A special request leads me to a great episode of television.
Womanizer Charlie Harper (Charlie Sheen) begins dating a woman named Isabella (Jodi Lyn O’Keefe) who appears to be a satanist witch, though she never says it directly. When Charlie’s brother Alan (Jon Cryer) mocks her, he starts to find himself cursed. He tries to get Charlie to break up with her, but the sex is apparently amazing, so Charlie refuses. At a party, Isabella has her entire coven sleep with Charlie, who begins to look increasingly gaunt and drained the more he dates Isabella. He also begins to suspect that Isabella is using him to sire the Antichrist. Even Berta (The Late Conchata Ferrell), the Harper’s aggressive housekeeper, is afraid of her. When Isabella tries to get Alan’s son Jake (Angus T. Jones) to contact Satan, the two brothers finally try to confront her. However, she claims that Charlie has entered into a pact and that it will cost him his genitals if he reneges. Charlie is about to give in when his mother, Evelyn (Holland Taylor), dressed as the Wicked Witch of the West, arrives to force Alan, Charlie, and Jake to join her for a costume party. Evelyn apparently knows Isabella, who is absolutely terrified of her and flees. Evelyn then leaves for the party with the three men dressed as her flying monkeys.
Some of you may think this was an odd choice for a Halloween review, but I have two things to say to that: First, this episode is absolutely hilarious, particularly the quippy dialogue and Charlie Sheen’s reaction shots. Second, my dad loves this show and told me I had to do this episode or I was out of the will. I’m 99% sure he was kidding, but why take the chance?
I’ve often said that the fact that an episode was building up to one big punchline should never be considered a negative. One of the most-read reviews on my blog, “The $99,000 Answer,” is entirely dependent on building up a single, absolutely insane moment of hilarity. Unlike that episode, which always focused on the characters who were going to be the butt of the joke, this one actually plays up the joke in the background while we watch a completely different storyline. At one point, we see Evelyn calling Charlie for a favor, which he rejects. We also see Alan finishing a phone call where he tells his mother that he still isn’t on board with her “Wizard of Oz” theme, but not much more is made out of it. This means that Evelyn’s appearance as the Deus Ex Machina that saves the boys at the end of the episode isn’t coming out of nowhere, but also was left just ambiguous enough to be absolutely hilarious when it happens. The fact that Evelyn is the only person that is scary enough to not just threaten but absolutely terrify a supposedly real witch is just delicious.
The rest of the episode mostly just works because it’s Charlie and Alan, an average odd-couple pair, dealing with what might be, but is never confirmed to be, the supernatural. It’s like Abbott and Costello meeting Frankenstein, it’s just going to be funny to see the juxtaposition. Add in a bunch of dirty jokes and some fun dialogue about curses and various subcultures and the episode actually goes by pretty quickly because you’re laughing the whole time. The title is a reference to Jake’s attempt to talk to Satan which quickly bores him when he finds out he doesn’t get wishes.
Overall, this is a solid Halloween episode that really stands out in the show’s history. Even if you didn’t like Two and a Half Men, this one was pretty great.
I reviewed the classic zombie film and its excellent remake.
Both films have similar general plots, but different details. However, the premise is that something has happened. The dead are rising from their graves and are now craving the flesh of the living. Anyone who is bitten becomes a zombie. The world quickly descends into chaos as the dead form hordes. While rural areas seem to be surviving against the onslaught, cities are overrun quickly.
1978: Television Studio staff members Stephen Andrews and Francine Parker (David Emge and Gaylen Ross) plan to steal a helicopter to escape Philadelphia. SWAT members Peter Washington (Ken Foree) and Roger DiMarco (Scott Reiniger) join them, having survived a bloody firefight with the members of a housing project and a group of zombies. The four eventually arrive at a shopping mall, which they use as a base to hide in. They manage to secure the mall, but Roger nearly dies in the process and starts to lose his mind. He ends up getting bitten by zombies.
