Wednesday, March 5, 2014
This review has been written in conjunction with the Daily Grindhoue's year long tribute to the USA World Premiere Movie.
Based on the true crime novel of the same name (also known as Mountain Madness: A Deadly Night, A Bloody Secret, A True Story), A Murder on Shadow Mountain recounts the extraordinary story of a woman who is intent on proving her husband did not commit murder, even though the evidence she digs up continually indicates otherwise.
Denny and Barbara Traynor (Peter Coyote and Michelle Lee) have an idyllic blue-collar life, filled with happy children and secure jobs. All of that gets turned around after Denny is arrested and extradited to Oregon to stand trial for a murder he allegedly committed over two decades earlier! During his time in the holding cell, Barbara begins to uncover a lot of secrets about her husband, but stands by him, even when the “truth” dictates otherwise. Her love and devotion become an inspiration and even the man who had Denny arrested begins question the case, as Barbara seeks answers to the night of the murder.
The story is interesting, perhaps even more so because it’s based on a real life event, but this adaptation is just not captivating. The leads are... and I really hate to say this... lackluster, and it appears as though Michelle Lee's heart was just not in this film (Of course, I won't speak for her, because I'm sure she can kick my ass, but if you've seen the film you get my point). Coyote fares a bit better, but his weird mid-west accent comes in and out just like his bright moments.
Yet, Shadow Mountain has a surprisingly moving ending. Despite the drama that never really goes anywhere, Jayme Knox’s honest portrayal of Sheryl, a victim who continues to blame herself for the events as they unfolded, digs itself into a very real place. She is the lynchpin-twist of the TVM, but it may have served the filmmakers better if they made the movie about her side of the events.
Shadow Mountain, which originally aired on May 25th, 1999, should have been a great movie. Dan Levine’s tepid screenplay attempts to create a mystery that provides twists and turns at every commercial break, while playing on a postmodern slant of memory as inherently fragmentary and slanted, skewed to the point of making fantasies into “facts.” The nerdy side of me was totally in this film’s court, hoping we’d see some kind of examination on how the reinterpretation of memory works as a survival instinct, but maybe that’s just too big for the little-TVM-that-almost-could. And again, I may have been #TeamShadowMountain if the performances were just a little stronger. I have only recently discovered Knot’s Landing, and Lee’s portrayal of Karen Fairgate is in so many ways, larger than life. Intense, but loving. Loud but thoughtful. Even when Karen gets on a high horse, I’m always willing to hear her out. Just that one part makes Michelle the perfect choice to play a character like Barbara. Not so much here. Barbara is simply not interesting, nor is Michelle’s lifeless portrayal, and neither character nor leading lady can carry the film.
USA World Premiere Movie – you’ve disappointed me, but I refuse to break up with you. I know you have more gifts to offer (and I love gifts)!
Note: I really hated writing this review, but I guess they can’t all be winners, right?
Monday, March 3, 2014
Original Air Date: August 3rd, 1979
When I think of the words Ebony and Ivory, I instantly think of that bit of pop music heaven that Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder pulled together in the early 80s. You know, the one about people living in harmony on keyboards or something like that. But once you throw in the word Jade, the whole image changes to represent Martha Smith from Scarecrow and Mrs. King, Debbie Allen from Fame and Bert Convy from my heart.
|Ebony, John Travolta and Ivory|
|This is Ebony and Ivory's "Oh no you didn't face." They make it a lot.|
|Original newspaper promo for Ebony, Ivory and Jade|
Saturday, March 1, 2014
Original Air Date: February 26, 2006
Nosy, annoying neighbors are par for the course in the world of television. Take Mrs. Kravitz from Bewitched. Yeah, I know women didn’t work outside of the home much back then and probably went a little stir crazy, but she really needed to take a ceramics class or something. Then there’s bitchy Barb on The Mommies, always popping in when she’s least wanted (and yeah, I’m throwing a Mommies reference at you. So what of it?). And of course there’s Mr. Bentley from The Jeffersons. OK, he was pretty cool, but wasn’t it funny when George would slam the door in his face? The point is that intrusive neighbors are a a staple of that little world coming through the tube. We seem to like those meddling folks, but wouldn’t we like them even more if they were completely whacked out of their head and possibly murderous? The answer is a resounding yes!
