20 October 2020

Giving Themselves Away Horrors

Giving Themselves Away Horror

by Kristin Battestella

What's one to do with recent horror releases that go beyond foreshadowing or mere suggestion and flat out give away their secrets too early in the picture? Read on for several such predictable, conflicted conundrums. What could have made these movies better? Had they not shoehorned in the obvious horror at the expense of fine drama and performances. Spoiler Alert!

Delirium Distorted home movie flashbacks, daddy issues, family suicides, and therapy sessions open this mental illness or haunted mansion 2018 Blumhouse Production starring newly released Topher Grace (That '70s Show) and parole officer Patricia Clarkson (Six Feet Under). Suggestions about not putting a dad who was eaten by his dog on a pedestal and jailbird brother history are dismissed in favor of heavy breathing phone calls, ridiculously on the nose “Prisoner of Love” music, and distracting product placements. Though meant to add nostalgia, a try hard box of mementos including cassettes, Kathy Ireland posters, an old computer, CDs for the boom box, and Gin Blossoms t-shirts doesn't develop the time warp characterization so much as it makes this film feel two decades too late as our dude bro skateboards through his mansion while under house arrest. The babe delivering groceries is conveniently retro cool and awkward conversations are awkward, so he sketches her and she gives him a mixed CD. (Yuppies today thinking that is so edgy can't comprehend the struggle that was making mixed cassettes!) Ripped wallpaper with 1994 writing underneath, creaking walls, and rattling furniture make for a very slow build before hidden doors, secret passages, and peepholes. Footsteps when one is supposed to be alone, tongues in a jar, saucy cameras, and videos of women chained in iron masks seem like we're getting somewhere, but the zorp crescendos, loud effects, talking out loud, and scares over the shoulder are for viewers not the protagonist experiencing the chills. The eyes ripped out of his stuffed animal would be suspicious if said eyes didn't laughably end up stuck on dad's ominous portrait amid tiring pool scares and crazed versus supernatural old hat obvious. Telling someone about the family crimes becomes the new research montage complete with more unnecessary the victim worked at Wendy's name dropping as convenient pharmacy connections, substitute medicines, relatives who may or may not really be there, and people said to be dead blur together. Fainting and time distortions don't forgive in plain sight clues that were previously ignored once they are thrown at the screen alongside more nonsensical red herrings. This should have been a straight family drama – a taut, isolated investigation rather than contrived horror and audience guessing games without mystery or scares. The mansion is never fully explored right from the start, and it's frustrating when the viewer sees everything here coming. I correctly called at the twenty-two minute mark what's revealed in the last twelve minutes before fist fights, gun shots, and pool waterworks that get all the money in the safe wet. Oh well. ¯\_()_/¯

The Invisible Man
– Writer Leigh Whannell (Insidious) directs this 2020 Blumhouse and Universal Australian co-production starring Elizabeth Moss (The Handmaid's Tale). In this contemporary H.G. Wells spin, the picturesque mod home is eerie and isolated with sophisticated security, tip toeing fear, hidden preparations, and desperate escapes. Even after her optics entrepreneur boyfriend is found dead, Cecilia is afraid to go to the mailbox and jumps at every doorbell. Eventually she begins to come out of her shell to friends, but innocuous camera pans in the unattended kitchen, creaking floorboards, flickering lights, and construction tarps suggest something sinister. Big baggy clothes and body discomfort are better than the usual titillation, yet there are still shower scares and wrapped in a towel moments. Despite sheets, coffee grounds, paint splatter revelations, photos, and attic evidence, Cecilia holds on to his phone to call a ride share, going all the way back to the compound she escaped without stopping to pick up some spray paint or downloading an infrared app. While the technical plausible rather a serum of old is fine, the boom boom crescendo zorp music and shock and awe overkill are too much when it's not as if the invisible optics were unexpected. Cecilia insists he is not dead just invisible, but such accusations only make her seem crazy and no one believes her once CCTV is used against her when convenient for the horrors. Though a fine performance from Moss provides broken desperation, mentioning the word “architect” at a job interview and having everyone turn on her is not character development. Making a woman go through real terror only for it to escalate into science fiction horror also feels too cruel. If he orchestrated her pregnancy behind her back, why does he fling her across the room and drag her across the floor like any other whooshing horror entity? How does an institution not have cameras to capture this? By the ninety minute mark, the contrivances become too ridiculous, and it's tough to maintain interest when we need to act like modern technological help and logic don't exist. Where are all the security cameras that can definitively prove the violence is not her doing? Fire extinguishers likewise should have been used much sooner. Invisible boo shocks are weak next to threats to kill family and friends, for this is not a scary hi-tech monster but a monster person who can't be escaped unless she too commits a deadly crime. Just because abusive men are horrible, this didn't have to be a horror movie. Although this feels like a separate script that tacked on invisible elements, in the end this becomes one overlong origin for an Invisible Woman in a Universal Dark Monsterverse. If someone asks how she got the suit, she can say she took it from an abusive jerk. Were we not supposed to see that coming when she found the second suit?

