Val’s Movie Roundup #15: Hallmark Edition


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Citizen Jane (2009) – I was quite surprised that this was actually a Hallmark movie. The acting was strong. The story stayed focused. They actually bothered shooting in San Francisco. This almost could have been a small time B-Movie or something I would expect from Lifetime.

It begins with Jane Alexander’s (Ally Sheedy) aunt being murdered. Jane lives with a man named Tom O’Donnell (Sean Patrick Flanery) and it’s never really a mystery that he did it. The film is about how they prove it. Jane has assistance from Detective Jack Morris (Meat Loaf). I think Meat Loaf did a great job and so does Sheedy. We care, we follow, we get a decent movie. The only problem I found is the same one that was in the Lifetime movie Cleveland Abduction (2015). That movie was also based on real events. Even not knowing the true story behind it, you could tell that the film was a superficial treatment that needed much more time to properly tell the story. The same is true here. At times things will feel like they just jumped from one gear to another. Otherwise, it’s one of the most well made of the Hallmark mystery type movies. Even if there isn’t much of a mystery to it. More like mystery in the Columbo sense of the word where we know exactly what happened, but find out how the person is going to be caught.

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Garage Sale Mystery: The Wedding Dress (2015) – Again, it’s time for Jennifer (Lori Loughlin) to get involved in a mystery. This time she is at an estate sale and when she returns to her shop she discovers that among the things she has purchased is a vintage 1970’s wedding dress. Great! Except there are blood stains in a pocket. And thank god there are. I say that because this establishes a good reason for her to be investigating while the cops don’t. That’s really nice when it comes to the recent deluge of these murder mystery movies that Hallmark is producing. Usually the woman just comes across as a busybody who should just mind her own business. Here she has something that should spark her interest and the further she looks into it, the more she has a reason to bring her police officer friend into the case. It’s still heavily sanitized in the way you expect from these movies. However, for this series, I think it’s the best one I have seen so far.

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Love Under the Stars (2015) – When you boil it down to the basic plot, this is like the Hallmark movie Class (2010). Except it’s much better. It’s about a college girl played by Ashley Newbrough who needs to come up with her thesis in child psychology. Her college advisor played by Barry Bostwick has a niece that teaches a fourth grade class and has Newbrough go there for inspiration. She meets a guy played by Wes Brown who is raising a daughter as a single parent because the mother/wife has passed away. It plays out the way you expect it to and the way Class did, but it’s just better the whole way through. Especially Wes Brown. We can easily understand why she is attracted to him, but he also comes across well as a loving father who appears happy, but also has an underground river of fear and concern for his daughter constantly flowing through him. He is the real reason the film works as well as it does. Newbrough is pretty good too, but she basically walks around the film like she’s hot and horny, to put it bluntly, all the time she’s with him. It makes it difficult to take her character seriously as a real person the way we do with him. In particular, when it comes to her backstory of also losing her mother and the development of the relationship with the daughter. They should have had her dial it back a bit and act less like an infatuated teenager.

Also, the daughter (Jaeda Lily Miller) is a little annoying. I don’t think it’s the actresses fault so much as it is the way her character is written. I don’t think they give her enough credit and let her be more like a real kid with problems, then a cardboard cut out of a troubled child. A little tweaking of her character would have helped.

I really did like the use of the counting thing. When the father leaves her off at school or somewhere else, he counts down a few seconds because he knows she will turn around, usually opening a door, in order to wave to him one more time. She’s afraid he might be gone like her mother is forever. It’s a really nice touch that of course pays off in the end.

All around, this is one of the top tier Hallmark movies I have seen so far.

