Movie Review ~ Single All the Way

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Desperate to avoid his family’s judgment about his perpetual single status, Peter convinces his best friend Nick to join him for the holidays and pretend that they’re now in a relationship. But when Peter’s mother sets him up on a blind date with her handsome trainer James, the plan goes awry.

Stars: Michael Urie, Philemon Chambers, Luke Macfarlane, Jennifer Coolidge, Kathy Najimy, Jennifer Robertson, Barry Bostwick

Director: Michael Mayer

Rated: NR

Running Length: 99 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: During the throes of the coronavirus, I became somewhat of a Hallmark Christmas movie afficionado, so I know from sappy holiday entertainment.  There’s a specific formula to these films and it never changes.  This makes them predictable and safe, easy viewing to decorate your house and tree to but rarely the kind of project you truly stop what you’re doing and pay rapt attention.  This is no dig to the actors (though some of them do have a particular Canadian, um, charm) but instead is a tribute to their consistent uniformity which gives us a happy ending when a least one woman in a red dress kisses one man…but only at the very end, and after someone has drank hot cocoa and sung “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” 

One thing that hasn’t been explored much until recently are stories from different viewpoints, representing the true world and multi-whatever families that exist.  Hanukkah movies now show up, movies specifically for black audiences are available, and there are also offerings for gay and lesbian fans as well.  Last year Hulu released the delightful comedy The Happiest Season and several networks had their own films featuring gay couples or storylines.  This year, Netflix gets into the game with its high-profile comedy Single All the Way, a bit of light Christmas fun that may not be fresh as fallen snow but is as warm and inviting as your favorite grandmother’s house on Christmas Eve. 

Working as a specialist in social media (they have those now? Oh yes, yes, they do) Peter (Michael Urie) is based in Los Angeles getting ready to head back to his New Hampshire hometown for the holidays. This year, he’s finally able to get the meddling family members constantly trying to change his single status off his back thanks to a good-looking doctor boyfriend…who turns out to be a dud.  Sweettalking long term roommate Nick (Philemon Chambers) into saying they finally made it official as partners, they can’t even get the lie out before Peter’s mom (Kathy Najimy, Hocus Pocus) announces that she’s performed a Christmas miracle and set Peter up with the town’s newest eligible gay bachelor…the hot new trainer/ski instructor at the local gym.

With Peter testing the waters with hunky James (Luke Macfarlane), Nick realizes the feelings he has for his roommate are actually more like love and if he doesn’t move fast he may lose everything.  When Peter contemplates moving back to New Hampshire, his two young cousins rally the rest of the family to meddle against him being with James and instead recognizing that he really needs to be with Nick.  As the Christmas pageant organized by Peter’s outlandish Aunt Sandy (Jennifer Coolidge, Promising Young Woman, stealing every millisecond she’s on screen) draws near, can the two men realize that friends can be more and love is a risk worth taking?

Theatrical director Michael Mayer has helmed several low-key film projects over the years, most in the dramatic field but it’s no shocker that he works wonders with this spritely comedy that is a real gift for holiday watchers of all persuasions.  Even if Urie has made a career out of playing the same character over and over again, he’s perfected it by now and it works well for Single All the Way because Peter is not brittle nor is he too soft.  There’s a median line he walks and while he’s aggravating in his indecision at times, you do see it is coming from the right place of knowing he should be on a different path.  Philemon James is a standout, a solid co-star for Urie and even if he’s the obvious choice from the get-go, his unassuming nature makes his blossoming into a confident suitor all the more believable. 

I do question if it’s by the magic of Christmas we’re supposed to believe that Jennifer Robertson (another MVP actor, this time from Schitt’s Creek, relying on playing the same character again) is Najimy’s daughter but then again casting in these holiday movies is always a little fuzzy.  Mayer at least gets the second suitor perfect in Macfarlane, the openly gay actor makes for a dreamy option for Urie’s character and at times you may find yourself shouting at the screen when Urie bows out of future dates with him.  The rest of the cast is filled in nicely by an array of agreeable performances that let the stars shine – everyone just wisely stays out of the way of Coolidge because when she’s onscreen no one else is the focus. As it should be.

