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Great Performance by Heather Matarazzo in a Sketchy Story
After a big homecoming Glen Ridge High School football game, several muscular young men are shown undressing and showering. After the shirtless credits, we meet attractive hometown detective Ally Sheedy (as Kelly Brooks) at the post-game celebration. Also present is "mildly retarded" student Heather Matarazzo (as Leslie Faber). A mainstreamed special education student, Ms. Matarazzo is infatuated with the handsome football players and imagines she is dancing with them. Rumors in Glen Ridge are that Matarazzo was assaulted with a broom and baseball bat in a basement, by members of the school's beloved football team. Assisted by prosecutor Eric Stoltz (as Robert "Bob" Laurino), Ms. Brooks investigates...
There is something wrong with this story. It may be that it was dramatized as an ABC-TV movie and had to hesitate. It was based on a true story, but this review is only going to cover what is depicted on screen. We are led to believe a significant group of students would watch a young woman raped with a broom, baseball bat and stick. The young men demonstrate no sexual participation or gratification. The young woman seems upset but okay after the acts and promises not to tell. Something this brutal, this sadistic, and nobody called 9-11? Nobody took her to the hospital? Guess that's possible, but the barbarism may be overstated. If not, the level of evil present suggest the football players should be put away for life...
To be fair, there are a couple of times when we hear about other sexual activities. For example, Matarazzo states Scott Vickaryous (as Paul Archer) wanted her to "play" with him. Later, we learn oral sex may have been a part of the experience. These, and other possible sexual encounters, are not seen. Also troubling is how the defendants and their enablers are almost universally unlikable. Even the non-jock "good guy" Kett Turton (as John Tierney) advocates rape with his van sign, "Jocks will see what it feels like to get raped in jail." He expresses the view that rape is okay, under specific circumstances. Yet, the story does examine the glorification of athletes and the tendency to cover-up their lapses into lawlessness...
Finally, the performance by Matarazzo of a mentally disabled young woman is stellar. Her "Leslie Faber" is one of the most touching and realistic portrayals of an intellectually challenged individual, to date. Oddly, there are no "Best Actress" Emmy Award consideration. Anyone who knows people like "Leslie" will see the realistic character traits employed by Matarazzo. Much applause to the actress, her director Guy Ferland and writer Paul Brown for bringing this character to life. This characterization should help people understand how to live with people who are cognitively challenged. It's important to understand "Leslie" and "Louis" (Kevin Howarth) have sexual desires, and we need to react appropriately to their feelings.
******* Outrage at Glen Ridge (5/10/99) Guy Ferland ~ Heather Matarazzo, Ally Sheedy, Eric Stoltz, Sara Botsford
She's Too Young (2004)
High School Sex Epidemic
Fourteen-year-old Alexis Dziena (as Hannah Vogul) wants to date 16-year-old Mike Erwin (as Nick Hartman), who is the most popular guy in school. After meeting the young man, mother Marcia Gay Harden (as Trish) reluctantly agrees. He turns out to be the high school's "campus Casanova" and takes an interest in young Ms. Dziena. When an epidemic of syphilis hits the school, few students in the cast are safe from exposure. They are a highly sexualized group, for the most part. "She's Too Young" seems like an educational TV movie about sex, made for teenagers. It will probably amuse some of that audience, and inform others. The story and characters are fairly easy to understand.
***** She's Too Young (2/16/04) Tom McLoughlin ~ Alexis Dziena, Marcia Gay Harden, Mike Erwin, Miriam McDonald
Pregnancy Pact (2010)
The Pregnancy Plot Hole
In voices steeped with shock, CNN's Anderson Cooper and some less-famous newsreaders report on a story involving high school girls who made a pact to get pregnant at the same time. The opening reveals, "This film is the story of a fictional 'pregnancy pact' set against actual news reports from June 2008, and although some of the locations and public figures are real, any resemblance to actual persons is purely coincidental." The young women have sex because they think raising babies at the same time will be fun. They want to dress them in cute little matching outfits and go to the park...
Gloucester, MA graduate Thora Birch (as Sidney Bloom) hears about the rise in pregnancy at her old high school. She's a professional video blogger and decides the spiking pregnancy rate will be a good Internet story. Arriving home with a secret past, Ms. Birch befriends pretty 15-year-old Madisen Beaty (as Sara Dougan). The red-haired teenager decides to bag (okay, no bag) cute basketball player Max Ehrich (as Jesse Moretti)...
