Movie Review ~ 12 Mighty Orphans

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Haunted by his mysterious past, a devoted high school football coach leads a scrawny team of orphans to the state championship during the Great Depression and inspires a broken nation along the way.

Stars: Luke Wilson, Vinessa Shaw, Wayne Knight, Jake Austin Walker, Jacob Lofland, Levi Dylan, Robert Duvall, Martin Sheen

Director: Ty Roberts

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: TBD

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  Having seen enough sports movies to be able to at least write a small children’s chapter book on which ball goes with which game, I looked at the upcoming 12 Mighty Orphans and felt like pointing at it and saying, “I know what you are and all the cliché tricks you’re going to play”.  Because, after all, there’s not a lot that’s been left unsaid in the case of these football movies about a rag-tag group of misfits that have to band together to rise above adversity.  Plenty of films before it have gone the distance, scored the field goal, made the touchdown, and knocked it out of the park (oops, wrong sport) and while the entertainment might be passable, it was likely going to be fleeting.

Let me tell you that 118 minutes after I began 12 Mighty Orphans, based on Jim Dent’s ‘Twelve Mighty Orphans: The Inspiring True Story of the Mighty Mites Who Ruled Texas Football’, I was the guy sitting in his living room in the dark watching the credits with tears drying on my face.  Yes, this film got me and got me good, and it was for no other reason than it’s a well-made audience pleaser that steers clear of cheap sentiment in favor of heart on the sleeve compassion.  It’s almost shockingly benign and while I’m not sure this approach would have worked with a more modern story, the period-set drama is the perfect playing field for the real-life events to unfold.

Arriving at the Texas Forth Worth Masonic Home for orphans in 1938 with his family, teacher and coach Rusty Rusell (Luke Wilson, The Goldfinch) has an uphill battle creating a team from scratch and gathering enough interest from the boys who’d rather do anything but play an organized sport.  Forge forth he does, with assistance from a wised teacher nursing a not-so-secret fondness for drink (Martin Sheen, The Dead Zone) and his caring wife (Vinessa Shaw, Hocus Pocus) but with a number of roadblocks from crooked employees and, eventually, a local coach that fears Rusty’s “Mighty Mites”. 

There’s a run-of-the-mill playbook for any kind of biographical sports film and director Ty Roberts follows that fairly close for the majority of 12 Mighty Orphans, but along the way he doesn’t forget to coax generous and gallant performances out of Wilson and Sheen, offering both men wonderful opportunities to shine.  Roberts also handles some of the more saccharine turns with a stronger hand, not letting the film go slack as a result – we all know there’s going to be something that knocks things down before the final build-up, but the screenplay from Roberts, Lane Garrison (who co-stars as the Big Bad coach), and Kevin Meyer, doesn’t make that the true climax of the piece. 

A film like 12 Mighty Orphans is one my dad would have loved to see and I’m sorry he’s not around for me to recommend it to him.  Maybe that’s another reason why I was so sad near the end and also why I appreciated the film’s detailed information on where all of the characters we’ve come to know wound up in their lives.  It’s more than just a “Dad” movie though, it’s one that all would be able to enjoy with equal pleasure.

Tribeca: The Return

12 Mighty Orphans
There’s a run-of-the-mill playbook for any kind of biographical sports film and director Ty Roberts follows that fairly closely for the majority of 12 MIGHTY ORPHANS, but along the way he doesn’t forget to coax generous and gallant performances out of Luke Wilson and Martin Sheen, offering both men wonderful opportunities to shine.  Roberts also handles some of the more saccharine turns with a stronger hand, not letting the film go slack as a result – we all know there’s going to be something that knocks things down before the final build-up, but the screenplay from Roberts, Lane Garrison (who co-stars as the Big Bad coach), and Kevin Meyer, doesn’t make that the true climax of the piece.  A film like this is one my dad would have loved to see and I’m sorry he’s not around for me to recommend it to him.  It’s more than just a “Dad” movie though, it’s one that all would be able to enjoy with equal pleasure.

I Carry You With Me
It’s finally starting to feel like we’re moving out of the doldrums of lame, half-hearted attempts at LGBTQ+ romance films and memorable entries like I CARRY YOU WITH ME are examples to refer back to when showing the forward progression of representation in film.  A unique and surprisingly unpredictable film that starts off going in one direction before unveiling its ultimate truth in finality, director Heidi Ewing’s film has a lot of hot button issues to cover and connect with but manages to do it all with a light touch.  How the film starts to shift to something unexpected is small and almost imperceptible.  At first, you aren’t quite sure what’s happening or how a seemingly disparate narrative is relating to our main storyline, but then Ewing and her co-screenwriter Alan Page Arriaga pull a tiny rug out from under you…only to reveal an even larger one underneath they tug away just a few scenes later. 

Peace By Chocolate
Oh, those Canadians are just the best, aren’t they?  The best Hallmark movie filmed in Canada that’s not a Hallmark movie, PEACE BY CHOCOLATE is the enormously pleasing real life story of the Hadad family, Syrian refugees who took shelter in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada in 2016.  Having owned a chocolate factory in their native Syria before it was bombed, head of the family Issam (the wonderful Hatem Ali who sadly passed away in December 2020) begins making chocolate out of their temporary home and, eventually, a small make-shift house on their front lawn.  Meanwhile, son Tareq (Ayham Abou Ammar) desperately wants to see his medical school training in Syria be put to use in Canada/the U.S. but finds himself turned away from opportunities.  Director Jonathan Keijser’s film could not be more Canadian if it tried…and it tries, with accents that are so Northern you may need subtitles and enough Kanuck slang that a reference chart could be useful.  It’s all Sunday afternoon television movie entertaining and so light and charming you can’t begrudge the at times overwhelming syrupy sweetness.  If anything, like chocolate, it’s a great palate cleanser if you need to unwind and check out after a barrage of bad news and stress.

God’s Waiting Room
When you see a lot of movies and then write about them, eventually your mind starts to naturally pick up visual cues and your ear listens for important plot points in every subsequent film you see, almost as a way to proactively start to assemble your review.  That’s not necessarily how the review will turn out, but that’s how my mind works.  For GOD’S WAITING ROOM, every time a structure started to form in my mind, director Tyler Riggs found a way to shake it clean, like an Etch-A-Sketch that needed a fresh start.  That made the experience of watching the film intriguing and allowed more investment in this story of Rosie (Nisalda Gonzalez) and Jules (Matthew Leone) and their tumultuous love affair.  Co-starring Riggs in a role that is never fully defined until later in the film when intentions are all thrown together in a blender, the film has a lot of good going for it.  The biggest asset is certainly Gonzalez’s grounded performance as a young woman on the cusp of finding herself and feeling suffocated by a number of overbearing men.  Leone is good too in his Tribeca-award winning role, though I started to feel it was a bit more rambling without an edit than rumbling with power.  As for Riggs, his time as a model gave him a good eye for the film’s look which is quite strong for its indie roots; it’s frustrating his storyline is markedly weaker and contains a truly unfortunate sex scene that that might be the most awkward one I’ve seen all year.  Keep an eye out for Gonzalez in the future and I’m thinking Leone’s name is another you’ll be hearing as well.