Is Single All the Way a film that’s going to be added to a yearly roster of Christmas titles?  Probably not, but then again none of these Hallmark-y films ever are for me, personally.  It’s still a wonderful, harmless option for those that tire of the same old gazebo ending and want to see more representation of the world as we all know it to be.  Also…I didn’t spot any fake foam snow and that’s always a plus!

31 Days to Scare ~ The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A newly engaged couple have a breakdown in an isolated area and must seek shelter at the bizarre residence of Dr. Frank-n-Furter.

Stars: Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, Richard O’Brien, Patricia Quinn, Nell Campbell, Jonathan Adams, Peter Hinwood, Meat Loaf, Charles Gray

Director: Jim Sharman

Rated: R

Running Length: 98 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review: To truly appreciate a show like Richard O’ Brien’s The Rocky Horror Show, you have to see it live on stage.  That’s really the only way you can get the full-on experience of how O’Brien originally conceived it and see it for its clever ode to the schlock cinema from the ‘50s and ‘60s.  Set to O’Brien’s undeniably catchy tunes and lyrics that range from the divine “Dana Andrews said prunes gave him the runes” to the make-it-work “Planet, schmanet, Janet!”, the stage version premiered in 1973 in a small UK venue and gradually moved up through larger houses as word-of-mouth buzzed through town.  American producer Lou Adler caught the show one night, saw $$$ after the recent success of Jesus Christ Superstar on stage and screen, and began the musical’s journey to cinemas at the same time it was crossing the pond to take on the U.S.

By the time The Rocky Horror Picture Show opened in 1975, the stage show had played a successful run of nine months in L.A. (with original London star Tim Curry and future movie cast member Meatloaf), transferred to Broadway with the same players, and closed after an infamously short run after a disastrous NYC reception.  In between the two bi-coastal runs Curry and Meatloaf flew to London to make the movie which was planned to be released while the Broadway run was enjoying a warm reception and oodles of awards.  Sadly, only the mononymous Chipmonck was recognized with a Tony nomination for his lighting design of the 4 previews and 45 performances at the Belasco theater in March and April of 1975.

That was the stage show and the movie is a different beast all together, one that found a its own kind of status over time.  At first, though, it looked like the hope for Rocky Horror finding longevity was slim.  Opening in August 1975, director Jim Sharman’s film version is bound to be a strange experience for anyone coming in cold to the show.  The title has such a history attached to it, with the legendary tales of midnight screenings and groupies that dress up like the characters and act out scenes in front of the screen while audience members talk back to the actors in the film.  Toast is thrown, as are rolls of toilet paper, rice, cards (for sorrow), cards (for pain), and make sure you have a newspaper with you because someone will absolutely be squirting water during a rainstorm scene early on in the film.  This all happens if you attend one of those packed screenings that still exist, but not as frequently as they had in the past.

I’ve seen the show multiple times in a movie theater and onstage but rarely at home with just myself and the television and watching it with my partner for his first time it was odd to have it so…quiet.  Where were the people yelling back at Brad (A**hole!) and Janet (S*ut!)?  Why was I the only one standing up doing the Time Warp?  It did give me a chance to appreciate how nicely made most of the movie is, with several sequences edited with such immense precision it give me goosebumps (take a look at how sharp the opening to “Touch-a-Touch-a-Touch-a-Touch Me” is timed).  True, the storyline is still a bit flouncy and drifts away every so often only to have O’Brien reel it in as we round the corner to the finish line, but it’s immense fun for the most part. 

