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Swing Away (2016)
One I keep coming back to
Swing Away is a movie that has no intention of reinventing cinema or storytelling, sure, but what it does it does beautifully. I mean you had me at Shannon Elizabeth on a Greek island, but I love so many things about this movie. A fantastic cast, and cast of characters, a well told tale, enough quirkiness without losing essential humanity or making a parody of the "simple" Greek villagers...
But perhaps most of all I love that the hero's journey is shared quite equally between multiple characters. Perhaps the real hero in the end is Renos Haralambidis' Panayiotis, the lawyer reduced to managing a failed golf course, unloved by the town he lives in and almost entirely alone at the beginning of the film. Haralambidis gives his character such weary pathos and lost hope that I find it impossible not to cheer him on as he regains his sense of dignity.
And then of course there is the rare chance to see Shannon Elizabeth shine for a full hour and a half. She's in most every scene here. Hollywood so often lets her talent go to waste and this is a great reminder of what we all miss out on. She has the potential to be such a classic movie star, if only producers would let her get past being 'That Hot Chick from American Pie'.
Swing Away is a movie I will keep coming back to when I need a shot of hope. And if you're looking for romance, you'll have to wait patiently but it will be worth it. How many films can make that claim?
Santa Girl (2019)
All about Pep!
I'm a sucker for both a cheesy rom-com and a cheesy Xmas movie, but this veers off into Xmas rom-com bizarro world. Then again I'm also a sucker for movies that veer off into bizarro world, so...
Much of the plot of Santa Girl makes very little sense and some of the actors appear to be playing in very different worlds (I'm pretty sure Hank Stone is working in a low budget horror flick here, which I'd kinda like to see). However, it is a production largely generated by students, working with more experienced actors and filmmakers, and for that I give points for effort and a level of quality that is not entirely expected. I love the concept of students getting the opportunity to work on something of this scale, something that lands on Netflix no less.
So there's good and bad here. And then there's Pep(!) for the moments of great.
I've watched this twice, just for the character Pep, as played so vivaciously by McKayla Witt. Funny, quirky, adorable and genuinely relatable; Witt provides much needed grounding here in her first feature. It's a manic pixie role for sure, but she's playing an elf so that's only fair. For me she steals the film and raises it above what it might otherwise have been. I look forward to many dazzling lead roles to come for this bright and talented actress.
Overall it's a hot mess, but that's still better than just being a mess. And congrats to all the students that took part. Oh, and kudos to Barry Bostwick for taking it all so seriously. I mean that sincerely, Barry Bostwick never phones his roles in, even when the material might make it reasonable for him to do so. Bostwick doesn't always get the credit, but he always puts in the work.
Work in Progress (2019)
What are we reviewing?
I gave episode #1 a 10. That's all I have to go on so far so I won't rate the entire series. But a great start! My question of 'what are we reviewing?' comes largely from the angrily negative reviews that have written off a show as it's barely begun because a) lesbians, b) hated The L Word (so what?) and c) something about left wingers (aww you care enough to keep us in fresh spittle). My gender, my politics and my sexuality are irrelevant to whether I think this show has the potential to be clever, inventive and original. I do, on each count and I'm enthusiastic about seeing more. So are you reviewing this show on its merits, or are you watching to justify the hate you already feel? 'Cause that's really pretty sad, if you are.
Princess Cyd (2017)
A rare review
I don't review movies much anymore, but there were things about Princess Cyd that I wanted to make note of, in hopes that others who are '... hmm... not sure..'. might give it a chance if they come across it. It's on Netflix and I'm sure available other places too.
I've watched a lot of indie dramas through my life and rarely have I come across one that felt as satisfying as this by the closing credits. Poignant without being saccharine, intelligent without being "clever", slow but well paced. Mostly though, I was impressed at the choices made by the writer/director, and very probably the editor, to avoid dramatic cliches and over-used tropes. There's a sense of quiet subversion at work here, a sense of veering off in a new direction at the moments we've been trained to think 'Ohhh, I know exactly where this is about to go, and ohhh I wish it wasn't.' Pleasantly surprising. I don't want to give much away, let others be equally surprised.
If you like films that make you feel you haven't seen them before, that show restraint and intelligent plotting, well you could do a hell of a lot worse than Princess Cyd. I kinda loved it. 8/10 is high for me.
Fatal Choice (1995)
I saw this on video years ago, from the crappest convenience store rental rack on the planet (remember when you could hire videos from 711 at 3am?). And let's face it, Fatal Choice probably never got anywhere near a cinema. It's got a decent B-cast; Charles Napier and Henry Silva among others. I don't remember it being the greatest film ever and everything I've read about the director says he's a hack (I saw 'Two Coyotes' and it was pretty dreadful) but somehow this one always stuck in my head. I believe the reason for that (aside from Henry Silva who I always loved) can be summed up in two words: Tiffany Lawrence. She was truly and incredibly stunning and fourteen years later I still remember her vividly, despite the fact that she seems to have done almost no film work since. I've searched high and low for a copy of the video but alas, no luck. Average film, but those eyes!