Hallmark Review: Murder, She Baked: A Plum Pudding Mystery (2015, dir. Kristoffer Tabori)


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I would have thought this movie was shot by the same cinematographer who did Love On The Air (2015), but IMDb tells me differently. Love On The Air was shot by Jon Joffin and according to the credits of this movie, a Todd Williams shot this one. But both films were directed by Kristoffer Tabori. I guess Tabori has developed a fondness for random camera obstructions and large sections of the frame being out of focus. The blinded by the light shot even makes a return from Love On The Air.

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Now in all fairness to Tabori, you can tell that he is probably trying to bring some style to the cinematography of the Hallmark movies he makes. You can see it in shots like these.

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I remember Rainer Werner Fassbinder having a fondness for using mirrors like this shot from Ali: Fear Eats The Soul (1974).

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Just like one of Fassbinder’s idols Douglas Sirk did as shown in this shot from Written On The Wind (1956).

Even those other shots show a purpose. Throwing things in front of the camera is probably an attempt at composition in depth, which director Josef Von Sternberg was best known for. Here’s an example from The Scarlet Empress (1934).

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That one shot where things are out of focus around the character is framing like this shot also from Ali: Fear Eats The Soul.

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The point is, I think I see what he is going for, but it doesn’t come together in this, nor in Love On The Air.

He also brought us Just The Way You Are (2015), Portrait Of Love (2015), A Ring By Spring (2014), and My Gal Sunday (2014). So obviously this movie is going to be about a baker who has been burned by a previous relationship who wants to follow rules for dating someone new, which includes going out of focus transitions, reuses shots from other Tabori Hallmark movies, screws up at least one computer screen, and ends with a bomb being stopped by a wedding ring. Well, not quite. It’s shot the same way Love On The Air was. It’s considerably better than Just The Way You Are. It’s not sleepwalking through it’s plot like Portrait Of Love. It does screw up two computer screens, but not in particularly bad ways. Finally, while it is at least 1/3rd as confusing as My Gal Sunday, it doesn’t end with a bomb being stopped by a wedding ring.

I am actually going to take a shot at talking about the plot of this movie. Something that will probably be disappointing seeing as I’m terrible with these murder mysteries, and the Hallmark ones are particularly confusing for me. I even watched this with my Dad who reads murder mysteries, and he attempted to explain it to me afterwards largely unsuccessfully. I’ll try, but first.

If you’ve read some of my other reviews you’ve probably picked up that I am a fan of The Cinema Snob. What’s odd is that watching this movie had ties back to the two most recent reviews he’s done. The first comes in the form of the commercials. During one of the breaks there was an ad for Liberty University. They are the ones who brought us Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas (2014). During these same commercials, Hallmark promoted their upcoming Thanksgiving Day thing hosted by Candace Cameron Bure, who is Kirk’s sister. The Snob reviewed that movie last week.

The other tie-in is a little more loose. The guy who dies in this movie is named Larry Jaeger. This week’s Snob episode is on a really really really bizarre Christmas special called Ms. Velma’s Most Incredibly Magnificent Christmas Week. Velma’s last name is Jaggers. And of course this special comes on a disc along with Rock: It’s Your Decision which I have reviewed on this site.

Odd coincidences that I had to mention. But let’s actually talk about this movie now. Or at least as much as I can before I say I don’t want to spoil things because I actually have reached a point where I’m too confused about the plot to discuss it further.

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The movie opens on Hannah’s Cookie Jar Bakery & Cafe where Hannah is played by Alison Sweeney. I don’t remember her place looking like this in the previous film, but I also watched that movie back in August. During the opening scenes where we meet friends, customers, and her nutty mother, we learn that there are a lot of blondes in this town. Also, we hear a Dr. Love (Calling Dr. Love by KISS) on the radio.

No, not that Dr. Love. This lady’s catchphrase is “that life without love is only half a life.” So what’s the other half? I’m assuming it’s referring to having that other person whose happiness becomes and fills in the other half of your life. We also learn that “Crazy Elf is crazy!” And so are his prices!

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Later in the film Crazy Elf learns that he should stay in his little house because he gets shot. Crazy Elf is the mascot for a Christmas tree lot owned by Larry Jaeger who as I said is found dead. This is one of those cozy mysteries where the main character really doesn’t have a reason to be investigating other than that she is a busy body. At least the cop friend played by Cameron Mathison keeps telling her this.

