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.

 

Movie Review ~ The Devil Has a Name

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: A psychotic oil matriarch leaves the whole industry exposed when she attempts to outfight a bullish farmer whose water has been poisoned.

Stars: David Strathairn, Kate Bosworth, Pablo Schreiber, Katie Aselton, Haley Joel Osment, Alfred Molina, Edward James Olmos, Martin Sheen

Director: Edward James Olmos

Rated: R

Running Length: 97 minutes

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review: When Netflix first came out, the hardest part was waiting for those discs to come in the mail.  It was especially difficult when you got a movie that you hated and didn’t watch all the way through because you essentially just wasted up to a week of your monthly subscription waiting for another film to arrive.  That’s why the streaming service was such a fantastic upgrade because whenever you wanted to tap out of a movie or show that wasn’t grabbing you, there wasn’t as much guilt as before.  That’s both a good thing and a bad thing.  Good because of the reasons I just mentioned but bad because we’ve all talked to someone that stopped watching Schitt’s Creek after the first few episodes of Season 1 saying they “just didn’t get it” though we all know that show took several episodes to find its stride.  People just aren’t willing to stick with something if they aren’t into it…there’s too much out there to waste time.

I have a confession to make.  Sometimes I feel that way about screeners as well.  Look, when I say I’ll review something, I’ll review it and I’m going to give it my all.  Take the new drama The Devil Has a Name (not The Devil All the Time…which is, coincidentally, a Netflix film) from actor-director Edward James Olmos.  This was one of those examples where the movie started and I had that sinking feeling in my stomach that I had gotten myself into something that was going to be trouble to review.  It starts off very badly and stays that way for at least the first twenty or so minutes.  I wanted to chuck it and give up but forced myself to stick with it…and I’m glad I did because while it got only marginally better it did have some redeeming qualities that I wouldn’t have caught if I gave up at the outset.  On the other hand, the more I watched, the more problems I had with the turgid script, oversized performances, and sloppy filmmaking.

Gigi Cutler (Kate Bosworth, Homefront) is in big trouble with the head honchos at her family’s Houston-based business, Shore Oil.  For what, we aren’t sure of yet but, like many a film, she’s going to down a swig from a flask and tell them (and us) just what brought about her bad behavior.  Flashing back, we’re introduced to Fred Stern (David Strathairn, Lincoln) a widowed almond-farmer whose land has been unknowingly polluted by a nearby oil-rig owned by Gigi’s family.  They’ve found this out before him and, wanting to avoid a costly lawsuit, attempt to buy his land for a paltry fee via negotiations by local yokel Alex ( Haley Joel Osment, Tusk).  Sensing something isn’t right and eventually uncovering the truth with the help of his longtime foreman Santiago (Olmos), Stern turns the offer down and hires legal counsel (Martin Sheen, The Dead Zone) to sue the company.  A legal battle ensues which brings out a whole host of nasty actions and a brutal fixer (Pablo Schreiber, Skyscraper) into town to make sure nothing gets in the way of a win for the oil company.

Viewers are going to have to hunker down and commit to the film from the start, there’s no easing into Robert McEveety’s screenplay and the direction from Olmos (Wolfen) doesn’t help much either.  I found the first twenty minutes to be disorienting as character introductions were slack or nonexistent and when they are onscreen they’re so oversized that it feels as if Olmos used a fifth take where he told them to “be as big as possible, just for fun.”  The degree of seriousness afforded to some rote dialogue is pretty funny after awhile.  Things pick up once the legal proceedings begin (because who doesn’t love a good courtroom drama?) but even that starts to get wacky after a bit, with the kind of grandstanding and unbelievable turn of events even the soapiest of legal dramas would raise an eyebrow at.

