Author: limmer13

Christmas Inheritance (2017)

Last year, Netflix tried to claim the crappy Christmas movie crown from Hallmark and inexplicably seized the moment with A Christmas Prince, a movie that is identical to Crown for Christmas, A Princess for Christmas, and A Royal Christmas. Despite an utter lack of originality, it somehow won the season. In doing so, however, it pushed another Netflix Christmas movie to the back of the queue. Now that it’s summer break and a steamy 35 degrees, I thought I’d turn the holiday spirit on blast and watch Christmas Inheritance.

Well, I can see why Buzzfeed made much ado over an effervescent royal fantasy and not this drab holiday flick that uses all the clichés in the most forgettable way. The fidelity with which it follows the Hallmark formula is admirable, but like many a Hallmark movie, this one is a nicely wrapped gift with nothing of value inside. The movie will fill up your Bingo card in a flash – big city girl, small town guy, secret identity, mismatched couple, cozy but short-staffed inn, silent charity auction, mystery Santa – but that’s about all it does.

Lead Eliza Taylor is charming, sympathetic, blonde. She plays Ellen Langford, the partying heiress of a gift company. I like her from the moment she tumbles onto the screen, not giving a single damn about flashing her red panties while cartwheeling across a ballroom. Her dad gives lots of damns though, and before he hands the company over to her, he wants to make sure she really understands the spirit of the business, one he started with his best friend, Zeke, in their tiny hometown of Snow Falls. That business is Home and Hearth Gifts, a multimillion dollar company that I assume sells useless trinkets though we never find out.

It’s this lack of attention to details that keeps this movie from standing out. The generic plot is simply not enough to merit an hour and a half date with my couch, a fuzzy blanket, and a mug of hot tea, or in my case, jugs and jugs of icy sweet lemon tea. Heiress Ellen zips off to Snow Falls days before Christmas under the guise of Ellie London, baker. She has to hand deliver a box of Christmas letters to Uncle Zeke because it’s a tradition and the two families haven’t figured out how to use the postal service. Zeke has conveniently disappeared, so her one day stay stretches out into two or three. This gives her time to get to know Jake (Jake Lacy), the hunky single guy who loves his small town and doesn’t like big city girls. Jake’s aunt Debbie (Andie MacDowell), well, it doesn’t matter what she does because I just love watching Andie MacDowell.

In no time at all, Ellen and Jake are getting handsy next to some ice sculptures. But wait a hot minute because Ellen’s engaged, albeit to a demanding businessman who wears ugly ties and says things like, “Tradition? What is this? Fiddler on the Roof?” He’s played by black actor Michael Xavier, and though he may not be right for Ellen, I’m giving Netflix extra points for at least surveying the cultural moment and trying to do something about it. It would have been nice if they had also done something about that boring love triangle. There is zero romantic tension, and as lovely as Taylor is, I don’t find myself caring all that much about her Snow Falls sojourn.

Released: 2017
Dir: Ernie Barbarash
Writer: Dinah Eng
Cast: Eliza Taylor, Jake Lacy, Andie MacDowell, Michael Xavier, Neil Crone
Time: 104 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2018

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Sherlock Gnomes (2018)

Here’s a pressing case for Sherlock Gnomes – why is this movie so terrible? Its predecessor, Gnomeo and Juliet, was a clever, fun-spirited retelling of a work with no shortage of creative retellings, but this movie, which tries to do the same, fails to stir up any excitement. Unlike the first gnome-y installment, it doesn’t attach itself to a familiar or beloved story, and though the characters may be well known, they are drawn from two distinct worlds that don’t have a natural meeting place. The star-crossed lovers intersect with a pair of uptight detectives but never occupy one cohesive narrative space.

Since Gnomeo (James McAvoy) and Juliet (Emily Blunt) manage to make it out of their first movie alive, we’re venturing into fresh territory, and this time around they are preoccupied with post-marital troubles. Now it looks like their marriage might be the casualty. Their bickering is just a lot of petty back and forth though. If it’s supposed to be something more, we wouldn’t know. We hardly see what’s gnawing at their relationship before the story jumps to Sherlock (Johnny Depp) and Watson (Chiwetel Ejiofor).

The two sleuths are hard at work trying to trying to catch Moriarty (Jamie Demetriou), a Kewpie-like pie mascot who’s been kidnapping a bunch of gnomes throughout the city. This Moriarty is low-key bonkers, more manic energy than deliberate murder-maker like his counterpart in Sherlock and Elementary. He seems content just causing chaos, which is appropriate since this is a family film. When Gnomeo and Juliet’s family and friends go missing, lovers and detectives join forces to get to the bottom of the mystery. At least that is what should happen. Instead, Gnomeo and Juliet, being simple gnome folk, lack serious crime fighting chops and instead just tag along while mostly Sherlock does the work.

