Friday, May 30, 2008

"Murder in My House"

Sometimes people are just absolutely perfect not only at what they do, but for what they do. Take Barbara Niven. Ms. Niven is a beautiful actress in her ‘50s with an expressive face and a range that allows her to play both innocent victims and femme fatales. She is the consummate “utility actress” (see this post for a further explanation of the term). Since her ‘40s she has been called upon time and time again to essay such roles in both direct-to-video psychological thrillers as well as made-for-TV movies for Lifetime – the kind that ultimately make it to Channel 7’s late night schedule (and consequently, the Late Nite Landfill). I think the key to her success is that she’s believable. Despite her great beauty, she doesn’t seem unapproachable or like someone you’d never happen upon in “real life.” She really does seem like a person you can meet – a soccer mom, a co-worker, a son or daughter’s schoolteacher, etc. It’s her presence both in terms of her acting and of her appearance, particularly her face. She really seems grounded in reality. Probably because she is – at her website, you can read poignant tales of her lifelong struggles with body image.

Inevitably, given the assignments she most often finds herself in, she is almost always better than the material. It’s just the nature of the beast. And probably one of the reasons she’s often hired – as the Phantom has mentioned several times here at the Landfill, the right actor can really elevate weak material so you don’t see the seams showing as much.

The trailer for this one makes it look like passable “who done it” fare to kill time with, depending upon what mood you’re in. It’s yet another movie that premiered on Lifetime in the US while having a video release in the rest of the world, notably Canada. The trailer hints that it has a little bit of that over-the-top, “zero-to-sixty heightened escalation factor” these DTV/Lifetime psycho-dramas usually have, but there is the nice twist of having a father-daughter relationship explored, especially since the daughter is middle-aged. Surprisingly, the trailer also seems to reveal a few of what are probably supposed to be “surprises” in the plot… go figure (or don’t, since the trailer already did the figuring for you).

Playing Niven’s father is journeyman TV actor Daniel J. Travanti. He cut his teeth with a variety of guest-roles in 1970s cop shows, but is most well-known for his own cop show with six seasons as Captain Frank Furillo on the acclaimed “Hill Street Blues.” His next most notable role after Furillo is probably that of John Walsh, host of “America’s Most Wanted” in not one but two TV movies about the dad who turned activist following his son’s murder. Last but not least, he portrayed legendary broadcaster/McCarthy opponent Edward R. Murrow in a television biopic 19 years before David Straithairn netted an Oscar® nomination for doing the same in “Good Night and Good Luck.”

The other notable supporting performer here is Lisa Zane. Zane is one of those “can’t be pigeonholed” performers. She’s turned up in tons of TV and movie roles, and a lot of her work is in productions like this one. But she’s also a gifted stage actress who originated the roles of Rita in "Prelude to a Kiss" and Cleo in "Robbers;”a singer-songwriter with a recording contract and a steady gig at L.A.’s Les Deux Café for over a decade; and has even done voices for animated cartoons like “Biker Mice from Mars.” Outside of her professional work, she has a couple of ties to comic book characters, having once dated the late Heath “The Joker” Ledger and of course, being the sister of Billy “The Phantom” (of the jungle, not the Landfill) Zane.

View the trailer here:

Or watch the entire movie on WABC-TV Channel 7 on Sunday, June 1st, 2008 at 11:35 PM... if you dare!

"American Strays"

When I watched the trailer for this one, I thought to myself, “what hath Quentin Tarantino wrought?”

Then I found a review of “American Strays” from 13 years ago, in the New York Times of all places, that asked the same question.

The answer was more relevant back then of course. For about 8 to 10 years, there were several lackluster Tarantino-inspired tongue-in-cheek/let’s talk about pop culture/gory shoot-em-up’s in the wake of “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction.”

In those days, many a movie review either started or ended with the line, “yet another talky, bloody, darkly humorous Tarantino knock-off”… or words to that effect.

I stand in the minority in my opinion of Tarantino. Quite frankly, I consider him the Emperor’s New Clothes. Not that he ever hid that from interviewers. When he came on the scene he revealed point-blank that his career was the result of being influenced by the films he watched working in the video store and being a pop culture geek, and he merely decided to combine the two. I just don’t think he’s ever been terribly original at doing that, despite the almost universally glowing press he receives. He’s been a kid in a candy store, allowed to make his pastiches, and that’s all well and good. Deep inside, I suspect he’s laughing at the absurdity of the accolades.

At the same time, he’s probably not anxious for anyone to discover the naked truth. Over the years in re-watching “Pulp Fiction,” that truth became more and more evident to me. That film is a film remembered for moments, characterizations and especially conversations. But as “film” – telling a story using a visual medium to its fullest extent – it’s actually pretty lacking on repeated viewings. Much better for me was the film that preceded it, “Reservoir Dogs” – but even that one was better as an example of interesting dialogue and characterization than of “story.” The story just careens to a nihilistic anti-ending. And the most engaging idea in the story, of a gang who is set up by their leader so they don’t really know one another (in “Dogs” they are given code names), is lifted from the much superior film noir classic “Kansas City Confidential” (in which the dupes are given masks to hide their identities) from 1952.

