Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Winter and Spring 2021 in Media: New Horizons

Winter and Spring 2021 in Media: New Horizons

Warning: The following post may/will contain spoilers of various films and shows I saw earlier this year. If you don't want to know what happens in any of the properties I'm talking about here, it's best if you join me once you've watched them. But then again, if you want to take that warning with a grain of salt, feel free to stay put.

With that said:

Even though the school year wrapped a month and a half ago at the time of this post, I know I'm going to appreciate this past semester as one where I took in a lot of media. My classes played a big role in that. Three of them had us watch movies weekly or at various points of the semester. I also wanted to cover a couple of properties I followed, most of the TV movies I saw (I'm covering the new Hallmark movies that've aired this year I've enjoyed more/loved in later posts), and one show that gave me hope when stuff wasn't going the way I wanted it to. Since I still didn't watch as much anime as I was expecting, this content helped bridge some of those gaps, and though the items on this list range from stuff I loved to stuff that was fine, I do want to give credit where credit's due: Without these movies and shows, this semester wouldn't have been as memorable.

One note before we start: Although the title implies I'm covering the media I've watched starting in the winter, I decided to just focus on what I've predominantly watched during late January to early May. To The Secret Lives of Cheerleaders, you were campy excellence, but something else in the future's in the cards for you.

Without further ado:

The Amazing World of Gumball

My memories from 2011 include deep diving into international Top Models, recording "hilarious" videos on my green iPod Nano, and watching the premiere of this cartoon series live. "The Responsible" and "The DVD" captured my attention (side note: I think it's the best show premiere I've ever seen), and for the new few weeks, I followed The Amazing World of Gumball as it aired. However, my interest dwindled like an 11 year-old's interests do. I caught minor blips the rest of that year and in 2015, but I didn't start looking back on Gumball until I saw a clip from "The Shippening" in 2018, where the writers not only parodied weeb culture but also critiqued fan culture's habit of shipping, no matter canon characters or OC. From there, I saw a couple compilations and watched reruns in some hotel rooms, enjoying the hell out of the show in the process. It's chaotic, insightful, but also exceeds as a black comedy. Whenever I needed down time at the end of the day and wasn't able to watch Sailor Moon this past semester, I often put this on.

Getting to see more of this show is an experience I don't regret. The Amazing World of Gumball starts off as a comedy series detailing the wild life of the Watterson family, but its dark humor and bizarre scenarios get more over the top as the series continues. I love how much Gumball embraces its weirdness. It holds nothing back and made me realize I'm more of a fan of in-your-face comedy (although I still appreciate the subtleties). There are a lot of jokes, characters, and moments in this series that work for me, ranging from a school ban on video games, an election gone wrong, and Gumball desperately trying to get the perfect school picture. Even with a large writing team, The Amazing World of Gumball finds a way to make its material stick.

From what I've seen so far/re-watched this semester, my favorite episodes are "The Responsible," "The DVD," "The Dress," "The Fridge," "The Job," "The Photo," "The Limit," "The Fan," "The Safety," "The Crew," "The Love," "The Night," "The Roots," "The Guy," "The Test," "The Console," "The Worst," "The News," "The Candidate," "The Shippening," "The Brain," "The Stink," "The Master," and "The Web." 

Total Dramarama

One of the shows I religiously followed as a kid was Total Drama Island. I first saw it at the end of 2008 when Cartoon Network ran both TDI and 6teen but didn't know TDI was TDI until Total Drama World Tour ads started airing. I still remember when episodes for that aired every weekday in Australia, so by the end of August 2010, you knew how the competition was going to play out.

The Total Drama franchise was not only an excellent reality TV spoof, but it was also incredibly entertaining with so many great characters and moments I frequently think back on. While All Stars flopped, and I wasn't as invested when new characters were thrown into the mix, The Ridonculous Race brought back a lot of good memories despite it being a spin-off. This show does too, albeit it may not be exactly what Total Drama fans are looking for.

While it started off as a daycare comedy, Total Dramarama's humor has continued to get progressively weirder and darker as the series has continued. Sometimes this doesn't work (I can think of one specific example), but more often than not, most of its material sticks the landing. It's fun seeing the writers make inside jokes about the main show, sneak in references to 6teen aside from having Jude in the cast for no reason other than the fact they share creators, and highlight sides to these already existing characters I wouldn't have expected. Cody's material is both hilarious and terrifying at the same time.

The writers do emphasize more characters than others (Bridgette's been noticeably absent for much of the show), and though this show isn't perfect, I've enjoyed following it for the last two and a half years. It's great to get more Total Drama content that's not only fun to watch but makes me nostalgic about getting so involved in the TD community that I was creating a fake Japanese dub and OC's of Total Drama shows I never ended up doing. Again, an 11 year-old's attention span only stretches so far.

Of the episodes that aired in the past three months, my favorites have been "The Gold and the Stickerful," "Bad Seed," "Double Oh Beth," "Duncan Duty," "Encore'tney," "Life of Pie," "AbaracaDuncan," "Shock & AWW," "School District 9," "Gumbearable," "Weekend at Buddy's," and "MacArthur Park."

