February 11, 2009 THE VILLADOM TIMES I, II, III & IV • Page 19 Melissa Leo shines in tale of desperation by Dennis Seuling “Frozen River” (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) takes place in frigid Massena, a border crossing on the Mohawk reservation between New York State and Quebec, where life is harsh and barren. Two hardened single mothers are trying to make a life for their children in this bleak terrain. Lila Littlewolf (Misty Upham) is a widowed Mohawk whose mother-in-law stole her newborn son the previous year. Ray Eddy (Melissa Leo) is a mother of two whose gambling-addicted husband just left town with the down payment for their new trailer home. Faced with little opportunity to make ends meet, Ray and Lila embark on an illegal venture transporting immigrants into the U.S. across Mohawk territory. When circumstances spiral out of control, the two women must make life or death decisions based on their friendship and love for their children. Director Courtney Hunt provides a dramatic portrait of how decent individuals resort to awful actions in the cause of doing good. Leo, nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award for this film, is absolutely riveting as a desperate woman who turns to illegal means to earn enough cash to make her children’s life better. Her Ray is an empathetic, complex character. With a careworn face and penetrating eyes, she shows a life of hardship, unhappiness, and sacrifice. The location of “Frozen River” is stark and unforgiving, providing enormous atmosphere. It is a different kind of movie, though it draws upon familiar themes: singlemother survival, morality, setting priorities, responsibility, and consequences. Available in DVD and Blu-ray formats, “Frozen River” contains commentary with writer/director Hunt and producer Heather Rae. “What Makes Sammy Run?” (Koch Vision) is based on a novel by 27-year-old Budd Schulberg (“On the Waterfront,” “A Face in the Crowd”) written in 1941. The novel focused on the meteoric rise of Sammy Glick, a poor Jewish kid from the Lower East Side, from newspaper copy boy to with Sharks,” and Tim Robbins in “The Player.” Hollywood never filmed Schulberg’s novel, perhaps because it hit too close to home. Instead, it was adapted by Schulberg and directed by Delbert Mann in a two-part television drama in 1959 for “Sunday Showcase.” “What Makes Sammy Run?” stars Larry Blyden in the title role, John Forsythe, Barbara Rush, and Dina Merrill. Supporting cast members include Sidney Blackmer, Norman Fell, David Opatashu, and Horace MacMahon. Blyden was chosen for the role over many contenders, including Anthony Perkins, Ben Gazzara, Charles Grodin, Harry Guardino, Burt Reynolds, and Tony Curtis. Known today primarily as a 1960s game show host, Blyden turns in a razzle-dazzle performance as Glick, an average guy from nowhere with enormous drive who claws his way to the top. Detestable in many ways, he is nonetheless fascinating. The original taped, two-part broadcast was in color, but the DVD version is in black and white. Mann’s direction is crisp, and the performances are lively, spontaneous, and natural. Extras include audio commentary with Merrill and Rush, an interview with Budd Schulberg, and a 16-page booklet containing a Schulberg biography, a chronicle of attempts made by Hollywood to film the novel, excerpts from reviews of the show, and details about the restoration (continued on Crossword page) Misty Upham (left) and Best Actress Academy Award-nominee Melissa Leo star in ‘Frozen River.’ Hollywood studio head, steamrolling anyone in his path. 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