Val’s Movie Roundup #20: Hallmark Edition


Not a whole lot to talk about this time, but let’s take a look anyways. Also, I have finally reached a point where the amount of these films going out is greater than coming in. Meaning the Hallmark streak is going to be coming to an end. There will be more, but hopefully not in such large amounts.

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Always and Forever (2009) – First off, this movie is directed by Kevin Connor who brought us the epic disaster that is Strawberry Summer. However, this one is pretty decent actually. We have a boy and a girl who were an item back in high school, moved on with their lives, but come back to town for a high school reunion. They also happen to be there for their jobs too. He is renovating a hotel and she is the interior designer. As seems to be standard in Hallmark movies, she comes prepackaged with a kid from a previous marriage and a current boyfriend. Nevertheless, they obviously still have strong feelings for each other and they drift back together very quickly. In fact, it’s kind of funny to go from a scene where they practically want to start going at it on the spot to her telling her friends there’s nothing between them. The movie worked well for me and it even had Ted (David Lascher) from Hey Dude. However, what didn’t work for me was when they put product placement at the center of the film’s climax!!!

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Really? What were they thinking!!! That pops out and ruins the scene, and thus the ending. It’s like if at the end of The Warriors, the guys walked over to a vending machine and starting drinking Pepsi to refresh themselves after their journey.

Still, this one is okay. Just know that Kay Jewelers is going to make an unwanted guest appearance at the end.

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After All These Years (2013) – After all these years, I still find Wendie Malick funny. Kind of a PG-13 Kim Cattrall. Anyways, I haven’t said it before, but I usually go into these movies blind. As a result, I was surprised to discover this was a murder mystery. However, unlike most of these, we use The Fugitive model here. Malick breaks up with her husband but in short order finds him dead at her house. When fingers start pointing at her, she goes on the run. What follows is rather humorous. It’s kind of what happens when Hallmark stops trying to sanitize, pander to a Christian audience, or add a political agenda, and just makes some family friendly entertainment. There’s really nothing to talk about here except to say it was fun. Well, except that it showed computer screens so here are two shots.

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The first one shows that her hacker friend is also a hardcore Excel user. The second seems to show that the production crew knew how to run a traceroute. It’s funny, but if you lookup some of those IP addresses, then you’ll find out they are in Canada where Lifetime and Hallmark movies are often produced, if not shot.

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A Bone To Pick: An Aurora Teagarden Mystery (2015) – Going way back here to my 7th roundup and the beginning of this long streak of Hallmark editions to the first Aurora Teagarden movie I watched. I didn’t particularly care for that one and wondered if this first one was better. It is. This one begins with Teagarden working as a librarian and going to meetings of the Real Murders Club. An old former librarian friend of hers dies and leaves her estate to Teagarden. They were friends, but that comes as quite a shock since they weren’t that close. Then Teagarden finds a real skull in her house. Start the mystery!

I mentioned it when I reviewed the second Teagarden movie, and I’m still not sure if these aren’t meant to parody murder mysteries. Well, this one has Teagarden start looking into the skull with interest and she only moves faster and faster till she comes careening into the killers. This one works better in that sense because she has a start point that she builds from. In Real Murders, she finds out about the murder, then starts acting like she just took a massive snort of cocaine. It still gets a little ridiculous here, but works.

It’s funny, but when I watched Real Murders, I read a review for this one on IMDb and someone mentioned a green dress that she buys. There is a scene where she buys a supposedly expensive and great looking dress that people keep telling her looks great on her, but the review was right. It looks bad and clings to her stomach and crotch.

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Also, minor complaint, but maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to have Candace Cameron Bure elaborately braid her hair. I guess she could be redoing the braid between showers or something, but honestly, it kind of tells us which scenes were shot in succession and which scenes, without the braid, were shot at other times. It also reminds us of the short amount of time in which TV movies are made.

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And yes, there was one computer screen, but pretty well done. I’m not sure why they could explicitly say she was using Google Earth to look at satellite imagery, but not have her at LinkedIn. Maybe because there would have been ads or real content that shouldn’t be in a movie. The only problem I see is that the URL is a wee bit long for a homepage. At least they thought to simply delete the local URL and type in a fake real looking one for the shot.

