hsolaf

IMDb member since December 2010
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    IMDb Member
    9 years

Reviews

Rising Son
(1990)

Dennehy & Damon, Brilliant Father-Son Act in a Hidden Gem of a Film! Must See.
This wonderful 1990 film, was Matt Damon's first acting appearance (He was 19. Do the math.) . As a film it's a little known and unappreciated GEM! Acting performances by the three main characters, were excellent. There's also a great supporting cast in nuanced subplots. It has an excellent script, plus the editing and cinematography are marvelous. ( Great shots of foggy lake at night at the film's end!) . Scenes end when they should, without too much belaboring or needless drama. The film's packs a punch in it's power to create heart-rending emotion. Tears comes up at some scenes that make us feel and rethink basic human relations, like father-son, husband-wife, young love, work relationships. No melodrama, not overdone. It's a poignant and honest presentation. Gus Robinson (Brian Dennehy) is an overpowering husband and dad who has worked all his life at a thankless factory job. After going up the ranks up to foreman, his company is bought by Japanese magnates, and he finds himself laid off in his 60's. Driven by insecurities and frustrated ambitions, Gus has bullied his wife and coerced his two boys into being all he couldn't achieve. At a turning point, the deeply discontent older son, a lawyer who hates his life and the fake success symbol he's become by trying to please dad, urges his brother Charlie (Matt Damon) to break free, make his own life before Dad destroys him. Charlie has his own acute identity crisis. He has secretly dropped his pre-med studies. He has love-life conflicts, feels desperate about his parent's situation , bad about the way Gus treats his submissive mom Martha (Piper Laurie) . When Gus loses his job, can't last in any other, his sense of failure and unfulfillment come to a boil. He rages internally. Gus is humiliated when Martha takes on a needed job,. He feels threatened by her new found lack of dependence. Everything peaks when Charlie dares to confront Dad with all the hard truths he's ignored. What ensues is an explosive, surprising, very upsetting climax. In crisis of rage and confrontation, how do father and son react? If you show your failed self, warts and all, will you be loved or rejected? This film reminded me somewhat of "Death of a Salesman" (Arthur Miller 's play), in which Brian Dennehy won 2 Tonys and other awards, for his masterly performance as Willy Loman, another overbearing father in conflict with his two sons and submissive wife. This film, though, is way more hopeful about human beings. I strongly recommend it.

Walter
(2015)

Walter thinks he's the Son of God, is pursued by an annoying ghost, until he resolves his grief for his real dead Dad
At first, this curious film, of magic-reality genre, will baffle you. Walter, the main character, believes he's the Son of God, and is followed by a ghost , Greg(good actor Justin Kirk), a kind of annoying presence-confidant, who won't let him be.This indie film,the intriguing work of promising young director Anna Mastro,and an ensemble of fine actors, mixes Walter's agonizing fantasies with his humdrum, daily reality. Sweet, twentyish Walter, played by Andrew J. West, in a moving, nuanced performance, works in a movie theater, is platonic- ally enamored of the pop-corn girl(Leven Rambin). Walter has been living in a semi-autistic trance with his dysfunctional, grieving mother(Virginia Madsen), ever since his father died when he was 10. In order to enable suicidal dad to go to heaven, Walter promises God he will be His agent,his Son on Earth. Wally thinks he is beholden to tell his peers whether they will go to Heaven or Hell. , Enters Greg (fine actor Justin Kirk)a plain talking, confrontative ghost, wandering on Earth for a decade. Greg wants Walter to tell him where his final destination will be.Wo is Gregg, and why is he in Walte's subconscious? Eventually, Walter's eccentric psychiatrist (colorfully played by brilliant William H. Macy)helps Walter figure out that Gregg, his imagined meddlesome ghost,his dad (Peter Facinelli) and the woman who was his father's mistress (Neve Campbell)are all connected. Once he figures that link, Walter exorcises his demons, resolves his grief, and can become a full and balanced human being. He also gets the pop-corn girl!

This very human and imaginative movie will make you feel good that human beings can free themselves from demons that the mind can create due to unresolved grief. I liked it even better the 2nd time around! You will fall in love with the moving characters that these deft and expressive actors bring into being, but especially with Andrew West's brilliant and heart- rending performance as Walter. He makes the movie real, credible and human!

Wish Upon a Christmas
(2015)

Does Amanda come to save or liquidate her old boyfriend's business?
Amanda (Larisa Oleynik) a corporate analyst who's sent from Washington to ailing businesses to "cut the fat" which means firing employees and often closing them. This time it so happens it's a Christmas ornament factory (which is more like a family of artisans in which objects are lovingly handmade)in her old home town which her old high school boyfriend Jesse(Aaron Ashmore) has inherited and runs. As often in Lifetime Christmas movies, Jesse's a sad young widower with a loving bond to his son Danny (Dylan Kingwell). Danny's a big Santa fan, and has written Santa for someone special for his lonely dad. Amanda rekindles her old flame for Jesse and vice versa, and figures out a plan to save the ornament factory without layoffs. However, her Washington bosses reject it. Amanda quickly loses her popularity with Jesse's employees and alienates Jesse as she starts firing half the work force right before Christmas.

