Sunday, June 18, 2017

Eerie Indiana: S1, E19: Broken Record

Starring:
Omri Katz as Marshall Teller
Justin Shenkarow as Simon Holmes
Mary-Margaret Humes as Marilyn Teller
Francis Guinan as Edgar Teller
Julie Condra as Syndi Teller
Tom Everett as Tod's Dad
Grant Gelt as Tod McNulty
Gwynyth Walsh as Tod's Mother
Andrew White as Officer Derek

Written by: Jose Rivera
Directed by: Todd Holland

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I'll try to eliminate any confusion regarding this episode right off the bat here: This is the nineteenth, and final, episode of “Eerie, Indiana”. It was not originally the final episode, that title going to the excellent “Reality Takes a Holiday”, however “Broken Record” was added to the rotation after the show was syndicated. So, technically, this one is kind of like a bonus episode, especially considering Dash-X is nowhere to be found for the first time since he was introduced.

“Rock n' Roll Has Come To Eerie” exclaims a new sign being raised at the World o' Stuff. That sign is a reference to the “Pitbull Surfers”, a popular metal band that finally ends up in the small town...it seems that Eerie is the last to get everything. Marshall suggests the band's new album, "Eardrum Lobotomy", to his friend, Tod McNulty; his family lost their farm a while back, and his father is still out of work, so he figured some aggressive music might take his mind off things for a while. (Sample lyrics from the titular track include, “No one understands you, no one digs your dream, just crank up the music, don't want to hear your parents scream. What you need is eardrum lobotomy, eardrum lobotomy, yeah, yeah, yeah!”)

Tod, Marshall, and Simon go back to Tod's house, where he breaks out his old record player and throws the record on. And that's when his father Phil storms in, calling him a “loser” and accusing him of polluting his mind with mush. Whoa, whoa, whoa, those are some harsh words coming from a guy who can't even take care of his family by finding a job! Tod's mother storms in, interrupting her husband during his brutal tirade, and wondering why he's been acting that way; Tod leaves the room crying, leaving Marshall and Simon stuck in the room with Tod's parents. Talk about awkward. The duo excuse themselves after the parents notice them standing there.

Rather quickly, the band's music takes hold of Tod, who starts dressing like a “punk”, complete with black shoe polish in his hair, and a Pitbull Surfers T-shirt; he desperately wants to see PS in concert, as they are playing in Indianapolis soon, and he feels like it's his duty to see them live. He asks Marshall to go with him, but Marshall says that he always thought their pro-Nazi viewpoints were meant to be taken as a joke, an idea that offends Tod (“They tell it like it is!”) who still plans on hitchhiking to Indianapolis to see the show. That plan is quickly derailed when he sees his parents looking for him, forcing him to switch to plan B: Get home before they do. So he steals a milk truck in a desperate bid to beat his parents to the house—a plan that backfires miserably when he crashes the damn thing.

With Tod on the way to the hospital (more as a precaution, as he is not seriously injured), the police officer on scene (whom Syndi is shadowing for a school project) has to let his parents know about the crash. Immediately, his father assumes it was the music that was taking over his mind, and attempts to prove to the officer that there are subconscious evil messages embedded in records when the vinyl is played backwards. In an interesting twist, what he hears is evil, all right: it's recorded passages of him constantly berating his son, which breaks him down until he finally realizes the error of his ways. And with that, he apologizes, and we assume everything is returned back to normal.

Some of it, especially in the beginning, is heavyhanded and a little too “in-your-face” in execution, though the central themes (alienation, music as therapy, etc.) remain relevant as they always will. The relationship between Tod and his parents, though, is once again a step above normal family fare in that it feels fleshed out, or at least as fleshed out as a 24-minute episode can be. The family dynamic is also refreshing; far too often in media it seems that the mom turns a blind eye to everything and lets the dad do what he wants. But here, the wife is constantly defending her son; there is a surprisingly tender moment where she appears in his bedroom, apologizing for his father's behavior, and assuring Todd his father loves him. Todd then asks, “Well then why doesn't he tell me that himself,” to which the mother replies, “I don't know,” with a look of absolute devastation. It's far more hard-hitting than expected, and somehow works.

I didn't remember being too enthralled with this one the first time I saw it, but I have to say that it's a good overall episode, despite its occasional over-the-top approach. It's definitely not worthy enough to be the series finale (it should have aired earlier in the series), but it's entertaining and heartfelt, with the usual splash of comedy thrown in for good measure. Now that I think about it, this would make a good “starter episode” for those looking to get into the series, because many of the show's strengths are on display here, and with the added bonus that it would leave "Reality Takes a Holiday" as the final one, the way it was meant to be. It's worthy of a watch, especially if you missed the episode during its initial run.

