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Amira & Sam (2014)
Mostly pleasant and even funny, doesn't avoid controversy
In 2008, Sam is a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan who takes the Staten Island Ferry to his job as a security guard at a building where spoiled young rich people live. He gets revenge on a group that was drunk and disorderly, which becomes a problem for him later.
Amira is a young Muslim woman who sells DVDs on the street. This is illegal for several reasons and will become a problem later. She wears a hijab but is criticized for showing a lot of skin by another Muslim woman who is properly dressed.
Sam has a souvenir from when he served alongside Bassam in Iraq and they became good friends. He found out where Bassam lived in New York City, but when he arrives at the apartment building, he has to press a button to get in but can't figure out which one. Amira is no help and makes it clear from the start she doesn't like him. Sam finally figures out how to get in and discovers Amira is Bassam's niece. Bassam is so happy to see his old friend but Amira hates soldiers because of what they did to her family. Furthermore, Amira is in the country illegally because she is afraid of what will happen to her after her family helped the enemy during the war. Sam stays for dinner but it is an awkward experience. He is an aspiring stand-up comic and he tells some funny stories and does it well, but Amira is not impressed. The three watch TV ("Keeping Up with the Kardashians") and then it is time for Sam to go. Amira rudely pushes Sam out.
Sam goes to a comedy club, where the results are no better than with Amira.
I'm not clear on why because he is not looking for disability benefits, but Sam visits a Veterans' Affairs office. If you like cats, look closely at the scene. I record everything I watch on TV and this is a great opportunity to go back and slow down the video.
Sam visits his cousin Charlie, who sells hedge funds on Wall Street. Charlie needs a veteran to convince Jack, a wealthy Vietnam vet, to invest millions of dollars. Sam does a great job making friends with Jack and it looks like he has a future on Wall Street. But there are potential problems with this job. Sam also gets invited to several parties, which ends up being a problem.
In addition to all his other difficulties, Sam gets a call from Bassam, who is miles away in the middle of nowhere. I assume he drives a truck and that's why he's not in the city. Amira finally got in trouble and needs someone to get her out of jail. And to watch over her until Bassam can return and hopefully get her out of trouble.
It seems unlikely, but there is actually potential for romance between Sam and Amira. She stays at his place, and they spend time together. And remember how she was criticized for showing too much skin? In one scene you have to ask what's the point of the hijab when the rest of her looks like Jennifer Lopez at an awards show.
And people are looking at Amira a certain way. September 11 is mentioned twice. The first time is when Sam and his friends (the others are wearing suits) talk about what they did the next day, though apparently only Sam went through with his plans. The second time is when Sam's uncle, looking at Amira, tells how he watched people jump from the twin towers.
While the movie is funny at times and Sam and Amira do have a pleasant relationship, it does not shy away from the issues.
As Sam, Martin Starr is quite dignified and yet still manages to be funny. He is not silly, even though some of the situations he gets in are.
Dina Shihabi as Amira comes across as intelligent and independent and, while not exactly likeable at first, manages to be appealing. She does laugh later and shows a more pleasant side to her personality. While doing her job, she comes across as charming in an aggressive and annoying manner. A little different from Paul Wesley, who is charming in the way one would be expected to be on Wall Street.
David Rasche does a good job, which he always does, as the Vietnam vet. He tells a beautiful but unpleasant story when he spends time with Sam. It's a great scene.
There is way more cursing than there should be. Numerous times, the sound went out and a character's mouth, or a word in the subtitles, was blurry.
Overall, it's a worthwhile effort.
The Out-of-Towners (1999)
I never saw the original. So I have nothing to compare it to. All I know is that when this movie was made, Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn were two of the best actors working in the business who were the right age to have children in college or out in the real world.
And the great comedy starts right away as Nancy secretly tags along on Henry's trip to New York City for an important job interview. Not having made arrangements in advance, Nancy is not sitting with Henry, but that's about to change as they get on the nerves of everyone on the plane.
And then there is one unfortunate mishap after another. I'm enjoying all this until things get so bad for the couple that I'm not enjoying it any more. By this time, we have been introduced to the brilliant John Cleese, who has experience running a hotel and is about as kind of caring as Basil Fawlty. And if you don't know who that is, I'm referring to one of the great characters in all of comedy, who I discovered on PBS after hearing that John Larroquette couldn't live up to the standard he set. Like the cruel and conniving British character, this man shows the friendliest and most charming attitude to anyone who can benefit him and is unbelievably hateful to everyone else. Mersault doesn't quite match Cleese's most famous role but he comes close enough here. But then he does something that you just won't expect from such a proper English gentleman, and that's the key to an important plot detail.
As our heroes have to figure out some way to cope with their situation, we see that they too have the ability to scheme and bribe their way into getting whatever they want or need, and the results are hilarious. And they get on the nerves of Oliver Hudson, who I didn't recognize but who has been in so many TV series I enjoyed in recent years. I think I'm referring to the right man.
Henry and Nancy get into so many other comic situations, and I don't want to give anything away because it's so much better when you're not expecting it. But there is one scene where Henry accidentally ends up high on drugs, and Martin really shines in such circumstances. And then there is the scene where it appears the couple will break up. Kind of depressing, but I have at least some confidence they'll be all right.
And despite his reputation of recent years, Rudy Giuliani is the respected mayor of the great city, and the couple manage to create a scandal in his presence.
And does Henry get the job? Well, I won't say, but what happens when the time comes for the interview is as exciting, complicated and wildly humorous as everything that has gone before. With an amazing scene that may or may not get the desired result.
There are so many memorable characters. I was going to mention the man in charge of finding the couple's lost luggage, but he was just one of many. I probably shouldn't say memorable, because there were so many and I just don't remember them.
I've been needing a movie like this. When you depend on individual stations to show you free movies and only get the broadcast channels, you take what you can get. This time I wasn't disppointed.
Probably should have stopped with four, but not all bad
This isn't really my kind of movie, and I can't even recall which of the films in the series, if any, I have seen. But I watched just in case I would find something to like about it.
And there were a few good qualities here. Charles Bronson does a good job, I think, even if Kersey's moral values aren't what would be considered ideal. You want him to get the bad guys and he does. In the real world he might not get away with it.
Tommy, the head bad guy, has some good moments.
And Chicki, one of the henchmen, is actually funny.
One of the two funerals has a great comic moment that couldn't possibly happen in the real world, and it seems strange in a movie that isn't really supposed to be funny.
There is more violence than I would have liked. But it's to be expected. I actually found it surprising that this movie was considered to have a low body count, because it seemed high to me.
I do have two specific complaints. The drag queen tells Olivia in the bathroom to look at her pretty face in the mirror one last time because it won't be pretty any more. Or something like that. The doctor warns Kersey that even with work, Olivia will never be the same again. So when the bandages come off, we're prepared for something truly horrifying. But you know what? She still looks quite good, with a few scars.
Then there is her daughter Chelsea. Quite attractive too, and she dresses quite stylishly, not like a typical teen at all, but more like what a model would wear on the runway. But she almost never talks. And Erica Lancaster is given very few lines. It's just as well, because we can't even see her delivering the lines. She sounds like she is in the next room when she does, and, well, they didn't give her much to do because she couldn't do anything with what they gave her. We just never got to know her or care about her. She does have one scene where she shows genuine fear and delivers a line competently in a way we can clearly hear.
And then there is something confusing. One of Tommy's goons looks just like the D.A. I have this problem with not being able to recognize people in situations where I don't expect to see them, and sometimes I have trouble telling people apart because they sort of look alike. Is the D.A. in Tommy's pocket? I can't answer.
Is it a brilliant finish to the series? Hardly. But I don't really have anything to compare it to because I don't know what I've seen.
Celeste & Jesse Forever (2012)
They should have stayed together
During the opening credits, which have little or no audio except the music playing for all of it, Celeste and Jesse appear to be happy. However, after six years they have decided to separate. They are still friends and spend lots of time together. But he is a lazy bum, though likeable, and she has a successful career marketing celebrities, though she wishes all those celebrities actually had talent. His art, though, could end up being displayed in galleries. He also does art for her company.
Their friends Tucker and Beth, who are getting married, point out that their relationship is annoying. Celeste and Jesse needs to move on and date other people. Mostly we see Celeste and her misadventures in attempting to date, including one guy she meets doing yoga. We also see her career problems, including typical teenager Riley, who is shallow but not really spoiled, and not talented in Celeste's view. But the two end up having quite a special relationship anyway.
Jesse, meanwhile, gets together with Veronica, who is pregnant with his child after a one-night stand.
I'm used to Andy Samberg being a likeable loser, though in his most famous role he's actually supposed to be good at his job. And there like here, he is with a woman who is pretty but intelligent and uptight. The difference here is she is not cute and to me not all that likeable. It is unfortunate Jesse doesn't get equal time because I really like him. I'm mostly bored with Celeste here, and it's the nice scenes with Riley that make the movie work more than anything else. Also, her great speech at the wedding.
