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Plot: the Portokalos clan is called upon for another Big Fat Greek Wedding

Producing a sequel is always a risky proposition, even under the most optimal of circumstances. Writing a sequel a decade and a half after the original is all the moreso. Not only does the sequel face up against years of built up anticipation and towering expectations from the fanbase, it has to stay faithful to the original and has to interest the audience in the new story it plans on telling. Good sequels in and of themselves are rare enough. Belated sequels capturing the zeitgeist and spirit of the original are far and few. My Big Fat Greek Wedding was the surprise rom-com smash hit from 2002. It grossed $241.4 million in North America alone and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. It made Nia Vardalos a star overnight and spawned a short-lived TV spin-off called My Big Fat Greek Life (2003). It took Vardalos some 14 years to get a sequel in production. Not that anybody was expecting a sequel in the first place and it's not as if Vardalos has branched out in the interim with the rom-coms My Life In Ruins (2009) and I Hate Valentine’s Day (2009). My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 is more of the same and while that’s not necessarily bad, was there really any need for this?

It’s been 14 years since Fotoula “Toula” Portakalos (Nia Vardalos) married Ian Miller (John Corbett). The recession has hit everybody hard and Toula is once again busting tables in Dancing Zorba’s, the family restaurant and gathering place for the entire clan, after the travel agency was forced to close doors. Miller is the dean of the local high school. The two have an adolescent daughter named Paris (Elena Kampouris), a fiercely intelligent and independent young woman tired of her parents’ overbearing attention, who’s college-bound and on the verge of leaving the nest. Paris is slightly irritated that there isn’t a moment where she can escape her parents, either in school or at home. Paris wants nothing more than to build her own life and pursue her own interests. Somehow this all sounds very familiar...

Going through his papers one day Costas or Gus (Michael Constantine) makes a startling discovery. 50 years ago when he and Maria (Lainie Kazan) emigrated to America to evade the war the officiating pastor never signed their marriage license. This prompts Maria to re-evaluate her station in life and sends Gus spiraling into depression. Paris meanwhile has been harboring a crush on Bennett (Alex Wolff). As the Portokalos clan rushes to repair the rusty relationship of Gus and Maria they convince the pair to renew their vows and finally make the marriage official once and for all. It just so happens that Paris’ prom night is happening the same night as her grandparents’ marriage. Who will she chose? Will she chose her family over her boyfriend and will everything in the Portakalos clan be alright?

To say that My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 is light on plot would be something of an understatement. It does offer a rather interesting change of family dynamics compared to the original. In My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002) Toula was the black sheep of her proud traditional Greek family, being 30 and single. The crux of the original was Toula defying the expectations of her Greek family and marrying a “xeno”, an American. My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 interestingly sees Vardalos identifying more with the marital difficulties of Gus and Maria than with Paris’ longing for independence. Paris after all is what Toula was in the original. The shift in focus isn’t entirely unexpected or to the movie’s overall detriment. As Toula and Ian grow older they start to resemble Gus and Maria more than they’re likely to admit. A person is the product of his/her upbringing. Daughters become mothers whose daughters rebel against their mothers like their mothers did against theirs. It would have been wonderful to have seen exactly that as the A-plot but instead we get the sometimes comedic and well-intended intervention as the Portakalos clan joins forces to save the marriage of family patriarch and matriarch. Vardalos was always all about feel-good and family and this screenplay of hers is no different.

