Little Red Riding Hood On Acid: Freeway (1996, directed by Matthew Bright)


Vanessa Lutz (Reese Witherspoon) may not be able to read but she ain’t dumb.

When her mother (Amanda Plummer) gets arrested for prostitution and her stepfather (Michael T. Weiss) goes to jail for meth possession, Vanessa knows that it’s time to leave South Los Angeles and go to her grandmother in Stockton.  She puts on her red jacket, packs her possession in a picnic basket, and heads for the freeway.  Vanessa is determined to get to grandmother’s house and she’s not going to let anyone stop her.  Not the police.  Not the gangbangers who murdered her boyfriend, Chopper (Bookeem Woodbine).  And certainly not Bob Wolverton (Kiefer Sutherland), the psychiatrist who moonlights as the I-5 killer.

An audaciously wild take on the story of Little Red Riding Hood, Freeway used to be a HBO mainstay, where it developed the cult following that it retains to this very day.  The violence is graphic and the humor is often viscous but Reese Witherspoon has never been better than she was in the role of the loud and unapologetically profane Vanessa Lutz.  Whether she’s cussing up a storm or shooting a pervert in the face or plotting her escape from jail, Vanessa is a whirlwind of nonstop energy and it is impossible not to get swept up with her.  Witherspoon has since won an Oscar and appeared in all sorts of “prestige” pictures but she’s never had a better role than she did in Freeway.

Witherspoon is such a force of a nature that she dominates the film but the rest of the cast is interesting as well, with several familiar faces in small roles.  Sutherland has played so many psychos that it is not a surprise when Bob turns out to be one but he still throws himself into the role.  (Like a cartoon character, it doesn’t matter how badly injured or disfigured Bob gets.  He just keeps on going.)  Dan Hedaya and Wolfgang Bodison play detectives.  Alanna Urbach and Brittany Murphy play two inmates who Witherspoon meets in prison.  Brooke Shields has a small role as Bob’s unsuspecting wife and is convincingly clueless.

Ultimately, though, the movie belongs to Reese Witherspoon.  Vanessa might not always be pleasant to be around but she’s so determined to make it to grandmother’s house but you can’t help but be on her side.  She’s the Little Red Riding Hood that we all deserve.

Cleaning Out The DVR Yet Again #31: Black and White (dir by James Toback)


(Lisa recently discovered that she only has about 8 hours of space left on her DVR!  It turns out that she’s been recording movies from July and she just hasn’t gotten around to watching and reviewing them yet.  So, once again, Lisa is cleaning out her DVR!  She is going to try to watch and review 52 movies by the end of Wednesday, December 7th!  Will she make it?  Keep checking the site to find out!)

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On November 15th, I recorded the 1999 melodrama, Black and White, off of Encore.

Black and White is a film that I’ve seen several times and I’ve always meant to review it.  It’s an attempt to explore the state of race, rap, crime, and sex in the late 20th century.  It’s also a James Toback film, which means that it contains all of the stuff that appears in every James Toback film: a threesome in the park, improvised dialogue, cameos from famous people playing themselves, an obsession with college basketball games, casual sexism, and a lot of talk about why you should never send “a little boy to do a man’s job.”  By his own admission, the white Toback is obsessed with the black experience but, when you watch a James Toback film, you get the feeling that his entire knowledge of African-American culture comes from watching other movies.

In short, Black and White is probably one of the silliest and most misjudged films that I’ve ever seen.  In fact, it’s so misjudged that it’s compulsively watchable.  Though I’m always hesitant to casually toss around the term “guilty pleasure,” that’s exactly what Black and White is.

Black and White tells several different stories, some of which are connected and some of which are not.  Sam Donager (Brooke Shields) is an independent filmmaker who is attempting to make a documentary about white people who try to act black.  Her husband, Terry (Robert Downey, Jr.), is gay and hits on every man (and boy) that he sees.  Sam and Terry start following around a group of privileged white kids who are obsessed with rap music.  Sam asks them if they want to be black.  They say that they’re going through a phase.

