Hallmark Review: The Good Witch’s Garden (2009, dir. Craig Pryce)


This is actually the first Hallmark movie I’ve watched on DVD. I only mention that for others who might watch it on their computer using VLC like I did because it makes taking screenshots easy. This movie’s particular DVD really gave me trouble and I had to force it to bypass the menu in order to get it to play. Sadly, the captions on the DVD were not very good so if that’s important to you then I’m sorry. They drop out at times and get wonky. At least that was my experience.

This now means there is only one more Good Witch film for me to see. That would be The Good Witch’s Gift (2010). If I didn’t notice it before, then I definitely did this time after recently watching Garage Sale Mystery: Guilty Until Proven Innocent. That one introduced Good Witch style subplots to it that I really didn’t like and should be taken out from future installments. I remember them being in, I believe, all of these Good Witch films. I have never watched the TV Show, but I get the strong feeling that this works far better as a TV Show than it did as a yearly series of films. The main plots and subplots are fine for a TV Show and even if they are completely self-contained to a single episode almost always would add to a character in some way. However, when I watch these Good Witch movies I just wanna scream: “Please have a single self-contained plot that all of the characters are involved in and which moves them all forward to a state that we will pick up in the next film.” The Signed, Sealed, Delivered movies do just that. I’m theorizing here, but that’s probably why that went from a show to a series of movies and the Good Witch franchise did the opposite. Let’s talk about the movie now.


The movie starts off and we have Martha Tinsdale (Catherine Disher) once again in full busybody mode. Luckily, she starts to come around by the end of this installment. She is joined by her friend Gwen (Elizabeth Lennie). I love the drastic difference in their faces here. Gwen is certainly interested in Grey House, but she acts like a reasonable person. Martha actually has some priceless nonsense that she comes up with here to say. First off though, yes, just like For The Love Of Grace, this one also prominently features a Nikon camera. The only other product I ever recall showing up in a bunch of Hallmark movies was the Wii and once the Wii U.

Anyways, they are there to scout out a location for the bicentennial of their town called Middleton. They decide to take a look at Cassie’s (Catherine Bell) house since it is 200 years old. Martha bumps into a creeper plant on the ground, freaks out, and runs to Jake Russell (Chris Potter) who is the top cop in town. He also happens to be dating Cassie.

There is a brief little period here where they quickly reintroduce us to Cassie, George (Peter MacNeill), and Lori (Hannah Endicott-Douglas). This time they tone down the she’s a little girl, get it, she’s a little girl, can we remind you one more time she’s a little girl stuff, but without changing the character. It’s just the way they present her. She fits in better this time around than she did in the first film.

Now we get probably the best part of this movie. Martha shows up at Jake’s office and among other stupid things, she actually alludes that Cassie is growing pot. She says she suspects some of her plants are “illegal”.


Can’t think of something else reasonable that she could be referring to in talking to a police officer and using that particular word. She also talks about this vine on the ground that she bumped into like she just saw the movie The Crawlers (1993). She seems to really believe that Cassie may have plants that are like the roots in that movie which will reach out to kill you. I think Chris Potter’s face gets across how hilariously ridiculous these lines are.


Disher does a great job delivering them. I just love her line that Cassie may be growing illegal plants. I can’t get over that.

Now we kick off the main plot and the subplots. Let’s do the subplots first.


That’s George meeting Gwen. I’m sorry, does that need an explanation?


That’s Lori on the right who has been assigned to do a paper with Jess (Jordy Benattar). However, you can see that Jess has gotten up to flee. For an adult audience the reason is immediately understood. Jess can’t read. Lori doesn’t find this out till a little later. Up till then she thinks Jess is just trying to get her to do all the work, which is understandable. People do that.


That’s Brandon (Matthew Knight) on the right and his two new “friends”. His subplot is these two guys are pushing him around to do something stupid to I guess be initiated into the stupid kids society. It’s similar to the one in the most recent Garage Sale Mystery movie except this time it’s not filled with humorous goofs, lines, and a resolution that had his friends looking like Bill Pullman from Ruthless People (1986). This time Cassie does almost the same thing she did in the first film. She gives him a mirror and just before they do their stupid thing, she shows up causing the item she gave him to come into play.

With the subplots going, this guy shows up to be our main attraction.


He’s Nick Chasen (Rob Stewart) and he has his eyes set on Grey House. He presents himself as the true heir to the house.

