The TSL’s Grindhouse: The Vindicator (dir by Jean-Claude Lord)


The 1986 film, The Vindicator, is one of those Canadian exploitation films that doesn’t make much sense but is still memorable just because of how dedicated it is to being utterly incoherent.

Basically, an evil corporate guy named Alex Whyte (played by Richard Cox) wants to design a space suit that will turn people into rage-filled assassins. Or something like that. To be honest, I had a hard time following just what exactly Alex was trying to do. When one of his scientists, Carl Lehman (David Mcllwraith), figures out that Alex is up to something sinister, Alex blows him up. Alex then puts Carl’s charred body into the suit and Carl is transformed into a cyborg who flies into a murderous rage whenever anyone gets too close to him. That’s not exactly what Carl was hoping to spend the rest of his life doing so Carl breaks free from the lab and seeks revenge while also trying to protect his wife (Terri Austin) and his daughter (Catherine Disher). Unfortunately, because of the whole rage thing, Carl can’t allow himself to get close to them but somehow, he figures out how to speak to them through the synthesizer that’s sitting in the living room.

Now that Carl is wandering around Canada and killing all of his former co-workers, Alex decides that he needs to do something to take Carl out of commission so he hires an assassin known as Hunter. Hunter is played by Pam Grier. Yes, that’s right — the Pam Grier! Soon, Hunter and her team are pursuing Carl across Canada and, in the process, they end up killing almost as many people as Carl. And those people who aren’t killed by Carl or Hunter fall victim to the types of accidents that could only happy in a Canadian exploitation film. For instance, in one scene, a truck drives over a guard rail and immediately explodes.

Meanwhile, Carl’s friend, Bert (played by Maury Chaykin because this is a Canadian film), is falling in love with Carl’s wife and plotting to try to take her away from her cyborg husband. At first, Bert appears to be a sympathetic character and then, about an hour into the movie, Bert is suddenly not sympathetic at all. The same can actually be said for just about everyone in the film, which will lead most viewers to wonder just why exactly we should care about whether or not Carl is ever stopped.

It’s a messy film. For a relatively short and presumably low-budget film, there’s a lot of characters in The Vindicator and it’s not always clear how everyone is related. Since Carl kills most of them, I can only assume that they’re all bad but still, you can’t help but wonder if maybe Carl is being a bit too quick to assume that everyone was okay with him getting blown up. Carl is one judgmental cyborg.

Supposedly, special effects maestro Stan Winston was involved with the production of The Vindicator and, to give credit where credit is due, Carl does look like what I guess most people would expect a cyborg to look like. In fact, when I watched the movie, I originally assumed that it was a Robocop rip-off but then I discovered that The Vindicator actually came out a year before Robocop. That’s not to say, of course, that The Vindicator was, in any way, an influence on Robocop. Beyond the cyborg-theme, the two films really have nothing in common. Robocop is a satirical commentary on fascism. The Vindicator is …. well, I’m not really sure what it’s supposed to be.

The Vindicator is a mess. It’s one of those films where no one’s motivations make any sense and it is often next to impossible to actually keep track of who is who. (The actors playing Alex and Carl looked so much alike that it took me a few minutes to figure out that Carl was the one who got blown up.) And yet, like many Canadian exploitation films from the 80s, The Vindicator is also compulsively watchable. The actions move quickly. The entire plot has a make-it-up-as-you-go-along feel to it that’s kind of entertaining. Plus, Pam Grier’s in the film, openly rolling her eyes at just how silly it all is. The Vindicator isn’t exactly good but it did hold my interest. All things considered, maybe that’s vindication enough.

Hallmark Review: The Good Witch’s Gift (2010, dir. Craig Pryce)


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I haven’t done a Hallmark movie in awhile. It’s been even longer since I did one that I watched on DVD. I only mention it because once again it is difficult to get it to start in VLC, and the close captioning is a little wonky. That leads to some humorous captions. I bring them up in case you go to watch it using VLC, or need to use the close captioning for more than just convenience. This is also the last of the Good Witch movies I have left to review. Let’s dig in.

The movie begins and we immediately join Jake Russell (Chris Potter) as he is doing some window shopping to decide what to get Cassie (Catherine Bell) for Christmas. He’s also doing a bit of foreshadowing.

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He spots a guy that he clearly knows, but then Cassie pops up like she always does to say “hi.”