I’m game for another attempt at literary mash-up, one that is more purposeful and that uses the diverse characters and plot points to support one another. But as this film shows, bringing together two popular literary universes (do we have to use that word now?) does not in and of itself generate a good or meaningful story. Even the set pieces are dodgy, particularly the most colorful one set in a Chinatown toy/souvenir shop. That Sherlock smugly announces clocks are unlucky gifts in Chinese culture does not make it less racist or self-aware. Also, if you wouldn’t have a white actress to wear a cocktail umbrella as a vaguely Asian disguise, and that’s a big ask, you shouldn’t have your white gnome to do the same. I’m only giving Sherlock Gnomes credit for its care in bringing the minor gnomes to life. When the mossy figures are unpacked and newly settling into their misty London backyard, you want to scoop them up and give them a good clean.

Alt Title: Gnomeo and Juliet 2: Sherlock Gnomes
Released: 2011
Prod: David Furnish, Steve Hamilton Shaw, Carolyn Soper
Dir: John Stevenson
Writer: Ben Zazove
Cast: James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Johnny Depp, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mary J. Blige, Jamie Demetriou, Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Ashley Jensen, Matt Lucas, Stephen Merchant, Julie Walters, Richard Wilson
Time: 88 min
Lang: English
Country: United Kingdom
Reviewed: 2018

Room on the Broom (2012)

How many award winning actors does it take to tell a children’s story? Seven in the case of Room on the Broom, an Academy Award nominated short based on the picture book by Julia Donaldson and illustrator Axel Scheffler. The film features the voice talents of great character actors, including Timothy Spall and Sally Hawkins with Simon Pegg narrating.

It’s tale about a witch, her broom, and her animal friends that take up all the room on her broom and is an endearing one for small children. Big people will be equally delighted. The witch (Gillian Anderson) sets off with her cat (Rob Brydon), and it, being very cat-like, is perfectly content to have the human all to himself. So when a few mishaps take the duo off course and lead them to meet new traveling companions, Cat is none too pleased. Dog (Martin Clunes), Bird (Hawkins), and Frog (David Walliams) are all eager to join the benevolent witch on her adventure, even if it means squeezing onto her compact broom.

The story is easy for even very small children to follow, and the stop-motion animation is simple without being plain. Still, it’s not visually arresting, and I wished it had a more distinct animation style. But the movie is so pure that I can appreciate it for what it does bring, and that is a measure of quietness and gentleness. Kids used to a constant fireworks of color and sound may be bored, but I loved the sparsity of storytelling. Besides stripped down visuals, there’s minimal dialogue – so much for the award-winning voice cast, but this only serves to emphasize the characters’ actions. Children will not easily overlook the genial witch and her generous heart nor will they fail to pick up on how the bickering animals overcome their differences to defeat the dragon, and the witch’s impossibly small broom. There’s nothing ostentatious about this little movie, and that’s what makes it so enjoyable.

Released: 2012
Prod: Martin Pope, Michael Rose
Dir: Max Lang, Jan Lachauer
Writer: Julia Donaldson, Axel Scheffler
Cast: Simon Pegg, Gillian Anderson, Rob Brydon, Timothy Spall, Martin Clunes, Sally Hawkins, David Walliams
Time: 27 min
Lang: English
Country: United Kingdom
Reviewed: 2018

The Emoji Movie (2017)

If 2017 felt like a political nadir, then The Emoji Movie was the cultural low point. A film as lazy and uncreative as its title suggests, it ferries us inside the world of smartphone emojis who are confronting an existential crisis. The general idea is not terrible; children’s entertainment is full of gabby inanimate objects and there’s no reason smileys can’t have their day, but don’t be fooled by this poorly plotted app store marketing scheme. Do we really need a movie that encourages us to have a closer relationship with our smartphones?

The human in the story, Alex (Jake T. Austin), is a high school student with a crush. He is trying to win the affections of his classmate Addie by texting her, not crafty sonnets but strings of emojis. Sending these graphics is not simply a matter of poking an image and waiting for it to pop up on someone else’s screen, however. Buried deep in Alex’s phone is the bustling city of Textopolis where all the emojis live. When Alex chooses one, they must hold their pose while a camera scans their image, which is then sent to the receiver.

Gene (T.J. Miller) is a “meh” emoji and longs to get his face in the pictures as it were, but his parents (Steven Wright and Jennifer Coolidge) worry he’s not ready for the big time. Being “meh” emojis themselves, their impassioned plea registers as varying levels of indifference. Gene, on the other hand, is hyperactive for a “meh,” hence his parents’ hesitation to let him loose. They worry that he won’t be able to look sufficiently bored when called upon. In the end, he gets his way and the job but freaks out the moment he’s summoned by Alex. The camera captures him looking very un-“meh,” and he pulls a surprised-confused-horrified look that ends up on Addie’s phone, to her shock.

