4 Film Reviews: Bridge To Silence, The Chocolate War, Kiss The Bride, Wedding Daze


Last week, I watched six films on This TV.

Which TV?  No, This TV!  It’s one of my favorite channels.  It’s not just that they show a lot of movies.  It’s also that they frequently show movies that are new to me.  For instance, last week, This TV introduced me to both Prison Planet and Cherry 2000.

Here are four other films, two good and two not so good, that This TV introduced to me last week.

First up, we have 1989’s Bridge to Silence.

Directed by Karen Arthur, Bridge To Silence was a made-for-TV movie.  Lee Remick plays Marge Duffield, who has a strained relationship with her deaf daughter, Peggy (Marlee Matlin).  After Peggy’s husband is killed in a traffic accident, Peggy has a nervous breakdown.  Marge and her husband, Al (Josef Sommer) take care of Peggy’s daughter, Lisa, while Peggy is recovering.  However, even as Peggy gets better, Marge still doesn’t feel that she can raise her daughter so Marge files a lawsuit to be named Lisa’s legal guardian.  While all of this is going on, Peggy is starring in a college production of The Glass Menagerie and pursuing a tentative romance with the play’s director (Michael O’Keefe).

Bridge to Silence is one of those overwritten but heartfelt melodramas that just doesn’t work.  With the exception of Marlee Matlin, the cast struggles with the overwrought script.  (Michael O’Keefe, in particular, appears to be miserable.)  The film’s biggest mistake is that it relies too much on that production of The Glass Menagerie, which is Tennessee Williams’s worst play and tends to be annoying even when it’s merely used as a plot device.  There’s only so many times that you can hear the play’s director refer to Peggy as being “Blue Roses” before you just want rip your hair out.

Far more enjoyable was 1988’s The Chocolate War.

Directed by Keith Gordon, The Chocolate War is a satirical look at conformity, popularity, rebellion, and chocolate at a Catholic boys school.  After the manipulative Brother Leon accidentally purchases too much chocolate for the school’s annual sale, he appeals to one of his students, Archie Costello (Wallace Langham), to help him make the money back.  Archie, who is just as manipulative as Leon, is the leader of a secret society known as the Vigils.  However, Archie and Leon’s attempt to manipulate the students runs into a roadblack when a new student, Jerry Renault (Illan Mitchell-Smith) refuses to sell any chocolates at all.  From there, things get progressively more complicated as Archie tries to break Jerry, Jerry continues to stand up for his freedom, and Leon … well, who knows what Leon is thinking?

The Chocolate War was an enjoyable and stylish film, one that featured a great soundtrack and a subtext about rebellion and conformity that still feels relevant.  John Glover and Wallace Langham both gave great performances as two master manipulators.

I also enjoyed the 2002 film, Kiss The Bride.

Kiss The Bride tells the story of a big Italian family, four sisters, and a wedding.  Everyone brings their own personal drama to the big day but ultimately, what matters is that family sticks together.  Directed by Vanessa Parise, Kiss The Bride featured believable and naturalistic performances from Amanda Detmer, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Brooke Langton, Monet Mazur, and Parise herself.

I have to admit that one reason why I liked this film is because it was about a big Italian family and it featured four sisters.  I’m the youngest of four sisters and, watching the film, I was reminded of my own big Irish-Italian family.  The movie just got everything right.

And then finally, there was 2006’s Wedding Daze.

Wedding Daze is a romantic “comedy.”  Anderson (Jason Biggs) asks his girlfriend to marry him, just to have her drop dead from shock.  Anderson’s best friend is afraid that Anderson will never get over his dead girlfriend and begs Anderson to not give up on love.  Anderson attempts to humor his friend by asking a complete stranger, a waitress named Katie (Isla Fisher), to marry him.  To everyone’s shock, Katie says yes.

From the get go, there are some obvious problems with this film’s problem.  Even if you accept that idea that Katie would say yes to Anderson, you also have to be willing to accept the idea that Anderson wouldn’t just say, “No, I was just joking.”  That said, the idea does have some comic potential.  You could imagine an actor like Cary Grant doing wonders with this premise in the 30s.  Unfortunately, Jason Biggs is no Cary Grant and the film’s director, comedian Michael Ian Black, is no Leo McCarey.  In the end, the entire film is such a misjudged failure that you can’t help but feel that Anderson’s ex was lucky to die before getting too involved in any of it.

A Movie A Day #316: 52 Pick-Up (1986, directed by John Frankenheimer)


Harry Mitchell (Roy Scheider) is a businessman who has money, a beautiful wife named Barbara (Ann-Margaret), a sexy mistress named Cini (Kelly Preston), and a shitload of trouble.  He is approached by Alan Raimey (John Glover) and informed that there is a sex tape of him and his mistress.  Alan demands $105,000 to destroy the tape.  When Harry refuses to pay, Alan and his partners (Clarence Williams III and Robert Trebor) show up with a new tape, this one framing Harry for the murder of Cini.  They also make a new demand: $105,000 a year or else they will release the tape.  Can Harry beat Alan at his own game without harming his wife’s political ambitions?