The four start to enjoy living a life of luxury, with Peter killing Roger when he reanimates. After several months, a now very pregnant Francine wants to leave the mall. It appears that the US Government has collapsed in the interim, but the trio loads the helicopter with supplies. A biker gang (including Tom Savini, the make-up wizard) show up to take the helicopter, which ends up destroying the anti-zombie barriers and filling the mall with walkers. Stephen tries to fend off the bikers, but is shot and then eaten by zombies. Zombie Stephen then leads the horde to attack Francine and Peter, but they manage to make it up to the roof and take off, heading into uncertainty.
2004: Ana (Sarah Polley), a nurse, survives the initial zombie outbreak and meets up with Policeman Kenneth (Ving Rhames), salesman Michael (Jake Weber), and married couple Andre and Luda (Mekhi Phifer and Inna Korobkina). The group heads to a mall where three guards, CJ, Bart, and Terry (Michael Kelly, Michael Barry, and Kevin Zegers), force them to surrender their weapons. A pregnant Luda is wounded by a small zombie bite. They secure the mall and find that another survivor, Andy (Bruce Bohne), is stranded in a gun store across the parking lot. The next day another group of survivors arrives: Norma (Jayne Eastwood), Steve (Ty Burrell), Tucker (Boyd Banks), Monica (Kim Poirier), Glen (R.D. Reid), and a bitten man named Frank (Matt Frewer), who is killed after he turns. His daughter, Nicole (Lindy Booth), stays with the group.
The group quickly start to find companionship, with Kenneth and Andy engaging in games from across the parking lot, several survivors hooking up, and Nicole adopting a dog. When the power goes out, some of the group go to activate the generator, only to find zombies in the parking garage. Luda dies and reanimates, but then gives birth to a zombie baby. Andre goes insane and kills Norma but gets shot in return. The group decides to create an armored convoy to carry them to a yacht so they can escape to an island. Unfortunately, Andy gets bitten when they try to get supplies to him and the team gets ambushed by zombies. They end up losing the mall to the horde and fleeing on buses. Many of the survivors die in the attempt, but Ana, Kenneth, Nicole, and Terry reach the yacht. They run out of supplies, only to find zombies on the island they reach.
So, the audience vote for “A Film Sequel That Doesn’t Have a Number in the Title” ended up being Dawn of the Dead, which was the only nominee to win that wasn’t the most-nominated film in the category. I was then stuck with a conundrum: only the original film is really a “sequel” to a movie, but only the remake is available to stream anywhere. As I own the original, that’s not much of a problem for me, but I try to give my audience the opportunity to participate whenever possible, so I just figured I’d review both. This is the rare movie where the original and remake are both excellent, with the former being perhaps the best film by George Romero and the latter being the feature film debut of Zack Snyder and written by James Gunn.
Romero’s original version capitalized heavily on the mall setting. In the 1970s, shopping malls were a sign of economic growth and the changing state of how Americans shopped. People now commonly made “circuits” at the mall as a leisure activity, a literal cathedral to consumerism. As such, Romero associates the mindless consumption of shopping with the mindless consumption of the zombies. It’s this association that actually draws the zombie horde to the mall, according to Romero. In the remake, this association is played down a little, but in exchange the film focuses on the mall as a location in which the normal humans can consume and live.
One of the biggest differences between the two films is the zombies. In the original Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, the zombies mindlessly shamble towards their targets. They aren’t much of a threat individually, but when they’re a massive group, they’re nearly unstoppable. This makes them a great metaphor for consumers, because a single mindless individual compelled to buy doesn’t make much of an impact, but a mass of them quickly becomes a Black Friday stampede. In the remake, however, the zombies apparently were heavily influenced by the then-recent film 28 Days Later and suddenly were fast and could hurdle obstacles like they’d been mainlining whatever steroid makes you good at parkour. This makes them a much bigger immediate threat. While Romero didn’t like the change, I remember when this came out and the audiences really weren’t looking for a slow character study that builds suspense over the inevitable. We were in the mood for a faster, grittier, more action-based film, and that’s what this movie was. In the years post-9/11 the world kept feeling like it was spinning out of control, and the movie appropriately adapted that fear.