And I now regret calling Helen Hunt's glasses hideous in another review. Celeste is the one with hideous glasses, even if she doesn't wear them all the time.
One standout character is Scott, Celeste's gay co-worker.
Don't get me wrong. It's all well-written and well-acted. It's just not what I'm looking for in a romantic comedy.
Tony 'n' Tina's Wedding (2004)
If anyone can show just cause not to watch let him speak now or forever hold his peace
And I am speaking now. Actually, others might enjoy this movie. These are just my thoughts. First, a summary.
Talk about not seeing the bride before the wedding! For the first few minutes, we see everything from either the point of view of either Tony or Tina. The setting is in or near New York City. One sign says "Massapequa". Both families are from Queens.
Then outside the church we see the blue-haired filmmaker Raphael. Well, the part that hangs down in his face is blue. He is in charge of making a film about the wedding, and we finally see Tina and Tony get out of their cars. Inside the church and for the rest of the movie, we apparently see the point of view of one of the multiple cameras.
Barry is best man and he wishes he could take drugs to get through this terrible experience (but he's not allowed). Don't we all. He is having a baby with maid of honor Connie, who nevertheless continues to smoke and drink.
Tony's father is now with Maddy, a woman who looks like a hooker. This is understandable as he runs the respectable his word) strip club Animal Kingdom. Dad was apparently molested by a priest as a boy and still has hostility toward priests (he hits one, I think) and the church.
Tina's mom is described as Morticia. She is kind of scary looking but the Addams wife (Carolyn Jones' version, anyway) was prettier and nicer. Mom is demanding and unpleasant and constantly reminds us Vito died putting up Christmas decorations. I'm not clear whether Vito was Tina's father.
Inside the church one of the female guests is crying like this is a funeral. I mean really crying. This is apparently a Catholic church. Father Mark, the priest conducting the ceremony, is black, which wouldn't mean anything except he behaves in the style of a black preacher and refers to the crazy white people. When he asks if anyone objects Michael, Tina's ex, tries to answer but is silenced. Michael showed up late and is there to make trouble but he's too much of a wimp to have any success, either at the ceremony or later. The priest is asked to finish up quickly because Tina is not feeling so good, so he skips Mass, explaining that it is hot and the church has no air conditioning.
And it's off to the reception at Vinnie's Coliseum. Vinnie is a standup comic and quite likable. He based the place on the movie "Spartacus" and has gladiators as waiters. The women who work there have on some kind of sexy outfit but I don't know the term for a Roman woman dressed like that. There are also statues which are blurred. I'm guessing anatomically correct statues.
Raphael interviews many of the guests. This is more fun than anything else at the reception.
The reception has the usual comic moments and some very unusual misadventures. I don't see how anyone can drink as much as some of these people did and not pass out, but the results are predictable. Even the priest finally drank after stating he was always on duty. Even a nun who was a guest. And I don't think all the problems resulted from drinking. And it is entirely possible Tony and Tina will not last through the reception.
There is music for nearly every taste. I liked the tarantella and an Italian version of Elvis' "Love Me Tender". Or perhaps he sang the English version of an Italian song. The band insists on power ballads. In some scenes I hear hard rock but don't know where that is coming from. Earlier in the movie we heard rap, but I think that was just those of us watching the movie.
Now my opinions. I did not enjoy this movie. Maybe there were a few good moments but I never quite reached the point where i really liked it.
In addition to Vinnie, Uncle Lui (or Louis, depending on which version of the credits you go by) and Grandma were standout characters.
Was this family friendly? I mentioned the statues. The sound went out A LOT. And when it did, a character's mouth was often blurred. Sometimes this was so bad I couldn't follow what was going on. These people are just plain crude. And there was a lot of blurring of hands.
But some people might enjoy this type of humor. It just wasn't for me.
Among Thieves (2009)
Mystery sort of interesting, but not that good
On a dark road, three young people are in a wreck. The man in the other vehicle, a senator, is dead.
Seven hours earlier in Chicago Victor was trying to sell Nick, editor of the Chicago Post, on a new story about the death of Princess Diana. Victor was valedictorian of his class, but he has had a series of what he considers "loser" jobs, some of which will help him in what he does in this movie. Now he is a free-lance journalist.
Amy was being told some information about oil exploration was not the truth. Her executive job requires her to work 90 hours a week.
David is being told he should not be buying companies with the hope that they will fail.
Victor, David and Amy get together for the first time in 10 years. Then the events that started the movie are repeated.
David was drinking, so he wants to leave so he won't get in trouble. Amy calls 911. The senator had a red envelope next to him, and someone picks it up. . A cop shows up and everyone is questioned back at the station. Apparently they won't get in trouble because they convince the cop that a story which is not true is the truth. And the senator was already dead. Meanwhile, Evelyn shows up saying the senator was coming to meet with her.
Inside the red envelope are some notes and the message "Among thieves" (a Biblical reference that leads to clues). Victor makes the discovery that Iraq announced in 2000 that it would buy oil using euros, not dollars. This was not well known but would have been devastating for the United States. It is the reason for the Iraq War.
The group begins investigating and discover more amazing news. Meanwhile, they are being followed by people who want to kill them. John Waters was a reporter investigating the story, and he is dead.
There is a lot of excitement before the amazing conclusion.
Early in the movie, and occasionally after that, actors seem like they are reading their lines around the table for the first time. Performances are better when things are exciting. However, I get the impression that excitement results from editing and unsettling music more than the actors themselves.
There is some violence but nothing too graphic.
This is about on the same level as a TV episode, but not that great.
Funny, family friendly but creepy mystery
In a cul-de-sac in a nice neighborhood (a description from one of the movie's characters), a group of kids wonder about Dr. Vargas, who moved into the big creepy house with his pretty teen daughter Heather. They see weird things going on and hear what sounds like a monster.
James has a treehouse which says "no girls allowed". His father is no longer around, whatever that means. He has a hot mom Denise who has a master's degree in something related to "sustainability".
Mike is a genius who uses big words who, with the other kids, likes to make movies. The neighborhood cats, many of whom are missing since Dr. Vargas moved in, are among the movie's stars.
Rosemary is 12 (only her age is mentioned, but the others appear the same age) and cute but obnoxious. She is sort of a tomboy (ignoring James' rule) but she LOOOVES Justin Timberlake. She has a tendency to appear without warning, startling people.
Obie is a nerd and somewhat clumsy, has difficutly in social interactions and is afraid to take chances. He is given the job of putting tracking devices on the cats.
Brian is the human star of Mike's movie and the delivery person for a company which sells organic and locally sourced pet food and supplies. He makes numerous large deliveries to Dr. Vargas and seems to enjoy the same music as girls who are teenagers or younger.
And Mrs. Van Fennig, who enjoys working out (sorry, she doesn't look like Denise, but like Rhea Perlman), has a large tuxedo cat Elvis, the only cat not to be an apparent victim of whatever is going on.
Heather is responsible but somewhat rebellious and the annoying kids get on her nerves. And she's pretty.
This kids take a break from their movie and investigate what is happening in Dr. Vargas' house. In addition to the missing animals, they have reason to suspect a person has been abducted. Naturally, they commit illegal acts which sometimes get them in trouble, but they are quite capable investigators, able to do what adults do in hit TV series.
There is, of course, a logical explanation to everything, but something happens near the end that could have had serious consequences.
The final scene suggests a sequel. Which I would enjoy, because there's some unfinished business.
This is good for what it is. Not a masterpiece by any means, but entertaining. All the young actors are talented, especially Caitlin Carmichael as Rosemary.
Even Denise Richards is pretty good. I mean good. But you have to admit she's pretty. There is one scene which stands out, where she calmly explains what is wrong with her son's behavior and what she expects of him and why,
The actor playing Dr. Vargas fails to reach his potential. I don't know if it's the writing or him.
Creepy music sets the mood from time to time. Another scene has heavy metal music with the kids moving in slow motion, and another has some kind of high-tech rock with an exciting look at of the kids at work.
When I saw this movie, it was rated TV-14. There is no reason for this. I wouldn't recommend this to young or sensitive children but nothing about this justifies anything over TV-PG. Sure, there are discussions of possible violence to animals, and murder of humans, but it's not that much worse than, say, Scooby-Doo. This is actually quite similar to a scary Halloween movie I saw but can't remember the details of, including who was in it or even the title. That one was less family-friendly but still nothing to be too concerned about.
Be sure to stay around for the credits, which are interrupted by at least part of Mike's movie. It's quite good, better than the rest of this. I would even say on its own it could have been nominated for the short film Oscar. Okay, maybe not, but a winner in a competition for young people..
I had a good time and that's what counts.