EPISODE RATING:
7/10

FULL EPISODE
Click here.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Clueless (1995)

Director: Amy Heckerling
Writer(s): Heckerling
Starring: Alicia Silverstone, Stacey Dash, Brittany Murphy, and Paul Rudd



Remember Alicia Silverstone? It’s hard to believe that there was a time that she was Hollywood’s “it” girl, a title that lasted about four short years before she took the inevitable deep slope into nothingness. Being an adolescent male at the time, I pretty much went out of my way to avoid her works—a theory that I would have still maintained had it not been for my wife desperately urging me to watch this, eager to take a trip down memory lane.

Hers was much different: She was six years old when it was released to theaters, but ten or so years old when she finally caught a copy on VHS thanks to her older sister. At that impressionable age, she didn’t just see Alicia Silverstone’s Cher or her flamboyantly over-the-top friends as the caricatures they were meant to be—she legitimately wanted their lifestyle, and spent many hours watching and rewatching the movie, memorizing entire scenes and lines.

Clueless is the simple story of Cher, and her close friend Dionne, two materialistic, rich high school girls who live in Beverly Hills. Dionne is in a long-term relationship with Murray (Donald Faison, one of the film’s biggest highlights), while Cher is with no one. She lives in a mansion with her father (Dan Hedaya, another highlight), and is frequently in the company of Josh (Paul Rudd), a temporary former stepbrother from when their parents were married for a brief time. The movie makes it abundantly clear that they are no longer related, nor are they blood-related, because that would be very creepy if related people were to fall in love, which is exactly what the film has planned for them.

Getting thrown into the mix is Tai (a young, and very much alive, Brittany Murphy), who came from the rougher side of the tracks—her family is not rich, and she is, by Cher’s own admission, “tragically unhip”. Cher takes it upon herself to raise Tai’s property value, elevating her into the upper echelon of high school coolness, simply because she sees it as giving back to her community (?).

Considering this is a high school-related comedy, I could probably spend six pages fully fleshing everything out, like how Tai really wants to get with skateboarding stoner Travis (a perfect Breckin Meyer) but is steered by Cher and her clique toward popular Elton (Jeremy Sisto), who mistakes Cher’s cheerfulness toward him as flirting and attempts to force himself upon her in his car. But I’ll leave most of those subplots for you to discover on your own, because at the end of the day, as it is with most romantic comedies, the film’s only point is finding a love interest for Cher. It’s probably pretty obvious just from reading this; if it’s not, then it will be pretty obvious to you after twenty or so minutes.

Naturally, there’s not much new or original on display here—I’m sure the whole exaggerated “Valley girl” shtick had been done many times before—but there are nevertheless moments when Clueless works well. Like many of the scenes Silverstone is in; I did not realize just how beautiful she is, with her long slender legs often on display in short skirts and dresses. I’m not one to fall for “Hollywood beauty”, but her looks, along with her youthful innocence, makes it one of the few times in any chick flick I’ve seen, where I started to feel about her the way all the other characters did. This was her breakthrough role, and it’s pretty evident why she exploded the way she did, though a string of failures (culminating in the failure of all failures, Batman & Robin) a couple of years later would pretty much do her in.

It also works any time Hedaya, as Cher’s father, is on the screen…his intense persona, paired up with his love and protectiveness towards his daughter, lead to some genuine comedy gems. Ditto that for Donald Faison (as Murray), who plays a stereotypical over-the-top black man. But while his character, like the film, is a recycled idea, Faison plays it perfectly, managing to elicit some unexpected laughs. It’s no surprise that he would go on to play in "Scrubs", alongside Zach Braff, a show that I will admit to enjoying.

In the end, there’s not much here to recommend to anyone outside of their high school years--or anyone looking for a nostalgic peek back into that time frame--but for those other men who are forced to sit down and watch it at the behest of their significant others, rest easy—it’s not as bad as most of them turn out to be. And that, I suppose, is good enough praise.

RECAP: The over-the-top Valley girl lingo is humorous at first, before wearing thin, but Clueless is still a fairly entertaining romp through overly familiar territory. Its strengths lie in its characters, with all of the main cast, lead by Alicia Silverstone, turning in good performances. There are large sections where jokes fall flat, but there are enough laughs to keep the film moving along. I would recommend this more toward the younger crowd, who would probably get a bigger kick out of it than older viewers, but there are certainly much worse things you could do with 90 minutes of your time.

