Sarah and her best friend Isabella (Shelley Conn) were on the verge of opening up their very own bakery, a long time shared aspiration, when Sarah died tragically, leaving behind unfulfilled dreams and a lease that Isabella was now responsible for alone, despite having lost her baker, an essential element in most bakeries, you’ll find.
Sarah’s aimless daughter Clarissa (Shannon Tarbet) and her estranged mother Mimi (Celia Imrie) decide to join her in Sarah’s stead. And Sarah’s ex, Matthew (Rupert Penry-Jones), shows up too, thank goodness, because this bakery was still very much in need of a baker, although it turns out Isabella is perfectly capable of doing the baking, she just lacked the confidence. But that’s not all Matthew’s contributing to the bakery! He’s also putting out daddy vibes, leaving Clarissa to question whether he might the mystery father she’s never known and her mother never revealed. Oh, and he makes the pretty pastries of course, which do indeed look good enough to eat, so if food porn is what you’re after, this movie’s got loads, presented rather prettily on a buffet of white platters. But for some reason, they’re just not selling. The bakery makes no money at all until they decide to rebrand and start baking up international delights to lure in London’s many and varied immigrants.
The bakery thriving or failing is almost secondary to these characters’ healing, which they’re all needing to slightly different extents. Healing takes different forms of course – romance, success, family, forgiveness – and it’s not just the bakery at work but the fact that these four people have found each other in their hour of need and created a community for themselves that fosters connection and leaves everyone just a little less isolated with their grief or their loneliness.
On a scale from “microwaving for one” to “molecular gastronomy,” Love Sarah is canned pasta sauce, not particularly complex or memorable, but easy and comforting. It’s sweet, it’s got wonderful performances, it feels good in a heartening, borderline inspirational way. It’s very watchable, and would in fact pair well with a nice slice of cake and a tall glass of milk.
High school senior Marcus (Keean Johnson) isn’t trying to be rude but yes he is wearing two different sets of headphones because maybe he wants to listen to Radiohead and a gentle field breeze at the same time. He’s that guy, a total audiophile, most of his music taste inherited from his big brother who died saving him from a house fire. He’s teased about the burn marks on his back but Marcus is proud to wear such visible proof of love. He’s a little less enthusiastic about the toll these events have taken on his mother, who is the living, breathing embodiment of “overprotective.” He takes off his double head phones to hear some live music, but mom says he’s got to be home by 10, and he fully intends to comply. Except the opening act is transformative in many ways; Wendy (Madeline Brewer) is beautiful, her voice like gold to him, and when her set is finished, Marcus makes to follow her but gets elbowed in the head and falls to the floor in the throes of a seizure.
At the hospital they tell him he has brain tumors that need to be removed as soon as possible. Just one problem – well, aside from the obvious: this brain surgery is going to leave him deaf. With only a month to hear all there is to be heard, he embarks on a road trip toward New York City, completing a bucket list of all the best noises, and recording them all on his ultimate playlist of noise. Which noises would you choose? And more importantly, at least to a red-blooded teenage boy, who would you choose to accompany you on this quest? It’s a no-brainer for Marcus, particularly because she doesn’t exactly give him a choice. He and Wendy take off in his mom’s minivan without a plan or permission, determined to record everything worth hearing.
It sounds like a fairly typical young adult film, but Keean Johnson finds layers to his character, and I think most audiences who bother to will find layers to the film as well. Marcus’s trip is an attempt to find some peace with a looming loss, but he’s dealt with loss before, and perhaps he knows grieving, and coping, better than most. The script remembers to touch base with Marcus’ whole life – his friends, his family, the brother he never stops thinking about – but in his pursuit to hear all the sounds, he brings along a brand new person, the last new voice he will ever know. Of course there’s a certain melancholia to this act of goodbye, but the film is also a celebration of sound. Kudos to the guys in the sound department for their dedication to detail; even noise that doesn’t appear on Marcus’s list is paid special attention to.
