Lifetime Film Review: Murder in the Vineyard (dir by Craig Goldstein)

If you’ve watched enough Lifetime films, you know that it’s rarely a good thing when you’re living near a vineyard.

I mean, sure, there’s a certain amount of romance to them.  Any single mom who lives in a house near a vineyard is guaranteed to meet at least one handsome stranger.  And, of course, living near a vineyard always means that you have a steady supply of wine so that you can have a fun girl’s night with your sassy, sex-obsessed best friend.

But, seriously, bad stuff happens in those vineyards.  It seems like people are always getting chased around the vineyards.  Often times, spending a night in the vineyards is a good way to get yourself murdered.  Even if you somehow manage to survive your night in the vineyards, there’s still a good chance that you’ll end up getting kidnapped and tied up in someone’s wine cellar.  Vineyards just aren’t worth the trouble.  As if to prove my point, Murder in the Vineyard aired on Lifetime on July 18th.  I recorded it on my DVR (which, unlike a vineyard, is always a good place to visit) and then I watched it earlier today.

Murder in the Vineyard starts off on a good note by featuring a murder in a vineyard.  Within the first few minutes, the film has already lived up to its name and that’s definitely something that I appreciated.  Once we get the first murder out of the way, we met Emma Kirk (Helena Mattsson) and her teenage daughter, Bea (Emma Fuhrmann).  Emma has just taken over the family winery and Bea is struggling to fit in at her new school.  While Emma reconnects with a childhood love, Bea strikes up a tentative relationship with the school football star.

Unfortunately, not everyone at the school is happy about the idea of Bea showing up out of nowhere and dating one of the most popular guys in the class.  The snobby cheerleaders, who we’re told have a history of hazing new students, start to target her.  Suddenly, there’s a website that’s devoted exclusively to harassing Bea.  Nasty rumors are being spread about her at school.  When she goes to a party, someone slips something into her drink.  Someone is targeting Bea and, as you might guess from that murder that we saw earlier in the movie, that someone is prepared to go to extremes.

As far as dangerous vineyard movies are concerned, Murder in the Vineyard was a good one.  There was enough suspense over who was harassing Bea that the film worked as a mystery and the scenes when Emma reconnects with Luke (Daniel Hall) were enjoyable.  Helena Mattsson and Daniel Hall made for a cute couple so you definitely hoped the best for them.  Mattsson and Emma Fuhrmann were also believable as mother and daughter and anyone who was overprotected by their mom will be able to relate to some of what Bea goes through.  Probably the best thing about the film is that the vineyard was pretty.  It was a bit like a Lifetime version of Sideways, in that as much emphasis was put on the beauty of the California landscape as on the plot.  If someone’s going to get murdered in your vineyard, it should at least be a pretty one.

Thunder Alley (1985, directed by J.S. Cardone)

Richie (Roger Wilson) is an Arizona farm boy who can play the guitar like a riot and who, after he joins a band called Magic, discovers that success is a hideous bitch goddess.

Thunder Alley was a Cannon production and it features all of the usual rock movie clichés.  Though Richie is reluctant to join Magic and leave his family behind, he soon emerges as the most talented member of the band and he starts to overshadow the arrogant lead singer, Skip (Leif Garrett).  Donnie (Scott McGinnis), who is Richie’s best friend in the band, gets hooked on cocaine while Richie struggles to resist groupie temptation and remain loyal to his sweet girlfriend, Beth (Jill Schoelen).  The band depends on their road manager, Weasel (Clancy Bown), to get them on stage in time and to protect them from dishonest club owners.

As predictable as it may be, Thunder Alley is one of the better films to be distributed by Cannon Films in the 80s, which is saying something when you consider that Thunder Alley doesn’t feature Michael Dudikoff, Chuck Norris, or Charles Bronson.  The thing that sets Thunder Alley apart from so many other similar films is that, when you actually see Magic perform and hear their music, you actually believe that the band could be a success.  This isn’t one of those films where everyone is feigning enthusiasm for a band that sounds terrible.  Instead, Magic actually sounds like a band that could have gone all the way in 1985.  The scenes of them going from one cheap motel to another while coming together as a band feel as authentic and real as the scenes of Skip angrily realizing that Richie has replaced him as the face of Magic.

Though he was probably cast because he was one of the stars of Porky’s, Roger Wilson was also an actual musician and he’s credible whenever he’s performing on stage.  The same can be said of former teen pop idol Leif Garrett, who plays an actual rock and roller in Thunder Alley and who is surprisingly convincing in the role.  Sporting an impressive beard, Clancy Brown is the ideal road manager while Jill Schoelen brings a lot of life to her small role as Richie’s loyal girlfriend.

For a film that is all about sex, drugs, and rock and roll, Thunder Alley has an innocent side.  Even after he becomes a star and he’s got groupies going crazy every time he steps up to a microphone, Richie’s main concern is making sure that he gets home in time to help his father with the harvest.  Thunder Alley not only asks how far you would go to be a star but also suggests that there’s nothing wrong with choosing, instead, to be a loyal boyfriend or a good son.  Thunder Alley brings it own earnest approach to all of the usual rock and roll clichés and suggests that, with the right combination of talent and hard work, you can have it all, the farm and the stage.