Vardalos’ script is cluttered to say the least. It was bound to be. It was 14 years since the original and every beloved character has to get their moment. We wouldn't have expected anything else. Over the course of an economic and efficient 90 minutes there's always something happening. There’s always something happening, yet nothing ever happens. Ever. The union of Gus and Maria is never really in question and Paris’ own inner conflict, which you’d imagine to be the pulsing heart of this sequel, is resolved much in the fashion of a syndicated television show. Gus and Maria were one of the great charms of the original, yet My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 would have been better served had it been Paris' story. For some reason, it isn't. It’s rather about Toula and Ian coming to grips with parenthood and the sobering realities of married life, raising a daughter and working a full-time job setting in and shattering the romanticized ideal that the original hinged upon. Much of the humor is still derived from the clan’s cultural identity, their traditions and quirks. To drive the point home Vardalos recycles all of the original’s best gags and throws in a few new ones to boot. The greatest discovery of My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 is Elena Kampouris. She single-handedly is able to elevate her little subplot to something bigger and important than it really is or ought to be. No doubt Kampouris could be the next big thing if she chooses her project wisely.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002) was terribly afraid to introduce any meaningful conflict and Vardalos’ screenplay for the sequel is pretty much cut from the same cloth. The Paris character would’ve been an excellent opportunity to comment on the generation gap between parents and children, how Paris is who Toula was in the original and how children turn into their parents without always realizing or acknowledging it. There is no conflict in My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 because the status-quo is never really in question. The screenplay briefly toys with the idea of a person not falling in line with the romanticized American ideal of hetero-normative relations and having children, but it’s discarded almost as soon as it’s introduced. It at least is decent enough to throw a progressive bone in having a Portakalous finally coming out of the closet in front of the family, but Vardalos fails to capitalize on that important moment and it’s handwaved away mere moments later. Paris and her parents never come to a clash and the brief seperation of Gus and Maria only serves to bring them closer together. All's well that ends well. You wouldn’t expect anything else from something produced by Tom Hanks’ Playtone - the company responsible for the ABBA musical Mamma Mia! (2008) and its own belated sequel Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018) – and Vardalos. If there’s anything to deduce from Vardalos’ oeuvre it’s her paralyzing fear of conflict.

The biggest bone that My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 throws its audience is an appearance by John Stamos. Stamos, of course, is famous for his turn as Greek heartthrob Jesse Katsopolis in Full House (1987-1995) and its reboot Fuller House (2016) – and has been setting female hearts and loins alight for pretty much as long as he’s been acting and producing. His subplot is of no narrative importance and his presence is merely to enhance the star-power and viability of the project. It’s good seeing the entire gang again and all the familiar faces are accounted for. Everybody’s tubbier, a bit more wrinkled but clearly everybody’s having a great time this second time round. My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 is formulaic, syrupy and saccharine in all the right ways. It will never go down the books as an important movie – or even a particular memorable one. It never aims to be anything but an enjoyable popcorn flick, ideal to spent an evening or kill 90 minutes. Nia Vardalos rightly deserves credit for making this sequel as enjoyable as it is. Unlike many others she isn’t stuck in Hallmark or Lifetime Movies television hell – and that’s certainly an accomplishment considering how she became famous in the first place.

If there’s any reason that My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 works as well it does is because it pushes the same buttons and plays on the same sentiments as the original. The original has become enshrined as a rom-com classic and the sequel has no pretensions other than being an expansion on the original. If there are going to be more sequels after this it’s high time for Michael Constantine and Lainie Kazan to retire and put the focus on the relation between Paris and her parents Toula and Ian. In fact a third installment, in say five to ten years from now, could focus on Paris getting her own Big Fat Greek Wedding and how she has to deal with her traditional, overbearing parents. It would serve as a good closure to the franchise, having come full circle. There’s certainly no immediate need for a My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 but knowing full well how Hollywood operates there’s always the spectre of possibility looming at the horizon. It will be interesting to see where Nia Vardalos moves from here. The My Big Fat Greek Wedding franchise and brand is her brainchild and we’re interested to see what project she decides to tackle next. Worst case scenario is that in another ten or so years there’ll indeed be a My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3. Now is as good a time as any to stop with these Greek Weddings.

little-witches

Plot: Catholic schoolgirls dabble in witchcraft…

The Craft (1996) was a lot of things. It proved that Neve Campbell could do more than look misty-eyed as she did in Party Of Five (1994-2000). It was her other big movie of that year next to Wes Craven's self-reflexive Scream (1996). It confirmed that Fairuza Balk was destined for bigger and better things. It proved that Rachel True probably deserved a bigger career than she ended up getting and that Robin Tunney - who would all but bury her Hollywood career with the double-whammy of End Of Days (1999) and Vertical Limit (2000) - was better served on the small screen. Thankfully her career was resurrected by a guest role in the House, M.D. (2004) pilot and her role as Teresa Lisbon in The Mentalist (2008-2015). It also inspired several knock-offs including Little Witches and The Coven (2015).

