If Lucy Fell (1996) review- The Sex and the City prequel that everyone forgot about (and for good reason)

Sometimes I feel bad for Sarah Jessica Parker, since she still gets a lot of shit for easily her most iconic role.

Ever since Sex and the City went off the air in 2004, she’s been subject to a seemingly endless stream of think pieces and hot takes about how Carrie Bradshaw is such a bad protagonist; someone who is immature, materialistic, and completely self-absorbed.

This wasn’t helped by the series’ subsequent two big screen adaptations, which arguably made every character on that show look bad by taking their most negative qualities and pumping them up to 11.

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However, after sitting through the 1996 romantic comedy If Lucy Fell, I think its safe to say that Parker’s more famous turn as a quirky New York City socialite on HBO could have gone a lot worse.

In this film, Parker plays the titular character of Lucy, who feels unfulfilled in love despite the fact that she has an amazing job (a therapist) that gives her enough disposable income to live comfortably in one of the most expensive cities in the world. Sound familiar yet?

But rather than unloading her anxiety on a trio of girlfriends, in this story Parker vents her frustration to her artist roommate and best friend Joe (played by Eric Schaeffer) who’s suffering from similar bouts of romantic frustration.

As the film starts, the pair come up with a solution that’ll fix both of their current predicaments: if they don’t find true love by the end of the month, they’ll both jump off the Brooklyn Bridge and kill themselves.

No, you read that right. You haven’t experience a stroke. The entire foundation of this alleged “romantic comedy” is built upon a death pact that’s initiated because two well-off, highly educated people are mopey that they haven’t found an intimate life partner by the time they turn 30.

It’s a shame that the phrase “first world problems” wasn’t popularized until much later after the movie’s release, because critics at the time could have easily summarized their reviews of this turkey by using those three simple words.

Now, to be fair, this premise could have been salvaged if the filmmakers were self-aware of their shallow premise and the movie was conceived as some kind of dark satire about how seriously some people take the New York City dating scene.

Unfortunately, these characters are played completely straight, which turns them into complete sociopaths.

For example, for someone who is supposed to be a therapist in a professional setting, Parker’s Lucy is completely inconsiderate of people’s feelings in her dating life, since she callously rejects potential suitors before she gets a chance to know them.

Even her attitude towards seemingly platonic friends is questionable, since I’m pretty sure that a licensed shrink shouldn’t, under any circumstances, joke about wanting to kill themselves.

Meanwhile, Schaeffer’s Joe comes across as being an unhinged, creepy stalker, since he’s constantly peeping on his hot neighbour and paints portraits of her as she walks around in her underwear.

There’s an extra layer of “ick” added to Joe’s storyline when you realize that Schaeffer served as the film’s writer, director and producer, which explains why a statuesque blonde like Elle MacPherson (the neighbour) would fall for a man who isn’t even remotely in her league in terms of charm, poise or physical attractiveness.

That being said, MacPherson should be commended for taking on the near insurmountable task of pretending to be turned on by Schaeffer’s obnoxious brand of 90s stand-up comedy when they start getting intimate.

At least when Woody Allen pulled this shit back in the day he had some good writing to back up his auteur narcissism. Schaeffer’s idea of a meet-cute scene involves inviting his love interest to an art gallery and greeting her with the line “I have herpes.”

Even though Parker’s courtship with a dreadlocked buffoon (Ben Stiller) doesn’t make your skin crawl, it’s still really boring, mostly because you know that it isn’t going anywhere.

Within the first 10-15 minutes of the runtime, anybody with a brain would be able to predict that (SPOILERS) Parker and Schaeffer are going to end up together in the end, since they both eventually realize that the soul mate they’ve been looking for was in front of them all along.

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I could go on and on about the movie’s adherence to other romantic comedy clichés, including half-baked physical comedy, a script full of fortune cookie wisdom that’s passed off a deep psychological insight, and an indie rock soundtrack that immediately dates the movie by two decades.

But I think the main reason why this film doesn’t work can be boiled down to the two mains leads, who are so repulsive and unlikable that you would rather watch them carry out their suicide pact than be a passive observer in their shallow pursuit of true love.

Say what you will about Sex and the City, but at least it used the backdrop of the New York dating scene to (occasionally) push boundaries and explore ideas that had never been discussed on TV before.

With If Lucy Fell, all the director brings to the table is his ego and desire to get laid, which he should have relegated to a personal diary entry or some kind of unpublished fan fiction.

