Category Archives: Drama Movies

Listen To Your Heart (2010) Movie Review

Listen To Your Heart (2010)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: Kent Moran, Alexia Rasmussen, Cybill Shepherd, Frank Watson, Ernie Sabella
Director: Matt Thompson
Release Date: 14 August 2010
Language: English
Length: 100 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: Online Streaming
My Rating: image_thumb83_thumb1_thumb

Synopsis:

Danny (Kent Moran) is a struggling musician who dreams of writing famous songs, but spends his time working for small wages.  When Ariana (Alexia Rasmussen) dines at Tony’s, the restaurant where Danny works as a waiter, it is love at first sight.  Danny slips Ariana his phone number, but she doesn’t call him.  He discovers why when Ariana shows up at the restaurant two weeks later and explains that she is deaf and doesn’t own a phone.  Undeterred, Danny pursues Ariana and is thrilled to learn that she returns his feelings wholeheartedly.  Cue the wicked mother (Cybill Shepherd) who is determined to keep Ariana under her protection.  Will Ariana’s mother be able to keep these two lovebirds apart permanently?

Review:

I expected very little of this movie and was absolutely floored at the strength and power of the ending.  The beginning is a typical love story.  The only unique aspect of the story and the characters is that one of them is deaf.  Danny is Kent Moran as Dannyplayed by Kent Moran, a handsome young actor who seems genuinely nice and very sweet.  I confess that I fell in love with him as the movie progressed so I can totally see why Ariana, or Sam as he called her, couldn’t stay away!  Danny is one of those people who changes lives.  He buys newpapers from a dodgy looking man on the street even though he never reads them.  He pitches in to help at the restaurant and does more than he needs to for less pay than he deserves.  He helped take care of his mother during her cancer treatments and still believes that “every day is a great day to be alive,” which was his mother’s greeting for each new day.  Ariana/Sam Alexia Rasmussen as Ariana or Samis played by Alexia Rasmussen.  She is pretty enough, but wasn’t really anything special when she is apart from Danny.  However, Alexia Rasmussen does a great job portraying a deaf person and it is always great to see the deaf community portrayed in a positive light.  Sam lost her father when she was a little girl and then she lost her hearing.  Her mother, Victoria (Cybill Shepherd), is very overprotective and tries to keep Sam away from everyone and everything.  There was definitely a special spark between Danny and Sam and I grew to love them as a couple.  They were so lucky to find this kind of love at the ages of 21 and 24!  Unfortunately, the couple is kind of like a modern-day Romeo and Juliet and their path to love definitely does not run smooth…

At first, Listen To Your Heart was typical for a romance movie.  You have star-crossed lovers, an evil villain trying to keep them apart and then a happily-ever-after, right?  Wrong.  This movie is definitely a hopefully-ever-after.  Sam finally defies her mother and runs off to live with her prince in his small Danny and Arianaapartment, only to learn that Danny has been diagnosed with terminal cancer.  This was a huge surprise and I was stunned.  If treated, Danny may have a few more months to live, but his time is definitely limited.  I could not stop crying during the last 15 – 20 minutes and I do not typically cry during movies.  Watching Danny go through chemo, supported by Sam, the love of his life, and Roger (Frank Watson), his best friend, was bittersweet.  I was so grateful that Danny had people who loved him surrounding him during his last days on earth, but it was so difficult to say goodbye to him!  These scenes always make me think about what I would do Danny and His Best Friend, Rogerwith the last days of my life and I think I would spend them in the same way.  Frank Watson plays Roger, Danny’s best friend, and he has a few scene-stealing moments towards the end.  Danny did not have any blood relatives when he died, but he certainly had a family who loved him!  Danny changed so many people’s lives and influenced many for good.  He was inspiring and made me want to try and be more like him. Danny never changed the world and, as an ordinary man, he and many like him will not be remembered for anything they achieved here on this earth.  But this doesn’t mean that he was forgotten.  He changed the course of Sam’s life for certain and, in the end, the story of music changing a life becomes Sam’s instead of Danny’s.

I believe that this movie is totally correct in their portrayal of music – a song can Danny Playing the Pianochange your life.   If you look back over your life, you will almost always find a soundtrack accompanies it.  I can remember special moments and events in my life when a certain song plays on the radio.  Danny composes and performs many songs throughout the movie and, while solid, they were nothing special.  The best musical performances, in my opinion, were the instrumental numbers.  There is a beautiful piano piece played during the credits that I encourage you to listen to while you try to stop crying.

Really, the best part of the movie is the cancer section at the end.  When Danny’s friend, Roger, tells Danny to dump Ariana and move on to another girl who would be easier to be in love with and more fun, Danny tells him “I don’t want to Danny in His Hospital Bedmiss out on something great just because it might also be hard.”  This line stayed with me throughout the movie and it really struck a chord at the end of the film.  It seemed like Danny had very few regrets when he died and I could not say the same if I was in his shoes today.  I find myself strangely inspired by this movie and hope that I can live my life a little bit better.  I should be more inclusive, more positive and not let myself be afraid.  The movie is a bit contrived and, at times, is poorly acted, but the message and the story really inspired me.  Do yourself a favor and don’t be too critical when you watch this movie.  There is a sweet message contained inside if you allow yourself to enjoy it and believe in it.

Content:

This movie contains some scenes of heavy petting and kissing.  There are a couple of bar scenes and Ariana gets drunk for the first time.  There is a scene of attempted rape.  The movie also portrays the suffering of a cancer patient and then eventually, death.  There is some mild violence and fighting, mostly verbal. There are scenes of drinking.  Recommended for ages 10 and up.

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The War Bride (2001) Movie Review

The War Bride (2001)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

The War Bride

Starring: Anna Friel, Brenda Fricker, Aden Young, Julie Cox, Loren Dean
Director: Lyndon Chubbuck
Release Date: 23 March 2001
Language: English
Length: 107 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: Online Streaming
My Rating: image_thumb83_thumb1_thumb

Synopsis:

Lily (Anna Friel) falls in love with Canadian soldier Charlie (Aden Young) while he is in London.  She has only known him a couple of days, but marries him in a whirlwind romance dressed in a tablecloth turned wedding dress.  Nine months later, Lily has Lindy (Gabrielle McLaren & Schyler McLaren), their daughter.  Another surprise follows shortly thereafter when Lily and her best friend, Sophie (Julie Cox), both married to Canadians, learn that they are going to be evacuated to Canada where they will be safe.  Lily is looking forward to living with Charlie’s mother, Betty (Brenda Fricker), and sister, Sylvia (Molly Parker), but they are less than thrilled to meet Charlie’s new bride.  Stuck in the middle of nowhere, Lily tries to win over the hearts of her new family and the locals, but it is an uphill battle all the way!

Review:

The War Bride was surprisingly good.  I thought that the film would take place in the UK, so I was a bit taken aback to learn that the bulk of the movie takes place in Canada.  I had absolutely no exposure to what life was like in Canada during Lily and Charlie First MeetWorld War II so everything was new to me.  Charlie’s family were hardworking, simple folk.  They are completely isolated from the rest of the world and war updates and reports completely stop when Lily moves there.  The characters do not listen to radio reports or get regular updates in letters from the front line so they have no idea how the war is progressing.  When Charlie abruptly returns home towards the end of the movie, the war still wasn’t over, Charlie wasn’t injured, and yet he was magically back.  This was frustrating at first, but then I realized that it could be a very effective tool to place viewers in the same situation that the characters would be in.  Information was not readily available or even reliable at the time and it was a completely different world then it is now where we are over saturated with information.

