Catching Up With The Films of 2018: Fifty Shades Freed (dir by James Foley)

“Mrs. Grey will see you now.”  (Insert your own eye roll GIF here.)

Occasionally, you see a film and, even though you know you should, you just never get around to reviewing it.  For instance, I saw Fifty Shades Freed when it was originally released in February and then I watched it again when it was released on DVD.  Both times, I thought to myself that I should write down my thoughts on the film, if for no other reason than the fact that I previously reviewed both Fifty Shades of Grey and Fifty Shades Darker for this site.  And yet, I never did.  To be honest, it was difficult to really think of anything to say about this movie that I hadn’t said about the previous two films.

Fifty Shades Freed opens with Christian (Jamie Dornan) and Ana (Dakota Johnson) getting married and going on their honeymoon.  It’s fun!  It’s sexy!  And it’s kinda creepy because, as always, Christian has control issues and he has to have his security team following them all over the place.  Christian freaks out with Ana removes her top on the beach.  Ana gasps at the sights of handcuffs.  There’s one hot sex scene that will temporarily make you forget about the fact that Jamie Dornan doesn’t seem to be that good of an actor.  It’s everything that you’d expect from a Fifty Shades honeymoon.

Unfortunately, the honeymoon ends way too quickly and then we have to deal with the marriage.  On the plus side, marrying Christian Grey means that you get to live in a really nice house and fly around in a private jet.  On the negative side, Christian is still basically an immature douchebag and, now that’s she rich, Ana has become a lot less likable.

Christian freaks out when he discovers that Ana is still using the name “Ana Steele” in her email address.  Ana explains that she’s Ana Steele at work but then, when she meets an architect named Gia Matteo (Arielle Kebbell), Ana tells her to stop flirting with her husband and announces, “You can call me Mrs. Grey!” with all the intensity of Kelly Kapowski announcing that she’s going to prom with Zach Morris on Saved By The Bell.

The marriage continues to play out like a perfume commercial written by Sartre’s bastard child.  Fortunately, there’s a few more sex scenes that are designed to again remind us that a good body can make up for a lack of everything else.  Unfortunately, Ana gets upset when Christian tries to humiliate her for real and a pouty Christian walks out of a shower as soon as Ana steps into it.  Ana is told that she’s pregnant and Christian totally freaks out because he still has all sorts of things that he wants to do with his money.  Christian’s a douchebag but he’s got a good body and he’s like super rich.  Have I already mentioned that?

Anyway, it turns out that Ana is being stalked by her former boss, Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson).  Fortunately, all of the stalking allows Ana and Christian to rediscover their love for each other.  There’s a kidnapping.  There’s a car chase.  There’s a lot of music and a lot of scenes of Dakota Johnson looking confused and Jamie Dornan looking blank.  It’s a Fifty Shades movie.  What else were you expecting?

The usual argument that critics tend to make with the Fifty Shades trilogy is that the movies are terrible but Dakota Johnson does the best that she can with the material.  Actually, both Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan are pretty lousy in all three of these films but Ana was at least kind of a sympathetic character in the previous two films.  Unfortunately, Fifty Shades Freed sees Ana and Christian becoming a boring married couple and what little chemistry Dornan and Johnson had in the previous films completely vanishes.  As a result, Ana doesn’t seem like someone lucky enough to have fallen in love with a man who just happens to be super wealthy.  Instead, she just comes across like someone who sold her soul for a private jet.

Fifty Shades Freed is the weakest of the trilogy, done in by the fact that there’s really not much of a story to tell.  Ana and Christian get to live blissfully ever after and it’s always good to see happy mannequins.  I saw this movie with my best friend and we talked through the entire movie and I imagine that’s what we’ll do every time we rewatch it.

Film Review: Fifty Shades Darker (dir by James Foley)

The Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy is shaping up to be the cinematic equivalent of a twitter parody account.

That’s the conclusion that I reached today after my BFF Evelyn and I watched the second part of the trilogy, Fifty Shades Darker.  Since we had both read the book, we weren’t shocked when Fifty Shades Darker turned out to be a bad movie.  Hell, we weren’t surprised when Fifty Shades of Grey turned out to be bad, either.  Each subsequent book was worst than the one that came before it so, when the film version of Fifty Shades Freer is released next year, it should be the worst of all.

Still, nothing could have prepared us for the amount of laugh-out-loud moments and odd details that were offered up in Fifty Shades Darker.  Consider just a few:

Having broken up with Christian “I’m fifty shades of fucked up” Grey at the end of the previous film, Ana Steele (Dakota Johnson, doing penance in the hope of being sprung from Purgatory) is now working for a hip and trendy Seattle publishing company!  How do we know that it’s hip and trendy?  Well, it’s in Seattle and it’s called Seattle Independent Publishing!  (As opposed to Seattle Corporate Press.)  Her boss, Jack (Eric Hyde) leers at her in a style that basically screams, “Lifetime movie villain!”  There’s a scene in which Ana tells her editors that they should be making more of an attempt to reach readers in the “18-24 demographic” and everyone reacts as if this is the first time that they’ve ever heard about this concept.  You half expect someone to say, “18 to 24 year olds!  WHY DIDN’T WE THINK OF THAT!?”  Seriously, after seeing this, I’m going to send my resume to the Dallas Observer, along with a note that says, “18-24.  Hire me for more info.”