We Have Always Lived in the Castle – Boarded windows, cluttered antiques, dilapidated splendor, and black cats open this 2018 Shirley Jackson adaptation from director Stacie Passon (Little Birds) starring Taissa Farmiga (The Nun), Alexandra Daddario (We Summon the Darkness), and Sebastian Stan (Captain America: The Winter Soldier). Greenery and quaint outside the window lead to “Last Tuesday” title cards, record players, colorful wallpaper, mid century flair, vintage homemaker style, deadly herbs expertise, arsenic in the sugar bowl, and newspaper headlines of dead parents and orphaned daughters. Younger sister Merricat is afraid to go for groceries in town because the villagers hate them – and gossip about the elder Constance being acquitted of the family murders. Merricat reads spell books and buries tokens, but her charms don't actually protect them and her narration dumps a lot of backstory early when the visual cues, quirky behavior, and family bizarre are enough to digest. Brief scenes of household calm, cleaning, dinner, and sisterly devotion lead to odd snow globes, skeleton keys, candles, and whispers of poisoned mushrooms. Lady friends of their late mother in pearls, gloves, and pillbox hats visit for tea, trying to get Constance out again, but when their cousin arrives, Constance becomes infatuated with him. Charles looks like their father, stays in his room, sits at the head of the table, and suggests Merricat should be punished for trying to drive him away. Despite her bratty spying and behaving much younger than her supposed eighteen, the narration intrudes upon scenes outside of her point of view as tensions escalate. Constance defends Merricat, but eventually she admits how her sister makes everything worse. Merricat resents their opportunistic, fortune hunting cousin taking her place because she is in love with her sister and wants everything to her advantage. Deluded visions of their dead parents saying she should never be punished excuse fiery actions as firefighters debate about saving the manor and the looting townsfolk chant to let it burn. This is not as spooky or weird as it could be thanks to the unreliable narrator obviousness given away at the beginning. Who's responsible is no surprise, and fatal revelations about who did what are dismissed in favor of blaming the cruel neighbors when their hatred is just a consequence of the sisters' freaky behaviors. When they bring goods to the door and apologize, any attempt at healing is ignored. Despite implications their father was abusive, Merricat told on her sister's boyfriend so their father would get rid of him – keeping her sister in a destructive environment just because she was jealous and wants to be with her sister forever. Not unlike an abuser herself, Merricat's glad when people call her a witch, has convinced herself she is one, insists she has done no wrong, lets her sister be admonished if it means she gets to keep her caged in their ruined home, and only smiles when she achieves her goals through poison, death, and fire. Why do so many movies start with an ending scene and then go back to tell how it got that way? It really ruins the character study here rather than deepening the demented angst.

Didn't Finish It

Nightflyers – Gretchen Mol (Boardwalk Empire), Eoin Mackin (Merlin), and Miranda Raison (MI-5) lead this 2018 SyFy ten episode series based upon the George R.R. Martin story as alarms, red lights, weightless debris, radio warnings, and a grizzly shipmate with an ax lead to airlocks, medical saws, and bloody splatter. After the opening horror, we go back to the beginning of the mission with crew introductions, confusing for the cool technical slang, little world building, and exposition that doesn't tell the viewer very much. Pretty ship views, celestial visuals, and outer space special effects meant to be awe inspiring don't work once we've started with dark, congested ominous and realistic, tunnel-like submarine interiors. Horror and science fiction perils are not the same thing, and droning, distracting, pulsing music doesn't invoke either one. Dangerous telepaths are needed to save earth by attempting communication with a mysterious alien artifact, but psychic feedback, bloody noses, a supernatural saboteur, and communication problems leave others in fear questioning whether they are doing the right thing. Suggestions to turn back are dismissed, but this mission is off to a terrible start with too much contrived suspense and conflict. The audience has no time to make sense of everything thrown at the screen amid lame shocks like pumping hearts, people set on fire, and chopped heads. Basic sci-fi telepaths, gene therapy, and jacking into the system plots are derivative amid stereotypical Black characterizations and cliché family angst complete with a little girl in a red raincoat and falling flat menace. The pace changes as much as the distrust, altered mission objectives, and personal motivations. Everybody has their secrets – one minute they doubt one person then defend them the next, no one shares all they know, and information is deliberately withheld from the viewer. Life on earth is at stake and alien contact is in sight yet nobody's on the same page despite in world telepathic revelations and memory machines that bend to suit the moment. Laughable guards constantly screw up, acerbating every situation while the captain refuses to share the details on the ship's malfunctions. Are we not supposed to know his angry mother is the literal ghost in the machine? Obvious contrivances leave episodes ending on down notes, and this should have been another movie adaption or a three hour event. it's easy to skip around after the first few overlong entries despite some being as short as thirty-nine minutes. Cool credits blending space, mind, vessels, and galaxies promise this will be something more than suspicious delays and unlikable people in an all over the place presentation, but I completely forgot I was watching it and never went back.

23 September 2020

Recent Witches and Folk Horrors

Recent Witches and Folk Horrors
by Kristin Battestella

These indie horrors from the past few years provide folk tales, dark fantasy, and witches. While some are flawed but worthy, others are disappointingly boring and downright off putting.