Low Down (2014)
Kind of depressing but it works pretty well; Close is great
I'm not a devoted fan of the style of jazz in this movie. This is surprising because I do like jazz, but I like it when it is more commercial and radio-friendly. Vince Guaraldi is about as intellectual as I get, and that's because of the numerous "Peanuts" specials. But the music here is pleasant to listen to. Except when Amy's friends play rock and roll.
While I had some trouble following what was going on, it appears Amy is 13 and the action at the movie's start is taking place in the early 1970s. We are shown relevant news stories just to drive home the point.
I wanted Joe to succeed in his efforts, and he seemed to be a really nice guy who cared about his daughter, but ultimately things weren't going to go his way.
Without knowing who she was, I immediately realized the actress playing Amy's grandmother was really talented. When I saw the credits, I understood. Glenn Close is one of the top actresses working today, and she consistently delivers here. She is definitely the standout performer. The character is loving but tough.
Another talented actor is Peter Dinklage. You look at how short he is and have certain expectations, but he has the talent and the voice of someone twice his size. It is a brief role as a man living in a rundown apartment because he cant afford better, but he takes it seriously. He makes the character likeable, so I wish there had been more to the role.
Elle Fanning does a good job as the daughter who wanted so much more from her father. It's a shame this is all based on reality because one wishes her life could have been better.
I liked Amy's boyfriend who had seizures. It's such a shame people weren't more understanding about his problems.
The movie is not a classic and it is by no means a family friendly feel-good film, but it is probably worth seeing.
Rent: Live (2019)
Not my taste, but lots of talent here
Without reading anything written about this since it aired, I will attempt to give my impressions. I saw a movie based on this musical which may have been different in that I recall the most familiar song being first (if I am remembering correctly). I remember almost nothing except that there were gay people and people with AIDS and people getting kicked out of their building. I did read a newspaper article before the Fox production aired.
So here's what I know. There is music for just about every taste here. I particularly liked the tango scene. And there were a few words or notes from Christmas songs several times when it was Christmas. Sadly, that was often followed by something unpleasant or offensive. I wish they had kept the religious holiday sacred. If they wanted to criticize the holiday, criticize the commercial celebration. But I get that they wanted to make the point that this is no way to observe Christmas, a time of year when the less fortunate should be treated better.
Not a lot of the music was my taste, but some of it was okay. I should also mention I don't have the high degree of acceptance for people who are different that this production would target, but I believe that it is wrong to mistreat them. Without regard for my preferences, the talent level of the singers, dancers and musicians was fantastic. Such high energy levels when the situation called for them, so much emotion when that was required.
I do question the attempts to try to sing everything when spoken dialogue would be better. That was one problem I had with "Jesus Christ Superstar". But eventually I realized there would be some lines spoken, and that worked better (this also happened with the other production).
And those sets! The start of this production made it look like a much smaller set would be used. In fact, this was done in a gigantic warehouse-type building. Those sets appeared and disappeared with such little effort. Or apparent effort. you know they worked hard to make it look easy.
And numerous groups of audience members all over the place. You have to wonder how they saw it all. Some action was behind some of them. They really seemed to be enjoying themselves. The camera focused once on just one girl with a great big smile.
And they got to participate a couple of times. It looked to me like they were holding flashlights with red lights. Another time they yelled "Boooo!" because that's what the situation called for, but I know they were enjoying what they were seeing. Actually, it may have been "Moooo!" because the girl was dressed like a cow and depicting a cow. And then there was the mosh pit. Were those really audience members? One of the cast landed on them and was passed around.
I lost track early of who was who and don't know who any of the actors were. Not really a problem, since the idea is the actors become the characters. I did read that the guy who was so fantastic as Judas in "Jesus Christ Superstar" was in this, and I had to guess who he was. He didn't have anything here to compare with that, but if I am correct, he did have one very emotional performance that was a highlight. Just not the highlight.
Two women were the standouts here, and one of them might actually have been a man. I don't even remember for certain which one it was, but one of the women was incredible as a singer. And so flexible as a dancer!
I wanted these characters to succeed in their lives. Naturally I was going to be disappointed in what happened to some of them. That's life. The villain, though, was not truly a villain, and you could feel some sympathy for him.
Not all of this production was sad. we got to laugh a number of times and that made it more enjoyable for me.
During one commercial break the cast explained to us that we were not seeing the show live, but that it was done on January 26, and that one cast member broke his leg. I couldn't tell you who or how it happened. Whatever happened, we naturally didn't see it in what aired. We were also told the finale would air live, with original cast members. And what a finale it was! One woman was amazing.
I don't think I have to say this is not warm and fuzzy family fare like some of the other live (or "live") productions on NBC and Fox. We were warned. Viewer discretion advised! But of course nothing that wouldn't normally air on network TV, at least without a V-chip rating that lets you know they mean business. But the writers had many important points to make, and these couldn't be made effectively without content that would shock, although more than 20 years later, and nearly 30 years after the time when production was set. it's not all that shocking any more.
And it was pretty obvious how many years ago this was set. I liked the giant cell phones. There was no Internet, or at least only geeks used it.
Sadly, I'm not sure tolerance is any higher, although AIDS seems to be more under control and not so much of a death sentence. But they did drive home the sadness of being a part of this world where relationships were quite risky. They did not shy away from the emotions.
This is a worthy effort.
Christmas Miracle (2012)
Inspiring but somewhat depressing
In Summit View (no state mentioned but one character is a Columbia student) Joseph and Mary are separated after 15 years of marriage. They have an autistic son Matt, whose behavior does not seem that out of the ordinary; he is also quite intelligent. Joseph spends too much time at his job as a contractor, and Mary feels he is neglecting the family. Matt really wants his father to come home for Christmas.
James Mason (not the J.K. Simmons of Latin class) was a pastor. He lost his wife when she gave birth to a son who also died. Flashbacks show him preaching to a congregation that grows smaller and smaller.
Darryl was a medical student until his learning disability forced him to quit. He used to direct a choir and still plays guitar. When asked if he can sing, he says he sings in the shower and on Sunday, and later says he's no Johnny Cash. He's right. More like Garth Brooks or Brad Paisley.
Drake and Madeleine are lost because Madeleine is so demanding and her husband took a wrong turn. Now it's snowing and they're out in the middle of nowhere. Madeleine is always complaining about something. She wants the best of everything and her husband has money. Actually, first impressions can be deceiving.
Nick and Christy are idealistic newlyweds. He thinks she's too trusting and she thinks she should be nice to everyone. At first, though, they can't imagine they would ever fight.
Joseph is the first to encounter the fallen tree blocking the road. The snow is really coming down and one by one, everyone is stuck and there's apparently no way to get help on Christmas Eve, although cell phones do work, at first. That's how Joseph lets the family know what has happened.
It just so happens that Joseph's former church is walking distance from where the group is stranded. When their pastor died, attendance began to decline and eventually, the church closed its doors. It wasn't all that long ago because Matt remembers going to that church. The group takes shelter and takes advantage of whatever the church has to offer, which isn't much. There are a few pews, candles, and a wood stove.
Mary leaves Matt with baby sitter Jennifer and heads for the church in a new SUV that can handle anything, with food and supplies. But she soon gets stranded herself, so what she brought will have to help the group make it until they get rescued.
Everyone in the group has one or more problems that need solving. So as they help each other survive the night, they also help to change each other's lives. And there is one more new crisis to provide us with even more excitement.
The ending is amazing, and a nice reward for all the suffering we were put through to get to this point.
I learned recently there are Lifetime Christmas movies and Hallmark Christmas movies. I've known both channels had these movies but have never wanted to spend that much money for cable, but I now realize the difference is Hallmark has light, corny, humorous and overly sweet movies, and Lifetime has challenging dramas. This movie falls into the Lifetime category, though we do get to laugh from time to time.
The acting is so-so but occasionally rises to a level making the movie worthwhile. There's a formula here but it's an enjoyable formula, when it's not really depressing.
Some people think a white Christmas is romantic. Seeing this makes me not want to associate Christmas with snow because it's just so unpleasant, and yet the results are worth it.
Is it a family film? Of course. It may be a little intense for the youngest or more easily disturbed kids, but I don't think there's really anything offensive here.
I think it's worth seeing.
The Swan Princess Christmas (2012)
Enjoyable family fantasy, maybe a little scary
Lord Rogers introduces this animated film by explaining the customs of his kingdom, and by telling us he has invented the light bulb. Curiously, if this is how behind the times they are, how can expressions like "got your back" be explained? Or light sabers from "Star Wars"?
Princess Odette just lost her father and she is spending Christmas in a different kingdom with Prince Derek. They travel with a puffin named Puffin, a turtle named Speed who has Eeyore's personality, and a frog with a German accent named Jean-Bob who wants to be kissed by a princess and turn into a prince. He also hates Christmas.
