Review 500! Secret Admirer (1985)

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Review 500! I made it! Huge thanks to everyone’s who’s read this site and thought something other than “this guy is TERRIBLE”; huge thanks to the people who’ve given interviews or review DVDs; and huge thanks to the people who’ve watched some of these movies with me.

Now kids, a letter was a thing where you used to write on real paper and physically send it to the person you wanted to…sorry, such a lame joke probably isn’t a good start to this review. But a letter is the start to this movie (boom! Nailed it!), and that small piece of paper inserted into the smoothly running machine of a group of high school friends and their families is the driver for what we get. Michael (C Thomas Howell, never better) finds an anonymous love letter as he’s clearing out his locker for summer vacation, and rather than thinking it’s from his smart, funny, independent friend Toni (Lori Loughlin), he immediately thinks it’s from class beauty Debbie (Kelly Preston), who only dates older guys. The letter (and a follow-up), as well as impressing Debbie when she receives one of her own (filtered through Toni), find their way into the hands of Michael’s dad, then Debbie’s dad, which spins off a subplot of virtual farce with the four parents almost cheating on their spouses, almost running into each other in compromising locations, and so on. Add to this Debbie’s college boyfriend Steve, Michael’s comically diverse friends and his thieving little brother (Corey Haim) and you’ve got yourself a classic.

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It’s impossible for me to separate my viewing of this from my love for it as a teenager. Before the internet, or even the reissue of every awful old thing on DVD, tracking down a movie that only existed on second-hand VHS was a tricky proposition. I scoured car boot sales, markets, and charity shops for months before I found this, a VHS tape I still own somewhere; now, the best part of 20 years later, it’s on Youtube and can be found in seconds. Hurrah for the future! (the 18 year old me would have said when he’d looked through his thousandth box of old videos).

But the thing that made me happiest, that fixed a happy smile on my face (punctuated with proper belly-laughs), is that it’s aged incredibly well! The central group of friends feel like they’re a real group of friends, with no “this one’s the stud, this one’s the weirdo, this one’s the genius” shorthand. Just the sort of friends you may remember having yourself, with well-drawn personalities – the standout is Casey Siemazsko as van-owning pervert Roger, but they’re all great. C Thomas Howell is so funny, able to switch from wild physical stuff to broadly comic to tender and make it look easy; and Lori Loughlin feels like a woman from a far more modern movie, with the merest lip service paid to her being the pining “cute best friend who main guy doesn’t see that way” stereotype of movies of the time. But everyone’s great in this – Kelly Preston pulls off a thankless role amazingly well, and the parents (including Dee Wallace and Fred Ward) all seem like they’re having a great time. Also, future star of “Deathstalker 2” (aka the only good one) John Terlesky pops up as a frat guy and Corey Haim was great in his debut movie.

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It’s a film packed with stuff, and that’s one of the many reasons I love it. The parent subplot is given room to breathe and is hilarious, as are the range of supporting characters who could have just been caricatures. But it’s not just that, it’s the range of styles it uses. It has a hint of the T&A raunch-com; cartoonish visual stuff; some out-of-nowhere farce with the parents; just straight funny material and jokes; as well as romance that’s played straight and works all the better for it. In terms of plot, there’s absolutely zero doubt that the movie is going to end up exactly the way it does…the identity of the woman writing the note to Michael is hidden as she writes it, walks to school and puts it in his locker, but then revealed moments later sort of off-handedly, as if they realised it was pointless keeping it from us with only one other age-appropriate woman in the main cast. If you watch movies to be surprised, then…why are you watching a mid 80s comedy called “Secret Admirer”? Seriously? I will fight you if you insult this movie.

A lot of why this film works so damn well, still, can be pinned to writer / director David Greenwalt. He’s one of the unsung superstars of TV – going from a variety of producer roles on “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”, he was in charge of spinoff “Angel” for four seasons, and after helping out a ton of great shows, is now executive producer of “Grimm”. This was his first directorial effort and it’s really cleverly done – the scene where the frat guys chase our heroes’ van is a gem of angles and editing.

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I was the age of the kids when I watched it and I’m now the age of the parents (well, a few years younger, perhaps). It’s still every bit as good as I remember it, an absolute cast-iron classic of the 80s teen genre, which is a sign of a cleverly written and directed movie. It’s one of my ten favourite movies of all time, comfortably, and many thanks to my friend Kev for suggesting I review it for the 500th entry here.