When Christian (poor Jamie Dornan, who I’m pretty sure was trying to blink out an S.O.S. signal at certain points in the film) and Ana first reunite, it’s to attend an art show.  Ana’s artist friend has filled an entire gallery with photos of Ana, the majority of which resemble the “sexy” photos that Darcy posted to her MyRoom page in that very special episode of Degrassi.  Christian buys all the pictures because he can’t handle the idea of anyone else having Ana on their wall.  This obsessive and controlling act is just enough to apparently make Ana reconsider her decision to dump Christian because he was being too obsessive and controlling.


Christian eventually confesses to Ana that he’s only attracted to women who look like his mother and he punishes them because he’s angry with her.  “Oh, Christian, your Oedipal complex is so sexy,” Ana coos.  Okay, she doesn’t say that.  I said that and then Evelyn said something that I can’t repeat.  And then we laughed and laughed.  Don’t get me wrong.  I know that everyone has their issues and God knows, I’ve got a few myself.  But the minute a guy tells me that he’s only dating me because I look like his mother, that’s the minute I leave.

When Christian tells Ana about his messed up childhood, Ana responds by drawing on his chest with lipstick.  And I swear, that lipstick remains on his chest — without a smudge — for at least a few days.  Every time we would catch a glimpse of those perfect lipstick markings on Christian’s chest, Evelyn and I would start laughing.  I mean, drawing on your partner (or having your partner draw on you) can be fun but most people wash it off after a while.

(Incidentally, when the Scary Movie people get around to parodying this movie, you know that the lipstick scene is going to be recreated.)

Christian’s childhood bedroom is decorated with a poster of Vin Diesel.  When Christian is pouring out his heart, Vin Diesel is glowering in the background.  It would have been neat if the poster had suddenly come to life.  Perhaps Vin could have suddenly appeared in the bedroom and said, “Someday … BUT NOT TODAY!”

And I’m not even going to talk about the Ben Wa balls.


Anyway, there’s really not much of a plot in Fifty Shades Darker.  Ana gets back together with Christian but says that she wants to have a “vanilla” relationship.  Christian agrees but he still keeps doing controlling stuff, like buying Ana’s company and freezing her bank account.  Ana gets mad.  Ana breaks up with him.  They get back together.  This happens a few times.  Christian tells Ana to stay away from a man.  Ana gets upset but then the man tries to rape her which feels like the film’s way of putting her in her place for doubting Christian’s instincts when it comes to men.  Kim Basinger pops up as the woman who introduced Christian to BDSM and tells Ana that Christian will never be happy in a vanilla relationship.  Ana says that vanilla is her favorite ice cream.  Here’s my thing: why can’t Ana come up with a more complimentary term than “vanilla” to describe her relationship goals?  I mean, Ana’s clever.  She came up with that whole 18-24 thing, after all.

There’s also a crazy woman (Bella Heathcote) who shows up occasionally.  We know she’s crazy because she’s dressed like someone who lives in an abandoned subway tunnel.  She occasionally grabs Ana and says, “I’m nobody!”  Hmmm….I wonder what that’s about…

(Well, don’t wonder too much.  There’s not a single mystery or question in Fifty Shades Darker that isn’t solved a scene or two after it’s raised.)

One of the redeeming things about Fifty Shades of Grey is that neither Dakota Johnson nor director Sam Taylor-Johnson seemed to be taking it all that seriously.  Dakota would pause meaningfully before delivering the worst of her dialogue, a sign that even she couldn’t believe what she was about to say.  Meanwhile, Sam Taylor-Johnson’s direction suggested that she found the story to be just as ludicrous and stupid as everyone else.  However, Fifty Shades Darker is directed by James Foley.  Foley is a veteran director, one who has been making films since before I was born.  He does a workmanlike job and you can almost hear him shouting, “Now, where’s my paycheck!?” during certain scenes.  Under Foley’s direction, there’s no winking at the audience.  There’s no hints of subversion.  Foley’s direction is very literal and more than a little dull.  He was hired to direct a big-budget version of a Chanel No. 5 commercial and that’s exactly what he does.


The other big issue with Fifty Shades Darker is that Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan have very little romantic chemistry.  They both look good naked but that’s about it.  Jamie looks miserable to be there and Dakota seems to be trying to keep herself amused.  The lack of chemistry was less of a problem in Fifty Shades of Grey.  In that film, all that mattered was that Christian was rich and hot and Ana didn’t really haven’t anything better to do.  But, in Fifty Shades Darker, we’re asked to believe that they’re actually deeply in love and … no, it just doesn’t work.

Evelyn and I laughed through the entire movie.  In the past, we’ve gotten in trouble for doing this because we do have a tendency to get a little bit loud.  However, nobody in the audience seemed to mind.

Anyway, Fifty Shades Freer will be coming out next year.  Hopefully, someone will read this review and work my idea about the Vin Diesel cameo into the film.

Seriously, it would be great!


Hallmark Review: Valentine Ever After (2016, dir. Don McBrearty)


Note About Music: If you have come looking for the song at the end, then your answer is This Girl by Justin James. Thanks to Kayla Holder in the comments and Robert Carli for responding to her request about the song. You can find the song here on Justin James’ YouTube channel.