Of all the videos he watched in his shop, it appears film noir was the genre Tarantino watched most. Clearly he found his main inspiration in film noir as well as films with characters chatting about pop culture (two of the most famous being the “Bonanza” discussion in “Tin Men” and that little prologue in the “Twilight Zone” movie with Dan Aykroyd and Albert Brooks playing “name that TV theme song” – including “Bonanza”) and the profanity-laced-and-blood-soaked exploitation and mob movies from the ‘70s and ‘80s.

What these films have in common is the “reference” factor. Not just the obvious example of characters literally referencing pop culture in dialogue, but also films referencing other films in style and tone. The exploitation movies were famous for that. And how many mob movies have we discussed here that all reference one another? Even film noir, one of the greatest of all genres, was one of references. It was a combination of German Expressionist films, rough and tumble detective mysteries and intensely violent gangster movies. So we have Tarantino making copies of copies. And what happens when you go to the photocopy machine and make copies of copies? Your image gets diluted with every generation removed from the original.

Which brings us back to “American Strays.” One look at the trailer and it’s evident that it’s a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy, many generations removed from the original. I’m sure there were some critics and viewers who were just fine with it when it came out, but I wonder how they’d feel watching it now?

The film, unlike most Late Nite Landfill fare is filled with familiar faces. There are two returning Landfill veterans: Luke Perry and James Russo. Kewpie doll-cum-femme fatale Jennifer Tilly adds a little spice to the proceedings, while the legendary Carol Kane and the clueless-character expert Patrick Warburton (aka “Puddy” from “Seinfeld”) lend their own special brands of lunacy. There’s also the ubiquitous actor/apartheid foe John Savage; everyone’s favorite comic relief mob henchman the late Joe Viterelli; and Sam J. Jones, square-jawed star of “Flash Gordon.” Also on hand are two actors The Phantom has actually met: the late (and highly underrated) Brion James, best known as the replicant Leon in “Blade Runner” and Eric Roberts, who’s done a ton of great work in B-movies although he was once “the next big thing” in films like “Star 80” and “The Pope of Greenwich Village.” The Phantom had pleasant experiences meeting both genial stars.

Last but not least, this film was originally distributed by the now-defunct A-Pix. For them to handle a film like this was a bit of an anomaly. They were much better known for direct-to-video horror schlock like “Uncle Sam” and “Jack Frost” (the scary killer snowman version; not the scarier “I-used-to-be-your-dad-now-I’m-a-creepy-snowman” Michael Keaton family film version… by the way, you can click here to read a brilliant article comparing the two “Frosts” by my friend and loyal Landfill reader William C.Martell). Heck, they were probably even more well known for the packaging those DVD’s came in – both “Sam” and “Frost” had “lenticular” covers where the title characters would appear to go from benign to monstrous as you walked down the aisle. Spending an hour and a half in the video store tracking these clever cover images with your eyes may actually be preferable to watching “American Strays.”

View the trailer here:

Or watch the entire movie on WABC-TV Channel 7 on Saturday, May 31st, 2008 at 11:35 PM... if you dare!

Friday, May 23, 2008

"How to Go Out on a Date in Queens"

I suppose one could criticize this blog for the fact that I only watch the trailers for the movies I feature, and not the movies themselves. One could ask, “How accurate can The Phantom of the Landfill’s opinion be if he’s never watched the movie he’s slagging?”

That criticism may be valid... up to a point.

Let’s face it, we’re at the mercy of WABC-TV Channel 7’s late night movie programmers. All I’m doing is reporting on what they plan to broadcast next. And the fact is, we’re dealing with three kinds of movies here.

• Films made expressly for the direct-to-video or direct-to-cable markets (or both). These are the films you see in Blockbuster that make you say, “Wow, I’ve never heard of this one before,” even though you recognize the actors on the DVD case. These movies almost always fall within a certain range of quality, with “decent-enough time waster B-movie” being the highest accolade; although you’re more likely to get C to F grade movies with bad acting, bad directing and no budgets.
• Independent movies made by novice directors. These films are almost always very earnest. The director is usually also the writer, and believes wholeheartedly in the material. Usually because no one else has raised any objections (he’s either surrounded by supportive types that are either inexperienced in good writing and direction or others who know something’s wrong but don’t want to hurt the director’s feelings – in either case, “yes men.”) Because the films are already shot, produced, and most importantly paid for, they are desirable to the same direct-to-video/direct-to-cable distributors mentioned above as instant content they can provide their customers without expending production costs.
• Films made for the Lifetime Channel. We can argue the relative merits of these but there’s no point. I’m a guy and these just don’t appeal to me (with apologies to those guys who do enjoy them) beyond their value as over-the-top camp ripe for ridicule.

The other local affiliate stations run lots of movies, too – some good, some bad, but at least they’re movies you’ve heard of before with Warner Brothers, MGM and Universal logos in front of them. On the other hand, when you tune to Channel 7 late at night on the weekends and see a “DEJ Productions” or “First Look Studios” logo, you can safely assume you’re in for some prime-grade schlock of the Late Nite Landfill variety.

