Month: October 2018

Stop the Wedding (2016)

Fourth time’s a charm for movie star Sean Castleberry. He took everyone by surprise when he announced that he’s engaged to his girlfriend of one month, a woman who once tried to have him arrested. Castleberry will be marrying Belle Colton, his next door neighbor and a retired art teacher, later this week in a private ceremony. His rep says that the two are still deciding if they want to live in Seattle or settle in L.A.

And that’s how I imagine the entertainment news show would report the happenings in Stop the Wedding, a fun Hallmark offering with a twist on their usual love story. Instead of one straightforward romance, we’re treated to two whirlwind adventures. The first involves Sean (Alan Thicke), an actor on the wane, who falls in love with Belle (Lini Evans) after she calls the police over noise complaints. They announce their engagement to their families one month later, but the news shocks Sean’s son, Clay (Niall Matter), and Belle’s niece, Anna (Rachel Boston). The latter pair aren’t convinced it’s real love and, after the requisite misunderstanding, join forces to stop the wedding.

The movie isn’t as zany as it could be in feature film form. Clay and Belle only manage two attempts at sabotage before the engaged couple smarten up and flee to Vegas, leaving behind the meddlesome kids. The younger Castleberry and Colton try to take advantage of their elders’ opposing interests and personalities, but true love is true love, whether it takes one year or one month. After Clay and Belle realize this, they make a mad dash to stop the elopement in favor of a grander affair. The movie’s running on a television budget though, so we’re only treated to a fraction of the Vegas thrills. If you want scenic chases down the Strip or through the Bellagio lobby, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

Luckily, Boston and Matter make up for the missing spark. Their characters are like a clever doubles team, quick and supportive even if they aren’t skilled at breaking up marriages. Divorce lawyer Anna Colton is a copy of her spirited aunt while orthopedic surgeon Clay is the opposite of his dramatic father. Both characters are committed to their work and have no interest in dating at the moment, so naturally they fall for each other in a matter of days because shame on them for lecturing their parental figures on love. I like that Anna and Clay’s feelings for one another are not at the fore. Sure, we know they’re right for each other the moment he spills coffee all over her favorite shirt, but in focusing on their scheming, we also get to see how compatible they are in every day, and not so every day, situations. They’re simpatico when it comes to problem solving, determined to make their point but also willing to concede to a better idea. That they also have their own romantic storyline is a bonus.

Christina Perry’s “Arms”:

Released: 2016
Dir: Anne Wheeler
Writer: Nina Weinman
Cast: Rachel Boston, Niall Matter, Lini Evans, Alan Thicke, Teryl Rothery, David Lewis, Brenda Crichlow, Mayumi Yoshida
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark
Reviewed: 2018

Harvest Love (2017)

I like a hot pear farmer as much as the next person, but pretty people picking fruit does not a movie make, even if those people do look like stars Jen Lilley and Ryan Paevey. Harvest Love is a handsome film, in the Hallmark sense and not in the David Lean sense, but it lacks a plot to match. There are two brief moments of narrative tension bookending the film, and unless you really want to gaze into Paevey’s eyes, which are something to behold, you’d do better to find a movie with an actual story.

Things start off in a promising way. By that I mean the two main characters have a sparky, clichéd run-in. Seattle-based surgeon Luna Gilson (Lilley) is headed out to her family pear farm for a week with her son, Andy (Brenden Sunderland), as a way of making up for her lack of attentiveness recently. She could also use some time off since she’s still mourning her husband’s death. It’s en route to the Gilson orchard that she discovers what all Hallmark viewers know, that country roads are great places to meet romantic partners. A blocked path leads to a confrontation with Will Nash (Paevey), who happens to manage the farm after his family lost their own.

The misunderstanding is quickly resolved…and then nothing happens for the next hour. Well, that’s not strictly true. Andy befriends a local boy, the townspeople get ready for the harvest festival, and a farmer breaks his leg. Also, the elder Gilsons, who are on a medical service mission in Cameroon, decide to sell the farm, a move Luna doesn’t favor but one that she agrees is the most sensible. Unless you’re eager to find out who’s going to win the pumpkin carving contest, there’s not much to keep you hooked. Like Luna’s respite, this movie is a leisurely break filled with small moments that nudge the potential lovers together and that gradually convince Luna that a life in tiny Pineview might be better than the one she has in Seattle.

I don’t blame the actors for the dull proceedings. The script doesn’t give them much to do except to bond over unripe pears and a harvest moon. Sure, it doesn’t help that Lilley and Paevey are also distractingly beautiful and speak sweetly to one another with hushed voices. The more I watch them, the more I feel like the third wheel and that I should just leave Luna and Will alone in this tiny northwestern town while I get on with my own messy life. They have no trouble falling in love with each other. Will explores the orchard with Andy and shows that he can be a good father figure as well as a good partner, and Luna finds an intellectual match in the agriculture scientist who’s trying to grow his own variety of pear. For once, I wouldn’t mind more focus on the schmuck at the competing farm who is happy to see the Gilson’s decline.