Lily (Anna Friel) and Charlie (Aden Young) are only together for a total of fourteen days before she moves to rural Canada to live with his widowed mother, Betty (Brenda Fricker), and his partially crippled sister, Sylvia (Molly Parker).  The farm is made up of a few ramshackle buildings and is in the middle of nowhere.  Lily is devastated and her visions of cowboys on the plains is Lily and Baby Lindycompletely ruined.  She is a city girl and doesn’t know how to survive on a farm.  Unwelcome and unwanted, Lily could have abandoned her new family and gone to live with her friend, Sophie (Julie Cox), or used Charlie’s military pay to move somewhere else, but she stuck it out.  She learned about gathering eggs from chickens, Betty taught her how to drive, and she tried to help around the house.  Unfortunately, a lot of Lily’s efforts just seem to make her situation worse.  When she makes some nice clothing and lingerie for the local ladies, they are scandalized and think her frivolous.  She makes a special meal of English foods and a few guests refuse to even try what she has made.  But Lily doesn’t let any of this get her down.  She still puts on bright red lipstick, wears her vibrant dresses and keeps trying to make friends.  I would have given up on Charlie’s family, but Lily didn’t.  She is like a ray of sunshine in the bleak little Canadian town and I wish I had a friend like her!

The War Bride features the spare beauty of rural Alberta, Canada.  Scenes are thoughtfully presented to highlight Lily’s character the way a red rose stands out amongst daisies.  A great deal of attention was paid to clothing and makeup to Lily Wondering Alonereally make this movie stand out.  Seamed stockings, garter belts, silk teddies, combinations, high-heeled shoes – there are so many fun outfits!  Lily doesn’t have an extensive wardrobe, but she always looked great, even when she is wearing muted shades or baggy coveralls.  She never feels fully dressed without her bright red lipstick and I absolutely loved this about her!  The music is also carefully chosen and selected to immerse you in the time period.  There is some wonderful music, as well as some great dance sequences.  There is some amazing dancing in London and some more intimate, romantic dancing in Canada.  Emotions, stories, and more are told through the songs that the filmmakers paired with their heartwarming film.

Anna Friel is the movie.  There are other characters in the movie, but she is the heart and soul of the film.  She makes a mellow, period movie into something special.  The film is pretty slow-paced and there really isn’t a lot that happens, Lily Kisses Charlie Goodbyebut you don’t notice because Anna Friel is lighting up the screen.  Lily’s character changes the life of everyone she comes into contact with.  She manages to ease Betty’s (Brenda Fricker) grief over the death of her husband.  She brings peace to Charlie (Aden Young) when he feels like a failure at the end of the war.  She teaches Sylvia (Molly Parker) that she can do more than she allows herself to do and that a relationship with Joe (Loren Dean) is possible.  Life is different and hard for Lily, but she adapts and she makes do.  I am sure that there were a lot of remarkable women during this time period so it was wonderful to see the fictional portrayal of one of them.

Content:

This movie features full-frontal female nudity in brief glimpses.  Women are also shown wearing intimate apparel.  There is some heavy petting that leads to sex, but no actual sex scenes are shown.  There is some British swearing, but nothing too explicit.  There are scenes of drinking and smoking.  PTSD, cheating spouses, and death are presented and discussed.  Recommended for ages 12 and up.

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Last Holiday (1950) Movie Review

Last Holiday (1950)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: Alec Guinness, Beatrice Campbell, Kay Walsh, Grégoire Aslan, Jean Colin
Director: Henry Cass
Release Date: 13 November 1950
Language: English
Length: 88 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: DVD
My Rating: image_thumb84_thumb1

Synopsis:

When George Bird (Alec Guinness) is diagnosed with Lampington’s Disease, he learns he only has a few months to live.  George quits his job, cashes out his bank account and heads to a ritzy resort village to stay in a grand hotel until he dies or his money runs out.  Determined to avoid pity, George keeps his condition a secret.  And since he has nothing to lose, George is completely honest with his fellow vacationers.  Ironically, now that he is dying, George discovers that a whole new world of professional and personal opportunities are opening up to him…

Review:

I loved the Queen Latifah remake of this movie so I decided to check out the original and I am glad that I did!  Last Holiday is billed as a black comedy, but I George at Dinnerdidn’t find it as funny as the remake.  Instead, this black-and-white version is much more thoughtful and bittersweet.  It raised the question in my mind of what I would do if I was in George Bird’s position?  How would I choose to spend the last couple of months or weeks of my life if I discovered I was dying and could not be healed?  George’s answer was to go and live out the rest of his days among the wealthy and elite and to experience how the other half lives.  I believe that he made his choice based on his lack of friends and family, which is really sad.  I think that George would have chosen to stay among loved ones rather than strangers, but he didn’t have any in this movie so that wasn’t really a choice.  So, step one, make sure that have family – tied by blood or by bonds of friendship – to spend your last days with.

Step two, be yourself and be honest with those around you.  We spend so much of our lives telling little white lies to others and to ourselves.  I know that I live Mrs. Poole Does Goerge's Tiebeneath my potential and George definitely did.  When George quits his job, he learns how valuable he is to the company where he sells farming equipment.  His boss offers him a huge raise to stay, but the money no longer means anything to George.  At the resort, George inspires an idealess inventor to improve on some farming equipment; motivates a war hero and his beautiful wife to make an honest living rather than sponging off of others and participating in get-rich-quick schemes; rallies the spoiled residents to cover for the staff while they are striking; introduces a low-class American millionaire and The Last Holiday (1950)</p><p>Directed by Henry Cass</p><p>Shown: Alec Guinness, Beatrice Campbellhis girlfriend into the wealthy upper-class circle at the hotel; and protects the employees from the demanding guests.  George had this wonderful ability to help people without offending and sometime without really saying anything at all.  I think that we all have this potential in us, but we don’t know when or how to use it.  I know that I am too afraid to say what I really think all of the time and do not always give the best advice because I am more concerned about how it will reflect on me rather than will it really help someone else.  Also, George didn’t just give advice, he gave money, time and whatever else was needed to make those around him happier and better people.

Step three, be mysterious and don’t let anyone know that you are at the end of your life.  It was really sad to note that, at the end of the movie, when we know that George is no longer dying, that everyone else at the hotel immediately starts The Last Suppertearing him down.  There is no longer that mysterious “something special” about George and he becomes just like everyone else.  Of course, the message here is that we all are special, but we believe everyone else when they say we are not.  I do buy into the mysterious aspect, however, as everyone is a bit more interesting when you don’t know them too well.  Uncover someone’s secrets and there is no longer anything new to discover so keep a few surprises tucked away.  George was still just as fascinating and kind and capable as he was when he thought he was dying, but everyone else did their best to pull him down.  I confess that I teared up at the end of the movie and you should be prepared to cry to as the ending was not at all what I expected!

