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Wednesday, 28 January 2015

#PopFan (TV Movie 2014) // Chelsea Kane does Miley, in a film that: 'dares to overcook the macaroni' of the psycho pop fan genre - and satirise the Disney Pop rehabbers at the same time . . It can't fail; even with all that cheese!

 *There may be spoilers hiding in the mac and cheese below - watch before reading *
Starting out production birth with the accurate, but certifiably dull title of 'Lighthouse', this Lifetime Channel TV movie then seems to have morphed into the even more generically titled 'PopFan' in the US (though short, sweet titles don't matter when the filling is good - and the 1982 German film 'Der Fan' with an even simpler title stamp, is also one of the best examples of pop star obsession ever filmed) before becoming better known as the teeny-weeny bit more interestingly retitled: #PopFan (complete with slightly annoying # fronted film credits). Still - as a title; it's different, I'll give you that. A bit like the film itself . .

#Cheesy Pop

Directed by Vanessa Parise (Kiss the Bride, Jack and Jill vs. the World) this is a TV movie that could have been far more tooth-rotting than cheap cherry cola (even!). It's all about a teen pop star - Ava Maclaine, who abandons all her morals (or at least most of her clothing) to boost record sales - and top the charts; attracting random psychopaths in the process.

Ava is played by all-singing/ acting/ dancing (with the stars) one-time Disney signing; Chelsea Kane, who also -

#Changed her surname from Staub to Kane so fans could pronounce it . .

#Has a pop song written about her called 'Chelsea' by The Summer Set.
Ava's new pop single, that starts off sounding pretty damn awful (deliberately, I think), kind of mutates into something quite listenable - even rousing - by the end of the film (like it's been remixed along the way to start sounding good!). Maybe that's only because we - and she - are forced to listen to the song over and over, when the film's resident psycho turns up with a CD player in his rucksack. Hey - is that a damning summary of the modern teen pop world or what? Strip for video; have personal breakdown in public; overplay the song until we can stand it no more - And Your Public Will Be Convinced They Love It! Or just a bizarre coincidence? In fact - is #PopFan the world's first post-modern, pop star psycho film?
Will she twerk?
No, she won't. This is a Lifetime TV movie!

The film probably does play on the satirising of modern day TV pop cultural overkill and references the likes of ex-Disney stars turned pop stars/ 'wild girls' going off the Daily Mail's rails - Miley Cyrus-style. Other Miley contemporaries, like Selena Gomez, are referenced - but the clear riffs here are to Miley's life; both in the look of the film's star down to the mention of a guitar given to her by her dad (who apparently had a heart attack right after doing so - hey; now that's a back story!). The guitar story clearly raises thoughts of ol' Billy Ray (Miley's dad) himself (but without the heart attack bit).

Next; our girl Ava discovers partying and boys (ok - other boys apart from her boyfriend). She also discovers (tepidly - TV movie snogging allowed only): girls, temper tantrums and what it means to be a pop star loved by weirdos - all on the one night (and in the first few minutes of the movie). 


Ava's big record launch sees her nubile limbs plastered all over a brick wall as part of giant ego-boosting projection of her latest video, while boyfriend Curtis (deliberately low-played by a puppy dog-like Ben Hollingsworth); a boring weedy banker of little interest to anyone, especially not a teen idol like Ava - looks on like a mother hen and tells her to calm down. Yeah - as if, boyfriend!

#Popstar Sandwich

Ava's answer to her sweet Curtis's urging of restraint? A sultry, thigh-rubbing dance on the leg of a younger, hipper guy at the party than Curtis could ever hope to be like - followed by a sandwiching of herself in the middle of aforementioned hot young man and another, lesser-dressed, hot young woman for some bump and grind and grin-and-bear-it (boyfriend watching me; ha! - kind).

#Did he really just say that?

