Skin Game, There Are No Fakes, and five sucky movies

Atomic Twister (2002)

With that title, you know it's horror or science fiction, but mostly this feels like a Hallmark movie (though IMDB says it was made for TBS).

It's set in a small, ethnically-diverse town where everyone's on a first-name basis with everyone else, and everyone's in everyone else's business, and pianos never stop tinkling on the soundtrack, and even the babysitter in a low-cut shirt playing Twister with the 12-year-old boy reeks of wholesome, but there's a nuclear (nu-cu-lear) reactor in town and a twister — the weather kind — is coming.

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It's a very stupid made-for-TV movie, and most of the 'drama' is about malfunctions and snap decisions at the nu-cu-lear plant, something the movie knows even less about than I do. I've always been skittish about nuclear power and stand opposed, but if the place goes dark, c'mon, they do have flashlights on hand.

Of the movie's 31 subplots, the only one that interested me (for all the wrong reasons) was cleavage babysitter and the 12-year-old boy. Tragically, the boy is annoying and cleavage girl doesn't make it very far into the movie. I made it to the end, and regret it. 

Verdict: BIG NO.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

It All Came True (1940)

Humphrey Bogart was one of the greatest movie stars of the 20th century, and maybe my favorite, for all his noir and dramatic roles. Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, Treasure of the Sierra Madre... Here, though, he's starring in a comedy, and I had my doubts that he could pull it off.

Ann Sheridan is excellent (of course and as always) as a tough-talking take-no-crap woman about town. "I act and talk and dress exactly as I please, but technically I'm still a good girl." She's in love-and-hate with a piano player who wants to be a songwriter, and they both live in a boarding house full of comedic characters, including a poodle that walks on its hind legs.

Bogart plays a nightclub operator and gambling kingpin, who shoots a man in the back in his first scene. The cops are coming for him and he needs a place to hide, so Bogart moves into the boarding house. Then everyone in the household puts on an amateur vaudeville and singing show (boring), and Bogart decides to turn the boarding house into a nightclub, with a neon sign in front and an elaborate (and boring) stage show inside.

Yes, it's ridiculous, but it isn't often funny. Smartly, though, Bogart isn't called on to carry the comedy. The film's few laughs come from Bogey playing his familiar tough guy, surrounded by a house full of nosy flatmates and mothering old ladies.

This has to be Bogey's most bizarre movie, but it's 1940s bizarre, and more tedious than funny. Bring in John Waters, please, to make a modern remake.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Lost Room (2006)

In a tense after-hours meeting in a run-down pawn shop, a nervous courier pays $2,000,000 to buy the key to a hotel room. It's a key, though, that does more than merely turn a lock. You can use this key in any door anywhere, and the door will open, but where you'll be once you've walked through the door, well, therein lies the mystery.

All the world's bad guys want to get their hands on this magic key, and there's an array of other 'objects' that have peculiar powers — a pen that burns when you click it, a pair of glasses that can put out fires, a comb that freezes time while tidying your hair, etc.

This is a six-part miniseries from the Sci-Fi Channel, before it became gawdawful SyFy. I tracked it down because it's from the same creative team that made Parallels, an intriguing TV movie I reviewed a few days ago. Oddly, Parallels didn't feel much like a TV show, but this really, really does.

It stars TV actors Peter Krause and Juliana Margulies, and they're OK I guess, but you can't work up a good sci-fi sense of wonder when it's fueled by faces so very familiar from hundreds of hours of Parenthood and Dirty Sexy Money and Sports Night and Six Feet Under and ER and The Good Wife. It's full of familiar TV tropes, too, and obvious breaks where commercials used to be, and TV music and lighting, etc. Not for five minutes could you forget you're watching TV.

I'm not saying it's shit, though. It's just… TV. There's some imagination at play, a few surprises, and occasionally the dialogue is semi-clever, but you don't have to pause it while you grab a snack or check your messages or take a leak. I had no confidence that it was going to make sense at the end, and The Lost Room runs for four hours or so, but about halfway through I took a leak and never came back.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Sisters of Death (1976)

I don't know how this film ended up on my watchlist. It's an everyone's-stuck-in-a-creepy-old-house movie from the 1970s, and not the kind of flick I'm usually interested in. Written, directed by, and starring nobody in particular, it starts with some hot babes in low-cut gowns joining an all-woman secret society, and low-cut is one of my favorite cuts, so there's that.

