Back to School Part II #25: The Night Before (dir by Thom Eberhardt)


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For the past two and a half weeks, I’ve been taking a chronological look at some of the best and worst films made about teenagers, high school, and even college!  We are 25-reviews into the 56-review series and we are quickly approaching the 1990s.  However, before we enter the final decade of the 20th Century, let’s take a look at one last film from the 80s.

Released in 1988, The Night Before (which should not be mistaken for the recent HBO series or the Seth Rogen Christmas comedy that nobody saw) opens with 17 year-old Winston Connelly (Keanu Reeves) waking up in an alley.  Winston isn’t the type that you would expect to find in an alley.  For that matter, he’s also not the type who you would usually expect to be played by Keanu Reeves.  He’s the president of his school’s astronomy club, a nice but socially awkward kid.  Even stranger than the fact that he’s waking up in an alley is the fact that he’s waking up in an alley while wearing a tuxedo!

How did Winston end up in that alley?  Well, it turns out that he was on the way to prom.  His date was Tara Mitchell (Lori Loughlin), a popular cheerleader who only asked Winston to the prom because she lost a bet with one of her friends.  (In a revealing bit of character development, Winston doesn’t care that she only asked him because she had to.  He’s just happy to have a date!)  When Winston was driving her to the prom, he took a wrong turn and he ended up in the bad side of town.  Then his car broke down and, as we see in several flashbacks, he and Tara stepped into a nearby bar and asked for help…

And the rest is the blur.  All Winston knows is that, upon waking up, his car has been stolen and Tara has disappeared.  And a pimp named Tito (Trinidad Silva) wants to kill him!

Uh-oh!

Will Winston be able to find his car, Tara, and discover what happened during his blackout?  You’ll have to watch the film to find out!

And, actually, I liked The Night Before.  It was a well-directed and energetically acted movie.  It takes a while to get used to Keanu Reeves playing such an innocent character but he actually gives a really likable and genuinely funny performance.  The film was directed by Thom Eberhardt, who also did Night of the Comet and Sole Survivor, and he keeps the action moving a nice pace.  The movie won’t win any points for originality — the debt to Adventures In Babysitting is especially obvious — but it’s still an entertaining 80s teen comedy.

Add to that, Keanu Reeves and Lori Louglin made a super cute couple!  I wonder if they spent their time on set sharing memories of making Brotherhood of Justice together?

I sure hope they did!

Back to School Part II #21: Brotherhood of Justice (dir by Charles Braverman)


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For my next back to school review, I want to take a look at one of the best films that you’ve probably never heard of, the 1986 made-for-TV film Brotherhood Justice!

Brotherhood of Justice takes place at a California high school.  It’s a school that is pretty much ruled by the football team and the divide between the children of the upper and the working class is often violently apparent.  After several acts of violence, drug dealing, and vandalism, the school’s principal (Joe Spano) is left with a choice.  He can either hire full-time security guards and turn his school into an armed camp or he can meet with the most popular seniors and ask them to do their part to maintain order at the school.

He goes with the latter option.

At first, quarterback Derek (Keanu Reeves) is excited about doing his part to make the school a better place.  He and his friends quickly form the Brotherhood of Justice and make out a list of trouble makers.  At first, Derek and his friends are just roughing up drug dealers and demanding that all students show some school pride.  (In order to maintain their anonymity, they all wear masks to hide their faces.  However, no effort is made to disguise anyone’s voice, which means that this film takes place in a world where no one can recognize the voice of Keanu Reeves.)  However, things quickly escalate.  One member of the Brotherhood — Les (Billy Zane) — is especially enthusiastic and he has a thing for knives.

Meanwhile, Derek is having issues with his girlfriend, Christie (Lori Loughlin).  Christie, who is apparently incapable of recognizing her boyfriend’s voice whenever he’s wearing a mask, thinks that the Brotherhood is idiotic.  Christie also has a new job as a waitress and one of her co-workers is Victor (Kiefer Sutherland).  Victor obviously likes Christie and he also bravely stands up to the Brotherhood when they try to harass a student who is named Pasty.  (I kid you not.)

