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Sunday, April 30, 2017

Review: 'Manny Dearest'

I am pretty much a fan of anything with Ashley Scott, so "Manny Dearest" had me hooked based on the preview trailer alone.

Once again, Scott plays the most gorgeous mom in the world. In this thriller, she's Karen, a mother of two precocious boys Max (Dylan Kingwell) and Rex (Jett Klyne). Karen also is romantically involved with recovering alcoholic Greg (Woody Jeffreys).

She is having trouble balancing her career, motherhood and relationship, so she decides to hire a nanny. Unfortunately for her, she discovers manny Alex (Mitch Ryan). He has a way with kids, cleans the house ... and is infatuated with Karen. She hires him on a whim, and Alex begins bonding with the kids, doing housework and alienating the suspicious Greg. 

Alex has a bit of a shady background. His previous client allegedly "committed suicide," and he seems to have a fascination with amusement park Wonder World. Oh, and he has a knack for creating drone cameras to capture Karen's every move. 

He sees himself as a fit for Karen's family, but a few things stand in his way. Greg is the biggest obstacle, so he proceeds to try and turn the kids against him. Alex also has to contend with Cori (Jordana Largy), a hot (and horny) nanny he meets at the playground. She has her sights on him and won't relent until he provides her with some ... ahem ... daycare. Also present is Karen's BFF Gillian (Fiona Vroom), who thinks Alex is a great catch.

Alex, however, is a master stalker and a super psycho, so he has a few tricks up the sleeves of his omnipresent hoodie. So, anyone who crosses his path is in trouble -- including schoolyard bully Brett (Cory Gruter-Andrew) and his dog Jasper(!). 

This gem debuted last night on Lifetime and had everything you'd want in a Saturday night stalker movie - pin-up board with photos of his victim, hidden cameras, etc. Hats off to director Chad Krowchuk for delivering a thriller to remember, and kudos to the cast, especially Scott and Ryan. Scott is credible as the devoted mother, who is painfully blind to Alex's weird behavior. Meanwhile, Ryan shows restraint as the obsessive yet sweet babysitter. He's nice most of the time yet flashes his psychotic tendencies at all the right moments. I also have to give props to the kids. The three boys (Kingwell, Klyne and Gruter-Andrew) are excellent in their roles.

This is a lighter version of classic "The Hand That Rocks The Cradle," but still packs a punch at all the right moments. Also, "Manny Dearest" (originally titled "Stranger With My Kids")  offers a smart variation on the typical nanny from hell movies by offering a memorable male antagonist and is a stark reminder of why it's important to check references for any childcare professional -- no matter how handsome or sweet they may be.

"Manny Dearest": Directed by Chad Krowchuk; Starring Ashley Scott as Karen, Mitch Ryan as Alex, Woody Jeffreys as Greg, Dylan Kingwell as Max, Jett Klyne as Rex, Jordana Largy as Cory, Fiona Vroom as Gillian

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Review: 'Girl Followed'

Raising a teen isn't easy. Teenagers are emotional and rebellious. They's resistant to parental guidance and think they know it all. These days, parents have to stay on top of things or else their kids may wind up like the lead character in "Girl Followed."

This dramatic thriller recently premiered on the Lifetime Movie Network and has been in steady rotation for the past few weeks. Remember the TV show "Blossom" and how the dad had to counsel his kids on a variety of problems? Well, we see Blossom bro Joey Lawrence as the concerned parent dealing with a confused and combative kid.

Lawrence is super dad Jim. He has a great family including beautiful nurse wife Abby (Heather McComb), eldest daughter Taylor (Gianna LaPera) and Regan (Emma Fuhrmann). Regan seems to be a clean teen, but suffers from a number of insecurities. Her friends don't help matters by rubbing her nose in the fact that she doesn't have a boyfriend.

Unfortunately, the one person who tries to help her overcome her problems is Abby's co-worker Nate (Travis Caldwell). He tries to build her confidence while putting the moves on her. Complicating matters is an underwear selfie that Regan sent to a boy at school. She also shares this photo with Nate, which is her biggest mistake. Before long, this pic is everywhere (including the in-box of her dad's boss).

