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.

Insomnia File #25: The Winning Season (dir by James C. Strouse)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If, last night, you were up at 11:45 then … well, you were probably like most people.  To be honest, I don’t know if The Winning Season, which aired on Cinemax last night, really counts as an insomnia file.  Being up at midnight probably doesn’t qualify as insomnia.

That said, The Winning Season is an extremely sweet and likable movie that, until I came across it last night, I had previously heard nothing about.  Even if it wasn’t directly inspired by insomnia, this was a film that I was happy to discover and I’m going to recommend that, if you haven’t seen it, you discover it too.

Of course, I guess I shouldn’t be too shocked that I loved this film because it stars Sam Rockwell.  Sam Rockwell is one of my favorite actors.  It’s not just that he’s talented and that he frequently takes risks and chooses interesting projects, though all of that is certainly true.  There’s a sincerity to Sam Rockwell’s performances.  He’s one of those actors who, when you watch him, you feel as if he’s literally opening up his heart and soul to you.  There are few actors who can make me cry quite as effectively as Sam Rockwell.  That he didn’t win an Oscar for Moon (and has, in fact, never even been nominated) remains one of the most glaring mistakes in the history of the Academy Awards.

Sam Rockwell is at the center of The Winning Season and it’s hard to imagine the film working with anyone other than him in the leading role.  Sam plays Bill, a former high school basketball star who is now a divorced alcoholic with a 16 year-old daughter that he struggles to communicate with.  Like many of Rockwell’s character, Bill is irresponsible but he means well.  Bill spends most of his time drinking and working as a busboy at a restaurant.

One night, Bill is approached by his former teammate, Terry (Rob Corddry).  Terry is now a high school principal and he has an offer for Bill.  Terry needs a new coach for the Girls’ Basketball Team.  Even though Bill doesn’t consider Girls’ Basketball to be a real sport, he accepts the position.

And you can guess what happens.  When Bill is first hired, no one takes the team seriously.  There’s only six players on the team and none of them — not even the ones played by Emma Roberts and Rooney Mara — believe that they have a chance at a winning season.  In fact, their best player breaks her ankle before the season even begins.  After a rough start, Bill and the girls bond and soon, they start to win games.

Again, it’s not surprising but it is incredibly sweet.  And, as predictable as it may be, the film still throws in a few unexpected twists.  One thing that I liked is that, even after they started to get good, the team still struggled and lost the occasional game.  They didn’t all magically become the best basketball players ever and, for that matter, Sam didn’t magically become the best coach in the world.  This is an unapologetic crowd pleaser that still keeps one foot in reality.  Everyone, in the film, fully commits to their roles.  In particular, Margo Martindale is great in the role of Bill’s assistant.  It’s always a pleasure to watch two good actors play off of each other and Martindale’s scenes with Sam Rockwell are fun to watch.

But really, the entire film belongs to Sam Rockwell.  Sam Rockwell can take the most predictable dialogue imaginable and make it sound like poetry.  About halfway through the film, Bill loses his driver’s licence and is reduced to showing up at the games on bicycle.  There’s little that is more adorable than Sam Rockwell pedaling across the screen.

The Winning Season is an incredibly sweet and likable movie.  I’m glad that I discovered it.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born

Playing Catch-Up With The Films of 2016: Alice Through The Looking Glass, Gods of Egypt, The Huntsman: Winter’s War, Me Before You, Mother’s Day, Risen


Here are six mini-reviews of six films that I saw in 2016!

Alice Through The Looking Glass (dir by James Bobin)

In a word — BORING!

Personally, I’ve always thought that, as a work of literature, Through The Looking Glass is actually superior to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  That’s largely because Through The Looking Glass is a lot darker than Wonderland and the satire is a lot more fierce.  You wouldn’t know that from watching the latest film adaptation, though.  Alice Through The Looking Glass doesn’t really seem to care much about the source material.  Instead, it’s all about making money and if that means ignoring everything that made the story a classic and instead turning it into a rip-off of every other recent blockbuster, so be it.  At times, I wondered if I was watching a film based on Lewis Carroll or a film based on Suicide Squad.  Well, regardless, the whole enterprise is way too cynical to really enjoy.