Canadian-American production Little Witches was bankrolled to capitalize on the success of The Craft. It was shot in 18 days over a three-week period in Santa Barbara, California and it was released direct-to-video and in foreign markets a month after The Craft (1996) hit cineplexes. It features a bunch of fresh, young faces. Young actresses hungry enough that they didn't mind taking their clothes off. Among these a very young Clea DuVall, Jennifer Rubin and designated bad girl Sheeri Rappaport. The screenplay by Brian DiMuccio and Dino Vindeni is endemic of direct-to-video shlock in that it's so incoherent and bad that not even the frequently naked Rappaport can save it. Little Witches was written, directed, and acted so poorly that director Jane Simpson has since come out and disowned it. Lalaneya Hamilton, who has since understandably quit the acting profession and apparently found religion, denounced it by saying, “In my life... I would have to say that acting in Little Witches is one of the most regrettable things that I have ever done. I am very sorry that I took part in it. As a Christian I would not recommend this movie.

Simpson started out in animation, moved into commercials, and later music videos. She had directed one movie prior to Little Witches, and has returned to her work in commercials, and music video since. Prior to Little Witches writing duo Brian DiMuccio, and Dino Vindeni had penned the screenplay to The Demolitionist (1995), a flagrant, and low-rent RoboCop (1987) plagiate that sold itself with the tagline, “Hell hath no fury, like a woman transformed!” and had none other than Baywatch star Nicole Eggert in the lead role. Producer Donald P. Borchers was responsible for a swath of exploitation cult favorites including The Beastmaster (1982), Children Of the Corn (1984), Tuff Turf (1985, the screen debut for Cat Sassoon) and the Drew Barrymore thriller Doppelganger (1993). Special effects and makeup men Gabriel Bartalos, Clayton Martinez, and John C. Hartigan have since worked on a multitude of big-budget Hollywood productions. Most of the teen cast, or at least those that weren't either Clea DuVall or Sheeri Rappaport, didn't do much of interest after. Most of them quit acting altogether.

Little Witches opens in a Santa Carlita Academy classroom in California where Sister Sherilyn (Jennifer Rubin) teaches English class. Asked whether they can identify a Latin phrase, resident brunette Jamie (Sheeri Rappaport) blithely remarks that she, “doesn’t speak dead language!” In her stead a nearby blonde blurts, “It’s Virgil from the Aeneid”, in response Jamie offers the non-witty repartee, “kiss-ass nerd!” “Knowledge is power!”, the still unnamed blonde quips, “but ignorance is bliss” retorts Jamie. “Is this your idea of a ten-page paper on Plato?” asks Sister Sherilyn “If you assign us cooler stuff, I might get more inspired”, when asked what “cooler stuff” entails Jamie replies with, “Macbeth”. Her grievances duly noted the class receive an assigment for a ten-page paper on Macbeth. Shakespeare’s Macbeth also had witches – but the exchange is of no importance to, and will have no bearing on, the plot. Rising from her chair Jamie, now visibly inspired or agitated, gabbles “Fair is foul, and foul is fair, hover through fog and filthy air.” Cue a jump-scare. Well, no. In fact Little Witches opens with a prologue set 100 years in the past involving an orgy of naked girls around a smoke-filled cauldron. The orgy comes to a halt when men of the cloth barge in, and kill the heretics. After the carnage, a mostly-unclad woman imparts, “I am the Lord’s guardian. The Horned Demon cannot come as long as I’m alive!” This will become of some importance later, and expose a glaring plothole.

