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Sunday, March 10, 2019

Dad Crush (My Teacher, My Obession) (2017)

Director: Damian Romay
Writer(s): Patrick Robert Young
Starring: Rusty Joiner, Lucy Loken, Laura Bilgeri, and Jana Lee Hamblin

aka Dad Crush

Well it's never really a good sign when a movie is available on different streaming platforms under different titles; it's also never a good sign when you see the Marvista logo the moment it starts up. That's two knocks for Dad Crush (on hoopla; My Teacher, My Obsession on Netflix) before the movie itself even starts.

The plot is standard fare for this kind of “thriller”: Chris (played by Rusty Joiner) is a father who uproots his daughter, Riley (Laura Bilgeri) and moves her to an unfamiliar town, where she must start all over again. He is a high-school English teacher, while his daughter, of course, happens to be in high school. Desperate for friends, she takes an immediate liking to Kyla, the mysterious camera-toting student who's always taking photos for the school yearbook, despite never once associating with anyone on the yearbook staff.

Kyla takes an immediate liking to Chris, of course herself a victim of daddy issues, and wants to make him her own—an idea that becomes even easier when it turns out he's secretly dating her mom. I won't get into the possible physics of that attraction, because it defies all logic, but then again, who watches these movies for realism? Anyway, Kyla won't let anyone get in her way, including her own mom and “best friend”, so she sets into motion a series of psychopathic lies and stunts destined to make Chris fall in love with her...well, in her own delusional mind, at least. It's not long before her "elaborate" facade starts unraveling around her, and the truth will be revealed at last.

If you're watching Dad Crush in the way I imagine most people watch Marvista movies, this one is rife with the kinds of scenes and illogic that you came for. Like the scene where the unpopular Riley throws herself an eighteenth birthday party at her own house, one that's somehow filled with dozens upon dozens of kids despite her rarely associating with anyone else but Kyla, who she reveals during a fight (in front of everyone, of course) is her “only friend”. It must be tough being a loner with a hundred kids willing to go to your birthday party. Also, never mind the fact that Chris, a teacher in case you needed reminding, is home during all of it, which I'm guessing would be just a mild conflict of interest to have half the school on your property for a non-school related function. Also never mind the fact that Chris and Riley are in the same class to begin with, something I'm guessing also would never happen.

Or how about the hilarious sequence where Kyla sets her mom up to think Chris is cheating on her with a student, via a series of texts from a stolen cell phone. Angry (and, of course, not listening to his pleas at all despite no other evidence pointing to such a thing), she throws him out, at which point he dejectedly sits out in his truck—in front of their house—where Kyla goes out to “comfort” him by climbing on top of him and forcing her lips onto his, while he “fights back” by simply saying “no” over and over again. Wait, what? So a beefcake high school teacher dumped by a student's mom for supposedly having an illicit relationship with another student would just let the mom's daughter climb on top of him right in front of their house, despite clearly having enough upper body strength to throw her into the next town, if he wanted to? In perhaps the most surprising turn in any low-grade thriller ever, the mom doesn't even see it happen, but if I'm a framed guy trying to prove I don't fuck my students, I'm probably going to have a little more resolve in me than that.

There are many more nuances not worth delving into, like the popular school slut trying to “battle” Kyla for the teacher's “affection”, but we all know how that's going to play out. Also not worth mentioning is the cliffhanger finale, which anyone even semi-familiar with these movies is going to see coming a mile away.

There is one small plus in this whole mess: Credit must be given to the casting department, at least somewhat, because the two leads are what they should be: attractive. While having the teacher be a musclebound freak was a little overboard for me (I don't recall ever seeing a muscle-laden teacher in all my schooling years, save for maybe PE class), Rusty Joiner at least looks like someone his age should look: all too often in these movies, the dad character seems to look the same age as the daughter. Meanwhile, Lucy Loken as the obsessive, flirty high school student is one of the most attractive female leads in any low-rent thriller I've ever seen: it's at least believable, then, when he falls under her spell...well, from a physical standpoint anyway. (And she looks nothing like she does in the movie's poster, which slathers on the makeup and Photoshop effects to a disgusting degree despite her natural beauty.) 