Of course, it helps if you’ve got Clancy Brown looking out for you.


Lifetime Film Review: Mile High Escorts (dir by Sam Irvin)

Mile High Escorts aired on Lifetime on July 19th.  Because I was hosting the #ScarySocial live tweet of City of the Living Dead, I missed it but thanks to my DVR, I was able to record it and watch it earlier today.  Seriously, will there ever be a better invention than the DVR?

Mile High Escorts tells the story of Lauren (Saxon Sharbino).  Lauren is a flight attendant.  She gets to fly all over the world and she’s even put in a request to be assigned to the Paris route.  How could her life get any better?  Well, don’t ever take your happiness for granted because reality soon intrudes on Lauren’s perfect world.  The airline announces that they’re going to be cutting back on flights, which means that Lauren and her friend Ashley (Kara Royster) are going to be flying less and also making a lot less money!  But Lauren needs that money because her father is on the verge of getting kicked out of his home.  And Ashley needs the money because …. well, Hell, who doesn’t need money?  (I totally related to Ashley.)

Fortunately, a chance meeting with Hannah (Christina Moore) might be just the solution to Lauren and Ashley’s problems.  Hannah owns a private airline and she’s always looking for new flight attendants.  Because her airline is exclusively used by wealthy, handsome, and single (if just for the weekend) men, her flight attendants have to be attractive and they have to be friendly.  They also have to be willing to spend time with their clients even after the airplane has landed.  She offers Lauren a job but Lauren, at first, is reluctant.  It sounds too much like an escort service to her, largely because it is.  But then Lauren’s hours get cut and her father’s unpaid bills start to pile up and soon, Lauren and Ashley are mile high escorts!

At first, everything seems great but, as we soon discover, the life of a mile high escort is not a simple one.  Sure, at first, it’s a lot of fun.  All of the passengers are handsome and rich and like to have a good time.  Lauren even makes a connection with Thomas (Esteban Benito), who appears to be a rare nice guy.  But this is a Lifetime movie so you know the fun can’t last.  It turns out that the private airline business is indeed a shady one and someone is murdering mile high escorts.  Can Lauren and Ashley figure out what’s going on before they become the next victims?

I absolutely loved Mile High Escorts.  This movie had everything that I love about Lifetime movies.  The plot was melodramatic and full of scheming and sex.  The clothes were to die for.  The men were handsome.  Christina Moore did a great job keeping you guessing as to Hannah’s motivations and both Saxon Sharbino and Kara Royster were likable in the lead roles.  This was a fun Lifetime film.  You don’t watch a film like this and worry about whether or not the plot makes total sense.  You certainly don’t watch a film like this because you’re hoping for a realistic portrait of what it means to be a mile high escort.  You watch a film like this because it’s fun!  And Mile High Escorts definitely was.


Song of the Day: The Theme From The Stendhal Syndrome by Ennio Morricone

Today’s song of the day is the Theme from The Stendhal Syndrome.  Composed by Ennio Morricone, this piece of music creates a perfectly creepy atmosphere for Dario Argento’s 1996 film, The Stendhal Syndrome.  Argento’s later, post-Opera films are often treated rather dismissively by critics but I’ve always liked The Stendhal Syndrome.  I definitely like Morricone’s score.

Previous Entries In Our Tribute To Morricone:

  1. Deborah’s Theme (Once Upon A Time In America)
  2. Violaznioe Violenza (Hitch-Hike)
  3. Come Un Madrigale (Four Flies on Grey Velvet)
  4. Il Grande Silenzio (The Great Silence)
  5. The Strength of the Righteous (The Untouchables)
  6. So Alone (What Have You Done To Solange?)
  7. The Main Theme From The Mission (The Mission)
  8. The Return (Days of Heaven)
  9. Man With A Harmonic (Once Upon A Time In The West)
  10. The Ecstasy of Gold (The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly)
  11. The Main Theme From The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly)
  12. Regan’s Theme (The Exorcist II: The Heretic)
  13. Desolation (The Thing)
  14. The Legend of the Pianist (The Legend of 1900)
  15. Theme From Frantic (Frantic)
  16. La Lucertola (Lizard In A Woman’s Skin)
  17. Spasmodicamente (Spasmo)

On The Road To Ruin And Revelation : Mara Ramirez’s “MOAB”

Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

There’s truth in packaging, and then there’s this : Oakland-based cartoonist Mara Ramirez’s recently-released debut graphic novel, MOAB — which comes our way courtesy of Freak Comics — is formatted to look like a sketchbook/diary with a lush moleskine cover because, well, it is a sketchbook/diary with a lush moleskine cover, it’s just that it happens to tell one complete story. And one complete true story, at that.

think, at any rate. Granted, there’s no indication that the narrative herein is strictly autobiographical — or even loosely autobiographical — but even if it isn’t, that doesn’t mean the story, and the emotive and expressive qualities that positively ooze from its metaphorical pores, is any less real. In fact, it only takes a few pages to clue readers in to the fact that this, right here, is as absolutely real as it gets.

And no sooner do I say…

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