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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Film Review: Avengers: Endgame (dir by the Russo Brothers)

(Minor Spoilers Below!  Read at your own risk.)

So, how long does the no spoiler rule for Avengers: Endgame apply?  There’s so much that I want to say about this film but I know that I shouldn’t because, even though it had a monstrous opening weekend, there are still people out there who have not had a chance to see the film.  And while this review will have minor spoilers because, otherwise, it would be impossible to write, I’m not going to share any of the major twists or turns.

I will say this.  I saw Avengers: Endgame last night and it left me exhausted, angry, sad, exhilarated, and entertained.  It’s a gigantic film, with a plot that’s as messy and incident-filled as the cinematic universe in which it takes place.  More than just being a sequel or just the latest installment in one of the biggest franchises in cinematic history, Avengers: Endgame is a monument to the limitless depths of the human imagination.  It’s a pop cultural masterpiece, one that will make you laugh and make you cheer and, in the end, make you cry.  It’s a comic book film with unexpected emotional depth and an ending that will bring a tear to the eye of even the toughest cynic.  By all logic, Avengers: Endgame is the type of film that should collapse under its own weight but instead, it’s a film that thrives on its own epic scope.  It’s a three-hour film that’s never less than enthralling.  Even more importantly, it’s a gift to all of us who have spent the last ten years exploring the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The film itself starts almost immediately after the “Snap” that ended Avengers: Infinity War and we watch as Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner, returning to the franchise after being absent in the previous film) finds himself powerless to keep his family from disintegrating.  After often being dismissed as the Avengers’s weak link, both Clint Barton and Jeremy Renner come into their own in the film.  As one of two members of the Avengers who does not have super powers, Clint serves as a everyperson character.  He’s a reminder that there’s more at stake in Endgame than just the wounded pride of a few super heroes.  When Thanos wiped out half the universe, he didn’t just wipe out Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, and Groot.  He also left very real wounds that will never be healed.

When the film jumps forward by five yeas, we discover that the world is now a much darker place.  When we see New York, the once vibrant city is now gray and deserted.  Our surviving heroes have all dealt with the Snap in their own way.  Clint is now a vigilante, killing anyone who he feels should have been wiped out by Thanos but wasn’t.  Thor (Chris Hemsworth) drinks and eats and feels sorry for himself.  Captain America (Chris Evans) attends support groups and, in one nicely done scene, listens as a man talks about his fear of entering into his first real relationship in the years since “the Snap.”  Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) is living as a recluse and is still blaming himself.  Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) is now an avuncular, huge, and very green scientist.  Only Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) remains convinced that the Snap can somehow be undone.  She’s right, of course.  But doing so will involve some unexpected sacrifices and a lot of time travel….

And that’s as much as I can tell you, other than to say that the film takes full advantage of both the time travel aspects (yes, there are plenty of Back to the Future jokes) and its high-powered cast.  With our heroes — which, along with the usual Avengers, also include Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and Rocket Racoon (Bradley Cooper) — hopping through time and space, we get a chance to revisit several of the films that led up to Endgame and it’s a thousand times more effective than it has any right to be.  Yes, one could argue that the cameos from Robert Redford, Tom Hiddleston, Hayley Atwell, and others were essentially fan service but so what?  The fans have certainly earned it and the MCU has earned the chance to take a look back at what it once was and what it has since become.

Indeed, Avengers: Endgame would not work as well as it does if it hadn’t been preceded by 21 entertaining and memorable movies.  It’s not just that the MCU feels like a universe that it as alive as our own, one that is full of wonder, mystery, sadness, and love.  It’s also that we’ve spent ten years getting to know these characters and, as a result, many of them are much more than just “super heroes” to us.  When Tony Stark and Captain America argue over whether it’s even worth trying to undo the Snap, it’s an effective scene because we know the long and complicated history of their relationship.  When the Avengers mourn, we mourn with them because we know their pain.  We’ve shared their triumphs and their failures.  Tony Stark may be a guy in an iron suit but he’s also a man struggling with his own demons and guilt.  Steve Rogers may be a nearly 100 year-old super solider but he’s also every single person who has struggled to make the world a better place.  As strange as it may be to say about characters known as Iron Man, Captain America, and the Black Widow, we feel like we know each and every one of them.  We care about them.