One of the kids is named Wren and he’s played by Elijah Wood.  He doesn’t really do much but every time he shows up in the film, you go, “It’s Elijah Wood!”  And then there’s Marty King (Eddie Kaye Thomas) who is the son of the Manhattan District Attorney (Joe Pantoliano).  Marty’s older brother is Will (William Lee Scott) ,who is some sort of low-level criminal.  And finally, the unofficial leader of the kids is Charlie (Bijou Phillips) and she gets to give a long monologue explaining the various uses of the n-word.

(Their teacher, incidentally, is played by Jared Leto.  If you’ve ever wanted to listen to Jared Leto lecture about the relationship between Othello and Iago, this is the film to see.  That said, the whole Othello and Iago lecture is just kinda randomly tossed in and doesn’t really pay off.)

Charlie is one of the many girlfriends of Rich Bower (Power), who is not only an up-and-coming rap producer but he’s also the head of a criminal organization.  (There’s a lengthy and kinda pointless scene where he and his associates demand money from a club manager played by Scott Caan.)  Rich is also friends with Mike Tyson.  Tyson plays himself and he gets to deliver an entire monologue about how Rich should never send a boy to do a man’s job.

But we’re not done!  Rich’s cousin is Dean Carter (Allan Houston), a college basketball player.  Dean is dating an anthropology graduate student (Claudia Schiffer, giving a hilariously terrible performance) who is obsessed with fertility symbols.  Dean is also being blackmailed by a corrupt cop named Mark Clear.  Guess who plays Mark Clear?

BEN FREAKING STILLER!

Needless to say, Ben Stiller is massively miscast.  He delivers he lines in his trademark comedic fashion, which makes it next to impossible to take him seriously as any sort of threat.  He also has a backstory that is needlessly complex but at least it allows him to say, “I’m Saul of Fucking Tarsus!”

Anyway, almost the entire film was improvised, which is one of those things that probably seemed like a good idea at the time.  A few of the actors do well with the improvisation.  Stiller may be miscast but at least he can come up with stuff to say.  Robert Downey, Jr.’s character may seem out-of-place but again, Downey knows how to keep things interesting.  But the rest of the cast seems to be a bit stranded so we end up with a lot of lengthy scenes of characters struggling to make some sort of sense of Toback’s storyline.

It’s obvious that James Toback felt that this film had something important to say but, instead of any insight, it can only offer up the occasionally strange-as-Hell scene.

Like this scene, for instance, in which Mike Tyson literally attempts to kill Robert Downey, Jr:

Or this weird little scene between Ben Stiller and Joe Pantoliano, which is dominated by Stiller’s odd delivery of his lines:

Or the closing montage, which is actually rather well-put together and makes great use of Michael Fredo’s Free:

Sadly, the video above ends before it gets to the part where we see Claudia Schiffer on a date with Mike Tyson, telling him about fertility symbols.

Anyway, Black and White is one of those films that wants to say something despite not being sure what.  Again, it may ultimately be rather silly but it’s still compulsively watchable.

(For the record, Marla Maples — who also appeared in Maximum Overdrive and was married to future President Donald Trump when this movie was made — has a cameo as a character named Muffy.  We live in a strange fucking world, don’t we?)

Horror on TV: Tales From The Crypt 5.10 “Came The Dawn” (dir by Uli Edel)


Tonight’s excursion into televised horror is the 10th episode of the 5th season of Tales From The Crypt!  

Came The Dawn tells the twisted story of what happens when a mysterious hitchhiker (Brooke Shields) is picked up by a rich man (Perry King).  This one is full of twists and turns as director Uli Edel pays homage to Hitchcock.

It originally aired on November 17th, 1993!

Enjoy!

Hallmark Review: Flower Shop Mystery: Snipped in the Bud (2016, dir. Bradley Walsh)


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Sure looks like the same place from On the Twelfth Day of Christmas and Murder, She Baked: A Plum Pudding Mystery. It may be the same place as in those movies, but I’m not sure. This is North Bay, Ontario you are looking, which is where the film was shot. That’s a step up here since last time they put the title card over a shot of Littleton, New Hampshire.

It looks like these Flower Shop Mystery movies are a thing now. I don’t mind. Especially not when they are written by good old Gary Goldstein. It seems you can always count on a Hallmark film written by Goldstein to have something odd in it. I would love to know if these things are in his scripts and if he does it on purpose, or if it is just a strange coincidence. Regardless, this one is no exception.