Meantime, a charming and distinguished man with a beard, Mr. Tomley (Kevin McNulty) has been looking all over town for a trinket valuable to him. Danny has found it. He thinks it's a magical charm or amulet of Santa's sled operation without which there won't be a Christmas. When Amanda and Jesse take Mr Tomley to Danny to return it, Danny is convinced Mr. Tomley is Santa. But the "amulet" has been lost! In looking for the lost charm , events happen which eventually unite all three Amanda, Jesse and Danny. Plus, do you think the factory is saved, and all come back to work? One hint: It's a Christmas movie!

Yes, "Wish Upon a Christmas" is loaded with clichés and predictable situations. It pretty much adheres to Lifetime Christmas formulas. it's awash with romantic fantasy. That said,it's gratifying that the plot has been artfully woven to have both natural and supernatural explanations. Fantasy is not just rammed down our throats. Children and romantics can delight in the magic, skeptics can find credibility in this pleasant tale. It's a predictable tale but sweetly told. The actors are engaging and attractive. Larisa Oleynik plays Amanda with easy charm and humor, and is credible as a corporate executive. Aaron Ashmore (Jesse)is a great dad and idealistic factory owner. He's very likable and persuasive. He looks a bit, and has a vibe similar to Neil Patrick Harris. Dylan Kingwell as the boy Danny, has just the right dewy-eyed look of winsome innocence to effectively deliver some really fanciful lines. Delightful Dylan is a central character and does a splendid job.

The small-town setting is charming, with great wooded areas and beautiful old homes.There a great supporting cast. Alan Thicke plays Amanda's retired jovial dad, who phones her periodically to give her advice. The factory artisans who interact with Jesse and each other in a folksy, family way.There's a cranky old sculptor,and a sweet matronly supervisor who passes around pecan candy during work hours. All in all, "Wish Upon a Christmas" is a very pleasant Christmas film that will make you warm all over, like hot chocolate or spiked eggnog. Food for your heart, not your mind. It may usher in your Christmas spirit.

The Spirit of Christmas
(2015)

Modern,Tough, Incredulous Kate Falls in Love...with a Ghost
This Lifetime Christmas 2015 movie has everything, perhaps too much of everything: an attractive cast, love, romance, nostalgia, mystery, beautiful winter settings and a splendid, Victorian haunted house "Hollygrove Inn". It's the former home of the Forsythes,(not the same as in the "Forsythe Saga"), who have died without heirs. Ambitious,single and thoroughly modern attorney Kate (Jen Lilley)is sent from Boston to Vermont 12 days before Christmas to broker the sale of the inconveniently haunted mansion. She's promised a promotion if she can deal with the ghosts and the real estate before the year's end. Problems start to mount as soon as Kate gets there. The appraiser leaves in panic, his job undone, after having encountered a ghost. Plus, the innkeeper Warren (excellent actor Robert Walsh)is closing the Inn for the holidays.But spunky Kate tells him she will stay in spite of Warren's objections. Kate stays, meets the resident hunky ghost,impressive Daniel Forsythe (Thomas Beaudoin), who died by an unknown killer on Christmas Eve 95 years ago, as he approached "Hollygrove". The supernatural walks into our story right then in the unusual form of Daniel The Ghost, who likes to eat pancakes, imbibe drinks, and of course, likes women like Kate, in more than a spiritual way. At first, Kate and Daniel quarrel, but soon she succumbs to his manly ghost charms.

Kate's love is also fueled by her empathy with Daniel's very sad, errant ghost story. Daniel is doomed to return to the house every Christmas and not to resolve his other-worldly status until he can solve the mysteries of his life, love and his death. Eventually, Kate will help him to solve the puzzle of his inconclusive ghost existence. This TV movie looks expensive, its production values are high, as we travel back to Hollygrove 1919,in stylish flashbacks. We learn Daniel thinks his wife Lilly (Katy Salowsky) was unfaithful with his brother, whom she married and had a daughter with, after Daniel died. We also find out, with curious Kate's help,that not one, but two ghosts inhabit Hollygrove, and the other one is Daniel's mysterious killer. Is it his bro, his wife, or someone else? Stay tuned to the end and find out. Another suspense element in this very complicated story, is his wife Lilly's love for Daniel. Did she or did she not betray him with his bro? Another subplot to solve is the future of Hollygrove. How can Kate sell the property and have her favorite ghost be homeless? Who will buy Haunted Hollygrove with the murder curse and the unwelcome ghosts? Finally and most importantly, will Kate and Daniel find a way to join flesh and spirit,to bridge the chasm between life and death, and fulfill their love?

In many ways the unusual human-loves-ghost story gives origin to interesting, suspenseful and cute humorous situations. The lovely Hollygrove mansion and setting, plus the period flashbacks gives it romance and nostalgic texture. There's also several charming subplots like the romance between Molly(Joanna Herrington) a local pub owner, and Innkeeper Warren, who is also the ghost's best friend."The Spirit of Christmas" requires that we forsake our logic and stretch our imagination into the realm of the supernatural. But think of Dicken's "A Christmas Carol"or of some Nicholas Spark's romantic stories,like "Safe Haven". Think of so many Christmas films in which Santa, elves, or angels do magical mysterious favors for humans. Christmas is that time when we are most willing to suspend logic and believe in spirits, the promise of an afterlife, and all things magical.

