Cleaning Out The DVR, Again #1: The Stepchild (dir by Roma Roth)


Two weeks ago, I finally finished my Fabulous Forties series of reviews!  Yay!

I was so excited and I could not wait until I could move onto the Nifty Fifties box set from Mill Creek.  However, before doing that, I decided to check the status of my DVR and guess what?

I discovered that I only had 10 hours of space left!

Basically, stating in March, I recorded so many movies that I am now nearly out of space.  So, before I do anything else, it’s time for me to, once again, clean out the DVR!  I have 36 films to watch and review before I can truly declare that my DVR has been cleaned out.  Fortunately, I’ve recorded a good variety of films — everything from Lifetime movies to horror films to Oscar nominees.  Watching and reviews all of them should be fun!

So, let’s get started!  Because you know what?  If I don’t hurry up and get this done, my DVR’s going to start automatically deleting my older recordings.  And that means that I’m running the risk of losing not only Jesus Christ Superstar, Bend It Like Beckham, and American Anthem but the final six episodes of Saved By The Bell: The College Years as well!

The first film that I watched was The Stepchild, which premiered on Lifetime on March 12th!

The Stepchild

As you probably tell from the picture above, The Stepchild is a movie about secrets, lies, murder, tears, and possible insanity.  In short, it has everything that we have come to expect from a Lifetime movie!  Even better, it has a Degrassi connection.  (Degrassi, as our regular readers should be aware at this point, is my favorite Canadian TV show.)  The Stepchild stars Sarah Fisher, who played a somewhat unbalanced Christian named Becky Baker on Degrassi.  Becky was perhaps one of the most annoying characters in the history of Degrassi but Sarah Fisher always did a good job playing her and she does a pretty good job in The Stepchild as well.

The Stepchild opens with Ashley (played by Fisher) in a mental hospital.  She spends her time talking to her therapist and occasionally having brightly-lit flashbacks to the night that she found her father’s dead body and dropped — in a slow motion, naturally enough — a snow globe on the floor.  Not only is Ashley shaken over the demise of her father, but she also fears that she may have inherited her dead mother’s schizophrenia.  And again, it bears repeating that Sarah Fisher does a really good job in the role of Ashley, making her a character whose outward fragility disguises more inner strength than even she realizes that she possesses.

When Ashley is finally released from the hospital, she goes to live with her stepmother, Beth (Lauren Holly).  Ashley is upset because it’s obvious that, in just the short time after her father’s death, Beth has rather quickly moved on to a new man, John (Paul Johansson).  John was Ashley’s father’s business partner and, like Ashley, we are immediately suspicious of him.  This is largely because he’s played by Paul Johansson and anyone who has ever seen One Tree Hill knows better than to trust any character played by Paul Johansson.

Ashley is convinced that John or someone else murdered her father.  But did he?  Or could it be that Ashley is having another nervous breakdown?  (It’s a testament to Sarah Fisher’s performance that, even though the answer is obvious, the viewer still is never totally sure.)  With the help of her boyfriend, Michael (Keenan Tracy), Ashley attempts to solve the mystery.

There’s nothing really original about The Stepchild.  If you’ve ever seen a Lifetime film before, you’ll be able to guess what’s going to happen.  That said, their inherent predictability is part of the appeal of Lifetime films in general and The Stepchild is an entertaining-enough diversion.  Lauren Holly and Sarah Fisher both do good with their ambiguous characterizations and Paul Johansson always does a good job when he’s playing a jerk.  The film has a few nicely shot dream sequences and, as we all know, dream sequences are always fun!

The Stepchild may not be a classic but it’s a perfectly enjoyable way to waste two hours.

(For those keeping track of my progress in cleaning out the DVR, that’s one down and thirty-five to go!)

Hallmark Review: Love, Again (2015, dir. Michael Scott)


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The other day I went hiking at one of my favorite regional parks in the Bay Area. It’s basically a straight path through a canyon. A ways in you can turn left and start to go up to the top of the canyon. Although my leg was hurting, I decided I hadn’t been up there in awhile, so I did it. When I reached the end of the path and looked down at the canyon my iPhone starting playing Captain & Tennille singing Love Will Keep Us Together in Spanish. Had no idea I had that in Spanish.

This is one of those Love Will Keep Us Together Hallmark movies. Just The Way You Are is the worst of these I have seen. Lead With Your Heart is the best. Love, Again is very much on the Lead With Your Heart end of the spectrum.

The movie opens up with our couple on the beach with their daughter. They are Chloe (Teri Polo), David (Paul Johansson), and their daughter Amanda (Chloe Babcook). The look all nice and happy. Then cut to 15 years later, and things don’t look so good anymore.