I’ve seen Northern Exposure, Doc Hollywood (1991), Finding Normal (2013), and Christmas Under Wraps (2014). All four of these use the same plot of a doctor who either gets in trouble in a small town or through normal unlucky circumstances winds up having to perform their doctoring services in a small town for a certain amount of time. In Northern Exposure, the doctor simply didn’t read the conditions of his scholarship and wound up being a doctor in a small town in Alaska. In Doc Hollywood, a doctor nearly hits a couple of people walking cattle on a street, but swerves to avoid them and destroys most of a judge’s fence so he has to do a handful of days as doctor in the town. In Finding Normal, a woman taking a cross country trip is pulled over by a cop for speeding and has a litany of past unpaid tickets as well as a warrant out for her arrest. She is sentenced to work as a local doctor in the town she was speeding through. In Christmas Under Wraps, a woman ends up getting an internship at the last minute which means just like Northern Exposure, it’s to Alaska she goes to serve as a local doctor. In all four of those movies/TV Shows, working as a doctor there meant helping to save lives and those towns were in need of a doctor. So let’s see Valentine Ever After’s rehashing of this story.

First off, take a look at those credits. Dylan Neal we know from The Gourmet Detective series. However, Alana Smithee is a new one on me and IMDb…sort of. It is a long standing tradition for people working on films, especially directors, to ask to be credited as Alan Smithee because the film was so taken away from them, recut, or basically changed so heavily that they don’t want to be associated with the movie. Alana Smithee sure reads like that is what happened here to the person who wrote the teleplay for this film and co-wrote the story with Dylan Neal. What’s really interesting is that until I changed it last night on IMDb to match the onscreen credits–you can still find the name on other sites–Teena Booth who has written numerous Hallmark movies was credited as one of the writers. She could be this Alana Smithee since I have no reason to believe there is an actual person with that name who has a completely blank profile with this film as their only credit.

The way it looked last night on IMDb before I updated the page myself.

The way it looked last night on IMDb before I updated the page myself.

This could mean that Teena Booth is Alana Smithee. It could also be a simple mis-crediting. However, there are some other things that are a little funny here. If you go to the plot summary on IMDb, you will find it is written by Becky Southwell. Becky Southwell is Dylan Neal’s wife.

Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 12.10.27 PM

It’s a little weird to me that she would have put in the plot summary, but not noticed that her husband doesn’t have writing credits listed on IMDb.

Then if you go to IMDb and look at the full credits for the film you will see Dylan Neal listed as an executive producer for the film.

Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 2.25.40 PM

There is no onscreen credit for Dylan Neal as an executive producer. There are three onscreen credits for producing the film: Steve Solomos, Jonas Prupas, and Joel S. Rice.

Adding even more confusion to the matter, if you go to Muse Entertainment’s website, who was the production company, they list only Jonas Prupas and Joel S. Rice as Executive Producers.


It’s a mess. At the very least, I think it’s highly likely that unless an actual person named Alana Smithee comes forward, then this is probably someone who wanted nothing to do with this film. If you look at the film Hidden 3D (2011) you can see the writers used the names Alan Smithy and Alana Smithy. Considering the material of this movie, I get why someone wouldn’t want to be credited for it. I thought I should lay this out there for you since even last night a question about it had already popped up on IMDb’s message boards for the movie.

Now let’s talk about the actual film. If you know that you are going to watch this movie no matter what I have to say, then skip to the end of the review where I give my advice about how to do that and spare yourself some trouble. I know this is a long review and all. I also mention a list of tactics for figuring out the music in a Hallmark movie. I have noticed that quite a few people look for that information.

The movie opens up in a lawyer’s office and we meet our leading lady named Julia (Autumn Reeser). We find out that not only has her mother passed on, but that she is planning to become a lawyer herself but hasn’t passed the bar exam the first two times. She is working on the website for her father’s firm. The dad offers to have her come over for the weekend so he can help her study to take the bar exam again in a couple of weeks. He is proud of her and says he wishes her mother were here to see how well she has done “filling the empty space in this office” left by her dead mother. The scene began with him congratulating her on a brief she wrote for a case that reminded him of how her mother used to construct an argument. But now it’s off to meet her current boyfriend Gavin (Damon Runyan).

He proposes to her. The movie makes sure we know he is a little odd seeing as he starts the proposal by saying “if there’s one thing you know about me it’s that I pick winners.” On the surface, I will grant you that’s not the most romantic way to begin a proposal. Hallmark movies like to setup the wrong boyfriend with these less than subtle hints that the guy doesn’t see it as a union of two people who love each other, will make a great team together, and will do great things, but simply the latter two parts.

His parents jump in and are little rude about the wedding. Standard stuff for a Hallmark movie.


Now we go to meet Julia’s friend Sydney (Vanessa Matsui). We also see that Julia’s wedding made the papers so we know that she is well known in Chicago where she lives. Sydney speaks tells us her cousin announced at her father’s birthday party that a man named Chad was cheating on her. We also find out that people are calling her all the time about it. Sydney tells her, “Welcome to the upper crust. Say hello to five-star restaurants and goodbye to privacy.” We find out that while Sydney was born into the upper crust lifestyle, Julia had to work her way to get where she is. They decide it would be fun to get out of town for a while and visit Wyoming to go skiing. Sounds neat to me.

Gavin is a little mad that she just suddenly decided to leave town right after he proposed to her. I can understand. He even offers to just drop all the crazy wedding stuff if that is what’s bothering her and just simply go get married now. She doesn’t want to and so he says as long as she comes back. Again, not the perfect choice of words, but nothing here to indicate this is a bad guy. Off to Wyoming we go!

This means we get a shot of a plane and driving on one of those beautiful highways that take you through the mountains. Makes me long for the days when I used to take trips to Lake Tahoe with my parents. Then Sydney tells Julia that the GPS says turn right.