Which all leads up to my following statement: I cannot watch the trailer for Sunday night’s movie, “How to Go Out on a Date in Queens” without saying afterwards, “This looks like a dog from snout to tail.” It just does. I’m sorry. It’s a lot of “been there, done that” cutesy romantic comedy stuff mixed with sex comedy drivel and the curse of the indy movie, the “ensemble cast filled with broad, eccentric characters.” It looks like it has absolutely no center, nothing to unify it, just random snippets of people’s allegedly “comic” relationships. If you can actually relate to the loser characters depicted in this trailer, I feel sorry for you.

Onto the stars: Jason Alexander, who will forever be known as George Costanza from “Seinfeld” heads this cast. Alexander is one of those guys who will always give his all in any role. The problem arises when the script and direction are not up to his level. Instead of elevating weak material, the opposite effect seems to happen with Alexander – his presence makes it all the more glaring how flimsy other elements of the project are.

Rob Estes is one of those “he reminds me of…” guys. In this case, he reminds me of Sam Rockwell and David Arquette.

Last but not least, it’s hard to tell what Ron Perlman’s role is from watching this trailer. When he’s not playing reluctant-demons-turned-superheroes, he’s usually cast as a bad guy, a detective or both. Watching his quick clip in the trailer (don’t blink or you’ll miss it), I couldn’t help but imagine a comic book thought balloon above his head reading, “Just one day’s work and I get to bail this set!”

View the trailer here:

Or watch the entire movie on WABC-TV Channel 7 on Sunday, May 25th at 11:35 PM… if you dare!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

"RoboCop: Prime Directives"

I know what you’re thinking. You’ve heard of the trilogy of RoboCop movies. You may have even heard of both the live-action and animated RoboCop TV series. But what the heck is “RoboCop: Prime Directives?”

Are you sure you want to know? You can always turn back now...

For those who chose to read further, here’s the deal: at some point a company called Fireworks Entertainment apparently got the TV option on the famed RoboCop character, and right before their rights lapsed in 2000, they squeezed out a television mini-series. “Prime Directives” is a compilation of bits and pieces of that mini-series.

A little refresher course: the original “RoboCop” was directed by Paul Verhoeven and was a scathing satire on the out-of-control media, out-of-control weapons manufacturers and a few out-of-control law enforcement officials (but thankfully plenty of good ones, too). It also delivered high-octane action, high-concept sci-fi elements, and a high body count. And it starred Peter Weller in the title role, veteran of such cult classics as “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across the 3rd Dimension” and “Of Unknown Origin.” In short, it was the perfect genre film, appealing equally to fans of sci-fi, horror, fantasy, action and superhero movies.

It all went downhill from there.

“RoboCop 2” was written by popular comic book writer Frank Miller. It maintained a dark satirical edge but was ultimately a nasty tale with an ill-conceived plot about an underage, murderous drug kingpin. It was so poorly received that Miller didn’t fully re-immerse himself in the film scene until urged by Robert Rodriguez to write and co-direct 2005’s “Sin City,” based on Miller’s gritty neo-noir comic series of the same name.

The 2nd one was so dark that the keepers of the ‘Cop had a knee-jerk reaction that sent them completely in the opposite direction for “RoboCop 3.” The Weller-less, family-friendly third installment (which actually had its origins in a Frank Miller script although it’s doubtful much of it remained in the final cut) made barely a whimper at the box office, yet served as the template for the “RoboCop: The Series” live-action show as well as the eponymously-titled animated series.

With “Prime Directives,” the producers set out to return ‘ol Robo to his dark, violent roots. They just forgot to include the biting social commentary/satire and the black humor. It’s always a better idea to temper the dark with a little levity, and to back it up with some kind of subtext. Otherwise all you’re left with is bargain basement nihilism... a deadly ingredient guaranteed to bring any genre film down.

This is actually not the first time “Prime Directives” has shown up on ABC’s late movie. I actually had trouble sleeping one night and groggily flipped on the TV (in hopes of being lulled back to sleep) only to see the final scenes of this “film” play out. And let me tell you, what I saw was pretty bad. This film reeks of two things: no budget (aka: bad special effects) and Canadian actors. Not that Canadian actors are necessarily bad mind you (I actually enjoy some of the Canadian crime drama shows that have made their way to US soil like “Da Vinci’s Inquest,” the familiar-sounding “Cold Squad” - yes, it was around a bit before the mega US “Case” - and “Stone Undercover”), but when you’re watching a movie and you not only don’t recognize any actors but make note of their regional accents and TV show-style approach to acting, well, you get the picture.

There is a major element of cheese here, and it has to do with a rogue cop who becomes Robo’s nemesis. I’m not sure if he’s just wearing an exo-skeleton style armor or whether he’s mostly machine, too (like I said, I only saw the tail-end of this), but he is wearing a bony Skeletor-like skull mask. Which may sound cool but looks utterly ridiculous, especially with the clichéd, evil raspy voice coming out of it. Cheesy with a capital CHEESE.