When Derek grows disillusioned with the Brotherhood, they decide that the situation with Christie must be distracting him.  So, they decide to blow up Victor’s car…

It’s all in the name of justice!

Obviously, one of the best things about Brotherhood of Justice is that it’s a chance to see Neo and Jack Bauer compete over Aunt Becky while Cal Hockley plays with a switch blade in the background.  (Oddly enough, Derek’s younger brother is played by Danny Nucci, who later appeared with Zane in Titanic.)  But there’s more to Brotherhood of Justice than just the curiosity value of the cast.

That plot hole about the voices aside, Brotherhood of Justice is actually a really good movie and one that everyone should watch.  If anything, it’s even more relevant today than it probably was when it was originally made.  It’s easy to be dismissive of the self-righteous and judgmental Brotherhood but actually, how different are they from the outrage brigade who show up everyday on twitter?  When the Brotherhood demands that everyone follow the rules and love their school, how different are they from those assholes who, today, claim that anyone who disagrees with the president or questions the moral authority of the government is somehow guilty of treason?  If the Brotherhood existed today, they would be cyberbullying and doxxing anyone who they felt had failed to say or think the right thing.

Let’s face it — we currently live in a fascist culture.  In its own modest but important way, Brotherhood of Justice is one of those films that can tell us why.

And you can watch it below!

 

Back to School Part II #20: Secret Admirer (dir by David Greenwalt)


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After I finished watching Girls Just Want To Have Fun, it was time for the 1986 film, Secret Admirer!

Secret Admirer is a fairly good example of a film that is dependent upon the idiot plot.  Every plot complication could have been avoided by the characters not being idiots.  The entire storyline could have been resolved within five minutes if some of the characters had been willing to ask questions before jumping to assumptions.  Idiot plots tend to fun when they deal with teenagers, largely because, when you’re that age, you can get away with being an idiot.  That’s part of the charm of being a teenager and why nobody ever wants to grow up.  When you’re a teenager, you’re not expected to have any common sense or knowledge of the real world so you can get away with a lot more.  At the same time, idiot plots involving adults tend to be annoying because adults really should know better.  The idiot plot of Secret Admirer involves both teenagers and adults and, as a result, the film is half-charming and half-annoying.

Smart but shy Toni (Lori Loughlin) has a crush on her lifelong friend, the sweet but kinda stupid Michael (C. Thomas Howell).  So, Toni writes Michael an incredibly eloquent love note and slips it into his locker.  When Michael finds the note, he assumes that it was written by Debbie (Kelly Preston), who is pretty and popular but only dates college students.  When Michael attempts to write a response to Debbie, he is sabotaged by his limited vocabulary, lack of eloquence, and general dimness.  Luckily, Toni finds the note and, wanting to spare Michael any embarrassment, rewrites it for him.  Debbie is so touched by Toni’s note that she goes out on a date with Michael.  Toni is forced to stand in the background and watch while the boy she loves falls for a girl who is obsessed with shopping.  (Secret Admirer suggests that this obsession indicates that Debbie is shallow but seriously, who doesn’t love to shop?)  Will Toni tells Michael that she loves him or will she leave him so that she can spend a year studying abroad?  (Personally, I would leave and have fun exploring Europe but then again, I also love to shop so obviously, Toni and I have conflicting worldviews.)

But that’s not all!  Michael’s dad, George (Cliff DeYoung), also finds the note and assumes that it was written to him by Debbie’s mom, Elizabeth (Leigh Taylor-Young).  Of course, Debbie’s father, a police detective named Lou (the always gruff Fred Ward), also comes across the note and becomes convinced that George and Elizabeth are having an affair.  He somewhat forcibly recruits George’s wife, Connie (Dee Wallace Stone), to help him expose George and Elizabeth for being the cheaters that he believes them to be….