"The Pregnancy Pact" is probably good in bringing topics up for discussion among young students and, hopefully, some trusted adults. As a story, it doesn't hold up well. It's difficult to believe events unfolded as they did on screen. We wonder, even though Mr. Ehrich appears mature for his age, how a 16-year-old has continued success with the withdrawal method. Their high school has "day care" for students' babies, but nobody seems to know much about how they got there. The leader of the group exclaims, "It hurts!" and doesn't even know what the word "pact" means...
From the opening, the high school looks too sexy and unsupervised to be a special school. Birth control can be more than abstinence, condoms and the withdrawal method. The birth control pill would have given the girl's pan to "get pregnant" more credence. She's not responsible for the "gift from God," if he's the one deciding to "pull out." It doesn't make sense. However, since she lied about the pact, the basic story still works.
***** The Pregnancy Pact (1/23/10) Rosemary Rodriguez ~ Madisen Beaty, Thora Birch, Jesse Moretti, David Clayton Rogers
The Puppet Masters (1994)
They've Got Your Back!
It looks like a UFO has landed in a small Iowa farm town. A top-secret US government investigative team from the "Office of Scientific Central Intelligence" goes out to investigate. The three stars are: limping leader Donald Sutherland (as Andrew Nivens), his handsome son and partner Eric Thal (as Sam Nivens) and sexy alien biologist Julie Warner (as Mary Sefton). They are about to conclude the whole thing was a teenagers' hoax, but Ms. Warner realizes aliens have landed. The reason, according to Warner, is that no males on the scene have noticed her arousing figure or tried to look down her unbuttoned blouse. You can almost hear her say, "Don't look at that alien spaceship, dammit, look down my shirt!"...
Now, these aliens attach themselves to your back (your spinal column, specifically) and they multiply quickly. The way to see if someone has been "infected" is to order the person to, "Take off your shirt!" Since this trick works, we're left wondering why most people in the cast are allowed to keep their backs covered. Most viewers would not protest Warner and Mr. Thal acting without their shirts (Thal goes without pants, too). If you don't mind wondering about plot confusions and contrivances like that, you could do worse than Stuart Orme's vision of Robert A. Heinlein's science-fiction novel. Thal and Warner are an attractive couple and Mr. Sutherland is a classic performer who can improve movies by simply being there.
****** The Puppet Masters (10/21/94) Stuart Orme ~ Eric Thal, Julie Warner, Donald Sutherland, Keith David
Lake Placid vs. Anaconda (2015)
A Few Laughs, a Few More Bikinis
A giant crocodile from "Black Lake" is captured by muscle-bound Stephen Billington (as Beach) and hook-armed Robert Englund (as Jim Bickerman). This is so a team of scientists can experiment on crocodile and snake DNA. The animals escape and begin to eat people. Six miles away, the attacks continue in "Clear Lake". Fish and wildlife officer Corin Nemec (as Will "Tull" Tully) from "Clear Lake" teams up with "Black Lake" sheriff and neighbor Yancy Butler (as Reba) to investigate...
This Syfy TV movie combines three concepts; we have the "Lake Placid" series, the "Anaconda" spin-offs and the "vs" match-ups. This story is not three times as good, however. This is average fare. "A.B. Stone" and writer Berkeley Anderson have the most fun with a couple of secondary items. First, clumsy deputy Oliver Walker (as Ferguson) is good comic relief. Second, there is a generous amount of screen time given to beautifully-proportioned young women in tight-fitting bikinis.
*** Lake Placid vs Anaconda (4/25/15) A.B. Stone ~ Corin Nemec, Yancy Butler, Robert Englund, Oliver Walker
Not Finding Jesus
This series was disappointing. The promotion indicated there would be an examination of New Testament relics. Quite possibly, viewers would be offered some evidence Jesus Christ really existed. Believers, who need no proof, could be happily proved correct. Non-believers could accept the fact that there was a man named Jesus Christ, at least. The music, by Tom Howe, is hauntingly Biblical. Adam Bond and the cast perform well. A few of the narratives, like "Judas" and "Helena" episodes, play nicely. However, nothing is proved and much of the series is nonsense. "Finding Jesus: Faith Fact Forgery" is mostly a dramatization of New Testament events.
Episode 1 considers "The Shroud of Turin" - Many Christians believe this cloth wrapped the crucified body of Jesus Christ. The unusual photographic "image" caught on the shroud is said to be evidence of Christ's resurrection. "Radiation" is the word one expert uses, in this episode. Another garment is discussed toward the end of the hour, a scarf used to wrap Jesus Christ's head. The title "Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact, Forgery" may suggest an informed investigation of the "Shroud of Turin". You won't find that here. On balance, the authenticity of the shroud is safe and sound on CNN. They cover some of the testing, but don't consider much of the origin and history. The New Testament is considered factual. If the shroud fits, wear it.
