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Killing Mommy (2016) (TV)
2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
One of Lifetime's best -- but the trailer gives the big twist away!, 16 June 2016
8/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The Lifetime "world premiere" on Saturday, June 11 was "Killing Mommy," a.k.a. "Deadly Daughters," a surprisingly engaging thriller with a big twist about two-thirds of the way through, "presented" by Pierre David and Tom Berry (names that have previously been associated with a lot of Lifetime thrillers that have run the gamut from suspenseful to silly) and directed by Curtis James Crawford and Anthony Dufresne from a script by Trent Haaga. It's slow going at first mainly because there isn't anyone in it we actually like: it's about a mother and her two grown (25-year-old) twin daughters, though the twins don't look that much alike, at least partly because they're deliberately costumed differently to reflect their lifestyles. Mom is Eve Hanson (Claire Rankin), who's about to marry Winston Berlin (Rob Stewart), the guy she's been dating for four years since her previous husband Harlan (Jeff Teravainen) died in a bizarre accident: he was restoring a 1965 Mustang as a birthday present for one of his daughters when the jack that was holding the car up gave way and the car fell on him and crushed him.

The daughters are Juliana (Yvonne Zima), who wears her hair long and colors it auburn (mom is blonde) and is a wanna-be fashionista who's tearing through the family fortune left behind by her self-made father while ostensibly studying to be a fashion designer; and Deborah — usually called "Deb" and also played by Yvonne Zima — who has black hair that makes her look like she's auditioning to play Patti Smith in a biopic and generally wears a black leather jacket, a black T-shirt hailing the joys of LSD, and black jeans. She's also got a ring piercing on her lower lip. (Cinthia Burke and her associates in the makeup department deserve kudos for making the two Zimas look similar when they're supposed to and dramatically different when they're supposed to.) None of these women come off as sympathetic characters — mom seems like a controlling bitch, Juliana a spoiled one and Deb someone who's going out of her way to rebel by drinking, picking up sleazy guys at a dive bar, and giving herself points for being "clean" because at least she isn't doing "hard drugs" anymore. Mom's boyfriend Winston doesn't come off any better; he's obviously a gold-digger who's just after Eve for her money, which he's already lost $100,000 of in a bad stock deal, which hasn't stopped him from pestering her for control over the rest of the fortune. Given the title, the main suspense early on is over which sister is going to kill mom, or try to, for her money — Juliana, Deb or both of them in combination.

Though hamstrung by a plot that's all too predictable — especially since what writer Haaga obviously intended as a big surprise was given away in the trailer — Killing Mommy is great sleazy fun, not only because the actor playing Deke is the most genuinely handsome male in the film despite the stringy blond hair and scraggly beard he's outfitted with to make him look skuzzier (and the actor playing Winston is also genuinely handsome!) but because the characterizations are well drawn and genuinely complex even though our suspicion, based on hearing him talked about through the movie, that the late husband would be the only sympathetic character in the dramatis personae is borne out the one time we see him in a flashback.

ToY (2015)
7 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
Magnificent must-see movie, 7 June 2016
10/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I just saw "ToY" Saturday, June 4 at FilmOut, the Queer film festival in San Diego, and it was magnificent, wiping my cinematic palate clean from the aftertaste of the opening movie the night before, "Kiss Me, Kill Me." The odd typography of the title was the deliberate choice of its director and co-writer, Patrick Chapman, who was an artist before he got into filmmaking and so far has made only two feature-length movies. In a question-and-answer session right after the showing that featured Chapman, co-writer Alissa Kokkins and one of the film's two female leads, Briana Evigan, Chapman said that the basic idea of the title was to say it was a story about two people who "toy" with each other. Maybe that was the original concept, but as he, his writers and his cast developed the project it became something much deeper and richer than that. The promo line for the film is, "Love does not heal the broken," and indeed that could serve as a summary of the film since the central characters are two people, both deeply wounded by the stressors of life, who come together, briefly make each other more or less happy, but then are pulled apart by their own unhealable traumas. The film begins with Chloe Davis (Briana Evigan), a 20-something artist from a well-to-do family; her mom died some time ago and her father Steven (Daniel Hugh Kelly) is fighting a losing battle with her to get her into rehab — did I mention she has a drug problem? She's a movie artist, isn't she? — and to pressure her to sign away her rights to the money from the family foundation set up in memory of her dead mother. When she isn't escaping rehab and snorting coke, Chloe is working on an elaborate project documenting the lives of women who make their livings with their bodies — mostly prostitutes but also models as well (and one of the women she hires as a model gets angry when she realizes Chloe doesn't think modeling and prostitution are all that different). Chloe photographs these people both for still pictures and for video; the stills are often nude or semi-nude and almost clinical in their apparent detachment, but the movies are filmed through smoky or scratched glass that blurs many of the features of the people in them as Chloe asks them about their lives. Most of the prostitutes she interviews are women, but at least one is a male-presenting man and one is obviously Transgender. The central intrigue of the film begins when Chloe meets hard-edged forty-something Kat Fuller (Kerry Norton), who comes into the interview so hostile she won't even give Chloe her name ("Why do you want to know?" she says), but eventually she opens up while keeping her hard edge. Chloe and Kat drift into a physical relationship and seem on some level to be right for each other despite the fact that the principal thing they have in common is sheer neediness.

