Now and Forever (1934) review-how to weaponize cuteness

Shirley Temple is one of those actors that modern audiences are mostly familiar with through cultural osmosis rather than through her actual filmography.

Even if you can’t name a single movie that the renowned child actor starred in during her peak of popularity, which ran from 1934 to 1938, chances are that you’ve ordered one of her famous non-alcoholic drinks or seen her signature blond curls plastered on an expensive piece of Hollywood memorabilia.

Because of these cultural artefacts, the name “Shirley Temple” is still considered cute and marketable in the 21st century, so much so that modern movie studios were still willing to release some of her films through collections like the “Little Darling Pack” in 2007.

One of the movies included in this collection is Henry Hathaway’s Now and Forever (1934), which served as my official introduction to Temple’s body of work.

Admittedly, I walked into this screening anticipating nothing but light fluff, since my idea of what to expect from a film starring America’s favourite child star had been filtered through all the pop culture refuse mentioned above.

However, I was pleasantly surprised that Hathaway and his writers managed to use Temple’s natural charm to tell a fairly mature story about parenting and how bad decisions can have a disastrous ripple effect on the ones we love most.

Despite this film being included in a Shirley Temple DVD collection, the plot of “Now and Forever” actually revolves around Gary Cooper’s Jerry, a travelling con man who is far too busy globe trotting with his lady friend Toni (Carole Lombard) to check in on his five-year-old daughter Penny (Temple) from his first marriage.

After a trip to Shanghai leaves him in desperate need of cash, Jerry is drawn back to the United States to sell his daughter’s custody rights to his brother-in-law, with the mother having died years ago.

But when Jerry meets Penny for the first time, he’s immediately taken with her and decides to finally become the child’s legal guardian.

While the two establish a strong bond right away, Jerry’s criminal past continues to linger in the background and threatens to tear their new relationship apart as he tries to carve out an honest living.

One of the most important elements to nail right off the bat with a film like this is the chemistry between the leads, since the story would collapse without a believable family unit at its core.

Luckily, Cooper and Temple establish a snappy back-and-forth from their first scene together, with that rapport only growing stronger as the movie moves forward.

This is no easy task, since Cooper’s character was fully willing to abandon his child for money at the beginning of this story; a writing choice that risks putting the audience at a distance right away.

However, the two leads are able to bridge this emotional gap in a very short time through their combined charm alone, even with Cooper’s past misdeeds continuing to hover over the proceedings like an unseen Sword of Damocles.

Lombard also adds an additional layer of jovial camaraderie into the mix, bucking the tired trend of wicked stepmothers in movies by accepting Temple into her life unconditionally.

In all honesty, Hathaway could have gotten away with filming these three having a fun vacation in Paris without any major looming conflict and gotten away with it, since they play off each other in a very compelling fashion.

But as the movie’s narrative moves forward, it becomes obvious that the director’s true objective was to craft this idyllic on-screen family just so he could cruelly smash it into a million pieces.

The agent of chaos mostly responsible for this tonal shift is actor Sir Guy Standing, who plays a shady businessman that catches on to one of Cooper’s scams and is using this knowledge to blackmail him.

Standing’s performance might be the absolute highlight of Now and Forever, since he successfully crafts a menacing persona without coming across as outwardly rude or threatening.

Instead, he reels Cooper back into a criminal lifestyle through fake British politeness and innuendo, which is way more infuriating than if he simply adopted the American method of commanding someone at gunpoint.  

That sleight-of-hand trick is also frequently used by the filmmakers themselves, who lure the audience into a false sense of security thanks to Temple’s cuteness before pulling the rug out from under you.

This dynamic is at play for much of the film’s third act, with Cooper’s unsavory activities constantly overlapping with his idyllic family activities.

The best example of this comes later in the film when Temple performs a lively song and dance number in front of some rich American expatriates living in Paris.

But instead of using this scene for pure spectacle and whimsy, like in most other Temple films, the director intercuts it with shots of Cooper stealing an expensive necklace and stuffing it into his daughter’s teddy bear.  

He later uses this teddy bear to smuggle the necklace out of a rich family’s house and into the villain’s hands, all the while lying to Temple about what really transpired.

Not only is this sequence completely gut wrenching, but it also serves as a succinct encapsulation of the movie’s main theme of childhood innocence being sullied by the world of adults.

It also doesn’t hurt that Now and Forever features a snappy script and tight pacing throughout, which manages to wring some of that old Hollywood charm out of a story that feels pretty modern by 1934 standards.

However, some dated elements from that era have not aged as gracefully.

This includes a noticeable lack of music and prevalence of janky editing that is undoubtedly a byproduct of the limited technology available to filmmakers at the time.

The movie’s ending also leaves a lot to be desired, since it’s pretty obvious that the studio forced Hathaway to tack on a much more uplifting resolution to the main conflict in an effort to not completely alienate the movie-going public.

But minor gripes aside, Now and Forever still managed to surprise me and showcase an engrossing family drama that wasn’t afraid to touch on some darker subject matter.

It might not be the best introduction to Temple’s filmography, as I’m led to believe that most of her other work is pretty wholesome and not subversive in the slightest.

However, I feel like Now and Forever remains a pretty good showcase of Temple’s talent as an adorable child actor, while also offering a prime example of how to harness that cuteness and weaponize it against the audience (in a good way).

In other words, this film is the cinematic equivalent of a candy apple that’s been coated in absinthe, since it looks innocent but will fuck you up if you’re not ready.



Corner store companion:

Snapple Spiked RaspCherry Tea vodka (because it’s sugary and sweet but will mess you up in quick fashion)

Fun facts:

-Release date: Aug. 31, 1934

-Temple appeared in 29 films by the time she was 10 years old. She would temporarily retire from the film business in 1950 at the age of 22. Her last official acting role was in a 1963 episode of The Red Skelton Hour.

-After retiring from the entertainment industry, Temple began her career as a United States diplomat in 1969 and would serve under several presidents in this capacity, including Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush. She also became the US government’s chief of protocol between 1976 and 1977.

-Temple won a “Juvenile” Academy Award in 1934 for her outstanding contribution to screen entertainment during that year. She was later given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in February 1960.

-Carole Lombard tragically lost her life eight years after Now and Forever premiered in theatres. The actress, mostly known for her roles in screwball comedies, was the passenger of a plane that was returning from a war bond tour overseas and crashed into a mountain range in Nevada. She was only 33 years old.

-[SPOILERS] In the theatrical ending of Now and Forever, Cooper’s character gives Temple away to a rich friend to raise before he is arrested by the authorities. In the original ending, both Cooper and Lombard die driving alongside a train that is taking Temple away. Paramount executives felt this dark conclusion didn’t jive with the rest of the film and ordered Hathaway to reshoot the ending.  

-The title “Now and Forever” is also associated with popular songs from musicians like Drake, Richard Marx and Carole King.

Death of a Prophet (1981) review- an appetizer before a full course meal

Sometimes a filmmaker puts such a definitive stamp on a historical event or figure that it can outright delete previous cinematic depictions from the public consciousness.

James Cameron’s Titanic (1997), for example, was a cultural and financial juggernaut when it was first released, so much so that it became the go-to rendering of this 1912 oceanic disaster for an entire generation of movie goers.

As a result, a lot of people my age don’t even know that half-a-dozen or so Titanic-centric feature films and TV movies came out before 1997, although a lot of these generational blind spots could be blamed on modern streaming services failing to stock up on older media.

A similar phenomenon is at work with the first 20 minutes of Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan (1998), since this brutal, unflinching portrayal of the 1944 D-Day invasion turned into an aesthetic template that was adopted by countless future films, TV series, and even video games set during World War Two.

But in terms of biopics, few films are as comprehensive as Spike Lee’s Malcolm X (1992), a three-and-a-half-hour epic that tracks the controversial civil rights leader’s life from his younger years all the way to his assassination in 1965.

Even though these birth-to-death biopics are usually exhausting experiences, Lee’s ferocious directing combined with Denzel Washington’s Oscar-caliber lead performance proved to having staying power with generations of movie-goers, so much so that this motion picture (like the previous two examples) was entered the U.S. National Film Registry decades later.