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The Chicago Cafe has still been changed to the Chicago Bar. Although, you will see Marco (Brennan Elliott) walk around the kitchen of his “bar” carrying groceries. Not sure what that was about. Art On Main has also still been changed to Bloomers Flower Shop via a tarp. It looks fine on her shop, but I don’t get why they bothered with his place. Also, if you go to Google Maps, then you’ll find a Asian character next to the word “Chicago”. I’m guessing that was photoshopped out or the place changed between July 2015 and when they made this. That’s possible seeing as it changed drastically between September 2013 and 2015 according to photos on Google Maps. I lean towards photoshopping because of a scene later, but let’s move on and talk about the movie now.

The movie begins and we get three for the price of one with this screenshot.

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First, Abby Knight (Brooke Shields) has been sent money anonymously to deliver black roses to someone. Second, Abby’s assistant Nikki Bender (Kate Drummond) was just reminded she truly works for a nutcase. Turns out Abby already compared the handwriting to signatures on old receipts. She also said she couldn’t get DNA off the envelope flap because it is self-adhesive. That is Nikki’s reaction. That was me when I saw a shot later in this film. Finally, they put the two prominent actors from Degrassi in the same cast listing. But that’s not all!

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That’s right! Someone involved with these movies realized they accidentally called it Mills College in the first film. They make sure you know they fixed it. Yes, the plot does revolve around the college, but they show that name a lot. They also have a scene where the news gets the name of the flower shop wrong and they repeatedly yell at the screen to correct them.

We find out that the black roses are for a Bruce Barnes (Daniel Kash) who happens to be the pre-law professor for Abby’s daughter Sydney (Celeste Desjardins). Abby is apparently terrified of him. We also find out that Kenny (Ricardo Hoyos), her TA, is the only thing keeping her in the class. It is pretty cool when your TA is Zig Novak from Degrassi.

Marco now comes in to remind us he still exists. Normally that would be me trying to be funny and cynical, but he seriously only gets in a couple of words before Abby is off and running to the college. Abby runs into an old lawyer friend of hers who teaches at the college. I think this screenshot sums up how much she likes him.

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They had some bad experiences in the past. Abby does bring up that up that he “dated and dumped half of [her] friends.” However, I don’t think it helps when one of your answers to that is “I showed every one of your girlfriends a great time, and I would’ve shown you the same, if you’d ever given me a chance.” So, it was all but her that he went out with rather than just half, and he would have shown all of them a “great time.” Good work, pal! No seriously, good job! You made sure no one will care when you are dead. A case they both once worked on that he won is also brought up here to give us information for the ending of the movie.

After talking with her daughter so Sydney can setup a red herring by telling us the guy getting the black roses has famous black pencils, she goes to his office. But first, we have to pass by his secretary to introduce her character and find out there is some obvious friction between her and the professor.

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He likes black pencils, is being delivered black roses, and has a black secretary. I totally didn’t spot that while watching the movie. Then we meet Bruce. She winds up calling him a “tool” to Marco, but this site isn’t Hallmark. His character is an asshole. Plain and simple. That’s all you really need to know about him. This is just another setup for Abby to become the prime suspect in the murder that is about to happen. This happens because Abby doesn’t put up with assholes. She decides to turn around outside and go right back to his office after having initially left the building.

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Actor Jeff Teravainen has part of a black pencil glued to his chest and isn’t moving. He’s dead. That’s when Abby runs out to get help and I realize just how obvious this film tried to make who the killer is so I’m skipping this part. All you need to know is that no one but Abby was in their with the body. I love how they have Brooke refer to the black roses as “theme roses.” It’s too bad he doesn’t ask what theme. This whole bit is the equivalent of an old murder mystery movie where the detective says the killer is somewhere in this room so nobody leave the house.

She returns to the shop where Marco and Abby have a little back and forth about Abby keeping a “low profile.” Then we find out that this must be the official news station of Hallmark movies…

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seeing as it’s the same one from A Christmas Detour.

A Christmas Detour (2015, dir. Ron Oliver)

A Christmas Detour (2015, dir. Ron Oliver)

Then we meet Connor McKay of the Illinois-Eagle Times.