(On the plus side, the CGI is fairly well-done.  If you listen, you’ll hear the voice of Alan Rickman.)

Gods of Egypt (dir by Alex Proyas)

I don’t even know where to begin when it comes to describing the plot of Gods of Egypt.  This was one of the most confusing films that I’ve ever seen but then again, I’m also not exactly an expert when it comes to Egyptian mythology.  As far as I could tell, it was about Egyptian Gods fighting some sort of war with each other but I was never quite sure who was who or why they were fighting or anything else.  My ADHD went crazy while I was watching Gods of Egypt.  There were so much plot and so many superfluous distractions that I couldn’t really concentrate on what the Hell was actually going on.

But you know what?  With all that in mind, Gods of Egypt is still not as bad as you’ve heard.  It’s a big and ludicrous film but ultimately, it’s so big and so ludicrous that it becomes oddly charming.  Director Alex Proyas had a definite vision in mind when he made this film and that alone makes Gods of Egypt better than some of the other films that I’m reviewing in this post.

Is Gods of Egypt so bad that its good?  I wouldn’t necessarily say that.  Instead, I would say that it’s so ludicrous that it’s unexpectedly watchable.

The Huntsman: Winter’s War (dir by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan)

Bleh.  Who cares?  I mean, I hate to put it like that but The Huntsman: Winter’s War felt pretty much like every other wannabe blockbuster that was released in April of last year.  Big battles, big cast, big visuals, big production but the movie itself was way too predictable to be interesting.

Did we really need a follow-up to Snow White and The Huntsman?  Judging by this film, we did not.

Me Before You (dir by Thea Sharrock)

Me Before You was assisted suicide propaganda, disguised as a Nicolas Sparks-style love story.  Emilia Clarke is hired to serve as a caregiver to a paralyzed and bitter former banker played by Sam Claflin.  At first they hate each other but then they love each other but it may be too late because Claflin is determined to end his life in Switzerland.  Trying to change his mind, Clarke tries to prove to him that it’s a big beautiful world out there.  Claflin appreciates the effort but it turns out that he really, really wants to die.  It helps, of course, that Switzerland is a really beautiful and romantic country.  I mean, if you’re going to end your life, Switzerland is the place to do it.  Take that, Sea of Trees.

Anyway, Me Before You makes its points with all the subtlety and nuance of a sledge-hammer that’s been borrowed from the Final Exit Network.  It doesn’t help that Clarke and Claflin have next to no chemistry.  Even without all the propaganda, Me Before You would have been forgettable.  The propaganda just pushes the movie over the line that separates mediocre from terrible.

Mother’s Day (dir by Garry Marshall)

Y’know, the only reason that I’ve put off writing about how much I hated this film is because Garry Marshall died shortly after it was released and I read so many tweets and interviews from people talking about what a nice and sincere guy he was that I actually started to feel guilty for hating his final movie.

But seriously, Mother’s Day was really bad.  This was the third of Marshall’s holiday films.  All three of them were ensemble pieces that ascribed a ludicrous amount of importance to one particular holiday.  None of them were any good, largely because they all felt like cynical cash-ins.  If you didn’t see Valentine’s Day, you hated love.  If you didn’t see New Year’s Eve, you didn’t care about the future of the world.  And if you didn’t see Mother’s Day … well, let’s just not go there, okay?

Mother’s Day takes place in Atlanta and it deals with a group of people who are all either mothers or dealing with a mother.  The ensemble is made up of familiar faces — Jennifer Aniston, Julia Roberts, Kate Hudson, and others! — but nobody really seems to be making much of an effort to act.  Instead, they simple show up, recite a few lines in whatever their trademark style may be, and then cash their paycheck.  The whole thing feels so incredibly manipulative and shallow and fake that it leaves you wondering if maybe all future holidays should be canceled.

I know Garry Marshall was a great guy but seriously, Mother’s Day is just the worst.

(For a far better movie about Mother’s Day, check out the 2010 film starring Rebecca De Mornay.)