RATING:
6/10

TRAILER



Sunday, June 11, 2017

Eerie Indiana, S1 E18: Reality Takes a Holiday



Starring:
Omri Katz as Marshall Teller
Justin Shenkarow as Simon Holmes
Mary-Margaret Humes as Marilyn Teller
Francis Guinan as Edgar Teller
Julie Condra as Syndi Teller
Jason Marsden as Dash-X
John Astin as Radford
Mark Blankfield as Jose Schaefer
Joe Dante as Himself

Written by: Vance DeGeneres (yes, from THAT DeGeneres family!)
Directed by: Ken Kwapis

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Aaaah, “Reality Takes a Holiday”, perhaps the most famous of all “Eerie, Indiana” episodes. And rightfully so, because for the first time, or at least the first time in a while, it feels like the show is dictating everything on its own terms. I've complained in the past about many things in this series, even though I like it: the pointlessness of certain characters (Dash-X and Syndi spring to mind), the uneven balance of creativity (some episodes seem like the show was trying to set a new standard for young adult shows, while others felt like they were just trying to blend in), etc., but I have to say that they wisely saved (one of) the best for last. This isn't just a great final episode of a children's show; this is a great final episode, period. (I guess this comes with an asterisk: This was the final episode of the original run. A nineteenth episode, which is not very good, was added on after the show was syndicated.)

It starts off a day like any other: The Teller family, plus Simon, are sitting around the lunch table, trying to beckon Marshall into going with them to see Revenge of the Corn Critters (a film the Wilson Twins give “two fingers up”, to which Simon jests, “Which fingers?”), the sequel to the popular first film. Marshall, per the usual, doesn't want to go, if for no other reason than everyone else does; he stays home while the rest head off to see the movie.

While he's outside, seeing them off, he decides to check mail. And there, in the mailbox, is a copy of a screenplay. A screenplay for a show called “Eerie, Indiana”, and an episode titled “Reality Takes a Holiday.” Confused, he reads through the first couple pages, which are a word-for-word repeat of the conversation he just had with his family. He re-enters his house...only to find his entire family sitting there, staring at him. Wait, didn't they just leave? His father utters a sentence to him, he repeats it back, and then Edgar loses it, cursing his inability to remember his lines. “Cut!” says a voice in the background, and everything is revealed to be nothing more than a set in a studio soundstage.

It all seems like a joke, and one that only poor Marshall isn't in on: He seems genuinely baffled when people keep referring to him as Omri (his “real life” name), and telling him that he is screwing up lines that he had no idea he even had. Amidst all the chaos and anger of the people around him, all he wants to know is, “What happened to my house?”

There's some inspired humor in the complete change between the way the characters act on the show, and their real-life personas: For example, Justin Shenkarow (who plays Simon), goes from sweet and innocent, to an egotistical maniac who consistently likes to harass women (he tries hitting on Julie Condra, who plays Syndi, provoking a slap at one point), and yell at his agent over his own personal cell phone in between takes. Francis Guinan (Edgar), throws on a sweater as a scarf and speaks with the accent of a sophisticated gentleman (“Really Omri? These lines aren't that hard to memorize. It isn't as if we're doing [laugh] Chekhov.”) And so breaks the fourth wall: Everyone is aware they are part of a television show, except for Marshall, who is actually stuck in character. Pretty clever, right?

In trying to escape his reality, he runs out of the indoor set, where he ends up on the studio lot. Dozens of people are moving about, carrying props and backgrounds, to the many soundstages nearby. This is when Marshall hears a familiar voice, and enters into The World o' Stuff, run by Mr. Radford. Radford doesn't appear to be “in on it”, as he refers to Marshall by “Marshall”, and seems to be a real shop owner. But when Marshall tells him his problem, Mr. Radford pulls out a copy of the script, telling him the answers always lie within those pages. They skip ahead to find out how everything is resolved...only to discover that the ending of the episode hasn't been written yet!

Figuring that if there's a script, there has to be a writer, Marshall heads to the office of Jose Schaefer (a combination between the names of the two series co-creators) to get to the bottom of this. As it turns out, Dash-X is planning on having Marshall killed off in this episode, an idea that Jose is on board with. This will allow Dash to take over as the new lead. But since everything is real to Marshall...does that mean that he will literally die in real life?

He doesn't intend to find that out. Instead, he sneaks into Jose's office and re-writes the ending to the episode, giving it to Jose's secretary to deliver to the production crew. Marshall shows back up on set, where they are excited to see him, and joins his acting family at the dinner table from the first scene. What is taking so long for the rewrite to arrive? (It's the 1991 printer, which has to make enough copies for everyone on set). He stalls for a few moments, while Dash is relishing the opportunity to kill him. Then, at last, it arrives.