Episode 2 considers "The Bones of John the Baptist" - We mainly have another New Testament dramatization. The main point is the series' examination of, what they call, "a possible blood link between John and Jesus." Around the world, there are many bones purportedly to be "The Bones of John the Baptist." Some are fakes, obviously, since there are enough bones to make up more than one man. One set is carbon dated to be from the correct time period and belongs to a "middle-eastern man." The only other evidence is that the bones are claimed to be John's. Unfortunately, CNN provides no blood sample from Jesus, so it is impossible to prove the "link" proposed. Intriguing story, but inconclusive.
Episode 3 considers "The Lost Gospel of Judas" - It "casts a different light" on the betrayer's "despicable act." Since Jesus was divinely slated for crucifixion, someone had to help set the events in motion. For the first time, there appears to be some scientific agreement on the relic being discussed. It was discovered in 1978 and finally determined to be written much later than the other Christian gospels. Unfortunately, the intriguing new ideas in the document are passed over and it is dismissed as early criticism of Christianity. While it doesn't conclude that Judas should be seen in a more positive light, the idea makes sense and makes this episode one of the most thought-provoking of the short series.
Episode 4 considers "The Secret Brother of Jesus" - The discovery of a bone-filled casket is possibly a blood link to Jesus Christ. We're told Mary was a virgin both before and after Jesus' birth, so Jesus and other siblings were fathered by Joseph with other women. Now, if Jesus is the son of Mary (Virgin Mother) and God (Holy Father) and James is the son of Joseph (father) and another woman (unknown mother), there is no DNA link between Jesus and James. So, testing the bones from the casket makes no sense. First of all, we're told they didn't result from the same father and mother. Also, there is no reliable blood sample from Jesus Christ, to check for a match.
Episode 5 considers "The True Cross" - Helena, mother of the first Christian emperor Constantine, is the main person responsible for preserving the cross. Also a believer in Christ, she sought out the cross upon which he was crucified. The cross was eventually broken into fragments, which is how it survives, presently. One piece of the cross was given by Pope Paschal II to the King of Ireland in the 12th century. Since the Pope had this fragment, we assume it to be authentic, but this particular relic did not pass carbon dating. The assumption is that the "True Cross" is out there, but the promised answer isn't here.
Episode 6 considers "The Gospel of Mary Magdalene" - Most of the episode's running time reviews the life of Mary Magdalene, although the series narrator admits there is little known about the woman. Speculation about Mary being a prostitute is called a myth. While seeming to dismiss the "fallen woman" angle, the episode further speculates that Mary Magdalene was the wife of Jesus Christ. Not much is determined. We know she is the first to see Jesus, after he rises from the dead. We learn about the lost gospels. They seem to suggest Mary was a feminist, relative to the time, and in opposition to the disciple Peter. Most women were found in domestic settings.
The series ended with its weakest episode, due to having the least interesting "relic" to review. A better idea would be to combine the "Lost Gospels" as one "relics" episode. The final installment should have offered a summary and conclusion, considering all the relics. With the series now over, we've left wondering what the "fact, faith, forgery" subtitle concluded. There is no clear determination given for which relics are factual, which are based on faith and which are forgeries. Instead, it's all a blur. Generally, the New Testament is presented as fact and the series doesn't prove the relics examined are an authentically divine collection.
**** Finding Jesus: Faith Fact Forgery (3/1/15-4/5/15) Nick Green, Hugh Ballantyne, Gary Johnstone ~ Adam Bond
Shrouded in Mystery
The first episode of this CNN documentary mini-series focuses on the "Shroud of Turin". Many Christians believe this cloth wrapped the crucified body of Jesus Christ. The unusual photographic "image" caught on the shroud is said to be evidence of Christ's resurrection. "Radiation" is the word one expert uses. Another garment is discussed toward the end of the hour, a scarf used to wrap Jesus Christ's head. The title "Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact, Forgery" may suggest an informed investigation of the "Shroud of Turin". You won't find that here. On balance, the authenticity of the shroud is safe and sound on CNN...
Adam Bond and the cast perform well. The music, by Tom Howe, is hauntingly Biblical...
A clip of NBC newsreader Tom Brokaw announcing the shroud's "carbon testing" proved it could not have existed during Jesus Christ's time is shown. This widely known report could not have been left out of the story; and, it is dismissed before the hour's end. Also, the events of Christ's life from the New Testament are treated as fact. Most of this episode's time is spent contrasting the shroud with events depicted in the Christian Bible. Christ's final days are depicted as factual. Since they match clues on the shroud, we are led to conclude the "Shroud of Turin" is real.
Even if the relics are from the right era, how do we know they don't belong to Jo Schmo?...