Lee’s Malcolm X is so influential that it’s easy to forget all the other times the Black empowerment icon showed up on the big and small screen prior to 1992, even with a big-time actor like Morgan Freeman taking on the role in Woodie King Jr.’s Death of a Prophet (1981).

But while this low-budget TV movie definitely has its merits, it’s easy to see how it got lost in the pop culture shuffle and eclipsed by future projects like Malcolm X.

Not only is Death of a Prophet plagued with head-scratching filmmaking decisions, but King Jr. also does a poor job of putting the events on screen in the proper context, which does a real disservice to such an important historical figure.

Instead of covering Malcolm X’s entire life, Death of a Prophet focuses on the 24 hours leading up to his demise, attempting to provide a small-scale portrait of a larger-than-life figure who knew his days were numbered.

Even though this premise is loaded with potential, the end product isn’t very compelling and comes across as an unfinished documentary that needed some additional footage.

Freeman spends a lot of his screen time wandering through the streets of New York City, where he bumps into some hippies, chats with a local bookstore owner, and is confronted by members of the FBI.

Throughout these encounters, the audience is rarely provided any real insight into Malcolm’s state of mind, with Freeman never getting the chance to flex any emotional range beyond some stern stoicism.   

Meanwhile, the film also spends a distracting amount of time following Malcolm X’s assassins as they prepare for his eventual killing at Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom.

These scenes similarly fall flat, since King Jr. is only interested in having these characters discuss the logistics of the hit and bizarrely showcase the strength of their abdominal muscles at a karate dojo.

In both parallel storylines, the director is reluctant to fill audiences in on the historical events and political intrigue that led up to this point, namely Malcolm X’s split from and growing hostility towards the Nation of Islam.

Maybe this was done to avoid ruffling any feathers in the Black community, since the true identity of Malcolm X’s killers remains a contentious topic of debate even to this day.

But whatever the reason, the choice to deprive Death of a Prophet of all these critical background details robs the story of any real weight, especially for someone who isn’t familiar with Malcolm X’s legacy ahead of time.

The film’s low production values also don’t do a great job of selling the serious story that King Jr. is trying to tell.

Not only is the audio recording of the character dialogue pretty spotty, but the prominent hand-held camera work and dingy lighting can sometimes give off the impression that you are watching a series of home movies rather than a civil rights drama.

However, this biggest production shortcoming in Death of a Prophet can be found in the make-up and hairdressing departments, since they didn’t even try to make Freeman look like his historical counterpart.

I mean, would it have been that expensive to give the star of your movie a haircut?

On the other hand, this amateurish feel does imbue the film with a kind of rough-around-the-edges charm that occasionally manifests on screen.

While the recording of character dialogue is rough, King Jr. and his team inject the project with some naturalistic sound that does a decent job of setting the mood.

This heavy ambiance is most prevalent in the middle of the film, where Freeman is accompanied by a cacophony of honking cars and chattering bystanders as he makes his way through the streets of Manhattan, his paranoia of an impending assassination growing by the second.

When it comes to non-diegetic sound, Death of a Prophet features an energetic jazz score full of woodwind, brass, and percussion instruments that similarly manage to crank up the tension.

In fact, portions of the film even reminded me of Alejandro Iñárritu’s Birdman (2014), which also used an aggressive, drum-heavy score to foreshadow the main character’s impending demise.

And while King Jr.’s hand-held shooting style is a little clumsy at times, this technique gives the film a gritty, documentary-like feel that calls back to the vibrant Blaxploitation cinema of the previous decade.

This documentary-like quality extends to the film’s opening six minutes, which features interviews with people who knew Malcolm X in real life, like activist Yuri Kochiyama, poet Amiri Baraka, and actor Ossie Davis.

So even though King Jr.’s filmmaking craft and presentation of history is seriously flawed, it’s difficult to deny his passion for the main subject matter.

In retrospect, Death of a Prophet comes across as the director’s attempt to keep Malcolm X’s legacy alive 16 years following his death.

After all, his depictions in film and television up until that point (excluding an Oscar-nominated documentary from 1972) were relegated to supporting roles in bio pics featuring more mainstream civil rights heroes, like Muhammed Ali and Martin Luther King Jr.

By placing Malcolm X at the centre of his own story, one could argue that Death of a Prophet sets the stage for more comprehensive biopics down the line, with Spike Lee’s epic hitting theatres just over a decade later.

But even with the benefit of historical hindsight, Death of a Prophet still comes across as a half-baked appetizer that’s meant to tide you over for a full course meal.

Sure, you can appreciate it in the moment, but only because you know something way better will be served up shortly.



Corner store companion:

President’s Choice Puff Pastry Hors D’Oeuvres Collection (because they’re tasty enough, but can’t serve as a substitute for an actual meal)

Fun facts:

-Woodie King Jr.’s film and television projects pale in comparison to his work on stage, since he founded the New Federal Theatre in 1970 to better showcase African American playwrights. King Jr. wrote, directed, and produced dozens of plays throughout his multi-decade career, which netted him plenty of accolades (like the NAACP Image Award in 1988).

-Outside Morgan Freeman and Denzel Washington, Malcolm X has been portrayed by a variety of notable actors on film, television, and the stage. This list includes: James Earl Jones (The Greatest, 1977), Al Freeman Jr. (Roots: The Next Generations, 1979), Mario Van Peebles (Ali, 2000), Nigél Thatch (Selma, 2014), and Kingsley Ben-Adir (One Night in Miami, 2020).

-The percussion-heavy score featured in Death of a Prophet was composed by drummer Max Roach, who is known for being a pioneer in the bebop style of jazz.

Death of a Prophet can currently be watched in its entirety on YouTube:

Mr. Popper’s Penguins (2011) review- when being nice isn’t enough

I found out way too late in life that it’s almost never a compliment when someone uses the word “nice” to describe your personality.

While our society could always use more kindness, people often deploy “nice” as a polite synonym for “bland” or “inoffensive,” which is not the kind of reputation that endears you to potential friends or employers.

Despite being on the receiving end of this descriptor for part of my youth, I’m hoping to exact some measure of revenge today by slapping the label on Mark Waters’ Mr. Popper’s Penguins (2011).

Because even though this film is a perfectly serviceable family comedy, there’s nothing really remarkable about the production that jumps out and demands your attention.   

Ironically, the last Mark Waters film I looked at for this blog, Head Over Heels (2001), had the opposite problem, since that rom-com is such a creative train wreck that you simply can’t look away.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins, on the other hand, seems like it’s on autopilot for most of its 94-minute runtime, relying on cute CGI animals and Jim Carrey’s trademark physical comedy to carry a fairly thin premise.

But just like those poor souls who are labelled “nice” in real life, this film does have admirable qualities that occasionally bubble to the surface, even if it’s all undermined by a monotonous quality that sucks all the oxygen out of the room. 

The plot of Mr. Popper’s Penguins revolves around Carrey’s titular real estate shark, who is living the good life in New York City when he suddenly receives a shipment of six gentoo penguins from his recently deceased father.

At first, Popper wants nothing to do with this waddle of Antarctic birds and bends over backwards to get them removed from his high-rise apartment.  

But over time, Popper develops a close bond with these animals, especially after their shenanigans help him reconcile with his divorced wife and kids.

The only thing that threatens this dynamic is antagonistic zookeeper, whose “evil” scheme involves [checks notes] taking the penguins into protective captivity where they can be properly cared for.

As you can probably tell by this recap, Waters and his screenwriters weren’t too concerned with crafting a subversive or ground-breaking story, which is probably the right call for a film that is intended for young children.

And to be fair, this stark simplicity imbues the film with a kind of earnest charm that is hard to deny.

Sure, the physical comedy on display here is pretty low brow — with no shortage of poop, fart, and nut-shot jokes — but it’s the kind of innocent fun you can get by watching “cute animal” compilations on YouTube.

Unfortunately, the titular penguins in this feature-length film fail to capture that same “awww” factor you can spot casually scrolling through Instagram, and it’s not because these birds look like horrifying demons in real life.

The big problem here is that the six main penguins are completely devoid of personality outside of the one shallow character trait that doubles as their name (Captain, Loudy, Bitey, Stinky, Lovey, and Nimrod).