Wait…

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the mother is played by Barbara Niven. Last time I saw her was in that lousy lesbian love story A Perfect Ending (2012). I thought I recognized her.

Anyways, now that the body has been discovered, it’s a good time to get a look at Hannah’s license plate.

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And they make sure you get a good look at the plate several times throughout this movie. It’s kind of like those movies that want you to believe the movie totally takes place in America because of the American flag in the scene. Like Italian Batman and Prom Night III: The Last Kiss.

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However, late in the movie they left in this shot.

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Fido is a Canadian cellular company. It’s kind of sad they didn’t fix that considering they went through the trouble of getting the license plates, using actual text messages, and near the end of the film properly faking a phone call to her cellphone that even shows up as Cameron Mathison’s character’s name.

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Easy to fix too. Oh, well.

The remainder of the film is her mother nagging her about dating, Mathison telling her to stop putting herself in danger, and a red herring that gets picked up by the cops and jailed. That being Dr. Love who turns out to have been and technically still is married to Larry Jaeger who apparently was a con man. The rest would be just laying out the plot point by point. Otherwise known as this is when the film really lost me.

At this point, having seen quite a few of these Hallmark mysteries, I would say this is a series they can drop. Lori Loughlin is enjoyable enough in the Garage Sale Mystery movies. It’s always funny to see Candance Cameron Bure run around playing Aurora Teagarden like she’s on speed. And I think The Gourmet Detective one’s are the best I’ve seen recently. Even though I wish they would just change Brooke Burns character to being an Inspector given that is what she would be called if she were really on the SFPD. You can even see Prentice E. Sanders referred to as an Inspector in my review of Law Enforcement Guide To Satanic Cults. I only recommend this movie if you are already a fan of the books, which I’m sure my book gal Michelle will probably tell me about if she reads this review.

And this has been possibly the longest and only film school dissection of a Hallmark movie that I will probably ever write.

Captain America: Civil War Is Coming


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“A Titan against a Titan!”

Captain America: Civil War is the opening shot of Marvel’s Phase 3 for their cinematic universe. The huge success of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, both in the box-office and among critics, even convinced Marvel Studios and Disney to pit this upcoming sequel against DC’s own Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. One of the two had to blink and move their release date and it ended up being DC.

In what many have called Avengers 2.5 due to the amount of Marvel superheroes involved in the story, Captain America: Civil War will look to explore the consequences of the collateral damage incurred by Captain America and his teammates in the Avengers whenever they fight it out in public. The destruction of Midtown Manhattan during the Battle of New York was the start. The wreckage of three advanced SHIELD Helicarriers in the Potomac was another. Yet, it looks like the destruction of the capital city of Sokovia during the team’s fight against Ultron may have been the straw that broke the global governments’ back.

So, will Tony Stark and his team of Pro-Registration win out over the out-gunned Team Captain America who do not want to be beholden to the agendas of any world government?

We shall find out when Captain America: Civil War drops on everyone on May 6, 2016.

Here Are The 2015 Independent Spirit Nominations!


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Here are the 2015 Independent Spirit Nominations!  That’s right — Oscar season is officially here!  Soon, we will reach the point where every day, another group will be announcing their picks for the best of 2015 and the Oscar race will start to become a lot less cloudy.  Until then, we can look at the Independent Spirit Nominations and try to figure out what they all mean in the big scheme of things.

The two big indie best picture contenders — Carol and Spotlight — were nominated for multiple awards.  That’s to be expected.  If any film is going to benefit from the Spirit nominations, it will probably be Anomalisawhich is starting to look more and more like it might be a dark horse to score a best picture nominations.  As well, the Spirit nominations may serve to remind Academy members that Beasts of No Nation is one of the best films of the year.

Anyway, without further ado, here are the Spirit nominations!

Best Feature

Anomalisa
Beasts of No Nation
Carol
Spotlight
Tangerine

Best Director

Sean Baker, Tangerine
Cary Joji Fukunaga, Beasts of No Nation
Todd Haynes, Carol
Charlie Kaufman & Duke Johnson, Anomalisa
Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
David Robert Mitchell, It Follows

Best Screenplay

Charlie Kaufman, Anomalisa
Donald Margulies, The End of the Tour
Phyllis Nagy, Carol
Tom McCarthy & Josh Singer, Spotlight
S. Craig Zahler, Bone Tomahawk

Best First Feature

The Diary of a Teenage Girl
James White
Manos Sucias
Mediterranea
Songs My Brothers Taught Me