Based on a novel by the great Elmore Leonard and directed by John Frankenheimer, 52 Pick-Up is one of the best films to ever come out of the Cannon Film Group.  Though it may not be as well-known as some of his other films (like The Manchurian Candidate, Seconds, Black Sunday, and Ronin), 52 Pick-Up shows why Frankenheimer was considered to be one of the masters of the thriller genre.  52 Pick-Up is a stylish, fast-paced, and violent thriller.  John Glover is memorably sleazy as the repellent Alan and the often underrated Roy Scheider does an excellent job of portraying Harry as a man who starts out smugly complacent and then becomes increasingly desperate as the story play out.

One final note: This movie was actually Cannon’s second attempt to turn Elmore Leonard’s novel to the big screen.  The first attempt was The Ambassador, which ultimately had little to do with Leonard’s original story.  Avoid The Ambassador but see 52 Pick-Up.

A Movie A Day #303: The Evil That Men Do (1984, directed by J. Lee Thompson)


Clement Molloch (Joseph Maher) is a doctor who uses his medical training to torture journalists and dissidents in an unnamed South American country.  Holland (Charles Bronson) is a former  CIA assassin, who is content with being retired.  But when Molloch kills a journalist who was also an old friend of Holland’s, it all becomes about revenge.  No one’s more dangerous than Charles Bronson seeking revenge.  Working with the dead journalist’s widow (Theresa Saldana), Holland heads down to South America.  Since Molloch is always surrounded by bodyguards, it is not going to be easy to get him.  But who can stop Charles Bronson?

Bronson was 62 years old when he made The Evil The Men Do and he was still the toughest, coolest killer in the movies.  The Evil That Men Do is a rarity, an 80s Bronson film that was not produced by Cannon.  It still feels like a Cannon production, even if it is a little more interesting than some of the other films that Bronson was making at that time.  Dr. Molloch was clearly based on the notorious Nazi Klaus Barbie and Joseph Maher plays Molloch as being a dignified sadist.  Molloch also has a strange relationship with his equally cruel sister (Antoinette Bower).  That Molloch is so extremely evil makes the film’s final scenes all the more satisfying.

The Evil That Men Do is one of the best of Bronson’s later films.  Charles Bronson, man.  No one got revenge better than Bronson.

Lifetime Film Review: The Lost Wife of Robert Durst (dir by Yves Simoneau)


Tonight’s Lifetime premiere was The Lost Wife of Robert Durst, the latest of many films to deal with the 1982 disappearance of Kathie Durst and the subsequent activities of her husband, millionaire weirdo Robert Durst.

The disappearance of Kathie Durst is an intriguing cold case.  Robert Durst was a member of one of the wealthiest and most powerful families in New York.  Many have speculated that may be why Durst was never charged with anything, despite the fact that everyone was convinced that he was responsible for her disappearance.  (Others have pointed out that most of the evidence against Durst was circumstantial and that Kathie’s body has never been found.)  Durst, himself, appears to have spent the last few decades as something of a millionaire hobo.  His best friend, Susan Berman, was murdered in 2000.  (Berman provided Durst with an alibi for the night of Kathie’s disappearance.)  Durst himself eventually turned up in Galveston, where he attempted to disguise himself as a woman and was eventually arrested for murdering his neighbor, Morris Black.  Durst was acquitted in that case.  All Good Things, a feature film starring Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst, led to resurgence of interest in the case of Kathie’s disappearance.  It also led to a HBO documentary series, called The Jinx.  In an act that was either extremely cocky or extremely self-destructive, Durst agreed to be interviewed for the documentary, implicated himself in all three of the murders that he was suspected of committing, and was subsequently charged with murdering Susan Berman.

It’s one of those stories that, when you hear the details, you can hardly believe is true.  It has everything: love, greed, sex, jealousy, politics, the mafia, and several unsolved murders.  It’s not surprising that there’s been several movies and TV shows based on the Durst case.  The problem that every new film faces is what can it add to the story that we haven’t already seen.  The Lost Wife of Robert Durst is relatively well-made but there’s really nothing here that you couldn’t find in All Good Things or The Jinx.  This is like the Wikipedia version of Durst case.  It gives you all the details without going into too much depth about any of it.