Anyway, you’ll find a more in-depth review at the Scifi Moviepage site. They are a little more kind to the film than I am, although they share some of the same issues. And just so you’re not left on a completely dour note, click here to see to see the trailer for the “home-made” version of “RoboCop” that appeared in “Be Kind, Rewind.”

You can view the trailer for “RoboCop: Prime Directives” here:

Or watch the entire movie on WABC-TV Channel 7 at 11:35 PM on Saturday, May 24th... if you dare!

Saturday, May 17, 2008


Thanks to a Google news alert, I just learned that my blog is now featured at This is a site that allows you to rate and review blogs. If you're a regular reader of my blog, I encourage you to go to the link below and let know what you think of "The Late Nite Landfil" - thanks!

Reiterating the F.A.Q.'s

The Phantom is frequently asked the same questions. The most frequent probably being “do you really watch all these awful movies?” In the last month alone I think I got asked that question at least 4 times. That’s an average of once a week over the course of a month.

Thankfully, there’s this neat little invention called “Frequently Asked Questions,” or “F.A.Q.” An opportunity to list out common questions. I felt it was time to revisit some of these oft-asked questions that I’ve tackled before in various postings, but this time in one handy posting for your easy reference. So here goes:


No. This blog is driven by WABC-TV Channel 7 in New York and their schedule of late night weekend movies. The idea is that I write about these movies before they air, and provide the trailers for these movies whenever possible. You can then make up your own mind whether you want to actually watch these films as they air in real time over Channel 7, which is usually at 11:35 PM on Saturday and Sunday nights (exceptions include when sports events run overtime, in which case the movie may start at an unspecified time or be shown "already in progress;" or when epic movies like the annual showing of "The Ten Commandments" run later than usual, in which case the late movie is usually officially given an alternate start time).

2.) DO YOU (meaning ME, the “PHANTOM OF THE LANDFILL,” keeper of this blog) ACTUALLY WATCH THESE (mostly) AWFUL MOVIES?

NO WAY! The opinions I express on this blog are purely based on viewing the TRAILERS for the movies and not the movies themselves. The opinions are supplemented by commentary on previous work from the actors and directors, or by similarly-themed movies. It may very well be that some of the movies featured are worthy of your time from an entertainment standpoint ("Drive" comes to mind); although it is highly unlikely in most cases. I have attempted to watch many of the films that WABC-TV Channel 7 runs in this time slot, but often don't get past the first 10 minutes. Of course, there may come a time where Channel 7 schedules a movie I've actually seen before; if that happens, I'll be sure to mention it.


Any words you see that are colored olive green AND bolded are hyper-links that lead to additional content. Just click on those words and you’ll be taken to other pages featuring additional trailers, behind-the-scenes clips, interviews international TV commercials, bloopers, music videos, oddball projects (like “Circus of the Stars” appearances) and the like. It’s the Phantom’s gift to you, the discerning reader who loves to have the most potential background content at your fingertips!


I mention "Lifetime" movies because one of the movie packages that WABC-TV has leased is a collection of movies that originally ran on the Lifetime TV network. Lifetime has syndicated their movies from 2006 and earlier. Many of these movies have alternate versions that were created for international markets either for broadcast TV, home video release or even theatrical release. Those versions may be even longer than those that appeared on Lifetime and include elements such as profanity that would not make it to the on-air versions (but sometimes show up in the trailers I find). In addition to previously-aired-on-Lifetime flicks, the other packages that WABC has tapped for this late night slot include some real direct-to-video and direct-to-cable independent fare as well as a package of urban films (including some like "Sounder" that really are great, classic films that deserve a better timeslot and presentation).


You may have wished you never asked: it's "spaghetti with mealworms." And it's a real dish. Of course, the thought of it would turn most of our stomachs. I thought it made an appropriate image for the Late Nite Landfill given the nature of many of the films we feature - they can be appetizing to a point, but may also leave a bad taste overall.


Yes, you can. Most of the trailers on this site come from either the YouTube or Video Detective sites. Recently, Video Detective has added their own form of "pop-up ads" to their trailers - with a list of "recommendations" that scroll at the bottom of the trailers. It can be quite distracting. I just learned (by accident) that you can turn the recommendations lists off. If you play a trailer and the list starts, you'll see a small white triangle outline or "down arrow" next to the list. Just click on it and the recommendations list will... "PRESTO!"... disappear, just like "magic!"

"Avenging Angelo"

Have you ever had one of those “I never heard of that movie before” moments when perusing the DVD rental shelf at your local Blockbuster? The movie in question usually features a star you’ve heard of, perhaps even one who has appeared in some major releases over the years. Now, here you are face to face with a DVD box of a movie featuring someone you know in a movie you’ve never heard of. If you’re unaware of the “DTV” direct to video (sometimes called “direct to DVD” in these days, or “cable premieres” for those that run on cable TV first) phenomenon, you figure you must have somehow just missed it when it was in the theater. But if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know it most likely never made it to a theater. At least not in America.