Best First Screenplay

Jesse Andrews, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Jonas Carpignano, Mediterranea
Emma Donoghue, Room
Marielle Heller, The Diary of a Teenage Girl
John Magary, Russell Harbaugh, Myna Joseph, The Mend

Best Male Lead

Christopher Abbott, James White
Abraham Attah, Beasts of No Nation
Ben Mendelsohn, Mississippi Grind
Jason Segel, The End of the Tour
Koudous Seihon, Mediterranea

Best Female Lead

Cate Blanchett, Carol
Brie Larson, Room
Rooney Mara, Carol
Bel Powley, The Diary of A Teenage Girl
Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Tangerine

Best Supporting Male

Kevin Corrigan, Results
Paul Dano, Love & Mercy
Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation
Richard Jenkins, Bone Tomahawk
Michael Shannon, 99 Homes

Best Supporting Female

Robin Bartlett, H.
Marin Ireland, Glass Chin
Jennifer Jason Leigh, Anomalisa
Cynthia Nixon, James White
Mya Taylor, Tangerine

Best Documentary

(T)error
Best of Enemies
Heart of a Dog
The Look of Silence
Meru
The Russian Woodpecker

Best International Film

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence

Embrace of the Serpent
Girlhood
Mustang
Son of Saul

Best Cinematography

Beasts of No Nation
Carol
It Follows
Meadlowland
Songs My Brothers Taught Me

Best Editing

Heaven Knows What
It Follows
Manos Sucias

Room

Spotlight

John Cassavetes Award (Best Feature Under $500,000)

Advantageous
Christmas, Again
Heaven Knows What
Krisha
Out of My Hand

Robert Altman Award (Best Ensemble)

Spotlight

Kiehl’s Someone to Watch Award

Chloe Zhao
Felix Thompson
Robert Machoian & Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck

Piaget Producers Award 

Darren Dean
Mel Eslyn
Rebecca Green and Laura D. Smith

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Turkish Film Fest: Kilink Vs. The Flying Man/Kilink uçan adama karsi (1967, dir. Yilmaz Atadeniz)


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It’s time for part II in the Kilink saga. And wouldn’t you know it, those 20 minutes I mentioned at the end of the previous review are this movie. Yep! Turns out the version I watched was the correct version. The unsbutitled version I came across just seamlessly attached the 20 minutes from this film onto the end of the previous one. I say 20 minutes because this movie spends about that amount of time recapping the first film, and it’s only about a 48 minute movie as a whole. Honestly, you could watch this movie without having seen the first one. It even bothers with the opening credits that already recapped things in the first film before we saw the events they were showing. Also, it turns out the stills they showed at the end of the unsubtitled bit I saw weren’t for nothing. This movie is missing chunks of itself. That’s why there is a quick unrelated scene followed by stills with voiceover narration to fill in what has been lost at the end of the film. That said, the bits that are left are still rather entertaining. In addition, the person who did these subtitles was different from the person who did Kilink In Istanbul. Now Superman says “Shajam” and Kilink says “bullshit”.

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I still can’t get over how the opening credits play somewhat sinister music over them, yet the majority of what they show is Superman doing things. We are supposed to be rooting for Superman (Irfan Atasoy), right? I mean only in so much as Kilink (Yildirim Gencer) keeps getting away so we can have more movies.

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I’m really glad they left in the blonde fondling herself scene in the recap. It’s really crucial to the plot of this movie that we see that again.

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And I also can’t get used to seeing her make out with Kilink. And yes, it does go there in this film. I will get to that later.

This movie picks up where the first one left off. We follow Kilink to an island where we get to see his weapon in action.

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That may look like it’s just a flamethrower, but we do see it blow off the side of rock face so it must be pretty powerful. Of course Superman (called The Flying Man in this one) has to show up to ruin Kilink’s plans. Kilink sees him coming and blasts his boat out of the water.

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I sort of complained in my review of the first Kilink film that they had three henchmen on screen at the same time wearing shirts with the letter ‘K’ on them, but I’ve changed my mind. Thanks to this movie I can say I’ve seen a movie where the KKK come after Superman…sort of.

Kilink captures Orhan, which is this Superman’s human version, along with the boat captain who was brining Superman to the island. Kilink tells all his hostages that “you’ll have a long journey. I’ll send you to hell.” Big words, but considering Superman is just a Shajam away, I like this guy’s response.

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Then Kilink apparently has sex with the blonde, or at least one of them. We see him lay down on her and kiss her. Then it cuts and we see this.