The casting lost me a bit with the choice of Kyla's mom--one of those "no way this relationship would ever happen" mismatches that seem obligatory in these movies--but you can't win them all. Other than looks, the cast largely seems capable of acting, but unfortunately aren't required to do much of that at all, while what little talent they do display is overshadowed by the poor lines they're required to deliver, and the baffling actions their characters are required to make.

In summation, if you watch these movies the way we do—to laugh at all the illogical character actions, stilted dialogue, pointless characters, and over-the-top hijinx—you're going to find a lot here to “like”. It's one of those movies that's so bad you swear the cast and crew had to somehow be in on it; the kind of movie that seems impossible to make with any amount of genuine sincerity; the kind of movie where you just wait for that subtle nod that everyone involves understands how atrocious it all is and that they're just in it for the paycheck. As layers upon layers of improbability somehow align; as you sit and stare in shocked disbelief that anyone can take this with any shred of seriousness; as you pray to the gods for a sign that a studio full of grown men are in on the joke that they've made...that's when the end credits start to roll.

RATING: 6/10. (This is a rating based on "entertainment" value, and is in no way comparable to the ratings of "real" movies.)


Tuesday, December 25, 2018

CHRISTMAS CAPSULES: Christmas Wedding Planner (2017)

Okay, it's probably unfair to even rate this, considering we only made it about ten minutes in before we canceled our Netflix subscription, smashed our television set, and gouged out our eyes to prevent ourselves from ever having to witness something so cruel and unusual again; don't consider this a “review” so much as a warning.

This is awful. It's the kind of movie that thinks all it takes to make people laugh are to have two characters run into each other, something that honestly happens three times in the small window of time we were watching. It's the kind of movie that somehow wants to overcome you with holiday cheer, yet throws in characters so despicable that you want to murder them. Of course, I'm sure by the end said characters realize the errors of their ways and make a complete 180, but you shouldn't make your movie feel like an obstacle course to get that far.

It's a shame, too, because lead Jocelyn Hudon is beautiful—one of the cutest girls I've ever seen in a schmaltzy holiday role--but is completely lost amongst the schticky acting and tired story. In this, Hudon is Kelsey, an up-and-coming wedding planner whose first job is also her biggest: Planning her cousin's extravagant wedding. But when she runs into a slightly attractive mega-douche Connor (who even has the douchiest name imaginable!), her world is overturned. Well, not at first, because they hate each other, but something tells me the spirit of Christmas will help change their tune! 

Lots of Disney-grade acting (in the defense of those, they are for pre-pubescent children), coincidences (oh, the man that bought the last scone at the coffeeshop is the cousin's ex-boyfriend?), and totally illogical scenes follow, such as when Kelsey is tasked with removing the mega-douche from a wedding party, even though the guy seems amicably there by all counts. And it's all within the first ten minutes. The idea that this could go on for almost 9 times that length something that most humans cannot fathom. For die-hard, unassuming fans of this kind of movie only.

RATING: 0.5/10 


CHRISTMAS CAPSULES: A Puppy for Christmas (2016)

You would think the addition of a dog (or any animal, for that matter) to a sentimental Christmas story would be a guaranteed home run, but leave it up to those fine folks at MarVista to find a way to screw it up.

Noelle is a grown woman who has always been obsessed with the idea of owning a dog, but has never been able to get one, because, you know, dogs are ultra-rare and hard-to-find. Her latest dog-prevention obstacle is that the man she's been seeing for five years, ultra-douche extraordinnaire Todd, is allergic to them—until she learns that some dogs are hypo-allergenic, so she goes out and buys one. Turns out, Todd is not allergic to them, but is afraid of commitment, so he dumps her.

Meanwhile, for being so obsessed with dogs, it turns out Noelle has never actually researched anything about them; she takes the puppy to work with her, apparently thinking they come pre-trained. Of course, the puppy gets into adorable mischief that captures the attention of Liam, the rugged hunk that writes the “Adventure” column for the newspaper. After sleeping in her office overnight since she has nowhere else to go (?) she is caught by Liam, who invites her to his remote house for the weekend. This is perfect timing, because he's awaiting the arrival of his fiance, who no one in his family has ever met, and having the woman you're going to marry come home to you alone with a strange woman is probably a really great idea.