I’m grateful that this is one of those Hallmark movies that knows how GPS works. It doesn’t require cell towers, but just visibility by a couple of satellites orbiting the Earth. However, sometimes the maps can fail you. I haven’t had it happen often, but it does occur. The United States is big. It also doesn’t help when you apparently think you can clear a rock, but it hits the underside of your car. Course they don’t show it cause budget and it really isn’t necessary. Seeing as they really got themselves lost, they are out of range of any cell coverage. To my knowledge, rare in 2016. Even in rural areas where having a way to call for help is rather important.


Lucky for them, a cowboy shows up named Ben (Eric Johnson). I love that he knows about this rock that they hit. Why don’t they move it seeing as they obviously have had other people who have hit it and probably have been stranded out there? Well, don’t worry. It will fit right along with the logic of the upcoming scenes. He helps to take them back to his family ranch called the “Destiny Ridge Ranch”.

Now we have a surprisingly normal conversation around the dinner table. We even find out that Ben wants to make the place a dude ranch. Seems like a great idea to me. He’s quite enthusiastic about it actually. One of the great things about living even next door to San Francisco in a suburb, I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to be able to go only a few miles and encounter endless parks. Even if places like “Destiny Ridge Ranch” aren’t somewhere you’d want to live, they are great places to visit and help to support the people who do want to live there. However, Sydney stumbles upon something that I guess Ben didn’t think of. That being the question of what are these people going to do at night. All the activities he lists are daytime ones. I can honestly see Ben completely missing that himself. Given where he lives he must be exhausted come night time and probably checks out early to sleep. However, this is when mom chimes in and things start to get weird.


His mom tells him to take the ladies where he goes to have a good time. He takes them to a place called “Million Dollar Cowboy Bar”.


Seems innocent enough. He tells them “it’s a little different than the bars you’re used to.” Doesn’t seem that different to me. We see a waitress serving alcohol. There’s pool tables. There’s live music. There’s a dance floor. I guess because the live music is country music? Definitely a stereotype, but he’s kind about it. He doesn’t call them hicks or drop lines about Italian boots like Autumn Reeser did in the film A Country Wedding. Sydney makes a beeline for the dance floor and Julia sits down at a table with Ben. She takes notice of a statue in the bar.


It’s an important and historical statue for the community. Like the kind of statue a town would keep in a town square or at the local historical society so that it doesn’t get damaged or anything. It’s even worth a “pretty penny”. She asks the obvious about why would you keep it in a bar. Ben tells her that they keep it there where they serve drinks and place it right next to a dance floor so that it’s “where people will be to enjoy it.” Does that sound anywhere near logical to you? Does that mean the bar is the most popular place in town? That statement also doesn’t explain away why something worth a “pretty penny” would be somewhere that even an innocent stumble by a waitress could spill a drink on it. Not to mention all the other hazards introduced by keeping such a important and expensive statue uncovered and in the middle of a bar. But that is enough for Julia and she doesn’t follow this up with any more lines.

We also get a brief appearance by an old school friend of Ben’s who wants to dance, but he obviously doesn’t share her feelings. He doesn’t say that, but just that he’s known her since grade school. Julia says she’s obviously waiting on you to get a clue and notice her. True. Not the best choice of words, but we get no impression that he has told her no and doesn’t respond to Julia’s statement except with the grade school comment. Earlier at dinner there is a little girl who likes to “dote” on him. Julia refers to this lady as another woman who dotes on him. The point being that he is a hot item in town and well liked. He’s also responsible and only orders a club soda since he’s going to be doing the driving.

Here’s a nice shot of how things are laid out in the bar.


Note where the table, Julia (on the left), Ben (on the right), the statue, and the dance floor all are in relation to each other. Now comes the incident.

Sydney is dancing with a man. The man appears to twirl her, but it’s not a full handholding thing. It’s more like she twirled on her own. It causes her to bump into the woman standing behind her holding a drink which spills onto her shirt. The woman asks “What’s wrong with you?!” Sydney apologizes to the woman. She even offers to pay to replace the woman’s shirt. I would call this a simple incident that both of them are at fault for, but it’s the right thing to do on Sydney’s part to offer to pay to replace the shirt she potentially damaged. The woman responds with “I’m asking what you think you’re doing, waltzing in here wearing that getup and flailing all over the place.”

Here is the shot showing Sydney “flailing all over the place” while the woman behind her is flung way far out by her partner.


Here are two shots of the “getup” Sydney is wearing.



She waltzed in there because Ben’s mother told him to take them there. That’s why they are at this bar. Sydney didn’t do anything wrong by dancing on a dance floor.

Now Sydney says, “Ok. You can insult my dancing, but not my fashion sense. I’m not the one wearing country floral in the winter.” Very restrained response to an insult that implies Sydney is a big city slut for simply wearing an expensive dress and dancing on a dance floor.

At this point, Ben and Julia stand up from the table. The lady now says, “This is my favorite shirt. Let’s see how you like it.” The woman throws her drink onto Sydney.


Sydney is surprised by this, stumbles back, and reaches out for something to stabilize her after she has been attacked by the this other woman. She of course ends up touching the statue which causes it to fall over. Julia appears to get up and try and save the statue from falling, but can’t move quickly enough from the table to do so. We don’t see Ben do anything here. The next shot we get of him shows him appearing to be on the dance floor.


That means he appears to have done nothing to stop the statue from falling over even though he was only a few steps from it and was already standing. So of course this goes right where you think it does. The woman who threw her drink on Sydney is arrested, Sydney and Julia are questioned by the cops, and Ben who witnessed the whole thing explains what happened. Nope!