ToY is a marvelous movie, powerfully directed and written, vividly acted by the principals as well as a fairly large supporting cast (many of whom we only see in the interview scenes Chloe shoots with them); Briana Evigan, who aside from her short hair bears a striking resemblance to Janis Joplin (and judging from her work here she would be an excellent choice to play Janis if she either has a singing voice or they can find her a good double), really inhabits the part of Chloe, and she and Kerry Norton play brilliantly off each other: the airheaded artist whose well-off family has (mostly) bought her way out of trouble, and the over-the-hill sex worker twice her age who's had to survive as honestly as possible in a hard and mean world. I found myself wondering if there had been a real-life model to Chloe's character — there was: the real-life 1970's photographer Francesca Woodman — and both Chapman and Evigan said they studied Woodman's life as a way of making Chloe a more realistic character. I also couldn't help but draw a parallel between ToY and the recent film Room, which I had also just seen and found incredibly deep and moving (and, by coincidence, they're not only both stories about female survival under incredible odds, both star actresses who go by the name "Brie"!). The stories aren't all that similar but the intensity and compassion with which they are told are, and so is their common theme of how women are exploited sexually by men and the desperation, survival skills and self-hatred they develop to deal with the way they're used.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
O.K. but mediocre and all too typical of Lifetime, 7 June 2016
5/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The title "You May Now Kill the Bride" makes me think that the film's writer, Blaine Chiappetta (is that a man, woman or chia pet?), was probably hanging out with some friends and they were brainstorming what would be the silliest parody of a Lifetime movie title they could come up with. I had assumed it would be the hoary old Lifetime trope of a woman who seems to have met her dream man, only to discover once they actually tie the knot that he's a serial killer who's made it his habit to woo, marry and then off women. Instead it was the hoary old Lifetime trope of the nice young couple who seem to be altar-bound without any untoward complications when untoward complications arrive big-time in the person of a stranger who on the surface is just nice, perky and trying to be helpful, but who holds a deep, dark secret underneath. The man is Mark Pressler (Rocky Myers), not exactly a drop-dead gorgeous sex god but considerably more attractive than the tall, lanky, sandy-haired types who usually get cast as Lifetime leading men. His fiancée is Nicole Cavanaugh (Ashley Newbrough), a blonde who's way too trusting of the perky little woman who comes in, establishes herself as their house guest, takes over more and more of the job of planning their wedding, and ultimately reveals herself to have a hidden agenda. She is Audrey (Tammin Sursok), who's introduced as Mark's stepsister even though it's not clear whether they're any biological relation to each other at all — apparently she arrived with Mark's stepmother and was the offspring of a previous relationship of hers before she married Mark's dad. Apparently this film was shot under the working title "The Stepsister," though writer Chiappetta and director Kohl Glass (he sounds like something you'd buy at Home Depot) followed the formula of Christine Conradt's "Perfect" movies they might as well have called it "The Perfect Sister-in-Law." Trusting couple taken in by crazy bitch? Check. Heroine's best friend who checks out the background of the seemingly "perfect" crazy and gets assaulted for her pains? Check again.