Ultimately, I really enjoyed Last Holiday.  I found it to be a well-acted, thoughtful movie about our choices in life.  I loved its old-fashioned feel and felt like I got a peek into the past.  This version is in black and white and the characters are wearing gorgeous clothing from the 1950s.  The wealthy are George Wondersincredibly snobbish and carelessly cruel while the workers are easy to relate to and fun to get to know.  The actors did a fine job in their roles and the script itself was wonderful.  It is a pity that this movie hasn’t been given a face lift as the feedback from the sound was kind of distracting.  Other than that, the picture is crisp and clear and the audio is easy to understand.  I laughed and cried as George tried to solve the riddle of “how do you keep smiling with a stiff upper lip?” while living out the last period of his life with grace, dignity and a charitable spirit towards the rest of mankind.  With some little laughs and a lot of thought-provoking moments, Last Holiday will be sure to surprise and delight all who see it.

Content:

This movie contains some drinking of alcohol and smoking.  There are characters who indulge in extra-marital affairs and illegal activities, such as smuggling and theft.  Characters gamble including playing poker and betting on the horse races.  Recommended for ages 8 and up.

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Without a Trace (1983) Movie Review

Without a Trace (1983)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Without a Trace Movie Poster

Starring: Kate Nelligan, Judd Hirsch, Stockard Channing, David Dukes, Jacqueline Brookes
Director: Stanley R. Jaffe
Release Date: 4 February 1983
Language: English
Length: 120 minutes
Movie Rating: PG
View Format: TV
My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Synopsis:

Susan Selky (Kate Nelligan) waves goodbye to her son, Alex (Danny Corkill), in the morning and has her worst nightmare come true when he never comes home.  Susan receives an outpouring of support as the search begins for her son.  News reporters pester her for interviews and TV appearances, police officers are stationed in her home around the clock, and the parents at Alex’s school canvass the neighborhood with posters.  However, as time passes and there is no sign of Alex, the support gradually tapers off.  Instead of helping Susan look for Alex, friends and family are now trying to help Susan come to terms with the fact that Alex may never be coming home.  This movie is based on the book Still Missing by Beth Gutcheon, which is loosely based on the real-life disappearance of Etan Patz.

Review:

This movie reaches in and grabs hold of your heart very early on in the film.  Of course, you know Alex goes missing before you start watching the movie so it is not a surprise when he disappears.  What the film does so well though is to capture a beautiful morning between mother Susan Selky (Kate Nelligan) and her only child, Alex (Danny Corkill).  Susan and her husband, Graham (David Dukes), have recently separated and there is a very close bond between mother and child.  Susan wakes up a sleepy Alex and persuades him to get out of Susan & Alex Selkybed and get ready for school.  She doesn’t yell at Alex when he barges into the bathroom while she is showering to try and talk about a friend’s birthday present.  Alex asks for Cheerios for breakfast the next morning, rather than the eggs that Susan made for him that morning.  They play with the dog, they talk about inviting Alex’s dad to his birthday party and you can feel the love and the relationship between these two.  The beginning of the movie has a tremendous impact on the viewer.  You know how close the mother and child are and that Alex disappearing is going to be absolutely devastating for her.  As Susan says goodbye to Alex and the cute little boy turns around to wave goodbye, you know that this is the last time she will see him before he disappears.  The movie is old and looks dated and a bit faded, but the beginning just pulled me and made me interested and invested in the characters from the beginning.  Bravo on making a poignant, touching opening to this movie.  If the story hadn’t been so interesting, the cringe-inducing synthesizer soundtrack would have driven me far away within moments, but, fortunately, I was able to stick with it!

Unfortunately, as the movie progresses past the first 45 minutes, it loses a bit of steam.  The first part deals with a frantic effort by the police, friends, family and neighbors to look for Alex, follow up leads, wait for a blackmail request, anything to indicate that Alex is still alive.  After the first month or so, there are very few people still looking for Alex.  Susan is probably the only one who still believes that Alex is alive and she pushes away family and friends as they try to help her realize that she can have a life without her little boy.  The sense of isolation, Kate Nelliganabandonment, frustration, and loss is very difficult to convey on a screen.  Kate Nelligan is able to show the viewer Susan Selky’s emotions quite well and she has a tremendous range, but this part of the movie was just a little boring.  Susan is so stoic, so silent and blank-faced that it can be difficult to relate to her at first.  Fortunately, the director included a few scenes where Susan blows up at loved ones and this helped me relate to her a bit more.  I am not sure if the director was trying to give the viewers a sense of waiting and how hard it is to keep hoping without any information, but I think this part went on for a bit too long.  You kind of coast along for about 30 – 45 minutes and then you can sense that the ending is coming and things start happening again.  Still, I was thoroughly engaged in the characters by then and this is a testament to some great performances by the cast.

Kate Nelligan leads the cast and is in almost every scene.  She is just what you would want a mother to be that is missing their child.  Focused, driven, and willing to sacrifice anything to get her son back.  Her character is also shattered and groping for answers as she comes to realize that people and surroundings she has known for years are not at all what they seem Judd Hirschto be.  Judd Hirsch was terrific as Al Hirsch, the detective assigned to investigate Alex’s disappearance.  He desperately wants to give Susan good news, but they have no leads and the case has gone completely cold.  The only people that are still calling about the case are crackpots, psychics and other weirdoes.  I loved that Al was a family man and that, while his wife joked about getting a divorce, they were a strong unit and he tried to spend time with his wife and children.  If Susan’s character was the heart of the movie, Al was the soul of the movie.  These two characters interfaced so well together and, even though they did not always agree on what to do to find Alex, they worked together and suffered together.  The fabulous Stockard Channing is also in this movie as the best friend of Susan.  I personally felt like she was underutilized as Susan and Al are the main characters and everyone else is kind of on the periphery, but she made the most of her role.  Her hair is huge and her look is very dated, but, as Jocelyn Norris, she is a great friend to Susan.  I confess that I suspected her of kidnapping Alex for a little bit as she seemed almost too supportive and too nice, but she is just trying to be a great friend.

After I watched this movie, I looked it up online to see if any of this film was based on fact and was surprised to see that it is based on a book, which is based on the true story of a child who went missing in New York.  The book is called Still Missing by Beth Gutcheon.  The little boy who went missing in real life is named Etan Patz.  Etan was six-years-old when he went missing, Alex was six, almost seven years old.  Both boys had less than two blocks to walk to Etan Patzthe bus stop/school.  Both boys never made it to school and their mothers discovered this after school was over.  The movie shows the media circus, the national attention and the overwhelming support for the missing boys, but, after that, they diverge somewhat.  Etan Patz’s disappearance led to a missing children’s movement that we still see today including putting missing children’s photographs on milk cartons, new legislation and some new ways of searching for missing children.  ****Spoiler alert****  I was totally convinced that the movie would end very much the same way that the real-life story ended.  I thought that the movie would just kind of wind down and fizzle out as Susan realized her son was gone forever.  Etan Patz was legally declared dead in 2001, 22 years after he went missing.  New York state is still working on solving his disappearance, but there are no updates.  It was such a pleasant surprise in the movie to realize that they were going to go with a traditional Hollywood ending and have Alex come home safe and sound.  A random, crazy-sounding tip comes in and it leads to a really emotional ending.  Of course, the ending is over-the-top and totally unbelievable, but it was also really touching.  There is a whole stream of police cars who elect to follow Alex home and make sure he arrives safely.  I was thinking of how rarely the police are able to take good news to parents in this position and found it really touching.  Then you have Susan, who doesn’t know that Alex has been found, until she sees him running towards her.  Cue the dropped grocery bag, the family pet racing to greet Alex, the photographers snapping pictures as the mother and son hug, and then end shot/film.  ****Spoiler end****

While this movie is dated and by-the-book without any surprises, it is also quite well done.  I enjoyed it far more than I anticipated and even stayed up late to finish watching it as I couldn’t wait to see what was going to happen!  The performances are solid from the cast, the characters are likeable and interesting and I am a sucker for movies based on true stories.  If you stumble across this movie on late-night TV or online, take some time to watch it as it still resonates with viewers even though it is much older now.