And without the God-like presence of Morgan Freeman to narrate their inner thoughts and feelings, these birds are completely interchangeable throughout the film’s runtime, even during the more serious scenes where they are put in mortal peril.

This seriously makes me wonder why the movie, which was adapted from a 1938 children’s book of the same name, wasn’t given the full animated treatment.

That approach would have allowed the filmmakers to properly anthropomorphize these penguins for its intended family audience, similar to the winning formula that made properties like Happy Feet and Madagascar so popular around the same time.

But since this story is firmly set in the world of live action, most of the emotional beats are buttressed by Carrey and the rest of the human cast, which includes the likes of Carla Gugino as his divorced wife.

And to be fair, these actors have a lot of natural chemistry and do at least sell you on the idea that they are a dysfunctional family who are reconciling under zany circumstances.

Carrey is also surprisingly dedicated to what could have easily been a throwaway role, where he shows up, does the bare minimum amount of work, and collects a paycheck.

Instead, the famous comedian actually manages to wring some pathos out of this admittedly bare-bones script, including a touching sequence where he desperately tries and inevitably fails to save one of his penguin’s eggs.

Unfortunately, those genuine human moments are few and far between, with the movie mostly giving way to prat-fall comedy involving the penguins, like the scene where they wreak havoc at New York’s famous Guggenheim Museum.

While there’s nothing wrong with including these types of fluffy sequences in this breed of family film, they feel particularly superfluous here since there’s not a strong plot to string it all together.

Sure, the filmmakers attempt to add some meat on the bone by including a subplot about Carrey trying to convince a local restaurateur (played by Angela Lansbury) to sell her family business.

But the bulk of the runtime is still dedicated to these penguins causing property damage or dancing to Vanilla Ice music, which seems better suited for a 30-second Super Bowl commercial rather than a feature-length film.

It also doesn’t help that a lot of the film’s written jokes fall flat, with a couple recurring gags that border on excruciating.

The worst example of this is Carrey’s assistant (Ophelia Lovibond), whose vocabulary mostly consists of “P” words that she repeats in an alliterative frenzy.

Like the rest of the movie’s comedy, this gag would have been tolerable in small doses, but it gets old really quickly after an hour.  

With all that being said, I find it difficult to get genuinely worked up about Mr. Popper’s Penguins and the boilerplate filmmaking that is its defining feature.

Even though Waters and his crew don’t bring anything special to the table in terms of how this movie is shot, scored, or edited, it still possesses an innocent charm that is hard to deny.

And if you’re a parent looking to distract your young kids with some dumb bullshit for an afternoon this holiday season, you could certainly do a lot worse.

I know this may sound like I’m valuing Mr. Popper’s Penguins’ status as a “nice” film above all else and that’s partially true.

But given that this film became a punching bag for its admittedly dumb premise, being on the receiving end of some vicious lampooning from the writers of South Park, I thought some charitable words wouldn’t be the end of the world.

It is Christmas after all.



Corner store companion:

Oreo Mini snack packs (because they’re a good way to entertain the kids for an afternoon, but nothing more)

Fun facts:

-Release date: July 17, 2011

– Budget: $55 million

– Box office: $68,224,452 (Canada/US), $187,361,754 (worldwide)

-Noah Baumbach (Marriage Story, The Squid and the Whale) was originally slated to direct Mr. Popper’s Penguins, with actors Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Robin Williams, Rickey Gervais, Adam Sandler, Matthew Broderick, and Jack Black being considered for the title role.

-The end credits for Mr. Popper’s Penguins provide a cute little twist on the standard “no animals were harmed in the making of this film” disclaimer that you see in many motion pictures. In this case, the disclaimer reads: “No penguins were harmed in the making of this film. Jim Carrey, on the other hand, was bitten mercilessly. But he had it coming.”

-In order to keep his new featherless friends occupied during the day, Mr. Popper shows them a series of Charlie Chaplin films, including: The Kid (1921), The Gold Rush (1925), and The Circus (1928).

-A stage version of Mr. Popper’s Penguins was produced and performed in the late 2010s, although this musical is based on the original 1938 children’s novel as opposed to the 2011 feature film.

Blood Tide (1982) review- come for the monster, stay for the bikinis

When it comes to my preferred style of film criticism, I try to avoid making it sound like a mathematical equation as much as possible.

After all, your evaluation of a particular movie can’t always be summed up by the simple listing of its pros and cons.

Instead, you sometimes have to just go with your gut and write about how a piece of art makes you feel, even if it flies in the face of a much more empirical form of analysis.

With that being said, weighing a movie’s strengths and weaknesses like you are trying to balance a scale is sometimes your best option, especially if that movie is Richard Jefferies’ Blood Tide (1982).  

Because while this low-budget creature feature has a lot of admirable qualities — like a consistently creepy mood, attractive cinematography, and at least one stand-out performance — it is held back by one glaring flaw.

And unfortunately, that one major shortcoming is the creature itself, which is hilariously fake and barely shows up on screen.

But if you can look past that laughable rubber suit you’ll find that Blood Tide still has a lot to offer fans of the folk horror genre, particularly for those same people who are also fond of James Earl Jones’ unique over-the-top acting.  

The plot of Blood Tide follows Neil and Sherry Grice (Martin Kove and Mary Louise Weller), an American couple who travel to an isolated Greek island to find the former’s missing sister.

Shortly after the Grices arrive at their destination, they discover that the sister (Deborah Shelton) is hanging out with a middle-aged archeologist (Jones), since the pair are obsessed with a mythological legend surrounding the island.

However, as these tourists continue to dig deeper into the island’s secrets, they run afoul of some hostile locals on land and a serpentine beast in the sea, turning this Mediterranean vacation into a real bummer.

Now, before I go on to bash how lame the monster costume is in Blood Tide, I have to commend the filmmakers for at least creating and maintaining a menacing atmosphere throughout the movie’s 92-minute runtime.

One of the hallmarks of the folk horror genre (The Wicker Man, Midsommar, etc.) is making the viewer feel isolated and paranoid, which is usually accomplished through trapping the main characters in a remote geographic location that is populated with sinister, cultish people.

While Blood Tide contains all the plot elements needed to check this box, Jefferies and his team crank up that looming sense of dread using every tool within their limited budget.

Cinematographer Aris Stavrou definitely pulls his weight by providing the viewer with wide, lingering shots of the island and the surrounding ocean, highlighting how alone the main characters really are.

In terms of audio, the film is populated with a bunch of quality music and sound effects that keep you slightly on edge, whether that is water dripping off a cave wall or a synth score that intentionally undercuts all those beautiful Greek vistas.

It also doesn’t hurt that most of the acting on display is pretty solid, with James Earl Jones being a particular standout.

His treasure hunter character easily steals every scene he’s in, with Jones chomping through chunks of scenery as he liberally quotes Shakespeare, handles explosives while drunk, and punches watermelons before eating them.

Even though this kind of zany acting style is very hit or miss for me, Jones brings just enough gravitas to the table so that you can take his character seriously, while also leaving room for some off-the-wall antics.

Unfortunately, a lot of this good will gets squandered by the time the monster shows up.

While I’m sure the filmmakers were trying to make this thing look like some kind of primordial underwater beast, it comes across as being more of a giant muscular seahorse with leprosy.     

And I have a sneaking suspicion that the director knew that his main selling point looked like crap, because it barely shows up in the movie.

If you were to clock it, I would say that the monster in Blood Tide has less than 30 seconds of screen time, with a lot of its movement being hidden by quick, incomprehensible cuts.

As a result, most of the creature’s menace has to be conveyed through first-person POV shots, which are sometimes ripped right out of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975).

But unlike Jaws, there’s no big payoff at the climax of Blood Tide, where the viewer’s patience is rewarded with a clear view of the monster that’s been lurking in the depths this entire time.

Instead, [SPOILERS] all you get is a blink-and-you-miss-it confrontation between Jones and the creature that caps off the story on a real sour note.

Another unfortunate byproduct of the cheap effects is that the pace of the movie can sometimes drag, since the filmmakers can’t rely on shots of the monster to fill up time.

As a result, Jefferies and his team try to compensate by shooting a lot of scenes involving the main cast lounging around in their bathing suits, hoping that the constant presence of sex will override the severe lack of violence.