Marshall closes his eyes in relief...only to discover his onscreen family staring at him when he reopens them. They're still waiting for an answer. Is he or isn't he going to see the movie with them? Shocked, Marshall gets up and looks outside, where he sees neighbors enjoying a beautiful summer day; he's no longer on a set, but back to real life! As a token of thanks, he agrees to see the movie with his family, but a page of script catches his eye...

I've said it a million times over the course of these episodes, but this show was always at its peak when it wasn't afraid to do its own thing, and it certainly wasn't afraid here. The entire installment, from concept to execution, is pretty close to genius. It doesn't quite usurp “Heart on a Chain's” place on the throne as the best this show ever produced, but it's easily the best example of the show's trademark lighthearted quirkiness. (Listening to Syndi berate Marilyn for getting a tattoo by saying, “Self-mutilation is playing right into the hands of the male power structure,” is a thing of beauty. So too, is Marilyn's response: “It's my midlife crisis. You'll know what it's like in ten years.” So too, again, is Syndi's response: “Fifteen.”)

It would be impossible for one episode to completely justify the sudden appearance of Dash-X, but this one deserves points for trying. We've always known that he has always been drawn into situations for selfish reasons (usually involving beefing up his bank account), so to see him try to oust Marshall so he can take over as the show's star comes as close as possible to explaining his role in the show, in an almost "meta" kinda way. It feels like he was working “undercover” to get what he wanted all along, helping Marshall out to gain his trust so he could ultimately tear the rug out from under him...for good.

This would be the perfect episode for those looking to get into the series and see some of the best it has to offer, but I'm hesitating to recommend it in that regard, because many of the remaining episodes just don't reach its lofty heights. Besides, who eats the cherry on a sundae first? It's best to save it for last, knowing that there's always a light at the end of the tunnel, should you ever want to quit watching the series. I'm not certain this would go down as one of the great farewells in episodic television history, simply because I don't watch enough full series to make an accurate statement on that, but I am fairly certain that a strong case could be made.

EPISODE RATING: 9/10

FULL EPISODE

As expected, they have started taking full episodes off of YouTube. Click here for an alternate link.

Monday, June 5, 2017

In the Company of Men (1997)

Director: Neil LaBute
Writer(s): LaBute, based on his own play.
Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Matt Malloy, and Stacy Edwards


There are very few films as endlessly bleak and mean-spirited as Neil Labute’s In the Company of Men, and that is probably a good thing. It takes a simple idea, and turns it into a mechanism for horror; underneath its fa├žade as a black comedy (and I must confess, it is frequently very funny), it almost plays out like a psychological thriller. By the end, there is nary a life that isn’t ruined; of course the only one virtually unscathed is the one that deserves it the most. It is human nature at its most primitive, and although it’s not a film that anyone short of a sociopath can truly “enjoy”, it still makes for riveting, original cinema.

Aaron Eckhart plays Chad, a business executive who is recently going through the breakup of a long-term girlfriend. So too is Howard (Matt Malloy), his friend since college, and current colleague. Chad is clearly a misogynist; the type of person that gives all business executives a bad name. He’s cocky, arrogant, rude, and vicious, and those are some of his better traits. Howard is about the only person who seems to be free from being the target of his attacks.

The two of them are taking a six-week business trip to a different office, when Chad suddenly concocts a terrible idea: to make themselves feel better, why don’t they find the most innocent woman that they can, preferably one who has no self-esteem, spend the next six weeks buttering her up, and then both just dump her out of the blue. Howard is hesitant to agree, but at the insistence of Chad, he finally relents. After all, you never want to be on the bad side of a guy like Chad, and sometimes that means going along with him when everything within you is telling you not to. Now all they need is a victim.

The first day at their new office, Chad requests the help of a woman in a cubicle who is wearing headphones, and refuses to acknowledge his presence. He thinks this is rather rude, but upon discussing it with another worker, discovers that her disrespect was involuntary: she is completely deaf. The moment he hears this, he knows what we already did—that they have found just the kind of person they were looking for.

And so, over the course of the next six weeks, Chad and Howard take turns dating Christine. She, of course, does not know that the two of them even know each other, much less that they are in cahoots with one another to destroy her life. Chad, being the arrogant SOB that he is, is naturally smoother with the ladies, and so he is the one that Christine is the most smitten with. Yet it’s Howard—poor, bumbling, rambling, awkward idiot Howard—that begins to have feelings for Christine, which clearly aren’t reciprocated. That’s when the whole situation becomes a powder keg threatening to explode at any moment, where even the slightest action can set off a chain reaction of events that could ruin all of their lives.