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This is as good a time as any to mention that she uses her powers a little more explicitly this time around. It’s not like in a later one where she teleports right in front of a camera. However, she does pop around more, and she makes the doors to her shop open right in front of Jack to the point where he asks her if she installed automatic doors. At least that’s what they say if you can hear. If you can’t, then this is what shows up onscreen.

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The next important thing is to find out who that guy was that Jack saw while window shopping. It’s a guy named Leon Deeks (Graham Abbey) who was part of a bank robbery and was recently released after having served his time. The issue is that not only was the money never recovered, but Jack’s son is going out with Deeks’ daughter played by former Degrassi: TNG star Jordan Todosey. It’s interesting that with this film it means that actor Matthew Knight was in a movie with one of the late stage Degrassi: TNG actors, and one of the early ones in Jake Epstein who was in an episode of Matthew Knight’s short-lived TV Show called My Babysitter’s A Vampire.

Deeks of course stops by Cassie’s place, and as usual with new people, she nearly gives him a heart attack by suddenly showing up behind him. He remembers the place when it used to be rundown and is impressed with what she has done. There is an ulterior motive to him looking around the place. It will turn out the unrecovered money from the robbery is under her floor.

Lori (Hannah Endicott-Douglas) makes a return, but really won’t play too much of a role in the film. Mainly when Cassie’s ring goes missing, she runs around looking for it. However, good old quintessential small town busybody Martha Tinsdale (Catherine Disher) is sure around for her plot line.

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At the start she is being annoying, making people angry, and really getting into hitting that gavel. She is rejecting a local business’ request to put up a sign to advertise for their business. Her plot line is like the rest in that it will revolve around family, and will resolve with family. It’s what the “Gift” in the title means. The formation or maintenance of family is the central theme around which the plot lines revolve. I do love how at this meeting, which is where we first see her, she manages to piss off everyone at the table. Then she leaves only to be confronted by her husband the mayor who tells her they lost a lot of money, and she needs to get a job as a result.

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Catherine Disher really does have that Jim Carrey facial expression thing about her. I love it.

Then we meet Brandon (Matthew Knight) and Jodi Deeks played by Jordan Todosey.

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So, we have Cassie and Jack who need to end up getting married to each other. We have Jodi and her father who need to be reunited despite Jodi’s mother fighting against it. It’s understandable because the time he served was ten years on top of committing the crime. We also have Martha who needs survive this bump in the road with her husband. However, we have one last piece of setup.

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What do we do with grandpa (Peter MacNeill)? He actually has one of the more subtle ways of having family in his plot line. The woman he met last time at the orchard departs. Since Cassie is going to go and live with Jack in the end, what is going to happen to Grey House?

That’s your setup. The movie is on autopilot now as the plot lines run their course to their happy conclusions. Let’s talk about how these different plot lines all resolve.

The reason for the marriage being rushed is that Jack is getting frustrated that it keeps getting pushed back, so come hell or high water, he’s going to make it happen before Christmas. The marriage runs into a few small speed bumps with finding a preacher at the last minute, getting the wedding together at the last minute, and getting the marriage license also at the last minute. It’s the standard stuff you’d expect. Martha’s husband marries them since he is the mayor. They get the marriage license since Cassie has been around long enough legally that the government says that’s enough to establish an identity. I’m not sure it really works that way, but it’s a movie, and a very minor point that is just there to stall the film a bit.

Martha goes around trying to sell herself as a prospective employee, but she’s pissed off too many people for that to be an easy task.

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In the end, she’ll become a party planner. Cassie is the one who suggests this to Martha. In this one, more than others, she seems to be more conscious of these actions to help people. I swear I remember in the past that she treaded the line between some sort of an all knowing being, and a regular human better.

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As for grandpa, that’s actually easy. He moves in to take care of Grey House and the B&B with Cassie.

The hard one is getting Jodi and her father back together. That’s really what Cassie puts her mind too. In the end, that works out too, but she has to attack that problem from several angles. Turning the money in is the major step he takes to turn things around for him and his family.

It really has been awhile since I watched other Good Witch movies, but this one felt a little different. I recall the others having a main plot, and several micro-plots around it that really didn’t have any reason to be there. This time around we have the Deeks plot line that has some more importance, but they are all treated rather equally, tie together, and have a central theme. Kind of like a Good Witch version of Signed, Sealed, Delivered: From The Heart (2016) except that it doesn’t have so many plots that it gets overwhelming. This is average, but recommendable as far as Good Witch movies go.