There’s a reason for this, and it is best exemplified by something known as a “Q rating” or “Q score.” This concept refers to the practice of polling a group of people to gauge not only their awareness of a celebrity, but how they feel about that celebrity (the likeability factor). For celebrities with high awareness in other countries, it often means the ability to keep appearing in movie projects. For example, if a film star has a following in a particular country, an investor from that country may want to come on board a project that features that particular actor because of their following in that country. In many cases, they will even manage to get theatrical distribution for a project based solely on a performer’s participation in it, even if they are third or fourth billed. The video sales in that country are usually an extra to the theatrical release, while in America, the same movies go the DTV route. This is a practice that has made it possible for once red-hot stars like Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal to keep having theatrical releases overseas.

“Avenging Angelo” is one such movie. This film made its debut as a theatrical release in Italy, and went on to appear on the big screen in France, Greece, Spain, Kuwait, Mexico, Egypt and Japan. But in Poland, Sweden, Germany, Hungary, Switzerland, Finland and the United States, this film went straight-to-video. It was one of a handful of Sylvester Stallone films from 2002 and 2003 to go the DTV route, during the years in between his theatrical “Driven” and “Spy Kids 3-D” releases.

Since that time, Sly has managed to secure theatrical bookings once more, by returning to his roots with the characters that made him a household name. The seemingly improbable return of the Italian Stallion turned out to be a very pleasant surprise for many (including me) in the late 2006 release “Rocky Balboa.” Sly followed that comeback up just over a year later with the return of “Rambo” (alas, the Phantom has never been a big fan of big John, although I did enjoy the original “First Blood”). That one wasn’t as well-received (by either fans or critics) as “Rocky Balboa;” leaving Sly with a .500 batting average on the comebacks.

This also happens to be the last film of Oscar® winning actor Anthony Quinn. The Phantom is too pressed for time to go into this legendary actor's career, so you can learn more about him here. Likewise, the other most recognizable name here is actress Madeline Stowe. She has been in a bazillion movies and TV projects. Check out her filmography here.

“Avenging Angelo” is another hybrid movie, by the way. A romantic comedy that’s also a mob film (see “Prizzi’s Honor” or “Married to the Mob” for reference). Which is no surprise as Channel 7 seems to like their pasta sauce bloody – this is just another in a long line of mob films we’ve covered here at the Landfill (within my recent “Blood Vows” posting you’ll find links to all the other mob films that have appeared on the channel 7 late movie the past four months).

Could it possibly be any good? I don’t know. But I know I don’t have the time to find out. Variety actually reviewed this and gave it low marks. They particularly point out the lack of chemistry between Sly and Maddie. To quote Jerry Seinfeld, “that’s a shame.”

View the trailer here:

Or watch the entire movie on WABC-TV Channel 7 on Sunday, May 18th at 11:35 PM... if you dare!

Friday, May 16, 2008

"Shooting Gallery"

Freddie Prinze Jr. seems like a nice enough guy. He just doesn’t really interest me much as a performer. Which isn’t to say he’s terrible as much as he is unremarkable. Unlike his late father – a comedian who really did have an electric presence both on stage and on-screen. Perhaps it was the times, and the fact that he played up his Puerto Rican heritage so much in his comedy, which up until then wasn’t a very prevalent stand-up motif. He was a pioneer in that respect and so the spotlight fell instantly and squarely on him. But the fact is if the spotlight didn’t fall on him, he would have wrestled it into submission anyway. He wasn’t going to take no for an answer, not with his drive. He was dynamic, quick-witted and quite fearless. Of course, he never realized his full potential. But the tragic story of Freddie Prinze, Sr. has been oft-told so I won’t repeat it here – you can always go to Wikipedia’s account for that.

But back to the son: Freddie Prinze Jr. seems like a guy who’s well aware of his acting limitations but goes out and does the best he can regardless. In doing so, he comes off as quite amiable and likeable. Still, he doesn’t make performing his top priority in life. He’s often been quoted talking about the importance of giving of one’s self to make others feel better, of a husband’s responsibility to his wife, of the value of sharing, and how much he’d love to be a father. I’d have to agree all of those things trump the “acting bug.”

It’s no surprise he would feel this way given what happened with his father. In addition to being open about what he truly values in life, here is what he had to say about acting:

“I'm going to stop acting in the next few years because it's just too weird. You have to constantly be willing to live in a scary, emotional place, which is why actors are in therapy all the time.”

Creatively, I give him credit for attempting to take a page out of his father’s book by transplanting his own experiences (in his case, how he was surrounded by female family members when growing up) to his art, in the short-lived series, “Freddie.” He not only starred in that show, he was the co-creator, producer and wrote several of the episodes. As the Phantomess pointed out, his professional future probably lies in the writing department. Maybe so, but I suspect his most creative output will be a result of his personal life should he become a father as he hopes. Then he’ll have an opportunity to enchant his children with fantastic tales filled with the values he has embraced.