Thank the TV gods that Janis Rivers (Shannon Lawson) is crazy. I’m not giving anything away by saying that because from the very first second you see her you know she’s about two bricks short of a full load. The fun of Love Thy Neighbor isn’t in who did what or even necessarily how they did it, the fun is in watching the actress give new meaning to the words coocoo bananas!
After a traumatic break-in, Laura Benson (Alexandra Paul, one of my favorite Baywatch babes and a Lifetime movie regular) finds herself unable to cope. Her hotter-than-Georgia-asphalt hubby Jim (Gary Hudson from Ladykillers) moves the family to a gated community. Unfortunately, they have moved next door to Janis. If a Stepford Wife and The Stepfather had a love child, it would be Janis. She longs for perfection, but if she doesn’t get it… well, you get the point. The best part is, Janis hardly ever gets what she wants.
Janis runs the gamut of pranks on her neighbors. She does everything from leaving threatening letters (with words cut out and pasted on paper!), to making anonymous phone calls in an attempt to ruin the coach and Laura’s daughter to swinging her hips to keep the rent-a-cop plenty distracted. And she does it all with a smile on her face. Janis is only interested in maintaining a false sense of perfection, and she’ll take down anyone who wants to prove it otherwise.
There are brief glimpses of Janis’ inside world, like when she’s spying on the rent-a-cop while chowing down on some fried chicken. These were some of the most interesting aspects of film, humorously revealing the imperfections of Lifetime’s kookiest neighbor. Love Thy Neighbor is so much fun. It’s completely formulaic, all the way down to a Janis vs. Laura smackdown, but there’s so much life in the villain it’s hard to not enjoy watching her. However, it should be noted: this movie is not kind to animals. The Benson’s luck with pets is excruciatingly painful and how I still mourn the loss of poor Fred!
Love Thy Neighbor is on DVD.
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Original Air Date: May 8th, 1974
This Toronto lensed shot on video thriller originally aired under the ABC Afternoon Playbreak moniker all the way back in 1974. The Playbreak series, which ran from October 31st, 1973 – February 13th, 1975, was a cycle of 90 minute stand alone episodes that would air once a month, preempting the daytime soap programming, and there were about 4 to 5 episodes per season. The afternoon movie format proved to be popular and many of the Playbreaks won Emmys, including The Last Bride of Salem which garnered an award for TV stalwart Bradford Dillman.
It’s a little sad and strange that Playbreak hasn’t been documented better, it wasn’t until I attempted to research this film that I discovered the series. Luckily, Bride has a bit of cult following and after watching it I can certainly see why. It’s eerie, claustrophobic and well paced. I should also add the score would make any giallo fan's mouth water. There are some decent Goblin-like grooves to be found lurking inside this story of modern witchery!
Bradford Dillman is Matt Clifton, an up and coming artist and doting family man who is offered a chance to stay at a worn-down but large and serene farmhouse so he can create… ahrt! Matt packs up his wife, Jennifer (Lois Nettleton) and daughter Kelly (Joni Bick) and they head out to the serene countryside; only things aren’t quite as tranquil as they had hoped. Jennifer is sure something nefarious is happening to her husband and child, but could it really be an aged old curse taking over their bodies, and preparing Jennifer to become a child bride to Satan? Yikes!
Bride harkens back to the exceptional SOV British series Thriller, which also featured stand alone horror tales. Like Bride, Thriller relied heavily on the less is more tactic of terror. Fairly traditional to the medium during this era, the SOV style really work as far as I’m concerned. Maybe it’s because I’ve been heavily influenced by the look and approach of soaps, but there’s something creepy and effective about straight faced video horror (at least from that period). It works here, because of that particular video polish and because of the strong acting, and just because it’s an eerie story played out just right. In fact, director Tom Donovan and writer Rita Lakin were no strangers to serial world – he directed such shows as Ryan’s Hope and General Hospital and she wrote for the nighttime shows Flamingo Road and Dynasty! Lakin also adapted Death Takes a Holiday into the made for television format and it still remains one of the most haunting and beautiful romance films of that medium. So often this format is considered subpar and certainly the use of video doesn’t help it earn any respect, and that’s a miserable fate for a subgenre so needlessly pushed aside.
And, here’s an oddball piece of trivia: You will spot John Candy as a background character. He appears in a couple of scenes, but the one I remember him in is the ritual scene. I jokingly said, “Hey, it’s John Candy,” and it was!