The problem with "The Spirit of Christmas" is not that we can't accept its supernatural premises. It's that the crafted storyline doesn't work logically. At the end, the puzzle pieces don't fall neatly into place.Thus, it doesn't produce a fully pleasing feeling, a sense of artful satisfaction. It has too many loose ends and unexplained issues. I'll mention just one, not to produce important spoilers. How can Daniel be allowed to choose between staying on Earth or move to another life, once his curse is lifted? Analyze what the script says happened in 1919t; it's full of holes. The plot is too complicated and ambitious. Especially when it flashes back,the treatment of past events is shoddy, perfunctory and unreal. The film does much better when it covers the present, with more reality, wit, and humor. The cinematography is beautiful, with great winter landscapes and interiors. The acting is competent, especially by Ms. Lilley(Kate), Ms. Herrington (Molly), and Mr. Walsh (Warren). I also liked Mr. Beaudoin as Daniel whose impressive presence and light humorous touch seems just right for Daniel. That said, his lines fall flat in dialogue requiring more depth. "Spirit of Christmas"has many interesting parts, but the whole doesn't quite come together. Still,it's a film worth watching; but don't expect full satisfaction.

A Gift Wrapped Christmas
(2015)

Sassy Pro Shopper Lights Up The Life of A Young Widower & Son At Christmas
I'm a fool for these Lifetime schmaltzy sentimental Christmas movies, and this brand new one is one of the best of the genre. If you're into highbrow TV fare like Downtown Abbey,"A Gift Wrapped Christmas " is not for you. These heartwarming little tales are meant for you to feel good, and believe you me, this one will do that.These Christmas films are built on predictable formulas. There's usually a one-parent lonely child (adorable Owen, played by Anthony Bolognese).There's the single parent (sad, rich and handsome executive & widower Charlie, played by Travis Milne) who is usually involved with the wrong partner (cold, insufferable business-obsessed, social climber Victoria, played by gorgeous Anna Van Hooft). And of course there's the inspiring heroine, Gwen, a professional shopper,(superbly played by sprightly Meredith Hagner) who "changes everything", by the brightness of her personality. Gwen wins Charlie's son Owen first, and eventually wins the dad too! If If after watching Gwen and Charlie's first few scenes you think it's a spoiler that they end up together, I know you still believe in Santa. Kudos!

Meredith Hagner is simply delightful playing Gwen. Her special charisma as an actress, sassy and bright, may be the reason Woody Allen chose her to play in one of his films. She owns the film from the first scene, playing a lovable and slightly goofy (but very smart) ingenue, like Audrey Hepburn's character in "Breakfast At Tiffany's." The idea of making Gwen a pro-shopper is a brilliant action mover for a Christmas film since Christmas is so tied in with gift giving. It also gives Gwen a professional excuse to access Charles persona. Although at first Charlie is reluctant to open up to her, eventually, Charlie gives in. Gwen is an absolute marvel as a shopper! She does expert client research and buys exactly what everyone wants on Charlie's long list of business gift recipients. She impresses Charlie by gaining the good will (and business) of his business associates and friends. Gwen's very personal caring and attention to both Charlie and Owen, as she goes about buying for them, also wins Charlie's affection. Charlie realizes what a contrast Gwen's optimistic, generous and loving personality is to cold and ambitious girlfriend Victoria. By the time Gwen gets enough courage to tell Charlie "Victoria's not for you",he has already broken up with Victoria because his heart belongs to Gwen. At the end, Charlie tells Gwen poignantly, in Milne's best delivered line: "You've changed everything". Aww!

Travis Milne seems perfectly cast as the reticent and shy Charlie, whom Gwen helps to come out of his shell, partly the result of grief for his deceased wife. Travis/Charlie is the perfect passive medium for the expressive, soulful Gwen/Meredith, good ground to work her magic. Much of the film's success depends between the chemistry between the two main actors, Hagner & Milne, who together make sparks fly. Sweet is also the bond between Charlie and his son. (Milne plays an awesome quiet and caring dad.)Then there's that easy, warm bond between Gwen and Owen. We gobble it all up, hook.line and sinker! We end up caring for all three, and rooting for their eventual union. The whole tale of love romantic and paternal is skillfully told, directed and acted. The supporting roles,like Gwen's affectionate sister and husband;or Charlie's thoughtful secretary; or on the villain side, the cold and calculating Victoria, are all well done. The script is full of details that make the story credible, modern and sweet (but not overly so). The Christmas shopping-related scenery and cinematography is festive and colorful. This is perfect Christmas indulgence film fare, very watchable and enjoyable. "A Gift-Wrapped Christmas" is all you want for Christmas in a Lifetime feel-good movie. Watch it over and over again. I have!

The Wolf of Wall Street
(2013)

Wolf Of Wall St. Scorcese-Di Caprio Masterpiece Shocks And Delights!
In their film Wolf Of Wall Street director Martin Scorcese and actor Leonardo Di Caprio shock and delight us with a sweet and passionate director-actor collaboration. Scorcese has directed his most coherent artistic parable, providing us with exhilarating fun as well as thoughtful meaning. Leonardo may have become with this performance into the best actor of his generation, both dramatic and-who knew?Comic!The movie rocks and rattles us, providing us with orgiastic highs and depressive lows. We are drawn into Jordan Belfort's (Di Caprio's character) roller coaster, money-sex-drugs immoral existence like a butterfly to the flames.I left the the movie house in a cathartic trance, a sour taste and an alarmed distaste for the ways and values of Wall Street.