And he's not the only one. The ghost of Rothbart, who we can hear but not see, wants Number 9, a tuxedo cat who has lived 8 or his 9 lives. to do what is necessary to bring him back. Since Derek killed Rothbart, he must be the one to open a trunk that will restore certain abilities to Rothbart and allow him to eventually come back to life. Number 9 experiences a number of comic misadventures in the process of getting this done, and gives us a lot of attitude and sarcasm. Rothbart goes back on his word several times but eventually has to give in when Number 9 has the advantage.
Meanwhile, Chamberlain blows his bugle to announce the arrival of the young couple. He and Bridget like each other. Bridget's command of the English language is a combination of Cookie Monster and the stereotypical immigrant servants so often seen on TV and in the movies when such a thing was acceptable. She is simply adorable.
Queen Uberta welcomes Odette and immediately becomes very demanding, apologizing quickly each time she does. It is Ornament Day, when the official Christmas tree is decorated with ornaments made to represent good deeds, depicted as in a painting or photograph.
Derek goes out in the woods with Bromley and encounters danger from snow leopards and Number 9 (who isn't dangerous at all).
Uberta, Lord Rogers and Odette make preparations for Christmas. When Rothbart gets his powers, his true intention is revealed. He wants to destroy Christmas! The first step: change people's behavior.
So will Rothbart succeed? What will bring back the magic of Christmas if he does?
The name of this movie suggests an overly sweet holiday story. In fact, this is quite complicated with the constant threat of danger, when it isn't sweet. There is a Swan Princess but I can't explain that without spoilers. Mostly it is the theme for the celebration desired by Queen Uberta.
The animation is most quite good, and sometimes backgrounds are very realistic. Characters' personalities are captured very effectively. This is especially true of the beautiful and kind Odette. I did notice one problem. It was very obvious to me that the leopards were added to the background art later.
As with most holiday movies of this type, there is lots of comedy and silliness. But most of the characters are very well acted. Lord Rogers has a sophisticated British accent and an almost Shakespearean delivery right from the opening scenes. Some characters sound American. Rothbart's early scenes are on the chilling side. The animals would be the most appealing to the kids.
Is this appropriate for children? Well, how could it not be? But there was a TV-PG rating shown at the beginning (though the official listings said G). Perhaps some of the scenes involving Rothbart are a little scary for the younger ones. And some of his evil deeds are quite upsetting, but you just know things will turn out all right in this type of movie. But I don't see this as anything more than a charming family film.
Odette loves this time of year, and especially the great songs. Yes, it would have been nice to hear some good music. The background instrumentals are pleasant and include some familiar favorites. But when songs have words, even the traditional ones don't sound so traditional. No, I take that back. Those weren't so bad, though one example is "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" where one singer accuses another of being flat. How is that possible with auto-tune? Even worse, in a world without electric lights, how does one explain the unspeakable offense to the great hymns? Or even worse, new songs that may have been written for this movie which sound appalling? But just in case I am the only one evaluating the songs, this is what kids these days think music sounds like. I'm sure it's quite good, as is everything else about this movie. The singers are quite talented.
Another positive about this movie: I mentioned the great hymns. There is, in fact, a message of "Jesus is the reason for the season " (the theme of one of those new songs), something many Christmas movies like this don't have.
And Odette does a good deed for one particular family every year. It was one of the things she enjoyed about being with her family, and a tradition she wanted to continue. They don't know who is helping them, and it's really quite touching.
A classic? I'm not sure, but it's worth seeing.
The Investigator (2013)
Inspiring, challenging, reflects Christian values eventually
In this fact-based story, two brothers throw a baseball to each other and tease each other. One supports the Mets; the other support the Yankees. 30 years later, the boys have grown up and still support the same baseball teams. James has been a police detective for 20 years and will soon be eligible to retire. He has a son and his wife is pregnant. His brother Paul is a successful actor (James is based on the brother of Ray Romano). We see Paul and the parents gather at James' house for Easter.
Something terrible happens and James is told he will retire, or else. And the news just gets worse. All these events in James' life cause him to lose faith. But Paul has a solution. His manager's son goes to a Christian school whose baseball coach has had to quit because of serious health problems.
James interviews with the principal, who is impressed enough to hire him. The coach also taught American government but James has never taught. That's okay; there's only one quarter left. James can teach the class about criminal justice. If he does well in both jobs, he may get to come back next year.
James' first day doesn't go very well. Dillon, a star football player, does not believe the rules apply to him. So he is being disrespectful to the nerdy science teacher Mr. Genaro. James punishes Dillon (who is in his class) by taking away his cell phone. He is soon set straight by Coach Howard and by the principal.
James' problems continue as he meets the baseball team. They are not very good, and baseball gets no respect. Football is what brings in the big money from boosters. Some of the players don't respect James, but he informs them that will change. Genaro becomes his assistant.
When the time comes to play their first game, one of the best players refuses to listen to the coach and finds himself benched, warned that if it happens again, he won't play. James also puts in the team's worst player. Things are not going well.
Add to that the fact the former cop finds out about a scandal and has to investigate. If he thinks people hated him before, just wait.
Eventually, at the very least, a couple of athletes who weren't showing James respect realize they need to, and something happens you might not have expected.
In the classroom, James starts out teaching the kids about his work. Then he returns to what the class is supposed to be by explaining to the students how to study reliable sources and investigate what really happened in history. One student wonders whether Oswald really shot JFK. Later, the results of the scandal cause some students to question their faith. Other students don't believe, period. James is asked to explain why they should believe. The result is an investigation of whether Jesus really existed, and whether he died and rose from the dead.
Meanwhile, James is still having problems with his baseball team. Will they turn things around and win the championship?
This is not a squeaky clean G-rated family film. It had a TV-14 rating when I saw it, and a symbol in the end credits show it to be appropriate for viewers over the age of 12. While it teaches Christian values, it also has plenty of content that shows people not living by those values. Remember, something happened that forced James to retire, and in flashbacks, we see more of what made James' job difficult.
About halfway through the movie, though, if one were to investigate whether James was teaching at a Christian school, the facts shown in the movie up to that point would not prove it.
Wade Williams does a fine job of acting. He demands respect and obedience, but he shows that he cares. And James is far from perfect. This is more of a challenge than being the ideal teacher and coach.
Kevin White also does a good job, showing Genaro to be much more than a nerd. Mostly, though, he is still funny.
Several of the actors playing baseball players also do a good job.
I also want to single out the performance of the announcer at the last game shown in the movie. He seems biased toward the other team but has a lot of enthusiasm.
This is a worthwhile effort and a film which inspires and challenges.
Christina's House (2000)
Pretty good thriller, exciting toward end
A pretty and perky teenage girl comes to the door of a big spooky house selling cookies. More about her later.
Christina is almost 17 and not entirely happy with her life. Her mom is sick in a hospital of some kind and Christina, her construction worker father and her 14-year-old brother Bobby have moved into a big spooky house (the same one?) to be close by. It's more than just Christina being a moody teenager, though that's part of it. This is a small town in Washington state far away from the big city. Christina can't hang out with the friends after school because she has to watch Bobby, and it is up to her to make supper for the family and do chores.
The house makes a lot of noise, like someone is there. Part of the problem could be rats. Howie has been hired to make repairs, and he comes around from time to time. He also seems to like Christina. This is a problem because Eddy also likes Christina. And Eddy's behavior is occasionally reckless.
A creepy sheriff is all the time showing up. A girl is missing. And there are reasons to think someone or something in Christina's house is somehow involved. One day Christina and her best friend Karen find a body in a ditch.
Weird things keep happening. Items and food appear and disappear mysteriously, and there are more of those noises. Christina's father seems attracted to his daughter, possibly because he doesn't have his wife. He is demanding but not quite abusive.
Christina does visit her mother once and the mom says some weird things. Maybe she is somehow involved in the creepy stuff?
And things eventually go from weird to terrifying. We're never quite sure who could be causing the problems until the exciting final scenes.
This isn't a great horror movie, but it does have something to offer, for those not expecting a classic.
It's not too violent to begin with. As a matter of fact, the first violent scene looks more like an explanation of how masters such as the Three Stooges made their brand of slapstick work without anyone actually getting hurt. It's just that it's not very convincing. I thought maybe the scene was supposed to be funny and that maybe the entire movie would be that way. But there's not that much comedy here, although there are a few laughs.
Violence does happen from time to time but it's not too bad. Toward the end, the movie does get quite bloody, including dead bodies. I found some of the final scenes quite disturbing and wondered how I would get over what I just saw.
Allison Lange is quite pretty with long blonde hair and wears a lot of revealing outfits. That's the primary appeal of the movie for me. She shows talent from time to time but isn't quite consistent. When it really counts, she comes through, and she shows a lot of courage and determination when things get really bad, after playing the screaming damsel in distress for a while.
Those who like mechanical stuff such as Rube Goldberg contraptions likely will be impressed at some of what happens toward the end. Actually, I've seen better in other movies, but it's interesting.
