DOASKDOTELL Reviews of (more) Made-for-cable Movies

A&E Channel

Knights of the South Bronx (2005, Fox TV/A&E, dir. Allen Hughes) has laid-off business man Richard (Ted Danson) taking a job a long term substitute teacher in the South Bronx. He wants sixth grade, but the principal makes him take fourth grade. Soon he finds he can engage the kids by teaching the chess (the Bishop moves with a “slant”), and actually has to do a fund raiser for a tournament. In the meantime his wife and teenage son give him a hard time about his meager pay as a teacher and his family responsibilities. But of course, in another venue teaching could be a way to carry out family responsibility.  

Some Lifetime Channel Movies

Murder in My House (2006, Lions Gate/Lifetime/Lance, dir. Robert Malefant) doesn’t have the quixotic skill of Hitchcock, but it raises issues. A writer of children’s books, after a divorce, buys a big house in a college town in Pennsylvania, and moves her retired prosecutor dad in. Soon she learns that she was not told that there had been a murder in the house, and quickly they find that a widow was wrongly convicted of a husband’s murder, and the competition learns next door. Obvious, but the legal point about disclosure on a home sale (not required in PA according to the movie) is interesting. What about radon gas in the basement?

Fatal Lessons: The Good Teacher (2004, LGF/Lifetime/Porchlight, dir. Michael Scott) has a teacher (Erika Eleniak) planting herself as a tutor in an upper middle class home. She teachers the kids, but soon we find out she is up to no good, rather like a soap opera villain. She starts poisoning the adults so she can take over the family and take the money and run. (She’s never been married or had kids herself—and this raises questions about the intimacy in her work as a teacher.) The curare trick – and female battle at the end -- makes for a good fantasy (a kind of “Boxing Helena” in reverse). Her plot unravels when one of the kids writes a term paper about her, with no plagiarism for turnitin.com

Dying to be Perfect: The Ellen Hart Pena Story (1996, LGF/Lifetime/Citadel, dir. Jan Egleson, 95 min) deals with bulimia in a young woman training to become an Olympics marathon runner while going to law school. She is cut out of the 1980 Olympics when Carter keeps us out because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and her story takes off. She struggles with mock court in law school, as she is distracted by her athletic ambitions and purging at the same time. She marries a young mayor of Denver, and struggles to become pregnant. Gradually, the clinical ugliness of her bulimia and purging becomes evident, as she describes the urge to regurge in horrific terms—the rotten teeth, the kidney problems, the constantly aching stomach, the huge binges. The unpleasantness of all this keeps the film on cable, despite its great intentions.

Fatal Trust (2006, LGF/Lifetime/Incendo Media, dir. Philippe Gagnon, Canada/Quebec, 100 min, prob PG-13) has a young widowed woman (Carol Alt) in a small town (the movie really does look Canadian, down to the flashbacks in the Toronto subway) taking a job as a medical assistant with a homey doctor Lucas (David Jones) and the job is too good to be true. For one thing, he keeps medical records with a typewriter, not computers (so he can't be traced), and snakes in the closet (at least not on a plane!). He needs the venom to carry out his plan to be an angel of death around the country. Bob (David McCallum)P, the boyfriend and fireman is a totally wholesome fellow who helps her outwit the mad doctor. The film has all the mechanics and looks of good storytelling, yet it seems oddly routine and pedestrian.

In God's Country (2007, Lifetime / Shaftesbury, dir. John L'Ecuyer)  Judith (Kelly Rowan), living in a polygamous fundamentalist Mormon "God's Keepers" sets her house on hire and escapes with her five children trying to escape (to protect her 14 year old daughter from forced marrage), and finds help on the outside tough. The movie, however gently, plays up the hidden pedophilia or ephebophilia of the "cult" which maintains a veneer of strict religious discipline. 

Cradle of Lies (2006, Lifetime / Breakthrough, dir. Oley Sassone). A woman has to deal with the discovery that her husband needs to sire a son in marriage or lose an inheritance; the so-called "dead hand" at work again. It's interesting and disturbing to see how wealthy families want to manage sexual intercourse to defend their status in the world. Blogger discussion (also previous movie).  above).