Risen (dir by Kevin Reynolds)

As far as recent Biblical films go, Risen is not that bad.  It takes place shortly after the Crucifixion and stars Joseph Fiennes as a Roman centurion who is assigned to discover why the body of Jesus has disappeared from its tomb.  You can probably guess what happens next.  The film may be a little bit heavy-handed but the Roman Empire is convincingly recreated, Joseph Fiennes gives a pretty good performance, and Kevin Reynolds keeps the action moving quickly.  As a faith-based film that never becomes preachy, Risen is far superior to something like God’s Not Dead 2.

 

 

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #105: Million Dollar Baby (dir by Clint Eastwood)


Million_Dollar_Baby_poster

(This review and the Spanish trailer below are dedicated to mi madre, who saw Million Dollar Baby when it was first released and told me that, even though the film had been nominated for lots of Oscars, I shouldn’t watch it until I was in a better and more stable place emotionally.  She was right.)

Two months ago, I started Embracing the Melodrama Part II.  At the time, I announced that I would be reviewing 126 cinematic melodramas and I would get it all done in 3 weeks time!  Well, here we are 8 weeks into it and we are just now approaching the finish line.  That’s okay, though.  Even if it’s taken me longer than I thought it would, I’ve still been having fun writing and sharing these reviews.

I’ve been posting these reviews in chronological order.  Though it may be hard to remember, we started with a 1927 silent classic called Sunrise.  From Sunrise, we’ve worked our way through history and we’ve taken a look at films that are both famous and obscure.  And now, 104 reviews later, we finally reach the 2004 best picture winner, Million Dollar Baby.

When I first saw Million Dollar Baby, I had two reactions.  On the one hand, I thought it was a great film.  I thought it was a film that featured great performances and which gave me a chance to experience a world that I did not know much about.  I thought to myself, “This is a film that future directors will cite as an influence.  This is a film that proves that, even if he does sometimes make movies like Hereafter or Jersey Boys, Clint Eastwood still deserves to be known as a great American filmmaker.”  On the other hand, I thought to myself, “This film is so damn depressing that there’s no way I’m ever going to watch it again.”

And really, it is an amazingly sad film.  When the film starts, of course, you don’t think it’s going to be sad.  You think it’s going to be your standard sports film, the one where the underdog beats the odds and becomes a champion.  For one thing, the film is narrated by Morgan Freeman and Morgan’s got that voice that makes you believe that there is some justice to the universe.  Secondly, Hillary Swank is so appealing in the role of Maggie, a waitress who wants to become a boxer, that you just know she deserves a happy ending.  At first, veteran trainer Frankie (Clint Eastwood) refuses to work with her but her determination wins him over.  And soon, Frankie — who, in typical Clint movie fashion, has a strained relationship with his daughter — becomes a father figure for Maggie.

And as you watch Maggie find success as a boxer, you’re so happy for her.  I certainly was, despite the fact that I know next to nothing about boxing beyond the fact that it’s something that I would never want to do.  And when Clint starts to soften up to her, you’re not surprised.  After all, he’s craggly old Clint Eastwood.  He’s scary but we all know he has a heart of gold.  Add to that, Morgan Freeman’s still telling the story and surely the voice of God would not allow anything bad to happen…

And then … tragedy.  By the time that I finally saw Million Dollar Baby, I already knew the story’s big twist.  I knew that, as a result of a brutal fight, Maggie would be left paralyzed.  I knew that she would beg Frankie to euthanize her.  But seriously, imagine what a shock it must have been for audiences when this film first came out.

I mean, everything’s going perfectly and then suddenly, it’s not.

To a certain extent, I was jealous of those who got to see Million Dollar Baby without any advanced knowledge of the tragedy that defines the final third of the film.  When I watched the film, I found myself dreading the thought of enjoying any of Maggie’s triumphs because I knew what was going to happen.  Those who watched the film with know knowledge may have been shocked but at least they got to believe, for a few scenes, that Maggie could find that perfect sports film ending.

Then again, Million Dollar Baby is a great film because it refuses the temptation to give us the ending that we all want and expect.  Instead, it’s a movie that celebrates the people who will be there for you even when thing’s suddenly aren’t perfect.