Here's the setup: A pretty redhead receives several hundred dollars in cash in the mail, along with an invitation to join "The Sisters." And then we learn that four of the redhead's friends received the same invitation. Soon they're all driving, busing, or hitchhiking to a small California town, seemingly unaware they're in a cheap horror movie, despite the boom mic that keeps dropping into the frame.

After that it gets kinda dumb, but it's occasionally spooky without devolving into a nonstop bloodfest, most of the women aren't portrayed as stupid, and there's an amusing surprise at the end. I've seen worse, but also, so many, many movies that are better.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Skin Game (1971)

Before the Civil War, James Garner and Lou Gossett have a profitable con game going. They travel from town to town in the South, and Garner sells Gossett as a slave, then steals him back, and they trot on to the next town to work the scam again.

Trying to build a comedy around slave auctions and whippings and shackles is very precarious. It's not an obvious setting for lots of laughs, and if you want to be offended, you could find something here to be aghast at. Me, I laughed.

Midway through the movie it gets more serious, after their ruse is figured out, and Gossett's character is sold for real. After that the movie has no logical path toward a happy ending, but y'know, if Quentin Tarantino can kill Hitler in Inglorious Basterds, then why can't Garner and Gossett free the Africans in 1850s Texas?

Verdict: YES, for the audacity of it all.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

There Are No Fakes (2019)

Kevin Hearn is the keyboardist for Barenaked Ladies, and he spent $20,000 buying a painting he'd been told was by Norval Morrisseau, a famed and respected Canadian artist. When he learned that the artwork's provenance was falsified, he sued.

I won't ruin the film by going into detail about what's revealed, but it's a story with several skeezeball characters, and it's all true 'cuz it's a documentary.

You're supposed to be angry over the fakery, and if ordinary people had been defrauded I would be, but there are no ordinary people here. When art is priced in the thousands of dollars, only rich people are being scammed, and my sympathies are short. Hearn himself tells the camera that the $20K was easily affordable for him.

Perhaps more pertinent, these fakes are not imitations of well-known works by Morrisseau. They're paintings passed off as "newly-discovered," but they're not really in his style, the colors and even the signatures are all wrong, and once the movie explains the facts of the matter, even a novice could spot the difference between a real Morrisseau and a fake. You'd think rich people would have the brains to do a little research before plonking down their not-so-hard-earned money.

To me, this is a modern-day retelling of Robin Hood and his merry men. Just like that fairy tale, the thieves are stealing from the rich and giving to the poor (themselves), and they're such brazen and merry men, I found myself rooting for them.

I'm pretty sure that was not the filmmakers' intent, though.

Also, it features original music by… Kevin Hearn, of Barenaked Ladies.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Wheels (2016)

Mickey is in a wheelchair and hates his life. He's tried to kill himself several times, but can never quite do it. In a bar he meets Drake, who's also in a wheelchair, who enjoys picking fights with bikers who promptly kick the shit out of him. Clearly, these two are destined to be the best of friends.

They wallow in hating their lives, and deaden the pain by boinking prostitutes and doing hard drugs, although it's never explained where they're getting the funds for these hi-jinks.

"If I could compare heroin to anything, I would compare it to being able to walk again."

After that, the movie turns bleak, as complicated details and misremembered memories explain Mickey's backstory, and to a lesser degree, Drake's.

I don't know squat about heroin, but here's what I know about life in a wheelchair. At the age of 41, my wife went from being a tough, absolutely independent woman to being unable to walk. She didn't like being in a wheelchair, at all.

She'd enjoy the first half of Wheels, I'm certain, for its gutsy refusal to paint a happy face on a crappy situation. And she'd hate the second half, for doublecrossing the first half.

Verdict: NO.

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Top illustration by Jeff Meyer. No talking once the lights dim. Real butter, not that fake crap, on the popcorn. Piracy is not a victimless crime. Click any image to enlarge. Comments & conversations invited.  

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