Even though this strategy works in the beginning, it grows stale as the movie moves forward, especially when the story reaches its rather lame climax.

With that being said, I never found myself truly bored watching Blood Tide, since its eerie mood and likable cast kept my attention throughout (even though it didn’t pay off in the end).

If the filmmakers had been given a bigger budget, it’s entirely possible that this project could have become a genuine folk horror classic, rather than just a cult curiosity that randomly features a heavy-weight actor like Jones.

But as it stands, I think the filmmakers should receive some recognition for working within their limitations and creating something that has managed to lodge itself in my mind.

Of course, one of my biggest takeaways from watching Blood Tide is that we desperately need more B-horror movies set in Greece, since that part of the world seems like an untapped market for combining scantily clad women and mythological beasts. 



Corner store companion:

Liberté Greek yogurt (because it’s the closest I’m getting to a Greek vacation this summer)

Fun facts:

-Release date: Sept. 24, 1982

-Throughout his career, Blood Tide director Richard Jefferies only helmed one other major project, the 2008 Syfy Channel original movie Living Hell.

-In the movie, Deborah Shelton makes reference to the fact that James Earl Jones’ character played Othello once in college and “never quite got over it.” In real life, Jones has portrayed the Shakespearean character multiple times on stage, including a 1981 Broadway revival alongside Christopher Plummer as Iago.

Blood Tide can currently be watched in its entirety on YouTube (although the picture quality is quite poor and nothing compared to the recent Blu Ray release from Arrow Video).

-The song that plays over the movie’s end credits is sung by actor Deborah Shelton herself.

Head Over Heels (2001) review-who thought this was a good idea?

One of my favourite aspects of writing for this blog is it gives me an opportunity to go into a movie blind, where I haven’t watched any trailers or read a lengthy plot synopsis before pressing “play.”

This represents a nice alternative to our modern media landscape, where you’re inundated with clips and previews for every major upcoming release that leaves very little room for surprises once you enter the theatre.

By contrast, the randomized selection process that is a self-imposed signature of Corner Store Cinema™ has led me to discover some real hidden gems that I wouldn’t have stumbled upon otherwise, like the sublime slice-of-life dramedy Moscow on the Hudson (1984).

Other times I’ve been bamboozled by a truly bizarre creation like If Lucy Fell … (1996), which is so bad that I thought the filmmakers were playing an elaborate prank on the audience.

Mark Waters’ Head Over Heels (2001) definitely falls into the latter category, since it switches genres so often that it borders on being an experimental art film or a scathing satire of shallow American movie making.

But if you take a step back and look at this film from a distance, it becomes pretty obvious that Waters and his team of writers were just throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what would stick, without taking things like logic, consistency, or taste into account.

And while this approach caught me completely off guard and resulted in a memorable viewing experience, I’m under no illusion that Head Over Heels is anything more than a carnival freak show dressed up as a standard romantic comedy.

As you might have gleaned from the trailer, this film kicks off like alot of chick flicks from that era, where hard-working city gal Amanda (Monica Potter) falls for a good-looking fashion executive Jim (Freddie Prinze Jr.) despite their differences in lifestyle.

In order to capture Jim’s affection, Amanda enlists the help of her four roommates, who are all runway models and know a thing or two about attracting the opposite sex.

However, the plot takes a major turn when Amanda thinks she witnesses Jim commit a cold-blooded murder, and vows to get to the bottom of this mystery with her model roommates in tow.

It’s hard to describe in words how jarring this story pivot is, since the first 30 minutes of this movie contain nothing that foreshadows this sudden transition from Sex in the City-flavoured kookiness to Rear Window-style horror.

In fact, up until that half-hour mark, it seemed like the filmmakers were actively running through a checklist of rom-com clichés that were worn-out even by early 2000s standards.

Most of these tired tropes revolve around the main character played by Potter, who:

– uses a voiceover to highlight her romantic woes to the audience.

– has a gay best friend who only exists to be a sympathetic sounding board.   

– holds down a job that is professionally fulfilling but socially isolating.

– is conventionally very attractive even though the screenwriters pretend like she is plain.

– possesses superhuman clumsiness that is constantly used for cheap physical comedy.

It also doesn’t help that the movie’s initial set-up, where the main character moves in with four high-fashion models, seems like a failed sit-com pilot that got smuggled into a feature film.

Outside of the stagy set decor, with a bright, open-concept apartment that’s right at home with ABC’s TGIF programming block, many of the jokes feel like they were written with a live studio audience in mind.

But without the presence of any canned laughter, there’s nothing to distract from the reality that a lot of these gags are lazy and being delivered by paper-thin characters.

One of the roommates played by real-life model Sarah Murdoch is probably the most obvious example of this pedestrian writing style, since she introduces herself to the main character by talking about her pet dingo, as if her thick Australian accent wasn’t a big enough clue to her nationality.

With that set-up in mind, the movie’s transition into a murder mystery after 30 minutes is a hard pill to swallow, since the filmmakers hardly deviate from the cookie-cutter cinematic style that has already been established.

This problem is further compounded in the final third of the movie when the plot turns into a spy thriller of sorts, which just left me feeling discombobulated.

Now, one may argue that Waters is using this structure to be intentionally subversive, especially his follow-up projects Freaky Friday (2003) and Mean Girls (2004) were all about deconstructing well-established film archetypes.

But while those movies tried to mine their shallow premises for a deeper meaning, Head Over Heels doesn’t have much on its mind beyond an overriding scorn and hatred for the fashion industry.

Plus, producer Robert Simonds outright stated in a behind-the-scenes featurette that his intention was to make more of a “throwback” romantic comedy, so any theories about Head Over Heels being a stealth critique of the genre can be thrown right out the window.

Because of this, all you’re left with is the movie’s cavalcade of dumb jokes and visual gags, which constantly flip flop between being family-friendly and adult-oriented.

One minute the characters are taking part in a cutesy make-over montage that is straight of a Disney Channel original TV show. The next they’re secretly ogling Freddie Prinze Jr. with binoculars, wondering out loud whether or not he’s had sex with the underage school girls who recently visited his apartment.

And if that tonal whiplash isn’t bad enough, the writing also suffers from an over-reliance on Three Stooges-esque physical comedy, something that is randomly deployed every time the filmmakers don’t know how to make a scene interesting.

With that being said, there are a few key moments where the filmmakers hit a home run in the comedy department, with some gross-out gags that completely blindsided me in a good way.

One of these scenes involves Freddie Prinze Jr. loudly pooping out some perogies in his bathroom as some of the investigating models hide in a nearby shower stall.

Later on in the movie, these same characters get covered in shit after they are caught in a public bathroom plumbing accident.

While the main appeal of these gags is the pure spectacle of watching pretty actors willingly subjecting themselves to such low-brow toilet humour, the film’s editor still nails the timing and does a great job of making these jokes land.

Unfortunately, these few genuinely funny moments (alongside some charming performances from members of the cast) can’t make up for the rest of Head Over Heels , which is a complete mess in terms of its writing and structure.

Even though part of me wants to admire Waters’ attempt at combining a rom com, a murder mystery, and a spy thriller into one 86-minute movie, the reality is that these disparate elements mix about as well as oil and water.

But even if this film is not destined for a Criterion Collection release, it still remains a fascinating cultural artifact that should be poked and prodded at, like some kind of grotesque laboratory specimen.  

While genre mash-ups are interesting and can be done well, the crew behind Head Over Heels approach this concept with all the skill and subtlety of a drunk lumberjack performing open heart surgery.  



Corner store companion:

Planters Zen Blenz (because it contains a bunch of stuff that doesn’t belong together)

Fun facts:

-Release date: Feb. 2, 2001

-Budget: $14 million (estimated)

-Box office: $10,424,470 (gross in US and Canada), $13,127,022 (total gross including worldwide markets)

-There are at least three other feature films with the title “Head Over Heels,” according to IMDB. This includes a 1922 silent comedy, a 1937 British musical and a 1979 romantic comedy. A pair of short-lived comedy TV series from Britain and the United States, airing in 1993 and 1997 respectively, also bear the name “Head Over Heels.”