That’s why Million Dollar Baby works as well as it does.  Unfortunately, it’s also why it’s a film that I could only watch once.

Arleigh’s Top Ten (……TV Shows) of 2012


With each passing year my TV viewing habits have begun to change. I used to watch mostly network shows with the occasional premium cable channel series here and there. In the last couple years it’s been more of the opposite. I watch less and less of whatever the top networks are showing and instead have taken most of my TV viewing pleasure from basic and premium cable channels. Only one show from the big networks makes my Top Ten TV shows of 2012.

The ten shows I’ve picked as best of 2012 arrive on this list in no particular order. They’re just numbered to keep things organized…

  1. Community – This show is the only network series to make my list and it’s well-deserving. The show has garnered such a huge cult following that seems to confuzzle those who still haven’t jumped on the Community bandwgaon. The show’s hilarious and full of pop-culture and geek culture references that each new episode we see something crazy and new from showrunner Dan Harmon and his crazy crew of writers and and, even moreso, talented ensemble cast. The fact that despite low ratings each season it’s been on the air since it premiered just show’s the power of it’s fans to tell the NBC network to keep the show for another season (maybe another more after this upcoming 4th). Plus, the show has Annie’s Boobs.
  2. Justified – This was the series that premiered three years ago with a pedigree that most networks would kill to have on it’s show. You had acclaimed tv screenwriter Graham Yost as series creator and showrunner. The show was adapated from a series of Elmore Leonard novels featuring the character of U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (who also had critics favorite Timothy Olyphant in the role). The first two season’s were major hits for the series. This past year’s third season couldn’t match up to the great season 2 that earned Margo Martindale an Emmy for her role as the devious and cold-blooded matriarch of the Bennett Clan, but it did more than hold it’s own by introducing an outsider to the mix of Kentucky-grown characters in Neal McDonough’s Detroit mobster and deviant criminal mastermind Robert Quarles. the interaction between Olyphant’s Raylan Givens, McDonough’s Quarles and Walton Goggins’ Boyd Crowder was some of 2012’s best tv moments.
  3. Doomsday Preppers – This series has become a sort of guilty pleasure for me, but despite that label it’s also one of the best shows on TV. The premise of the show may sound ludicrous and hilarious at first glance. I mean it’s a series that details in each episode a couple of families who have taken to extremes their attempts to prepare for whatever doomsday will befall in world in the near future. See, it sounds like a reality tv show that’s tailor-made for what elitists would consider the redneck and uneducated section of America. The truth of the matter is that the show’s ludicrous premise also is it’s strength. We may laugh, at first, at the families who have gone to extremes to create survival shelters, home grown food stocks and other means to survive a catastrophe. While we laugh the show does point out that whether a disaster happens soon or later the very survival preparations and techniques these families make become learning tools for the viewing audience. We won’t need to go to such extremes, but the fact that we laugh at these people while we have no clue how to survive when catastrophe strikes means the joke is on us and not on the Doomsday Preppers.
  4. The Walking Dead – Speaking of doomsday, this show on AMC seems to be the show that, like it’s zombified monsters, survives it’s own producers and writers attempts to kill it off. This year saw the second half of the show’s season 2 minus it’s original creator and showrunner as Frank Darabont was fired. The show continued to pull in great ratings despite being on basic cable and writing that tended to lean towards average with frustrating characters the audience would rather see die than survive the show’s zombie apocalypse. But something miraculous happened this year and that’s the show’s newest showrunner in Glen Mazzara simplified Darabont’s more deliberate and existential narrative style and tone for the show. Under Mazzara the show’s first haf of the 3rd season saw more action and characters actually becoming more complex and nuanced. There’s been less exposition dumps to tell the audience what’s going on. The show has also amped the danger towards the characters as we saw not one but  many characters die before the season even hit the halfway mark. The show’s writing still has a ways to go, but no show on TV can match The Walking Dead in sheer tension and watercooler moments that fans (and even detractors) were left wanting more and more everytime a Sunday ended.
