Movie Review ~ Love Hard


The Facts:

Synopsis: An LA girl, unlucky in love, falls for an East Coast guy on a dating app and decides to surprise him for the holidays, only to discover that she’s been catfished.

Stars: Nina Dobrev, Jimmy O. Yang, Darren Barnet, Harry Shum Jr., Rebecca Staab, James Saito, Mikaela Hoover, Heather McMahan, Takayo Fischer, Matty Finochio

Director: Hernan Jimenez

Rated: NR

Running Length: 104 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: For years, I was the kind of person that turned my nose up at those cheeseball holiday films that would premiere on Hallmark or Lifetime or what have you.  As each season rolled around, it seemed that it was the mission of these networks to outdo their last total of cookie-cutter movies produced with generic titles that featured the same safe looking all-American couples looking for love in some faux-snowy Canadian township made to look like New England.  It was the brunt of many a joke and even started to become so self-aware of itself to the point of marketing clothing, cookware, and other items to be “Christmas movie watching” regalia.  Then that darn pandemic hit and I found myself with a lot of extra time on my hands in between the regular movie watching and family time. Suddenly I found myself needing to keep busy and there was an abundance of this new content coming in by the truckload…uh oh.

Yes, I completely fell into the spirit of the season and watched an enormous amount of made for television holiday movies in 2020, going so far as to actually download the Hallmark app to keep track of my progress (I’m a completist in all things in life…don’t judge) just to make sure.  So I’m on the lookout for the good ones and can often spot the bad ones early on.  Occasionally, a winter storm can set my radar askew and for a while it looked like the new Netflix romantic comedy set at Christmas Love Hard was going on a very early naughty list.  Barely a week into November, was this going to be the first lump of coal to set aside and never think about again?

Well, they say that often you have to let love grow and give it time to flourish and that’s very much the case with Danny Mackey and Rebecca Ewing’s thin premise that peters out quickly but shockingly catches fire late in the game on account of some genuine heart from its endearing cast.  It’s not a new classic by any stretch of the imagination but it has some legitimately funny moments (and one unexpected one involving a karaoke fail that had me almost falling out of my chair) as well as a strong message about how being yourself is the most important first step in finding your soul mate. You have to get through a solid twenty minutes of rough weather first before it starts to smooth out, though.

Natalie (Nina Dobrev, Run This Town) can’t seem to get the L.A. dating game right after years of using a Tinder-esque app to meet a number of men online who turn out to be duds IRL.  Most of the time it’s because they don’t match up exactly with who they claim to be in their profile but some of it has to do with Natalie’s higher than usual standards for perfection.  The good news is that she’s turned her dating woes into a successful writing career and made her boss (Matty Finochio) happy in the process.  Her best friend (Heather McMahan) thinks she’s too narrow in her search and expands her dating profile to include all of the U.S., which is how she connects via text with Josh from Lake Placid, NY.  While they disagree just enough to keep things interesting (for holiday movies, he’s a Love, Actually guy while she’s a Die Hard gal), their attraction, at least online, is instant and grows quickly. So when she mentions she wishes they were together for the upcoming Christmas holidays and he welcomes the idea, a split decision sees her on a plane to NY to meet a man she’s only seen pictures of.

Even if you didn’t know the synopsis of the movie you could likely see where this is headed, so it wouldn’t come as a shock that when Natalie makes it to her destination, Jake is not the rugged outdoorsman in the pictures she was sent but a much milder man (Jimmy O. Yang, The Opening Act) who works at the outdoor shop that sells the gear to rugged outdoorsmen.  Humiliated, Natalie is about to leave…but sees the man in the pictures at a local watering hole.  Not wanting to leave empty handed and pressured by her boss to write a story about the encounter or risk losing her job, Natalie agrees to pretend to be the real Jake’s girlfriend for the holidays if he’ll hook her up with the fake Jake, aka Tag (Darren Barnet) – all while she pretends to be the perfect girl for fake Jake.

As if the whole to-do with the two Jakes isn’t enough, Mackey and Ewing throw in a bunch of family drama for the real Jake to roll with, including struggling to wriggle out of the shadow of his overachieving (and spotlight hogging) older brother (Harry Shum Jr., Broadcast Signal Intrusion) and the feeling that he should be following his own dreams.  The devotion to his father (the always dependable James Saito, Big Eyes) and helping him to run his business feels like he is putting his own next chapter on hold and Natalie’s presence only affirms that it’s time for him to stand up for himself.  Yang is such an easy, pleasing presence onscreen that it’s only a matter of time before he lands in something that truly takes him to the next level.

The biggest problem with the movie is the leading lady.  Or more to the point, the character of our leading lady.  Dobrev is likable and appropriately bubbly and winsome in following her dreams out East but once she gets there Natalie proves such a hugely shallow drip following around a bland bit of fluff like Tag that you almost don’t want her to come to her senses because Jake isn’t good enough for her.  The movie totally hinges on her liking Tag more than Jake but Barnet isn’t granted enough charisma to make us believe it and director Hernán Jiménez doesn’t convince us either with the way he guides Tag and Natalie together (Barnet was a late in the game casting replacement, which may explain some of this).  Thankfully, there are enough moments with Yang and Dobrev together or with Jake’s family to make-up for these less than energetic exchanges.