Monday, February 24, 2014
When soap operas were a hot commodity in the 1970s and 80s, many high-profile issues came to the forefront of their storytelling. One of the most compelling stories on One Life to Live involved an African American woman who attempted to pass herself off as white as a way to enter into the higher classes. The casting of black actress Ellen Holly in a central role in daytime was marked as a first, and it prompted two other ABC soaps, General Hospital, and later All My Children to feature black actors in prominent roles. (Note: Holly’s story is not one of triumph though, and you can read about her allegations against the show regarding the mistreatment of her and her character here)
They might not always get direct credit, but soaps have often tackled weighty issues while they pursue love in the afternoon. However, they were still a bit behind when it came to building an entire series around a largely black cast. The NBC sudser Generations, which debuted on NBC on March 27th, 1999, may have been a short-lived attempt to bring more diversity to daytime, but they also left behind a nice legacy.
Former Young and the Restless writer Sally Sussman created Generations. Sussman was interested in a stronger depiction of blacks on daytime television and said in an interview, “[W]e're starting from scratch with a core family who happens to be black. That enables us to give them a credibility and importance, a history, that most blacks on daytime don't have.” However, Sussman hoped that her show not only gave black audiences proper representation, but that other audience members also related to stories. In an interview with Soap Opera Weekly, Sussman clarified, ''We're in the business of drama here, not social reformation. I'm not out to change the world. I want to entertain people and captivate them with our characters. What makes people tune in to a soap? Compelling characters, romance and good stories with strong emotional payoffs. Black or white, that's what the daytime audience wants to see - and that's what we're going to give them. In the end, it's all a crapshoot.''
Sussman's hopes for a successful series may come across as modest, but she had lofty ambitions for Generations, and brought in Dr. Troy Duster, a prominent sociologist working as a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, to consult. She also made sure the writers worked in an area separated from the actors. Sussman believed that the separation alleviated pressures and allowed the show to maintain some secrecy with their storylines.
And, Generations did tackle many pertinent issues of the late 80s. The story was centered on two families living in the Chicago suburbs, one black and one white. The matriarch of the black family had once worked as a housekeeper for the white family, but through a successful chain of ice cream stores owned by her family, both families now existed on the same economic level. The connections between the families ran deep, and issues arose from these circumstances. Consultant Duster remarked, “In the first generation, there is a maid in the big house… Second generation, the ice-cream parlor owner begins to achieve some kind of entrepreneurial successes. Therefore, the connection between whites and blacks transforms dramatically in two generations… One could even say there’s a metaphor here for race relations in the last three decades.”
The impetus behind Generations came about for a couple of different reasons. One was that, according to the New York Times, Nielsen ratings for soap viewing in black households were quite large. In 1988, black audiences were increasing while other audiences were declining. The incentive to cater to the African American audience was indeed a business decision. However, Sussman and crew strove to give their show a real sense of relevance and identity.
Generations caught the attention of the NAACP who embraced the series and pushed for its success. Benjamin L. Hooks, executive director of the NAACP said in an interview, “While it is agreed that African Americans have made some strides in breaking through what was an iron curtain that prevented them from exercising any real power in these industries, it is obvious that a great deal still needs to be done. We are, therefore, in total support in any and all efforts that will accomplish these goals.”
The series brought in a number of well-respected African American actors, including Richard Roundtree (Shaft), Joan Pringle (The White Shadow), Taurean Blacque (Hill Street Blues), Debbie Morgan (All My Children), Kristoff St. John (Young and the Restless) and a then-relatively unknown Vivica A. Fox (Kill Bill). Yet, despite such a high profile cast and a lot of publicity, Generations struggled to find an audience. Critics found the premise and desire to bring a black family to the forefront of daytime admirable, but they also felt many of the stories were the stuff of contrived storytelling, even by soap standards. About a year into its run, the Nielsen’s placed the show last among the 12 soaps that were currently airing. Bringing in 2.3 million viewers is not necessarily horrible numbers in today’s soap opera world, but in 1990 it was nothing compared to the nearly 8 million viewers that its direct competition, The Young and the Restless was pulling in (Y&R remains the top rated soap on television, with an average of 5 million viewers showing up every day). Black audiences made up approximately 20% of the audience, which was roughly equal to the percentages that the other soaps were attracting.
