Tag Archives: Margo Martindale

Million Dollar Baby (2004)

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Admittedly, I’m not a big fan of boxing. At all. I don’t judge people who like it, but there you are. I just don’t see the appeal in big, sweaty, greased-up guys knocking the piss out of each other, having their remaining teeth flying every which way, and probably acquiring long-lasting brain damage at age thirty. Entertaining? Hell no. Erotic? No, it’s not that either.

So with boxing movies, and by extension all sports movies (football, baseball, basketball, etc.) I need a sort of human interest story to really capture my attention. Well, I can tell you if you’re looking for human drama, pathos, and an extra helping of tragedy,  Clint Eastwood Academy Award-winning film has that and more. There’s guilt, grief, denial, friendship, and major moral dilemmas. I mean big fucking moral dilemmas. The kind that keep you up at night.

Frankie Dunn (Actor/Director Eastwood) is a bit of a cranky old man and well-regarded boxing trainer who doesn’t train girls– period. This moral position doesn’t seem very well thought out- it’s less a legitimate position than a lunk-headed duh... I mean, girls wanting to box. Who’d have thunk it? Next they’ll be asking for equal pay and equal rights in all things.

So, being the kind of crank he is, he turns aspiring boxerette Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) away like a puppy in the rain. “There’s plenty of people who will train girls,” he says. But Maggie’s determined. She’s come from a trash family (when we later meet her selfish and spectacularly ungrateful mother (Margo Martindale) and sister (Riki Lindhome,) we see where she’s from, and why she wants to get out) and she believes that being trained by Frankie Dunn (who seems to have quite a reputation in the boxing world, despite slumming it in a tiny fighting hall) is the best way to get her where she’s going.

Eddie Dupris (Morgan Freeman) is just the janitor, but he’s inwardly wise and worldly in that quintessential Morgan Freeman (with a smooth as butter voice over and that great voice) and quietly observes the drama between Frankie and Maggie, occasionally sharing a barbed repartee with Frankie and giving him a gentle push in the right direction. Frankie’s heart is rendered stony with personal tragedy, including a long-time estrangement from his own daughter. Will he give Maggie the well-deserved training and fatherly input she needs?

One thing you can say about this movie is it does good by not saddling Maggie with an  unnecessary love interest, rightfully focusing on the paternal relationship between she and Eastwood. The two have good (platonic) chemistry as they somewhat predictably bond, but tragedy lurks just around the corner. I often felt Morgan Freeman was a bit too much of a catalyst to the events rather than a character in his own right.

The thing is, for the first thirty minutes or so I was planning to bitch that the development of the relationships in “Million Dollar Baby” were too trite and predictable (i.e. grumpy old trainer professes his hatred for girls’ boxing, grumpy old trainer is suckered in by girl boxer’s irrepressible enthusiasm, etc.) But then I realized that while these odd couple stories are not the most original premises in the world, they work. They’re compelling. Where would we be without the gruesome twosome in “Up,” or “Men in Black,” or to name a less known title, “Treacle Jr.” (one of my personal favorites?)

If you bawled out every movie that featured a progressing bond by two people who have nothing in common, you’d have no movies left. Which is why I figure, we need our well-worn story lines. To some extent. Because something can be derivative and original at the same time. Well, the acting here certainly can’t be faulted. Outstanding performances all around. Hilary Swank proved her merit as a thespian in “Boys Don’t Cry,” playing trans man Brandon Teena, and once again with tomboyish pluck she shows us why she’s one of the best in the business.

Clint Eastwood is wonderful- he possibly gives an even better performance in this than he does in “Gran Torino,” a top-notch movie in it’s own right. He’s not just a gun-toting Republican tough guy with dozens of Westerns to his name- he shows real range and finesse as a troubled old man who tries to build barriers around his heart and refuses to let himself care about anybody. Morgan Freeman is Morgan Freeman, and that’s certainly not a bad thing. He plays a role we’ve come to expect from Freeman- wise and pensive, with sage advice for the other characters, and he does a fine job.

I didn’t cry at the end because someone had already spoiled the twist for me, but it might have really gotten to me had I not gone in knowing more or less how things were going to go down. I think the characters came off as a little one-note while watching it under a critical eye (Maggie in particular seeming a little too perfect at times,) but overall “Million Dollar Baby” is just a good, emotional, wonderfully acted drama about allowing yourself to legitimately give a shit about someone again- albeit with tear jerking results.

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The Winning Season (2009)

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Remember in “Fight Club” when Edward Norton says that when suffering from insomnia, “Everything is a copy of a copy of a copy”? Yeah, this film is kind of like that. It’s a movie shamelessly derivative of a another movie which is derivative of yet another movie. And here comes the bombshell.

I don’t like sports movies. Now you ask, why would someone who doesn’t like sports movies watch a film directly centered around girls’ basketball? Why, Sam Rockwell, of course, who can be charming and likable even in the most mediocre motion picture.

But for many a Sam Rockwell, there’s a Emma Roberts waiting to bungle up the movie. I just don’t like her in anything. To be fair, though, this time the fault isn’t Emma’s. It’s the script, which plays on every ‘inspirational sports movie’ trope known to man, and does it with the shameless belief that it will move you to tears, endear itself to you, and make you write a glowing review totally different from the one I’m writing now.

The plot is utterly familiar even if you know nothing going in– underachieving alcoholic loser and basketball-playing has-been Bill (Sam Rockwell) is working as a dishwasher when his old friend Terry urges him to coach Girls’ Basketball. The foul-mouthed, half-heartedly sexist Bill is convinced that girls playing basketball is a superfluous pastime, but he reluctantly agrees so he can quit his dishwashing job.