The main characters, though, are much better in the original. Since we see essentially only three characters for a long period, we get a feeling for who they really are and how they’re dealing with the apocalypse. While they have their sanctuary, they still have a long period to work out their feelings about the relative hopelessness of the world and go out of their way to try to avoid it. Then, when their sanctuary is finally broken, it’s not by the zombies, it’s by other humans, because if there’s one thing Romero is consistent about, it’s that people are the real monster. The remake has too many characters for us to get a real picture of how they are handling it and the timeline is shorter, so we don’t get a huge amount of time with any of them. In fact, most of the time passes in a single montage which, while a good montage, still doesn’t give us much about any of them.
However, the montage brings us to a thing that both movies have in common: A great soundtrack. Interestingly, the original had two separate soundtracks depending on if it was the US or international version and the international is much better. The international version had the score done by Dario Argento and the Italian Prog-Rock group “Goblin,” who did Argento’s amazing horror film Suspiria. It’s haunting, it’s intense, and it manages to constantly put you in a subtle state of unease throughout the film. While the US version mostly used stock music, it does include the song “Cause I’m a Man” by Pretty Things and the song played in the mall sequence and the end credits is the instrumental “The Gonk,” which I guarantee you’ve heard a ton since this film. The remake, on the other hand, uses more contemporary music more prominently and all of it is used well, from “The Man Comes Around” by Johnny Cash as the world ends to two different versions of “Down with the Sickness,” by both Disturbed and Richard Cheese. Honestly, it’s a hell of a soundtrack.
Overall, these films are both amazing. If you’re a fan of horror, they’re must-sees.
Spike Lee’s masterpiece manages to stay relevant for over 30 years.
It’s the middle of a heat wave in Bedford-Stuyvesant and everyone around the neighborhood seems to be going a little overboard. At multiple points of the movie, we see characters expressing their “inner voice” to the camera. Local highlights include: Radio DJ Mister Senor Love Daddy (Samuel L. Jackson); friendly one-liner quoting drunk Da Mayor (Ossie Davis); wandering boombox enthusiast Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn); local horndog Buggin’ Out (Giancarlo Esposito); neighborhood watchdog Mother Sister (Ruby Dee); mentally disabled man Smiley (Roger Guenveur Smith); and then there’s Mookie.
Mookie (Spike Lee) is a pizza delivery man for neighborhood pizza man Sal (Danny Aiello). Mookie lives with his sister, Jade (Joie Lee), and has a baby with his girlfriend, Tina (Rosie Perez). Mookie frequently fights with Sal’s racist son Pino (John Turturro), but is friends with Sal’s other son Vito (Richard Edson). Sal, an Italian-American, gets into a fight with Buggin’ Out over the fact that Sal puts famous Italian-Americans on the pizza wall, but not African-Americans. Mookie tells Buggin’ Out to just stay away for a while, but Buggin’ Out points out that since this is a black neighborhood, Sal should honor some black people. Meanwhile, in order to deal with the heat and the blackouts, local residents Ahmad (Steve White) and Cee (Martin Lawrence) open a fire hydrant. Some of the teens use the water to soak a local man until the police shut down the party and the hydrant.
Mookie and Pino get into a fight over the fact that Pino keeps using the “N word” despite idolizing black people. After Mookie leaves, Pino asks Sal to sell the pizzeria and move to an Italian-American neighborhood, but Sal insists that this is the only place where they can make money and that he likes the neighborhood. When Buggin’ Out tries to start a boycott of Sal’s to get a black figure on Sal’s wall, the neighborhood uniformly defends Sal’s, so Buggin’ Out is the only person boycotting. Jade and Sal have a conversation, leading Mookie to believe Sal wants to hit on her and he tells both parties not to associate.
