Tony

The Miracle Season (2018) PG

miracleseasonBased on true story, The Miracle Season covers the 2011 Iowa City West High School women’s volleyball team and how they battled back from adversity after losing their team captain, vivacious and effervescent Caroline “Line” Found (Danika Yarosh) in an unfortunate accident.

Coach Kathy Bresnahan (Helen Hunt) tags senior Kelly Flieher (Erin Moriarty), who was Line’s best friend since childhood, with leading the team after the loss of Line. Flieher battles her own doubts about her abilities to step into Line’s shoes as a setter, and lead the team to a consecutive state title, which they had won the previous year.

William Hurt turns in a strong performance (one of the best of the movie), as Line’s father, Dr. Ernie Found. Kelly is like a daughter to him, and he and she turn to each other and draw strength from each other, he grieving the loss of his daughter and wife and she looking for support because she is taking Line’s place on the volleyball court.

Overall, this was a good, not great, sports movie. I can’t think of any movies that have been made with volleyball as the featured sport, so this film helps to fill that hole. Like most inspirational sports movies, this one tugs at the heartstrings, so if you get emotional do have a box of tissues ready. You are going to need them.
Tony

The Ref (1994) R

refIt’s Christmas Eve and Gus (Dennis Leary) is a burglar whose partner abandons him when their latest heist goes south. He is forced to take hostage Lloyd and Caroline Chasseur (Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis) – who are on their way home from marriage counseling – making them drive him to their home. Slowly, the rest of the family begins to arrive for their annual holiday celebration and Gus pretends to be Lloyd and Caroline’s marriage counselor. Little does he know that he will become the “counselor” for the entire dysfunctional family while he figures out a way to elude capture by the police.

The Ref is a dark comedy that takes the idea of a holiday movie and turns it on its head. The script is biting and sharp. Leary is best known for his sarcastic delivery and shines in the role of Gus. Spacey and Davis also are outstanding as the bickering couple who eventually realize they do love and care about each other. The rest of the cast is top notch and there are a number of well-known actors in cameo or supporting roles: B. D. Wong (Oz; Law & Order) as Dr. Wong, the Chasseur’s original marriage counselor; Christine Baranski (Cybill; The Good Wife) as demanding sister-in-law Connie; and J. K. Simmons (Law & Order; The Closer) as Siskel, the commander of the military school Lloyd and Caroline’s son Jesse is attending (little do they know that Jesse is blackmailing Siskel).

Granted, I know this movie isn’t for everyone. But, if you like dark comedies, a sharply written and delivered script, and something a little different to supplement all the maudlin and saccharin holiday fare that comes on this time of year, give this one a chance. It may just win you over.
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Tony

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (2006)

13thtaleDiane Setterfield masterfully weaves together a gothic tale of suspense, mystery, and loss. The novel follows the story of two women, one a reclusive author, Vida Winter, who has weaved together so many stories about her life no one knows the truth and the other a young biographer, Margaret Lea, who has been chosen by Winter to take down her true story before Winter succumbs to old age and various ailments plaguing her.

Winter’s tale unfolds mainly in flashback, recounting her eccentric upbringing and the tragedy that tore her family apart. The reader is left to figure out which character Winter is in her tale. Meanwhile, Lea is forced to look to her own past, the loss of her twin and the resulting withdrawal from day-to-day life of her mother. She tries to examine how it has shaped who she is and how she can move forward with her own life. Themes explored include identity, loss, reconciliation, death, and twins.

The Thirteenth Tale was originally released in Australia as an adult novel, but subsequently was released in the United States as a novel targeted to young adults. In 2007, it won an Alex Award, which is annually given to ten books written for adults that have a special appeal to young adults.