(Speaking of personal logs, I am aware that Sex and the City already has a prequel in the form of The Carrie Diaries, but I haven’t gotten around to watching it … yet).

Verdict:

2/10

Corner store companion:

Sour Patch Kids (because you’ll be making that same kind of face throughout this entire cringefest anyway).

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Fun facts:

-Release date: March 8, 1996.

-Budget: $5 million (estimated)

-Box office gross: $4.5 million (estimated).

-I noticed a weird reoccurring pattern scrolling through Eric Schaeffer’s IMDB page, since he’s attached himself to several projects that include the word “fall” or allude to the act of falling in the title. These include: If Lucy Fell (1996), Fall (1997), Mind the Gap (2004), Gravity (TV series, 2010), and After Fall, Winter (2011). I don’t know if this is indicative of some kind of weird fetish that’s manifesting in his creative pursuits, but I’ll let you make the call.

-Unexpected cameo: A 12-year-old Scarlett Johansson has a small supporting role as one of Schaeffer’s students in his art class.

-The entire soundtrack for If Lucy Fell was provided by the indie rock band Mary Me Jane, whose involvement in the production gave them enough clout and leverage to produce their first studio album with Sony in January 1996.

-Musical highlight: “Twenty-one” by Mary Me Jane.

Commandos Strike at Dawn (1942) review- Uncle Sam gets creative with his recruitment techniques

The 1940s was truly a golden age in terms of Hollywood produced war propaganda.

Not only would these productions play as cartoons or documentary shorts before the beginning of a feature film, but sometimes they would take the form of the main attraction itself.

This can even be seen through a screen classic like Casablanca, which was made entirely to capitalize on America’s decision to enter the Second World War and reassure the US public that their government had made the right decision.

John Farrow’s Commandos Strike at Dawn, released at the very tail end of 1942, operates on that very same logic, since its plot and characters are meant to serve as an stand-in for America’s transition from neutrality to outright involvement in the Allied war effort.

In this film, the role of audience surrogate doesn’t go to Humphrey Bogart but Paul Muni, who plays a mild-mannered Norwegian fisherman whose sleepy village is taken over by the Third Reich in 1939.

While Muni’s character originally believes that the best course of action is to simply cooperate until the war blows over, he’s gradually pushed to violence after witnessing the atrocities committed by the Nazis and recruits a squad of British commandos to help liberate his home.

Now, when I use the term “propaganda” to describe this film, I don’t use it in an entirely negative sense. After all, I’m perfectly willing to stomach some ham-fisted messaging in my entertainment as long as the end product is well-made.

For example, even though Casablanca is a pretty transparent World War II allegory, it’s done with a certain level of sophistication and the film contains a pretty timeless love story that still strikes a cord with audiences to this day.

Unfortunately, the same really can’t be said for Commandos Strike at Dawn, since the filmmakers settle for cheap gimmicks that relegate the production to being simply a product of its time.

This kind of tone is established in the first couple seconds of the film, when the opening credits prominently display all the flags of the Allied powers, including the Soviet Union’s hammer and sickle. This kind of intro immediately dates the film, especially with the Cold War being right around the corner.

Even though there are times where the movie’s attempts to be timely do work out in its favour (like how the characters mention the persecution of Jews at a time when they were being slaughtered in concentration camps in real life) this kind of tacky filmmaking has way more misses than hits.

Although Muni is a compelling lead, he’s saddled with a lot of corny lines about how “nobody’s going to win the war for anybody else,” which sound like they are meant to lecture the 1942 audience rather than inform the movie’s characters.

The rest of the film’s cast is even more disposable.

Despite the fact that all the major players are given a long introduction through a fairly impressive tracking shot, most of them disappear halfway through the movie as the narrative focuses exclusively on Muni and his mission to coordinate a rescue operation.

The worst example of this is probably Muni’s love interest, who doesn’t affect the plot in any way and only seems to exist to reassure the audience that their protagonist has (if I may borrow a term from Red Letter Media) a “case of the not gays.”

The writers don’t even have the decency to provide us with a main antagonist, and settle for flooding the screen with a bunch of nameless German foot soldiers instead.

With that being said, the one segment of the cast who do manage to make an impression are the “British” commandos themselves.