The chief reason why the movie worked then and continues to work now can be summed up in two words. Tim. Curry. All the recent hoopla about Ben Platt recreating his Broadway role in the film version of Dear Evan Hansen for no real reason should use a performer like Tim Curry (Clue) as an example of why sometimes it is the best choice after all to have the OG star in the film.  20th Century Fox pushed to have Barry Bostwick (Tales of Halloween) and Ride the Eagle’s Susan Sarandon (having an absolute ball here) cast in the roles of the virginal couple that get lost in the rain and find themselves mixed up with Curry’s party of weirdos but it would have been a death sentence for the film if Curry hadn’t been brought along from the stage show.  No one has ever come close to beating him in the role and it’s so important that a performance of this magnitude has been preserved like this forever.  Same goes for O’Brien, Nell Campbell, Jonathan Adams, and Patricia Quinn (The Lords of Salem), all original stage stars appearing in the movie with only Adams not playing the same role he did onstage.  Quinn, in particular is impossible to not watch every moment she’s onscreen…like a demented Bernadette Peters she’s always up to something.

It’s easy to throw around the term “cult” and randomly apply it as the status of a movie, but few truly earn it.  The Rocky Horror Picture show is more than worthy of being bestowed that honor and while it went up in smoke during it’s early run in theaters, I think it wound up doing just fine over the last 46 years.  The last count was that it has made over 170 million dollars in box office returns – not bad for a movie that cost 1.4 million originally.  If you can’t make it to the theater to see it live, give this one a try at home.  A bonus: you likely have the most important props (toast, newspaper, toilet paper) close at hand!

Movie Review ~ Time Warp: The Greatest Cult Films of All-Time – Vol. 1 Midnight Madness


The Facts
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Synopsis: From The Rocky Horror Picture Show to The Big Lebowski and everything in between, this fascinating deep-dive documentary begins its celebration of the greatest cult movies of all-time discussing the birth of the midnight movie.

Stars: Jeff Bridges, Pam Grier, Rob Reiner, Barry Bostwick, Michael McKean, John Turturro, Gary Busey, Jeff Goldblum, Fran Drescher, Penelope Spheeris, Peter Bogdanovich, Joe Dante, John Waters, Illeana Douglas, Kevin Pollak

Director: Danny Wolf

Rated: NR

Running Length: 105 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  I don’t know about you but all this #StayHome #StayHealthy quarantine life has gotten me pretty nostalgic on the film front.  While I’m still enjoying being able to screen the newer releases that are coming through digitally, my work desk faces a wall of movies and I can’t help but let my eyes drift throughout the day to favorite classic films of mine.  There’s my Criterion BluRay of Blood Simple nestled in close proximity to a well-watched DVD copy of Captain Ron.  Joe Versus the Volcano is being shuffled around to make room for the newly acquired 4K of Knives Out.  And did I really mess up my alphabetizing and put my old DVD of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow before Shout Factor’s Collector’s Edition of Serial Mom?  For shame.

Now, these aren’t all classic films (to some) but they may be that one flick for others that ranks high on the re-watchability scale…but how does a film earn the legendary “cult” status?  That’s the question posed at the beginning of the first volume in Time Warp: The Great Cult Films of All-Time, a new documentary that aims to cover the oft-mentioned movies that started small and got big over time, and maybe perhaps uncover a few gems film fans have forgotten over the years.  While subsequent volumes will cover the horror (Volume 2, out in May) and comedy (Volume 3, out in June) genres, this first entry corrals the true pick of the litter, the Midnight Madness titles that stand out as exemplars of the moniker.

Beginning with the granddaddy of all midnite movies, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, audiences will be treated to interviews with cast, crew, and fans talking about the origin, initial reaction, and staying power of the film over the last four decades.  While it’s all fairly standard stuff and nothing anyone with even marginal information about the show likely wouldn’t know, there’s a marked energy among all (and all interviewees throughout the doc, come to think of it) that doesn’t make it seem like the warmed over info it is.  Maybe that’s due to the fact that while the movies aren’t treated as high art, again and again their vital importance in the zeitgeist is stressed so if you do happen to count a movie like Eraserhead as better than Citizen Kane, no one involved with this production is going to judge you for it.