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The only other thing worth mentioning is the conversation the killers have with her at the end. I love when the one tells the other to kill her using the bat to which they reply that they don’t like the bat, so let’s drown her instead. It’s a rather humorous scene that I enjoyed.

Oh, one more thing. Now that we have both Candace Cameron Bure and Lori Loughlin doing these mystery movies on Hallmark, it’s crossover time! I want Aurora Teagarden vs. Garage Sale Mystery. I would love to see the two of them not work together. Have them both discover the mystery, but stumble over each other trying to solve it independently. If they’re willing to work with each other again on Fuller House, then Hallmark should strike while the iron is hot.

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Daniel’s Daughter (2008) – IMDb said that if I like this, then I might also like Your Love Never Fails. You all remember what I thought of that offensive piece of propaganda. Luckily, the two are worlds apart. You know what the huge difference is that makes them very different movies? In Your Love Never Fails, she was dragged from her successful job in the city to a small town through legal coercion, then kept there through more legal coercion. In Daniel’s Daughter, she willingly returns to her hometown because her father has passed away and wanted her to see him off. That makes an enormous difference.

It still is a little bit much. At least at the start when we are introduced to her and her job at Perfect magazine. I can’t really do it justice in how over the top it is, but it’s about as subtle as this kid in Nukie saying, “America! Help us!”

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But let’s back up a little because it doesn’t begin there. It begins in a rather vague way. It really could have used a little more exposition. We pick up the gist though. Mom died, Dad basically dumped her on strangers, and their lives went on apart from each other. This all happened in a little town on the East Coast called New Kerry that is on an island.

After some initial hesitancy, Cate Madighan (Laura Leighton) decides that if she is going to espouse the values she does in her magazine, then she needs to return to the island to respect her father’s wishes. She takes her assistant in tow. He’s actually the most likable character in my opinion. He is a city guy, but agrees to go along and makes the most of it. For example, they are at a fair and while he would never have sought it out, he has fun going around and finds some nice things to pick up. He even finds a piece of crystal for his collection that he couldn’t find elsewhere.

When she arrives she finds that two of her father’s friends that used to sing together don’t like each other anymore. Apparently, they had some argument and don’t talk now. We don’t find out why till the end of the movie. The rest is her moping while a guy on the island starts to bring her around and the two begin to fall in love. However, I’m not sure why it was necessary to have him be a former world traveler who then settled on the island. But didn’t just settle there, he says someone told him after he moved there that “There’s a whole world out there” to which he responds “That’s why I’m here.” So he saw the rest of the world and fled into seclusion? They put something at the end that seems to imply that his attitude is a little unhealthy, but till then it feels like an anti-city anti-modern life pro-small town thing. It probably wouldn’t if the opening scene at the magazine wasn’t so over the top.

All that said, this movie is pretty good except for one thing. It’s a bit of a spoiler. Up until the very end of the movie, the father is just a guy who abandoned her and was never a part of her life again. However, after her and the guy get the two bickering singers back together to perform at her father’s funeral, suddenly they remember they have a whole cache of letters that were sent to them about how much he loves her. You don’t say? Couldn’t have shown her those letters the instant she showed up in town? Kind of important, would’t you say? And no, I didn’t hear them say that it was her father’s wish they don’t share the letters with her to give them an excuse for holding back so long. Stupid, but it doesn’t ruin the movie. This one’s okay.

Shattered Politics #56: The American President (dir by Rob Reiner)


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Way back in October, around the same time that I first decided that I would do a series of reviews of political films and that I would call it Lisa Gets Preachy (subsequently changed to Shattered Politics), I noticed that the 1995 film The American President was scheduled to be shown on TVLand.

“Hey,” I said, “I’ve definitely got to watch and review that!”

So, I set the DVR and I recorded The American President.

And then, I just left it there.

You have to understand that it’s rare that I ever leave anything unwatched on my DVR.  Usually, within an hour of recording a program, I’ll be watching it.  I have even been known to go so far as to make out very long lists of everything that I have on the DVR, just so I can make check them off after I’ve watched.  As a general rule, I am way too obsessive compulsive to just leave anything sitting around.

But, for whatever reason, I could never work up any enthusiasm for the prospect of actually watching The American President.  I knew that, eventually, I would have to watch it so that I could review it.  Unlike those folks criticizing American Sniper on the basis of the film’s trailer, I never criticize or praise a film unless I’ve actually watched it.  But  I just couldn’t get excited about The American President.