Regan continues to confide in Nate and starts to fall for him, especially after visiting his mansion and taking a spin in his Mercedes (both actually belong to his parents). Nate, however, isn't a complete Prince Charming. He's controlling, possessive and of course...at least 10 years her senior!  And, let's remember she's barely in high school.

Of course, it's up to mom, dad and older sister to save her ... but Nate (or N-Dog) is a pretty devious Lifetime villain.

This May-December stalker mystery is pretty entertaining. Caldwell steals the show as the super creepy Nate, and Fuhrmann offers an effective portrayal of an at-risk teen. Lawrence (who has barely aged since "Blossom") is convincing as the concerned and exasperated pop. He can't wait to put his hands on N-Dog. Wouldn't any dad want to do the same if his youngest girl was being seduced by an older creeper?

This nifty thriller teams director Tom Shell; writers Christine Conradt and Chris Lancey (the trio behind the excellent "Deadly Ex"), and Melissa Cassera (who handles screenplay duties). The audience is definitely in capable hands. Despite the creepy premise of this story, "Girl Followed" never sinks into really creepy territory -- like the real life story of the Tennessee teacher-student manhunt. Definitely check it out. It's definitely a nice addition to Lifetime and LMN programming and offers yet another cautionary tale regarding teens, social media and the dangers of older men preying on insecure girls.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

LM Mental Interview: Barbie Castro

In LM Mental’s FIRST interview, I profile actor/producer/writer Barbie Castro (“Boyfriend Killer,” “Patient Killer,” “Assumed Killer”)

Castro might seem like a new face to Lifetime viewers, but she’s been entertaining audiences for much of her life.

Recently, Lifetime movie audiences experienced Castro’s acting talents as grieving mother Sandra Cruz Durro in “Boyfriend Killer.” She also served as an executive producer on this movie that also stars Patrick Muldoon and Kate Mansi.

Lifetime has proven to be a “Killer” outlet for Castro’s talents. Before “Boyfriend Killer," she starred in and produced “Patient Killer” and “Assumed Killer." Up next for Castro is “Girlfriend Killer.”

Long before Lifetime, Castro  was just another teen with a dream. Growing up in Miami, Castro always wanted to be an entertainer and gained plenty of experience as a vocalist for a girl group – opening for the likes of Menudo – and as a runway model. She also competed in beauty pageants and ultimately found her way to the world of theatre.

Following a stint in her high school drama club, Castro took her passion for performing to college. She worked her way through school and met a lifelong leading man in Eric Castro. The two married, and Castro took on her greatest roles as a wife and mother.

With the support of husband Eric and daughters Rhys and Taylor, Castro launched a career as an actor and producer.

Her first film that she starred in and produced was the short film "Conduit” in 2011 (directed by future collaborator Alyn Darnay, who would go on to helm several Lifetime movies). The thriller earned rave reviews on the festival circuit and received several awards.

A fan of Lifetime films, Castro then focused her energies on producing “Assumed Killer” with screen legend Armand Assante in 2013. The success of that television feature led to collaborations with MarVista Entertainment, and the rest has been history as Castro has been a driving force behind a series of “Killer” movies (alongside veteran screenwriter Christine Conradt) including “Patient Killer” in 2015 (written by Brian D. Young and Bryan Dick, co-starring Victoria Pratt and Casper Van Dien) and the recent “Boyfriend Killer (co-starring Patrick Muldoo and Kate Mansi).  Next up is “Girlfriend Killer,” which is due later this year. Future films also include “Killer Island” (also written by Conradt) and “Lifestyle Killer” (written by Doug Cambpell and David Chester).

Castro took time from her busy schedule to provide LM Mental with an exclusive interview. She discussed her career and offered a glimpse into the upcoming “Girlfriend Killer.”

Barbie Castro and Patrick Muldoon in "Boyfriend Killer"

LM Mental: Can you offer some details on your upcoming film "Girlfriend Killer" and your character?

Barbie Castro: I play Carmen Ruiz, a woman who owns Simply Splendid Proposals. Men hire Carmen to record their wedding proposals. Unfortunately, one of the proposals goes wrong, and a woman declines her would-be husband. My character goes to console him, and he ends up making Carmen the target of his next obsession.

LM Mental: You've balanced producing/executive producing duties with acting in your past few films. Can you discuss the challenges (or advantages) of juggling producing and acting roles during a production?