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Pat Mastroianni can call himself whatever he wants in this movie, but he will always be…

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in my heart. By the way, between him and actor Ricardo Koyos, that means we have an actor from the first episode of Degrassi-discounting The Kids of Degrassi Street-and an actor from the most recent episode of Degrassi in the same movie together. That’s awesome! Sadly, he’s barely in the movie. Maybe he’ll be a recurring character seeing as the press is bound to keep popping up in these movies.

Now it’s time to vent to Beau Bridges, which also reminds us he exists because he’s gone as fast as Marco. This is followed by another fly over of the actual place they filmed this in. I can’t tell you how refreshing this is after that last few Hallmark movies I watched that pieced together stock footage from all over the place. Along those lines, I give them credit for this too.

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Often when a Hallmark movie shows a newspaper or an article online then they just use someone else’s writing. Sometimes they slightly modify it. The first film did it. That’s probably here as well, but they made sure to put this wrapping on it so that I wasn’t able to notice. Good work!

The detective comes in to remind us that Abby had knocked over pencils in the professor’s office earlier so that her fingerprints would be on the one that killed the guy. With his lines done, actor Paulino Nunes makes his exit. He has to get back to beating out other actors for having the highest number of acting credits in a lifetime. He’s a busy man.

Now the suspects board comes out.

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I hope you like that board because you will be looking at it and listening to a lot of conversations around it during this movie. Explaining all the info dropped at this board would be really boring. So, let’s laugh at this lady’s shocked look on her face when she sees Abby, who is now famous as a potential murderer, walking on the street.

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On the upside for Abby, business has picked up since she has become a prime suspect in a murder. People all want those black “revenge roses”. Nikki says they are “for bad occasions. Arguments, divorces, breakups, just to say ‘I hate you’.” That part is immediately followed by a scene with the detective where Brooke Shields does this after venting about the dead man, which included calling him a “womanizer”.

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After Marco and Abby talk to each other, they go on a stakeout like they did in the first movie. This time it’s of the dead guy’s funeral on the ground floor of a building with windows. Marco heads in to scope things out while Abby uses her binoculars. Joey Jeremiah stops by her car to remind us he is still in the movie before leaving again. In here Marco gets in a conversation with the dead guy’s wife so I can be proven wrong part way through writing this review. Turns out it’s “Chicago Bar and Grill”. He even calls it a restaurant. This only leaves me more confused. We can clearly see neighboring businesses have their real names. Well, they did seem to remove where it says “Lingerie & Luxuries” on Cintra May’s, which is next door to his Bar and Grill, but still. I guess they thought it would constitute official endorsement, or maybe that’s what it was called in the book. I don’t know.

We are also reminded that Barnes is a jerk to his secretary. Kenny also shows up to the funeral to again remind us he is in the movie still. I really think this movie wanted you to constantly think that it had to be one of the actors from Degrassi since they are kind of on the periphery of all the action. Heck, Joey is actually seen in the background looking in Abby’s flower shop in the dark at one point. We also learn that Kenny was real friendly with a guy who was involved in a case awhile back.

Board time!

Abby goes and talks with Kenny who mentions some internship that the dead guy supposedly secured him. He also mentions that the dead guy had just split up with a woman so that we suspect the secretary.

This is when Kelly Taylor popped up to tell me it’s time to dance.

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I will not! I looked through a bunch of episodes of Beverly Hills, 90210 to find an onscreen writing credit for Gary Goldstein to include here, but failed. I’m not happy. Help me, Beau!

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Yeah, but I’m not supposed to eat ice cream anymore. However, we’ve now reached the point where you have the setup of this film. I could take you through the rest, but it would be me regurgitating their mulling over the board and getting information to add to that board by talking to people. It’s as boring as it sounds.

My final thoughts are these. They dropped the extra guy who was in the first one. That’s a plus. Another plus is that they didn’t have to do any setup so we could cut right to Marco and Abby solving a mystery. However, I swear I remember more snappy screwball comedy back and forth between them in the first film, and it just isn’t here. Luckily, we do have another one of these films coming in June. Gary seemed to try to improve between the first and second, so maybe the third one will bring in more of that kind of dialogue. Also, the board thing really gets annoying. It didn’t help to organize the facts, but seemed to just confuse me more. Maybe that was the intention. Regardless, I can’t recommend this one even if it did have Pat Mastroianni in it who I really hope will be playing a recurring character.