This doesn't really mean anything., but three of the movie's characters look familiar to me. I thought Eddy was Adam Samberg. The sheriff, when wearing sunglasses, reminded me of Richard Belzer's Detective Munch. And Christina's mom's nurse looked like Kara on "Supergirl", with the glasses.
Not a classic, but it fits the formula.
"Fatal Attraction" goes to college, doesn't quite make the grade
Doug has several decisions to make. He is good enough at baseball to make the pros, but he needs a real education to have something to fall back on. He is studying sports medicine and Melissa, a spoiled rich girl who he happens to meet at a party, turns out to be the teaching assistant in a class he has to take. And she ends up tutoring him. And more.
Doug and Melissa get a little too close and that could affect his relationship with Laura, an aspiring journalist who has been accepted to Stanford. That's a long way from wherever Doug's university is.
Early in the movie, we saw Doug almost do something very inappropriate with Laura in the college library. Later, Doug tries to make it work with Laura, but she is feeling ignored and there's a chance things might not work out. But Laura is quite reasonable in her concerns. Melissa won't accept that she can't have Doug and she turns into a stalker. In fact, her behavior turns very disturbing. Doug starts getting distracted and that could affect his future.
Doug lost his father and his mother is still having a hard time getting over the loss. Melissa had a much more complicated relationship with her allegedly abusive parents. Is there something we're not seeing? Or are we seeing something that's just not there?
Laura puts her investigative skills to work, but both she and Doug's mother may be in danger.
And just when you think the Melissa problem has been solved ... surprise!
I knew nothing about this movie before I saw it, but it didn't take long for me to think of "Fatal Attraction", which was quite disturbing but better executed.
Yes, this is kind of scary, but it's not a classic movie or anything like that. In fact, it borders on comedy, mainly early.
I don't recall any outstanding performances, but the quality of this movie depends a lot on Molly Ringwald. She's quite good-looking and delivers a fine performance when she is acting normal. She's just a little too normal at times, though. I am reminded of someone's comment about Anthony Hopkins in "Silence of the Lambs". After all those weirdos, we see this calm man also in a cage. And THAT'S scary. So one possible interpretation is that Ringwald is too calm and therefore scary because you know she should be more disturbing. And it could also be mediocre acting. One thing is certain, though. When she looks at Doug or anyone else disapprovingly, she is quite intimidating.
This isn't excessively violent but there is some blood, and one really disturbing scene. I don't recommend this as family viewing.
Laura is pretty but I found the scene where she got out of bed in just a t-shirt and underwear disappointing.
Not a great movie, but an opportunity to see the cut Molly Ringwald not so cute.
Enjoyable to watch, mainly for Wilson, if somewhat naughty
Grey College English professor Charlie is being considered for tenure. he is well-liked by his students and does a good job in the classroom, but he can't get anything published. But let's back up eight months.
Jay is an expert on Bigfoot. Or thinks he is. He has evidence of the creature. Or thinks he does. The anthrolopology professor is rejected for tenure, minutes after Steve Kim was approved. His response is to toilet paper someone's house. I won't say who, but it's funny.
Charlie is reasonably happy with his life, wishing he could do better; Grey is apparently not a prestigious school despite its gorgeous architecture. His sister Margaret, however, is always harassing him about his lack of concern for their father William, a retired Princeton professor in assisted living. There is nothing obviously wrong with William and he hates where he is. He is still intelligent and demanding, and apparently not happy with his son's lack of career success. Charlie neither visits enough nor helps with the cost, though you have to believe with his current career Margaret is expecting too much of him. William does enjoy calling in to fund-raisers for PBS stations, not intending to contribute but just wanting someone to talk to. Charlie tries doing the same thing and meets Beth, who is likable and cute. Yes, something similar to a romance does develop between them. I'll let you find out just what. It's both weird and funny.
Charlie finds his efforts to get approved for tenure will be more difficult than he thought. His female department head (not attractive) dislikes him for reasons that aren't quite clear. Elaine is a cute new professor hired from Yale. She is likable and gets published in prestigious journals. She's not great in the classroom, which is encouraging for Charlie. However, Charlie does want to help her and in the process we see potential for a romance to develop. Meanwhile, since Elaine volunteered to be faculty advisor to the poetry club after Charlie turned down Stan's request to do so, Charlie and Stan start a second poetry club, allowing more "adult" material. Jay, not one to follow rules, tries to sabotage Elaine's efforts to succeed.
Jay gets Charlie to come along to a presentation where the enthusiastic Dave wants them to sell a product which cannot be named on broadcast TV. This looks like a pyramid scheme. When I saw the movie, part of the sign for the presentation was blurry, and every time the product name was mentioned it was bleeped. Let's just say it helps men who are having trouble with women. Later, this product is the subject of a hilarious scene in ... I'd better let you find out.
One more problem for Charlie: Robin likes him--I mean, really likes him--and wants a relationship which would clearly be inappropriate.
So, will Charlie get tenure? Will he find romance with one of the women? Will William ever be happy? Will Jay find Bigfoot?
Luke Wilson does a very good job here. He makes us like him and we want him to succeed in all areas of his life. That seems to be the main point of the movie and the main reason to enjoy it.
I know David Koechner from several roles, but mainly as the likable loser on "Superior Donuts". Here, he is a loser, but I wouldn't say likable. I suppose we want him to succeed but almost know for certain he never will.
Gretchen Mol is adorable and intelligent, and while her character's failure would be good for Charlie, she just makes Elaine too nice and pleasant for us to really want that. Seeing her and Wilson together is one of the best things about the movie.
Sasha Alexander is nothing but unpleasant. That's it. Margaret has no redeeming qualities except she's a looker. That's how Jay described Elaine, but I didn't see it myself.
Bob Gunton does a good job (though there are no challenges connected with his character's apparent problems) and I found myself wanting the film to focus more on him and the relationship between William and Charlie. I didn't care if the movie wasn't always funny.
William Bogert as the dean is sort of the absent-minded professor and makes us sort of like him, though not always.
The actors playing three of the students also made us like them. Even Ben, sort of the class clown, who doesn't have nearly enough lines.
Some of the music is classical and nice to listen to. But I particularly liked the "a capella" sound that was so much a part of the background music of the TV series "Glee" and a big part of the "Pitch Perfect" movies. This style was played at the movie's start.
Is this family friendly? I think that has already been established. Also, I have reason to suspect the F-word was used a lot. Cleaned up for TV, it's not really too bad.
I enjoyed this, though I have seen better.
Van Wilder: Freshman Year (2009)
Unbelievably raunchy but hilarious at times
Is this appropriate family viewing? I'm old enough to be the grandfather of many of the characters and I'm not old enough to watch it. I'm referring to the cleaned up version for broadcast TV. Which really wasn't cleaned up enough, but I don't think such a thing was possible. It was pretty obvious where the F-word was used in many cases even though I couldn't hear it, but if my guesses about where content was removed and what was removed are correct, the great Betty White is not old enough to watch this movie. I can't even imagine what some of the content taken out of this might have been.
With that out of the way, I found many of the gags hilarious.
Jonathan Bennett did a very good job (considering the material) as our hero. he made us like him and care what happened to him.
Kristin Cavallari also did a very good job. Not only very good looking, but intelligent as well. Did I mention good looking? And the camera made sure to focus on just what looked good about her.
And speaking of good-looking girls, wow! They made sure to show us as many bikinis as possible. If there was actual nudity, I obviously didn't get to see it because it was TV.
Sure, there is a formula here, but it's a great formula. What these guys and girls did to get even with the villains was amazing and took a lot of intelligence. Really.
If you like juvenile humor that is adult because kids aren't old enough to watch it, and you're not expecting Oscar, you just may enjoy this.
About Fifty (2011)
The guys didn't appeal to me unless they were with the girls
In Los Angeles, Adam is 52 years old and an unemployed commercial editor. He is separated from wife Erin and they share custody of Fred. Fred is a dog. You need to stay for the end of the credits for the message from the American Humane Association. Adam keeps in touch with his father (who we never see) by phone since they live so far apart. Adam is writing a movie but all he has so far is "Fade in".
John has some sort of health problem because we see him at the doctor early in the movie. Like Adam, he doesn't like getting old. Jessica is his pretty boss and apparently his ex as well. Jessica has to inform him he lost a job to a young cool dude. John dates Becca, a dental hygienist, who brings something home from work that leads to an inappropriate sexual experience involving being tied up with dental floss. She has a friend Michelle who John thinks might be right for Adam.
The guys need to enjoy some time together so they go to Palm Springs to play golf.
While there, the guys meet two older women. One is a little too confident, but then she falls apart. neither one is quite right.