The first half of The Ultimate Playlist of Noise played in a familiar way, much like that dying teen trope that movies like this just can’t stay away from – and yet this one has. Despite Marcus’s struggle to cope, losing his hearing isn’t a death sentence, it’s just the start to a new way of living, and yes, the end to the old way. But Marcus’s road trip isn’t just a recording session, it’s also a reminder that there are still plenty of beautiful things to see and think and feel, and that life will go on and be worth living and indeed be very good, hearing or no.
This movie made me rationally angry. I rolled my eyes, I yelled in vain, I gestured wildly, I made that little vein in my forehead swell up in anger, I put my heartrate in the danger zone, I made myself into a furious little anger ball until I got the sweats, but every bit of it, I assure you, was a rational reaction. I’ve been watching loads of Hallmark movies lately, and though their premises tend not to be grounded in reality, I’ve been surprisingly cool about it. I just watched an animated film that I basically called a sexist dumpster fire, and while I wasn’t cool about it, nor did I overheat. But this movie? This movie really got my goat.
Ally (Italia Ricci) is a contestant on a dating reality show that wants to remind you of The Bachelor without treading on any copyright laws, and without the constraints of actual reality. By the time The Bachelor airs, the season has been done taping for months, and the editors have worked their magic, manipulating the reels and reels of footage into a pseudo-narrative that plays up the drama and crafts characters the audience will both root for and hate. In the Winterland universe, the shows are taped one a time. Ally doesn’t live in a mansion with the other contestants, she goes home to her apartment, watches the show with her friends, and has no idea how things will pan out because that’s next week’s episode. In next week’s episode, in fact, Ally is surprised when eligible bachelor and “international man of many hats” Tanner (Jack Turner) selects her for the Hometown Date.
It’s been ages since Ally’s been to Winterland (the apparent actual name of her hometown), and while she’s thrilled to see her parents and to show Tanner around town, the reason she’s stayed away keeps rearing his ugly head. Brett (Chad Michael Murray), the ex who broke her heart, shows up a lot. Like, he’s hanging out with her parents on the regular, apparently. Plus she’s staying at the hotel he owns. And he likes to eat/eavesdrop in the next booth over at the local dinner…you get the point. And as soon as the producers smell drama, they’re pushing the three of them together like love triangles are going out of style. On a dating reality show!
Even though there’s nothing wrong with Tanner and everything wrong with heartbreaker Invasive Brett, the film really wants us to root for Brett and Ally getting back together. Even though Chad Michael Murray has inexplicably decided to do this film in a Batman voice! Plus Brett acts like a jealous brat and claims to have pined for Ally despite the fact that he broke up with her by never showing his face again, which is hella rude and awkward, and doesn’t seem to know what personal boundaries are. Brett is a yuck human being, and I’m not even that big of an Ally fan, and I still don’t want her to end up with a garbage boyfriend. I mean, she’s on reality TV so clearly she’s willing to risk it. Don’t worry guys, she’s only really there to promote a job she doesn’t even like. As if that makes it better. She sold her soul for nothing!
There’s no way you’re desperate enough for cheesy romance to watch this movie. If you’re on the Hallmark channel already, there’s plenty to choose from, and almost all of them will be better than this.
Robot soldiers fight alongside human ones in the near future – and against them, robots on either side of this conflict, a storm of bullets raining down. Two men are hit, and their commanding officer makes plans to pull them to safety, but an ocean away, in the middle of the Nevada desert, a young drone pilot named Harp (Damson Idris) eats gummy bears and disobeys orders, launching a strike that kills the two in order to save the other 38. Harp is court-martialed and sent to the demilitarized zone for a reminder of the human cost of his lethal button pushing.
There he meets Captain Leo (Anthony Mackie), an A.I. enhanced cyborg soldier who’s selected him for a mission outside the wire. Leo’s biotech is extremely convincing (he can even feel pain) but make no mistake – he’s a military machine. A military weapon, in fact, a supersoldier who’s excellent in close combat and whose A.I. is so advanced it can follow the threads of these conflicts in ways that no human leaders ever have. Which is what he needs Harp for, a man he turns out to have hand-chosen because of his ability to think outside the box. They’re going to dodge robot soldiers and angry insurgents to chase a warlord hellbent on securing himself some neglected nukes. Leo can’t pursue this one his own; he’s got built-in fail-safes to prevent that, but where his investigation would constitute a flaw in his programming, Harp is free to do so based solely on a human hunch.