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The separate sinks and the distance between them represent the distance in their marriage. Not so subtle. But not as blunt as what happens next. The two of them go downstairs, get into their cars, and both try to pull out at the same time nearly hitting each other. That’s where this movie’s biggest issue is. Nothing is subtle about the problems with the marriage. It’s all blunt force trauma to the head stuff to make sure you know they are in trouble. However, they never really give a reason why. Yes, their daughter no longer lives at home, but that’s all. The marriage just seems to have gone stale like bread.

In Lead With Your Heart, their children were leaving home, a new job opportunity opened up for the wife, and the movie was about adapting their marriage to new circumstances. Here, it’s more a journey of rediscovery. They never really adapt, just remember. Hence the title.

After talking about divorce a little, their daughter comes home much to their surprise. But she isn’t alone. She has a fiancee in tow. Chloe and David don’t want to rain on her parade so they decide to pretend they are okay.

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It’s now off to Camden, Maine where the wedding is going to happen. The soon to be married kids and another couple’s stories run parallel to the main characters. Their part of the story isn’t that important. The focus is on Chloe and David. There’s more of the obvious stuff you would expect from a couple who is only pretending to be happy. But there are also moments here and there where they get a glimpse of reality. That being they still have strong feelings for each other.

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The centerpiece of this whole movie is a bridge. Chloe is afraid of heights. While the family is out hiking they reach it and Chloe just can’t cross it even with encouragement from David. He turns back to stay with her. She feels sorry that things like this prevent her from stuff like skiing with him. He tells her that’s simply not true. That they have had great trips with each other. Then they go back to the resort together.

This is a bit of a turning point in the story. Things shift somewhat from them finding stupid signs that their marriage is in trouble to finding real signs that they simply have forgotten their feelings for each other.

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An example of the stupid things comes very early in the film when they poor some wine for each other, their daughter, and the future son-in-law. The wine isn’t good. He says that ’89 must have been a bad year. Of course she responds that they were married that year.

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An example of something that reminds them of their love is when they loosen up a bit and dance together. They also play limbo. They wind up sharing the bed that night.

Near the end of the movie Chloe grabs David and they return to the bridge. This time she summons up the courage to try and cross it. She doesn’t make it all the way, but she gets as far as she does because she let’s herself be more than she can be alone. She listens to David’s words and trusts that no matter what happens, he will be there for her. He then goes out and joins her.

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As you can see, the bridge wasn’t very high at all. However, making this happen finally shifts their mindsets back to being greater than their individual selves.

It’s a nice symbolic touch that I thought worked well. It reminded me of the father counting in Love Under The Stars and the china in Bound By A Secret.

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With the couple’s love reignited, the wedding goes ahead even though the rain chases it inside.

This was one of the best Hallmark movies I’ve seen so far. I just wish there was less of the brick to the head obvious they are in trouble stuff. I think they should have dialed that back. I believe it would have worked better.

There was one thing that had me confused. When they show up at the resort they run into a guy they once knew and a story about a missing necklace comes up. Later it seems like that same guy has the necklace or a similar one. I’m not sure if that was meant to indicate that there was an affair at one point or not. It wasn’t clear to me. However, it didn’t make any difference for me.

Also, cause I always seem to notice this stuff. They replace the tablets and docking station company names with a fictional one called Lintus.

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6 Quickies With Lisa Marie: Atlas Shrugged, Beautiful Boy, Crazy Stupid Love, The Devil’s Double, Sarah’s Key, and Water For Elephants


For my first post-birthday review post, I want to take a look at 6 films that I saw earlier this year but, for whatever reason, I haven’t gotten a chance to review yet.  My goal has been to review every single 2011 release that I’ve seen this year.  So far, I’ve only seen 106 2011 films and I still need to review 21 of them.  So, without further ado, let’s “gang bang this baby out” as a former employer of mine used to say. (*Shudder*  Seriously, what a creepy thing to say…)

1) Atlas Shrugged, Part One (dir. by Paul Johansson)

What to say about Atlas Shrugged, Part One?  When I recently rewatched it OnDemand with a friend of mine who had just gotten back from Occupying somewhere, he threw a fit as soon as he heard wealthy 1 percenter Graham Beckel declaring, “I am on strike!”  When I first saw it earlier in the year, in a theater full of strangers, they broke out into applause when they heard the same line.  Atlas Shrugged is a wonderfully divisive film.   If you’re a political person, your enjoyment of this film will probably come down to which news network  you watch. If you enjoy those MSNBC spots where Rachel Maddow won’t shut up about the freakin’ Hoover Dam, you’ll probably hate Atlas Shrugged.  If you truly believe that Fox News is “fair and balanced,” chances are you’ll enjoy it.  But what if you’re like me and the only politics you follow are the politics of film and you only bow at the altar of cinema?  Well, I enjoyed Atlas Shrugged because the film really is a grindhouse film at heart.  It’s an uneven, low-budget film that has a few good performances (Beckel and Taylor Schilling), several bad performances, and ultimately, it goes totally against what establishment films have conditioned us to expect when we go to the movies.  Ultimately, the film is a big middle finger extended at both the film and the political establishments and who can’t get behind that?  Add to that, Roger Ebert hated it and when was the last time he was right about anything?