Then the guys may have gotten lucky. While in a store buying golf equipment, Adam is with Larry who reminds me of Tim Conway but is not nearly as talented. And not very nice. John meets Alix, who is blonde, cute, intelligent and half his age. She invites John and Adam to a house belonging to her uncle, where she lives with Kate, a college freshman who is obsessed with studying, unwilling to socialize, and attractive. There is one more thing you need to know about Kate, but it's funnier if you find out the way I did (and don't look at her name in the credits first or you'll know).
So will the guys finally be with the right women? It is uncertain but Adam is not yet willing to leave Erin. He should, because she is unpleasant in all her scenes. But you'll just have to wait and see what happens. Meanwhile, John continues to have one health problem after another. Some are funny, and some are not. Just like the various scenes in the movie.
I get the impression this was a quality production, though the signs of being low-budget are there. Many people are thanked at the end and the stars wrote and produced. However, I just found most of the scenes with the two men alone unpleasant. Some scenes with physical comedy were better. When one of the men was with someone else, usually a woman, or they are both with women, I was a lot happier. Actually, it was just the two women. I disliked the rest of the women, but that doesn't meant they weren't good.
The women playing Alix and Kate were really good. The actress playing Kate has had many roles which I enjoyed her in. And she was good here too. Alix doesn't really try to be sexy except in one scene (and she's quite good at that) but it's not exactly what you might think.
I liked some of the music. I particularly liked what I believe to be ukulele. At first I thought it was a guitar. The song is played at the beginning and in at least one other scene. I think I remember another scene with acoustic guitar and standup bass. Ironically, it was in a scene with Alex and her coed roommate that I heard another song I liked. There was one song that started out smooth jazz, though it ended up having more of a rock sound I didn't like. And despite the ages of these men (they were the same age I was when the movie was made), there was plenty of rock music I didn't care for.
I saw this movie after it was cleaned up for TV. I wouldn't recommend it for kids even then.
You might like it if you are a guy getting older.
Dawn Rider (2012)
You never know who are the good guys and who are the bad guys
In 1883 in Dakota Territory, a bounty hunter named Cochrane is chasing after Cincinnati John Mason ("I've never been to Cincinnati", Mason frequently tells people). We later learn three men died because of him and while they might not have had high moral standards, Cochrane says, "The law is the law." Mason was also connected with the death of a prisoner in Mexico whose family wanted justice; someone was told to release one or the other, and Mason was released. Mason may have killed people for The Pinkertons. He does admit to having been a Texas ranger.
A gang wearing masks robs the mail in Wyoming and several people on both sides are shot.
At a card game in Montana, Mason has three aces while the other man has three kings. I'm not clear on who was cheating but a number of guns are drawn and Mason needs to get out of town. He meets Ben McClure at a campfire.
In Promise, Wyoming, Mason meets up with his father who is not happy to see him. He also meets up with Alice who is attractive, intelligent and tough, and very happy to see him. However, Ben McClure wants to marry her. This becomes a problem later. Alice seems to be the closest thing Promise has to a doctor, though maybe we just don't see the doctor in the movie.
Alice's brother Rodd is about to lose the family ranch, and he is prepared to do anything. He even considers the ranch more important than his sister. Rodd needs $5000, and money like that is hard to get legally. Mason says he doesn't do that any more.
The masked gang shows up again. At least I assume it is them. They wear the same masks. The only way to be sure is that some, or maybe all, have double X on their shoulder. We are told this is the first time someone has died.
There are railway workers who are getting paid more now than they used to. Someone has to deliver the money, and Ben and Mason volunteer to do the job at different times. Each time there is a problem. We can't really be sure what Mason's intentions are. Meanwhile, Cochrane finally catches up with Mason.
This is a standard Western, with nothing particularly special except that it's never clear just who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. There's lots of fightin' and shootin' and not too much blood. Several people die but most of them we didn't really know.
Donald Sutherland gives one of the standout performances, but doesn't he always?
Jill Hennessy also does a great job.
This was cleaned up for TV. One word network TV doesn't tend to allow did slip through, but a number of other words got bleeped. A lot of them. Cleaned up, it's probably no worse than most Westerns, but not as clean as the family-friendly Westerns of the distant past.
I just watched this because it was on. You might like it if you like Westerns.
Big Bad Wolf (2006)
Some good acting, but still corny otherwise
Scott, Mitch, Charlie and another man are on a hunting trip. Mitch and Charlie get separated from the others. Something grabs one of the men and he is not seen again. Then Scott is grabbed and we see this terrible creature who doesn't quite look like a wolf, or anything else that exists in nature. Charlie arrives but can't save his friend.
Seven years later Mitch is married to Scott's widow Gwen. he is not nice, but doesn't quite qualify as abusive. Gwen's son Derek doesn't accept him as his father. Derek is pledging a college fraternity, and to impress two of the members, he steals the keys to Mitch's cabin in the woods. The other two guys have brought girls, and Derek likes Sam, a biker chick who works in a garage. Sam has an attitude and doesn't take pleasure in spending time with Muffy, Brittany, Biff and Chad (their names are actually Cassie, Melissa, Alex and Jason). It's hard to believe a nice guy Like Derek would like her. Actually, Sam is quite likeable even if she has an edge.
The group get lost and asks a man whose truck broke down for help. The guys are eager to help fix the truck but only Sam can actually get it done. But the man refuses at first to give the kids any advice other than turn around and go back. He finally gives in, and the kids arrive at the cabin and have a great time. Cassie has nasty things to say about Alex and they get the bedroom, apparently so they can do what she was talking about. We do get to see her in her underwear before ... you know what will happen. Just not when or how many. And the monster says things like, "Little pig, little pig, let me in!"
Derek and Sam are on the news and are being hounded by journalists. The funniest group of reporters are the ones from the university, who want to make a tribute to the deceased, and they harass the kids several times before becoming more important to the plot.
Charlie has avoided the family since the earlier incident, but he has a theory. So do Derek and Sam. Charlie secretly meets with the kids and they all investigate the theory, hoping to stop the monster.
We do get to meet the monster when he is human. We see signs he is not who we think he is, and ... let me put it this way. You wouldn't like him when he's angry. But he can normally control himself except during a full moon, which there was when the men were hunting, and when the kids were at the cabin.
The ending is quite exciting. And ridiculous. Count Basie would be proud.
If you are looking for a good horror movie, this might not be it. This might be one of those movies that is so bad it's good. But maybe not, since some of the acting is quite good. I found the mystery interesting and many of the characters and situations entertaining.
If anyone can be called a good actor in this film, it is Kimberly J. Brown as Sam. Despite her attitude, she's quite easy to like most of the time, and when she has to in order to get information, she can be quite charming.
Another good actor is the one who plays the monster, even when he is human. As the monster, he is actually funny, if you like a sick sense of humor. I don't. I think the credits give away who the actor is, but keep in mind sometimes actors play more than one part. Perhaps Mitch has a twin brother or something. A lot of people are shown in the credits as being responsible for the great job of making Richard Tyson look so good.
This movie was cleaned up for TV when I saw it. There seemed to be a lot of bad language, and there were several scenes where something was blurry and red. The violence here is often implied but not for the squeamish. And lots of innocent people don't make it, though if you don't like them, that might not be so bad.
I'm not a horror movie fan, but there was a lot for me to like here.
Dutch Kills (2015)
Pretty good, I guess, if you want to root for the bad guys
Dutch Kills is a street in New York City, as we see in one of the early scenes.
Ash is out of prison. Tony the Bartender is ready to take him in and give him anything he needs. I have to assume since there was a parole officer in the credits that he is the voice telling Ashley all the things that he could do wrong which will send him right back to prison.
Valentino (or Val) was in prison but he has been out for a while. He loses his job at a garage because there's not enough work for two people. As hard as she works, his sister Gina (who has a young daughter Janelle) is in debt to Lou and if Valentino doesn't do a job for Lou with his friends, Lou will find another way to collect.
Ash is one of the friends that Val asks to help him with this job. There is also Cal, who plays guitar on the street for whatever people will put in his cup. And Daisy also joins the group.
Lou is a drug dealer, among other things, and in addition to threatening people who owe him money, he owes money to someone whose goons beat him up to show she means business. There is one more detail you need to know about Lou, but it's better if you find out the way I did.
Val starts dating his pretty neighbor Vane (sounds like Bonnie to me). Ash also has a romantic relationship with Daisy.
There are two bars. Tony's is dark and depressing but the people are friendly. Tony is a great guy with a definite Irish accent. Charlie's looks good but people get threatened and beat up there. Plus one room apparently had Pol Pot do the designing.
One job isn't enough for Lou. He wants the group to do another job, and once again, he shows he means business.
This is a depressing movie. There are a few laughs, especially from Daisy's mom in one scene, but not enough.
One positive feature of the movie is Val. Sure, he has committed some crimes and is forced to do so here, but he's a good guy. He's enjoyable to watch and you want to root for him.
Lou has few redeeming qualities but the actor playing him does a good job.