I enjoyed this movie for a couple of reasons. First among them is the Asimov angle, the king of sci-fi who wrote all those clever rules of robotics, and whose every thesis went something like: beware artificial intelligence, because it will inevitably figure out that humans need to be protected from themselves, and we won’t like the measures they take to do so. Except in Outside The Wire’s case, what Leo establishes fairly quickly is that the real enemy is the U.S. military, even though he’s technically meant to be fighting on its side.
Robots, it turns out, aren’t as blindly patriotic as we might like. Lee sees things from both points of view, and he comes to some conclusions that the American government might not appreciate. It’s a little sad that it takes a robot to consider the the socio-political aspect, to put himself in someone else’s shoes and examine other perspectives, but there you have it. It’s what we’ve come to. Asimov is always right. A.I. will always find us lacking. Is this the movie that’s going to help heal America after this most divisive period in its history? Highly doubtful. Most people will just be watching or the action sequences, and that’s fine too.
The truth, however, is that Outside The Wire isn’t a terrific movie. It’s not the blockbuster stuff you’ve been craving. Leo can’t reveal his master plan to Harp all at once, so it’s hidden from us as well, making for an occasionally confusing and scattershot plot. It feels like it takes us through a series of switchbacks that aren’t entirely earned. What it’s really counting on is that you’ll be so pleased by the Transformer-like Gumps (the scary robot soldiers) that you’ll only be paying half attention to the story.
Still, the action is decent, and so is the relationship between Leo and Harp, like Training Day if Denzel was also the Terminator. That kind of thing. It’s kind of fun to watch Mackie play a cyborg soldier since we’ve seen him be a flesh and blood soldier in Hurt Locker, and an enhanced super hero in the Marvel universe. This character kind of melds those roles together, a robot pretending to be human with his own thoughts and feelings about this war and what its outcome should be. Of course, a global conflict is tough for a single robot to take on alone – though now that I think about it, I suppose we’ve seen A.I. do much more, and much worse, so I think it’s fair to say: fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.
I doubt anyone needs to be reminded that crack is a very bad, no good idea. However, you might appreciate a documentary that explores the ways in which the American government used a drug to exploit and manipulate a population.
Though the government itself was responsible for importing this insidious substance, it had no problem with the hypocrisy involved in blaming the victim and criminalizing a disease. Addicts were shown no mercy. In fact, these were, not coincidentally, the days of mandatory minimums, where (Black) people were being thrown in jail for decades over piddling amounts of drugs. Racial bias you say? Absofuckinglutely.
This documentary probably tries to cover too much ground and talk to too many people, not all of whom agree on all of the facts, so there are inconsistencies that might niggle at you, but that’s life. This is a complex issue and we’re still trying to follow all the threads. The constant, though, is the destruction it brought down upon a community that is still reeling and trying to recuperate.
Is Crack: Cocaine, Corruption & Conspiracy a perfect documentary? It is not. Perhaps a narrower focus might have improved the view. Still, it’s a worthy effort and an important subject, especially with the benefit of hindsight that allows us to take a look in the rearview and really appreciate how much it altered a culture and left an indelible stain on a country that would rather sweep these contradictions under the nearest supermax prison.
