Friday, February 28, 2020

"Fantasy Island" and The Week in Reviews

[I review "Fantasy Island" as well as DVDs "They Shall Not Grow Old" and "Strange But True."  The Book of the Week is "The Great Pretender: The Undercover Mission That Changed Our Understanding of Madness" by Susan Cahalan.  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "Hill 24 Doesn't Answer."]



Fantasy Island


A horror remake of that iconic 1970's TV show. 

Or shall I say, an attempt at a horror remake. 

Baby Boomers will remember "Fantasy Island," the TV show where aging movie stars on their way down and young unknown actors on their way up would arrive on Fantasy Island to have their fantasies fulfilled by the suave Mr. Rourke played by the ever suave Ricardo Montalban and his little pal, Tattoo, played by Herve Villechaize. It was an entertaining and popular anthology TV series that ran from 1977 to 1984, so making a horror version of the show could have been a good idea.  However, in this film written by Jillian Jacobs, Christopher Roach and Jeff Wadlow and directed by Wadlow, there is neither horror nor a good idea and the only things recognizable from the iconic TV show are Mr. Rourke and "The plane, the plane!" - and even those reminders don't save this thing.  And I use the word "iconic" loosely.  It was a popular TV show, but certainly not one that was trying to make you think.  However, it deserved better than this.  

Blumhouse Productions founded by Jason Blum has become the powerhouse of low-budget horror films producing such films as "Happy Death Day," "Paranormal Activity," "Insidious" and more, films aimed at millennials, so a reboot of "Fantasy Island" won't mean much to them nor will they have anything to compare this to, but for those of us who remember the TV show, this is a big "Huh?"

Anyway, the film is a sort of origin story that attempts to explain how Mr. Rourke ended up stuck on Fantasy Island, forced to make fantasies come true for a bunch of bozos.

This crop of bozos consists of businesswoman Gwen Olsen (Maggie Q), who has many regrets in life and wants a do-over; former policeman Patrick Sullivan (Austin Stowell); step-brothers J.D. (Ryan Hansen) and Brax Weaver (Jimmy O. Yang); and Melanie Cole (Lucy Hale), who has come to the island to fulfill a fantasy of getting revenge on Sloane Madison (Portia Doubleday), a high school classmate who had tortured her back in the day.  Mr. Rourke (Michael Pena) is welcoming and accomodating but warns his guests that, though they will get the fantasy they desire, fantasies have a way of taking on lives of their own, and once the fantasy begins, they must each see their fantasies to their natural conclusions. Huge red flag! If Mr. Rourke had said that to me I would have been on the next plane outta there!

Anyway, Gwen regrets not accepting her ex-boyfriend, Allen's (Robbie Jones), proposal, therefore missing out on marriage and a family, so Rourke recreates that moment when Alan was going to propose so Gwen can say yes and get a do-over.  Patrick wants to enlist in a war in honor of his hero Dad who was killed; the Weaver brothers want to "have it all," a massive rave party in a huge mansion with beautiful girls and partying; and Melanie gets her wish to take revenge on Sloane, the girl who bullied her in high school.

But...

As Mr. Rourke warned, once the dream fantasies begin they cannot be stopped and these fantasy dreams become living nightmares with the ultimate fantasy for the guests turning into how to get off the frigging island.  But the biggest nightmare is for the audience, a convoluted plot that attempts to relate all of these characters together.  What started out as a fun concept just went all to hell.

As you may have noticed from past reviews, I have eclectic taste when it comes to movies.  I also try to review a broad spectrum of films that will appeal to a wide range of viewers. I truly went to see this with an open mind, thinking it could be fun, but I was wrong.  It was dreadful and Ricardo Montalban is probably spinning in his grave.  I like Michael Pena but he's no Ricardo Montalban.  And I don't even want to get into the issue of Tattoo.

Rosy the Reviewer says...there was a reason why I was the only one in the movie theatre.  Even if you liked the TV version of "Fantasy Island" and you like horror, you can skip this. It will disappoint you. Let our fantasies of the original "Fantasy Island" rest in peace.



***Some Movies You Might Have Missed***
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)!


On DVD




They Shall Not Grow Old (2018)


A documentary about British soldiers in WW I.

Director Peter Jackson (yes, THAT Peter Jackson) has put together a moving documentary about WW I that emphasizes the human side of war.  Using never-before-seen British archival footage and stills that have been masterfully restored, enhanced and colorized with a narration from the British soldiers themselves, Jackson takes us into the everyday lives of soldiers fighting one of the Great Wars.  Most who served were young men, some as young as 15, who volunteered to fight with no idea what they were getting into.  I mean, there had been no World War before.  They thought they would go over to Germany, sort out Jerry (the slang expression for German soldiers), and the whole thing would be done and dusted.

Well, they were wrong.

