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Check out my other (longer) list that has almost all actors -other than porn actors and voice actors- that have 200+ acting credits.
All Summer Long (2019)
Unrealistic, poorly written, poorly cast. Hallmark at its worst
Usually a Hallmark movie has something good about it. Not "All Summer Long."
A girl with small sailboat experience takes over as captain and manager of the overhaul of a marine vessel so that she can fulfill her life-long dream to be the captain of a dinner cruise ship. Unexpectedly, the lead chef on the ship is her ex-boyfriend.
After overhauling the ship they never take it out on the water -until their first cruise, which is loaded with paying customers. Whoops! Turns out they have a Chief Engineer who actually doesn't know what he is doing. Of course, he isn't fired, he's just demoted to assistant Engineer.
Our female ship captain then goes out on a small boat with her ex-boyfriend chef - only to become stranded overnight in the open sea! Without communications!
Homework assignment: find 6-8 stupid things in the above 3 paragraphs.
Here's some more bad things: Lead male and female have zero chemistry. Insipid dialog that accomplishes nothing and lacks cleverness and naturalness. Unconvincing plot twist to save the day.
This is hack work.
No! No! This was terrible.
Karla Mosely, the black actress who plays the friend, Nicole, was great. She has real star quality and can act.
HOWEVER, this movie was really bad, even graded on a Hallmark curve. Watching it was one long cringe. The lead character is very unlikeable - a clueless version of Cruella DeVille. She is bad with dogs, bad with her husband, bad with her clients and a whiny clueless friend.
Nothing in this movie is remotely plausible. The big stuff, the small stuff -its all wrong. The script is terrible. Dog classes last one minute, marriage counseling sessions last two minutes, a lawyer offers a character a job while sitting at a table in the park, hubby goes to Europe by himself after scheduling a Paris vacation as a surprise. On and on.
This film lacked wit, charm, characters you care about, plausibility and chemistry between its leads. Plot, sets, music, dialog were amateurish. The moment it ended , my wife asked me to erase it from the DVR. I wish I could erase it from my memory.
Nature of Love (2020)
Worst casting ever! Clueless script!
The lead actors in Nature of Love are terrible. They are terribly miscast for their roles, and totally unbelievable. The male lead is supposed to be a famous outdoorsman but comes across as a "Hey bro!" surfer dude who merely reads his lines without any acting. The female character apparently has never heard of the internet and so attends a resort where she is surprised by everything she sees. The lead actress comes across as a cross between a Valley Girl and Lucille Ball -which is a fairly unlikable combination. And she has a body that is completely unsuited for the outdoorsy woman she is supposed to be morphing into. If you cut her, she would bleed gravy. In my opinion, she was the least toned and least attractive female in all the scenes at the resort.
It seemed completely unbelievable right from the start that a bored, wooden outdoorsman and a clueless, unintelligent city girl with too much makeup would fall in love. And as the film progressed, there was zero chemistry between them. Indeed, this was the rare Hallmark film in which both my wife and I disliked both lead characters.
In one scene, with spectacular scenery, the couple is canoeing on a lake. But they are using wooden paddles, as if this is the 1950's. Out nationally-known outsdoorsman puts only two inches of the tip of the paddle in the water as he rows. Even the lead female character, a city girl who has never before held an oar, rows better than he does.
In another scene, the lead characters prepare to ride a zip-line that is sloping upwards?? Apparently, for convenience, the scene was filmed at the end-station of the zip-line rather than at the starting station of the zip-line. I mean, c'mon!
Before their film-ending kiss, the characters are planning to hike the Appalachian Trail together. I hiked 1,300 miles on the Appalachian Trail one summer and it is completely unbelievable to me that these characters would last 10 days on the AT. Indeed, the female lead would not last 10 miles. With equal realism, they might as well plan to compete in the Olympics in the 100 meter sprint. Look at the models in a Patagonia catalog and compare them to the creampuff characters in this film. Apparently, the director never thought to do that.
Beautiful scenery, but the script, casting, acting and lack of authenticity make the Nature of Love a very bad film experience -even when judged on a Hallmark curve.
A Winter Princess (2019)
More Lame Than Usual Hallmark movie
This is a typical Hallmark film populated by physically beautiful actors playing characters that have no apparent interest in sex, sports, movies, social media, video games, religion, music or much of anything except, "family," "event planning" and 'gingerbread house building competitions."
Our heroine, an incognito European princess, is planning a Christmas Eve 'Snow Ball' event in a venue atop a ski resort. She gets stranded in the snow for several hours with her male love interest, and while looking at the snowy scenery and the night stars she suddenly gets a breakthrough idea for the "decorating theme" for the Snow Ball. What could it be? The decorating theme for the venue, she breathlessly discloses, will be "A Winter Wonderland." My, how the scriptwriters must have broken their backs coming up with that creative idea.
The Princess' brother, Prince Gustav, and his friend (yet another European prince) are seen getting on a gondola and heading to the top of the mountain for what they say is a double black diamond ski run. In the next scene, they are seen skiing on what appears to be a snow-covered access road - not even a bunny slope. Aw, c'mon, put a little effort into creating a good film, please?
The standard Hallmark Christmas sin is to have their set designers drape everything with white LED lights (and nothing else) and then to have wordly, sophisticated guests babble on about how amazing and unprecedented the decorations are. A Winter Princess is no exception: the Christmas decorations on their sets are cheap, uncreative and required no thought.
On the positive side, Natalie Hall and Chris McNally are both stunningly good-looking as the romantic leads (not much chemistry between them though.) The ski resort scenery is spectacular. And at least we didn't hear one of the lovers say "you weren't honest with me! You didn't tell me you were European royalty! I . . . don't want to see you any more." - the unforgivable thigh-slapping, jaw-dropping Hallmark cliche that is used to create narrative tension in most of their European Royalty films.
