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.

Movie A Day #333: Beyond Valkyrie: Dawn of the Fourth Reich (2016, directed by Claudio Fah)


The year is 1944 and a group of Germany officials and military officers, all of whom are secretly opposed to the Nazi regime, are plotting to assassinate Adolf Hitler.  A group of American and British operatives, led by Captain Evan Blackburn (Sean Patrick Flannery), have been dropped behind enemy lines.  Their mission is to protect the man who has been chosen to lead Germany after Hitler’s death but, after the assassination fails, Blackburn and his men find themselves with a new mission.  Working with a group of Russian soldiers, Blackburn tries to prevent a group of Nazis from fleeing to Argentina with a cache of stolen good.

The plot of Beyond Valkyrie is rooted in fact.  In June of 1944, Hitler was nearly assassinated by a group of high-ranking Germans who hoped to replace him with a more moderate leader.  (Historically, it’s questionable whether the majority of the conspirators were truly anti-Nazi or if they just felt that Hitler was mismanaging the war.)  At the same time, as it became evident that Germany was going to lose the war, many Nazi war criminals did escape to Argentina, where the government of Juan Peron provided them with sanctuary from prosecution.  Some of the most notorious Nazis reinvented themselves as businessmen in both South America and the Middle East.  (Others, like Klaus Barbie and Reinhard Gehlen, offered their services to any government that would accept them.)

The true story is so interesting that it’s unfortunate that Beyond Valkyrie is such a bad movie.  Basically, consider it to be Inglourious Basterds with none of Tarantino’s style or Christoph Waltz’s smiling menace.  Beyond Valkyrie is a war epic on a budget, a very low budget.  Neither the weak script nor the cheap-looking CGI does much to add authenticity to the movie.  There are a few familiar faces in the cast, though none of them are onscreen for long.  Rutger Hauer provides what little dignity Beyond Valkyrie has.  Tom Sizemore looks like he’s still recovering from the weekend.  Stephen Lang picks up his paycheck.  Sean Patrick Flanery does the best he can but he’s stuck with all the worst lines.

One final note: One of the Russian soldiers, played by Andrew Byron, is actually named Tolstoy.  I waited for Chekhov, Solzhenitsyn, and Dostoevsky to show up but they never came.

Film Review: Body Shots (dir. by Michael Cristofer)


(Spoilers)

Recently, I saw a 1999 film called Body Shots on the Fox Movie Channel.  If you look at the poster at the top of this review, you’ll see that Body Shots was apparently advertised with the boast: “There are movies that define every decade…”  That’s true.  It’s also true that, every decade, there are movies that define self-importance and pretension.  Can you guess what Body Shots defines?

Since Body Shots claims to be a film that exposes what secretly goes on in American society, I figured I would start this review by sharing a secret of my own.

Ready?

I love over-the-top morality tales.  I love movies that attempt to expose 20something for being the shallow, terrible people that older people believe us to be.  Every decade sees at least a handful of these films.  Typically, they are made by male filmmakers in their 50s and they attempt to paint an accusing portrait of the foibles of youth.  These films assure the older generation that their children have all grown up to be a bunch of drug-abusing, heavy-drinking, over-sexed degenerates.  It’s a proud of tradition of American cinema and television, one that includes everything from the crazed pot smokers of Reefer Madness to The Newsroom’s Jeff Daniels announcing that my generation is the “WORST.  GENERATION.  EVER.”

Typically, dreadfully earnest filmmakers who think that they are making an important statement about the future of human society are responsible for these films.  That the filmmakers often turn out to be so totally out-of-touch and histrionic just adds to the campy charm.

Body Shots is a part of this tradition.  According to the imdb, director Michael Cristofer (who is currently appearing on Smash) was 54 years-old when he made this film about 8 decadent 20-somethings who spend a decadent night at a Los Angeles nightclub and then have to deal with the consequences in the morning.

For the first part of Body Shots, we’re introduced to the 8 main characters (4 men and 4 women, which works out nicely as far as pairing off is concerned).  While they’re all generically attractive (and, at times, interchangeable), they are also each meant to represent a different take on sexuality and relationships.

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The men:

Rick (played by Sean Patrick Flannery) is a lawyer.  He doesn’t have much of a personality but he’s in the most scenes so I guess he’s supposed to be the protagonist.  Flannery is required to awkwardly deliver the line, “Hey, Penorisi, have another cocktail, why don’t you?” not once but three time.

Mike Penorisi (played by Jerry O’Connell) is a professional football player who drives a Mercedes and who spends almost the entire movie struggling to keep his hair out of his eyes.  We know he’s a jerk because Jerry O’Connell plays him and he does things like shout, “If pussy’s on the menu, I’m there!”  (Seriously, Body Shots?)