Gretel & Hansel – Invitations to beware, come closer, and listen well open director Oz Perkins' (The Blackcoat's Daughter) 2020 fairy tale twist alongside creepy triangles, phantom silhouettes, pointy black hats, and babes lured to the woods. Nothing is given without something being taken away, and red leaves, eerie autumn tones, fog, and firelight create a storybook rustic, Northern European timeless. Our Gretel is older – she sees and hears things differently – but she won't work for a nasty old man even if her mother threatens her with an ax. Saddled with her younger brother Hansel, the hungry children set off for the scary woods, a magical and beautiful but spooky place with screeching crows, rustling trees, and wild mushrooms. Kindness is supposed to be its own reward and they shouldn't stop for wicked deceptions, tempting baking aromas, and unattended feasts when they peer in the window. While blurry camera work and distorted, askew angles reflect the weary unknown; the zorp, warped, dun dun dun sound effects are an obnoxious intrusion. Tender conversations and innocent chats also don't need any further narration as gross fingered, hair sniffing, disturbingly creepy Alice Krige (Star Trek: First Contact) invites the youths to enter, rest, and eat because they have no meat on their bones. Simple stone buildings and old clothing styles add to the quaint antiques, candles, lanterns, and moonlight, but red doors, colorful stained glass, hairless cats, and nightmares suggest something sinister. Where are the animals for milk and eggs for baking and why does the fresh food never spoil? Despite each child having their misgivings, Gretel offers to work for their keep, cleaning with natural herbs, vinegar, and lye before learning rare recipes and remedies. Women, you see, are either used by men or crones feared for their gifts. Young Hansel is instructed in saws and sharp tools because that's the man's work, but Gretel must hide her menstrual clean up, take control of her talents, and accept the tasty price of youth and beauty as scratch marks in the cupboard lead to whispering voices, hidden doors, and forbidden white chambers. Red lights, moss, smoke, creaking wood, and thunder accent the electronic, surreal music – weird, bizarre notes invoking seventies folk horror films. Special effects are saved for the most disturbing magic and horror with sleeping drafts, potions, salves, and bloody revelations. One must consume one's weakness before it consumes you, and a burdensome child – or a younger brother – can hold one back from her true path. Our crone wants a protege to impart her wisdom, but what happens when the apprentice surpasses the master? We know this story ends with a cannibalistic twist, but the demented chamber of horrors and fiery finale feel a little held back, not going far enough compared to the slow build getting there. The modern, intrusive narration and unnecessary sound effects are also annoying to the audience well versed in this kind of horror, but fortunately, the delicious performances and fairy tale warnings anchor this tasty retelling.

Loon Lake – David Selby and Kathryn Leigh Scott (Dark Shadows, people, Dark Shadows) anchor this 2019 Minnesota set indie opening with 1880 screams, witchy curses, multiple chops, and bloody heads. An unnecessary contemporary driving credits montage restarts the farm country rural as a drunken widower renting an empty home takes the cross off the wall. Distorted camera angles set off the horror as well as pictures of the deceased and the sense of numbness amid the pretty fields, pleasant breezes, overgrown cemetery, and eerie trees. Details on accidental deaths attributed to the witch and the bad luck that follows if you cross her grave three times come at the local diner, and Selby is quite distinct as the pesky old neighborhood kook and his conflicted minister ancestor. The bereaved, unfortunately, doesn't believe in ghosts or witches despite tales of church fires, saucy spells, and bound rituals. Flashbacks provide last rites, fresh graves, and refused nastiness alongside spirits in the window, thunder, tolling bells, and number three repetitions. Conversations on grief versus faith are nice, if heavy handed, calming moments before figures in the corn rows, apparitions of the dead, phantom noises, and creaking floorboards. The past sequences, however, are out of order. That may be an attempt at leaving the history open to interpretation or making a case for crazy with guilt unreliable, but the audience has seen independent, over the top evidence of the witch, so we know it's not all in his head. Despite surreal visions, alluring forest encounters, willing temptations, dead birds, power outages, and spooky lights; it's also difficult to be on our modern man's side. He keeps saying “Let me explain” after grabbing a woman when waking rather than admitting he had a nightmare about the witch, still wants to talk it out when threatened for attacking her, and completely ignores a full gun rack because screaming at an intruder is apparently the better thing to do. Maybe this is about his learning to believe in both good and bad, but it's tough to feel for a guy claiming he didn't deserve this when the witch didn't deserve what happened to her either. Convenient writing seen in a dream provides an end to the curse, but he doesn't try to make it right, insisting he doesn't care what went down – which isn't the best course of action when she's naked and bathing in blood. Putting on a cross makes for instant faith, but the seemingly sunny ending and false fake outs are obvious. Although this makes the most of zooms, music, and in scene scares, once again the flaws here arise in too few people wearing too many production hats, and the imbalance shows by time our man pain protagonist is literally swinging at thin air. While entertaining for both the good as well as the bad, this really feels like two stories in one, and the elder period tale is better of the two.