Of course, one of the main questions about this case is whether Robert Durst is mentally ill or if he’s just extremely clever.  Those that claim that Durst is crazy tend to point out that he saw his mother commit suicide when he was a young boy, that he has a habit of muttering to himself, and that he lives like a hermit despite all of his money.  Those who claim that Durst is actually very clever and in total control of all of his actions point out that all of Durst’s alleged crimes required extensive planning and that, in The Jinx, he was caught saying, “What the Hell did I do?  Killed them all, of course.”  That would seem to indicate that Durst is fully aware of whatever he may have done.  The question of Durst’s sanity is not a minor one.  In some states, it would be the difference between life in prison and execution.

The Lost Wife of Robert Durst attempts to have it both ways.  As played by Daniel Gillies, Durst is obviously unstable yet clearly calculating at the same time.  In fact, I would argue that, from a purely dramatic point of view, Gillies plays Durst as being a little too obviously unstable.  You find yourself wondering why Kathie (played by Katharine McPhee) would have ever agreed to go out with him in the first place, much less marry him.  As played by McPhee, Kathie is almost as hard to read as Durst.  Even in the scenes depicting the early days of Durst marriage, the lack of chemistry between Gillies and McPhee is a problem.  I spent most of the film wishing that it would dig a little bit deeper into the case.  Then again, considering that Durst has yet to be convicted on any charges, I suppose there’s only so much that the movie could suggest.  (All Good Things changed everyone’s names, which gave it at least a little bit of freedom to speculate.)

That said, the Robert Durst story is such a strange one that, flaws and all, The Lost Wife of Robert Durst is watchable.  It’s a good enough introduction to the case, if you’re looking for one.  Ultimately, though, All Good Things remains the Durst film to watch.

 

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Winner: Annie Hall (dir by Woody Allen)


anniehallposterYou take a risk when you review a Woody Allen film, even an acknowledged, Best Picture-winning classic like 1977’s Annie Hall.  Do you address the accusations that have been made about him?  Do you ignore them and hope that they won’t be the Elephant in the Room, stomping through your review?  Do you try to justify reviewing (or, in some cases, even watching) Allen’s film?  Or do you just let the work speak for itself?

I love Annie Hall.  Quite frankly, I like a lot of Woody Allen’s films, even though I understand why his work is an acquired taste for quite a few other people.  I’ll address the elephant in the room in a paragraph or two but you know what?  I watched Annie Hall last night and I want to mention a few reasons why I enjoy this film.

First off, Annie Hall features one of Christopher Walken’s first (and best) performances.  He only has a few lines but he makes quite an impression.  He plays Duane, the brother of Annie Hall (Diane Keaton).  When Annie’s boyfriend, Alvy Singer (Woody Allen), is visiting the Hall family, Duane invites Alvy into his bedroom and tells him that, whenever he’s driving, he fantasizes about intentionally swerving into incoming traffoc.  In the very next scene, Duane is driving an oblivious Annie and a terrified Alvy to the airport.  It’s a wonderfully funny moment.  (If you keep your eyes open, you’ll notice that Annie’s apartment is full of pictures of Duane and his thousand yard stare.)

Secondly, this film also features an early role for Jeff Goldblum.  He only has one line — “I forgot my mantra” but my God, he does amazing things with that line.

Third, when Alvy and his agent, Rob (Tony Roberts), are driving through Los Angeles, they pass a theater.  According to the marquee, the theater is showing House of Exorcism, a Mario Bava film.  That’s right: Italian horror in a Woody Allen film.  How glorious is that?

Fourth, Annie Hall is an extremely dated film.  It was made in 1977 and, as to be expected about a film directed and written by a stand up comedian, it’s full of references that were probably hilariously on target then but rather obscure now.  As well, like almost all Woody Allen films, it’s a very New York film.  Alvy is an intellectual, left-wing Jew who suspects that everyone he sees is an anti-Semite and who is dating an aspiring actress and singer who hails from middle America.  (During the scene where Alvy meets her family, he immediately pegs Grammy Hall as a “classic Jew hater.”)  The film is very much told from Alvy’s point of view, which means jokes about New York periodicals and a flashback to an Adlai Stevenson rally.  That being said, I’m a Texas girl who was born long after Annie Hall was first released and I still enjoy the film because it’s a film that captures some universal truths about human relationships.

The first time I watched Annie Hall, I was 17 and I saw a lot of myself in Annie.  While I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing some of her outfits, I knew what it was like to be insecure.  I knew what it was like to be nervous.  I know what it was like to worry about being smart enough.  And, like Annie, I eventually learned that independence was the key to happiness.  Annie Hall has stood the test of time because both Annie and Alvy are relatable while still remaining wonderfully unique and neurotic individuals.

(If ever a film has been a ode to the joy of being neurotic, it’s Annie Hall.)

Fifth, I love the scene where Alvy asks a random couple of the street how they make their relationship work.  “I’m totally shallow and have no original thoughts,” the woman replies.  “And I’m the exact same way,” her husband cheerfully adds.

Sixth, I’m going to assume that Paul Simon was primarily playing himself.

