Several smaller films are taking the last opportunity to get into local theaters before the holiday movie season starts next week. Three such movies that open here today include a first-rate documentary, a production based on a true story and a holiday tear-jerker.
"8 Murders a Day": Former local TV sportscaster Charlie Minn has created a powerful documentary about the escalating violence that has turned Juarez, Mexico, into a murder capital.
Since 2008, there have been almost 10,000 murders in the city on the Texas border.
This isn't the first production to look at the horrors going on in Juarez. But, Minn's approach of turning his cameras on the people being affected rather than focusing on the drug cartels gives this offering a fresh perspective. It also keeps the documentary from being a dry regurgitation of facts and figures.
You are drawn into the story through the innocents and that gives this film something that so many documentaries are lacking – heart.
Through strong production values and compelling storytelling, Minn has given a voice to the innocent victims of this tragedy in Juarez.
"The Mighty Macs": This "Hoosiers" meets "A League of Their Own" is based on the true story of the 1971-72 Immaculata College basketball team that won the first women's college basketball tournament. It was an improbable accomplishment considering the school only had a handful of players, no gym, one basketball and a first-year coach, Cathy Rush (Carla Gugino).
Writer/director Tim Chambers hits all the right points when it comes to an underdog sports movie. There's the uncaring boss (Ellen Burstyn) who gets caught up in the excitement. He's tossed in the novice coach (Marley Shelton) who finds redemption through sports. And, he doesn't forget the spunky – but vulnerable – head coach who finds a way to win.
The story's fascinating because it's such a big moment in women's sports, but you wouldn't know that as Chambers never really paints a clear picture of the political and social importance of this team.
The director should have spent less time looking at basketball plays and more time at basketball players. The emotional elements aren't as strong because the characters aren't clearly defined.
And, although Gugino's good, she's not the right casting to play a basketball coach who takes a job fresh out of college.
Of course, if you are a sucker for these "Rocky" style sports films, then it's a slam dunk.
"Snowmen": Playing the cancer card – especially with children – is risky because there's an automatic sympathy that kicks in, which means the story has to be strong enough to warrant the emotional investment.
The "Snowmen" script by director/writer Robert Kirbyson doesn't have such power because of it clichéd characters, predictable plot twists and continuity problems.
Bobby Coleman plays Billy Kirkfield, a young man who's been through a battle with cancer. Faced with his own mortality, Billy wants to do something for which he will be remembered long after he's gone – to build the most snowmen in 24 hours.
"Snowmen" banks on the kind of emotional cues that make Hallmark and Lifetime movies so popular: hope, determination, spunk, regrets and acceptance. Between the bookends of the tragic death of a senior and the boy's health battles is a familiar story played out by two-dimensional characters.
The film's unabashed in its efforts to play off your emotions. That would have worked if there was at least some originality.
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
or (559) 441-6355. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.