Friday, May 17, 2019

Worth Mentioning - Don't Get Your Meat Where You Lay Your Eggs

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

The consequences of crushes, the horror of supernatural beings.

THE CRUSH (1993)

Sometimes there are movies that have an indelible impact on you even if they're not a favorite, even if you don't watch them all that often. Writer/director Alan Shapiro's The Crush is one of those for me. I hadn't watched the movie for more than twenty years before I rewatched it again this year, and yet it didn't feel like it had been so long because it was so deeply ingrained in my memory through the many viewings I had of it on VHS and cable just between 1993 and probably '95 or '96. From my perception, The Crush was kind of a big deal when it was first released. Everyone was watching it, reacting to the jaw-dropping shenanigans the teenage girl at the center of the story got up to.

That girl is played by Alicia Silverstone, making her big screen debut as Adrian Forrester, the one who has the titular crush. Actually, if you saw The Crush when it first came out the character's name was Darian. Lines eventually had to be dubbed to change her name to Adrian because Shapiro had based the character on someone named Darian who had really caused him some trouble. She caused more trouble for him when she filed a lawsuit demanding that her name be removed from his movie.

According to Shapiro, a large portion of the film is true to life. His fictional stand-in is Nick Eliot (Cary Elwes), a 28-year-old writer who has moved to Seattle to take a job at a trendy magazine. He rents a guest house belonging to the wealthy Forrester family, and that's when he meets 14-year-old Adrian. Adrian basically develops a crush on Nick the moment she meets him, and is soon doing her best to convince him they should be in a relationship. If she was "ten years older", Nick would absolutely go for her. She is so intelligent that she has skipped two grades and even rewrites one of his articles without asking him, improving on his work. Rejected by her peers, Adrian has only one friend her own age, Cheyenne (Amber Benson), the daughter of one of her mom's friends. She feels a connection to Nick... But he, rightly, turns down her romantic advances. So she dedicates herself to destroying his life, starting off by defacing his car. When Nick tells the Forresters what their daughter did, they don't believe she's capable of doing such a thing.

The parents' refusal to believe that Adrian messed up Nick's car is when the true story ends and the stuff made up for the movie begins... And Adrian becomes a true terror from that point on. When it looks like Cheyenne is going to confirm that Adrian messed with Nick's car, Adrian makes sure she gets injured in a riding accident. Nick starts to get close with a co-worker (played by A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors' Jennifer Rubin), so Adrian fills her rival's darkroom with wasps. She makes a writer's worst nightmare come true when she deletes all of his work.

Worst of all, at least until the ending when Adrian just straight-out tries clubbing Nick to death, is when she makes it look like Nick has violently sexually assaulted her. She beats herself up, and even steals some of his semen from a condom he dropped in the trash to make sure the police will believe her story. I remember the family members I was watching The Crush for the first time with in late '93 being shocked by that turn of events.

The Crush isn't a favorite of mine, but it is a really good, involving thriller. The only nitpick I would have about it is how bland of a character Nick is. There is nothing very interesting about him at all, he's just the generic good guy we're meant to side with at all times as he handles the Adrian situation in the most sensible way possible. It would have been nice if he had a bit more depth.

I watched The Crush a lot when I was between the ages of 9 and 12, and even though I don't go back to it very often I will always remember it as the big deal it seemed to be back in the day.

LOOK AWAY (2018)

At first glance, writer/director Assaf Bernstein's Look Away appears to be easy to brush off as just another teen thriller, something aimed at young adults that might not have much appeal for genre fans. But if you don't do what the title advises and instead give the film a chance, you'll find that this is much darker and more twisted than the average teen thriller. And it's one that earns an R rating with some bloodshed and full frontal nudity, so it's not even appropriate for the teenybopper audience.

Aided by a snowy winter setting, Bernstein and cinematographer Pedro Luque achieved a somber and cold atmosphere for the film, and within this gloomy frozen world some very strange and unsettling things occur. Bernstein's story centers on withdrawn, sullen Maria, who has been having a tough time lately thanks to her awful father, school bullies, and her only friend's jealousy over a guy's interest in her. Maria sees a chance to turn things around when she realizes that her mirror image is a separate, sentient being named Airam. Airam offers to switch places with Maria, to take control of her life, to do and say all the things Maria wishes she could do and say herself to deal with the situations she's in. Problem is, Airam starts going further than Maria ever imagined, and people who cross them are soon dying off.