Love Thy Neighbor (2005).

Family in Hiding (2006, Lifetime / Insight, dir. Timothy Bond, 100 min, Canada). Brenda Strong plays Carol Peterson, an executive and single mom who, by happenstance, witnesses a murder of a Los Angeles DA in a parking garage. She, along with her two teenage kids, are yanked out of their lives into the federal witness protection program and given new identities. The kids resent (to say the least) having their lives taken from them because of someone else's wrongdoing, and the need to "protect" each other. Brett Dier plays the teenage boy, who loses his chance to play basketball. Eventually the girl is kidnapped when Carol is about to testify at a preliminary hearing in LA. The film makes a dramatic story out of the need to hide one's identity to protect oneself and other people.

The Two Mr. Kissels (2008, Lifetime, dir. Edward Bianchi, wr. Maria Nation, 90 min) has two greedy Wall Street type brothers (Andrew and Rob Kissel) winding up dead, and sets up an effective docudrama mystery recalling both "American Beauty" and "Suspicion". Blogger.    

A Teacher's Crime (2008, Lifetime, dir. Robert Malenfant, wr by Christine Conradt and Corbin Mezner). A young female history teacher is blackmailed with false threats of involvement with a minor student as part of an extortion plot. Blogger.

Profoundly Normal (2003, CBS / Paramount Classics / Lifetime, dir. Graeme Clifford) Kristie Alley and Ricardo Thornton become a mixed-race couple raised in a foster home for retarded people, and have a "normal" son. Blogger.

Prayers for Bobby (2009, Lifetime / dir. Russell Mulcahy). The true story of Mary Griffith (Sigourney Weaver), who has to come to terms with the suicide of her gay son Bobby (Ryan Kelley), after he was driven out by her religious intolerance.  Blogger.

Lying to be Perfect (2010, Lifetime, dir. Gary Harvey, based on novel “The Cinderella Pact” by Sarah Strohmeyer).  A magazine copyeditor secretly becomes a lonely hearts columnist. Blogger.

Pregnancy Pact (2010, Lifetime, dir. Rosemary Rodriquez) based on a supposed teen pact in a Massachusetts high school. Blogger.

The Craigslist Killer (2010, Lifetime/Lionsgate, dir. Stephen Kay)  Blogger.  Jake McDorman plays Philip Markoff, the superman who just went bad, like a fallen angel.  Also Lifetime had a one hour documentary “Beyond the Headlines: Catching the Craigslist Killer”.

HBO:

Longford (2007, HBO, dir. Tom Hooper, UK, 90 min) tells the story of Lord Longford (Jim Broadbent), who became controversial by working with prisoners in Britain, such as female killer Myra Hindley (Samantha Morton). He sometimes talks about religious faith, and Myra eventually admits that evil had almost become like a religion. Another prisoner had been able to get his life story published only because the family had a publishing business (but that is how Miss Potter got published).

OTHER:

The Guilty (2000, LionsGate / Eagle / Studio 8, dir. Antony Waller, original teleplay and story by Simon Burke, 112 min, R, Canada) This movie has the "feel" of a Lifetime movie, when the plot is more like that of a 40s film noir, but it's not too effective. A defense attorney Callum Crane (Bill Pullman, of course!) while getting appointed federal judge, gets into real trouble when he rapes a secretary while drunk. She tries to blackmail him. His unknown son (Devon Sawa and the best performance in the film) shows up from prison and, with a cougar like jump in a parking garage (or is it vampire like) saves him from a robbery. Then Callum, not knowing who the guy is, tries to hire him to eliminate the girl. It gets complicated with double crosses, and the cops catch up with him at the very end. Another thing: this film is "obviously" made in Vancouver, and that's obvious with a lot of movies of this genre.

Front of the Class (2008, Hallmark/CBS, dir. Peter Werner). Jimmy Wolk plays a young man who, with the help of the Americans with Disabilities Act, overcomes Tourette Syndrome and becomes an award winning second grade teacher. Blogger. 

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