I got annoyed with the parents fairly quickly.  It’s always fun to watch Fred Ward grimace and glare at people but otherwise, all of the adults were way too stupid and their behavior reminded me of that terrible episode of Saved By The Bell where the exact same thing happens to Mr. Belding.  Secret Admirer works best when the adults are pushed to the background and the film concentrates on the relationship between Toni and Michael.  They’re a sweet couple and you really want to see them end up together.  Michael may be stupid but he’s still really cute and the film is perfectly charming whenever it concentrates on him and Toni.

Incidentally, Michael has several friends.  They all ride around in a van and look through old issues of Playboy together.  Most of the friends are interchangeable but I did like Ricardo (Geoffrey Blake), just because he was wearing a suit and a fedora for no particular reason.  Ricardo didn’t really get to do much but his fashion sense made a definite impression.

By the admittedly high standards of 80s teen films, Secret Admirer is a minor film.  It’ll never be mistaken for Sixteen Candles or Pretty In Pink.  That said, it’s still an entertaining and occasionally sweet film.  You’ll want to skip over the scenes involving the adults but the scenes involving C. Thomas Howell and Lori Loughlin are perfectly charming.

Hallmark Review: Garage Sale Mystery: Guilty Until Proven Innocent (2016, dir. Peter DeLuise)


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Okay, technically the movie doesn’t start by just showing that title card. We first get random shots of things with newspaper clippings in the background while Lori Loughlin looks at a key before we get this title card with a wacky “A” in “Sale”.

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Now we see a car begin to pull up next to a house when it comes up and says “Two Years Ago”.

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Hmmm….that seems a little unusual. I mean I expect a fake license plate that says “The Native State”…

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but don’t movies usually start, then after showing something they cut to the present and say “Two Years Later”? No matter, a guy snoops around, there’s a lady in bed who opens her eyes, baseball cards, and somebody gets shot. Then we cut to “Present Day”.

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I love that Loughlin’s shop is a real world antique shop called Country Lane Antiques in Fort Langley, British Columbia. Oh, but it gets better. The name Country Lane Antiques may sound familiar if you watched The Nine Lives Of Christmas cause Superman and McKenna from All Things Valentine ran near it.

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The Nine Lives Of Christmas (2014, dir. Mark Jean)

Also, if you follow Glover Rd, which the shop is on, one block up, turn right, then go one block you will reach what used to be the Village Coffee & Tea shown in June In January.

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June in January (2014, dir. Mark Griffiths)

Back to the movie though. An old friend of Jennifer’s (Lori Loughlin) comes into the store to tell her some good news. She’s closing her shop and is willing to give Jennifer first dibs on her stuff. What does Jennifer think of this?

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Then Jennifer goes home to remind us that Lori Loughlin has been cast as a mother to K-12 children in four separate decades and is still believable in the role. Now we setup a Good Witch style subplot when Jennifer comes into her son’s room and makes sure we know he is good with computers.

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Don’t be so hard on yourself, Jennifer! Looks like it’s just a couple of screenshots the art department sent over to be looked at using IrfanView. The one is some modeling program and the other is some Java code written in a text editor. I have to wonder why they went with an image viewer that happens to use such a recognizable mascot/icon. IrfanView is the image viewer with the red roadkill cat as it’s icon. You don’t forget that once you’ve seen it. Also, where did this code come from? You can see the name Jeff and Jeffrey in there. Makes one wonder.

Anyways, after Jennifer and her husband speak in exposition dialog to tell us more about the lady closing her shop, we get to the next day at Jennifer’s shop. Just as her husband did, Jennifer’s employee Dani (Sarah Strange) warns her about just going over to this lady’s shop and buying everything. It’s cause of this.

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Look, all you need to know is that those random numbers in an Excel spreadsheet means the shop isn’t doing so well and that Dani hasn’t taken her salary for the last three months. Doesn’t matter because getting her friend’s stuff might help turn the business around. So Jennifer is off to her friend’s place called Past Perfect.