Hooks continued to push for black viewers to tune into Generations, urging the 1700 chapters of the NAACP to lobby for the troubled series. In November of 1990, the show hired Dorothy Lyman, most recognized on daytime TV as Opal on All My Children, to inject new life into the series. She signed a contract only to see Generations cancelled just a few weeks later. There was some protest put out by the NAACP and the show considered whether or not it would have a life in syndicated markets. Unfortunately, this never came to be, although the soap did enjoy a spell of re-runs on BET. Upon cancellation, Generations producer Jorn Winther sadly commented, “I don’t think I’m going to see an integrated show again.”
Flash forward some 20 years or so, where only four soaps remain on daytime network television. I only recently started watching The Young and the Restless, and noticed that the show entertained a diversity in ethnicities, although I don’t know the history well enough to speak to how integrated the characters are. Tyler Perry also has a primetime soap on OWN called The Have and Have Nots, which enjoys a multi-racial cast, and wonderful ratings. Generations may not have been able to achieve the kind of awesome legacies that other long running series have enjoyed, but, like the character Carla Gray on One Life to Live, Generations laid the groundwork for the integration and diversity that would inspire, aptly enough, an entire new generation.
Friday, February 21, 2014
I guess Punxsutawney Phil wasn’t joking around when he let us know that we had a few more weeks of the cold stuff coming! If you’re like me, you’ve probably become very good friends with your space heater, and have been spending a lot of time watching television. As much as I love living in the past, I am also grateful to be connected enough to the interwebs that my options as a retro loving geek are opened up in so many different ways!
Last year, when it was too hot to go outside, I wrote about The Summer of Amazon Prime, but now that it’s too cold to go outside, I thought I should add some titles for those of us cooped up for the winter. I was thrilled to find that Amazon has added a slew of new titles, some of which I’ve already started reviewing. A lot of these films are on DVD, and while that was another treat to stumble upon, many of TVMs listed are a bit obscure, and this might be the first time they’ve been available for some time. I tried to add links to both the streaming and DVD purchase link, but please forgive me if I missed something!
I think the TV gods have been listening to my prayers, because Amazon has a great selection of films by some of my favorite small screen actresses. For this post, I decided to focus on the ladies who have a nice chunk of their TVM work available for streaming:
Victoria Principal: I’ll be honest, while I always thought Pamela Barnes Ewing was gorgeous, and Victoria was fantastic on Dallas, I never really took a liking to the character. She seemed a little self-righteous and overly emotional (and not in that fun I-should-be-in-drunk-tank way that Sue Ellen so often was). I was always a little distanced from Pamela’s woes. It wasn’t until later, when I started to watch Victoria’s other work that I really understood what a truly fine actress she is. Although it’s not on Amazon Instant Video, I cannot recommend Mistress enough (and it’s on vhs!). Victoria put in an affecting performance as the ex-kept woman on a downward spiral. After that film, I started to seek out more of her work. In 1989 she moved behind the camera, producing the kinds of films that she wanted to appear in. Amazon is offering a nice handful of them:
Naked Lie: This little potboiler finds Pamela as a prosecutor mixed up with a murderous judge. The judge is James Farentino and he’s a sex-fiend. His voracious appetite for the dirty stuff gets him mixed up with a would-be blackmailer, and it very quickly leads to murder. Naked Lie is lots of fun, and Farentino is particularly great. And it's on DVD!
Sparks: The Price of Passion: I did a big ol' spit take when I ran into this one, because I’m still giggling over Ted Wass’ sexy sexiness in Baby Sister (which I really need to do a write up on). In Sparks, Victoria plays the mayor of a small town. Her almost-affair gets her into some hot water, but that doesn’t stop her from getting to the bottom of a strange series of murders that have been plaguing her town. Not great, but a good time waster. Sparks also features a nice appearance from the great Ralph Waite, who we lost recently. And it's on DVD.
The other two Principal movies that are streaming are Abduction, and Dancing in the Dark. I am hoping to get to those soon!
Lindsay Wagner: Who doesn’t love this gorgeous creature? I’ve recently been revisiting the ridiculous but fabulously entertaining Bionic Woman series (on Amazon Instant Video no less), and I’ve been reminded of just how lovely and charming Lindsay is. I'm a big fan of her TVM work as well, and I was thrilled to see a nice chunk of it featured on the site:
Nightmare at Bitter Creek: Any film that mixes the likes of Lindsay Wagner, Joanna Cassidy and Constance McCashin, with a touch of the handsome Tom Skerritt just has to be good right? Definitely. I adore this survivalist flick that pits a group of city woman, and their drunkard cowpoke guide against a bunch of militant racists who only want cleanse ‘Murrica! Surprisingly suspenseful, Nightmare is my favorite of Amazon’s Wagner offerings. You can buy it on DVD as well.