Thankfully, it's not so awkward because his family is there to surprise them with a surprise engagement party! After explaining that Noelle is not his fiance (thank God it at least avoided that trope), the two settle down with family, as Liam's real fiance keeps postponing the trip, eventually making it obvious she's never coming back. Good thing sparks are flying between him and Noelle! But it can't just be that easy—after an incredibly lame party, Todd realizes that he gave up a good gal, and tries to woo her back. Which man will she choose?

Really, it all comes down to the characters: Noelle is annoying as shit, and seems completely mismatched in all facets against the good-looking Liam. There was no part of me that felt they were a good match or wanted them to get together, and that's kind of the whole point of the movie. Then there's the whole point of the dog: I didn't even want it to get stuck with Noelle, who never seems to have any time for it amidst trying to fall in love and screwing up at every turn. Again, she shows no signs of anyone who has ever wanted a dog for a minute, let alone her whole life, as the narrative assures us is the case.

It's watchable by the slimmest of margins, and didn't fill me with the level of holiday rage that some of these movies do, but it's one that both animal lovers, and good movie lovers should skip altogether.

RATING: 3/10


CHRISTMAS CAPSULES: A Christmas Kiss (2011)

Stop me if you've heard this one before: A career-oriented doormat that answers to “Wendy” wants to look for love, but is too busy being controlled by her boss to find time to make that happen. Oh, if only a man could fall into her lap! Well, one does, when she meets a mystery man in an elevator and shares a passionate, life-changing kiss. The problem is, she doesn't know the identity of the man. Is she going to meet him again and fall in love, or will the story take a realistic turn and leave her empty and alone during the holidays?

Of course she'll meet him again, and she doesn't even have to exert any effort to look far, because all of these movies seem to take place in a bubble consisting only of eight people. As it turns out, the man is the boyfriend of her controlling boss, Ms. Ward! Just so there's nothing like complex feelings or emotions to sort out, it's clear that Ms. Ward is only using him for his social status, and is too focused on how a marriage to him could increase her exposure.

This becomes even more apparent when the man (who I'll just keep nameless because, in these movies, it's the male who's the meat) comes to Ms. Ward with a request: that she design a holiday-themed party for his organization's fundraiser. Of course, this is a problem for the controlling, materialistic woman, who doesn't know the first thing about him; naturally, he is disappointed in her ideas. But like all manipulative women, Ms. Ward has no limits to the lengths she will go to keep what she wants, and before you know it, she's claiming the creepily-personal plans that Wendy drew up, as her own!

The familiar-yet-still-ridiculous premise, and insanely meek lead woman (I think at least 60% of the final 40 minutes of the film's running time consists of friends urging her to reveal to him that she was the designer of the plans, while she inexplicably—and maddeningly—finds reasons not to) should hint at a movie that should be avoided at all costs. But you know what? Like the impossible odds faced by the characters in these kinds of movies, this one is actually enjoyable (at least, for what it is).

Laura Breckenridge is beautiful as Wendy, and while her character is a wimp, she still shows off a diverse range of acting chops, nailing the requisite crying scenes with believability and gusto, while maintaining a level of innocent charm that still makes you like her (or, at the very least, not hate her) no matter how dumb she is. Meanwhile, Brendan Fehr as the leading man might not have the effortless looks of his leading lady (no, he's not at all ugly; I just mean he's not what most women would consider “beautiful” at first glance), but wins over the audience with a great balance of charisma and cockiness that blends perfectly with Wendy's hapless romantic. Together, their chemistry is undeniable: this doesn't feel like most romance films, where you only want to see them get together because you know they will and they should, but because they generally seem to want to.

Lastly, even Elisabeth Rohm as the domineering boss—a character that I would normally despise for all the wrong reasons—is perfect, delivering her demeaning, over-the-top lines with such relish and gusto that you'll find yourself laughing at them, despite how unbelievably cold and exaggerated they are. It all comes together to form a movie that is better than it has any right to be, and that should be required viewing for fans of mindless holiday romances.