Released: 2017
Dir: Christie Will Wolf
Writer: Sandra Berg, Judith Berg, Christie Will Wolf
Cast: Jen Lilley, Ryan Paevey, Brenden Sunderland, Chiara Zanni, Aaron Craven, Dean Petriw, Lini Evans
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark
Reviewed: 2018

Darrow & Darrow: Body of Evidence (2018)

If I were in charge at Hallmark, I would hire someone to write better titles and to make sure there were at least as many episodes of Darrow & Darrow as there are Garage Sale Mysteries. The new series gets stronger with each outing, and Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Tom Cavanaugh, and Wendie Malick are that rare trio who light up every scene with wit and intelligence. They are unnecessarily committed to their parts, making this one a fun, smart movie that is worth our while.

The latest investigation shows off the talents of both the actors and their characters. Defense attorney Claire Darrow (Williams-Paisley) and district attorney Miles Strasburg (Cavanaugh) revisit a year-old case in which a woman was convicted of murdering her husband on their boat. All evidence points towards Laura (Jordana Largy) as the killer even though Tom’s body was never found. She publicly threatened to kill her husband, her prints and his blood were found on her clothes and the supposed murder weapon, and witnesses placed her at the scene of the crime. Claire and Miles aren’t inclined to take up the case, that is until a telling exchange about a cream cheese stain suggests to Claire that Laura might be innocent. As they learn more about Tom and his many deceptions and debts, they theorize that he might still be alive. Moreover, he probably faked his own death and framed his wife.

As compelling as the case is, the real intrigue is in the characters’ personal lives. It’s a strong ensemble in which everyone plays his or her part and plays it well. Even the minor characters find a way to stand out, not least of whom is Zoey (Gelsea Mae), one of the young lawyers at Claire’s awesomely diverse office. She makes a consequential move that comes out of nowhere, and one that has me falling a little in love. Newcomer Roy (Mitch Ainley) also impresses as an earnest police officer whose troubled conscience kick starts the second investigation.

The three leads really make the show though, and Hallmark doesn’t have a better team in its lineup. I especially can’t get enough of Malick, who plays Claire’s mother, Joanna. She’s still smarting for her unceremonious exit from New York City’s legal world and is adjusting to her job at the firm, but damn is she a snob and doesn’t hide it. Malick makes me love Joanna flaws and all, however. She might sneer at the lack of epicurean sensibility in town, but she mentors the younger lawyers, if begrudgingly, and agrees to go on a date with her granddaughter’s little league coach. Joanna’s relationship with Coach Reed (Paul McGillion) is exciting because of Malick’s performance. She’s a slightly Machiavellian sophisticate who isn’t a natural match for the Marcus Aurelius-quoting retiree but finds his confidence enticing and a challenge.

Williams-Paisley and Cavanaugh are stars apart or together. Claire shares some nice moments with her daughter and her mom, with whom she has little in common, and Miles gets a refreshing storyline as a prosecutor rethinking his role in the justice system. They’re also electric as a couple, and I could power my day on their chemistry. Claire’s reluctant to admit that they’re in a relationship, but they are and they’re better for it. Besides challenging each other professionally and solving murders on their down time, they just enjoy being around one another. Their exchanges are fun, respectful, and sometimes awkward, but it makes their partnership feel genuine. Cavanaugh in particular adds great flare to his character, like when he snatches the umbrella in an attempt to be chivalrous or warns her against guitar-playing prosecutors. Miles has a way of looking skeptically at Claire when she’s at work, but in that look is admiration and trust. Okay, I might also have a nerd crush on Miles and/or Cavanaugh, which is why I hope his commitment to The Flash won’t keep him from more Darrow & Darrow, the best thing Hallmark has to offer right now.

Highlight for spoilers: Damn, it was Dani’s boyfriend, aka first defense attorney, from the Garage Sale Mysteries. Dude jumps ship, kills a guy, and then goes back to being the dorky AV technician? I won’t trust him again. We should have guessed though from his lackluster defense effort. Bonnie gives it all up when she’s on the stand. Tom did in fact plan on faking his own death and enlisted her to help. On the night of the murder, he drugged his wife, grabbed his beloved baseball bat, and met Bonnie at the marina. He gave her a wig, making it easy for the old man to mistake her for Laura. After setting the scene, she stormed off, returning to the Graham residence to plant the evidence, and waited for Guy to pick her up. When he didn’t show, she hailed an Uber. Meanwhile, Tom was supposed to speed away in a second boat, but he and Guy fought over money, and Guy whacked Tom with the baseball bat. Since it’s still covered in Tom’s blood, Guy needed to steal it back from Claire. Also, Coach was a heart surgeon.

Release:2018
Dir: Mel Damski
Writer: Phoef Sutton
Cast: Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Wendie Malick, Tom Cavanaugh, Lilah Fitzgerald, Paul McGillion, Gelsea Mae, Mitch Ainley, Brandi Alexander, Vincent Dangerfield, Michael Patrick Denis, Richard Keats, Jordan Largy, Antonio Cayonne
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2018