WW I was one of the bloodiest and deadliest of all wars particularly so for Britain.  Almost a million British soldiers (and that's just the Brits) died. Compare that to the 100,000 Americans who died there. So this film, commissioned by the British War Museum and the BBC, commemmorates the centennial of the end of that horrendous and bloody war.

This is a nice companion piece to last year's highly regarded film, "1917." One can't help but compare the two.  Both feature the British experience in WW I and both capture the horrors of the trenches and the hell that is war, but this film is real. Those dead bodies and the blood, all real. The editing of this film was masterful.  It created a story using just still images, posters, cartoons and archival footage, and the film was just as intense as any dramatic film could be. Seeing the footage and pictures of these young men brings home the whole horrors of war and just what declaring war means.  We are sending our young men off to the slaughter.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a must see for anyone interested in history, especially WW I.



Strange But True (2019)


A young woman shows up at the home of her deceased boyfriend's family and tells them she is pregnant with his child.  Here's the problem ...he's been dead for five years.

The film begins with a young man on crutches fearfully running through the woods, and then we are flashed back to two days earlier when a young woman shows up at that young man's door... pregnant.  The young man is Philip Chase (Nick Robinson, the young heartthrob who has made a splash starring in "Everything, Everything" and "Love, Simon") and he lives with his parents, Charlene (Amy Ryan) and Richard (Greg Kinnear).  The girl is Melissa Moody (Margaret Qualley), their deceased son, Ronnie's, ex-girlfriend and she has come to tell them that she is pregnant with Ronnie's child. However, Ronnie was killed in a tragic accident five years earlier, so how is is possible that Melissa is pregnant with Ronnie's child? Whose baby is this? There are all kinds of red herrings thrown out there. Was there frozen sperm involved, sperm collected after Ronnie died (ew)? Has Philip been engaging in an affair with Melissa? What do Melissa's adoptive parents, Bill (Brian Cox) and Gail (Blythe Danner), have to do with all of this? 

Adapted from John Searles' novel by Eric Garcia and directed by Rowan Athale, what started out as an engaging and intriguing premise turned into a mess, but the title is apt. Though I have no idea what the title actually means, the film is indeed strange.  It's all very strange with a very icky twist and an ending that went on too long.  What started out as an interesting concept fell apart in an attempt to come up with a plausible ending - and it wasn't even very plausible.

Charlene is played by Amy Ryan who has a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination under her belt for "Gone Baby Gone," but she is probably not an actress who is familiar to many movie goers despite her long resume.  She is a wonderful actress, but I am not happy about the fact that she plays a bitter, mean and unpleasant...LIBRARIAN!  

Rant begins. 

How often do we librarians get to see ourselves in films as anything but the unpleasanst stereotype? Never! We are either old ladies with glasses hanging on a chain and our hair in a bun shushing people or, conversely, the mousy repressed librarian who is just waiting to be liberated by a man so she can take off her glasses and become a sex fantasy.  Why can't we portray librarians as beautiful, sexy, funny kind women who also give good customer service?  I guess I should be glad that here is a character who is a real woman with some drama in her life beyond overdue books and making sure people are quiet in the library, but her character is so unpleasant that it's not helping the profession one bit.  But I will give her a bit of a break.  She is still grieving over the death of her son so I guess good customer service is not her big priority. 

Rant ends.

In addition to Ryan, it's a star-studded cast with Margaret Qualley as the stand out. She is Andie MacDowell's daughter, a young actress whose screen quality is already masterful. She is everywhere these days.  She made a big splash as one of Manson's girls in "Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood," she played Ann Reinking in the "Fosse/Verdon" mini-series and has four other films under her belt just in the last year.  She is a wonderful actress and, I hate to say this, (sorry, Andie), she is proving to already be as good an actress, if not better, than her mother, and I hate to say that because I love Andie and have a personal relationship with her (not really, I just fan-girled all over her at a Cher concert)!



But, sadly, the star power and good acting aside, the film devolved from an interesting premise into a big mess. With such a roster of wonderful actors, how could this film go so terribly wrong?

Rosy the Reviewer says...anyway, I get the "strange" part of this film, but the "true" part?  Didn't get that, so didn't get the title and didn't get this film. And you probably won't either.




***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***


41 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?





Hill 24 Doesn't Answer (1955)


Four soldiers try to defend a strategic hill position during the 1948 Israeli war of Independence.

Four volunteer soldiers - James Finnegan (Edward Mulhare), a British policeman in love with a beautiful Israeli woman, Allan Goodman (Michael Wager), an American tourist caught up in the conflict, David Airam (Arik Lavie) and Esther Hadassi (Margalit Oved), a young Yemeni Jewish girl - try to defend a strategic hill overlooking the road to Jerusalem during the 1948 Arab- Israeli War.  During a series of flashbacks we see how they met and ended up there.