A Disappointment

Hex – 1644 English Civil War soldiers confront occult heresy, witches, and battlefield blood in this 2017 low budget feature unnecessarily co-directed by its co-writers. Leather, flags, and torn parchments set the period while helmets, armor, prayers, and pretty fields marred with dead provide bleak. Pilfering from the bodies escalates to two soldiers circling, fighting, and clashing swords in the eerie forest, but the shaky handicam is in too close and can't follow the hectic action. The script is also so light it's nearly nonexistent, leaving the spooky to rely on “unsettling music” closed captions and false crescendos. The hand to hand, running, hiding, and repeated confrontations also go on and on for fifteen minutes with nothing to show for it. After more enchanting woods, moss, and overgrown stone ruins; mysterious runes, talismans, and hooded figures finally appear. An abandoned encampment offers tents, tools, and maps, but viewers must watch both soldiers wander through it all without taking any supplies before more stand offs and debates about who's going to pull the trigger first. One insists there is something ungodly in this forest, so they suddenly get over their hate, decided to unite against the witch instead, and then sit by the fire in silence. The audience, however, has so little evidence of anything evil happening. Maybe in a straight drama we could wait, but when there has been no horror forty minutes into an eighty-eight minute movie, this snail's pace becomes ridiculous. When we finally do have a bewitching figure in a ravine, the night filming is tough to see. The best scares are just dream fake outs, and shadows in the tent happen so fast, we aren't even sure there is anything truly scary there. Our soldiers, however, are apparently so traumatized, they don't study the maps to find their way out or head off at first light. At this point, we'd rather have had the witch's perspective about how to get these guys off her lawn. We see more of them flipping out and facing their battle guilt because this is really supposed to be about male absolving, and destroying her stick figures is supposed to make them feel better. Even when they come to a clearing and have seemingly escaped, they still seek to confront the witch in a cave. The witch wastes time explaining why in the most dialogue yet here at the end, and while they couldn't shoot a man and she clearly isn't evil, they'll stab her to death with the quickness. This premise had a lot of potential, but it goes nowhere and nothing major happens. This felt so much longer, but with open and closing credits, this is actually about eighty-two minutes and you could fast forward and not miss anything.

Couldn't Finish It

We Summon the Darkness – It feels like we've seen these rad chicks on the highway before complete with music, talk of make up and sex, and it's 1988 via 2019 thanks to crimped hair, Madonna bangles, recent vehicles, and modern skinny jeans substitutes that look like dress up for the costume party. Gas station stops, old man innuendo, and televangelist fire and brimstone add to the cliché teases while convenient murder reports on the radio detail satanic symbols found at the crime scene. The jerks on the road are likewise weak with terrible mullets and everyone measuring each other's meddle with their metal head expertise gets old very fast. The flashing lights and concert bouncing up and down are also brief and lame tropes alongside the good girl peer pressured into everything cool and crazed, annoying exaggerations. Maybe if you look at this as a parody or if it had been a comedy the tone and style would make sense? The highway home to the rich house is instantaneous compared to drawn out start, and the Never Have I Ever chatting around the fire drinking binges goes on and on when it's obvious the guys want sex and the girls are disinterested. Who's really after whom and for what purpose turnabouts are interesting, but not unexpected thanks to the ritual foreshadowing and upside down cross jewelry leading to the drugged and bound. A gender reversal on the horror is supposed to stand out, but one girl's character development is that she has to pee all the time and everyone is stupid, unlikable, knife playing drunks. You see, this isn't really about the occult aspects, just a congregation trying to instill fear of the devil by committing murders that look like cult killings. Idiotic interrogations that waste time bothering to explain all this make the threats feel hollow, and I'm so, so tired of so-called righteous assholes giving decent people a bad name. We have enough of that at the top these days, so this didn't need to be set in an eighties Midwest for the religious hypocrisy commentary. In fact, it might have come across as something deeper if the first half wasn't wasted on faking period window dressing that doesn't work. Stepmothers, bloody bodies found, police chases, lone officers who don't call for backup, psycho daddy pastors – the contrivances just go on and on, escalating until I eventually stopped paying attention.

14 September 2020

It's A Living Season 1

It's A Living Debuts with Delicious, Hard Working Charm
by Kristin Battestella

The thirteen episode 1980-81 debut of ABC's It's A Living gets right to the high rise scandalous situational comedy at the shiny Above The Top Restaurant as virginal waitress Vicki Allen (Wendy Schaal) braves the dating scene in the “Pilot” thanks to advice from her lady colleagues – married Lois Adams (Susan Sullivan), sultry Cassie Cranston (Ann Jillian), ditsy Dot Higgins (Gail Edwards), and single mom Jan Hoffmeyer (Barrie Youngfellow). Stern hostess Nancy Beebe (Marian Mercer), however, objects to the coddling, making sure their service runs smoothly even when everything goes awry.