On a gut level, I hadn't had so much film fun ever since Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction.(I laughed harder in this one.) On an intellectual and moral level, this film jolts us. Not one weak link in the ensemble of actors. They are all so crude and real and funny as hell. Also, they are as ugly and not-glamorized bunch of motherf--s in expensive suits as I never saw. The cinematography is like a Hyeronimus Bosch hellish landscape. The marvelous script by Terence Winter rings true and delivers the intended message. But no doubt, this is Leo Di Caprio's movie. He brilliantly carries all three hours of it with exuberant dynamic energy, mesmerizing charisma and total credibility. Also funny;stunningly so!

The comic relief is what makes the constant barrage of money , sex and drugs tolerable. The barrage is deliberate, the director wants us to be repulsed, but he makes the medicine go down by adding huge spoonfuls of humor. No one should refrain from seeing this movie because of the bacchanalia. I guarantee you will laugh your head off. The orgy scenes are not erotic, they make the characters seem absurd and ridiculous. Almost every scene has some kind of humor in it,subtle, slapstick, satirical, physical, visceral, tongue-in-cheek. Di Caprio is funny and intense in scene after scene. One long, scene of great physical humor in which Leo's Belfort,chock-full of drugs, drags himself home to alert his buddy Donny(Jonah Hill) of FBI danger, may become a movie slapstick classic.

Leonardo's great acting fête, besides profiting from Scorcese at his godly directorial best, is dependent on a terrific ensemble of actors. Jonah Hill, playing Jordan's best buddy-business partner, is the perfect complement to Di Caprio's acting. I can't over-emphasize how essential Hill's colorful chemistry is in tickling our funny bone, warming our hearts, and keeping the movie rolling.

As Jordan's trophy 2nd wife,Margot Robbie , a ravishing Aussie with the funniest Brooklyn accent,should be commended for her rich and nuanced special performance. Kyle Chandler,in subtle and resonant acting as the pursuing cop, has a read-between-the-lines philosophical banter with his nemesis.In cinema-noir fashion, they have a well written,battle of wits confrontation on Jordan's yacht. Who has the right world view? They go at each other verbally,but no one really wins.Rob Reiner as Jordan's accountant dad, delights us with warmth and humor in some very good scenes. Matthew McConnaughey has a rambunctious,hilarious cameo as Jordan's cynical, first Wall Street mentor. Every role is alluring and well played. Even the stylish Aunt Emma (Joanna Lumley) an unlikely money launderer.

Central to the whole film is Belfort's mentor, quasi-religious relationship as sales guru to his stockbroker followers. The movie's best scenes are the frenzied rallies Di Caprio delivers with Elmer Gantry passion to his rowdy bunch of cohorts. Their loving and symbiotic link is presented by Scorcese with Fellinesque gusto and skill, and played with fascinating brilliance and credibility by Di Caprio.It's hard not to be drawn into the Jordan & Co. emotion-filled rituals. It's hard not to feel for them, albeit with great ambivalence.

We laugh and grieve at the same time. Scorcese takes us once again into his journey into American darkness. Not the mafia this time, but the sins and excesses of Wall Street, and also into the immoral corruption of the American dream. This might be disturbing to free-market entrepreneurs;so the movie may have a built-in resistance for some. Another likely group that may find the movie off-putting, even repulsive, is those respectable citizens who don't approve of sex, nudity and orgies portrayed in films even if it has redeeming purpose.(Movie has been banned by Kenya and some Arab countries.)Too bad. I find the film as good as Orson Welles Citizen Kane, a must-see for anyone who sees film as catharsis through art and a potential instrument in cultural growth. It definitely puts the orgies of stocks, money, sex and drugs into the right perspective. It provides us with food for thought and a re-evaluation of our professional, economic and personal goals, lest we fall as Jordan and friends into the abyss of a meaningless, hellish existence.

Jodi Arias: Dirty Little Secret
(2013)

Brutal revenge by a woman scorned, Lifetime's surprisingly good Travis & Jodi story
Surprisingly well done! I expected much less, so I was very pleased. The movie starts out strikingly flashing forward to the sensual, last photo shoot between lovers Jodi and Travis. It then moves back to the beginning of a story of love, hate and obsession, a modern day fatal attraction parable. Males, beware of unbridled sex without love, it seems to say. There's always a price to pay. For Travis, it was the ultimate price.Based on the infamous and horrible murder everyone's heard about,it shows how two attractive, smart, young people, Travis and Jodi, meet, in a Sin City Convention. Travis is a motivational speaker. Jodi goes gaga over Travis. Soon, they make passionate love. She falls for him,strongly! Trying to be his significant other, she even becomes a Mormon like him. According to the well written, credible script, Travis, however,soon realizes Jodi is not marriage material.He takes his religion seriously, which requires chastity, but he can't stop having great loveless sex with Jodi! Travis loving, close Mormon friends think Jodi's unfit and obsessed, want him to get rid of her. So he goes underground with Jodi, as his "dirty little secret", for a sexual relation. When he realizes he's getting in over his head, that Jodi wants more,he tries to break off. She doggedly pursues him with menacing and sick stalking. Hurt and disenchanted that Travis has a new, marriage-material girlfriend, Jodi plans revenge by horridly killing him in a gruesome bloodbath.