This was the first feature film produced in Israel and it is clearly propaganda for the new state of Israel.  The production values are not good, the writing and acting is overdramatic and the story lumbers at times, but it has its moments, if you like the old B-movies of the 40's and 50's.

Why it's a Must See: "Despite the obvious propaganda, [director Thorold] Dickinson's film is a small-scale masterpiece, an intriguing examination of motivation and heroism in the midst of deadly ideological struggle."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you can get over the blatant propaganda, there is a story here, so if you like the old B-movies of the 40's and 50's, you might like this one.




***The Book of the Week***



The Great Pretender: The Undercover Mission That Changed Our Understanding of Madness by Susan Cahalan (2019)


In the 1970's, as part of a study, eight healthy people pretended to be mentally ill in order to be admitted into mental hospitals and what they reported back shook up the psychiatric world.

Author Cahalan became ill as a young woman.  She was diagnosed with schizophrenia only to find out later that she had a neurological disorder brought on by an immune disease, a "great pretender" disease, that mimicked mental illness.  Had her physicians not been persistant in accurately diagnosing her, she might very well have ended up in a mental hospital.  She wrote about this part of her life in her memoir, "Brain on Fire" and is still haunted by the fact that she might have ended up in a psych ward.

So when she heard about psychologist and Stanford professor David Rosenhan's 1973 article "On Being Sane in Insane Places," she had a natural interest.  The article was the result of a study of eight people who went undercover and pretended to have mental illness in order to be admitted into a mental hospital to see what was really taking place there.  Rosenhan actually wanted to see whether or not mental health professionals accurately diagnosed mental illness, and whether they could tell the difference between people who were mentally ill and those who were not.  Turns out, according to Rosenhan, they couldn't.

All of the pseudo-patients were diagnosed with either schizophrenia or bipolar disorder and were admitted into mental hospitals where  the "patients" had to prove their sanity to get out. They supposedly reported back that they were hastily diagnosed and mistreated while in the hospital. The article caused a huge furor in the psychiatric world, led to many mental hospitals being closed, and fed fuel to the anti-psychiatry movement which was so prevalent in the 1970's.

So Cahalan was highly interested in this study because of what had happened to her.  She couldn't bear to think others might be misdiagnosed and forced to languish in a mental hospital when they were not mentally ill.  So Cahalan turned sleuth and was able to find Rosenhan's notes and to track down two of the pseudo-patients.  However, what she discovered did not quite jibe with Rosenhan's study.  One patient said he was well-treated while in the hospital so Rosenhan excluded him from the study.  As Cahalan dug deeper and could never find the other members of the study, she found other flaws in the study and went so far as to conclude that perhaps the other pseudo-patients didn't really exist and Rosenhan had written his article to fit what he believed was happening in the psychiatric community.

Was that true?  What really happened to those "great pretender" patients and just how much of what Rosenhan concluded was true?  Was Rosenhan "The Great Pretender?"

Cahalan acknowledges that the world of psychiatry is not the same as medicine.

"Despite...advancements...the field lags behind the rest of medicine.  Most of our major innovations -- better drugs, improved therapies -- were in play around the time we first walked on the moon...There are not, as of this writing, any consistent objective measures that can render a definitive psychiatric diagnosis -- no blood tests to diagnose depression or brain scans to confirm schizophrenia.  Psychiatrists instead rely on observed symptoms combined with patient histories and interviews with family and friends to make a diagnosis.  Their organ of study of the 'mind, the seat of personality, identity, and selfhood, so it should not be surprising that the study of it is more imprenetrable than understanding, say, the biology of skin cancer or the mechanics of heart disease."

But despite that, and the fact that Cahalan concludes that Rosenhan's study was flawed, she doesn't give the psychological community a pass. Things in that world are not much better today. Cahalan believes that if Rosenhan had stuck to the facts, the study would have led to a more measured approach today. We may not be stockpiling the mentally ill in ill-equiped mental hospitals, but we have criminalized mental illness, placing people in jail cells instead.

Cahalan is a good writer and an excellent researcher.  She intersperses historical information along with her own personal story to created a compelling, suspenseful read.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a fascinating look inside the world of mental health, then and now. 





Thanks for reading!


See you next Friday



for 


"The Invisible Man"



and







The Week in Reviews
(What To See and What To Avoid)

as well as

the latest on

"My 1001 Movies I Must See

Before I Die Project"









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Check your local library for DVDs and books mentioned.

Next time you are wondering whether or not to watch a particular film, check out my reviews on IMDB (The International Movie Database).



Go to IMDB.com, find the movie you are interested in.  Scroll down below the synopsis and the listings for the director, writer and main stars to where it says "Reviews" and click on "Critics" - If I have reviewed that film, you will find Rosy the Reviewer alphabetically on the list.



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