Instead of this lame film, check out 'A Prince for Christmas', an Ion channel Made-for-TV film, to see the best of the recent European Royalty Christmas romances.
The Cabin (2011)
Profoundly unrealistic characters , situations and sports competition
Hallmark movies can range in quality - from surprisingly good and well done to very bad. This one is very bad.
The romantic couple have no chemistry and their dialogue is unpleasant and childishly competitive, to the point that it is not fun to watch. Also, the female actress is almost 60 in real life, making the entire romance a little forced and a little creepy.
The couple and their children all behave unrealistically. Of course, the couple walks out on each other repeatedly, only to change their minds - but these scenes are poorly conceived, badly written and unconvincing. And children keep saying how they really want to be in the sports competition, despite the fact that they have hardly practiced and are terrible at almost all of the events.
The sports competition scene at the end of the film is terrible. There are two teams each consisting of two families (a low budget, even for a Hallmark movie) -but the entire competition comes down to one father versus the other team's father - because no one else on either team does anything that affects the outcome of any competition. A crowd of spectators watch as children throw a hammer 14 feet. Really, 14 feet. They announce that. Why would spectators make this competition their destination for a day? And, why are we watching this stink bomb?
I have watched over a hundred Hallmark films - and with that as context, I am telling you that The Cabin is one of the worst two or three Hallmark films I have ever seen.
This made-for-TV movie, currently being shown on one of the Hallmark channels, is a serious drama - but Be Warned! for there is no romantic love and there is no humor. This movie is not a light-hearted romp through the sunlit plains of human emotions.
It is a story that centers on a disabled veteran and his love for his dog, Duke, and its narrative finds true emotional power by separating and eventually reuniting the man and his dog. It is unflinching in showing the wreckage of the man's life caused by his military service, his PTSD and his injury. Kudos to the filmmakers: the veterinary medicine in the movie is highly realistic, and the eventual reunion of some family members is treated realistically and with restraint. There are various side-stories (a bid to buy the animal clinic, a daughter's marriage, and an attempt to find employment) that do not distract too much from the central drama.
My wife cried like a blubbering baby at one point in the movie and rejoiced at the end of it. That is an important measure of a film's success, and you may react to "Duke" in the same way, especially if you love dogs.
The Horse Dancer (2017)
Like a Hallmark TV Movie crossed with Plan 9 From Outer Space
Wow. I had low expectations for Horse Dancer, but this movie was much worse than I had expected.
This film is like a cross between Hallmark TV Movies and Plan 9 from Outer Space.
The acting in this movie was not at the level of most high school productions. Richard Karn (of Tool Time) and Rachel Sowers (who plays Lisa in this movie) can act but the rest of the cast is awful. From the credits it seems like the director simply recruited children in his church to be in the movie.
The plot and action have many unrealistic elements to it - in particular a lengthy 'police search and rescue' scene that had my wife and I howling with laughter.
In the first few minutes, the main character receives a letter -at her gym (huh?) - notifying her as to whether or not she made the US Olympic team. (Isn't that usually announced at the trials?) She doesn't open the letter, takes it home and tells her Mom she received the letter. Her Mom advises her to discuss the letter with Grandma and then leaves to go to work. (I mean, if the characters don't care about this life-changing letter then why should we?)
At the climax of the movie, the stunt double has a body type that is so completely different than the actress she subs for, that it destroys the scene.
There are scenes where kids sing campfire songs -without any point and without furthering the action. Just... campfire songs. Really compelling stuff, Not.
And on and on. One of the worst movies of the century.
Draws from deep funds of creativity and imagination
The contrast is so stark: the trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi which preceded a showing of Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2.
The latest installment of Star Wars has the same formula - 3-5 main protagonists, fighter ships zipping around shooting with the same sound effects and the same universe-defining concepts - the Force, an evil empire. How boring, how been-there-done-that.
** Possible spoilers***
Then GOTG, Vol 2 come on the screen. We meet a living planet named Ego and a highly-evolved alien race called the Sovereign and a super-empath named Mantis. We get a glimpse of the Watchers - a immensely-powerful alien race that observes but does not intervene. We learn the back-story of Nebula, who suffered amputations to her body that were replaced by cybernetic prostheses. We learn more about the Ravagers - both the internal gang politics on one ship and the loosely-organized network of galactic pirates that they have become. We see the unrestrained use of a kind of weapon (Rondu's arrow) that is original - we have never seen this combination of weapon attributes before.
And all this cosmic fantasy is leavened with familiar 80's music and references to Sam and Diane on Cheers and a way-cute baby Groot character and a humorous shtick involving a character named Taserface and the shock of Drax's lack of a verbal filter.
GOTG has the advantage of drawing from deep funds of creative ideas that are in over 50 years of Marvel comic books. Thousands of those comic book ideas were not-so-good (or downright bad) and will never again see the light of day but there were also hundreds of good fantasy concepts and character ideas. And Marvel Studios seems to have a combination of people and production values that is able to consistently turn out high-quality movie product.
The GOTG universe (and MCU)is exciting - rich in imagination with a wide-open creative future. In contrast, the Star Wars cupboard seems bare. An endless loop of fighter spacecraft battles, light sabers and taverns populated by weird aliens.
JL Ranch (2016)
Voight and Caan act and look as if the worms were already at work on them.
J L Family Ranch, or J L Ranch, is a horrible money, even as judged by Hallmark TV movie. It is bad in almost every way that a movie can be bad.
Jon Voigt, who is apparently too old to move or act, begins to understand that there is a legal threat to his ownership of his family ranch. What follows is a long series of emotionless, whispered conversations between various family members and with other townspeople. A variety of side plots are introduced concerning daughters, grandchildren, etc. We meet Voigt's lifelong enemy, played by James Caan. The two septuagenarian actors, Caan and Voight, have a whispered showdown that was surely intended to be dramatic and intense - but instead is a snooze-fest.
The plot has a glacial pace. It is also absurd - Voight never gets a lawyer, but instead encourages his neighbors to come to his property and have a shoot-out with the federal agency representatives. A senator is trying to divert federal money to a solar company he owns (really?) and he needs the water on Voight's land - huh? What? Then a helicopter swoops down with a miraculous solution to the problem. Aw c'mon, was this written by a school kid?
The acting is non-existent. Voight and Caan both act and look as if the worms were already at work on them - both look mildly bewildered as they deliver their lines, as if they are unsure of where they are.
The directing is terrible - unclear story-telling, bad lighting, dull camera-work, poor editing, bad musical score.
The pace of the movie is slow, slow, slow, and relies on whispered conversations to advance the action.
This film has no action, no humor, no narrative tension and almost no romance. And the film's ending defies credulity, and also manages to be unsatisfying and inconclusive. A genuinely bad film on every level.
Suicide Squad (2016)
Suicide Squad creates characters I want to see again.
I don't understand all the negative reviews on this site. Suicide Squad provided a pretty standard roller coast ride for an action movie, but it was fun and interesting. Most of all, it created (and introduced me to)characters that both my wife and I want to see again in another movie.
Top Tier of new DC Movie Characters: Deadshot and Harley Quinn were both extremely interesting -for different reasons. We would pay to see any movies in the theater that has either of these characters in it -even solo movies.
Excellent "Ensemble-type" characters: We enjoyed Killer Croc, Katana, Amanda Waller and Diablo. Killer Croc is a "Thing-like" who probably benefited from not being on the screen continuously for long periods of time. Katana was intriguing but didn't speak much or show as much personality as others -we liked her though and want to see more. Diablo's internal struggles and meta-human skills were interesting. Amanda Waller was impressive as one tough cookie - a female Nick Fury who is far more 'morally-ambiguous" than Fury. Viola Davis looked the part as Amanda and did a reasonable job with her.
Rick Flag: He was okay but nothing special. We have seen characters like him hundreds of times before in movies - like, for example, in every Bruce Willis movie ever made.
Captain Boomerang: This character was 'meh' for me. He seemed very weak in the fight scenes, his personality was not interesting and his spoken lines were hard to understand.
Enchantress had overly strong powers that seemed to lack any rules or boundaries - not a good combination. However, her backstory was good and she was visually interesting -and her human alter-ego inspired sympathy.
Joker by Jared Leto is not a new DC Movie character, but he was very menacing and well-done. Nice job.
Given that Suicide Squad creates new character 'assets' for future DC Movies, I think it was a strong success.
After the Ball (2015)
Far more juvenile and unrealistic than most TV movies
Honestly, After the Ball was difficult to watch. It was so unrealistic and silly - to the extent of being juvenile - that it was difficult to be engaged in the movie. And I am accustomed to watching a lot of TV movies and lower my standards appropriately.
Its problems are
- simple, one-note characters
- a ridiculous plot with characters acting in completely unrealistic ways
- no chemistry between the romantic leads
- dialogue that sounds as if it was written by children
- an insulting depiction of the fashion industry
- an insulting depiction of parents (clueless) and step-parents (so evil and malicious that they nonsensically behave in ways that hurt themselves)
This is fit for young children. However, if you're an adult, consider surfing the other channels. I'm sure you'll find something that deserves your time more than this. I mean, Really.
The Christmas Blessing (2005)
Deeply flawed clunker
We don't expect greatness from a TV movie. We understand it will have a predictable plot, lame dialog and low production values. And The Christmas Blessing does indeed have all those defects, but it also has problems that are far more profound. The Christmas Blessing repeatedly pushes away its audience by being internally inconsistent, eye-rollingly unbelievable and amateurish. My wife and I were in the mood to like this movie, but its flaws were so great that we didn't enjoy it.
The first flaw is Casting! Neil Patrick Harris plays a surgeon who has returned home. Given that he is a surgeon, he must be in his 30s (or older), yet his Dad is played by Hugh Thompson, who also appears to be in his 30's (and who, by the way, looks nothing like Neil Patrick Harris.) "Father and Son" look so clearly to be about the same age that my wife and I kept shaking our heads in disbelief every time they were shown together.
And another major character, a 10-year old boy, has a father who is played by Shaun Johnson, who looks in this film to be in his mid-50s. The casting of these two father/son combinations is so incongruous -so ridiculous - that it destroys any "suspension of disbelief" that a sympathetic audience might have.
The second major flaw is the story-telling. We meet a 10-year-old boy, played by Angus Jones, who is depicted as a lonely but normal boy who is good at basketball. Later in the movie, we learn (in totally unconvincing medical scenes) that he has been long diagnosed with a severe cardiac condition that will likely be fatal. Wow, that's a surprise, completely inconsistent with how the boy has been depicted Remarkably, the female lead character has a similar issue. We have followed this female character for the entire film -she jogs constantly and has appeared to be healthy - and she has been dating the surgeon character. In the film's last 20 minutes, she suddenly faints. The healthy lady jogger and her surgeon boyfriend discover that she has an undiagnosed liver condition that requires constant hospitalization and is untreatable and terminal. Her surgeon boy-friend never noticed anything -no jaundice, no symptoms - no signs at all of illness. But we are now asked to believe that, out of the blue, she is dieing and her only hope is a liver transplant.
What lazy story-telling! What ever this TV movie was intended to be, it ultimately comes across as nothing more than a shallow attempt to manipulate the emotions of its viewers.
Lastly, The Christmas Blessing depicts the medical profession and illness in a completely unrealistic way. For example, shortly after her life-saving liver transplant, the patient is visited by her boyfriend at her hospital bed - and she is shown as being completely recovered from her transplant. There is no pain, no weakness, no fatigue and no IV tubes! She is seemingly ready to go jogging in a day or two, as if she had received a pedicure rather than a liver transplant. It is mind-boggling - the kind of lapse you might forgive in a grade school play but not in a TV movie.
Yucch, The Christmas Blessing is a real clunker of a film - it is really bad even as measured against the low standards of Hallmark/Lifetime movies. Stay away!
A Bride for Christmas (2012)
One of the best made-for-TV Hallmark movies
My wife and I have not seen every made-for-TV Hallmark movie, but we have seen several dozen. I can't remember a better Hallmark movie than A Bride for Christmas.
This movie has a lot of strengths. It has lead characters Jessie (played by Arielle Kebbel) and Aiden (Andrew Walker) who are unusually attractive and likable. Indeed, Andrew Walker has a striking resemblance to a young Tom Cruise. The acting by Kebbel and Walker, and by all the supporting actors, is excellent. The dialog is reasonably realistic. The camera work is quite good and adds interest. The musical score is also very good, effectively enhancing some of the scenes.
The plot is predictable (as in all Hallmark movies) and we've seen certain plot elements before in several well known rom-coms (The Runaway Bride, 10 Ways to Lose Your Lover). But given those drawbacks,the movie does an excellent job of telling its story. The inevitable "change of heart" on the part of Jessie and Aiden proceeds at a slow and realistic pace and the actors convince us that there is romantic chemistry between the two lead characters. The lead and supporting characters all behave in realistic and believable ways.
While watching A Bride for Christmas, my wife and I repeatedly said to each other "This movie is good!" We thoroughly enjoyed it and will watch it again.
Hats Off to Christmas! (2013)
The Al Capone of "Cheap and Cheesy manipulation" of the viewer 's emotions
Here's the good news: the acting by the two romantic leads (Haylie Duff and Antonio Cupo) is good and they are assisted by a strong acting performance by veteran actor Jay Brazeau in the role of the business owner and father of the male lead. This movie would have been a total train-wreck without these actors.
Now the bad news: Hats Off to Christmas suffers from terrible writing. It goes beyond scenes that are so poorly written that they damage the 'suspension of disbelief;' the film relies on cheap and cheesy plot devices that are unrealistic but intended to manipulate the emotions of the viewer. Many Hallmark romance movies are guilty of this, but Hats Off is the Al Capone of "cheap and cheesy."
This Hallmark movie has it all, doled out in the most unrealistic and clumsy scenes imaginable:
- a backstory involving a dead husband (and father)
- a young son who is wheelchair-bound. Doctors think he is medically capable of walking, but emotional issues from the trauma of his car accident are suspected to be the real issue preventing him from walking again. Anyone want to guess where this plot-line is going?
- a female lead character, Mia, who overhears a fragment of a conversation about plans to address her employer's business problems and misunderstands what she has heard. Mia doesn't seek to confirm anything or wait for an announcement - instead she ends her relationship with the man she is starting to love and submits a letter resigning her job. Its hard to like characters who over-react in such unrealistic ways.
- a short scene where the male romantic interest, Nick, organizes a football game for the boy in the wheelchair. The boy makes a pass that goes about five feet and it is declared a touchdown. Then the boy is handed the football, and Nick pushes the boy's wheelchair downfield while everyone pretends that they can't catch him. This scene was intended to be uplifting, but is so deeply insulting to "wheelchair athletes" in the real world that Hallmark should be ashamed.
- so many "changes of heart" that it keeps your head-spinning. Not only do the romantic leads run hot and cold on each other repeatedly, but the major adversary in the film inexplicably "changes heart" and offers up some terms that resolve a lot of difficulties.
- supernaturally intelligent kids that advise their parents on their relationship issues (a core Hallmark plot device.)
- scenes where kids say something for about 30 seconds that advances the plot and are then told "Time to go to bed now. Its past your bedtime" leading to a scene where the adults talk between themselves. If you're a kid in a Hallmark movie, it is seemingly always your bedtime.
-completely unrealistic depictions of financial analysts and business operations and decision-making.
Some of these plot-devices might have worked in a movie that developed these situations adequately. In Hats Off, they are briefly introduced, and amateurishly disposed of as mere devices along the road to getting the romantic leads to realize they love each other and finally, to kiss. This move has such lazy manipulative writing and is so cheap and cheesy that I took no joy in the events that it showed.
A Taste of Romance (2012)
Well-acted emotionally-satisfying Hallmark movie
A Taste of Romance is one of the better made and more enjoyable Hallmark films.
Sarah Westbrook (Teri Polo) and Gill Callahan (Jame Patrick Stuart) are complete opposites who own and run neighboring restaurants with polar-opposite strengths. Both characters initially seem unlikeable as they clash with each other, but we (the audience) start to genuinely like them as they first slowly learn to co-exist, and then become attracted to each other. The catalyst for their budding romance is Gill's young daughter, Hannah -who is beautifully acted by Bailee Madison.
Indeed, a great strength of this movie is that it is well-acted and has characters you can believe in. Teri Polo does a fine job of portraying a complicated woman whose passions and hangups are a significant barrier to new romance. James Patrick Stuart manages to bring warmth and likability to the male romantic lead role. And Bailee Madison delivers one of the best and most believable depictions of a young child that I have seen in a Hallmark TV movie.
I do wish there had been a bit more chemistry between the romantic leads - perhaps, a few more lingering looks, a few more tears when setbacks occur. But the feel-good ending is emotionally satisfying and delivers what the Hallmark audience wants. And the story that brings us to that ending never makes us roll our eyes in disbelief nor does it fail to hold our interest. A well-done movie!
The Sound of Music Live! (2013)
Ambitious production with some acting issues - but a teary-eyed Carrie Underwood gave it some emotional power
It's inevitable that this this production will be compared with the Julie Andrews movie, and a young Julie Andrews is hard to top when you are casting someone for a singing nanny who is knowing and wise. But in her scene with the mother superior (the "Climb Every Mountain" scene) Carrie Underwood, as the nun/nanny named Maria, does something that the unflappable Julie Andrews can't - Carrie's eyes glisten with tears as she comes close to crying in despair. And in that moment, I suddenly came to care about the character of Maria and I wanted happiness for her. And, so, for me, the last hour of the TV production of the Sound of Music with Carrie Underwood gained a sort of emotional power that the movie version never reached.
This was a very ambitious production with amazing singers, world-class sets and 21 cameras filming the live production. It has some amazing strengths. I was taping it and only intended to watch the first 30 minutes last night -but once I started watching it I just couldn't stop and thus I watched the entire 3-hour-long production. So it obviously held my interest.
My major criticism was the in the quality of the acting. The individuals that produced and directed this are well- known for producing musical shows -they will be producing the Oscars Presentations this winter, for example. And thus they seemingly cast and directed this production with a heavy emphasis on singing and music but with little emphasis on acting. The Sound of Music is also a dramatic story -and one in which the tone of voice, the raised eyebrow and the facial expressions of its characters are important to the storytelling. Carrie Underwood has never claimed to be an actress and clearly the director was less interested in scenes in which there is talking rather than singing. So, much of the humor and human interest in the story were lost due to actors who spoke their lines brightly and clearly, but without the right inflection and timing.
Despite the 'acting issue,' I thought this production had enough going for it that I enjoyed it. I gave it a 8/10.
Fir Crazy (2013)
Fun, enjoyable Hallmark movie - but falls short of great
Fir Crazy follows the character of Elise, played by Sarah Lockwood, who, through a series of circumstances, is cornered into a job she has hated all her life - selling Christmas trees in Manhattan for her parents' family business.
Soon Sarah encounters a nemesis -an elderly and unlikeable CEO of the nearby store who sees the sale of Christmas trees as a nuisance and wants to shut Sarah's business down. Also circling the tree lot is Darrin (Eric Johnson), a handsome young man who is apparently attracted to Sarah. Add a few colorful supporting characters and you have the basics for a Hallmark Christmas movie - romantic love and people being transformed by the spirit of Christmas!
And Fir Crazy carries off the Hallmark formula reasonably well. Its dialog is better than most movies of this type. It has spots of good acting, a couple of surprises, is well-paced and fun. I enjoyed watching it. But I never once felt choked up at the feel-good emotional climaxes (and I cry easily!) Maybe because the characters themselves never seemed to be very unhappy during the moments of greatest adversity; and if the characters don't seem to care then why should the audience?
Overall, I found Fir Crazy to be "good but not great." But though it fell short of great, I did think it was fun and a movie I would enjoy seeing again during the holiday season.
Catch a Christmas Star (2013)
Weak and unrealistic, even for the made-for-TV romantic Christmas movie genre
Romantic made-for-TV Christmas movies are a specialty niche that has plenty of fans. I am a man, and both my wife and I enjoy a well-made sentimental Christmas movie; we both often start blubbering when the lead romantic couple finally overcome their obstacles and get together. As of 2013, when A Christmas Star is being "released" on TV, we feel there has been a recent upswing in the quality of Hallmark Christmas movies - better acting, better dialog and better cinematography.
Unfortunately, this recent upswing in production values somehow by-passed A Christmas Star. The biggest flaw in this film is its unrealistic plot twists and dialog. It's plot is built on music studio executives behaving like Mafia heavies because their recording star has done something very innocent and ordinary. And, there is a 10-year old daughter who is supernaturally wise and talks eloquently to her Dad as if he is a child and she is the adult. Even the climactic scene, which involves a Christmas Eve concert, progresses along an increasingly illogical and impossible course. In addition,the characters played by Shannon Elizabeth and Steve Byers, seem to have very little romantic chemistry. The combination of dialog and acting performances is such that many of the key actions taken by the main characters seem illogical and unrealistic.
If you are an incurable romantic and huge fan of the made-for-TV romantic Christmas movie genre,then you might well enjoy A Christmas Star despite its many problems. But I found that my eyes were rolling frequently and that they never teared up. So, I suggest you might pass on A Christmas Star. There are plenty of better romantic Christmas films this holiday season.
The Christmas Ornament (2013)
Well done Hallmark TV movie - Kellie Martin is great
The Christmas Ornament is a Hallmark made-for-TV Christmas-themed movie - sentimental and largely predictable. In 2013, Hallmark seems to be making a push to produce better quality movies, and they are having some success. The Christmas Ornament has better dialog, acting and cinematography than the usual Hallmark fare and even had a small plot twist in the end that my wife and I did not see coming!
This film is almost completely a two actor movie. A haggard looking Kellie Martin plays Kathy, a recently widowed woman (without children) who isn't celebrating the Christmas season because she is still grieving for her dead husband. She meets Tim, played by Cameron Mathison,who is a successful and gorgeous businessman who loves Christmas and sells Christmas trees. However, the film rises above this incredibly cheesy premise. Kellie Martin delivers a fine acting performance and is believable as a struggling, sad woman who slowly allows herself to stumble up on happiness. I enjoyed this movie and will enjoy watching it again.
Why Gravity is so great - an analysis after a 2nd viewing
I just saw Gravity for the 2nd time, both times in IMAX 3D. Relieved of the suspense of following the plot, I was able to be a lot more analytical about what was working well and why the experience of Gravity is so overwhelming.
1. Musical score - This is probably the best musical score on a film that I have ever heard. Bullock and Clooney could have been pealing potatoes and the musical score would still have elicited an emotional response from the audience. But given the action on screen, the meshing of the musical score was just perfect. I can't emphasize enough how much the music carries the movie at spots. And yet, the music is never intrusive. I now realize that the musical scoring is an artistic accomplishment that is unsurpassed by any other aspect of Gravity, such as cinematography.
2. Sound and sound effects. - Given the sterile scenes of space, the sound effects have unusually high leverage in Gravity. Indeed, sometimes the bumping and rattling sounds are doing the story-telling. The low frequency part of the bumps and rattles are set to great amplification (in the sound mixing) to create the in-theater experience of shaking and vibrating -complementing what astronauts Ryan and Kowalski are undergoing on the screen. I'm not a sound expert, so I can't judge whether Gravity's sound effects and mixing were simply "ordinary excellence" or "ground-breaking excellence" -but the sound engineering was very,very good and unusually important and effective.
3. The visual effects. The progression of scenes in Gravity forms a sequence of "reveals" of first-time visual effects, so as to keep us in a continuous state of amazement for the first half of the film.
(a) the first reveal is the magnificent Earthscape that serves as the backdrop for the first third of Gravity. By the way, there is an error in the 3-D version.
(b) the second reveal is the unprecedented realism and special effects associated with the zero-gravity movement of the astronauts in space. This keeps us entertained until:
(c) the third reveal, which is the point-of-view of a spinning astronaut. We've never seen anything like that, and it persisted for what felt like several minutes. It was a very dramatic storytelling technique.
(d) the fourth reveal of a new visual effect is the "head-wound" of the third astronaut. The head-wound is on screen for just a few seconds, but it certainly is a powerful visual and really shakes the audience. We have never seen anything like that, either.
(e) the fifth reveal of new visual effects is the complexity and "reality" of the external view of the International Space Station (ISS). Wow! If the viewer hasn't bought into the movie at this point, then they must be a different species than I am.
(f) the sixth reveal is the visual scenes of the destruction of the ISS by the satellite debris. This scene is probably the visual highlight of Gravity. The decoupling of sound from the carnage (in the vacuum of space)is completely correct but makes this a new experience. We hear Ryan's breathing and the bumping sounds as she moves around the structure, but these personal Point-Of-View sounds are unconnected to the visual scenes of large structural explosions and shredding. All of this is matched by a musical score which swells with the destruction and guides our emotions.
After the ISS destruction, Cuarón has used much of his bag of tricks (for visual effects)and he turns to Sandra Bullock, alone and shed of her space suit, to carry the film with her acting and make the film more human.
4. Acting. After a second review, I realize that Sandra Bullock does considerably more than saying "uh-uh-uh-uh." She has a fair number of very fine acting moments. Her voice and face acting are excellent during her initial discussion about her dead daughter. Her entire lengthy scene within the Soyuz lander module is very well done. Other than tears that form spherical drops that float towards the audience (Cuarón's seventh reveal of a new visual effect) this segment of Gravity depends almost totally on Bullock's acting for success. And successful it is! I closely studied Bullock's acting and she does a masterful job of carrying these scenes. Very nice job.
On second viewing, even Clooney has his acting moments, when there are closeups of his face as he delivers key lines. His best scenes are when he reports to Houston on the Space Shuttle destruction, and when he tells Bullock that he needs to de-tether from her. Well done! He won't win an acting Oscar for this, but he can certainly be proud of his personal acting performance.
5. Pacing/film editing. The pacing was superb - creating an extremely intense experience with well-timed "quiet moments." I am not an expert, but everything about the editing seemed to work well. ***********************
For a film where virtually every aspect was an A+, the ending of Gravity still seemed like a B on second viewing, a bit of a let-down. It wasn't terrible, though, and it did have the virtue of not lingering overly long. But it was a bit anti-climatic and arguably did not deliver the emotional impact that it should have.
Overall, I thought the emotional intensity and power of Gravity was staggering, almost rising to the level of cinematic poetry. This is a must-see film.
Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)
Absolutely, NOT one of the Top 100 Films of All Time
Repeat after me: Yankee Doodle Dandy is NOT one of the Top 100 films of all time. Submitted for your consideration:
1. Filled with highly patriotic songs, this movie had the incredibly good fortune to hit the theaters shortly after Pearl Harbor was attacked.
2. Despite the Pearl Harbor timing, the National Critics Review that year did not even rate Yankee Doodle Dandy in its Ten Best Movies of 1942. It was never mentioned by critics as one of the best movies of the year, until it received an Oscar Nomination for Best Picture.
3. 1942 has been ranked by a reviewer as the 71st best year, out of 82 years, for quality films. Even so, Yankee Doodle did not win the Best Picture Oscar, losing to Mrs. Miniver.
4. Yes, it has a string of great songs. Unfortunately, most of them are sung by James Cagney who is probably the worst lead singer in any major musical movie ever. EVER!! Cagney is a worse singer than Rex Harrison, he is even worse than Pierce Brosnan. Cagney is literally unable to sustain a note.Any note! How much better would those great songs have been if they had been performed by someone who could sing? Who could sustain a note?
5. Yes, Cagney surprised everyone by showing a real ability to dance. But does that surprise make this a great movie? Or is it merely akin to discovering, after all these years, that Meryl Streep can sing - as in Mamma Mia ? or that Yoda can fight - in Star Wars 5?
6. We hear a song called "A Girl Named Mary" sung 4 or 5 times; it is important to the plot at one point and is repeatedly called a "great song" and "the best song ever written" by George M Cohan. However, no matter what the actors say, it is clearly a very ordinary song. Its just ridiculous -its jarring, its destroys the audience's suspension of disbelief, analogous to a movie scene in which Chris Farley or Danny Devito are hailed as one of the best looking hunks of all time.
7. Cagney is energetic and overbearingly cocky, but I did not find him likable.
8. The staging of many of the musical numbers was way below average. Repeatedly, there were too many dancers in too small of a space -no one could move. No competent stage director does that. And even if the women did move - you could hardly discern it in those butt-ugly dresses they wore in every number. This is world-class entertainment? I don't think so.
9. The acting? the dialog? A font of nuanced characterization? Of gradually realized humanity? Nope, indeed, every character is a one note stereotype.
10. Accuracy. in real life, George M. Cohan had two wives, neither was named Mary. In fact, virtually every aspect of the plot was made up by Hollywood.
11. Overly long.
12. There is a long re-enactment of a scene from the theatrical production of Yankee Doodle Dandy. In this theater scene, our hero, Yankee Doodle (Cagney), has lost the horse race! and is in disgrace because he is accused of throwing the race. As the closing curtain is poised to come down, a lawyer-ly actor with a brief case runs up to Yankee Doodle and says something like "I'm trying to get a document that will clear you of throwing the race. The document will prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that you did not throw that race! I am getting on that boat and if I am then successful at obtaining the document,I'll signal you by setting off fireworks." Cagney, our Actor of the Year for 1942, nods dumbly without showing any apparent interest as to what this document could possibly be. (SPOILER ALERT) Of course, a few minutes later, fireworks go off and the show has a happy ending.
So what exactly could those documents have been? What kind of content could a document possibly have so as to prove that Yankee Doodle did not throw a race? It defies comprehension. And who was this guy? And where did he have the fireworks hidden -in his pants? And what kind of moron sets off fireworks on a boat? (think fire safety.) Exactly how dumb, how completely stupid, does a movie need to be before you turn off the TV?
Repeat after me: Yankee Doodle Dandy is NOT one of the TOP 100 Movies of All Time.
The Notebook (2004)
Some flaws but best film ever at depicting "love until death do us part"
Let me confess: I am a guy, a husband of 23 years, reviewing a chick flick. And I've watched this film twice and read a large fraction of the viewer's comments, trying to think about and reconcile the two polar-opposite views of this film that viewers seem to have. So here is what I think.
1. The Notebook is the most touching and most accessible film ever made at depicting a romantic love that endures even through the gruesome trials of extreme old age -until "death do us part." If you don't get it, or don't think this is the way relationships are then I suspect it is because this is not the way relationships have been for you personally so far. But this type of love does truly exist -just as heroism truly exists. There are thousands of movies about heroism,even though many of us never experience "action heroes" in real life. There are very few movies about an "unselfish love" and how it persists beyond the courting and newlywed phases of life.
And,as a depiction of an enduring unselfish love, The Notebook is a very successful and powerful movie. In fact I cannot think of any popular film that is as good as the Notebook in this regard. It has moments of brilliant film-making -such as the beautiful turning-point scene on the river, and the way that Allie (Rachel McAdams) laughs after the lying-in-the-road scene when she admits "that was fun!", and the moment when James Garner says "As long as my wife is here, this is my home."
But lets not argue individual scenes because here is the bottom-line: As my wife and watched the last 20 minutes, I had to hold my wife in both arms as she cried loudly and her body shook. Eventually, at the ending scene, I started crying myself. I'm sorry, no matter how clunky one or two scenes may be, any movie that can elicit that strong of a reaction from some of its audience is a very well done movie.
2. Yep, I agree with the criticism of some of the scenes and acting: I thought the scenes with the Ferris Wheel and Noah and Ally lying on the road showed Noah as having an unattractive recklessness. Also, I wish Ryan Gosling had shown a bit more range, more of the softer, sensitive side of a man in scenes in which Noah and Allie were together. Gosling's acting depicts young love only as an overwhelming urgency to be together, but otherwise depicts little tenderness and is weak on "chemistry."
Many viewers said that they did not like the constant arguing between Allie and Noah, and I agree that some of the arguing seemed a bit...theatrical. But here's another truth: people in love do argue. Showing the arguments goes against the grain of most romantic films but I think it helps to make the Noah-Allie relationship more realistic - because it is not a phony "immaculate relationship."
And, there are many spot-on scenes that compensate -such as when Allie's mom takes her daughter to view the man she almost married earlier in life. The scenes with James Garner are almost all superb. The several scenes with the "widow from the next town" also rang true. And, the various looks on Rachel McAdams' face as she breaks the news to Lon near the end of the film were realistic and convincing.
So, altogether, this is not a flawless film - not a Godfather or Schindler's List - but it is enormously successful at doing what it intended to do and enormously satisfying. And if you, as a viewer, "just don't get it" may I suggest that you wait 30 years or until you have a bit more living under your belt - and then, please, view it again. If you do that, I suspect that you will cry -and that if you listen closely, you will hear the crying of the million and one viewers that came before you. I know, I hear a million now.
Made with all the passion and realism of a "Mr. Ed" episode
This is a rare case of a Hollywood movie being far less exciting that the real events that comprise its storyline.
I saw each of Secretariat's triple crown races on TV when they happened. My wife is a former horse owner, and she was dieing to see this movie. And we both sat in front of the screen, stunned. To be fair, there was excellent acting by John Malkovich and good acting by Fred Thompson and the actor who plays jockey Ron Turcotte. But most of the other actors just stood around, looking embarrassed and uncertain of what to do with themselves as they recited clichéd lines. Most of the scenes involving Penny Chenery's family and professional problems had all the passion and realism of a "Mr. Ed" episode.
What happened? Well, the direction and screenplay/dialog of Secretariat are awful. Not just a normal sort of "awful." I mean historically, epicly awful. Some of the scenes in this movie are at the general level of "The Swarm" - one of the worst movies ever made.
First problem; Secretariat is not seen very often in this movie. His winning string of races as a two-year old that made him Horse of the Year are not shown- instead we hear a track announcer announcing the name of the winning horse "Secretariat! Secretariat!" over and over again. Hmmm, that must have helped with the movie budget.
Instead, we see many scenes with Penny's family. Penny has four children -an anti-war protester hippie daughter and three children that are not the hippie daughter. The hippie daughter looks and acts like a Brady Bunch daughter or a Hannah Montana character with absolutely no hint of drugs, sex, or dirty loose clothes. She and her hippie friends spray paint signs for protest rallies: the sign we can see says "Make Music,Not War"- ooh that's realistic. I guess "Make Love, Not War" was too edgy for the creative geniuses behind this historical epic.
I genuinely like Diane Lane but she is either miscast as the tough owner of Secretariat, or she received bad direction. She has no growl in her voice and very little iron in her demeanor. Her character makes a string of snap decisions each of which is portrayed as requiring an incredible leap of faith - and every decision is eventually revealed to have been absolutely correct and absolutely essential. For example, she makes one momentous decision by staring into Secretariat's eyes for about 10 seconds. Everyone of these scenes is acted and filmed in a way that comes across as unconvincing and contrived.
Whenever the script, over a four-year period, needs to have Penny interact with journalists, the same two actors playing reporters are always used -no matter whether the scene is in Virginia, Kentucky, NYC or upstate New York. I kept thinking of a grade school play where two kids are assigned the roles of "reporters" and keep exiting and entering the stage in different scenes.
The background music often detracts from the action, especially a totally jarring blast of black gospel music at the movies' climax. And African-Americans in the 1970s? They are depicted as characters out of Amos & Andy -like Buckwheat in Spanky & the Gang.
Many scenes appear to have been shot with only two cameras. In scenes with Penny's husband and brother, the actors look like they are nursing a hang-over as they deliver their lines and then stand around looking like they want to vomit.
And the plot takes significant liberties with the facts. In real life, Penny divorced her husband soon after Secretariat wins the triple crown. Too edgy for this script, I guess. And the plot centers on a fictionalized situation in which Penny struggles to sell "breeding shares" in Secretariat to literally 'save the farm" but in real life the breeding shares for Secretariat sold like hot-cakes and Penny played no role in selling them. Its a shame, because the movie fails to do justice to real-life events that were genuinely dramatic and moving - and then relies on fictionalized situations for its storyline.
If you enjoy Plan 9 from Outer Space and My Mother,the Car then I recommend this movie to you.
Stepping away from my first viewing of Watchmen, the impression I have is of many, many memorable moments with high emotional impact, of an intricate, dark and challenging story dense with sub-plots, and of a grim picture of the emotional alienation implicit in being a costumed superhero.
This film is punctuated by moments of over-the-top graphic violence and graphic sex, and breaks ground with its many minutes of full frontal male nudity. The ugly violence and sexuality of its super-hero characters (the Comedian, Rohrshach, the first Silk Spectre, etc.) is breath-taking but definitely makes this a film that is not for the kiddies.
But I also came away shaking my head at some of the Watchmen's flaws. First, the musical "score" of Watchmen is atrocious. Rather than writing some original music to highlight some of the drama, tension and action, we are subjected to a lazy selection of inelegant '60s rock songs at very high volume. A musical score can make a great film much better or it can defeat it -and I feel that this musical score deeply injures the Watchmen. Graphical novels offer no meaningful guidance on the use of music to heighten drama - the Watchmen's director and creative team was on its own in this regard and the result is El Stinko.
Secondly I wish the acting had been better. I honestly did not believe a single line spoken by the young Silk Spectre (Number 2) and I even found the Comedian to be unconvincing.
Lastly, the costuming was below my expectations. All of the costumes were unflattering and inelegant. The choice of materials and textures just seemed all wrong to me. Just my personal opinion.
I have been a fan of Watchmen since its original publication as a 12-issue maxi-series in 1982. I don't agree with the critics who say this is a bad movie or a bad adaptation -there is simply too much here that is stunningly good. But the lazy musical scoring, the poor costuming and some instances of bad acting prevent me from giving this movie a 10.
Pride & Prejudice (2005)
Like Darcy: a rough-edged movie to love forever
First things first. Keira Knightly is brilliant. She is in almost every scene, not always at the center of the scene, sometimes as part of a crowd, but she lights up every scene she is in. She is beautiful and winning, and in-turn fun-loving, sarcastic, giggly, confrontational, concerned -a virtuoso performance. The character of Elizabeth is a role to die for, and Knightly knows it - but she steps up to it and becomes the definitive Elizabeth for a generation of movie-goers.
The Bennett family comes across as a real family - the interactions between the daughters is rarely the focus of the action, but its always present and creates a believable context for the story.
And the movie is beautiful -from its rural scenes to its manors to its landscapes, it lavishly, almost indulgently, shows a place and a time.
And the camera-work! Watch as the action at a party proceeds without any cuts - the camera backs out of a room follows other action, enters another room. Its not only breath-taking (was anyone else reminded of Hitchcock and Rope?) but it pulls the audience into the scenes, shows the physical size and layouts of the rooms, and the relational frenzy of the party.
But the bottom line for me was that this Pride and Prejudice has great emotional power -while maintaining all the various plot threads of the book. I loved it. Loved it. Loved it. (And I'm a guy!)
Rough edges. Yes, there were some. At the end of the movie Elizabeth uses the phrase "Incandescently in love" - in an age before electric lights, I doubt this word was well-known or used in this way. And several scenes struck me as wrong: the dance at the stately ball was too crowded and low-class. But these are nits. This movie is like Fitzwilliams Darcy - its beautiful at its core and worth loving forever.