Thanks, again, to the people who’ve made doing this fun. I’ve had a blast since 2012, so thanks to Rich for suggesting I give this a go, and thanks to everyone who reads these. I look forward to seeing you for review 1000, and I wanted to suggest one thing to you all. Do something creative, even if it’s just writing about movies. The world tells us to consume what other people (well, profit-making entities) create, and forces any creativity that pops up down closely monitored paths. Screw that, I say. Find something fun and do it, talk with other people who do the same thing, entertain yourself, your friends and complete strangers, and even if no-one’s paying attention, do it anyway.  Write reviews of stuff. Write your own stuff. Knit. Bake (especially if you live close to me). Draw weird patterns on rocks. Paint. Carve. Have fun.

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Rating: beyond thumbs up

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HG Wells’ War Of The Worlds (2005)

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I was tempted to make this review 20,000 words long, describing every single thing that happened to me during the course of watching it, in the flattest most boring detail possible. Only then would you understand just what I felt I was going through.

This is the start of the Asylum as we know and hate it. While not their first film (it’s their fifth) it is their first mockbuster, which presumably came about when one of their executives, fresh from his daily sacrifice to his dark lord Satan, realised that the story of that big new Tom Cruise movie was in the public domain and they could use it too. If you read the Wikipedia page, there’s all sorts of stuff about the book being Asylum head honcho David Michael Latt’s favourite, but I’m confident that’s a load of rubbish.

I apologise for dragging this review off-topic a moment, but literally anything is more exciting than talking about the movie itself. Wells was a politically active guy, and there’s a paragraph in the book which makes his motivation very clear:

“And before we judge them [the Martians] too harshly, we must remember what ruthless and utter destruction our own species has wrought, not only upon animals, such as the vanished Bison and the Dodo, but upon its own inferior races. The Tasmanians, in spite of their human likeness, were entirely swept out of existence in a war of extermination waged by European immigrants, in the space of fifty years. Are we such apostles of mercy as to complain if the Martians warred in the same spirit?”

Okay, “inferior” is a rough word, but he at least is bothered by it, which is more than can be said for most other authors of his day. I’d have been happy if some of that political thought had gone into this movie, but it seems despite being a big fan Latt missed all that.

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So, C Thomas Howell is George Herbert (his character in the novel is never named, so this is a tribute to HG Wells), a scientist, although his particular expertise is never used during the course of the film. His wife and son go to DC while he has to stay behind and do some work. Then the aliens invade, and that’s really that. George wanders through a number of patches of wasteground with a few people, one of whom disappears for half the movie then shows up again at the end, has a few conversations about religion with a Pastor he meets, sits about a lot looking sad, then right at the end, he finds his wife and daughter and the aliens all die, just as they did in the book.

It felt like it was 9 hours long. I was sure I was being fooled by the timer on the DVD player, that the 90 minute running time was a joke on behalf of some cruel producer. It’s almost unbearable, with a sum total of one even partly interesting scene, when George walks through a town that’s not been touched and everyone’s just sort of carrying on as normal. Yet he has a chance to load up on supplies and all he gets is a bag of crisps and some tablets, which made me want to slap him, and then slap everyone else involved in making this.

I remained puzzled throughout that humanity was just giving up, that there was no attempt to attack the aliens at any point. No tanks, no fighter jets, no guys with rocket launchers, no nothing. Just C Thomas Howell trudging through small towns, no indication that he was getting closer to where he was going, no real timescale to judge achievements by, plus lots and lots of camera angles that seemed to exist just because they’d seen them in other movies and they looked cool, no matter whether they helped the film or not.

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I really can’t emphasise enough how boring this film is. It’s so bad that it takes a reliable wild-card actor like Jake Busey and turns him into a dullard. It’s so bad that its success pains me. That success is to blame for the next decade of Asylum productions, too – trick people with the title, sell it to a few cable channels, small profit made, on to the next one. I suppose it’s more difficult to trick people like that these days, with DVD shops a thing of the past, but now they have irony on their side and a couple of years to surf on Sharknado goodwill.

Rating: thumbs down

Killer Bees! (2002)

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Has there ever been a Mayor in a movie who’s erred on the side of caution? A single guy (because they’re always men) who goes “well, I don’t want to cancel the Big Event, but I really don’t want half the town to die, so sorry folks”? Sadly, this film doesn’t give us the opportunity to find out.

C Thomas Howell, recently featured by us in “Bigfoot Wars”, is the Sheriff of a small town, haunted by the death death years ago of his father from multiple bee stings, and for some reason (possibly because I wasn’t paying attention at the beginning) a bunch of African killer bees have decided to hang out in his small town.

There’s a teen romance subplot featuring Howell’s son, and all sorts of relationship woes which viewers of SyFy Channel films will be familiar with. His estranged wife is Tracey Nelson, best known to me as Sister Steve from “Father Dowling Investigates”; and there’s also a gorgeous, friendly, funny local bee scientist (Fiona Loewi, whose career sadly didn’t go anywhere after this) who almost screams “roadblock to main romance”. Well, actually I thought she might be the villain for a while, but the film’s not that clever.