"You May Now Kill the Bride" is an O.K. Lifetime movie; despite its risible title (which I found at least two other entries for on IMDb.com, though one is an episode of a TV series), it's decently made. The direction is acceptable and sometimes more than that — Glass has a flair for suspense editing even though little in Chiappetta's script requires it — the writing is O.K. given the strictness of the formula, and the ending actually has a certain degree of power even though the beginning that supposedly foreshadowed it makes no sense. The first scene shows Audrey having bound a woman in a wedding dress and slowly torturing her, though since it isn't followed by a title reading either x amount of time earlier or y amount of time later, we don't know whether that's a tag scene showing what Audrey is going to do to Nicole at the end, a prologue indicating that she did this to one of Mark's earlier girlfriends, or just a fantasy on her part. "You May Now Kill the Bride" is just mediocre; not good enough to transcend its origins in the Lifetime/MarVista Entertainment formula (as Conradt's directorial debut, "The Bride He Bought Online," did) and not silly enough to be watchable as camp, either, though it came close a few times. It's also decently acted, though Tammin Sursok's performance would probably have impressed me more if I hadn't seen altogether too many of these superficially nice but really twitchy psychopath roles in previous Lifetime movies

4 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Disappointing Queer-themed thriller, 4 June 2016
4/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Last night's opening film for the San Diego FilmOut LGBT Film Festival was a film gris — my somewhat snotty term for a movie that attempts to be film noir but falls short — called "Kiss Me, Kill Me," a great title that deserves a much better movie than this. It was directed by Casper Andreas, an attractive, youngish man who's so far had seven films shown at the festival in San Diego (more than any other director) and will have an eighth, Flatbush Luck, as the festival's closer on Sunday. "Kiss Me, Kill Me" is not only a great film title but a potentially great film idea: Gay "reality TV" producer Stephen (Gale Harold) is hosting a party at which a lot of people, virtually all of them Queer in one way or another (one annoying thing about this movie is that, like a lot of the 1930's "race films" which seemed to take place in a hermetically sealed world in which all the people were African-American, this is one of those movies in which everyone seems to be Gay or Lesbian), are drinking too much, drugging too much and cruising each other without regard for their nominal marital or relational statuses. Stephen announces that his ex-lover Craigery (Matthew Ludwinski), an aspiring actor (but then this is a movie set in modern-day Los Angeles and West Hollywood, so just about everyone in the dramatis personae is an aspiring actor) is going to be the host of his next show. This pisses off Stephen's current partner, Dusty (Van Hansis, top-billed — apparently he's on the current cast of the soap opera "As the World Turns" and he has enough of a following his name was applauded when it came up on the opening credits, but I'd never heard of him or anyone else in Andreas's cast), not only because Dusty was hoping for the job himself but also because he immediately suspects that it means Stephen and Craigery aren't as "ex" as advertised. Stephen offers Dusty an engagement ring and Dusty takes it, but then their argument flares up again and Stephen ends up leaving his own party and heading to the Pink Dot, which is a sort of part-convenience store and part-all-night deli that offers 24-hour deliveries (this sounds like the sort of business that might flourish in West Hollywood). Dusty follows him there and confronts him, and just then a man in a clown mask whom we've previously seen lurking outside the place bursts in holding a gun and demanding that the clerk (the actor is an appealing Latino who oddly isn't listed on IMDb.com's cast list for the film, though a lot of people with more peripheral parts aren't listed) hand over all the store's money. Gunshots are heard but it's unclear what happens after that — a deliberate ambiguity on the part of Andreas and his screenwriter, David Michael Barrett — because Dusty blacks out and whatever went on is locked in his subconscious. When he comes to he's in Cedars of Lebanon Hospital recovering from a minor gunshot wound in his right arm; but he's shocked to learn that Stephen was killed (as was the clerk, who in this whole universe of spoiled rich brats and wanna-bes is one of the few characters in this movie I could actually imagine liking if I met their real-life equivalent, so it's a real pity that he exits so soon) and he's suspected of using the robbery as a cover to shoot his man because he was doing him wrong (you remember).