Ash is harder to like but I guess we want to see him succeed as well.
This is not family friendly. So many words are bleeped out that in some scenes there's not a whole lot left to explain what's going on. But I suppose it's not excessively violent.
If you like this sort of thing, I suppose this is a good movie.
Well done dark comedy turns into disturbing thriller
Ansel is giving a presentation about cults at a hotel. At the start of the movie, He believes he is entitled to a free meal in exchange for the presentation, but his scam doesn't work. Also, he is being kicked out of the hotel because the free room he was promised was just for one night, and yet he still has to give the presentation. This means staying in his car once the presentation is over.
Paul and Evelyn attend the presentation. Knowing Ansel is an expert on cults, they ask him to get their daughter Claire out of a cult. In exchange for a free meal, he listens, but of course it will cost them thousands of dollars for him to do his job, and even then there is no guarantee. Meanwhile, photographer Terry, who is his business manager, expects Ansel to pay him a lot of money which he owes. Mick, who has a really sophisticated accent and an uppity personality, is sent to Ansel with a document detailing exactly what Ansel must do. Ansel's money problems stem from his divorce, in which the ex got the proceeds from his first book. His second book is not selling,
Ansel hires goons to find and kidnap Claire. She is taken to a motel where Paul and Evelyn are in the next room, and so the process begins. Claire is unaware her parents are next door, but Ansel assures her he is his friend and she won't be hurt by his goons as long as she cooperates. With her newfound religious faith, Claire is able to resist demands for her to go back to her old life. She refuses to be called Claire as that is just the person she was before and the other person occupying her body. Time, the physical body, gender and other concepts have become meaningless. However, Ansel comes across as being like a psychologist who is only trying to understand his patient. It's not like what I would believe "deprogramming" to be. And while he could be taking advantage of her, as her parents are afraid he is, he is respectful.
Eventually, Claire discovers her parents are in the next room, and they have brought her clothes which she is reluctant to wear because they are her old life (I question those short shorts, given how conservative her father is, but she does look good in them). She is happy to see her parents but protests when she is called "Claire". Still, signs are there that Claire may come back to her old life.
With Terry still demanding his money, Ansel asks Paul for half his fee. Paul protests, but Ansel doesn't want to be visited by Terry's goons, and he delivers the money to Terry, who seems nice but shows another side entirely. Meanwhile, things don't go as planned back at the motel. So what we have to ask is whether Ansel will be able to return Claire to her old life. Will Ansel succeed in his life? Will he at least be able to pay Terry?
I couldn't say what happens at the end if I wanted. Well, I could, but I couldn't explain it.
The movie may have been made in 2014, but the TVs in the motel have channel changers that go "clunk, clunk, clunk". I miss those. In this digital era, those would not be possible. Also, somehow, the TV plays a VHS tape. I didn't see the VCR, but we see a tape of a TV episode where Ansel takes advantage of a victim of a cult, making money and getting famous by showing the world her emotions.
This is a very complicated movie. The summary that came with my TiVo listings called it "drama, thriller, suspense". They forgot comedy. At least for the movie's first half, it is quite obvious that we are supposed to laugh, even though the humor is quite dark and disturbing. Ansel's goons are funny. Well, one of them, anyway. Leland Orser is definitely funny, but comes across as quite intelligent when he finally shows he knows what he is doing. Mostly Ansel is a moron, but Orser , on the other hand, really knows what he is doing even then.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who has done a great job in several roles where I have seen her, does a fantastic job here. No, she's not really funny in most scenes (though she is when she gets flirty), but she doesn't have to be. I would call her scared and submissive in the early scenes, but there is a strength and confidence that come through, based on her faith in this quirky religion. Later on she is the one who is clearly strong and confident, in the sense we usually see these qualities, and she seems to be examining and treating Ansel, as if she is the psychiatrist and he is the patient. In a more popular movie, such a performance might get an Oscar nomination. The parents are pretty much what one would expect. Once he feels he is being taken advantage of, the father becomes very demanding and threatening. The mother is more pleasant. It's not family friendly and it wouldn't be expected to be, but aside from a few bleeped words and one entire scene where the sound goes out, I guess it's not so bad.
It is a worthy effort.
Swinging with the Finkels (2011)
Title is misleading, but still worthwhile
In London, Ellie and Alvin have been married nine years and are bored. Things could be worse, though. Their friends Peter and Janet have two kids and their sex life is nearly non-existent. His sex life is another matter, but that's another issue we'll deal with later.
Co-workers of both Ellie and Alvin make suggestions about what to do to spice up the marriage. Ellie seems to be a fashion designer (very nice logo) and Alvin works with blueprints (probably an architect). One idea is swapping with another couple, which leads to some laughs. Ellie puts an ad on a web site. We meet some of the more colorful couples who are being considered (and stay around for the credits, because some of the funniest and naughtiest material from them is still to come). One couple is selected, and things go pretty well at first. Once a couple is selected, the process all seems perfectly innocent and not dirty at all. But ultimately the plan is not successful, and the rest of the movie is about whether Ellie and Alvin will even stay together, as well as the breakup of Peter and Janet's marriage over his cheating. By the end of the movie, there is hope for at least one and possibly both of the couples.
I hesitate to call this a straight comedy but there are plenty of laughs. It's just that on my TiVo this was identified only as "romance, comedy". It is my opinion that mainly in the second half, this becomes more of a "comedy-drama". But it is entertaining and intelligent nevertheless. It's not constant laugh out loud zaniness.
Mandy Moore is not beautiful but attractive and likeable, and certainly smart and capable of speaking her mind.
Jerry Stiller stands out in a few scenes as Ellie's grandfather. He is a nearly perfect grumpy old man but seems happy with his longtime wife. I don't know who Beverley Klein is but she seems likeable enough. Both are presented with a nasty surprise when they make a surprise visit.
Melissa George does a great job too. Not the most likeable character, but she effectively shows us frustration. I will say this. Janet is not that pretty during most of the movie but she is just plain hot, with gorgeous hair and gorgeous everything else. toward movie's end.
I don't remember his name, but Ellie's gay co-worker also stands out.
Another standout actor does nails and is Asian. I don't remember her name, and she did have only two lines (in different scenes), but she made the most of them. Elizabeth Tan is listed in the credits as "pedicurist", so that must be her
What I really liked about this movie was the music. There are a couple of classical works, but most of the music is jazz, and the good kind of jazz. Not smooth jazz, and not the intellectual, depressing Miles Davis type of jazz either. Fun music that makes me think of Ed Sullivan. And of course the pleasant background music so many movies have. There are also a couple of vocal "standards", really nice music that mature people enjoyed in the 60s while the kids were shocking their parents by blasting this evil rock and roll. One of those accompanies one of the most enjoyable sequences, with flashbacks of Ellie and Alvin meeting in college and the early stages of their relationship, followed by Ellie looking at wedding pictures.
And there is also "music" that reminds me of the green truck that wakes me on Thursdays. In the bar when Ellie's co-worker and his husband (he's quite a character too) explain "swinging", and Ellie's fashion show. Other than the music, that's pretty impressive, and the "music" is appropriate, I guess. Another scene has Peter playing a video game with heavy metal.
Is this family friendly? Given the subject matter, do you even have to ask? Especially when the couples are being interviewed. Once the one couple is selected, it's done quite tastefully, but overall, so many words had to be bleeped for broadcast TV that some scenes make no sense at all.
Overall, it's a pretty enjoyable experience.
Shark Lake (2015)
Not a classic but not too bad, not scary
In Alpine Lake, Nevada, two sheriff's deputies go to a house on the lake and find numerous animals, and a cute 3-year-old girl. The cops chase Clint, who is in a van, and he is sent to prison. There is no one to pick up Carly, so she will go to Child Services.
Five years later, Meredith, one of the deputies that discovered Carly, is the girl's mother. Apparently she adopted the girl, but the details are never mentioned. Carly isn't quite as cute any more, but she is cute later, in an edgy way. Meredith is such a good mother, and she really cares about Carly. And her mother is there to help. Clint is out of prison and wants visitation. Meredith has no intention of letting that happen. Also, Don's goons visit Clint at his lake house demanding that he come back to work. Despite having guns, the goons get the same treatment as Rocky Balboa.
People are having fun at the beach, including girls in bikinis. An underwater camera shows ... nothing at this point but there is ominous music.
Christopher and his wife are retired and in a more isolated area. Christopher goes in the lake to pan for gold while his wife goes back for a camera. Underwater camera, ominous music, oh, NOOOOO ...
The sign says bears are active, so the conclusion is that it was a bear attack. Meredith doubts this, and so does Peter, a fish expert who just happens to be in the community for a study, and hears about the controversy in a restaurant. He begins investigating.
Hunters are going after the bear, and yes, we do see one.