RATING: 7.5/10


Monday, December 24, 2018

CHRISTMAS CAPSULES: Holly's Holiday (2012)

Those crackpots at MarVista Entertainment are at it again, blasting the world with unnecessary seasonal feelings with yet another cheesy holiday romp, that goes under the name of Holly's Holiday. This time, an ad exec (named Holly, as the title would indicate) dreams of finding her Mr. Right, and of course is unaware that her perfect co-worker who loves her, and completely fits the bill, is right in front of her face for forty hours a week. How are so many women so stupid? (That was a rhetorical question, by the way.)

Of course these movies have to have a “villain”, whether they be intentionally slimy greaseballs, or just a decoy that serves the sole purpose of teaching the woman a valuable lesson about the invalidity of the “perfect man” they spend their whole lives searching for: in this case, it's Bo, a store window mannequin who comes to life, and whose facial expressions are so overexaggerated that I want to chew his face clean off. Of course, Bo is the perfect physical embodiment to what Holly thinks is the man of her dreams, but she's about to discover that looks, and perfection, aren't everything...

I won't bore you with the exact plot details you somehow already know without having watched a single minute of it, but let's just say the whole affair feels every bit as familiar as you are hoping for, though at least there are some genuinely funny moments (an incredibly awkward dinner with Bo's family is responsible for about half of them), and an adorably charming female lead who's at least nice to look at even as she “stupids” her way through life, blowing off the man she's really meant to be with while getting caught up in the sudden perfection of mannequin man, who is the first person she sees as she wakes up from being knocked out on a busy city sidewalk.

This is where I have to admit that writing a review for these movies before you finish them can be dangerous. We had all but fifteen minutes watched, and I was set to give this an above-average review, figuring I knew exactly how it would all play out. Of course I did—everyone knows from the first two minutes who is going to end up with who—but I made the mistake of forgetting that getting from point A to point B in these movies is never a straight line.

In this case, so much is crammed into the finale that it nearly undoes all of the “fun” that proceeded it, dragging itself along like an injured runner desperately trying to cross a finish line. There's attempted sabotage, sudden rivalries, unconvincing arguments, a two-day coma from falling, a hospital stay, and a frantic attempt to beat a deadline, all crammed into 900 seconds, and all just to end up where we knew it was going all along. And now I just realized I made it sound way more badass and entertaining than the actual experience of watching it is, so I'm just going to quit now, and say there are far worse examples of the holiday romance out there, but if you're looking for “more charming than ridiculous”, this one probably won't be your cup of tea.

RATING: 4.5/10


CHRISTMAS CAPSULES: A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding (2018)

Sometimes—okay, maybe most of the time—it's really shocking to me the things that “take off”. Take, for instance, Netflix's original holiday romance A Christmas Prince, released last year, which somehow blew up and went viral, despite not even being a slightly-enjoyable example of what makes these cheesy movies appealing.

Well given the attention paid to the first one, it was all but guaranteed there would be a sequel. That sequel is called A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding, and it takes everything that was bad with the first, makes them even worse, and then adds a bunch of other bad things to the list. It's one that, dare I say it, even the more hardcore romantic cheeseballs will have a very hard time slogging through.

It's almost a year after the events of the first one, and Amber is finally about to get married to Prince Richard of Aldovia. She is summoned from her New York home, and whisked away to the fictional country to do just that. But she isn't going alone—she's brought her edgy, inner-city pops (who thinks he's a “chef” because he owns a diner in New York City) along. He's one of those no-nonsense type tough guys who thinks it's appropriate to give high fives to dignitaries and bear hug a way that appalling behavior could eventually endear himself to the royal family!

God, I'm just not going to get into it. If your idea of romance is watching a man constantly get pulled away from his woman to answer work-related calls, this is the movie for you...seriously, Amber spends so much of the movie without her man, that you just expect her to call things off. This is bad, but not in an enjoyable way; it seems to take pride in crossing the line from “frivolously stupid, lighthearted fun” to “rage-inducing idiocy”, and then just staying there as long as it can.