Visually, the cinematography is stylish, with lovely bright, photography of their lovemaking leading to its horrible, almost unbearable-to-look-at climax, in slow motion.Other visual water tricks are awesome,as when the camera moves from the spiritual to the sensual, from Jodi's Mormon baptism to her cavorting in a Jacuzzi with Travis. The actors are an unexpected treat, both the main ones and the supporting cast. Tania Raymonde as Jodi is uncanny-even better than the real Jodi! She's alluring and sexy, totally credible as a wolfish seductress posing as innocent Little Red Riding Hood. In minutes, the real Jodi blends into Tania,we forget Jodi for this better version. Her characterization is as good as can be, sassy, alluring, sexy,creepy. Her innocent, little girl act is as good as Arias'. Her angry, evil persona is terrible and fearful. Her look as she shoots Travis in the final ritual sacrifice is frightful.. I also found Jesse Lee Soffer very suitably cast as Travis. At first he looks lightweight and boyish, but as the story progresses he develops Travis into the charismatic and attractive guy Jodi would fall in love with. Soffer plays Travis with the right blend of innocence and roguishness.The scripted role makes his characterization human, sympathetic and likable. Not much is made in the script of Travis importance as big brother to his siblings.But the movie does make his awful death heartfelt, poignant and tragic. One is left with a sad sense of the pitiful loss of a valuable human being by an obsessed and vengeful monster,

For a Lifetime movie, this movie surpassed all my expectations. The way the script treats Jodi's relation to her grandmother and friends humanizes her.It helps to soften her image without justifying her horrible deed. The last ten minutes summarizes the arrest and trial kind of shoddily, not enough development. One wishes to have it more leisurely treated in a Part II. Even as roughly sketched, Jodi's weird behavior during interrogation with Detective Alvarez and also, the subsequent Martinez badgering during the trial are witty and interesting, leaves you wanting more. This is certainly not a masterpiece, but as Lifetime movies go, an above average, respectable representation of a compelling real story. The fatal love story of Travis and Jodi is credible, engrossing, even thrilling. Would you believe the director's name is Jace Alexander, like the victim? Pretty good direction, for a speedy job.

The L-Shaped Room
(1962)

Poignant performances with haunting Brahms score
Pregnant and unwed, French young woman Jane (Leslie Caron), goes to live in England while she has her baby. She finds an L-shaped room in a dilapidated rooming house,where neighbors with wounded souls eventually provide her with a kind of healing support. Among the lot, there is the black jazz musician next door,Johnny(Brock Peters, of "To Kill a Mockingbird" fame) who can overhear all that happens in her room.There's the lonely aging lesbian,Mavis, who wants to take Jane under her wing.More importantly,there's young writer Toby(Tom Bell), who falls in love with Jane.This film treats marginal characters, like lesbians and unwed mothers, with sympathy and humanity, a pioneering trend at the time, for which it earns extra credit.

Central, and on-screen in practically every scene is Leslie Caron as Jane, in a radiant and controlled performance. This dramatic, "kitchen-sink", realistic role was at the time(1962), a total departure for Leslie Caron,who had achieved quite a reputation in musical Technicolor masterpieces like "Gigi". She got an an Oscar nomination for this film,and proved she could be a compelling dramatic actress as well.If Richard Attenborough, who co-produced the film, had a hand in choosing Miss Caron, he certainly scored a casting coup.

I saw this movie in 1963 It was haunting and memorable then. It still is. I especially remember the exquisite Brahms score, Piano Concerto #1, so sad and beautiful. The piano seemed to echo Jane's role, sadly and bravely interacting with the untidy world around her,including the troubled rooming house neighbors and represented by the orchestra.

All performances were excellent. Tom Bell as Toby,resonates with special power as the conflicted lover and tortured writer.And the grand actress who played Mavis, the lesbian(Cicely Courtneidge),imbues her role with poignant pathos.

The director is relentless in keeping the story, acting, and cinematography true to life and to the tenets of "kitchen sink" realism,like refusing a Hollywood-type, hyped ending. In structure, he's more traditional than some of his English counterparts.Also,this director is

less avant guard than his French nouvelle vague contemporaries, like Truffaut and Goddard. For this well told tale.that may be an asset.The black and white cinematography is so right, for the time and for the ambiance. This is the kind of movie that makes you wish for a black and white comeback, so effective for a certain kind of Brahmsian sadness.

Strange, that a French icon like Leslie Caron, was not selected by the French new wave directors to play in their films,yet she went across the channel to give a luminous and mature performance, amidst good English actors, in an excellent film. We are grateful she did.The movie is hers.

The Town Christmas Forgot
(2010)

A polarizing Christmas tale or it's fun to reviewi the reviews!
It's funny that 5 of 9 reviews find this Christmas movie wonderful(8/10)while 4 others think it's terrible or even worse. And what do I think?I think reading all of the reviews,good or bad,is as much or more fun than watching the movie, a good case for how reading the reviews enhances the movie experience.I had Town Christmas Forgot at 6 before, then I pulled it down to 5(safe place in the middle) after reading 9 reviews.