It's A Living introduces everyone as they arrive to work, giving the audience a realistic chance to meet each lady's troubles, sassy, or headstrong. Immediately discussing sexual topics and critical views on marriage, mistakes, and a woman's right to say no establishes their tight knit relationships as well as our endearment for the girls against their brash boss or pinching cheeks patrons. Maybe sexual topics defining the women as mother, prude, or easy generalities are old hat, but the plots are well balanced, individual, and mature, not crass. When their families are away in “The Intruder,” the ladies gather for a slumber party amid local burglar scares and debates on if it's worth wearing pants a size too small if you look good. It's A Living shows the women at home, however they aren't traditional television homemakers – just women laughing over hair, nails, and being juvenile. Sure it's contrived that they all have off to be together at the same time, but it's a chance to address individual fears and their united stance. Our dames object to being called chicks because they are women who aren't helpless. Unfortunately, home and work collide in “Fallen Idol” when visiting dad Richard Schaal (The Mary Tyler Moore Show) has a surprising dalliance. He's cool with the bordering on tart skimpy uniforms, laughs at the generational jokes, and lends his bathrobe the next morning. The then shameful shocks regarding consenting adults may seem like an overreaction today, but it's delicious to see our waitresses deduce the innuendo with great comedic timing and punchlines. Despite perhaps too many innocent plots to start, the series first utilizes its rooftop restaurant to the fullest in “Up on the Roof” as problem tables and a fire in the hotel below lead to customers who can't leave, slow service, cranky couples, and bad music to keep them going. Our ladies must pull everyone together amid evacuation waits, hysterics, fanatical ministers, and worried employees who don't want to be last in the rooftop rescue. Rather than regular sitcom standards, It's A Living uses its setting in a crisis to standout.

There are, however, several dated hindrances on It's A Living – namely an obnoxious laugh track and over-editing with an up close cut for every comeback rather than any ensemble camera staging. On the other hand, the cast is crowded this season with similar girls, generic sitcom plots, and the occasional eighties grandiloquent child actor. It's unrealistic when the waitresses are all in the back solving a problem leaving no one to mind the restaurant, and at first, It's A Living doesn't seem to know how to use its dining establishment to its advantage. Today a series also doesn't have the luxury of dragging on with early, basic stories while we hang on for the banter and personality. Then again, the rotating door of waitresses to come would be a contemporary excuse for edgy, gritty issues and seedy, titillation drama. Fortunately, there's no real clunker in this abbreviated start, and by the second half It's A Living finds its characters' strengths in “Our Man Barry” as two girls become interested in the same man amid dieting plots, employers weighing the girls, and their having to share, starve, and take it for the highest paying waitress job in town. Friends, romance, red dresses, and food cravings don't mix! The lighthearted conflict and petty confrontations eventually remind the ladies that this guy can't be a real catch if he wants to string both of them along, but our mothers argue, too, when a porn magazine ends up in a daughter's backpack in “Kids.” These days, it's downright hysterical how they thought sex was everywhere in 1981 because it was so easy for a kid to see a dirty magazine on the rack at the grocery store! Some ladies are shocked, a few have a good look, others say it is time for frank conversations with youth, and they all recall how their mothers wouldn't even say it – just maybe spell it. None of them want kids to learn the wrong way with jokes and rumors, but they also think curious boys and dad's naughty sock drawer are to blame. Girls aren't supposed to look at pornos! Will telling a ten year old too soon ruin her attitude about sex? But porn certainly provides unrealistic expectations, doesn't it? The women's perceptions of each other change when their sexual ideas and child rearing clash, and it's fascinating to study how this taboo is addressed then and now. Today, a kid with smut on his computer is so ubiquitous, it can't even be a heavy hitting plot device like the well done here.

Barrie Youngfellow's (Barney Miller) divorced single mother Jan is also going back to school and doesn't have time for crap from customers. She pulls an all nighter so she can be free to take her daughter to an Andy Gibb concert, and the only thing that would have made that sweeter would have been if we had seen him! Jan vowed that her daughter wouldn't be denied anything because she has one parent, and if her her priorities make her a terrible waitress, that's too bad. Determined to pay for ballet lessons in “Super-Mom,” Jan takes a second calligraphy job. Her coworkers cover for her and help with the invitations while trying to make Jan realize this is really about her doing it all. Jan has to take the reprimands on the chin or lose her job, and It's A Living shows what it can do with the serious, single mom disappointment. Jan also waits until the semester's end to accept her professor's overtures in “Making the Grade,” but when she has a terrible time, he nonetheless insists on more or he'll fail her. He doesn't want to be psychoanalyzed for his ways, but she doesn't want to be assaulted – and a teacher holding a sexual threat over a student is no different than a guy with a gun in a parking lot. This story focuses on how the women feel, dropping the insinuations, asking real questions, and making better statements in 1981 than we do now. Ann Jillian's (Babes in Toyland) risque Cassie, by contrast, is said to date anything once and wears her skimpy waitress uniform on the street. Three weeks without makes one a saint, and all agree with her expectation to die in bed. Cassie objects to the other ladies' mother hen ways with surprising asides and steamrolling zingers – a Ma West innuendo married with sharp, under the radar writing and deadpan delivery. Though fresh and selfish, Cassie isn't heartless, but she can't admit when she's caught feelings for an exotic jet setter in “Cassie's Punctured Romance.” She's tired of pedestrian boys, but she can't keep a suave man when she's pretending to cook while the girls actually prepare dinner. They think she should take a chance on taking it to the next level, but Cassie fears something serious and hates women who cry over a man. Likewise iron-fisted hostess Nancy Beebe demands formality, and Marian Mercer's (Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman) dame is not willing to be fair. She dislikes children in the restaurant and is always ready to fire anyone – although she can apologize when she's wrong and has a begrudging respect for Jan's moxie. Nancy enjoys insulting their looks, inspecting the ladies, and demeaning their weight because she herself is the epitome of class and respect. She's quite flirtatious, too, even with a firefighter over the phone. While Nancy doesn't realize not everyone has made this restaurant their lives, she is correct that there is always something happening with these waitresses. She suspects they are late to annoy her so she must keep them on their toes. Briefly, Nancy wonders if she works them too hard, but realizes she doesn't care because they are trying their best and that's what makes it tragic. When Nancy claims the new boss has fired her in “You're Not Old, You're Fired” because he is dissatisfied with her work, the waitresses refuse to believe that could be the reason when she is impeccable with the customers. They can't think of nice things to say or good times they've had together, but it's clear the restaurant can't run without Nancy. The girls find out she was fired for being old, for men can have gray, lines, and experience but not women. Dignified Nancy, however, stands up for being perfect in every way but age – she's really forty-five not forty-two.