Content:

This movie is about a little boy who has been kidnapped.  There are discussions of child molestation and abuse as the police and everyone else wonders why Alex was taken.  Susan’s housekeeper is a homosexual man who is arrested for soliciting a prostitute and using a whip.  They find sex toys in his apartment and he has a previous arrest report for statutory rape.  Susan’s husband (separated) has many “friends” and he sleeps around with his female students.  There are some scenes of mild violence, drinking, smoking, and mild language.  Recommended for ages 10 and up.

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Beyond the Blackboard (2011) Movie Review

Beyond the Blackboard (2011)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: Emily VanCamp, Steve Talley, Julio Oscar Mechoso, Treat Williams, Nicki Aycox
Director: Jeff Bleckner
Series: a Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation
Release Date: 24 April 2011
Language: English
Length: 95 minutes
Movie Rating: PG
View Format: TV
My Rating: 4/5 stars

Synopsis:

Stacey Bess (Emily VanCamp) is thrilled to get her first teaching job.  She just graduated from college and has no experience, but has wanted to be a teacher her whole life.  But when Stacey arrives at the School with No Name, she is horrified to discover the conditions she is expected to teach in.  There are no desks, no books, the lights are dim and every train that passes by shakes the whole classroom!  Parents are constantly interrupting, the kids all have a different amounts of learning, rats come up out of the floorboards and there is no money to buy the supplies the children desperately need.  Can Stacey find the heart and the means to give these children a chance in life?

Review:

I grew up watching the Hallmark Hall of Fame presentations with my mother.  I can remember that they were a special event in our household and my family would gather around the TV set on Sunday evenings to watch them together.  The only thing that has changed for me is that I never know when these movies are going to be on – or what channel they will broadcast on – and that I can use my DVR to record them and watch them any night of the week.  Other than that, they are still the same, high-quality movies that I remember from my childhood.  They are always heartwarming, clean, and have inspirational stories.  Beyond the Blackboard is no different.

I am a sucker for movies that are based on true stories.  I guess I enjoy them the most because I can see a single individual who makes a difference in other people’s lives or in their own lives.  They give me hope and they inspire me to try harder to be a better person.  Beyond Stacey Bess in Real Lifethe Blackboard is based on the true life story of Stacey Bess, whom viewers are introduced to at the end of this film.  Stacey taught at this homeless school, and others, for 8 years before she left her teaching job to become an advocate for education for underprivileged children.  She did this while raising her own children and being a supportive wife.  Stacey got her first job at the School with No Name when she was 24-years-old.  Eight years later she was 32-years-old and was making a powerful impact in school districts around the country.  I am older than Stacey was when she accomplished all of this and do not have any legacy to live behind me.  That does not mean that I have not touched any lives, but no one will ever be making a movie (made for TV or not!) about my life when it is done.  What I am trying to say is that all of us have the potential to change the world around us for the better.  We may be scared, unequipped or ill prepared, but that does not mean we should back away from the challenge.

Emily VanCamp shines as Stacey Bess.  I loved that the filmmaker gave her a few moments at the end of the movie to introduce the real Stacey Bess and to talk about how she took this role because she found the story so personally touching.  I feel that Emily VanCamp really captured Stacey’s message and her life.  At first, I felt that Stacey was not strong enough to become a teacher who mattered.  She came from a home where her parents argued constantly and took refuge in books at a young age.  Stacey left school to marry at the young age of 16, but she never gave up her dream of becoming a teacher.  She got her GED and then her college degree, only to end up in a classroom to teach grades 1 – 6 with children who were bright and others who had little to no education.  Their parents were homeless, some with skills, other who can’t even read.  Emily VanCamp was like a shining star Emily VanCamp at Blackboardin this setting.  She was clean, pretty and has a kind of naive innocence about her that she never lost, even though she saw some of the worst of what people were capable of.  As the movie progresses, I saw Stacey as a character become stronger, more powerful and a driving force in countless lives.  You will find yourself caught up in the lives of her young students.  These young actors were memorable, individual and well cast. Liam McKanna as Danny and Paola Nicole Andino as Maria stand out the most as they are given bigger roles in this movie, but there are some little children who are just heartbreakers.  They had such cute little faces with countless opportunities ahead of them if they could only be given the chance!

It was heartbreaking to realize that most of these students had no real chance at a future because of the situation their parents were in.  All of the children in the classroom were shown as bright, loveable and aching for a chance.  They responded to Stacey because she gave them hope, trust and showed them that she was determined to become part of their lives.  Stacey takes one of her weekends to redo the classroom, at no pay and with supplies she Teaching the Childrenpurchased herself, and then invites the students to set rules with her.  The children open up to Stacey about their personal lives as they share stories of abuse (verbal and physical), low self-esteems and a sense of powerlessness.  A great teacher can change the way that children see themselves and the world around them.  It is too bad that great teachers are not rewarded in this life the way that they should be.  I loved the little extra touches Stacey made to reach out and give her students a chance.  She gets up extra early so she can go down the street, ringing a bell and trying to get her students to wake up and make it to school on time.  Stacey holds meetings with the parents and treats with them respect and encourages them to donate time to the school.  I appreciate that the movie took the time to show that the homeless adults were not all druggie deadbeats, but that some of them had great skills and talents.  They just had no job and no where to go.  If you look closely at your life, you will realize that you are not very far away from being out on the street yourself.  Without a safety net of close family and friends to help you out when times are hard, you could easily end up living in a car, too.  If you have children, it is even more difficult because it is more expensive.  Thank goodness for teachers who make a difference like Stacey Bess who give these children a chance while they are at the shelter!

I found this movie to be inspirational and uplifting.  There are so few films out there that will really leave you with a warm, good feeling inside that it is nice to run across them every now and again.  This is a wonderful movie to share with your whole family and hopefully it will launch a discussion about what it is like to be homeless and if there is anything we can do to help.  Shortly before I watched this film, I had a grungy-looking man approach me in a parking lot and I automatically said that I didn’t have any cash, even though I actually had a few ones in a wallet.  He looked and me and said “I was going to offer to wash your windows” and walked away.  I not only denied him a few dollars that would mean much more to him than they would to me, but I robbed him of a little bit more of his dignity.  I do not know if he was on the streets because of choices he had made in his life or of circumstances beyond his control, but I feel like I made the wrong choice.  I had the power to change one person’s life for a little while and I did not take advantage of it.  This movie inspired me to try harder and to see if I could make a difference in someone else’s life.  Hopefully it will do the same for you.

