Month: April 2018

The Proposal (2009)

The Proposal will be celebrating its tenth birthday next year, and as I rewatch it in 2018, I see that it doesn’t so much shine a light on naked Ryan Reynolds as it does on the conversation around American immigration. The premise rests on formidable editor’s imminent deportation to Canada, which she fights by arranging a quickie wedding with her assistant. Despite violating previous immigration orders and engaging in a sham relationship, INS actually goes along with the charade, grants the woman an interview, and proceeds as if everything was aboveboard – even after she admits to the fraud!

Are You Serious? [insert massive side eye] ICE is rounding up people left and right, and this is the immigration story we get? I know it’s Hollywood, I know it’s fake, and I know it was made in 2009, but it’s also incredibly sobering to watch in these times. The Proposal can only exist with a white Canadian protagonist. If you were to cast an actress any shade darker, this movie would be neither a romance nor a comedy. We’d have a straight up tragedy on our hands.

This is where reality leaves us, even if you can salvage parts. You can still appreciate the charisma and chemistry of lead actors, Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds. Bullock is an ice queen as Margaret Tate, but her character melts damn quick when she starts opening up to her assistant cum fiancé during a weekend trip to Sitka, Alaska. Likewise, Reynolds is at his romcom peak. He plays, Andrew, the long-suffering writer and editor who endures his boss’s abuse in the hopes of securing a plum publishing job. The two eviscerate each other with withering sarcasm and wit, that is until they start to bond over Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock. Their weekend with his parents (Mary Steenburgen and Craig T. Nelson) and grandmother (Betty White) helps both to reevaluate their priorities. For Margaret, it’s being more emotionally vulnerable and available while Andrew has to reconcile with his demanding father.

Besides the two leads, White gets the most attention as the gabby grandmother. She has her moments, like when she’s poking around Bullock’s chest like it’s an egg hunt. But there’s also a questionable scene in which she’s chanting and hopping about in what we’re led to believe is a Native American ritual. Props for bringing the Tlingit, an indigenous people, to my attention, but when your name is Betty White, spinning around a bonfire while wearing a headdress is not a good look.

Some supporting characters get lost, and the movie never balances the immigration fraud with Andrew’s story in particular. We meet his ex, Gertrude (Malin Åkerman), who normally would work her way into becoming the third wheel, but there is nothing bad to say about her. Worse yet, there’s really nothing to say about her at all. Andrew’s split with Gertrude and rift with his dad all have to do with his reluctance to stay in Alaska. Unfortunately, we never get a satisfying conclusion to this either, even if they do find peace.

Released: 2009
Prod: Todd Lieberman, David Hoberman, Kristin Burr
Dir: Anne Fletcher
Writer: Peter Chiarelli
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Ryan Reynolds, Betty White, Mary Steenburgen, Craig T. Nelson, Denis O’Hare, Oscar Nuñez, Malin Åkerman, Aasif Mandvi
Time: 108 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2018

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Flower Shop Mystery: Dearly Depotted (2016)

Flower Shop Mystery, we hardly knew ye. After three short episodes, the Brooke Shields helmed murder mystery is no more, gone and likely forgotten. But that’s not to say it didn’t go out with a bang, or at least a small celebratory pop. It improved on its opening chapter and the characters were just starting to feel settled in, but it was not to be. With Shields gone, the Hallmark orbit dims somewhat. Respect to the other actors, even CCB, but Shields brought a touch of glamour and worldliness to a channel that thrives on the small town aesthetic.

Abby Knight’s (Shields) last case is a family affair, one that everyone gets to take part in whether they want to or not. Her fickle cousin Jillian is getting married, at least that’s the hope since she left her two previous fiancés at the altar. Cold feet is not the problem though, not in the traditional sense. The real trouble starts after the nuptials when Abby finds the body of one Jack Sutcliffe, downed by a punch bowl.