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It’s also known as Sadie Ann McMurray Antiques and is located in Mission, British Columbia. The only thing better than that they left the actual phone number of the place on the building is that they gave it the same name as the database that museums and historical societies use to catalog their collections. My city’s historical society uses it.

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Inside, Jennifer is in Canadian Pickers heaven. Unfortunately, she can’t possibly buy everything in there because there really is a lot of stuff. The lady tells Jennifer that’s not a problem, they should go eat, and she will explain.

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They go to eat at the Mission Lighthouse Cafe, which is of course in Mission as well.

Before I explain the deal here, let me point out a humorous casting thing going on here. I am awful at remembering character’s names and even worse at going from IMDb glamour shots to the way they look in a movie so I don’t know which role Johannah Newmarch plays in this. However, I find it hilarious that she has been in three of the Garage Sale Mystery movies and happened to be in Lifetime’s The Unauthorized Full House Story.

Okay, the deal is this lady was once engaged and she thinks he ran off with another woman two years ago. She has hooked up with a new guy and has decided to move away. She remembered Jennifer and figured she’d just give her everything on consignment. Anything Jennifer happens to sell, she’s to send her 20%. Sounds like a good deal, but first we need to setup another Good Witch style subplot for Dani as they have done with Jennifer’s son Logan (Connor Stanhope).

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Actress Valerie McNicol, who obviously stole my first name before I picked it out last year, comes into the store. She’s dressed up like she should be saying racist and anti-Semitic comments at a country club. She’s there to try and lure Dani away from the store. Spoiler alert! Dani ultimately declines her offer. Of course she does! Actress Sarah Strange doesn’t need what this lady has to offer. I mean she is going to be in Kindergarten Cop 2 with Dolph Lundgren after all!

Meanwhile, Logan’s subplot is playing out. I really think screenwriter Walter Klenhard may be a little bit of a fan of WarGames (1983). Just maybe. The deal here is that Logan’s friends want to break into the school’s computer system to change their grades. They want Logan’s help since apparently he’s got skillz! Even his friend’s DDOS attacks don’t work and apparently all the backdoors are closed up. It’s even got 64-bit encryption. What this means is that typing “Joshua” (the backdoor password from WarGames) won’t get you in, some technical jargon, and that apparently his friends have a bot net that they used to attack the school’s computer system. Yeah, his friends just casually mention this. To bring it down to plain terms, it means they have a bunch of computers that they have hacked so that they can use them to attack a particular computer or computers on the Internet to prevent people from reaching it and/or causing things like firewalls to crash. Hence the name Distributed Denial Of Service attacks. The school would have been all over this by now. Guess that’s better than Crackle’s movie The Throwaways (2015) where the hacker character warns a guy going into a night club that Bulgarian hackers are known for anti-virtualization. Yeah, somehow knowing that these hackers are good at writing viruses and malware that operate differently when being looked at by security professionals in order to make their jobs more difficult is important information to know when confronting them in person.

Before we return to the main plot, let’s follow this subplot to its end cause it’s kind of awesome. So with all this buildup, how does he get in? He just keeps trying passwords till he hits the right one. No explanation given. They didn’t even have him do it the same way as Matthew Broderick in WarGames. I mean sure, they couldn’t have him tell his biology teacher that his wife came up with asexual reproduction to get sent to the principal’s office and look at where they write down the password, but still. They could have done something here instead of him just typing in passwords.

He gets in and I believe his friends actually had gotten in on their own before this because what he does is go in to change their grades from A’s back to C’s. That’s an element from WarGames where Broderick changed Ally Sheedy’s grade to an A. Except here it’s done to show that he’s a good kid. Take a look at his computer screen just before he gets into the school system.

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It actually says that the screenshot we are looking at is called “Logan’s hacking screen”. That’s just so great. Bravo, Hallmark! I don’t care if this was done on purpose or not. It’s a great easter egg in the movie.