Content:

This movie has scenes that discuss drug abuse and alcoholism.  There are scenes of poverty, shouting, verbal arguments, living on the streets and bullying.  Recommended for ages 7 and up.

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Homeless to Harvard: The Liz Murray Story (2003) Movie Review

Homeless to Harvard: The Liz Murray Story (2003)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: Thora Birch, Michael Riley, Robert Bockstael, Makyla Smith, Jennifer Pisana
Director: Peter Levin
Release Date: 7 April 2003
Language: English
Length: 104 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: TV
My Rating: 4/5 stars

Synopsis:

Liz Murray (Thora Birch) grew up eating out of garbage cans and attending school sporadically.  Her mother is a drug-addicted schizophrenic, her father a brilliant man with no practical smarts.  Eventually, family services shows up and takes her away to a group home, where Liz learns to shower regularly and to get used to a routine.  When Liz’s friend, Chris (Makyla Smith), has no where else to go, Liz and Chris hit the streets together at the age of 15.  It takes the death of Liz’s mother (Kelly Lynch) from AIDS for Liz to realize that life on the street is not for her.  She works hard to get accepted into a Humanities Preparatory Academy in Chelsea, Manhattan and soon finds herself applying for a scholarship to Harvard.  Based on a true story.

Review:

I love a good based-on-a-true-story movie.  It is always amazing to see what real-life people can accomplish against overwhelming odds!  This one, Homeless to Harvard, sounds even less believable than most, but it is based on the true story of Liz Murray.  Liz grew up in the Bronx Liz Murray in Real Lifeto drug-addicted parents, both of whom later died of AIDS.  Liz was able to graduate from high school in just two years, despite not having a regular home or dependable income.  She was awarded a New York Times scholarship for needy students and was accepted into Harvard University in 2000.  I was a bit dismayed with the postscript of the movie, which shows that Liz was only at Harvard for 1 year before she left to go out on the lecture circuit and make money.  What I did not realize, until I looked for further information, is that Liz moved to take care of her father and attended Columbia University until her father passed away in 2006.  Then Liz returned to Harvard and graduated in 2009.  So, Liz was a slow student, but she did achieve her degree from Harvard in the end!  I was relieved to hear this and wish that they would update the postscript to the movie with this new information as it makes Liz much more inspiring, in my opinion.

Considering that this movie has to rely on a couple of young actresses to carry the entire story, I was pretty impressed with this made-for-TV movie.  Jennifer Pisana plays a young Liz, who desperately tries to hold onto her family.  The first part of the movie is truly horrifying to someone who was raised in normal, suburban conditions.  Liz did not know that her scalp and crotch were itching because she never bathed.  She did not know enough to take care of her clothing by washing it or to keep the apartment relatively clean.  The entire family lived in filth, rarely paid any bills or rent, and did not make any attempt to get their girls to attend school.  Jennifer Pisana plays the part matter-of-factly, not asking for sympathy, but just stating their circumstances as the only kind of life she has ever known.  Thora Birch steps in after Thora Birch in Homeless to Harvardthe first 20 minutes or so and she also does a fine job portraying a rebellious, frightened, desperate girl who hopes for something better, but doesn’t really believe that it is out there for her.  She has some of the touching scenes as Liz changes her life for the better and actively pursues her education as a way to escape her current life.  Some of her lines are just heartwrenching.  Liz is attending a public school while she is in a group home and her teacher insists on calling her Elizabeth.  Liz just as adamantly insists on being called Liz because “My mom calls me Elizabeth when she is going insane,” and she means it.  After her mother dies, Liz proves that she is older than her years when she proclaims “Sometimes I feel like there is skin upon the world. And those of us who are born under it, can see through it. We just can’t get through it.”  But one of my favorite lines, and I cannot remember the exact phrasing, is when Liz is talking to the scholarship committee and sharing her childhood with them, then states that Liz never forgot that her mother loved her, even though her mother may have forgotten that she loved Liz.  Both actresses did a fine job and kept the spirit, heart and soul of the movie alive.

There is not as much action in this film as you would think.  They presented the film in a very tasteful manner and did not dwell overly long on the squalor, the stench or the hopelessness of Liz’s situation.  Her background is presented, portrayed and then they move on.  The director knew his audience and targeted them perfectly.  As this movie was made and aired on Lifetime, the audience would be middle-aged, middle-class women who want to know the conditions so they can help, but not dwell overly long there.  Instead of showing you all of the aspects of the story, the movie relies heavily on Liz’s voiceovers to carry the narrative thread through.  This was actually a nice way to present the information and I felt that I was really listening to Liz and what she was thinking and going through at the time.  I am not sure how much input the real Liz Murray had in the script or the shooting of the film, but I hope that they captured her personality as I felt that this was a very personal, unique story.

The film is beautifully shot and has a nice, even pace to it.  The story really did not need a lot of garnishing to make it exciting and so they did not add much to it (aside from a few sensational moments that may or may not be true).  The story in and of itself is so implausible that it sounds like there is no way it could be true!  I did not dream of going to Harvard and I Liz at Harvardfeel like I had the grades for it, but it is so expensive that I never would have considered it!  I would be interested in seeing a follow-up to this movie or in getting a glimpse of how Liz dealt with Harvard.  Did she feel even more of an outsider than she did in a normal public school?  Or did she luck out and get some great roommates to kind of help her through?  I can guarantee you that Liz had little, if nothing, in common with most Harvard students.  When Liz and her classmates visited Harvard, all I could think of was Legally Blonde and how far apart these two characters were!  If you are looking for a moving, meaningful movie that is based on a true story, this is a great one for you to watch and enjoy with people of all ages.  It is unfortunate that this DVD is not widely available as I think it would be a terrific movie to watch in a class and then discuss the importance of education or the impact of your birthplace on your life.  Still, it is on TV quite often so keep your eye on the Lifetime schedule and you should see it come up sooner or later (and I found the entire movie on YouTube – the first part is show above).  I feel that this movie is worth watching and is really well made for a made-for-TV movie so keep your eyes out for it if you enjoy this type of film as much as I do!

Content:

This movies shows scenes of drug use, drug abuse, physical and mental illness and extreme poverty.  Liz’s character eats of trashcans, goes weeks without bathing and witnesses some horrific bullying at the group home.  Many of the characters are homeless, poor and in wretched circumstances.  There is some mild language and scenes of drinking and smoking.  Recommended for ages 10 and up.

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Edge of the Garden (2011) Movie Review

Edge of the Garden (2011)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: Rob Estes, Sarah Manninen, David Lewis, David Richmond-Peck, Reg Tupper
Director: Michael Scott
Series: a Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation
Release Date: 14 May 2011
Language: English
Length: 95 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: TV
My Rating: 3/5 stars

Synopsis:

Brian (Rob Estes) moves to Maine to manage a new company acquisition and to get away from his failed engagement.  A workaholic, Brian missed his engagement party while working on a company project, leading his fiancée to call the whole thing off.  Now, he is on a different coast with a different group of people and can start over.  He begins by purchasing a lovely cottage with some grounds, which is not at all his usual style.  Then he encounters a mysterious woman in his garden, a woman who claims that Brian is the intruder and that this is her home!  Brian soon realizes that he is seeing the ghost of Nora Hargrave (Sarah Manninen), who lived in his home in the 1960s.  The two become close and find a way to communicate across the ages so Brian is horrified when he discovers that Nora was killed in a house fire.  Can Brian save Nora or will history continue uninterrupted?

