Playing Catch Up: First Daughter, Ice Girls, Raising The Bar, Walk Like A Man


So, this year I am making a sincere effort to review every film that I see.  I know I say that every year but this time, I really mean it.  Unfortunately, over the past two weeks, real life has interfered with my movie reviewing, if not my move watching.

So, in an effort to catch up, here are four quick reviews of some of the movies that I watched over the past two weeks!

  • First Daughter
  • Released: 2004
  • Directed by Forest Whitaker
  • Starring Katie Holmes, Marc Blucas, Amerie, Michael Keaton, Margaret Colin, Lela Rochon

Michael Keaton as the President of the United States!?  Now, that’s a great idea.  Michael Keaton plays President Mackenzie.  First Daughter was made long before Birdman so Michael Keaton doesn’t really have a huge part but, whenever he does appear, he is totally believable as a world leader.  You buy the idea that this guy could win an election and that he’d probably be a good (if not necessarily a great) President.  Someone really needs to make another movie where Michael Keaton plays the President.  Maybe President Birdman.  Just don’t give it to Inarritu to direct because he’ll make it too political…

Anyway, the majority of the film is about Katie Holmes as the President’s daughter, Samantha.  Samantha has been accepted to a college in California.  She’s excited because it means that she’ll finally be able to have a life outside of the White House.  The President is concerned because he loves his daughter and he knows that, if she makes any mistakes in California, his political opponents will try to use her against him.  Samantha goes off to college and tries to have a good (but rather chaste) time.  Making that somewhat difficult is her secret service entourage.  Fortunately, Samantha meets a guy (Marc Blucas) who loves her for who she is and not because her father is the President.

It’s all pretty silly and shallow but I have to admit that I get nostalgic whenever I see this movie.  Much like From Justin To Kelly, it’s definitely a film from a more innocent and less angry time.  To date, it’s also the last film to be directed by actor Forest Whitaker.

  • Ice Girls
  • Released in 2016
  • Directed by Damian Lee
  • Starring Michaela du Toit, Lara Daans, Arcadia Kendal, Sheila McCarthy, Taylor Hunsley, Shane Harte, Elvis Stojko

Struggling financially, Kelly (Lara Daans) is forced to move back to her hometown and move in with her sister (Sheila McCarthy).  Until she got married and gave up that part of her life, Kelly was once an up-and-coming figure skater.  Fortunately, her daughter, Mattie (Michaela du Toit), has inherited her mother’s talent.  However, a serious injury shook Mattie’s confidence.  Now, she says she doesn’t want to skate anymore.  Still, she’s willing to accept a job from Mercury (Elvis Stojko) at the local rink and it’s not too long before, under Mercury’s guidance, Mattie is skating once again.  Mattie also befriends another skater, Heather (Taylor Hunsley).  Heather happens to be the daughter of Rose (Natasha Henstridge), who was once in love with Kelly’s father…

It sounds like the set-up of a melodramatic Lifetime movie but actually, Ice Girls is a sweet-natured film about two ice skaters, one who has a mother who is too protective and the other who has a mother who is too driven.  In the end, both of them end up skating for themselves and not their mothers and that’s a good message for the film’s target audience of young skate fans.  The majority of the cast is made up of actual ice skaters, so the skating footage is pretty impressive.  It’s a predictable movie but I enjoyed it when I watched it on Netflix.

  • Raising the Bar
  • Released in 2016
  • Directed by Clay Glen
  • Starring Kelli Berglund, Lili Karamalikis, Tess Fowler, Emily Morris, Peta Shannon

I also watched this one on Netflix, a day after I watched Ice Girls.  (I was in an Olympics sort of mood, even though neither film took place at the Olympics.)  Raising the Bar feels a lot like Ice Girls, except that the ice skaters were now gymnasts and instead of relocating to Toronto, the family in Raising the Bar relocates all the way to Australia.  Once in Australia, Kelly (Kelly Johnson) finds the courage to re-enter gymnastics and ends up competing against her former teammates.

Kelly Johnson gives a good performance in the lead role.  Though it may be predictable, Raising the Bar is an effective and sweet-natured family film.  Perhaps the most interesting thing about watching the film was that I quickly found myself rooting against the American team.  Australia all the way!

  • Walk Like A Man
  • Released 1987
  • Directed by Melvin Frank
  • Starring Howie Mandel, Amy Steel, Cloris Leachman, Christopher Lloyd, Colleen Camp, Stephen Elliott, George DiCenzo, John McLiam, Earl Boen

Oh, what sweet Hell is this?

Okay, I’m going to try to explain what happens in this movie.  You’re not going to believe me.  You’re going to think that I’m just making all of this up.  But I swear to a God … this is an actual movie.