Just a few thoughts I have: Amber really thinks she'll be able to keep blogging as a queen to a kingdom? What exactly does she think being a QUEEN will entail? Why even center a romantic movie around this plot, when the entire first half consists of Richard getting pulled away to deal with business? Why is the dad such a moron? Why does he keep touting his diner credentials, as if those would up his status among royalty? When did the crippled girl learn to hack into computer systems? Why did they have to bring a “feminist” angle to all of this? Of course, for the sake of the movie, she ends up getting her way and completely undoing centuries of time-honored traditions, but common sense would tell you not to marry into a royal family if being yourself is your main motivation in life. How did no one have time to look into a money-laundering scheme so grand, it literally depleted all of Aldovia's money? Jesus...I'm done here.

RATING: 1/10


CHRISTMAS CAPSULES: Angela's Christmas (2017)

Okay, here we go: Time to ruin the holidays for everyone with a bah-humbug moment; we all knew it was coming anyway, so might as well just put it out there to get it over with: I hate the ideology that perpetuates the notion that kids, especially really little ones, don't have to do anything to be cute. There, I said it. I think it's lazy, and furthermore, I don't subscribe to that idea. Yes, I think my child is adorable, even when he does things that annoy me (which, let's be honest, is quite frequently). The vast majority of parents think the same thing about theirs. That's just healthy and normal. But I don't expect other people to think the same way about my child as I do, and I sure as hell don't think other peoples' children are cute, just by default.

This translates to media, where one of my biggest pet peeves are movies that center themselves around small children, but don't give them anything meaningful to do; they rely solely on the fact it's a child to carry it across the finish line, and people gobble it up the same way they do animal videos. Angela's Christmas is that kind of movie, where we're supposed to find it so adorable that a child steals a Jesus statue from a church nativity scene “just to keep it warm” that we're just automatically involved and invested emotionally for thirty whole minutes, no matter how void of substance the rest of it is.

I get the feeling the only reason movies like this exist is to allow the writer to run on auto-pilot; they can basically phone in a sappy story with a child at the center, exert little effort, and rake in the cash. Our inherent ability to immediately identify children as the picture of innocence means the average viewer will automatically love any positive child character, without the need for any unnecessary literary obstacles, such as character development. So in this case, the entire movie is narrated by the little girl's future son, as an example of how perfect and angelic and pure she was, and presumably still is. How this story, which would be just a cute anecdote within the annals of most families, is somehow the one that most completely sums her up as a person, sixty years later, really just speaks to how boring the rest of her life must have been.

Of course her family, which consists of single mother (cue another lazy emotional checkpoint!) and three brothers, eventually find out she stole it, and the mother makes her take it back to the church. This leads to the only unpredictable sequence in the whole affair, in which the priest, so maddened by this child's theft, actually expects her to be arrested and taken to jail. A small child. On Christmas Eve. Granted, it takes place a long time ago, so maybe children weren't automatically revered for every little thing they did back then; either way, the thought that a man of the cloth could react with such vilification toward a little child who is voluntarily returning a doll she stole under cute pretenses is rather bewildering, and completely nonsensical. But of course it functions as yet another cheap emotional payoff; we are relieved that the officer decides not to arrest the little girl, thus returning her to her family for Christmas, and more heartstrings are plucked! I'm surprised they didn't give Angela a disability just to exploit another emotional loophole in human nature while they were at it!

At least even the worst Hallmark-style romance movies know they're bad from the outset, and the audience knows exactly what to expect going in. But the most offensive kind of movies, are trite movies that somehow think they are making some kind of profound, poignant statement, even though they offer nothing of substantial value. I know, I know, families want formulaic movies for the holidays; I get that. They want positive movies that can make them feel good about Christmas traditions, and nothing is better than a poor family (did I not mention the family of four with the single mother is poor?) showing that materialistic wants are trumped by the good inside all of us. And it will no doubt succeed, given that it checks off all those requirements, and is being peddled by Netflix. It also may very well may fit the bill for families with young children (our two year old loves it), who are too young to understand its meaning, yet are taken by its animation style.

But aside from the music, which is simple and effective and features a lullaby-style vocal track that hits all the notes the movie fails to hit, for me, the most positively life-affirming thing about Angela's Christmas, is that it's only thirty minutes long.

RATING: 2.5/10