Now, if you want to know who did it, then scroll past this picture of another fine moment of Joey Jeremiah from Degrassi Junior High. This was back when he was probably small enough that Brooke Shields could have easily broken him in half. He’s really tiny in that first episode.

There are no songs to include this time so you can stop here.

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Okay, here you go. Kenny did it. He had worked on a case with the guy who was killed. A case Abby was on back when she worked as a lawyer. He wasn’t given the credit for his work. Kenny wanted to get away from his father. His father bribed the dead guy to not give Kenny a clerkship far away since he wanted him to take over the family business. Kenny saw an opportunity to kill the professor and blame it on Abby. He made sure to do it before the dead professor sent out any of the letters about the job. That way he could arrange to get it himself. Thus, he would escape his father.

Not too satisfying of an ending. Not too satisfying of a mystery. Not too satisfying of a movie. Skip this one.

Hallmark Review: Flower Shop Mystery: Mum’s the Word (2016, dir. Bradley Walsh)


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And look at all those American flags!!! Wow! I had no idea that North Bay, Ontario, Canada had a United States appreciation day where they take down all the Canadian flags that normally line the street to put up Old Glory. Actually, the city behind the title card is Littleton, New Hampshire, but the movie was done in North Bay, Ontario, Canada. However, they did take down the Canadian flags that normally line that city’s Main Street. Unfortunately, I don’t know the city they show just before the title card. Only so much I can do.

This time it was really easy to figure out. While they do make sure the license plates are Illinois…

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and American flags are even in the windows of motels…

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they left plenty of local business names just lying around.

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They even directly reference this coffee house and it really exists on 473 Fraser Street North Bay, Ontario.

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Figuring out Littleton, New Hampshire goes to the Hunkins & Eaton Insurance Agency, Inc. sign that just barely shows for a second before the camera pans up to the shot at the beginning of this review.

With that out of the way for now. This is Hallmark’s new mystery series. It takes place in the small town of New Chapel, Illinois, which is only about 4,000 km by car from Eden Lake, Minnesota where Hannah Swenson runs her bakery.

It starts off by introducing us to a dead man walking named Elvis. Abby Knight, played by Brooke Shields, once knew the man who has since run on hard times.

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After speaking in exposition dialog to introduce us to her, the flower shop called Bloomers, and her employee, Brooke sits down to have a talk with her daughter. A daughter who, I kid you not, is attending Mills College. Mills College which, according to Brooke’s flower shop friend, is “far enough away to live on campus, but close enough for Mom to drop in.” I had no idea Mills College had moved from the Bay Area to near Illinois, Ontario, Canada.

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Oh, and just in case we thought she was on vacation and not in the middle of classes.

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This scene only exists to tell us that Brooke used to be a lawyer, but stopped when her husband died and opened a flower shop instead because “none of it just seemed as important.” In other words, her husband died so that the character will be able to be a detective and Beth Davenport from The Rockford Files at the same time. Works out because her neighbor Marco Salvare, played by Brennan Elliott, shows up next at the flower shop. He owns a bar and was a PI. Oh, and Brooke’s car got hit by another car that may have been involved with the murder that happens soon.

And by soon, I mean now. Someone turns up dead at the Canadian American flag waving motel, Elvis is a suspect, and Brooke and Brennan are on the case. Not for any real good reason. They are really just busy body snoops, which is one of the reasons I kind of like this series already. Normally that would drive me nuts, but it makes them made for each other in this series. I liked that.

With Brooke on the case, she goes on her iPad to read a screenshot of a newspaper article about the murder, which apparently took place on November 2nd, 2016.

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Then she goes to the family album of her photos on the iPad where we see a picture of her husband who may have died the day before during a fishing trip. Either that or she only got around to importing her family photos onto her tablet the day before on November 1st, 2016.

