Lifetime Film Review: V.C. Andrews’ Fallen Hearts (dir by Jason Priestley)

About 12 minutes into Fallen Hearts, the perpetually aggrieved Heaven (Annalise Basso) goes to the local circus so she can taunt her stepfather, Luke (Chris William Martin), over the fact that 1) Heaven looks exactly like her mother, Angel and 2) Angel’s dead.

Upon arriving at the circus, Heaven runs into her stepbrother, Tom (Matthew Nelson-Mahood), but it takes her a while to recognize him because he’s wearing a big red clown nose.  It’s not until he takes the nose off that she recognizes Tom and then asks him why he’s dressed up like a clown.  It turns out that Tom is a clown now!  I guess he got a promotion.  Tom then asks why Heaven has made herself up to look exactly like Angel….

Unfortunately, Luke has already spotted Heaven and, apparently not understanding how death works, becomes convinced that Angel has returned to life and is standing in the middle of a low-rent circus in West Virginia.  Unfortunately, Luke is apparently now a lion tamer and he’s so shocked to see his dead wife that he loses track of his lion.

And, of course, the lion promptly kills Tom.  Would the lion have spared Tom if he hadn’t removed his red clown nose?  We may never know.

Now, of course, everyone in the film treats this as being a great tragedy.  Strangely enough, no one blames Heaven, even though none of this would have happened if not for the Heaven’s apparent obsession with mentally tormenting everyone from her past.  But I have to admit that I laughed out loud as soon as I saw that lion in the background because I knew there was no way the scene was going to end without Tom getting pounced on….

And really, that’s the type of film that Fallen Hearts is.  It’s the third film in Lifetime’s adaptation of V.C. Andrews’s Casteel Saga (the previous two were Heaven and Dark Angel) and, from the minute that lion pounces at Tom, everyone should know better than to take anything that happens too seriously.  Fallen Hearts somehow manages to be even more melodramatic than the first two films and, as directed by Jason Priestley, Fallen Hearts appears to be fully in on the joke.

Priestley not only directs but he also appears in the film, once again playing Tony Tatterton.  Tony is not only Heaven’s unacknowledged father but he’s also her stepgrandfather as well.  When Heaven finally ends up marrying Logan Stonewall (James Rittinger), Tony invites them to come up to Massachusetts for their honeymoon.  Heaven says no but Logan, being a simple boy from the West Virginia hills, is all about family.  While up in Massachusetts, Heaven discover that her first husband, Troy (Jason Cermak), isn’t dead after all.  He’s just been in hiding for the past five years, mostly because, after the wedding, he discovered that he was also Heaven’s uncle and that type of relationship just isn’t right.  Of course, that doesn’t stop Troy and Heaven from having sex after they run into each other while wandering around a hedge maze.  Troy vanishes the morning afterward but soon, Heaven discovers she’s pregnant.  Is the baby Troy’s or Logan’s?

Actually, speaking of babies, Heaven’s trashy and bitter sister, Fanny (Jessica Clement, stealing the entire damn movie) is also pregnant!  And it turns out that Fanny’s been having an affair with Logan so he might be the father.  Then again, there’s also scene where the town’s preacher looks at Fanny and shouts, “WHORE!,” so who knows for sure.  The one thing we do know for sure is that all of this is going to lead to two pregnant sisters facing off in a court room.  These things always do.

Anyway, Fallen Hearts is not a film that’s really meant to be taken seriously and, as I said before, the film itself is obviously in one the joke.  The melodrama is turned up to 11 and the actors tear through the overripe dialogue like a moonshiner trying to outrun the cops.  Annalise Basso again manages to keep things somewhat grounded as Heaven but the film is totally dominated by Jessica Clement, who brings the wonderfully trashy Fanny to vivid life.  The townsfolk and the hillfolk might not think much of Fanny but she keeps Fallen Hearts beating.

The fourth part of the Casteel Saga, Gates of Paradise, will air on Lifetime next Saturday.