So how do his friends respond to getting C’s? They want to tell the school they broke in and how they did it to become “cyber-security advisors”. That’s movie jargon for Pen Testers or Penetration Testers. They do what Robert Redford’s firm did in the movie Sneakers (1992) by having companies hire them to break into their systems, then tell them how to shore up their security to fix the holes. It’s what the infamous hacker Kevin Mitnick now does for a living. Of course he had to be saved by things like the “Free Kevin” movement to keep from being ridiculously punished by the federal government. These kids not only would get in trouble for breaking in, but would be charged with all the crimes of breaking in and setting up the bot net. I could give you Logan’s face after his friends say this, but I’m pretty sure “the stupidest person on the face of the Earth” clip from Ruthless People (1986) is still up and will do just fine.

Getting back to Jennifer, she finds out that not only does her friend have all the stuff in the store, but a barn full of stuff as well. However, Loughlin is in a series of movies made by people who are probably big fans of Murder, She Wrote. As a result, she stumbles on an underground area that even this lady says she didn’t know existed and there’s a body down there. This movie, just like Murder, She Baked: A Peach Cobbler Mystery, has a part where someone gives Jennifer the “another body!” line. Here’s what Jennifer thinks of that!

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The rest plays out like the title suggests. The lady ends up getting arrested for the crime since the body turns out to be the guy she thought ran away with another woman 2 years prior. Jennifer works to figure out who really did it. The mystery is okay. It’s not too cryptic and basically tells you who did it pretty quickly. Jennifer is basically doing the Columbo thing of figuring out how this murder played out while having her strong suspicions of who it is. I’m not a mystery person, but my Dad is, and he seemed to enjoy it well enough. Of course I say this as a person who spent Super Bowl Sunday watching 7 murder mystery movies from the 1930s and 1940s. I’m weird.

There are only a couple of more things to mention. There are a few more locations that are from Mission, British Columbia. There are also a couple more computer screens, but they had nothing I think is worth noting. What I did like is the newspaper.

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That story on the right is an actual story from the Calgary Herald with some of the names and facts changed. It’s actually a nice little story about a tow-truck driver who left a wallet with money he promised a friend to send to that friend’s mother in Ghana. The driver found it and turned it in. That’s why Fred Bediako considers bus driver Mustaf Gashi his hero. I wonder why they made the changes they did. I keep spotting Hallmark movies using actual articles from newspapers or official documents posted online. I wonder if they get permission, or need to, in order to use them like this.

All in all, I recommend this one. I just think they need to drop the subplots thing. That was stupid in the Good Witch movies and doesn’t need to be added here. If you want those characters to have a purpose in the story, then actually involve them in the mystery.

Just as with Meet My Mom, here’s Lori Loughlin judging me for taking too long to get to her movie.

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Hallmark Review: Meet My Mom (2010, dir. Harvey Frost)


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I hate Hallmark movies like this one. I say that because it really gives me nothing to talk about. The kid not wanting his room painted pink? Nothing really there. The throwing like a girl line? Nothing there either cause they tie that to the mother and the fact that she just isn’t very good at baseball having not really played it. Well, there is the stupid cutaways to her job that are there just to tell us that she isn’t supporting herself on sunshine and air. While they are stupid, at least they are there. The only legitimate issue I have is with the ending. Oh, well. Let’s take a quick walk through this thing. It’s not like the Hallmark gods are going to strike me down for writing a short review. And by Hallmark gods, I mean Michelle who I am surprised hasn’t been leaving me comments on every post asking where my review of A Christmas Detour is.

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The title card showed Stefanie Powers who plays the grandmother in this movie. That’s Lori Loughlin of course who is looking in a box to prepare for her role in the Garage Sale Mystery movies. Actually, her and her son have just moved from Iowa to California because dad basically just left and lives in Florida now. He will hardly be mentioned and spoiler alert, will not show up near the end of the film to provide a last minute speed bump. And take a look at this!

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They actually bothered to have Loughlin’s car have an Iowa license plate! The rest of the cars have California license plates as they should, but hers doesn’t because she just moved there from Iowa.