Again, Catherine Bell does the Jadzia Dax thing here. She always comes across as wise and with years of experience, but never appearing in some super state of nirvana above us mere mortals. She definitely has her suspicions, but still needs help and has to work through the situation with Jake and his family. She doesn’t just foresee it all and play along. That would make for a rather bland film in my opinion.

As you know from the later films, he does propose at the end of the movie.


There are a couple of little goofs, but nothing worth mentioning. Most of it seems to have been shot around Hamilton, Ontario. That’s really it in that department. I did not see the goof listed on IMDb about Martha’s shoes. Apparently the opening shot shows them as black, but after she goes in the gate of Grey House they are leopard print. Here’s the two shots. I didn’t see it.



With these Good Witch movies there really isn’t much else to talk about except to lay out the plots for you. That’s how these films work.

It’s not as good as the first film. That one felt like it could have been self-contained. This feels like what it is really: the second episode of a TV Show rather than a new film that continues a saga. The acting is good all around as usual. I actually forgot that Matthew Knight was on My Babysitter’s A Vampire. I liked that show.

I recommend this one, but I could tell it was already starting to drop off in quality from the first one more than I would have liked. I want to hear from anyone who has seen the show to tell me if it does seem to work better that way than as an annual TV Movie.

Footnote: Since I brought it up in a past review of a Good Witch movie, let me put it to rest. I did track down the relevant scenes from the one episode Catherine Bell did of Hot Line back in the 1990’s. It’s just really generic 90’s late night erotica. Nothing special or interesting at all. I thought there might be something, but there isn’t. Often when you come across an entry in someone’s filmography that is so different from their usual, then it turns out to be worth seeing if you are a fan of their work. Not here. I would only recommend this for Catherine Bell completionists who must see everything she has ever done. It certainly wasn’t even worth the couple of minutes it took me to find it. The clip I saw from an episode of Dream On that she was on looked like a much more interesting example of her really early work if that’s what you want to see. Just wanted to bring that to a close.


cracked rear viewer


Robert Vaughn played superspy Napoleon Solo on TV’s THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. from 1964 to 1968. The series was inspired by the James Bond craze, filled with outlandish gadgets and evil supervillains. Vaughn’s popularity led to a starring role in THE VENETIAN AFFAIR, a Cold War spy thriller with a much more adult theme. Here, he plays Bill Fenner, ex-CIA agent, now a hard-drinking reporter who gets caught up in international intrigue.


Fenner is sent to Venice after a U.S. diplomat supposedly sets off a bomb at an international nuclear disarmament conference. He soon learns the assignment was arranged by his former CIA boss, “Rosey” Rosenfeld (Edward Asner). Rosey wants to use Fenner to smoke out old flame Sandra Fane (Elke Sommer), a Communist agent with a mysterious link to the bombing. Fenner’s odyssey takes him through double-and-triple crosses in the world of international espionage he once left behind.


Boris Karloff is on hand in…

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Film Review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (dir by Burr Steers)


I had high hopes for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the just-released film which, like the novel upon which it is based, attempts to combine Jane Austen and The Walking Dead.  The source material was good.  The cast — with Lilly James as Elizabeth Bennet, Jack Huston as Wickham, and Matt Smith as Parson Collins — was impressive.  The trailers looked great, promising a combination of zombies, ornate costumes, and a very British sense of humor.  Sadly, however, the ultimate film is a bit of disappointment.

Actually, it’s more than just a bit of a disappointment.  It is a HUGE disappointment.  To have so much promise and then to turn out so bland — well, it’s enough to make you wonder if maybe zombies have become so common place in popular culture that they’re no longer as interesting as they once were.  Don’t get me wrong, as a symbol of the impossibility of escaping death, zombies are great nightmare fuel.  But, when you see them in a relatively bloodless PG-13 film like this, you realize that it takes more than just a few random zombies to make an effective horror film.

Plotwise, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is exactly what it says it is.  It tells the same basic story as Pride and Prejudice, with the exception being that England is now under siege from zombies, the Bennet sisters have now been trained in how to kill zombies, Mr. Darcy (played by Sam Riley) is now Col. Darcy and he’s an expert at tracking down zombies and killing them, and Wickham is now more than just a cad, he’s a cad who wants to help the undead overthrow the living.  As I typed all that out, I realized I was probably making the film sound a lot more fun than it actually is.  And really, the movie should be fun but it’s not.