This Saturday night, Freddie has the lead in Channel 7’s late night offering, “Shooting Gallery.” It’s the tale of a street-smart pool player, his lady, a pool shark, and a crooked cop. One look at the trailer you and you know you’re squarely in Late Nite Landfill territory. The first thing you’ll notice is that the movie looks highly derivative of other movies you’ve seen. In fact, it’s another “hybrid” movie (as I mentioned back in my post on “The Enemy,” a “hybrid film” mixes several genres). “Shooting Gallery” combines the “pool shark” genre (made famous by “The Hustler” and its sequel, “The Color of Money”) with the rogue cop genre (a mainstay of the Landfill – the last one we covered was “Phoenix”) and the con-man genre (exemplified by movies like “The Sting” and “The Grifters”). It appears it may even have a bit of “mobster” in it as well.

Like most “con-man genre” films, the focus is on a trio of characters. In this case, the other parts of the triangle are made up of Ving Rhames and Roslyn Sanchez.

I’m sure most of you know Ving Rhames by now, so do I really have to go into his background? Probably not, other than to say that:

a.) He’s always offered solid support in any project he’s in.
b.) His fellow drama classmate at Suny, Stanley Tucci gave him the nickname “Ving” (his real name is “Irving”)
c.) One of his rare lead roles was as “Kojak” in a short-lived TV remake.
d.) His four mastiffs gave a caretaker a fatal heart attack after a frightful encounter.
e.) My favorite Rhames performance is in “Out of Sight.”

If that’s not enough for you, there’s always his wikipedia and imdb entries.

As for Roslyn Sanchez, she takes the lead female role here. You remember her – she was last seen on the Landfill setting sail on the ill-fated “Boat Trip” ‘nuff said!

View the trailer here:

Check out this video: Shooting Gallery - Trailer

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Or watch the entire movie on WABC-TV Channel 7 on Saturday, May 17th at 11:35 PM… if you dare!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

"Falling Sky"

I was originally going to try to play a game of “Six Degrees of Summer Blockbuster” to see how many moves it takes to link the star of Sunday’s late night Channel 7 movie, Karen Allen to past and present blockbusters.

I’ve abandoned that idea because there are too many movies that would link in one move or less. Heck, she’s in at least three summer blockbusters to start with:

“Animal House” (released July 28th, 1978)
“Raiders of the Lost Ark” (released June 12th, 1981)
“The Perfect Storm” (June 30th, 2000)

This summer, she’s also appearing in a little film you may have heard of that’s presumed to be a hit, although of course there’s no guarantee of that (“Speed Racer” being the latest to prove that point).

In addition to the films of summer, Allen has appeared in other films with big followings, including “Starman,” the holiday comedy “Scrooged,” and “The Sandlot.” None of them were released in summer, and some of them weren’t even big hits when initially released, but all have gone on to amass followings since.

Her co-stars in the above certainly link to some blockbusters. Jeff Bridges went from protagonist in “Starman” to antagonist in “Iron Man,” this summer’s first mega-hit. "Scrooged"’s namesake Bill Murray’s biggest summer popcorn flick was “Ghostbusters.” Perhaps biggest of all, James Earl Jones from “The Sandlot” gave voice to that intergalactic sourpuss Darth Vader in one of the original summer blockbusters.

We can even link Karen Allen to Saturday night’s Channel 7 movie, “School of Life”: not only did Karen Allen appear in Animal House with John Vernon, but she was also in “Malcolm X” with John Vernon’s daughter, Kate!

Now, all of this blockbuster banter has got to be more fun than the movie Karen Allen is starring in on Channel 7 this Sunday night, “Falling Sky”.


Here’s the plot: A woman growing up on the seedier side of Las Vegas learns how to live with her alcoholic mother.

The daughter is played by Britanny Murphy in her pre-emaciated, pre-bleached blonde days. As I previously mentioned in my post on “Drive,” the Phantom prefers the early “Clueless”-era days of Murphy’s career, when she still stood out as “unique,” in my opinion.

When you watch the trailer, the movie looks like it makes severe jumps in tone. This is backed up by imdb user comments which you can read here.

Karen Allen also happens to run a knit-wear designs business. I think watching her knit something instead of seeing her stuck in this potentially painful mess of a movie would be more fun, too.

You can watch the trailer by clicking here.

Or view the entire movie on WABC-TV Channel 7 on Saturday, May 10th at 11:35 PM… if you dare!

"School of Life"

David Paymer is an absolutely wonderful performer. An accomplished character actor, he has proven adept at a variety of roles, and particularly excels in comic portrayals. He has that special gift of being able to play either grounded or off-kilter characters that somehow provide the perfect counterpoint to the lead character. That’s his expertise – he is one of the absolute best supporting actors and is equally brilliant when called upon to be an integral member of an ensemble cast.

That’s no small feat, nothing that should be looked down upon or dismissed, as the supporting player is often the character who colors the whole movie and gives a movie its core tone, its undercurrent. Two Oscar® winning supporting roles that accomplish this brilliantly are Martin Landau’s role as Bela Lugosi in “Ed Wood” (providing that film’s true, warm heart) and on the other side of the spectrum, Anthony Hopkins in “Silence of the Lambs” (providing that film’s darkness that must be overcome). Yes, I know Hopkins won “Best Actor,” but he’s on-screen for about 15 minutes total, and while his role permeates the whole movie, he is by no means the lead character.