Shortly after they arrive, we are introduced to the love interest.

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That’s Sgt. Vince (Johnny Messner). He starts the film off being stationed in Bosnia. He is a loner and once had a woman in his life, but she just couldn’t handle being married to a soldier. He’s not angry about it or anything stupid like that. He understands. That’s one of the really nice things about this film. They really cut out most, if not all of the bullshit that you usually expect in a Hallmark movie.

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This is Loughlin’s son Jared (Charles Henry Wyson) looking like he wonders what a “Lotter” is. I’m sure the deaf and people who are hard of hearing who watched this were wondering what was being said a lot of the time. The deal is that his teacher wants the class to write letters to soldiers in Bosnia. Of course the kid is given the responsibility of writing to Sgt. Vince. Then of course Sgt. Vince comes home in short order and is stationed at a base very close to Loughlin and Jared. Then of course he shows up at their door.

It’s okay though because while Loughlin has the screen door closed she looks like this.

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But as soon as she opens the screen door she looks like this.

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I guess I did have some snark and jokes in me. That’ll happen after you sit through the first hour of Mockingjay, Part I, then come back to write the rest of your review. However, I’m very sorry, but I couldn’t find the clip from My Cousin Vinny (1992) on YouTube. So you’ll have to settle for me saying she only had the screen obscuring her vision of him and no dirty window, trees, with all those leaves on them, and seven bushes. I’m really sorry. YouTube failed me.

Anyways, in no time he’s helping the kid to learn to play baseball. Although, I seriously wonder what someone who can’t hear thought of this shot.

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Back on the base, Vince’s friends couldn’t be happier for him. In fact, he has such a reputation that as soon as they find out he is supposed to be at the kid’s baseball game, hiding behind a piece of paper doesn’t protect him.

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Oh, then the biological dad calls. Do you care? Cause the movie certainly didn’t. And thank you for not caring movie. I am so sick of Hallmark movies that suddenly bring back old flames just to create friction we know is ultimately meaningless. This movie really doesn’t bother with that nonsense.

At this point, the son kind of steps out of the picture. He does it willingly to make sure his mom and Vince spend some quality time together. He still tags along like when they go camping in the Ecuadorian jungle from The Wish List

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No joke. That movie had one of it’s characters being driven in a jeep through bushes that were clearly in a Los Angeles area park and called it the Ecuadorian jungle. Looking back at my old review for that movie, I have no idea why I didn’t mention that.

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Well, this is as good a time as any. While I know Lori Loughlin was 46 here, I still think she looks better than the 20 something actresses they usually get on Hallmark. Vince certainly likes what he sees.

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I’d say this is when the film gets serious. He is going to ship out again. He really likes Loughlin and the kid. Also, Loughlin doesn’t like just working in drafting. She wants to be an architect. She even applies to go back to college to become an architect. They at first agree to separate, but quickly realize that’s just not going to work for them at this point. Now I am going to tell you the ending here because it’s where I have my real issue with the film.

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He ships out. He’s still with Loughlin and the kid, but he leaves to go where he’s told to go by the army. I really did like that in Love in Paradise Luke Perry didn’t just up and quit acting. I also liked that the couple in Lead With Your Heart came to a real adult compromise. However here, his dialogue leads me to believe that he would really prefer quitting the army and being a stay at home dad. He talks about how baseball was a real passion for him, but it fell through. He talks about how architecture is a real passion for her. And it was clear as day to me that he would gladly spend his days taking care of Jared. Maybe he has a required enlistment time, but if they brought it up they certainly didn’t drive it home. They were shooting for making the film about a solider without a family pick up a family so he’s not really alone overseas. Heck, the original title for this movie was A Soldier’s Love Story, which clearly foreshadows this ending. It just wasn’t satisfying for me and didn’t jive with the material that winds down the film.