The climactic clash between them and the Nazis feature some really impressive stunt work, which probably has something to do with the fact that they were played by real-life members of the Canadian Armed Forces.

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What’s even better is that director John Farrow compliments their military acumen with some good production decisions, since a lot of explosions are done in-camera and aren’t watered down by post-production trickery.

With that being said, basically none of these commandos are given personalities or even a single line of dialogue, which means it’s hard to get emotionally invested in this climax beyond admiring the pure spectacle of it.

And that’s probably the biggest problem with Commandos Strike at Dawn: it doesn’t know what it wants to be.

Sure, the filmmakers make a big show at the beginning about how they want to present an intimate character piece, but it’s clear by the final frame of the film that that’s all window dressing.

Instead, they’d much rather settle for showcasing flashy pyrotechnics and real-life military hardware, something that would have worked as long as they fully committed to this idea.

As a result, Farrow and his team fall victim to the classic filmmaking mistake of trying to make a movie for everyone, which inevitably means that they made a movie for no-one (especially by 2018 standards).

(Side note: it’s clear that the final climactic battle wasn’t shot in the early in the morning, but I guess “Commandos Strike at Mid-Day” wouldn’t have looked great on a movie poster.)

Verdict:

4/10

Corner store companion:

Bits & Bites Original (because it should have stuck to doing one thing, instead of mixing a bunch of stuff that doesn’t belong together).

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Fun facts:

-Release date: Dec. 30, 1942.

-Box office gross: $1.5 million (estimated).

-This film was nominated for an Oscar in the category of Best Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture at the 1944 Academy Awards (the same year Casablanca won Best Picture).

-Paul Muni is probably best know for starring in the original Scarface from 1932, when the title character was an Italian gangster named Tony Camonte.

-Even though he’s kind of slumming it in this movie, Muni has five Oscar nominations for Best Actor under his belt, with an eventual win in 1937 for starring in The Story of Louis Pasteur.

-Unexpected cameo: Lillian Gish (a silent movie star best known for playing the pivotal role of Elsie Stoneman in the Birth of a Nation) makes her first screen appearance in almost a decade by portraying one the Norwegian villagers under Nazi siege.

-According to IMDB, the entirety of this film was shot on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

One False Move (1992) review- It sounded better on paper

After suffering through trash like You Got Served, I was pretty excited to pop in Carl Franklin’s One False Move.

Not only is this gritty crime drama a radical departure from anything I’ve looked at so far, but the behind-the-scenes details relating to its production and release is a real heartwarming underdog story that will reaffirm your faith in the power of independent filmmaking.

Shot on a shoe-string budget of $2.3 million and helmed by a then amateur director, One False Move was originally set to go straight-to-video. However, strong word of mouth from critics helped it get a limited theatrical release and strong circulation on that year’s awards circuit.

Legendary film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert were some of the film’s biggest cheerleaders throughout this whole process, with the latter praising Franklin’s “powerful” directing and the “extraordinary” screenplay from star Billy Bob Thornton and his writing partner Tom Epperson.

Siskel and Ebert would even go on to name One False Move their first and second favourite movie of 1992, respectively. To put that in perspective, next year both critics would give their number one spot to Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List.

I mention all of this inside baseball malarkey up front because, unfortunately, it’s a lot more compelling than the actual film itself.

Now don’t get me wrong, One False Move isn’t a bad movie. In fact, there are quite a few things to like about it (especially given its humble roots). But nothing about this film really grabbed me on a visceral level.

And I hate to sound like a smug contrarian, but I couldn’t help but feel that I was watching a standard episode of a 90s cop show stretched out to two hours (albeit with a little more hardcore violence and profanity).

Part of my problem has to do with how the film is structured, since the runtime is divvied up into two parallel plotlines.

One story features a trio of criminals (Billy Bob Thornton, Cynda Williams and Michael Beach) who are on the run from the law after committing a horrific drug robbery in Los Angeles that resulted in multiple homicides.

The second story follows the two detectives (Jim Metzler, Earl Billings) tasked with tracking down these outlaws, who are eventually drawn to one of the suspect’s old stomping grounds in Star City, Arkansas. There, they team up with a local police chief (Bill Paxton), whose boy-scout attitude clashes with big city cops’ approach to law enforcement.

Now, taken as two separate stories, both plots feature plenty of tension, snappy dialog and nuanced performances from the entire cast.

Special mention goes out to Michael Beach, who plays the quiet psychopath “Pluto” with a complex level of menace that really got under my skin.