Right off the bat you wonder– what makes Terry think that Bill is up for coaching a bunch of high school girls? Why because he couldn’t find anyone else, of course. No one else? But I digress. Bill is a slovenly pig, a miserable knob who eats chicken fingers off of his customer’s plates and, initially at least, fails to show the girls one ounce of respect while coaching.

But you know off the bat (because this is this type of movie) that Bill will tag his ragtag team of losers and make them winners, inspiring the girls, and maybe, learning to face up to his inadequacies in the process. And of course Bill is the deadbeat father of a neglected teenage daughter (Shana Dowdeswell) and a disapproving ex-wife (Jessica Hecht) who has found Mr. Perfect and now takes every opportunity to passive-aggressively make Bill feel like shit.

As Bill gets embroiled in the girls’ individual dramas, he comes to the well-worn revelation that no, these girls don’t have game, but they have heart, and he can really make something out of their team. Even as Bill mans up and becomes a supportive coach, he isn’t really a very likable protagonist. I think it’s because he lacks any kind of substantial depth. Even his character is nothing more than a tired trope.

And does the director of this film think it’s dramatically satisfying to watch the entire basketball team haul the inebriated Bill into his apartment? It’s a fucking disgrace. If you get so drunk while coaching that you have to be carried like a baby by a bunch of 17-year-old girls, well, maybe you shouldn’t be a coach. It was shameful to watch, frankly.

Then we have the ‘big finale’ where Bill breaks into the  stadium where the climactic game is being held in full costume after being laid off and told to stay away from the team. I wonder if it was really worth it to run away from the police in a cape,  a wig, and full body paint as opposed to, y’know, waiting it out and taking the girls out for Shoney’s afterward.

Despite the film’s flaws (and boy, are they many,) most of the girls give charming performances (including Rooney Mara in a pre- Dragon Tattoo role) and Emma Roberts (as the pragmatic Abbie) isn’t as insufferable as usual. Let me put it this way- if you like basketball and cheesy, feel-good movies, you might like this, so don’t cross it off your to-see list yet.  I guess I’m the wrong audience for this movie. All I know is that Sam Rockwell can do better, and has.

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Orphan (2009)

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Filmmaker Jaume Collet-Serra knows the steps but not the music, and therefore lacks the ability to make “Orphan” great, or even good, for that matter. I was startled by myriad similarities to “Joshua,” a psycho-child thriller I really liked, but while “Joshua” showed restraint and a gift for nuanced dread, “Orphan” delivers it’s shocks with the subtlety of a sledgehammer.

I became wary when “Orphan” opened with a nightmare sequence involving a bloody squalling fetus-monster coming out of Vera Farmiga (who plays an almost identical role in “Joshua,” wouldn’t you know?) We soon find out that the reason for Kate (Farmiga)’s nightmares is a recent miscarriage and an alcohol problem that’s the proverbial ‘elephant in the room.’

However, Kate and her loser husband, John (Peter Sargaard,) want to bring light and joy into an orphaned child’s life, so they adopt Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman,) a prim and unnervingly precocious girl with an annoying Russian accent, and bring her home to their nice house and two children, Maxine (Aryana Engineer) is the youngest, a sweet girl who has suffered almost complete hearing loss in an accident, and Danny (Jimmy Bennett) is somewhat of a punk, who fancies himself a bit of a ‘bad boy’ at his school.

The reactions of the two tykes transpire much as you might expect. with Maxine (‘Max’) immediately accepting the strange child and Danny balking at the girl’s presence. But Esther isn’t who she wants you to think she is, and she soon causes chaos and bloodshed in her adoptive parents’ household.

Fucking jump-scares, man! Let me just say up-front, I have watched a LOT of horror movies. I can usually predict when a jump-scare’s going to happen. And this was no exception. Like in the scene where Kate’s gobbling pills in the mirror, I can safely say, “Someone’s going to pop out in the mirror when she closes it.” You know why? Because it’s been done a million friggin’ times before! If I could describe “Orphan” in three words they would be “Cliché, cliché, cliché.”

“Orphan” tries to compensate for it’s utter predictability by tacking on an insanely ludicrous twist ending and some deliberately, self-consciously ‘shocking’ scenes involving young children. Guess what? I did not find these scenes ‘horrifying.’ I found them skeevy and lurid, as I would guess most people with a social conscience would, but certainly not as ‘horrific’ as the filmmaker intended.

When a young child puts on a low-cut dress and make-up and puts her hand on a grown man’s crotch are we not supposed to be a little… concerned? And I know what you’re going to say, “Well, it’s really not any worse than the violence.” Well, let me just say this- pervs aren’t going to be wanking to the violence.

Some beautiful films have been made about blossoming sexuality. Some timely films have been made about child sexual abuse, which transcend the yuckiness of the subject matter. “Orphan” is neither. It is a cheap attempt at shock value. And that ending! Jesus! Could it have been any fucking lamer if it tried? I laughed out loud when the evil little bitch came popping out of the hole in the ice like Michael Myers or something.

Also, most of the good parts of this movie had been taken almost directly from “Joshua.” The way Esther pits her ‘parents’ against each other has been done better in movies like “Joshua” and Lynne Ramsay’s adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s novel, “We Need to Talk About Kevin.”

I didn’t really care about any of the characters, except maybe Max, and while I liked Sam Rockwell’s similarly dispositioned character In “Joshua,” I found John (Sarsgaard) to be a weirdly ineffectual dweeb. while the kid actors (especially Ariana Engineer, who is hearing-impaired in real life) were decent, the movie was a total fail.

Note- On the other hand, I did get a laugh out of an ad for adoption at the beginning of this movie. Do you back the SPCA before a showing of “Cujo?” There’s a time and a place, people!

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