Hoffman's A Midsummer Night's Dream

One of the classes I took this past semester was a focus on playwright William Shakespeare's comedy and romance plays. We started the semester with Midsummer, a work I had heard about but never had the opportunity to read until this class. Shakespeare draws on fantastical elements to create an immersive world with fun character relationships and a fake entertaining play that creates a hilarious final act. While the magic potion makes some of the content problematic in Midsummer, its depicted Athens is so strong, I know I'll be back to read or see this again.

We were required to watch three movies during the course, and this ended up being the first one. I think Hoffman's adaptation excels in bringing Shakespeare's world to life, with gaudy costuming and expanded characterization. Giving Bottom, the play's fool character, an estranged marriage adds motivation to why he eventually doesn't fight back against bewitched Titania. I also really enjoyed Calista Flockhart and Stanley Tucci's performances as Helena and Puck, respectively. Both portrayed the characters in a way I didn't expect but added layers to their stasis: Helena as lovesick and horny and Puck as a mischievous trickster. I also liked the idea of casting younger actors to play Oberon and Titania (which gives me Rainbow Magic flashbacks, NGL). It plays with the idea of fairies having eternal youth, especially rulers.

Although I wish the changeling in Oberon and Titania's subplot got referenced again after his first son, Michael Hoffman's film is a strong adaptation of the play. It brings Fairyland to life in a way Shakespeare's text can't convey, and there are plenty of great performances and moments I found entertaining. If you're looking for more, the Manga Shakespeare adaptation for this play is also strong.

Love on the Menu

I remember hearing about this movie when the first three Chronicle Mysteries were dropping (which makes sense, given this premiered the same weekend as movie #2), but I wasn't interested in giving this a chance even with Inuyasha in it.

You heard that right. Richard Ian Cox, the English voice actor of Inuyasha, was in this movie. He was also in the Lost Garage Sale Mystery, but his character plays more of a role here, so that was great for an anime fan like me. When Love on the Menu dropped on Hallmark Movies Now, I decided to give it a chance since at that point, I was spending off days watching random Lifetime movies. On one hand, great for exposure. On the other, it gets stale when you don't change it up.

Speaking of stale, this film takes what would have been a tired and true premise and makes it fun. Autumn Reeser and Kavan Smith work very well together, and they're surrounded by a great supporting cast. I do wish we got to see BIPOC actors beyond being the waitstaff or cooks at Hank's restaurant, though. It's good Barbara Niven had more room to breathe as Andrea when her other maternal movie characters are stuck with little to do, but it could have taken a little more effort to not have your only actors of color wait on the white people. Outside of that, Love on the Menu's a great watch. I can see longtime Hallmark fans getting a kick out of it and newbies enjoying some of the cameos along the way.

P.S. I forgot to include this movie when I started drafting this post. In my defense, I watched this the same day as Beverly Hills Wedding (which I will cover later this summer), so skipping past that led me to skip past this.

Playing Cupid

When this movie began with Kerri dumping her boyfriend, I knew this was going to be a Hallmark keeper. Giving the female lead agency in a breakup at the very beginning never happens, especially for Crown Media. Based off another middle grade novel, Playing Cupid takes Jane Austen's Emma, spins it in a creative and fun way, and has two great leads in Laura Vandervoort and Nicholas Gonzalez. They're not new to TV movies, but they are new to Hallmark, and both did really well and had good chemistry. That scene where they lip-synched to "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" in David's restaurant's kitchen was everything.

I also liked how the book was reworked for a Hallmark audience. While Clara Martinez isn't the main focus of the movie, her business and role as matchmaker are still put on display, along with her own secret admirer. We see her gain confidence in herself and with her business, and new actor Mia Quaranta de la Rosa plays her with great attention to detail as she grows. Although the romantic setup and conflict resolution put this below other new Hallmark premieres I've seen this year, Playing Cupid was still a fun movie that had a cute concept and enjoyable acting. I'd gladly watch this again.

Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing

Whedon's been under fire recently for creating unhealthy work environments on the properties he's worked on, including killing off an actor's character on Buffy the Vampire Slayer because she got pregnant and wouldn't abort the baby. I found out about this while I was watching the movie, and while it didn't affect my experience with it too much, what's come out recently makes me want to shy away from Buffy. It's a shame, too, because I've heard nothing but great things about that show, and I've heard Marc Blucas plays a bad boy that's unlike his Hallmark character types.

Much Ado About Nothing is one of Shakespeare's most outlandish comedies. I saw it for the first time at the college I'm attending before I became a student there. It's not in the setting, or in the characters, but in the potential for physical comedy in the eavesdropping scenes regardless if a director frames Beatrice and Benedick's enemies to lovers arc as the main subplot. Not only does Whedon make great use of this (the still and GIF I found are examples), but his adaptive script takes a line where Beatrice hints at a past romance with Benedick (depending on how you interpret it) and expands it. Here, they're two people who hooked up and may have hooked up countless times in the past. It's a change I believes adds more to their dynamic. They desire each other in a romantic way but won't dare admit it.

This adaptation is also very stylistic. Shot during a break of The Avengers's principle photography, Much Ado was filmed at Whedon's house over twelve days in black and white. It exaggerates bright light, and in turn the setting. It makes California look more extravagant, like this "mansion" is the pinnacle of LA life.