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Next we are introduced to this series’ version of Norman from Murder, She Baked, but he barely exists in this movie. Then there’s a little girl talk back at the flower shop that I’m pretty sure has no customers that come into it. This is followed by a scene where Brooke sits down with a woman who wants a divorce so that we make sure we still remember she was a lawyer. Oh, and something plot related about a Green Thumb Nursery. I couldn’t care less about the plot because just like watching The Big Sleep (1946), you are watching for the Brooke and Brennan back and forth, not the plot. Also, Beau Bridges is in this as a sounding board and in case we need more exposition. Whatever is needed, you can count on Beau. I mean the man got the scroll weapon and he almost beat mega turtle at the end of level three in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the NES back in 1989. He can do anything.

Time to hit the “Internet” running locally at file:///C:/Users/Mike/Desktop/sc20-Chicago-GreenTumb/results1.html AKA ExploreNet to look up the Green Thumb Nursery.

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The local URL’s keep popping up in the lower left hand corner as a tooltip while she continues to browse the local filesystem for info on the nursery. I wonder who this Mike is? Did she take actor Michael Vincent Dagostino’s laptop? He plays a detective in the movie.

Anyhow, after Brooke reminds us again she was once a lawyer, she walks pass some street signs to make sure we know this shot took place at the intersection of McIntyre Street and Plouffle Street.

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Then Brooke and Brennan visit the Green Thumb Nursery to forward the plot and have some more back and forth. Might as well mention now that Brooke has some weird pseudo-feminist lines in this. You know those lines somebody who thinks they are a feminist, but really are just looking for any excuse to pick a fight over say. There’s only a couple of them, but it’s kind of weird. Maybe she can argue with Calista Flockhart about the semantics of calling her Supergirl.

Now they go on a stakeout! By that I mean they have some humorous lines and talk in exposition dialog. Who cares! All you need to know is that with a little more work they could be fun as a mystery solving couple in this franchise. And no, despite being written by Gary Goldstein, there will be no mention of Brooke’s feet. More plot and dead flowers left for Brooke, then finally Elvis is charged with second degree murder.

Plot, plot, plot. Nursery looks awfully shady and we know that’s where the mystery is going to lead us. Now Brooke and Flower Shop Norman take a trip to Partners Billards & Bowling Center on 361 Main St East.

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After more talking between characters, an inspector shows up and shuts down Brooke’s flower shop. Now it’s personal! I know this because I have almost run out of screenshots. Luckily, I have two more funny things to show before I close up this review. Also, Elvis is found hung dead in his cell. Winding down now.

At the nursery, Brooke noticed that one of the guys carried a gun. She asked him why and he gave a lame answer. No joke, I immediately said to my Dad that he should have said that they carry rare orchids and people try to steal them. So of course she figures out that an orchid bulb is hidden inside a pot of Mum flowers. Yep. This is also when Hallmark popped up to tell us that if we don’t like this series then not to worry cause it can go the way of Wedding Planner Mystery if necessary.

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And now the final goof, and it’s a whopper. She goes online to read an article about expensive orchids. Take a good look.

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And here are the excerpts taken to make that article from an SF Gate article from 1995 by staff writer Jim Doyle:

“U.S. inspectors broke the Kolopaking case in 1993, when they discovered he had sent 60 boxes of rare orchids into the United States via the West Coast clearinghouse for international mail in Oakland.”

“Fisher said the biggest threat to orchids is loss of habitat: Each year, millions of acres of rain forest, where billions of orchids live, are cut or burned down for mining, timber, farming and development.

He added that orchids taken from the wild are now growing in greenhouses and new plants including hybrids are made from them. ‘There are a lot of species in greenhouses that don’t exist in the wild any more due to habitat loss.’

Law enforcement officials insist that smuggling can hasten the death of a species. They contend that over-collection often takes place when a rare orchid’s habitat is nearly destroyed.”

I think Brooke Shields should contact Brooke Burns of the SFPD. Her and The Gourmet Detective should get right on this. This clearly means that Darcy from A Gift Of Miracles who plagiarized her PhD research pitch from an actual WWF report was writing under the pseudonym of Samson O’Doyle three years before the events of that film.