-The lead role of Head of Over Heels was originally supposed to go to Claire Danes, who dropped out of this project at the last minute.

Surprise cameo: Timothy Olyphant briefly shows up to play Amanda’s cheating ex-boyfriend, whose infidelity sets the whole plot in motion.

Musical highlight: “Head Over Heels” by The Go-Go’s (plays over a montage of the main characters stalking Freddy Prinze Jr. to see if he is really a serial killer)

Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 (1983) review-when a franchise runs out of gas

People often say that “good things come in threes,” but those folks obviously never watched the Smokey and the Bandit trilogy.

Sure, the series started off on the right foot in 1977 with an easy-going sleeper hit that defined “cool” for an entire generation of moviegoers.

Unfortunately, the Smokey name quickly nose-dived into sellout territory with a 1980 sequel that was in short supply of laughs, charm, and impressive stunt work.

That film was so bad that director Hal Needham declined to take part in Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 (1983), with star Burt Reynolds only agreeing to make a brief cameo.

As such, the focus of this movie shifted to Jackie Gleason’s bumbling sheriff Buford T. Justice, who (mostly) serves as the protagonist this time around even though the first two films in this series were bristling with anti-authoritarian energy.

To make matters worse, Part 3 was plagued with conflicting creative visions during production, resulting in a bunch of expensive reshoots that forced the filmmakers to cobble all these disparate pieces together in the editing room.

Because of this, the theatrical Smokey and the Bandit trilogy ends on a pretty sour note, with a lazy, unfocused final entry that’s totally content with coasting on cruise control.

While the absence of Burt Reynolds is already a tough pill to swallow, the plot of Part 3 doesn’t help matters by being completely inane.

Even though Buford T. Justice serves as the protagonist here, the writers basically recycle the same story from the last two films, where a pair of wealthy Texans task the recently retired police officer with transporting some precious cargo across the American south for $250,000.

This kind of premise might have worked for an outlaw character like the Bandit, but Gleason’s cop seems like a square peg that the filmmakers are trying to stuff into a round hole.

After all, Justice never seemed preoccupied with material concerns like money throughout his first two big-screen appearances, with his motivation to catch and arrest Reynolds’ charming rogue being primarily ego-driven.

I guess the logic behind Part 3 is that Justice is bored after retiring from the force and is looking for some kind of action to relive the glory days.

But that element never gets addressed in any meaningful way, with the filmmakers being far more preoccupied with staging zany car chases and bad comedy skits.

The plot gets muddied even further with the re-introduction of Bandit’s sidekick Cledus Snow (Jerry Reed), who is hired to disguise himself as the famous outlaw and distract Justice on the road so that he doesn’t arrive at his destination in time.

It’s at this point that the movie goes from being lazy to outright shameless in terms of its attempt to hoodwink the audience into thinking they’re watching the first film.

Not only do the filmmakers dress Reed up in Reynolds’ iconic red shirt and cowboy hat, but they also give him the keys to the Pontiac Trans Am and have him pick-up another runaway woman who isn’t Sally Field.

Even though Reed tries to put his own spin on the Bandit character, he comes across as a cheap imitation of Reynolds and not even an amusingly absurd one like Norm MacDonald’s work on SNL.

This element of the movie also highlights the behind-the-scenes production woes that plagued Smokey and the Bandit Part 3.

According to multiple sources, Reed wasn’t even supposed to be involved, with the original plan being that Gleason would tackle a dual role as both Sheriff Justice and the Bandit.

However, this version of the film, titled “Smokey is the Bandit,” was disliked by test audiences, which encouraged Universal Pictures to order re-shoots with Reed’s participation.

While the severity of these re-shoots is still a matter of debate, it’s clear that these last-minute production changes had a significant impact on the final product, given how disjointed everything feels.

Since the filmmakers don’t fully commit to Justice or Reed as the main character, there’s no emotional throughline to lead the audience through this razor-thin story that mostly consists of throwaway car stunts, janky editing and bad ADR.

In fact, if one were to take out the end credits and the two-and-a-half minute introductory recap that consists of archive footage, this movie is barely feature length, which is undoubtedly a consequence of all the “Smokey is the Bandit” footage being scrapped.

But with that being said, Part 3 isn’t a total bust and actually does improve on its predecessor in one key area.

While the team behind Smokey and the Bandit II (1980) were surprisingly reluctant to stage any car chases until the very end of that film, director Dick Lowry and his crew do a much better job of pacing the action this time around.

Admittedly, a lot of the stunt work here is pretty basic and way too reliant on slow motion to artificially crank up the excitement of every chase.

But at least the automotive destruction is in good supply here and should satisfy anyone who just wants to see a police cruiser plow through a milk tanker.

Part 3’s soundtrack is also surprisingly strong, offering a variety of original tracks from country music heavyweights like Lee Greenwood and Ed Bruce.

So on a purely surface level, this film provides all the sights and sounds one would expect of a road comedy from this era, although there’s not a lot to praise beyond that.

Overall, the project feels like a lot of the cynical sequels and remakes that get made these days, where the audience is constantly bombarded with winks and nods to the original property they like, without anything fresh or original being offered in return.

But whereas these soulless cash-grabs keep racking in major box office returns today, moviegoers in 1983 at least had the good sense to stay away from Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 in droves.

In stark contrast to the $120 million that the first Smokey film generated, Part 3 couldn’t break even on a $9 million budget, meaning the franchise had officially run out of gas.

Of course, the Bandit name didn’t completely die out after this bomb, with Hal Needham eventually bringing the character back just over a decade later, this time on the small screen.

But that’s a story for another time.

For now, I just hope the lost “Smokey is the Bandit” footage eventually sees the light of day, since the surviving promotional image of Gleason dressed up like Reynolds is way funnier than most of the jokes in Part 3.



Corner store companion:

Diet Pepsi (because it’s that thing you like, without some of the key ingredients that make it cool)

Fun facts:

-Release date: Aug. 12, 1983

-Box office: $5,678,950

-Budget: $9 million

-Roger Ebert named Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 one of the worst movies of 1983, calling it an “annuity in action” for how blatantly it was trying to capitalize off of the box office success of the first two films.

-In 1983 Jackie Gleason also starred in The Sting II, another maligned sequel to a beloved film that retained none of the original leads.

Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 marks director Dick Lowry’s only theatrical release. Lowry spent the rest of his career helming television projects.

-Remnants of the old “Smokey is the Bandit” footage can be glimpsed in certain sections of Part 3, since Reed’s stunt double is sometimes a heavy-set man who was obviously meant to be a stand-in for Gleason. 

-Musical highlight: “The Bandit Express” by Lee Greenwood (plays during one of the movie’s many car chases).

Caught in the Draft (1941) review-we could all use a little Hope right now

While Bob Hope’s USO tours remain an indelible part of his career as a stand-up comedian, he would occasionally play a military man on the big screen as well.

A quick scroll through the actor’s lengthy filmography will reveal that projects like Give Me a Sailor (1938), Caught in the Draft (1941), Let’s Face It (1943), Off Limits (1952), The Iron Petticoat (1956) and The Private Navy of Sgt. O’Farrell (1963) all fit into this category.

However, David Butler’s Caught in the Draft feels a little bit different from the rest and not just because it became the fifth highest grossing film of 1941 (alongside Howards Hawks’ Ball of Fire).

After all, the United States would enter World War Two five months after this movie premiered, which gives this comedy a real “calm before the storm” kind of vibe.

Throughout the next four years, Hollywood pretty much became the unofficial propaganda arm of the military, with members of the Bureau of Motion Pictures exercising tremendous oversight in terms of what ended up on screen.

In this environment, it’s hard to imagine a film like Caught in the Draft getting greenlit without major changes, since most of the runtime consists of Hope and the cast using basic training as an excuse to chase women, slack off, and treat the whole experience like a giant farce.

But from a 2022 perspective, this sense of anarchic fun is what makes Butler’s film such an enjoyable watch and the perfect vehicle to showcase Hope’s unique flavour of self-deprecating humour and slap-stick comedy.

In terms of the overall plot, Hope plays a famous actor named Don Bolton, who accidently enlists in the military in a misguided effort to impress the daughter of an army colonel.

The kicker is that Don is terrified of loud noises and possesses all the negative qualities one would associate with a pampered celebrity, which doesn’t endear him to his superior officers at all.

But Don is still determined to make it as a well-disciplined soldier, especially since his love interest’s father agreed to let the pair marry if he can achieve the rank of corporal.

When it comes to structure, Caught in the Draft is actually very similar to Buck Privates (1941); the last movie I looked at on my “Wartime Comedies” DVD.

In that film, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello also get enlisted in the military against their will and pratfall their way through basic training for the bulk of the runtime.

Both movies even climax with a war games exercise that quickly spirals out of control, giving the respective protagonists an opportunity to prove their mettle without going overseas. 

However, Butler and his team manage to pull off this story with a little more clarity and gusto, since they had the confidence to really prop up their lead actor instead of shuffling him off to the sidelines (which is the fate that befell Abbott and Costello in Buck Privates).

As someone who wasn’t very familiar with Hope’s comedy until watching this film, it’s pretty obvious to me now why this actor was able to carve out a show biz career that lasted almost eight decades.

His vaunted reputation for being able to execute a variety of physical comedy ticks while firing off witty one-liners is well preserved here, especially with a character who is so accident-prone.

But what really impressed me about Hope is that his comedic chops still manage to shine through in some of the film’s more low-key scenes that don’t involve tanks or explosions.

The first 30 minutes of the film mostly consist of Don trying to worm his way out of getting conscripted in the first place, whether that means faking an injury or marrying one of his many former girlfriends.

While this is undoubtedly scummy behaviour, Hope manages to maintain some degree of likability through his boyish charm and quick movements, which make the most of scenes that mostly consist of dialogue.

But a leading man is only as strong as his supporting cast, and the film is definitely elevated by talented journeyman actors like Lynne Overman and Eddie Bracken, who portray Hope’s agent and driver, respectively.

The trio all have tremendous chemistry and bring a ton of energy to any scenario the screenwriters cook up for them, even if it involves something as mundane as peeling potatoes.

Dorothy Lamour should also be given a lot of credit for breathing some life into the film’s main love interest, since this kind of character archetype is so often completely devoid of personality (especially in movies from this era).

Instead, Lamour comes across as the perfect foil for Hope, using her quick wits and level head to immediately see through a lot of his buffoonery and zany schemes.

While this may sound like she’s being pigeonholed as a typical “female killjoy” archetype, Lamour actually serves an important role in the story, since her mere presence forces the immature male protagonist to actually grow up and take some responsibility.

It also helps that the film’s writers didn’t force these two together through dishonest means, quickly jettisoning any “love by deception” storylines before they get started.

And having already watched five Nicholas Sparks films for this blog, that was a very refreshing discovery.

But that doesn’t mean that all the writing decisions are top notch.

Even though I laughed pretty consistently through the film’s 82-minute runtime, there were a couple dated jokes that did dampen my enjoyment somewhat.

Outside of an unfortunate reference to The Jazz Singer (1927), this movie also contained a couple period-specific jokes that will leave modern audiences scratching their heads.

The most egregious of these cultural/political deep cuts is a jab at the failed 1940 presidential campaign of Republican nominee Wendell Willkie, which probably felt like a dated reference even for 1941 movie-goers. 

It also must be said that the film’s third act and denouement feel pretty rushed, although that same complaint could be lobbed at a lot of Hollywood’s output during its Golden era.

However, those minor weaknesses can be largely brushed aside due to the treasure trove of snappy lines and well-choreographed physical gags that Hope and company bring to the table.

In the end, it’s really difficult to wring any meaningful analysis out of this kind of well-executed comedy, so the best compliment I could pay to Caught in the Draft is that it simply works at a core level.

And for anyone who is worried about the film feeling like a star-studded recruitment ad, the setting mostly comes across as cinematic window dressing or an excuse for Hope to ply his trade with military-themed props and costumes.

This career decision turned out to be quite prophetic, since the actor started to perform in front of US troops on a regular basis when the nation entered World War Two shortly after the film’s release.

Those were difficult times to be sure, with the globe being plunged into such a far-reaching conflict, but I’m sure Hope was able to provide these soldiers with a small sliver of comfort through his comedy stylings.

And now that Europe is in the middle of another self-destructive war that threatens to draw in the rest of the world, we could all use a little Hope in our lives, even if it is just for an hour and twenty minutes.



Corner store companion:

Kraft peanut butter and Premier Plus crackers (because it just works on a fundamental level and doesn’t require a lot of explanation)

Fun facts:

-Release date: July 4, 1941

-Box office: $2.2 million

-Between 1941 and 1991, Hope took part in 57 different USO tours. Because of this, and his various other contributions to the American military, Hope became an honorary veteran of the US Armed Forces in 1997 (six years before his death).

-Outside of Caught in the Draft, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour starred in many other films together over the years, including all seven entries in the popular Road To … series (1940-1962).

Caught in the Draft contains multiple references to real-life Hollywood stars in its script, with Hope name dropping director Cecil B. DeMille and actor Gary Cooper at one point. The writers even make a weird meta reference to Hope’s co-star by having the actor describe her as looking like “Dorothy Lamour with clothes on” within the film.

-Outside of acting, vaudeville and performing at USO shows, Bob Hope was also best known for being a recurring host at the Oscars, having fulfilled this role 19 times (more so than any other entertainer).

Caught in the Draft can be watched in its entirety on YouTube right now.

Nights in Rodanthe (2008) review-vicarious vacation viewing

Producing a worthy follow-up to a hit movie is always an unenviable task, even in the world of Nicholas Sparks book-to-film adaptations.

However, George Wolfe was saddled with this very responsibility when he was hired to direct Nights in Rodanthe (2008) a few years after the release of The Notebook (2004).

Even though it received a mixed critical reception, The Notebook proved to be a sleeper hit at the box office and would go on to gain a massive cult following, thanks in part to its period setting, attractive cast and unapologetic sentimentality. 

In fact, critics have given The Notebook a serious re-evaluation over the last decade, with some publications now considering it to be one of the best chick-flicks of all time.

However, no such accolades have been given out to Nights in Rodanthe, which was met with an overall shrug from critics and audiences at the time of its release and has mostly been forgotten outside of the most passionate Sparks supporters.

And while it’s easy to see why this film faded into obscurity, Nights in Rodanthe at least offers enough nice scenery and atmosphere to justify a Sunday-afternoon viewing, even if the central romance doesn’t really work.

The plot of Nights in Rodanthe revolves around single mom Adrienne (Diane Lane), who is struggling with whether or not she should let her estranged husband back into her life after he cheated on her.

While Adrienne is mulling this question over, she’s charged with overseeing her best friend’s bed-and-breakfast for the weekend, even if the seaside hotel only has a single guest checking in.

This one guest turns out to be handsome doctor Paul (Richard Gere), who is attracted to Adrienne despite the fact that he is dealing with some intense personal shit in his own life.

Even though I already provided a preamble on The Notebook, Nights in Rodanthe is actually much more comparable to Message in a Bottle (1999)—another Sparks novel adaptation where the central romance is the least interesting part of the movie.

In this case, Diane Lane really does all the heavy lifting, since her protagonist exudes a tremendous amount of flustered charm that is sure to connect with a lot of single moms out there.

After all, these women often get shuffled off to the sidelines in a lot of mainstream Hollywood movies, where their role in the overarching story is relegated to giving out sage advice while exercising no real agency of their own.  

So it’s refreshing to see an older woman’s story take centre stage in a big movie like this, and Lane does an excellent job of articulating a lot of the challenges of being a single mom without turning into a gross caricature.

This is best exemplified in Adrienne’s relationship with her teenage daughter (played by Mae Whitman), since the pair have a combative dynamic at the start but gradually develop more empathy for each other as the plot moves forward.

Unfortunately, Richard Gere’s character isn’t nearly as engaging, since he spends the majority of the movie brooding and looking constipated.

And this kind of mopey attitude bleeds into his on-screen relationship with Lane as well, since the two actors don’t have a lot of chemistry while their two characters have little in common beyond the fact that they are both attractive, single and have kids.

Because of this, the pair’s romance never feels like anything beyond a brief weekend fling, even though the screenwriters pretend like they are crafting some once-in-a-lifetime love that can never be replicated.

However, the real star of Nights in Rodanthe isn’t any individual member of the cast.

Instead, the most captivating presence on screen belongs to the Rodanthe Inn itself and the beautiful North Carolina beach-front property that surrounds it.

Admittedly, all the Nicholas Sparks films I’ve seen up until now have flexed some impressive cinematography. But this is the first time all that energy and skill has been funneled into making one specific location look appealing.

And director of photography Affonso Beato gives the audience a pretty breathtaking intro into this sea-side hotel, providing a panoramic view of the building that begins on the inside of Gere’s car and ends at the check-in counter.

Even though the interior of the hotel was built in a studio, the production crew did an excellent job of making it look like a place you would want to spend your vacation, with plenty of calming colours, eccentric wallpaper, and natural lighting on display.

In fact, this production design was so influential that the real-life owners of this hotel decided to completely renovate their interiors following the film’s release to more closely resemble what was on screen.

And like I mentioned before, this kind of beautiful imagery follows Lane and Gere whenever they leave the hotel to take a scenic stroll on the beach or enjoy a dockside cook out in a nearby town.

Unfortunately, all the postcard scenery in the world can’t compensate for a weak central romance, especially since that’s the main reason why most people pay money to watch these Sparks adaptations in the first place.

But I still think there is something to be said for the laid-back atmosphere that Wolfe and his team created for this film, not just through some expert cinematography but a well-crafted, ambient score as well.

After all, sometimes you just want to sit back and relax by watching a movie like Nights in Rodanthe, where the stakes are low and most of the conflict is strictly internal.

While this slice-of-life drama has been done way better by directors like Richard Linklater, Greta Gerwig, and Hayao Miyazaki, Wolfe works with the material he’s given and still manages to overcome some of the film’s narrative shortcomings through his keen cinematic eye.

Couple that together with Lane’s endearing lead performance and Nights in Rodanthe becomes the movie equivalent of taking a relaxing vacation with a very charming tour guide.

And after the last year-and-a-half, I think we could all use a nice vacation, even if you’re not ready to get off the living room couch just yet.



Corner store companion:

Quaker Crispy Minis (because it’s the kind of snack you can equally enjoy laying on the beach or sitting on the couch)

Fun facts:

-Release date: Sept. 26, 2008

-Budget: $30 million (estimated)

-Box office: $84.4 million (worldwide)

Nights in Rodanthe was shot in several locations across North Carolina, including the Village of Rodanthe itself.

-Shortly after filming on Nights in Rodanthe was completed, the hotel featured in the movie (called “Serendipity” at the time) was condemned due to an insufficient foundation. The building was eventually bought by a new set of owners, moved to a more secure location nearby and renamed “The Inn at Rodanthe.” It remains open to this day

Nights in Rodanthe marks the third screen collaboration between Richard Gere and Diane Lane after The Cotton Club (1984) and Unfaithful (2002).

-While director George Wolfe’s film work has been sporadic throughout the 2010s, he came back with a vengeance in 2020 by helming Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.  The film (based on a play by August Wilson) went on to win two Oscars for costume design and makeup/hairstyling and bagged another three nominations (including a posthumous nod for Chadwick Boseman).

-Musical highlight: “In Rodanthe” by Emmylou Harris (plays over the end credits)

A Walk to Remember (2002) review-Is it dusty in here or something?

My inaugural journey into the Nicholas Sparks cinematic universe got off to a shaky start last year, with Message in a Bottle (1999) providing lots of beautiful imagery but a fundamentally flawed love story at its core.

Because of this, I booted up A Walk to Remember (2002) with some serious reservations, expecting the same unbalanced experience that failed to show me why Sparks’ brand of romantic fiction has resonated with so many people.

However, this time around, the cast and crew behind the author’s second big-screen adaptation really went out of their way to sell you on the central relationship between the two leads, which is all you really need for this kind of movie to work.

The plot of A Walk to Remember revolves around rebellious high schooler Landon (Shane West), whose tendency to hang around with the wrong crowd eventually lands him in hot water with the law.

In order to avoid jail time and expulsion, this troubled young man signs up for a variety of community service programs, which puts him in close proximity with fellow student Jamie (Mandy Moore).

Even though they come from different backgrounds, the pair form an unlikely romantic bond that puzzles Landon’s friends and worries Jamie’s minister father. 

Now, if you read that synopsis (or watched the above trailer) and rolled your eyes I wouldn’t blame you.

This “star-crossed lovers” premise has been executed hundreds of times on film and A Walk to Remember does very little to mix up that formula.

In fact, it’s almost comedic how far director Adam Shankman goes to position West and Moore as an unlikely couple in the beginning.

Not only does the pair dress like they are inhabiting different centuries, but the film’s soundtrack even reinforces this disconnect by giving each character contrasting musical cues.

While Moore is usually surrounded by a choir or gentle, ambient music, West’s bad boy interloper is constantly backed by a punk or grunge band whenever he is on screen.

Even though this technique accomplishes its goal of distinguishing these two characters, the filmmakers lay it on way too thick, to the point where each scene transitions feels like you are jumping into a completely different movie.

This ham-fisted set-up also isn’t helped by some clunky dialogue early on, where screenwriter Karen Janszen decided to cram a lot of Jamie’s backstory into a single conversation.

But as the plot moves forward, a lot of those glaring weaknesses begin to fade away as the dynamic between Moore and West finally takes shape, which is hands down the best part of the movie.

Not only does the pair have crazy chemistry, but Janszen also maps out some pretty satisfying character development through their evolving relationship.

Like most great movie romances, Landon and Jamie bring the best out of each other as they become closer, helping to fill an emotional void that both characters have had to endure because of an absent parental figure.

Once this bond really takes hold, both characters demonstrate their ability to grow as people, with Jamie learning to come out of her shell while Landon finally showcases some empathy that he had been lacking up until this point.

And then, cruelly, Sparks pulls the rug out from under the audience with a third act revelation that has made this story a prolific tearjerker for an entire generation of readers and moviegoers.  

A WALK TO REMEMBER, Mandy Moore, Shane West, 2002 (c) Warner Brothers/courtesy Everett Collection.

Again, nothing about this framework is revolutionary, and A Walk to Remember got righteously raked over the coals by critics when it was originally released for being “boring,” “melodramatic,” “cliché-ridden” and even “simple-minded.”

However, I believe that this simplicity is why the movie works so well, since it is laser focused on the two appealing leads and doesn’t get bogged down in a bunch of unnecessary sub plots.

In fact, one of the film’s biggest missteps, in my eyes, are these brief digressions involving Landon’s estranged father, who doesn’t meaningfully add to the plot and should have been cut out of the story altogether.

Because, at the end of the day, all the audience really cares about is watching Moore and West interact on screen, and for very good reason.

 The back and forth between these two is very fun to watch, since they genuinely appear to enjoy each other’s company and don’t rely on the film’s soundtrack or cinematography to do the heavy lifting.  

Moore is particularly impressive inhabiting a role that requires her to act like a full-grown adult stuck in a teenager’s body, especially since she was only 17-18 at the time of filming. 

And when that tragic third act revelation finally rears its ugly head, her performance actually takes on a whole new layer of meaning, encouraging you to watch the whole movie again with this new information in mind.

Admittedly, these two strong lead performances aren’t backed up by any real impressive filmmaking, since Shankman’s direction is pretty bland and doesn’t hold a candle to the scenic vistas that were on display throughout Message in a Bottle.  

That being said, he does show some flourishes every now and again by utilizing the occasional long take, including a series of lengthy tracking shots that introduce a lot of the supporting cast in the opening minutes of the movie.   

Still, I’m not going to pretend like Shankman’s mise-en-scène in A Walk to Remember is particularly noteworthy or eye-catching.

In fact, it seems like most of those key visual elements—like composition, production design, lighting and costuming—are being used to service the two main leads as opposed to all the surrounding scenery.

But, in retrospect, that decision was probably for the best, since the relationship between Moore and West is the main selling point of the movie. And in that respect, I think most people left the theatre back in 2002 feeling like they got their money’s worth.