Despite some of the outdated elements and unfortunate shots, I still think Whedon produced a good film. The changes he made add layers to the plot (like making Conrade a woman), and reading a literary criticism article helped me understand a shot composition interpretation. The actors are putting on a show, Whedon's house is their stage, and we're just peering in, watching the action go down. It was the adaptation that worked the most of the three.

Galantine's Day Nightmare

Since I briefly referenced Andrea Canning's thriller movies in my Hallmark Christmas post, it's only fair I talk about them again. While I watched the Ruby Herring mysteries at the beginning of this year, my first Canning movie happened to be A Daughter's Revenge, co-written by Elizabeth Stuart and starring Jessica Sipos (my favorite Chesapeake Shores side actor) and Linden Ashby (who may be 2010 Teen Wolf famous, but who has also graced viewers' screens with the 90s' Mortal Kombat movie and, more recently, Trinkets). It was a good entry point despite some of its story flaws (the Anna and Charlie subplot was a flop), and while I wouldn't watch it again, I'd recommend it for those who want to see Sipos act OOC from the family friendly content many know her from.

On the Hallmarkies podcast episode where I discovered Christmas She Wrote wasn't supposed to film in 2020, Canning revealed A Daughter's Revenge was the first script she wrote that was picked up by Lifetime (although it wasn't the first to air). Looking back, it makes sense why I had a couple craft problems. It also makes sense why Galantine's Day Nightmare is the stronger title, even if it also wasn't perfect. At least I enjoyed it more.

When Clair Donahue hooks up with Brian after a fun night out with her girlfriends, she's unprepared for the hell the latter begins to unleash. Common story beats pop up (the main character has two best friends and an office job; the villain has moments where they talk to themselves; there's a charity event at the main character's workplace; the detectives discuss the case multiple times and doubt the main suspect; the culprit/s gets outsmarted in an elaborate plan), but Canning excels at creating an unsettling environment where Clair not only has to prove she isn't guilty of murder but get out of a new relationship riddled with thorns.

Since I didn't finish this on my day off in February, I ended up watching this movie over four days. While I wouldn't do that again, it was cool to see the story build with each segment I watched. Could I have wanted Canning to build Tiffany's role in working with Brian outside of minor foreshadowing? Yes. Could the editors have gone without the Wilhelm scream layered over Margaret's grunt when she died and using the same music from A Daughter's Revenge? Yes. But Galantine's Day Nightmare at least was entertaining not in a "so bad, it's good" sense but in seeing Clair investigate on her own and excelling at the end with an unorthodox plan that didn't involve a recording device (which Canning has done at least twice). It's a solid Lifetime thriller that I wouldn't mind watching again and reminding myself that dating needs a slow pace where you don't wind up having to run for your life.

Temptation of a Monk

Even with the mild violence that made me look anywhere but at the movie, Temptation of a Monk was an artistic and fun experience. Taking place during the Tang Dynasty, General Shi Yan-sheng is forced to go on the run after being implicated in a coup led by General Huo Da. While he signed a blood vow to keep quiet, Huo promised no blood to be shed. This was a lie. While General Huo is willing to rewrite the narrative and make General Shi a hero, he also wants him dead. To avoid this fate, General Shi flees, joins a monastery under the name Jing-yi, and sets off to find a new purpose in life, all while trying not to give in to the temptations monks (LOL) aren't allowed to succumb to.

Clara Law's direction is one of the first things I remember about this. There's so much beauty in the China countryside that she and her crew pick up. They utilize any location, whether a quiet monastery or a bustling town, to its full advantage and capture them well on camera. The costuming is also vibrant and colorful, signifying changes in character (like Jing-yi's devotion to being a monk and the sharp contrast in Joan Chen's characters I thought were the same person when watching this) and popping on the screen. There are many artistic choices in this film that worked for me, including moments of silence in the movie between dialogue and how important moments in the movie are framed.

Jing-yi's journey was also compelling to watch. We see him assimilate into monastery lifestyle in multiple steps, working through a couple downfalls along the way. Hsing-Kuo Wu plays him well in his moments of quiet contemplation and horny desperation. I also liked Joan Chen's portrayal of her two characters, how Scarlet seemed to open like a flower to the sun and Violet like someone just out of reach. The movie builds to a great final confrontation where we see Jing-yi where he wants to be. Now away from the chaos of the coup, his inner demons have been extinguished. While it ran long at points, Temptation of a Monk was still fun. I'd give it another go if I interlibrary loaned the DVD and could zip through the fighting scenes.

P.S.: This film was the first time I saw on screen film cunilingus. If I didn't include film, I'd be telling a lie.

Different from the Others

One of the first recorded films about queer characters, Different from the Others was released in 1919 in Germany and was subsequently banned after many groups protested its content. While the film was allowed to be viewed by medical professionals, copies were destroyed during the Nazi reign. Only one version of the film exists, it being incomplete. The version I watched (which was from the DVD cover I used above) provided title cards for the lost footage and to explain the context of this movie's silent scenes. For my Film class, I watched this in place of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari when we were focusing on production design, which ironically also included Conrad Veidt. Although that movie had such a distinct style and cool makeup to boot, the clip we saw in class was enough to have me backing out.