When he was a baby, Boba Shand (Howie Mandel) got separated from his family.  His mother and his father assumed that he was gone forever but what they didn’t know was that Bobo was found and raised by a pack of wild dogs.  For twenty years, Bobo lives as a dog.  Then he’s discovered by Penny (Amy Steel), an animal researcher who tries to teach Bobo how to be a human.  However, as time passes, Penny comes to realize that maybe she’s making a mistake trying to change Bobo.  Bobo is innocent and child-like and obsessed with chasing fire engines.  When he has too much to drink, he runs around on all fours.  And … PENNY’S IN LOVE WITH HIM!

Seriously, she’s in love with a man who thinks he’s a dog.

However, Bobo stands to inherit a fortune and his evil brother (Christopher Lloyd) is planning on having him committed.  Penny has to prove that Bobo is human enough to manage his own affairs while also respecting his desire to continue living like a dog.

I’m serious.  This is a real movie.

Anyway, making things even worse is the performance as Howie Mandel.  Mandel has always been a rather needy performer and the role of a man who thinks he’s a dog only serves to bring out his worst instincts.  Remember when Ben Stiller played Simple Jack in Tropical Thunder?  Well, Mandel’s performance is kinda like that only worse.  At one point, Bobo walks up to a mannequin in a mall and says, “I have to go pee pee.  Come with me,” and I nearly threw a shoe at the TV.  Oh my God, it was so bad.

The main problem with Walk Like A Man is that it wants to have it both ways.  It wants to be a wild comedy about Howie Mandel chasing fire engines but it also makes us want to tear up when Penny explains why Bobo should be allowed to live as a dog.

All in all, it’s a really bad movie.  And yes, it does actually exist.

A Movie A Day #336: The Bronx Bull (2017, directed by Martin Guigui)


New York in the 1930s.  Jake LaMotta (Morean Aria) is a tough street kid who is pushed into fighting by his abusive father (Paul Sorvino) and who is taught how to box by a sympathetic priest (Ray Wise).  When Jake finally escapes from his Hellish home life, it is so he can pursue a career as a professional boxer.  Ironically, the same violent nature that nearly destroyed him as a youth will now be the key to his future success.

In the late 60s, a middle-aged Jake LaMotta (William Forsythe) testifies before a government panel that is investigating that influence of the Mafia in professional boxing.  LaMotta testifies that, during his professional career, he did take a dive in one of his most famous matches.  LaMotta goes on to pursue an entertainment career which, despite starring in Cauliflower Ears with Jane Russell, never amounts too much.  He drinks too much, fights too much, and gets into arguments with a ghost (Robert Davi).  He also gets married several times, to women played by everyone from Penelope Ann Miller to Alicia Witt.  The movie ends with Jake happily walking down a snowy street and a title card announcing that Jake is now 95 years old and married to his seventh wife.  (The real Jake LaMotta died on September, 9 months after the release of The Bronx Bull.)

The Bronx Bull is a largely pointless movie about the later life of the antisocial boxer who was previously immortalized in Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull.  In fact, The Bronx Bull was originally announced and went into production as Raging Bull II.  Then the producers of the original Raging Bull found out, filed a lawsuit, and the film became The Bronx Bull.  Because of the lawsuit, The Bronx Bull could cover every aspect of Jake’s life, except for what was already covered in Raging Bull.  In fact, Scorsese’s film (which undoubtedly had a huge impact on LaMotta’s later life) is not even mentioned in The Bronx Bull.

William Forsythe does what he can with the role but, for the most part, Jake just seems to be a lout with anger issues.  With a cast that includes everyone from Tom Sizemore to Cloris Leachman to Bruce Davison, the movie is full of familiar faces but none of them get too much of a chance to make an impression.  Joe Mantegna comes the closest, playing Jake’s best friend.  The Bronx Bull was not only shot on the cheap but it looks even cheaper, with studio backlots unconvincingly filling in for 1930s Bronx.  The film’s director, Martin Guigui, occasionally tries to throw in a Scorsesesque camera movement and there are a few black-and-white flashbacks but, for the most part, this is the mockbuster version of Raging Bull.

A Quickie With Lisa Marie: Deadly Ex (dir by Tom Shell)


deadly-ex

On Sunday night, I watched the premiere of Deadly Ex on the Lifetime Movie Network.

In Deadly Ex, Jason Gerhardt plays Gary.  He’s a guy who appears to have a successful life, despite a few regrets.  For instance, he gave up his teenage dream of being a lawyer but he’s still managed to do okay for himself.  He’s married to Jess (Marguerite Moreau) and his two wonderful, teenage children (Sammi Hanratty and Matt Cornet) but domestic bliss has somehow eluded him.  In fact, he’s on the verge of divorce.