It's a shame that "Kiss Me, Kill Me" isn't stronger as a piece of storytelling because the technical aspects of the film are superb. Cinematographer Rainer Lipski goes a bit too far towards the overall brown tonalities that seem to be the default setting for just about all movie photography today, but he gets some striking compositions and hits the right balance between making his film look atmospheric and falling into too many gimmick shots. This is especially praiseworthy because virtually all the film was shot on real locations — the budget was about $260,000, half of it was raised through Kickstarter and it's not the sort of film where they could afford studio time or built sets — and Lipski insisted on shooting virtually all the night scenes at night instead of going for day-for-night effects which would have been easier and cheaper but less effective visually. And composer Jonathan Dinerstein wisely avoided trying to come up with the full orchestral sound of a classic 1940's-era noir score; instead he went for a jazz sound that effectively used the Miles Davis-ish trumpet of Ben Burget as a lead instrument. (Given that this is a Gay movie c. 2015 I should probably be even more grateful to Dinerstein for not drowning the score in boring and overloud "electronic dance music"!) The technical aspects of "Kiss Me, Kill Me" were done so well it's all the more infuriating that the script, direction and at least some of the actors let the side down. One of my favorite lines for a film that falls as far short of its potential is "a bad movie with a good movie in it struggling to get out," and had Andreas and Barrett cooled it on the reversals, gone more for plot continuity and dramatic sense, given their leads more depth and avoided the occasional camp asides that took the edge of what was clearly supposed to be a serious thriller, they could have had a much better film and a chance of breaking out of the Gay film-festival ghetto and achieving a mainstream release.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Surprisingly good Kafka-esque thriller, 28 May 2016

"Marriage of Lies," last Saturday's Lifetime "world premiere," turned out to be a surprisingly good suspense thriller, helped by the fact that it contains no openly violent scenes until the very end, one that puts its heroine into a Kafka-like peril that's frightening but plausible and keeps us identifying with her throughout. The heroine is Rachel Wilson (April Bowlby), who seems to be living a nice life in a small town with her husband Tye (Brody Hutzler) and their daughter Ella (Faith Graham). Then Tye suddenly disappears one morning and Rachel spends the next two days rather desultorily looking for him, including stopping by the high school where he's a teacher and athletic coach and trying to get information out of the students in his classes, including one young woman who definitely has a crush on him. Two days after he disappears, Rachel reports him to the police as missing, and the investigation spirals out of control as the police — Detective Roper (Zachary Garred) in particular (he's the partner of Gus, played by Corin Nemec, an older, more Clint Eastwood-esque cop who's more skeptical of the obvious conclusion that Rachel did something to her husband) — decide that Tye must have met with foul play and Rachel must be the guilty party. The people in this small town — who, like those in virtually all movie small towns, make it a point of getting into each other's business and gossiping about each other — decide Rachel is guilty even before the cops do, though one has to wonder throughout this whole movie, "Guilty of what?" (Apparently "Presumed Guilty" was the film's working title, and it might have been a better one for it.) There's no trace of what happened to Tye, no hint that he's either living or dead — certainly there's no body, and no one has any idea what might have happened to the body if Rachel (or someone else) murdered him. Rachel finds herself beset by her next-door neighbor from hell, town gossip DeeDee (Marcia Ann Burrs), as well as a freelance videographer who (like most of these "types" in movies) wears a Walter Winchell-style hat and seems to be modeling himself after the great gossip columnist of old, and whose schtick is to ambush Rachel and shove his camera in her face, demanding that she tell "the truth" about whatever is going on when she has no idea of what is going on. Rachel's only confidante is her long-time friend Jessica (Virginia Williams), who works at the local bar and who eagerly joins in the search for Tye, alive or dead. Once she realizes that the cops suspect her of either knocking off her husband or arranging her disappearance, Rachel hires an attorney, Dylan (Ryan Bittle, an unusually hunky actor for a Lifetime good guy), with whom she has an off-balance relationship because she's not convinced he thinks she's innocent and he tells her that doesn't matter; his job is to represent her interests whether she did anything criminal or not. "Marriage of Lies" isn't a great movie — it doesn't even reach the quality level of some of the Lifetime social-comment movies like "For the Life of a Child" or "Restless Virgins" — but on its own terms it's well made and well worth watching. Brian D. Young's script is coherent, relatively plausible and refreshingly unmelodramatic. Danny J. Boyle's direction is finely honed and refreshingly gimmick-free, and the acting, particularly April Bowlby's all-important performance as Rachel, is solidly professional and genuinely moving throughout.