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I can totally buy that Shajam turns Orhan into Superman and that a flamethrower is an ultimate weapon, but how does sex with Kilink work? He appears to be putting on a belt, but I still don’t know if he’s literally supposed to be a skeleton or a guy in a skeleton suit. Does he just pay all the sexual attention to her since his equipment is kind of dead? Maybe that’s why she follows him wherever he goes. It’s a puzzling scene that is shortly followed by what I guess is them having sex again, but on a rock.

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At least I think it’s her. There are two blonde girls in this that follow him around, but it’s tough keeping track of who is who.

Anyways, while girls dance for Kilink, Superman finally decides to emerge and go after him. Just as in the first one, Superman means business and dives right into the action. I like that during this we get little exchanges between the guards before they are taken care of.

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We get more dancing and Superman getting the other hostages to safety before he finally crashes Kilink’s party. Kilink whips out his weapon and tries to use it on Superman before running away with it pointed at him.

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It does seem to hold him at bay before he works around it and gives it a karate chop. Probably wouldn’t have been such a big deal if he had simply walked around the other side of the weapon. Of course if he had done that, then Kilink might not have gotten away. Superman thinks he has caught up with him, but it turns out to be an imposter.

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That’s a running thing in these movies. Either someone pretends to be Kilink, or Kilink wears a flesh mask to pretend to be someone else. However, those parts are pretty rare.

Now we hit the wall in terms of what has survived of this film. We get this brief sequence where Kilink appears to be showing up to rob some rich lady, then the stills kick in. They tell us that Kilink killed the princess of Austria, and took all her jewelry. That would have been neat to see. So would have been this “unique fight” that apparently took place on Galata’s tower.

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Kilink falls to his death, or at least it appears he is dead, but the movie assures us that he will be seen again. And of course he will because I have at least two more of these Kilink films to go. One of which immediately follows this one. Unfortunately, I don’t think it has Superman in it based on IMDb’s description, but we’ll see after I watch Kilink: Strip and Kill.

Surely, Leslie Nielsen can’t be the bad guy: The Sheepman (1958, directed by George Marshall)


Thesheepman At the start of The Sheepman, reformed gambler and gunslinger Jason Sweet (Glenn Ford) shows up in the middle of cattle country. He has won a herd of sheep in a poker game and he is planning on grazing them on the nearby public land. Knowing that he will face opposition from the local cattle ranchers, Jason asks the local towns people to direct him to the town bully. After Jason beats up Jumbo (Mickey Shaughnessy), Jason is invited to meet Jumbo’s boss, Col. Stephen Bedford (Leslie Nielsen).

As soon as Jason meets Bedford, he realizes that he is not a colonel and his name is not Bedford. Instead, he is an old friend from Texas, a former gambler and outlaw named Johnny Bledsoe. Like Jason, Bledsoe has also gone straight and is now the most powerful man in town. He is also engaged to marry a local girl named Dell Payton (Shirley MacClaine), to whom Jason has taken a liking.  Bledsoe tells Jason to take his sheep somewhere else and when Jason refuses, Bledsoe threatens to have him, Dell, and his sheep killed.

Wait a minute, Leslie Nielsen is playing a bad guy?

Surely, you can’t be serious!

I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.

(Sorry, had to do it.)

Leslie Nielsen is best remembered for being the deadpan comedian who could deliver the most ridiculous of lines with a totally straight face and who helped to make Airplane one of the funniest movies ever made. But before Nielsen recreated himself as a comedic actor, he was a dependably stiff supporting player and occasional leading man who appeared in nearly 100 dramatic pictures. The Sheepman is one of his “serious” roles.

Today, it is always strange to see one of Nielsen’s dramatic performances. Johnny Bledsoe is a standard western villain and Nielsen does okay with the role but, because his serious performances shared the same style as his comedic performances, it was impossible not to think of Dr. Rumack saying, “I just want to tell you both good luck. We’re all counting on you,” even while Johnny Bledsoe was offering to pay the outlaw Chocktaw (Pernell Roberts) to track down and kill Jason and his sheep.

The Sheepman is an average western and, as always, Glenn Ford is a good hero. But ultimately, the most interesting thing about it and the main reason to see it is to witness Leslie Nielsen doing his thing before he officially became the funniest man in the world.  Leslie Nielsen was not a terrible dramatic actor but watching The Sheepman made me all the happier that he eventually got to show the world his true calling.

Leslie Nielsen in The Sheepman (1958)