How bad is Gary’s marriage?  It’s so bad that he leaves his wife and children behind when he goes to his high school reunion!  However, that also means that he gets to spend some time catching up with his ex-girlfriend, Valerie (Natasha Henstridge).  In turns out that, in high school, Gary wasn’t the best boy friend.  He rather callously dumped Valerie.  But that was a long time ago and Gary’s changed.  He says that he’s sorry and he means it.  Valerie tells him that she forgives him and…

Well, this is a Lifetime film.  And it’s called Deadly Ex.  So you can probably guess that Valerie hasn’t quite forgiven or gotten over Gary.  Instead, Valerie follows Gary back to his hometown.  She enrolls as a student in Jess’s yoga class.  She starts to send gifts to Gary’s house.  And, eventually, she shows up with a knife…

Plotwise, Deadly Ex is typical Lifetime fare but it’s distinguished by two things.  First off, Natasha Henstridge gives a terrific performance as the insanely driven Valerie.  Films like this are only as good as their villains and Henstridge bravely throws herself into her performance.  Marguerite Moreau also does a good job, playing a mother who will take any risk to defend her family.  Secondly, the final confrontation between Valerie and Jess is extremely well-done and director Tom Shell actually keeps you guessing as to how it’s going to end and who is going to survive.

Finally, Deadly Ex manages to tap into a fantasy that I think everyone has.  Who hasn’t wanted to run into their ex and brag about how wonderful their life has been since the break-up?  For that matter, who hasn’t wanted to get a chance to put an ex in his place?  Me, I’d rather do it with a perfectly timed quip than a knife but I guess that’s just me.

(Also, I should mention that, while watching the film, I was able to totally relate to Gary and Jess’s daughter, Carissa, largely because she had perfected the dismissive “whatever” glance that I’ve been employing since I was 13 years old.)

If you’re into Lifetime movies (and who isn’t, really?), Deadly Ex is one to keep an eye out for.

Quickie Horror Review: Species (dir. by Roger Donaldson)


1995’s Species was a studio’s attempt to replicate the start of a new sci-fi/horror franchise like the one begun by Ridley Scott’s Alien. Roger Donaldson was tapped to direct this attempt with a cast that included Sir Ben Kingsley, Michael Madsen, Marge Helgenberger, Forrest Whitaker and Alfred Molina. The lucky gal who gets to play the role of Sil — the half-alien, half-human hybrid — fell on the stunning and gorgeous shoulders of Natasha Henstridge.

Species pulls from so many different sci-fi/horror films and shows from the past that it’s hard to find anything original in the story. There’s stuff from Alien, The Hidden, and even some episodes of The X-Files. The one original twist in this derivate film was the plot of an alien race sending over the genetic markers of its race and instructions on how to recombine it with human DNA to create a form of hybrid. Why the scientists decided to go through with such a seemingly dangerous task is known only to the writer who put pen to paper to create the screenplay. The bulk of the film’s story comes from one the creation of one such human-alien hybrid named Sil (the young version played by Michelle Williams in one of her very first roles) and how her creators and handlers begin to realize that she has an almost desperate need to procreate.

The acting by the select group of experts (Madsen, Helgenberger, Molina, Kingsley and Whitaker) were good enough and no one embarrassed themselves in the end. Henstridge does a fine job of being sexy and hot. It helped that she pretty much was naked through most of the film, or at least put herself in situations to be naked. In fact, Henstridge goes beyond just being the naked eye candy in the film, but does a great job playing the naive adult Sil who escapes her lab-prison as her instincts propel her to find the perfect mate. It’s during this search that much of the film’s gore make their appearance and there’s a bit of it.

The art design of Sil as the evolved alien hybrid came courtesy of the great Swiss surrealist, H.R. Giger who also did the design for the alien creature in Alien. Giger’s biomechanical designs have always been disturbing and beautiful at the same time and he didn’t disappoint with his design of Sil. If there was a quibble on Sil’s final design it was that it still resembled a bit too much of the alien design in Ridley Scott’s Alien. But it was still great to see H.R. Giger still creating such wonderful artwork and designs for people to see. His popularity has always been mostly composed of the elite circles of the artworld and those small, loyal art groups with a penchant for the surreal, weird and disturbing.

In the end, Species was a good sci-fi/horror that didn’t bore too much and for those who enjoy their gore this film had its equal share of the red stuff. Gratuitious nudity and sex from Natasha Henstridge as Sil the alien hybrid and the excellent designs from H.R. Giger gives this film enough good things to look at. It doesn’t bring anything new and pretty much reuses alot of other things from other movies, but Species was good enough albeit derivative of better past films and shows.