There's some truth in all of the reviews, but if you read the bad ones you'll realize that those six glowing ones may reflect the reviewers opinion, but are undeserved as far as the quality of this product. Films at this time may have an "it's Christmas, make me feel good" sympathy bonus built into them, and this one is capitalizing on the formula.

It's a bad economic climate,no coincidence that it's a very financially troubled town where our well to do couple and their two children are stranded in a snowstorm, in the middle of Nowhere(literally , it's the name of the town, and you better believe it).They have to stay at Nowhere for a few days, while they wait for their car to be fixed.

Lo and behold, in record time Annie(Lauren Holly),who is a former dancer-actress, and Charles(Rich Roberts), a bank executive,bond with the town folk,organize the town's Christmas pageant, teach the Nowhere women and children to dance,save a local man's life;while their daughter Trish(Torri Webster) finds a Nowhere boyfriend and trains a local teen rock band; their young kid Nolan(Azer Greco), yes, Virginia,transforms the local toy store owner from a grump into a Santa.There's more, but hey, it would be a spoiler...and you would be really dumb if you can't figure it out.

The actors do their best to make this story as credible as they can, and Holly shines as usually in her lady Santa role. Only a great actress and trooper could get away with doing that silly dance Holly does at the end during the Christmas pageant, and still look cute and lovable.

This Christmas film is predictable; it's maudlin, it's schmaltzy, but not as extreme as to be camp.It's watchable, entertaining,but a stretch in credibility for the viewer and less than intelligent fare. I certainly think that Canada(if this is indeed Canadian) and Hallmark can do better. I long for the days long past when one could expect real first rate dramas with award winning actors from Hallmark.This is not...that.

My Family's Secret
(2010)

Dysfunctional family has a deadly secret.
No masterpiece but not bad. The piece promises more than it delivers, the denouement leaves one wishing for more substance.

At the start,troubled Jason Darcie(ex-soap hunk Dylan Neal)tries to commit suicide. It has to do with family secrets revolving around the mysterious death of Jason's sister, long time ago.He is interned seeking treatment, and his concerned wife Lara(Nichole Tom)goes back to his home town looking for financial help and perhaps some answers to Jason's emotional trauma.Jason's dad Paul(Peter McNeill) is senile and in a home,his brother Grady(Philip Riccio)is timid and disturbed,and doesn't offer much, but in her research around town Lara gets closer to Grady and the awful events in the Darcie subconscious.

It's no secret to us from the start that Grady suffers from dissociative identity disorder(DDI),aka multiple personality disorder.Shortly after Lara meets him, the audience, not Lara, is gradually introduced to his 5 or 6 personalities, ranging from murderous hood,assertive regular Joe, passive introvert, to innocent black girl. One recourse is to show them in his mind's eye,by showing actor Riccio convincingly talking to himself in different voices, then cutting to the different personalities together over a white background.Another way is by having the actor show a personality transformation within the scene, as when a hostile personality comes to timid Grady's defense and violently pushes away a very surprised offender, Jake(Chris Cogllis). Philip Riccio as Grady, whose looks and acting style reminds one of actor Edward Norton, pulls it off beautifully.

Nichole Tom as Lara is good in her role as the involved and worried wife,and Dylan Neal appealing as her troubled husband. The supporting cast is interesting and suitable, but the multiple personality role is an opportunity that actor Riccio uses well to outshine all others.His is a detailed and impressive performance, his mood changes are compelling.

Expectations are sky high when the theme of multiple personality(DDI) is involved in a film, and this script treatment falls short of expectations.This is certainly not "Sybil",a classic TV film about DDI as manifested in Sybil,brilliantly played by Sally Field with no less than Joanne Woodward playing her psychiatrist. Joanne won an Oscar in the fifies playing a DDI victim in "Three Faces of Eve", a pioneering film study on the disease which garnered lots of attention. "My Family's Secret" is just a thriller,not focusing on the disorder but on the mystery secret and using a character with DDI to add more interest to the story.Even so,as thrillers go this is not that well crafted or exciting, and the secret not that surprising.No fault of the actors, though.

This no Sybil, it wasn't meant to be, but as a thriller it's no Hitchcock either.

Where There's a Will
(2006)

Swindler grandson wants to steal his Texas grandma's inheritance, yet ends up with riches he never expected.
This is a gem of a film, really well written, crafted and acted.Badasss swindler Richie Greene(Frank Whaley) is summoned to the small town of Harmony, Texas,by a young friend,Annie,(Christine Elise)of his unknown and rich grandma Lesley Ontott(Marion Ross)who wants to reconcile with her only relative and inheritor.Just in time, for Richie owes a gangster big time, and Harmony might be just the right place in which to disappear and maybe get the payback money from Gram's.

It's like Oliver Twist going back to his rich grandparent's estate, but this Oliver is in his forties and totally corrupt.His mother, Lesley's daughter,was banished from Harmony when she eloped with Richie's no good pa, and she died when Rich was five. Like a rolling stone Rich has bounced around in no good fashion, and as much as Grandma and her village want to transform him into a Harmonious loving citizen, he can only plot on how quickly he can get the Grandma money and run.