The obvious suspects are the folks who sneaked out after checking their phones. Serves them right for not switching to silent mode. That means cousin, Melanie, and her father, Josiah, are at the top of the list along with Richard, husband of Abby’s friend and business partner, Nikki (Kate Drummond). The first two have a clear motive; Melanie is ex-wife to the deceased and her father was none too happy with the way Jack discarded his daughter, but Richard, owner of a jewelry store, might also be hiding a connection to the victim. Abby rejects all these leads and instead has it out for the groom’s snooty mother, Glory. The woman is not only condescending but also rejected Abby’s father (Beau Bridges) years ago in high school, so there’s that.

It’s nice to see Bridges contribute to the story in a meaningful way. He appears in the previous movies but is a nonentity. The same goes for Drummond’s character, Nikki, who finally does more than smile in agreement with her friend and warn her about approaching customers. The secret weapon, however, is the pairing of Shields and her onscreen partner, Brennan Elliot, who plays Marco, owner of a bar and grill across the way. Among the Hallmark sleuths and their other halves, these two are the most dynamic pair. That’s because their relationship is one of mutual admiration and respect, also seasoned with wit and sarcasm. I really appreciate that Marco does not feel the need to protect Abby or warn her to be careful. He knows the woman’s got skills and a sound mind, and that’s exactly why he likes her.

Dearly Depotted is a better example of what this channel can do when it corrals a group of capable actors who aren’t above having fun with the genre. They know how turn up the drama when necessary and break out the humor at all other times. One instance of good comic timing comes when Abby and Marco try to sneak into Jack’s apartment for clues. Marco approaches, ready to pick the lock and perhaps show off, only for Abby to simply open the unlocked door. The other series have their funny moments, but Flower Shop Mystery never shies away from what it is, a lazy Saturday afternoon diversion.

Highlight for spoilers: Wedding planner Bethany, you monster! Yes, it was the non-suspect, because it always is. Bethany had a relationship with Jack, which Abby discovered after seeing a picture of the couple in Bethany’s house. Bethany is also separated from her husband, whom she said was dead but is very much alive. Jack rejected Bethany and wanted to reunite with Melanie, and the ex-husband dumped her after two weeks of marriage. Humiliated by both men, Bethany gets even by smashing Jack in the head with a punch bowl and then staging Melanie’s death to look like a suicide. Sad times.

Released: 2016
Dir: Bradley Walsh
Writer: Neal H. Dobrofsky, Tippi Dobrofsky
Cast: Brooke Shields, Brennan Elliott, Beau Bridges, Rachel Crawford, Celeste Desjardins, Kate Drummond, Dru Viergever, Dani Kind, Marie Ward, Sonja Smits, Chad Connell, Kimberly-Sue Murray
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2018

Central Intelligence (2016)

As someone who peaked in high school, I can definitely relate to Calvin Joyner, Kevin Hart’s character in the high voltage buddy comedy, Central Intelligence. In the flashback that opens the movie, Calvin is on top of his teenage world. He’s got his letterman’s jacket and a captive high school audience, and as he speaks hopefully about the future, we know things can only go up.

Flash forward twenty years – and OMG, my twenty year high school reunion is next year! I mean, Calvin is a middling account. Having achieved zero great things, outside of maintaining a steady, well paying job, Calvin doesn’t feel like facing up to his former classmates at his upcoming reunion. His wife and high school girlfriend, Maggie (Danielle Nicolet), wants to attend, but they may need to work on their marriage first.

It’s at this low point that Dwayne Johnson zips in, brandishing a tight unicorn shirt and opinions on Molly Ringwald movies. Robbie Weirdicht is another one of Calvin’s high school classmates, but unlike the star athlete, Robbie was an overweight outcast who was mercilessly bullied. During one especially humiliating incident, Calvin was the lone person who showed Robbie any decency, and it’s an act of kindness Robbie hasn’t forgotten.

His idea of returning the good deed, however, is bonkers and the basis for the convoluted plot. I’ve watched the movie twice and still can’t say for certain what is happening except that Robbie is a rogue CIA agent who needs Calvin’s mad accounting skills. Robbie is suspected of killing his partner and auctioning off some satellite codes under the alias Black Badger. He recruits an unwilling Calvin to help him clear his name, and shit goes crazy.

