in the movie was ever actually funny. The acting in it ranges from bad to terrible and the script isn’t better. It mostly stands out because the film feels like two completely different ideas stitched together poorly, that of a guy faking abductions for an affair and of a guy who can make a woman orgasm by looking. Also, they clearly pad the script with scenes about Harry’s and Olivia’s neighbor having an affair with a detective and throw in a weird element of having the aliens drop Harry off wearing a Roman uniform. It’s like the people who made the movie just wanted to sell boobs and butts, which means this movie probably made a fortune.
The 2015 version, on the other hand, explicitly starts the film by saying that they aren’t going to be rated R. However, if a viewer were to think that this means that this movie might actually be decent on its own merit, that’s a mistake. The acting in this version is better, in the sense that it’s not awful, but much of the script is either exactly the same or somehow worse. A big thing is that they expand the roles of the aliens in the movie. Whereas in the 1993 version, the aliens just appear for a moment then release Harry, in this one they are actively monitoring Harry and they actually are on a mission to fix his sex life, revealed to be at the request of Thousand Ways, who is an alien hosting a reality show in this version. The aliens start to provide the “comic relief” and they are anything but funny. They talk in broken English which is only funny if you have some sort of brain injury, and say things like “how you know which one is ‘hot’?” about the women in Harry’s life. Also, they end up leaving when Olivia uses Voodoo on them, something that HAS NOT BEEN IN THE MOVIE UNTIL NOW OR EVEN MENTIONED. But at least the deus ex machina means this movie comes in at a mercifully short 69 (heh) minutes.
I’m absolutely perplexed at why this movie was remade. Moreover, why would you remake a movie whose primarily plots are sex-based without any nudity and with lessened sexuality? They not only remove the nudity, but the women orgasming (a major part of the movie) is now portrayed by women singing a high soprano note. Even some of the lines are just altered slightly to be less offensive, like how Thousand Ways goes from meaning “a thousand ways to have an affair” to “a thousand ways to have a man,” and having her line go from the moderately clever entendre “I love screwing my bosses” to the awkward “I love having sex with my bosses.” However, both versions have an awkward moment where Harry is worried about looking at an underage girl with his powers, before being assured that she’s over 18, and in both I feel dirty from having watched the exchange.
I will be frank, neither of these movies is good, but the first one never pretends to be anything other than an excuse to show off some very sexy ladies in little to no clothing. The bad acting, stupid scripts, and the fact that most of the conversations of the film are played over stripping is the film just delivering on its promise to the audience. The remake tried to be a film and completely failed. If you’re really wanting to relive the age before internet porn, they’re both on Amazon.
A Maine fishing town isn’t quite as quaint as it would seem.
Sisters Priscilla and Mary Beth Connolly (Sophie Lowe and Morgan Saylor) lose their mother and find themselves massively in debt. The two have a fight at the funeral, leading Mary Beth to go out and get a drink or ten. At the bar, she meets a man named Gorski (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), who she tries to go home with, only for him to attack her. She kills him in self-defense, setting events in motion that bring her into conflict with her mother’s old friend, local brothel owner Enid Devlin (character actress Margo Martindale). It turns out the history of the town of Easter Cove is not just fishermen and vacationers.
This movie is a strange blend of mystery, drama, and dark comedy and yet it always manages to work. The entire town, from the businesses to the people, is always a bit off-kilter, starting with the Singing Fisherman (David Coffin) who ushers us into the film with the title song. It seems like this is the kind of town that would be home to a bunch of rough-and-tumble fishermen, and it is, but since they’re usually out on the boat, it turns out that women do much of the actual running of the town, which is something that’s typically accurate of places dependent on such an industry. What isn’t typical is what the women in this town were willing to do to keep it running and what they feel about their actions. It’s peeling off all of the layers of deception in the town that makes the movie constantly compelling.
The performances in the film are all amazing, and I cannot help but say that Margo Martindale lives up to her status as the legendary character actress BoJack Horseman reminded us she always was. She seems like she’s always in control, but also aware that things are potentially going to fall apart soon. The Connolly Sisters are both strong characters who depend on each other even though they are constantly at each other’s throats. The supporting characters range from the women who want to close down the brothel to the officers investigating Corski’s “disappearance” and all of them manage to enhance both the unusual nature of the town and also the complexity of the plot. The dialogue in the film merits such performances, which is an accomplishment.
Overall, this film is excellent and I recommend giving it a try.