Director Burr Steers never manages to capture the proper tone for telling this story.  The satire is never as sharp as it needs to be.  The scenes that are meant to pay homage to Austen try a bit too hard to capture Austen’s style without contributing any of her insight and the romance between Elizabeth and Darcy is sabotaged by the fact that Sam Riley and Lilly James had absolutely no chemistry together.  The scenes with the zombies are bland, largely because this is a PG-13 rated film and bloodless zombies aren’t particularly scary.  A typical episode of The Walking Dead is more graphic than anything you’ll see in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Which is not to say that there aren’t a few moments when Pride and Prejudice and Zombies kind of works.  It has moments but they’re isolated and they never really come together to build any sort of narrative momentum for the film as a whole.  Sam Riley is a bit of a dud as Darcy but Lilly James, Jack Huston, and especially Matt Smith all give good performance.  (Smith, in particular, is so good as Collins that I would like to see him play the role in an actual adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.)  Early on in the film, there’s a fun scene where the Bennet sisters destroy a horde of zombies and it actually strikes the right balance between comedy and horror.  Before that, we get the traditional scene that we get in all Austen adaptations, of the Bennet sisters preparing for a ball and, in between lacing up corsets and discussing whether they will all be able find husbands, they also carefully conceal the daggers and knives that they will be carrying just in case they happen to run into any of the undead.  It’s one of the few scenes that suggests what Pride and Prejudice and Zombies could have been if it had only found a consistent tone.

For that matter, I also liked the animated opening credits, which wittily explained how the zombies first appeared in England and, not surprisingly, suggested that it was all the fault of the French.  And the film also had a fairly effective scene that shows up in the middle of the end credits and suggested what would might happen if Pride and Prejudice and Zombies 2 is ever put into production.

But ultimately, even those moments that worked only left me frustrated that the rest of the film did not.  For all of its potential, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies disappoints.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Sergeant York (dir by Howard Hawks)


The 1941 film Sergeant York was the American Sniper of its day.  A biopic of Alvin York, one of the most decorated American soldiers of World War I, Sergeant York was not only a huge box office hit but it was a film that celebrated American patriotism in the type of unabashed fashion that you would never see in a film made today.  Though Sergeant York went into production at a time when the United States was officially pursuing a policy of international neutrality, it was released shortly before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and, whether intentionally or not, Sergeant York served as a strong recruiting tool.  According to Wikipedia (and we all know that Wikipedia is never wrong), there were reports of young men going straight from the movie to the nearest military recruitment office.

Clocking in at nearly two and a half hours (and running at least 40 minutes too long), Sergeant York is two films in one.  The second half of the film deals with the military career of Alvin York (Gary Cooper), a plain-spoken and honest Tennessee farmer who, because of his strong religious beliefs, unsuccessfully attempts to register as a conscientious objector.  Forced into the Army, York is, at first, dismissed as a simple-minded hillbilly.  (His fellow soldiers are amused to discover that York doesn’t know what a subway is.)  However, to the shock of his commanding officers, he proves himself to be an expert marksman.  As he explains it, being from the country means that he’s been shooting a rifle his entire life.

On the basis of his skills as a marksman, York is given a promotion but he still says that he refuses to kill.  It’s not until his superior officer reminds him of the sacrifices that past Americans have made that York starts to reconsider his position.  Then, a gust of wind opens York’s bible to a verse about giving unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and York realizes that he can go to war and, if need be, he can kill.

And it’s a good thing that he can!  Because World War I is heating up and York may be the only guy around with the strength and confidence to single-handedly defeat and capture over 170 German soldiers.

The army section of Sergeant York is predictable but well-done.  As you’d expect from a film directed by Howard Hawks, a lot of emphasis is put on how the soldiers work together.  York is portrayed not as being super human but instead as just an honest man who is exceptionally good at his job.  There’s nothing surprising about the second half of Sergeant York but Hawks keeps the action moving and Cooper gives a good performance.

To be honest, I preferred the first half of the film, which examined York’s life before he joined the Army.  When we first meet Alvin York, he drinks too much, he fights too much, and he’s totally irresponsible.  It’s not until he falls in love with Gracie Williams (Joan Leslie) that York starts to change his ways.  The scenes of York in the backwoods of Tennessee had a lively feel to them and it was enjoyable to see Cooper play a somewhat disreputable character.  Cooper seemed to be having fun playing a ne’er-do-well and, in the scenes before York finds God, his bad behavior was a lot of fun to watch.

Considering its success at the box office, it’s not surprising that Sergeant York was nominated for best picture of the year.  While Gary Cooper won the Oscar for best actor, the award for Best Picture went to How Green Was My Valley.