Seventh, there are just so many great scenes.  Like when Alvy deals with a rude cop by ripping up his license.  And then, there’s that lobster scene.  And that moment when Alvy comes over to Annie’s apartment to kill a “spider the size of a buick.”  (Judging by the number of times Alvy has to hit the spider with that tennis racket, I assume buick’s are pretty big.)  There’s the two scenes of Annie singing, one when she’s still insecure and can’t compete with the sound of plates smashing around here and the other when she’s developed the confidence to dominate and control both the stage and the audience.  There’s the scenes where Alvy breaks the fourth wall and get advise from random people on the streets of New York.  And what about when Annie starts laughing while telling the horrible story of how her uncle died at the post office?  Or what about when Alvy tries to avoid having sex with his first wife by discussing the JFK assassination?  Or when we literally see Annie mentally check out of making love to Alvy?  Or how about the split-screen therapy sessions?  Or the sudden moment when Annie and Alvy become cartoon characters?  Or the scene with the pretentious blowhard at the movies?

(As a Southern girl, I have to admit that it’s always strange to me to hear Alvy and Annie talking about “waiting on line” at the movies.  Down here, we say “in line,” which makes a lot more sense.  Since a line is just a crowd of people standing in a certain order, saying that you’re “on line,” is the same as saying your standing on someone’s head.  You get in a crowd, not on them.  Whenever I hear someone from up north talking about “waiting on line,” I assume they must be bidding for something on Ebay.)

I like Annie Hall and I always will.  As for the accusations against Woody Allen, they don’t keep me from enjoying his better films because:

  1. I’ve always been a big believer that art can and should be judged separately from the artist.
  2. Having read what both sides have said about Woody Allen and the accusations that have been made against him, I don’t think he did it.

Obviously, some are going to disagree with me on both those points.  So be it.  Everyone has to make their own choice.  For me, though, what’s important is that Annie Hall is a film that I’ve loved since the first time I saw it and I’ll continue to love it.

A Quickie Review: In the Mouth of Madness (dir. by John Carpenter)


John Carpenter has had quite a bad string of films that fail to live up to the standards he has set with his past works and those fans of his films who have seen him as a master of the genre. In 1995 he came up with a very good film that paid homage to two master writers of the horror-fantasy genre. Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness was a very good film that thrilled both his fans and those of the horror genre.

Sam Neill stars as insurance investigator John Trent who’s hired by publishing editor Jackson Harglow (played by Charlton Heston in a brief role) to find one of their star novelist: the extremely popular horror novelist, Sutter Crane (played with weird creepiness by Jurgen Prochnow). It seems Crane has disappeared and cut off all contact with his handlers just as his latest horror novel’s released. Throughout the beginning of the film there’s a sense that Crane’s latest book has more than an entertaining effect on those who’ve bought and read it. Homicidal individuals Trent encounters throughout the film and all linked to Crane’s book and what he thought was a fictional New England town used in all of Crane’s books. The town of Hobb’s End was a definite homage to Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft who also created the fictional towns of Castle Rock and Arkham to locate many of their stories.

Neill does a great job of conveying Trent’s bewildered, confused and ultimate descent into the mouth of madness Crane’s writings seem to have opened in reality itself. From the weirdly peculiar to obscenely homicidal going-ons by the townspeople of Hobb’s End, Trent’s logical nature is put to the test by the Lovecraftian situations and events he witnesses as his search for Sutter Crane leads from him from one horror to the next. The characters created by Lovecraft in his Cthulhu Mythos were never mentioned in Michael De Luca’s script but the essense of these otherworldly beings of pure malice and evil permeates throughout the film. There’s never been a successful attempt to film a Lovecraft story into a feature-length production (until recent news brought word that Guillermo Del Toro plans to do just that with his adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness), but In the Mouth of Madness comes close to achieving it. Even the wooden and under-inspired performance by Julie Carmen as Linda Styles, as Crane’s literary agent and Trent’s partner in his search, couldn’t bring this film down. Carpenter does a great job of taking De Luca’s script and creating a story where reality and madness slowly and inexorably begin to mesh to the point neither Trent or the audience knows what is real anymore. The end of the film was great in that Carpenter eschews the usual happy ending of most horror movies and instead finishes the madness he started and sees it through its end just like Trent.

In the Mouth of Madness showed that John Carpenter was still a master of his craft when given the right script to work with. He mixes to great effect homages to works of both Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft. His film also does a great job of instilling not just fear and horror of the unknown, but also that of losing one’s mind and not knowing whats real and what’s not. Despite not doing great business in the box-office, In the Mouth of Madness was a very good film that people in 1995 weren’t just prepared to appreciate. Maybe with Guillermo Del Toro’s turn to adapt Lovecraft will bring horror and film fans to check out one film that almost succeeded in doing what Del Toro is attempting.