When I decided to look at other German Expressionist media (many films famous during this time period were silent), I poked around Google and IMDb to see what I could find. Different from the Others popped up after a couple results, its length and the subject matter being the reason why I picked it. As a queer man, I'm drawn to queer media by instinct, and I was curious to see what would happen in this film despite its sad ending. It was also lucky that my college's AV room happened to have the DVD, even if it didn't work on my computer or Xbox One.

I really enjoyed Different from the Others in its blunt assertion that gay people are just like everyone else. Originally made to protest Paragraph 175, a law that banned gay relationships in Germany, the project was partially funded by Magnus Hirschfield, a German physician and sexologist who appears in the film himself. It shows that gay people aren't sick or wrong for loving who they love; it's just human nature. Richard Oswald also displays the danger of Paragraph 175 in having Paul die by suicide despite getting the weaker punishment after Franz's blackmail. His public reputation was destroyed by getting outed to the point where he felt he could no longer live in peace.

It was also fascinating to see plot points covered here that have grown with time. Paul and Kurt are teacher and student, a power dynamic many writers have explored in fiction, fanfiction, and in other media. There's also blackmail involved, the immediate modern-day example being Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda. I don't think this film started the widespread use of these plot points, but to see them used surprised me because I felt they were more recent. Oswald also does a great job depicting Paul's background and his struggles with trying to play straight. He was never in an environment that allowed him to be who he was, culminating in his death at the end of the film. Although the optimistic ending footage is now gone forever, the message Different from the Others sends is an important one. We need to fight for those who can't live their best lives. We need to learn how we can support them. And above all else, accept them for who they are and let them know it's okay. If you're able to find this somewhere, please watch it.

Come Dance with Me/Christmas Dance

This movie is absurd in both meanings of the word. I don't think that's going to be the case with all of Chesler/Perlmutter's Christmas films (Merry Matrimony went smoothly aside from minor hiccups), but both this and The Christmas Parade (starring the CW's 90210's AnnaLynne McCord) were bizarre at points, I wondered if I was living in fever dreams. This was worse, but it didn't stop Come Dance with Me from being incredibly entertaining.

Right away, the plot is a complete mess. Kevin Commins establishes a relationship between Jack and Demi (played by Lindsay from Total Drama) that isn't monogamous? Jack's co-worker/friend, Rick (played by Shawn from Total Drama: Pahkitew Island) states the two aren't mutually exclusive since they're not engaged. Demi says the same thing later after she goes out with a realtor. It's strange. The holiday season doesn't really have much to do with the plot like in other Hallmark holiday films. Jack and Christine's building connection moves at freight train speed, and that's before we touch base on Jack stringing Christine along about her closing dance studio. The script, story, and most of the acting are completely flat. The ending's rushed. This should be a trainwreck.

Yet Come Dance with Me's also brimming with entertaining moments. The music budget was so low, Stacey Hersh's original pieces play in loops. The original DiC Naru/Molly, Mary Long, plays Jack's mom, and seeing her is always fun. Michelle Nolden's "OWWHHH!" after Jack steps on her foot is comedic gold. There's also the best abrupt scene transition in all of television. When Jack and Demi decide to go dancing, we cut to them in a club with a vocalist going, "I...don'," I started howling. The song ends with "I don't care/Not at all/'Cause you're just a troll." How is that not iconic in a Christmas movie?

Basically, this film's going to be the reason I watch most of Chesler/Perlmutter's holiday film catalog just to see if those movies hit the highs and lows I've seen in the past. I'll gladly watch Come Dance with Me again just to bask in its glory. It's a glorious spectacle that revels in its awfulness and is memorable in the worst ways.

A Novel Romance

I enjoyed Amy Acker's performance in Whedon's Much Ado so much, it was a no-brainer to jump into her Hallmark content after finding out she worked on two movies. This was the non-Christmas one, plus it was released on DVD (The Nutcracker couldn't be legally streamed without ads at the time), so it only made sense in my eyes to watch A Novel Romance first. While her acting isn't as strong here, I did enjoy this fun story about a writer (writing under alias Gabriel August (which is so Nicholas Sparks)) traveling to Portland and falling in love with a book critic who felt his latest book was lacking spark. Sophie and Liam have great chemistry as characters; I could tell Hanz Wasserburger was having fun letting them try to figure out how they felt about the other and making sure they were a good person. He also does a good job defining Liam's reasoning for writing under a pseudonym. He didn't want the exposure just because he was a child of famous actors.

It may have lacked what other Hallmark movies have had for me, but this was early 2015. Crown Media was about to hit its stride and become the TV media gauntlet it is today. At least it's got a cute story, overused and poorly edited green screen, a swath of my BC faves (Tammy Gillis, Emily Tennant, and Milo Shandel) and a dramatic ending that ties everything together in a bow and with a kiss. A Novel Romance was still a cute movie to pass the time after my midterms were finished and I needed to put me first. It's not the first Hallmark movie I'd go to for comfort once my collection grows, but it's not bad background noise, either.