Ava's manager - Damon (a hulking Danny Wattley - veteran of other TV crazy stuff like this) steps in: "You need to stop overcooking the macaroni" - he tells his client helpfully, in one of the film's many brilliantly hilarious (who cares if intentional or not?) lines of dialogue from writer Dean Orion who has only previously really written a few episodes of TV's The Invisible Man (2001/02).

There's more great dialogue to come from Damon later when he encounters psycho Xavier in the lighthouse and reacts by telling him that he's just been travelling for hours in the car with Ava's boring boyfriend Curtis (so likely also brain-numbed half to death) and is now so desperate for the toilet that: "I'm about to explode". Nice. There's good realism in the movies; of the kind we need more of - and then there's realism of the kind that is clearly #TMCI (too much character information).

"Stop overcooking the macaroni."
"Can you believe this guy?"

Anyway, Ava ignores the advice of her boyfriend (whatever his name is again) and her pasta-loving manager Danny. She also ignores the advice of her mother - Kehli O'Byrne - veteran of US movie smut like Watch Me and Solitaire here keeping all her clothes on while her daughter loses more of hers; in what is perhaps another post-modern twist in #PopFan world!

All the attention is on Ava now she's hit the big time: camera phones recording her every move/ of an argument with her boyfriend/ when she's dancing in a #BGG sandwich (that's Boy, Girl, Girl smut fans!). Soon Ava can't take anymore, and drives away in her expensive sports car to faraway Maine, where she meets a young lonely gas station attendant (hey - alarm bells!) called Xavier (hey - alarm bells!) who she starts calling 'X Man' - in a surprisingly endearing and humanising touch - even when he's doing bad things to her.

#Stephen King

Shortly after Xavier tops Ava's car up with gas and wipes her windscreen over (which the snotty pop star promptly lounges all over to smudge again) - she gets back on her road to nowhere, only for her car to career off the road in the middle of a storm (that Xavier warned her about) in the heart of Stephen King country. The next thing Ava knows, she's waking up in an abandoned lighthouse cottage wearing a skimpy nightdress with creepy Xavier (now looking suspiciously like a buff version of King's Annie Wilkes from Misery) bringing her tomato soup  and bread on a tray. Hilariously (well - to me anyway) Xavier only lets Ava have one spoonful of soup before taking it all away, and saying goodnight. What a waste of good, drugged-up broth!

"How come Misery got snow - and we get rain?"

You can probably guess most of the rest of this Misery-fest, but I'll try not to spoil all the magic beans.

#Spoilers follow . . 

Tweedle Dumb and Tweedle Macaroni (manager Damon and boyfriend Curtis) now search Maine's lighthouses for Ava (at one point Curtis even holds up a map in the car to show Damon a tourist map with 'LIGHTHOUSES IN MAINE' printed on the front in big black letters - please someone tell me that leaflet is real!).

Xavier gets increasingly nasty towards his captive, but there's real subtlety at play here. Xavier has been attracted to Ava by the way she has turned from Disney princess type to sultry sexpot. He wants her for his own; but not to save her soul or anything - just because he likes her new song and the way she looks in it. Ava; tied to a bed, is forced to listen. She tells Xavier that there are much better tracks on the album (and god, we can only hope!), but everyone raves about the one her record company chose - simply because it's her raunchiest one yet.

#Wrecking Balls

Xavier claims he doesn't want to hurt Ava, or even have sex with her, but before long he gives up this psychopath's moral high ground and wants to do both; in just the one evening. In an initial sensitively-shot scene, Xavier makes a distraught and sobbing Ava undress on the bed to remake her own video the way he wants it; to go further and be more raunchy, it seems, than it had before (something the viewer may have also considered as, compared to current music videos by other ex-Disney bigshots - Ava's is pretty much a virginity pledge).

We again see events through a camera gaze; this time it's Xavier's and perhaps - as he directs and controls spiralling events - we also get forced to feel some guilt; should we be a fan of young stars such as Miley Cyrus as they self-implode in public? Thankfully, the drippy moralising from Ava; forced into a situation where it's easy to blame herself, isn't relentless. Although Ava hints at now regretting how fame has consumed her and changed her; she also hints later - in the presence of her boyfriend - to quite liking what she has become too. Or at least not wanting her old life back. Why should a male psycho stop her doing what she wants to do in the privacy of her own public anyway?