Babies: I saw Babies when it originally aired in 1990, which is funny because I have absolutely no maternal instincts. I don’t remember why I tuned in, but I’m sure I was heavily influenced by the incredible cast, who include Lindsay, Dinah Manoff, Adam Arkin and Marcy Walker (who is quickly becoming a favorite small screen face). This one is all about the different ways modern families grow, or don’t grow, depending on your needs. It offers a few different viewpoints on motherhood and Lindsay is in fine form. And my god, this woman is gorgeous! Babies is on DVD!
Callie and Son and A Child's Cry are also on Amazon Instant Video, and they are on my list!
Barbara Eden: If you’ve ever visited my blog, I am sure you are aware of my unending love for all things Eden. This lovely actress is one of my all time faves, and I am pleased with the offerings available on Amazon Prime:
The Woman Hunter: It's been eons since I saw this movie (on DVD), but I remember it was fun and stylish and Stuart Whitman looked gorgeous. Must see TV!
Return of the Rebels: Such fun fluff! Read my review here. Return is also on DVD.
Visions of Terror: This is another one I saw a long time ago and haven't had the chance to re-visit. Terror (aka Eyes of Terror) is the sequel to a TVM called Visions of Murder, which also starred Eden as a psychic psychologist! There are a few references to the original film (which is on DVD), but I followed it just fine without seeing the original. Eden looks great too.
The Portrait Series: The films Portrait of an Escort, Portrait of a Showgirl and Portrait of Stripper are not related except by the word Portrait (and semi-connected by Lesley Ann Warren who appears in two of the films), but they are great wanna-be tawdry examples of the more exploitative side of the television movie.
Of the three, I think I enjoyed Portrait of an Escort the most. I’m not sure it’s the best in the series, but it’s the one that had me the most engaged in the story. Susan Anspach is a put upon mom working for no money and for a crap boss. Her co-worker suggests she make ends meet by working for a dating service that is almost exactly what it sounds like… a dating service. Susan is able to dodge sleeping with her clients, and, every now and then she meets a decent guy. However, it’s out-of-work actor Tony Bill that catches her fancy. Only, she doesn’t want him to know she’s an escort and he doesn’t want her to know that he’s being kept by an older rich lady. That sounds like some heavy duty web tangling, right? Well, throw in a psychotic stranger who likes to break into Susan’s apartment and cut up her clothes, and you’ve got one great night of entertainment! Portrait is on DVD.
Portrait of a Stripper is a lot like Escort only this one stars Lesley Ann Warren and instead of working as an escort, this single mom makes her money as a stripper. Well, kinda. She’s a good dancer but the breaks are few and far between. It doesn’t help that her dead husband’s parents want their grandson and have set out to start smear campaign against Lesley. A fantastic photographer but low rent detective is put on the case, and check it out, he falls in love with Lesley. I mean, how could he not? I liked this one a lot too. It’s all very romantic, despite the stripping and spying and Lesley is just lovely in the part.
I like Portrait of a Showgirl, but despite the stellar cast of Rita Moreno, Lesley Ann Warren, Dianne Kaye and Tony Curtis, it’s just not as engaging of a film. This is more of a slice-of-lifer and has a lot of energy but lacks whatever oomph it needs to keep up with the other two Portrait films. Still, it’s a fine time waster, and Rita Moreno is worth a watch in anything. This is on DVD.
If you need more Lesley, you can also watch Family of Spies, a mini-series that is currently streaming on Amazon!
I’m telling you… TV movie heaven!
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Contrary to popular belief, Are You Lonesome Tonight is not a Lifetime movie. The best television for women channel gets a lot of credit for much of the slick, somewhat exploitative, small screen fare, and sometimes deservedly so. However, much of their library was acquired from other networks that had a toehold before Lifetime’s complete stranglehold on saucy TV.
|See! I told you it was a USA Original!|
|Matt works a sloppy tux!|
|Hello Part Deux!|
|It's super hard to be lonesome when there's always someone snooping around!|
Are You Lonesome Tonight is on VHS.
|One more shot of Matt in the tux... Amuse me, K?|