Review:

I am not sure what I was expecting when watched this movie, but a time-travel romance a la Somewhere in Time was not it.  Firstly, I don’t think that any time-travel romance has succeeded quite the way that Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour did in Somewhere in Time.  I actually cannot stand to watch that film very often as I always cry when I see it.  It is a timeless loop that the two characters cannot seem to escape.  This movie is very similar to that one, but it differs dramatically in some respects.  Firstly, neither Brian nor Nora remember each other when they meet in the backyard for the first time.  Instead, there is more of an overlap in time centered around the cottage where both Brian and Nora are living and hearing each other at the same time.  Brian has flowers in his home because Nora cuts fresh flowers every morning.  They can leave notes for each other in the house and find them in their own times, leading Brian to help Nora multiple times in the past.  Another difference is that Nora is unhappily married and is struggling with her husband, Thomas (David Lewis), a controlling, abusive lawyer.  It also takes place in a much more updated time with Brian living in the 2010s and Nora living in the 1960s.  Nora does not wear extreme fashions or hairstyles of the time and so she has a timeless, classic look that would translate to many places today.  I kind of missed the more dramatic, historical feel that other time-travel romances have, but this one was sweet and well presented so I got used to it.

I was a bit disappointed with the “romance” in this movie.  Brian (Rob Estes) and Nora (Sarah Manninen) are supposedly falling in love, but I never really got that vibe from them.  Brian edge of the gardenseemed like a fresh, modern man and Nora was so dated in her views and opinions.  I did like that was trying to stay true to her marriage vows and not leave her husband, but I felt like there was so much more love between Nora and her handyman, Frank (David Richmond-Peck), who lived in the same time that I thought the romance was between those two until the end of the movie!  So, I wouldn’t say that this is a great romance, more like a great friendship.  I was relieved to see that they handled this plot thread in an acceptable, rather predictable way at the end of the movie.  There is a magic locket that threads through the story.  Legend says that you will meet and marry your true love while you wear it and it is has worked for generations of women in Nora’s family.  I would venture to say that it did not quite work in Nora’s case, but I guess she did marry a handsome, wealthy man so maybe that was all she was really looking for?  I am not sure, but the locket was a nice touch that brought Brian and Nora together in the first place.

The acting is fine in this made-for-TV movie.  I did not feel like any performances were a true standout, but everyone performed admirably.  Most of the characters seemed relatively flat and one-note, but I am not sure if that is due to the way they were written or to the performances.  Rob Estes plays Brian, a workaholic who suddenly changes and slows his life Rob Estes (“Melrose Place”) is Brian Connor, a lonely businessman who temporarily relocates to Maine after a bad breakup.  He moves into a rundown cottage, where he encounters the beautiful Nora (Sarah Manninen, “The Line”), who is actually a spirit of a woman who lived in the house fifty years prior.  As they form a friendship, they begin to help each other in ways they never knew possible, and change both their futures forever.  Kelly Monaco (“General Hospital”) also stars in EDGE OF THE GARDEN, a Hallmark Channel Original Movie World Premiere, Saturday, May 14 @ 9 p.m. ET/PT, 8C.down when he meets Nora’s ghost in his yard.  Sarah Manninen plays Nora as a traditional 1960s housewife who cannot see any other avenue in life for herself other than keeping the house clean, the garden looking lovely and waiting on her husband.  David Lewis as Thomas Hargrave is the villain of the movie and he is a jealous, violent man without any attraction or softness about him.  David Richmond-Peck plays Frank, the loyal handyman who has a crush on Nora and is a soft teddy bear who brings Nora soup when she is sick and takes her to the doctor.  If they had given these characters some more depth and dimension, I feel that they would have been more interesting and dynamic if the characters were given more dimension.  This is a relatively small cast we are working with here and it would have been nice to connect with them and feel more while watching this movie.

There were some beautiful scenes in this movie and I felt that the cinematography was well done and Nora’s garden looked gorgeous.  I would have loved to see more flowers and to get some really vivid, almost fantastical colors as most of the scenes in Nora’s garden took place when Brian was seeing her ghost in his time.  This would have added a slightly more unearthly, paranormal element to this film to keep it fresh and unique.  The pacing is nice and steady and there are a few exciting moments, but, for the most part, this is a nice movie selection to watch with a mother or a grandmother.  The movie looks new enough that younger viewers will not mind it and Rob Estes is not hard on the eyes either!  The ending of the movie is a little cheesy and a lot predictable, but was emotionally rewarding at the same time so don’t worry about having a tearjerker ending here!

As with all of Hallmark’s presentations, this is a touching, heartfelt movie that will be enjoyed by multiple generations of women.  I think that they missed the mark a bit on this particular film as I usually enjoy these made-for-TV movies more, but it was still an enjoyable few hours.  It is not yet available on DVD so you will have to check and see when it is going to be on TV again.  Worth watching on a quiet night in with that special someone in your life.

Content:

This movie contains some scenes of physical and verbal abuse between spouses.  The scenes are fairly subtle and mainly consist of arm-grabbing, shaking and belittling comments, but they are present.  There is kind of a love quadrangle in the movie and the woman in the quadrangle is married so that may be a bit distasteful for some.  There are scenes of drinking and attempted murder involving a rifle.  Recommended for ages 8 and up.

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The Man with a Cloak (1951) Movie Review

The Man With A Cloak (1951)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: Joseph Cotten, Barbara Stanwyck, Louis Calhern, Leslie Caron, Joe De Santis
Director: Fletcher Markle
Release Date: 27 December 1951
Language: English
Length: 84 minutes
Movie Rating: PG
View Format: TV
My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Synopsis:

In 1848, a young Frenchwoman, Madeline Minot (Leslie Caron), arrives in  New York City to see Thevener (Louis Calhern), the grandfather of her fiancé. Theverner and his grandson have been estranged due to political differences, but Madeline is desperate for money and support. She hopes to reconcile the two men, but she finds the old man in very bad spirits, living in a large house with a housekeeper (Barbara Stanwyck) and a butler (Joe De Santis) who are just waiting for him to die (and perhaps helping him along a bit) so they can inherit his fortune. Madeline threatens their carefully laid plans, but she has an ally in her dealings with these strange people in a mysterious man in a cloak (Joseph Cotton).

Review:

This movie was interesting, but ultimately unsatisfying.  I got sucked in to the film right after the introduction.  They let you know that this movie is loosely based on a famous person’s life, but they don’t tell you who the famous person is – and they don’t use the person’s name in the movie!  You have to wait until the very end to find out who they are telling the story about and then you have to pay pretty close attention – and read the note on the screen – or it will always be a mystery…  Okay, I am going to spoil it for you and tell you that it is Edgar Allan Poe.  That poor man was fraught with misfortune and really didn’t have a happy life (as seen in most of his work), so this story could very well have fit in to his life, but, of course, it is pure fiction.  This made the movie more interesting and appealing to me, however, so it was a good move on the movie makers’ part.