Hallmark Review: Love’s Complicated (2016, dir. Jerry Ciccoritti)


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Last night at the Oscars we had a comedy bit where black actors were inserted into movies that were nominated for awards. They took somewhat humorous shots at The Martian and Joy. Then The Danish Girl came up. I haven’t seen it yet and I’ve heard it’s god awful. None of that matters. They inserted comedic actor Tracy Morgan into the movie, put him in a dress, then told us to laugh at him because he was a man in a dress who was being the black version of the trans woman from the film. Then for more shits and giggles, they actually had him eat a danish. That was vile and despicable. I have been laughed at for something as simple as wearing tights. I can’t possibly imagine walking outside in a dress right now, and have even less courage to do so after last night’s display of kicking an even smaller minority to the curb while supposedly trying to send a message about having another minority appear more often in films. While I seriously doubt she would have done it, having Laverne Cox of Orange Is The New Black fame, who is both black and trans, do that might have actually sent a positive message. Thank you very much Oscars for making it clear that not only was it worth dragging on the blacks in film thing so long that it started to feel like a joke itself, but for giving all trans women a punch in the face. Much appreciated.

That right there is an example of the central theme of this movie. Not avoiding conflict. That can be for a number of reasons. Not letting other people make decisions that should be yours since it is your life. Not being paralyzed by a fear of conflict when facing it could lead to a much needed reconciliation. Not letting other people treat you like trash, but standing up for yourself instead. It can also be something as simple as saying, “No, you have no right to do that. I want the refund I’m owed.” The book this movie is based on is even called My Life As A Doormat. So how the hell did this movie end up being called Love’s Complicated? I’m guessing Hallmark has a quota to meet of movies with “love” in the title. Honestly, love barely is a part of the movie.

The movie begins by quickly showing us Leah (Holly Marie Combs), who is a writer, at home before cutting to a radio station to introduce us to Cinco (Ben Bass). He isn’t a shock jock or a woman hating radio personality. I think the best way to describe him is as a debater. He is someone who isn’t afraid to express his opinion, but we will get to his fear of conflict issue later. During this opening credit sequence it cuts back and forth between them. We find out one useful piece of information here, and that is that Leah isn’t a big fan of his. We’ll find out later that he didn’t give a favorable review to her last book. And segue!

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We are now with Leah and Catherine Disher from The Good Witch. Hmm…I think there’s an in-joke here. She is told her book needs serious work. Basically spice things up by adding some conflict. The very thing that is the Source of the problems in her life.

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I love that Leah has one of those keyboards similar to the old IBM keyboards. Those things are very satisfying to type on. It makes sense that a writer would have one. I could mention the roommate here, but she’s a minor character. She’s what I call a nudger character in Hallmark movies. A character who isn’t unimportant, but is really there to show up occasionally to nudge the main character in the right direction.

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Now we meet Leah’s boyfriend Edward (Randal Edwards). As you can see, it looks like Leah just wishes she could freeze him in place so she could get up without having to confront him. Anyways, the two of them soon go off to a party where she insists on wearing a red dress that he isn’t so happy with. Now for plot I guess, here’s Cinco just hanging out in the flowers to run into Leah at the party.

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He actually tells her to throw the wine in his face because of his bad review of her book. Of course her being non-confrontational means she doesn’t. Although, I bet she would have liked to make him explode if she could. She’ll come around eventually.

Phew! Three references to Charmed should be enough.

Next for reasons that are beyond me, Leah’s boyfriend gives her a coupon to a conflict management course. I’d say just for plot, but Edward is really odd in this so I buy that he gives this to her, and then doesn’t show up because he meant it to be just for her.

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She goes, and of course for again reasons, Cinco is there. There also are a few other people there including a married couple named Robert (Brad Borbridge) and Glenda (Precious Chong). Sorry, I wasn’t able to avoid that witch reference. It’s in the movie after all. Although, I’m still not sure why Catherine Disher’s character is named J.R. I’m really not sure what a reference to Dallas is doing here, but okay.

Believe it or not, that’s all the setup that’s necessary for this movie. She keeps going back to the group and never tells them Edward is a boyfriend till the end of the film. She does learn to not be afraid of conflict, which was systemic in her case. She helps Cinco in turn to take a chance and visit his father who he hasn’t spoken to in awhile. Instead of fearing a confrontation, he just gives him a hug. In his case it works. At the end of the film, he and his father, who both love to argue, are having a lively debate on the radio. The other people in the class come around too. In the end, she breaks it off with Edward, writes a book called My Life As A Doormat, and winds up with Cinco.