On Saturday evening, I was wakened at approximately 6:30pm (go ahead and judge) by a siren blaring from my phone. Our new lockdown curfew was set to commence at 8pm and the government saw fit to wake me up in order to warn me to stay home. Not to worry: I’ve been home. I’m doing my part. The last time I was out of my home was 3 weeks ago, before Christmas, for bloodwork. The time previous was 3 weeks before that, for an MRI. You get the idea. Medical appointments only. Sean leaves the house for 3 things: food, prescriptions, and work when it absolutely necessitates it. We support the lockdown and the curfew and yes, even the siren. We have radically changed our behaviour in order to support the collective well-being. It’s not easy, but it’s saving lives, so there’s no question that it must be done. There’s also no question that it isn’t always easy. Last weekend we jacked up the heat in the house, dragged our garden lounge chairs out of storage, donned our swimsuits, and served up margaritas, pretending we were on the beach in Mexico, one of our favourite winter escapes. We are travelers. 2020 was the first year we didn’t travel outside of the country, and that’s only partially true because we were actually already in (real) Mexico when we rang in the new year, so we started off the year abroad and had lots of plans to keep it up, all of which had to be cancelled when the pandemic hit. Which is fine. We just miss it. And I bet most if not all of you do too. Even if you’re not in the habit of travelling annually, the mere fact of being on lockdown has given most of us cabin fever, so we’re dreaming of destinations more frequently than ever. Luckily, even lockdown affords us certain escapes, and movies continue to be one of them. They may not be playing in theatres, but they’re still playing right in your living room, and even a made for the Hallmark channel movie like this one can transport you to a new and interesting place.
Most Hallmark movies start off with stock footage of New York City, or perhaps Chicago. They never film there. They film in Utah, or Vancouver. But once in a blue moon, they film in an exotic location, and this is one of those rare and beautiful times when they did just that.
Iceland is a beautiful country; I’ve never been but I’m definitely not opposed! Chloe (Kaitlin Doubleday) heads there when she needs a little adventure and inspiration, tapping her college group of travel buddies to join her, including (accidentally) her ex, Charlie (Colin Donnell). Their tour guide shows them everything that Iceland has to offer – hot springs, shopping, museums, ice caves, the northern lights and more – you might almost think that Iceland paid for a very glossy, live-action, movie-like tourism brochure that aired for 84 minutes on the Hallmark channel. Regardless, it is indeed a thing of beauty and I got to travel there vicariously, no luggage hassle, no bulky parkas, and best of all, no breathing in recycled virus air on a plane for 8 hours!
One day, we will travel again, and it will be splendid. It will not be Hallmark perfect. I won’t find room to pack a different scarf for every day of the week, and my lipgloss will occasionally smudge, or wear off completely. Sean won’t profess his undying love for me, and his sweetest gesture will be carrying around my glitter polka dot Kate Spade tote without complaint. And between you and I, NONE of our friends look good in viking hats. But we will travel again. Until then, you might want to engage in some pure escapism with a Hallmark romance.
Bernard Garrett (Anthony Mackie) grew up overhearing white people’s business schemes as he shined their shoes, so he knows he’s just as smart and just as capable. In Texas in the 1960s, however, the world is designed to limit his ambition and rob him of power. But still, he dreams, and he follows those dreams to Los Angeles, where he meets Joe Morris (Samuel L. Jackson), a potential partner with as much audacity as he.
Joe is already a successful businessman; he owns several properties. Bernard, however, wants to get in on the real profit. He wants to own buildings in white neighbourhoods. Even in L.A. there are many barriers to this happening, so they convince their handyman Matt (Nicholas Hoult) to become the white face of the company. They teach him algebra and golf, the white man’s business necessities, and he basically becomes their puppet, the representative who shakes all the hands and signs all the contracts while his mysterious business partners remain names on a ledger, though both remain hidden in plain sight – as a chauffeur, and a janitor. This strategy is incredibly fruitful for them, but Bernard won’t really feel successful until he can do the same in Texas, so eventually they go back, and they buy a bank. A bank! A bank that will be the first in its area to give loans to Black clients, business owners and first time home owners. They have to do this work incredibly surreptitiously of course, because it’s still Texas, but this endeavour really has the power to transform the entire community, which of course has never had this kind of opportunity for upward mobility, which is to say, the same kind that white folks take for granted. Which is why some 1960s Karen feels the need to intervene. In 1960s Texas, Black audacity is just about the biggest crime there is, so they don’t just get a police response, but the FBI as well. Of the three men involved, can you guess which two are arrested and charged? Yes, go ahead and assume this will be based solely on the colour of their skin.