Now, all that said, this is definitely one of the better Hallmark movies out there. All of the four main characters have real parts which isn’t usual. Usually the kid would be non-existent or one dimensional. Also, Stefanie Powers would have been useless. Here she isn’t in a whole lot of the film, but when she is, she’s there for a reason. It’s not like Falling In Love With The Girl Next Door where I felt like they completely wasted Bruce Boxleitner and Shelley Long. I didn’t even bring up Vince’s friend on the base who is also good and serves the same purpose as Powers, but for Vince. There’s not really any forced Hallmark cliche stuff. It’s standard stuff, but isn’t “Oh, come on!” type stuff. Etc, etc, etc. Long story short, I still recommend this one despite my issue with the ending.

Since I have it and all. Here’s Loughlin judging me for reviewing this before her new Garage Sale Mystery movie.

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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.

Val’s Movie Roundup #11: Hallmark Edition


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Mystery Woman: In The Shadows (2007) – Once again, we join Kellie Martin and Clarence Williams III at the Mystery Woman Bookstore. This time the two are at a book signing when the author announces that his next book will name a KGB agent. I think this is the best of the three Mystery Woman movies I’ve seen so far (Oh Baby, Redemption, and In The Shadows). I like that fact that it involves international intrigue instead of just some local person murdered in Centerville, USA where a busybody takes it upon themselves to investigate. I also love that most of the movie Kellie Martin is in the hospital and out of commission. As much as I like her, it was really nice to see Williams shine. He knows about this secret world and it’s fun to watch him navigate it. I know there are other Mystery Woman films, but of the ones I have watched, this is the one I recommend most strongly.

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Garage Sale Mystery (2013) – This, on the other hand, is the typical Hallmark mystery fare these days. It’s not good. This one follows Lori Loughlin who runs a consignment store and hits garage sales for items to resell. When a friend is found dead and it might tie in with garage sales, then this woman who can’t mind her own business begins investigating. There is a cop on the case, but he seems pretty incompetent and worthless to the film. Loughlin just seems to sleepwalk through the whole thing. There just isn’t anything here worth watching. It’s better than some of these mystery movies on Hallmark, but that’s not saying a whole lot. I really wonder who thought it was a good idea to remove all edge, suspense, feeling, and reality from murder mysteries, then decided to make tons of them. At least there is a scene where her son has her play Minecraft to clear her mind. That was interesting even if we never actually see the game or her really play it.

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Garage Sale Mystery: All That Glitters (2014) – I guess since it wasn’t a total mound of caca doo doo, they thought it was ready for a full series. It still sucks. Again, one of her friends ends up dead. I guess being friends with Lori Loughlin’s character means you’re marked for death. At least Jessica Fletcher brought death to the places she visited. Loughlin’s just thinning out the population of her own town. This time the person killed is tied to a storage facility she won in an auction. Of course there are rare items and in short order a guy shows up wearing a sign that says I’m the bad guy. Luckily, he’s played by Kavan Smith of Eureka. He was a welcome sight even if by being well known it meant he was the bad guy. I’m not giving anything away here. It’s really really really obvious. Plus, I’m leaving the details out. At least this time people tell her she should mind her own business. She ignores it, but it’s nice to hear some voices of reason. Skip this one too. I wonder if the other two Garage Sale Mystery movies are any better. I doubt it.

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Murder 101 (2006) – This is how you do a murder mystery! Someone is murdered, so a cop brings a criminology professor in to help solve the case. Simple! The non-police officer actually has a reason to be there investigating. And the criminals aren’t a joke. Also, this isn’t some weird Stepford Wives world where everything exists in fantasy. It even has Dick Van Dyke and his son Barry who, by the way, looks like Michael Bay in this. It’s kind of funny. A business executive is killed in an explosion. Barry brings Dick into the investigation and an investigative reporter comes along since she was there. It’s nothing amazing, but far better than movies like Garage Sale Mystery, Murder, She Baked, Wedding Planner Mystery, Aurora Teagarden, etc. I wish Hallmark would go back to doing mystery movies like this and Mystery Woman again. They are so much more enjoyable and far better made in general.