  5. Sons of Anarchy – The show by showrunner Kurt Sutter that was original billed as “Hamlet meets Hell’s Angels” had one of it’s better season in 2012 as we saw the biker gang SAMCRO finally split into two camps. On one side is the former President of the club Clay Morrow (played by Ron Perlman) and newest club President Jax Teller (played by Charlie Hunnam), the son of the club’s original founder John Teller, standing on the opposite side. The show returned to it’s Shakespearean roots in 2012 as we saw Jax try to maneuver SAMCRO away from it’s illegal enterprises and away from the clutches of the not just the CIA, but the Mexican cartels, rival biker gangs and inner-city crime lords. The series saw the departure of a fan favorite character in one of the most brutal and vicious deaths on TV, but also one that was necessary to push Jax into becoming more ruthless and cold-blooded in dealing with his club’s enemies. Sons of Anarchy is also aired on the FX Channel which makes it such a powerful bookend to it’s fellow series in Justified for the basic cable network.
  6. South Park – Matt Stone and Trey Parker continues to insult all and everyone. The show benefits from this and it hasn’t changed in 2012. The show looked to be slowing down after an uneven 2011, but came back strong in 2012. There’s nothing else to be said other than a show that can come up with an episode that has Honey Boo Boo and Michelle Obama in the same episode and make it all come off as hilarious and thought-provoking deserves to be on everyone’s top ten tv shows of 2012.
  7. Deadliest Catch – Discovery Channel’s long-reality series about crab fishermen in the dangerous waters of the Bering Strait and the Arctic Circle continues to be one of the best reality series on TV. It’s simple premise of just showing the rigors, dangers and the toll the job of crab fishing in the Arctic Sea continues to lure fans old and new alike back to the series each new year. It’s definitely a show that puts down anyone who thinks they have a hard job. Nothing is harder than a job these men do where every moment can literally be the moment that something will happen that will take their life. It’s must-see TV (well except for Lisa Marie with the pitching ships and heavy seas and stormy waves).
  8. Boardwalk Empire – The show that details the rise and fall and rise again of Atlantic City’s man behind the scenes Nucky Thompson during the 1920’s continues to be one of TV’s best shows and continues HBO’s almost two decade of fine, quality original tv programming. We find Steve Buscemi in fine form as the corrupt city treasurer Nucky Thompson whose actions in season 2 creates major ripple effects for 2012’s season 3. While the latest season wasn’t on the same level as 2011’s season 2 it’s uneven slow burn for most of it’s season 3 run culminated in a bloody and tense-filled affair as Nucky’s penchant for surviving leads to an almost Michael Corleone-level of retribution by season’s end.
  9. Game of Thrones – George R.R. Martin. A Clash of Kings. Three baby dragons. Peter Dinklage. Arya and Stannis Lannister. Battle of Blackwater Bay. Neil Marshall. Sexposition. Ice zombies. Nothing else need to be said. One of the best shows of 2012, if not, the best show of 2012 period.
  10. Archer – The most out there and down right funny show on TV in 2012 was the FX Channel’s animated series Archer. It’s a an animated series that spoofs the spy franchises like James Bond, Man from U.N.C.L.E. and the like, but also being one of the raunchiest shows on TV and making it all come off as hilarious. Whether it’s the title character’s child-like behavior despite being the show’s top spy or the pyromaniac and autoerotic-fixated agency secretary Cheryl, the show’s cast of characters are all so memorable that the show doesn’t even need to have celebrity guest stars to try and pull in viewers, but they do it anyway with one being Burt reynolds himself playing as himself and bringing back memories of why Burt was considered the “star’s star in his heyday””. The man is just smooth as velvet and cool as ice.

So, these were my Top Ten shows on 2012. The FX channel definitely made it’s mark by getting three shows into the list with HBO running second with two. I know there’s a major omission of Breaking Bad in this list, but I thought the new season (really just the first half of the final season with the second half due later in 2013) was a letdown after blockbuster of a season 4. It seemed more like a first half that was table-setting for what looks to be the show’s final 8-episode this year to put the show to bed on a blaze of glory.