Nunn's Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night is my favorite Shakespeare play. I feel like it's got the best humor, characters, and moments of everything I've read from him so far. Each time I pick it up or look at an adaptation, I notice elements I didn't before and end up being drawn to things I hadn't considered with earlier reads. It also helps that it's got Feste, a jester who lights up the room and has so much fun doing so.

In my Shakespeare class, this film emphasized two elements we talked about as we read the play: Malvolio's treatment after a fake planted letter, and Feste not having a place to call home. Did Malvolio deserve the humiliation? Modern audiences say no. At fourteen, I would have said yes in a heartbeat because he was type A. Now, sure he had a stick up his ass, but Maria wanting to get revenge did go too far. Nunn shows that multiple times as Nigel Hawthorne plays his way through Malvolio's front unraveling. The prison he's kept in is the dirtiest I've seen; Malvolio's covered in charcoal when he gets out. Then there are all Olivia's servants looking down at him as he demands to know why he's been wronged. I can find parts of Malvolio's humiliation funny, but discussion and Nunn's film this go around showed me why it's been uncomfortable as theater's evolved.

Ben Kingsley's portrayal of Feste is so unorthodox, it became one of the reasons why I pursed an independent project focusing on Feste portrayals in Twelfth Night's history. Rather than play the jester as excitable and high energy, Kingsley gives him somberness and makes him out to be a traveler who's lost what he believes is important. He gains it back by returning to Olivia's side, but there's still something missing. It makes me excited to see a future production of this play, because looking up Feste proves how much depth actors can give him with stellar direction.

While there were a couple elements I didn't immediately vibe with, Trevor Nunn still put together a fun adaptation. Parts of the play's text are moved, but the movie still flows well. There are plenty of great performances, especially from Helena Bonham Carter, Toby Stephens, and Mel Smith. Light is captured incredibly well throughout the film, whether outside or in Olivia's mansion at night. And the added subtext adds some dire circumstances to Viola's life in Illyria. It's a fun two hours that not only entertains but allows the audience to see the magic of this story play out in film. The casting for the fraternal twins is also perfect, especially since both actors look the same. I can imagine that was challenging.

The Secret Ingredient

Crown Media isn't new to the food competition show plot. There's been at least five I've seen or heard of, but The Secret Ingredient (I believe) is the second movie that takes the reality TV competition formula and streamlines it for a two hour run time. Even Maneet Chauhan, chef and judge on various Food Network shows, plays herself, hosting a cooking competition show exes Kelly and Andrew are competing on. There's a twist, though: They don't know they're on the show together until they face off in the final round. It's something the movie milks for much of its runtime even though it's painfully obvious to the audience, but I don't think there was another way to execute it. It gave the movie some drama and made me wonder if it would play into the angst, which it didn't.

S. W. Sessions continues to prove why they're one of my favorite Crown Media writers by giving their leads tangible chemistry, making their plots fast-paced, and having well-nuanced conflicts that are a step above what you might find in Hallmark's past. Although this isn't their best script, I think it adapts Nancy Naigle's book well, and you tell the actors involved had fun with it. I just wish the BIPOC contestants in these fake competition shows weren't always the first to leave.

Regardless, this was a fun movie to watch leading up to my day off in March. If you want something fluffy and cute to ignite your sweet tooth, The Secret Ingredient will do the trick.

Before Sunrise

I think this movie is a perfect example of how less can be more when writing a script. Initially written by director Richard Linklater and Kim Krizan, lead actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy pitched in uncredited material that makes their characters' conversations feel engrossing and nuanced. We were required to watch this movie when we were going over dialogue in scripts for my Film class, and I can see why. Before Sunrise depicts Jesse and Céline meeting on a train and spending a day together in Vienna, Austria. While there, they talk about their lives, their growing feelings for each other, and where this attraction will go once they have to separate.

Not only does Linklater take his audience through several Vienna landmarks, he also paints an instant connection that is genuinely romantic. Adult and Young Adult romance struggle with this. It helps that Hawke and Delpy have immediate chemistry and are comfortable with each other. I wasn't put off by Jesse and Céline's blossoming romance; I wanted to see it continue. The conversations they have help advance the story and make them completely fleshed-out for a movie with such a short time frame. It's an experience many have felt over the years that I vowed would never happen to me. Well, looks like it did.

There are two sequels to this film, but I feel like Before Sunrise ended things well enough between the lovebirds that I don't need to watch them. The franchise does have glowing reviews, plus the two re-connect and end up back together. But the hopeless romantic wants to paint a picture with this movie's open ending. That's good enough for me.

The Fantastic Four (1994)

I don't know a lot about this franchise. I saw the trailers for the 2000s movies (including the 2015 reboot that tanked) but have never read the original comics. I only heard about this because the actor who played Sue here, Rebecca Staab, has been in several Hallmark movies. When my Film professor went over storyboards, I figured this would be the perfect replacement for Mad Max: Fury Road. I love the idea of it being built from the storyboards up, but the promised violence? I wouldn't be able to stick through that. Besides, this film had such a fascinating history. It was never officially released (and potentially wasn't supposed to), only got traction because of unfinalized bootlegs, and didn't have the best budget. Uploads were also circulating on YouTube and Dailymotion, so it was easy to watch this as I prepped for a test and talked with my professor that day.