In the Company of Men appears to be very straightforward at first, but the story weaves along, throwing in a surprising number of subtle twists and turns. It’s always refreshing to see a movie that I can’t completely figure out within the first few minutes, and this was one of them—I had no idea how it would end, until it ended. I won’t reveal specifics, but let’s just say for anyone that was hoping the film would, against the odds, present us with some sort of happy ending, will be ever so sorely disappointed. But as bleak and as depressing as the ending is, the most disturbing truth is that it’s also the most in step with human nature.

The acting is uniformly superb across the boards: to simply pay attention to Aaron Eckhart’s excellent performance, while casting off the rest, is to undermine equally effective roles by Stacy Martin (as Christine, the deaf victim), and Matt Malloy. It’s true that Malloy’s character is probably the most straightforward—he spends a large portion of the movie simply taking orders from Chad and looking hesitant and sad—but he has moments of sudden anger that hint there may be a sociopath lurking just under the surface, and the effect is chilling.

In the Company of Men is an outstanding debut film from Neil LaBute, who would go on to helm some Hollywood fare, as well as plays, over the next few years. Many have come to blast his misanthropic view of the world, which was only heightened over his later works, with critic David Kimmel citing: “Neil LaBute is a misanthrope who assumes that only callous and evil people who use and abuse others can survive in this world.” Unfortunately, all it takes is a quick glance of the real-life world around us to see that he is right.

RECAP: Endlessly bleak and depressing, In the Company of Men, which was adapted into a movie from Neil LaBute’s own play, is nevertheless an audacious, one-of-a-kind work that still somehow manages to elicit occasional laughs. It’s the exact opposite of a feel-good movie, but for those that might be sick of “happy endings” (in a cinematic sense) or manufactured Hollywood works that pander to their audiences, this thought-provoking work might be just the ticket.

RATING: 8/10

TRAILER




Sunday, June 4, 2017

Eerie Indiana, S1, E17: Zombies in P.J.s



Starring:
Omri Katz as Marshall Teller
Justin Shenkarow as Simon Holmes
Mary-Margaret Humes as Marilyn Teller
Francis Guinan as Edgar Teller
Julie Condra as Syndi Teller
Jason Marsden as Dash-X
Rene Auberjonois as The Donald
John Astin as Radford
Bryan Clark as IRS Man

Written by: Julia Poll
Directed by: Bob Balaban

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I've mentioned how “Eerie, Indiana” liked to take adult ideas, and make them palatable for older children and younger adults, and now they are at it again, with an episode that takes on the (potential) evils of the credit world.

It's always a timely subject. We all know that person that eagerly got their first credit card at a young age, and was thousands of dollars in debt before the end of the month. Hell, there's a good chance you even might have been that person. The thought that we can buy something, anything we could possibly want, without actually having the money is an enticing one, and obviously the lenders are always trying to cater to people with that thought process. After all, the higher the total bill, the more they stand to collect in interest.

Naturally, there's a bizarre spin around it—as I said, it has to appeal to children—and in this case, it comes in the form of subliminal advertising, which is also either a timely subject, or one that has beaten a horse to death. Mr. Radford, the owner of the world-famous (or just Eerie-famous) World o' Stuff General Store, has fallen behind on his taxes by quite a few years. An auditor from the IRS is on his way to the store, and Mr. Radford is sure that he will lose his store, and probably many other things, in the process.

After venting about the heartlessness of the IRS, in walks “The Donald”, a creepy man of cocky arrogance who seems to think he can sell out the entire store within 72 hours. If he does, Mr. Radford will have to pay an unspecified (onscreen) fee. If not, then Radford doesn't owe him a thing. It sounds too good to be true, but Radford is a soon-to-be poor, desperate man (“Being broke made him an easy mark,” a line spoken by Marshall that teems with aching truth), so he will take anything that comes his way; he signs the contract before reading even a single word. (Explains Marshall: “But a little voice inside me was screaming: Do not trust a dude in a ponytail whose first name is 'The'").

Yet again, we have another random appearance by Dash-X, who—again yet again—is caught attempting to steal things from The World o' Stuff. As is becoming standard for the course, The Donald likes what he sees in the young rebel, and wants to hire him as help for his new ad campaign. Eager as he always is at the promise of making tons of money, Dash agrees, and signs on the dotted line. He's only been in the show for a few episodes now, and somehow his mere presence has become completely redundant (though, once again I must note it is through no fault of Jason Marsden, who portrays him; the writers just never give him anything to do).