Lifetime Film Review: V.C. Andrews’ Dark Angel (dir by Paul Shapiro)

When we last saw Heaven Casteel (Annalise Basso), she was boarding a bus so that she could leave the backwoods of West Virginia and hopefully live with her mother’s wealthy family in Boston, Massachusetts.

Dark Angel picks up where Heaven left off, with Heaven arriving at stately and creepy Farthinggale Manor and discovering that the rich are just as fucked up as the poor.  She’s greeted by her stepgrandfather, Tony Tatterton (Jason Priestly), who tries to come across as being friendly but quickly reveals himself to be cold and manipulative.  She also meets her grandmother, Jillian (Kelly Rutherford).  Jillian always has a drink in her hand and worries that Heaven will leave “hill grime” around the house.  Jillian doesn’t want Heaven to stay at the house for too long but Tony manages to change her mind.  Tony tells Heaven that, in order to thank him for his generosity, she’ll basically have to do everything that he says.

For instance, Tony tells Heaven that she is, under no circumstances, to enter the estate’s hedge maze.  (Rich people always have a hedge maze.)  So, of course, Heaven does just that.  She gets lost but eventually, she comes across a small house sitting in the middle of the maze.  Inside the house, a handsome man (played by Jason Cermak) carefully crafts a doll’s face.’

“Excuse me, sir,” Heaven says, “I got lost in your hedge maze!”

“You must be Heaven,” the man replies.

The man it turns out is Troy Tatterton, Tony’s younger brother.  Troy suffers from depression and he’s been exiled to the maze because Jillian can’t stand the sound of dolls be made.  Troy and Heaven soon find themselves falling in love, despite Tony’s demand that Heaven stay out of the maze.

Tony also demands that Heaven stop writing to her family but, of course, Heaven continues to try to reach out to them.  Her siblings aren’t doing quite as well as Heaven.  For instance, one sister is living in a trailer.  Her brother is working at a circus.  And her two youngest siblings are living in Washington, D.C, where they’re undoubtedly surrounded by politicians and interns.  AGCK!  It’s a fate worse than spending the rest of your life brewing moonshine in the hills.

And, while dealing with all of this, Heaven is also trying to graduate from high school and hopefully get into an Ivy League college!  She wants to study literature.  At one point, she explains that her favorite writer is Shakespeare but that she also really loves Fitzgerald.  She says that Fitzgerland “saved the best for last,” with Tender Is The Night.  It was at this point that I yelled, “HIS LAST NOVEL WAS THE LAST TYCOON!” and threw a shoe at the TV. 

Complicating matters even further is the fact that her old backwoods boyfriend, Logan (James Rittinger), is attending college in Boston.  Logan says that he doesn’t want anything to do with Heaven because he’s still angry over everything that happened during the previous movie but it’s pretty obvious that he’s still in love with her.

And then….

Well, listen — a lot happens in Dark Angel.  As opposed to Heaven, Dark Angel is full of twists and turns.  Everyone’s got a deep, dark secret and, at time, it gets a bit overwhelming trying to keep track of it all.  Then again, that’s what makes a film like this fun.  It’s just so over-the-top and implausible that you really can’t help but enjoy watching it all play out.  Every few minutes, someone else is popping up and either taunting Heaven for being from the hills or revealing that they’re actually one of her relatives.  Seriously, this is one messed up family.  The good thing is that Dark Angel seems to be aware of how silly all of the melodrama occasionally is.  The other good thing about Dark Angel is that it mostly involves rich people instead of poor people, which means that, as opposed to the first film, everyone gets to wear nice clothes.

Annalise Basso again makes all of us redheads proud in the role of Heaven but the film is really stolen by Jason Priestley, who appears to be having the time of his life playing the ambiguously evil Tony.  Kelly Rutherford is a bit underused as Jillian but she does get one good scene towards the end of the film and she makes for a stylish drunk.

The sequel to Dark Angel, Fallen Hearts, will air on Lifetime later tonight and hopefully, I’ll have a review of it up on Sunday.  And if I don’t, I guess you’ll just have to spank me like a character in a V.C. Andrews novel….