The 1994 Fantastic Four is a lot of fun, not only because of its faults. Yes, the script was cheesy at times, the special effects were a little weak, and I couldn't get over how The Thing's suit looked with the film's dreary lighting. But I liked getting to see an adapted version of the group's origin story, enjoyed the random subplot with The Jeweler (who was originally supposed to be a villain from the comic, but Constantin Film couldn't get the rights to use the name, so he had to be re-written), and was entertained by getting to see these heroes fight with a million dollar budget. I'd love to watch the documentary about this one day because I want to hear more about this production. How did those bootlegs leak? What did the cast and crew enjoy most about being at set? Watching both back to back at some point is a no-brainer. Superhero/comic fan or not, I think viewers would get a kick out of this either way.

Along Came a Nanny

This is Gary Goldstein's best Crown Media script. I haven't seen all of the movies he's written for, but I can tell you that the first two Flower Shop Mysteries and the beginning of Hitched for the Holidays didn't move as smoothly as this did. There's something about properties where someone has to go undercover that appeal to me. I love seeing protagonist/s work together to succeed in a mission only they can solve. Here, Detective Mike Logan has to go undercover in Poplar Point as a nanny to find out who's been committing jewelry robberies. Although he doesn't know the first thing about taking care of children, he eventually learns and develops feelings for fellow nanny Jessie White. With an upcoming mayor election and plenty of suspects, Mike needs to make both his clients and boss happy. However, this case may be more challenging than he realized, especially when his job gets put in jeopardy.

Cameron Mathison has been frequently cast in Hallmark movies, but I feel like this is the first one I've seen where he's a total goof. His characters are usually happy-go-lucky and love life (unless you're Mike Kingston, where he's a little more serious), but Logan allows him to balance someone trying to get his feet wet in the nanny business, and a detective having to play amateur sleuth in order to crack the case. He works well with Sarah Lancaster (whose performance as Jessie is beautifully understated), and the rest of the cast shines with actors familiar to me from past Hallmark ventures and not.

Goldstein also writes a mystery that's captivating and ties everything introduced together in the conclusion. I was surprised the mayor election even played a role in the culprits' motivations at all. I thought it was going to be a backdrop piece. But what really makes Along Came a Nanny stand out for me are the "All is Lost" moments. They're defined, engaging, but most of all, well executed. Undercover Bridesmaid had these too, but Tanya also had a wedding sabotage to stop in the next five minutes. Goldstein takes his time for Mike to be away from the Bannerman family (and get replaced by a co-worker) before he finds new details that could break the case. That way, when Mike comes back, undercover nanny no more, the viewers are ready to see him solve this crime before dinnertime.

Although this hasn't been released on DVD in the States (and likely won't), Along Came a Nanny is a successful undercover mystery that has likeable characters and a fun case to crack. For Hallmark mystery fans that haven't seen this movie yet and have Hallmark Movies Now, I recommend this in a heartbeat.

Chasing Waterfalls

I'm still surprised I read Cymbeline's final act during the commercial breaks for this. You'd think Shakespeare and Hallmark wouldn't mix, but they do (for the most part). 

The first new movie from Hallmark's Spring Fling programming, Chasing Waterfalls was a nice way to spend a Wednesday afternoon. I'm happy the script wasn't too busy given there were three writers attached to it (one being a director who's worked on Crown Media properties but hasn't written for one). The plot moved at a great pace, and the dialogue wasn't too choppy. I tried watching the last movie Cindy Busby and Christopher Russell starred in, Love in the Forecast, but dipped when Barbara Kymlicka passed Jennifer Lopez and Shakira off as current pop music, among other things. Yes, they still make music, but their newer stuff isn't as renowned as their past classics.

Christie Will Wolf also got to shoot at some incredible locations (like the Mystery 101 school). The park this movie is mostly set in has some gorgeous sights. There was a lot of ground covered, and it made me think about the stories nature tells us whenever we walk in it. Maybe this thought process will impact future hikes? We'll have to see.

Chasing Waterfalls does have some stiff line delivery and a conflict that doesn't get completely resolved (did Amy quit her job?), but it also avoids some of the tropes other Hallmark movies are guilty of, and Amy and Mark's romance is enough to draw people in. It's an easy watch, and sometimes, that's all you need.

P.S. An actor from a recent Swifter commercial, Sherilyn Allen, was in this movie as Amy's co-worker. 

All's Fair in Love & Advertising

I ended up watching this movie twice. The first time was the night before A Novel Romance for fun; the second was for my Film class. I watched this film in place of Run Lola Run for my Film class's editing week. The movie wasn't bad, but some of the violent imagery and how the first arc ended didn't sit well with me to the point where I cried 20 minutes after watching the first half. Jumping to a Hallmark movie was an easy solution. Although most TV movies are edited in similar ways, All's Fair in Love & Advertising takes an artistic approach that models where the main characters work: A magazine office.

Kristoffer Tabori's been one of Crown Media's more creative directors (for better or worse depending on what movie you're watching), but I think his work with cinematographer Neil Cervin is at its best here. There are a lot of unorthodox shots and techniques here I haven't seen in Hallmark movies today. Camera operators are underneath tables, obstructions have an artistic edge, and there are split screen moments sprinkled throughout. It fits in with how the advertising world is ageist, spitting older members out in favor of young, "hip" talent.