2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Dull so-called "thriller", 17 May 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

On Sunday, May 15, after "I Didn't Kill My Sister" — a good movie with a dumb title — Lifetime ran "Trust No One," also an Odyssey Media production and also a film that began with a different name ("Corrupt"), but a far inferior production, a dull story about the attempts of Pittsburgh district attorney Frank Murphy (hot African-American actor Andrew Moodie) to get the goods on a Mafia-connected money launderer named Vargano (Douglas Kidd). It's not actually specified by screenwriters Curtis James Crawford (who also directed) and Cathy and Wendy McKernan that he's part of the Mafia, but he has an Italian-sounding name, he's played by a swarthy actor who looks like Leonardo Di Caprio's big brother, and he's escaped prosecution by means of a large, muscular, mostly bald sandy-haired hit man, Taylor (Layton Morrison), who manages through almost supernatural powers to identify and knock off any potential witness against Vargano before the D.A. can actually get that person to court to testify against him. The leading character of the movie is actually Kate MacIntyre (Nicole de Boer), a forensic accountant who when she isn't teaching at a local college (there's a scene of her giving a lecture to her students in which she explains mark-to-market accounting) works under the D.A. trying to get the goods on Vargano by looking through all his accounting records to see if she can find anomalies that would indicate he's using his "legitimate" businesses as a front for money laundering. Vargano, meanwhile, is behaving more like a James Bond villain than a classical movie Mafioso; virtually the only times we actually see him are when he's lounging on his yacht with two anonymous bimbos in tow to service some of his other needs. (The fact that he seems to be able to do this year-round in Pittsburgh, of all places, itself requires a certain suspension of disbelief.)

Murphy manages to get Kate to leave her job as a professor and join his task force even though the last time she worked for him she nearly got killed and the witness she had developed was killed. At first they work out of Murphy's own offices until a Black hit man (Dennis LaFond), a confederate of Taylor's, disguises himself as a janitor and sets a bomb in the storage room holding the files Murphy and his staff have assembled about Vargano and his questionable — and, they hope, provably illegal — business activities. Kate, the obviously intended victim, is uninjured because she went out to replenish the group's coffee supply as they worked into the night, but her assistant Vivian (Allison Brennan) is injured and ends up in the hospital. So Murphy orders his crew to leave the office and move into a safe house where they can be protected from Vargano's thugs, and one of the three police officers assigned to Kate's detail, Carl (Jon MacLaren), bails out on the ground that he's too concerned about his family to want to work a job that might get himself killed. The two cops that end up with Kate in the safe house are hunky young Detective Daniel Leaton (Scott Gibson) and older, stouter, taller and more avuncular, but still attractive, Greg Nealand (Peter Michael Dillon), who worms out of Kate the information that she's single and then declares his love for her. As the film progresses (in the manner of a disease), Murphy becomes aware that there is a "mole" in his operation who's leaking Vargano and his organization all the information about his investigation, including the identities of his potential witnesses (so Vargano can have Taylor and his Black confederate kill them) and the businesses he owns that Murphy and Kate are looking at — and we become aware that one of the two cops hiding out with Kate in the safe house, where they've set a burglar alarm so she literally can't leave, is the mole.

"Trust No One" isn't a bad movie; it's just dull, and while Vargano and Taylor are convincing figures of menace (enough to make me wish the writers had emphasized the bad guys more and the comparatively boring good guys less), overall it's simply not a very interesting movie. It's full of sporadic twitches of action that seem to be there merely because it occurred to Crawford and the McKernans that white-collar crime is boring to watch, and the efforts to catch white-collar criminals are also boring — there are way too many scenes of Kate and others poring over manila folders containing spreadsheets and other financial documents, and like all movies about white-collar crime this requires endless explanations about just what all those numbers mean and why what the bad guys are doing is illegal. There are a few atmospheric shots of Pittsburgh by night — in fact Crawford likes to take his cameras overhead and give views of the city's night lights just as a relief from the boredom of his and the McKernans' plot — and an overall sense that Trust No One might actually have been a better movie with more compelling direction and writing, and more of a focus on the villains than the heroes.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Surprisingly good neo-noir thriller, 16 May 2016
8/10