However, much of the film’s dramatic impact is supposed to come from the interaction between the cops and the criminals and the two groups barely spend any screen time together.

This is especially true for Bill Paxton’s police chief, whose shared history with one of the criminals is a key part of the movie, since it gradually peels away his benevolent façade and reveals a more sinister side of his personality.

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Sounds interesting, right? Well, to bad, because this element is only squeezed into the last 20 minutes, which doesn’t give it any room to breathe.

These shortcoming aren’t helped by flat direction, poor editing in spots and a dated score which relies heavily on harmonicas and what I like to call “90s sax.”

Some might view this criticism as a little harsh, especially considering that One False Move marks Carl Franklin’s first big film project after spending most of his career acting on TV and directing low budget schlock for producer Roger Corman.

But now that we live in film industry that’s filled with dazzling first-time directors like Jordan Peele (Get Out) and Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird), it’s really hard to go back and pass off a simply “passable” job as something that is “brilliant.”

Again, I don’t get any joy in dumping on a small production like this, especially since, from what I could gather, every member of the cast and crew had their hearts in the right place while making it.

Sadly, good intentions alone aren’t enough to convince me that this movie is some kind of hidden gem. The various moving parts on display just don’t end up coalescing as a whole, which left me feeling like the movie ended 10−15 minutes before its story was complete.

But be sure to take my criticism with a golf ball sized grain of salt, since pretty much every professional movie critic under the sun disagrees with me.

Besides, who am I to second-guess the benevolent wisdom of the great Siskel and Ebert?

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Verdict:

5/10

Corner store companion:

Lay’s Ketchup Chips (because it’s not for me, but I can understand why other people like it).

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Fun facts:

-Release date: May 8, 1992

-Budget: $2.3 million

-Box office gross: $1.5 million (estimated)

-Despite my reservations about his early work, director Carl Franklin took home a number of accolades from his peers during the 1992−93 film awards circuit, including “Best Director” at the 1993 Independent Spirit Awards and the “New Generation Award” at the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards.

-Two decades later, Franklin managed to carve out an impressive directing career for himself after his initial success in the 1990s. Today, he’s managed to generate steady work for himself on a lot of hit TV shows, sporting directing credits for: Homeland, Bloodline, 13 Reasons Why, and, most recently, Mindhunter. He was even nominated for a Primetime Emmy after helming “Chapter 14” from House of Cards (you know, the episode with the subway).

-This film marks Billy Bod Thornton’s first film writing credit, which would earn him a nomination for “Best Screenplay” at the 1993 Independent Spirit Awards. Thornton would eventually walk way with that prize in 1997 thanks to his screenplay for Sling Blade.

-Co-stars Cynda Williams and Billy Bob Thornton got married shortly after filming on One False Move wrapped. They were divorced before the film was released two years later.

You Got Served (2004) review-“How do you do, fellow kids?” the movie

Honestly, I feel like I’m cheating with this one.

Unlike the two previous films that I’ve covered for this blog, Chris Stokes’ You Got Served is pretty well known among millennials my age, which is evident from the massive box office returns that it raked in during its opening weekend back in January 2004.

It’s also well remembered as being a single piece of a larger movement, since Hollywood was completely obsessed with spitting out these “urban” dance movies throughout the 2000s, which were cheap to produce and (usually) guaranteed a tidy profit.

However, unlike a lot of its contemporaries, You Got Served really hasn’t left a lasting legacy in pop-culture outside of its title, which became somewhat of a meme before most people even knew that memes were a thing.

But outside of that, there’s nothing about this film that sets it apart from the rest.

It doesn’t boast the novelty of starring then up-and-coming actors who would go on to find great success in the industry, like the original Step Up (Channing Tatum) or Bring It On (Kirsten Dunst).

Instead, we are saddled with two dull leads (Omari Grandberry and Marques Houston) who aren’t very charismatic or believable, even with the limited character work that they are given.

The film also doesn’t benefit from the impressive production values that characterized some of the later entries in the Step Up franchise, since You Got Served is noticeably cheap looking, especially whenever the characters venture away from the dance floor.

And, probably the biggest sin of all, the dancing on display isn’t even that distinctive. At least a film like Stomp the Yard had the foresight to anchor its premise around something unique and interesting like competitive stepping.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m sure you’re all dying me to talk about the plot to this magnum opus.