Anyway, this is very much a character-driven drama and there are only a few main characters that you really need to pay attention to.  Joseph Cotten plays Dupin (aka Edgar Allan Poe), a mysterious cloaked figure who is usually drunk and appears to have no visible means of support.  He lives off of credit and is quick to spin a yarn or charm shopkeepers and landladies to keep himself in wine and with a roof over his head.  He is charmingly played by Cotten and is quite likeable, even though he is always begging wine off of people throughout the movie.  He remains a man of mystery throughout the film and I never really understood his motives or why he befriended a stranger so quickly, but he rapidly becomes embroiled in the lives of a nearby French household.  But never let it be said that Dupin isn’t a gentleman!  Indeed, he is the only one to come to the aid of young Madeleine (Leslie Caron) when she comes into a bar at night, fresh off the boat from France.  Leslie Caron was perfectly cast as the young ingénue and she was just adorable.  She radiated innocence and virtue and managed to win people over to her effortlessly.  Charles Theverner (Louis Calhern) plays the rich old man who is Madeleine’s fiancé’s grandfather.  Theverner used to fight alongside Napoleon and doesn’t agree with his grandson’s involvement in the revolution and doesn’t intend to leave him any money in his will.  He is aware that his staff only stay with him to get his money, but he doesn’t realize how horrible and restricted his life has become until Madeleine comes to beg for his aid.  Unfortunately, Theverner is very much aware that it is too late to stop the events that were set in motion long ago and he isn’t sure that he wants to.  Flaherty (Jim Backus) was arguably my favorite character.  He plays the Irish bartender at Dupin’s favorite hangout and has some great conversations with the drunk poet.

The villains are headlined by Barbara Stanwyck, who stole the show as Lorna Bounty, a formerly famous actress who now appears to work as a housekeeper.  She is beautiful, cold and evil, but not in a malicious or hateful way.  She has given up many of the best years of her life to get her hands on an old man’s fortune and is determined to use anyone in her path to get what she feels is her due.  Barbara Stanwyck has a delicious chemistry with all of the male leads and you can tell that she is ruthless, but in a very feminine way.  At the end of the day, she is not the one who is willing to stick her neck out and take any direct action, but she has no trouble seducing any man to take action for her.  Martin (Joe De Santis) is the butler of Theverner’s household and it is immediately apparent that something is not quite right in there as Martin is way too rough around the edges to be a proper butler.  He is a rough, brutal man who is willing to do anything to get the payoff that Lorna has so long been promising him.  Mrs. Flynn (Margaret Wycherly) rounds out the villainous trio as the actual housekeeper (i.e. the one who does all of the work) and she doesn’t really do much, but she has some great lines and adds some character to the film.

Most of the film meanders between the characters and shows them trying to beat out the other team and win the fortune.  As I said before, Barbara Stanwyck, plays a pivotal role in the movie as she tries to set herself up to win the money regardless of which side wins.  She has terrific scenes with both Dupin and Martin and it was very interesting to see her in the role of a villain instead of a heroine or the love interest as I am accustomed to seeing her.  In the end, it was worth it to watch this movie simply to see the final few moments and what happens to everyone.  There are some wonderful surprises that I won’t ruin for you here, but it was great to see what happens to the villains in the end.

Like so many older movies, this one is not available on DVD, but I am sure that you could catch it on TV, as I did.  This is an interesting black-and-white movie, but it is not one that I would go out of my way to hunt down.  Worth watching if you are a Barbara Stanwyck fan, though.

Content:

This movie contains some scenes of mild sensuality, drinking, smoking and drunkenness.  There are multiple murders in this movie, all by poisoning, but there is nothing detailed or gross in the movie.  Political ideals, not paying one’s bills, mild violence, references to women of loose morals and verbal threats are also found in the film.  Recommended for ages 12 and up.

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Those Calloways (1965) Movie Review

Those Calloways (1965)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Those Calloways

Starring: Brian Keith, Vera Miles, Brandon De Wilde, Walter Brennan, Ed Wynn
Director: Norman Tokar
Release Date: 28 January 1965
Language: English
Length: 131 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: DVD
My Rating: 3/5 stars

Synopsis:

“Nature-loving New Englander Cam Calloway (Brian Keith) has always envisioned creating a home for migrating geese by a pristine lake near where he lives. But developers have their eye on this special parcel of land and won’t let anyone stand in the way of what they deem to be progress. So, when Cam and his son (Brandon De Wilde) set up a cabin on the property, things get ugly. Linda Evans, Vera Miles and Tom Skerritt co-star.” — Netflix.com

Review:

I can vaguely remember watching this movie when I was a kid.  All I really remembered from it was a boy in a red sweater and some geese flying in the sky so it was almost like seeing it for the first time.  This is billed as a “feel-good” family movie, but I am not sure that it fit into that niche for me.  There is a lot going on this film.  The primary plotline revolves around Cam Calloway’s (Brian Keith) dream of buying up the marshy lakefront property and turning it into a safe haven for the wild geese that fly through every year.  To achieve his dream – and pay the mortgage on his home – Cam and his son, Bucky Calloway (Brandon De Wilde) set out to trap animals and sell their furs.  They anticipate making a ton of money off of some prime furs, but the fur market isn’t what it used to be and they only get $450 for all of their work.  That is enough to put a down payment on the lakeshore property, but not to pay off their mortgage.  Enter major plotline #2 – a development company thinks that the Calloway’s small New England town would be perfect to develop into a kind of hunter’s paradise resort.  Their primary target would be the migratory geese.  And how do you get the geese to show up every year?  Support Cam Calloway’s hair-brained scheme of a geese reserve and then just wait for them to come flying by.  Half of the town wants the money to get rich quick and the other, older, half wants things to stay the way they are.  To keep things interesting, they throw in some romantic subplots. Cam Calloway is trying to hold on to his wife, Liddy (Vera Miles), whom many people believe married beneath herself.  She is able to hold the family together by sheer force of will, but struggles with Cam’s drinking, their perilous monetary circumstances, and Cam’s insistence on placing the geese before everything else.  Then there is Bucky, who teaches himself to box so he can fight the town toughs and woo the lovely Bridie Mellott (Linda Evans), the most beautiful girl in town.  All of these plots weave in and out, are picked up and dropped, picked up again, etc.  This makes the movie pretty lengthy and a bit meandering.  Perhaps this is a good thing as there is a bit of something for everyone, but it also means that there isn’t anything really great in the film either.

The acting is solid, if unimaginative.  It is very clear what is going on and why so the actors and actresses are able to convey what they need to, but they are not very subtle or nuanced in their performances.  I also felt like the characters were a bit inconsistent and that they tried too hard to throw everything into one person.  I understand that most people are a study in contradiction and are much more complex than they appear on the surface, but these people don’t necessarily show well on screen.  For example, Cam is a hunter, a woodsman who was raised by Native Americans in the area.  He makes his living as a trapper and has no problem killing animals in the woods, but he hates it when hunters shoot at the geese when they migrate through his town.  I think that the creators of this film had good intentions on showing that there are many individuals – even back in the day – who were interested in conservation efforts, even if they were not quite sure how to go about it.  The area that Cam was trying to save was justifiably gorgeous and there were some lovely nature shots.  There were also some mildly humorous moments with the family bear and when Bucky was trying to learn to fight, but the lightness and the ease was missing from this movie for me.  The message was quite heavy and everyone seemed so serious.  I felt like they did not utilize the classic old men like Walter Brennan and Ed Wynn nearly enough.  They had their moments, such as when Alf Simes (Walter Brennan) keeps one of the new businessmen from sitting on his seat by having a wildcat babysit it or when Ed Parker (Ed Wynn) is dragged into the rhyming game at a house-raising party, but the moments they were in the film were not long enough or fun enough to lighten the mood of the film.  I missed the humor and the sheer joy that I usually associate with old Disney films, which may be why this one seems all but forgotten.