Maria and Airam are played by India Eisley, who is something of a genre regular at this point (Underworld: Awakening is likely her most popular previous credit) and happens to be the daughter of Black Christmas / Psycho IV's Olivia Hussey. I have seen Eisley in a couple other films before, but found her performance(s) here to be especially impressive. She seamlessly switches back and forth between the Maria and Airam characters, changing her demeanor, shifting expressions, making it clear that these are two different people she's playing. Eisley capably carries this film on her shoulders and proves to be a young actress worth paying attention to.

Penelope Mitchell, Harrison Gilbertson, and John C. MacDonald do fine work in supporting roles, playing fellow high school students that Maria and Airam have some intense interactions with. As Maria's mother Amy, Mira Sorvino has been tasked with playing a troubled character who doesn't often reveal her feelings, but Sorvino makes sure we know there's a lot going on under the surface.

The standout of the supporting cast is the ever reliable Jason Isaacs, taking on the role of Maria's father Dan - the true villain of the film. Sure, Airam may do some things she shouldn't, she may cause the deaths of some people, but it's Dan who has made Maria's life so bad that she has gotten to a point where she would give herself over to Airam. This guy is a disgusting creep, a plastic surgeon obsessed with the appearances of the women in his life, destroying self-esteem with his comments. And that's not even his worst quality.

The concept at the core of Look Away is an odd one, and Bernstein doesn't feel the need to over-explain what's going on. An answer may be given over the course of the film, but viewers are likely to spend most of the running time wondering whether there is something supernatural going on or if this Airam stuff is all in Maria's head. I was satisfied with how Bernstein presented the information needed to have an idea of what's happening here.

I find the idea of a mirror image being a separate person to be quite interesting, but it's all in the execution, and I was concerned that Look Away might turn out to be something cheeseball. Instead, Bernstein turned the idea into a film that is dead serious and found a lead actress who was able to bring his outlandish idea to the screen in a believable way. Pleasantly surprising even when troubling, Look Away was worth the watch.

The Look Away review originally appeared on


Director David Greenwalt's Secret Admirer is an '80s teen comedy that I took a long time to get around to. I didn't watch it until earlier this year, with blog contributor Priscilla. Now, maybe I had seen it when I was a kid, but if I did nothing about it stuck with me, and for a while I even had it mixed up in my head that Secret Admirer was the title of a different movie with star C. Thomas Howell in the lead, Kid. I don't know why, there's no secret admiration in that film.

Here Howell plays high schooler Michael Ryan, who gets a very romantic letter from a secret admirer and, with the aid of his dopey pals (played by the likes of Young Guns/Three O'Clock High's Casey Siemaszko, Children of the Corn's Courtney Gains, Back to the Future's J.J. Cohen, Critters 3's Geoffrey Blake, and Rodney Pearson), comes to the unlikely conclusion that it was written by the popular Deborah Anne Fimple (Kelly Preston, who had roles in 10 to MidnightTwins, and From Dusk Till Dawn), a friend of his best friend Toni (Lori Loughlin).

You've probably already figured out who really wrote the letter, but it takes Michael the whole movie to come to the correct conclusion. As the wheels in his head slowly turn, the love letter he received and the one Toni writes for him to give to Deborah - since all he can think to do is steal lines from greeting cards - end up in the hands of other people and cause a whole lot of trouble. Specifically, these letters end up being read by Michael's parents Connie and George (Dee Wallace of The House of the Devil, the Halloween remakeAbominableBest of the Best 3CrittersCujo, and The HowlingCarnosaur 2's Cliff De Young) and Deborah's parents Elizabeth and Lou (Leigh Taylor-Young and Fred Ward of Tremors and Tremors II: Aftershocks). Unexpected by me, a large chunk of the film centers on these parents, as George and Elizabeth consider cheating on their spouses with each other because George thinks the love letter was from Elizabeth, and Connie and Lou are devastated because they become convinced that the affair is already in full swing. I really didn't like this whole parents side of the plot; it didn't sit well with me, it was uncomfortable to watch play out. I put on Secret Admirer to see teenagers in funny situations, not adults in a relationship drama.