I spent most of the evening Sunday, May 15 watching back-to-back movies on Lifetime, one of which was billed as a "World Premiere" while the other had had the "World Premiere" designation when it had originally been shown on Saturday. They re-aired the Saturday "world premiere," "I Didn't Kill My Sister," at 7 p.m., and followed it up with the new "world premiere," "Trust No One," at 9. Surprisingly, both turned out to be TV-movies made by a company called Odyssey Media in 2015, and both were shot under different titles than the ones Lifetime used when they aired them: "I Didn't Kill My Sister" was originally "Murder Unrecognized" (so they replaced a blah title with a silly one), while "Trust No One" was originally "Corrupt" (and according to one IMDb.com message board poster a trailer for it under the Corrupt title appeared on YouTube before it and all printed references to it on the Internet mysteriously disappeared). What was even more odd was that "I Didn't Kill My Sister," despite that dorky title, turned out to be a quite good crime thriller, a sort of neo-noir set in and around the Los Angeles TV news community, while "Trust No One" was a boring organized-crime story enlivened by a few action scenes but otherwise deathly-dull.

From the title I'd assumed the sisters, one of whom died and the other was accused of murdering her, would be teenagers; instead they were both 30-something women. The one who gets killed was Carmen Pearson Campbell (Gina Holden, turning in a nice bitch performance that makes it unfortunate she exits permanently early on — though writer Gemma Holdway and director Jason Bourque give her a lot more screen time than is common in a plot like this, which was nice), and the sister who's suspected of killing her is Heather Pearson (Nicholle Tom, who began her career as one of the kids Fran Drescher was nanny-ing on The Nanny but has had a decent if unspectacular career as an adult actress). In the opening scene Carmen, home alone, drinks a small glass of wine, then suddenly loses consciousness and ends up taking a fall into her swimming pool, where she apparently drowns — though later on a medical examiner attributes her death to an overdose of Xanax (the wine was "spiked" with the drug) and said she had croaked before she even got to the pool. Then there's a typical Lifetime title flashing us back "Two Days Earlier," and we learn that two days earlier Carmen was the co-host of Citywatch, a phenomenally popular news program on L.A. TV station KPPQ Channel 3. She was also in the middle of a bitterly contested divorce from her husband Mason Campbell (Chris William Martin), and their marriage has so totally disintegrated they're literally not speaking together off camera. Unfortunately for both of them, they're the co-hosts of Citywatch and therefore have to speak to each other on camera, and if that weren't bad enough they're also the parents of a teenage daughter, Brooke (Sarah Desjardins). Also, Carmen has talked to her attorney, Sandra Carson (Ona Grauer), about changing her will so instead of her husband getting her money, it'll go into a trust fund and remain there until Brooke is old enough to inherit it herself.

So when Carmen is found dead in her swimming pool of an overdose of Xanax, the cops at first suspect it was an accident until they find the remaining spiked wine, whereupon they not surprisingly make Mason Campbell the number one suspect — until he's able to prove that he didn't do it (just how he proved he didn't do it — whether he established an alibi or what — isn't really explained in Holdway's script), whereupon they, and in particular Cruz (Sharon Taylor), the lead detective on the case (and it was a neat trick on Holdway'a part to make her seem more intimidating by not giving her a first name), fasten on Heather as a suspect. "I Didn't Kill My Sister" is actually a quite professional piece of filmmaking, not innovative but cunning in its deployment of old clichés, and for once the ending is a genuine surprise but also a believable one instead of a whiplash-inducing reversal that negates all or most of what has gone before. It also had an interesting road-not-taken aspect in that the character I found myself caring most about was Mason's and Carmen's daughter Brooke, and the trauma she's undoubtedly going to face given not only that her mother was murdered but her father was involved in the killing.

Seduced (2016/I)
3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
When will writers stop throwing these stupid reversals at us?, 4 May 2016
3/10