However, in this loving conspiracy,Rich is grossly underestimating Gram and her persuasive cohorts which include Annie,who quickly becomes a possible love interest, folksy hero Sheriff Clifford(Keith Carradine,lending his considerable appeal and celebrity status to the character), Gramma suitor and beau Wheeler(Paul Michelle, Marion Ross' real beau), and all of Harmony, dedicated to loving and protecting Grandma.

Eventually, Richie surrenders, but not without putting up somewhat of a fight. Who can resist Marion Ross playing Grandma? She is a force of nature. The script(by Rex McGee) and direction(by John Putch) are flawless,but Marion Ross's radiant acting prowess breathes life and credibility to the role. At one point Richie, poignantly played by impressive actor and lead Frank Whaley,reverts during a tornado to his childhood fear of storms and abandonment. Grandma Ross lovingly gets into the bathtub with Whaley and tenderly consoles him. With lesser actors, this scene could have been potentially embarrassing,yet it becomes a delicate and moving turning point, a scene of cinematic beauty.

At this point,the director(John Putch) counterpoints the storm scene with a flash showing the deadly gangster moving towards Harmony by car,in Richie's pursuit,thus using the storm to create more dread. The director is deft at using this kind of atmospheric resource in moving the story along. It's fun to look for all kinds of details the director uses to keep the creative momentum going,especially with the handsome cinematography,but I won't spoil the fun for you. Actors as good as these, especially Ross and Whalley, really deserve to have such careful direction, and perhaps this certainly helps them to give this kind of quality performance.

Another great scene is when Mr. Whaley is forced to don surgical attire in order to hold his grandma's hand(her request) during an operation. Just as the good doctors are about to push a needle into Grandma's eye(it's a feast to watch Whaley's smirks), the screen blacks out, and cuts to a view of four anxious faces as observed from a viewer in a reclining position. Is it Grandma waking up after the operation?Nope. It's the grandson, who passed out during the operation.Standard, but cute and very funny.

This is an ensemble, almost perfect effort, to make a film, and everyone who has a heart should have the pleasure of seeing it.The viewer is left with the impression that four of the good collaborators here should be a lot more appreciated than they are, Miss Ross, Mr. Whalley, Mr. Putch and the writer, Mr. Rex McGee. We would all be happier if they should strike again, with passion.

It's no accident that these collaborators can work so well together, but they have also done good things separately. John Putch,actor as well as director, and just a few years older than Whaley also directed Whaley and Annabelle Gish in an award winning good film a few years back, The Pursuit of Happiness.Whaley's is memorable for Swimming with Sharks, a great movie about making movies, with the awesome Kevin Spacey and a budding Benicio del Toro. Marion Ross is famous for TV's Happy Days, but you must see this film to see that this great lady actor can act up a storm.She's iridescent and intensely appealing.Ross could easily challenge Shirley McLaine's acting in Terms of Endearment, (a similar Texas grandma role).Finally, the writer, Rex Mc Gee is a Texas boy who put in writing his love for his Texas village,with the same quality of feeling that Fellini showed for his town roots in Amarcord.McGee also worked as assistant to Billy Wilder, one of the great directors of all time.He put his baby in Putch's hands. No wonder this film turned out to be so good.

Gift of the Magi
(2010)

Not much of O.Henry's Gift here, but it's Christmasy-watchable
The O'Henry well known and striking short story on which two hour movie was based, is very short and precise. It's a masterpiece story which needs to be short to be as sharp and surprising as it is. It was made into a movie in the 50's, as one of many short tales, with less than a half an hour duration. it is to be expected then, that a lot had to be added to the plot to extend it to two hours.At times it feels like some water has been added to the stew, and it is not as savory. Still,one can certainly find some tasty morsels in it,especially the overall acting quality and the sweet and friendly atmosphere of goodwill surrounding the piece.

It's a working class town,and it's pretty bleak, not the upper class glittery ambiance one often finds in many a Christmas film. It's a credit to this "Gift" that it keeps the setting grim,like the story, but warms up the story with the sweet feelings our couple at the center have for each other, Della and Jim (Marla Sokoloff and Mark Webber). Around them are loving families and friends, in struggling hard times; but the folk in this town do take care of their loved ones, and the film successfully transmits this feeling of community support.

It's a parable for our actual financially depressed clime. It seems to pat us in the back saying love will carry us through(or at least make the ride easier,just what the Magi(Epiphany's Three Kings) ordered.The story turns on how Della and Jim botch up their Christmas gift list.They vow not to exchange presents, then go ahead and secretly plot otherwise. The conspiracy goes awry. Jim gets jealous when he suspects Della of spending too much time away. She has a secret part time job, with an older gentleman boss. Jim thinks Della's having secret rendezvous with an older gentleman lover. Not much trust from Jim here? Well, if Mr. Shakespeare had Othello mistrusting Desdemona, why not this screenwriter having Jim distrust Della? Later on Jim and Della will unwittingly screw up their gift plans,with the effect of producing an ironic twist that will be the heart and soul of this story. We all love surprises, and this story has one of the best!

Marla Sokoloff(Della) and Mark Webber(Jim)put in some really good acting. They're both fit for bigger and better roles. Marla as Della is sweetness and light,the girl next door who blossomed into a great beauty;kind of a young Sally Field with a vamp inside.Mark Webber has a boyish, intense look about him, promising in his soulful eyes a lot of rich layers. His projection of the character's insecurity is perfect for this part.