Later that evening, Radio Raheem, Smiley, and Buggin’ Out come into Sal’s as it’s closing and try to demand black people be on the wall, calling Sal and sons “Guinea Bastards.” Sal, angry, calls Radio Raheem and Buggin’ Out the “N word” and smashes Radio Raheem’s boombox. Raheem attacks Sal and soon a brawl erupts into the street. The police arrive and arrest Radio Raheem and Buggin’ Out, but not Sal. In the process, one of the officers, despite the crowd telling him to stop, chokes Radio Raheem to death. The officers then put Raheem’s corpse in the car and leave. A mob starts to direct their anger at the police, but with them gone, they direct their anger at Sal and his sons. Mookie walks away from Sal as Da Mayor tries to convince the crowd that it wasn’t Sal’s fault. Realizing that violence is imminent, Mookie throws a trash can through Sal’s window, leading the crowd to attack the restaurant as Da Mayor gets Sal, Vito, and Pino out of the way. Smiley sets the building on fire and firefighters arrive to put it out. They quickly turn the hoses on the crowd, leading to more fights and arrests.
The next day, Mookie goes to see Sal and asks for his money. The two have a tense interaction, but end up reconciling somewhat. Mookie walks back as another hot day begins and Love Daddy tells everyone to register to vote. The film ends with a pair of quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X on the nature of violence and a photo of the two leaders together, the same photo Smiley was selling throughout the film.
The prompt for this film was “Best Film Soundtrack (No Musicals).” My first thought was Purple Rain, because that soundtrack is amazing, but then I decided I wanted to eliminate movies where the musician starred in the film, because that seemed too close to a musical. Then I was caught between this film, Guardians of the Galaxy, Top Gun, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and a half-dozen others. I picked this movie because out of all of the movies, I think this one has stayed the most relevant.
The soundtrack to this film, much like Reservoir Dogs, is typically music that the characters are actually hearing, rather than just the audience. The music is almost entirely played by either Radio Raheem’s boombox or by DJ Love Daddy. The only times in which the music is entirely internal seem to be when the characters are directly addressing the audience. The central song in the film which is played both during Rosie Perez’s extremely powerful and energetic dance during the opening theme, and at almost every time that Radio Raheem is in the film, is “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy. The song is, as you would think, an anthem dedicated to empowering black Americans and trying to rebel against the dominance of white culture and subservient images of black heroes. Public Enemy wrote the song at the request of Spike Lee and it ended up being one of the band’s biggest hits. The rest of the soundtrack intentionally includes songs that are particular to the scene, but were not major hits. Part of the reason is that DJ Love Daddy ran a small local station and probably only could afford independent music, and part of it is that it better showcased underground music. After being featured in the movie, several songs, including “My Fantasy” by Teddy Riley and Guy, shot up the Hot R&B Singles charts, with “My Fantasy” hitting number 1. There’s a great variety in the soundtrack, ranging from gospel to Latin to R&B, which is in part because it is ostensibly a variety radio lineup. The score for the film was composed by Spike Lee’s father and is a blend of Jazz, Classical, and R&B.
One of the film’s strengths comes from the variety of characters featured. The story isn’t really as much about Mookie or any single character as it is about this neighborhood. Most of the recurring characters don’t have real names, only sobriquets, because that’s how they know each other. The audience is treated as if it’s just another person in Bed-Stuy. Because of that, we’re given a heavy dose of honesty from the various people around, including the famous scene of many of the characters directly stating which race they hate the most.
Throughout the film, tempers flare as the temperature rises. The temperature is one of the most brilliant parts of the film because it simultaneously functions literally and as a metaphor for racial tension. When the characters are feeling the heat or deal with racial issues, they start sweating more profusely, the lens becomes a little more fish-eye, and the dutch angles start to take over, indicating unease or tension. It’s heavily used in the scene in which Radio Raheem and Buggin’ Out confront Sal, pushing him over the edge until he finally responds with slurs and breaking Radio Raheem’s boombox. Was it the heat or the pressure that finally causes Sal to snap and Raheem to snap in turn?