Along with five others Jamie is sent to confessional with Father Michael (Jack Nance). Just like in The Craft the students wear plaid skirts, knee-high socks and half-open shirts. At their weekly confession it is learned that Jamie is the queen bee of the school’s resident misfits clan. Next to Gina (Lalaneya Hamilton), the prerequisite sassy black girl, there's also the token chubby student. “Do you have any sins of a non-dietary nature to confess to?” inquires Father Michael after Erica (Melissa Taub) catalogs that week’s list of culinary transgressions. “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned,” says the still-unnamed blonde as she settles in the booth. After a few sobby lines about parental abandonment and the passing of her father, the nearly comatose Father Michael notes that, “Faith, you must begin to realize that you’re a part of God’s plan!” Oh, great. So Little Witches not only rips off the decidedly secular and better The Craft, but it pushes a Christian agenda to boot. How lovely...

Eight minutes in and we finally learn this character’s name! Since this is a movie called Little Witches and the blonde is called Faith it's safe to wager a guess that this will be our main character for the remainder of the feature. Things aren't exactly looking up as Mimi Reichmeister (later Mimi Rose) is a cut-rate Piper Perabo or Meredith Monroe and thus barely a decent television actress. If this was a sixties over seventies movie the blonde could've been Danielle Ouimet and we'd all be a lot better off. Alas, she is not just Faith, but Faith Ferguson cos alliteration is fun and Little Witches tries very hard to be educational whenever Sheeri Rappaport isn't deviously traipsing around the screen, often with very little clothes on. Not that we'd mind. Little Witches would've been a whole lot better if it focused on Rappaport's character instead of Reichmeister's. Rappaport can actually act too. Faith, as we just learned, is apparently having a crisis of faith. Cos she's Faith.


On that note Jamie steps into the booth with whorish aplomb and chirps, “Father, I’ve been a bad girl” before she unbuttons her shirt, spills out her left breast, lifts her skirt (a skirt longer than those that Gloria Guida wore in the 70s) and proceeds to writhe suggestively into the boot. “Jamie, you’re going to have to find another way of dealing with your family problems without these performances of yours. Continuing disrespect will only lead you into darkness!” Father Michael, now looking as if he’s recovering from a hangover, sternly advises. Barely two scenes in and Little Witches has revealed exactly what it is. A turgid and immensely belabored romp with a heavy-handed moralizing screenplay that is neither scary nor sexy enough to pass the muster by any reasonable metric you're willing to employ. The only good thing is that shortly we'll be introduced to Clea DuVall and her character.

In fact the group is slightly bigger than in The Craft but the make-up is entirely the same, including the token minority character: Faith is - as her name not-so-subtlely suggests - the wholesome, studious Christian girl and thus the Robin Tunney character. Jamie is not the brooding goth reject that Fairuza Balk was in The Craft. instead she has the look of a 90s Aerosmith music video girl. Lalaneya Hamilton stands in for Rachel True and DuVall's Kelsey is the closest to Neve Campbell's character. Daniel (Tommy Stork) - Faith’s designated love interest and this movie’s Skeet Ulrich - takes his shirt off several times, much to the delight of female audience members, to expose his washboard abs. To its credit at least Little Witches has a little bit for everyone. The depiction of witchcraft is, as expected of these kind of productions, goofy and cartoony. At least the Calling of the 4 Quarters is portrayed somewhat accurately. There are plenty of skyclad incantations recited from dusty, leatherbound Latin tomes around smoke-filled cauldrons in mouldy caves, should Little Witches not be enough of a hint for the especially dense.

Since Little Witches revolves around “sexy witches” it is at least consistent in its nudity, which is both gratuitous and demure. Every member of the group gets completely naked, even the rounder girl partakes in as much frontal nudity and sacrilege as her more traditional looking peers. Suprisingly, no spell is cast to make her thinner and more conventionally attractive. Probably because that cost money and that was one thing that Little Witches didn't have. A first act running gag involves Erica being at the receiving end of several food-related jokes and insults. In a similar vein does Angie, the token minority character, have less nude scenes than the Caucasian cast. Despite the Catholic school girl and witches angle, there are no sapphic allusions or suggestions, there’s not even implied lesbianism in the convent. The girls’ disrobing is used as a metaphor for gaining power and control, whether it is over nearby construction workers, or channelling power in an arcane ritual. There’s a distinct sexual undercurrent as at least one of the Little Witches is “penetrated” (death-by-impalement) by the very demon they desired to summon.