Sydney, who was attacked, is booked and has a mug shot taken of her. Julia, who was sitting at a table, stood up, and tried to stop the statue from falling is also booked and has a mug shot taken of her. Nothing happens to Ben and the girl who attacked Sydney. This all occurred in a room filled with witnesses. Most notably Ben, who saw the whole thing.


Now Julia and Sydney are dragged into the judge’s chamber for an “emergency session”. Note that Julia who is going to become a lawyer is looking at the law books on the shelf. She says, “It means they’re not sure they arrested us on the right charge and they want the judge to weigh in,” when Sydney says she doesn’t understand what an “emergency session” with the judge means. Guess what Julia is looking for on that shelf? She is looking for and finds the “Emmettsville Municipal Code”. That’s when the judge enters the room and immediately takes the book away from her telling her “this is not a library”. The judge, his deputy, and Ben follow in after him.


The judge lays down the hand of the statue and tells them it’s “evidence of the careless destruction of a historical monument. And that’s a felony.” To that Sydney tells the judge it was “an accidental felony”. I would have mentioned that a drink was thrown at me, but the next thing we hear is the deputy tell her that witnesses saw Julia “rush at the statue and push it right over.” Not Sydney who reached out for something to stabilize herself, but Julia who got up and barely had a chance to move towards the statue.

Now we find out from the judge that the “statue was a monument to my great-grandfather, with an appraised value of $30,000.” When Julia asks to see the statute covering this situation because it might be being misinterpreted, she receives a response from the judge saying “are you saying I don’t know the laws of my own county?” She tries to speak, but is interrupted by the judge who tells her “you two are responsible for the willful destruction of this town’s most cherished possession” which they keep in a bar next to a dance floor. And note that he now blames both of them for this supposed felony even though the deputy just said they only have witnesses that said Julia rushed the statue and pushed it over. Ben still hasn’t said a word even though he saw the whole thing.

Now the judge says he’s not an unreasonable man. He threatens to send them to two years in prison. However, he’s willing to be so reasonable and in this room located in the middle of nowhere where they have been dragged to they are going to be offered a plea bargain. He says the charge would be “disorderly conduct”. Apparently, that would only be a misdemeanor and it would give them 30 days in jail. After being asked if this could be settled by a fine, we find out that the judge doesn’t like fines. “He doesn’t feel that people actually learn their lesson that way.”

Finally, Ben actually speaks up. He says why not community service instead of jail. He says he can “personally vouch for these two, that they meant your granddaddy’s statue no harm.” He is willing to “vouch” that they meant his “granddaddy’s statue no harm”, but he’s not going to speak up in their defense as the only witness to this supposed felony. That’s too much for Ben apparently.

The judge finds this reasonable. He says that would be fine with him if Ben kept them at his place. Where? The judge says, “put them in one of those worker’s cabins you got.” He seems to like the fact that it would save “the town the cost of putting them up.” Shockingly Ben responds that it sounds like the judge is trying to punish him, not them. So he considers having to spend any more time with these women as a punishment, but has no problem with them being sent to jail for two years for an accident he witnessed. What’s the judge’s response to this?


He condemns Ben for taking them Charlie’s, which by the way, isn’t even the name of the bar as is clearly seen in the shot of the town. As you can see in the screenshot above, the bar is called the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar actually located in Jackson, Wyoming. It even had a big sign saying WELCOME. Also, it wasn’t Ben who even suggested the idea. His mother told him to take them there. Now it’s time to lay into them a little more for being from Chicago.


He gives them a choice between jail or “community service”. So what’s Julia’s response?


She asks to make a phone call before being forced to be charged with a felony or take a plea bargain. He refuses her request. No opportunity to defend herself. No legal representation. No opportunity to call for legal representation. She just takes the plea bargain. Who knows how long they would actually be held in the county jail for a felony they didn’t commit.

So let’s sum this up. A woman and her friend get lost and a nice man helps them to get to town. The mother of this man tells him to take them to a bar. This bar has a statue valued at $30,000 sitting in the middle of a place that serves liquid that causes you to lose control of your mind and body. They also place it next to a dance floor. Then one of these woman twirls on the dance floor, doesn’t fling out far from her partner, but bumps a drink another woman is holding behind her. She offers to pay to replace this woman’s shirt. That woman responds by attacking her by throwing her drink at her. While shocked by the drink thrown on her, she reaches out, and touches this statue. As the statue begins to fall, this woman’s friend tries to prevent it from falling. These two woman, not the woman who caused the incident, are arrested and dragged before a judge. The judge threatens, insults, and intimidates them into either spending two years in jail or serving 30 days of labor with the suggestion they be held in “worker’s cabins”.

And that is only 21 minutes and 23 seconds into this film. Are you happy or want to sit through this Valentine’s Day romance film? I sure as hell wasn’t and didn’t want to. No wonder it appears the screenwriter didn’t want their name on this. The original title of the movie was Disorderly Conduct. I can only imagine the screenplay laid this out in a manner that makes sense, but after seeing how the filmmakers actually implemented it, they didn’t want anything to do with it.

I’ve taken up a lot of your time so let’s try and get through the rest of this fast.

The two ladies are then put up in the cabin and given a heater. Then the next morning comes and someone must have realized they really needed a way to explain away the previous scenes. Julia wakes up to a call on her cellphone. It’s her fiancee. He can’t believe she took a plea bargain on a “bogus charge”. He asks if she called her father who runs a legal firm. She says yes, but that he told her “that in a small town, the judge can basically do anything he likes.” Julia then says, “Technically, we did break the law, even though we didn’t do it on purpose, and we were lucky to get this offer.” Any follow up on that? Nope, just implications that maybe she took this judge’s offer because she didn’t want to marry him. Also, no I’m on my way honey from the father because you should have at least been allowed legal defense, you’re my daughter, and I should come there. None of that. The movie is now setup for the typical woman from the city discovers she prefers country life that Hallmark has done so many times over.