Can you guess why?  I’ll give you a hint.  It’s two words.  The first starts with A.  The second starts with S.

If you guessed Aaron Sorkin, then you are correct!  Yes, I do know that Sorkin has a lot of admirers.  And, even more importantly, I know that it’s dangerous to cross some of those admirers.  (I can still remember Ryan Adams and Sasha Stone insanely blocking anyone who dared to criticize the underwritten female characters in Sorkin’s script for The Social Network.)

But what can I say?  As a writer, Aaron Sorkin bothers me.  And since Sorkin is such an overpraised and powerful voice, he’s that rare scriptwriter who can actually claim auteur status.  The Social Network, for instance, was not a David Fincher film.  It was an Aaron Sorkin film, through and through.

And, after having to deal with three seasons of the Newroom and countless Aaron Sorkin-penned op-eds about why nobody should be allowed to criticize Aaron Sorkin, I’ve reached the point where dealing with all of Aaron Sorkin’s signature quirks is a bit like listening to the drill while strapped into a dentist’s chair.  I am weary of pompous and egotistical male heroes who answer every question with a sermon.  I am tired to endless scenes of male bonding.  I have had enough with the quippy, quickly-delivered dialogue, all recited as characters walk down an endless hallways.  I have no more sympathy for Sorkin’s nostalgic idealism or his condescending, rich, white dude version of liberalism.

Most of all, I’m sick of people making excuses for an acclaimed, award-winning, highly-paid screenwriter who is apparently incapable of writing strong female characters.  I’m tired of pretending that it doesn’t matter that Aaron Sorkin is apparently incapable of viewing female characters as being anything other than potential love interests or silly distractions who need to be told to go stand in a corner while the menfolk solve all the problems of the world.

Fortunately, as a result of The Newsroom, quite a few critics are finally starting to admit what they always knew to be the truth.  Aaron Sorkin is not the messiah.  Instead, he’s a somewhat talented writer who doesn’t understand (or, in my opinion, particularly like) women.  At his best, he’s occasionally entertaining.  At his worst, he’s pompous, didactic, and preachy.

And, of course, Aaron Sorkin is the man who wrote The American President.

So, The American President just sat there until a few days ago when I sighed to myself and said, “Okay, let’s watch this thing.”  As I watched it, I promised myself that I would try to see past the fact that it was an Aaron Sorkin-penned film and just try to judge the film on its merits.

But here’s the thing.  It’s nearly impossible to separate one’s opinion of Sorkin from The American President.  If you didn’t know that Sorkin had written The American President, you’d guess it after hearing the first few lines of dialogue.  The film, itself, was directed by Rob Reiner but it’s not as if Reiner is the most interesting of directors.  (What’s odd is that Reiner’s first films — This Is Spinal Tap, The Princess Bride, Stand By Me — are all so quirky and interesting and are still so watchable decades after first being released that you have to wonder how Reiner eventually became the man who directed The Bucket List.)  In short, The American President is totally an Aaron Sorkin film.

President Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas) is a liberal Democrat who, as he prepares to run for a second term, has a 63% approval rating.  However, when Shepherd decides to push through a gun control bill, he finds that approval rating threatened.  And then, when he listens to environmental lobbyist Sydney Wade (Annette Bening) and tries to push through legislation to reduce carbon emissions, his approval rating is again threatened.  And then, to top it all off, he starts dating Sydney.  It turns out that Sydney has protested American policy in the past.  And, since this is an Aaron Sorkin film, everyone outside of the Northeast is scandalized that President Shepherd is having premarital sex in the White House.

And, to top it all off, there’s an evil Republican named Bob Rumson (Richard Dreyfuss) who wants to be President and is willing to use the President’s relationship with Sydney to further his own evil Republican ambitions.

But, ultimately, it’s not just those evil Republicans who make it difficult for Sydney and the President to have a relationship.  It’s also the fact that the President agrees to a watered down crime bill and that he does not hold up his end of the bargain when it comes to reducing carbon emissions.

“You’ve lost my vote!” Sydney tells him.

But — fear not!  There’s still time for President Shepherd to give a speech that will be so good and so brilliant that it will, within a matter of minutes, totally change every aspect of American culture and save the day.  How do we know it’s a great speech?  Because it was written by Aaron Sorkin!