Castro: People ask me how I do it. I handle most of the pre and post production responsibilities. I rely heavily on Carole Wood, the unit production manager during production. I feel very comfortable with my team. Director Alyn Darnay has been working with me for many years and he is wonderful. He directed “Conduit,” “Boyfriend Killer” and “Girlfriend Killer,” so he knows me well. I’ve also had the opportunity to work with great actors. I guess the bottom line is that through trial and error, I have been able to compile a team that works very well together.

LM Mental: Why do you think films such as "Boyfriend Killer" and other Lifetime movies and others are so popular with audiences? 

Castro: I think we have learned to trust that Lifetime will always have a new movie for us to watch when we are home on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday night. Plus, these movies are relatable. It's important to make movies that make us say, "That can happen to me." So, that’s why I think people turn to Lifetime/LMN, and I must add that my films are not TV movies. We target Lifetime, but we are not guaranteed an acquisition from the network... so I could produce a movie hoping the network would acquire it, and it might be turned down. It's definitely a risk.

LM Mental: Do you have a favorite project you've worked on? If so, why is it so special to you?

Castro: So far, all of my projects have been special to me. I don't have one in particular that stands out, but I definitely want to keep this current creative team together as long as possible. Without my collaborators, I wouldn't be as driven to make more movies.

LM Mental: In addition to the collaborators you’ve mentioned, who else would you like to credit for making your projects special?

Castro: Jon Schellenger, cinematographer and the post production team make going to the set a pleasant experience. They all love what they do. It's always a win-win situation. Also,  composer Chad Rehmann and the team at Juniper Post are great. All of my co-stars have been wonderful and remain in contact with me.

LM Mental:  Is there anyone whom you haven't worked with that you'd like to ... or is there a dream co-star you'd love to perform with...and why?

Castro: There is something about Mark Walhberg, Kevin Bacon, Robert De Niro, Andy Garcia, Julianne Moore and Reese Witherspoon... the list goes on. Armand Assante was on that list and I was honored to work with him in "Assumed Killer."  Who knows? Maybe someday I will have the honor of working with them.

LM Mental: Do you think Lifetime offers independent filmmakers an outlet to spotlight their works?

Castro: Yes, definitely. I believe a well-made film with a good script and solid production value can have success on Lifetime/LMN. I am very grateful.

LM Mental: Any other projects beyond "Girlfriend Killer" to mention? 

Castro: I have two scripts in development -- "Killer Island" set to shoot May 2017 and Lifestyle Killer."

Ultimately, my future goal is to figure out how to create a series... since I am in Florida, and I do not want to move to California, I have to figure out how to create work here.

LM Mental: What advice do you have for anyone entering the film industry as an actor or producer?

Castro: As a producer, you have to be honest true to yourself and stay humble. Don't take things personally. For example, many producers do not like to hear or admit to themselves that their product has flaws. If you cannot accept constructive criticism, you will not grow. I usually go to my biggest critic to get advice on the script and on the first draft of the movie because I know this person is going to be blunt and give me an honest opinion. I welcome it. I need it to perfect the final product.

Another mistake that I often see is the lack of post sound/Foley or color correction in films. It's important to seek the help of others who have succeeded in making quality films - a mentor. Surround yourself with people who have succeeded, go to events, take action even if its with a handheld camera. Shoot a short film and learn things for yourself.
For actors, I offer the same advice in terms of taking action. Join the next acting class in town. Meet people. Get headshots. Find an agent. Be true to what you look like and what roles you can play. Submit yourself for roles even if there is no pay, just for practice, so you can have demo reels or IMDB credits. Set goals for yourself and consider relocating if there is not enough work in your hometown.

Also, be likable. People work with people whose company they enjoy, so don't be a thorn in anyone's side on or off set. Be likable. Think like a team player.

Barbie Castro in "Patient Killer"

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Review: Fatal Defense

I really hope "Fatal Defense" doesn't turn people off from self-defense classes. This action-thriller premiered on Lifetime this weekend and pulls no punches (literally) as viewers meet a fighting coach from hell.