The new ad campaign, which promises “E-Z Credit” and is prominently featured on every single channel, is a big hit, drawing the entire town to The World o' Stuff's “Midnight Madness” sale. But these don't look to be well-informed consumers looking to make necessary purchases; no, as the title alludes, they appear to be brainwashed zombies putting stuff on credit simply because they can. And, as usual, it's up to Marshall and Simon, both of whom have resisted the catchy marketing jingle, to save the town from the greedy Donald! It might take some help from one of the items he purchased from the store...

This one is vintage Eerie, for better and for worse. Once again, Marshall's parents are sucked into the chaos (along with the entire town), but no one remembers anything that happens afterwards, even though everyone snaps out of the “zombification” as they are entering buses in their nightgowns and pajamas (long story). The fresh-yet-predictable Dash-X character decides to help only after learning that he stands to gain nothing from the contract he signed. I understand he's the bad boy character, but the whole “Dash goes against the good guys to make money, learns that he stands to gain no money after all, at which point he decides to help Marshall and Simon, after all” routine is already growing stale.

But for all the typical complaints, we have all the standard praise, too: It deftly blends some humorous moments with stinging truth to form a concoction that appeals to virtually all age groups. Marshall and Simon continue to be one of the most adorable one-two punches in kids' show history, and while I could argue that Simon seems to be taking the backseat to Marshall and Dash more and more every episode, I won't. Their innocence is refreshing in that it doesn't feel staged simply to make them appear to be “holier than thou” kids who can do no wrong, but instead feel genuine, thanks to writers that seem to understand them pretty well (it's always frustrating in shows when characters seem to frequently act “out of character” just to advance a plot, but that rarely seems to happen here.)

I am starting to wish that the show wasn't greenlit for so many episodes right off the bat. Studios usually tread lightly with shows like this, given all the question marks and variables involved, but I'm sure having Joe Dante's name attached might have had something to do with it. The episodes vary wildly in quality, and so with a shortened season of twelve, or even ten, episodes could have really left viewers wanting more, and cemented it in the pantheon of classic television shows abandoned before their time (curiously, NBC must have had second thoughts about its cancellation, as they produced a spin-off series entitled “Eerie, Indiana: The Other Dimension”, a few years later, which also lasted just a single season). Granted, this probably wouldn't have helped it during its run—I think it was doomed to be canceled no matter what, as it its best it was way ahead of its time, and its targeted viewers' intelligence—but it really could have helped secure a stronger fanbase down the road. Either way, I guess once a show's done it's a moot point.

Actually, come to think of it, introducing the Dash-X character seems to have been a last-ditch effort on the part of the writers to infuse something fresh and new into the series in order to gain more viewers. This frequently seems to happen with struggling shows, much in the same way people in struggling marriages will try to have a child, thinking that will save them; both situations usually end up the same way. The only downside to eliminating Dash is that the excellent series finale probably wouldn't have been possible, so I guess there's that. Still, fewer episodes would have been the key here, at least in my opinion.
As I said, this is more of the same, which is great if you're already a fan of the show, and probably not so great if you're not. For me, what started off as an exciting bit of nostalgia is admittedly whittling itself down a little bit with a successive cluster of episodes that just seem too bland for what the series is capable of. We do have the famously weird final episode to look forward to, which ended the series on a good note at the time, but since the series was syndicated, they added a nineteenth episode that's not so good. Why can't anything be straightforward in Eerie?

EPISODE RATING: 6/10

FULL EPISODE



Monday, May 29, 2017

Blue Ruin (2013)

Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Writer(s): Saulnier
Starring: Macon Blair, Devin Ratray, Amy Hargreaves, and Kevin Kolack



A viewing of Jeremy Saulnier's breakthrough feature, Blue Ruin, was preceded a couple of days earlier by my second viewing of Dead Man’s Shoes; both films, while focusing on aspects of revenge, couldn’t be any more different in the way they go about it. Maybe that’s part of the problem for me, because while the rewatching of Dead Man’s Shoes only seconded what I believed the first time--namely, that it’s a damn near flawless revenge flick—a first viewing of Blue Ruin proved to be rather disappointing. And while comparing movies in a review is no doubt frowned upon, if for no other reason than it disregards one of its own merits, I’m going to do it anyway, simply because I feel the comparisons are important in explaining why I feel the way I feel about this film.

Now, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with the way that Blue Ruin goes about laying down its story: whereas Dead Man’s Shoes becomes more of a slasher film, where the success of the vengeful brother is never in doubt, Macon Blair’s Dwight is a nervous everyman whose obsession with righting a wrong drives him to excessive lengths. His vulnerability adds a layer of depth that’s missing from the Taken’s and even the Dead Man’s Shoes of the world; it actually ends up being the film’s greatest asset.