This is a good movie and is a solid performer, but is nothing special.  The movie is showing its age and is definitely filmed in old-school Disney style.  I think that this kind of cinematography adds to the charm of the film, but I know that kids have a hard time getting into what they feel is an old (i.e. boring) movie.  It is a little bit over 2 hours long and it feels like it is a long film.  I enjoyed the parts of the movie where they were out on their cabin and land doing the chores, out the wilderness trapping and trying to live their dreams, but I wish that they had consolidated the movie down a bit more so that it had a clearer focus and a more rapid pace.  I know that one of the things that slowed the film down was the beautiful scenery that they took the time to showcase.  I am glad that they didn’t stint on that as I really enjoyed seeing the countryside go through the seasons, but it did make it longer and slower.  I would recommend watching this on a day where you have plenty of time and are in the mood to just sit down and relax and watch someone else’s troubles go by.  Naturally, everything works out for the best in the end, even though it seems rushed and completely unbelievable, but at least someone has a happy ending out there, right?

Content:

This movie contains scenes of hunting, skinning, trapping, shooting and wild animals attacking people.  There are also scenes of mild violence, fighting/boxing, drinking and drunkenness.  Nothing is to explicit or graphic, naturally, as it is a Disney film, but there are some moments that might require explanation to younger viewers.  Recommended for ages 5 and up.

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A Bullet is Waiting (1954) Movie Review

A Bullet is Waiting (1954)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: Rory Calhoun, Jean Simmons, Stephen McNally, Brian Aherne
Director: John Farrow
Release Date: 4 September 1954
Language: English
Length: 85 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: TV
My Rating: 2/5 stars

Synopsis:

Utah Sheriff Munson (Stephen McNally) has finally tracked down this brother’s murderer, Ed Stone (Rory Calhoun), and is transporting him back to Utah to prison when their plane crashes in the middle of the desert.  They seek shelter at a sheep farm, where Cally Canham (Jean Simmons) is tending the sheep alone.  Cally wants nothing to do with either man, but doesn’t have the heart to turn them out so she allows them to stay during the thunderous rainstorm that prevents them from leaving the valley.  Cally isn’t sure who to believe at first, but she soon finds herself falling in love with Ed and has a hard time believing that he is a killer. But what will happen when the floodwaters decrease and it is possible to travel out of the canyon?

Review:

This movie was nothing like what I was expecting.  Unfortunately, this was really not a good thing.  I thought that I was going to watch a western about a sheriff and a man arrested for murder who was innocent.  I believed that they would come to learn about each other and find some resolutions while they struggled to survive in the desert, but this was so far from the truth that I think the little blurb about the movie was completely misleading!  Firstly, this movie takes place in fairly recent times as the sheriff and his prisoner are traveling by airplane.  It is difficult to pinpoint what decade it is exactly as the clothing that ranchers wear has not changed a great deal in the last couple hundred years.  There is a hint in the fact that David Canham (Brian Aherne) served in the first World War, but nothing was mentioned of the second World War so perhaps this is set in the early 1910s?  Secondly, the two men are not stuck in the desert trying to survive.  They are comfortably ensconced in a cozy little cottage with a sheepherder who keeps them warm and dry and fed.  Thirdly, the prisoner is guilty of manslaughter, which isn’t quite murder, but he still killed the sheriff’s brother.  So, all of my illusions about the movie shattered, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue watching, but found myself watching too much of the movie to not be curious about how it ended.

The wild landscape setting that they filmed the movie in was beautiful in a harsh, unforgiving sort of way.  There is a terrific storm that rages across the country and it is one of those sudden summer storms that makes the desert so dangerous.  The sound effects and the scenery were quite well done and there is a quiet beauty about isolated land like this.  I could never be happy living in such a place, but I could see where someone who is looking for a retreat where they could enjoy their isolation would be attracted to an area like this.  The music was nothing special, but it stirred emotions in me while I watched.  This is good as I was not emotionally invested in these characters at all!

This film features a remarkably small cast and so there is not a lot of forgiveness to be found in the acting.  I did not particularly care for nor believe any of these people in the roles they played.  I was shocked to see Jean Simmons in this film.  With her beautiful face and lovely accent, she was completely out of place in such a harsh setting.  They explained away her accent by claiming that her philosophy professor father was looking for a way to retreat from the human race, believing that people were only going to get worse after the World War.  He quit his Oxford job, sold everything and disappeared into the middle of nowhere.  Cally Canham should be ripe for the picking, lonely, isolated and wanting to be in love, but I did not get this sense from Jean Simmons’ portrayal at all.  Also, she was shown wearing a particularly vivid scarlet lipstick for the first half of the movie, which was really off putting.  This lipstick magically disappears partway through, but it was a jarring note to the movie.  She wears worn out, ill-fitting work clothes, has her hair cropped shorter than many boys and no decoration to speak of – except that bright lipstick!  And where is her tan or sunburn?  How is it possible that she kept her lovely, milky white complexion with absolutely no blemishes under the blazing desert sun?  Rory Calhoun plays Ed Stone, the prisoner who is guilty of killing the sheriff’s brother.  He is handsome enough, I suppose, but I did not feel sparks between him and Cally.  He also did not put off an innocent vibe to me.  He seems like a party boy, a hard drinking, womanizing schmoozer who will play any angle he can to get ahead.  Ed cooks dinner, helps with a sickly lamb and does everything he can to play upon Cally’s feelings.  Somewhere in there, these two miraculously fall in love, but I didn’t believe it.  Stephen McNally plays Sheriff Munson and, if I didn’t know better, I would have said that he was the villain of the piece!  When the men were first introduced to Cally, I was not convinced that they were telling the truth about their identities!  Munson has no softer qualities and spends his time threatening, blustering and trying to create dissent between Ed and Cally.  I would not have trusted him to be an honorable man and return the prisoner to Utah either!  Brian Aherne rounds out the cast as Cally’s father, David.  He is in the last 15 minutes or so of the film and I felt like he was dragged into the story just to force an ending.  The movie was going nowhere fast before David showed up, but he felt unnecessary and completely out of place to me.  It is clear that he is a well-educated, well-reared gentleman who has never done a hard day’s work in the relentless desert sun in his life!

The story was kind of strung together piecemeal and never really came together for me.  The acting was okay, but nothing to speak of.  With such a small cast, this could have been an emotional tour-de-force for one of them, but it was just strange.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say that these actors were miscast, but they certainly didn’t live up to their roles.  This movie is not readily available on DVD at this time so you will have to catch it on TV, but I would give this one a pass unless there really is nothing else to watch.

Content:

This movie contains some scenes of fighting, gunshots, and violence.  There are discussions of a murder and war.  Lines are blurred between innocent and guilty and it is unclear who is “good.”  Recommended for ages 8 and up.

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Filed under Classic Movies, Drama Movies, Historical Movies, Mystery Movies, Romance Movies, Westerns