While Mimi Reichmeister is tolerable enough, she's clearly no Clea DuVall. DuVall clearly should've been the main character here, but Reichmeister was blonde. What it does prove is that DuVall was a burdgeoning talent. However, it is Sheeri Rappaport that Little Witches gets the most mileage out of. In a scene directly scribbled from The Craft a character asks about Jamie’s promiscuity and mischief. Faith answers with, “what didn’t she do?” - a slight variation on what Robin Tunney’s character said in The Craft. After a racy skylight striptease set to ‘Who’s Going to Make it Rain?’ by Mr. Jones and the Previous, Faith asks, "what if somebody saw you?" "That was kind of the point," Jamie dryly remarks. The only character arc worthy of the name is Faith’s meet-cute and gradual infatuation with Daniel and his washboard abs. To sabotage Faith’s date with Daniel one of the girls moves the clock back to 7:25 (when it was at 7:50), in the next shot it’s back at 7:50. Apparently there are no wrist watches in this universe. Jamie - not content to only corrupt seraphic men of the cloth and summon antediluvian demons - just fresh out of the shower, seduces hunky Daniel and his washboard abs by pushing him on Faith’s bed and dropping her towel. Daniel - an able-bodied, athletic construction worker and architect-in-training - is somehow unable to repel the bare-naked schoolgirl. Instead of resolving said conflict, Daniel becomes the subject of human sacrifice in the final ritual. Cos this movie is called Little Witches and human sacrifices is exactly the kind of thing witches would do to summon their infernal lord, right?

In lieu of having to replicate several of The Craft’s effects scenes Little Witches has three wicca scenes, of which only one involves practical - and creature effects. The first - and second act concern themselves with the girls involving themselves with witchcraft and preparing to invoke He-Who-Comes, or Lucifer. Coming to the conclusion that none of them understands Latin, Faith walks in. “Gee, what a coincidence. I can read Latin”, she shares. When He-Who-Comes materializes into the corporeal realm the scaly monster suit looks worse than that in The Loreleys Grasp (1974). He-Who-Comes must be stopped before Good Friday, before the supreme evil can be unleashed. Jamie acts as his designated licentious concubine. The eleventh hour manifestation of telekinetic powers in Jamie is simply shrugged off by the script as unimportant. The conclusion has Faith, who has since regained her faith in the Christian god, and Sister Sherilyn screaming “You are NOT the Devil’s mistress!” at Jamie in unison, and Kelsey experiences a different kind of penetration than the one she always imagined. "Lucifer himself is stealing your souls. Look in the mirror, you see what I say is true", Sister Sherilyn yells. Two of the girls are killed, a dessicated corpse is unearthed from the temple ruins, two/three members of the clergy die violent, unnatural deaths – yet none of it is important enough to warrant an investigation. "So who knows, maybe some other good little girls really did call the devil up from Hell. That's my confession, Father", we hear Faith say at the end.

Of all the criticisms that can be leveled at Little Witches its most egregious shortcoming is that it doesn’t go quite as far as you’d imagine. Aside from the blatant thievery, its heavy-handed Christian propaganda rherotic, and skewed view on wicca – there’s little, not to say nothing, that is even remotely transgressive about Little Witches. The nudity - frequently gratuitous and risqué compared to the average Hollywood production - is prudish and thus very much a product of its time. Lucifer is mentioned in name only once and even the Illuminati, who are all hot teens girls and act as protectors of the Church, make their not exactly hotly anticipated appearance during the anticlimactic, nearly incoherent conclusion. It all goes to show just how conservative and lamentably lame Little Witches actually is. It’s a miracle that DuVall and Rappaport were able to walk away from this cinematic abortion and maintain/build a career. If there’s anything redeemable about Little Witches, it's Sheeri Rappaport getting naked so much that you'd get the mistaken impression that this a 90s occult take on a Gloria Guida commedia sexy all'Italiana.