Dwight is a nomad, sleeping out of his car, when he is approached by a police officer and taken into an interrogation room. But he is not in trouble; she is merely informing him that the man responsible for killing his parents, a Wade Cleland, is being released from prison, and felt that he should be in a stable, safe place when he heard the news. It seems revenge has never left his mind, and before we know it, he is following the newly-released prisoner to a club. There, he waits in the restroom for his chance to strike—and after a brief struggle, he emerges victorious.

He becomes suspicious when there is no news coverage of the murder: Everyone close to either person knows that it was Dwight who did it, because he has been motivated to kill Wade ever since he went to prison, for reasons that will only gradually become obvious as we move forward. He figures that associates of Wade will most certainly be coming after him, or members of his family, to even the score. One night, while Dwight is staying at his sister’s house (she has fled with her children), members of the Cleland clan come a-knockin’ on the door. He manages to injure one and escape, but not without taking some damage of his own—an arrow to the leg.

He eventually goes to a hospital to have it treated (after an agonizing scene in which he attempts to fix it himself), and after releasing himself, tracks down an old high school friend, Ben. Ben actually ended up being far and away my favorite character; a tried-and-true, loyal friend who is willing to help Dwight in any way that he can, without so much as a question. So great is his drive to help Dwight, that it takes Dwight stealing his car battery to prevent Ben from following him and putting his life on the line, over a situation that doesn’t involve him in the least. (Fun fact: Devin Ratray, who plays Ben, was Buzz McCallister in the first two Home Alone movies; he proves he has matured as an actor, as he delivers a solid performance as a likeable guy.)

This is where the writing hits its peak: the relationship between Dwight and Ben feels completely natural and organic. Just from watching the two men interact with each other, you can feel the strength of their bond. Granted, a lot of this falls on the actors for bringing the words to life, but the writing is fluid and convincing, and when paired with the performances, this easily became my favorite part of the film.

Up until now, things have seemed pretty straightforward, but that is not necessarily the case: Blue Ruin slowly reveals gradual twists and revelations along the way, that keep both Dwight, and the viewer, on their toes. One of them is something that I’ve always expected to see in a revenge film, but never have. It didn’t quite have the resonance for me that it could have if, say, it were the main twist, but I applaud the filmmakers for trying something new to try to invigorate the crowded revenge subgenre. (I will not reveal specifics on what it is, because part of the appeal is discovering it on your own.)

In the end, though, I must confess that Blue Ruin just didn’t do a whole lot for me. The twists and turns don’t really, in my opinion, amount to all that much, and when all was said and done, they felt like smoke and mirrors, masking a story that's pretty conventional to begin with. A couple of the points and ideas that it presents, namely that the nature of vengeance is ultimately pointless, and how one person’s decision can destroy so many others, are certainly topics worth exploring; I just felt its structure was rather lackluster and unrewarding, as it slowly rolled its way to its expected destination.

Despite this, there’s no doubt that there’s loads of talent both in front of, and behind the camera, and I’ll still be keeping an eye on Saulnier’s career (Green Room, which was his follow-up to this, became a small hit and hit almost all of the notes for me that this one missed). This film seems to have been a hit with critics (no surprises there), and word-of-mouth seems to be creating additional buzz. So while I found Blue Ruin to be mostly dry and unengaging, it’s clearly from the mind of a promising filmmaker.

RECAP: There are occasionally moments of effectiveness, but I found Blue Ruin to be a little too dry and unengaging for my tastes. The plot builds slowly, with minor revelations gradually being revealed, but once the puzzle is all put together, there wasn't enough there to justify Dwight's behavior. Part of that, that revenge is pointless and unsatisfactory for a myriad of reasons, is no doubt the point, but considering I had to use up my own personal time to follow along with the story, his waste of time also became mine. Dwight is the perfect antithesis of the standard revenge-fueled protagonist--nervous and all-too-human, rather than an invincible superhero—which leads to some tension in a couple of his confrontations, but it all just feels too linear, and conventional, to leave any sort of lasting impression. I hope I don’t sound too hard on it, though, because writer/director Jeremy Saulnier clearly has ambition and talent, and even though I was disappointed with this, I’m still eagerly looking forward to his future releases.