After "Break-Up Nightmare" on April 30 Lifetime showed a typically ballyhooed "world premiere" of something called Seduced, set in the Los Angeles beach community (with scenes in Santa Monica and Venice Beach as well as L.A. itself), written by Brian McAuley (a name I've seen on previous Lifetime movies) and directed by Jessica Janos (a name I haven't, though judging by this work she's unlikely to advance the cause of women directors). It's also about a mother and the daughter she's raising as a single parent, though this time mom is Caroline Prati (ex-"Law and Order" Elizabeth Röhm), daughter is Issie (Jessica Amlee, who does not look much like her on-screen mom), and Caroline is single-parenting Issie not because she and Issie's dad broke up but because Issie's dad Paul died of cancer two years earlier. Caroline is a redhead (that's a significant plot point) and Issie a blonde, and when she's not dealing with Issie's problems — including a boyfriend, Noah (Tanner Stine), who dumps her when she won't have sex with him — she's the principal accountant for an Internet crowd-funding Web site called Fundercrack. Alas, the owner of Fundercrack, Jason Birch (Robert Mailhouse), is a typical asshole 1-percenter, taking the $3.7 million that was allocated for bonuses to the top staffers (including Caroline herself) and moving it into a "secret account" where he's spending it on himself, including buying a hot sports car with a six-figure price tag. What's more, the IRS is investigating Fundercrack and Jason flat-out orders Caroline to commit accounting fraud to conceal his embezzlement — and when she tells him that the only way he can avoid prosecution for tax fraud is actually to pay the bonuses he promised and told the IRS he was going to pay, he counters that the money no longer exists. While all of this is going on Caroline's daughter Issie is researching "Missed Connections" — people who might be right for each other but never meet — and has even logged onto a Web site (in Lifetime movies, as too often in real life, the Internet appears mainly as a device to make ordinary sorts of crimes considerably easier to pull off) called Missed Connections.

Issie reads an ambiguous note from a man who calls himself Gavin Donati (Jon Prescott, considerably less attractive than one would think his part called for) and immediately concludes that the mystery woman he saw and is trying to attract is her mom. Mom is understandably reluctant to follow up but Issie responds for her, and for the first hour of this film Gavin and Caroline go on a series of increasingly intimate and hot dates. It's only at one point when they're taking a bath together in Gavin's oval-shaped bathtub in his palatial mansion in the Hollywood hills that we start getting an inkling of what he's really after (though, if nothing else, his rotten fake accent — he seems unable to decide whether he wants to sound English, French or Italian — has made us suspicious), when he offers Caroline an "investment opportunity" and encourages her to embezzle from her company to give him the money. Midway through the movie Caroline, who's enthralled with Gavin's rather nondescript body but so far has maintained enough good sense and moral values not to steal from her company to fund his "investments," comes to Gavin's place and meets his other girlfriend, Halle (pronounced "Halley") (Alexandria Basso), whom he started dating two months before — right around the same time he started dating Caroline. The two hatch a revenge plot to ruin Gavin and bust him for being a con artist — Halle said she'd been about to put her entire life savings into Gavin's (nonexistent) enterprises — and by the next-to-last act Gavin has been busted not only for being a con artist but for murdering Halle and two young redheaded women, and Caroline is the star of a TV documentary hailing them as the woman who had the courage to fight back against the rotter and lead to his arrest. Only writer McAuley has two surprise reversals up his sleeve in the final act, which not only blow his story's credibility but totally throw Elizabeth Röhm as an actress. It also doesn't help that director Janos is addicted to sunset shots — frame after frame of this film looks like the cover of the Eagles' album "Hotel California" (indeed, one such shot inevitably inspired me to warble a few bars of its title song) — or that, not content just to show the spectacular California sunsets, she insists on flanging them in that annoying music-video way that's got really oppressive and which Mark Quod wisely avoided in "Break-Up Nightmare." All in all, Seduced was a grandly silly movie — or rather two grandly silly movies arbitrarily spliced together — and a grim reminder of how badly the U.S. film industry's skills at doing this sort of story have deteriorated since the 1944 "Gaslight," directed by George Cukor and starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer (despite his accent problems!).

Silly movie with an unbelievable ending, 4 May 2016
3/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Bad Behavior" was both written and directed by Nicholas Brandt and Lisa Hamil (real-life couple?) and starred Hallee Hirsh as Zoë, a babysitter who shows up for what she thinks is going to be a routine overnight job while the couple whose three kids she'll be babysitting go out of town for a family member's wedding. Only the three kids turn out to be proverbially from hell: older brother Tyler (Austin Rogers, who bears an odd resemblance to a very young Tom Hayden) keeps making sexual advances towards Our Heroine; middle brother Jack (Jeremy Dozier) is a sort of idiot savant whose parents think he's getting into Yale; and the youngest child and only girl, Grace (Elsie Fisher), is obsessed with princesses and wants to wear her princess dress to daddy's dinner date. The parents duly leave and Zoë invites her boyfriend Kansas (Andrew James Allan, who's considerably shorter than Mike Nesmith of the Monkees but otherwise strikingly resembles him) over, hoping to make out with him (or more!) once the children sleep — only Kansas's presence sends the paranoid Jack off the deep end; he immediately concludes that Kansas and Zoë are "spies" sent on some sort of secret mission to destroy him and his family. Jack takes over the rest of the house and forces Zoë, Tyler and Grace to hide in an upstairs bathroom (which has a gable in its ceiling from which Jack, when he chooses to, can spy on them from the roof of the house).