It's a relief that Ava doesn't plead guilty to being at fault for attracting Xavier types - such a pleading of guilt would balance perilously close to being an excuse for what Xavier is doing; an excuse for rape even. Instead - any regret on the side of Ava is left as potential fabrication to shut the psycho up; a controlled sympathy vote for the benefit of the lunatic at the end of her bed. Still - darker waters are being carefully dipped into here for sure, and maybe also a mild stand-off between determinedly sensitive direction - and a screenplay that veers increasingly towards #blame.

"Put a shirt on!" / "Can I borrow yours?"

It could all be a bit patronising - all this #Don't You Get Like Miley stuff, but when Ava's boyfriend returns and they get involved in the nightmare together; working as a team to survive - there's an unexpected distance suddenly between them that's even worse than before and the potential hero of the hour appears deflated.

It's almost cruel how Curtis is reduced to an empty shell by the film, especially having spent the last half hour acting like the toughened-up wimpy boyfriend on the trail of vengeance (armed only with a lighthouse map) - but ends up incapable of doing pretty much anything.

Xander encourages some  bitter home truths to be spoken out loud between Ava and Curtis as he holds them both captive. Ava, despite Xavier's demented heart, can clearly relate better to him than she can to pathetic boyfriend lying on the bed next to her. But the conventional route of #Good VS Bad is still played out to the end - with an underlying acknowledgment that (despite this being a Lifetime TV movie; and should, at times, threaten to enhance our moral fibres) there's still a provocative edge burning beneath the script that refuses to be absolutely straight-laced and clear-cut; refusing to take the moral high ground all the time.

"God, you are SO boring!" / "But have you seen my lighthouse map?"

Sensible boyfriend Curtis then, even in hero mode, has clearly outlived his usefulness - despite that early promise back when he was on the road searching for his Ava like a little kid that's lost his (#Freud) mum. By the end of the film he's effectively less of a somebody than Xavier himself (despite that boy's unhinged brain making sure he'll never get the girl for real).

#Norman Bates is a Good Boy

In fact, all the way through this movie - Xavier comes across as being likeable, and clearly has the toned look of suitable pop star boyfriend type. If only he wasn't the kind to lock up young girls in his lighthouse, he's be a good match for Ava. The initial connection, between the two - on the petrol station forecourt, was convincing enough and pumped with enough chemistry to make a central relationship (like in all the best psycho thrillers) welcome; even when the two are doing a Burton and Taylor and really kicking off - or threatening each other with nail guns, painkiller overdoses and worse (like burnt griddled pancakes for breakfast). In Xavier's mind; even forcing Ava to have sex with him is - in his words - a touching 'first time'; the loss of her (and his, presumably) virginity (just nobody tell him about Ava's dance floor pickle sandwich the week before!).


"Hold the mayo!"/ "That's not the mayo . ."

#PopFan is no life-changer; but for a Lifetime Channel TV movie it pushes convention often enough to care and also dares to try its hand at a few fairly salacious and neatly aggressive twists and turns. Violence is occasionally unexpected and - even when predicable - unpredictably nasty for this kind of movie. There's subtlety too - a terrific shot has Xavier facing the camera followed by a director's twitch; one moment he's this distance away from us; then the loss of less than a second of film - and suddenly he's #that bit closer. It all happens in the blink of an eye (or a jump cut). Clever though. And while often doing the expected - #PopFan also seems to enjoy doing so in an often unexpected way.

Star Chelsea Kane has appeared in many popular US TV shows; from her Disney days in 'Jonas', to One Tree Hill and the cult animation Fish Hooks (well worth discovering). She's currently starring in the 4th series of the 'one man and a baby' comedy hit - 'Baby Daddy', but feature films have been slim. They do include a role in the 2007 adaptation of the bestselling children's cartoon and doll collection - Bratz (as Meredith) though; if that's your thing!