The death of Radio Raheem is a large part of why I selected this film. Radio Raheem is needlessly choked to death by a police officer over attacking a man who had just destroyed his property. Raheem had confronted and harassed Sal in his place of business, but Sal destroyed the most important piece of property which Raheem owned, something which was tied directly to his identity. Raheem doesn’t even say “my boombox,” he says “my music” when confronting Sal, because being accompanied by music was part of who he is. However, when the police arrive, they don’t touch Sal or Pino or Vito, but they kill Radio Raheem. We’re required to watch the entire thing as multiple characters are yelling at the officers and saying that they’re killing him, including the officer’s partner. We’re even shown that the officer pulls Raheem literally off the ground as he chokes the life out of him. When he falls to the ground dead, what is the first response? The police yell at his corpse and kick it, telling him to quit faking. The police then get the hell out of there and leave Sal, Vito, and Pino to be their scapegoats.
There have been plenty of discussions about why Mookie throws the trash can through the window of Sal’s, but I’ve always stuck with the interpretation that Mookie realized that something had to happen. Losing Radio Raheem was too great of an inequity for the crowd to bear, a brutal reminder of the inequalities of the world they live in. The mob was going to try to balance the scales and Mookie decided that it was going to be either Sal’s or Sal and that property is not as important as life. Sal is insured, he’ll rebuild. Radio Raheem cannot be brought back. This is why the scales can never be balanced under the current system. At the end of the film, DJ Love Daddy reads a message from the Mayor that says that destruction of property will not be tolerated. That’s what the politicians care about: A burned-up building. Not the dead body of Radio Raheem. This movie is over 30 years old and yet this message seems so contemporary that it’s frightening.
I don’t think I can add anything else to this. If you haven’t seen this movie: See it. If you have seen it: See it again. And, as DJ Love Daddy reminds us at the end of the film: Vote. It’s a constitutional form of violence against the powers that be.
The prompt was “A Movie You Would Never Watch with Family,” and I think I nailed it.
Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a young woman who has been in treatment for self-harm. Her family is revealed to be pretty deeply dysfunctional, stemming from her father’s (Stephen McHattie) alcoholism, which disrupts Lee’s sister’s (Amy Locane) wedding. She takes a course in typing and applies for a job as a secretary for attorney E. Edward Grey (James Spader). Grey informs her that it’s boring work and that she is probably overqualified, but she accepts. Grey’s firm solely uses typewriters, despite the fact that it’s 2002, because he is notably eccentric.
Partially due to the lack of word processors, Lee makes occasional typos which appear to anger Grey immensely. Additionally, several of Grey’s associates are needlessly cruel to Lee. However, it becomes apparent that Grey is deriving some level of satisfaction out of forcing her to obey him. Moreover, she starts to feel satisfied by earning his approval. Grey starts to notice her self-harm marks and eventually confronts her about it, ordering her not to hurt herself anymore. Afterwards, when she makes another mistake on a letter, he spanks her over his desk while forcing her to re-read the letter. They start to enter into an intense Sub/Dom relationship which leads Lee to fall heavily for Grey. At the same time, Lee is dating Peter (Jeremy Davies), a family friend with whom she has a more milquetoast relationship.
It turns out that Grey feels disgust over his proclivities and, after finally giving in and sexually pleasuring himself to Lee, he fires her. She tries to convince him that what they have is real, but he sends her away. She tries to find other BDSM partners, but none give her what she wants. When Peter surprisingly proposes to her, Lee accepts. However, while trying on a wedding dress, she realizes that she loves Grey and leaves to confront him at his office. He tells her to put her hands and feet in place and not move. Friends and family try to talk her out of it, but she stays for three days until Grey comes and gets her. The two then enter into a real relationship and marry, continuing their Sub/Dom dynamic.
First, a short notice: This film is available on Peacock for free with ads. However, the film is very quiet at most points and the ads are much louder, so you will jump when the ad breaks happen and it breaks the movie’s tension poorly.