All this leads to a point about Channel 7’s late night movie this Saturday: In “School of Life,” David Paymer is the “biggest name” in the cast, first-billed. Now I’m sure if you bother to watch this film, you’ll probably see some of the usual top-notch acting from Paymer in most scenes. I’m not questioning that. What I am questioning is the use of Paymer in the main role. It’s kind of like this: using TV sitcoms as an example, most people I know enjoy characters like Ed Norton from “The Honeymooners,” George Costanza and Kramer from “Seinfeld,” Robert Barone from “Everybody Loves Raymond,” and Dwight Schrute from “The Office” as “accent,” but it would be difficult to build a weekly show where they were the main characters. The performers who portray these characters imbue them with such nuances and idiosyncrasies that they function best as counterpoint. And sometimes the performers are so closely identified with their signature supporting roles that audiences have a hard time accepting them in the lead even when they’re playing another character (the quick cancellations of various Jason Alexander and Michael Richards shows bears this out).

For what it’s worth, in this movie Paymer is playing against someone named Ryan Reynolds. I’m not familiar with him, but he seems to be working steady, mostly in television, and has a following with the younger set, not only as an actor/comedian, but also as a musician and tabloid fodder as former fiancé of Alanis Morrisette and current fiancé of Scarlett Johansson. It appears he’s on the verge of a big breakout role in a Marvel superhero movie, “Wolverine: Origins” playing the character Deadpool.

Kate Vernon plays Paymer’s wife. The daughter of the great character actor John Vernon who played Dean Wormer in “Animal House” (which we’ll discuss more in the post about tomorrow’s film), Vernon has been working steady in movies since the 1980s. Now in her mid-40s, she seems poised to follow in the footsteps of Barbara Niven, who continues to essay vivacious vixens and femme fatales into her ‘50s. Vernon’s most recent success was playing the conflicted character Ellen Tigh on the Sci-Fi Channel’s revamped “Battlestar Galactica” series.

As per usual, the Phantom is more interested in digging deeper into the supporting cast to see if he can unearth any gems. This time, that gem is the sublimely funny John Astin. Astin is one of those guys who has been around forever, and been so consistently good for so long that to many he’s just a “given,” his true worth often taken for granted. And what is that true worth? In my estimation, Astin is nothing less than a comic genius. But for performers like Astin, the general populace often doesn’t realize that until after the performer is gone. John Ritter is one who comes to mind. Everyone always liked him but his talent was so natural, so seemingly effortless that I don’t think many folks stopped to ponder how exceptionally gifted he was... at least, not until after he died. Then it became apparent that here was a man who really stood apart from the pack of interchangeable performers in television comedy. It’s the same with John Astin. He really does stand apart in my opinion. As does Henry Winkler (and if Channel 7 ever sees fit to reschedule the movie “P.U.N.K.S,” which they promised but never ran, be prepared for a major ode to him).

The Phantom noticed something interesting with this film. What we have here is a tale of two trailers. One tries to sell the film as a warm-hearted tale of academic triumph in the mold of “Stand & Deliver;” the other tries to sell it as a raucous, rowdy, scatological slapstick romp a la “Back to School.”

Let’s start with the “Back to School”-styled trailer. You can watch it by clicking here.

What’s really interesting to note that this TV movie originated on the “ABC Family Channel.” Which, based on the above trailer shows you that they’re committed to some new definition of “family appropriate entertainment,” what with that implication that the veteran teacher’s wife has had an affair with the hot new teacher on campus. Even if it turns out it’s just a dream sequence, I don’t remember the “family films” I grew up with containing content like this – especially in the context it’s presented in within the above trailer. Then again, ABC Family’s slogan is “A new kind of family.” That’s one “family” I’d prefer to be emancipated from, thanks!

If you’d prefer, you can watch the more benign, family-friendly “Stand & Deliver”-styled trailer for this movie here:

Or view the entire movie on WABC-TV Channel 7 on Saturday, May 10th at 11:35 PM… if you dare!

LATE NITE LANDFILL BONUS: For you tri-state area readers, be sure to click on the hyper-link for David Paymer above – it links to clips from the Dudley Moore-starrer “Crazy People,” concluding with a scene featuring New Jersey’s famed faux-kiddie show host and vaudeville preservationist “Uncle Floyd” Vivino playing piano & singing. ENJOY!

Friday, May 2, 2008

"Cheater's Club"

I don’t know who’s been greenlighting screenplays these days, but there seems to be an awful lot of ill-conceived plots about irresponsible behavior in movies lately. We’ve covered several such flicks here at the Late Nite Landfill, including “Sol Goode,” “The Real Cancun,” and most irresponsible of all, “These Girls.”

And those are just the movies featuring young people. On top of that, there’s a plethora of films that Channel 7 runs in its late night slot that originated either late nights on Cinemax and Showtime or in prime time on Lifetime, all revolving around adults engaging in duplicitous, promiscuous and often adulterous behavior. Films like “Cradle of Lies” and “Attraction.”