The Banker is a safe movie that leaves all the risks to its bold lead characters. Director George Nolfi is content with a pretty standard biopic, which in this case is fine, as the revolutionary entrepreneurs depicted are so vivaciously brought to life by both Mackie and Jackson. Proper credit goes to Nia Long also, who portrays Garrett’s wife, Eunice. Happily Long is given actual work to do, the wife not just content to stay in the home, but very much involved in the family business. Eunice was always the first to recognize her husband’s genius and her support must have meant the world, but that would have been a very big deal, to risk her family’s stability in order to indulge his ambition. Eunice was a trailblazer herself, and Nia Long makes the most of it.
Based on a true story, the pursuit not just of the American dream, but of equal access to said American dream, is a story worth telling every time. The magnetic banter between Mackie and Jackson is just surplus on the ledger.
So let me tell you about a movie that never should have been made. I might sometimes admit that certain bad movies have a right to exist, but this particular movie should be wiped off the face of the earth just to preserve human dignity.
Three decades elapsed between Disney’s Sleeping Beauty (1959) and The Little Mermaid (1989), three pivotal decades during which feminism swelled and laid the groundwork toward a sexual revolution and a women’s liberation movement. When Disney eventually went back to the princess well, it knew that passive, unconscious princesses were passé, and Ariel, the feisty, rebellious teenager was born. She is problematic in her own ways of course, but she was the first step on a path toward more progressive princesses like Anna and Elsa. Disney didn’t get there overnight. According to Charming (which I must stress, is NOT a Disney property), they needn’t have bothered. Though this 21st century film just got its North American release in 2021, it seems determined to set feminism back by about nineteen decades or so.
Need I say: written and directed by a man (Ross Venokur), this animated film has somehow decided to revisit those first three passive princesses, and stomp them further into the ground. According to the premise, Snow White (Avril Lavigne), Cinderella (Ashley Tisdale), and Aurora (G.E.M.) find themselves all simultaneously engaged to the same man, Prince Charming (Wilmer Valderrama). Although still very much leading them on, he plans to marry none of them. He’s not in love, he’s just cursed with being excessively charming. So gold-diggers like these princesses are actually planning their weddings and he can’t be bothered to let them know he’s just not that into them.
Note: though the princes in these first 3 Disney princess films don’t get elaborate back stories, they are three different and distinct princes. Only Cinderella’s prince is referred to as Charming; Aurora’s prince is named Phillip, though Snow’s is only ever called The Prince. And as for gold-digging, that’s not coming from me (Aurora and Snow are already princesses in their own right, and Cindy’s got some legit hustle), it’s actually the subject of an entire song called ‘Trophy Boy,’ inexplicably written by Fallout Boy’s Patrick Stump, with lyrics like “I want that ring on my finger like I want that crown” and “I don’t even care if he ever makes a sound just as long as when you see me, he’s around, and he’s bound to me.” Dear god.
Anyway, part of Charming’s charmed curse is that he has to find a true love before his 21st birthday or his kingdom will be doomed to live without love for all eternity. With his birthday just days away, King Charming sends him to run a gauntlet, a series of macho challenges designed to make him a man (raise your hand if you just vomited in your mouth a little) which somehow should help him find his true love. Don’t look at me, I didn’t write this stuff. Apparently neither Charming is confident in Junior’s ability, so they hire a guide, Lenny, to help him through. Only Lenny is actually – gasp! – a woman, Lenore (Demi Lovato), in disguise. And by disguise I of course mean a fake mustache. Lenore is a thief and is only interested in Charming’s money – that is, until she too falls victim to his inimitable charms.
This movie is an entire dumpster’s worth of sexist trash and my only hope is that this review symbolically lights it on fire. Watching it burn would be the only entertainment derived from this film, which is also incredibly miscast, extremely dull, and has mediocre animation at best. Nothing about this film works. It’s baffling that a movie can be this bad. If Venokur was gunning for ironic rather than moronic, he needed the help of a better writer and a more intentional director. Instead he puts his own curse on the film, and believe me, excessive charm is NOT its problem. I feel bad for the innocent victims caught up in its clutches: John Cleese, for example, who voices the Fairygodmother, and Sia and Steve Aoki, who also contribute songs.