Obviously Brooke does figure it all out and brings the criminals to justice. The mystery is okay at best. It’s not too difficult to follow. Take the fact that the majority of this review is made up of jokes to tell you how enthralling the plot is. There’s a fair amount of setup here so don’t expect to escape a lot of those types of scenes and the exposition dialog that comes with them. The promise here is the stuff between Brooke Shields and Brennan Elliott. I really have a feeling this one is heading for the same bin as My Gal Sunday, Wedding Planner Mystery, and The Mystery Cruise, but if not, then I hope they really polish up the dialog and just drop the unnecessary extra guy. That kind of works on Murder, She Baked, but here I didn’t feel it added anything. Just have Abby and Marco hook up so we can enjoy them being screwball comedy murder mystery solvers. Otherwise, I am not looking forward to a poor man’s Murder, She Baked with touches of The Gourmet Detective.

Embracing the Melodrama #33: Endless Love (dir by Franco Zefferilli)


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Do anyone remember a movie that came out in February that was called Endless Love? If you do, you’ve got a better memory than I do because, even though I saw it, I really can’t really remember much about it beyond the fact that I was disappointed by it. I know I had high hopes because the trailer was damn sexy but the film itself just turned out to be rather bland and forgettable.

Well, the 2014 version of Endless Love may have been forgettable but the same can not be said of the original 1981 version.

Endless Love tells the sweet story of two teenagers who want to have sex.  Well, actually, it’s debatable how sweet the story is  because the boy is a creepy stalker-type and the girl appears to be suffering from Stockholm Syndrome but director Franco Zefferilli directs the film as if he’s bringing to life the greatest romance of all time.  The entire film is full of lush images and the swelling musical score suggests that we should hope that these two end up together, even as the boy is burning down the girl’s house.

(Believe me, I love elaborate expressions of love and romantic feelings as much as the next girl but I draw the line at burning down my house.)

David (Martin Hewitt) and Jade (Brooke Shields) both live in the suburbs of Chicago.  Jade’s parents are aging hippies.  Her father (Don Murray) may smoke weed with the neighborhood teenagers and play the trumpet at wild parties but he’s still very protective of his daughter.  Her mother (Shirley Knight) is far more permissive and open-minded.  Jade’s brother, Keith (played by a really young and dangerous-looking James Spader), is friends with David and invites him to a party at his house.  David meets Jade and soon, the two of them are obsessed with each other.

However, not everyone is happy about their newfound love.  Jade’s father doesn’t trust David.  Keith soon starts saying stuff like, “Just because you’re fucking my sister, that doesn’t make you a part of the family.”  (And, as rude as that may be, it’s really hot when said by a young and dangerous-looking James Spader.)  Meanwhile, David’s mom (Beatrice Straight) doesn’t want David hanging out with a family that she describes as being “a relic of the 60s.”

Eventually, Jade is spending so much time thinking about David that her grades start to suffer and she finds that she can no longer sleep.  She starts stealing her father’s sleeping pills.  When she’s caught in the act, David is forbidden from seeing her until the end of the school year.  “It’s only 30 days,” Jade’s mom promises him.

Well, that’s 30 days too long for David!

Taking the advice of a young arsonist (played, in his film debut and with a notably squeaky voice, by Tom Cruise), David decides to set Jade’s house on fire.  His original plan is to save Jade and her family and be hailed as a hero.  Instead, the fire ends up raging out of control and the house is destroyed.

Arrested for arson, David spends some time in a mental asylum and is legally forbidden from ever seeing Jade or her family again.  Eventually, David gets out of the asylum and that’s when the movie gets really weird…

Endless Love is a really creepy movie that makes the mistake of equating stalking with true romance.  There’s no other way to put it.  Yet, at the same time, Franco Zefferilli’s images are so vividly romantic and Martin Hewitt and Brooke Shields are both so physically attractive (never mind that neither one of them apparently knew how to act back in 1981) that you can’t help but sometimes get swept up in the film’s silliness.  Add to that, the film has a great soundtrack and you also get a chance to see Tom Cruise act like a total jackass.

Check it out below!

Review: The Midnight Meat Train (dir. by Kitamura Ryuhei)


There’s a certain number of books when I was much younger that I thought would’ve made for some great horror films. They were the early works by Clive Barker. Short stories collected into several volumes aptly dubbed his Books of Blood. While several short stories from these volumes were adapted to film in the intervening years most were not worth the time to watch them. So, lo and behold that when I finally saw the latest short story adapted from these collections I was genuinely surprised at how well-made and entertaining it turned out to be. The Midnight Meat Train by Japanese filmmaker Kitamura Ryuhei was a fine piece of horror filmmaking that dripped in atmosphere and a growing sense of existential dread right up to it’s very surprising end.