Speaking of performances, I wonder if Strathairn watches the film and wonders what movie everyone else is in.  He’s essentially playing the same low-key role he’s played before and that works well for the high strung movie but everyone else can’t decide exactly what volume they want to pitch their performances.  Schreiber is having a field day with his professional slimeball, aiming for dark and lethal but landing on gentlemen’s club bouncer.  The only thing he’s missing is a well chewed toothpick in his mouth. Come to think of it, he may have had one of those, too.  It’s always great to see Olmos in front of the camera, but wearing two hats seems to have clouded his ability as an actor to question some of the crappy dialogue he has to wade through.  I don’t quite know where to start with Osment, what worked for him as a child actor has not carried over to adulthood.  He’s just completely unappealing (which is the point of the character) but as an actor he’s also unquestionably terrible. Aside from Straithairn, Bosworth probably comes off the best because she at least puts some dynamics into the role so she has some place to go.  There’s a regrettable scene where she goes mental on a piece of carpet but anytime she’s cool, calm, and collected is when she’s at her most dangerous…and most interesting to an audience member.

Clearly, this is a film with a targeted message at the protection of the environment but the message gets lost in the large performances (can I say again how awful Osment is?) and the messy storytelling.  Olmos has directed films before that have had more solid footing but for some reason, either the directing or maybe even it’s the editing, The Devil Has a Name gets off on the wrong foot and never finds its way back in time with the music.  There should be a better way of getting the point across than relying on the unreliable resources gathered for this project.

Down From the Shelf ~ The Dead Zone

dead_zone
The Facts
:

Synopsis: A man awakens from a coma to discover he has a psychic detective ability.

Stars: Christopher Walken, Brooke Adams, Tom Skerritt, Colleen Dewhurst, Martin Sheen, Herbert Lom

Director: David Cronenberg

Rated: R

Running Length: 103 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: I find it difficult to think back to a time when films made from Stephen King novels weren’t saturating the cineplexes.  For a while, the author’s novels were brought to the screen with frightening regularity…even if more than a few of the books and short stories didn’t exactly lend themselves well to the big screen treatment.  Still, for every turkey like The Lawnmower Man and Thinner audiences struggled through there were a healthy dose of winners.  Even though it’s not exactly what you’d expect from a King novel, The Dead Zone remains a qualified success thirty years after it opened.

Released in 1983 (the same year as Cujo and Christine), The Dead Zone is more thriller than horror with a strangely episodic nature for a genre film.  It’s no wonder the source material was turned into a successful Canadian television series for several years because it’s easy to see how King’s general set-up (man wakes from a coma to discover he has psychic powers) could lend itself well to weekly self-contained storylines.

Opening with Michael Kamen’s haunting score over picturesque views of the small New England town the film takes place in, it’s not long before quiet schoolteacher John Smith (Christopher Walken, A View to a Kill) meets the business end of a runaway semi and winds up in a five year coma.  Awakening to a changed world, he has to adjust to a life that’s moved on from him.  His girlfriend (an underused Brooke Adams, Invasion of the Body Snatchers) has married and had a child so there’s not a lot John has to live for or look forward to even though he now possesses a powerful gift of second sight.

It’s in these first forty-five minutes that The Dead Zone really makes its mark on the audience.  There are several chilling scenes of John foreseeing danger coupled with his sadness knowing what awful things await his loved ones.  Director David Cronenberg (A Dangerous Method) isn’t afraid to take time with our introduction to the characters, only to rush through the final hour of the film with several storylines that feel like a mash-up of scripts intended for sequels.

These storylines involve John helping a local sheriff catch a rather benign serial killer, his tutoring of a young boy with a sinister father, and his crossing paths with a rising political candidate (Martin Sheen) John knows has dangerous ulterior motives.  Screenwriter Jeffrey Boam manages to overlap these threads believably but none of them wind up feeling fully thought out or adequately resolved.

Though it may not have the true horror aspects associated with King, The Dead Zone does manage to maintain its momentum, however fractured the narrative continues to become as the film progresses.  It’s not concerned with the blood and guts that make up the flashier later adaptations but wants to look more into the psyche of the characters.  For that, I find it one of the best adaptations of King’s work to date featuring fine performances and appealing production values.  Worth revisiting.