Needless to say, the cast is huge and one of the great things about the film is that previously underused or underestimated performers — like Jeremy Renner, Scarlett Johansson, Paul Rudd, Don Cheadle, and Karen Gillan — all finally get a chance to shine.  As always, the heart of the film belongs to Chris Evans while Robert Downey, Jr. provides just enough cynicism to keep things from getting to superficially idealistic.  Chris Hemsworth and Mark Ruffalo get most of the film’s big laughs, each playing their borderline ludicrous characters with just the right combination of sincerity and humor.  Of course, Josh Brolin is back as well and he’s still perfectly evil and arrogant as Thanos.  But whereas Thanos was the focus of Infinity War, Endgame focuses on the heroes.  If Infinity War acknowledged that evil can triumph, Endgame celebrates the fact that good never surrenders.

As Endgame came to an end, I did find myself wondering what the future is going to hold for the MCU.  A part of me wonders how they’re going to top the past ten years or if it’s even possible to do so.  Several mainstays of the MCU say goodbye during Endgame and it’s hard to imagine the future films without their presence.  It’s been hinted that Captain Marvel is going to be one of the characters holding the next phase of the  MCU together and, fortunately, Brie Larson is a quite a bit better in Endgame than she was in her previous MCU film.  Hopefully, regardless of what happens in the future, Marvel and Disney will continue to entrust their characters to good directors, like the Russo Brothers, James Gunn, and Taika Waititi.  (Wisely, Disney reversed themselves and rehired James Gunn for the next Guardians of the Galaxy film.  Of course, Gunn never should have been fired in the first place….)

And that’s really all I can say about Avengers: Endgame right now, other than to recommend that you see it.  In fact, everyone in the world needs to hurry up and see it so we can finally start talking about the film without having to post spoiler warnings!

For now, I’ll just say that Avengers: Endgame is a powerful, emotional, and entertaining conclusion to one of the greatest cinematic sagas ever.

Lisa Cleans Out Her DVR: Girl Followed (dir by Tom Shell)

(Once again, I am trying to clean out my DVR.  I recorded Girl Followed off of the Lifetime Movie Network on April 2nd, 2017.)

Poor Regan (Emma Fuhrmann)!  She’s 14 years old and all she wants is to be as popular as her older sister, Taylor (Gianna LaPera), and her best friend, Sabine (Olivia Nikkanen), and for Austin (Jake Elliott) to like her.  Taylor and Sabine managed to get boyfriends by sending them sexy pics so why can’t she do the same thing?  Everyone else skips school, so why can’t she?  Everyone else shoplifts so why is it such a big deal when she does it?  As Regan points out, her parents (Heather McComb and Joey Lawrence) expect her to be so perfect that they always overreact to the least little mistake.

Of course, they would really freak out if they found out about Regan’s now boyfriend.  Nate (Travis Caldwell) is handsome, charming, and he drives a really nice car.  Even better, at least from my perspective, his parents own a really big house.  (If you’ve been reading my reviews for a while, you are undoubtedly aware of how much I love the big houses that always show up in Lifetime movies.)  Of course, there are some problems.  For one thing, Nate is 22 years old.  Nate has a tendency to be a little bit controlling.  Nate works with Regan’s mother, at a clinic.  (Hey, at least he’s in the medical field!  Who doesn’t want to marry a doctor?)

Oh — and Nate’s also batshit insane.  How insane is Nate?  He’s insane enough to hack into Regan’s phone and send risqué pictures of her to everyone who works with her dad.  He’s also insane enough to replace a patient’s chart, all in an attempt to make Regan’s mother look dangerously incompetent.  And, of course, there’s the whole kidnapping thing.  Nate has a sordid and dangerous history that Regan knows nothing about.

Girl Followed may sound like a typical Lifetime stalking film and, in many ways, it is.  However, Girl Followed also has a surprisingly insightful and intelligent script.  If anything, Nate and his issues are red herrings in the overall scheme of the film.  Girl Followed is more concerned with Regan and her struggle to estabblish her identity in an increasingly complex world.  Anyone who has ever been insecure or felt lost will be able to relate to what Regan’s going through and Emma Fuhrmann gives an excellent and empathetic performance in the role.  She is especially strong in the scenes where she tentatively opens up to her therapist, admitting that — on a scale of one to ten — she considers herself to be a “two.”

Of course, I related to the character because, when I was her age, I used to act out in the exact same way.  This movie features one of the most realistic shoplifting scenes that I’ve ever seen.  When her mom steps up and declares that her daughter is not a shoplifter and shames anyone who would suggest otherwise, I cringed a little and not just because I knew that Regan actually was a shoplifter.  It was a moment to which I could relate. Suddenly, I was fourteen years old again.

Girl Followed is definitely a better than average Lifetime film so keep an eye out for it.