Top billed Susan Sullivan (Falcon Crest) remains level headed as unofficial waitress leader Lois. She always has the final word for the backhanded insults about being too old or not being as old as she looks, but her headstrong is too similar to Jan. Though played as friends, in real life they would be competitive rather than besties. Lois wonders why everyone asks her advice, but she readily tells one what they don't want to hear. Her marriage is said to be perfect, but an old flame makes her wonder what she missed in “The Lois Affair.” When he offers her his room key and a nightcap, Lois insists it can be an innocent chat. Despite the temptations, good old Lois won't give in to anything stupid, and she's hurt when her daughter is embarrassed by her job in “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.” Speaking at school career day, Lois realizes there is nothing with a consistent job that puts food on the table – especially when her husband's work has thin times. This is a great entry showcasing the unnecessary inferior treatment of service professions, yet it serves as a natural conclusion for Lois to hang up her apron for her family. Wendy Schaal's ('the burbs) Vicki is our ingenue – the innocent country girl who won't go away for the weekend with a guy and is home by midnight once she eventually goes out for dinner and dancing. Although it's odd to have similar episodes back to back early, “Roomies” puts Vicki and sassy Cassie under the same roof for wholesome opposites, wise cracking two-handers, personality, and standing up for oneself. At times, however, Vicki's dunce innocence is too much like Gail Edwards' (Full House) habitually late wannabe actress Dot Higgins. Though best friends, Dot often doesn't notice something amiss with Vicki, and her aloof provides humorous side plots until a man comes between her and Vicki. Perhaps Vicki was meant to be the youthful, relatable character, but she matures by the end of the season, and her character's arc feels closed by her final appearance at the end of the season. The ladies turn to Bert Remsen (Dead Ringer) as cranky chef Mario this season for war stories and advice, but he has little else to do beyond hating food and complaining when they are overwhelmed and overbooked or everything is behind and under cooked. He takes the girls' side against Nancy, but his humor and wisdom are too few and far between, and ultimately, the friendly old man among the women is unnecessary in a series about ladies who can handle themselves. Likewise, I don't recall Paul Kreppel's (That 70's Show) piano playing Sonny Man being so obnoxious and annoying! He's not that good with the music, changing the lyrics if a line can move in on the ladies and clinging to his piano jar during a fire evacuation. It's bizarre to have bad singing for unnecessary comic relief – as if the terrible man is supposed to be what's really funny on It's A Living, not the stand up women. Sonny feigns colds, wants them to serve him tea, and bemoans how he never gets compassion from the waitresses. When Dot does appreciate his casual honestly after Sonny feels impotent over a few bad dates, he responds by returning to his would be lothario ways, and Nancy says he's just a clown in a cheap tuxedo. Ouch!

Sure the video is flat, but there's something to be said for opening credits that set the mood, and It's A Living's intro remains memorable thanks to a brassy, catchy jingle and a shiny elevator capturing the classy fun. Some openings are shorter than others – perhaps new syndicated brevity – and fade in transitions may also be edited shavings. Beyond outdoor stock footage and typical, redressed domestic sets, most of the humor takes place between the restaurant, kitchen, and dressing lounge. There's a pay phone for personal calls, too, and the one-sided conversation acting is bemusing rather than phoned in like today. The off the shoulder peasant tops, frilly sweaters, overalls, wedges, wide belts, and fringe would be a choice today, too – yet I like how the fashions remind me of then. Tight jeans, barrettes, feathered hair, and choppy bangs look so much older but have a pre-millennial innocence. Despite the black and beige suave dining schemes, the clothes are bright and colorful teals, purple, and pinks, and the four different waitress uniforms range from stylish black formals to wench-like skirts and sashes with each gal in a different color. Objections to the then risque strappy dresses are a topic of conversation on It's A Living, with the ladies assuring they don't have to wear rubber bands to be svelte. Enchanting though they are, compared to outrageous acrylic nails and unrealistic perfectly coiffed stars; our women look like waitresses – refreshingly normal people alongside whose struggles, success, and humor we can enjoy. After toiling with few reruns post syndication and no video releases most likely due to song rights, It's A Living feels more obscure than it deserves. Thankfully new streaming and retro over the air television options have brought It's A Living to a fresh audience. The ladies here get on just fine without being defined by their relationship to a man to tell us who they are, and there's something special about nostalgic laughter and progressive sitcom charm for the whole family.