There is a really fun scene early on, which was the standout of the film for me. Michael and his wacky friends infiltrate a party being thrown by popular jock-type Steve Powers (Scott McGinnis), then after insulting Steve they have to escape in a van. The van starts driving before Michael and his buddy Roger (Siemaszko) can get in it, but the driver slams on the brakes so they can jump in through the open back doors. When the van takes off again, Roger tumbles out onto the street, takes a moment to insult the pursuing Steve and his friends again, then jumps back into the van. Then the driver finds that they're going down a dead end, so he has to put the van in reverse - going backward until Michael and Steve are face-to-face. It was a really clever and well-shot moment of action. The driver then tries to ramp the van over a gate.

That scene isn't the only greatness Siemaszko is involved with in this film. He's pretty great in it in general, playing a character who is far from the guys he played in Young Guns and Three O'Clock High.

Secret Admirer is full of confusion and confrontation, and there are a lot of twists and turns - not really for the viewer, but for the characters, who realize the people around them aren't quite the people they think they are. With the parent stuff in there, Secret Admirer also wasn't quite the movie I thought it would be. It was darker and rougher than I had anticipated, but there was certainly still fun to be had.

I'm glad I watched this movie, and that I now know which Howell vehicle is Secret Admirer and which one is Kid.

THE FOG (2005)

I was very anti-remake around 2005, and if I hadn't been I might have had some hope for the remake of John Carpenter's 1980 film The Fog. The Fog had been a troublesome one for Carpenter, the first cut "sucked" (according to him) and wasn't fully figured out until a good amount of reshoots were done. So now they knew exactly what The Fog was and should be from the start, Carpenter and his co-writer/producer Debra Hill were coming back to produce the remake, and the director taking the hell was Rupert Wainwright, director of Stigmata - a possession movie I had liked a few years earlier. If I hadn't written this off as soon as it was announced simply because it was part of the 21st century remake boom, I might have seen it as promising.

As it turns out, it's a good thing I didn't get my hopes up. The Fog is one of the most underwhelming remakes of its era; I find it to be so dull that both times I've attempted to watch my way through it I had to take a break around the 20 to 25 minute point. I knew it was off track as soon as I heard Fall Out Boy playing over the opening titles, and especially when it introduced the comedic sidekick who talks about "testicle telepathy".

I can see what Wainwright and screenwriter Cooper Layne were trying to do here, even if I disagree with some of their choices. While the original Fog was an ensemble film that followed several characters as they made their way around Antonio Bay, California (in the remake it's Antonio Island, Oregon), the remake pulls back to focus on three characters who are connected to each other to some degree. There's Nick Castle (Tom Welling), who takes tourists out on his fishing boat; Nick's love interest Elizabeth Williams (Maggie Grace); and local single mother / radio DJ Stevie Wayne (Selma Blair), who Nick slept with when Elizabeth left town for six months.

Not only are Nick, Elizabeth, and Stevie very connected this time around, they're also connected to the history of Antonio Island. They're all descendants of the place's founding fathers, who are about to be honored with the dedication of a statue. There were four founding fathers, the descendant of the fourth is local weirdo priest Father Malone (Adrian Hough), who isn't much of a character in this version. On a foggy night back in the 1870s, those founding fathers betrayed a group of lepers who were going to establish a colony on the island, looting their ship and setting it on fire, causing all of them to die at sea. With those murdering thieves about to be honored with a statue, the spirits of the lepers are coming back for revenge - rolling into the island under the cover of a thick fog... And since this was made in 2005, the filmmakers used CGI fog instead of just being content with what fog machines could create on set.

While the original Fog was sort of disjointed, cobbled together, you can see that makers of the remake wanted to make sure everything made sense and had an explanation - here there was no room for coincidences like Elizabeth sharing a name with the sunken ship (the Elizabeth Dane), a detail in the original that meant nothing, especially since the Elizabeth character wasn't even a local in that one. There's even talk of reincarnation to more directly tie past and present events together.

The Fog 1980 had moments that were included because slasher movies were popular when it came out. The Fog 2005 seems to have taken stylistic cues from the Japanese ghost stories that were popular when it was being made. This was always a ghost story of sorts, but the remake plays that up big time, with supernatural forces guiding Elizabeth through the story.

I can see what Wainwright and Layne meant to do here, I can understand their approach... But the execution is lacking. The movie just isn't very interesting.

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