I’m not sure that the finer details of why the CIA is out to get Robbie or who else wants him dead matter. What does matter is that there are shootouts and fights galore. There’s the usual tearing up of a car park and an abandoned warehouse. The dynamic duo hijack a private plane at one point. They sail out an office building in a mail cart and land on an inflatable gorilla. Also someone explodes in an elevator.

It’s entertaining enough but doesn’t stick. The action has plenty of energy but not much personality. What’s more memorable is the partnership between Hart and Johnson. Their chemistry has spawned at least two pairings in the rebooted Jumanji films, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this odd couple pop up elsewhere. A little role reversal works in their favor as well. Hart is as peppery as ever and still given to long-winded rants, but Calvin’s the cautious, level-headed brain of the two. Robbie is more freewheeling; he can’t shake his traumatic high school experience, which allows him to embrace his quirkiness, hence the unicorns and teen romcoms, but which also means he can’t hide behind his intimidating physique. When he confronts his still smarmy nemesis (Jason Bateman), Robbie retreats to his teenage self. That’s one upside. For a movie that is packed with so much machismo, it’s nice to know there’s also room for vulnerability.

Released: 2016
Prod: Scott Stuber, Peter Principato, Paul Young, Michael Fottrell, Ed Helms
Dir: Rawson M. Thurber
Writer: Ike Barinholtz, David Stassen, Rawson M. Thurber
Cast: Kevin Hart, Dwayne Johnson, Amy Ryan, Danielle Nicolet, Jason Bateman, Aaron Paul, Kumail Nanjiani, Melissa McCarthy
Time: 107 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2018

Reap What You Sew: An Aurora Teagarden Mystery (2018)

It’s been a bad year for relationships. First Anna Faris and Chris Pratt called it quits and then Jenna Dewan-Tatum and Channing Tatum. Now it looks like Detective Murdoch has come between Aurora Teagarden and Martin Bartell. Of the three, I’m embarrassed to say I was most invested in the fictional love affair between the librarian-detective and ex-CIA spy. I didn’t realize how much I wanted them together until I also realized I was focused more on Martin’s absence than on the new case.

But, that’s the way love goes. Ro (Candace Cameron Bure) doesn’t have a new suitor, and I am okay with that. I prefer not having anxious, protective boyfriends fretting over our capable female detectives, especially in this latest case, which hits close to home for our main character. Her childhood friend, Poppy, is stabbed to death in her own condo, and fingers immediately point to people close to Ro. All of them seem guilty as hell, which usually means they’re not guilty, but I don’t know about this fishy lot.

Her boyfriend, Dustin, is definitely suspect. He disappears from work at very convenient times and seems to have loved Poppy a little too much. But her young stepmother, Nicole, is a classic villain. Nicole didn’t get along with her stepdaughter and tried to convince her husband to change his will in her favor. Poppy’s engaged friends Lizzy and Bubba – yes, Bubba – have a lot to hide. Lizzy was the last person to have contacted Poppy and was seen angrily confronting her about a supposed affair with her fiancé, which means both had motive to kill her.

As a whodunit, this one boasts a satisfying field of suspects, though I should also say that the case is easy to solve if murder mysteries are your staple. Everyone is connected to Ro’s journalist friend, Sally (Lexa Doig), or her mother, Aida (Marilu Henner). The hardest thing is figuring out who’s who, though again, maybe I was just distracted by the case of the missing Martin. Diversity would have helped, but that goes with every Hallmark movie.

I should add that after eight movies, the series has reached a turning point for me. I don’t mean to say it’s jumped the shark (this channel exists post-shark jump), but it’s like second phase Marvel. Aurora’s sense of being has shifted; she’s more of a murder investigator moonlighting as a librarian now. There’s a different mood and dynamic going on too, one that can be summed up as campy. Doig nails it with her perpetually bewildered portrayal of Sally. Ro’s BFF has always been dazed by what’s going on around her, and I used to be annoyed because she doesn’t seem to have the wherewithal to be as competent an investigative reporter as she is. As this hamster wheel of murders keeps a-spinning, however, absurdity is the only way to go.