The casting is very good, including an interesting supporting cast. Megan Riordan(Renee) and Tomas(Ian) Suilleabhain-Sullivan in Gaelic)are lively and authentic as the main couple's supporting family.They have an adorable kid(he's not even in the credits)who melts the screen as he gives Jim a big hug at one of Jim's low moments.

All you need is love, is the appropriate, timely message this Gift of the Magi delivers. It may not pack the surprise punch of the original story, but it does leave you with a feel-good Christmas warmth.

An Accidental Christmas
(2007)

Parent Trap meets Kramer vs Kramer:Children want their liberated ex-soccer mom back!
OK, so it's not that great, but it's better than the one review in IDBM will have you think.Remember the child Lindsay Lohan playing twins trying to get their parents back together in The Parent Trap? Somewhat like that, but with Christmas put into the formula. Cynthia Gibb, who has a kind of Audrey Hepburn quality(big compliment!) is compelling as Vicky,a recent architect'apprentice, who wants more of an identity than just a wife and a mother,like Mrs Kramer in "Kramer vs Kramer". David Millbern as Jason Wright, the stunned husband who just doesn't get why his wife walked out on him, is endearingly nonplussed. And yes, he has a kinda high gaydar quotient,maybe because(if you take a look into his internet resume)he is an "activist" and Advocate contributor.

That said, I didn't find this ruined the film for me, it may have added another dimension.Jason may not be the stereotypical dominant macho type, but he can still be oppressive and insensitive to his wife and too embroiled in his job. Lots of husbands may have an "is he or isn't he"look and in real life they get the benefit of the doubt, why not here?And he IS likable and to me believable as the husband and father.

The children, hoping for a reconciliation, plot to force Vicky and Jason to spend a family Christmas together in their beach house in California.Myles,Vicky's hunky architect boss and old flame, (Jason Connery, Sean's son)is also spending his Christmas there,which provides some tension to the equation. Will Vicky give still-in-love Jason a second chance? Or will she defer to achieving her professional and newly found independence goals? Vicky doesn't seem to have gained enough footing in her new life to give it up so soon.Jason,on the other hand, may look like an easygoing guy and loving father,but husbands don't usually shed their old habits to give their ex-wives the necessary space to regain their identities.

It could go one way or the other,but although viewer sympathy is naturally with the father and children, in reality it's not an easy call. The way it is resolved in "Accidental Christmas"is not satisfyingly explained and it all seems too easy, a flaw in the script.The actors are not at fault, though. Millbern and Gibb are both good as the main characters,and Mr. Connery is just fine as Myles, we wish he had a larger role.James Hong, as the wise Chinese beach caretaker,who gives Vicky and Jason some sound advice, makes himself noted in a small character role.In the end the viewer feels like the film could have been more consequential in treating the wife's dilemma,so it feels like a missed opportunity. Still it is deserving and very watchable.

Undercover Christmas
(2003)

Battle of the Hunks over Cinderella witness:Conman boyfriend vs handsome copper.
Hunky FBI agent Jake Cunningham(Shawn Christian) must protect witness Brandi(Jamie Gertz)until her indicted boyfriend,shifty Scott Shift(ha,ha) goes to trial on a investments scam. When his mother(Tyne Daly)tries to bring Jake back home for Christmas, telling him his wealthy estranged father has had a heart attack,Jake has this bright idea to hide Brandi in his parent's house,trying to pass her as his girlfriend, until the trial after Christmas.

Viewers already suspect what's gonna happen between Brandi and Jake eventually. Still, dramatic tension is created by differences between fake Jake fiancée Brandi and the upper class Cunninghams, including Jake's sister, husband and cute preteen niece.Jamie Gertz as Brandi sparkles in a kind of cleaned-up, gangster's moll role which Barbara Stanwick made perfect.She delightfully offends socially, then makes amends, eventually winning over the family(Jake too), and especially the niece, who finds Brandi especially cool and authentic. For the occasion of the grand Cunningham Christmas party,the girls gang up to give Brandi a My Fair Lady makeover. And Miss Gertz is appropriately stunning in her party appearance, Cinderella and Pretty Woman all rolled into one.

Then the battle of the hunks develop, when shifty boyfriend Scott(Cameron Bancroft)secretly appears trying to enamor Brandi and get her not to testify against him.Will she be loyal to her old flame or will she heed Jake's advice to be true to her conscience, and to him?Stay tuned.

Tyne Daly, who is too fine an actress for this vehicle, is cast against type as the suffering noble matriarch, trying to bring the family together in spite of her judge husband's(Winston Reckert) tyrannical ways.As usual,feisty Ms.Daly delivers a high quality performance in the unlikely role of gracious Mrs. Cunningham. One wishes she would be cast in meatier roles,like the type Kathy Bates is getting plenty of.

The plot is logical, but credibility is stretched to the limit.Some white washing of typical plot lines has been done, like the gangster has been promoted to a white collar criminal, and the moll is now a lower middle class girlfriend from a broken home. No matter how much we want to believe,in the end we feel like we've been taken for a ride. However the ride is very pleasant and entertaining,all the performers are interesting and very attractive, and at least two performances are outstanding.Miss Gertz shines, Miss Daly is compelling as always, and the viewer is left asking for more of this heady Christmas punch.

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