We’re early on in the holiday movie season and Love Hard (a play on Die Hard I embarrassingly only got near the end of the movie, suggesting the title needed work) is one of the first film gifts to unwrap, meaning that it’s likely to be forgotten by the time the big day rolls around.  I hope it doesn’t get too covered in holiday castoffs though, because with the appeal of its stars and the way it grows into a movie that feels far more special than when it first began it’s worth keeping your eye on.

Movie Review ~ Run This Town

The Facts

Synopsis: An emerging political scandal in Toronto in 2013 seen through the eyes of young staffers at city hall and a local newspaper.

Stars: Ben Platt, Nina Dobrev, Mena Massoud, Damian Lewis, Jennifer Ehle, Scott Speedman

Director: Ricky Tollman

Rated: R

Running Length: 99 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: Political movies can go one of two ways in my book.  They can either be timely pieces that illustrate how current events line up with the past (or vice versa) or they can be too talky, with insider-baseball scripts that only a third year Senate intern would appreciate.  So it’s interesting to note that Run this Town is one of these genre films that wants to have it both ways.  It revels in deep dive dialogue that strives to impress while looking to find a way to connect up with our political climate today.

Living in the early months of 2020 and the simmering pot of salty water that will soon be brought to a boil by our November presidential election, it can be easy to forget the 2013 events that are covered in Run this Town.  Even I needed to stop the movie for a few minutes to get a little refresher about what’s happening in writer/director Ricky Tollman’s breathless opening, a back and forth between a group of young politicos that hits the ground running without much of a warm-up. While I’m more familiar with Toronto’s Rob Ford for his infamous antics first as Mayor and then as a scandalized fallen citizen with drug charges, I admit I wasn’t aware of the late politician’s troublesome behavior in a pre-Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment landscape.

At the center of the film is Bram (Ben Platt, Pitch Perfect), a recent college grad hoping to become a journalist that lands a job at an impressive paper in Toronto where his bosses are Scott Speedman (The Vow) and the imposing Jennifer Ehle (RoboCop).  Coming from a privileged family (not unlike Platt himself), Bram has an uphill battle in proving himself and he’s after a big story…and it presents itself to him when he catches wind of the dirty dealings surrounding Mayor Rob Ford (Damian Lewis, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, unrecognizable in a fat suit and prosthetic facial additions) and his political office.  As Bram attempts to navigate the tricky ethics of exposing a political animal, Ford’s long-suffering aide (Mena Massoud, Aladdin) struggles with his own morals in protecting his boss though he knows what kind of man he is.  An encounter between Ford and a young aide (Nina Dobrev, The Perks of Being a Wallflower) proves to be a catalyst that will send a ripple effect through the political halls and newspaper rooms of Toronto and, soon, the world.

Reminding me to a lesser extent of Spotlight, Run this Town absolutely has its focus in the right place but I’m not sure if there was something lost in the translation of Tollman’s script to the screen or what but the movie is dense and distracting.  Even focusing in on the dialogue, the movie is sometimes hard to follow and at a not that long 99 minutes the film feels padded for time.  The performances are solid across the board, but the jury is out if Lewis is excellent under all that plastic and padding or if it’s an absolutely terrible hammy take on Ford.  You won’t be able to take your eyes off it, that’s for sure.  There’s promise in Tollman’s ear for sharp dialogue though and, with time, I think he’ll be a director to watch out for.  Not quite the talk of the town yet, but Run this Town is a good start.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Final Girls


Synopsis: A young woman grieving the loss of her mother, a famous scream queen from the 1980s, finds herself pulled into the world of her mom’s most famous movie. Reunited, the women must fight off the film’s maniacal killer.

Release Date: October 9, 2015

Thoughts: The concept of meta-horror was ushered in by Scream in 1996, spawning hundreds of imitations with diminishing results. The idea of a high concept horror film was jettisoned in favor of all out torture porn or found footage cheapies that did little to show there was any life in the fading genre.

With the revitalization of Scream as a television show on MTV and Scream Queens premiering on Fox this fall, meta-horror seems to be coming back in style so I’m interested to see where The Final Girls falls on the spectrum. Don’t get this one confused with Final Girl, another 2015 entry starring Abigail Breslin…especially confusing because both movies feature Alexander Ludwig (Lone Survivor) in a prominent role.

I’m not sure yet how this one is going to wind up – it’s either going to be a total 80s throwback gem or a stinker you want to throw back from whence it came. The rather long trailer seems to give away much of the overall joke and production values look questionable…but with a game cast featuring Malin Akerman (Rock of Ages), Adam DeVine (Pitch Perfect 2), and Taissa Farmiga (The Bling Ring) it’s definitely worth taking a shot on.