Chelsea's performance in #PopFan is charismatic and tortured enough to show that a much better big screen career than just being in Bratz awaits. She does well to counter the scene-stealing precisional psychopathic portrayal of Xavier (if you don't know how to pronounce his name - don't ever risk saying it out loud) from a quietly seething Nolan Gerard Funk - a fast-rising star, having appeared most recently in the critic-baiting Lindsay Lohan showpiece The Canyons as well as big indie-hit WildLike. Another starring role to come soon - American Romance, alongside John Savage no less, is currently in post-production.

Nolan Gerard Funk is also a great name for an actor; in fact - it's an even better #American psycho kind of name than his own character has - of 'Xavier'. I'm increasingly thinking that this movie should all be about 'pop star Chelsea Kane and obsessed fan Nolan Gerard Funk' . . as played by Xavier and Ava, instead!

"Would it help if I took my shirt off?"

I quite enjoyed #PopFan despite it being full of laughable plot holes and ridiculous behaviour - especially the way that kindly guest house owner (brilliant Belle played by an outrageous Patti Allan) right after being told by Ava's manager and boyfriend that they didn't call the police to look for the girl 'because they wanted to try and do something themselves first' (quite ridiculously) replies that it's: #exactly what I would have done as well - almost as an excuse for the script's occasionally wayward, random plotting. Or - just perhaps - it's the humour in the script again; as intentional as ever!

And to be fair, away from the heavy-handed plot thrusting that the film does suffer from, there are just as many almost touching small nuggets of detail; like Ava hugging Belle as she says goodbye - but in longshot; suggesting they've got on so well these last few days, but without needing to show us why.

The snappy lines of dialogue about how to pronounce the name 'Xavier' are fun, as is the way Ava can't stand to hear her own music being played out loud as it's so annoying. Another neat touch is the nickname that Ava gives Xavier - of 'X Man', even when both are heading in for mutual kill. All just little moments in a low budget TV movie but that all seem to add something extra; a notch above the expected. Attention to detail often attracts cult movie fans - or there can be lines of dialogue (perish the thought) that bad movie fans may just pick up on too! 

And yes - you can add to all that talk about subtle scripting some far crazier lines of dialogue from this movie that also stay in the mind (and hey; you ain't heard #crazy dialogue yet until you hear the line: "I put some shells in your muffler" spoken to a pretty girl by a hormonal boy with a completely straight face). This movie screams out to be a #potential grower - like other TV movie trash classics from Terror Peak to Caved In, that kind of grew bigger like a random Quatermass creature in public - and that now hardly ever leave our screens.


"No, I'm not saying THAT line...!"

Location filming of the lighthouse is good and solid, and the interiors of the cottage alongside the turret, suitably homely and kooky; the place being decorated adding to the drama - especially when the blood red paint gets splashed all over the carpet by Ava, by accident; but clearly symbolic of what's to come. The weird room that Xavier keeps locked at all times, when eventually revealed, sends a few shivers down the spine and while the waves outside crashing to the shore are a bit stupidly CGI at times - the cast do at least get wet quite often, and Xavier gets wet AND topless when he carries Ava back to the house; the girl thrashing away draped across his shoulders and actor Nolan Gerard Funk clearly taking one or two knocks to the back of the head for the #PopFan team.

#Yes, it's those little bits of detail again!

In a later climatic scene, Ava pulls out the car choke with a deliberately forced action - reminding us of a previous mistake she'd made (if you've been paying attention). We get a sense that, even if this film is quite trashy - some people out there are taking all this trashiness quite seriously; trying to rise a little above the low budget and low expectations.

#PopFan often overcooks the macaroni - but it's all the more tastier for it. 

Words: #Mark Gordon Palmer

"Hey, thank God that's over - I've been reading this review for seven hours now and I need a widdle before I ..."


#PopFan Images: #Lifetime Television (2014)


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