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As I hope you can tell, the love part is incidental to the story of overcoming a fear of conflict. I like that the film was clearly done on the cheap, but they told a story that didn’t require more money in order to tell. I appreciate it when a film molds itself to the production constraints rather than feeling like it’s running into money walls. That said, there are several times when it feels like the movie thinks we have spent more time with the characters than we actual have. I would give it a marginal recommendation.

Now since I feel better than when I wrote my last Hallmark review, here are the normal things you’ve come accustomed to seeing in my reviews.

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I actually like this fake computer screen. It’s cartoony sure, but it has the right elements.

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This shot tells us that at least this part was done in Sudbury, Ontario. I believe this is the first Hallmark movie I’ve seen shot there.

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This shot though, is from Minnesota.

However, the movie either doesn’t mention it at all, or makes very little fuss about where it’s supposed to take place. It’s not like so many Hallmark movies that really try to convince you it’s the US when it’s Canada.

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


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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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Hallmark Review: The Good Witch (2008, dir. Craig Pryce)


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Prior to watching this I had only seen the last four Good Witch films they’ve made. The difference is night and day. Sure, this movie also has Catherine Bell looking gorgeous in well chosen outfits, but that’s all it shares with those last four movies. This one has a believable romance, it has an explanation for why we really never see her do magic, and most importantly, it has an actual plot. You’d think that last thing would be a given, but it’s sorely missing in the last four films. Honestly, the only thing I can think of that I didn’t care for was the daughter.

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They make her up and dress her in the little girl equivalent of the little boy who goes around dressed like Rambo. I get it, you’re a little girl. Enough with the colors and blonde hair. I’m in no way confused about her gender. Very minor complaint, but in a movie that dresses the other actors appropriately,  including her brother, it feels a bit much. They probably felt they needed to make her look as kiddy and vulnerable as possible to have her asking Cassie (Catherine Bell) about being scared about monsters and later, bunnies.

Let’s talk about the movie now. The movie begins in the little town where all these movies take place, and we meet Jake Russell (Chris Potter) who has two kids and a wife that was killed off by being a spouse in a Hallmark movie. Jake also lives with his Irish father who will remind you numerous times that he is Irish. Then there’s Martha Tinsdale (Catherine Disher) who is the local busy body. If this took place in the 1980s, then she would be trying to get Huckleberry Finn banned in schools. She’s that type. That’s when the kids walk by an old, and thought to be, abandoned house. Enter Casie Nightingale!

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She really is an incredibly gorgeous woman. Luckily, she can also act and is perfect for this role. In previous reviews I compared her to Terry Farrell who played Jadzia Dax on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and that’s still true. They are both very pretty girls who do an excellent job of playing a character that simultaneously carries a wisdom brought on by many years, but without somehow transcending being a regular human being.

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That’s the look of an actor who just realized he is working with a woman who looks like Catherine Bell. Jack here is the local sheriff and was asked to check out the house because everyone thought it was abandoned, but seemed to be suddenly occupied. These three screenshots sum up the remainder of this movie.

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The first screenshot is of a woman who Cassie sells an aphrodisiac to at her shop called Bell, Book, and Candle. An aphrodisiac that apparently works because she comes back begging for more. In other words, Cassie does have some useful things to sell the people in the community. Thus, her business has a purpose other than just to simply make her a fixture in the community by having her own a business.

The second screenshot is of the son when he follows some advice of Cassies. Her instructions are a bunch of bullshit. She just totally made it up and sold it with her charm. It was just a way to convince the son to do something he was perfectly capable of doing himself and in no way needed supernatural forces to make happen. That’s one of the best things about this film. We almost never see her actually do anything remotely magical because she’s smart enough to know that most things can be resolved through practical means. And that the people involved will be a whole lot better off making it happen themselves, then her twitching her nose or something.

The third screenshot is the culmination of the busy body’s activities to try and drive Cassie out of the community because you know, she’s a witch! These two kids vandalize her place.

Jack and Cassie coming together occurs naturally around her becoming a valuable member of the community, her being wonderful with his kids, and that he keeps finding out how great a person she is in contrast to what the community is saying.

I guess there is one other little problem I have. The relationship feels a little one-sided. Like he fell in love with her, and that’s what she wanted him to do. And this final shot of the film doesn’t help.

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Maybe the sequel explains this. Just as I swear “all streams lead to the toilet” is a saying in Computer Science. Apparently, all movies eventually wind up in front of my eyeballs.