The acting here is also great. The cast has plenty of my British Columbia favorites, from Andrew Francis, Michelle Harrison, David Lewis, to Sarah-Jane Redmond. Michael Eklund and Hamza Adam were the newer standouts as the two Rage leaders, but everything's tied together thanks to a great lead performance from veteran Steven Weber. Ken Krauss's script moves at a fast pace and had some humor that wouldn't fly in Crown Media Land today (for example, there was a prostitution reference). I did wish we got to see more of Harriet and Tom's romantic chemistry built up in the middle, but All's Fair in Love & Advertising is still an entertaining Hallmark movie fans will enjoy if for the message alone. Who cares about age when someone's got the skills?

MatchMaker Mysteries: The Art of the Kill

Along with the Ruby Herring mystery series, the MatchMaker series struggled to find its footing among audiences when it started in 2019. Viewers didn't gel with the first mystery mainly because Angie Dove, the main character, was unlikeable. I wasn't initially interested in following this series since it didn't look that good, but I gave the first movie a chance during Thanksgiving break. I didn't want to just write off a mystery series just because of an outside view. I wanted to see it for myself.

Three movies in, I can safely say this series is getting better. It's not the best in Hallmark's current mystery catalog, but it's still entertaining enough to warrant a watch. Angie's gotten more likeable, Danica McKellar and Victor Webster are working better together, the cases have gotten stronger even with some hiccups, and The Art of the Kill brings several actors together who either haven't been in a Hallmark movie before or haven't been in one in a while. What makes The Art of the Kill the strongest so far has to do with Dave Thomas developing it. Given his work on Bones, I think it made this mystery feel grounded and more based in reality, especially since it's centered around the art museum. The subplots get tied together in a great way, and there are plenty of convincing leads for viewers to follow.

While the acting is a bit off at the beginning from some of the actors, that smooths out throughout the mystery. I never would have considered Danica McKellar acting as a "rich bitch" to be that entertaining. Bruce Boxleitner's character doesn't only make glorified cameos, and though Patti Stanger couldn't fly out to give an iconic one scene appearance, we still get a couple of great moments that made me laugh. I'm happy my school's surprise off day landed the day after this movie aired because this was the perfect start to my day. Hopefully more kinks are worked out if the fourth installment's filmed. There were some good signs here I'm looking forward to see in the future.

Exit Through the Gift Shop

For our final movie in my Film class, we were asked to watch a documentary. Despite knowing nothing about Banksy and very little about street art, you don't need to be a fan of both to appreciate what Exit Through the Gift Shop does. What starts as Thierry Guetta's look into the street artist lifestyle becomes his life when Banksy asks him to make art of his own. The fact that he was able to get a show running in six weeks with the pieces he and his team made was shocking. I really got to see his passion over years of work culminate in "Life Is Beautiful." It distanced himself from the friends he made and raises the question of whether he's a real artist or not by using copyrighted work and styles his peer were famous for.

I also love the debate over this movie being real or not. Guetta's evolution into Mr. Brainwash unfurls so fast, you could say Banksy planned this from the start. However, I think Guetta's fascination with street art makes Exit Through the Gift Shop a documentary and not a mockumentary. We see stepping stones that Guetta takes to get where he was in 2008. It makes sense that he'd become a street artist; he spent so many hours with creators and with Banksy himself. All that work he saw only fueled the fire. So when Banksy gave him the challenge, it makes sense why he took it.

All in all, Exit Through the Gift Shop is worth a watch. It helped me understand more about prolific street art, why some artists want to remain hidden, letting the art speak for itself, and depicted the story of a man so enamored by the street art he saw that it influenced him for his own success.

RuPaul's Drag Race: Season 13

It's about time I talked about this show. The franchise has been so prominent in the Top Model community I've been in for years, but I didn't start actively watching it until Season 11 aired. Drag Race has become a competitive reality TV show phenomenon; watching it every week is an event. I think back to following and watching the Top Model franchise weekly as a kid and how I craved every drop of content. The same's true for Drag Race. I love its iconic stock music, getting to root for contestants as they progress, and taking elements from the show to consider for a fake Webkinz version of it. With or without spoilers (I avoid any on episode content but don't mind the occasional elimination order, challenge winner, and lip sync song. I'll black out at least half of it), I enjoy the pre-season buzz, getting to talk about the show with my brother and friends, and the reflection once all is said and done.

Although I haven't waded through the franchise's backlog yet, I've seen Seasons 11 and 12, All Stars 5, and Canada's Drag Race Season 1. Season 13 is my favorite American season to date. I say that since I had a lot of fun with Canada's Drag Race when it aired last year (that's a topic for a later day). But Season 13 is just as entertaining and memorable with a likeable batch of queens, fun challenges, and a couple twists to shake things up. There wasn't anyone I disliked this time around; I found reasons to like everyone. Were some drag queens better than others in a reality TV show environment? Yes. But there wasn't a clear villain this time around. Bonus that it wasn't a Black queen, a curvy queen, or all of the above.