Whatever you do, do not put scorch marks on your 2021 this early on in the year by accidentally watching a movie that will infuriate you. Protect your children from it. Hide the ashes of this review underneath the nearest rug. Let’s pretend it never happened. Ptooey (that’s the sound of me spitting on the embers). Peace out.
Spencer (Andrew Walker) came to town to coach skating prodigy Nikki to gold at regionals and beyond, but it’s her former skating teacher Emily (Julie Berman) who catches his eye. Emily is cute, single, and age appropriate, but she’s also a former pro skater herself. She gave it up 8 years ago to care for her dying mother, but Spencer thinks there’s still greatness in her, and when Emily finally allows herself to look deep within, she finds she’s still got the heart of a competitor.
Of course, there are a few obstacles, not even counting her (relatively advanced) age, or the many years she’s spent off the competitive circuit and not in competitive shape. There’s her relationship with Nikki, for starters, a very nice young girl who didn’t really deserve to have her coaching time split though it would seem she was still paying full price. And Nikki’s super alpha competitive mom, Mia, who doesn’t appreciate the interference or a less than militaristic style of coaching . And Nikki’s new coach slash Emily’s old coach, Lindsay, who is ruthless and plays dirty. And a local reporter who puts skating rink gossip on live TV as if people would actually care. And money, always money. And there’s the fact that Emily’s maybe falling in love with Spencer, and Spencer’s maybe falling in love with her. Just a few obstacles to an ideal comeback, but who’s counting?
Between training montages, diner fundraisers, obligatory skate sharpening cuts, and a very odd “kids these days,” “old ladies don’t like rap” scene (wherein the old lady was a 27 year old), there was very little time for romance. Which was just as well because I don’t think Andrew Walker is particularly good at acting in love, an unfortunately flaw when Hallmark is your bread and butter. As much as I rolled my eyes at the title, Take A Shot At Love was a much better skating-themed Hallmark romance, if that’s your jam.
Alice (Gemma Arterton) is a reclusive, curmudgeonly writer, whom the locals refer to as “the witch.” Her writings often pointedly refer to the various ways women have been unfairly portrayed, but what are you going to do?
One day, a young boy named Frank (Lucas Bond) shows up at her door, an evacuee from London to be kept safe during the WW2 blitz. Alice doesn’t like kids. To be fair, it seems to be her general regard toward all humans, but Alice doesn’t want a kid in her house. It’s nothing personal against Frank, she just has work to do and no fucks to give. She reluctantly agrees to house him temporarily, until another family can be found. But pretty much everyone in her small village has already taken in children and she does have a big ole house all to herself.
As Frank begins to worm his way into her heart, we learn that Alice’s self-imposed isolation is the result of a broken heart, a forbidden romance with another woman, Vera (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who is now just a figment of her past, though one that still haunts her. Clearly Alice has lived with only her memories for a long time, but with a real boy as her roommate, she’s brought down to the human realm where there is a war going on and people, such as Frank’s parents, are in real peril.
This film nearly lost me, being just a little too easy, a little too neatly contrived. However, it’s anchored by a performance from Arterton that just floored me. Alice’s naked longing and repressed self-expression are controlled with such precision by Arterton, it’s a remarkable role for her, but she’s actually got some very able costars from a surprising place – the kids. Both Bond and Dixie Egerickz, who plays Frank’s playmate, are wonderful, offering grounded and thoughtful performances considering these kids are growing up in a time where childhood is pretty much non-existent
I remember reading about young war evacuees when I was a kid myself, and I’ve always been fascinated by this ultimate act of mutual aid, adopting a stranger’s child, sheltering them during a difficult time, providing a safe home for kids at risk of dying in air raids in the city. Mothers had to place such trust in the kindness of strangers, and strangers had to step up with very little the way of thanks or even acknowledgment, and kids had to grow up without their parents. There would have been little communication and tonnes to worry about and it seems like such an act of grace in the middle of a literal war. So despite the film’s shortcomings, I still appreciated a window on this particular view, and what a lovely view it was, with lots of sights to behold.