But one night there is a bachelorette party at the lake. The camera operators make certain we get a good look at the bikinis. One girl whose bikini is so revealing her rear end has to be blurred on broadcast TV goes in the water with a guy. Underwater camera, ominous music ...
Peter makes a terrible discovery. Given the title of the movie, we know what it really is, right? But where did it come from? I think we know that too. And just in case you don't, Don himself shows up at Clint's place with even more goons and guns this time, and demands what is rightfully his.
A colorful BBC TV host named Garreth shows up and wants to make the capture or killing of the animal into one of his TV episodes, complete with interviews and exciting narration. The girl from the bachelorette party is asked some questions, and she's quite a character too, though not much in the brains department. Also, she's wearing more.
Several plot lines go together to give us some adventure and deliver an exciting climax. Peter and Meredith work together and even show signs of a possible romance. I need to point out a mistake in the listing that came with my TiVo. Meredith is not working with her husband. She is single. I mention this since you might have seen the same mistake somewhere. This is a pretty standard horror/thriller, and not really scary if that's what you're looking for. Not that bloody either, at least when cleaned up for broadcast TV. There is a lot of red water, but not gore, and not that many views of the dangerous animal until later. This movie relies a lot on suspense; you think something is about to happen but don't always get rewarded.
Dolph Lundgren does a surprisingly good job in one scene where Clint shows just how much he loves Carly. He's not consistently talented but does a good enough job.
We get to laugh a few times, especially at Garreth. It's a shame he had to give up on his quest more quickly than we would have liked. Miles Doleac is a real standout here.
Sara Lane does okay as Meredith, particularly when she is a mother, but she's not great. She does have a mouth on her as a lot of her words had to be bleeped.
Lance Nichols is quite good as the sheriff.
Lily Brooks O'Briant may have a future. She's pretty good as young Carly. Matalin Rayborn has a couple of scenes of even younger Carly and she's just adorable. I don't think she speaks but she does smile a lot. If you are the age Carly is in most of the movie, Iu don't really recommend this unless it's cleaned up for broadcast as it was for me, and even then I'd be cautious. But the V-chip rating was TV-PG with L and V.
In "Jaws" they say, "You're gonna need a bigger boat." In this movie, "You're gonna need a boat." and "That's not big enough." I think this gives you an idea of how the two movies compare.
It's not a classic, or even bad enough to be good, but it's not bad.
United Passions (2014)
First half exciting at times, second half more like scoreless soccer game to an American
In this fact-based movie, a hundred years in the history of football are shown. If you are American as I am, the game is not football, but soccer. Regardless, it is simpler for me to refer to the game as football since that is the term used most of the time.
In 1902, there is no organized football competition between countries. England has organized competition but will not play teams in other countries. Carl wants to change that. he goes to a football game where the man in charge is yelling at people who do things wrong. Talking to him might not be a good idea, but Carl does talk with another man.
In another scene, a group of men are sitting at a table and FIFA is born.
In 1924, Uruguay wins the Olympic medal in football. Jules Rimet shows up at a meeting to downplay their efforts because Uruguay did not in fact play everyone to get the title, and many of their players were not from there. Rimet soon becomes president of FIFA. And as part of Uruguay's centennial, a real world championship game is proposed, in a new stadium which will seat 100,000 in Montevideo. That game is played in 1930; we see what looks like actual footage along with headlines and footage of newspapers being printed. It's not a lot, but it does represent what happened. The so-called World Cup will be played every four years.
Rimet's daughter Annette is talking to a man at an event. He says Africans can't play football; they're too stupid. Why, for Negroes to play football would be like women playing football! Annette wants to protest but Rimet doesn't defend his daughter. Annette later stands up to people who are arguing and shows she has a mind of her own.
World War II and the events preceding it have a negative effect on competition. In fact, there is one game, which we see a few scenes from (made for the movie, because the film quality is better than in 1930), between Germany and Ukrainian prisoners. Germany will win ... or else. The referees have been paid off. Yet the Ukrainians are very determined ...
After the war life is normal again. We go to a major stadium and there is lots of excitement. We see fans in several locations. Based on the credits and what is possible nowadays, I don't think there were real people in that stadium, or at least actors in this movie were superimposed on actual footage. The game looks like real footage because the film quality is inferior. The first goal is scored and everyone goes crazy. Even the announcer. I don't think he's THAT guy but he does yell, "GOOOOOOOOOAL!" As professional as the announcer is, he is very biased, showing no emotion as the other team scores. There is disappointment in the other locations. And when the game is over, it's like a disaster just happened. The movie's whole tone changes.
We have watched Rimet age many years, and then we see his funeral. Annette does an admirable job with the eulogy.
We fast forward a few more years as a new president of FIFA is elected. The losing candidate is convinced Africans can't play. The winner is a strong supporter of including African teams.
Another game. More excitement. Again, film quality is inferior, so we must be seeing real footage. Someone named Pele appears to be the first superstar in the sport.
By this time the movie is about half over, but it's not quite as exciting any more. We do see another game and plenty of excitement in the scenes associated with the game. Mostly, though, the rest of the movie is about controversy. FIFA is running out of money but one solution is to sell merchandise related to football. World events interfere as tensions between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. make boycotts of the Olympics possible. FIFA must take a stand on Apartheid. Women's teams must be considered. And fans who can't behave themselves are a real problem.
Then there are scandals for which a man who is not even president of FIFA is being blamed. Then he takes over as president and ... well, what WILL he do?
The movie ends about a hundred years after it started, and football has become very popular. We see kids playing, even girls.
I won't call it an Oscar-winning effort but at least the first half is very good for what it is. Sure, it skips over a lot of years, but apparently the most important details are included. And that one game in the 50s shows a wide range of emotion, and really communicates passion for the sport.
The leading actors are shown in the credits but I have to say I didn't recognize any of them. That makes the movie work better because I am seeing the characters, not the actors. I think most of them did a good enough job.
Gerard Depardieu does a good job but I wouldn't exactly say he shows the talent to win an Oscar.
Other than that, no one really stood out, and while we are shown a lot of information after Rimet's tenure, there is educational value (I suppose) but not that much entertainment value.
Western Religion (2015)
Interesting characters in campy and sometimes spooky Western
In 1879 Arizona, Harlem Gold wants to make everyone aware of his mining town called Religion which he thinks could be the greatest city in the West. To do this, he plans a poker tournament which will draw people from all around. The prize will be a valuable gold cross.
And they come from everywhere. Mr. James, who has an accent that sounds British, writes about the tournament for a newspaper and also plans to write a novel.
One man is from China and claims poker was invented there. There is an Arabian prince who brings his manservant. Waylin Smith is a half-Indian gunfighter who sees ghosts and communicates with them. Smith falls for the single mother of an adorable little girl whose name sounded like Danny (though I don't find that name in the credits) and her sister.
One could say there are two magicians. McCabe uses skill and deception, and his photographic memory. And Anton Stice actually has powers. He may, in fact, be The Devil. In a flashback, he appeared to St. John in jail, when St. John was threatening to kill everyone in sight after he had been locked up for robbing banks. Stice offered him salvation (really?) and St. John came to spread God's word.
And then there is Salt Peter, the most colorful character in the movie. He claims to be from Vienna but has an American accent, and while he has health problems that require drugs, he may just be an addict.. And he is SO OBVIOUSLY GAY. But he denies being "homosexual" and is shown kissing a woman.
Already living in town is carpenter Bobby Shea, who falls for Bootstrap Bess, the Madam who people see to get a hotel room. She also takes care of the working girls, and you don't want to mess with them because Bess will make you regret it. Bess wants to open her own fine hotel. Southern Bill is the likeable bartender. There is a marshal, but only one because that's all Harlem can afford. Later, he needs to be replaced.
Let the games begin!
Competitors are eliminated one by one, either by being defeated, or hurt, or killed, or by breaking the rules, including no cheating, no violence against other players, and guns must be surrendered to the sheriff (what sheriff? I thought this town only had a marshal?).
Excitement builds toward the end, and we have breaks in the action for romance, fights, and weird stuff. There is even a church service. I missed some details due to weather bulletins, but I could see what was going on even if I couldn't hear. One event would be a spoiler so I'll avoid that.
I watch what is on. I could pay more to get movies from sources other than broadcast TV, including paying for regular cable channels. I don't. So this is the second time in a month I have seen a Western where The Devil makes deals for people's souls and we see dead people. It's not that I want to see these but it's what's on.
This is not a family friendly Western but once cleaned up for TV, I suppose it's not too bad, though the V-chip rating was TV-14. I didn't think it was all that violent. The language had to be sanitized a couple of times.
It's not a comedy but there is plenty to laugh at. And some good acting. James Anthony Cotton James Anthony Cotton is your typical old West huckster. And there are Holiday Hadley as Bess, Peter Sherayko as Southern Bill and of course Louie Sabatasso as Salt Peter.
Not exactly groundbreaking, but I suppose it is entertaining if you like Westerns.