Some of the other titles covered are The Big Lebowski, a good example of a movie that isn’t for everyone yet has amassed enough of an audience over time to push it into cult status; Pink Flamingos, the John Waters tale of comic debauchery that definitely isn’t for everyone…dogs included; and Coffy and Foxy Brown, two Blaxploitation films that put star Pam Grier on the map.  Each come with their own groupings of supporters that detail why the films had such significance then and how their influence was important over the ensuing years.  Another dozen films are discussed in some detail with countless others mentioned in passing – it would be hard for any viewer to not hear at least one of their personal favorites tossed around at some point.

It doesn’t surprise me to learn that director Danny Wolf and the distributor are planning on breaking apart all three volumes further to create an extended TV mini-series because why else would we need a quartet of color commentators awkwardly set-up in a studio to chat about their personal favorite films between segments?  Don’t get me wrong, I’d have welcomed Illeana Douglas (Cape Fear) and John Waters (Cry Baby) to serve as the de facto hosts but I just didn’t understand where director Joe Dante (Matinee) or actor/comedian Kevin Pollak (Indian Summer) fit in at the end of the day or what they really brought to the proceedings. (I’ve watched two of the three volumes at the time of this writing).  That said, some of the people they do interview are quite entertaining, none more so than director Penelope Spheeris who appears to talk about her landmark documentary The Decline of Western Civilization.  Dressed all in black with sunglasses on, she is an active and engaging participant but is the kind of straight shooter that guffaw-inducing sound-bites were made of.

I’ll hold off on more of my thoughts for the next two volumes but as a first entry, Midnight Madness is a swell introduction into Wolf’s look into a fun side of movie history.  Providing some cinematic comfort food while we’re all hunkered down, Time Warp: The Great Cult Films of All-Time, is well-worth a look and an easy, entertaining watch.

31 Days to Scare ~ Tales of Halloween

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Ten stories are woven together by their shared theme of Halloween night in an American suburb, where ghouls, imps, aliens and axe murderers appear for one night only to terrorize unsuspecting residents.

Stars: Booboo Stewart, Adrianne Curry, Barry Bostwick, Pat Healy, Lin Shaye, Sam Witwer, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Cameron Easton, Nick Principe, Jennifer Wenger, John Savage, Adrienne Barbeau

Directors: Neil Marshall, David Parker, Darren Lynn Bousman, Adam Gierasch, Axelle Carolyn, Lucky McKee, Paul Solet, John Skipp, Andrew Kasch, Mike Mendez, Ryan Schifrin

Rated: R

Running Length: 97 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review: The problem I seem to have with many horror films is follow-through.  While quite a few have a good central concept, tasked with stretching that idea to a feature running length can water down the story the filmmaker wanted to tell.  That’s what makes Tales of Halloween such a tricky treat for horror lovers because it relieves the writers and directors of the need to overstuff their campfire tales.

A nice throwback to the days of anthology horror (Asylum, From Beyond the Grave, After Midnight, Trick ‘r Treat), the 10 frightful fables featured in Tales of Halloween are very loosely drawn together by radio disc jockey (Adrienne Barbeau, maybe playing the same character she did in The Fog?) who operates in a town where all of the action takes place.  With multiple directors and writers, this could easily have been reduced to incongruous material joined together by the Halloween theme but the assembled product is remarkably consistent in tone.

While there’s not a real stinker story in the bunch, some are more effective than others and with a running length of 97 minutes you won’t have to wait long before one tale wraps up and another begins.  Starting off strong with Sweet Tooth (nvolving an urban legend of a candy monster targeting those that don’t share) the various sequences that follow feature evil trick or treaters turning the tables on a foursome with secrets of their own, a kidnapping gone terribly awry, an evil demon called upon to punish some wicked street thugs, and a super fun reversal of fortune for a backwoods killer who encounters a UFO.  Of all the mini-features, only the final one involving a rampaging killer pumpkin (don’t laugh…well, ok…laugh) is one I could see having a feature length life of its own.

The acting has its ups and downs and those craving torture-porn gore and nudity will come away empty-handed.  Still, there’s enough gross out moments and wicked twists of fate to please most horror fans looking for something new to watch.  It’s also nice to see some fun in-jokes and a whole host of familiar faces of horror from both in front of and behind the camera. Here’s hoping we get More Tales of Halloween in the future.