2) Beautiful Boy (dir. by Shawn Ku)

I’ve read a lot of rapturous reviews of this film online and my aunt Kate loved it when she saw it at the Dallas Angelika earlier this year.  So, admittedly, when I watched this film via OnDemand, I had pretty high hopes and expectations but, unfortunately, none of those expectations came anywhere close to being met.  In the film, two of my favorite performers — Michael Sheen and Maria Bello — play the middle-class parents who have to deal with the consequences (both emotional and physical) of a terrible crime perpetrated by their son.  The film is based on the Virginia Tech massacre and both Sheen and Bello give excellent performances but overall, the film feels like a thoroughly shallow exploration of some various serious issues.  Ultimately, the film’s refusal to provide an explanation for the crime feels less like a brave, artistic choice and more like a cop-out.  The film is less abstract than Gus Van Sant’s Elephant and Denis Villeneuve’s Polytechnique but it’s also a lot less effective.

3)Crazy, Stupid Love (dir. by John Requa and Glenn Ficarra)

I don’t know if I’ll ever forgive Steve Carell for abandoning The Office and forcing upon me the current, almost painful season of the show.  Still, I can’t totally blame him because the guy is totally a film star and he proves it in Crazy, Stupid Love by holding his own with other certifiable film stars like Ryan Gosling, Kevin Bacon, Marisa Tomei, Julianne Moore, and Emma Stone.  In the film, Julianne Moore plays Carell’s wife who leaves him for a coworker (played by Kevin Bacon, doing his charming jerk routine).  The depressed Carell is taken under the wing of womanizer Gosling who teaches Carell how to be more confident and appealing.  Things seem to be working out well until Gosling starts going out with Carell’s daughter (played by Emma Stone).  The movie, itself, isn’t anything special and it’s really kind of a mess but it’s saved by a massively appealing cast.  And, by the way, Ryan Gosling —très beau!  Seriously.

4) The Devil’s Double (dir. by Lee Tamahori)

Taking place in pre-Desert Storm Iraq, The Devil’s Double claims to tell the true story of Latif Yahia, an Iraqi who was forced to serve as the double for the sociopathic young dictator-in-training Uday Hussien.  I’ve read that there’s some debate as to how faithful The Devil’s Double is to the facts of the story and it is true that Latif is portrayed as being almost too good to be true but no matter.  The Devil’s Double is a compelling and oddly fascinating little gangster film, one that manages to show the dangerous appeal of the excessive lifestyle of a man like Uday Hussien without ever actually being seduced by it.   The film is dominated by Dominic Cooper, who gives a great performance playing both the tortured Latif and the cheerfully insane Uday. 

5) Sarah’s Key (dir by Gilles Paquet-Brenner)

Sarah’s Key tells two stories at once and, the result, is a film that feels very schizophrenic in quality.  The better part of the film deals with Sarah, a 10 year-old Jewish girl living in Nazi-occupied France.  When Sarah and her parents are sent to a concentration camp, her younger brother is left behind in Paris.  Sarah eventually manages to escape and desperately tries to get back to Paris to rescue her brother.  Meanwhile, in the modern-day, a journalist (Kristen Scott Thomas) researches Sarah’s story and discovers that her French husband’s family has a connection of their own with Sarah’s story.  The film is compelling and heart-breaking as long as it concentrates on Sarah but, unfortunately, the modern-day scenes feel forced and predictable and the end result is a film that’s never quite as good as it obviously could have been.

6) Water For Elephants (dir. by Francis Lawrence)

Look, I make no apologies — I freaking loved this movie.  Yes, plotwise, this film feels almost like a parody and yes, so much of this film was over-the-top and kinda silly but I don’t care.  I loved this film for the old-fashioned, melodramatic, and rather campy spectacle that it is.  Robert Pattinson plays a Depression-era Ivy League college student-turned-hobo who ends up joining the circus and falling in love with Reese Whitherspoon, the wife of insane circus owner, Christoph Waltz.  Pattinson isn’t much of an actor but he’s easy on the eyes and he and Whitherspoon have just enough chemistry to remain watchable.  The film, however, is totally dominated by Waltz who is both charming and scary.  The next time your man makes you sit through anything starring Jason Statham, you make him watch Water for Elephants.