Production had fun with setting up the challenges this season. After three episodes with no eliminations, the show set the bar high with a Hallmark movie acting challenge I want to bless the gay interns for. Cheesy scripts with banal plot lines and holidays some Hallmark movies don't touch? An immediate classic. We got a couple of concepts I hadn't seen the show tackle in what I've seen, and they did a good job working around not having outside guests for the makeover challenge. I also got introduced to challenges I only heard about in the past and am ready to see more of. Maybe not queens getting told they're getting eliminated after just arriving on set, though. I don't need to see that kind of psychological warfare.

Season 13 also proved to be the perfect entry point for my mom. After years of hearing us talk about the show, Luke and I got her into it. Even though she missed a couple episodes because of other plans or glitchy cable, I enjoyed calling her every week to see if her favorites shifted, what she thought about the judging, and go through all the reasons why she didn't like Utica (which outside of her not getting into the quirky queens I will never understand). It was fun to hear someone enjoy the show simply for what it was: A vehicle for drag queens across the US to obtain a wider platform and get thrust into the homes of thousands. Drag Race has shown I can be more flexible with who I like, how the season rolls out, and if that storyline is going to be very important in the weeks to come. With an amazing winner to top it off, what more could you ask for? I'm curious to see how Drag Race got to where it is now but also can't wait for what's next.

Hearts Down Under

Produced by the Steve Jaggi Company and released as Romance on the Menu on Australian Netflix in September 2020, I wasn't surprised when Crown Media licensed this to air in the States. I can make a checklist as to why they likely did: An actor that's been a lead in plenty of Hallmark movies. Writers who co-wrote the teleplay for a past tile. Australia. Having an open time slot they didn't mind filling. This was initially supposed to air in May but was bumped up by a month for unknown reasons. Again, I can whip out the checklist: The TV cut reformatting was done at this point. Crown Media execs decided to air a companion to a popular past movie in May. It's a title that can realistically air any time they want it to. Hearts Down Under is so flexible, Hallmark Channel could have easily aired this for their Summer Nights programming, and it wouldn't have been shocking.

Naturally, I was going to watch this when it premiered, so I did while eating my first Dairy Queen burger and fries (which were actually quite good). This movie has some amazing scenery shots that made me wish to see a sunrise beyond just in my house, and I noticed the camera equipment was stronger than the usual Hallmark film. Rosie Lourde captures many great moments, and the project's warm lighting drew me in immediately. Caroline's arc was also fulfilling. Seeing her come to appreciate Lemon Myrtle Cove and enjoy making food again made the moments where she came across bratty better in my eyes. Cindy Busby may not be the best actress, but she did make me sympathize with Caroline at the moments where it counted.

The overdramatic conflicts were also entertaining. My favorite moment in this movie is when Caroline and Tim got locked in the restaurant pantry. It played out like a fanfic, with the two screaming and throwing food at each other, Caroline believing she got played and Tim wanting to know if she really wants to sell the restaurant. It's a forced scene that was surprisingly effective in getting these two to shape up and act like adults in a moment where they were acting like kids. Alison Spuck McNeeley and Casie Tabanou also did a great job bringing in Caroline's ex (claiming to be her fiancé, SMH) at the best possible moment to create peak drama. I was on board.

While Hearts Down Under had its hiccups, it was still entertaining enough to tide me over right before finals. Since the Crown Media edit has ad breaks, I'm curious to see what the Australian Netflix file looks like whenever I get to it. I also need to break out the kitchenware and make a satisfying meal to enjoy while watching this.

You're Bacon Me Crazy

When I noticed the only time I could watch this in April and May was my last day of school, I jumped on the opportunity, move out time crunch and all. My mom did ask a friend of hers to record You're Bacon Me Crazy in case I couldn't watch it, but after getting a late lunch and walking my dog, I sat down for the Hallmark culinary experience.

The reason why I wasn't into this movie at first was due to it being based off a Scholastic middle grade book. I don't think I was a fan of how the adaptive team made this into a Hallmark movie, which given The Angel Tree and Playing Cupid, seems silly. Maybe the start of the pandemic was making me a little pessimistic? Regardless, I think I'm more open with the Hallmark movies I watch now as long as it's something I don't vibe with.

You're Bacon Me Crazy was super cute. I think Christopher Sey did a great job with taking the subplots in directions other Hallmark writers wouldn't risk. Even though the film's bio states Cleo and Gabe are competing against each other, the movie takes its time in actually setting it up. The two have a slight conflict before the main conflict almost has them drifting apart. Gabe's former business partner/flame is the host of the contest, and instead of creating romantic angst there, the two patch up their differences when they meet again. These were good moves that didn't set this movie back.

Natalie Hall played Cleo with a suaveness that really worked for her, there were plenty of familiar faces to get excited about, and all of the food made me want to do one thing: Cook. And bake. Wait, that's technically two. There have been plenty of opportunities for me to do that so far this summer, which has upped my confidence. At the end of the day, You're Bacon Me Crazy is a nice cozy watch you'll want to savor time and time again.

With that, you're all caught up. I hope May was an eventful and productive month for you. Make sure the rest of your summer is an educational, fun, and safe one! Until next time: