Middling: Flowers in the Attic

Flowers in the Attic (1987)
Directed by Jeffrey Bloom
Written by V. C. Andrews, Jeffrey Bloom
Produced by Sy Levin, Thomas Fries
Starring Kristy Swanson, Jeb Stuart Adams, Victoria Tennant, Louise Fletcher, Ben Ryan Ganger, Lindsay Parker
Upon a contingence of fulsome units shifted, every melodramatic novel deserves a filmic treatment of equivalent bombast, and if this bowdlerized version (the latter of two* concurrently distributed by New World thirty years ago) isn't as sordid as Andrews' base bestseller of familial treachery, it nathless conveys her idiomatic instinct for captivating depravity. Four siblings (Swanson, Adams, Ganger, Parker) are ripped from their halcyon home upon their father's untimely quietus, and transplanted by their mother (Tennant) to the palatial manse of her estranged parents. Granny's a severe, abusive, pietistical battle-axe (Fletcher) who secludes them in a bipartite suite and vast, superjacent loft packed with personalty, where they languish until frustration and suspicion enkindle machinations for escape and an insatiable curiosity regarding Mom's progressive absences and eerie personal permutation. In defense of Levin and Fries, test audiences representing their production's target demographic of adolescent girls were repulsed by scenes depicting overt violence and incest excised to the eventual displeasure of Andrews' readers, who expected an accurate adaptation. Despite their conundrum, Bloom's competent yet commonplace direction and script preserving both the fascination and laughable contrivance of its source hardly eased his performers' duties. Snarling, clenched Fletcher's as riveting as shamelessly typecast, emanating piety and antipathy as the grandmotherly gorgon swiping scenes aplenty from Tennant, whose hammily eccentric elocution's as compulsive as cockamamie. Faring only slightly better, eminently photogenic Swanson and Adams bore millstones of declamatory dialogue, occasionally salient dubbing and the phoniest postiche imaginable. Christopher Young's score is suitably saccharine; its main theme and a few adjuvant motifs are memorable, but it can't compare to the classic, coeval music composed for *Hellraiser. For all its departures from Andrews' text, this flick replicates her style and its bathos, as polished and absorbing a work of sober kitsch as one could expect.


Middling: The Odd Couple II

The Odd Couple II (1998)
Directed by Howard Deutch
Written by Neil Simon
Produced by Robert W. Cort, David Madden, Neil Simon, Elena Spiotta
Starring Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Mary Beth Peil, Jonathan Silverman, Lisa Waltz, Richard Riehle, Christine Baranski, Jean Smart
Thirty years elapsed between the filmic success of Simon's lovably insufferable squabblers and this reunion miscalculated to capitalize on the revived popularity of two much older, grumpier men. Lemmon's carping, persnickety hypochondriac and Matthau's insouciantly inept sloven bicker en route through picturesque rural California to the wedding of Felix's daughter (Peil) and Oscar's son (Silverman), sustaining afoot lost luggage, a detonated rental car, Mexican smugglers, an impendent corpse (Barnard Hughes), redneck hussies (Baranski, Smart) and one another, their recriminative irritation meliorated not a jot in their advanced years. Approximately one of Simon's every four cracks and gags is legitimately funny (a miserably promising ratio by contemporary standards), and his leading men optimize these with unerring comic timing and persisting chemistry. Alas, uncoordinated direction by Deutch -- who's never managed a decent film without John Hughes' patronage -- and Seth Flaum's horrendous editing often spoil whatever the stars salvage; after every other punch line, poorly composed shots either cut away abruptly or linger too long. Still worse, Alan Silvestri's twee, drippy score (possibly his very worst) loudly and repeatedly diverts from rather than complementing any onscreen humor. Silverman plays Oscar's son as a cloying candy-ass and inadvertent warning against the folly of flighty single motherhood, but the supporting cast is otherwise tolerable, notwithstanding Baranski in a creepily carnal context. It's all paltry and far too late for a priceless pair whose audience was expeditiously expiring by the late '90s, and ought've been exploited decades earlier: in lieu of the negligible telecast series, Lemmon and Matthau might have been reunited in a quartet of theatrical sequels circa '71-'86, scripted by the likes of Andrew Bergman and helmed by proven comedic directors such as Ramis or Hiller. Instead, this final outing by one of Old Hollywood's most gifted twosomes finds them struggling to modest yet meritorious achievement in their twilight years to excite a few laughs in a barely mediocre vehicle.


Middling: A Wife's Nightmare

A Wife's Nightmare (2014)
Directed by Vic Sarin
Written by Blake Corbet, Dan Trotta
Produced by Tina Pehme, Kim Roberts, John Bolton, Larry Gershman, Meyer Shwarzstein
Starring Jennifer Beals, Dylan Neal, Lola Tash, Spencer List, Tracey Hway, Katherine McNamara, Alex Ferris, Nicole Hombrebueno
You know, if you (Beals) were employed by a development firm and repairing to your presentational berth, lusk husband (Neal, faded rock star) and son (List, spineless epicene) following hospitalization to treat your nervous breakdown, and some gorgeous gamine (Tash) arrived to profess your shiftless spouse's paternity in flirtatious ascent as your household's cynosure just as your occupational project's files were mysteriously deleted, you'd wax snappish, guzzle medication and whine to a confidante (Hway) resembling James Remar, too. Well, you would. If only for Sarin's tolerable direction and photography, this conspiratorial melodrama's a notch better than most of Lifetime's antic agitprop, but it founders on an unsteady terrain pocked with yawning diegetic holes, risible dialogue and remarkable improbabilities. Boundlessly bounteous, Beals' working wife is burdened with a caddish househusband and alternately craven and violent son, but her imprudence is as inexplicable as her poise: who in their right mind would neglect to copy backups of indispensable professional data to external drives and a corporate server, or file for a second mortgage to finance their faineant partner's rock album in 2014?! Even Goldman Sachs wouldn't entertain debt of such frivolity, unless they did. Photogenic Tash holds her own as well as her senior co-stars, but isn't cumbered with the script's worst lines; those are reserved for teenlet List and his BFF Ferris, a daft, fifth-rate pseudo-Duckie whose every getup seems assembled to maximize his humiliation. As the faithless fink of sub-Mathesonian vice, Nash hasn't the charisma, edge or especially sex appeal to passably play a requisite Evil White Straight Man, and neither is his villain's artifice perverse enough to enjoy. Grossly overcut productions like these are almost inspiring: composed with modest art, any score of shots might prove compulsive as one, and its second's ASL is tiresome to anyone whose concentration exceeds that of a cokehead. Never mind that distaff hypergamy and its collateral infidelity now prevails as never before in modernity; Lifetime's audience can't be gruntled unless an inverse of reality's spoon-fed to sate their indignant pretensions. This is only worth watching for an amusive riff, and a rare picture of any moderate interest or entertainment in which Beals has starred.
Recommended for a double feature paired with The Babysitter's Seduction.

Middling: Flowers in the Attic

Flowers in the Attic (1987) Directed by Jeffrey Bloom Written by V. C. Andrews, Jeffrey Bloom Produced by Sy Levin, Thomas Fries Starr...