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Operation Cupcake (2012) – I mentioned not giving the character of the daughter enough credit in Love Under The Stars and the problem is in this film too. This is about Army Colonel Griff Carson (Dean Cain) who comes home on leave to his wife Janet (Kristy Swanson) who runs a cupcake shop. The whole thing is about Griff adjusting to civilian life while also awaiting a possible promotion to General. The problem is they don’t give this guy enough credit. Instead, they drag out his adjustment way too long. It shouldn’t have taken him so long and the change should have been more gradual rather than played for laughs as long as it could. He works at the shop with his wife, and there was at least one scene where you wonder if he actually comes from the Army. He is mobbed by a ton of people at the cupcake store that he suddenly has to service. He doesn’t really attempt to put some of his training to use in order take a bunch of unruly people and get them to act in a civilized manner. The scene doesn’t work and the movie just doesn’t really work either. I think they should have had Cain’s character transition more gradually rather than having him be essentially a brick wall that only comes down in the end. Hallmark avoided that with Recipe For Love and that’s why it is one of my favorites. I also think that Dean Cain was miscast. I have difficultly buying any kind of machismo from his character. He just doesn’t fit the part. This is one that’s fine if you wind up catching it by chance, but don’t put your lure out into the Hallmark waters explicitly to see it.

Final note: I didn’t even notice till I was looking at the credits, but Donna Pescow is in this. She was a baker at the store who has some back and forth with Cain. Of course for most people she is from Saturday Night Fever (1977), but I will always remember her as the mom on the TV Show Out Of This World. Makes me want to break out my bootleg copies of that show. To the best of my knowledge, they still haven’t released that show on DVD.

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Embracing the Melodrama Part II #57: Saturday Night Fever (dir by John Badham)


Saturday_night_fever_movie_posterHere’s a little bit of trivia about the iconic 1977 film Saturday Night Fever.

First off, according to the imdb, Saturday Night Fever was the first mainstream Hollywood film to ever use the term “blow job.”  That actually took me by surprise.  I mean, with all of the risks that the major studios took in the 70s, it still took them until 1977 to have someone say “blow job” in a movie?  But somehow, it seems appropriate that it would turn up in Saturday Night Fever.  We tend to think of Saturday Night Fever as being a movie where the soundtrack is nonstop disco and John Travolta dances in that iconic white suit.  But actually, Saturday Night Fever is a film about four guys who neither understand nor respect women.

When Tony (John Travolta), Joey (Joseph Cali), Double J (Paul Pape), and Bobby (Barry Miller) go down to that disco, it’s because they want to get laid.   Joey and Double J take turns having sex with insecure Annette (Donna Pescow) and, afterwards, Tony scornfully ask her if she‘s proud of herself.  When Bobby discovers that his girlfriend is pregnant, he is so terrified of having to be a father that he becomes suicidal.  As for Tony, he looks down on the women who are so eager to dance with him.  When he enters a dance contest with Stephanie (Karen Lynn Gorney), he can’t handle the fact that she wants more out of her life than just being his latest partner.

So, it makes sense that this would be the first mainstream movie to feature someone talking about a blow job because that’s what these boys are obsessed with.  Sexually primitive, hypocritically puritanical, and emotionally repressed, a blow job is all the intimacy that these boys can handle.

Another piece of trivia: while John Travolta was always the first choice for Tony Manero, several actors were seen for the roles of Joey and Double J.  At one point, both Ray Liotta and David Caruso were nearly cast in the role of Tony’s friends.  Imagine this: in some alternative universe, while white-suited John Travolta rules over the dance floor, Ray Liotta and David Caruso are standing in the background and cheering him on.

Of course, if Liotta and Caruso had been cast, it would be a totally different movie.  Whenever you watch Saturday Night Fever, you’re surprised by how much John Travolta totally dominates the film.  Even though the film devotes a good deal of time to Annette, Stephanie, Bobby and to Tony’s brother who has recently left the priesthood, Tony Manero is the only character that you remember.  That’s largely because Travolta is the only one of them who gives a truly memorable performance.

In theory, it’s easy to laugh at the thought of Travolta in that white suit, striking a dramatic pose on that cheap-looking dance floor.  But then you watch the film and you realize that Travolta truly did give a great performance.  And, to your surprise, you don’t laugh at Tony with his white suit because you know that the only time Tony has any control over his life is when he’s dancing.  He may work in a paint store.  He may regularly get slapped around by his family.  He may not be very smart or sensitive.  But when Tony’s dancing, he’s a king and you’re happy that he at least has one thing in his life that he can feel good about.

Even if he is kind of a jerk.

Of course, it helps that Tony is a really good dancer.  There’s actually a lot more going on in Saturday Night Fever than you might think but ultimately, it’s a dance movie and it’s one of the best.