Actually, I’m being too hard on the film and I’ll be the first admit that it’s because I’m personally not a huge fan of Aaron Sorkin’s.  But, to be honest, The American President is Aaron Sorkin-lite.  This film was written before the West Wing, before the Social Network, before that Studio Whatever show, and before The Newsroom.  In short, it was written before he became THE Aaron Sorkin and, as such, it’s actually a lot less preachy than some of his other work.  It’s true that, much like The Newsroom, The American President is definitely Sorkin’s fantasy of how things should work but at least you don’t have to deal with Jeff Daniels throwing stuff or Emily Mortimer not knowing how to properly forward an email.

Instead, it’s a film that will probably be enjoyed by those who share its politics.  (And, make no mistake, The American President is more interested in politics than it is in the love story between Andrew and Sydney.)  Michael Douglas does well in the role of the President.  Meanwhile, Annette Bening is so likable and natural as Sydney that it almost make up for the fact that she’s yet another Sorkin woman whose existence is largely defined by looking up to her man while inspiring him to do the right thing and forgiving him when he doesn’t.  Personally, I would have been happy if the film had ended with Sydney telling the President, “Thanks for finally doing the right thing but I have a life of my own to lead.”

But that wouldn’t be the Sorkin way.

Back to School #51: Trojan War (dir by George Huang)


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The 1997 film Trojan War may be a bit obscure (and, in fact, I had never heard of it until I came across it On Demand two weeks ago) but it has earned a place in the Hollywood record books as one of the biggest box office bombs of all time.  Made on a $15,000,000 budget, Trojan War was released into one theater, played for one week, and made a total of $309.

But, as far as simple-minded teen sex comedies, are concerned, it’s not that bad.

Brad Kimble (Will Friedle) is a nice but dorky high school student who, for years, has had a crush on an unattainable cheerleader, Brooke (Marley Shelton).  When Brad is invited over to Brooke’s house to tutor her in biology, he arrives just after Brooke has had a fight with her jock boyfriend, Kyle (Eric Balfour sans facial hair).  Soon, Brooke and Brad are making out.  Brooke asks Brad if he has a condom.  Of course, if Brad did have a condom, there wouldn’t be a movie.  The rest of the movie deals with Brad’s attempt to not only find a condom in California and but to also get back to Brooke.

(Apparently, in the 1990s, there was some sort of sudden condom shortage in California.  That’s all that I can guess after having seen Trojan War.)

Of course, that’s not as easy as it sounds.  Brad’s car (actually, it’s his dad’s car) gets stolen.  Brad ends up having a run in with a crazy homeless man (David Patrick Kelly) who — in a rather obvious shout out to Better Off Dead — wants two dollars. Brad gets chased by a crazy dog.  Brad has to deal with a cameo appearance by a crazy Kathy Griffin.  Brad runs into a crazy bus driver (played by Anthony Michael Hall).  Brad ends up being pursued by a crazy police officer (Lee Majors).  And since the film itself is a bit of an unacknowledged remake of Some Kind of Wonderful, Brad is also pursued by his not crazy best friend, Leah (Jennifer Love Hewitt, who I’ve always liked because we’re both Texas girls and I share her struggle).  Leah is in love with Brad and Brad is in love with Leah.  He’s just not smart enough to realize it.

And indeed, that’s the key to understanding the plot of Trojan War.  Brad is just not that smart.  This is one of those films where the great majority of Brad’s problems could have been avoided if Brad just wasn’t a moron.  Fortunately, Brad is played by Will Friedle who was always the best part of Boy Meets World and who displays the unique ability to make stupidity cute.  Friedle is so likable as Brad that you’re willing to forgive the film for a lot.

That doesn’t mean that Trojan War is necessarily a good movie.  It’s likable but it’s never really good.  For every joke that works, there’s one that doesn’t.  I could have really done without the extended sequence where Brad gets lost over on the bad side of town and the movie suddenly trots out every negative Latino stereotype imaginable.  But, when the movie just concentrates on Will Friedle and Jennifer Love Hewitt, it’s likable enough to waste 90 minutes on.

If nothing else, it’s certainly more entertaining than most movies that made less than 400 dollars at the box office.

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