The Midnight Meat Train is quite a simple story when one really breaks it down to it’s component parts. It’s a crime thriller wrapped in the bloody layers of an extreme horror film. There’s a certain noirish quality to it’s storytelling as we see the film’s protagonist in Leon (Bradley Cooper). He’s a photographer struggling to find the inspiration for his next set of photographs and decides to wander the train stations at midnight to find that inspiration. It’s during one visit at night that he begins to suspect that he might’ve come across one of the latest missing persons who might’ve become a victim of the so-called “Subway Butcher”. The film shows his growing obsession in finding out if the urban legend of this so-called serial killer is actually true.

His mental state only deteriorates as the reality about the “Subway Butcher” (Vinnie Jones in one of his best roles to date) catches up to the truth on one midnight ride on the subway train. His witnessing of the killer at work brings him into a hidden world the rest of the city seems unaware or incapable of acknowledging despite the hundreds of people who go missing year in and year out for almost a hundred years. His girlfriend Maya (Leslie Bibb) and best friend Jurgis (Roger Bart) soon become drawn into Leon’s nightmarish situation and must confront the very boogeyman who has begun to haunt Leon’s waking life.

The film is Kitamura Ryuhei’s first Hollywood film and it doesn’t diminish the talent for some creative visuals he earned while directing horror and genre films in his native Japan. He makes great use of the nighttime setting and the stark environs of the subway trains at midnight to give The Midnight Meat Train an almost black and white look punctuated by vivid splashes of visceral red during the many inventive killings by Vinnie Jones’ mute Mahogany character. Kitamura showed that he was able to squeeze as much as was possible from a script that was average at best. Especially considering that the script had to adapt one of Barker’s shorter tales.

The performances by the ensemble group led by Bradley Cooper ranged from good to excellent with the aforementioned Vinnie Jones leading the pack. Even Bradley Cooper as the tormented protagonist Leon handled the role well. I’ve never warmed to Cooper as an actor as he always came across as a smirking douchebag in almost every role he played prior to this one. He quickly shed some of that reputation for me with his performance in this film and continues to do so with every one since this film. The smirk is still there but he has managed to drop the douchebag aspect of it. I also must point out a nice turn by veteran genre actor Tony Curran as the train conductor who exuded a sense of the otherworldly and a character who held the answers to the questions brought up by the film.

Since this is a horror film one must mention it’s horrofic aspects and this film fills it’s quota of horror. The scenes where Jones’ Mahogany dispatches the unwary last riders of the train at midnight were shot extremely well and with some visual flairs Kitamura has gained a reputation for. There’s nothing cartoony about these kills unlike other slasher films of it’s type. The kills are done in a brutal fashion as meat tenderizers smash into skulls and backs. Then there are the dressing of the kills which gives meaning to the film’s title. The only part of this film which seemed so out of place, but was necessary in the film’s overall narrative was the make-up effects in the end of the dead-end tunnel where Leon finally sees the truth of why Mahogany has been killing passengers on the subway train. It’s here that the film’s budget shows. At least Kitamura was smart enough to film these scenes in very low light to hide some of the zippers and laces on the costuming.

Overall, The Midnight Meat Train was one horror film in 2008 that deserved to have been seen by more people. It’s a shame that the handling of this film’s distribution by Lionsgate bordered on the criminal as it failed to be screened  by many theaters which led to it’s failure in the box-office. This was a horror film that delivered on the goods without pandering to the torture porn crowd who had begun to dominate the scene due to the popularity of the Saw franchise. Kitamura’s first work in America showed that he brings a fresh new voice to Western horror. The film also ends up becoming the best of all the Books of Blood short story adaptations and shows that Barker’s earlier grand guignol writing phase could be adapted well to the bigscreen.

Here’s to hoping that the failure of this film in the box-office (Again, I say fuck you Lionsgate) doesn’t keep other up-and-coming horror filmmakers from tapping into Barker’s volumes of short stories for their projects. There’s horror gold to be found there and Kitamura’s The Midnight Meat Train was one gleaming example of it.