01 September 2020

Bee Gees Comforts - The 90s +

Comforting Bee Gees Songs from The Nineties and Beyond
by Kristin Battestella

The Bee Gees toured the globe and remained hit makers everywhere but the U.S. until newfound awards and appreciations in the late nineties. I myself was blown away upon hearing their fresh material, shocked to believe these were those same overplayed disco kings bringing the epic pop ballads that still stir the soul.

The Only Love High Civilization is a peculiar, kind of sort of concept album, and this lone slow song can seem out of place amid the experimental electronic tracks. Fortunately, it's a superb power ballad hearkening to the early days while providing bittersweet growth, regret, and memories.

Secret Love – The shortest and best song on High Civilization, this Motown revival style is effortless and feel good familiar, telling a catchy pop story alongside “When He's Gone” and “Happy Ever After” as the pulsing pace and strong vocals mirror the whirlwind affair.

For Whom the Bell TollsNot only did time have no effect on The Bee Gees musically, but their complexity grew with age – as proven with this gem from Size Isn't Everything. Barry's breathy delivery and Robin's powerhouse chorus volley back and forth, fitting each brother perfectly while knocking the listener's socks off with big crescendos and tenderness in between for a soulful, spirited session.

How to Fall in Love Part 1 – To me, this later day Barry essential should be the backtrack to every movie love scene. The slow opening beats rise toward harmony with a sophisticated, six minute sublime. It's stirring, mature, and adult without being winking or crass, and it's easy to surmise what would be happening in Part 2.

AloneThis Still Waters standout is one of the best later day Bee Gees songs, if not thee best of the nineties that remains millennial modern. Twenty years after disco, a whole generation of fans heard The Bee Gees anew – myself included. The bagpipes, upbeat tempo, and sad lyrics casually blended as an enchanting ear worm were nothing like I had heard before, much less what I expected to hear from The Bee Gees. Can I say that Barry’s verses and Robin’s chorus make for a life changing event? Yes.

I Will Outside of “Alone,” this is probably my favorite song on Still Waters, a carefully orchestrated love triangle in song with separate vocal pleas culminating in a magical, old world sound. Still Waters may have an over produced design with too many dubs and echos, yet on the individual track, that high concept arraignment lets the lofty notes shine.

Rings Around the Moon – Where “I Will” unashamedly bellows, this B side is uplifting with its quiet whispers. It's poetic versus are peaceful and inspiring with a simmering assurance saying what it feels.

Emotion You can't go wrong with the original Samantha Sang easy and breathless with Barry harmonies. However, the Brothers' recording on The Record tips a hat to the song's tender flexibility as Barry and Robin use the solid dual vocals to compliment the lyrical zest.

This is Where I Came InThis Is Where I Came In has a little bit of everything old and makes room for each brother to have something new, yet this single is retrospective with Maurice's rocking guitar rifts, alternating verses, and old school sass. There's a confidence with, why yes we are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but also a we aren't any grand pappy fuddy duddies, either. It's progressive and commands attention.

Walking on AirMaurice's second track on This is Where I Came In isn't as dark as “Man in the Middle” but instead represents his catchy, fun side. The vocal overlays high and low as well as all the instruments are by Maurice, representing in many ways his own musical maturity here only a few years before his premature passing. Each refrain adds something, making for repeat listens that take on a bittersweet sound and keep you on your toes.

Wedding Day – The sappy woe is my love dittys are gone here, replaced with a lovely, confident song that may be the best Bee Gees song this century. Barry lays on the romantic verses and Robin brings the house down with the chorus. Their affirmations are finite thanks to top notch voices and strong, universal emotions. When you know, you know.

Embrace – Robin starts slow here in the same tempo as Barry's preceding “Loose Talk Costs Lives” before quickly escalating into a techno bop. It's surprising even as the modern beats come full circle, bringing the disco pedigree to the contemporary night club. The lovelorn echoes and up and down speeds actually make for a great workout song.


Islands in the Stream – Another old is new track released on The Record, here Robin returns Kenny and Dolly's famed country duet back to its songwriting origins with a modern R and B beat complete with a verse including “Ghetto Supastar” once again showcasing the strong Gibb versatility.

Come Tomorrow – Barbra Streisand's fresh duet with brother Barry leads off the Guilty Pleasures sequel collaboration with a smooth and jazzy, everything retro is new again. Barry’s Sinatra style ad-libs show through the mood and melodies while Barbra's delivery of the title is worth the wait.

