Author Archive

The 12 Dates of Christmas
Groundhogs Eve, Anyone?

I first saw Amy Smart in The Butterfly Effect and was blown away by her performance as a young woman traumatized by sexual abuse. I didn’t think Smart got nearly enough attention for that supporting role. So I’ve always been pleased to run across Smart in other offerings–and particularly so when Jenn and I stumbled across The 12 Dates of Christmas on Netflix several years ago. It’s now one of our holiday staples.


The Christmas Secret

Have you ever taken a road trip to someplace like the Grand Canyon, or Disneyland? I’ve done both, and have discovered that the journey there can be just as much fun as the destination itself. Some movies are like that. You know exactly where the plot is going—either because you’ve seen the movie already, or one very much like it—but you don’t mind at all because the getting there is pretty darned pleasant. The Christmas Secret is that kind of movie, particularly when you’re holding a bowl of fresh-popped popcorn. It’s a Hallmark original production in which nothing very surprising happens; but heck, you’ve tuned in to Hallmark Movies and Mysteries, right? You’re there for a reason!


Act of Valor
Reality? Check!

As the action unfolds, you never get the sense that something absolutely ridiculous (Mission: Impossible), leaden (The Expendables), or overly-kinetic (Bourne or anything Statham) is going to happen. If bad guys are gonna get taken out, it’s going to happen quick, and the SEALs are going to move on, fast. If something blows up, it’s going to happen… once, and the SEALs are going to move on, fast. If something technologically sophisticated is required, we’re going to see bits of it—it won’t be belabored and shown off—and the SEALs are going to move right along, fast.


Saints and Soldiers

At the crux of the plot is the same dilemma as in Steven Spielberg’s heavy-handed and polemic Saving Private Ryan: Do you show mercy to your enemies? Little’s film doesn’t treat that question in a perfunctory manner, on either end of the spectrum… though, naturally, it just isn’t possible to read this as a “shoot the bastards” tract.


The Snow Walker

What happens when a headstrong rumrunner crash-lands in the Arctic Barrens? In 2003’s The Snow Walker, this question has to be answered in the context of post-World War II technology, not with the luxury of GPS beacons and satellite phones. So when Charlie Halliday drops the last spare radio tube in his crashed single-prop, and it breaks, the answer is… a whole lot of survival training.


Another Talk with Mark Freiburger
From Jimmy to Michael Bay, Freiburger Impresses

When I reviewed Mark Freiburger’s debut film Dog Days of Summer less than four years ago, I described it as having “the period spookiness of Something Wicked This Way Comes” with “macabre touches hinting of Tennessee Williams… and the lighter moments of Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me.” That’s pretty serious praise for an indie “faith market” film. Since then, Freiburger has worked on three other feature films—as screenwriter on The List and The Trial, both directed by Gary Wheeler, and as director on the straight-to-DVD release Jimmy. Upon the release of the film to DVD last week, I exchanged some emails with Freiburger.


Few Options
Try This One

You know the drill. Frank Connor has just been released from prison, and has nowhere to go. In the absence of other ideas, he drifts back into the neighborhood and friendships that landed him in jail in the first place. Before long, he’s being pressured into doing “one last job” to clear the “debt” he owes to the goon he “let down” by getting caught. What’s Frank gonna do? There are so few options that only one is really plausible… and we can see the train wreck coming some sixty or seventy minutes away. Still, Pappy executes the story with style and grace. You probably won’t get emotionally involved in Frank’s tale, but you probably will enjoy the slow-burn ride.


5 Star Day
Think You’ve Had a Bad Day?

When Jake arises to his shared-apartment corporate-drone world on his birthday, he’s expecting great things. Why? Because his horoscope has told him to. I won’t spoil things for you by going into detail, but let’s just say that Jake does a less than stellar job of interpreting the Delphic oracle that horoscopes tend to be. And when things go spectacularly awry, Jake jets out of town on a mission to debunk astrology. Pro-astro reviewers have noted that 5 Star Day really isn’t about the ways in which the stars influence our lives, or about defending or attacking a particular system of belief. And they’re right. So if you’re looking for a good savage critique of astrology (and I’m not really sure why anyone would be) this isn’t your film.


Nutcracker
Headshaker

What is the story of Nutcracker? Well, gosh. That’s kind of a hard question to answer for a ballet, unless you’ve “read the book.” Here, apparently, young Clara has some weird hangup about her eccentric inventor godfather, and the night before Christmas she lapses into a fevered dream. Her godfather, Herr Drosselmeier, crafts a magical toy-soldier nutcracker for her as a gift, and in the dream sequence it morphs into a handsome prince… with whom, it seems, Drosselmeier vies for Clara’s romantic intentions. Or maybe I’m reading that all wrong. I don’t know. But the voiceover narration is a sure sign that Ballard isn’t exactly comfortable that his presentation of the ballet is telling a coherent story, either.


Getting It Right
Gentle and Loving

I’ve never forgotten this little gem of a gentle movie, which the unsung Jesse Birdsall carries admirably—and which, under the direction of Randal Kleiser (yes, that Randal Kleiser), features a supporting cast of highly memorable proportions: Lynn Redgrave, Helena Bonham Carter, Sir John Gielgud, Jane Horrocks, Peter Cook. In a story that prefigures The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Birdsall stars as Gavin Lamb, a 30-year-old dresser of blue-hairs (and little-to-no-hairs) who still lives at home and is admittedly scared of talking to most people—women in particular. He’s anal-retentive in a non-fussy way, very focused on not making mistakes as he wanders his art-appreciative way through life.


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