Highlight for spoilers: So easy!!!!! Also the title gives it away. Poppy’s murderer was clearly her crafting partner, Kara. Jealous of Poppy’s spotlight, Kara stabbed her friend with crafting scissors, leading police to mistake a steak knife as the murder weapon. Ro cracks the case after Kara shows her rebranded crafting channel video, now starring herself, and realizes that Kara must have prepared a new logo days in advance.

Released: 2018
Dir: Terry Ingram
Writer: Teena Booth
Cast: Candace Cameron Bure, Marilu Henner, Peter Benson, Lexa Doig, Dave Collette, James Rittinger, April Telek
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2018

Hailey Dean Mystery: Murder, with Love (2016)

Hallmark’s murder mysteries aren’t exactly edge of the seat affairs, but they can yield surprises, especially when you’re drugged up on allergy medicine and half watching alone in your dark studio flat at two in the morning. If I had been paying more attention, I wouldn’t have been as scared by the reveal, which I’m embarrassed to say was enough to rouse me from my drug induced stupor. To be sure, Murder with Love is not an intense whodunit. It even drags a bit since there are only two suspects to question, neither of whom seem like strong candidates for murderer. But this new series, based on books by TV personality Nancy Grace, has more emotional depth than I expected, and I finished the first movie with high hopes for the next few entries.

Kellie Martin stars as an assistant DA turned therapist, Hailey Dean, though in my 1994 mind, she is still Appalachian schoolteacher Christy Huddleston. Speaking of, a reboot would be right up Hallmark’s alley. Anyway, Martin plays another strong minded woman, this time in modern dress. Though Hailey’s abandoned law, she’s found a calling in couples therapy, something she’s damn good at because she keeps telling people this. Her reasons for a career change are varied, but she still has a mind for criminal law. When her friend’s mother drowns after overdosing, she uses her experience and connections to help solve the case.

Things get real bad real quick for Amanda Stone (Cindy Busby) and her brother, Aaron (Jesse Moss). Just days after their mother dies, their father, a trucking magnate, is found vaporized in his car having taken a fiery, suicidal dive off a bridge. Suddenly the grieving siblings look more like greedy killers, except Hailey is pretty sure her friends aren’t murderers. Well, if that’s the case, why did Amanda use her mother’s hospital ID to order drugs? What happened to the $8 million missing from their father’s trucking business?

These inconsistencies are dealt with pretty quickly, and with no other suspects, the investigation stalls. That’s when Hailey’s personal life comes to the fore. Of Hallmark’s many sleuths, she is one of the more interesting ones. Thanks to her job as a therapist, she gets to talk about her own troubles and encourages others to reveal more than dull pleasantries. We find out that her fiancé was murdered during a mugging. That tragedy connects her to hot new coroner, Jonas (Matthew MacCaull), who is recovering from his wife’s death from breast cancer. It also helps a witness open up not just about what she saw but also about her own experience with a violent and random death in her family. I was unexpectedly moved by this scene, which wasn’t in service of anything except life and the emotions that come with it. It’s a missing ingredient in many Hallmark movies, so I hope they remember to add it to the next Hailey Dean mysteries.

Highlight for spoilers: Daaaaaamn, it was the dad!!! He wasn’t vaporized after all. Turns out Dad was using his truck business to ferry drugs between the U.S. and Mexico. His wife overhears and has to start taking sleeping pills to deal with her criminal husband. Knowing that the DEA is closing in on him, Dad decides to just kill his wife and make off to Brazil, but not before framing an employee by trading identities and killing him in the burning car.

Released: 2016
Dir: Terry Ingram
Writer: Jonathan Greene
Cast: Kellie Martin, Giacomo Baessato, Cindy Busby, Viv Leacock, Jesse Moss, Lucia Walters, Michael Kopsa, Matthew MacCaull, Peter Bryant, Hiro Kanagawa
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2018