One Night Only When I first saw this in the summer of 1997, I hated The Bees Gees, and I've converted a few more naysayers with this dynamite concert. For more video splendor, seek out 2001's Live By Request and the three hour In Our Own Time biography bu-ray.

Despite more album re-issues, collaborations with the next generation of the Gibb family, and Barry's solo In the Now record, strangely I've not listened to any of these new materials. Die hard fan as I am, I find a certain comfort in knowing that even without Andy, Maurice, and Robin, there is still more Brothers Gibb music out there to live on and be there when I need it to be.

Please visit our Bee Gees tag or our Music label for more analysis, but do excuse any empty codes, broken links, format errors, and beloved bias in our decades old Bee Gees reviews!

25 August 2020

Bee Gees Comforts - The 80s! (Yes)

Comforting Bee Gees Eighties, Oddities, and Hits, Oh Yes.
by Kristin Battestella

Contrary to popular belief, The Bee Gees did not disappear after the disco demolition backlash. After going underground for several years and writing for the likes of Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross, Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, and Dionne Warwick, The Brothers Gibb embarked on various solo efforts before reuniting under the house name for more international hits.

Paradise – “He's a Liar” is one of three Gibb songs I really dislike, and this ballad should have been the single for Living Eyes instead. Rather than falsetto run amok like Spirits Having Flown, here the classic lyrics and harmonious crescendos in many ways return to the pre-disco sound. Sadly, the tired market didn't want to hear it.

Guilty Guilty was the first Gibb-related record I actually bought, and the catchy scandalous is superbly arranged for Barbra Streisand's highs and Barry's accompaniment. The dual story telling and culminating chorus showcase Barry's award winning behind the scenes work, and this session is an important staple in appreciating their songwriting catalog.

Woman in Love – Likewise, this moody, desperate ode isn’t like anything else Barbra had done. It's soulful and mellow in emotion with Gibb echoes rising to a grand, epic feeling, and the duet “What Kind of Fool” bookends the love eyes fall out splendidly.

The Love Inside – This track written by just Barry might be my favorite on Guilty. Barbra’s delivery takes its time as the swells escalate to tearful understanding and bittersweet mood. It's okay to need a pause and take a few minutes to step back and reflect on our hurt.

Chain Reaction – This Gibb track for Diana Ross's Eaten Alive is a Motown throwback with deliciously naughty hooks to contrast the familiar finger snapping beat. Combined with Diana's notes and Barry's harmony, I'm still surprised this was not a stateside hit in 1985.

Islands in the Stream Anyway you cut it this Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton duet from Kenny's Eyes That See in the Dark is just a superb song. I loved this song then and had no clue it was really those dreaded Bee Gees! The Brothers themselves do a wonderfully catchy rendition live, and you can't help but sing along with the perfect melody, rhythm, lyrics, and harmony.

Heartbreaker – Dionne Warwick's effortless rendition is fine sublime, but it's a treat to hear the nuances in The Brothers' versions live or recorded in full on Love Songs.The amazing lyrical refrains and relatable, snappy chorus are perfectly imperfect. There are wording changes, wispy notes, and swaying beats to echo the gone wrong sentiments.

In and Out of Love – This ballad from Robin' solo How Old Are You has an eighties sound, but it's smooth, with time to pay attention to what Robin is saying as he stretches his range. Before disco, Robin always lead the melancholy songs, but with the falsetto gone, he returns to the group with the stronger, confident voice heard here.

The Longest Night Robin continues the eighties five o'clock shadow mood with this complex ode of dark verses and serious feeling. It's a seedy, stream of consciousness ballad with intriguing notes and solid delivery. Indeed ESP coupled with Robin's Walls Have Eyes represents deeper, mature material that everyone seemed to miss. Pity.

You Win AgainThis global hit from ESP has oh babies, booming drums, and fun word play to bop your head and stomp your feet. Hot damn. That is all.

One Likewise brimming with effortless power, enchanting lyrics, and delicious riffs, this is another fun song live, remaining fresh and tropical as The Bee Gees returned to the American charts at the end of the decade with this timeless topper.

Bodyguard – And now onto what may be one of the steamier Gibb songs from One, even the then shocking slightly soft core music video here was very naughty. Robin’s delivery is again in romantic form with moaning words every woman wants to hear amid Barry's crescendos and objections. Let The Brothers Gibb take care of you, oh yes.


Man on Fire – This eighties Andy Gibb torch song builds up more Gibb heat with saucy lyrics, juicy vocals, and sexy pleas. It's strong, validating the yes please with solid escalation and climax. Despite the echoing touch of Barry's post-production, it's bittersweet to hear Andy return to form in material just before his untimely death, but what a steamy swan song it is.

The One for All Tour – Once elusive, this 1989 Australian concert video is now freely available with its unique session line up including less often performed live tracks. Most of those are slightly dated rockers from One, but live the grooves are excellent. The acid wash jeans, maybe not so much.

Please visit our Bee Gees tag or our Music label for more analysis, but do excuse any empty codes, broken links, format errors, and beloved bias in our decades old Bee Gees reviews!