Well, surprisingly, there’s a lot going on plot wise in You Got Served outside of the dancing, which is one of its biggest problems.

Now, I don’t claim to be an expert on this specific genre of film, but from the few 2000s dance movies that I’ve seen I can pinpoint a recognizable formula that works. Most of the time, the plot is just background noise or an excuse to stich together impressively choreographed dance sequences.

But in You Got Served it seems like the dancing takes a back seat to the story, which is horribly clichéd, uninteresting, and full of cringy melodrama.

The main thrust of the plot follows David and Elgin (Grandberry and Houston, respectively) who live out their young lives battling dance crews for cash in a surprisingly sanitized Los Angeles.

The pair have their sights set on greater things, which are never clearly defined, but a number of obstacles stand in their way, including a rival dance crew from Orange Country and the city’s violent criminal underbelly.

Now, this sounds like a simple enough premise, but it gets bogged down in a bunch of extraneous details that detract from the main reason people came to see the film: the dancing.

Here are just some of those dazzling plot points that:

  • David starts falling for Elgin’s sister, which drives wedge between the two of them.

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  • David and Elgin work for a drug kingpin on the side, which inevitably encroaches on their lives in the world of dance.

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  • A precocious child called “Lil Saint” hangs around with David and Elgin’s dance crew for the sole purpose of getting himself caught up in some life-threatening situations later on.

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  • Steve Harvey plays the movie’s mentor character called “Mr. Rad”, who organizes all the local dance battles and spews out fortune cookie wisdom while also serving as an unexpected deus ex machina.

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And even though this film is awash with this extraneous bullshit, they still managed to leave out some really important details.

We never find out how David and Elgin originally met, formed a dance crew, or why they are so passionate about what seems like their full time gig (since we never see them in school or holding down fulltime jobs).

Even when the film gets around to the dancing, it’s nothing to write home about.

Director Chris Stokes doesn’t really take advantage of the medium of film, since the camera remains largely slow moving and doesn’t emphasize the impressive athleticism of that its cast clearly possesses.

As a result, the big climatic dance battle at the end of the film comes across as some lifeless b-roll that would play at the beginning of any MTV program from the early to mid 2000s.

Speaking of MTV, one of the most redeeming things about You Got Served is how desperately it’s trying to appeal to the youth of that era.

The script is stuffed to brim with so much dated hip-hop vernacular and celebrity cameos (anybody else remember Wade Robson???) that it’s actually kind of adorable. I can just imagine a boardroom full of old, out-touch-executives trying to cram in as much trendy fashion and pop-culture artifacts in order to reach that lucrative teen demographic.

Basically, this film is the cinematic equivalent of that clip of Steve Buscemi from 30 Rock. You know the one.

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In the end, even though You Got Served is a hilarious viewing experience in spots, it doesn’t make up for the long stretches of film that are a chore to get through.

And since this movie is supposed to be all about high-energy dance moves, being boring is probably its biggest failing.

Verdict:

2/10

Corner store companion:

Listerine cool mint antiseptic mouthwash (to rinse that bad taste out of your mouth).

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Fun facts:

-Release date: Jan. 30, 2004.

-Budget: $8 million (estimated)

-Box office gross: $40,066,497 (US)

-Became number one at the box office in its opening weekend, which also coincided with Super Bowl 38 (aka, the one where Janet Jackson’s nipple closed out the halftime show).

-Musical highlight: “The One” by ATL.

-Unexpected cameo: Kevin Federline (yes, that Kevin Federline) made his cinematic debut as one of the film’s many backup dancers.

-Both of the film’s leads were members of American R&B boy bands from the mid-2000s, with Grandberry being a member of B2K and Houston belonging to IMx. Several of their tacks are featured on the movie’s soundtrack.

-Personal confession: The copy of the DVD I bought consisted of two discs, You Got Served and You Got Served: Take it to the Streets. I stupidly thought that that second title was a straight-to-DVD sequel, which would have made for a more appropriate to review, since I’ve never heard of it. Surprise!!! It turns out You Got Served: Take it to the Streets is an instructional video, where the cast of the original film walk you through how to pull off those slick dance moves. I haven’t drummed up the courage to watch it yet.

-A straight-to-DVD sequel in name only was finally released in 2011 called You Got Served: Beat the World, which doesn’t star anybody from the 2004 film or have anything to do with the original plot.