RATING: 5/10

TRAILER



Sunday, May 28, 2017

Eerie Indiana, S1 E16: The Loyal Order of Corn

Starring:
Omri Katz as Marshall Teller
Justin Shenkarow as Simon Holmes
Mary-Margaret Humes as Marilyn Teller
Francis Guinan as Edgar Teller
Julie Condra as Syndi Teller
Jason Marsden as Dash-X
Ray Walston as Ned
John Astin as Radford
Harry Goaz as Sgt. Knight
Gregory Itzin as The Mayor

Written by: Michael Cassutt
Directed by: Bryan Spicer

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The creators of "Eerie, Indiana", Jose Rivera and Karl Schaefer, have made no attempt to hide the fact they are into conspiracy theories and cover-ups, and now they confront one head-on: the Illuminati. Only, of course we're not dealing with it on a global scale, but rather a scaled down version as it pertains to Eerie, and Marshall Teller specifically.

In this one, his father has joined a weird, secretive society that is all geared toward...well...corn. They wear corn-shaped hats on their heads, pass around popcorn, have a leader referred to as a “kernel”, and sing a song called “Hail to Thee O' Ears of Splendor”. Since Edgar is a new member, he is being “initiated” into the group, which involves being whisked away to a secret room, to do God knows what. Well, Marshall, who is viewing all this from the window of the building (why would such a secretive group use a first-floor building with a wide variety of windows?) desperately wants to get in...until they are confronted by someone who doesn't take kindly to their snooping!

Oh wait, that's just Dash-X, who once again randomly shows up simply to move the plot along. He just started his job as a waiter in the Loyal Corn building, and is going to have the kids removed, until they bribe him to let them in. Always game to fatten his wallet, Dash agrees, sneaking them in through a window. That's when they discover that the bartender, an old man who also functions as Dash's supervisor, is in every single lodge picture dating back to 1915...and he looks exactly the same in all of them! Clearly, there's more going on here than meets the eye...

Conveniently, all the members leave the lodge, heading to Edgar's house to grab a “part” necessary for an unspecified project, which leaves the lodge unattended...except for Dash, Simon, and Marshall, that is! The trio find a large color-changing crystal hidden away (“This looks like one of those hokey, new-age crystal things. My sister has one almost that big. She thinks it'll get her a boyfriend,” Marshall explains), and link it to an open slot on a machine that oversees a massive television screen. As Simon and the crew find out the hard way, that crystal can open a portal (via the TV) to other planets, and before we know it, Simon is stuck freezing on Mars!

The secret lies in Edgar, who is working on a universal remote of sorts that will allow people to come and go freely from inside the television monitor (or something like that). Meanwhile, his wife Marilyn is getting fed up with all this “corn” business, and threatens to prevent him from completing work on the weird device. But if he never finishes the remote, then Simon will be doomed to spend the rest of his life on a foreign planet! That can't happen, can it?

As it turns out, and spoilers be here ahead, the bartender is an alien being, after all. But he is not here to destroy our planet, but merely to explore it. The episode ends with him being summoned back to his home planet. Dash wants to go with him (as they creepily share the same “Dash-X” symbols on their hands), but is told that the answers to all of his questions—namely who he is and where he came from—lies in Eerie. These are, sadly, things that the series never found the time to answer, and honestly, questions that were never all that convincing to begin with. (Why do we care, considering this is a character that just popped up randomly, and with no warning?)

This is an okay episode, teeming with mysteries, but with an ending that feels way too standard for a sci-fi themed episode. Actually, the whole thing just feels standard, with a rather lackluster story, and an unconvincing “race against time” to save Simon. Once again, Edgar and Marilyn, who witness all of the bizarre events inside the lodge (including Simon being rescued from Mars, and the old bartender returning to his home planet) forget everything by morning, on account of them wearing the corn hats, which control their thoughts. I know that's the point of the show—that only Marshall and Simon are attuned to what's going on, while the brainwashed adults are completely oblivious to the weirdness—but it gets frustrating that the show teases us by including Marshall's family in on the bizarre happenings, only to just have them “forget”. I use this phrase often, but the show feels too smart to resort to these kinds of lame tactics usually reserved for lesser kids' shows.

This one started off with some promise—the introductory scenes in the corn lodge are appropriately weird and clearly hint that something isn't right—but the otherwise conventional handling of the material makes this feel like “Twilight Zone Light”. That might be up the alley of some, but to me, the show was always at its best when it was subverting, rather than catering to, the needs and wants of its target demographic. It was a show that, on its surface, was geared toward children, but deep inside, seemed to want to be accepted by adults even more. “The Loyal Order of the Corn” just feels like the show was on autopilot at this point, and while it's not a terrible episode, it's a far cry from the flashes of brilliance this show always liked to tease us with.

EPISODE RATING: 5/10

FULL EPISODE