The latest to hit the landfill is “Cheater’s Club.” I kid you not when I tell you that the plot involves a group therapist actually encouraging women to cheat on their husbands! This leads to all sorts of dire consequences. Intriguing that this was a Lifetime movie – where cheating is usually the idea of the man and shown for the evil it is. Perhaps the “dire consequences” were added so as not to appear to be advocating a double standard, but the very premise seems a bit dubious to me. Oh well...

This one stars Joss Whedon alum Charisma Carpenter, who has become a television veteran in a relatively short amount of time. With seven years as Cordelia Chase on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel,” a three-episode stint as Kira on “Charmed,”
and the recurring role of Kendell Casablancas in eleven episodes of “Veronica Mars,” Charisma has become a darling of both genre fans and the comic book cognescenti. While some actors hate being typecast in such roles, Charisma is apparently grateful for being embraced by fantasy fans. So much so that, during its checkered development history, Charisma has campaigned several times for the coveted role of Wonder Woman. And it may yet come to pass. Certainly the Phantom would approve.

Of particular note for Miss Carpenter is a role she didn’t get in the 2005 remake of “The Fog.” After Fergie bailed on playing lighthouse DJ Stevie Wayne (played by Adrienne Barbeau in the original), Charisma was considered… but not for long. Studio execs decided she was “too old” and “not popular enough”... and astonishingly, replaced her with anti-thespian Selma Blair (and if you think I’m being too harsh by using that adjective to describe her, you haven’t read my post on Selma’s movie, “Kill Me Later” )

The rest of the cast is unremarkable so I’ll refrain from making remarks about them.

I don’t have a trailer for this one, just a clip. Based on the plot synopsis, it seems that what’s probably happening here is that Charisma Carpenter is trying to make up to her husband for her indiscretion. All things considered, this surprisingly plays out in a rather mundane, pedestrian fashion.

DISCLAMER: The onscreen commentary at the end of this video clip did not originate with the Phantom, but rather with the person who posted the clip on Daily Motion.

View the clip here:

Or watch the entire movie on WABC-TV Channel 7 on Sunday, May 4th at 11:35 PM… if you dare!

Thursday, May 1, 2008


This Saturday Channel 7 is running a sci-fi movie. It’s been a while since they’ve run a sci-fi or horror movie in their late movie slot. Instead, they’ve glutted the airwaves with cinemuck like mobster, psycho-maniac, he-done-her-wrong and teen sex (so-called) “comedies.”

While the Phantom doesn’t hold out much hope that this will actually be a good sci-fi film, it is a refreshing change from the litter that’s been cluttering the landfill lately.

In last week’s post on “The Stranger Game,” I mentioned how being derivative is a hallmark of Channel 7’s late night movie fare. Well, Late Nite Landfill fans, try this one on for size (pun intened): in “Antibody,” a disgraced FBI agent and a team of experts are minimized and injected into a terrorist's body to locate a bomb-triggering device.

Sounds like “Fantastic Voyage” meets “Inner Space” – with the added element of a nuclear device in the hands of a terrorist, a la countless direct-to-video military thrillers. Oh, they also throw in the “disgraced fill-in-the-blank (policeman, judge, lawyer, military commander) who now must clear his name and prove himself” element as well – the plot of about a bazillion movies from time immemorial!

However, having Lance Henriksen as the lead automatically elevates this movie’s status, probably beyond what it deserves. A national treasure, Henrisken has appeared in classic genre films like “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “The Terminator” as well as some lower-budget cable and direct-to-video endeavors. He’s had recurring roles in the “Alien” and “Pumpkinhead” franchises. On TV, he was the lead character Chris Carter hand-picked for his series, “Millennium;” plus he’s done some great voice work for the latest “Transformers” animated series and supplied the voice of Superman’s nemesis Brainiac in an animated TV movie. While most of his work has been in the horror/sci-fi/fantasy realms, he’s had a few opportunities to show his range with choice roles in mainstream dramas as well. Included on his resume are a pair of performances in which Henrkiksen portrayed real-life figures including astronaut Walter Schirra in “The Right Stuff” and action film icon Charles Bronson in “Reason for Living: the Jill Ireland Story.” You can explore his amazing filmography here.

What really makes Henrisken great in anything he appears in his personality. He combines the icy stoicism of Clint Eastwood and Charlton Heston with the spooky off-kilterness of Christopher Walken and doles out the occasional witty retort a la Bruce Campbell.

This brief clip from “Antibody” showing Henriksen’s reaction to being asked for a “sample” illustrates just how much he brings to a part, and how blessed any producer is to have him in a movie:

The only other cast member worth mentioning here is Robin Givens. Of course, she’s unfortunately more famous for once being married to brutish boxer Mike Tyson, overshadowing a career of rather steady work. Acting-wise, her most well-known role is still her first recurring role in a TV series, as high school student Darlene Merriman in “Head of the Class.”

Director Christian McIntire has a resume filled with similar sci-fi cheapies, which only seems fitting since he was born in Roswell, New Mexico!

You can view the trailer for “Antibody” by clicking here.

Or watch the entire movie on Saturday, May 3rd at 11:35 PM… if you dare!