The prompt for this was “A Film You Would Never Watch with Family.” I actually had a hard time coming up with one, but once this one came up, I knew there was probably no other film as uncomfortably awkward to watch with your parents than this one. It’s not just that the entire film is about kinky sex practices, but that the movie is so intense in general. It doesn’t shy away from harsh experiences, whether it’s the Sub/Dom relationship between the leads, Lee’s self-harm, or her father’s alcoholism. Because of this, the few moments of levity or sincere emotion hit harder than they do in most films.
Part of what sets this movie apart is its visual storytelling and efficient use of dialogue. We don’t hear someone say that Lee’s father is an alcoholic, we just see him drinking at her sister’s wedding to the point that he can’t stand up. Later, he calls Lee from “somewhere downtown,” and it seems clear that this is not the first time this has happened. Similarly, much of the buildup of the relationship between Grey and Lee is unspoken, but communicated largely through the looks that they exchange. Special attention is paid to each of their gazes compared to other films, with him looking for her vulnerabilities and her looking for his approval. In the first real scene of emotional connection they have, when he confronts her over her cutting, we get a picture of exactly how each of them handle things. He has planned everything in the conversation out from the beginning, apparent from the fact that he has hot chocolate and a Polaroid camera placed within his reach. This is an indicator of his need to plan and control how interactions go, something that is doubled down when he avoids an unplanned interaction with attorney Tricia O’Connor. Meanwhile, Lee is feeling like her life is out of control, which is why she’s hurting herself. When he orders her never to hurt herself again, she realizes that he’s telling her that she doesn’t need to seek control, because he can offer her submission instead. Obeying him will be her form of control.
One of the most notable scenes in this movie, for a number of reasons, is the first time that Grey spanks Lee. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s face during the entire encounter conveys everything and it is front and center at the camera. In several shots, we can see both of them at the same time and we see what this action means to each of them. It is sexual, it is brutal, it is emotional, all at once. It helps that Spader manages to be commanding and in control while also unleashing himself bestially. However, it’s the short shots afterwards in which Lee puts her pinkie over Grey’s thumb and then he moves his thumb along her hand that say more than the rest of the scene. This is a moment of Lee seeing if there is something deeper there and Grey, for a moment, hinting that he is developing real feelings for her. Much like the rest of the film, it’s about what is unspoken more than about what is.
What’s interesting is that the movie does have some moments of levity to break it up, but they’re usually a strange kind of black humor. I think they just wanted to make sure that it wasn’t treating the subject as a joke. One moment is when a number of Lee’s friends are talking about being sexually harassed at work and Lee advises them to try Grey. The tongue-in-cheek nature of this conversation is so thick that Lee literally laughs at it to herself. Later, when she has sex with Peter, she says that her conditions are that she keeps her clothes on and all the lights are off. Rather than question this or protest, Peter almost injures himself trying to get the lights off as fast as possible. It puts the bare minimum “com” in rom-com, but it’s also mostly humor you couldn’t find in any other film.
Now, I do feel like I need to address a few controversies levied at the movie. First, yes, this movie does directly suggest that submission can be a substitute for self-harm. While I have witnessed this overlap anecdotally, I don’t believe that it is uniformly true. If you are considering self-harm, please seek a therapist before you seek a dom. At least in this film Lee has been seeing therapists, though they appear to have little effect. Second, we don’t really see Lee and Grey have a conversation about their limits or consent during this movie. If you’re going to actually have a BDSM relationship, it’s important to make sure that consent and limits are discussed. However, during one of the fights, Lee invokes “Time Out” in a manner that indicates she has that as a safe word, so I think the implication is that they did have the conversation, just not on screen. I’d also point out that this is movie is under two hours long, so naturally, it might not cover everything correctly, because, let’s be honest, going over a “contract” seems like a boring scene. Instead, we just get the scenes of them having fun and living honestly with each other. *Edit* I have been told the contract is a massive part of 50 Shades of Grey, which I will include on my list of reasons for not seeing that movie.
Overall, this movie is not for everyone, but if you haven’t seen it, maybe give it a try. You might like it.