In Finding Normal (2013) they had the judge be smart, kind, reasonable, and offer her the option to pay a fine. Also, his charge is “16 hours, 8 hours a day, community service”.


Finding Normal (2013, dir. Brian Herzlinger)

Now you get the normal stuff. The ladies learn the typical duties on a ranch. Some are fun like learning to ride horses. Some are not so fun, but they are the realities of living on a ranch. They also are able to help out in the community. Julia even overhears that Ben’s ranch isn’t doing so well and tries to help. Of course you know he’s stubborn about that, but she pushes. The mother gives Julia some backstory one how the ranch ended up in the financial predicament it’s in. Basically, the big corporations are to blame, development in the town, and one thing lead to another. The recession didn’t help either. Strangely, the mother tells her that’s why he won’t take her money to help out. No mention of this dude ranch he was obviously trying to put together to transform his place into a source of revenue.

During this stuff they make sure to show that Sydney is clumsy by having her mess up driving a tractor and dropping a window. Nope, she was attacked in that bar. This doesn’t change that fact.

There’s a scene during this that I actually like. Sydney gets assigned to work with a stubborn old guy at a hospital. Well, not stubborn for long. Sydney is checking Twitter instead of talking to him. He says that the last girl “was so chatty, she got on my nerves but right now, I’m starting to miss her.” To her response that she is checking Twitter, he says he knows what Twitter is. He is even interested in what she is doing on there. But it gets better. He asks her exactly how she ended up having to do this for him. As she starts to explain that it was “just a disorderly accident” and that it was at Charlie’s bar he interrupts her and calls the place a dump.


Yeah, this guy calls the place with this apparent town treasure “a dump”. It’s like the screenwriters came in after those earlier scenes and tried to rewrite the remainder of the film to try and make up for it. Or this is some of the original screenplay. Don’t believe me? After a brief conversation with the mother we cut to the judge.

IMG_4653 (1)

He’s watching cat videos. We even get the girls visiting him in a comical matter as if he is actually a lovable judge who really does have a kind heart. The girls come to him because they want to do something a little unusual to raise money for the hospital that is need. The ranch is going to host it. The judge even likes the idea. However, then we get two more sets of people who are sent by the judge to the ranch for community service.


Umm…considering how Julia and Sydney wound up there it makes me wonder if these people’s “multiple parking tickets” are real. This happens one more time too.


I get a weird feeling that we are supposed to read these as volunteers that are sent there under the cover of doing community service cause the judge knows they need the help, but considering the beginning, I don’t know.

Now the film goes on auto-pilot. All you really need to know is that the fiancee shows up along with Julia’s family for this grand fundraiser. That’s when we get the scene to make the fiancee a villain. After starting out kind, then being a little nasty talking about Julia, he says “but if Julia develops a taste for the coddling the downtrodden, well, I’ll just have to put my foot down.” Sound familiar? There is a near identical scene in Unleashing Mr. Darcy. Except there it’s not to vilify Mr. Darcy, but simply to provide a last minute romantic speed bump. Unleashing Mr. Darcy was written by Teena Booth. I can’t help but wondering if she is Alana Smithee.

Now the film has Julia kick Gavin to the curb and go after Ben. She buys him in a cowboy auction, and they dance. What’s weird is how uncomfortable he is dancing with her. It’s probably nothing, but in addition to his behavior around the woman he knew from grade school at the bar, it seems a little odd. Regardless, they end up together.


So why the setup that I’m sorry, is offensive. It could have been fixed so easily too. That’s what angers me more than anything. I felt the same way about A Gift Of Miracles. The simplest thing would have been to have Julia just decide this town is an interesting place to take her vacation after accidentally ending up there. I know there are stupid people out there, but I don’t expect the movie to make me believe that two girls on vacation must be forced to spend time in the town or they would leave. The place where the bar is located is in Jackson, Wyoming. That’s a town surrounded by a bunch of large parks including Yellowstone National Park. If they wanted to keep as much of the script as possible, then start by having the girl who attacked get punished appropriately. If you carefully watch the scene at the bar when the incident occurs then you’ll notice they made sure to direct all the non-principle actors to be completely oblivious to what is going on till Julia has rushed forward to try and save the statue. It’s a little ridiculous, but it’s also a movie and I think most people would have let that slide if they were paying attention to notice that everyone else was just minding their own business. Have Ben go use the restroom and come out just afterwards so he isn’t shown as lying to the judge and his deputy. Have the judge suggest the community service in the first place. I wouldn’t like the judge so much for not offering or even demanding the money to repair the statue, but again, it’s a movie and I can let that slide. These would have all been little changes that wouldn’t have cost a dime to make. They wouldn’t even have had to have the lady who threw the drink appear in the movie again and thus potentially pay her more. Ugh! It’s not as bad as Your Love Never Fails/A Valentine’s Date. That one is disturbing. I still do not recommend this movie.

If you are going to watch this anyways, then I highly recommend recording it or in some way not coming till after 22 minutes of the movie. The rest really isn’t bad at all.

I said it already, but I’ll say it again. The guy at the hospital is pretty awesome. He really is. I loved him. The character’s name is George and he is played by actor Eric Peterson. Kudos, Eric! The world needs more small, but excellent character actors like you.