At the film's onset, we watch a terrifying home invasion. Single mom Arden Walsh (Ashley Scott) is terrorized by a masked intruder. She's robbed, held at knifepoint and tied up. She survives, but remains scared out of her wits. Her sister Gwen (Laurie Fortier), a police photographer, and a supportive detective (Sherilyn Fenn -- this blogger's college crush) provide some comfort. Still, she's pretty shaken and her cute daughter Emma is equally frightened.

Sister Gwen recommends that Ardent take a self-defense course and suggests one taught by handsome fight master Logan (David Cade). On her first day, he comes on a bit strong ... and not in the creeper sense. This dude pretty much puts a wrestling hold on poor Arden as soon as she enters the door. For some reason. she stays in the class and eventually becomes his star student.

It's not long before Arden becomes attracted to Logan. He, however, is more concerned with her progress in the class. So much so, he invites her on a date and winds up throwing her in a car trunk as a kidnapping simulation exercise. Any attraction she had for Logan is out the window, and she reports him to the cops. Logan is undaunted and still has big plans for her star student. What follows is dangerous cat and mouse game between Logan, Arden ... and the thug who broke into her home in the first scene.

I'll rate this movie in two words -- "kick ass!" Scott is nothing short of awesome as she evolves from victim to ass kicker. Fans will recall her as the Huntress and short-lived super series "Birds of Prey." Well, she is back in action in "Fatal Defense" and packs quite a punch during her fight scenes. Cade is an awesome foil for her, stalking her and plotting new ways to test her self-defense skills.

Kudos to director John Murlowski, who also helmed the equally excellent "Bad Twin," for keeping things exciting. Fenn also is a welcome presence as the helpful cop.

Admittedly, there were moments in the movie where I was reminded of the Peter Sellers "Pink Panther" movies, particularly the scenes where Inspector Clouseau is repeatedly attacked by his butler Cato.

Still, this is definitely an original premise and slightly reminiscent of "The Trainer." Highly recommended.

"Fatal Defense": Directed by John Murlowski; Starring Ashley Scott as Arden, David Cade as Logan, Laurie Fortier as Gwen, Shon David Lange as Rory, Sherilyn Fenn as Detective

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Review: 'The Twin'

As a kid, I thought having a twin would be cool. As an adult ... not so much. Maybe I've watched too many Lifetime movies about terrible twins. There was the recent "Bad Twin" and equally awesome "Killing Mommy." These's also "The Good Sister" and numerous other double trouble thrillers. Recently, Lifetime premiered the aptly titled "The Twin," a solid entry in the good twin-bad twin thriller genre.

The plot focuses on the very sane and sweet Tyler (Timothy Granaderos), who is the all-American kid. His identical twin bro is stuck in a psych ward resisting treatment and pretty much being a jerk. Tyler begins a whirlwind relationship with Jocelyn (Jess Gabor) and endears himself to her gorgeous mom (Brigid Brannagh) and their neighbor Jeke (Louis Mandylor).

Unfortunately, he is sympathetic to his nutcase double and visits him frequently at the hospital. You can guess where this is going, right? Tyler visit bad twin Derek, who pulls a switcheroo. Tyler is stuck in the hospital while Derek comes home to a gorgeous girlfriend and a great life. For some reason hospital administrators, including Dr. Rubin (the awesome Mark Lindsay Chapman), don't see any reason to do a DNA test or physical examination to determine the truth. I guess the movie would end pretty quickly if they did. Adding to Tyler's woes are the boorish nurses who seem to have graduated from the Nurse Ratched School of Nursing.

Granaderos runs the show in this movie. He is very effective in balancing the nice Tyler with the psycho Derek. Jess Gabor does a fine job as the clean teen who is in love with Tyler ... and begins to fear the fake Tyler's weird behavior.

Directors Mark Derin and Fred Olen Ray (the legend!) do a great job of balancing suspense with action; and veteran co-stars Brannagh and Mandylor are as dependable as always.

"The Twin" airs again at 9 p.m. (CST), April 6 and 1 a.m. on Lifetime Movie Network and is worth watching. Two great performances from Timothy Granaderos is certainly better than one!

"The Twin": Directed by Fred Olen Ray, Mark Derin; Starring Timothy Granoderos as Tyler and Derek, Jess Gaor as Jocelyn, Brigid Brannagh as Ashley, Louis Mandylor as Jeke, Mark Lindsay Chapman as Dr. Rubin