A more interesting investigation of the shroud would be to track its historical appearances, through the years. We're told it appeared suddenly and reappeared later. This part of the story takes about five seconds. Tracking the relic's recent appearances would probably have been much more revelatory. Perhaps the questions about when, where and why the shroud first appeared were not illuminating or interesting. If so, they should have shared the inconclusiveness. Christ's burial cloth appears to have mysteriously taken up residence in Turin, Italy. It seems to have just appeared.
**** The Shroud of Turin (3/1/15) Nick Green ~ Adam Bond, Corey Johnson, Steffan Boje, Ben Affan
The second episode in CNN's search for Christianity founder Jesus Christ focuses on "The Bones of John the Baptist" (the contemporary preacher who baptizes Jesus). The connection to relics is explored, but we mainly have another New Testament dramatization. The main point is the series' examination of, what they call, "a possible blood link between John and Jesus." Around the world, there are many bones purportedly to be "The Bones of John the Baptist." Some are fakes, obviously, since there are enough bones to make up more than one man. One set is carbon dated to be from the correct time period and belongs to a "middle-eastern man." The only other evidence is that the bones are claimed to be John's. Unfortunately, CNN provides no blood sample from Jesus, so it is impossible to prove the "link" proposed...
The science is disappointing, but the story is fascinating. John the Baptist is depicted as a handsome, mysterious and charismatic preacher who dressed strangely. Jesus was drawn to him. Other than that, the most covered part of the story is John's displeasure with Herod's sexual relationship with his (Herod's) sexy brother's wife. It is against Old Testament law. There are also some brief, graphic scenes showing the result of John's death. He was beheaded...
The reason for a possible blood link is that Jesus and John were cousins. The voice-over admits some vagueness, but here's the story. Jesus was born to Mary, a virgin. Before this, an Angel visits Mary and tells her about the blessed event. Most armchair Christians will be familiar with that; but, also, the Angel tells Mary that her cousin Elizabeth is also going to give birth, to John the Baptist. This would make John and Jesus "second cousins" or maybe "first cousins, once removed" (the series simply says "cousins"). Even more interesting is that Elizabeth is past child-bearing years. So, what we have is another divine birth. This should make John the Baptist even more important to Christianity than he is, presently. Apparently, John and Jesus had the same father, which could lead us to discover some very Holy DNA.
***** The Bones of John the Baptist (3/8/15) Hugh Ballantyne ~ Francesco Scianna, Corey Johnson, Adam Bond
It's a Dirty Job, but Somebody's Gotta Do It
The third in the series examines "The Lost Gospel of Judas". According to the narrator it "casts a different light" on the betrayer's "despicable act." Since Jesus was divinely slated for crucifixion, someone had to help set the events in motion. For the first time, there appears to be some scientific agreement on the relic being discussed. It was discovered in 1978 and finally determined to be written much later than the other Christian gospels. Unfortunately, the intriguing new ideas in the document are passed over and it is dismissed as early criticism of Christianity. Again, the New Testament is presented as factual information. While it doesn't conclude that Judas should be seen in a more positive light, the idea has merit and makes this episode one of the most thought-provoking of the short series.
****** The Lost Gospel of Judas (3/15/15) Gary Johnstone ~ David Mumeni, Corey Johnson, Adam Bond
The Secret Mystery of Nothing
The fourth episode in the series examines the discovery of a bone-filled casket engraved, "James son of Joseph brother of Jesus," which would reportedly be a blood link to Jesus Christ. There are some nods to possible forgery, but the CNN series, on balance, seems to present this as authentic physical evidence of Christ's brother. A nod to mathematics determines the odds on having the names "James", "Joseph" and "Jesus" appearing in the same family is rare, although the names must have been common in first century Jerusalem. To support the skeleton being Jesus' brother James, we see scenes from their life reenacted. At one point, Little Jesus performs a miracle to heal James...
We're told Mary was a virgin both before and after Jesus' birth, so Jesus and other siblings were fathered by Joseph with other women. With his wife Mary preferring to remain a virgin, Joseph's behavior is understandable. He's said to have fathered several children with other women. Now, if Jesus is the son of Mary (Virgin Mother) and God (Holy Father), and James is the son of Joseph (father) and another woman (the unknown mother), there is likely no DNA link between Jesus and James. Zero. Nada. So, testing the bones from the casket people say are the bones of "James son of Joseph brother of Jesus" for a "blood link" makes no sense. First of all, we're told they didn't result from the same father and mother. Second, there is no reliable blood sample from Jesus to check for a match. This makes the entire investigation pointless.
** The Secret Brother of Jesus (3/22/15) Hugh Ballantyne ~ Adam Bond, Corey Johnson