For those who are looking for things like the songs in this or any Hallmark movie: I try to pay attention to the search terms on my reviews and also always try to respond to comments. I have noticed people looking for the name of songs in Hallmark movies and winding up on my reviews. Luckily for the person who did so to find out the song at the end of Dater’s Handbook, it was an REO Speedwagon song and was prominently featured in the movie and my review. Another time I was asked kindly in the comments section if I knew who did a particular song in a Hallmark Christmas movie. I bent over backwards trying to find the answer for them. I did and responded to them. I didn’t receive a thank you, but was suddenly greeted by a down vote on my review the very next day instead. Regardless of whether it was the same person or a coincidence, I’m going to give you a little lesson on how to figure this stuff out for yourself. Here’s what I would do:

1. Check the movie’s credits. This doesn’t always work, but some Hallmark movies do credit the songs that are in the film.
2. Get to the relevant scene, turn up the volume, and use an app such as SoundHound. That’s an application for phones that is amazingly powerful at listening to small snippets of a song and managing to find out exactly who the song is by and on what album you can find it. That’s how I was finally able to answer the person who had asked for my help.
3. Turn on captioning so if the song has lyrics then you have something to Google. Make sure you get the words right and place them within quotes. Sometimes adding the word “lyrics” outside the actual lyrics can help. Again, surprisingly effective. It helps if the song is well known, but it’s Google. They have reached into every dark corner of the Internet.
4. This one is a little bit of a long shot, but not too much. Try contacting someone involved in the movie. Hallmark has an official Twitter account and I’m sure has a presence on Facebook. Shoot the production company a message if you can find them. Sometimes you can get really lucky and there is actually an official Twitter account for the movie in question. I know The Christmas Note and Love On The Sidelines have/had them. Also, you can find people who worked on the film on social media. It can’t hurt to ask. People can be remarkably responsive and kind if you are to them.

I probably should create a whole post to lay out these instructions, but I have gone ahead and included them here as well.

I know that the majority of people appreciate me not acting like a PR department, but trying to give you my honest opinion about Hallmark films I see. However, my disabilities make it very hard for me to take things such as totally anonymous down votes when I can clearly see exactly what in my review triggered it. I have disabled my ability to see those so I can continue to write these reviews. I hope you can understand.

If you’ve reached here, then I thank you for putting up with me.

Lisa And The Academy Agree To Disagree

The Oscar nominations were announced today and, for the most part, it’s pretty much what you would expect.  Below is the list of nominees.  If a nominee listed in bold print, that means they also appeared on my own personal list of nominations.

Best motion picture of the year

Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The King’s Speech
127 Hours
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter’s Bone

(The Academy and I agree on five of the ten nominees.  That’s actually more than I was expecting.)

Performance by an actor in a leading role

Javier Bardem (Biutiful)
Jeff Bridges (True Grit)
Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network)
Colin Firth (The King’s Speech)
James Franco (127 Hours)

(The only real surprise here is Bardem.  I haven’t seen Biutiful but I’ve heard amazing things about it.)

Performance by an actor in a supporting role

Christian Bale (The Fighter)
John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone)
Jeremy Renner (The Town)
Mark Ruffalo (The Kids Are All Right)
Geoffrey Rush (The King’s Speech)

(Yay for John Hawkes!  Some people are surprised that Andrew Garfield wasn’t nominated for The Social Network.  I’m disappointed he wasn’t nominated for Never Let Me Go.)

Performance by an actress in a leading role

Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right)
Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole)
Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone)
Natalie Portman (Black Swan)
Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine)

(I’m happy to see Lawrence and Portman recognized but I still so wish that the Academy had recongized Noomi Rapace and Katie Jarvis as well.  I knew it wouldn’t happen but still…)

Performance by an actress in a supporting role

Amy Adams (The Fighter)
Helena Bonham Carter (The King’s Speech)
Melissa Leo (The Fighter)
Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit)
Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom)

(Weaver — Yay!) 

Achievement in directing

Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan)
David O Russell (The Fighter)
Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech)
David Fincher (The Social Network)
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen (True Grit)

(The snubbing of Christopher Nolan for Inception is probably the closest thing to an outrage that the Oscars will produce this year.)

Adapted screenplay

127 Hours – Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy
The Social Network – Aaron Sorkin
Toy Story 3 – Michael Arndt (screenplay); John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich (story)
True Grit – Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Winter’s Bone – Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini

Original screenplay

Another Year – Mike Leigh
The Fighter – Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson (screenplay); Keith Dorrington, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson (story)
Inception – Christopher Nolan
The Kids Are All Right – Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg
The King’s Speech – David Seidler

Best animated feature film of the year

How to Train Your Dragon
The Illusionist
Toy Story 3

 (I haven’t seen The Illusionist yet but I’m looking forward to it because the previews look great, it’s based on a script by Jacques Tati, and I love all things French.  Still, I kinda wish that Despicable Me had been nominated just so Arleigh could see the minions at the Academy Awards.)