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The Mayor, who for some reason is wearing a terrible wig, can’t cancel the Honey Festival, and his almost deliberate misunderstanding of all the science drives most of the film. The locals really don’t like being told what to do so constantly storm into danger; but there really aren’t enough bees to cause much of a problem, and long stretches of the film pass with nary a bee to be found.

“Killer Bees!” is a perfectly fun little matinee film, which is exactly how I saw it on “The Horror Channel” – I love those guys, showing awesome old TV shows and interesting horror movies on the regular. It’s not the fastest film of all time, and I think Howell should have ended up with the other woman, but so be it. Also, keep an eye out that you’re watching the right film, because according to IMDB there are seven different ones either with an identical title or with “killer bees” in their title. Although one of the others might be better, who knows?

Rating: thumbs in the middle

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Bigfoot Wars (2014)

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Is “bestselling” one of those words, like “natural”, or “inspired by a true story”, that can be used without any regard for the actual meaning? Because I was surprised to find out that the series of novels that this film is based on is bestselling, when I’d lay good money on the fact that Eric Brown’s Bigfoot-themed adventures have topped no sales charts, anywhere (with the possible exception of “self-published fake creature novellas, to members of the Brown family”, and even then only just).

If you’re not buying my from-the-off negativity, it seems that the stars of the film feel the same way I do. C Thomas Howell tweeted at his fans not to buy this movie, due to unspecified “post-production problems”, and one of his co-stars sent a message to her friend praying that she was cut out of the finished film, so bad was it. But it’s probably not that rubbish, is it?

Oh, god, we’re in Boggy Creek! ISCFC readers may remember our coverage of “The Legend of Boggy Creek” and “Boggy Creek”, plus MST3K did “Boggy Creek:…and the Legend Continues”. Despite the original films not being set in Boggy Creek – no town of that name exists, as far as I can tell, and the first two films are set around Fouke, Arkansas – there’s been a virtual torrent of rural Bigfoot movies released since the death of original director / producer Charles Pierce in 2010, and they’re all set in Boggy Creek, because imagination is the endangered species in this decade.

After starting with the introduction and killing of 6 of the biggest douchebags you’re ever likely to see (well, one of them survives), I thought there was half a chance this film would turn out okay. But it gets bad quickly. The Sheriff, despite this being a giant monster in the woods thriller, has a voiceover which feels lifted straight from a film noir, with the strong suspicion it was put in to fill in the holes in filming. The eagle-eyed among you may wonder why he’s not wearing a proper sheriff’s hat, too.

Top billed C Thomas Howell as crazy (but ultimately decent) redneck Zeke doesn’t show up til over halfway into the 75 minute movie, and Judd Nelson, as the drug addicted doctor who suspects bigfoot attacks, is barely in the movie at all. There’s a local news anchor who becomes an investigative journalist, and admittedly I don’t watch a ton of TV news but do those people exist any more? Aren’t all the TV stations owned by corporations who don’t want to upset other corporations? Oh, and there’s a bigfoot attack at a local drive-in cinema that barely anyone seems to notice. Perhaps ten feet tall monsters are commonplace in their neck of the woods.

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If that’s not enough to worry you, let’s talk technical shortcomings. Daylight turns to night in seconds, and I think there was a microphone providing “room tone” that was on the fritz, as it kept cutting in and out. The Sheriff has a chat with his daughter near the beginning, and for absolutely no reason the two of them aren’t ever shown in the same shot; it’s not like one of them’s a big star who they could only afford for half a day’s filming. The music that plays over the end credit sounds like – if you can believe this – an even worse version of Kid Rock, a band called the Moonshine Bandits. Oh, and one of the cars has a Rand Paul sticker in the window, indicating that someone involved in the making of this film is a raging Tea Party asshole.

Perhaps the sole decent thing in this film is C Thomas Howell. From the cusp of the A-list in the mid 1980s, he must have made a few bad decisions or annoyed the wrong people, because he’s not really headlined a film that looked worth a damn in over 20 years. He’s made some smart TV decisions recently, though, with fantastic recurring roles on “Criminal Minds”, “Grimm” and “Southland” so perhaps he does films like “Bigfoot Wars” for a laugh now. I’m at a loss as to any other way to explain his amazing performance in this, one of the wildest overacting jobs in years. If only the rest of the film was as much fun as him.

Obviously, avoid this film like the plague. Bigfoot annoys me. They’re exactly as real as zombies, vampires and unicorns, but with the other three there aren’t a thousand awful TV programs with under-educated fools with guns trying to track them down. If only someone would put critical thinking on the curriculum in US schools. But yes, terrible film.

Rating: thumbs down

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