Overall, I think the main reason why A Walk to Remember succeeds where other romantic dramas fail is that the central love story is simple and earnest.

Even when the plot veers off into some heavy subject matter later on, the film doesn’t feel overly manipulative or like it is trying too hard to make the audience weep.

Instead, those tears flow from a very natural place, which is a testament to Janszen’s script and the original source material.

I don’t know if any of Sparks’ other screen adaptations contain similar levels of emotional potency, but I’m looking forward to seeing where this journey takes me.

After all, if I’m going to cry living under these lockdown conditions, I’d prefer my source of woe to be a piece of media rather than the crushing realization that I can’t see my friends and family right now.

Er …. anyway … Happy Valentine’s Day!!!



Corner store companion:

Scotties and Kleenex brand tissues (because you’ll really need them for the final reel of this film)

Fun facts:

-Release date: Jan. 25, 2002

-Budget: $ 11,800,000 (estimated)

-Box Office Gross: $ 41, 281,092 (domestic), $47,494,916 (worldwide)

A Walk to Remember serves as Mandy Moore’s first major movie role following her well-established career in music. Before this film, she mostly nabbed supporting roles in films like Dr. Dolittle 2 and The Princess Diaries.

-Many of the sets featured in A Walk to Remember were used by the cast and crew of Dawson’s Creek, a long-running teen drama that was also shot in Wilmington, North Carolina.  

-Even though Sparks’ original novel took place in the 1950s, he and the filmmakers decided to update the setting to the 1990s/2000s for the screen adaptation, believing that this change of scenery would resonate a lot more with modern audiences.

-In a 2015 interview with The Wrap, Shane West revealed that he was so enamored with the 1967 Chevrolet Camaro he drove in this film that he bought this classic muscle car following the first week of shooting.

-Like Moore, Shane West has an extensive background in music as well as acting, serving as the lead singer of the punk bands Johnny Was in the 1990s and Twilight Creeps in the 2010s.

-Musical highlight: “Cry” by Mandy Moore (this thematically appropriate song plays over the movie’s closing credits)

Message in a Bottle (1999) review- missing that crucial spark

When it comes to film criticism, I always try to take my professional life out of the equation, especially when a movie decides to mimic the world I inhabit as reporter.

But Luis Mandoki’s Message in a Bottle (1999), based on a novel by Nicholas Sparks, contains such a flagrant example of journalistic malpractice from the main character that I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at what’s otherwise a pretty enjoyable romantic drama.

The film stars Robin Wright as Theresa Osbourne, a researcher for the Chicago Tribune who conducts a nation-wide search for a mystery man after one of his love letters (contained in a bottle, naturally) washes up on the shore of a nearby beach.

Theresa’s search eventually leads her to a sleepy sea-side town in North Carolina, where she comes face-to-face with the author himself: a soft-spoken widower played by Kevin Costner.

Even though Theresa was sent there to gather information on the man (Garrett) and his tragic love story, she neglects to disclose the real reason for her visit, not wanting to spoil the mutual attraction that’s growing between them.

Now, there’s a lot wrong with this set-up on multiple levels.

In terms of journalistic ethics, Theresa failing to divulge her true assignment to Garrett from the get-go is incredibly sketchy, since she’s gathering sensitive details about a man’s dead wife under false pretenses.   

This approach might have made sense if the character worked for a scuzzy tabloid newspaper that is completely devoid of editorial scruples.

But in the real world, even the gutter trash “reporters” that work for TMZ announce who they are when they harass celebrities at the airport, so I don’t know why Sparks and screenwriter Gerald Di Pego decided to portray the Chicago Tribune staff in such a negative light (intentionally or not).

On a writing level, this deceitful action also drags down Wright’s otherwise solid lead performance as Theresa, who is meant to be this kind, empathetic figure but just comes across as being manipulative.

No matter how many times she shares a cute moment with Garrett or even his crusty father Dodge (played by Paul Newman), I couldn’t get invested in these relationships since they are built on a foundation of lies.

Of course, it’s obvious why they decided to include this plot element in the story: to build tension.

Theresa’s deception serves as a kind of Sword of Damocles for the narrative, something that hangs over the central romance and threatens to destroy it at any second.

And while every good love story needs tangible conflict beyond a “will they, won’t they?” dynamic, a seemingly good-hearted person lying to a grieving widower by omission seems like the laziest possible way to inject that sort of speed bump into the plot.

In my view, Message in a Bottle (1999) would be vastly improved if Theresa simply revealed her intentions to Garrett from the outset.

Not only is this approach more consistent with how the character is written, but it also provides a much more interesting avenue for conflict, where she gradually has to win Garrett’s trust as both a reporter and romantic partner throughout the course of the story.

I know my fixation on this one plot point is a little over-the-top, but that’s only because it drags down a movie that I really wanted to like.

After all, this is my first time indulging in a Nicholas Sparks story, and it’s easy to see why his specific slice of romantic fiction has spawned such a vast media empire on the printed page and silver screen.

For one thing, the film’s cinematography is consistently gorgeous, with Oscar-nominated DP Caleb Deschanel doing an expert job of capturing the beauty of costal America that Sparks loves to write about.

Some lingering shots of sailboats and crashing ocean waves might wander into the territory of scenery porn, but that at least has some relevance to the plot, reinforcing Theresa’s desire to abandon her life in the big city to live with Garrett.

This idyllic, small-town atmosphere is made even more appealing thanks to a really strong supporting cast, who come across as the exact kind of people you would want to chat up after checking into a bed and breakfast.

Paul Newman really shines in this capacity, with his character’s salt-of-the-earth wisdom and sassy comebacks leading to some of the film’s best moments.

Plus, the movie’s soundtrack features a bevy of easy-listening icons like Faith Hill, Sheryl Crow and Sarah McLachlan, which compliments this laid-back aesthetic in a very meaningful way.

Of course, Message in a Bottle has a couple other things holding it back aside from a single questionable writing decision at its core.

For one thing, the film’s runtime clocks in at over two hours, which is way too long for this kind of movie and it really kills the momentum in the third act.

You’ll also notice that I haven’t commented on Costner’s qualities as a romantic lead up until this point, and that’s because he barely registers as a presence on screen.

I understand that it’s difficult to squeeze a compelling performance out of a character who is meant to emotionally withdrawn, but Costner never really manages to get himself out of first gear, even when he’s asked to deliver a passionate monologue later on in the movie.

It’s almost like he suffers from the reverse problem of his co-star (Wright), since Costner’s wooden acting doesn’t compliment some admittedly solid character writing from Sparks and Di Pego.

Unfortunately, these two incomplete characters don’t coalesce into a compelling whole, which is a big problem when your romantic leads are the movie’s biggest selling point.  

Despite this film’s mixed quality, it still hasn’t discouraged me from watching the remaining four entries in my “5 Film Collection: Nicholas Sparks” DVD set.

Clearly the author has tapped into a formula that resonates with a lot of people—having sold over 115 million copies of his books worldwide—and I’m curious to see if the more appealing qualities of Message in a Bottle (1999) are way more prevalent in future film adaptations.

But hopefully this story marks the last time Sparks dips his toes into writing about the world of journalism, since he’s clearly out of his depth when it comes to this subject.  



Corner store companion:

Sensations Cracker Assortment (because this is possible one of the whitest movies I’ve ever seen)

Fun facts:

-Release date: Feb. 12, 1999

-Budget: $80,000 (estimated)

-Box Office Gross: $52,880,016 (domestic), $118,880, 016 (international)

Message in a Bottle is the first of 11 total Nicholas Sparks film adaptations. Altogether, these movies have grossed a combined $ 889,615,166 worldwide. 

-While all of Sparks’ films manage to turn a profit, none of them are critical darlings. Out of all 11 movies, The Notebook has come the closest to achieving a “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes at 53 per cent.

-Sparks originally published Message in a Bottle back in 1998. It was his second official novel after The Notebook in 1994.

-Sparks’ most recent written work, The Return, was released back in September of this year, which marked his 21st published novel. He’s also written two non-fiction books.

-Kevin Costner was nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award (Worst Actor) in 2000 for his performance in both Message in a Bottle and For The Love of the Game.

-Musical highlight: “Carolina” by Sheryl Crow (plays over the end credits)