Best foreign language film of the year

Biutiful (Mexico)
Dogtooth (Greece)
In a Better World (Denmark)
Incendies (Canada)
Outside the Law (Hors-la-loi) (Algeria)

Art direction

Alice in Wonderland – Robert Stromberg (production design), Karen O’Hara (set decoration)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 – Stuart Craig (production design), Stephenie McMillan (set decoration)
Inception – Guy Hendrix Dyas (production design), Larry Dias and Doug Mowat (set decoration)
The King’s Speech – Eve Stewart (production design), Judy Farr (set decoration)
True Grit – Jess Gonchor (production design), Nancy Haigh (set decoration) 

Achievement in cinematography

Matthew Libatique (Black Swan)
Wally Pfister (Inception)
Danny Cohen (The King’s Speech)
Jeff Cronenweth (The Social Network)
Roger Deakins (True Grit) 

Achievement in costume design

Colleen Atwood (Alice in Wonderland)
Antonella Cannarozzi (I Am Love)
Jenny Beavan (The King’s Speech)
Sandy Powell (The Tempest)
Mary Zophres (True Grit)

(That’s right, I ended up going 0 for 5 as far as Costume Design is concerned.  Which I guess goes to prove that I have better taste than the Academy.)

Best documentary feature

Exit Through the Gift Shop (Banksy and Jaimie D’Cruz)
Gasland (Josh Fox and Trish Adlesic)
Inside Job (Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs)
Restrepo (Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger)
Waste Land (Lucy Walker and Angus Aynsley)

 (If Banksy wins, I’ll be happy.  I have a feeling the award will go to Inside Job, however.  As a documentary, Inside Job reminded me a lot of Capt. Hindsight from the South Park Coon Vs. Coon And Friends trilogy.  Also, I’m a little bit surprised that Waiting for Superman wasn’t nominated.  I’m even more surprised that I actually saw enough feature documentaries last year to even have an opinion.  Also, interesting to note that Restrepo — a very nonpolitical look at military in the mid-east — was nominated while The Tillman Story, a much more heavy-handed and stridently political documentary was not.)

Best documentary short subject

Killing in the Name (Nominees to be determined)
Poster Girl (Nominees to be determined)
Strangers No More (Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon)
Sun Come Up (Jennifer Redfearn and Tim Metzger)
The Warriors of Qiugang (Ruby Yang and Thomas Lennon)

(It’s always interesting that nobody knows what these movies are about yet their producers always end up giving the longest speeches at the Oscars.  I’m hoping that Poster Girl wins because the actual producers have yet to be determined.  I imagine that means there might be some sort of legal action going on which means that, if it wins on Oscar night, there might be a big fight at the podium.  Plus, I like the title.  It makes me want to walk up to people I barely know, lean forward, and go, “Can I be your poster girl?”)

Achievement in film editing

Andrew Weisblum (Black Swan)
Pamela Martin (The Fighter)
Tariq Anwar (The King’s Speech)
Jon Harris (127 Hours)
Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter (The Social Network) 

Achievement in makeup

Adrien Morot (Barney’s Version)
Edouard F Henriques, Gregory Funk and Yolanda Toussieng (The Way Back)
Rick Baker and Dave Elsey (The Wolfman)

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (original score)

John Powell (How to Train Your Dragon)
Hans Zimmer (Inception)
Alexandre Desplat (The King’s Speech)
AR Rahman (127 Hours)
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (The Social Network)

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (original song)

Coming Home (from Country Strong, music and lyrics by Tom Douglas, Troy Verges and Hillary Lindsey)
I See the Light (from Tangled, music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Glenn Slater)
If I Rise (from 127 Hours, music by AR Rahman, lyrics by Dido and Rollo Armstrong)
We Belong Together (from Toy Story 3, music and lyrics by Randy Newman)

(I’ll just say it now — 4 nominations and I didn’t agree with a single one of them.  Seriously, they could have nominated up to 5 songs but instead of giving at least one nomination to Burlesque, they just nominated 4 songs.  What a load of crap.)

Best animated short film

Day & Night (Teddy Newton)
The Gruffalo (Jakob Schuh and Max Lang)
Let’s Pollute (Geefwee Boedoe)
The Lost Thing (Nick Batzias, Shaun Tan and Andrew Ruhemann)
Madagascar, carnet de voyage (Madagascar, a Journey Diary) (Bastien Dubois)

(I’ve actually seen Day & Night since it was shown before Toy Story 3.  I thought it went on a little bit too long, to be honest.)

Best live action short film

The Confession (Tanel Toom)
The Crush (Michael Creagh)
God of Love (Luke Matheny)
Na Wewe (Ivan Goldschmidt)
Wish 143 (Ian Barnes and Samantha Waite) 

Achievement in sound editing

Inception (Richard King)
Toy Story 3 (Tom Myers and Michael Silvers)
Tron: Legacy (Gwendolyn Yates Whittle and Addison Teague)
True Grit (Skip Lievsay and Craig Berkey)
Unstoppable (Mark P Stoeckinger)

Achievement in sound mixing

Inception (Lora Hirschberg, Gary A Rizzo and Ed Novick)
The King’s Speech (Paul Hamblin, Martin Jensen and John Midgley)
Salt (Jeffrey J Haboush, Greg P Russell, Scott Millan and William Sarokin)
The Social Network (Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick and Mark Weingarten)
True Grit (Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff and Peter F Kurland)

 (I would have probably had more matches in the sound category if I actually knew the difference between sound editing and sound mixing.)

Achievement in visual effects

Alice in Wonderland (Ken Ralston, David Schaub, Carey Villegas and Sean Phillips)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (Tim Burke, John Richardson, Christian Manz and Nicolas Aithadi)
Hereafter (Michael Owens, Bryan Grill, Stephan Trojanski and Joe Farrell)
Inception (Paul Franklin, Chris Corbould, Andrew Lockley and Peter Bebb)
Iron Man 2 (Janek Sirrs, Ben Snow, Ged Wright and Daniel Sudick)

So there you go.  I went 50/50 on the Best Picture nominations and — well, it all pretty much went downhill from there, didn’t it?  Oh well.