The movie then turns into a bizarre combination of "The Old Dark House" and "The Panic Room," as Tyler keeps dropping hints of what Jack did during his previous bouts with less-than-sanity, including setting fire to the place, slicing Tyler's ear off (fortunately the ear was recovered in time that it could be re-attached surgically) and possibly killing the previous babysitters. But like its two predecessors on Lifetime's Saturday schedule, "Bad Behavior" has an outrageous reversal in the final act. "Bad Behavior" has a few nice touches — notably some establishing shots of the exterior of the house where it takes place, in which Brandt and Hamil pull the neat trick of making a pretty ordinary suburban ranch house (except for those two gables on the roof) look sinister and almost Gothic — but for the most part it treads so much on the thin edge of silliness, and all too often goes over, one wonders if Brandt and Hamil were doing a serious Lifetime movie or a parody of one. I'm really tired of the penchant of modern-day thriller writers for ridiculously unbelievable reversals, especially at the ending — when O. Henry pulled this sort of thing he was at least able to make the finale seem like it had some relationship to the course of his story before that, but writers like Nicholas Brandt, Lisa Hamil and Brian McAuley simply don't have that sort of knack.

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Quite good Lifetime thriller, 4 May 2016
8/10

Last Saturday, April 30 I watched three, count 'em, three movies in a row on the Lifetime channel, all apparently shown under a rubric called "Don't Mess with Mommy" even though only the first really came under that theme. It was also by far the best of the three: "Break-Up Nightmare." The principals in this one are mother Barbara Light (Jennifer Dorogi) and her teenage daughter Rachel (Celesta DeAstis) — and kudos are definitely in order to casting director Scotty Mullen for finding two actresses who look enough alike that we can believe them as mother and daughter (though Jennifer Dorogi is hot enough we could even more readily believe her as Celesta DeAstis' older sister than as her mom!). In the opening scene Rachel is in her bedroom with her boyfriend Troy (the genuinely hot Mark Grossman — we don't get to see him shirtless, alas, but even covered he's got great pecs!), and of course, this being a Lifetime movie about a teenage girl, her boyfriend wants to have sex with her but she's holding him off. She does yield to his entreaties to let him take naked pictures of her, saying that he'll be going off to college (probably on an athletic scholarship because he doesn't seem like the brightest bulb in the chandelier) and wants her on his phone to remind himself of her and help him fend off the college girls that will be after him. Then there's a title reading "Two Weeks Later" (something of a pleasant surprise since Lifetime movies generally jump months or even years between these prologues and the main body of the films), and two weeks later Troy has dumped Rachel and is looking for female companionship that will be more, shall we say, accommodating. He's also got his revenge against Rachel by posting her photos to a so-called "revenge porn" site whose proprietor, Ashton Banks (Daron McFarland), has an attitude towards women that makes Donald Trump's look like a model of sensitivity by comparison. The motto of his site is "Squirt 'Em and Hurt 'Em," and it's clear from the text on his home page that it's based on the idea that if a woman turns down a man for sex, she's made herself fair game for any sort of humiliation he cares to dish out. Rachel's pics end up on this site and go viral, and in the little town of "Redford" (pop. 2,340) in which this is taking place, everyone, it seems, recognizes her.

"Break-Up Nightmare" has a couple of typical flaws for a Lifetime movie: the almost supernatural power of the villain and a "surprise" twist that's considerably less surprising than the writer thought it was. But the film is also an engagingly tense thriller, well directed by Quod (whose avoidance of flanging and other fancy music-video effects seemed all the more welcome compared to the way the next two films on Lifetime's program were directed) and convincingly acted all the way around. This isn't a great movie but it's a reasonably convincing thriller that may push credibility but doesn't go whole-hog into crazy or silly plotting, and the ending is a logical summing-up of what's gone before instead of the nihilistic wrap-ups of Lifetime's other two films the same night, "Seduced" and "Bad Behavior."


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