Lifetime Film Review: V.C. Andrews’ Heaven (dir by Paul Shapiro)

So, let’s say that you’re an alcoholic, backwoods hillbilly living in West Virginia.  Everyone in town hates you and your family because, years ago, your father sold a bad batch of moonshine to the mayor’s son.  You’ve got more children than you know what to do with and your wife has just run out on you because she’s blames you for losing her latest baby.  You ain’t got no money and you don’t understand that ain’t no word used by proper folks.  What do you do to make ends meet?

Well, if you’re Luke Casteel (Chris William Martin), you sell your children.  You sell the twins to a couple who can’t have children.  You sell your son to a farmer in Virginia.  You sell one of your daughters to the pervy local priest.  And you keep your oldest daughter, Heaven (Annalise Basso), so that she can clean the house and do the laundry.

Of course, Heaven’s not very happy about this arrangement.  She’s way smarter than the average Casteel and she’s got a crush on a boy at school named Logan Stonewall (James Rittinger).  Everyone keeps telling Logan to stay away from the Casteels and it’s certainly not going to help the family’s reputation once it gets out that Luke’s been selling off his children.

Luke has always resented Heaven, mostly because she’s the daughter of Angel, the only woman that Luke ever truly loved.  Angel was from a rich family in Boston but they disowned her when she married Luke.  Unfortunately, Angel then died giving birth to Heaven.  If that’s not bad enough, Heaven has now grown up to look exactly like her mother which leads to Luke getting drunk and trying to climb into bed with her….


Realizing that Heaven won’t be safe as long as she’s living with him, Luke decides to quit drinking and get his shit together.  JUST KIDDING!  Instead, he decides to sell her too.  He sells her to Kitty (Julie Benz) and Cal (Chris McNally).  Kitty is emotionally unpredictable and alternates between being extremely supportive and extremely cruel.  (She’s also obsessed with keeping her house spotless and really who can blame her?  A house should be clean because you never know who might come by.)  Cal is a sexually frustrated writer who smiles every time that he’s alone with Heaven.

Can you guess what happens?

Heaven is based on a book by V.C. Andrews, the first part of the five-volume Casteel Saga.  A few years ago, Lifetime had a lot of success when they adapted Flowers In the Attic and its sequels so it only makes sense that they would eventually bring the Casteel Saga to screen.  Heaven has everything that you would expect from both V.C. Andrews and Lifetime — melodrama, over the top dialogue, sex, dysfunctional families, and one victimized girl searching for her destiny.

At first, when I started watching Heaven, the film itself seemed to a bit silly.  I mean, I took one look at Casteels mountain shack and I started laughing because it was seriously the nicest shack that I’ve ever seen in my life.  (On Lifetime, even poor hillbillies live in a big house.)  It was also hard not to be amused about how, every few minutes, some primly-dressed townsperson would pop up and say something like, “Logan Stonewall!  You get away from those Casteels!”  As the film went on, though, it became obvious that the film itself had a very self-aware sensibility.  It understood that it was an over-the-top, frequently ludicrous melodrama so, instead of trying to trick us into believing it to be anything else, it instead embraced the melodramatic label and everything that it implied.  This is not a film that’s mean to be taken seriously.  Instead, for the first hour or so, it’s a bit of a self-aware parody.  It’s like Winter’s Bone directed by Paul Feig.

The second half of the film, which finds Heaven living with Kitty and Cal, has a bit more of an edge to it, largely due to Julie Benz’s wonderfully unhinged performance as Kitty.  Benz brings a jolt of real menace to both the role and the film itself.  That’s a good thing because winking at the audience and letting them know that you’re in on the joke can only take you so far.  Julie Benz shows up and basically announces, “Yes, this may be an overheated adaptation of a V.C. Andrews novel but don’t even think about letting your guard down!”

All in all, it makes for an entertaining Lifetime film.  While it may not be a powerful as Flowers in the Attic, it still holds your attention and Annalise Basso gives a good and sympathetic performance as Heaven.  Myself, I related to Heaven because we both have red hair.  Seriously, it’s not always being a redhead.

Heaven was followed by Dark Angel, which I’ll be reviewing later today.

Cleaning Out The DVR, Again #20: I Didn’t Kill My Sister (dir by Jason Bourque)

(Lisa is currently in the process of trying to clean out her DVR by watching and reviewing all 40 of the movies that she recorded from the start of March to the end of June.  She’s trying to get it all done by July 10th!  Will she make it!?  Keep visiting the site to find out!)


“And now, for tonight’s top story, we go to Lois Summer, on assignment in Richardson, Texas.”

“Thank you, Mason.  For the past week and a half, one red-haired film critic has been attempting what some people would call the impossible.  Lisa Marie Bowman is trying to clean out her DVR by watching the 40 movies that she recorded between March and June.  She just finished rewatching the 20th film on her DVR, I Didn’t Kill My Sister.”

“Now, Lois, for our viewers who may not know, what exactly is a DVR?”

“Get with the times, Mason.  According to Ms. Bowman, she watched I Didn’t Kill My Sister when it originally premiered on Lifetime.  The date was May 14th and she says that she specifically watched the film with her sister, Erin.  Ms. Bowman says that both she and her sister enjoyed the film the first that they watched it.”

“Did she say how she felt about the film the second time she saw it…?”

“Dammit, I’m getting there, Mason.  Ms. Bowman says that I Didn’t Kill My Sister was just as enjoyable the second time that she watched it.  In fact, she said that it is a very entertaining murder mystery, one that almost feels like an old-fashioned whodunit.  She described the film as being stylish without being gaudy and melodramatic in the best possible way.”

“Is there really a good way to be melodramatic?”

“According to Ms. Bowman, there is.  For the rest of her review, we now go directly to Lisa Marie Bowman…”

Hi, everyone!  Lisa here.  Anyway, as Lois was just saying, I enjoyed I Didn’t Kill My Sister both times that I watched it.  It’s a fun Lifetime murder mystery, one of those things that works best when you just relax, sit back, and let yourself be entertained.  If you like Lifetime movies, you’ll like this one!

The film tells the story of two sisters.  Carmen Pearson (Gina Holden) is a publicly beloved and privately loathed local celebrity.  She co-anchors City View with her husband, Mason (Chris William Martin).  She has a beautiful house, a nice pool, and great hair.  She also has a rebellious teenage daughter (Sarah Desjardins) and a sister named Heather (Nicholle Tom).  Heather would love to have Carmen’s life but, instead, she’s stuck working as her sister’s private assistant.

(One of the best things about the film is the way that it contrasts Carmen’s mansion — complete with luxurious pool — with Heather’s cluttered, one-story house.)

However, Carmen’s life is not perfect.  She’s in the middle of a nasty divorce and Mason even seems to be flirting with her sister.  When her daughter screams, “I HATE YOU!!!,” she sounds like she actually means it.  And, of course, there’s the ambitious reporter (Dominika Jullet) who wants her job and the lawyer (Ona Grauer) who may have an agenda of her own.  When Carmen is discovered floating face down in her pool, everyone’s a suspect!

Including Heather!

Heather knows she’s innocent but the detective (Sharon Taylor) in charge of the case seems to feel otherwise.  Can Heather solve her sister’s murder before she ends up getting arrested!?

I Didn’t Kill My Sister is a fun, little whodunit.  Gina Holden has a lot of fun being bitchy during the first 15 minutes of the film and Chris William Martin is brilliantly sleazy in the role of Mason.  Watch it the next time that it’s on and see if you can solve the mystery before Heather does!

Back to you, Lois.

“Back to you, Mason.”

“Thank you, Lois.  How much fun is a barrel of monkeys?  That’s what a truck driver discovered today while making a delivery to the San Diego Zoo.  That story and Newy Scruggs with sports, next…”