Shawn (played by Brad Rowe) is a friend of Rick’s.  He’s a nice guy and he says things like, “Sex without love equals violence.”  (And, again, seriously?  Agck!  If a guy ever said that to me, I would be out the door so quick…)

Trent (played by Ron Livingston) is Shawn’s roommate.  We’re continually told that Trent is a loser but, since he’s played by Ron Livingston, he’s also one of the only likable people in the entire film.  Trent is crude and obsessed with sex but, as opposed to everyone else in the film, he’s at least honest about it.  Unlike the rest of the cast, Livingston is intentionally funny.

The women:

Jane (played by Amanda Peet) is kind of Rick’s girlfriend.  Like Rick, she really doesn’t have much of a personality and she’s mostly distinguished by being an absolutely terrible dancer.  (Unfortunately, the filmmakers don’t seem to realize just how awkward Peet looks out on the dance floor.)

Sara (played by Tara Reid) is Jane’s best friend.  She’s blonde, drinks to excess, and is open about her sex life.  So, naturally, the filmmakers go out of their way to punish her during the film’s second half.

Whitney (played by Emily Proctor, from CSI: Miami) is another blonde who drinks to excess and is open about her sex life.  In order to keep us from confusing her with Sara, the filmmakers have Whitney sodomize one of the men with a dildo.

Emma (played by Sybil Temchen) is depressed and worries that people can tell that she “hasn’t gotten laid in months” just by looking at her.

Anyway, these eight characters spend the first part of the movie getting ready to go out, going out, meeting up, hooking up, and occasionally telling us their thoughts on sex and relationships.  And by telling us, I mean that, in a technique beloved by first-time playwrights who have yet to learn anything about being subtle or allowing characters to reveal themselves organically, they literally look straight at the camera and deliver monologues about what they’re looking for in life.  I suppose this is all supposed to make us feel as if we’re getting an intimate look into the inner angst and secret loneliness of these characters but the monologues are all so awkwardly written that they just make the characters seem even more shallow than before.  Trust me, I could have happily lived my entire life without having Jerry O’Connell staring straight at me while discussing oral sex.  (“No teeth!” Jerry grins.  BLEH!)

And yet, I still enjoyed the first part of Body Shots, precisely because the characters were so shallow and the movie was so unintentionally over-the-top in its efforts to paint the Los Angeles nightlife as the equivalent of Sodom and Gomorrah.  The scenes where the women were getting ready to go out for the night all had a ring of truth of them and Ron Livingston (who appeared to be the only member of the cast to understand just how silly a film Body Shots would ultimately turn out to be) was a lot of fun.

Even better, once everyone gets to the club, Michael Cristofer decides to earn his auteur credentials by tossing in every trick he can think of.  Scenes where the action is needlessly sped up follow scenes that play out in slow motion.  The camera glides through the club, focusing on all the neon while a generic beat blasts in the background.  The walls are covered with graffiti that reads, “Swim At Your Own Risk” and “No Diving” and you better believe that the camera lingers over every letter.  Meanwhile, Amanda Peet dances awkwardly while trying to give Sean Patrick Flannery a come hither look while Emily Proctor passes out shots and Jerry O’Connell keeps tossing back his hair.  And then Ron Livingston shows up, straight from a golf course and – you’ve got it! – still dressed for his game.

Seriously, it’s all so stupid and silly and over-the-top unbelievable.  And, of course, while all this going on, the characters still find the time to stare straight at the camera and tell us their feelings about bondage and whether or not true love actually exists.  Cristofer is trying so hard to say something profound and he fails so completely that it’s actually a lot of fun to watch.

Unfortunately, during the second part of the film, Body Shots falls apart.  The next morning, Sara shows up at Jane’s apartment and says that Penorisi raped her.  Penorisi is arrested and claims that the sex was consensual and that Sara was just upset because he accidentally called her “Whitney.”  We get flashbacks to both Mike and Sara’s version of the events.  While they each tell a different story, Cristofer seems to be implying that, regardless of who is telling the truth, it wouldn’t have happened if Sara had not been out drinking and flirting.

To be honest, it’s pretty fucking offensive.

If the first part of Body Shots appeared to have been made by an out-of-touch guy with good intentions, the second part is the work of a moralistic hypocrite.  What makes it even worse is that the film ends without resolving the case.  I’m sure that Cristofer would argue that the open ending was meant to make the audience think about what they had just seen but, ultimately, it feels like a cop out.  It’s almost as if Cristofer reached a point where he said, “Okay, I’m tired of making this movie.  Let’s just quit.”

And considering how the second half of the movie plays out, you can’t really blame him.  Still, the first part of Body Shots is unintentionally hilarious and a lot of fun.  Just don’t watch past the 45-minute mark.