All emoji/smartphone hell breaks loose. Smiler (Maya Rudolph), an original emoji and therefore the one who’s running the joint, also has a freak out. But her anger paired with her megawatt grin is something out of a horror movie. She sends her bots to find and delete Gene, which is a terrifying prospect. Do you want your kids watching emoji murder? Luckily Gene finds some friends who are willing to help a fugitive. Hi-5 (James Corden) is seized with self-doubt and has some anger issues after getting booted from Alex’s favorites. Jailbreak (Anna Faris) turns out to be a princess emoji who’s sick of being a princess.

The message is about embracing yourself instead of your stereotypes. It’s about self-expression and being comfortable with your many emotions. Fine. I can get behind that completely. But omg ffs, as Alex might put it, does it have to be so boring? This movie is offensively dull. The humorless script reads like an engineer’s lab report. Part of this is my fault for being old and naturally tuning out when Jailbreak drones on about interfacing and the cloud and malware, but even if the young people understand it, I don’t think they’ll be entertained by it. Besides Jailbreak just telling us what she’s doing all the time, the movie too easily falls back on things that have been done before. The plot bears some resemblance to Inside Out but lacks all the emotional depth and sensitivity. It’s also a [insert eye roll emoji] parade of product placement. Looks like Candy Crush, Instagram, and Spotify have found another way to bully us into submission. Well let’s show them, and never watch this film.

Oh yeah, Patrick Stewart voices the poop emoji.

Released: 2017
Prod: Michelle Raimo Kouyate
Dir: Tony Leondis
Writer: Tony Leondis, Eric Siegel, Mike White
Cast: T.J. Miller, Anna Faris, James Corden, Maya Rudolph, Steven Wright, Jennifer Coolidge, Patrick Stewart, Christina Aguilera, Sofia Vergara, Sean Hayes
Time: 86 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2018

Hailey Dean Mystery: Dating is Murder (2017)

I find dating a drag too, but murder? That’s a bit hyperbolic, unless you’re in Hailey Dean world, in which case dating does prove to be a deadly affair. It’s a game that the former attorney turned therapist gets ensnared in when a family friend is found stabbed and buried under a pile of leaves in the woods. The victim is a well known fitness personality in the area, and suspicion first falls on people in that orbit. The owner of a start-up shoe company is targeted because he suffered losses to his reputation and finances after she negatively reviewed his revolutionary new shoe. But another lead opens up when Hailey connects the case with an unsolved murder and notices that both victims used Penguin App, the sexy dating alternative to Tinder, OK Cupid, and a drunken night out at the bar with your friends.

I think the lesson to be learned here is not that dating is murder but that dating apps are sketchy AF. Anonymous dates are creepy, not mysterious and tantalizing. Hailey’s (Kellie Martin) friend and coworker, Sabrina (Emily Holmes), is an eager Penguin App user and thinks nothing of it when her date plays coy and doesn’t reveal any personal information. Needless to say, it’s no surprise when things don’t go according to plan. Communication is also a super important lesson. Besides getting the fundamental details about your dinner date’s identity, you should also make sure you and your long-term date are on the same page. Hailey and her coroner boyfriend, Jonas (Matthew MacCaull), need non-solving-murder related hobbies since she at least is consumed by this and every other case. He’s tagging along because he likes her and he’s got useful coroner skills. But these two really should talk things out.

There’s not much else to say about this movie. This is one of those clean, no-nonsense scripts that is as trim as it gets. It executes all the elements of a TV mystery in a straightforward way with little fuss. Hailey and her team of police detective and attorney friends are slow to pick up on the dating app connection and how they can use it to catch the killer, but then again, technology and Hallmark don’t make the most natural pairing. The efficiency of the plot is what makes the movie kind of boring. Nancy Grace, who wrote the books this series is based on, has a cameo that shouts at you from the screen, but these are starting to prove as distracting as Stan Lee’s appearances in Marvel films.

I haven’t given up on Hailey Dean and still like what I’ve seen so far. She’s different from the other Hallmark sleuths because she’s a victim of a violent crime herself. The cases are personal, not just a little something on the side to keep her and her friends entertained. Plus, the last film revealed a potential new direction for the series, one that explores Hailey’s own hunt for justice. If future movies push this storyline, the series can only improve. Until then, this film merely gets a passing grade.

Highlight for spoilers: It’s Jessica. It was always Jessica, and we knew it because she couldn’t hide the fact that she still had a thing for Wade. Jealousy’s a bitch, but it shouldn’t make you a killer. However, Wade’s growing profile meant that Jessica’s crush, her long-time work buddy and fellow nerd was seeking companionship outside their bubble. When he started using the app that they developed together, it was a step too far. She created a ghost account to track his dates and then made sure they never went out with Wade, or anyone else, again.

Released: 2017
Dir: Michael Robinson
Writer: Michelle Ricci
Cast: Kellie Martin, Giacomo Baessato, Viv Leacock, Matthew MacCaull, Emily Holmes, Toby Levins, Kieran Sequoia
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2018